The next generation of chess royalty

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

About a week ago, at Westminster Abbey, Queen Elizabeth II was first seen in public with a cane. It was an iconic moment if not surprisingly, as with a reign that began in 1953, she is recently widowed and is 95 years old.

Kings and queens of chess have much shorter reigns than true monarchs – years or decades at most. The current female world champion is Ju Wenjun. She became champion in 2018 after winning a ten-game match against compatriot Tan Zhongyi, remained champion after winning a knockout at Khanty-Mansiysk later that year and recently defended her title against Aleksandra Goryachkina in 2020, in a twelve-game split between Shanghai and Vladivostok that went to the playoffs.

Ju Wenjun is one of the strongest players in the world, but far from dominant, with a rating of 2,560 which places her fourth on this month’s rankings list behind Hou Yifan, Goryachkina and Humpy. Koneru.

Of course, Judit Polgar was stronger than any of them in her prime, and Hou Yifan is almost retired, but it will be fascinating to see how strong Groyachkina becomes. At just 23, she just made her Russian Superfinal debut and was actually tied for first after beating Alexander Motylev in round 2. She then lost to Kirill Alekseenko, but as I write on Thursday 14 October , she stabilized things with a series of draws – some from very decent positions.

Aleksandra Goriatchkina

Aleksandra Goryachkina | Photo credit: Eric Rosen / FIDE

This approach – proving to you that you can survive at the new level and thus belong – reminds me a bit of my first tournament in Hastings in 1977-8 when I won one, lost to tournament winner Roman Dzindzichashvili and drew 13 I was 21 and apparently still rated under 2400 (2395). A few more years, Goryachkina is just over 2,600 years old and on the rise.

Magnus Carlsen is of course the current king of chess. He will probably stay that way after the game with Ian Nepomniachtchi in Dubai starting at the end of next month, but Nepo surely has all of Russia behind him and a very decent personal score against Magnus to start – so I certainly wouldn’t put it on over. from 60-40.

If Carlsen retains his title, it will increasingly be up to the next generation to supplant him. Looking at the FIDE October Junior List, which (I believe) is aimed at players 20 and under, there are two in the 2700s – Alireza Firouzja and Andrey Esipenko – and another 16 in the 2600s. , whose first two, Nihal Sarin and Nodirbek Abdussatorov, were born in 2004, while after Bogdan-Daniel Deac, the sixth on the list, Dommaraju Gukesh, was born in 2016 and is only recently fifteen.

These are terrifying (uber) sprogs. Firouzja is already world number nine, and at least one of the others will surely make the appreciable step to become absolutely world class.

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja in 2018 | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Last time around I suggested that I check out some of their games. What’s interesting about young players – all players for that matter – isn’t just how well they can play in their prime, which gives an indication of where they might rise: but also, and no less important, their ambient level. Of course, there weren’t many suitable tournaments during Covid, so the younger ones didn’t have much of a chance to improve, but there were still plenty of interesting examples to choose from.

I chose a couple from Esipenko and one from Nihal. The former is extremely well known, of course, because Esipenko beat Magnus Carlsen. The second shows more of an ambient level as he fought with Goryachkina in the Russian championship, and she almost got the better of him. Watching Nihal’s games, he has a lot of losses against over 2,700 players because he was so young. Among the wins I found a nice quick game against a former junior world champion.

Select an entry from the list to switch between games


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