The lone candidate: On chess, India and D. Gukesh’s victory 

India must have more elite chess tournaments to build on its success 

April 23, 2024 12:10 am | Updated 07:54 pm IST

Dommaraju Gukesh’s victory at the Candidates chess tournament in Toronto in the early hours of Monday (Indian time) ranks among India’s greatest achievements in sport. Later this year, he will play China’s Ding Liren for the World championship, as the youngest challenger in history. In chess, unlike in most sports, the World champion has the privilege of defending his crown without playing a single game, while his challenger has to come through the gruelling Candidates tournament. The field was expectedly tough in Toronto, where the World No. 2 and No. 3, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, had begun as the favourites, followed by Ian Nepomniachtchi, the winner of the last two editions of the tournament. Few would have imagined that a 17-year-old from Chennai would finish ahead of them. Not only is Gukesh exceptionally talented but he also has a mature head on his young shoulders. His victory further strengthens India’s stature as the fastest rising country in world chess. He was not the only Indian in Toronto. There were five: three in the open section and two in the women’s. And all of them did fairly well, despite going through slumps in form at some stage or the other of the tournament. R. Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi had their moments though they lacked consistency.

In the women’s event, Koneru Humpy (second) and R. Vaishali (fourth), showed resilience after the disappointments in the opening half. Tan Zhongyi was the runaway winner and she has ensured the women’s World championship will remain in China: her opponent is Ju Wenjun. Gukesh has an excellent chance to prevent China from making it a double yet again. Now, though, it is time for India to celebrate his spectacular feat. Then, the chess federation, the government and the corporate world could think of ways to retain India’s momentum in chess. Gukesh had qualified for the Candidates after playing a Super Grandmaster tournament in Chennai in December. That hastily conceived tournament served its purpose. Without it, Gukesh simply would not have been able to make it to Toronto. But what is equally significant is the fact that it was India’s first ever tournament of its kind. When the five-time World champion Viswanathan Anand was among the world’s top players for decades, he had not got an opportunity to play even once in a tournament like that in India. The only world-class tournament in India is the one organised by Tata Steel in Kolkata, but the format is speed chess, not the classical variety employed at the Candidates and the World championship. There should be more elite tournaments in India.

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