Magnus Carlsen facing fresh young threats to his status as world No1
The Guardian, Friday 23 May 2014 11.17 EDT
The standard forecast for top chess in the next few years is for the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, 23, to stay ahead of Italy’s Fabiano Caruana, 21, and Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, 24. But events this month showed that other young pretenders to Carlsen’s throne have announced their arrival at the summit.
When Guildford met Wood Green in the decider for England’s 4NCL league, the Surrey team’s shrewd manager, Roger Emerson, strengthened his squad with two hungry and ambitious young grandmasters. France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 23, and Holland’s Anish Giri, 19, beat England’s top pair, aided a 6-2 crush for Guildford, and achieved their best rankings yet. MVL is now No10 in the world, Giri No14.
The incentive for the new generation is that the old guard of elite GMs headed by India’s Vishy Anand and Russia’s Vlad Kramnik are past their prime, while Armenia’s world No2, Levon Aronian, has repeatedly failed in world title qualifiers. It is true that Carlsen is a class apart, 100 points ahead in the ratings, yet the Norwegian has enough below-par moments to encourage rivals to believe they can catch him on an off day.
This week a new name jumped into the contenders when Wesley So, 20, triumphed unbeaten in Cuba’s annual Capablanca Memorial at Havana. This traditional event is now in its 49th year, a historic tribute to the early years of the Cuban revolution in the 1960s, when Fidel Castro and especially Che Guevara were keen chess players who brought world tournaments to the island.
So finished ahead of a strong field led by Ukraine’s Vassily Ivanchuk, and leapt to No15 in the rankings. The Filipino was a GM at 14 and has long been recognised as a fine talent, and is a cult player in his homeland with thousands of fans who follow his career.
Their outlet is the website chessgames.com, whose online database includes profiles and discussion pages for players. Several top GMs have 500 chessgames pages, but So had notched up a remarkable 6,100 pages at last count, as enthusiasts dissect his every move and offer long screeds of advice.
So is currently a sophomore student at Webster University in St Louis, the city which its billionaire resident Rex Sinquefield has made into a chess Mecca with a luxurious club open daily and hosting major tournaments. Last week the US senate declared St Louis the nation’s ‘chess capital’.
Webster hired the former world woman champion Susan Polgar as its chess coach, and the product is the strongest college squad on the planet, fielding a galaxy of masters and GMs from several countries. So’s team mates include Le Quang Liem, 23, Vietnam’s world blitz champion, and Ray Robson, 19, the best young US talent.
The question now is whether So can maintain his momentum, and whether he will follow other GMs who have transferred from Asia and Eastern Europe to the West. His surge also poses a question to Maecenas Sinquefield, who would like to stage a world title match in St Louis.
The billionaire has been a major backer of the US No1 and world No7, Hikaru Nakamura, who has declared himself the main threat to Carlsen but who has a dismal head-to-head record against the Norwegian. With younger US talents seemingly unable to head for the 2700-rated elite GM level, So has a chance to establish himself as a St Louis candidate for the world title.
Full article here.
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– GM Susan Polgar