Gukesh D: The story behind a budding talent

In the middle of 2013, a quiet 7-year-old from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu secured a modest FIDE rating of 1291. Nothing exciting happened for about a year – the kid seemed just like just one of the innumerable rated players around. As is so common among the juniors with remarkable talent, a year after gaining his rating, there was a spurt in his growth—the kid boosted about 400 points in the space of two months.

There has been no stopping him since then.

10-year-old Gukesh D.

This special talent is Gukesh D, a soft-spoken 10-year-old. Off the board, considering his diminutive figure, one may very well miss out on his presence. But over the board, Gukesh is a serious force to reckon with. He plays with a maturity that belies his age.

Gukesh has participated and won laurels in several tournaments across the globe. Of note is his convincing victory in the Under 9 section of the Asian School Chess Championships 2015, a triumph that brought him the title of Candidate Master.

Gukesh’s talent was first identified by his school coach Bhaskar, who happened to be his first serious coach as well. Within six months of learning the game, he was already a rated player. Speaking of this initial spurt, Dr. Rajnikanth, an ENT specialist and Gukesh’s father, says, “His school coaches used to assign the kids a few basic chess exercises to be solved on the weekend. The one who completed the work correctly at the earliest would receive a pen as a token of appreciation. In his bid to win the pen every time, Gukesh would solve the puzzles then and there, submitting the papers to his coaches before leaving for the weekend!”

A pupil of Mr. Vijayanand since the last couple of years, Gukesh enjoys spending his time in the chequered kingdom of 64 squares. His mornings take off with reading articles on the ChessBase India website whereas his nights come to a close with a few quick online games. As his father says, "He puts in close to 6-8 hours of effort daily, and the only times you may not see him immersed in the game would be his school hours and an odd evening hour when he enjoys playing a bit of cricket.”

Three years into his chess career, Gukesh has impressed one and all with his play and now has a rating of 2236. His meteoric rise is a product of multiple things—his love for the game, the efforts of his coaches and the support of the people around. As his dad rightly puts,” Financial support is not everything. What’s also important is the cooperation of friends, family, and colleagues, without which a player may very well be left behind. We are privileged to have received such wonderful cooperation and moral support.”

Of special note is the role played by Gukesh’s school—the Velammal CBSE School—in his development. Apart from identifying his talent, the school has been instrumental in providing a good deal of encouragement to the 10-year-old, including tournament & practice leaves as well as felicitations at the hands of luminaries such as Viswanathan Anand, Chris Gayle et al. No wonder, the Velammal group of schools has produced such wonderful talents as GM Murali Karthikeyan, GM Aravindh Chithambaram, and IM Praggnanandhaa R.

Parents always play a crucial role in the development of their child’s career, be it chess or any other field. In this respect, Gukesh has had a full backing of his parents. Taking the child around for tournaments and handling his/her highs and lows is no simple task and Gukesh’s parents have done it brilliantly. For instance, Dr. Rajnikanth hasn’t attended any medical conferences for the last couple of years whereas their family vacations are now mixed with chess tours.

Just like the vast majority of Indian chess players, Gukesh is a hardcore Anand fan. The 2013 World Chess Championship match between Anand and Carlsen, hosted by Gukesh’s hometown, has left a lasting impression on him. Says Mr. Rajnikanth, “Along with the main match, a lot of side events were organized by various organizers all over the city. Those events were more than mere tournaments – the players also got a chance to acquaint themselves with stories from Anand’s life, thanks to the organizers. Gukesh was fascinated by these anecdotes, realizing that Anand has overcome a number of barriers on his way to glory. Since then, there has been no looking back—reveres Anand. So much so that when Carlsen beat Anand in 2013, Gukesh held a grudge against the Norwegian! As time passed and Gukesh improved, he let it loose and started admiring Carlsen as well.”

Over the board, Gukesh is known for his calm demeanor. However, he also has a nice little naughty side to him! Sometimes, you may find him having a banter with his mom, at other times you may see him teasing his dad for his chess skills, who nonetheless has secured a FIDE rating for himself.

Currently, Gukesh is in action in both the groups of the 2nd IIFL Wealth Mumbai International Chess Tournament. A fourth-place finisher in the first edition of the Juniors’ event, Gukesh has increased close to a thousand rating points in the last two years. And there is only one way the graph can go ahead – upward and further upward.

Text by Shubham Kumthekar; Visuals by Priyadarshan Banjan