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Like all sports, international chess has a fully-fledged programme of youth tournaments, which provide us with tantalising glimpses of the stars of the future. For example, the world under-10 chess championship of 1992, held in Duisberg, Germany, saw the international debut of Levon Aronian, the brilliant Armenian who is now the world's third-ranked player, along with a number of other child prodigies from across the globe who rank today among the top twenty grandmasters.

Yet the winner of that event, a mere eight years old at the time, was a Briton, Luke McShane. Whatever happened to Luke? What happened was that Luke stayed normal. By this I mean that he continued — as so many chess prodigies do not — with conventional full-time education. After a scholarship to the City of London School, Luke won a place to read Maths and Philosophy at Oxford University (one of the most demanding of all courses). While on his Oxford vacation he was offered an internship at Goldman Sachs — the world's most profitable and successful financial firm has an unerring eye for the best and brightest; and thus on graduating Luke joined Goldman as a currency trader. 

Very nice for Goldman Sachs, and pretty good for McShane too (not least financially); but for those of us who had treasured Luke's extraordinary chess performances as a child — he became Britain's youngest grandmaster at the age of 16 — it was a shame to see his remarkable mind being deflected into the closed world of currency swaps.

Luke himself does not have much time for such regrets. He told me that joining Goldman's currency operations in 2007, just as the world's financial system began to creak and then break asunder, was a learning experience he would never have wanted to miss — just as he doesn't for a second regret his three years at Oxford, at an age when the international rivals of his childhood were devoting themselves entirely to becoming the best chess players in the world.

Yet in the winter of 2009, the British chess impresario Malcolm Pein drummed up the funds to hold a great tournament in London, inviting the world's most formidable grandmasters, such as Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik, to take on this country's talents. Since Luke had earlier that year parted company with Goldman Sachs, he decided to take up Pein's invitation to pit his wits once again against the best that the chess world had to offer. He did remarkably well, given his ring-rustiness, including a dazzling victory against the US champion Hikaru Nakamura, which won the tournament brilliancy prize.

Last December, Pein again put together an awesomely strong tournament in London, this time including the world champion himself, India's Viswanathan Anand. McShane, who had marked his return to full-time chess by winning the 2010 Canadian Open, began the second London Chess Classic with a game even more brilliant than his victory against Nakamura, and against an even mightier opponent — the world's highest ranked player, Magnus Carlsen. Perhaps the only person not astonished by this denouement was the Norwegian. Carlsen had earlier on his blog described McShane as "underrated," acknowledging that the Englishman had a rare talent which had been obscured by his earlier decision to abandon chess as a profession.

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Janis Nisii
March 3rd, 2011
10:03 PM
This is a very good article on a very inspiring player/person. Congrats! :)

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