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How Gukesh Became A Chess Prodigy

Last updated on: April 22, 2024 14:52 IST
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A lot has been written about Dommaraju Gukesh, but have you wondered about how it is to be the parents of a genius and budding World Champion.

D Gukesh

Photograph: D Gukesh/X


IMAGE: A young Gukesh with his parents and grandfather. Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar

Dommaraju Gukesh's historic win at the Candidates Chess Tournament in Toronto wasn't just a triumph for the young chess player, it was a testament to the unwavering support and sacrifices made by his parents.

As Gukesh prepares for his historic world title challenge, the world can't help but acknowledge the silent heroes behind the prodigy: Dr Rajnikanth and Dr Padmakumari, who sacrificed their own routines and comfort to nurture a champion, discovers A Ganesh Nadar.

IMAGE: Gukesh's trophies at his home. Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar

Gukesh's chess journey began in 2013 with a simple one-hour class three days a week.

"In 2013 I enrolled him in a chess class and he used to go for an hour on three days a week. He started playing weekend tournaments as his chess teachers said he was good," recalls Dr Rajnikanth.

IMAGE: Gukesh plays Harika Dronavalli during the Blitz Tournament of Tata Steel Chess India Rapid and Blitz 2021 in Kolkata, November 20, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

Initially, it didn't disrupt the family's routine much, with Dr. Rajnikanth taking only Saturday leave for weekend tournaments. However, things changed in 2014 when Gukesh entered week-long rating tournaments.

This marked the beginning of a significant shift in their lives. Dr Rajnikanth, a busy ENT surgeon, had to adjust his schedule, becoming a visiting surgeon at the hospitals he previously worked at full-time.

Recalling the days before Gukesh became a chess prodigy, Dr Rajnikanth says, "I used to attend conferences all over India. I was a visiting surgeon in multiple hospitals. My day started at 7 am and used to end at 11 pm. I used to take an hour break for lunch".

IMAGE: Gukesh plays Uzbekistan's Nodirbek Abdusattorov during the first Rapid round of Tata Steel Chess in Kolkata, September 5, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Dr Padmakumari, an assistant professor of microbiology, faced a different challenge. Gukesh, a consistent class topper, was missing school due to tournaments.

To support his passion while ensuring his education wasn't compromised, the family made a bold decision.

"We decided that if he does well in chess he can carry on playing and if not he will go back to school".

Velammal school, where Gukesh studied, agreed to a unique arrangement: He would attend only for exams, focusing on chess during the rest of the year.

This was a gamble, a year-long trial to see if Gukesh could excel in both.

IMAGE: Chess Grandmaster D Gukesh with his individual Gold medal as five-times Chess World Champion Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand and Tamil Nadu MLA Udhayanidhi Stalin look on at the closing ceremony of the 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai, August 10, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Dr Padmakumari stepped up further, taking on extra work when her husband and son were traveling.

She clocked in overtime and covered shifts for colleagues who needed leave. Her dedication ensured the family's financial stability while Gukesh pursued his chess dreams.

IMAGE: Gukesh plays chess with the UAE's Hosani (not seen) at the 44th Chess Olympiad at Mahabalipuram located on the outskirts of Chennai, July 29, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

"Travel was becoming very expensive as we now had to travel abroad to play games. My wife was working to not only support the family at home but also for our travel and stay abroad," Dr Rajnikanth said.

While Gukesh received some cash awards and support from his school, significant financial assistance remained a challenge until some time ago.

In 2019, after returning from a tournament in Gibraltar, Gukesh and his father visited five-time World Champion Viswanathan Anand.

"He was kind enough to invite us to his house, he and Gukesh were discussing the games my son played in Gibraltar and Anand was suggesting some different moves that he could have played."

Anand advised Gukesh to take a break and told him that it would help.

Gukesh's dedication and the unwavering support of his parents paid off. He not only excelled in his chess endeavours but also cleared his exams, proving that his academic brilliance wasn't compromised.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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