Gukesh becomes second youngest GM in history

by Sagar Shah
1/15/2019 – 12 years, 7 months and 17 days — that's the age of the new second youngest ever, GM-elect D. Gukesh. He's also the 60th grandmaster from India! How did this youngster achieve it? On the surface, it looks like an extremely smooth journey where Gukesh achieved one milestone after another. "But when you delve deeper", writes SAGAR SHAH, "you see tremendous amount of sacrifices, grit, determination and much more from not just the youngster and his entire family". | Photo: David Llada

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Narrowly misses Karjakin record

If you feel like you've read that headline before, you're not wrong. This is now the third time we've had to update the number two spot on our list of the youngest grandmasters in historyjust in the last six months! It was last June when Praggnanandhaa finally bagged his third GM-norm at the age of 12 years, 10 months and 13 days. Then in October, Javokhir Sindarov achieved the same feat just three days younger. Now the record for second youngest GM heads back to India as D. Gukesh scored the requisite GM performance today at the 17th Delhi Open, almost three months faster than Sindarov!

Here's how his rating performance has steadily climbed.

Gukesh rating graph

It's mind-boggling to think that Gukesh was basically a beginner just five years ago!

IM Sagar Shah, from ChessBase India, has penned this dedication to India's youngest GM, who is sure to make it big in the years to come.

In October 2017, Gukesh was a talented youngster with a rating of 2322 and no norms. In 16 months, he scored three IM norms, three GM norms, pumped up his rating to 2500 and became the second youngest GM in the history of the game. Today, January 15th, Gukesh achieved his final GM norm at the Delhi GM 2019 and with it qualified for the GM title at the age of 12 years, 7 months and 17 days (4617 days from his birthdate, May 29th, 2006). The youngest GM in Indian chess history and the second youngest GM in the world, he missed Karjakin's record of the youngest GM in the world by just 19 days!

Gukesh in Delhi

The ninth round game at the Delhi Chess 2019 that helped Gukesh to score his third GM norm | Photo: Niklesh Jain

He scored his GM norm with one round to spare:

Rd. Bo. SNo   Name Rtg FED Club/City Pts. Res.
1 22 184 WFM Bommini Mounika Akshaya 1931 IND AP 5,0 w 1
2 21 103 CM Nikhil Magizhnan 2148 IND TN 5,0 s 1
3 16 75 FM Mehdi Hasan Parag 2260 BAN BAN 4,5 w 1
4 1 2 GM Predke Alexandr 2620 RUS RUS 6,5 w ½
5 13 46   Sahoo Utkal Ranjan 2388 IND Ori 6,0 s 1
6 5 13 GM Ghosh Diptayan 2544 IND Wes 7,0 s ½
7 5 10 GM Narayanan.S.L 2575 IND Ker 7,5 w ½
8 4 1 GM Amonatov Farrukh 2621 TJK TJK 7,0 s ½
9 12 67 IM Sharma Dinesh K. 2303 IND LIC 6,0 w 1
10 3 9 GM Gupta Abhijeet 2581 IND Del 7,0 s 0

Gukesh's performance at the 17th Delhi Chess GM Open 2019

Gukesh's path to the GM title has been short but filled with a lot of action. He scored his first IM norm in October 2017 when he had a rating of 2323. Within 16 months he is already a GM achieving three IM norms, three GM norms and an Elo of 2500! Looks easy, doesn't it? Before you pass any judgement, let's have a look at the table below: 

Tournaments performances, October 2017 to January 2019

S.No Name of tournament Period No. of games Rating gain Norms
1 First Friday Oct-17 9 39.4 1st IM norm
2 National under-11 Dec-17 11 -12.8  
3 Bhopal GM 2017 Dec-17 9 4  
4 IIFLW Open Jan-18 9 -27  
5 IIFLW Junior Jan-18 9 -2  
6 Delhi GM 2018 Jan-18 10 -5  
7 Moscow Open 2018 Feb-18 9 40 2nd IM norm
8 Aeroflot Open 2018 Mar-18 9 8  
9 Capelle La Grande Mar-18 9 33 3rd IM norm
10 Asian Youth under-12 Apr-18 9 1  
11 Bangkok Open Apr-18 9 24 1st GM norm
12 Kolkata GM Open May-18 9 5  
13 Bhubaneshwar GM Jun-18 9 -4  
14 White Rook Jun-18 9 10  
15 Alekhine Memorial Jun-18 9 -4  
16 Paracin Jul-18 9 3.5  
17 Pardubice  Jul-18 9 4  
18 Abu Dhabi Open Aug-18 9 11.5  
19 Abu Dhabi Juniors Aug-18 9 2  
20 Sants Open Sep-18 10 -1  
21 Trieste Open Sep-18 9 7  
22 Closed GM Heraklion Sep-18 9 -3.5  
23 Gujarat GM Oct-18 9 -7  
24 Isle of Man Oct-18 9 8  
25 World Cadets under-12 Nov-18 11 9  
26 GM Round Robin Serbia Dec-18 9 21.4 2nd GM norm
27 Sunway Sitges Open Dec-18 9 9.5  
28 Mumbai IIFLW Juniors  Jan-19 9 12.4  
29 Mumbai IIFLW Open Jan-19 9 -12.4  
30 Delhi GM 2019 Jan-19 9 15 3rd GM norm
      276 189  

While the rating gain of 189 Elo points and norms is amazing, what is even more impressive is the number of rated games that Gukesh has played — 276 games in 16 months. This works out to roughly 17 games per month or two tournaments every month for the last 16 months! Strong GMs are tired when they play 100 rated games in a year. Gukesh, on the other hand, has played nearly 207 games in one year!

This goes completely against conventional wisdom that you must relax in between the tournaments and have time to unwind. For Gukesh, playing chess is unwinding. For him, moving his pieces, thinking of plans is the best form of relaxation! Look at how many unsuccessful events the boy has had. Out of the 30 events he played in last 16 months, in ten of them he had lost rating points. But the most important thing for Gukesh was the focus on his games, on moves and improvement. This has helped him to improve very quickly.

Just to give you an example of how much he loves chess, his mother Padma Kumari said in the latest interview:

"Gukesh and his father came back from the Sunway Sitges very tired. Their flight was delayed and instead of reaching in the morning, they reached home in the afternoon. Gukesh was going to participate in the ChessBase India online blitz on the same day which was held in the honour of Vishy Anand's 49th birthday. The tournament was going to begin at 8 p.m. and Gukesh asked me to wake him up three hours before the tournament. As he was very tired I woke him up one hour before the event. He was very angry at me. He quickly got ready, switched on his computer and played a few practice games before the tournament began. He told me not to disturb him. This was an unbelievable scene for me. It just showed me how much he loved chess."

Interview with Gukesh and his mother after Gukesh became a GM

Bharat Singh Chauhan congratulates Gukesh

Bharat Singh Chauhan, Secretary of AICF embraces Gukesh after he became a GM | Photo: David Llada

Selfie with David Llada

Man of the moment with David Llada, Atul Dahale, Niklesh Jain and Angela Franco | Photo: David Llada

Gukesh's father Rajinikanth is a doctor — an ENT surgeon. He is affiliated with a hospital in Chennai where he provides his services. Since Gukesh started to play in so many tournaments, it's his father who has accompanied him to most of them. His profession has taken a backseat. He hardly visits the hospital. The institution has been kind to him to keep him in their list of doctors, but he doesn't really earn much. This means that the onus is on the mother Padma Kumar to ensure that the Gukesh's trips are sponsored. Thanks to becoming an IM in March 2018 at the age of 11 years and 10 months, Gukesh received some backing from his school Velammal Institute who contributed to Rs.5 lakh (or 500,000 Indian Rupees, roughly USD $7,000) and Microsense company who also contributed a similar amount. The moment this money was received Rajinikanth began planning the next tournaments for Gukesh. That's the reason why Gukesh is a GM today. The family went all in. Whatever money they had they put it in chess, they took the risk and it paid off. Somehow Gukesh's story is very similar to that Magnus Carlsen and his family who left home and travelled for nearly a year in Europe to play one tournament after another when the boy was just 13 years old!

ChessBase India has been closely following Gukesh's every tournament and takes you chronologically through some of the biggest achievements of Gukesh's chess career till date.

First IM norm

Gukesh achieved his first IM norm at the First Saturday tournament organized by Peter Long. In a must-win situation in the last round, Gukesh scored the win to reach the needed 7.0/9. At that, point Gukesh's rating was 2322 and he was 11 years and 5 months old.

Gukesh with father and Peter Long

Gukesh scored his first IM norm at the First Friday tournament on 11th of October 2017 organized by Peter Long (left)

Gukesh eating rice

This picture sent to us by Peter Long after Gukesh achieved his first IM norm was a super-hit! Gukesh celebrates his victory with rice and dal!

November 2017

He then went on to win the U-11 nationals in November 2017 in Pune! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Gukesh's favourite game from the Nationals under-11

GM Open in Bhopal

Finishing sixth in the super strong GM Open in Bhopal was a truly wonderful feat | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Parham Maghsoodloo, Gukesh and Anand

He won the IIFLW juniors and received the trophy from Vishy Anand | Photo: Niklesh Jain

father and son

The father and son duo enjoy their sweet moment of victory! | Photo: Niklesh Jain

2nd and 3rd IM norms

Gukesh's second IM norm came at the Moscow Open, in February 2018, with one round to spare. In March 2018, Gukesh achieved his third IM norm after at the Capelle la Grande. He became an IM at the age of 11 years, 9 months and 11 days!

Gukesh in February and March 2018

Gukesh in Moscow and Paris, in February and March, 2018

After becoming an IM one would imagine that Gukesh would not play in Asian under-12, but the youngster didn't stop playing. He went to the Asian Championships in Thailand and won five gold medals! Three individual golds in classical, rapid and blitz in  individual  format, gold in team rapid and blitz and bronze in team classical.

April, 2018 in Thailand at the Asian Youthe Championships

1st GM norm

Gukesh's victory at the Bangkok Open 2018 over Nigel Short created quite some controversy as Nigel's flag fell in a winning position.

Gukesh facing Nigel Short | Photo: Peter Long

This is what happened:

But Gukesh made full use of this situation and beat his strong opponents in the subsequent rounds to achieve his first GM norm at the Bangkok Open.

Rd. Bo. SNo   Name Rtg FED Pts. Res.
1 27 125 FM Nouri Alekhine 1883 PHI 3,5 s 1
2 24 82 WFM Patil Mitali Madhukar 2071 IND 5,0 w ½
3 25 74   Diez Allan 2095 PHI 4,5 s 1
4 7 2 GM Short Nigel D 2662 ENG 7,0 w 1
5 6 12 GM Ly Moulthun 2498 AUS 6,0 s ½
6 8 19 IM Pascua Haridas 2443 PHI 6,0 w ½
7 7 7 GM Krysa Leandro 2543 ARG 6,0 w 1
8 7 15 IM Goh Wei Ming Kevin 2472 SGP 6,5 s 1
9 2 5 GM Gareyev Timur 2592 USA 7,0 w ½

Gukesh's first GM norm

After achieving his first GM norm, a tough period began for Gukesh where he played 14 tournaments, but couldn't achieve his second norm. But in this period between May to November, he had the following achievements:

Team Velammal

Part of the winning team — Velammal at the White rook championships in Russia, giving Gukesh and all other members free entry to the Aeroflot Open 2019

Winning the Abu Dhabi Juniors 2018!

Becoming the World Champion under-12

By now Gukesh had already built up a great fan following thanks to his achievements!

Gukesh's love for playing chess is quite apparent. But it is not limited to it. He loves anything and everything connected to the game. For example, whenever I have asked Gukesh to send me his games with some annotations, he has done so within a couple of days. Here are two of his games from the World under-12 Championships 2018 where he became the champion with a score of 10.0/11.


Click or tap the second game in the list to switch

Although Gukesh had won the white rook, Abu Dhabi Juniors and World under-12 championships, the GM norm was not coming. At the same time, he had the remote possibility of breaking Karjakin's youngest GM record, if he achieved his GM title by December 29th, 2018. But there were only two tournaments left until the end of the year. How was Gukesh going to do it?

2nd GM norm

First up Gukesh gave a powerful performance at the Orbis-2 GM round-robin tournament in Paracin, Serbia. He scored 7½/9, gaining 21.4 Elo points with a performance of 2665 achieved his 2nd GM norm.

Paracin, Serbia, early December 2018

With a rating of 2490 and 2 GM norms, Gukesh was going to the Sunway Sitges Championship. He had a realistic chance of becoming the youngest GM in the world if he scored his final GM norm there. He missed it by a whisker, scoring half a point less than needed. But he was not affected in a big way. Gukesh gave a calm interview to ChessBase India after the tournament and got ready for his next event — the Mumbai IIFLW 2018-19.

"Enjoy the pressure", says Gukesh, who had the eyeballs of the entire world focusing on him to break Karjakin's record 

Just to show what a level headed person Gukesh's  father Rajinikanth is, here's his post after Gukesh was unable to break Karjakin's record:

"It's been a fantastic year for Gukesh. Honestly at the start of 2018, if someone would have predicted and told me that at the year end he will be close to 2500 and completed IM title and also has 2 GM norms in addition to Asian and World gold medals, I would have laughed it off. So it's that sort of miracle year. I am pretty happy with his efforts and results. Keep supporting him with all your blessings and prayers as I feel he wasn't destined for this record but who knows he has better things to target! Heartfelt thanks for all your support."

This has been one of the reasons why Gukesh does well. He has had absolutely no pressure from his parents. They do not interfere with his chess decisions. If there is a draw in a position and Gukesh overstretches and loses the game, his father is proud that Gukesh tried to play for a win and not that he missed the draw. It's this attitude that helps the young boy play freely.

At the IIFLW Championship 2018-19 Gukesh was unable to win the juniors section, nor was he able to achieve his GM norm in the open section. But he showed his claws, by beating the top seed in the open section Aleksandrov (2590).

Gukesh talks about his IIFLW tournament and whether he enjoys his father or mother's company more at a tournament!

Gukesh and Savitha both met Frederic Friedel, the co-founder of ChessBase GmbH on the last day of the Mumbai IIFLW 2018-19 and received ChessBase 15 as gifts

3rd GM norm

The third GM norm had to come sooner than later! Gukesh played a fine tournament at the Delhi GM Open 2019 and achieved his final norm!

Gukesh smiling

He lost the last round to GM Abhijeet Gupta, but has plenty to smile over! | Photo: David Llada

All D. Gukesh's games from the 17th Delhi Open


We asked Gukesh's current trainer GM Vishnu Prasanna as to what makes Gukesh special. He replied:

"Gukesh surprised me early on with his strategic sense and unique strategic decisions. This is even more surprising considering how young he is. He is extremely good at calculating variations quickly and precisely. Most of all he has tremendously important qualities like willingness to learn, curiosity and a good temperament to handle pressure."


No great thing was ever achieved alone! Gukesh's support team clock-wise from bottom left: Krishna Prasad (sports psychologist), Bhaskar (Gukesh's first trainer), Vishnu Prasanna, P. Karthikeyan and Vijay Anand


The organizations that have helped Gukesh in his journey — ONGC, Velammal and Microsense

Adapted from the original story with kind permission of ChessBase India.


Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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