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Candidate Gukesh for world chess summit

Candidate Gukesh for world chess summit

At 17 years, 10 months and 24 days, Gukesh is the youngest to triumph at the Candidates Chess tournament, earning him earn the right to challenge China's Ding Liren for the World Championship later this year.

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Last Updated : 23 April 2024, 22:52 IST
Last Updated : 23 April 2024, 22:52 IST
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On Monday morning, India woke up to what will go down as a seminal moment in its sporting history. Dommaraju Gukesh, the teen chess prodigy from Chennai, triumphed at the Candidates Chess tournament in Toronto to earn the right to challenge China's Ding Liren for the World Championship later this year. At 17 years, 10 months and 24 days, Gukesh is the youngest to achieve the feat by some distance.

The next youngest was Garry Kasparov, who was nearly four years older when he won the Candidates tournament in 1983-84. The Russian chess great captured Gukesh's victory best when he described it as "the Indian earthquake in Toronto." He went on to add that this was a tectonic shift in the chess world.

What Kasparov meant was that Asia has decisively changed the chess world order by ensuring that for the first time in the history of the game, two Asians would be battling it out for the world title. Not just for the men's crown but for the women's as well, after Chinese Tan Zhongyi won the Candidates to challenge the defending world champion and compatriot Ju Wenjun. Of course, in the men’s tournament, Magnus Carlsen's decision to vacate the title last year after winning it for five years in a row opened up the space for others but in no way diminishes the importance of the title.

Personally for Gukesh, it marks the most significant milestone in his fledgling career. Rated sixth among eight Candidates contenders, only 1.4% of the 7,148 respondents had predicted Gukesh's win in a poll conducted by a popular chess website. Ahead of the tournament, even Carlsen thought Gukesh was not ready yet for the leap.

The Norwegian legend expected no more than a couple of wins, and some bad losses, for the Indian. But Gukesh emerged the winner, displaying maturity beyond his age. He posted eight wins on the way to logging 8.5 points, a decisive 0.5 lead over his three closest rivals, who all finished with 8 points. His calmness after losses and equanimity after wins were striking, and the influence of mentor Viswanathan Anand unmistakable. 

In the euphoria of Gukesh's accomplishment, let's not forget the other two Indians in the field. R Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi held their own against popular forecasts, heralding India's chess renaissance. While the three qualified for the Candidates, the likes of Arjun Erigaisi, Nihal Sarin, Raunak Sadhvani, all aged under 20, are waiting in the wings. They are equally good and are champion materials.

R Vaishali, who made her Candidates debut, and veteran Koneru Humpy saw a resurgence towards the second half to finish joint second in the women's section to make it a memorable event for India. Again, who could have said it better than Kasparov: "Vishy Anand's 'children' are on the loose!"

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