In 1987, India got its first chess Grandmaster – Viswanathan Anand. By 2000, a further four Indian players from India had joined Anand as Grandmasters. In 2010, the total reached 23. As of today, in January 2019, India has 60 Grandmasters. More exposure is helping as is the internet. It is easier to train; to get better; to challenge the world.
But the last 12 months have been particularly good for Indian chess. More than the tournaments won and records broken, the Indian chess fraternity would be excited about the emergence of three young, fascinating talents in R Praggnanandhaa, Nihal Sarin and, most recently, D Gukesh.
All three, aged below 15, became Grandmasters over the last 12 months. Four of the 20 youngest Grandmasters are from India – Gukesh is the second youngest, Praggnanandhaa is the fourth, Parimarjan Negi’s sixth and Sarin’s 14th.
The excitement, though, isn’t just about how young they are. Rather, it is about the quality of chess they are able to play despite their youth.
To be a Grandmaster, a player must achieve three GM norms in events covering a minimum of 27 games. The events’ entry list must include at least three GM titled players from different countries playing over a minimum of nine rounds with not less than 120 minutes per round. That Praggnanandhaa, Sarin and Gukesh have accomplished this at such a young age is a big deal.
To all of them, becoming a GM — a title so coveted by so many players over the years — is just the first step. They also realise that the world will not underestimate them any longer. Their games will be dissected and their weaknesses exposed over the next few years.
The manner is which they emerge from this period will go a long way towards defining where they will end up at the end of their careers. Vidit Gujrathi, now 24, has successfully traversed the same path as them in recent years and is now India’s No 3 with an ELO rating of 2695. His career trajectory is something that perhaps all three should have a look at.
But for now, we must celebrate the achievements of the young trio and egg them onto greater heights.
Here’s a look at their incredible journeys so far:
Praggnanandhaa started playing chess because of his elder sister’s attachment to television. His parents enrolled the duo for chess coaching to keep them away from the television. Safe to say, the decision worked out pretty well. Praggnanandhaa is now a GM and Vaishali, his sister, recently attained the WGM norm. They are both products of Chess Gurukul, an academy run by Grandmaster RB Ramesh and his wife Aartie - a WGM herself.
Around three years ago, Rameshbabu, the kids’ father, met Ramesh at an event where the latter was supposed to felicitate Praggnanandhaa. Ramesh was asked if he could train the brother-sister duo. Ramesh readily agreed.
Prodigiously talented like his role model, Anand, Praggnanandhaa quickly proved that he belonged to the highest level in chess. In June, with a victory over Luca Moroni Jr of Italy, young Praggnanandhaa became the then youngest Grandmaster of India.
Read his full profile here.
Sarin, according to his parents, could recall the flags and names of 190 countries when he was three. He could remember the scientific names of all the butterflies mentioned in a book he had. It didn’t take long for his parents to figure that he was a prodigy. He needed a game, where he could use his extraordinary memory and cognitive skills.
Sarin’s grandfather introduced him to chess and he hasn’t looked back since. In August 2018, he became India’s 53rd Grandmaster after a draw against Uzbekistan’s Temur Kuybokarov in the eighth round of the Abu Dhabi Masters chess. He was the third Grandmaster from Kerala after GN Gopal and SL Narayanan.
Read his full profile here.
Guess Gukesh’s favourite subject at school. Nothing.
His toughest subject? Nothing.
“There is nothing besides chess that I take seriously,” he told Scroll.in a week before he became the youngest Indian to become a Grandmaster.
Like Sarin, Gukesh got introduced to chess by his family. He saw his parents – Dr Rajnikanth and Dr Padma Kumari – played chess at home recreationally. His cousin, Dinesh, who is even years older than him, taught him the basic rules. So, he started playing too. Soon, he fell in love with the game.
At six-and-a-half years, he met his first coach, MS Bhaskar, at a summer camp in his school. It took him just another six years to become India’s youngest Grandmaster, a record previously held by his close friend, Praggnanandhaa.
Gukesh’s next big goal? To become a world champion.
Read full profile here