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The Pandemic Effect: How Young Will Grandmasters Become?
Roman Shogdzhiev is one of many exceptional talents in the chess world. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

The Pandemic Effect: How Young Will Grandmasters Become?

TarjeiJS
| 32 | Chess.com News

The game of chess is witnessing a fascinating trend. New research by Chess.com shows that grandmasters are now achieving their titles at an earlier age than ever. Will the chess world see 10- or 11-year-olds becoming grandmasters in the next few years?

In the past year, we've seen a surge in children scoring extraordinary results. Records that would've seemed unbreakable only five to 10 years ago aren't as shatterproof as we once thought, and it's just a matter of time until they are broken again. "Child's play" as some say.

Here are some examples:

Youngest players to defeat a grandmaster:

# Year Player Rating Age Opponent Rating2
1 2024 Ashwath Kaushik 1892 8 years, 6 months, 11 days Jacek Stopa 2351
2 2024 Leonid Ivanovic 1865 8 years, 11 months, 7 days Milko Popchev 2193
3 2012 Awonder Liang 1832 9 years, 3 months, 20 days Larry Kaufman 2406
4 2011 Hetul Shah 1817 9 years, 6 months Nurlan Ibrayev 2407
5 2014 Nodirbek Abdusattorov 2057 9 years, 7 months, 27 days Andrey Zhigalko 2600
6 2022 Aaron Mendes 1970 9 years, 10 months, 0 days Razvan Preotu 2445
7 2019 Abhimanyu Mishra 2120 9 years, 10 months, 28 days James Tarjan 2402
8 2024 Reyaansh Chakrabarty 1925 9 years, 11 months, 22 days Darryl Johansen 2350
9 2023 Faustino Oro 2325 10 years, 0 months, 0 days Federico Perez Ponsa 2527
10 2017 Marc' Andria Maurizzi 1841 10 years, 1 month, 17 days Fabien Libiszewski 2542
11 2015 Vincent Keymer 2371 10 years, 2 months, 30 days Alexandr Karpatchev 2472
12 2023 Sergey Sklokin 1550 10 years, 3 months, 20 days Vahe Baghdasaryan 2259
13 2016 Praggnanandhaa R 2339 10 years, 5 months, 9 days R. R Laxman 2435
14 2018 Bharath Subramaniyam 2196 10 years, 7 months, 17 days Deepan Chakkravarthy 2531
15 2017 Gukesh D 2236 10 years, 7 months, 21 days Venkatesh 2439

(This list was updated March 13 to include Sergey Sklokin.)

The results appear to be a part of a new trend as shown by Chess.com research that looks at the age of players who secure the grandmaster title.

While the average age for players achieving the most prestigious title in chess was 30 between 1975-1979, it dropped to 22.8 between 2020 and 2024. The highest age for a new GM was 32.8 in 1977. More then four decades later, in 2021, the average age is down to a record low of 20.9.

10 players are currently pending approval for the GM title in 2024. The average age is down to 21.4, the second lowest to date.

Graph shows how the age of new grandmasters keep dropping over the years.
The age of new grandmasters keeps dropping over the years.

The Pandemic Effect

So why are we seeing an explosion of even younger talents? Prodigies like Oro, Shogdzhiev, Sivananandan, Ashwath, and Ivanovic all share a common thread: they learned chess during the pandemic. GM Hikaru Nakamura finds this trend "very uplifting to hear" in a recent video about Shogdzhiev.

"This is something I think we are going to be seeing more of as time goes along. A lot of kids trickling towards IM, GM and maybe even the highest level as well. Players who have been starting to play during the pandemic," he said.

Former world number-four GM Peter Leko, who became the youngest ever grandmaster at 14 in 1992, tells Chess.com that this makes perfect sense.

"The technology is developing. All the online access, and during the pandemic we saw this [chess] boom that heavily contributed. The ones who started to play chess suddenly now have so much information." 

The ones who started to play chess suddenly now have so much information.

—Peter Leko

8-year-old Ashwath Kaushik from Singapore recently made headlines around the world when becoming the youngest player to ever defeat a grandamster. Photo: Carleton Lim/Singapore Chess Federation.
Eight-year-old Ashwath Kaushik from Singapore recently made headlines around the world as the youngest player to ever defeat a grandmaster. Photo: Carleton Lim/Singapore Chess Federation.

The former world championship challenger says learning chess is like learning a language. The earlier you start to pick it up, the easier it is to learn and the stronger you can become. And the more natural talent you can develop in yourself.

"When you are reaching your 20s, it becomes much harder to keep on developing. You have to pick up so much more material when you become older. It's much easier to handle that when you are younger. I perfectly see the connection between the pandemic and the rising stars at the very early age."

Leko On Mishra: Developing Very Nicely

Having worked closely with German superstar GM Vincent Keymer since he was a promising youngster, Leko has followed the rise of the new generation.

He himself was dedicated to become a professional chess player at the age of nine, studying the game for up to 10 hours a day. "My life was chess," he says. While he needed to move to Kesckemet, the Hungarian city known for its great chess community with international tournaments, that factor is no longer as crucial for developing as a chess player.

Young Leko, left, facing GM (as of 2006) Jurij Tihonov in 1992 at the World Junior Championships. Photo: Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0.
Young Leko, left, facing GM (as of 2006) Jurij Tihonov in 1992 at the World Junior Championships. Photo: Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0.

In the 90s, when Leko was growing up and chasing his title, top players had to rely on the Chess Informants, a compilation of top games that came out every four to six months. "You knew already any of the days, it can come. Then the heart was already pumping, 'Oh my god, the next couple of weeks I will have tons of work to do!'"

Now these moves are available just a few mouse clicks away, seconds after they are made on the board. "Any talent who wishes to be a professional chess player and to develop his chess talent is in the best place and in the best era."

Any talent who wishes to be a professional chess player and to develop his chess talent is in the best place and in the best era.

—Peter Leko

Leko brings up Chessable, the online platform that has become an important tool for chess improvement, as a valuable resource. They now live in what he refers to as a "chess bubble" where the talent, the hard work and the interest of the player impact whether a young player makes it to the top. 

Another key factor, the former prodigy says, is that they can play non-stop games online against top players."That's one of the most important things. In order to develop, you should be aiming to face as many strong players as possible. It's not about the result. The biggest mistake is to try to find opponents whom you are beating. From just winning, you are not learning. It's much better to lose a lot of games, and the get the chance of improving. The online era is wonderful for this. Sensational stuff."

Will We See Even Younger Grandmasters?

As the graph above showed, the minimum age for new grandmasters has also been dropping. The youngest grandmaster in history is GM Abhimanyu Mishra, who achieved the title at the age of 12 years, four months, and 25 days in 2021, smashing GM Sergey Karjakin's record that stood for 19 years.

Only five players achieved the GM title before their 13th birthday. IM Yagiz Kaan Erdogmus, who turns 13 in June, is well on the way to become the sixth with one norm. Earlier this year, IM Andy Woodward fulfilled the requirements for the GM title, becoming the 10th youngest in history at the age of 13 years years and 8 months.

The World's Youngest Grandmasters:

No. Player Country Age Year
1 Abhimanyu Mishra United States 12 years, 4 months, 25 days 2021
2 Sergey Karjakin Ukraine 12 years, 7 months, 0 days 2002
3 Gukesh Dommaraju India 12 years, 7 months, 17 days 2019
4 Javokhir Sindarov Uzbekistan 12 years, 10 months, 5 days 2018
5 Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu India 12 years, 10 months, 13 days 2018
6 Nodirbek Abdusattorov Uzbekistan 13 years, 1 month, 11 days 2018
7 Parimarjan Negi India 13 years, 4 months, 22 days 2005
8 Magnus Carlsen Norway 13 years, 4 months, 27 days 2004
9 Wei Yi China 13 years, 8 months, 23 days 2013
10 Andy Woodward United States 13 years, 8 months, 28 days* 2024

Leko doesn't rule out that with the rapid development of young kids these days, and as a result of the boom in the pandemic, the chess world will be seeing even 10- or 11-year-olds becoming grandmasters in the future.

However, he feels there is excessive attention on the title itself, rather than developing as a player. Such was the case with Mishra. "When Mishra became the youngest grandmaster, it did not touch me at all. I did not really care. Because okay, so what? Every single record will be broken. It's normal."

Every single record will be broken. It's normal.

— Peter Leko

"But the question for me and much more interesting, is how nicely he is developing afterwards. The reason why I am very impressed by Mishra is that he keeps on improving exactly how a super-talent should be. I don't care about his grandmaster title, but now he has crossed 2600 and is moving towards 2650 at such an early age. This is what impresses me."

Peter Leko speaks highly of Abhimanyu Mishra, the world's youngest grandmaster. Who and when will his record be broken? Photo courtesy Swati Hemant Mishra.
Leko speaks highly of Mishra, the world's youngest grandmaster. Photo courtesy Swati Hemant Mishra.

Mishra, who turned 15 in February, is currently rated 2627 and ranked 11th among the world's top players under 20 years.

Carlsen On The Early Predictions

The fascination with chess prodigies goes all the way back to the 19th century and the emergence of Paul Morphy, who is said to have learned chess from watching others play. The 20th century saw the rise of legends such as GM Bobby Fischer and GM Garry Kasparov.

In the 21st century, GM Magnus Carlsen was dubbed a chess prodigy from an early age. However, the Norwegian grandmaster is critical to how people predicted that he would become a world champion early on. On a Norwegian podcast last year, he was asked about which players he sees as future world champions.

"I am very, very skeptical to the ones who thought at 13....first of all I think it's nonsense to see that based on that particular game against Kasparov ...."

A 13-year-old Magnus Carlsen shocked the chess world by drawing Garry Kasparov during a rapid game in Reykjavik in 2004. Photo: Prince of Chess documentary.
A 13-year-old Magnus Carlsen shocked the chess world by drawing Garry Kasparov during a rapid game in Reykjavik in 2004. Photo: Prince of Chess/Øyvind Von Doren Asbjørnsen.

"I am very skeptical to everyone who claims they can predict early, 'Oh, this guy is going to become world champion.' How can you actually see the difference between a player who can become world champion and just a top 10-20 player, that early?"

"Obviously you'd be an idiot to not realize that I was talented in chess. I had obviously proved that clearly at the time."

How can you actually see the difference between a player who can become world champion and just a top 10-20 player, that early?

—Magnus Carlsen

"But there's something about humans not wanting to believe what you cannot see yourself. Even I can't judge that myself, when I see children, some more years have to pass until I can see whether this person has what is needed to reach the top," Carlsen said, before adding: "Obviously not number one!"

The former world champion used GM Wei Yi, still the youngest player to ever break the 2700 barrier a few months before his 16th birthday, as an example. The Chinese 24-year-old only recently made it into the world's top-10 for the first time after he almost made it as a 17-year-old.

Leko: Important To Protect The Kids

Leko agrees with his former rival that people prematurely tends to hype young players. "It's absolutely correct what Magnus is saying. You shouldn't be expecting things."

The Hungarian highlights the importance of patience and giving time to develop. Other factors, such as luck and support from your country, also play a role in how far one can reach.

"We are trying to create very big stars, but it's also important to protect the kids," he says, before giving an advice to young players: "Just keep on doing what you love. Don't think that if you are beating grandmasters, you are becoming one. This is already sensational, it's just a part of the development. Any kind of development will have difficult moments."

We are trying to create very big stars, but it's also important to protect the kids.

—Peter Leko

TarjeiJS
Tarjei J. Svensen

I am a chess journalist on Chess.com, the site you are playing on. Hope you enjoy my stories. Let me know if you have any tips on what I should write about!

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