The youngest and the greatest

by Albert Silver
11/24/2013 – With the advent of Magnus Carlsen as the new world champion, the 16th in the line of classical chess, we decided to compile a few lists regarding the records and results, the stats and the facts. You know who the youngest number one ever is, but can you name the second? The third? How about the youngest world champions, or the most crushing victories? We answer all these questions and more.

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The youngest and the greatest

With the advent of Magnus Carlsen as the new world champion, the 16th in the line of classical chess, we decided to compile a few lists regarding the records and results, the stats and the facts.

Youngest number one

Less than two months after this picture, Magnus Carlsen
would be the youngest world number one in history

There is no question the World Champion is the youngest number one player in the world, but can you name the second youngest? Hint: it may surprise you. What about the third, and the fourth? For players preceding the FIDE ELo system, we have resorted to the calculations and results published by Chessmetrics. Even if the ratings do not agree with FIDE's, they still calculate quite well who the best performing players are at a given moment.

Rank
Name
Age
When
1
Magnus Carlsen 19 years 1 month 2 days January 1, 2010
2
Vladimir Kramnik 20 years 6 months 7 days January 1, 1996
3
Garry Kasparov 20 years 8 months 19 days January 1, 1984
4
Robert Fischer 20 years 10 months 23 days February 1964
5
Mikhail Tal 21 years 10 months 22 days October 1958

When the January 1996 ratings list came out, both Vladimir Kramnik and Garry Kasparov held the exact same 2775 rating. Although Kramnik was shared first, and not sole first, there is no reason why it should not count. According to Chessmetrics, Bobby Fischer was the top performing player in February 1964, and if one counts it as a ratings list published on the first of the month, he would have been 20 years 10 months and 23 days old.

Young Vladimir Kramnik was a force to reckon with and was
already in the top five in 1993

What about prodigies such as Capablanca? Interestingly, Chessmetrics only considers he could lay claim to the title of number one in May 1914, when he was 25 years 5 months 12 days old. Between Lasker, Rubinstein, and Maroczy, he had his work cut out for him.

José Raul Capablanca (right) had to reckon with players such as Akiba Rubinstein (center).
By 1914 though, he was ready to claim the mantle.

Youngest world champion

Almost any chess player can name the youngest world champion ever, Garry Kasparov, or the second youngest, Magnus Carlsen, but what about the third, fourth or fifth?

Rank
Name
Age
When
1
Garry Kasparov 22 years 6 months 27 days November 9, 1985
2
Magnus Carlsen 22 years 11 months 24 days November 23, 2013
3
Mikhail Tal 23 years 5 months 28 days May 7, 1960
4
Anatoly Karpov 23 years 10 months 11 days April 3, 1975
5
Vladimir Kramnik 25 years 4 months 10 days November 4, 2000
6
Emanuel Lasker 25 years 5 months 2 days May 26, 1894

When Bobby Fischer resigned his title, FIDE still attempted to negotiate with the champion, but for better or for worse, he refused to reconsider and as a result, Anatoly Karpov was declared the champion by default on April 3, 1975.

The most decisive title matches

Since world championship matches have varied greatly in their lengths, the only proper parameter is the winning percentage. The honor of the most crushing victory ever goes to Emanuel Lasker, who wiped out David Janovsky in the world championship match in 1910 by 9.5-1.5 for an 86.3% result, however he also played at a time when the champion could handpick his opponent. Rubinstein or Capablanca would unquestionably have given him a far tougher match.

David Janovsky (left) was clearly not Emanuel Lasker's (right) greatest threat

As a result, the list only includes matches played from 1950 and later, and does not include the FIDE Knockout matches. The winner is in italics.

Magnus Carlsen's 65% winning percentage is the greatest since FIDE took
over the selection process

Rank
Players
Year
Win %
1
Anand-Carlsen
2013
65%
2
Kasparov-Short
1993
62.5%
3
Botvinnik-Tal
1961
61.9%
4
Karpov-Korchnoi
1981
61.1%
5-6
Botvinnik-Tal
1960
59.5%
5-6
Fischer-Spassky
1972
59.5%
7
Anand-Kramnik
2008
59.1%

A case can be made that without the default loss, Fischer’s winning percentage would be greater. If the match was considered to have lasted 20 games instead of 21, his win rate would have been 62.5%, tying him with Kasparov-Short.

Graeme Cree, (Austin, TX) informed us:

As an interesting factoid, Carlsen-Anand marks only the third time that the black pieces have come out victorious in a World Championship match. The only other two were Alekhine-Bogoljubov II in 1934, and Botvinnik-Bronstein in 1951. At 55.0%, Carlsen-Anand marks the second best performance by Black ever, after 1934.

Another curiosity pointed out by GM Jon Hammer: Game Nine of the match was probably the first time Black had won a game without ever moving the queen from its starting square or exchanging it. Defaults don't count.



Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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gado gado 10/7/2016 10:56
good point... Pono was 18 when he beat Ivanchuk, a bona fide chess champ
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 12/3/2015 03:41
while discussing youngest world champions, you have not included ruslan ponomariov who became champ at the age of 18!
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