Gukesh makes history, becomes youngest-ever World Championship challenger - Hindustan Times
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Gukesh makes history, becomes youngest-ever World Championship challenger

By, Bengaluru
Apr 22, 2024 08:07 AM IST

The Indian won the Candidates with a draw against Nakamura in the final round; he will face Ding Liren in the fight to become the next world chess champion.

Dommaraju Gukesh, all of 17, has made history. The teenager from Chennai has won the Fide Candidates tournament to become the youngest World Championship challenger. He is also the first teenager in history to win the tournament. He scored 9/14 to finish in first place and is only the second Indian after Viswanathan Anand to win the Candidates.

Indian GM D Gukesh becomes youngest ever challenger for world title(PTI)
Indian GM D Gukesh becomes youngest ever challenger for world title(PTI)

He will face Ding Liren in the battle to become the next world chess champion later this year.

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Going into the final round of the Candidates, it was a bit of a peculiar situation where three players – – Fabiano Caruana, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hikaru Nakamura – were in a must-win situation to stay alive. As sole leader, all Gukesh needed was a draw against World No. 3 Nakamura and for the result in the game between Caruana and Nepomniachtchi to be drawn as well. He went on to have both his wishes granted.

Also Read | Khanty-Mansiysk 2014: When an Indian last won the Candidates

In a field that featured two of the world’s top three players and a two-time World Championship challenger, Gukesh wasn’t given much odds for his first Candidates appearance. Over the past three weeks, the teen has turned the odds on their head, playing some excellent chess, staying unruffled under pressure and displaying maturity and calm far beyond his years.

“I think like a lot of people I’ve been surprised by how well Gukesh has done. Maybe I shouldn’t have been,” World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen said on the chess24 stream. Ahead of the Candidates, Carlsen had said that he would be ‘shocked’ to see either of the three Indian players winning. “Gukesh had asked me in Germany (in Feb this year) what he should do in the Candidates. I told him I didn’t have any good advice. ..I only told him that he shouldn’t go crazy, and just look for chances because other players will go crazy.”

In his Round 14 game against Hikaru Nakamura with Black, Gukesh was rarely in trouble. The Indian had a bit of a quirky move up his sleeve, playing the bishop to e7 on the fifth move. “I have seen Gukesh play this line before in the Queen's Gambit,” Carlsen said on the chess24 stream, “I don't know what the point is, but Gukesh has studied this… (trainer) Grzegorz Gajewski is good at finding these lines. So Gukesh knows what he’s doing.” Gukesh’s choices – 10…cxd4 followed by 11..b4 – had Carlsen both surprised and impressed. It pointed to a lot of solid preparation by the Indian and his team. “I love what Gukesh has done,” said Carlsen, “I didn’t even think of b4..it’s a nice idea, very concrete. I don’t think I’ve seen it before.” Nakamura was behind on his clock barely into the first fifteen moves while the Indian seemed to manage his time well. Gukesh was comfortably a pawn up and pushed his Queen to a4 (21…Qa4) which seemed to have been predicated on some deep calculation. After a while, he craned his neck to catch a glimpse of how the Caruana-Nepomniachtchi game was unfolding. It still seemed murky without a huge advantage for either side.

Though Nakamura tried to push for a win there was little ammunition or resources at his disposal. They played till bare kings and agreed to a draw after 71 moves.

It was then down to the game Caruana and Nepomniachtchi.

A decisive result would see tie-breaks between the winner and Gukesh. Caruana tried to pose practical problems for Black and Nepomniachtchi would rue not exchanging the pawns on f4.

The game swung wildly. Just when it seemed like Caruana might be able to carve a win and force tie-breaks, he blundered on the 41st move with Ka1, opening up Nepomniachtchi's chances to draw the game. Nepomniachtchi blundered a few moves later with 44…Nb3 allowing Caruana a winning advantage again. White was running low on time and Black found the resources to escape. Caruana and Nepomniachtchi exchanged pained glances at each other, both realising that they had reached the end of their World Championship hopes. They finally shook hands after 109 moves and over six hours of play as the Great Hall in Toronto broke into applause.

Tan Zhongyi wins the women’s Candidates, Vaishali finishes tied for second place

Former women’s world champion Tan Zhongyi earned another shot at the Women’s World Championship, finishing in first place with 9/14. She will face Ju Wenjun in an all-Chinese affair for the women’s world title. Tan was in the lead almost through the entire tournament and a draw in Round 14 against Anna Muzychuk was enough for her to walk away with the tournament.

India’s R Vaishali fashioned a remarkable comeback, recovering from four losses to make it five wins in a row into the final round and finishing in tied second place with 7.5/14 alongside Koneru Humpy and Lei Tingjie.

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