Magnus Carlsen has named D. Gukesh as the strongest teenager in classical chess. The Norwegian World No. 1 went on to rate his first game against the 17-year-old Indian in the recent World Cup quarterfinals as his best of the competition.
Even as Gukesh’s “decent” performance in the World Cup stood overshadowed by R. Praggnanandhaa’s progress to the final, the country’s youngest Grandmaster has officially taken over the India No. 1 spot from his mentor Viswanathan Anand by becoming World No. 8.
In this exclusive interview, Gukesh looks back at his progress and the recent World Cup performance, particularly the game against Carlsen.
Q: What does it feel to replace your mentor Vishy Sir as the new India No. 1?
Gukesh: Getting past Vishy Sir’s current rating, for me, it’s surely a very special achievement. We are in different phases of our careers. Obviously, I am not even close to achieving what all he has achieved throughout his career. I still have a long way to go to match his level of greatness. But I am happy to become India No. 1. It was never in doubt, for me, in the past few months.
Q: Can you revisit the moment when you overtook Anand in live ratings?
Gukesh: It didn’t feel anything huge at that moment. It was a bit strange because it came during the World Cup. The World Cup had just started and I was hoping to go deep into it. So I was not really focused on the rating that I had reached. It surely felt very nice but I was trying to focus on the next game. I was trying to go further in the World Cup.
Q: Talking of the World Cup, how would you reflect on your performance?
Gukesh: It was a decent performance but disappointing in the end. I started off quite well. I was feeling quite good and I was in good shape. The Magnus match (in the quarterfinals) was a tough challenge. In the first game, he got a position, he excels in. He could just keep pressing a slight edge without any risks. I couldn’t handle the problems that he was creating on the board.
Q: Many experts felt it was Carlsen’s brilliance that decided the game and you did not commit any decisive mistake which could be exploited by someone other than the Norwegian.
Gukesh: My rook move (on the queen’s side) was a logical move. But it was actually a losing mistake. I had to sense the danger and (push a queenside pawn to) liquidate the position. He missed an opportunity. I had a chance (to improve the position), but I also missed it. It was a very complex endgame and he had a much better understanding of the position.
Q: Coming to your progress since March last year, what makes you play such a large number of games and maintain your consistency?
Gukesh: The main thing is, I enjoy playing a lot. I get to play so many tournaments that’s because I don’t have anything else to do (laughs). After I entered the Club-2700 during the Olympiad, I had a bit of a slump. I was quite stagnant for the rest of 2022. And then, in January 2023, Wijk Aan Zee happened (Tata Steel tournament) and I almost dropped out of the 2700 bracket. But I managed to stabilise with a bit of luck. I think the lessons I learnt in Wijk helped in the following months.
I learnt how to play in these closed (round-robin) tournaments, where to take chances and choose not to take them, taking some practical decisions etc. So, the lessons from Wijk helped me in tournaments like WR Masters (where Gukesh finished runner-up) and Norway Chess (Gukesh was fifth). I went through a learning phase and now I think I’m a bit established, too.
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