Gukesh wins Candidates, becomes youngest ever challenger for world title

TORONTO, Apr 22: India’s 17-year-old Grandmaster D Gukesh scripted history by winning the Candidates Chess Tournament here to become the youngest ever challenger to the world title, bettering a record created by the legendary Garry Kasparov 40 years ago.

Gukesh played out an easy draw with American Hikaru Nakamura in the 14th and final round to finish with nine out of a possible 14 points in the tournament that is held to decide the challenger to the world champion.

The triumph entitles Gukesh a clash against reigning world champion Ding Liren of China in the last quarter of the year.

The Chennai-based teen bettered Kasparov’s record by quite a distance as the Russian great was 22 when he qualified in 1984 to clash with compatriot Anatoly Karpov.

“So relieved and so happy. I was following this crazy game (between Fabio Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi), and then I went for a walk with my second (Gregorz Gazevsky), I think that helped,” Gukesh said after winning.

Gukesh also won a cash award of 88,500 Euros (approx Rs 78.5 lakh). The total prize fund of the Candidates was 5,00,000 Euros.

He became only the second Indian after the great Viswanathan Anand to win the prestigious tournament. Five-time world champion Anand’s triumph came in 2014.

“Congratulations to @DGukesh for becoming the youngest challenger. The  @WacaChess family is so proud of what you have done . I’m personally very proud of how you played and handled tough situations. Enjoy the moment,” Anand posted on ‘X’ to congratulate the youngster, who like him, also hails from Chennai.

Needing at least a draw, Gukesh gave nothing away to Nakamura, a clear signal that the teenager is ready for the big stage and is going to be the next biggest star in the chess world.

The black pieces did not matter much as Nakamura was at sea in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted and did not find any ways to pursue playing for an advantage.

Gukesh won a pawn and Nakamura had to find the path to equality in the ensuing rook and opposite coloured Bishops endgame. The game lasted till move 71 but the result was never in doubt.

With Gukesh ending on 9 points, all eyes were on the match between American Caruana and Russia’s Nepomniachtchi.

“…Those 15 minutes were probably the most stressful of this entire tournament, I was watching the commentary for sometime and then me and Gajevsky (his trainer) went for a walk and then my father came running,” Gukesh revealed.

“Obviously the support system is huge, coming to my team I would not like to take their names but they know how grateful I am to them,” he said.

The American outplayed Nepomniachtchi right from the opening and enjoyed a nearly winning position for several moves.

However, the clock did the talking here as Caruana blundered on 39th move to allow a playable position.

Things were far from over though, Caruana built his position all over again and was close to winning a second time when again his clock deceived him and he failed to find the correct continuation.

The resulting position was a drawn queen and pawns endgame where Caruana kept pressing to no avail.

Had any of these two players won, the tournament would have needed a tie-break as Gukesh and the winner would have ended up in joint lead.

Caruana, Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura all ended on an identical 8.5 points for the shared second place while Indian Grandmaster R Praggnanandhaa ended fifth on seven points defeating Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan.

Vidit Gujrathi played out a quick draw with Firouzja Alireza of France in the final round to end on the sixth spot with six points in all.

Alireza finished seventh on five points while Abasov ended last on 3.5 points in all.

Gukesh has been making waves for a while now after becoming the third youngest in chess history to earn the Grandmaster title at the age of 12. He later became the youngest to achieve an ELO rating of 2750.

The youngster’s father Rajnikanth, who is an ENT surgeon but has stopped his practice to nurture Gukesh’s chess dreams, accompanied him to the tournament. His mother Padma is a microbiologist.

Last year, Gukesh won a silver medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games.

The dates and venue for the world championship are yet to be finalised.

“I haven’t really thought about it a lot I just got to know the result, the main strategy will be to play good moves. Really look forward to all the preparation and being there,” Gukesh said.

Results final round (Indians unless specified): Hikaru Nakamura (USA, 8.5) drew with D Gukesh (9); Fabiano Caruana (USA, 8.5) drew with Ian Nepomniachtchi (FIDE, 8.5); Nijat Abasov (Aze, 3.5) lost to R Praggnanandhaa (7); Firouza Alireza (Fra, 5) drew with Vidit Gujrathi (6).  Final standings: 1. D Gukesh 2-4: Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, Caruana 5. Pragnanandhaa 6. Gujrathi 7. Alireza 8. Abasov. (PTI)