A brief summary of five notable chess Grandmasters
|The title of Grandmaster is given to world-class chess players by the governing body, FIDE, a French acronym that translates to the World Chess Federation. The August 2018 rating list includes a total of 1621 Grandmasters, 1585 of which are male and only 36 of which are female. My focus for this research is to delve into the lives of the underdogs and explore how they rose through the ranks and eventually became Grandmasters in a sport that was pitted against them from the beginning.
#1: Magnus Carlsen
There is no more fitting way to start this list than with Magnus Carlsen, the current top-ranking Grandmaster in history using the Elo scale with a ranking as of January 2019 of 2835 and an all-time high of 2882. Though he is only 28 years old, he has proven that passion and hard work can catapult you to achieving your goals. Carlsen grew up in Norway where he first learned to play chess at the age of 5 from his father, an amateur chess player. Carlsen sites his desire to beat his older sister at chess as his motivation for continuing to play and improve his skills. Carlsen was a child prodigy, first earning the title of Grandmaster at the age of 13. Following that incredible milestone were several more, all of which enshrined Carlsen’s name as the youngest in the history of chess to achieve them. At 15, he was the youngest person to surpass a 2600 Elo rating, at 16 was the youngest to surpass a 2700 Elo rating, at 17 was the youngest to surpass a 2800 Elo rating, and at 19 became the youngest person to ever rank No.1 on the Elo rating list of Grandmasters, a title he still holds to this day. Today, Carlsen is well-known for his vast repertoire of opening moves that make him a difficult opponent to prepare for, as well as for his prowess over the middlegame where he says the game play is distilled to “pure chess.” It is clear Carlsen enjoys his sport and is forever seeking to improve and grow as a player and a strategist.
#2: Nona Gaprindashvili
For number two on the list, we will jump back in history to the first woman to ever achieve the title of Grandmaster. Nona Gaprindashvili ascended to the ranks of Grandmaster in 1978 when she won a tournament against 45 current Grandmasters, but her chess career did not start there. In 1961, when Gaprindashvili was 20 years old, she won the fourth women’s Candidate’s Tournament with an easy win over her opponent. She defended her title at that tournament for 17 years, during which time she also represented the Soviet Union in the Women’s World Chess Olympiads from 1963 to 1990 and Georgia in 1992. Her Olympic career was rich with medals where 20 out of 25 that she won were gold. 1986 was a particularly notable year for Gaprindashvili as she won all ten of the games she played at the Olympiad competition in Dubai. Though her peak was in the 1980’s, Gaprindashvili continued to compete into her senior years, winning the World Senior Championship in 1995, 2009, 2014, and 2016, and the European Women’s Seniors Championship in 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. In a sport dominated by men, Gaprindashvili dedication and lifelong admiration for chess is nothing to be scoffed at.
#3: Judit Polgár
Continuing with the theme of highlighting female Grandmasters through history, Polgár can’t be missed. She started her chess career young, being the youngest player to be listed in the FIDE top 100 players ranking list at No.55 at the age of 12. Her prowess at such a young age had everything to do with her father’s strict and specialized education early in her life. Polgár, along with her two sisters, were part of their father’s educational experiment to prove that children could achieve exceptional things if trained from an early age. He believed that “geniuses were made, not born,” and proved his theory correct when all three of his daughters became Grandmasters or Women Grandmasters with Judit being the top ranked of the three. In 1991 at the age of 15, she became not only the youngest female, but the youngest person at the time to achieve the title of Grandmaster. She is still the only woman to have surpassed an Elo rating of 2700 having reached her peak score of 2735 and world ranking of No.8 in 2005. Polgár is making waves in the chess world being the only woman to win a game against a reigning world No.1. She also held the No.1 women’s ranking for a significant stretch from 1989 until 2015 when she announced her retirement from competitive chess. Though she surely benefited greatly from her father’s unconventional and strict education from an early age, Polgár’s prowess surpassed her father’s teachings by her own merits and skill and is certainly something to be admired by young chess players of any gender.
#4: Hou Yifan
A fitting player to highlight next is Hou Yifan, a 24 year old female chess prodigy from China. As is common with the previously highlighted Grandmasters, Yifan’s chess career began early. At 12, she was the youngest player ever to participate in the Women’s World Championship and the Chess Olympiad. At 13, she became the youngest Chinese Women’s Champion ever. At 14, she achieved the title of Grandmaster and has continued to prove herself a fierce competitor to this day. As of March 2018, she is the No.1 ranked woman in the world, 86 points ahead of the No.2 ranked woman and is highly regarded as the best active female chess player being “leaps and bounds” ahead of her competitors. What really makes Yifan stand out however is her realistic and balanced approach to chess. Yifan enrolled in university in 2012 against the wishes of her trainer and earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations in 2016. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Education degree from Oxford University. Though it is widely believed that Yifan would be able to compete against the best male players in the world if she focused full time on chess, she prefers to view chess as a hobby rather than a career, which makes her achievements that much more noteworthy.
#5: Maurice Ashley
Finally, to close out this list, it is fitting to highlight Maurice Ashley, a Jamaican-American Grandmaster, commentator, motivational speaker, and activist. Unlike the previous additions to this list, Ashley did not shock the world with his chess prowess at an early age. Rather, it is what he accomplished later in life and the attention he drew to the benefits of chess, especially in black communities, that makes Ashley an important figure in the chess community. In 1999, the same year he earned his Grandmaster title, Ashley founded the Harlem Chess Center and coached the Raging Rooks and the Dark Knights chess teams from Harlem. Both of those teams have gone on to win national championships under his guidance. In 2005, Ashley wrote his book, Chess for Success, relating his experiences with chess and highlighting the positives chess has brought into his life. Throughout his career, Ashley has been dedicated to bringing chess to youth through many means, including coaching youth clubs and sponsoring after school programs, particularly in under-privileged communities. Watch Ashley defeat a street chess player here: "The Winning Color"
Written for: "Emily's Wodehouse Challenges!" January 2019
Word Count: 1,233
Prompt: Give us a brief summary of five grandmasters in history.