by Ian Rogers
The latest national and international ranking lists, which were published on December 1, have cast into doubt the conventional wisdom that players reach their peak at around age 35.
Only three of the world’s current top ten have reached 35 – the evergreens Anand, Kramnik and Topalov – but it is notable that Levon Aronian, only 33, already seems to be suffering decline.
The situation in Australia is even more stark.
Of the top ten, only Grandmaster Darryl Johansen and Trevor Tao are over 30, and Tao has already been overtaken by 13-year-old Anton Smirnov.
Australia’s top two, GMs Zhao Zong Yuan and David Smerdon, have had daylight between themselves and the chasing pack since 2007 but now have a group of players barely 20 closing the gap quickly; so quickly that next month’s Australian Open in Castle Hill could reshuffle the order of Australia’s 2016 Olympic team.
Given the dominance of youth, questions are being asked as to how veterans such as Anand and Johansen manage to maintain their high rankings for so long.
Boris Gelfand – aged 46 but still among the world’s top 20 – has a theory that players who grew up before the age of computers have an advantage in that they learned to trust their own judgement rather than accept a computer as the oracle. Due to this and the need to read widely, Gelfand argues, their general knowledge is more extensive than most young players and this can help offset fading calculating power due to age.
The following game sees a recent entry into the world’s top ten, Dutch 20-year-old Anish Giri, scoring a spectacular win at last week’s Qatar Open. Giri started the tournament with six straight wins before being stopped by a man almost twice his age, Kramnik. Kramnik was then taken down in the final round by another member of the younger generation, Chinese Olympic dual gold medallist Yu Yangyi.
Qatar Open 2014
White: A.Giri (pictured below game)
Opening: Caro-Kann Defence
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4!?
Channelling legendary World Champion Mikhail Tal, whose opponents preferred the sober reply 4…h5
4…c5!? 5.dxc5 Nc6 6.Bb5 Qc7 7.Ne2 Qxe5?
Too greedy. Giri expected 7…e6.
8.Bf4! Qxb2 9.Nbc3 Nf6
On 9…Bxc2 Giri intended 10.Qxd5!! Qxa1+ 11.Kd2 Qxh1 (only 11…Rd8! hangs on) 12.Bxc6+ bxc6 13.Qxc6+ Kd8 14.Bc7+ Kc8 15.Bb6+ Kb8 16.Qc7 checkmate!
10.0-0 Qb4 11.Rb1 Qxc5 12.Ba4!! e5
Desperation, but if 12…b6 White wins with the rampaging rook manoeuvre 13.Rb5! Qa3 14.Rxd5! Bd7 15.Rxd7!.
13.Bxe5 Ng4 14.Bg3 0-0-0 15.Bxc6 Qxc6
15…bxc6 was the last chance but after 16.Nd4! Black’s king is doomed.
16.Nb5 Bc5 17.Ned4 Qf6 18.Qf3! 1-0
An early resignation, but any move by the f5 bishop walks into 19.Qc3!.
December 2014 FIDE Rankings
World Top 20
13.Vachier Lagrave (Fra) 2758;
=16.Svidler(Rus), Gelfand(Isr) 2743;
December 2014 Australian Rankings
(Average of latest FIDE and Australian Ratings)
Australian Top 20
1.Zhao (N) 2590;
Photos above: GM Zhao, GM Johansen, GM Gelfand