Russian chess prodigy wins thrilling Moscow cliffhanger to challenge for world title in NYC

Sergei Karjakin © Tomas Bravo
Crimean-born Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin, 26, has qualified to challenge Norwegian Magnus Carlsen for the world chess championship after he pulled off a brilliant rook sacrifice to beat his closest rival, American Fabiano Caruana, in the last round of the Candidates tournament in Moscow.

Born in Simferopol, the capital of the now-Russian republic of Crimea, in 1990, Karjakin, a former child prodigy, broke Carlsen’s record for becoming the world’s youngest grandmaster at the age of 12 years and seven months.

He has a classical playing style heavily influenced by Russian world champions from the Soviet era, and as a young player was coached by English world championship challenger Nigel Short, one of the few Westerners to qualify for a world title match.

Formerly a Ukrainian citizen, Karjakin took Russian citizenship in 2009.

Prior to winning the Moscow Candidates tournament, Karjakin’s biggest successes include winning the 2015 World Cup and finishing second in the last Candidates tournament, held in the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk in 2014.

Karjakin becomes the first Russian to challenge for the world championship since Vladimir Kramnik, who last won the title in 2006.

The Russian triumphed over the United States’ Fabiano Caruana, 23, whom he played in the last round. Karjakin scored 8.5/14 to finish first in the eight-player tournament, a full point ahead of Caruana and former world champion Vishy Anand of India on 7.5 points.

The Candidates tournament, held over three weeks at the historic Central Telegraph building in downtown Moscow, a few hundred meters from the Kremlin, was extremely hard-fought, with the lead changing hands several times as the players battled it out, playing each opponent twice – once with the white pieces, and once with the black pieces.

Other players in the tournament were Russia’s Peter Svidler, Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, Hikaru Nakamura of the US, Levon Aronian of Armenia and Anish Giri of the Netherlands.

As the winner, Karjakin qualifies to play a 12-game head-to-head match against two-time world champion Magnus Carlsen, the 25-year-old Norwegian wunderkind who is the highest rated player in the history of the game.

The match, set to take place in New York City in November, would be a formidable test for Karjakin, as Carlsen is renowned for his legendary endgame skills and has a ferocious will to win not seen in chess since Russia’s world champion Gary Kasparov dominated the game in the 1980s and 1990s. Kasparov, who retired from the game in 2005 to focus on a career as a liberal pro-Western politician, has been an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin for several years, and has lived in self-imposed exile in New York since 2013.

RT Sport powered by