Gukesh makes history in Candidates chess

D Gukesh
D Gukesh (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Remember 5.58 am, April 22, 2024, in India. That’s the moment D Gukesh made history. That was when Fabiano Caruana agreed to draw his game against Ian Nepomniachtchi. This meant that the Indian turning 18 next month had become the youngest-ever winner of the Candidates chess competition. He will be the second Indian after Viswanathan Anand to take on the world champion.

It’s a watershed moment in Indian chess. The Candidates is one of the most prestigious events. Only the best of the elites qualify for it. After Anand, India didn’t even have anybody in the competition for decades. To have three in the open section this time was huge. By winning it after 14 rounds of nerve-wracking drama, Gukesh trumpeted the arrival of the new generation of Indian chess. He will take on China’s Ding Liren in the championship bout. Dates and venue are not decided yet.

Well before Gukesh had drawn his game against Hikaru Nakamura, chess followers in India and elsewhere were glued to the clash between Caruana and Nepomniachtchi. A draw on that board would make Gukesh the Candidates champion, while a victory for either would take him to a tie-breaker. And Caruana appeared to be winning hands down before his opponent fought back.

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After holding the World No. 3 to a comfortable draw with black pieces, Gukesh himself started following the other game. Even when his game was going on, the youngster was anxiously checking the position on that board. Caruana looked like winning, lost the plot and came back strongly. This happened several times, until after 109 moves they decided that they had had enough.

“Not even after finishing my game,” said Gukesh on being asked when he started thinking that he had done it. “I was watching the other game. Now that it’s done, I feel relieved and happy. To achieve something for your country is special. I don’t want to take names, but I thank everyone in my support team, family and friends for this,” said the player from Chennai.

Gukesh finished with nine points from 14 rounds. World No. 2 Caruana, two-time defending champion Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura remained half-a-point behind. If one expected Gukesh to be under pressure in the final round, he came up with an opening novelty which surprised Nakamura. Gukesh controlled the game, although his marginal advantage was difficult to convert.

D Gukesh and Alireza Firouzja
D Gukesh and Alireza Firouzja (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

“We can see a change of guard,” said GM Irina Krush on official live commentary. “A new generation is coming up. To have such a young person as the challenger is wonderful. It’s creditable because Gukesh made it at the last minute and picked up points when he needed them. Those recoveries were highlights of the tournament. This is super exciting.”

Other than his immense ability to calculate and find the right moves almost invariably game after game under intense pressure against opponents rated higher than him, Gukesh’s fighting spirit and composure drew the attention of the chess world. He lost in the seventh round following a momentary lapse and lost his lead in the 10th. Both times, he bounced back with wins.

“The victory after the seventh round was really important,” said Gukesh. “I was upset but started feeling better the next day which was the rest day. That win gave me a lot of motivation. I’m very excited to win this and looking forward to all the preparation (for the world championship match). I don’t care about records, but it’s nice to be called the youngest Candidates winner.”

R Vaishali and Lei Tingjie
R Vaishali and Lei Tingjie (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Vaishali finishes with a bang

R Vaishali made the women’s campaign memorable by chalking out a fifth successive win. This was a phenomenal run after four consecutive defeats. Vaishali finished joint-second with Koneru Humpy and Lei Tingjie on 7.5 points. China’s Tan Zhongyi won with nine points. She will take on reigning champion and compatriot Jun Wenjun in the championship match.

Round 14 results

Open Section

Hikaru Nakamura (8.5) drew with D Gukesh (9)
Fabiano Caruana (8.5) drew with Ian Nepomniachtchi (8.5)
Alireza Firouzja (5) drew with Vidit Gujrathi (6)
Nijat Abasov (3.5) lost to R Praggnanandhaa (7)

Women’s Section

Anna Muzychuk (5.5) drew with Tan Zhongyi (9)
Kateryna Lagno (6.5) lost to R Vaishali (7.5)
Lei Tingjie (7.5) lost to Koneru Humpy (7.5)
Aleksandra Goryachkina (7) drew with Nurgyul Salimova (5)

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