‘The loss fired me up more’ – D Gukesh on how defeat to Firouzja spurred him to Candidates glory

D Gukesh in Candidates Chess
D Gukesh in Candidates Chess (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Maria Emilianova and Boria Majumdar

At an age when most teenagers are struggling with high-school trigonometry or an acne outbreak, D Gukesh is the Candidates chess champion, storming past a strong field of eight, including two other Indians, to book his place against Ding Liren, the Chinese who took over as champion after Magnus Carlsen lost his appetite for classical chess. After his epochal triumph in Toronto, Gukesh spoke exclusively to Boria Majumdar, RevSportz editor-in-chief, and Maria Emilianova. Also included are excerpts from his interaction last January, where he had spoken of the influence of Viswanathan Anand and much more.

Maria Emilianova: How do you feel?

Gukesh: Feeling amazing right now. So relieved and so happy. The last day was so stressful, but I’m so glad things went well.

Maria: Which moment did you feel the happiest today?

Gukesh: Actually, after the game, I went back to my hotel while the Fabi [Fabiano Caruana against Ian Nepomniachtchi] game was still going on, and I was trying not to think about it. Me and [Grzegorz] Gajewski (his trainer) were randomly chatting about the game, and my dad came over excited…

Maria: Running?

Gukesh: Yes, running (smiles). He told me I’ve made it. So that was probably the best moment.

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Maria: And what chance did you think you had, that this would happen? Before the tournament…

Gukesh: I was not really thinking of favourites, or my chances. I thought if I’m at my absolute best, I have every chance, like every other player in this tournament. The way I handled myself, I couldn’t have hoped for better.

Maria: The lowest moment probably was the loss [in round 7 to Alireza Firouzja]?

Gukesh: It was also kind of the turning point, I would say. Till that point, I wasn’t sure I would make it. But after the loss, I had a rest day and I felt at my absolute best.

Maria: That’s interesting that it did not kill you…

Gukesh: I was very upset for some time, but after that, I thought about it. If I continued playing at the same level, I was surely going to have very good chances.

Maria: Do you think maybe some pressure went off after the loss?

Gukesh: No, I would say it kind of fired me up more.

Maria: That’s like [Magnus] Carlsen. They say Carlsen comes back even stronger after a loss.

Gukesh: I think for every sportsperson, it happens. This moment was just very special. I wasn’t even trying to take it in a positive way or anything. It just happened that I felt in very good spirits after the game.

Maria: Amazing! You’re just 17. And you already show qualities of a world champion.

Gukesh: Thank you. Means a lot.

D Gukesh
D Gukesh (PC: FIDE_chess/X)

Boria: You are 17, and the list of achievements is quite astounding. In 2023, you became the highest-rated Indian player after 36 years. To get to the top spot ahead of Anand must have been emotional. Did that put a lot of pressure on you?

Gukesh: Yes, you are right. It was a great feeling to be at the top, and making it past someone like Vishy Sir. He is one of the greatest players of all time, and when I look back, I do think I put a lot of pressure on myself soon after it happened. After September, I did not play well until it all changed again for the better in London and then Chennai. But more than making it to the top of the Indian rankings, my goal for 2023 was always to make it to the Candidates. That was priority, and I am glad I have been able to do so.

Boria: Three Indians in the eight who qualified for the Candidates. Tells us about the depth and strength of Indian chess. Your thoughts?

Gukesh: Yes, absolutely. I don’t think any other country except the Soviet Union/Russia had three or more qualifiers for the Candidates in the past. It shows the depth and quality in our chess, and may I say that Indian chess has a very bright future. There is no reason why we won’t be able to dominate world chess in the future.

Boria: It is excellent to see the bond between you and Anand. He has spoken to me about you in the past, and today he tweeted congratulating you. In many ways, it all goes back to him. Tell me a little about the impact Anand has had on you.

Gukesh: It all started with Vishy sir. There is no debate that had it not been for him, none of us would be there. He paved the way. He has given us the self-belief, and is a role model. With WACA, he has made a huge difference to every young player, and for me personally, I have been fortunate to discuss chess with him on many occasions and each has been a hugely learning experience. Indian chess owes him a lot.

Boria: Anand mentioned that you two had once played table tennis together during the Olympiad when he had spoken to you after a bad loss. For him to reach out to you during the Olympiad is why we love sport so much. It was sport at its best. Tell me one such story which stands out for you.

Gukesh: There are many, and you are right about the Olympiad. But, for me, the other occasion that stands out is when I had become GM and had visited Vishy Sir at his house, and got an opportunity to discuss chess with him. It was the first such occasion, and will forever be a memorable one for me.

Also Read: Gukesh makes history in Candidates chess