In this cricket-mad nation, a young champion has taken the world by storm in another sport, with few seemingly taking notice. Grandmaster D. Gukesh, all of 17 years, overcame big odds, beating more fancied opponents to win the FIDE Candidates 2024 in the open category in Toronto on Sunday. This has earned him the right to challenge China’s Ding Liren for the World Chess Championship title later this year. To place this achievement in perspective, Gukesh is now the youngest Candidates champion and the second Indian to earn a World Championship final spot in the classical format, after the legendary Viswanathan Anand. Meanwhile, Anand remains India’s chess colossus, his academy now working with a new generation of world beaters like Gukesh.

The young Grandmaster overcame challenges from experienced hands such as Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi. His first win came in Round 2 against compatriot R Praggnanandhaa, who was projected by many to have a better shot at the title. Gukesh added another win, against Nijat Abasov in Round 5, before he crashed to a time-pressure-induced defeat to France’s Alireza Firouzja. The young Grandmaster though would later pinpoint this as his defining moment in the tournament. Gukesh bounced back to defeat countryman Vidit Gujrathi in Round 8. He marked his ascendancy with back-to-back wins – against Abasov and Firouzja, in Rounds 12 and 13, to put himself atop the standings. A draw with black pieces in the final round against Nakamura helped him onto the biggest triumph of his career. Unfancied Gukesh had a strenuous qualification route to Candidates. The teenager made the cut thanks to his 2023 FIDE Circuit rating, which received a significant boost from his win at the Chennai Grand Masters, a hastily put-together Super GM tournament late last year.

In addition to Gukesh’s FIDE Candidates 2024 title win, the Indian camp had plenty more positives to take home. While the steady Praggnanandhaa finished a credible fifth, Vidit Gujrathi caught the world’s attention by toppling Nakamura twice in the tournament. In the women’s category, the experienced Koneru Humpy finished second, while the young R Vaishali rounded up her campaign with an incredible five-game winning streak, finishing joint second.

Indian chess has had a great run, after a lull that followed Anand’s gradual withdrawal from the competitive arena. In the 2023 Chess World Cup, four of the eight quarterfinalists were Indians, with Praggnanandhaa going all the way to the final, before falling to Magnus Carlsen. Soon after that, in the FIDE Grand Swiss tournament, Vidit Gujrathi and R Vaishali won the open and women’s titles, respectively. Gukesh’s win is now the icing on the cake. In a way, the baton has passed from Viswanathan Anand to Gukesh, as the torchbearer for Indian chess, which is at the cusp of a golden era with the charge being led by a bunch of talented, young Grandmasters.