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Leon Watson

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'It really feels like something special': Gukesh on the chess Generation Z

Gukesh against Nodirbek Abdusattorov at the Chennai Olympiad | photo: Lennart Ootes, FIDE

Gukesh against Nodirbek Abdusattorov at the Chennai Olympiad | photo: Lennart Ootes, FIDE

For nearly a decade, the golden generation of players born in the early 90s headed by Magnus Carlsen has dominated at the top of world chess.

But this year, every chess fan has seen signs of change. 2022 has been the year of the junior super-talent.

Names such as Arjun Erigaisi, 16-year-old Dommaraju Gukesh, Alireza Firouzja, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, Vincent Keymer, Hans Niemann and Nodirbek Abdusattorov have all been making waves on the world stage and become familiar to everyone.

So could this rich crop of players, all born between 2003 and 2005, usher in a changing of the guard? In the lead up to the Julius Baer Generation Cup, one of the leading lights of Generation Z in chess seems to think so.

"You can’t judge by one tournament, but it really feels like something special,” India’s Dommaraju Gukesh told Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam in an interview published in this month’s New In Chess magazine. “But time will tell.”

Gukesh clearly relishes the competition and hopes one day to emulate Carlsen.

Asked if it's a great feeling to be part of a generation that’s so promising, he said: ‘Sure, I don’t think there was any generation where there was such a great competition. For instance, from others, very super-strong talents. Then there is Abdusattorov, Keymer, I mean, so many other guys.

"It’s a very positive thing, and part of the reason why we are all performing so well. Because we all see someone is winning the World Rapid Championship, someone is winning the Tata Steel Challengers, and someone is winning Olympiad gold, and we all get motivated by that and try to improve on our previous achievements.

"That is something that really motivates us. We try to be the best amongst ourselves.”

New In Chess

New In Chess

Carlsen’s generation will go down as one of the greatest in history, of that there is little doubt. The 31-year-old has been simply imperious since he defeated Vishy Anand in 2013 to win his first World Championship, racking up tournament win after win.

And he has not been alone. The list of super-strong players around Carlsen’s age is uncanny. Curiously, all the Norwegian’s title challengers since his 2014 rematch with Anand have been born within two years of his 1990 birthday.

Even with Carlsen stepping down as champ, as he announced in July, the next title match will be contested by players born in 1990 (Ian Nepomniachtchi) and 1992 (Ding Liren).

When you add the likes of reigning World Blitz Champion Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (also 1990), it's clear the spurt of players born between 1990 and 1992 were something special.

New In Chess

New In Chess

Like his peers and Carlsen before him, Gukesh is hungry to top his own group and one day become World Champion.

“That’s the goal of all the youngsters," Gukesh said. "I mean, for myself, my goal has always been to be the best in the world, to be World Champion someday."

But the teenager from Chennai is sad he won't be able to take the title off Carlsen.

"Yeah, it’s kind of sad for the entire world if Magnus doesn’t defend. I mean, he has already said so, but when he was hinting about that I was hoping that it’s not true.

"But I also know that Magnus usually says what he thinks and when Nepo won, I thought that he most probably wouldn’t defend...

"It’s kind of sad for the entire world, because Magnus is clearly the best player in the world, and a World Championship without Magnus Carlsen will probably not be the same.

"It’s kind of sad, but I also understand his position. He’s already played for example, this Olympiad was so stressful for me. I can’t imagine what a World Championship feels like."

Born on May 26, 2006, Gukesh burst onto the scene as one of the world’s top junior talents when he narrowly missed breaking 1990-born Sergey Karjakin's record for becoming the world's youngest grandmaster.

Since then, he has charged up the rankings making the 2700 mark faster even than Carlsen.

After a stellar showing at this year’s FIDE Olympiad in Chennai, Gukesh shot to number 23 in the world and number 2 among juniors.

Behind him are five exceptional talents who are all competing in the next leg of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, the Julius Baer Generation Cup, starting on Sunday.

With a theme focusing on the battle between generations, it seems the perfect moment for the Zoomers in the event to make a statement.

Hoping to make their own mark against Carlsen’s generation will be Niemann, Pragg, Erigaisi, German prodigy Vincent Keymer and the youngest among them 15-year-old Christopher Yoo.

Niemann and Pragg have already beaten Carlsen in Meltwater events this year. The American triumphed in the FTX Crypto Cup while Pragg has beaten the champ twice. Keymer came off worse with a loss in the Airthings Masters.

Gukesh, unfortunately, is unable to play in the Julius Baer event, but he will no doubt be watching with interest to see how his new golden generation gets on.

For the full interview with Gukesh, read this month's edition of New In Chess magazine available online or in print here.

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