How 17-Year-Old Gukesh D's Became The Best Chess Player In India

India's New No.1
India's New No.1L: Business Standard R: Frans Peeters

Chess is a beautiful game. The great Soviet chess master, Mikhail Botvinnik described good chess players as those who not only have creative talent but the ability to organize their creative talent. When one plays a game of chess, the outside world temporarily shuts out completely and life and death exist only within sixty-four squares. In India, we have had several talented chess players ever since the inception of the game but the name Vishwanathan Anand has become synonymous with Indian chess not just in our nation but around the globe and for the right reasons. Anand has been India’s best and also in the top 15 world rankings at a stretch from 1991 till 2016 and that statistic alone reveals his consistency and greatness. However, there is a rising young chess prodigy who has been making waves in the chess world and after recently beating Anand’s live ratings record, now holds the title of India’s No.1.

It is none other than the 17-year-old Grandmaster Dommaraju Gukesh, widely hailed as Anand’s protégé. He ascended to the position of India's top chess player, shattering a longstanding live ratings record previously held by Viswanathan Anand for an impressive span of 36 years. This remarkable achievement came on the back of successfully advancing to the third round of the prestigious FIDE Chess World Cup. The tournament, characterized by its high-stakes single-elimination format, is currently unfolding in Baku, Azerbaijan. Gukesh's triumph over Misratdin Iskandaro propelled him to a live ranking of 2755.9, narrowly surpassing Anand's notable rating of 2754.0.

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Ever since the beginning of this year when Gukesh made it into the list of the world’s top 100 chess players, his rankings have undergone an exponential rise, and his current world ranking according to FIDE is 11. This ranking is different from live ratings which are calculated immediately after a match. Earlier this July, Gukesh also became the youngest chess player to cross the 2750 mark, breaking the record previously held by five-time World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who has been World No. 1 since 2011. To add to the list of Gukesh’s remarkable feats, he also holds the title of being the youngest player (age of 16) to beat arguably the greatest contemporary chess genius, Magnus Carlsen in a blitz event ahead of the Norway Chess tournament this year. He has won several other championships and also the U-13 World Champion record under his belt.

Now let us go beyond the chess genius and his achievements and instead explore the young schoolboy behind it all. Gukesh D, a native of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, has woven his early years within this vibrant city's embrace. Born to a father, Rajnikanth, an ENT surgeon, and a mother, Padma, who lends her expertise to the world of microbiology, Gukesh's roots are firmly anchored in a family of accomplished professionals. As a young boy, he would observe his parents engage in recreational chess games, planting the seeds of a lifelong passion.

Gukesh's first tangible encounter with the chessboard occurred under the tutelage of his elder cousin, Dinesh, who imparted the intricacies of the game and sparked a burgeoning interest. The family living room transformed into a battleground of minds as they delved into matches, nurturing Gukesh's enthusiasm. Gradually, his fascination deepened, and he recognized chess as not just a pastime, but as a realm of boundless possibilities.

At the age of six and a half, Gukesh's participated in a summer camp organized by his school. This fortuitous event introduced him to his first coach, MS Bhaskar, who detected his latent potential and paved the way for Gukesh's entry into the world of structured training. A chess club became his haven, a place where his skills sharpened, and ambitions soared. Progressing under the guidance of coaches like Vijayanand, IM Kartikeyan, and GM Vishnu Prasad, Gukesh's evolution as a chess prodigy gained momentum. Within this journey of learning and growth, Gukesh's school, Velammal Vidyalaya CBSE School in Mel Ayanambakkam, Chennai, played an instrumental role. Here, he discovered unwavering support that extended beyond academics. The school granted him the freedom to dedicate extensive time to his craft, an opportunity he values deeply.

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Yet, amid the intensity of his pursuits, Gukesh's playful spirit remains intact. In an interview with the Sroll, he quips about his favorite subject being "No subject" and wears a smile while confessing that chess is his world, a sentiment rooted in his results. Also, Gukesh's technological prowess finds its boundaries, with his phone and computer serving solely as tools for chess. Away from the board, Gukesh embraces sports, relishing cricket and badminton matches with his mother. An affinity for Tamil comedies provides a dose of relaxation, while his mischievous side thrives as he indulges in pranks and banter with friends.

In the interview, when asked about his relationship with chess, Gukesh's response encapsulates his essence: "I enjoy chess." These three words reflect the limitless possibilities a person is allowed to pursue their deepest passion as a career, along with unwavering familial and societal support. As Gukesh continues to etch his name in the chess world, his story stands as an inspiring testament to the power of nurturing youthful talent. The torch has now been passed and the hopes and aspirations of a chess-loving nation now rest on the shoulders of the young Grandmaster, Dommaraju Gukesh.

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