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Dear Mrs Worthington,

So you want to put your son on the boards? The chessboards, that is. As Noel Coward, "The Master" himself, might have put it, the profession is overcrowded. Although your baby may be keen on a chess career, here are some facts and one table that may help you decide for yourself whether this is a good idea.

In chess, as in other forms of sport and culture, the economy is grossly top-heavy with vast fortunes awaiting the very best, and only a pittance to be shared out among the rest. Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov are millionaires, Nigel Short and Jan Timman are very comfortable, but once you go outside the world's top 20, a decent professional salary is hard to achieve.

Especially as, since the Soviet Union fell apart, there have simply not been enough lucrative tournaments to keep even a small fraction of the ravenous grandmaster hordes well fed.

So does young Master Worthington - though his brain is undoubtedly well developed for his age - have what it takes to get to the top?

The table shows, in the columns headed IM (International master), GM (Grandmaster), NC (National Champion) and WCC (World Championship Candidate) the ages at which a selection of the world's greatest prodigies have reached certain milestones.

The lesson to be drawn is clear: if your sprog is not a grandmaster before his teens are over, then you can forget about the megabucks.

Which leaves young Peter Leko of Hungary some five years ahead of schedule, and gives 11-year-old Luke McShane, who scored a very respectable 6 out of 11 in his first British Championship, plenty of time to reach his goals.

On second thoughts, dear Mrs Worthington, you might as well let your son play chess. He'll find it better than working, and it's no worse a career than the theatre.


N Short 16 19 19 20

M Adams 15 17 17 21

M Sadler 14 19 21 ?

G Kasparov 15 17 18 19

R Fischer 14 15 14 16

J Polgar 12 15 15 ?