After ignoring this blog for six months (with my deepest apologies), I have finally done a new update of my Prodigy Watch and Current Prodigy Watchlist pages. This update is as of the July ratings list (released almost a month ago), not the August list which will come out in the next couple days, so all ages mentioned are as of July 1st 2016, not as of the day of this post. To keep things simple, I did not seek out new names to add to my database, so I may well be omitting some important youngsters who have burst onto the scene so far in 2016. That said, waiting so long to update also carries the upside that for the kids I was already tracking, we have some opportunities to see massive changes!
This is in no way a promise that I will get back in the habit of updating monthly, and I can only offer preemptive apologies for future updates that I will miss. Hopefully though, this update at least makes up for the long wait. Let’s take a look at the big changes!
Starting at the oldest end of the spectrum, not really a “prodigy” anymore but worthy of mention nonetheless, is GM Richard Rapport. The Hungarian gained 13 rating points in May, and 21 more in July, and skyrocketed to 17th place in the world live-rankings at the time of this post. His rating of 2752 is now the 7th highest ever achieved by a player under the age of 21, and it’s now clear that his name belongs in the same discussions as other stars in their early 20s (like Giri, So, or Ding). Rapport is certainly now a threat to break into the top-ten with another strong result, and shouldn’t be ignored as a contender in upcoming Candidates cycles.
Blog favorite GM Wei Yi, of China, of course dropped off at the end of 2015, and languished below a rating of 2700 for most of the span in question, but even though he’s now over 17 years old, and now “only” 2696 ELO (down from his 2737 peak), his prodigy rank is still #3, that is to say only two other players have ever been rated higher at or before the same age. For this to qualify as a low point is as good a measure as any of how impressive he’s been, and strong July results have pushed his live rating back up to 2715 prior to the August rating list. His peak rating of 2737 remains the fifth highest U20 rating of all time, and he only just turned 17, so there’s plenty of time for him to bounce back and chase some more records while he’s still a teenager.
American GM Jeffery Xiong made an impressive surge, gaining rating points six months in a row and climbing to a rating of 2641, still four months prior to his 16th birthday. In our last update six months ago he showed promise, with a prodigy rank of #12. Now that promise appears realized as his prodigy rank has risen to a truly elite #4, with only Wei Yi, Magnus Carlsen, and Sergey Karjakin ever having been rated higher at a younger age. Xiong is now on the cusp of breaking into the world top-100, and is rated so highly relative to his age that when he won the strong US Junior Championships earlier this month he actually lost rating points.
No surge has been more impressive, though, than that of 12 year old FM Jonas Bjerre of Denmark. Six months ago he was rated 2075 at the age of 11.5; certainly nothing to sneeze at (and far better than I will ever be), but not historic. His prodigy rank was #146. Then February happened, and now he has a prodigy rank of #6! Now to be sure, he is a beneficiary of the controversial increase in k-factors. It probably shouldn’t be possible to gain 349 rating points in a month, in three separate tournaments. That said, unlike some other flashes in the pan, there are reasons to think Bjerre might be for real. First of all half of his February gains came in an event where he scored 5/8 against opponents with an average rating over 2400 (ignoring his first round romp). That performance suggests he is in fact capable of playing at the 2400+ level his rating suggests. Additionally he hasn’t sat on the high rating, he’s kept playing. And from March through July he has played 46 rated games, and only “given back” 28 of the rating points he earned in February. Even if he might be just slightly overrated right now, it seems safe to say that the FM title is well deserved and that he’s a strong contender to stick around the top of these rankings as he ages.
Atop the current watchlist are two ten year olds who had prodigy ranks in the teens six months ago, and have now each jumped to #2 for their respective ages! IM R Praggnanandhaa became the youngest IM in chess history by a margin of over a year! At 2429, Praggu is the highest rated U-12 player in the world, and again let us remember that he hasn’t even turned 11 yet. K-factors can’t be blamed for his high rating, as he’s proven his worth in earning those IM norms. Will his next achievement be to break Karjakin’s record and become the youngest GM of all time? He has just over a year and a half to work with if that’s his goal. And whether or not that happens, I can’t wait to see what heights he reaches over the next decade.
Right on Praggu’s heels, about four months younger, is CM Javokhir Sindarov of Uzbekistan. Sindarov holds the record for highest U-10 rating of all time (2299 in October 2015), and for highest U-10.5 rating (2384 in March). His current rating of 2374 is higher (at a younger age) than Praggu was until this month. In other words: despite their young ages the two have been neck and neck with each other for years already, both flirting with (and occasionally setting) records for highest rating at various ages. Will this battle with both each other, and with the record books, continue for years to come?
The only reason Praggnanandhaa and Sindarov have prodigy ranks of #2 (rather than #1) is that green line at the top right of the graph above: FM Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Also from Uzbekistan, Abdusattorov posted a spectacular gain in April 2015, putting up an absurdly high published rating of 2465 at the age of just 10.54 years. The youngest age at which anyone has exceeded this rating is 12.22 years (Sergey Karjakin, 2489, on his way to becoming the youngest GM of all time – so far). At our last update six months ago Abdusattorov’s rating had dropped to 2430 but he still had a prodigy rank of #1, however he has struggled a little bit since. He has lost rating points in his last four tournaments, and is down to 2375 and a prodigy rank of #7. Still, this remains an elite rating for his age (he is not yet 12), and he’s only underperforming his rating slightly while still consistently scoring points against master (and occasionally even GM) opposition. Don’t count him out for faltering slightly, “formerly the best player in history relative to his age, but now only one of the ten best” is more of a compliment than a criticism.
Another Indian youngster who has improved his position substantially is FM Nihal Sarin. From a prodigy rank of #37 last January, he is now up to #13 as he approaches his 12th birthday. His big gains game in March, spiking his rating over 2350, and he has continued to validate the rating since, adding seven additional rating points in the 36 games he’s played since.
A player who has held steady in the top ten is IM Alireza Firouzja, #6 six months ago and #6 now. Rated 2481, and having just turned 13 in June, Firouzja remains the brightest star (factoring in age) among many promising youngsters in Iran. Feathers in Firouzja’s cap since we last checked in include a national championship and an undefeated 5.5/7 at the Asian Nations Cup (including a draw against Wei Yi) where he clinched the IM title with his first GM norm. It hasn’t been a completely bump free ride though. Firouzja has had two other shots at extra strong competition, playing in the A section at Aeroflot, and then in the Stars Cup, and has fallen a little short in each. Again we emphasize that ups and downs are to be expected for all these kids!
The highest rated teenager in Iran, however, is GM Parham Maghsoodloo. Parham finished a close second to Firouzja in the national championships, and got his revenge in match that will show up in the next rating list with a perfect 3/3 score. All told, through July his rating has climbed to 2501 and his prodigy rank risen from #104 six months ago to #66 now. He also earned the IM title (and his second GM norm) at the Khazar Cup. His strongest result won’t show up until the August ratings list, however. The aforementioned Stars Cup was a tournament that brought 10 strong foreign GMs (average rating 2622) to Iran, to compete against 10 of Iran’s top players; giving the Iranian team a rare opportunity to face top opposition without having to travel. Maghsoodloo stole the show with an undefeated 8/10 score, good for an out of this world 2862 performance rating(!) and clinching the GM title. Once August results are published, Maghsoodloo’s prodigy rank should rise to around the 25-30 range.
It could perhaps go without saying (but we’ll mention it anyway) that the Iranian team at the recent FIDE U-16 Olympiad was seeded first, and won comfortably, led by Firouzja and Maghsoodloo both scoring six wins and three draws.
In honor of chess history, we will close with a Russian prodigy. In May, Ilya Makoveev became the third highest rated player under the age of 10 that we are aware of, at 2249. For a player that young, it’s far too early to say what the future might hold. Is his prodigy rank of #4 a momentary blip for a player we’ll never hear from again? Or is this just the beginning of a long and illustrious career? Only time will tell, and for me that’s precisely the fun of the Prodigy Watch. I hope you enjoyed this update, and will do my best not to wait six months until the next. Thank you for reading!