Shades of Kramnik in Gukesh’s unusual variations: Sasikiran

Grandmaster K. Sasikaran speaks on D. Gukesh’s Candidates achievement (Image: FIDE/Sasikaran Twitter)

D Gukesh’s triumph at the Candidates meet and some consistently strong displays by a band of youngsters in recent years confirms that Indian chess is turning a new leaf after basking in the glory of Viswanathan Anand for decades.

This became visible at the Chess Olympiad in 2022 and got a boost at the World Cup last year. The success of Gukesh and the five-game winning run of R Vaishali in the women’s section of Candidates stated emphatically that the next generation is ready to challenge the best.

GM Krishnan Sasikiran is a link between the times of Anand and the new era. The first Indian after the legend to make a mark at the world level, he was the second from the country to cross 2700 in Elo ratings and break into the top 30. The Chennai player was a member of the first Indian team to win a Chess Olympiad medal, in 2014. He also assisted Anand as a second.

In a chat with RevSportz, the 43-year-old Sasikiran expressed hope that Gukesh’s triumph will further galvanise Indian chess and inspire more children to play the game. The following are excerpts:

Q: How do you assess the performance of Gukesh?

A: In this event, Gukesh chose his openings very wisely, which was impressive. He made some changes in the popular variations and presented new positions. Some players do that, but in case of Gukesh, he brought them into play at an early stage of the game. He asked unusual questions and tried to bring in something new.

I see an influence of Vladimir Kramnik (former world champion) and Grzegorz Gajewski (Gukesh’s second) in this. There was a training camp in Chennai a few years ago, conducted by Kramnik and Boris Gelfand. Gukesh was among the youngsters who attended it. Kramnik likes these new ideas and positions early on in the game and he encourages one to deviate from the trodden path.


I think Gukesh’s technical conversion needs a bit of tinkering. When he is dominating, he should be able to finish without allowing any counter play. When you are technically better and can call the shots, you should control the game and convert your advantage. But this is something he can acquire. Ability to recover from setbacks is a good quality to have and Gukesh showed that too.

Q: What about R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi in the open section?

A: For Vidit to beat Hikaru Nakamura (World No. 3) 2-0 was exceptional. Over all these years, I don’t remember him losing too many games. To defeat him twice was remarkable. But Vidit also seemed to have some opening problems. Against Fabiano Caruana he let the game drift and it became very difficult. Something similar happened against Praggnanandhaa. He needs some kind of stability.

Praggnanandhaa has age on his side. He should be looking to play more tournaments. He took risks and sometimes, they backfired. He spent a lot of time working on the openings. This usually means covering a lot of lines. He likes taking risks and prefers dynamic play. He is on the right track. I expect him to qualify for the Candidates again.

Q: How about the performance of R Vaishali and Koneru Humpy?

A: It’s very commendable. There are not many closed tournaments of such high standards in women’s chess. When that is the case, one may feel rusty in a tournament like the Candidates. They became more comfortable after the first few games. Both won more games in the second half of the competition. Vaishali’s run of five successive wins was praiseworthy. I think they did very well to finish joint-second (on points) after a slow start.

Q: How does Indian chess benefit from an outing like this?

A: There will be more interest in chess. More parents would want their children to learn the game. I also think we should have regular 2700-level tournaments. Imagine Gukesh preparing for the world championship match by playing strong events in India instead of going abroad. And, it’s also time to consider the addition of chess to the academic curriculum. It has many good effects.