Abhimanyu Mishra beats Karjakin’s record as youngest ever grandmaster

US chess prodigy Abhimanyu Mishra has become the youngest grandmaster in history at the age of 12 years, 4 months and 25 days, shattering Sergey Karjakin’s record of 12 years and 7 months that had stood for 19 years. Abhimanyu, from New Jersey, clinched the title when he scored his 3rd and final grandmaster norm by beating fellow prodigy Leon Mendonca in a nail-biting 9th round of the Vezerkepzo GM Mix tournament in Budapest, Hungary.

Abhimanyu Mishra has been breaking chess records since the age of 7, when he became the United States Chess Federation’s youngest Expert. After that there was no stopping him: he became the youngest National Master as a 9-year-old and then at 10 years, 9 months and 20 days became the youngest ever International Master.

There was just one title remaining, that of grandmaster, but when the pandemic struck the chances of claiming it sooner than Sergey Karjakin’s 12 years and 7 months were dramatically curtailed. Nevertheless, Abhimanyu didn’t let that stop him, and his family even raised money to enable him to pursue the record.

He found the perfect location, in Budapest, Hungary, since there are regular tournaments held every couple of weeks to enable ambitious youngsters to meet the tough requirements. Abhimanyu earned his first grandmaster norm in the April Vezerkepzo tournament, then picked up his second in early May at the First Saturday tournament, where he finished an amazing 3 points clear of the field.

He played almost literally non-stop and soon crossed the 2500 barrier, so that the only hurdle left was to earn his 3rd and final GM norm. There were near misses, and it looked like today would be another before a dramatic climax gave Abhimanyu the 7/9 score he needed for the title! There’s actually one more round to go, but it doesn’t matter for the grandmaster requirements.

The final game was epic. On paper it was just what Abhimanyu didn’t need — for a must-win game he had the black pieces against his toughest possible opponent in the Swiss event, 15-year-old fellow prodigy and Grandmaster Leon Mendonca, from India. Things began to look promising for Abhimanyu when he followed a recommendation from Peter Svidler’s Chessable course on the Grünfeld — Abhimanyu turns out to have “legend” status on Chessable. 

It wasn’t so much about the position on the board, but that Leon here thought for an epic 41 minutes, so that when he reached a roughly equal endgame around move 20 he had no time but the 30-second increment each move to think.

What followed was absolutely nail-biting, as Leon again and again found the best moves with seconds to spare, until just before move 40 the tables seemed to have turned. White was suddenly better and Abhimanyu was also down to little time. It all turned on move 48.

It was time to play 48.b4! and the fast-running b-pawns acts as a security policy against anything that can go wrong elsewhere on the board. Instead Leon played 48.Ke5 and Mishra came up with a stroke of genius for such a moment, 48…Nf3+!!

It turns out that Leon could still have drawn with 49.Kf4 or 49.Kf6, when 49…Nxg5 50.Kxg5 Kxe3 51.b4! is still just in time to make a queen and save the day.

It was understandable, however, that Leon was shaken, and with just 12 seconds remaining on his clock he played the losing 49.gxf3? when after 49…exf3 50.Bh4 g5 51.Bf2 Ke2 52.b4 it turned out the b-pawn was one move too slow. This was the final position that gave Abhimanyu Mishra the coveted youngest ever grandmaster record.

If Leon queens his b-pawn then 56…Qf4+ and 57…Qxb8 wins it back immediately.

That meant Abhimanyu, born on February 5, 2009, had broken the record Sergey Karjakin set 19 years ago in August 2002 to meet all the grandmaster requirements at the age of 12 years, 4 months and 25 days. He’d beaten Karjakin by 2 months and 5 days to top a list of remarkable chess prodigies.

You have to hope Abhimanyu will take a break now, but it can only be a short one, since on July 12 he’ll be playing Baadur Jobava in Round 1 of the FIDE World Cup in Sochi, Russia. You can watch that right here on chess24. He could face Sam Shankland in Round 2 and a hero of his, Fabiano Caruana, in Round 4, but of course getting through Round 1 against the incredibly talented Jobava would already be a massive achievement.

It’s going to be thrilling to see how far kids such as Abhimanyu can go, and we can be sure that the new generation is going to be incredibly hungry to make up for the time lost to the pandemic. We saw that in the Silver Lake tournament that ended today in Serbia, where 16-year-old Nihal Sarin took a stunning first place.

Fellow Indian 15-year-old Raunak Sadhwani, now the 10th youngest grandmaster in history, was among the players tied for second place.

The sheer depth of chess talent in India has been shown by 17-year-old Arjun Erigaisi, who was relatively unknown until recently but today was knocked out of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid only after matching world no. 5 Levon Aronian all the way in their quarterfinal. 

15-year-old Gukesh, who missed Karjakin’s record by only 17 days, was also hugely impressive in the Prelims.

So there’s a huge amount of chess talent on the horizon, but for now the plaudits go to Abhimanyu Mishra, who’s broken one of the toughest records to break in world chess!

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