Gukesh: Fearlessness and Bustle
Grandmaster Dommaraju Gukesh of India has reached a live FIDE rating of Elo 2766 after two victories against GM Misratdin Iskandarov of Azerbaijan in the second round of the ongoing World Cup and thus became the highest rated player of India. He has thus just surpassed the mountain of six times world champion GM Viswanathan Anand, the undisputed leader of Indian Chess for 37 years. Graceful as ever, Anand had generous words of praise for the youngster:
In her latest column in the 'New In Chess' magazine, GM Judit Polgar has termed Gukesh as 'Dynamic and Fearless', singling him out as the 'undisputed leader of the new generation'. Probably the best suiting epithet to come his way.
[Gukesh in the cover of the iconic New In Chess magazine way back in September 2019]
Rise to the top in chess is not a linear journey, as a myth persists. It is not always that a spotted outstanding talent at the six or eight years progresses gradually and steadily towards the road to the title of the world champion in quick number of years. There are many challenges to overcome along the way: gaining of chess wisdom and knowledge, acquiring the required killer instinct to fuel one's ambitions even while maintaining a personality balance, crucial competitive breaks at many stages of development, getting emotional, financial and institutional support...
But even after getting such necessary breaks, it is not always that a talent reaches the pinnacle of competitive chess: the title of the world champion. As former world champion Vassily Smyslov famously remarked, one needs a special star in his destiny to attain the coveted title. With a good amount of talent and all other breaks, it is possible to reach the top 100 in the world, but things aren't easy after that. From a certain moment onwards, there are many factors at play, which are completely out of one's control. For example, cognitive scientists agree that a happy and creative childhood is often a crucial factor for an achiever in any creative field. It is supposed to be the bedrock of one's emotional stability. How does anyone 'reset' their pasts?!
But more than anything, it is the passion for chess which is of utmost importance for any developing player, as stated by Gukesh's coach GM Vishnu Prasanna way back in 2019: “The kid is running at a very fast pace! I need not sit with him every day now to develop anything for him. I think he can go all the way, to the very top. But I don't want him to chase things. You have to be interested in chess. There should be a passion for the game, a desire to understand its mystery. And you succeed once you do.” Prophetic words!
[Gukesh with his coach GM Vishnu Prasanna]
In Gukesh's case, everything seems to have worked out excellently, as the lad has steadily climbed up the Elo ladder and is firmly placed on the ninth place in Elo ratings as of now. In his case, it is curious to observe two factors: the number of games played in the last two years and style of play.
In the last two years, since August 2021, he has played a mind-boggling 300 rated games. In this period, he has steadily grown from 2578 to 2751 in the rating list: a total gain of 173 Elo points in two years. He has thus become the youngest player ever to reach above Elo 2750, with a growth probably unheard of in the history of chess. We are not even taking into account the number of Blitz, Bullet and other forms of online and physical tournaments he has competed in this period.
Many wise men of chess still quote the grand old Mikhail Botvinnik who had famously ticked a 100 rated games as a healthy appetite for a chess professional, cautioning of burn-out in case anyone plays more than the number. How could anyone justify this?
Well, this is simply proof that the process of improvement in chess is still almost beyond any concrete and definite method. In my opinion, the Covid pandemic has drastically changed one's understanding of chess itself, leave alone the process of chess development in talented youngsters. During the pandemic the world saw an explosion of online chess competitions, competitive and otherwise, which simply increased the number of hours spent by youngsters playing faster time controls of chess viz. the blitz, bullet and other formats. One prime example is another Indian super talent GM Nihal Sarin who simply seemed to have played hours and hours of online chess and improved his chess strength. (When asked about how he relaxes after a day of chess work – mostly playing – he simply replied, 'by playing blitz!')
The late Anthony Miles told me in an interview that 'everyone have their own approach to chess, and one has to find something which suits him and follow it'. While our founder GM R.B.Ramesh opines that no coach can be certain that his / her methods and materials are correct and should be adopted by everyone. Gukesh is a living proof of that, with such a mammoth jump in his performance and standing with playing at such a breathtaking pace.
And what exactly made Polgar call Gukesh 'Dynamic and Fearless'? Here is a sample:
Gukesh – Tari, Norway Chess 2023
(Position after 17.e4)
What a picturesque position! Only a free mind without any inhibitions and fears can play a move like 17.e4 in the position. For context, look at the position carefully:
a) Before the move 17.e4, the pawn on c6 almost looks like a goner, with no saviour in sight.
b) Now black has to choose between about six (!) captures currently: 17...Qxc6, 17...Nxe4, 17...exd4, 17...dxe4, 17...dxc4 and finally 17...cxd4.
c) Only a player acting on the highest level of creativity and confidence over the board can choose such a move here.
d) Though the move actually doesn't give any winning advantage for White, such moves have a big impact on the opponent. It is difficult to keep one's balance on the board and face a move like this and hope to withstand white's onslaught.
It is no surprise that Gukesh steadily increased his advantage and won the game, creating another aesthetic beauty on the way:
Gukesh – Tari, Norway Chess 2023
(Position after 22.d6)
Look at them pawns on c6 & d6! It is as if Gukesh did not want anyone watching the game to forget that what started as a game from the Romantic Chess era of the 19th century continued in the same vain.
And it concluded with even more fireworks:
Gukesh – Tari, Norway Chess 2023
(Position after 28.Bxb5!)
Naturally, two of White's pawns are on the seventh rank, and Gukesh finished the game off beautifully with 28.Bxb5! axb5 29.Qxa8! Qxd7 30.Qxe4 and went on to win the game.
Go on, Gukesh. The chess world is excited for you! And it is time remember an apt praise which came your way last year, from the Latvian GM Arkus Neiksans, “The future has arrived!”