The Top Chess Players in the World

GM Teimour Radjabov

Teimour Radjabov
Photo: Peter Doggers/
Full name
Teymur Rəcəbov
Mar 12, 1987 (age 37)‎
Place of birth
Baku, Azerbaijan SSR, Soviet Union



Teimur Radjabov was born in Baku, Azerbaijan—the same city as former world champion Garry Kasparov—on March 12, 1987. Radjabov’s promising youth career translated into runs at the FIDE world championship in his teens and the reunified championship in the 2010’s.

Radjabov’s career hit somewhat of a lull after that, his rating falling below 2700 in November 2016, but a strong comeback a few years later led to a victory at the 2019 FIDE World Cup. Recently, he worked his way back into the top 10 chess players in the world, finishing tied for third place at the 2022 Candidates Tournament.

Along with fellow Azerbaijani GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and others, Radjabov led his nation to gold medals in the 2013 and 2017 European Team Chess Championship, and the two represent the nation’s best chance at a world champion among the current crop of top players.

Youth and Junior Career

Radjabov began playing chess at age three, and by the late 1990’s, he was participating regularly in the European and World Youth Chess Championships. He played in the 1996 World Youth Chess Championships in the under-10 division which was won by future Indian grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna.

Radjabov dominated in European youth tournaments, however. He won the European under-10 division in both 1996 and ’97 and then the under-12 division in 1998. In 1999, at the age of 12, he played in the under-18 division rather than the under-14 or under-16 divisions. Undaunted, he won again, against a field of naturally much older players. 

Although he did not win the World Youth Championships that year, by now he was an International Master. He no longer had anything to prove against kids his age, and in 2000 he played in the Junior Championships for players between 18 and 20 years of age. By 2001, he had earned his Grandmaster norms and was competing in Group B of the Corus Tournament at Wijk aan Zee, where he placed second with a +6 -2 =3 score.

Notable Tournaments

Radjabov was one of seven participants at Linares 2003, a double round robin, and finished last with a score of +1 -4 =7. His sole win, however, was perhaps the most famous of his still-young career: with the black pieces, he defeated fellow Baku native Garry Kasparov in 39 moves. The game was voted best of the tournament, much to Kasparov’s consternation. Radjabov was praised for his resilience in the game, especially the move 21…Ngxe5. Kasparov felt he had made a simple tactical error and that the game did not deserve any special recognition. Nonetheless, it was a big win for Radjabov.

Radjabov also won a game against future world champion Viswanathan Anand in 2003, at the Dortmund Sparkassen Tournament where Radjabov finished fourth out of six participants with a +2 -2 =6 score. Radjabov sacrificed his queen on move 22, and while material remained imbalanced but soon became relatively equal, Radjabov’s two central passed pawns proved decisive.

Radjabov won the 13th Dos Hermanas Tournament, held in 2005, with a +2 -0 =7 score against a field that included Harikrishna, Alexey Dreev, and future world championship challenger Sergey Karjakin (then 15 years old). In October of that year, Radjabov crossed the 2700 rating threshold for the first time.

Radjabov’s most impressive single tournament may have been his 2007 Wijk aan Zee performance, where he finished in a three-way share of first place with Levon Aronian and Veselin Topalov. Radjabov won five of his 13 games in the single round-robin, but a loss to Aronian in the eighth round ultimately prevented him from winning a clear first. Nevertheless, in a field that also included Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Peter Svidler, and a 17-year-old Magnus Carlsen, Radjabov’s score of +5 -1 =7 and the share of first was an impressive display.

Radjabov also won the Geneva leg of the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix. However, he finished third in the overall standings, barely missing out on a Candidates Tournament qualificiation.

Radjabov in 2017 after his victory at Geneva.

In early January 2021, Radjabov won the Airthings Masters (earning $60,000) after beating GM Levon Aronian in the final. The tournament is part of the Champions Chess Tour.

World Championship Cycles

Radjabov’s first opportunity at the world championship title came when he was one of 128 participants in FIDE’s knockout tournament in 2001. The 86th seed, he fell in the opening round to Estonian (now American) GM Jaan Ehlvest, 3½-2½. The tournament was ultimately won by Ukrainian Ruslan Ponomariov.

By 2003, Radjabov was the 18th seed, and in accordance with his improvement had a much better tournament. He swept Polish GM Mateusz Bartel 2-0, then defeated Danish GM Peter Heine Nielsen 4-3, French GM Etienne Bacrot 2 ½ - 1 ½, and Russian GM Pavel Smirnov 3 ½ - 2 ½ to reach the quarterfinals. There, he played Cuban GM Leinier Dominguez to a 3 ½ - 3 ½ score before holding a draw with black in an armageddon tiebreaker to advance to the semifinals. Radjabov’s run finally ended in his semifinal match with #3 seed Michael Adams, after he lost the first game and could only make three draws the rest of the way. Adams would go on to lose to Uzbekistan’s Rustam Kasimdzhanov in the final.

Below, the loss to Adams that ultimately kept Radjabov out of the 2004 FIDE Championship final.

Mercifully, the knockout format would never be used again. However, in the more standard yet much smaller 2005 format, Radjabov was not a participant.

Since the reunification of the world championship in 2007, Radjabov has participated twice in the Candidates Tournament. He qualified in 2011 by winning the FIDE Grand Prix, and then was the organizer’s selection in 2013. The 2011 tournament was a knockout series of matches, similar to the 2002 and 2004 world championships. Radjabov fell to Kramnik in tiebreaks in the opening round, the quarterfinal.

The 2013 tournament followed the current format, a double round-robin, where Radjabov only scored +1 -7 =6.

In the 2019-2020 cycle, he scored one of his career's best results by winning the 2019 FIDE World Cup. Radjabov defeated GM Ding Liren in the final to clinch the $110,000 first prize and qualify for the 2020 Candidates Tournament.

Radjabov 2019 World Cup
Radjabov with fans and the Azeri flag after winning the 2019 FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Photo: Kirill Merkuryev/FIDE.

Early March 2020, shortly before the start, Radjabov withdrew from the Candidates Tournament due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, and after his request to FIDE to postpone the tournament was denied.

Olympiads and Team Championships

Radjabov took the first board for Azerbaijan at the 2007, 2009, and 2011 European Team Chess Championship, helping to win third place in 2007, first in 2009, and second in 2011. In 2013, however, he played the second board as his countryman Mamedyarov had improved to the point of taking the first board. Azerbaijan took gold in both 2013 and 2017. Radjabov has played a key role for one of the most successful nations at the European Team Chess Championship.

The Azerbaijani team has been less fortunate at the global Olympiads played in even years, however, with no top-three finishes. Even in the 42nd Chess Olympiad, held in Baku in 2016, Azerbaijan failed to place in the top ten, while a United States team led by Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So took its first gold since 1976. For his part, Radjabov scored +3 -2 =5 on the first board, including a loss to Kramnik.

Present and Future

Radjabov at Tata Steel in 2019.

Radjabov was invited to the 2022 Candidates Tournament to make up for the extenuating circumstances of his withdrawal from the 2020 Candidates. Although that meant his qualification event, the 2019 World Cup, occurred an unprecedented three years before the tournament itself, Radjabov surprised most observers and finished in a tie for third place at the 2022 Candidates.

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