Gukesh knows how to handle pressure when it mounts, says coach Vishnu Prasanna

D Gukesh (Image: FIDE), Vishnu Prasanna (Image: Vishnu Prasanna Facebook)

It’s a question D Gukesh has faced a few times in the last year or so. It was asked of him after the 10th round game of the Candidates chess competition, too. He said once again that being the joint-leader in an elite event doesn’t make things any different for him. Last year at a media interaction in Kolkata as well, Gukesh had stated that he doesn’t feel pressure.

Other than an anti-climactic seventh-round defeat against Alireza Firouzja, Gukesh has shown a deep reserve of calm and resolve in Toronto, other than his skills and knowledge of positions. Looking higher-rated opponents in the eye, matching them move for move when not outthinking them and bouncing back after the defeat — the 18-year-old has shown no signs of nerves.

“Not that there is no pressure in a tournament featuring the top players, but Gukesh has been like this for a while now,” his coach, GM Vishnu Prasanna V told RevSportz. “The last year taught him lessons. He went through a lot and experienced a lot of pressure. Qualifying for Candidates was a long process. That’s how he learnt to handle situations. These days, he is enjoying it as a challenge.”


Vishnu Prasanna is working with Gukesh since 2017. Starting last year, the player has been assisted also by Viswanathan Anand’s former second, Polish GM Grzegorz Gajewski. The first Indian to overtake Anand in world rankings and the youngest-ever to touch 2750 in Elo ratings, Gukesh has gone past a few milestones quietly. Approaching another, he has to handle pressure no matter what he says.

“Mental strength will be important in the closing stages at the Candidates. There will be pressure on every player and it will increase with each game. Gukesh has to deal with this. He has to maintain stability and take each game as a new tournament. It will depend also on how others are doing. If his nearest rival gets a win, Gukesh may have to react to that and go for a win,” said Vishnu Prasanna.

In the last four games, Gukesh has white against Fabiano Caruana and Firouzja. He will play with black versus Nijat Abasov and Hikaru Nakamura. So far, he has won one and drawn four with white pieces. With black, he has won two, drew two and lost one. “It’s been quite even so far. But as we all know, in this tournament only the first place matters,” noted the coach.

While R Praggnanandhaa has dazzled with his unorthodox variations and Vidit has pulled off spectacular wins, Gukesh has been low-key in comparison. He barely speaks even when asked to, underplays own achievements and goes about his task in a quiet and confident manner. As the mercury rises inside the Great Hall in Toronto, the importance of these traits will also increase.