Person of day   -  22 JANUARY 2024



One of the most famous wunderkinds in chess history, Etienne Bacrot began to play at the age of 4, having been taught the moves by his father. When the boy won world championships for U10s and U12s, his hometown Lille began to be filled with talk of a rising star, since nothing like this ad happened in French history. Iosif Dorfman, a famous trainer, grandmaster and long-time second to Garry Kasparov, began to work with him. Bacrot was also helped at training sessions by other seconds of the 13th world champion - Alexander Nikitin and Zurab Azmaiparashvili.

Etienne Bacrot’s rise was phenomenal- he became and international master at 12 and a grandmaster at 14. At that time, in 1997, it was a world record that was included in the Guinness Book. In 1995, the young master played in the Paris stage of the Intel Gran-Prix series and lost to Kramnik in a close struggle by 0,5:1,5. A year later, Bacrot annihilated ex-world champion Vasily Smyslov 5:1.

In 1996, 13-year-old Etienne was already playing for the French Olympic male team. Unfortunately, his future relations with the national federations would not always be smooth and Bacrot played in only five Tournaments of Nations out of the next nine. However, the hero from Provence was far more successful in European team championships: he not only participated in them regularly, but he won two silvers and one bronze as a member of his national team. 

The young Frenchman’s strength grew. Etienne became the seven-time French champion, defeated Levon Aronian, Robert Hubner, Boris Gelfand, Judit Polgar and Ivan Sokolov in regular matches and he had become one of the strongest chess players in the world by 2005. On Bacrot’s count was also victory in the wunderkinds’ tournament “Lausanne Young Masters” in 1999, where he defeated Ponomariov in the final, a place in the quarter-final at the world championship for rapid chess in 2003, a gold medal at the European Cup as a member of NAO and a victory with team Rest of the World against Armenia during the Petrosian Memorial in 2004 - Etienne defeated Lputian and drew with Kasparov, Leko, Gelfand, Vaganian and Akopian.

The seriousness of the Frenchman’s claims was confirmed at the 2005 World Cup, where Etienne knocked out Kempinsky, Sutovsky, Lautier and Rublevsky and made it to the semi-final, where he lost to future Cup winner Levon Aronian. In the match for third place, Etienne Bacrot was stronger than Grischuk and won the bronze. Although he didn’t win an invitation to the candidates’ matches at this tournament, Bacrot’s Elo rating was fairly high- around 2725, 9th in the world- and he made it to the candidates’ matches that were held in Elista. In the 1/8 final, the French grandmaster lost to Gata Kamsky by a score of 0,5:3,5.  

In subsequent years, Etienne Bacrot continued to demonstrate strong results consistently: he won the Aeroflot Open in 2009, the Karpov Poikovsky tournament in 2011 and by 2013 he had a rating of 2479, once again nearing him to the world elite. He played in the FIDE Gran-Prix n 2008-2009. In the 2009 World Cup, he beat Niebuhr, Sasikirian and Wang Yue, but lost to future finalist Ruslan Ponomariov in the 1/8 finals. 

On Bacrot’s count are victories against world champions Vasily Smyslov, Anatoly Karpov, Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen.

He is married to Nathalie Bonnafous and the couple have a son.

 “In the 1970s, only one grandmaster lived in France, and even he was a foreigner- Boris Spassky. Few knew his name: for many years, chess was not popular in that country. Only at the end of the century, primarily thanks to the talented Joel Lautier, did the chess boom begin. And here emerged their own wunderkind, their own rising star and “the hope of French chess”- Etienne Bacrot, the second chess player in history to become a grandmaster at 14.

For several years, Bacrot was the most famous and publicised chess wunderkind in the world. Having learned to play at four, he showed his exceptional capabilities quickly: at 7, he was already playing in the chess marathon in Dresden, where he played more than 100 matches in one day.

The young Frenchman was very talented and hardworking from childhood and, importantly, he was provided with everything for training and competing in his homeland. Etienne began to receive sponsorships and the finest trainers came to him from the whole world, including from the Soviet Union. Bacrot usually came to training sessions and tournaments with his parents. His father, an engineer by profession, studied Botvinnik’s efforts closely and recommended that his son play thoroughly, like the pioneer.

Etienne became a professional quickly. In 1996, in a little town called Albert, located 150km from Paris, a game was played between Smyslov and 13-year-old Bacrot in a club which the wunderkind visited when very young. The match consisted of six rounds with regular controls. The contest ended with a sensational victory of the young Frenchman with a decisive score of 5:1 (four victories and two draws). The chess king complained that he was “deceived”, since “I thought that I would be playing a child, but instead I faced a full-fledged grandmaster!” At that time, Smyslov explained his fiasco with higher powers that influenced him during the match. I think there is a different explanation- that Vasily Vasilyevich did not immediately realise that he saw opposite a real wunderkind!” (E. Gik)