Chess prodigy proves age is no barrier

Joanna Snicker
Monday 24 March 1997 00:02 GMT

Chess whizz-kid Etienne Bacrot has moved into the history books by becoming the youngest grandmaster. At the tender age of 14 years and two months, the French schoolboy gained the coveted title by winning a tournament at Enghien-les-Bains, near Paris, at the weekend.

Etienne (right) beat the record set by a previous prodigy, Peter Leko of Hungary, who became a grandmaster in 1994, at 14 and a half. His chess career began at the age of four, when he was taught how to play by his uncle. By the time he was five, he had joined a club, and two years ago he won the under-12 world championship in Brazil, beating a succession of leading adult players to become the world's youngest international chess-master.

Etienne's latest victory came after a last-round win over the Canadian grandmaster Kevin Spraggett. His extreme youth contrasted with his fellow tournament winner, Viktor Korchnoi, who is 65.

He trains for up to two weeks a month, attending school in Amiens the rest of the time. Even at school, where he is considered a brilliant pupil, he practises for two hours a day. His parents are scientists, and he has a 12-year-old sister. The family live in the village of Mericourt- sur-Somme.

Chess and music have long produced prodigies. Peter Leko was not the only teenage chess genius - he took the record from Judit Polgar (also Hungarian) who was 15 when she became grandmaster in 1991. Sarah Chang, who played with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra aged eight, is young in comparison to five-year-old Jordy Lemonie, who spent 15 weeks in the French charts in 1994 with the infant song "Dur, dur d'etre bebe".

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