Chess prodigies and mini-GMs update

by Frederic Friedel
8/8/2018 – We have been trying to keep track of incredible playing strength and title wins at a very early age. It started with Capablanca and Reshevsky, and today we are seeing full grandmasters aged thirteen — and in two cases twelve! Most recently it was Pragnanandhaa, who achieved the title at twelve years and ten months. It became time to update our prodigy page, with better graphics and a few telling graphs. We also invite our readers to contribute.

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Young talents get younger

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.

In the picture at right you see the four-year-old José Raúl playing against his father, José María Capablanca Fernández, soon after learning the moves in 1892.

Reshevsky

Samuel Reshevsky also started at four and was giving simultaneous exhibitions at six. He played thousands of exhibition games in the USA throughout his childhood. From the age of eight, he gave simuls around the world.

In the picture at left you see 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 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 the 2002 knockout tournament. 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.

But all these records were shattered on August 20, 2002, when Sergey Karjakin (pictured) of 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, Karjakin became one of the seconds of Ponomariov. This was another record he achieved before he had reached his teens. 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, who is nine months younger than Karjakin, completed his GM norms eight months later than his rival had done.

Carlsen, who at 18 trained for a while with Kasparov, went on to become the top-ranked player in the world, crossing the magic 2800 mark as the youngest player by far to achieve both these feats.

Since Carlsen, three other players even younger have successfully achieved the qualifications for the GM title. The latest will now be familiar to ChessBase readers, as we followed his efforts to break the all-time record closely: Praggnanandhaa. Time to update our overview:


Youngest grandmasters in history

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.

No. Player Nat.
years
mths
days
born GM  
Sergey Karjakin UKR
12
7
0
1990 2002 chart
2 Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu IND
12
10
13
2005 2018 chart
3 Nodirbek Abdusattorov UZB
13
1
11
2004 2017 chart
4 Parimarjan Negi IND
13
4
22
1993 2006 chart
Magnus Carlsen NOR
13
4
27
1990 2004 chart
Wei Yi CHN
13
8
23
1999 2013 chart
Bu Xiangzhi CHN
13
10
13
1985 1999 chart
Samuel Sevian HUN
13
10
27
2000 2014 chart
Richard Rapport HUN
13
11
15
1996 2010 chart
10  Teimour Radjabov AZE
14
0
14
1987 2001 chart
11  Ruslan Ponomariov  UKR
14
0
17
1983 1997 chart
12  Nihal Sarin IND
14
1
1
2004 2018 chart
13  Awonder Liang USA
14
1
20
2003 2017 chart
14  Wesley So PHI
14
1
28
1993 2007 chart
15  Etienne Bacrot FRA
14
2
0
1983 1997 chart
16  Illya Nyzhnyk UKR
14
3
2
1996 2010 chart
17  Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA
14
4
0
1990 2005 chart
18  Peter Leko HUN
14
4
22
1979 1994 chart
19 Jorge Cori PER
14
5
15
1995 2009 chart
20 Hou Yifan CHN
14
6
2
1994 2008 chart
21 Jeffery Xiong USA
14
6
25
2000 2014 chart
22 Anish Giri RUS
14
7
2
1994 2009 chart
23 Yuriy Kuzubov UKR
14
7
12
1990 2004 chart
24 Bogdan Daniel Deac ROM
14
7
27
2001 2016 chart
25 Dariusz Swiercz POL
14
7
29
1994 2009 chart
26 Alireza Firouzja IRN
14
8
2
2003 2018 chart
27 Aryan Chopra IND
14
9
3
2001 2016 chart
28 Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son  VIE
14
10
0
1990 2004 chart
29 Kirill Shevchenko UKR
14
9
23
2002 2017 chart
30 Daniil Dubov RUS
14
11
14
1996 2011 chart
31 Ray Robson USA
14
11
16
1994 2009 chart
32 Fabiano Caruana ITA
14
11
20
1992 2007 chart
33 Samvel Ter-Sahakyan ARM
14
11
?
1993 2008 chart
34 Jan-Krzysztof Duda POL
15
0
21
1998 2013 chart
35 Andrei Volokitin UKR
15
0
22
1986 2001 chart
36 Yangyi Yu CHN
15
0
23
1994 2009 chart
37 Koneru Humpy IND
15
1
27
1987 2002 chart
38 Hikaru Nakamura USA
15
2
19
1987 2003 chart
39 Suri Vaibhav IND
15
2
21
1997 2012 chart
40 Pentala Harikrishna IND
15
3
5
1986 2001 chart
41 Le Quang Liem VIE
15
3
17
1991 2006 chart
42 Yaroslav Zherebukh UKR
15
3
?
1993 2008 chart
43 Judit Polgar HUN
15
4
28
1976 1991 chart
44 Alejandro Ramirez CRI
15
5
14
1988 2003 chart
45 Arkadij Naiditsch GER
15
5
?
1985 2001 chart
46 Bobby Fischer USA
15
6
1
1943 1958 chart

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:

Young GM rating progress before the age of 21

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.

FIDE rating of top players by age (July 2018)

Comparison of recent young prodigies ratings progression

How does Praggnanandhaa compare to the two ultra-prodigies? He's still ahead of Carlsen, and just shy of Karjakin at the age of thirteen.

Players at the 2018 Leon Masters tournament

Above you see Spain's number one, Francisco Vallejo Pons, rated 2707; Wesley So, world number six and currently rated 2780 (but with an all-time high of 2822 in Feb./March 2017); and Jaime Santos Latasa, 22, GM and one of Spain's top talents. Wait, hang on, who's the little guy between Wesley and Jaime? That's Pragg, whom Wesley beat by the slimmest of margins in Rapid Chess, where So is the second highest rated player in the world.

Ratings progression of So, Giri and Hou Yifan

Former women's world champion Hou Yifan was better than Anish Giri and Wesley So at the age of thirteen, but the two male players have caught up and moved into the Elo stratosphere. It is worth mentioning that Judit Polgar was rated a whopping 2555 at the 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

Here are a few other names, facts and records of interest:

  • 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

  • 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.

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

  • Pentala Harikrishna was India's youngest grandmaster when he earned the title 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 was 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.

  • Parimarjan Negi has achieved five IM norms and one GM norm by the age of twelve and surpassed Magnus Carlsen as the youngest GM in the world in 2006.

  • 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 tournaments.

  • 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.

  • Judit Polgar earned her GM title at age 15 years and five months, but was already clearly of GM strength at 12. At the 1988 Olympiad she scored 12½/13 for the Hungarian team, with a 2692 performance. Judit was the youngest player to ever rank amongst the world's top 100, at the age of 12, with a rating of 2555 in 57th place.

  • 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.

  • Suri Vaibhav, born 8 Feb 1997, became India’s latest grandmaster when he won the Luc Open in Lille, France on April 29, 2012.

  • On February 25, 2013, Chinese IM Wei Yi completed his third and final GM norm at the Reykjavik Open at the age of 13 years 8 months and 23 days. This made him the fourth-youngest grandmaster in history at that time (after Karjakin, Negi and Carlsen).

  • In November 2014, Samuel Sevian set a record as the youngest US grandmaster after winning the Saint Louis GM-norm Invitational and raising his FIDE rating above 2500, at the age of 13 years, 10 months, and 27 days.

Thanks to James Satrapa of Canberra, Australia, provided us with the data of additional players we had missed in an earlier update: Yangyi Yu of China, Le Quang Liem of Vietnam, Yaroslav Zherebukh and Andrei Volokitin of Ukraine and Samvel Ter-Sahakyan of Armenia, and Arkadij Naiditsch of Germany and Daniil Dubov of Russia. All have been duly added to our list. We welcome additions and corrections by our readers.

Update: August 16, 2018 — Added American GM Samuel Sevian, who was previously missing from our list.



Topics: History, Prodigy, Records

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.
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cashparov1 cashparov1 8/12/2018 02:41
Samuel Sevian is missing from the list. Youngest American grandmaster ever just before his fourteenth birthday.
DurhamChess DurhamChess 8/10/2018 04:43
Even with @ 90 points of inflation from 1988, Polgars 2555 rating at age 12 still has not been beaten. ( in todays "chess dollars".:-), she would be at least 2645, unimaginable for a 12 year old.) She was 57th in the world at the age of 12, again hard to fathom. She is by far the best 12 and under player ever, no one even seems close?
macauley macauley 8/9/2018 11:58
@Mr TambourineMan - Indeed RCS784 means the GM title, and presumably means earned the GM title and raised in the USA, not the only female GM in the USA. Susan Polgar was already a GM when she came to the US, although certainly a trailblazer in other respects.
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 8/9/2018 09:54
rcs784
Irina only female grandmaster?
- No. Full GM.
America's first (and so far, only) ?
- No Susan Polgar, before!
rcs784 rcs784 8/8/2018 02:33
Here's a chess prodigy story you left out: At the age of 14, Irina Krush won the 1998 US Women's Championship with an incredible score of 8.5/9, despite being both the youngest player in the field and the only one without a FIDE title (she was a National Master at the time)--20 years later, she remains the youngest ever winner of this event. Since then, Krush has gone on to becpme America's first (and so far, only) female grandmaster.
GR2 GR2 8/8/2018 01:35
Interesting article. Many of the world champions mentioned in the article didn't get there GM or IM until 15 years to 18 years. A number of them played before chess engines were around or prominent. Have chess engines and more sophisticated training these days lowered the average age when GMs are achieved?? Or is there a benefit to achieving your GM from 15 to 18 years?? ie the extra years you work at getting a GM stand you in good stead for achieving the highest outcomes?? Plenty of material in the article for some further research.
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