What Is the Best Age for Chess? 
Posted: 11/09/2012 10:04 am 
Lubomir Kavalek. 
International Chess Grandmaster

A football player survives in the NFL on the average only three years. The careers of top chess players last 25 years or even longer. They can challenge the world’s best already as teenagers and can continue for six, seven decades until they turn into ageless warriors. At what point do they play the best? What is the optimal age for success in chess?

Two major events this year demonstrated how top players, a generation apart, could perform well at high level. When Vishy Anand, 42, defeated Boris Gelfand,44, in the World Chess Championship match in Moscow last June, their combined age of 86 made them the oldest players of this traditional event. Magnus Carlsen, 21, and Fabiano Caruana, 20, shared first place in the Sao Paolo/Bilbao Grand Slam Masters final in October. Carlsen won the tiebreak and the trophy. Let’s see some remarkable achievements at different ages.

Age 15 – Fischer’s record
Bobby Fischer stands head and shoulders above any player age 15 or younger. In 1958, Fischer, 15, qualified from the 1958 Portoroz Interzonal for the 1959 Candidates tournament, securing a place among the top nine players in the world. Nobody ever beat that record. The benchmark is too high. But as a byproduct of his excellent result, Fischer automatically became the youngest grandmaster in the world. That was a different story.

The title and the age attracted many young players and the race was on. Judit Polgar, the all-time best woman, described her drive in her recent book How I Beat Fischer’s Record, published by Quality Chess. Judit was rated number 93 in the world when she became grandmaster, overtaking Fischer by 35 days. Another Hungarian, Peter Leko, beat Polgar’s record by six days. Sergey Karjakin is the only player who got the GM title under the age of 13 in 2003. 

“The grandmaster title is like a driver’s licence,” the late Yugoslav grandmaster, dr. Petar Trifunovic, once told me. “You can drive a car, but you still need some experience to do it well.” He said it in the late 1960s, when there were only 70 grandmasters. The 15-year-olds show talent, but it is still raw and in need of development. 

Age 16 – Drink or drive
In America, the kids can drive at the age of 16. In Europe, they can drink alcohol. While in 1959 the 16-year-old Fischer played his first Candidates event, three talented Soviet players had only their first experience in international tournaments abroad at that age. Boris Spassky shared fourth place in a strong event in Bucharest in 1953. Anatoly Karpov, shy of his 16th birthday, won in the Czech town of Trinec in 1967. Garry Kasparov won in Banja Luka in 1979. All three became world champions. 

Age 19 – Carlsen’s record

Magnus Carlsen became the world’s top rated player at 19. This month he turns 22 with his highest FIDE rating of 2848, just three points shy of of Kasparov’s record from 1999.

Age 22 – Kasparov’s record
Garry Kasparov became the world champion in 1985, the youngest ever at 22. For the next 20 years, he was rated number one in the world. 

Other memorable achievements at the age of 22:

Paul Morphy (1837-1884) returned from his victorious European tour as the unofficial world champion in 1859.

Harry Nelson Pillsbury (1872-1906), scored his greatest victory at the 1895 Hastings tournament, one of the all-time strongest.

The exceptional AVRO tournament in 1938 was won by Paul Keres, 22, and Rueben Fine, 24. 

The age of 22 seems to be significant. Professional players are often born at this age and chess becomes a major part of their lives. They begin to stabilize their play. At the same time, a lot of talented players leave the game. They usually finish their studies and look for jobs.

Some very talented players became world champions in their early twenties: Mikhail Tal did it at 23, Anatoly Karpov at 24, Emanuel Lasker and Vladimir Kramnik at 25.

Full article here.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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