Profile of a prodigy: Anton Smirnov

by James Satrapa
6/23/2014 – FM Anton Smirnov is one of Australia’s outstanding young prospects and is currently under the tutelage of his coach GM Vladimir Belov. Smirnov was number one amongst the world’s U12s for most of 2013, and is now number five in the U14 age division, close behind players like IMs Samuel Sevian and Jeffrey Xiong. In August he will represent Australia at the Chess Olympiads.

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Profile of a Prodigy: Anton Smirnov

By James Satrapa

Anton Smirnov in 2014 (credit: Eric Lippey)

Son of Sydney-based IM Vladimir Smirnov, Anton learned chess from his father at the age of four and within a matter of months, he won the Australian U8 championship at the age of five. A year later, he had his first experience at international competition when he contested the World U8 championship in Turkey, scoring 6.5 points, the highest score by a 6-year old in the event.  He played in the World U8 twice more, placing equal second in his third attempt in 2009.

Back in Australia, his play matured to the extent that he started recording positive results against titled players such as a draw against FM Gene Nakauchi in the 2009 Australian Young Masters and a win against FM (now IM) Junta Ikeda in the 2010 version of the event when he was nine. In 2011, aged ten, he came equal fourth in the Australasian Young Masters tournament scoring 5.5/9. In early 2012, Smirnov placed equal second in the Australian Junior U18 Open, scoring 7.5/11, and in 2014, still aged twelve, he won the Australian Junior U18 with a round to spare! An astonishing result.

FM Anton Smirnov was the world's highest rated 12-year-old
at the beginning of the end of 2013

In the senior championship divisions, the then 10-year-old finished 2011 and started 2012 with his first attempt at the Australian Championship. He started as the 25th seed in a field of 30 and finished with a scored of 5.5/11 (+3 -3 =5), placing a very respectable equal twelfth. His third place in the 2013 NSW State Championship was a precursor to winning his FM title at the Oceania Zonal 3.6 tournament in 2013. In the 2014-15 Australian Championship played in January 2014, he was co-leader going into the 11th and last round. A win would have secured the national championship at the tender age of twelve, but he lost to the winner of the event, IM Max Illingworth, scoring 7.0/11 and forced to content himself with equal fifth. There is no need to say that in the coming years, he will be one of the favorites to win the title.

Illingworth held off Smirnov in the last round, as they dueled for the Australian Championship

Anton’s first FIDE-rated tournaments were in 2008 with that year’s World U8 competition and the Ford Memorial Open in Sydney. A regular participant in the Ford Memorial, he improved each year to the extent that he won with 8.0/9 in 2011 ahead of 69 other players, the youngest person to do so and ahead of FM Gregory Canfell, whom he defeated in their individual encounter. He first played in an international open at the Sydney International Open (SIO) 2009, aged eight, where he scored a solid 3.5/8. Reasonably positive outcomes in the 2010 City of Sydney and in the 2010 Doeberl Cup (Major) in Canberra, combined with his other 2010 efforts and his good results in the 2011 Australian Open, were followed by his participation in the 2011 Aeroflot C and the Moscow Open E events, where his results, while modest, were sufficient to increase his Elo rating.

In September 2012, he placed a strong equal first alongside Michael Morris at the John Purdy Memorial Open 2012, scoring 8.0/9, and eleven-year-old Smirnov wrapped up 2012 with a stunning win at the 2012 Australasian Masters, scoring 6.0/9, winning his first game against an IM (James Morris) and adding 47 points to his rating. For his outstanding results in 2012, Smirnov was awarded the Arlauskas Medal (recognising him as Australian junior player of the year) by the Australian Chess Federation. He concluded 2012 with 2160, merely a foretaste of the giant strides to take place in 2013


Conclusion of GM Vasily Papin vs FM Anton Smirnov from the 2014 Australia Blitz championship

After a few minor setbacks, Smirnov performed strongly at the 2013 Doeberl Cup and at the 2013 Sydney International Open (where he won his first IM norm and defeated  his first Grandmaster, Rajaram R. Laxman), adding a phenomenal 89 rating points to his card to take him to clear 1st in the world U12s. In October 2013, he won his 2nd IM norm at the Indonesian Open, his result more than compensating for a relatively poor U16 Olympiad performance in July. He finished 2013 with a solid performance in the Australasian Masters GM norm tournament held in Melbourne, narrowly missing an IM norm, although he recorded another win against a GM, namely Darryl Johansen. 2013 confirmed the young prodigy's break-neck progress as he ended with 2318, nearly 160 Elo in a twelve-month period.

2014 started well with a good result at the 2014 Easter Doeberl Cup but again missing an IM norm when he lost his last round game to Moulthun Ly. After such close misses, his third IM norm is clearly just around the corner.

Elo ratings progress

(source: FIDE)

What of the future? A student in Year 7 at Killara High School in Sydney, Anton naturally needs to balance school work with chess. He has no schedule or target dates for winning norms and titles, taking the view that if he simply takes one step at a time and concentrates on improving his play, results and titles will follow. Inevitably, his improvement through the chess ranks will take him to more overseas tournaments as his playing strength as one of Australia’s strongest players is such that the school and junior programs that are available to him in Australia are inadequate for his developmental needs. This is underscored by the fact that the Australian Chess Federation has chosen the youth option, selecting its youngest ever Open team for the coming Olympiad, with Anton being chosen to represent Australia in Tromsø.

Anton’s favourite active player is Magnus Carlsen because of his impressive achievements, including winning the world title and gaining the highest ever FIDE rating. His favourite player ever is Garry Kasparov for similar reasons, especially for his long term dominance as World Champion and world number 1. His training regime includes solving studies and/or chess problems, and improving his openings. He plays five minute blitz games online and sometimes plays training matches consisting of games at 25 minutes + 10 sec increment. His favourite book is Ivashchenko’s “The Manual of Chess Combinations” while his favourite online chess site is Chessbase.

His biggest breakthrough technically?

“When I was six I learned how to mate with a bishop and knight. I could do that with a minute on my clock.”

Anton maintains his physical fitness with swimming, tennis and ping pong. He also represents his school at running.

James Satrapa has worked and lived in every State and Territory of his native island, Australia. He keenly participated in club and State championship chess, but has retreated to the more leisurely labors of Internet-based chess playing and writing, and occasional bouts of Street Chess and Easter tournaments.


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