In the Digital Age, More Prodigies?
Published: March 2, 2013
The question of who is a chess prodigy may need to be rethought because there are many more elite young players than there once were.
At the Reykjavik Open in Iceland, which ended Wednesday, Wei Yi, a 13-year-old from China, completed the requirements for the grandmaster title. In doing so, he became the fourth-youngest grandmaster ever.
It is a remarkable accomplishment, but not as remarkable as it once was. After Bobby Fischer became a grandmaster at 15 in 1958, breaking the old record by three years, it was 1991 before Judit Polgar bettered his mark.
Since then, 33 other players, including Yi, have earned the title at a younger age than Fischer. The current record-holder is Sergey Karjakin of Russia, who did it in 2002 at 12 years, 7 months.
The onslaught of young grandmasters is the result of the development of strong chess computers that can be used for training as well as the creation of databases and the Internet, which give players easy access to tough competition. Since today’s young players have more tools than players of earlier eras and therefore mature more quickly, does that make them prodigies? It is difficult to say.
Carissa Shiwen Yip, a 9-year-old fourth grader at South Row Elementary School in Chelmsford, Mass., is not nearly as good as Yi, but she illustrates the phenomenon. She learned to play three years ago and is already an A-level player, which is two levels below a master. Now, she is ranked among the top 10 in the country in her age group.
During games, Carissa, who is 4-foot-3, sits for hours with her legs folded under her so she can see over the board. That does not hinder her concentration.
Two weeks ago, she played at the Amateur Team Championships in Parsippany, N.J. Against six opponents, five of them adults and all about her level, she scored three wins, two draws and one loss.
For the last 18 months, Carissa has been taking lessons from Larry Christiansen, a three-time United States champion. He said: “She is like a sponge. She never runs out of questions. She wants to know everything.”
In Reykjavik, the game that clinched the grandmaster title for Yi was in Round 8 against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, who in 2005, at age 14, was the 13th-youngest grandmaster ever. Maxime began a speculative attack, but Yi weathered the storm to emerge with a big edge.
In the top diagram, Yi played 15 Qb7. The game concluded 15 ... Rg8 16 Nd2 g4 17 fg4 Rb8 18 Qa6 Rg4 19 Kh1 f5 20 ef5 Rb2 21 Be2 Nf6 22 Nc4 Re2 23 Re2 Bf5 24 f3 Rg6 25 Rg1 Kf7 26 Rg6 hg6 27 Bg5 Be7 28 Bf6 Kf6 29 Ne5 Qb8 30 Ng4 Kg5 31 Re7 Qb1 32 Kg2 Bd3 33 Qa7, and Maxime resigned.
Carissa’s best game in the amateur team tournament was in Round 4 against Jonathan Aiyathurai, who is only a few years older than her. In the bottom diagram, she played 23 ... Qf5. The game continued 24 Qe3 de5 25 de5 Bf3 26 Qf3 Ba3 27 Qg3 Bc1 28 Rc1 Re6 29 Rd1 Rg6 30 Qe3 Re8 31 Bg3 Kh7 32 Qb6 Qc8 33 Qd4 c5 34 Qd7 Kg8 35 Qd5 b5 36 Rc1 Rc6 37 f4 Rd8 38 Qf3 c4 39 Be1 Rd3 40 Qe4 Qd7 41 Kh2 Qd5 42 Qe2 Qd4 43 g3 Qe3 44 Qc2 Rg6 45 bc4 Rg3 46 Bg3 Rd2, and Jonathan resigned.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
The Chess column last Sunday about the changing nature of chess prodigies misstated White’s 28th move in a game between Jonathan Aiyathurai and Carissa Shiwen Yip at the Amateur Team Championships in Parsippany, N.J., in February. White played 28 Rc1, not 28 Bc1.