Gukesh closes in on 2600

by Sagar Shah
3/6/2020 – The year 2020 has begun well for youngster D. Gukesh. He won the Hillerød Chess Club open in Denmark, and went on to fly through the Cannes Open as well. In a field that had over ten grandmasters, Gukesh scored 7½/9 with a rating performance of 2667. While Gukesh's performance and live rating of 2565 is impressive, what is even more jaw-dropping is the fact that the youngster says he has never used an engine for his preparation! In this article, Gukesh sends us an annotated game from the Cannes Open which, like always, he has analysed all by himself. A detailed report on Gukesh's victory along with an interview with the winner.

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Gukesh's first tournament win in 2020

If you want to achieve something truly special, you have to move against the crowd. Gukesh and his family are an excellent example of the same. While every youngster plays around 100-120 rated games in a year, Gukesh played over 200 to become a GM — the second youngest GM in the history of the game.. While everyone usually feels that you should play in only strong events, Gukesh decided to play in the Hillerød Chess Club tournament where he was the second seed. He scored 8.0/9, gained some valuable Elo points and won the tournament by a half point margin. Before he left for his next tournament - the Cannes Open in France, we got in touch with him and did an interview on his victory. Get to know the unique thoughts of India's finest talent.

The Hillerød Chess Club, about 40 kilometres north of the Danish capital of Copenhagen, was established in the year 1910! In 2020, they celebrated 110 years of its existence. Gukesh started off as the second seed, and scored 8.0/9, to finish ahead of the field by half a point.

Gukesh with the organizers at the closing ceremony | Photo: Rajinikanth

Gukesh's biggest competitor for the top spot at the tournament was GM Zeng Chongsheng. Until round seven both of them were leading with a score of 6½/7. Gukesh and Chongsheng had already drawn their game in the fifth round. However, in the penultimate game of the event, Gukesh drew his game while the Chinese GM succumbed to a loss after overreaching against FM Jens Ostergaard.

The Chinese GM lost his only game in the event against Jens Ostergaard | Photo: Hillerød Chess Club

Gukesh, thus took a half point lead and won his final round game to seal the deal with 8.0/9.

Final standings (top 10)

# Name Nat. rating FIDE Elo Pts. TB
1 GM Gukesh D 2547 2542 8 40.00
2 GM Chongsheng Zeng 2567 2567 41.00
3 IM Mahadevan Siva 2288 2310 7 39.00
4 Peter Birk Petersen 2091 2117 30.50
5 IM Maxim Barth Stanford 2341 2339 6 40.00
6 IM John Arni Nilssen 2363 2333 6 34.00
7 Jesper Schultz-Pedersen 2018 2058 39.50
8 FM Karsten Larsen 2239 2235 37.00
9 FM Mikkel Manosri Jacobsen 2301 2315 36.50
10 FM Jens Østergaard 2222 2229 36.00

...46 players

Podium finishers (L to R): IM Siva Mahadevan (far left), Gukesh (center) and GM Zeng Chongsheng (second from right) | Photo: Rajinikanth

While Gukesh winning the tournament was a great result for the youngster, usually a player like him prefers to play in tournaments where he has many grandmasters above him, like the Gibraltar Masters, Aeroflot Open, or Reykjavik Open etc. Why did Gukesh decide to play the Hillerød chess club tournament where the first prize was a meager 3,000 DKK (Approximately €402) and also where he was the second seed? I decided to do a short interview with the youngster and ask him these questions. Gukesh was kind enough to find time for this interview before he began his tournament in Cannes.

SS: How does it feel to win your first event of 2020?

DG: I am happy and relieved that I won this tournament!

SS: Being the second seed, was the tournament easy for you or was it tough?

DG: The pressure was always there, as I was expected to win most of my games, but apart from a couple of games, I was able to control my play the way I wanted.

SS: The prize fund was also not very high. Why did you decide to play this event?

DG: I had already accepted to play for my club at the Cannes Open and just wanted to tag one more event since I was already in Europe. Hillerød open suited the schedule.

SS: How was the organization and conditions offered by the organizers?

DG: Mr. Carsten Pedersen is an extremely friendly organiser who was very supportive from the start and gave good conditions to me and my dad. He took care of us very well during our stay. We just loved the stay provided as it was a nature resort, close to the forest and had a huge kitchen to cook our own food. We also had amenities like table tennis and Fussball which was helpful to relax.

SS: Which was your favourite game from the event?

DG: I like my third and fourth round games against IM Siva Mahadevan and Jacob Mikkelsen Minosri.


 

The position is quite unconventional (look at the rook on g1!) But Gukesh found a very nice way to win material. Can you find it? White to play and win.

 

SS: Tell us a bit about your seventh round game where you were completely lost and your opponent missed a mate in one! How did it feel? 

 

DG: It was a pretty disappointing game from me right from the start and my opponent was executing his moves perfectly. I was almost about to resign but just continued with some blind hope and suddenly he blundered into a mate-in-one from a completely winning position. Though it was just huge relief, it wasn't comfortable. I was also surprised by the way in which my opponent handled the situation. He burst into loud laughter as soon as I delivered the checkmate and was cheerful. He even discussed about the game in a friendly way on the next day! Huge respect for him!

 

Jesper Schultz-Pedersen lost his game against Gukesh, but won his respect. | Photo: Xtracon Open

SS: How has Microsense been helping you in your journey and how was the January camp of Microsense with Kramnik and Gelfand useful for you?

Gukesh was part of the Microsense Kramnik Gelfand training program in January 2020 | Photo: Amruta Mokal

DG: Microsense has been fully supportive for the past one and a half years helping me financially and also providing quality training camps from legends like Kramnik and Gelfand. It's a privilege to be trained under Kramnik sir and Gelfand sir and they have given lot of inputs which I am trying out and I am sure it will help me in the long run. This is my first tournament after the camp and my time management which was troubling me in the recent past is far better in this event thanks to their tips. I also want to thank my coach Vishnu Prasanna sir whose guidance has been invaluable. I hope to keep improving and justify their belief in me.

SS: It was very cold in Denmark and you used to travel from your hotel to the playing hall, a distance of nearly three kilometre on a cycle! Was it tough?

Rajinikanth and Gukesh powering their way through the Danish cold!

DG: It was easy for me as I was just the pillion rider. My dad toiled hard cycling through the cold to make sure I reached in time for my game in every round!

SS: Finally, Gukesh tell us, do you have an aim for 2020? If yes, what is it?

DG: My main aim is to improve my game overall, learn and rectify from my own mistakes and obviously climb up the ratings ladder to get opportunities and invites from strong closed tournaments.

Gukesh analyzes after winning his last round | Photo: Rajinikanth

A fantastic quality of Gukesh is that he always wants to learn more. After winning the last round he knew he had become the champion, but he didn't want to lose the opportunity to analyze with his opponent.

Gukesh wins Cannes Open and moves to a live rating of 2565

A live rating of 2565 at the age of 13 is a fantastic achievement. And what's even better, Gukesh is getting used to winning tournaments! After winning in Hillerød, Gukesh powered on in France to win the Cannes Chess Festival 2020 with 7½/9. The Chennai youngster was unbeaten in the event as he scored six wins and three draws and won the event half a point ahead of nearest rivals. The draws came against Joie Sebastien (2421), Harshvardhan G B (2377), and Zeng Chongsheng (2567). This victory made him €1,800 richer. Gukesh started as the fourth seed behind Zeng Chongsheng, Grzegorz Nasuta and Gergely Antal. The tournament had over ten GMs and Gukesh won with a rating performance of 2667.

Gukesh with his winner's trophy after the Cannes Open 2020

Final standings (top 20)

Cannes standings

Click or tap to enlarge

Rajinikanth (Gukesh's father)

While Gukesh's victory was fantastic, the family had something more to cheer as Rajinikanth (Gukesh's father, pictured) finished ninth in the C-group (below 1700) and gained over 100 Elo points (with a k-factor of 20)! It seems Gukesh's strong play rubbed off on his father! Rajinikanth has now breached the 1400 Elo mark!

After the tournament ended we caught up with Gukesh for an interview and get his thoughts about this victory.

SS: Which tournament was tougher to win? The Hillerød Chess Club Open in Denmark or Cannes Open in France?

DG: Cannes was surely tougher. I faced stronger opponents and also the field had several more grandmasters and International Masters than Hillerød.

SS: Which was your favourite game from the event?

DG: I really liked my fourth round win against Fy Rakatomaharo.


Gukesh has sent us the annotated game which you can find below. It is interesting to note that the youngster doesn't use the engine to analyze his games. So all of his notes here are what he wrote with his own mind, without an engine.

 

SS: Tell us a bit about your last round game. There must have been a lot of tension as it was a must-win game?

DG: As soon as the game started he (Harutyun Barseghyan) offered me a draw. So, I decided to go for a complicated game and I thought I was better in the opening but misplayed in the middle game and blundered a pawn. After a few moves he returned the favour starting with Ncxe4 and then I was able to put pressure on him and eventually won the game. It was a battle where both made mistakes.

 

SS: How do you manage to convert so many lost positions into a win, like you did in the last round?

DG: Honestly, I don't know! Since both of us were in time pressure, the chances of me tricking him with sharp play were higher!

SS: Tell us a bit about the organization of the Cannes Open 2020? How were the playing conditions?

DG: Cannes Open is an excellently organised event held in a beautiful venue and this is my third time here. I also played for the Cannes Club in the French league in 2019 and the organiser and our captain Romu (Romuald Delabaca) is a good friend and a well-wisher. He always follows my progress and keeps sending his wishes. He was backing me from the start to win the 34th Cannes Open and was glad that I could achieve it in the end!

Gukesh in Cannes

Gukesh at the board and with his Cannes Chess Club captain Romuald Delabaca

The aerial view of the beautiful city of Cannes | Photo: Cannes Echecs on Facebook

The playing hall is well lit spacious and has a beautiful view! | Photo: Cannes Open 2020

SS: Playing at the Aeroflot Open A-group was a natural decision for you. Why did you decide to skip it and play the Cannes Open instead?

DG: I don't usually choose my events. It's my dad who plans them. I played in Cannes in 2017 and then last two years we played at the Aeroflot Open in Moscow. Maybe he chose Cannes this time for a change and also for the favours Romu has done for us in the past.

Friend and team-mate Stephane Bressac is happy that Gukesh won the tournament!

SS: Tell us a bit about your father's performance. Did his games impress you? Did you advice him before his games?

DG: I don't go near his board to watch his games and have never seen him prepare or even see his pairings! He usually plays on his mobile whenever he gets time and goes with the same attitude on the board as well. He was playing at the Cannes Open just for fun and also to be away from the pressure of following my games!

Gukesh's father Rajinikanth played in the C-group (below 1700) and finished ninth!

SS: What's next for you now?

DG: As the HD Bank in Vietnam was called off due to Coronavirus, I have nothing planned for March. In April I will be playing Grenke Open followed by the Reykjavik Open.


Gukesh made a strong start in 2020 | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Gukesh has not only won two open events, but also pumped up his rating to 2565. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to break into the 2600 league this year!

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Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant. 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 website, the biggest chess news outlet in the country.