India’s Gukesh, GM at 12 years… 2nd youngest ever

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Several years ago, The Chess Drum ran a series of articles on the rise of Asian chess nations (parts 1, 2, 3). The countries highlighted were China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines. There were other articles focusing exclusively on China, but it seems that India has taken the world by storm as the new chess power. Dommaraju Gukesh of India has just earned his last GM norm at the Delhi International Open to become the second youngest Grandmaster in history and youngest Indian ever at 12 years, 7 months and 17 days.

Dommaraju Gukesh being congratulated by All-India Chess Federation CEO and FIDE Vice President Bharat Singh Chauhan after earning his 3rd and final GM norm. He becomes the 60th Indian Grandmaster! Photo by David Llada (for Delhi Chess Association)

Bolstered by the legendary Viswanathan Anand, India has been graced by a wave of chess interest reminiscent of the “Fischer Boom” of the 70s. While Bobby Fischer ignited global interest in chess after his historic win over Boris Spassky, Anand has led a revolution in the country of 1.3 billion, by being accessible and helping to make way for the new generation of players.

Most recently India has produced an impressive increase in GMs since Anand became the first in 1988. Most will have heard about 13-year old Rameshbabu Pragnanandhaa, currently playing in the Tata Steel Challengers, but also part of the “youth movement” in India is 14-year old Nihal Sarin and the latest star in Gukesh. Both Pragnanandhaa and Gukesh are also from Anand’s hometown of Chennai.

Pragnanandhaa and Gukesh drawing a crowd during a friendly blitz game.
Photo by Maria Emelianova

I was disappointed when I failed to become the youngest ever GM because I had come quite close to getting there. However, I chose not to sulk over it for long. It was important for me to keep playing well as the results will eventually come.

~ Gukesh on barely missing Karjakin’s age record for GM title

Gukesh fell just short of Sergey Karjakin’s record by 17 days. However, he becomes the youngest Indian GM eclipsing Pragnanandhaa who earned his title at 12 years, 10 months and 13 days. According to an ESPN article by Susan Ninan, Gukesh’s feat was even more amazing by his determination.

Over a 16-month span, he collected six norms – three IM and three GM – and went from a rating of 2323 at the time of his first IM norm to 2512 today and between January 2018 and the ninth round on Tuesday has played a stunning 243 games — an average of two tournaments every month.

Interestingly, he not only stands on the shoulders of Mir Sultan Khan, Manuel Aaron, and Viswanathan Anand, but he is inspired by his peer Pragnanandhaa who received international attention. He is coached by GM Vishnu Prasanna and is supported by his mother Dr. Padma Kumari who is a microbiologist and his father Dr. Rajnikanth, an ENT (ear, nose, throat) surgeon. Here is his father talking about his son at a 2017 GM tournament in Bhopal, India when Gukesh’s rating was 2316.

Here is Gukesh celebrating his accomplishment with his mother!

Videos by ChessBase India

Gukesh’s story is interesting because it demonstrates the incredible culture that India has created with a far-reaching structure stretching the globe. Even outside of India the Diaspora has taken to the sport. If there was any doubt, India (widely-held to be the birthplace of chess) has arrived as a superpower and the talent inertia will hopefully propel many young players to the height of Grandmaster.

Congratulations Gukesh!

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