Magnus Carlsen has made a poor start this week with two lacklustre draws at Stavanger, the Norway tournament which the world champion has won on its last three renewals.
The No 1’s games are screened live and free daily from 4pm BST to a global internet audience, with grandmaster commentaries and a board sidebar which enables non-chess players to see who is winning. Draws are immediately replayed as Armageddons, where White has 10 minutes to Black’s seven but a halved result on the board counts as a black win for the score table.
That rule cost Carlsen in his second round Armageddon against Wesley So, as the US grandmaster scored with a queen-rook mating attack. Earlier, Carlsen had opted for another bizarre first move in the pre-tournament blitz, following his use of 1 f2-f3 and 1 h2-h4 in the previous week’s online Chessable Masters. This time it was 1 a2-a4, known as the Meadow Hay because its originator in the 1870s, Preston Ware, was a farmer who also played, as Black, the Corn Stalk Defence 1…a7-a5.
Such eccentricities fit uneasily with the world crown, and Carlsen is now under some pressure to find his true form quickly. He needs to win Stavanger convincingly to avoid falling behind in his quest to achieve a 2900 rating, a chess Everest that he approached in 2014 when he reached 2889.
Vishy Anand, India’s five-time world champion, has been in superb form of late and belied his 52 years by taking the early Stavanger lead with wins in both his classical games. Anand declined selection for India’s Olympiad team to give more chances to younger players, but there have already been calls for him to reverse his decision, and these will increase if his great start continues into the later rounds.
The biennial chess Olympiad, which starts in Chennai in late July, has already attracted a record 189 teams in the Open section and 154 in the Women’s. England has just announced its team as Michael Adams, Luke McShane, Gawain Jones, David Howell and Ravi Haria, with a women’s squad of Jovanka Houska, Katarzyna Toma, Lan Yao, Akshaya Kalaiyalahan and Zoe Varney. The open team will aim for the top six, and even top 10 would count as a success. The US will be clear favourites for gold, with China and the two Indian teams contenders for silver and bronze.
England’s youngest chess hope Kushal Jakhria, who was London under-eight champion at five, shared first in the Blackpool Intermediate at six, and won the world under-eight blitz at seven, managed another success last weekend.
The Pointer School, Blackheath, pupil, who learned his early skills at Charlton chess club, shared first prize on 4/5 in the East Anglian Major at Newmarket. Jakhria met three of the top seeds, all rated above ECF 1900, strong amateur standard, and scored 3-0 against weak resistance in an average of under 24 moves.
The No 2 seed chose the Tarrasch, found his black king trapped in the centre and was overrun by the white army.
Kushal Jakhria (1764) v Jason Long (1967), Tarrasch Defence
1 d4 e6 2 c4 d5 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3 c5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg2 Nc6 7 0-0 Bf5 8 Nc3 Ne4 9 dxc5 Nxc3 10 bxc3 Bxc5 11 Nd4 Nxd4? 12 cxd4 Bb6? 13 Ba3! f6 14 Qb3 Be6 15 e4 Qd7 16 exd5 Bh3 17 Rhe1+ Kd8 18 Be7+ Kc8 19 Rac1+ Kb8 20 Bxh3 1-0
The No 1 seed opted for the Albin Counter, stayed a pawn down, then missed a chance to equalise and fell for a back rank trap.
Kushal Jakhria (1764) v Mervyn Hughes (1970), Albin Counter Gambit
1 d4 d5 2 c4 e5 3 dxe5 d4 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 g3 Nge7 6 Bg2 Ng6 7 0-0 Ngxe5 8 Nxe5 Nxe5 9 a3 a5 10 Nd2 Be7 11 Nf3 Bf6? 12 Nxd4 0-0 13 c5 Qe7 14 c6 b6 15 Qc2 Ba6 16 Nf3? (16 Nf5!) Ng6 17 Be3 a4 18 Rfd1 Rad8 19 Rxd8 Rxd8 20 Qxa4 Bxe2 21 Re1 Bxf3 22 Bxf3 Ne5? (Bxb2!) 23 Be2 Nd3 24 Bxd3 Rxd3 25 Kf1 Bxb2? 26 Bd4 1-0
Jakhria’s ECF rating is now up to 1843 in the newly published June 2022 list, and since March he has performed at around 1925 over 21 games.
Round numbers are significant for all ambitious players, starting with 2000, which is officially Expert in the US, then 2200 (Master), 2300 (Fide Master), 2400 (International Master), 2500 (Grandmaster), 2600 (strong GM), 2700 (world top 50), 2800 (world title candidate level) and finally 2900 (Carlsen’s Everest). Computers clock in at 3300 upwards …
For teenagers and sub-teens, the lower round numbers matter most, and the junior who currently has a monopoly of them is Abhimanyu Mishra of Englishtown, New Jersey. Mishra became the youngest ever 2200 US Expert at seven years, six months, then went on to become the youngest ever US Master at nine, the youngest ever IM at 10, and the youngest ever GM at 12. Now, at 13 and rated 2535, he still has a year to become the youngest ever 2600.
Mishra’s Expert and Master titles are effectively world as well as US records. Last month at the online Chessable Masters the US teenager finished last of 16 in the all-grandmaster field, but his 3/15 total still included a win against the then world No 7, Shak Mamedyarov.
Could Kushal Jakhria break Abhimanyu Mishra’s remarkable monopoly by becoming the youngest ever 2000-rated player? He has four and a half months to bridge a gap which is still at least 75-150 points away from his current strength.
One action that would boost his chances of a world record would be for someone or some organisation to sponsor a grandmaster coach to teach him several days a week. This is normal practice for the best talents in major chess nations, but is difficult to finance in England due to zero official support for chess.
Even with daily grandmaster support, reaching 2000 from 1850-1925 in four months would be problematic. Improvement becomes progressively harder as a player advances and as opponents make a special effort against rising talents. At some moment, too, even fast improvers find that they hit an invisible wall when a further advance suddenly becomes slow and tedious.
But it’s a possible world record, the opportunity is ephemeral and will not recur, so the conclusion is to go for it.
3818 1…Re8! 2 Qxh5 (if 2 Bxh5 Qe4+ wins) Re4+! 3 Bxe4 Qxh5 wins the queen and the game.