Chess Prodigies

by Milica Knezevic on April 03, 2022
Chess prodigy

What Is A Chess Prodigy?

  • The term chess prodigy refers to a young child who possesses an aptitude for the game of chess that far exceeds what might be expected at their age. Their prodigious talent will often enable them to defeat experienced adult players and even titled chess masters. Some chess prodigies have progressed to become World Chess Champions.
  • It is indeed a title not many have gotten, and if you really think about it, chess is a challenging game for all ages. Now imagine being 12 years old and bringing wonder to the chess world.
  • The few that gained the label will be talked about in our blog. However, before diving in some honorable mentions. 
  • The youngest player to defeat a grandmaster under standard time controls is Awonder Liang, who in 2012 defeated Larry Kaufman at the Washington International at the age of 9 years and 111 days.
  • The previous record was set in 2009, when Hetul Shah defeated GM Nurlan Ibrayev at the age of nine years and six months at the Parsvnath Open.


Chess Prodigy #1: Paul Morphy

  • Several stories about Morphy's youth must be considered legends that may or may not have actually happened. Notable among these would be his encounter with General Winfield Scott in 1846. It still makes for a great story: A general of the U.S. Army comes to New Orleans looking for the best local chess player and is presented with a nine-year-old kid. Insulted at first but convinced to play, Scott proceeds to get crushed.
  • Morphy definitely beat a master at age 13 though, against Johann Lowenthal. = Keep in mind the age of Paul Morphy at the time of this match, he was 13 years old and was able to play such a truly beautiful and interesting game. When you start playing chess as a child, some would say your aptitude for the game shows immediately, for child prodigies of chess it is especially true. 
Paul Morphy

Chess Prodigy #2: Jose Raul Capablanca

  • Jose Capablanca's youthful chess exuberance is somewhat better documented than Morphy's. On the other hand, some of that documentation comes from Capablanca himself. The entire telling from Capablanca is a bit... something. He's not necessarily being self-serving; you just get the sense a 27-year-old Capablanca is sharing the only way he could conceptualize his chess experience at age four.
  • Capablanca is our source for the fact that he, like Morphy, learned how to play just by watching others move the pieces. While some of us spent years trying to beat our dad at chess, Capablanca said it happened his very first try.
  • In 1901, by now the ripe old age of 12, Capablanca played an exhibition match against the Cuban national champion Juan Corzo. Capablanca finished the match with a victorious score of +4 -3 =6.
Jose Capablanca

Chess Prodigy #3: Samuel Reshevsky

  • America's creative television producers once asked the nation, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? If they meant at chess and the fifth-grader was future GM Samuel Reshevsky, the answer for most people was no. Born in 1911, he put on several simultaneous exhibitions in Europe and the United States from 1919-21 and became a minor celebrity.
  • Even masters had trouble with the prodigious Szmul (his birth name). Former world championship challenger David Janowsky lost to the kid when Reshevsky was just 10!
  • Like all great prodigies, Reshevsky continued to be tremendously successful into his adult chess career, and that despite putting it on hold for several years to complete his education and begin a concurrent career outside of chess. In 1948, he competed for the world championship title, tying for third place in a tournament won by GM Mikhail Botvinnik. Reshevsky ultimately played chess for about 75 years, with games in the record as early as 1917 and up to 1991.
Samuel Reshevsky

Chess Prodigy #4: Bobby Fischer

  • Fischer's win over IM Donald Byrne in the "Game of the Century," played in 1956 when he was 13, is extremely famous.
  • Fischer turned just 15 in 1958, but he set several records that year. In his first time ever playing the event, he won the U.S. Championship in January while still 14, a record that remains unmatched. He didn't even lose a game, scoring +8 =5.
  • Later that year, Fischer placed sixth in the Portoroz Interzonal to set the record for youngest candidate for the world championship. The same result made him the youngest grandmaster in history, breaking a record previously held by a certain GM whom Fischer would grow accustomed to named Boris Spassky. Fischer kept the GM record for more than 30 years and the candidate record for nearly 50.
  • Fischer became world champ by the time he was 29. It was his tempestuous nature more than anything that kept Fischer, who spent most of 1961-72 as the most accurate player in chess, from winning the title even sooner, and from maintaining it once he did.
Bobby Fischer

Chess Prodigy #5: Judit Polgar

  • The greatest female player of all time, who was in the top 10 of all players in the world at her peak, GM Judit Polgar also broke Fischer's record for youngest grandmaster of anyone ever. Polgar's parents, Laszlo and Klara, may be the most successful chess parents ever, taking an active role in raising two grandmasters and an IM.
  • All three sisters—then ages 19, 14, and 12—represented Hungary at the 1988 Women's Olympiad, where they won gold. Judit was almost perfect, scoring +12 =1 for a performance rating of 2694, the best in the tournament. 
  • By 1994, still a junior player at age 18, Polgar was board one for the main Hungarian team, ahead of GM Lajos Portisch. She could have been women's world champion for decades had she chosen to. Instead, she more than proved that capability playing in open events against the top players in the world and became one of the those top players herself, establishing her place in history.
Judit Polgar

Final Thoughts On Chess Prodigies

It is a unique ability of chess to find in people what they might not seek out on their own. This list of extraordinary chess icons who started their journey on the board at such a young age tells that story remarkably well.  

We often times wonder if children experience the world like adults do, and the answer is clear. They do not. For them chess is a fun and interesting game, without any pressure, and as they grow older the dynamic changes. Here we were able to meet a few children from the past whose future we got to witness. 

As you teach your children this wonderful game, keep in mind, chess gives freedom and creativity to the mind. We strongly believe that this is why children love playing it, the endless possibilities in children's imagination, is made true on a chess board, where the number of combinations is practically infinite. Start by installing Chess Universe and see where they go from there!

by Jester Jester on May 24, 2022

Firouzja, praggnanandhaa these i like to be in world championship classic soon.

by Rey Frits on May 24, 2022

I would like to have that chess book collection. Is it worth to buy it? Like I learn many thigns for.chess.


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