Candidate Profile: Sergey Karjakin

Candidate Profile: Sergey Karjakin

| 19 | Chess Players

By GM Robert Hess and IM Teddy Coleman

Sergey Karjakin has unfinished business.  In 2014, he placed second in the Candidates', one point away from a shot at Magnus Carlsen. He’s coming back to finish the job.

Karjakin has one title that Carlsen does not hold: the youngest grandmaster of all time. Karjakin is the only player to achieve the GM title before the age of 13 and has proceeded to build an impressive chess resume. Among other top results, Karjakin won the World Rapid Championship in 2012, the first two Norway chess tournaments, and the 2015 FIDE World Cup, edging out Svidler in a thrilling albeit messy finals matchup.

He’s been a top player for nearly a decade and has shown the ability to beat any player he faces.

The one accolade missing from his resume is a world championship. Will this be his year to rise to the top?

Key Strengths:

Stylistically, Karjakin plays somewhat similar to Carlsen. He avoids hyperaggressive positions and instead opts to outplay his opponents in the middlegame. He possesses excellent preparation, which he uses to gain the upper hand. In the game against GM Yu Yangyi, his preparation was spot on and he cruised to the next round in the World Cup. Similarly, he outplayed the former world champion Vladimir Kramnik in a seemingly subdued Petroff position.

Top players love to surprise their opponents or lead them into uncharted territory. When tested, Karjakin rises to the occasion. He is both resourceful and resilient, coming up with key ideas when needed. In the following examples, he beats both Carlsen and Nakamura, showing he can take out anyone who stands in his way.

Key Weaknesses:

While Karjakin’s play can frequently be reminiscent of Carlsen’s style, he lacks Carlsen’s accuracy. Karjakin occasionally gets outplayed by opponents or succumbs to time pressure and blunders. In the following two examples, he blunders terribly near time control in equal positions against two of his fellow candidates.


What to Watch for:

Having previously placed second in the Candidates' and winning the World Cup final after digging himself an 0-2 hole, Karjakin has shown he can excel when the pressure is on. While he’s not as highly rated as some of the other players, expect him to be in the running for first deep into the tournaments.  

With such stiff competition, it’s impossible to know who will emerge victorious. But there’s no reason to think that this could not be Karjakin’s time to shine.  

Want more Karjakin? Check out's videos featuring Sergey Karjakin.

The FIDE Candidates’ Tournament runs March 10-30 in Moscow. The winner will earn the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen in a match that will be held November 10-30 in New York.

The eight participants are Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura (both USA), Vishy Anand (India), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler (both Russia), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) and Levon Aronian (Armenia). is publishing profiles of each participant.


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