Gukesh D, the boy who could soon be king

The youngest challenger for the FIDE world crown thanks his mental strength for Challengers triumph

(photo: @DGukesh/X)
(photo: @DGukesh/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Could Gukesh D. be another Viswanathan Anand in the making? There will never again be anyone like the five-time world champion, but speculation has already begun about whether the precocious 17-year-old from Chennai, who has just become the youngest challenger to the FIDE world champion’s crown later this year, can be a worthy successor.

The Indian sports fraternity woke up to one of the high points in its sporting history on Monday when the world no. 6 confirmed his status as the youngest winner of the Candidates chess in Toronto to take on reigning world champion Ding Liren of China later this year. Gukesh accumulated nine out of a possible 14 points after drawing his final round game against American Hikaru Nakamura on Sunday.

"I am now relieved that it’s over,’’ the young champion said at his post-match press conference, soaking in his moment of glory but not losing sight of the bigger picture. ‘’The journey is only half done,’’ said Gukesh, referring to the bigger battle ahead.

The level of curiosity among the international media to get into the mind of the youngster was apparent, be it his preparation for such an important event, to any ritual which helps him stay calm and focused. Gukesh handled it well, without revealing much.

‘’My mental attitude in this tournament mattered a lot. The loss in the seventh game made me more determined as I really wanted to win the event. As for my daily ritual, I would not like to divulge all but I have some routines before a tournament like yoga and meditation,’’ he said.

Anand, who has been like a father figure to the likes of Gukesh, R. Praggnanandhaa and Arjun Erigaisi, all of whom have taken the sport by storm, was objective in his assessment. ‘’Congratulations to @DGukesh for becoming the youngest challenger. The @WacaChess family is so proud of what you have done. I’m personally very proud of how you played and handled tough situations. Enjoy the moment,’’ Anand posted on his X handle.

Incidentally, when Pragg was making waves around eight months ago as the youngest Indian to qualify for the Candidates, Gukesh was yet to earn a ticket to be part of the elite eight in Toronto. The credentials of the youngster were never in doubt though, the youngest Grandmaster at the age of 12, Gukesh was a key figure behind India’s podium finish in the 2022 Chess Olympiad in Chennai.

What’s more, he went on to displace the legendary Anand as India’s no. 1 chess player after nearly 36 years. It was finally in last December at the end of the FIDE calendar that Gukesh made the cut for the final eight at the Candidates and really made it count.

Dibyendu Barua, the second GM from India after Anand, is extremely buoyant about what Gukesh can bring to the table in the world title game. ‘’It’s a great day for Indian chess. I was always a big admirer of Gukesh’s game for the maturity he shows in tough conditions. In a high-pressure tournament like this, he has played some powerful chess right through and did extremely well to force a draw with the black against Nakamura,’’ he told National Herald.

Looking ahead, what about Gukesh’s chances in the big game? ‘’I would reckon it’s a 50-50 match. He has a good support team which will prepare him well while someone like Anand is always at hand to help him,’’ Barua said.

Mitrabha Guha, a 23-year-old GM from Kolkata, has no qualms about installing the Indian as the favourite for the title game. ‘’I would rate the chances 70-30 in favour of Gukesh on current form. While the likes of Gukesh and Pragg are at par, I like the consistency he brings to his game on the big stage,’’ Guha said.

With FIDE yet to announce the dates and venue of the championship joust, Gukesh can afford to savour the moment before the planning begins again. ‘’I haven’t really thought about it but the idea is to create good moves in that match and do well. I am looking forward to the preparations,’’ he signed off in Toronto.

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