Sergey Karjakin: The Inside Story

by Sagar Shah
11/22/2016 – Just four games remain at the World Championship 2016. Sergey Karjakin is leading the match with +1. There is a chance that we may have a new World Champion in the next ten days. A good opportunity to learn more about Sergey Karjakin's background. Alexander Turpin has directed a 22-minute documentary based of Karjakin's life right from his childhood to the World Championship. You can watch the movie for as little as $3. Read the article for the complete details.

ChessBase 15 - Mega package ChessBase 15 - Mega package

Find the right combination! ChessBase 15 program + new Mega Database 2019 with 7.6 million games and more than 70,000 master analyses. Plus ChessBase Magazine (DVD + magazine) and CB Premium membership for 1 year!


Sergey Karjakin became world's youngest grandmaster at the age of 12 years and 212 days. It was, and still is, a world record.

When Ruslan Ponomariov became the FIDE World Champion in 2002, 12-year-old Sergey Karjakin was his second 

Few months after Sergey became the youngest grandmaster in the world, he beat the strong Latvian Alexei Shirov. That is when Karjakin said that he would like to become a World Champion at the age of 16. This was by no means a joke, as Sergey really had it in him to make those words come true. Fourteen years have passed since then and Karjakin is nearly 27 years old now. After winning the gruelling Candidates in Moscow 2016, he got his shot at the world title. And after eight rounds of the World Championship, that is currently in progress in New York, he leads with a score of 4.5-3.5 against Magnus Carlsen. 

Maybe in a few days we will have a new World Champion. Maybe Carlsen will fight back and retain his title. Whatever be the result, the most natural questions that comes to the mind of any chess enthusiast are: How did Sergey become the youngest grandmaster in the history of the game?, Why did it take him such a long time to reach the World Championship final?, and how was he affected by the war between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea, the place where he was born.

Director Alexander Turpin had the same question on his mind and decided to make a film on Sergey Karjakin's life

Why a film on Sergey Karjakin?

Alexander Turpin studied film direction in the Norwegian Film School. He graduated as a director this year and was looking out for interesting projects. Chess has always been a fascinating game for him and he has an Elo rating of 2127. As a 12-year-old kid when Turpin was fighting with his friends for becoming the first one to get an Elo rating, there was this wunder-boy in Ukraine who was smashing everyone and had nearly become a grandmaster. He is, of course, none other than Sergey Karjakin.

Turpin was also very curious about the chess School in Kramatorsk and the A. V. Momot Chess Club. He also was inquisitive to know how the war between Russia and Ukraine affected Karjakin's life. Combine this with the fact that the 26-year-old was going to play Magnus Carlsen for the highest chess title in November 2016, Sergey's life became a natural subject for a documentary.

How was the documentary made?

Turpin was fortunate enough to save 2000 Euros from his student grants. He decided to use those savings to finance the film. The reason he could do the film without any other funding was because a lot of his friends supported the idea by letting him borrow equipment for free.

Says Alexander, "I started my research on Sergey this summer, but I had some problems in getting a confirmation from Karjakin's manager that I could do an interview with him. When September came I was still uncertain about the project. But then I decided to start filming and just hoped that Sergey would find time for me. Alexander Martynkov at The A. V. Momot Chess Club in Kramatorsk was very co-operative from the start, so I travelled to Eastern Ukraine in September and met Sergey's old coaches. From that moment I have been working on this film non-stop. In late September I visited Ruslan Ponomariov in Getxo, Spain. In October I met Sergey in Moscow and also visited his parents in Crimea. You could say that the film was done in three months, from mid-August to mid-November."

Contents of the documentary

The beauty of the 22-minute documentary is the simplicity with which it is made. Photos and videos are weaved together with excellent narration to create a movie that doesn't let you take your eye balls of the screen.

Baby Karjakin's first public interview!

How many grandmasters and future talents can you recognize? The very famous Kramatorsk chess school in Ukraine.

Sergey's father Alexander Karjakin wears a t-shirt showing his love for Russia

Sergey's mother speaks about the tough decisions that they made for their son's chess career

Nothing good ever comes without hard work

I simply loved the way in which Alexander Alexikov, Sergey's former trainer, speaks about his protege's capacity of grasping chess material

When Karjakin was Ponomariov's second, everyone called Sergey the coach of tactics because he was so good at it!

GM Vladislav Borovikov helped Sergey to become the youngest grandmaster in the world

Sergey is also posed with the tough question of what he thinks about the Russian annexation of Crimea

Happily married: Sergey with his wife Galia Kamalova

A coach's biggest dream!

"I will be the World Champion. If not now, then later. But better if it happens now!"

I loved the movie. It covers Sergey's entire life. You get to know his parents, his childhood, the coaches who shaped his chess, and the struggle to be one of the best players in the world. There is something for everyone in there: young players learn how to work hard at a tender age, parents get to know how much effort they have to put in, strong players will realize the worth of being patient in trying to achieve their goal and last but not the least, coaches will know what it takes to create such a champion.

How to watch the movie?

Watch the trailer 

You can watch the movie on vimeo. The cost of renting the movie is $1.99 and the cost of buying it is $3.79.

Rent or buy the movie on Vimeo 

(Make sure that you select the language "English" from the Closed Captions (CC) options)

About the director

Alexander Turpin was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1989 and moved to Norway three years ago (in 2013) to study film directing at the Norwegian Film School. "Sergey" is his first documentary. He has lot of different ideas regarding future projects, most of which are fiction films, since that is what he has studied and has most experience in.  He thinks that it would be interesting to do a film about the concept of "stalemate" and the stalemate rule.

Turpin would like to thank the following people who helped him in this project- translators in Ukraine and Crimea, Ivan Chernichkin and Olga Zhaglina respectively. And fellow friend from the film school Jon Carlstedt who has helped him produce the film. Composer Kate Havnevik and sound designer Bror Kristiansen should also be mentioned. But overall it has very much been a one man project.

Topics: sergey karjakin

Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He and is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India website, the biggest news outlet in the country related to chess.
Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register

roysteele roysteele 11/25/2016 06:32
@XChess1971 Don't be sad. Life is short. Cheers!
XChess1971 XChess1971 11/25/2016 01:54
@roysteele who cares if he is Russian, Ukrainian or Soviet? Shirov would be a traitor because he played for Spain for many years? Then he decided to go back to Latvia. So what?. Bareev plays for Canada nowdays. Wesley So plays for USA. I saw Caruana in 2003 at the Marshall chess club when he was a kid. He decided to play for Italy later on. Then he plays for USA. It is a matter of choice and personal decision whether you play for this country or that country. Why turn it into politics? Korchnoi left the Soviet Union and played two WCC matches. Does it make him a traitor or something like that?. I do not think that people here are interested in politics. I guess we all want to see the outcome of this WCC. And any story supporting the players in the final will give us a better idea of where they come from. Pretty sad to see your repressed comments.
roysteele roysteele 11/23/2016 05:01
@Zarkur Cute.

Karjakin was born in Simferopol, which has always been Ukrainian land until its illegal annexation by Russia via a very bloody war in 2014, which is still continuing today. But Karjakin switched his citizenship from Ukrainian to Russian back in 2009, as you can read all about here: and and Judging by your last comment, you're probably just pro-Kremlin and/or horribly misinformed, either way I don't care. But I'd like to see you flailing your arms and legs when Karjakin becomes an American citizen playing under the US flag lol... after all, the USCF provides more opportunities than the RCF. Adios.
SebEguren SebEguren 11/23/2016 03:14
Great article and great film! Makes it much more interesting to watch the WC since it actually gives some insights to Karjakins situation not only framing him with the singular Putin-Pet angle that everyone else does. Especially the old coach was wonderful! Looking forward to the last 4 games.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 11/23/2016 12:03
@Zarkur, Karjakin was not born in Russia. He was born in the Soviet Union, just like everyone in the Ukraine of his age. Does this mean the whole of Ukraine is Russian except those who were born after the Soviet Union collapsed? Certainly not. Russians in Ukraine are loyal to Russia, Ukrainians are loyal to Ukraine. Karjakin is a Russian, so it is perfectly understandable he is loyal to Russia. But then why did he represent Ukraine in chess olympiads?
lajosarpad lajosarpad 11/23/2016 11:58
@Anamanam, it is not a matter of smartness. Karjakin, as a Russian is of course happy that Crimea was annexed to Russia. As about your comment about law: since this is international politics, we can only judge international law. If the annexation of the Crimea was against international law, then the same can be said about Kosovo. If we accept Kosovo as lawful, then we have to accept the annexation of the Crimea as lawful as well regardless of whether we agree or disagree with it. I am not sure whether this is correct or not, as I am not lawyer though, but it seems unjustified for me to call someone not politically smart, implying that our opinion is the only possible correct one.

As about the Crimea, Putin has used the chaos in Ukraine to his advantage on the one hand, Russians felt endangered in the other hand. The issue is not black and white.
Zarkur Zarkur 11/23/2016 11:26
a lame comment from roysteele. of course he is russian and loves russia, he is born there. not his fault a drunk krutcjev "gives" it away because of a birthday decades ago, it changes nothing. crimea has been russian for some hundred years, think before you speak, all respect to karjakin, he is one of the best players in the world, if not the best, would you play for texas if you were born in alaska?
Alexander Turpin Alexander Turpin 11/23/2016 11:24
Dear chess fans. For clarification.
Just press the "cc" button in the down-right corner.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 11/23/2016 10:54
@Silumelume, he changed citizenship, as he was always a Russian. He could only change nationality if he would one day start to claim to be something different from Russian. This is, of course painful for Ukrainians, as they have lost a great chess player, possibly a World Champion, but the fact is that Karjakin would have become Russian citizen even if he never left the Crimea.
Pionki Pionki 11/23/2016 10:48
Chess world will soon have a new face. Karjakin is an extremely likable character, and the world will embrace him.
anamanam anamanam 11/23/2016 10:37
Like many great sportsmen Karjakin is not politically smart - loves Putin and Russia despite the fact that it unlawfully annexed Crimea. (Well, so does Karpov and many other chess players in Russia.)

That's why he's not friends with Ponomariov any longer. Karjakin wears an I-Love-Putin t-shirt and Ponomariov got himself a cool "Ukrainian warrior" hair-do.
flachspieler flachspieler 11/23/2016 09:08
Thanks, Clark, for the description.

Question to Chessbaser: What do you mean with using "cc"?
Does this give subtitles in English or what?
andr andr 11/23/2016 08:13
vladivaclav, BRAVO!
Silumelume Silumelume 11/23/2016 07:23
Please leave politics out of chess. Karyakin changed his nationality long before hostilities between Russia and Ukraine.
Chessbaser Chessbaser 11/23/2016 03:27
@Clark Potter, please use English from the "CC" given at the bottom of the video.
blackdranzer 27 blackdranzer 27 11/23/2016 03:22
Karyakin is the new Petrosian!
Clark Potter Clark Potter 11/23/2016 03:17
I paid for the documentary but am not sure what to think of it. Cinematically it's fine, but the producer didn't bother to put in English subtitles for the interviews so unless you speak Ukrainian or Russian or whatever you won't know what they're saying half the time.

If Turpin were Ukrainian or Russian and just making this documentary primarily for people that share a language with the interviewees then okay, but Turpin is Norwegian. Why go to all that work and charge people from around the world money to watch it, but not take the time to complete the simple task of creating English subtitles so non-Ukrainian/Russians can understand it?

Unfortunately, cannot recommend to English-speakers. You're just watching people speak another language for 11/22 minutes and the rest that you can understand isn't enough to piece together to be left with any sense that you know Karjakin much better.

Very curious omission from the final production if you're going to charge people around the world $$ to watch it.
jsaldea12 jsaldea12 11/23/2016 03:06
He is not the you
ngest grandmaster for nothing
roysteele roysteele 11/23/2016 12:05
"Sergey's father Alexander Karjakin wears a t-shirt showing his love for Russia" --- just another typical Ukrainian sell-out. Even a t-shirt?? Srsly??? What a brown noser. I wonder what Karjakin said about "Sergey is also posed with the tough question of what he thinks about the Russian annexation of Crimea". Definitely not paying 3$, even 3 cents, to hear it. Go Vassily Ivanchuk for having character to still play under the Ukrainian flag.
flachspieler flachspieler 11/22/2016 10:28
Does the film have subtitle options? If so, which ones?
truthadjustr truthadjustr 11/22/2016 10:14
Sergey's resilience is a testament to the power of hope and to hold on against all odds.
Denix Denix 11/22/2016 09:42
Sergey has the qualities of a World Champion and he deserves to be one. All he needs to do is to do what he was doing for the past week.