Introducing a Prodigy

Peter Leko − A Future World Champion?


Tibor Karolyi

The star of the Lloyd’s Bank Masters tournament last August was none of the 19 Grandmasters nor any of the countless International Masters competing. The player who attracted the greatest attention was an 11-year-old Hungarian lad. Boasting a rating equivalent to 224 BCF, he is probably the strongest player of his age there has ever been – eclipsing Fischer, Kasparov and Judit Polgar. The success of the Polgars has given a tremendous boost to chess in Hungary where parents are eager to hot-house their offspring with expert coaching. Despite his talent the young prodigy receives little assistance from the Hungarian Chess Federation and it is left to his parents, both medical doctors, to find his tuition.

Accompanied to London by his trainer, IM Tibor Karolyi, the wunderkind called in at the Kingpin offices en route to demonstrate some of his games and pick up one of two of the finer points of positional play from our experienced staff.

I would like to introduce a young Hungarian super-talent, Peter Leko. He is 12 years old and has an Elo rating of 2385 – the highest level ever achieved at such an age. Twice he has missed the IM norm by half a point: first in Nettetal (Germany) in a Category 5 tournament, where he beat a 2500 Russian, Arkhipov. But that was not his best result. At Kecskemét, his first appearance in a GM tournament, he missed the norm by the smallest possible margin, drawing with GMs Adorjan, Groszpeter, Tolnai, and beating some 2400-rated players. At 11 years and 8 months he must surely have established a record in realizing a plus score in a GM tournament and drawing with a former world championship candidate, Andras Adorjan. He won the European Under-12 Championship with 8/9 and tied for first place in the World Under-12 Championship with 9½/11.

© Mark Huba

Peter Leko at 12

In Hungary he is already a living legend. He does not attend school but takes school exams every year – just 3 weeks’ preparation are sufficient to see him through with flying colours. He is fluent in German and can speak English. He spends between five and six hours a day on chess. His favourite hobby is soccer and he likes watching international wrestling (via satellite channels from the United States). Of course, it is very difficult to predict how far he will go in chess, but certainly his prospects are very bright.


   Peter Leko – Karsten Volke
   Keckskemét, 1991

   1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 f4 a6 7 Qf3 Qb6 8 a3


At the Lloyds Bank Masters 1991 IM Shabalov (2535) played 8…Be7 9 Bd3 Nc6 10 Nxc6 bxc6 11 b3 Qa5 12 Bb2 Qh5 13 Qxh5 Nxh5 14 O-O and the game was drawn in 68 moves.

   9 Nxc6 bxc6 10 b3 d5 11 Bd2

   11…d4? 12 Nd1!

Heading for c4 – an excellent outpost for the knight.

   12…e5 13 Nb2 exf4 14 Qxf4 Be6 15 Nc4 Bxc4 16 Bxc4 Qc5

   17 Ke2!

Good judgement. Black is behind in development so White can afford to leave his king in the centre for the moment.

   17…Rd8 18 Qf5!

A nice positional move – now Black’s position falls apart.

    18…Qxf5 19 exf5 a5 20 Kf3 Be7 21 Rhe1


An unfortunate necessity as 21…Rd7 loses to 22 Rad1 c5 23 Bb5.

   22 Rad1 c5 23 c3 g5 24 g3 Ne8 25 cxd4 Bf6 26 Bc3 Bxd4 27 Bxd4 cxd4 28 Re4 Nf6 29 Rexd4 Rxd4 30 Rxd4 Ke7 31 Rd2 Nd7

   32 Bb5 Nc5 33 b4 Rb8 34 bxc5 Rxb5 35.Rc2 Kd7 36 f6 Ke6 37 c6 Rb8 38 c7 Rc8 39 Ke4 Kxf6 40 Kd5 1-0

A very mature game.

   Peter Leko – Sergei Arkhipov
   Nettetal, 1991

   1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Bd3 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Ne2 cxd4 8 cxd4 Qb6 9 Nf3 f6 10 exf6 Nxf6 11 O-O Bd6 12 Nc3 Bd7 13 Bg5 O-O 14 a3 Kh8 15 Na4 Qc7 16 Rc1 Be8 17 b4 Bh5!

An imaginative piece sacrifice.

   18 b5 Ne4 19 Be3 Qe7 20 bxc6 Bxf3 21 gxf3 Qh4 22 f4

Forced. 22 Re1 runs into 22…Qxh2+ 23 Kf1 Qh1+ 24 Ke2 Qxf3+ 25 Kf1 Ng3+ 26 Kg1 Qh1#.

   22…Rxf4 23 Bxf4 Bxf4 24 Kg2 Ng5 25 Rh1


Missing a win by 25…Qh3+ 26 Kg1 Nf3+ 27 Qxf3 Qxf3 28 cxb7 Rg8 29 Rc8 (29 Rc3 Qd1+ 30 Kg2 Qxa4) 29…Qxd3.

   26 h3 Bxc1 27 Qxc1 Rf8 28 Qe3 Rf3

   29 Rb1!

29 Qe2 Rxh3 would have been most unpleasant.

   29…Qxh3+ 30 Kg1 Qg4+ 31 Kf1 Qh3+ 32 Kg1 Qg4+ 33 Kf1


He should have taken the draw with …Qh3+ and perpetual check.

   34 Be2 Qh4 35 Kg2 Nh3 36 Bf3 Nf4+ 37 Kf1 h6 38 Nc5 Qh3+ 39 Ke1 Qf5 40 Rb3! Rf7 41 Nd3

White consolidates his material advantage by piece exchanges – his technique is impressive.

   41…Nxd3+ 42 Qxd3 Qf4 43 Qe3 Qd6 44 Ke2 Kg8 45 Bg4 Re7 46 Qe5 Qxe5+ 47 dxe5 c5 48 Rb5 c4 49 Rc5 Kf7 50 Rc6 g6 51 f4 h5 52 Bh3 a5 53 Ke3 a4 54 Kd4 h4 55 Rb6 Rc7 56 Bxe6+ Kg7 57 Bxd5 c3

   58 Rb1 h3 59 Rc1 c2 60 Be4 h2 61 Kd3 Rd7+ 62 Kc3 Rd1 63 Kxc2 Rd4 64 Bh1 Rxf4 65 Kd3 Rg4 66 Rc2 Rg3+ 67 Kd4 Rxa3 68 Rxh2 Ra1 69 Bd5 a3 70 Kc5 g5 71 Kd6 Re1 72 Rh3 Ra1 73 Re3 g4 74 e6 a2 75 Re2 g3 76 e7 Rd1 77 Rxa2 g2 78 Rxg2+ Kf6 79 Rf2+ 1-0

© Sarah Hurst

   Peter at 17 with trainer Andras Adorjan


Alexei Shirov – Peter Leko
   Lloyds Bank Masters, 1991 (5)

   Notes by Malcolm Pein

   1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 Bg5

I had to laugh when I saw this. Peter and Tibor had spent the whole morning on my living room floor frantically analysing the line of the Grünfeld that Shirov played against Ernst.

   4…Ne4 5 Bf4 Nxc3 6 bxc3 dxc4 7 e4 c5

7…b5!?, as in the line with 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Bg5 Ne4 6 Bh4 etc. looks better.

   8 Bxc4

White is now a tempo up on the Exchange Grünfeld and can transpose at will. Furthermore, he has side-stepped the lines where Black delays …c5.

   8…Bg7 9 Ne2 Nc6 10 d5

10 Be3 would be a funny transposition to the above-mentioned line.

   10…Na5 11 Bd3 O-O 12 Bg5 Qc7 13 O-O


Black should have played 13…c4 first.

   14 c4 b6 15 Bd2 Nb7 16 a4 Bd7 17 a5 Nd6

Black’s position looks harmonious but he cannot generate any play to compensate for the b6 weakness.

   18 Nc3 f5 19 Re1 f4 20 Qb3 h5

Youthful optimism.

   21 Reb1 Rab8 22 axb6 axb6 23 Ra6 b5 24 Nxb5 Bxb5 25 cxb5 c4 26 Qb4 Nxb5 27 Qxc4 Qxc4 28 Bxc4 Nd4 29 Rxb8 Rxb8 30 h4 Kh7 31 Ba5 Rc8

   32 d6!

Julian Hodgson has pointed out that 32 Bf1 wins easily, since d6-d7 cannot be stopped and any attempt to defend d8 will lose at least a piece (but actually it’s not so simple after 32…Rc1 33 d6 Bf6 34 d7 Bxh4 35 g3 Bg5).

   32…Rxc4 33 d7

Both players thought that Black was close to resigning, but they had missed the study-like 33…Rc6!! 34 d8=Q (forced as Black threatens …Ne6 to hold the game with ease) 34…Rxa6.


This would have given Black very good drawing chances. Shirov remarked after the game that even if he had seen this possibility he would have had to go down the line as it was the only way to squeeze anything from the position. He was very impressed with Peter’s conduct of the game.

   33…Ne2+34 Kf1 Rd4 35 d8=Q Rxd8 36 Bxd8 Nd4 37 f3 1-0

At Lloyds Peter finished creditably on 5½/10. He performed well against strong opponents but his results against weaker opposition let him down. During the event he competed in a blitz tournament against GM Adams and norwood and IMs Hebden, Karolyi and Hennigan. He beat Michael Adams and the tournament was won by his trainer, Tibor Karolyi.

STOP PRESS: Peter has just made an IM norm at a GM tournament at Kecskemét with a round to spare. He defeated GMs Malaniuk and Klaric.


First published in Kingpin 19 (Spring 1992)


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