Three years ago, we wrote about the young Hungarian prodigy, Richard Rapport, on the occasion of his becoming the youngest grandmaster in the world. Today, at 17, both his physical appearance and his chess career have undergone rapid progress. He has sprung up, towering over almost anyone that stands next to him. His shyness has given way to an open and polite charm. He communicates confidently and is quite fluent in English and German. He has kept his modest manner, but he does not hide his jubilation when talking about his latest chess successes. “I am very happy with my performance so far in 2013. I managed to gain more than 70 points in five months. I will do my utmost to enter the top ranks of chess soon.” He believes in it with such fervour and earnest desire, it may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
At the World Junior Championship, Athens 2012
At all the tournaments that he has participated in during the last couple of years, he has been oscillating at the very top of the tables, sharing the first spot with some of the best and much more experienced GMs. His greatest disappointment to date, however, was probably last year’s Wold Junior Championship, where Gold escaped him because of a worst tie-break. With 10.0/13 he shared first with GM Alexander Ipatov, who was proclaimed winner.
In second place by tiebreak: Richard Rapport behind Alexander Ipatov (left)
However, his brilliance had not gone unnoticed. A few months later, in January 2013, he was proving his noteworthy skills in the B Group in Wijk aan Zee. The same destiny struck again: shared first (with Najdich), 9.0/13, but a worst tiebreak. Just as a passing remark, his nemesis from the World Junior Championship, Alexander Ipatov, who played in the same group, was placed second last in the 14-player group.
This was Richard’s first participation at a major world chess competition. His uncompromising, sharp style was met in chess circles with comments of the kind: “Rapport is the one to watch out for”, or “Rapport might be the next breakout youngest elite GM”.
1st in Wijk: GM Richard Rapport, HUN, 2621, 7.0/10, performance 2764 (+19)
Video interview in Wijk
Less than two months later, in March 2013, at the 17th Neckar Open in Germany, Richard finished first, with 7.0/9, in the company of Bacrot, Solodovnichenko, Naiditsch, Saric, Istratescu, Nisipeanu and Edouard – this time with the best tie-break!
The Balagna Rapid Tournament on Corsica followed, where he won the Qualifier (leaving behind Bacrot, Fressinet, Tkachiev and Svetushkin), but was eliminated by Bacrot in the K.O. stage.
On Corsica: Etienne Bacrot, Leo Battesti, Richárd
Rapport , Almira
Skripchenko, Laurent Fressinet, Vladislav Tkachev and Jean Leibenguth
At the 21st Sigeman & Co. tournament in Malmö, May 2013, Richard shared first with Nigel Short and Nils Grandelius, with 4.5/7.
Actually, unlike in the machine-generated table above, Richard had the best tiebreak of the three, having scored 1.5/2 against Short and Grandelius, in their direct encounters.
From Sweden, he continued directly to France to play for Clichy in the French Team Championship. His team became Champion for the twelfth time, and Richard won a gold medal on his (third) board and with 8.5/10 and was the second highest scorer for his team (after Almira Scripchenko, 10.0/11). The French chess magazine Europe Echecs dedicated its July/August issue to the Clichy winners including Jakovenko, Vachier-Lagrave, Fressinet, Van Wely, So, Rapport, Tregubov, Hamdouchi and Pelletier, with a special on Richard as the “player of the month”.
Europe Echecs July 2013 cover, with Rapport as "Player of the month"
The ‘French Connection’ started as a result of a beautiful collaboration with GM Laurent Fressinet. Laurent describes it with pleasure:
"Just before his tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Richard asked me for a training session, which went very well in all aspects. I discovered that on top of his immense talent, which everyone can perceive, he works very seriously. Afterwards, I felt it natural to ask him to be my second during the Alekhine Memorial. I thought it might be an interesting experience for him, too. I was truly surprised! He was extremely conscientious; he spent sleepless nights working. His work and recommendations were immeasurably useful. For example, it was thanks to his advice that I played the Chigorin against Kramnik, achieving the greatest success of my career! I am extremely grateful to him. Richard is very strong and I think he will soon join the elite. He is already a very complete player, strong tactically, with excellent technique and a certain boldness that allows him to destabilize his opponents! I will be glad if I could help his rise to the top."
In the German League, Richard played so far for Werder Bremen where, in the last season, he had not lost a single game and scored plus five. From the next year, however he has been snatched up by Hockenheim. Ranking second on their list, behind Anatoly Karpov, in the absence of the former world champion he would be playing on board one.
His good results reflect his rating, which slowly but surely is approaching 2700. At 2693 in the latest, July list, his world ranking is 54th among active players and No. one in the under 18 section. Here are the top three juniors in the current FIDE list:
Richard lists Fischer, Ivanchuk and Grischuk as his favourite players. He currently trains with GM Robert Ruck, a Hungarian Olympic player, and has Laurent Fressinet, Markus Ragger, Viktor Erdős and Németh Miklós as his seconds. Laurent Fressinet and Markus Ragger are also his training partners. “Usually I make a deep preparation before every tournament. I try to find the weaknesses of my opponent, and play something that my opponent does not like. I also like to go into unexplored territory. I work six to nine hours per day, depending on the circumstances.”
Any relaxation program? “I do a lot of sport, some gym exercises, football, riding a bike and playing with my brothers and sister. Just before a game I like to watch movies or a TV series. I like for instance ‘How I met your mother’, because it’s quite funny and it helps to get rid of the stress before a game.”
His home village Sé, in the north-west Hungary, is a nice respite amongst his endless travels that have become a routine in his life as a professional chess player. “I like to travel a lot, to meet and greet new people, to explore new and different cultures. But Sé is a perfect place both to prepare for tournaments and to rest. It is a quiet village far from the crowd of the capital.”
In the cradle of his family, in Sé
Richard’s father, Tamas Rapport, has been a driving force behind Richard’s chess progress. Today, this is what he has to say: “With the years passing by I see things in a different way. I accept many things, which I did not in the past. I think that with the progress of Ricsi I have also improved as a father. I have no expectations or demands, I am just proud of him!”
Richi has by now embraced a fully professional chess career. The question about missing school and a standard education imposes itself naturally. I learn that he has been sitting for exams every six months and is actually finishing secondary education soon. His father elaborates: “We have no clear plans regarding Richi’s schooling. He already has a nice offer from the U.S. If he wishes to study, we will naturally support him.”
But Tamas is racking his mind sometimes with mundane concerns about Richi’s life: “Chess as lifestyle is completely different than any other civil occupation. I have some fears regarding this lifestyle – will he be able to find his partner and a harmonious family life with chess? The lifestyle of a professional chess player is not the perfect way to raise children. He might also choose to build up a life away from Hungary…” Tamas has always been openly outspoken about the general chess situation in Hungary:
“Hungarian chess has a similar history to Hungarian football. In the 1950s our football team was the best in the world, but unfortunately it is currently ranked around 50th in the world, despite strong financial support by the Hungarian state. The reasons are a weak infrastructure and a low level of education of youngsters. I can sense similar problems in chess. Hungarian chess had great traditions, but has lost most of its glory. You just need to check top tournaments. Our best players are close to the age of 40; Hungarian chess is lacking huge talents and financial supporters. The best coaches have to go abroad because they are not recognized on home territory. There has been no strong international tournament in the past ten years. Without being active, it is very difficult to act in chess diplomacy, as there is no basis for mutuality.”
With his son's shining success, the father’s enterprising spirit gets a boost and he is developing plans to further chess in the country, which would simultaneously strengthen Richi’s own rise.
“Alongside with the management of Ricsi, I am planning to organize strong tournaments and avail him to play against invited top foreign GMs. We deeply believe that the current status quo of chess in Hungary can be changed for the better. We are also providing and will continue to provide good advertisement for chess in the Hungarian media. I am very glad that Richárd's success has secured the sponsorship of one of the richest men in Hungary, Mr György Gattyán. I am optimistic that with his help and our efforts, not to mention Richárd’s play, Hungary will again occupy an important place on the map of world chess.”
Richard’s career is being shaped up as that of a true professional. Docler Holding, owned by one of the richest Hungarians, is his official sponsor. He is represented by the PR and media group Felix Promotion, Hungary’s leader sport agency, whose clients are Olympic and world champions.
His manager is GM Dr Andras Flumbort (above), who has been Richard’s "carer" since the early beginnings. Andras is very enthusiastic about his young client: “Richard has the capacity to reach something extraordinary in chess. He is developing very fast, much faster than I ever expected. He has fantastic skills: a true non-compromising fighter, with a strong will, sharp at tactics and precise in calculations, playing sometimes in extravagant style, not afraid of complicated and complex positions. He has the killer instinct. He is self-confident and optimistic. Most often, he chooses to play on instead of opting for a solid draw. The number of decisive games is very high in Richárd’s play.”
Which reminds us of Richard as a boy, when his over-confidence cost him some crucial results. But, Andras feels that he has improved psychologically as well: “He has become calmer, nowadays he senses when he is in danger, and this ability helps him to save some games.”
The success comes with satisfaction and worry in equal measure. It needs to be maintained and cultivated. New opportunities and new grounds need to be found for it to grow further. It is in this direction that Andras is concentrating his efforts. “Currently Richárd is very close to cross the 2700 barrier, his fighting attitude has already caught the attention of organizers, and I do hope other invitations may follow. Now he has to play against strong opponents, rated above 2700.” Andras has his sights on the Wijk aan Zee A group, London Classic… his ambitions are high, but he is convinced they are justified.
Rating Progress Chart of Richard Rapport for classical (orange), rapid (purple) and blitz (green)
Richard’s determination, hard work and perseverance, his absolute dedication to the game and, above all, his results – everything points to a career destined for the world chess elite. His current test is the Biel Grandmaster tournament where, in a category 19 double round robin event, he faces five players all rated over 2700.
Photos from official tournaments sites, Richard Rapport’s website, ChessBase and Diana Mihajlova. See also our 2010 reports: Diana Mihajlova: Richárd Rapport – a new star in chess, and Richárd Rapport – grandmaster at thirteen (he became the sixth youngest grandmaster in chess history).