The Top Chess Players in the World

GM Sergey Karjakin

Sergey Karjakin
Full name
Sergey Karjakin
Jan 12, 1990 (age 34)‎
Place of birth
Simferopol, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union



Sergey Karjakin is an elite chess player who broke the record of youngest-ever GM at 12 years and seven months of age in 2003. Karjakin held his record until 2021 when GM Abhimanyu Mishra broke his record. Most notably, he pushed GM Magnus Carlsen—typically considered one of the two greatest chess players of all time (along with GM Garry Kasparov)—to tiebreakers in the 2016 World Chess Championship. Karjakin nearly won the most prestigious title in chess to go along with two world titles in rapid (2012) and blitz (2016) that came at the expense of the world champion.

Renowned for his defensive play, Russia’s “Minister of Defense” has long been a regular fixture of top chess tournaments. He’s long been considered part of a select group of players capable of dethroning Carlsen as the best chess player in the world.

However, in March 2022, Karjakin received a six-month ban from FIDE due to his public support of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. As of February 2023, he has not been invited to any major FIDE tournaments since then, even after the six-month period ended. Karjakin missed the 2022 FIDE Candidates, for which he had previously qualified, as a direct result of the ban.

Youth and Early Chess Career (1995 to 2009)

At the age of five, Karjakin learned to play chess. Trained by Ukranian GM Vladislav Borovikov, Karjakin shocked the chess world with his progress. He became the youngest-ever player to earn an IM title (11 years, 11 months) at the time, which was since been broken (GM Praggnanandhaa R now holds the record at 10 years and 10 months of age). Karjakin also became the world’s youngest grandmaster at 12 years and seven months old—a record that stood for nearly 20 years.

Sergey Karjakin at age 11
Sergey Karjakin at age 11. Photo courtesy filmmaker Alexander Turpin.

Karjakin performed well in tournaments at a young age. For instance, he won the U10 European Youth Chess Championship in 1999 and the U12 World Youth Chess Championship in 2001. When he was 11 years old, Karjakin was the official second for GM Ruslan Ponomariov during his world championship match with Vassily Ivanchuk in 2002 (a chess second works as an assistant for top players, helping them research opponents and prepare opening repertoires).

Karjakin beat GM Alexandra Kosteniuk in 2003 during a six-game match by a score of four to two. In 2004, Karjakin beat the then-current world champion, GM Vladimir Kramnik, in a blitz game. The same year, Karjakin won team gold and individual gold in the 36th Olympiad for Ukraine. Additionally, he was the only player to win against a computer in the Man vs Machine Team Championship 2004 (Ponomariov and GM Veselin Topalov also took part in the event).

Karjakin first appeared on the world’s top 100 list in 2005, at the age of 15 with a rating of 2635. By 18 years of age, he broke the 2700-rating threshold that often leads to the “Super GM” distinction. Karjakin won his first major tournament at Wijk aan Zee in 2009, ahead of second-place Levon Aronian, Teimour Radjabov and Sergei Movesian, as well as third-place finishers Carlsen and GM Leinier Dominguez Pérez.

A Seasoned, Elite Player (2009 to 2016)

After winning in Wijk aan Zee at just 19 years old, Karjakin launched a new period of his chess career as a young adult. He had several strong tournament performances leading up to his meeting with Carlsen in 2016.

In 2010, Karjakin finished second in a three-way tiebreak with GM Levon Aronian (first) and GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (third) at the Tal Memorial. The tournament included many of the world’s best players; for instance, Karjakin’s wins were against Kramnik and GM Boris Gelfand, and they finished seventh and eighth, respectively, out of 10 players. Another noteworthy performance that year came at the 39th Olympiad, when Karjakin played for his new team, Russia. He took an individual medal for going 8/10 on board 4 with a performance rating of 2859.

At the World Rapid Chess Championship in 2012, Karjakin won gold outright, ahead of runner-up Carlsen and third-place Topalov, with a 15/18 score. One month later, Karjakin tied GM Fabiano Caruana for first at the annual Dortmund Sparkassen Chess-Meeting tournament, but finished second on tiebreakers.

In 2013, Karjakin took part in what he called the best tournament of his career. He won the Norway Chess 2013 tournament with a 6/9 score, edging out Carlsen and GM Hikaru Nakamura by a half-point. GM Peter Svidler, Aronian and GM Viswanathan Anand, who finished with 5/9 points, showcase the caliber of the tournament (Karjakin was rated lower than all five players). It’s interesting to note that a blitz tournament decided the play order for the main tournament; Karjakin won that too, beating Carlsen, Anand and Nakamura by a half-point. The following year, Karjakin repeated by winning Norway Chess 2014, once again beating Carlsen.

Sergey Karjakin vs Veselin Topalov
Sergey Karjakin vs Veselin Topalov

In 2015, Karjakin won the 2015 World Cup after going down two games to Svidler. That performance qualified him for the Candidates’ Tournament and the right to challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

Recent Highlights (2016 to 2021)

At the 2016 Candidates Tournament in Moscow, Karjakin finished ahead of Caruana and Anand to win the event. That set the encounter between Karjakin and Carlsen in the 2016 World Chess Championship.

It took place in New York city in mid- to late-November, and the format was 12 classical games and tiebreak games (plus an armageddon game) if needed. Karjakin pushed the world champion to tiebreaks, as each player had one win and five draws during the classical portion of the match. Yet, in the rapid tiebreaks, there were two draws and then Carlsen beat Karjakin in two subsequent games, allowing him to retain the title.

Karjakin had revenge one month later. In late December, Karjakin beat Carlsen on tiebreaks to win the 2016 World Blitz Championship. Those two players (16.5/21) finished a full two points ahead of GM Daniil Dubov, Nakamura and GM Alexander Grischuk.

Sergey Karjakin won the 2016 World Blitz Championship
Sergey Karjakin won the 2016 World Blitz Championship

At the 2018 Candidates’ Tournament, Karjakin finished third after tiebreaks. He tied with Mamedyarov behind Caruana, who, like Karjakin, pushed Carlsen to tiebreaks in the 2018 World Chess Championship.

Karjakin finished second at the 2021 FIDE World Cup, once again qualifying for the Candidates, this time in 2022.

Present and Future

Sergey Karjakin defeated Viswanathan Anand
Sergey Karjakin defeated Viswanathan Anand. Photo courtesy of Shamkir Chess.

Karjakin has remained a regular at elite tournaments through at least January 2022. For instance, at the 2019 Gashimov Memorial in April, he tied GM Ding Liren for second place behind Magnus Carlsen. That year Karjakin also took part in the Grand Prix series that serves as qualification for the 2020 World Chess Championship.

Karjakin has built a legacy in chess, becoming the youngest grandmaster in history at the time (12 years, 7 months and 0 days—three of the other youngest chess grandmasters in history gained the title at 12 years of age). He nearly beat Carlsen for the world championship to go along with other world titles he claimed in blitz and rapid chess. 

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