Who is D. Gukesh, the boy who toppled Viswanathan Anand as India’s No.1?
A world No. 8 at 17 years, the prodigious Chennai lad adds sheen to the ongoing Tata Steel Rapid and Blitz chess in Kolkata
It was the biggest coup that Indian chess, riding the crest of a global wave lately, has seen in a while—and it happened barely a few days back.
While R. Praggnanandhaa drew all the media spotlight after his FIDE World Cup show against World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen, his friend and sparring partner D. Gukesh has now toppled the legendary Viswanathan Anand as India’s No.1 chess player.
The latest FIDE rating, effective from 1 September, shows the 17-year-old Gukesh at 2758 points while the five-time world champion Anand has a tally of 2754.
Gukesh is now No. 8 in the global rankings, followed by the Indian maestro at No. 9, signalling a change of the guard after a long 37 years through which Anand held the title of India’s No. 1.
A mention of his newfound status—in the presence of Anand, among the guests at the men’s draw ceremony of the Tata Steel Rapid & Blitz chess tournament in Kolkata on 6 September—had Gukesh recoiling immediately.
When Tania Sachdev, the women’s grandmaster who was anchoring the draw, asked Gukesh how it feels to be playing his first tournament as the new India No. 1, the youngster mumbled, ‘’This is my third appearance here and I am keen on doing well.’’
The raucous reception that the likes of Gukesh, Pragg, Arjun Erigaisi and Vidit Gujrathi were accorded at the entrance of Bhasa Bhavan — the venue of India’s richest chess tournament inside the sprawling National Library complex — must have been a pleasant surprise for them.
More than 100 children, all wannabe chess players, and their parents had lined themselves up with their mobile cameras. The scramble for autographs and selfies underlined just how deeply and quickly the sport has entered the consciousness of a new generation, thanks in good part to these young people.
Incidentally, it was more than a month back that the prodigious Gukesh — who became India’s youngest grandmaster (at 12 years, 7 months and 17 days!) in January 2019 — was assured of overtaking his idol Anand in the ratings.
The moment came in the first week of August, when he beat Iskandarov of Azerbaijan in 44 moves in their second-round match at the FIDE World Cup in Baku, which helped him gain 2.5 rating points — taking his tally to 2755.9, against Anand’s 2754.0.
A quartet of Indian grandmasters, all below 20 years—Gukesh, Pragg, Erigaisi and Nihal Sarin—crowded the quarter final line-up in the World Cup, underlining why Anand keeps addressing them as the golden generation of Indian chess.
While Gukesh drew Magnus Carlsen in the last eight and lost the game, Pragg carried on with his giant-killing act till he fell at the last hurdle.
Speaking in an interview ahead of the FIDE World Cup, Gukesh had told the Hindustan Times: ‘’He’s (Anand) my idol, my biggest hero. So to be able to cross him in the ratings at some point would be really nice.’’
Anand, who has played the Pied Piper of Indian chess for the last three decades and had been mentoring this bunch at his Westbridge Chess Academy in Chennai, had also seen Gukesh’s feat coming.
‘’It’s quite clear that at some point he might just shoot past me," Anand had said of Gukesh a few months back. "I’ve been sensing it in the wind for some time now. It looks like it may happen this year. It will be huge. I’m quite relaxed about it, even proud. I think I’ll only know how I feel when it happens (though)." And now it has.
Now that his premonition has come true, Anand should be a happy man. There can surely be nothing more satisfying for him than to learn that his legacy is in safe hands!