Can Gukesh rule the world at 18?

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Can Gukesh rule the world at 18?

Dommaraju Gukesh, taken by Eldar Azimov

Dommaraju Gukesh, born May 29 2006, has sensationally won the Candidates Tournament to decide the challenger for the world chess title, the match for which will be staged later this year. When Garry Kasparov, at the age of 22, won the championship in 1985, it was believed impossible for any younger player to supplant his record. Now, the prospect has arisen that a teenager may seize the world crown at the age of 18, the more so given the ongoing doubtful form of the incumbent, the Chinese World Champion Ding Liren.

World Championship Candidates
Event Date: April 4 – 21, 2024
Site: Toronto, CANADA

From the cross table of results it will be seen that Gukesh narrowly outclassed all the more experienced old hands, such as Nakamura, Nepo and Caruana. The teenager’s rise has been meteoric: Candidate Master (2015); International Master (2018); Grandmaster (2019); World Championship Challenger (2024).

According to the authoritative and informative site Gukesh won his Candidate Master title at the Under 9 Asian Schools Championship in 2015. His debut International Master ( IM) norm was gained at the First Friday tournament in Puchong, Malaysia held in October 2017, his second at the Moscow Open of 2018. On 10 March 2018, he gained his third IM norm at the completion of the Cappelle la Grande Open , when he scored the requisite 7/9 needed for the norm.

As Gukesh’s rating had moved above 2400 during the Capelle la Grande Open, his IM title came into effect upon completion of his third norm, at the age of 11 years 9 months and 9 days.

A month after he won his IM title, Gukesh finished equal third at the Bangkok Chess Club Open, scored an undefeated 7/9 that included a 3/4 score against his Grandmaster (GM) opponents, including a win against Britain’s former world title challenger Nigel Short. His result at Bangkok also produced his first GM norm.

In December 2018, Gukesh achieved his second GM norm, when he took the laurels in the Orbis 2 GM round robin event in Paracin, Serbia, with 7.5/9, including a plus score against the GMs in the event. His 3rd GM norm occurred on 15 January 2019 at the Delhi International. As his live rating crossed 2500 during this event, he gained his GM title with immediate effect at the astonishing age of 12 years 7 months and 17 days. In the race to be youngest, this feat just missed the world record, set by Sergey Karjakin, for becoming the world’s youngest GM. Gukesh thus failed by only 17 days to become the youngest GM ever. Chess grandmasters, like police officers, seem to be getting younger and younger.

Gukesh finished second in the 2023 FIDÉ Circuit. Since the top finisher, Fabiano Caruana, had already qualified for the 2024 Candidates, that result qualified Gukesh for inclusion in this vitally important tournament in the chess world’s cursus honorum. 

Still just 17, Gukesh won it, scoring 9/14 (+5 =8 -1) earlier this week. That made him the youngest ever winner of a Candidates Tournament, and the youngest ever World Chess Championship challenger. He will face reigning World Champion Ding Liren for the title, at a location still to be identified. If, as seems likely in my opinion, Gukesh were to win, he would become the youngest undisputed world champion ever, by the utterly amazing margin of circa four years. Garry Kasparov,  who currently holds the record, became Champion aged 22 years, 6 months and 27 days.

I have studied the games of Gukesh from Toronto, and it seems to me that his style is in the somewhat featureless mode of Magnus Carlsen. There seems to be no driving ambition for victory, as in the games of Alekhine, Tal or Kasparov himself. Nor can I discern any grand strategic sweep, as evinced by Botvinnik or Petrosian. The forte of Gukesh appears to be the ability to avoid inferior positions, while keeping the ball in play and avoiding liquidation to draws. His impressive score with the black pieces at Toronto is evidence of his counterpunching skills.

Meanwhile, Magnus Carlsen himself has shown where his true interests lie, ignoring the momentous events at the pinnacle of world chess, the former champion is announcing an investment with a global football training and entertainment company. According to the press release: “With his investment, Carlsen hopes to continue the evolution of soccer’s popularity globally and grow participation in the sport.” As if football — notoriously, a game for gentlemen, played by thugs — needed more support and exposure, a fortiori when compared with chess.

As a lifetime chess devotee and absolute agnostic where football is concerned, I find the new allegiance to the power of the boot, rather than the power of the brain, by Carlsen, a five-time World Chess Champion and the highest-rated player in history, somewhat demeaning. However, Carlsen is, apparently, an avid soccer fan and has previously held the world’s number-one spot in the Fantasy Premier League. To me, this explanation touted as justification by Carlsen’s PR team, has about as much to recommend itself to good sense, as Mark Antony’s ironical assertion in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that Brutus, Cassius and Trebonius were all “honourable men.”

Magnus Carlsen and the young American grandmaster Hans Niemann have clashed before. As a combustible conclusion to my column this week, here is the reaction by Hans on X (formerly Twitter) to a new found enthusiasm for soccer amongst his rivals, given that Hikaru Nakamura has also apparently signed a lucrative contract with Over to the ever trenchantly expressive Niemann: “I’m optimistic about getting #1 on as it seems my main competition is busy promoting an unregulated gambling site to their underage audience.” ( states that its gambling channels are restricted to users aged 18+.)

Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa vs. Dommaraju Gukesh

World Championship Candidates, Toronto, 2024, rd. 2

Catalan Opening

1.d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 Bb4+ 5. Nc3 dxc4  I have never been convinced by such gambits in the Catalan Opening. White always seems to be struggling to gain compensation for his pawn. 6. Bg2 O-O 7. O-O Nc6 8. a3 Be7 9. e4 a6 10. Be3 b5 11. Qe2 Bb7 12. Rad1 Na5 13. d5 exd5 14. e5?! TN (Theoretical Novelty) 

This questionable improvement is decried by Pancho, our pet engine. The text move was considered a retrograde step compared to the two highest rated choices, played previously. In Goltseva-Kovalev, INT, 2024, White had lost after 14. exd5. Prior to that, 14. Nxd5 had also lost in:Chatalbashev-Schandorff, ch-DEN, 2021. Conclusion: the gambit has failed and Black has the advantage.

14… Ne8 15. e6 f5?

This conspires to offer White an equality that he would not have had after 15… c6. And the natural 15… fxe6! was perhaps even stronger.

16.Ne5 Nf6 17. Qc2?

This is an error. Both 17. Bg5 and 17. Rfe1, maintain equality.

17… c6?!

Shoring up d5 is passive. Black can continue more enterprisingly . For example, 17… c5 18. Nxd5(White also faces problems should he continue with either 18. Bf4 or Qxf5) 18… Nxd5 19. Rxd5 (if 19. Nd7 Nxe3 20. fxe3 Bxg2 21. Qxg2 Rc8 22. g4 Nc6 23. Nxf8 Qxf8 24. Rxf5 Qe8,Black has weathered the storm) 19… Bxd5 20. Rd1 Bxe6 21. Rxd8 Raxd8, when Black has lost a queen but gained an advantage.

18.Qxf5 Qe8 19. Nf7?

An error which is tempting but unproductive. Best was 19. Rfe1 when, for example, after: 19… Nb3 20. Ne2 Bd6 21. Nd4 Nc5 22. Bg5 Nfe4 23. Bxe4 Nxe4 24. Nf7 Rxf7 25. Qxf7+ Qxf7 26. exf7+ Kxf7, the position has reverted to a more placid and level playing field.

20.Rfe1 Nb7?!

Stronger is 20… Nb3, when if 21. Rxd5, after 21… Bxe6 22. Qxe6 Bxa3 23. Qxe8 Raxe8 24. Rg5 Bxb2, Black’s four connected passed pawns are sufficient compensation for the piece.


White needs to strike with 21. Rxd5 as his best chance to equalise.

21… Ra7?!

The immediate 21… Nc5 better exploits White’s removal of the dark-squared bishop. For example, 22. Bxf6 Bxe6 23. Nh6+ Kh8 24. Bxg7+ Kxg7 25. Rxe6 Nxe6 (but not 25… Rxf5? 26. Nxf5+ Kh8 27. Rxe7 Qg6 with equality) 26. Qxe6Kh8 27. Qh3 Bc5 28. Nf5 a5 29. g4 b4, when Black enjoys a definite initiative.

22.Bxf6 Bxf6 23. Bxd5 cxd5 24. Nxd5 Be7 25. Qg4?

A mistake which hands a healthy advantage to Black. Correct was 25. Nh6+, and after 25… gxh6, only then 26. Qg4+ Bg5 27. Qd4 Nd8 28. Qxa7 Nxe6! 29. h4, with approximate parity.

25… Nd8 26. Nxd8 Bxd8 27. Qd4 Rb7 28. Re4 Bf6 29. Qe3 Be7 30. h4 Qc6 31. h5??

A major error, and given the advantage that Black has accumulated over the last  few moves, a camel’s back-breaking straw. Best, but grossly insufficient, was 31. Re5.

The best line found by the engine continues 31… Bd6 32. Rg5 Qe8 33. Nb6 Be7 34. Re5 Bf6 35. Re4 Qc6 36. Nd5 Re7 37. Nxe7+ Bxe7 38. Kh2, after which Black is rampant. For example, 38… Rf6 39. Re1 Bb7 40. f3 Qd5 41. a4 h6 42. axb5 Qxb5 43. Re2 Bxe4 44. Qxe4 Qf5 45. f4 Qxe4, and Black has a winning advantage.

31… Bc5 32. Qg5 Bxe6 33. h6 Rxf2 White resigns 0-1


Ray’s 206th book, “  Chess in the Year of the King  ”, written in collaboration with Adam Black, and his 207th, “  Napoleon and Goethe: The Touchstone of Genius  ” (which discusses their relationship with chess) are available from Amazon and Blackwells.


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Member ratings
  • Well argued: 96%
  • Interesting points: 96%
  • Agree with arguments: 95%
32 ratings - view all

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