Chess prodigies and mini-grandmasters

1/10/2006 – Our recent report on 12-year-old Parimarjan Negi achieving a GM norm brought the realization that our records on the youngest grandmasters in history – contained on a page that is copied and quoted all over the web – are hopelessly outdated. For this reason we present a new list of child prodigies and record-breaking grandmasters.

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Chess prodigies and mini-grandmasters

By Frederic Friedel

Child prodigies are a well-known phenomenon in chess, which is one of the few sports or intellectual activities where children can compete with adults on equal ground (another is computer games). The great Capablanca learned the game at four, and was one of the strongest players in Cuba in his early teens. Samuel Reshevsky also started at four and was giving simultaneous exhibitions at six.


Four-year-old Capablanca playing against his
father, soon after learning the moves in 1892


Sammy Reshevsky playing Charles Jaffe at 11. He tied for third with Janowski, Bigelow and Bernstein.

Youngest Grandmasters

In recent times we have seen the record for youngest grandmaster in the history of the game topple repeatedly. In 1991 Judit Polgar, a female at that, broke Bobby Fischer's 33-year-old mark by becoming a grandmaster a month earlier than he had done. In 1994 her record was broken by fellow-Hungarian Peter Leko, who a short time later was overtaken by Ukrainian Ruslan Ponomariov. The latter went on to become FIDE world champion. In 2001 14-year-old prodigy Teimour Radjabov, who hails from the same town as Garry Kasparov (Baku), became the second-youngest grandmaster in history.


Sergey Karjakin, grandmaster at 12

But all these records were shattered on August 20, 2002, when Sergey Karjakin (pronounced car-yack-kin) of the Ukraine fulfilled his final grandmaster norm at the age of 12 years and seven months. He did so at the international chess tournament in Sudak, a town on the Crimea Peninsula. His FIDE rating at the time was 2523.

In the same year Sergey became one of the seconds of world champion Ruslan Ponomariov. This was another record he achieved before he had reached his teens. Today (January 2011) Sergey is a top grandmaster, ranked fifth in the world, with a 2776 rating that is climbing steadily. Although we must be cautious with such statements one must assume that his records will not be broken.

One extraordinary chess prodigy came close. In 2004 Magnus Carlsen of Norway completed his GM norms, eight months later than Karjakin had done. Carlsen, who at 18 trained for a while with Garry Kasparov, went on to become the top-ranked player in the world, crossing the magic 2800 mark – the youngest player by far to achieve both these feats.  


Norwegian chess prodigy Magnus Carlsen

Below we have compiled a list of the youngest grandmasters in history. In the future we may be updating this list, as new GMs under 15 years of age emerge.

The currently (January 2011) youngest grandmaster in the world is Illya Nyzhnyk, who completed his title at the age of 14 years 3 months and 2 days.

Youngest grandmasters in history

No.
 Player
Nat.
years
mths
days
born
GM
FIDE
 Sergey Karjakin
UKR
12
7
0
1990
2002
 Parimarjan Negi
IND
13
4
22
1993
2006
 Magnus Carlsen
NOR
13
4
27
1990
2004
 Bu Xiangzhi
CHN
13
10
13
1985
1999
 Richard Rapport
HUN
13
11
15
1996
2010
 Teimour Radjabov
AZE
14
0
14
1987
2001
 Ruslan Ponomariov 
UKR
14
0
17
1983
1997
 Wesley So
PHI
14
1
28
1993
2007
 Etienne Bacrot
FRA
14
2
0
1983
1997
10 
 Jorge Cori
PER
14
2
0
1995
2009
11 
 Illya Nyzhnyk
UKR
14
3
2
1996
2010
12 
 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
FRA
14
4
0
1990
2005
13 
 Peter Leko
HUN
14
4
22
1979
1994
14 
 Hou Yifan
CHN
14
6
2
1994
2008
15 
 Anish Giri
RUS
14
7
2
1994
2009
16 
 Yuri Kuzubov
UKR
14
7
12
1990
2004
17 
 Dariusz Swiercz
POL
14
7
29
1994
2009
18
 Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son 
VIE
14
10
0
1990
2004
19
 Daniil Dubov
RUS
14
11
14
1996
2011
20
 Ray Robson
USA
14
11
16
1994
2009
21
 Fabiano Caruana
ITA
14
11
20
1992
2007
22
 Samvel Ter-Sahakyan
ARM
14
11
?
1993
2008
23
 Andrei Volokitin
UKR
15
0
22
1986
2001
24
 Yangyi Yu
CHN
15
0
23
1994
2009
25
 Koneru Humpy
IND
15
1
27
1987
2002
26
 Hikaru Nakamura
USA
15
2
19
1987
2003
27
 Suri Vaibhav
IND
15
2
21
1997
2012
28
 Pentala Harikrishna
IND
15
3
5
1986
2001
29
 Le Quang Liem
VIE
15
3
17
1991
2006
30
 Yaroslav Zherebukh
UKR
15
3
?
1993
2008
31
 Judit Polgar
HUN
15
4
28
1976
1991
32
 Alejandro Ramirez
CRI
15
5
14
1988
2003
33
 Arkadij Naiditsch
GER
15
5
?
1985
2001
34
 Bobby Fischer
USA
15
6
1
1943
1958
-

Top Juniors

Apart from the age at which they became grandmasters we are also interested in the question or how strong the juniors were at different ages. Garrett Kingman, who is an undergraduate at Harvard University studying and regenerative biology, prepared the following illuminating graph for us:

As we can see Magnus Carlsen was the highest ever rated starting from the age of fifteen. Anish Giri is the second-strongest sixteen-year-old in history, Sergey Karjakin the third strongest. From then on it is Karjakin, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana battling for the rank of second, third and fourth strongest 17- and 18-year-olds, with Giri and Wesley So not in contention because they have not yet reached that age. Garrett Kingman sums it up as follows: "Giri is higher rated than any 16-year-old not named Magnus Carlsen has ever been, and he is climbing faster than Carlsen was at the same age. Progressing slightly ahead of Karjakin and Radjabov, there is no question that Giri will become a permanent top ten player and world title challenger. Carlsen-Giri 2016 anyone?"

It is worth mentioning that although Judit Polgar only became an official GM at 15+, she was rated a whopping 2555 at the tender age of twelve (after her unbelievable 2694 performance at the Olympiad). We also believe that she was the youngest top 100 player in history.


Judit Polgar's dominance of women's chess back in 2006

Other famous chess prodigies and records

  • Paul Morphy, 1837-1884, beat Johann Löwenthal 3-0 at age 12.

  • José Raúl Capablanca, 1888-1942, learned chess at the age of four, beat his country's chess champion in a match when he was 13, and eventually became world champion (see above).

  • Samuel Reshevsky, learned the rules at the age of 4, and gave simultaneous exhibitions at the age of six (see above).

  • Arturo Pomar played in the Spanish Championship at age 10 and became a master at age 13. He drew Alekhine in Gijon in 1944 at the age of 13.

  • Boris Spassky became an International Grandmaster at 18 and went on to become world champion.

  • Bobby Fischer became US Champion at the age of 14 and a world championship candidate at 15. He went on to become world champion.

  • Henrique Mecking of Brazil learned the game at 6, gave some simultaneous displays at 9, won the Brazilian championship at 13, and South American Zonal at 14, and became an IM at 15. He won two Interzonal Tournaments in a row, at 21 and 24.

  • Anatoly Karpov became a grandmaster at 18 and went on to become world champion.

  • Garry Kasparov became a grandmaster at 17 and went on to become the youngest ever world champion (at 22).

  • Nigel Short finished joint first in the British Championship at the age of 14.

  • Viswanathan Anand became India's first International Grandmaster at 18 and went on to become the FIDE knockout world champion.

  • Michael Adams became an International Master at 15 and a grandmaster at 17.

  • Pentala Harikrishna became India's youngest grandmaster at 15.

  • Gata Kamsky had an Elo rating of 2650 at the age of 16.

  • Luke McShane won the World Under-10 Championship at the age of eight.

  • Ruslan Ponomariov became the youngest ever FIDE knockout world champion at the age of 18.

  • Alejandro Ramirez became a grandmaster at 15, a month earlier than Fischer. He is the first grandmaster ever in Central America.

  • Magnus Carlsen became the second-youngest grandmaster in history at 13, and broke Fischer's record by becoming a world championship candidate at 15 years and one month.

  • As of this writing (January 2006) Parimarjan Negi has achieved five IM norms and one GM norm. He is twelve years old.

  • Mona Khaled achieved the WIM title and two WGM norms in 2005, when she was eleven years old. At the same time she won both the Arabian and the African Girls Junior Championship in the under 20 group in 2005, although she was the youngest player in both tournments.

  • In July 2006 Parimarjan Negi of India completed his final GM norm to become the second-youngest grandmaster in the history of the game.

  • In January 2007 David Howell became the youngest grandmaster in UK history, at sixteen years and one month, breaking Luke McShane's previous record set in 2000 by six months.

  • On December 7th 2007 Wesley So of the Philippines made his final grandmaster norm at the age of 14 years, one month and 28 days to become the seventh youngest GM in history.

  • In 2008 Hou Yifan, born February 27, 1994, in Xinghua, China, became the youngest ever female in history (at the age of 14 years 6 months 2 days) to qualify for the title of grandmaster.

  • At the Wijk aan Zee tournament on January 30, 2009 the Russian/Nepalese/Dutch player Anish Giri, born on June 28, 1994, completed his third and final GM norm, at the age of 14 years, 7 months and 2 days.

  • In October 2009 Ray Robson made his final GM norm, becoming the youngest US player ever to achieve this. He was 14 years, 11 months and 16 days old at the time. Ray was formally awarded the title in January 2010.

  • In April 2009 Dariusz Swiercz (born 31 May 1994), became a grandmaster, just days before his fifteenth birthday.

  • In March 2010 Hungarian prodigy Richard Rapport made his final GM norm at the Gotth' Art Cup, three weeks before his fourteenth birthday.

  • On December 29th 2010, three months after his 14th birthday, Ukrainian prodigy Illya Nyzhnyk drew his penultimate game at the Schaakfestival Open in Groningen to complete his final GM norm. His performance in the whole event was 2670.

  • James Satrapa of Canberra, Australia, provided us with the data of four additional players we had missed: Yangyi Yu of China, Le Quang Liem of Vietnam, Yaroslav Zherebukh of Ukraine and Samvel Ter-Sahakyan of Armenia. All have been duly added to our list. We welcome additions and corrections by our readers. James Satrapa sent us data which allowed us to insert Andrei Volokitin and Arkadij Naiditsch into the list. He also introduced us to the currently (July 2011) second youngest GM in the world: Daniil Dubov of Russia.

  • Suri Vaibhav, born 8 Feb 1997, became India’s latest grandmaster when he won the Luc Open in Lille, France on April 29, 2012. With this feat he now becomes the 27th youngest grandmaster at 15 years 2 months and 21 days.

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