Anton Smirnov: Year 9 Australian kid currently playing better than all but 36 other human beings

Anton Smirnov, who turned 15 this year even if he looks a fair bit younger than that, has been playing in the Australian team in the Chess Olympiad. He’s been playing at a rating strength of 2710 which places him 37th in the world given current live rankings. After 10 rounds he’s undefeated, drawing against everyone with a rating strength of over 2570 or so and beating everyone else (these stats have been poured over by a team of data scientists in India and personally checked at Deputy Secretary level within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet).

Here are all Smirnov’s Olympiad games and some others. And here’s one of the better ones. Uncharacteristically for kids of his age who show a lot of promise, he doesn’t think he’s good enough to be the world champ. Who knows if he is or not, but unlike lots of sports which are pretty healthy and fun, chess is a pretty punishing game to go into professionally so it seems like a pretty sensible attitude to have to me. I can’t think of too many Australian chess players I’ve seen who’ve taken the game seriously enough to become professionals who look like they’re getting a lot out of life by the time they’re in their 40s.

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3 Responses to Anton Smirnov: Year 9 Australian kid currently playing better than all but 36 other human beings

  1. Sancho says:

    Can you expand on that last paragraph? The dark subculture of professional chess seems like an interesting topic.

  2. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Hi Sancho,

    Nothing particularly dark. Just that it’s incredibly hard.

    It’s tense as hell and you sit there concentrating for four hours at a time as if your career depends on it – which it does. And though I enjoy it, I find chess pretty unpleasant to play competitively. You spend a lot of your time thinking you have a fair grip on the position, and then the player makes a move, and if it’s not what you expected you feel like a dill. Even if it is what you expected you can often feel like a dill as you discover new things in the position you’d overlooked – to your dismay.

    There are quite a few players who try to make it professionally, and they work hard, and struggle financially, and then don’t get that far. But whereas if they were tennis players or swimmers they’d not only get sponsored as they got better and maybe make some reasonable money and have the option of becoming coaches and end up pretty healthy for all the effort, in chess those things don’t come your way and it doesn’t do your health much good. Just lots of tension.

    It’s such a gruelling game that players must get physically very fit to play a long match. But at the level I saw it played I didn’t see a lot of fitness. Just a large hall. Of course back in the day the halls were all full of cigarette smoke with lots of the players smoking away. Anyway just lots of cheap desks and chairs and pieces with all these guys looking nervous – almost no women – all pretty Aspergers and on it goes. Not that I’ve got anything against Aspergers people, but whole rooms full of them is a bit full on.

    I think Ian Rogers, Australia’s most impressive grandmaster in the last few decades retired when he was around 47 or so. He may have been declining in performance by then, but that needn’t stop you competing if you’re enjoying it. This announcement of his retirement said that “Unfortunately Ian has a medical condition that is exacerbated by the stress of tournament play and therefore cannot compete at the highest level”.

  3. Sancho says:


    I imagined it as more of a cerebral exercise, so the grueling nature of the competitive scene is interesting to read about.

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