Prodigious even by the standards of chess prodigies, Karjakin broke the record for claiming both the International Master (11 years, 11 months) and Grandmaster (12 years, 7 months) titles. He won a blitz game against the then World Champion Vladimir Kramnik at 14, though he left it until he was 19 to win his first major tournament, Wijk aan Zee 2009. In the same year he took Russian citizenship – giving him access to better chess coaches and support — and married WGM Kateryna Dolzhikova.
Karjakin’s progress has seldom been spectacular, but he’s quietly added to his haul of major tournament victories. A formidable player, perhaps a somewhat predictable opening repertoire is his last remaining weakness. In 2012 he acquired a sponsor and won the World Rapid Championship, while in 2013 he took clear first at the Norway Chess tournament ahead of Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura (he later proved that was no accident by repeating the same feat a year later).
That result, and Kramnik winning the 2013 World Cup, helped him qualify by rating for the 2014 Candidates Tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk. He started badly, and when he suffered a second defeat at the end of the first half it seemed he would struggle simply not to finish last. Instead he beat Svidler, Kramnik and Aronian in a run of form that saw him become the only player to truly challenge the eventual winner Viswanathan Anand. Instead he had to settle for second.
In May 2014, Karjakin remarried, this time to Galiya Kamalova.
The couple had their first son in October 2015, just weeks after one of the most important and dramatic tournament victories of Karjakin's career: the 2015 FIDE World Cup in Baku.
The World Cup win qualified Karjakin for the 2016 Candidates tournament in Moscow, where, after almost three weeks of gruelling action, he emerged as the challenger to Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship title.
The final tournament cross table
Few believed in the chances of Sergey in the 12-game World Championship match that took place in New York from November 11-30, 2016, but he proved his doubters wrong.
After some early scares he became increasingly confident before ending a sequence of seven draws by winning Game 8 in some style:
Sergey had Magnus very worried and came close to landing a knockout blow in Game 9. That ended in a draw, though, and when Karjakin missed a forced draw in Game 10 Carlsen seized his chance to level the scores. The remaining two games were drawn, making the match score 6:6, before Magnus emerged a 3:1 victor in tiebreaks.
So it was disappointment for Karjakin, but he enhanced his reputation and automatically qualified for the 2018 Candidates Tournament. 2017 was lacklustre at best on the chessboard, but if Sergey can forget his newfound fame in Russia for a while and concentrate on chess he knows exactly what he needs to do to win in Berlin.