BusinessWorld Publishing Corporation, The Phillippines
March 26, 2004, Friday
Chess Piece; Who’s the youngest now?
by Bobby Ang
We all know that Bobby Fischer became the youngest-ever
international grandmaster when he finished among the top in the 1958
Portoroz Interzonal, thus qualifying for the Candidates’ Tournament
which brings with it an automatic grandmaster title. At that time he
was 15 years, six months and one day old. His record was to stand for
33 years until broken by Judit Polgar during the 1991 Hungarian
Championship. But who was the youngest-ever GM before Fischer? And,
with the tidal wave of ever-younger talents, who holds the record
1. When the International Chess Federation (FIDE) created the title
in 1950 they also created the first batch of international
grandmasters, the youngest of whom was 26-year-old David Bronstein
(bet you didn’t know that).
2. This record lasted for two years, in 1952 the Armenian legend
Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian qualified for the Candidates’ Tournament
(as mentioned above all candidates are automatically awarded the
title) at the age of 23.
3. Boris Spassky set a new record at age 18 when he became a GM in
1955, also by qualifying for a Candidates Tournament.
4. The next record was set by Bobby Fischer via the same route of
qualifying for the Candidates’. Lest you think that qualifying for a
Candidates’ Tournament or match is easy, none of the other ones in
the list is to get the title in this manner.
So there you have it, the sequence leading up to Bobby Fischer. Now
we give you the all-time list of youngest-ever GMs:
1. Sergey Karjakin (Ukraine), 12 years, 7 months.
2. Bu Xiangzhi (China), 13 years, 10 months, 13 days
3. Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), 14 years, 14 days
4. Ruslan Ponomariov (Ukraine), 14 years, 17 days
5. Etienne Bacrot (France), 14 years, 2 months
6. Peter Leko (Hungary), 14 years 4 months, 22 days
7. Koneru Humpy (India), 15 years, 1 month, 27 days
8. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), 15 years, 1 month, 28 days
9. Judit Polgar (Hungary), 15 years, 4 months, 28 days
10. Alejandro Ramirez (Costa Rica), 15 years, 5 months, 14 days
11. Bobby Fischer (USA), 15 years, 6 months, 1 day
12. Francisco Vallejo Pons (Spain), 16 years, 9 months
13. Garry Kasparov (Russia), 16 years, 11 months, 29 days
A few comments on the above list.
* * *
SERGEY KARJAKIN is currently the youngest on the list, but some
quarters have voiced their doubts on the legitimacy of his title, in
as much as all his GM results were obtained in obscure Ukrainian
tournaments with no publicity at all until after he got the three
norms. As to whether or not his norms will stand up to intense
international scrutiny I have no opinion on this, since Ponomariov
also obtained his GM norms in obscure Ukrainian events, but look at
him now – he is FIDE world chess champion! However, it is true that
Karjakin’s games have a certain quality in them which are not very
convincing – he went to Malaysia to represent his country in the
world Under-16 Olympiad, and was rather a big failure, losing to an
Indian player who was not even the top in his age group.
The same can be said about BU XIANGZHI, whose last two norms were
obtained in local Chinese events and his wins were against his
compatriots. But I don’t buy the vicious innuendos about Bu’s title
norm, since the 1999 Qingdao Cup where he obtained his final norm had
Mr. Ignatius Leong as Arbiter, and this guy, who ran for FIDE
President two years ago, is a stickler for propriety and would have
exposed any shenanigans had there been some.
Anyway, both Karjakin and Bu have subsequently showed that they are
of GM-class, not yet superstars but strong enough to belong. The same
is not true for GM TEIMOUR RADJABOV of Baku (same hometown as Garry
Kasparov). He is now 17 but his ELO rating had gone up to the high
2600s. Not only that but the quality of his games promise a bright
future for this teenager. Even Garry Kasparov has fallen for one of
his sacrificial attacks!
Kasparov,G (2847) – Radjabov,T (2624) [C11]
Linares 20th (2), 23.02.2003
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2
b5 9.a3 Qb6 10.Ne2 c4 11.g4 h5 12.gxh5 Rxh5 13.Ng3 Rh8 14.f5!?
Naturally Kasparov plays for a win against the upstart from Baku.
14…exf5 15.Nxf5 Nf6! 16.Ng3
[16.exf6 Bxf5 17.fxg7 Bxg7 18.Rg1 Bf6 is OK for Black]
16…Ng4 17.Bf4 Be6 18.c3 Be7 19.Ng5 0-0-0 20.Nxe6 fxe6 21.Be2
Brave fellow, this Radjabov.
It was wise not to accept the sacrifice. A sample line is 22.dxe5 d4
23.cxd4 Rxd4 24.Qc1 Na5 25.Be3 Nb3 26.Bxd4 Qxd4 27.Qd1 Qe3 and wins.
22…Nd7 23.Qxe6 Bh4 24.Qg4 g5! 25.Bd2 Rde8 26.0-0-0 Na5 27.Rdf1?
A serious oversight. Simply 27.Kb1 is OK.
27…Nb3+ 28.Kd1 Bxg3! 29.Rf7
[29.hxg3 Qg6! 30.Bc1 Qb1 31.Qxg5 Nxc1 32.Qxc1 Qe4 wins]
29…Rd8 30.Bxg5 Qg6 31.Qf5 Qxf5 32.Rxf5 Rdf8
Now to cash in on Black’s extra piece.
33.Rxf8+ Nxf8 34.Bf3 Bh4 35.Be3 Nd7 36.Bxd5 Re8 37.Bh6 Ndc5! 38.Bf7
Re7 39.Bh5 Nd3 0-1
* * *
In Dortmund 2003 we were witness to a most fantastic display of
tactical fireworks with Viswanathan Anand (!) as the victim.
GM Viswanathan Anand,V (2774) – Radjabov,T (2648) [B32]
Dortmund Dortmund (2), 01.08.2003
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5
This is known as the Kalashnikov Variation, a departure from the more
popular Sveshnikov (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5).
You might think the two are more-or-less similar, but the plans of
attack are different. Here in the Kalashnikov Black’s idea is to
play…Bf8-e7-g5 to exchange bishops, a plan which, for obvious
reasons, is not available in the Sveshnikov.
5.Nb5 d6 6.c4 Be7 7.b3!?
Apparently Anand got the idea of attacking Black’s d6 with Ba3.
7…f5 8.exf5 Bxf5 9.Bd3 e4!? 10.Be2 a6 11.N5c3 Bf6!
Black changes his original plan and, in view of White’s self-imposed
weakness on the long diagonal, positions itself on f6.
12.0-0 Nge7 13.a3!
Prevents…Nb4 as well as getting ready to move his rook to d2.
13…0-0 14.Ra2 Qa5 15.b4 Qe5 16.Re1 b5! 17.cxb5 axb5 18.Bxb5 Nd4!?
[19.Bc4+! was stronger. After 19…Kh8 20.f4! Black’s queen would be
in deep trouble. There only remains 19…d5 20.Nxd5 Nxd5 21.Bb2 and
the threat of exchanging on d4 and winning back the piece by Rd2
would ensure a big advantage for White]
19…d5 20.Rd2 Be6 21.f4 Qxf4 22.Rf2! <D>
[ 22.Rxd4?? Qf2+!]
An even more fantastic follow-up. 24.Nxb5 is refuted by 24…Bd4
double-check 25.Kg3 Bf2 checkmate.
[24.Nxb5 Bd4+ 25.Kg3 Bf2#]
24…Nxc3 25.Nxc3 Bxc3 26.Bb5 Bxe1 27.Qxe1 Nf5 28.Bb2 Rac8!? 29.Ba4!
Preventing Black’s rook from coming to the second rank.
29…Rf7 30.h3 h5!
Preparing h5-h4 and Nf5-g3.
31.b5 h4 32.Be5 d4?
Throws away the win. There was no need to hurry. He could have played
32…Rb7! followed by…e3 and…d4.
It is Anand’s turn to slip. He should have played 33.Qxe4! Rc1+
34.Kh2 Ne3 35.Qxh4 Rff1 36.Qd8+ Rf8 37.Qxd4 forces the boy from Baku
to take the draw with 37…Nf1+ 38.Kg1 Ne3+ 39.Kh2 Nf1+ etc.
33…e3! 34.Kh2 d3 35.Qb4 e2 36.Bc3 Rxc3! 37.Qxc3 Ng3 38.b7 Rxb7
39.Qa5 Rb8! 0-1
* * *
HUMPY KONERU is now the youngest female in chess history to get the
male version of the international grandmaster title, beating out
Judit Polgar by around three months. I’ll try not to comment on this
too much, but there has been some skepticism as to what is Koneru’s
true age. Physically she looks much older than the 17 she is now.
Now, we go to the latest wunderkind to follow in Bobby Fischer’s
footsteps. Already controversial (he has been called the rudest GM in
the international circuit), HIKARU NAKAMURA started playing
tournament chess in 1995 at the age of seven. Whilst reading the
Guinness Book of World Records at nine, he made a chance discovery
that he had only three-months to beat a record by becoming America’s
youngest National Master – so he decided to do something about it.
History was achieved in the Marshall Chess Club a few months later
when he achieved an official USCF rating of 2203 at the age of l0
years and 2 months old. In the US the Master title is automatic when
you fit 2200.
Hikaru’s mother is Japanese while his stepfather is the famous Sri
Lankan (now US) chess coach Sunil Weeramantry, who has written a
best-selling book on Best Lessons from a Chess Coach.
Nakamura achieved his final GM norm by placing second in the 2003
Bermuda International Tournament, beating Bobby Fischer’s record by
four months. A creature of internet chess, he is one of the most
active GMs in the internet chess servers, playing blitz and bullet
(one-minute chess) from morning till night. This has affected his
tournament play somewhat, as in the opening and early middle game
Hikaru tends to play somewhat superficially. When the chips are down
though we see his enormous strength in tactics – he has squirmed out
of many bad or losing positions by toughing it out, finding hidden
resources and counterattacking hard.
This is my favorite Nakamura game:
GM Gennady Sagalchik (2491) – Nakamura,H (2568) [C15]
American Continental 2nd Buenos Aires (9), 27.08.2003
Played during the 2003 Pan-American Continental Championships, this
game was instrumental in qualifying Nakamura for the FIDE World
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bg5 e6 4.e4 Bb4 5.Nge2 dxe4 6.a3 Be7 7.Bxf6 gxf6
8.Nxe4 f5 9.N4c3 c6 10.g3 b6 11.Bg2 Bb7 12.Qd3?!
Some people would call this an error. White’s e2-N is not doing
anything and he should transfer it to its optimum square on d3, which
White had just carelessly occupied with his queen.
12…Nd7 13.Nd1 Qc7 14.c4 0-0-0 15.Ne3 Kb8 16.Qc2 Bd6 17.f4 h5 18.h4
Black is obviously standing quite well here.
19.0-0-0 c5 20.d5 Rhe8 21.Nc3 a6 22.Rhe1 Rg8 23.Nf1?
White, a well-known GM, has obviously underestimated his young
opponent and overlooked Black’s fine reply. It was imperative that he
play 23.dxe6 fxe6 24.Bxb7 Kxb7 25.Nf1 with an unclear position.
23…Rxg3! 24.Nxg3 Bxf4+ 25.Kb1 Bxg3 26.Re2 Bc8 27.Rd3 Be5 28.Na4 Ka7
29.Rb3 Nd7 30.Bf3 Rg8 31.Bxh5 exd5 32.cxd5 b5 33.Nc3 c4 34.Rxb5?
A blunder. White had to tough it out with 34.Rb4 Bd6 35.Rxb5 Rg1+
36.Ka2 Rg3 37.Bxf7 Rxc3 38.Qxc3 axb5 39.Be6 when he still had chances
to save the game.
34…Bxc3 35.d6 Qxd6 36.Rxf5
And now we come to a sensational finish.
36…Rg1+ 37.Ka2 Qxa3+!!
38.bxa3 Ra1# 0-1
* * *
The first time we heard of the name ALEJANDRO RAMIREZ was at the Bled
2002 Olympiad. In the first round a 14-year-old kid from Costa Rica,
not exactly a renowned chess nation, held Russia’s Alexander
Morozevich to a draw. At the age of four he had asked his father to
teach him how to play chess after he had seen the moving “Searching
for Bobby Fischer” and this was what that sample request had led to.
Delighted with the fantastic result in his first-ever game against a
grandmaster, Ramirez told the press that his ambition was to be a
grandmaster himself before his 18th birthday. The GM norms soon
followed and, at the Los Immortales Tournament in Santo Domingo,
Ramirez achieved his third GM norm at the age of 15 years, five
months and 14 days to become the first Central American grandmaster
ever and, currently, the second youngest grandmaster in the world.
The avalanche of young chess geniuses has not yet stopped. Whereas
before a grandmaster expects to reach his peak at 35 years of age
nowadays that is the retiring age. It is no longer a rarity to have
grandmasters who are still in their teens. Among our top players now
I can immediately name Radjabov, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan
19), Evgeny Alekseev (Russia 18), Ernesto Inarkiev (Russia 18), David
Navara (Czech 19), and Ferenc Berkes (Hungary 18), and I have limited
the choice down to those GMs whose ratings are in the super-GM level
And the advances are not confined to the youngsters winning chess
tournaments – they have also made it imperative for all professional
players to inspect the youth tournaments for opening and theoretical
The following game was played in the Russian Under-14 Championship,
won by the player of the White pieces below. He refutes the opening
setup of Black quite convincingly.
FM Nikolay Pokazaniev – Yakov Khosroev [B49]
RUS U14-Ch Dagomys, 2002
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be2 a6 7.0-0 Nf6
The principal continuations here are either 8…d6 or 8…Be7, going
into the Scheveningen. However, this move, transposing into the
Taimanov, also has a lot of followers here among Filipino National
9.Na4 Bd6 10.g3!
Stopping the threat to his h2 and dangling the e4-pawn to the Black
Judit Polgar got the same position after White’s 10th move against
Garry Kasparov in 1997 Linares, and played more prudently with
10…Be7 but then Garry proved that after 11.c4! d6 (11…Nxe4 12.Bf3
Nf6 13.c5) 12.f3 Bd7 13.Rc1 0-0 14.Nxc6 Bxc6 15.Nb6 Rad8 16.b4!
Black’s problems are not so easy to solve. Kasparov,G-Polgar,J/
Linares 1997 1-0 (41).
Now GM Ftacnik recommends that White play 12.Nb6 Qxb6 13.Nxf5! with
an attack. Czech great Jan Smejkal had met this position against
Luben Spassov in Oerebro 1966, and obtained a winning attack after
12.Bxe4 fxe4 13.Nxc6 Qxc6 14.Nb6 Rb8 15.Qh5+ g6 16.Qh6 Be5 17.Bf4
Bxf4 18.Qxf4 d6 19.Nxc8 Rxc8 20.Qf6, but Pokazaniev’s method is even
12.Nxf5! exf5 13.Bxe4 fxe4 14.Nb6 Rb8
[14…Ra7 15.Nxc8 Qxc8 16.Qxd6 Ra8 17.f3 does not give grounds for
If the bishop moves away then Bb6 will win the queen. 10…Nxe4 seems
to have been refuted.
Younger and younger they get. There was a time when the only youth
championship we had was the Under-20. Nowadays we have Under-18,
Under-16, Under-14, Under-12 and even Under-10. In Southeast Asia
Ignatius Leong is experimenting with Under-8!
Pretty soon we will have kindergarten championships. Believe me.
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