Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh and Vidit – the Chess Candidates Following Anand’s Glory Trail

D. Gukesh, Vidit Gujrathi, R. Praggnanandha (Images taken from their personal Instagram accounts)

It’s difficult to summarise in a few words the number of glass ceilings broken by Indian chess players in 2023. Because it’s a quiet pursuit and chess players aren’t always the most vocal, some of these deeds went unnoticed. There were some era-defining landmarks in those.
R Praggnanandhaa was obviously the cynosure for his giant-killing run at the World Cup, where he became the first Indian to reach the final in the revised format of the competition. Hailed as a prodigy since he was 10 or so, this Chennai boy has achieved at 18 what many Indian chess players have not in a lifetime.

It’s not about Pragg alone. Also to feature in the Candidates tournament are Vidit Gujrathi and D Gukesh. Before and after Viswanathan Anand, no Indian man had ever qualified for this event, which selects the challenger to take on the world champion. It was a glaring vacuum in the country of the five-time world champion. These three have changed that.

Pragg’s elder sister Vaishali made it a quadruple delight by making it to the Candidates in the women’s section. Having become the third woman from India to seal the Grandmaster title, Vaishali is the next big thing in women’s chess after Koneru Humpy and D Harika. There was a concern that things were stagnating in the women’s section. Vaishali’s achievements addressed that and brought Indian women players to the fore once again.

The All India Chess Federation, which is sometimes accused of infighting, deserves praise for organising a corpus of Rs 2 crore for the preparations of Pragg, Vidit and Vaishali. With Gukesh also making the cut, it has to be seen if the allocation is hiked before the event to take place in Toronto in April.


Also Read: D Gukesh on how ‘Candidates was the most important goal’ – Indian chess on the upswing 

From zero participants in the Candidates to three in the men’s section is a big indicator of progress. For years, there was talk of potential and talent. The number of Grandmasters in India was increasing. None had made a lasting impact at the elite level. There was progress, no excellence, forget getting anywhere close to Anand.

In 2023, a new generation changed that perception. India is the only country which has as many as three participants in the eight-player Candidates field. Gukesh is 17, Pragg 18 and Vidit 29. It’s a massive moment and the rise of young India is unmistakable.
This progress is manifest not only in the number of players who have made the Candidates cut. For the first time, an Indian overtook Anand in the international rating list. In September, Gukesh became only the second Indian to break into the top 10. He was seventh in the world and Anand eighth. The current rankings are different and Gukesh has slipped to 28th.

Despite that, India still have three in the top 20 and five in the 30. Never ever had players from the country made their presence felt so prominently in the rankings. There are more youngsters in the making. World No. 23 Arjun Erigaisi is 20. No. 46 Nihal Sarin is yet to turn 20. This is evidence that Indians are making rapid strides in the world of 64 squares.

The harvest period expected to follow Anand’s reign and gain has taken time to arrive, but it has. All of them swear by him and yet, they have their own distinctive ways and methods. Not without reason does the champ himself call it the ‘golden generation of Indian chess.’

Also Read: The sensational rise of Praggnanandhaa from prodigy to superpower is the highlight of Indian chess in 2023

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