Day four: What can 14-year-old prodigies achieve?


After the fifth round of Tsaghkadzor Open 2023, we have sole leaders – 17-year-old Pranesh M, who became the 79th Indian Grandmaster a year ago and the incredible 14-year-old Iranian, Sina Movahed, who has already achieved his fourth feat. Both of them have 4.5 out of 5 points!

Pranesh M won the Rilton Cup last year, scoring 8 out of 9 and earning his third norm. He can't be classified as one of the young Indian prodigies who are setting records like Karjakin and are now conquering the world's top 20. He discovered chess too late and due to extreme poverty, he didn't have a coach or even access to a computer for his chess studies. His mother took a job at a hospice to earn some money and send him to his first chess tournaments. Her sacrifices have clearly paid off, considering the speed at which he's climbing the career ladder. In another year or two, he could challenge Gukesh D, Praggnanandhaa R and Arjun Erigaisi.

As for Sina Movahed, we know very little about him so far. Even his record in junior tournaments doesn't shed much light. In Tsaghkadzor Open, people are talking about his strong moves and the unusual composure for a 14-year-old. How is that even possible?

The unexpected rise of 14-year-old Iranians is the main topic of discussion. The draw paired two veterans on the first board – Tigran L. Petrosian and Aleksej Aleksandrov, while Sina Movahed and Seyed Abolfazl Moosavifar battled it out on the second and third boards alongside them.

The leaders' encounter ended predictably in a draw, but not with mass exchanges and a quick handshake. Petrosian took the initiative seriously, but when his progress stalled, the opponents began negotiations for a peaceful outcome. Aleksandrov didn't object to a draw from a position of relative strength. As they turned into spectators, they watched their Iranian counterparts for a while. They couldn't resist asking a couple of questions:

- What did you used to think before facing a 14-year-old opponent?

Alexey Aleksandrov: I didn't used to think anything before, as it rarely happened before. And if it did happen, I thought about how to finish the game quickly and get a point as fast as possible.

Tigran L. Petrosian: I can't remember such a situation occurring when I was actively playing. Well... if it had happened to me, I'm sure I would have considered myself lucky with the draw and would have already marked a point for myself in the table. Now, unfortunately, I can't repeat such a scenario.

- What do you think now when playing against such a young chess player?

A.A. Now it's different... First of all, you think about how their rating corresponds to their actual playing strength. You take their games more seriously, look for weaknesses, and if you find any, you target them intentionally. Now it doesn't surprise anyone that very young players can know almost as much as you do in certain areas: in the opening, in specific types of positions. It's hard to accept, and despite everything, you want to beat them. So far, I've been able to do that more often, and we'll see how it goes from here.

T.P. I can say that in my chess youth, we had a different attitude towards chess. Nobody was as dedicated or knowledgeable. But... we didn't have computers, and the internet wasn't as developed. Now these guys manage to play as much in a year as we did in several years. From a practical point of view, I don't actively play chess anymore, so it's not easy for me to compete with them. I definitely lose to them in opening knowledge, but I can use my experience and overall understanding of the game. In general, I still have some fight left in me, and I manage overall... But, of course, there's no talk of a guaranteed win against a 14-year-old.

- Can any of the 14-year-olds contend for victory in Tsaghkadzor?

A.A. Who knows – maybe yes, maybe no. In reality, there are many strong grandmasters gathered here, and I would put my money on one of them...

T.P. For victory, probably not. The tournament is still long, and to win in such a tournament, you have to win several games against 600-rated players along the way, which is quite challenging for these kids at this stage. I believe that at most, one of them will reach the top 10, and someone from the top 5-7 Elo favorites will compete for victory in the Tsaghkadzor Open.

Experienced grandmasters nodded in agreement. Moosavifar clearly couldn't handle the pressure; he quickly miscalculated in a tactical firefight with Pranesh M and, by the 14th move, his position resembled ruins. The Indian rapidly achieved complete domination of the board, forcing the White side to resign on the 32nd move. When the opponents were signing the score sheets, he still had an hour on his clock, while his unfortunate opponent had only a minute left. In contrast, Movahed's game was going much better: he didn't give up anything in the opening against 22-year-old Mitrabha Guha and, in a sharp tactical battle, won a pawn. He didn't just convert the advantage but also forced the experienced grandmaster to make mistakes, ending with an unexpected checkmate on an almost empty board!

There's no doubt that the leaders will provide us with another thriller tomorrow.

Once they settle their business, they will face Elo favorites who are determined not to remain in the shadows. Abhimanyu Puranik, the #1 seed, scored a very clean victory. The composed Indian left Kirill Shubin no chance, sacrificed a pawn with precision, achieved complete domination and turned a positional advantage into material superiority. #2 seed Manuel Petrosyan played in a similar style against Kushagra Mohan – the only obstacle to his victory was (and remained!) opposite-colored bishops. The Armenian grandmaster missed his chance (he could have decided the game with the sudden breakthrough 52.a4), delayed decisive measures until later and by the time he realized it, it was too late – not even two extra pawns could save him.

Krishnan Sasikiran drew another game with the Black pieces, but the bronze medalist of the 2022 Olympiad, Adhiban B., lost outright to Aleksandr Usov, who, of course, was... 14 years old! The bold youngster played the complex opening beautifully and, by the 26th move, left the grandmaster without a piece and without the desire to continue the fight.

So, these are the 14-year-olds of today!


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