Awonder Liang is youngest ever IM in US

by Albert Silver
12/2/2015 – Records come and go, and US chess has seen an explosion in interest among young players in the past decade. Until a week ago, the record for the youngest IM in the US was held by Samuel Sevian, but it was just broken by IM-elect Awonder Liang, beating him by three months. Except his record of youngest national master was also just broken.

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Chess is booming in the US, and the number of youths playing and swelling the ranks is becoming more and more evident. The talent pool is there too as can be seen by the burgeoning number of prodigies appearing and developing in Terra Americana. It is evident that this is in no small part due to efforts by the US Chess Federation, the Kasparov Chess Foundation, and more recently even Rex Sinquefield’s generosity to show chess in all its glory in St. Louis. One must not and cannot ignore the impact a charismatic top player will also have to inspire them, such as Hikaru Nakamura, demonstrating that a homegrown talent can perfectly well compete with the very best if the talent and work are there.

Awonder Liang playing in the World Youth Boys under-12 in 2015

In the past few years, the top rising names have been Samuel Sevian, Jeffery Xiong, and Kayden Troff to name a few, with Sevian laying claim to the most recent records of US precociousness, as the youngest International Master ever in American history, and the youngest grandmaster.

Awonder Liang was the World Youth under-10 champion in 2013

Now, Sevian's first record has just fallen as IM-elect (awaiting ratification by FIDE) Awonder Liang has just broken the record for youngest International Master. Samuel Sevian had achieved the title in November 2013 when he was just 12 years and 10 months old, making his 2400 FIDE rating required after having already earned his three norms. On November 25, 2015, Awonder Liang made his third and final norm aged 12 years 7 months and 6 days, besting Sevian’s record by three months. It was achieved at the Dallas Fall FIDE tournament (Nov. 20-25, 2015) held in Dallas, Texas.

Last week, Awonder clinched his third and final norm. His next quest will be the grandmaster title.

The games of the UTD Fall Open in PGN

This wasn’t Awonder’s first record as he had also become the youngest US national master (rated 2200) at the age of 9 years, 11 months and 15 days, but it seems these records are but ephemeral affairs, and shortly before that had been broken by Maximillian Lu, aged 9 years, 11 months and 2 days, breaking it by 13 days. This was reported on in the New York Post.

No sooner is one record made than another is broken

For Max’s parents, supporting their son’s interest is not much different from what soccer moms and dads do, traveling from one competition to the next.

“We didn’t plan anything out,” said his father, David Lu. “It just sort of happened.”

An adult’s perspective also makes a difference. Lu said he helps his son handle what he calls the “psychological aspects” of chess, or maintaining a balance “between seeming mentally tough between losing a game and coming back to play another game.”

If approached the wrong way, competitive chess can be a “high-pressure thing,” David Lu said.

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All photos by Reint Dykema


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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