Chess is an age-old and popular board game in existence in India. Currently, there are quite a number of legendary and famous chess players representing India in various state, national and international level championships.
A Brief Overview of the Chess Game in India
Chess is a very popular game played by millions around the world. The board game is believed to have its origins in 6th century Eastern India from where it gradually evolved to its modern form. The first modern chess tournament was held in the mid 19th century and has since, been gaining popularity worldwide.
The game of chess is played by two players on a chequered (checkered) board known as the ‘chessboard’ having a total of 64 squares in black and white. Each player begins the game with 16 pieces of six types that are moved across the board according to certain rules with the aim to ‘checkmate’ the opponent’s King, and thus, winning the game.
A board game like Chess requires strategic thinking, anticipating your opponent’s moves, and, of course, mental agility. Despite the fact that chess appears to be a simple game, it is one of the most difficult games in the world. Since chess is a strategic game that tests one’s mental ability, a chess player’s strength, therefore, derives from his chess talent, mental agility, and character.
The game of chess in India is regulated by the All India Chess Federation and worldwide by the World Chess Federation, also called the International Chess Federation based in Lausanne, Switzerland. The International Chess Federation is commonly referred to by its French acronym FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs). Several major championships are held which include the Chess Olympiad, World Chess Championship, World Team Championship, Women’s World Championship, Junior World Championship, World Computer Chess Championship etc. FIDE calculates the ‘Elo’ ratings of players and awards titles for achievement in competitive play, such as the Grandmaster title.
Let us take a look at some of India’s best chess players, a few of whom have also earned the title of Grandmaster and made India proud.
20 Best and Famous Chess Players from India
Listed in alphabetical order, here are twenty famous and legendary Chess champions from India. Also, these iconic Grandmaster title winners are an inspiration to the young generations aspiring to become professional chess players.
1. Abhijeet Gupta
Abhijeet Gupta is the first Indian to win 5 Commonwealth Chess Championships. In 2008, he became a Grandmaster, and the following year, he won the World Junior Chess Championship in Turkey.
His triumphed in the Indian National Premier Chess Championship and Dubai Open Chess Championship. Abhijeet Gupta played for the Indian national team in the 2012 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey, where he won an individual silver medal.
2. Adhiban Baskaran
Adhiban Baskaran is an Indian chess player who won the 2008 Under-16 World Championship and the 2009 Indian Championship. In 2007, he won the Asian U-16 Championship in Russia. Adhiban played on the first board for the gold medal-winning Indian team at the Under-16 Chess Olympiad of 2007 and 2008.
Adhiban won the 2013 Sants Open, the 2016 Tata Steel Challengers Tournament in a 3-way tie and the 2018 Reykjavik Open.
3. Aravindh Chithambaram
Aravindh Chithambaram is India’s youngest Grandmaster. He won the National U-19 Championship at the age of 12. He is a two-time winner of the Indian Chess Championship held in 2018 and 2019. He competed also in the World U-14 Chess Championship in 2012 and came in second place.
He won his first major tournament in 2013 at the Chennai Grandmaster International Open, defeating four Grandmasters and two International Masters in the process. This result earned him his first Grandmaster title. He earned his International Master title in 2014 and his Grandmaster title in 2015.
4. Arjun Erigaisi
Arjun Erigaisi earned the title of Grandmaster in 2018 at the age of 14 years making him among the youngest Indian chess players ever to achieve the title of grandmaster. He is also one of the fastest players to achieve International Master and Grandmaster titles within a year.
Known to be really good in his middle and end-games, Erigaisi is widely tipped to be one of the best young chess players to emerge. He was also the winner of a silver medal at the 2015 Asian Youth Championship held in South Korea.
5. Dommaraju Gukesh
Dommaraju Gukesh, popularly known as Gukesh D, is an Indian chess player who became the third-youngest player in history to qualify for the Grandmaster title, which was awarded to him by FIDE in March 2019.
In 2022, at the age of 16, Gukesh became the youngest player ever to defeat the then-world champion Magnus Carlsen, when he beat Carlsen in a game at the Aimchess Rapid Tournament.
At the Asian Youth Chess Championships held in 2018, Gukesh won five gold medals in the U-12 individual rapid and blitz, U-12 team rapid and blitz, and the U-12 individual classical formats.
6. Harika Dronavalli
Harika Dronavalli is an Indian chess player who holds the FIDE title of Grandmaster. She has won three bronze medals in the Women’s World Chess Championship in 2012, 2015 and 2017.
In 2016, she won the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix event at Chengdu, China and rose up from being world no. 11 to world no. 5 in FIDE women’s ranking.
Harika was honoured with the Arjuna Award for the year 2007–08 by the Government of India. In 2019, she was awarded the Padma Shri for her contribution towards the field of sports.
7. Karthikeyan Murali
Karthikeyan Murali is a two-time National Champion and was awarded the Grandmaster title in 2015. In December 2011, he won the World Youth Chess Championships in U-12 category. In 2014, Murali tied for third place at the Abu Dhabi Masters tournament and helped the Indian team to win the U-16 Chess Olympiad which was held in Hungary.
In 2015, Karthikeyan won the 53rd National Premier Chess Championship of India. He also won the 54th edition of the championship held in Lucknow in 2016. In 2019, Karthikeyan placed second both in the Gibraltar Masters Open tournament and the Asian Championships.
8. Koneru Humpy
Koneru Humpy is best known for winning the FIDE Women’s Rapid Chess Championship in 2019. In 2002, she became the youngest woman ever to achieve the title of Grandmaster after beating Judit Polgár’s previous record by three months.
In October 2007, Humpy became the second female chess player, after Polgár, to exceed the 2600 Elo rating mark, being rated 2606.
In 2003, she was honoured with India’s second-highest sporting honour, the Arjuna Award. In 2007, Koneru was honoured with the Padma Shri Award.
9. Krishnan Sasikiran
Krishnan Sasikiran began playing chess with his father, S. Krishnan when he was only 9 years old. Sasikiran won the Indian Chess Championship in 1999, 2002, 2003, and 2013, as well as the Asian Junior Chess Championship in Vietnam in 1999.
Sasikiran won the title of Grandmaster at the Commonwealth Championship in Sangli in 2000.
In addition, he won the Hastings International Chess Tournament. At the 2006 Asian Games, Sasikiran won a gold medal in the team event. He won a bronze medal at the 2014 Chess Olympiad. He also received a silver medal at the individual category.
10. Nihal Sarin
Nihal Sarin is among the youngest Indian chess players to win the Grandmaster title. He achieved the title of Grandmaster at age 14. Nihal was the World U-10 champion in 2014 in Durban, South Africa.
In 2019, at age 15, Nihal had become the youngest Indian to play in the World Cup 2019 where he managed to reach the second round. He won a gold medal in a team championship at the FIDE Online Chess Olympiad 2020. He won the U-18 World Youth Championship held online in rapid format in 2020.
11. Padmini Rout
Padmini Rout is an Indian chess player. She holds the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster. She is a four-time National Women’s Premier title holder consecutively from 2014 to 2017 and was the Asian Women’s champion of 2018.
Rout was honoured with the Biju Patnaik Sports Award in the year 2007 and the Ekalavya Award in 2009.
12. Parimarjan Negi
Parimarjan Negi is an Indian chess Grandmaster. He achieved the Grandmaster title at the age of 13 years, which made him among the youngest grandmasters in history at the time. He won the U-10 division at the Asian Youth Chess Championship when he was 9 years old. In 2006, he earned his final Grandmaster norm by drawing with Russian Grandmaster Ruslan Sherbakov. Negi won the Philadelphia International Open Tournament.
Negi went on to winning the 11th Asian Chess Championship, Cappelle-la-Grande Open (twice in 2012 and 2013) and reclaiming his title for Politiken Cup in 2013 (first won in 2009). As of July 2021, he is the seventh youngest player to achieve this feat. He was granted the Arjuna Award in 2010 by the Government of India.
13. Pentala Harikrishna
Pentala Harikrishna became India’s youngest Grandmaster in 2001 after winning the Commonwealth Championship. He won the World Junior Championship in 2004 and the Asian Individual Championship in 2011. Between 2000 and 2012, he represented India at seven Chess Olympiads.
When he was named Grandmaster, Indian chess star Pentala Harikrishna became the seventh-youngest in the world and the youngest from his country to achieve the feat.
He had started playing chess at age 4 and represented India at the Chess Olympiad at age 14. He also has an Asian Games gold medal to his name.
14. Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa
Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa is the youngest Indian chess player to win the title of Grandmaster. A chess prodigy, he earned the International Master title at the age of 10, and the Grandmaster title at age 12, the second-youngest at the time to do so.
At the age of 16, Praggnanandhaa became the youngest chess player to defeat then world champion Magnus Carlsen in 2022, where he beat Carlsen in a rapid game at the Airthings Masters Rapid Chess Tournament.
15. S. L. Narayanan
S.L. Narayanan won the U-9 Kerala State Championship in 2007. The first time Narayanan played against a Grandmaster was in January 2010, during the Parsvnath Open Chess tournament held at New Delhi, India.
Narayanan won a silver medal for the U-12 category in the Commonwealth Chess Championship which was held at Delhi in May 2010. He won 4th in the Commonwealth Chess 2019 held in New Delhi. Narayanan was qualified for the Chess World Cup 2019.
16. S. P. Sethuraman
The winning streak of Sethuraman was evident at a very young age when he won the 2004 Asian U-12 Championship in Singapore and then went on to win the 2009 World U-16 Championship. In the year 2009, he achieved the three norms required for the grandmaster title.
In 2014, Sethuraman won the team bronze medal with the Indian team at the 41st Chess Olympiad, and won the Indian National Premier Championship that gave him a chance to play in the Chess World Cup 2015. Sethuraman was the winner of the Asian Chess Championship 2016 and finished second in the Aeroflot Open in 2018.
17. Surya Shekhar Ganguly
Surya Ganguly achieved the International Master title in Chess at the age of 16, and the Grandmaster title at the age of 19. He won the Asian Chess Championship in 2009 and held the distinction of becoming an Indian Champion six times in a row.
In National and International chess tournaments, Surya Ganguly has won 40 gold medals, 21 silver medals, and 6 bronze medals in the individual category. Also, he won 12 gold, 4 silver, and 3 bronze medals in team competitions.
18. Tania Sachdev
Tania Sachdev is an Indian chess player who holds the FIDE titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster. She is a two-time Indian women’s chess champion in 2006 and 2007, one-time Asian women’s chess champion in 2007 and three-time and current Commonwealth Women’s Chess Champion in 2016, 2018 and 2019. She is also a chess presenter and commentator.
Since 2008, Sachdev has represented India at the Women’s Chess Olympiads as part of the Indian national team. In 2009, she was honoured with the prestigious Arjuna Award for her contribution to chess in India.
19. Vidit Gujrathi
Vidit Gujrathi became the first Indian to win the World Youth Chess Championship in the U-14 age category in 2008, earning the title of International Master. A young Grandmaster, he was appointed in January 2013.
Vidit was ranked second among Indian chess players, just behind legendary player Viswanathan Anand. After earning the tag of an International Master, following his triumph in the Under-14 World Youth Championships, he went on to become a Grandmaster, too.
20. Viswanathan Anand
Viswanathan Anand is the long-time standing champion of chess from India. He is a chess Grandmaster and former 5-time World Champion. His quick strategic moves makes him one of the best and undefeated professional chess player.
Anand is India’s first chess player to win the Grandmaster title, and having won the International Chess Federation World Championship five times in 2000, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2012, respectively. From 1991-92, he was the first recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, India’s highest sporting honour.
Viswanathan Anand is widely regarded as the agile player of his generation. He was the first sportsperson to receive India’s second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2007. Also, in April 2007, he became the world’s no. 1 chess player for the first time.
This strategy-based board game of Chess is gaining popularity among children and adults in India and around the world. Many are also paving their way into entering in national and international championships and wining titles like the Grandmaster and International Masters in men’s category and Woman Grandmaster and Woman International Masters in the women’s category.