Results not catchy but game has improved since Olympiad: Gukesh

Badminton players, you could find D Gukesh the stands at the Asian Games. That is after the Indian Grandmaster fulfills engagements in the sport which returns to the multi-disciplinary competition after 2010. “If I could meet any player and watch some games, it would be good,” said Gukesh, the world No. 8 and India’s highest ranked chess player, here on Thursday.

Gukesh said his game has improved since the stellar run at the Chess Olympiad in 2022(PTI)

That was the only time he sounded like a fan. For the rest of the interaction after an ordinary run at the Tata Steel rapid competition which Maxim Vachier-Lagrave won with a round to spare, Gukesh, 17, came across as a young man comfortable with having dethroned Viswanathan Anand, something no Indian has in three decades and more. “I have been used to handling expectations for some time,” he said.

He knows the crown may not stay that long with him given the crop of young Indian GMs that has emerged. “There is a lot of competition for the India No. 1 spot and I am happy about that.” That said, he would like to hold on to it for as long as he can, said Gukesh breaking into a smile.

Given that Anand has severely cut down on classical games and Gukesh has been following a frenetic schedule – consider this: he will play a tournament in Berlin from September 14-20, the Asian Games, Qatar Open and Grand Swiss after the blitz competition here – being No. 1 was something Gukesh said he had been “mentally preparing for over the past few months.” It is a nice feeling but not something that will affect my game, he said.

Gukesh said his game has improved since the stellar run at the Chess Olympiad in 2022 where he won eight games and the individual gold. “At the Olympiad, I was still very inexperienced against top players but I was in a golden form and things just fell into place,” he said.

“But I would clearly say that I am much stronger than I was during the Olympiad although results have not been as catchy. I have learnt a lot and made a lot of progress. I have been having consistent results and hopefully I will be able to improve further soon.”

Included in that consistent run was a World Cup quarter-final loss to eventual champion Magnus Carlsen. The Norwegian had complimented Gukesh on his classical game, something he had been focusing on till 2022.

“Recently, I have tried to improve in faster time controls but till last year, I was mainly focusing on classical and barely playing rapid and blitz. It was conscious decision and I think it helped my classical game. Rapid and blitz is mostly about practice and compared to other guys, I have had less practice. As my game improves, my rapid and blitz too will improve,” he said.

The ability to deal with defeats already has improved and Gukesh put that down to “maturity.” And some “yoga and meditation.” You almost forget that he was born in 2006.

Gukesh accepted that he is thin on experience but things have moved from when he was considered a good prospect by players. “Compared to last year, I have played against the top players quite often. Although I still need a lot of experience, I have gotten used to playing against them. I have learnt to trust my own work and not worry too much about who the opponent is.”

It is that faith in his ability that had the player from Chennai saying, like Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, he too is hopeful of being a world champion. “If I didn’t think so, it would be very bad.”

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