Top board: On Indian chess, D. Gukesh’s feat and the young crop

Indian chess has crossed an inflection point with a young crop of players 

August 07, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 12:10 am IST

A year after causing a major stir at the Chess Olympiad, D. Gukesh is demanding attention yet again. The 17-year-old on Thursday, during the on-going Chess World Cup at the Azerbaijan capital of Baku, replaced Viswanathan Anand as India’s No. 1 chess player in live rating. That has happened only once before, and very fleetingly, during the last 37 years, when P. Harikrishna edged past the five-time World champion in March 2016. But Anand has never lost his India No. 1 rank in FIDE’s rating list since July 1986, when he overtook Pravin Thipsay. Gukesh is now close to ending that unbelievable run, and it could happen in FIDE’s next list, to be released in less than a month’s time. That will be a significant achievement no doubt, and will boost Gukesh’s confidence further, but what is more important is that he could be breaking into the world’s top 10, which is an incredibly hard fortress to breach. Even more important is the fact that he could be doing it while he is still very much in his teens. A fortnight ago, he crossed another major milestone, when he touched 2750 Elo points.

As per the live rating on August 6, Gukesh is on 2756 points and is ranked World No. 9, one slot ahead of Anand (2754). India thus has two players in the World top 10. The only other Indian to be ranked inside the top 10 has been Harikrishna (in 2016). That Koneru Humpy is World No. 4 among women and Dronavalli Harika No. 12 also shows how far India has travelled on the chessboard from the time when it did not have a single Grandmaster until Anand. There is an even more telling bit of statistics: four of the world’s top seven in the junior ranking list are Indians. Among the junior girls, there are two in the top 10. Gukesh’s stunning feat will of course be an inspiration for India’s young crop. Players such as Arjun Erigaisi, R. Praggnanandhaa and Nihal Sarin have also been making rapid progress on the international arena and are part of the golden generation of Indian chess. Gukesh is leading that exciting bunch of players, and within a few years, he could pose a serious challenge for the World title. With Anand as his mentor, he could be assured of the right guidance. And if the All India Chess Federation could finally come up with some elite tournaments at home for players like Gukesh, the game will grow even faster in the country.

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