Richárd Rapport – a new star in chess
By Diana Mihajlova
On an early spring morning I met Dr. Andras Flumbort, a young manager of the youngest Hungarian grandmaster, at the Keleti train station in Budapest on our way to Sé, a little village about three hours drive north west, close to the Austrian border.
Sunrise at Keleti, Budapest
Sé (pronounced She), has about 1300 inhabitants and is situated in western Hungary in the Vas county, the capital of which is Szombathely. The name means ‘brook’. Indeed a little brook passes through this quiet, genteel village. There is also a little church and an only pub – and that is all that Sé can boast. Apart from its young resident, Richárd Rapport, whose home lately has been inundated by journalists, photographers and television and radio crews.
Richárd Rapport at home in Sé
Richárd just celebrated his 14th birthday, on 25th March. A few weeks earlier
he had another reason for celebration, much dearer to his heart – he became
a chess grandmaster. At 13 years 11 months and 15 days he dethroned both Peter
Leko and Judit Polgar as a youngest grandmaster in Hungary. He is fifth youngest
in the world following after Sergey Karjakin (UKR), Parimarjan Negi (IND), Magnus
Carlsen (NOR) and Bu Xiangzhi (CHN).
In the tranquillity of his village and surrounded by caring, supportive, neat family Richárd is dedicating his young life to the wonders of chess – fully immersed in incessant study, analysis, calculations and, on occasion, training with some of the best Hungarian and international trainers.
Richárd’s beginnings in chess however carry some humorous contradiction. He got acquainted with chess thanks to his poor concentration during his early primary education. His father was concerned about his young son’s lack of focus at school and, trusting chess educative power, one day sat the boy by a chessboard and instructed him in the secrets of the game. He was hoping chess might calm him down, improve his concentration, and therefore better his school achievements. But he got much more than he bargained for. Soon the boy was hooked on the game, and his concentration improved to such an extent that it caused his father new worries. However, they soon turned into a glowing satisfaction as Richie’s concentration proved very effective in securing victories in his first local competitions.
A boy with his spoils after the chess battles
His father understood that he needed to change strategies. He surrendered the school ambitions for his son and bestowed his support for Richie’s newly found passion. He arranged for his son to participate at national school and youth chess competitions.
Richie accompanied by a family friend to his first School Olympiad in Miskolc in 2005. The train journey was made short with never ending chess games. Richárd’s return home from national competitions with a winning cup was no longer a surprise.
Fair deal: eight-year-old Richie brings valuable points to his first regional, winning team. In exchange, he gets lollipops and tender care from the older teammates, Jónás Zsolt, Gyula Farkas, Ede Gál, Bence Nagy and Dr. Péter Sárdy.
Since 2008, Richárd has been snatched by Csuti-Hydrocomp, many times national team champion, for whom he plays today professionally. In 2009 Richárd won a silver medal in the Hungarian Team Championship. In the current season, before three final rounds, his result is 8/9.
It soon became obvious that a trainer was needed who would help Richárd’s progress further. Advised by Dr Andras Flumbort, who would become Richárd’s manager, his father invited some of the best trainers in the country, including GMs Péter Lukács, Zoltán Ribli, Róbert Ruck, József Pintér, and later on Alexander Beliavsky and Adrian Mikhalchishin from the famous Ukrainian Lvov School.
Richie with GM Peter Lukacs, a highly respected authority on opening theory, who
has been working for many years with Boris Gelfand.
Richie is still enrolled at his local primary school, where special arrangements have been made to allow long absences. After some private tuition he sits for his exams, which, with such improved concentration, are no problem at all. He even finds time to dedicate to learning foreign languages and is already admiringly competent in English and German. Another school where he would rather spend his time was the Maroczy Chess School, through which many a young Hungarian talent are shaped.
Richárd demonstrating his games to his mates at the Maróczy chess school. It is for
him now just a memory as he has moved rapidly on to the heights of a grandmaster status.
Richárd’s parents are both economists. His father, Tamas, has built up a successful wood and parquetry business. A few years ago he moved from Szombathely to Sé, where his large young family could thrive better in the quiet village life. He has a strong amateur interest in history, a love that has passed on to Richárd. Richárd’s website, www.rapportrichard.hu, as designed by his father, opens with scenes from King Richard’s crusades.
Richie with his parents, Elisabeth and Tamas, on the eve of his 14th birthday. A line of
cups seen on the upper shelf is only a small part of many more that decorate his study room.
Richie with his younger siblings, Gloria, Rodrigo and Donat
He adores his brothers and sister and loves instructing them in games, which are precious moments when he himself submits to the pleasures of childhood, the rest of his time being consumed by chess. He also enjoys occasional football interludes with them, but here he surrenders the excellence to Rodrigo.
At the Gotth'Art Cup where he completed his third GM norm
Richárd’s chess titles arrived with a vertiginous speed. By 2008, at the age of eleven, he was already a FIDE Master. He was granted his IM title in October 2009. His three GM norms were clinched in three consecutive tournaments. The first two he achieved at the famous First Saturday tournaments in Budapest in December 2009, and in February 2010. Then he was invited to participate at the newly established closed round robin tournament Gotth’ Art Kupa in Szentgotthard, 21st February – 4th March 2010, where among his rivals he had GMs Alexander Beliavsky and Lajos Portisch. He completed his third GM norm already by the eighth round, having scored 6/8 and 2700+ performance!
Richárd at the December 2009 First Saturday tournament in
Budapest where he achieved his first GM norm.
At 2468 rating as of March 2010 (expected to rise 2500+ in April), the real work for Richárd is just about starting. His aim to reach the 2600 mark as soon as possible is being helped currently by a training session with GM Adrian Mikhalchishin, a Ukrainian grandmaster now playing for Slovenia. Mikhalchishin is a FIDE Senior Trainer and Chairman of the FIDE Trainer Committee. Together with Alexander Beliavsky, he is a cherished coach who brings the rigours of the ‘old Soviet school’ and more specifically the Ukrainian Lvov Chess School. Mikhalchishin was a second to Karpov during his matches with Kasparov, 1982 – 1985. He trained Maia Chiburdanidze for her first world championship. For three years, he trained the Polgar sisters, particularly Susan Polgar. He is currently on a long engagement by the Turkish Federation to train the Turkish Olympiad and National teams. He himself used to train under Botvinnik and Smyslov was his mentor.
Richárd and Adrian Mihachishin at a training session, at Richárd’s home in Sé
Mikhalchishin is taking over from a number of previous trainers who have worked with Richárd. He assesses his student as a predominantly positional player, but is also greatly impressed by his calculation and tactical strategies. ‘I give him exercises from games by some top players and he solves them very easily’. He finds Richárd has an outstanding technique, but sometimes misunderstands the opposition play, the value of opponent’s attack. He intends to concentrate on the middle game, which he feels needs some polishing and, true to his Russian school roots, wants to strengthen further Richárd’s central attack strategy. ‘He will need to work more on fighting for initiative. I believe for him now would be very useful to study Alekhine, fighting for initiative from the first moves.’
Mikhalchishin is not an advocate of too much computer use. ‘Engines like Rybka, although very strong, can be also very dangerous, because after an hour of a computer analysis the player is completely under the Rybka’s guidance and can’t invent anything, just follow the machine. They can analyse some position, but it is very difficult to get a valuation of a position with Rybka – there is always something unclear, you never know what the real variation is. Rybka takes a lot of mental energy. Computer analysis switches off the brain. I enjoy seeing how the brain works, not computers.’
But, to his pleasure, he feels that an interesting trend is taking place in the chess world presently: a new generation of players, that he calls ‘post-Carlsen generation’, is coming up; young players who are not so much dependent on computers and are more practical, ‘hand players’. Carlsen may even become a world champion, but at this moment, a new generation is growing and training. ‘Richárd is one of them; then there is Nyzhnyk, a very interesting player from Ukraine, Berbatov, a very talented young player from Bulgaria. But the leader of this generation I would say is Wesley So. He is extremely talented and has produced some very interesting games, like his wins against Ivanchuk at the World Cup. These post-Carlsen players have a different style and attitudes. They are not obsessed with the opening theory, like their older predecessors. They are looking for much more practical play and are very aggressive. They are not necessarily a computer generation, as Carlsen’s generation was. Computers came with their powerful programs and chess players wanted to try them. But I feel this trend is finishing now.’
Are not there dangers for young players, like Richárd, reaching the pinnacle in a chess career at such an early age, of ‘burning out’?
‘For Richárd it is now important not to lose time, not to go in the wrong direction, which would mean playing the wrong tournaments or playing too much, choosing the wrong openings, loosing time on unnecessary work, and so on. Also not to lose motivation after mistakes but to consider them as good instructional material and retain the belief: ‘I am stronger than this loss’. A good working team will help to ensure that time and energy are used wisely.’
The trainer and his student, Adrian and Richárd, break up the hard training sessions with relaxing ping-pong activity. In the background Richárd’s manager who carefully checks every next step that needs to be taken for Richárd’s improvement.
Adrian Mikhalchishin remembers that the ping-pong was introduced as a much
needed way of relaxation in the Polgars’ rigorous training routine. A
parallel between the Polgars and Richárd’s systematic training is drawn
naturally. But Richárd’s father, Tamas, points to a fundamental difference
in the educative chess shaping of these Hungarian prodigies. The basis of the
Polgar method was – constant work. But this is the only similarity. While
the Polgar method succeeded in building up talent through systematic, rigorous
work, in the Richárd’s case the reverse happened: first there was a raw,
natural talent, and only afterwards the family stepped in to nurture it and
help their son into what was to be inevitable for further progress – constant
Tamas Rapport also touched to the obvious connection and involvement of the Chess Federations into the development of talented players. He does not hide his displeasure at the somewhat lukewarm reception by the Hungarian Chess Federation of Richárd’s early success. He is aware that funds for chess as a sport are scarce, but he is concerned that the burden falls entirely on the shoulders of the young player for his future progress. Tamas does not spare means to help Richárd’s career, which necessarily has to be to the expense of the rest of the family. He strongly believes that the Chess Federation should be a body to find ways to secure funds that will help the progress of talented young players, without which many of them stagnate or perish altogether.
The young client and his manager. Richárd and Andras are mutually shaping each other’s careers
Dr. Andras Flumbort last year took on the role of Richárd’s manager. This is his first managerial assignment; however, he has already plenty of experience to fulfil this role successfully. An accomplished chess player himself, with a final GM norm under his belt, Andras combines his involvement in chess with his legal profession. He is a member of the Presidential Board of the Hungarian Chess Federation, captain of the Hungarian team champion Aquaprofit-NTSK, for whom he has enlisted many high-class players including Vishy Anand. He also captains the Hungarian Girls and Youth Teams.
Andras is eager to see Richárd being given an opportunity to show his skills at some of the most prestigious tournaments. He is hopeful that the initiated talks with the Wijk aan Zee, C-group will be concluded successfully. In the near future, they have decided that Richárd would play at the Bosna Open in Sarajevo, at a Cat. 9 tournament in Pecs, Hungary, at the Mitropa Cup in Switzerland and at the closed Hungarian Individual Championship in Szeged, Hungary. Aeorflot is high on their list for early next year.
Cushioned between the love and support of his family, the care of his manager and the instructions of some of the best trainers, Richárd does what he knows best: he works very conscientiously, eight to ten hours daily, with utmost dedication and passion. Kasparov pointed to the fact that talent on its own can be of little worth, but ‘a capacity to work hard is a talent in itself’, of which Richárd has aplenty.
Richárd has another admirable trait: he has a great hidden self-belief and fearless determination. He has delicate, mild manners and makes soft-spoken but clear, definite statements. He knows what he wants and he does not miss any of the childhood carefree pleasures. The usual question ‘what do you want to become when you grow up’ is no longer applicable to this child who has realised the dream of all of his 14 years of life: to be a chess grandmaster. He sees himself clearly as a professional chess player.
Richárd holds Capablanca and Bert Larsen among his favourite old grandmasters whose games he enjoys studying every now and then. I could not extract from him an admiration for some of the current big names in chess. He told me gently and ‘modestly’ that he has no idol that he may look at with awe. When I teased him: ‘You are the best?’ he gave me a cheeky confirmative smile.
Richárd at the First Saturday tournament in February 2010 where
he scored his second GM norm and an astounding 2698 performance
This quiet, polite, friendly young man has enormous self-confidence even if not apparent at first sight. He likes to impress and surpass himself, which might have positive effect in many situations. But sometimes it might backfire. In his latest tournament, the Gotth’art that launched him to the grandmaster status, he was leading up until the penultimate round, with half a point before Beliavsky. In the last round, he needed only half a point to clinch sole victory. Any other more experienced player would submit to wisdom in such a situation – grab the half point and run. But not Richie. Encouraged by his better position by the 25th move, he pressed for a win forgetting that he had as opponent Lajos Portisch, the legend of Hungarian chess who would not surrender easily. The advantageous position soon withered out and Richie lost the game. He was placed third with shared number of points with Portisch (6/9) and half a point behind Beliavsky, his previous trainer, who won the tournament. Not a mean feat, considering that his illustrious opponents on the top of the list are many decades older in age and experience.
In the final round Richárd Rapport lost to chess legend Lajos Portisch, but still scored 6.0/9 and achieved a full GM norm, which required a score of over 5.76 points. His performance: 2633.
‘Richárd, the lionheart’ looking bravely into the future
But this incident will haunt our young hero, who was aiming for nothing less than the first place. Andras, his manager, recollects with consternation that before the last round he had advised his young charge not to strain for anything more than a draw. But Richie did not take heed. Whether a naïve judgment proper to his youth or a hidden unrestrained fighting spirit, it is a streak that shows up in his young character that is just about starting to be moulded both as a person and as a chess player. Richard has barely entered his 15th year of age. What will become of him in ten years from now? Time will tell and time is on his side. At present, we remain with the pleasant impression that a new star in the Hungarian and world chess is born.