Chess: D. Gukesh profile | A young knight who has the armoury to reign supreme

Gukesh hadn’t felt so much stress even during the three-week long tournament, in which he had to face the most of the world’s best chess players twice.

April 22, 2024 10:59 pm | Updated 10:59 pm IST

India chess grandmaster, 17-year-old D Gukesh creates history after becoming the youngest-ever challenger to the world title after winning FIDE Candidates Chess Tournament 2024 crown, in Toronto.

India chess grandmaster, 17-year-old D Gukesh creates history after becoming the youngest-ever challenger to the world title after winning FIDE Candidates Chess Tournament 2024 crown, in Toronto. | Photo Credit: ANI

The walk may have felt the longest in his life for Dommaraju Gukesh.

After his game with Hikaru Nakamura ended in a draw at the Great Hall in Toronto in the final round of the Candidates chess tournament, and listening to the commentary on the ongoing game between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana for a while, he decided to take a walk along with Grzegorz Gajewski, his second (sparring partner).

He hadn’t felt so much stress even during the three-week long tournament, in which he had to face the most of the world’s best chess players twice.

He had done his best. But was it enough?

Gukesh was in no position to answer it, though. That answer had to come from the game between Nepomniachtchi, the man who had won the last two editions of the tournament, and Fabiano Caruana, the top seed. The ideal answer would be a draw.

It didn’t look like a draw though.

Caruana seemed poised for a win, and that meant Gukesh would have to play a tie-breaker the following day. If Nepominiachtchi and Caruana drew, they would remain on 8.5 points, along with Nakamura, the second seed. That would leave Gukesh, who had nine points, the undisputed champion: no tie-breakers would be required.

Gukesh got what he — and a country of one billion that is increasingly becoming fascinated with the mind game — wanted.

Beating At 17, he became the youngest-ever challenger for the World chess championship beating the record set by the Russian legend Garry Kasparov, in 1984, at the age of 20.

The news was broken to him by his father Dr. Rajinikanth, an ENT surgeon who has to schedule his surgeries according to Gukesh’s tournaments. He ran towards his son and stopped his walk. The doctor managed to do what none of Gukesh’s seven rivals could in Toronto.

Five of them were rated above him. He wasn’t even the highest-rated Indian. That was R. Praggnanandhaa, nine months older, and a fellow-Chennaiite.

Gukesh wasn’t among the favourites. Caruana, Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi were.

Among the many he surprised was Magnus Carlsen. The five-time World champion from Norway is no longer part of the World championship cycle — he has cited a lack of motivation — had predicted how all the eight players would perform at the Candidates.

He had picked Caruana and Nakamura as the likeliest winners, followed by Nepomniachtchi. His prediction for Gukesh: I cannot imagine him winning the Candidates. He is not quite ready yet to make the leap.

Carlsen wasn’t the only one who thought so. He hadn’t even qualified for the Candidates till the last minute. It took him a Super Grandmaster tournament in Chennai in December that was specifically conducted for the purpose.

No surprises

For those who had been following his career closely, Gukesh’s win may not have come as a complete shock. Two years ago, at the Chennai Chess Olympiad, he had come up with an incredible show, winning his first eight games in a row for India-2 on the top board.

It is regarded as one of the greatest performances in a chess tournament ever. If someone could play like that at 15, there was every possibility that he could deliver in a tougher event when he became older and stronger.

How much stronger he could become is indeed an interesting thought. Given his exceptional talent, the maturity and the ability to make the right judgment — his penultimate round game against Alireza Firouzja at Toronto is an example, as he avoided a draw and went for a win — he should be among the world’s top players for a long, long time.

He could soon begin preparing for his World title match against Ding Liren. Not many may want to bet against him walking further into record books — as the world’s youngest-ever chess champion.

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