Indian teenager becomes youngest challenger for world chess title, will face reigning champion from China

Teenage Indian chess prodigy Gukesh Dommaraju, better known as Gukesh D, became the youngest player to claim the men’s Candidates Tournament in Toronto, Canada Sunday.

The 17-year-old grandmaster’s win sets up an opportunity to dethrone reigning world champion Ding Liren of China at the 2024 World Chess Championship later this year.

Should Gukesh beat Ding, who has struggled with poor form recently, he will break Garry Kasparov’s long-held record of being the youngest world champion aged 22.

Gukesh, ranked 16th in the world by the International Chess Federation (FIDE), sealed his title after a comfortable draw with world number 3 Hikaru Nakamura, a five-time US chess champion who is more than twice his age.

Gukesh is set to become the youngest player ever to challenge for a world chess title.

“I was completely emotional but after the game I’m feeling quite good,” Gukesh said in a press conference after finishing atop the round robin tournament.

“I don’t really care about [being] the youngest and all these records, but it’s a nice thing to say.”

Gukesh was swarmed by Indian fans outside his hotel as the South Asian nation celebrates yet another young chess talent.

“I’m very excited to play in the world championship and really looking forward to all the preparations,” he said, adding that his journey is “only halfway through.”

The previous youngest winner of a Candidates tournament was Russian prodigy Kasparov, then 20, in 1984.

Kasparov, who went on to win multiple world championships, praised Gukesh and the conveyor belt of chess talent coming from both Asia and Asian diaspora communities in countries like the United Stated and Britain.

“The Indian earthquake in Toronto is the culmination of the shifting tectonic plates in the chess world,” Kasparov wrote on social media platform X.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also praised Gukesh’s “remarkable achievement” and “extraordinary talent and dedication” on social media.

Gukesh will face 31-year-old Chinese star Ding, who was crowed world champion in 2023. The title was previously held by five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen, who had decided not to defend his title at the time.

Ding became the first Chinese men’s player in history to become world champion. But the now-world number 5 immediately took a nine-month break from competitions and has struggled with form upon returning.

The date and location of the 2024 World Chess Championship between Ding and Gukesh has yet to be revealed.

China’s Tan Zhongyi won the women’s Challenger category to qualify for a world title match against compatriot and reigning world champion Ju Wenjun – date also unknown.

India, meanwhile, is not short of young chess talent.

Joining Gukesh in the men’s Candidates tournament was Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (R Praggnanandhaa), 18, who famously stunned the chess world by beating Carlsen in 2022.

“Pragg”, as he is known to fans, became the youngest international chess master at the age of 10 and the second-youngest grandmaster in the world at 12. Last year, he and his sister, 22-year-old Rameshbabu Vaishali (R Vaishali), became the first-ever brother and sister duo to obtain grandmaster titles.

Gukesh is the second Indian to play in a world championship after legendary Indian player Viswanathan “Vishy” Anand.

Gukesh overtook Anand, a five-time world champion and the country’s top player for nearly 40 years, to become India’s top-ranked player last September.

“I’m personally very proud of how (Gukesh) played and handled tough situations. Enjoy the moment,” Anand wrote in a post on X.

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