Behind Gukesh's Candidates success lies tale of his parents' sacrifices

05:10 PM Apr 22, 2024 | PTI |

Chennai: Young Indian Grandmaster D Gukesh may be grabbing headlines after his historic win at the Candidates but away from the spotlight lies the stories of sacrifice by his parents, who had to put careers on hold, dig into their savings and also turn to crowd-funding to fuel his dream.


The 17-year-old won the Candidates Chess Tournament in Toronto on Monday to become the youngest ever challenger to the world title, bettering a record created by the legendary Garry Kasparov 40 years ago.

But the journey to the top was a tough one and involved sacrifices not only from him but his parents — ENT surgeon Dr Rajinikanth and Padma, a microbiologist.

Rajinikanth had to stop practice in 2017-18 as the father-son duo travelled across the world on a shoe-string budget when Gukesh chased the final GM norm, while his mother turned the primary breadwinner, taking care of the household expenses.

“His parents have sacrificed a lot,” Gukesh’s childhood coach Vishnu Prasanna told PTI.


“While his father has almost surrendered his career. His mother has been supporting the family while his father has been travelling, and they hardly get to see each other.”

Gukesh became India’s youngest Grandmaster at 12 years, seven months and 17 days in January 2019.

Despite coming from a family of doctors, Gukesh’s passion lay in the 64-square of chess board and looking at his dedication, his parents decided to stop him from attending school full-time after Class IV.

“He has not appeared for any exams in a while. So, I don’t think he is trying to pursue anything academically at this stage, and I don’t know if he will be going back to it. But, his mother is a bit worried about it,” Prasanna adds.

Gukesh also was without a sponsor and had to manage his finances through prize money and crowd-funding but despite all that he went on to overtake idol Viswanathan Anand as India’s no.1 last year.

Prasanna was impressed at how quickly Gukesh scaled the heights of success, attributing his achievements to his obsession with the sport and insatiable desire to learn and improve.

“It’s an incredible performance from him. To get to this level, you need a lot of things to work right, and it’s a huge achievement. He already has a small place in history,” Prasanna said.

“His focus and complete obsession with the game, besides also trying to get better. He is always thinking much more than anybody about how to get even better — his biggest defining quality.”

After learning to play the sport at the age of seven, Gukesh came under Prasanna’s tutelage in 2017.

“We met in 2017, and as soon as we started to work together, he began scoring the IM norms and so on. And then, things started to happen so fast and quickly that within two years or so, he became a Grandmaster,” he recalled.

“We continued to train intensely before COVID hit. During that period, we used to train at Vishwanathan Anand’s academy and utilise the ample time that we had. He went up to 2,640 in rating before coming down to 2,610. Even last year, he went up to 2,750 and came down to 2,730.

“His previous big breakthrough was getting that Olympiad gold, and now, he has bettered it by not just qualifying for the Candidates, but even winning it. Marvellous achievement.”

Currently having a rating of 2,743, his peak rating till date is 2,758, which he achieved last September. He is presently ranked 16th in the world by the International Chess Federation (FIDE), while his best ranking has been eighth.

Among the players he beat in Candidates was the young R Praggnanandhaa. Both youngsters have idolised the legendary Viswanathan Anand.

“Vishy has been his most important ambassador. Together, we used to discuss about him (Gukesh) and his future a lot, and we both would probably say the same thing to him,” said Prasanna.

In the World Championship up next, Gukesh will face off against defending champion Ding Liren of China.

“We will focus on the World Championship and try to win it. Also, we will have to see what we have to achieve and need to do before we get there. But, he is growing and improving very fast, and glad that it is working for us,” he signed off.


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