On June 30, 2021, the entire global chess world woke up to astonishing news. A 12-year-old Indian-American boy named Abhimanyu Mishra broke the long-standing record to become the all-time youngest grandmaster (GM) in the history of chess.
Just like the youngest chess grandmaster, there exist pretty aged GMs. The record for the oldest chess grandmaster is held by the Italian Enrico Paoli, who achieved this feat at the ripe old age of 88. Paoli was an international chess master for most of his life and was awarded an honorary grandmaster title in 1996 when he was 88.
On the journey to be recognized as the youngest chess grandmaster, 12-year-old Abhimanyu had to get the better of Leon Mendonca. A 15-year-old GM from India in the ninth round of the Vezerkepzo GM Mix tournament held in Budapest, Hungary.
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The Long and Hard Road to the Title
Before getting the GM title, Abhimanyu camped for a long while in Budapest in preparation for the upcoming test. This was a period when he was competing in a series of tournaments. All that focus started to pay off when in April and May 2021, he qualified for the first and the second GM norms, respectively.
The first norm was achieved at the Vezerkepzo chess tournament, while the second norm was fulfilled at the First Saturday tournament. In both these GM-norm chess competitions, Abhimanyu was placed against 10 high-ranking players specially selected to aid him in clearing the GM norm hurdles.
There were hiccups following the May tournament, when Abhimanyu missed out on his third GM norm at the May and June 2021 editions of the Veserkepzo meet and the First Saturday round-robin chess tournament in June 2021.
But, as destiny would have it, Abhimanyu struck gold in his final shot in June 2021. Seeing that a large group of young aspiring chess professionals had set up camps in Budapest for a lengthy period, the organisers of the chess tournament decided to hold one last chess GM norm meet in the last week of June 2021.
Sponsored by a Swiss group, the Vezerkepzo GM Mix chess tournament was clearly Abhimanyu’s last real shot at grabbing the GM title in that particular season. And as fate would have it, he managed to secure his title by beating Indian GM Leon Luke Mendonca over nine rounds playing with black chess pieces.
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Young Abhimanyu Cynosure of All Eyes
The brilliant young chess maestro was born to immigrant Indian parents in New Jersey on the east coast of the United States on February 5, 2009. Abhimanyu started playing chess at seven and has not looked back ever since.
Along with being the youngest chess grandmaster in the world, Abhimanyu also holds two more unique chess records. He is the all-time highest-rated chess player under the age of nine and the youngest international master (IM) in the world.
The title of the ‘GM’ is the highest possible level a chess professional can reach in their career, and only the award of a ‘world champion’ is deemed more elevated than that of a GM. The young Indian chess prodigy reached this ultimate level at 12 years, four months, and 25 days.
By doing so, Abhimanyu broke the 19-year-old world record made by the Ukrainian chess player Sergey Karjakin. Karjakin became the youngest chess grandmaster in the year 2002 at the age of 12 years and seven months.
As per the latest rankings released by the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE), the governing body of global chess, four Indian players feature in the all-time top 10 youngest chess grandmasters.
The topmost position an Indian takes up in this list is Gukesh Dommaraju at third place. D. Gukesh, as he is more commonly known, made the cut at the age of 12, seven months, and 17 days. He is also the youngest Indian chess grandmaster of all time.
Then at fifth place, there stands another young Indian chess sensation – Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa. ‘Pragg’, as he is fondly called, became a GM by the time he was 12 years, 10 months, and 13 days.
Two more Indians feature in the top 10 list – Parimarjan Negi at seventh place and Raunak Sidhwani fill up at the tenth spot. While Parimarjan Negi was 13 years, four months, and 22 days at the time he had been conferred the title, Raunak Sidhwani was 13 years, nine months, and 28 days at the moment when he became a bona fide GM.
On the whole, India has a strong foothold on the world stage when it comes to producing grandmasters. In total, the country has produced 64 GMs to date.
Getting to the coveted title of ‘GM’ is no easy feat, and it takes years of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication to even dream of having a shot at the title. As GM Abhimanyu Mishra has said in several interviews, he had to remain completely immersed in chess every day after becoming the youngest chess grandmaster.
He further stated that he did not have a childhood like most children his age usually experience. Abhimanyu is unequivocally focused on his chess career as of now and wishes to compete at the world’s most significant chess competitions one day. He has already trained under one of the best chess players of all time – Garry Kasparov and keeps an open mind to absorb anything and everything related to chess.
How Abhimanyu Mishra Became The Youngest Chess Grandmaster
Like any other aspiring chess player aiming to become a grandmaster, Abhimanyu had to go through a rigorous GM attainment process determined by FIDE. All GM-seeking candidates must have an Elo rating of at least 2500 or above. Next, they must have a good showing in a minimum of three high-level chess tournaments.
These tournaments should have participants, among whom 50 per cent are titleholders of any kind, and 10 per cent are of the rank of GM. This criterion is called a ‘norm’ in chess parlance. Likewise, Abhimanyu Mishra fulfilled his third norm when he beat Leon Mendonca in Hungary.
Abhimanyu Mishra first caught the media’s attention back in 2016 when he won the under-eight category of the 2016 ChessKid Online National Invitational Championship (CONIC). Three years later, in 2019, Abhimanyu again came under the spotlight after becoming an International Master (IM) at the age of 10 years, nine months, and three days. This, too, was a world record, as has been mentioned above.
Abhimanyu Mishra is undoubtedly one of the most promising talents of his generation. His predecessor to the youngest chess grandmaster title, Ukrainian Sergey Karjakin, blossomed into a great chess player and went on to challenge for the world championship title in 2016, which he eventually lost to holder Magnus Carlsen in a tiebreak.
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The Road Ahead for Abhimanyu
Only time will tell whether or not Abhimanyu will continue treading the same path and emerge as the ‘next big thing’ in chess. But for the time being, we can all heap praises on him for achieving something only the rarest of the rare are able to realise.
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