Most chess masters
become masters by learning the game of chess at an early age. Seldom
does a player become a master after learning the game later in life.
There are a few exceptions. However, most strong masters began at
a very early age.
Former world champion Jose Capablanca began to play chess at the age
of four. He wrote that he learned chess by watching his father play
when he had just passed his fourth birthday. He even beat his father
in his first game at age four.
Former world champion Anatoly Karpov was taught the moves of chess
when he was four years old. By age 15 he was a master and later won
the World Junior Championship. He became the world's youngest grandmaster
in 1970 at the age of 19.
Former world champion Boris Spassky learned the game in the Urals
at the age of five during World War II. After the war he joined the
Pioneer Palace in Leningrad and spent five hours a day every day on
chess. In college he took up journalism to give him the most time
for chess. By age 18 he had won the World Junior Championship, took
3rd place in the USSR Championship, and qualified as a Candidate for
the World championship.
Former world woman champion Nona Gaprindashvili learned at age five
after watching her five chess-playing brothers. She won the world's
women chess championship when she was 21.
Former world champion Bobby Fischer began playing at the age of six,
taught by his older sister and reading the rules that came with the
game. He became a master at age 13, US champion at 14, world's youngest
candidate for the world championship at 15, and world's youngest grandmaster
Former world champion Vasily Smyslov learned the game at six by studying
chess books in his father's library.
Bent Larsen learned the moves at age six. He gave up his civil engineering
studies in school to become a full-time chess professional.
Former world champion Alexander Alekhine learned chess at age seven
by his mother, an heiress of an industrial fortune. He became addicted
to the game and played the game in his head and by the light of a
candle when in bed. By age 18 he was grandmaster strength.
Former world champion Tigran Petrosian learned the moves at age eight.
When his parents died when he was 16, he found consolation in chess
and soon began to win tournaments. He was playing grandmaster strenght
by age 20.
Former world champion Mikhail Tal became interested in chess at age
eight after watching the game played by patients in the waiting room
of his father, a doctor specializing in internal disorders. At age
10 he joined the Riga Palace of Young Pioneers. He won the Latvian
championship at age 17.
Former world champion Max Euwe learned at age nine and was taught
by his parents. He remained an amateur chessplayer, with his real
profession being a professor of mathematics and mechanics.
Former world champion Emanuel Lasker began to play at the age of 11.
His older brother taught him the moves of chess.
Former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik learned the game at age 12.
Former world champion Wilhelm Steinitz learned how to play chess at
age 12 from school friends.
Six-time U.S. champion Walter Browne learned the game at 13 after
joining the Manhattan Chess Club. By age 20, he had the Grandmaster
Joseph Blackburne, the leading English player of the late 19th century,
didn't learn the chess moves until he was 19. He learned the game
from a two-pence chess book. Two years later he was giving blindfold
Howard Staunton, the world's leading player in the 1840s, took up
chess at age 19 and didn't become a serious player until age 26.
Mir Sultan Khan didn't learn the international game of chess (he knew
Indian chess) until age 21. Two years later he was the All-India champion.
A year later he won the British championship. He was illiterate, unable
to read or write, and never studied any book on the game.
Jordy Mont-Reynaud and Vinay Bhat starting playing chess, joined a
chess club (the Palo Alto Chess Club run by Bill Wall), and played
in rated tournaments at age 7. By the time they were 10, they both
became America's youngest masters. Vinay Bhat became America's youngest
master in 1995 at the age of 10 years, 176 days. Jordy was a master
in 1994 at the age of 10 years, 209 days.
Other young masters include Stewart Rachels at 11 years, 10 months;
Ilya Gurevich at 12 years, 3 months; John Jarecki at 12 years, 6 months;
Jon Litvinchuk at 12 years, 7 months.
In 1998 Hikaru Nakamura (born Dec 9, 1987) bacame America's youngest
master at 10 years, 79 days. In 2001 he became America's youngest
International Master at age 13.
The first list of grandmasters appeared in 1950, published by FIDE.
There were 27 chess players nominated as the first grandmasters. The
youngest GM on the list was David Bronstein, age 26.
In 1955 Boris Spassky became the youngest GM in the world at age 18.
In 1958, Bobby Fischer became the youngest GM in the world at age
15 years, 6 months, 1 day. In 1991, Judit Polgar became a GM at 15
years, 4 months, and 28 days. In 1994, Peter Leko became a GM at the
age of 14 years, 4 months, 22 days. In 1997, Etienne Bacrot and Ruslan
Ponomariov became GMS at 14. Bacrot was the youngest FIDE master at
age 10. Bacrot was 14 years, 2 months when he earned the GM title.
Ponomariov was 14 years, 17 days when he earned the GM title. Teimour
Radjabov became a GM at 14 years, 14 days. In 1999, Bu Xiangzhi became
a GM at 13 years, 10 months and 13 days. In 2002, Sergey Karjakin
(born Jan 12, 1990) became a GM at 12 years and 7 months. Also in
2002, Koneru Humpy became a GM at the age of 15 years, 1 month, and
27 days, making her the youngest female ever to become a Grandmaster.
In 1999 David Howell, age 8, defeated Grandmaster John Nunn at the
Mind Sports Chess Olympiad in London, becoming the youngest person
to beat a Grandmaster at chess.
In 2002 Fabiano Caruana, age 10, defeated GM Wojtkiewicz at the Marshall
Chess Club in New York, becoming the youngest player to defeat a GM
in the United States.
Other articles by Bill Wall can be found on Bill
Wall's Chess Page
Samuel Reshevsky at age 11.