India gives Gukesh a much deserved hero’s welcome

by André Schulz
4/27/2024 – After Gukesh’s victory in the Candidates Tournament, the enthusiasm in his home country knows no bounds. On his return to Chennai, the youngest World Chess Championship challenger of all time was greeted with a huge reception. India intends to host the World Championship match between Gukesh and reigning champion Ding Liren from China. | Photo: Aditya Sur Roy

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By now, we are somewhat familiar with the enthusiasm of the Indian chess community, which presumably now comprises a large proportion of the total population. Viswanathan Anand has made splendid progress and, after winning the World Championship, has risen to become one of the most popular Indian sporting idols. With Anand, chess has once again become a national sport in its country of origin and has achieved a status that is roughly comparable to the enthusiasm for football in Germany — perhaps even more so.

Recently, a large number of talented, young Indian grandmasters have stormed the world rankings and Gukesh, at 17, is the youngest of them all. Three of the eight players in the Candidates Tournament in Toronto were Indian. They were joined by two Indian women in the Women’s Candidates Tournament. That’s quite an impressive number. And Arjun Erigaisi, another young Indian grandmaster, would have also fitted in well in the lineup!

The tournament victory was fiercely contested in the Candidates Tournament. Nuances and perhaps a single poor performance might have made all the difference. The three Indians fought hard in their direct battles — unlike in the old days of Soviet supremacy, when the games ended as the sports authorities had ordered, or with short draws.

Nevertheless, Gukesh received — unintentional — support from his compatriots. Firstly, he was able to take one point each from his two colleagues, Vidit and Praggnanandhaa. And then Vidit’s two wins against Hikaru Nakamura played a decisive role in the final result. If the games had both ended in draws, for example, Nakamura would have won the tournament.

So Gukesh became the challenger and will play Ding Liren for the world title.

Gukesh, Pragg and Vaishali with their coaches - Gajewski (left), Svidler (right) and Chanda (third from right) — in the centre stands the founder of WestBridge Capital, Sandeep Singhal

Gukesh’s victory in the Candidates Tournament naturally generated even more excitement than Praggnanandhaa’s second place in the World Cup. The first signs of the Indian community’s coming jubilation could be seen immediately after the final rounds in Toronto.

Gukesh exiting the venue after winning the Candidates Tournament | Photo: FIDE

Among the well-wishers was the great mentor of the young Indian players, Vishy Anand. This is practically a personal consecration by the Indian god of chess himself, and is understood as such by the young Indian players.

Winning the Candidates Tournament was hard work, but the young hero still had one more task ahead of him. He had to return home and share in the great joy of his compatriots. The first big hurdle with cheering people awaited him at the airport.

Not only the Indian chess fans, but also press representatives had turned up in large numbers to report to their readers and collect sound bites.

“I couldn’t have wished for a better homecoming”, said Gukesh into the microphones and cameras, before taking a break. “It’s a special achievement for me. I was in good form throughout the tournament. The loss in the seventh round was a setback, but I was able to bounce back because I was in good form. I was confident from the start that I could win the Candidates Tournament, and with luck on my side, it worked out accordingly”.

In the following video by ChessBase India, the events lived at Chennai airport are expressed even more intensively.

So what now? At the age of 17, Gukesh is the youngest World Championship challenger in chess history and could become the youngest-ever world champion if he beats Ding Liren. Naturally, the All India Chess Federation is endeavouring to organise the competition and will probably be able to raise the necessary funds from companies and government agencies in the chess-loving country. The government of the state of Tamil Nadu has already informed that it is interested in organising another Wold Chess Championship after the Carlsen versus Anand match in 2013.

However, the Chinese Chess Federation will probably attempt to split the competition between the two countries in order to increase their player’s chances. But chess is nowhere near as popular in China as it is in India, and fundraising will be more difficult for the Chinese Federation.

But, of course, there is also a political component. India and China are in a competitive situation and are not the best of friends. There are regular tensions on the border in the north. This could motivate the Chinese authorities to support the chess federation’s efforts to bring at least part of the competition to China. However, perhaps the Chinese authorities will be satisfied with organising the Women’s World Championship.

The match for the World Championship between Ding Liren and Gukesh is expected to take place in November. After winning the title, Ding has barely played at all in classical competitions and has complained of illness. He has since returned to tournament action, plagued by self-doubt and clearly not in top form.

Gukesh has already overtaken Ding in the live rating list, albeit only by 1.4 points. However, both are (still?) a long way off Carlsen.


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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