Gukesh’s triumph comes like a whiff of fresh air

D Gukesh in action
D Gukesh in action (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

From one chess champion to another, V.Anand to D.Gukesh, the chess romance for those who love the 64 squares soared on early Monday morning, India time.

After the highs of watching two Indian Premier League matches on Sunday, sleep became a rarity. After all, a 17-year-old kid from Chennai who has become a big man, in a chess parlance, made the world wait. And sit up.

It’s fine for sports lovers to catch action all night, be it football, NBA, cricket or any other sport. Yes, chess following is massive. The increase has been phenomenal, simply because the number of kids from India rising to the top has been manifold.

When the Candidates chess programme began in Toronto, there may have been a bias, a slant, Rameshbabu Praggnnanadhaa would be the focus. He would be the guy to emerge tops. This is where some of us were wrong, for Gukesh showed all the signs of how a boy studying at Velammal Vidyalaya, Chennai, could handle big stage pressure and yet not show stress contours on his face.

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There were so many predictions being made for the final game, draw, win, an eventual tie-breaker against Hikaru Nakamura. No, Gukesh ensured a draw against a man aged 37, who had tons of experience.

If there were mind games, which chess is all about, Gukesh was ice cool. There is something in his gene pool for sure, coming from a family where his father and mother are doctors. This kid of a gene pool will ensure there is a very different mindset, right from the outset. Gukesh has it, as he unleashed a mental war of sorts against Nakumura, where patience was the watchword.

Mind you, this game was being viewed by millions online. Yet, for the Indian boy wearing a black shirt and blue blazer, he was not only making his “moves.” He was also keeping an eye on adjacent boards. Gukesh’s fortunes depended not just on what he did, but the outcome of the other crucial match between Fabiano Caruana against Ian Nepomniachtchi.

After he had drawn his match, Gukesh left the hall. That was a good decision, for what was the point in getting stressed. That his father Dr Rajnikanth, an ENT surgeon, broke the news to his son on the “success” was most apt. After all, however much coaches and mentors work with a prodigy, the first coach or mentors have to be the parents.

D Gukesh
D Gukesh (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Gukesh will become an adult next month. Maybe, he spends so much time on the chess boards, he does not shave. His beard looks in sync like many serious thinkers, who never wasted time in front of the mirror, holding a razor in hand. Yet, when it comes to razor sharpness, Gukesh preserves it for the 64 squares. For all those who have followed his results at the Candidates, he has been consistent, at least to a naïve chess follower like me.

The importance of a win like this, becoming challenger to world champion Ding Liren, needs to be put in perspective. There was a lull after the V.Anand era. Yes, new champions arrived and Anand has been a part of the journey for many. That he popularises chess in India would be stating the obvious. Some champions never fade away, like Sunny Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar. They leave a huge impact.

Anand has not just left an impact, he has goaded the next generation and followed their exploits. Vishy has spent time with Gukesh, Prag, Vaishali and many more. A short chat will suffice to learn and imbibe so much from King Vishy. That Gukesh moved ahead of Anand last year, in terms of ranking points had to happen. Anand was, indeed, happy, to see the next generation take over. Yet unlike many other sports, in chess, there is no brashness or arrogance among the teen Grandmasters who have such a long future ahead of them.

D Gukesh and Nijat Abasov
D Gukesh(PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Sample this, Gukesh is 17, Anand is 54. It offers pointers that Gukesh and even Pragg will have many more opportunities in their chess careers to do a lot. One difference, Gukesh has preferred to stay a classical player. He has not been caught up in this online chess stuff too much in early, formative years.

How that’s important, Gukesh himself can tell. If personalised coaching matters, Gukesh has been with Vishnu Prasanna for a time period long enough to learn the best stuff. Maybe, this traditional method, rather than falling back on “online chess engines” was a boon rather than a bane for Gukesh.

Indeed, Chennai and India will celebrate Dommaraju Gukesh. His family hails from Andhra but Gukesh is every bit a Chennai boy, born in a city where the sporting ethos still exists. This is not a win for Gukesh, this is a win for Indian sport, a massive one. At the time of IPL 2024, a cerebral sport witnessing a brainy champion comes as a whiff of fresh air.

Also Read: Gukesh makes history in Candidates chess