Is Chess Really Getting Younger?
Photo by Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Is Chess Really Getting Younger?

Spektrowski
Spektrowski
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The 16 years-old Alireza Firouzja is arguably the most discussed player in the world chess today. His peer Carissa Yip recently defeated women's world champion Ju Wenjun in a classical game. There are more and more teenage grandmasters cropping up each year, and Sergey Karjakin's record will probably fall sooner or later. So, chess as a whole is getting younger, it seems.

But is elite chess getting younger? Well, that's a whole other question. The average age of the FIDE rating top 10 has been oscillating around 30 years ever since 2005, the year of Garry Kasparov's retirement. Magnus Carlsen, who himself turns 30 this year, is the last player to enter the world's January top 10 at an age younger than 20. The youngest player in FIDE's January 2020 top rating list is Anish Giri, who is 25 years old - he's the oldest "youngest player" (if this makes any sense) since Henrique Mecking in 1978.

There was a very exciting period between 1990 and 2005 - a lot of young players got into top 10 back then, and the average age of top 10 was closer to 28 or even 26 than the current 30. This was a sharp drop in comparison to the "old", pre-computer chess, when the average age of January top 10 was around 35 years.

(As a side note, 1991 was ironically an undisputed triumph of the "Soviet school", even though the Soviet Union itself was already crumbling. The entire (!) top 10 consisted of players who then represented USSR: Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Boris Gelfand, Vassily Ivanchuk, Evgeny Bareev, Mikhail Gurevich, Jaan Ehlvest, Leonid Yudasin, Valery Salov and Alexander Beliavsky).

Average age, youngest and oldest players of the FIDE January Top 10, 1975-2020. Full visualization available here.

So it seems that even though chess players start learning chess at a younger age and become grandmaster at a younger age as well, the peak, "elite" performance years are still closer to the age of 30 than 20.

Interestingly enough, this holds even for the average age of all 2700+ players. It's been around 30 years for a long, long while.

Average age, youngest and oldest players of all 2700+ players in the FIDE January rating lists, 1975-2020

In conclusion, here's a more comprehensive table representing the graph above, with names and numbers.

Year Av. age Youngest player Oldest player
Name Age Place Name Age Place
1975 36.46 Anatoly Karpov 23.61 2 Tigran Petrosian 45.54 4
1976 37.54  Henrique Mecking 23.94 8 Efim Geller 50.81 9
1977 36.68  Henrique Mecking 24.94 4 Tigran Petrosian 47.54 3
1978 39.06 Henrique Mecking 25.94 3 Tigran Petrosian 48.54 9
1979 39.26 Henrique Mecking 26.94 8 Tigran Petrosian 49.54 10
1980 39.38 Henrique Mecking 27.94 6 Tigran Petrosian 50.54 7
1981 34.80 Garry Kasparov 17.72 6 Viktor Korchnoi 49.77 3
1982 35.78 Garry Kasparov 18.72 4 Viktor Korchnoi 50.77 3
1983 36.61 Garry Kasparov 19.72 2 Lev Polugaevsky 48.11 6
1984 37.30 Garry Kasparov 20.72 1 Viktor Korchnoi 52.77 3
1985 36.73 Garry Kasparov 21.72 1 Viktor Korchnoi 53.77 7
1986 35.49 Garry Kasparov 22.72 1 Viktor Korchnoi 54.77 6
1987 36.13 Nigel Short 21.58 8 Viktor Korchnoi 55.77 5
1988 34.93 Nigel Short 22.58 7 Viktor Korchnoi 56.77 5
1989 30.71 Vassily Ivanchuk 19.79 6 Anatoly Karpov 37.61 2
1990 33.85 Vassily Ivanchuk 20.79 4 Viktor Korchnoi 58.77 10
1991 29.08 Vassily Ivanchuk 21.79 4 Anatoly Karpov 39.61 2
1992 26.08 Gata Kamsky 17.58 8 Anatoly Karpov 40.61 2
1993 26.25 Vladimir Kramnik 17.52 6 Anatoly Karpov 41.61 2
1994 26.17 Vladimir Kramnik 18.52 5 Anatoly Karpov 42.61 1
1995 27.40 Vladimir Kramnik 19.52 5 Anatoly Karpov 43.61 2
1996 26.35 Judit Polgar 19.44 10 Anatoly Karpov 44.61 3
1997 28.47 Vladimir Kramnik 21.52 4 Anatoly Karpov 45.61 3
1998 29.81 Peter Svidler 21.54 9 Anatoly Karpov 46.61 6
1999 28.79 Alexander Morozevich 21.45 5 Anatoly Karpov 47.61 10
2000 27.84 Peter Leko 20.31 6 Garry Kasparov 36.72 1
2001 28.68 Peter Leko 21.31 5 Garry Kasparov 37.72 1
2002 28.15 Ruslan Ponomariov 18.22 7 Garry Kasparov 38.72 1
2003 28.75 Alexander Grischuk 19.17 10 Garry Kasparov 39.72 1
2004 28.95 Ruslan Ponomariov 20.22 10 Garry Kasparov 40.72 1
2005 30.49 Etienne Bacrot 21.94 9 Garry Kasparov 41.72 1
2006 31.57 Ruslan Ponomariov 22.22 10 Garry Kasparov 42.72 1
2007 31.45 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 21.72 4 Boris Gelfand 38.52 10
2008 31.59 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 22.72 6 Vassily Ivanchuk 38.79 9
2009 30.25 Magnus Carlsen 18.09 4 Vassily Ivanchuk 39.79 3
2010 31.77 Magnus Carlsen 19.09 1 Boris Gelfand 41.52 6
2011 29.94 Magnus Carlsen 20.09 1 Vassily Ivanchuk 41.79 9
2012 31.51 Magnus Carlsen 21.09 1 Vassily Ivanchuk 42.79 8
2013 29.27 Fabiano Caruana 20.42 5 Viswanathan Anand 43.06 7
2014 32.28 Fabiano Caruana 21.42 6 Boris Gelfand 45.52 8
2015 30.31 Anish Giri 20.51 7 Viswanathan Anand 45.06 5
2016 30.61 Anish Giri 21.51 3 Viswanathan Anand 46.06 8
2017 30.13 Anish Giri 22.51 10 Viswanathan Anand 47.06 6
2018 31.12 Wesley So 24.23 6 Vladimir Kramnik 42.52 7
2019 33.11 Anish Giri 24.51 5 Viswanathan Anand 49.06 8
2020 30.22 Anish Giri 25.51 9 Levon Aronian 37.24 6