Chess whizzkid Abhi becomes world's youngest Grandmaster ever at 12

Chess prodigy becomes the world’s youngest Grandmaster ever aged just 12 years and 145 days (and would have got the record even younger if it wasn’t for Covid and a 35-game winless streak)

  • New Jersey’s Abhimanyu Mishra won the title in Hungary on Wednesday
  • He was in a race against time to beat a 19-year record held by Sergey Karjakin 
  • Covid-19 saw the cancellation of many tournaments, making it difficult for Abhi to secure the three norm wins he needed to claim the title of Grandmaster
  • His family eventually moved to Hungary for several months to find tournaments
  • On Wednesday, he beat fellow 12-year-old Leon Mendonca to clinch the honour

A 12-year-old chess prodigy has made history, breaking an almost two-decade long record to become the world’s youngest ever Grandmaster.

Abhimanyu Mishra completed the feat at the GM Mix in Hungary on Wednesday and may have done so even earlier had Covid-19 not seen tournaments cancelled around the world.

The young player, from Englishtown, New Jersey, went head to head with Indian Grandmaster Leon Mendonca – also 12 – in Budapest, scoring his historic victory with a penultimate round win.

To become a Grandmaster, a player has to reach a specific Elo rating – given to calculate their skills – and win three norm tournaments, in which high-level competitors take part.

Mishra, who goes by Abhi, was in a race against time to claim the historic victory after many tournaments were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

With two back-to-back norms under his belt, time was running out to beat Sergey Karjakin’s 19-year record of becoming the youngest Grandmaster at age 12 and seven months. 

At 12 years, four months and 25 days old, Abhi had until September 5. 

His family took the step of relocating to Hungary for several months in the hopes of finding events with sufficiently highly-ranked opponents.  

A 12-year-old chess prodigy has made history, breaking an almost two-decade long record to become the world’s youngest ever Grandmaster. Abhimanyu Mishra (pictured) completed the feat at the GM Mix in Hungary on Wednesday and may have done so even earlier had Covid-19 not seen tournaments cancelled around the world

‘The match against Leon was tough, but a mistake from his end was all that I needed to cross the landmark. I feel just relieved and happy to be able to achieve this feat,’ Abhi said after his win.

‘It was very unreal,’ he told a live Meltwater Champions Chess Tour broadcast following his win.

‘It was actually a relief since we’ve been here [Hungary] for the last two and a half months trying to break it. It feels amazing’.

His delighted mother told The New York Post that they were thrilled with his achievement.

‘We are over the moon that our kid is the youngest Grandmaster ever. We are elated,’ mom Swati said.

‘It was a do-or-die situation in this game to get the title,’ she said, adding: ‘We are so proud of him. All his hard work has paid off.

‘I can’t even describe the feeling. He wanted to be the youngest Grandmaster in the world and now he is.’

Abhi’s hard work involves 12-hour days spent practicing his craft on the board and using Chessable, an online training tool.

Despite his skill, last year, the young player toiled through a brutal 35-game stretch without a win. 

He admits that his dedication to the game leaves little time for hobbies, saying that: ‘All day is chess’.  

‘It’s taking up so much time that there isn’t any left,’ he said. 

The youngster is a pupil of chess legend Garry Kasparov, the 13th World Chess Champion, who famously became the first world champion to lose a game to a computer under standard time controls in 1997. 

With his new Grandmaster title, Abhi joins an exclusive group of only five players in history who managed to claim the title before turning 13. 

Former record holder Karjakin, who represented Ukraine when he became a Grandmaster but now plays for Russia, told that losing the record was a bittersweet moment. 

‘Somehow I am quite philosophic about this because I felt like it has been almost 20 years and it is really too much! It had to be broken. 

Pictured: Abhi, aged nine, when he was named the youngest ever International Master and two years after he became the youngest expert at the United States Chess Federation

‘Sooner or later I was sure that it will happen. I was completely sure that one of the Indian guys would do it much earlier. Somehow I was very lucky that it didn’t happen.

‘Yes, I am a little sad that I lost the record, I don’t want to lie, but at the same time I can only congratulate him and it’s no problem. 

‘I hope that he will go on to become one of the top chess players and it will be just a nice start to his big career. I wish him all the best,’ he said. 

For Abhi, gaining the title is just the latest in a line of records he has broken.

At age seven, he became the youngest expert at the United States Chess Federation and two years later was named the youngest ever International Master. 

He named Norway’s Magnus Carlsen as his biggest inspiration, saying: ‘The way he’s been dominating since he became World Champion, it’s amazing.

‘No-one can get anywhere near him.’  

The next stop for Abhi is Sochi, Russia, where he will compete in the Chess World Cup starting July 10. 

Becoming a Grandmaster 

Grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can attain, out of the millions of players around the world, there are currently only 1,721 Grandmasters.

The title is bestowed by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) and is generally held for life, though it can be revoked for serious infractions, such as cheating. 

While most Grandmasters are men, women are also eligible for the title and most of the highest-ranking female chess players are Grandmasters.

To become a Grandmaster, players have to reach an Elo rating of 2,500 and win three norm tournaments.  

Norm tournaments are elite competitions featuring at least three Grandmasters from different countries.

They have nine rounds and a time control of at least 120 minutes.

The Elo rating is a method for calculating the skill levels of players in a zero-sum game like chess.

A player’s rating is determined by wins, losses and draws against other players. It is also impacted by the ratings of their opponents and the results scored against them.  

To be in with a chance of becoming a Grandmaster, chess enthusiasts are advised to start learning the game from a young age, put in hours of practice and compete in tournaments.

Five of the greatest Grandmasters

Just who deserves the title of the greatest chess player of all time is a subject of endless debate among enthusiasts.

However, the names below are never far from the top of any list of the all-time greats. 

Here are five GMs to know:

1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway)

Magnus Carlsen has been the reigning World Chess Champion since 2013 and is currently the best chess player in the world.

Some consider him the best of all time, having secured an Elo rating of 2,882 – the highest in the history of chess – in 2014, though he believes that honour still belongs to Garry Kasparov.

Carlsen excels in a number of areas and appears to have no weaknesses.

As of February 2020, he has been on a 120-game undefeated streak in standard time controls.

2. Garry Kasparov (Russia)

Kasparov is considered by many to be the greatest to ever play the game of chess, having dominated the competition for more than 20 years.

His peak Elo rating of 2,856, reached in 2000, remained unbeaten until Carlsen topped it fourteen years later.

In 1985, Kasparov became the youngest ever World Chess Champion at 22 and a half and in 1997 he famously faced off against an IBM computer, and lost.

Since retiring in 2005, he has remained active in the world of chess while also becoming a writer and political commentator and activist.  

3. Bobby Fischer (U.S.A.)

Fischer’s is one of the best-known names in chess and perhaps the most familiar to those outside of the game.

Fischer, who died in 2008, was the first U.S. World Chess Champion and remains the only American to win the title.

His most celebrated feat was winning 20 consecutive games against world-class opponents from 1970 to 1971 – an exploit experts say will likely never be repeated.

But the most iconic moment of Fischer’s career was defeating Russia’s Boris Spassky to win the World Championship in 1972, in a match that played out against the backdrop of the Cold War. 

4. Jose Raul Capablanca (Cuba)

The Cuban Capablanca is legendary for going eight years without a single loss and claiming the World Championship.

Beginning his career at the age of four, Capablanca went on to beat some of the best players in the Western Hemisphere while still in his teens.

In 1922, he simultaneously played against 103 opponents, winning 102 games and drawing only one.

Many speculate that he could have achieved even more if he was playing in a different time, but Capablanca’s peak was sandwiched between the two World Wars, making international competition difficult. 

5. Anatoly Karpov (Russia)

At 15 Karpov became the youngest-ever Soviet National Master, before going on to claim the world junior chess championship and eventually the World Championship.

He was the reigning World Chess Champion for a decade from 1975-1985, eventually losing the title to his great rival Kasparov after successfully defending it against him the year before.

Karpov was also the winner of the 1995 Linares tournament – considered to be the strongest tournament in the history of chess.

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