We interrupt our coverage of the Goldmoney Asian Rapid quarterfinals for some “breaking news”, as they would say on CNN: US chess prodigy Abhimanyu (“Abhi”) Mishra is now the world’s youngest grandmaster in history at the tender age of 12 years, 4 months and 25 days, as he shattered Sergey Karjakin’s long-standing record with 66 days to spare.
After some near misses and heartaches in several Budapest tournaments over recent weeks, Abhi sealed the deal on his third and final GM norm by beating Indian rising star GM Leon Mendonca in what proved to be an epic, nerve-jangling 9th round encounter between the two prodigies in the June edition of the Vezerkepezo GM tournament.
Back in early 2020, Abhi and his father, Hemant, originally had designs on cracking Karjakin’s record that has stood since 2002. Then Covid-19 intervened to spoil their plans, and initially they thought the chance of the record would be lost in the pandemic. But when the lockdown restrictions began to ease in late March, they took the opportunity to jump on a plane with one-way tickets to the Hungarian capital with a new game-plan of playing non-stop over the summer in an all-out effort to smash the record.
And after spending nearly three months being based in Budapest, a relieved and jubilant Abhi tweeted on Wednesday evening: “Finally checkmated the biggest opponent (ongoing pandemic) which stopped me for 14 months. Thanks everybody for all your love and support…”
The pre-teen, from Englishtown, New Jersey also now follows in the footsteps of another American chess prodigy, namely the legendary Bobby Fischer, who in 1958 – after qualifying for the 1959 Candidates Tournament – achieved the accolade of becoming the world’s youngest grandmaster at the age of 15, smashing his eventual world title foe Boris Spassky’s record by almost three years.
Way to go, Abhi!
Photo: Now it’s GM Abhi Mishra | © Justin N. Lane/US Chess
GM Leon Mendonca – GM Abhi Mishra
Vezerkepzo GM, (9)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 Talking on Skype with Abhi’s father after this game, he told me that his son normally plays the Slav Defence (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6), but – needing to win – he had specially prepared the Grünfeld Defence to try and ‘mix it’, to make things more complex for his opponent, rather than getting into a sterile position such as the Exchange Slav. 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.Rc1 The whole point of the Grünfeld Gambit is that 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.Nxd5 Qxd5 8.Bxc7 Na6!? and Black gets excellent play for the pawn with his rapid development and open lines. 6…c5 7.dxc5 Be6!? This is a line that was finely honed in the late 1930s by the first Soviet-era great, Mikhail Botvinnik, and first played against José Raúl Capablanca during the epic pre-war 1938 AVRO tournament in the Netherlands – and the variation is rightly named after Botvinnik for his pioneering work. 8.Nf3 Nc6 9.Be2 Qa5 This is a bit risky, but I guess it is in Mishra’s game-plan to take his opponent out of his comfort zone. When I played the Grünfeld, standard here was 9…Ne4!? 10.cxd5 Nxc3 11.bxc3 Bxd5 12.Qa4 Qa5! and Black has good counterplay for the pawn with White’s queenside paws crippled and weak. 10.Ng5! By far the best move, according to no less an authority than Mr. Botvinnik himself! 10…Nd8 Black can try 10…Rad8 but after 11.Nxe6 fxe6 12.Qa4 Qxc5 13.0-0 White has an undeniable edge. 11.Bg3 dxc4 12.Nxe6 Nxe6 13.Qa4 This is a recurring theme in the Botvinnik variation. 13…Qxc5 14.Bxc4 Qb6 15.Qb3 I think the prognosis here is that 15.0-0 Nc5 16.Qa3 Nce4! and Black is doing OK, as White can’t keep the bishop-pair. 15…Qxb3 16.Bxb3 Nc5 We have a dead-level position – but this is no use whatsoever for Mishra, who needs to take risks and win for his final GM norm. I would imagine if he already had the title, he would have been happy to halve out here – but not today. 17.Ke2?! This looks strange, as the natural move looks to be the obvious 17.Bc2 with an equal game. 17…Nxb3 18.axb3 Rfd8 19.Rhd1 Ne8 20.Rxd8 Rxd8 21.Rd1 The series of forced trades is not what Mishra wants to see on the board, but there’s nothing he can do about it. 21…Rxd1 22.Kxd1 Nf6 23.Kc2 Nd7 Black is marginally better due to White’s doubled b-pawns – but this position just has “draw” written all over it. 24.b4 f5 25.Nb5 a6 26.Nc7 Kf7 27.b5 a5 28.Nd5 Nc5 29.Bc7 a4 30.f3 Ke6 31.Nc3 Bxc3! The reality is that this further exchange and the ensuing ending is Black’s best hope now, as the knight looks more troublesome than the bishop, and his king is more centralised. 32.Kxc3 Kd5 33.Bd8 e5 Black has something to work with here, but “work with” and “win” are two very different things. 34.Be7 Nb3 35.h3 e4 36.fxe4+ fxe4? With the nerves jangling, it now turns into a comedy of errors as Mishra makes a serious miscalculation of the ending. Correct was 36…Kxe4! 37.Kb4 Nd2! but there still might not be enough to win, as after 38.Kc5! Kxe3 39.Kb6 Kf2 40.g4 f4 41.Kxb7 f3 42.Bc5+ White’s b-pawn looks as if it is going to save the day. 37.Kb4 Nd2 38.Bf6 h5?! Mishra probably knew full well that he had to play 38…Nc4! 39.Bd4 Nd2 40.Bf6 (Capturing with 40.Kxa4 might well prove a little difficult after 40…Kc4! and the king creeping in through d3.) 40…Nc4 and a likely draw – but that result is of no use to him. 39.Kxa4 Kc4 40.Ka5 Nb3+ 41.Kb6 Nc5 42.Bd4 Nb3 43.Bf6 Kb4 Mishra has no desire to repeat the position, so he continues to push the envelope, hoping something will come his way. 44.Kxb7 Kxb5 45.Kc7 Kc4 46.Kd6 Kd3 47.Bg5 Nd2 48.Ke5? Down to his last 12 seconds or so, and White walks into an epoch-making blunder. The correct way to win was 48.b4! and use the passed b-pawn as a ‘decoy’. Now, after 48…Nc4+ 49.Ke6 Nxe3 50.b5! Nc4 51.Kf6 e3 52.Bxe3! Kxe3 53.Kxg6 h4 54.Kh5 Kf2 55.Kxh4 Kxg2 56.Kg4 White wins as the passed pawns are too far apart for the knight to contain them. 48…Nf3+! [see diagram] After enduring some bad luck a couple a rounds ago, when he lost to GM Milan Pacer from a clearly better position, now good fortune shines on Mishra with what proves to be a remarkable concept that dramatically turns the game on its head. 49.gxf3? Probably still in a state of shock, White commits the fatal blunder that allows Mishra to complete his study-like finish to become the world’s youngest-ever GM. But instead, after 49.Kf6! it’s just a draw now, with 49…Nxg5 50.Kxg5 Kxe3 51.b4! and both pawns queen after 51…Kd3 52.b5 e3 53.b6 e2 54.b7 e1Q 55.b8Q Qd2+ 56.Kxg6 Qxg2+ 57.Kxh5 Qxh3+ etc. 49…exf3 50.Bh4 g5! 51.Bf2 Ke2 52.b4 There’s no defence. After 52.Bg1 Kf1 53.Ke4 g4! 54.hxg4 hxg4 55.Bh2 Kg2 and Black’s advanced passed-pawns will win. 52…Kxf2 53.b5 Short of time, Mendonca rushed into this and wrongly assumed it would be a draw, as both pawns queen at the same time – but alas, there’s a little snafu. 53…Kxe3 54.b6 f2 55.b7 f1Q 0-1 And White resigned, now realising that 56.b8Q Qf4+ picks off the new queen.