Sergey Karyakin: Russia’s next chess sensation

Sergey Karyakin, the 24-year-old Russian grandmaster. Source: Vladimir Vyatkin / RIA Novosti

Sergey Karyakin, the 24-year-old Russian grandmaster. Source: Vladimir Vyatkin / RIA Novosti

The Crimea-born player, who finished just behind Viswanathan Anand in the 2014 Candidates tournament, is convinced that greater achievements loom in the horizon.

Sergey Karyakin, the 24-year-old Russian grandmaster born in Simferopol, entered the Guinness Book of World Records at the age of 12. At the 2014 Candidates tournament, which was held in Khanty-Mansiysk, he finished in second place behind former world champion Viswanathan Anand. Karyakin can now regard himself as the third best chess player in the world, behind world champion Magnus Carlsen and Anand.

Unable to live without chess

“I started playing chess when I was a little over five years old,” Karyakin said. “I was at home, watching TV, when I suddenly heard in a commercial: ‘A Pawn becomes a queen.’ I asked my father: ‘What is this about?’ He explained to me that this is about figures in a chess game. He showed me how to play, and I loved it. Once, when I was walking with my mother in Simferopol, we suddenly walked past the Palace of the Pioneers. Mom told me that when I am old enough, I will attend their chess club. A few days later we were once again walking past that place and I asked my Mom: ‘Mom, please, sign me up for that chess club now, I can’t live without chess.’ The coach checked the way I play, and let me sign up for the club, despite the fact that the other guys were much older than me.”

From Ukraine to Russia

Karyakin’s professional growth slowed down for a while, when he, while still a citizen of Ukraine, was faced with the lack of qualified teachers. Already the winner of the 2009 World Chess Olympiad as a part of the Ukrainian team, Karyakin obtained Russian citizenship and moved to Moscow.

Shortly after this event Karyakin’s marriage with Ukrainian chess player Catherine Dolzhikova fell apart. He now has a girlfriend named Galia, who he met at one of his tournaments. Galia is responsible for the grandmaster’s personal site and she is also a professional photographer.

Personal manager and supercomputer

After moving to Russia, Karyakin’s results went straight uphill. He became the winner of several competitions of the highest category and in 2012 he won the world title in speed chess. About two years ago, Karyakin concluded a long-term sponsorship agreement with Alpari and hired a personal manager.

“It is very important to have a permanent sponsor,” Karyakin said. “For example, to simply buy a computer filled with cutting-edge chess software it will cost about $50,000. Besides this, it is important to contribute to keeping personal mentors and it is desirable to have trainers for physical preparation. Even the simplest training camp with accommodation and meals is very expensive. Alone, on your own prize earnings it will be impossible to upkeep this lifestyle and work pattern. It is easier for Magnus Carlsen – he has a huge number of advertising contracts. All of Norway is ready to work for Magnus.”

Friendship with Carlsen

In May 2013, Karyakin had one of his major victories, winning the super tournament in Stavanger, Norway, which included the ten best players of the world. The Russian grandmaster beat Carlsen, his main rival and host of the competition by just half a point. Six months later Carlsen, the Russian’s peer won the World Championship, beating Anand.

“Those who think that Marcus and I are bitter rivals are completely wrong,” Karyakin said. “We are only rivals when it comes to the chessboard.. as for life - we are friends. We chat on the internet, communicate on Skype. I remember how once during a tournament in Moscow we went bowling and were out all night. At about 6 a.m. we decided to go home, but Magnus wanted to see what our city looks like. So we went down to the subway station when suddenly a group of guys ran up to us. They scared us a bit at first, but it turned out that they recognized Carlsen and wanted to take a picture with him. The Norwegian was pretty surprised.”

The road ahead

Despite Karyakin’s many wins in different super tournaments, chess analysts believed that he was not yet ready to fight for the chess crown. But in Khanty-Mansiysk, the Russian made all the scepticism dissolve. Although he started the tournament on a bad note dropping to second to last place, Karyakin managed to win several times in the second round and eventually finished the competition in second place.

“In Khanty-Mansiysk I myself became fully aware of my potential,” Karyakin said. “I am 24 years old, and two year ago Boris Gelfand won the Candidates tournament while being 43 years old. So I still have everything ahead of me. I have been in the list of the top ten strongest chess players in the world for quite some time and this is a serious indicator of stability. But to be an equal to Carlsen is extremely difficult. His strongest feature is that he almost never makes mistakes, he plays like a machine. Right now I am not able to do the same.”

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