Why Are There so Few Dynasties in Chess?

In a galaxy far, far away the FIDE Congress denied Anakin the Master title!

This blog post was inspired by the upcoming Father’s Day.

You probably know at least some people who belong to different dynasties: teachers, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, and so on. Surprisingly, there are very few families where both the parents and the children are professional chess players. Let’s discuss some theories why that could be the case.

“One chess player in the family is already too many.”

I don’t know for sure who was the original author of the witticism mentioned above. It has been attributed to different people. Nevertheless, I have seen numerous interviews with top chess players where they fall back upon this phrase when explaining why they would rather not push their children towards pursuing a career in chess.

When asked to elaborate on the subject, they typically talk about how tough it is to be a professional chess player. The games are stressful; you spend a lot of time away from your family; it is hard to make a living; chess engines made the game less creative than before; the future of professional chess is covered in mystery, and so on.

The lone wolf phenomenon

Admittedly, I haven’t done any serious research on this, so it is just a hypothesis. Since professional chess is often perceived as an individualistic sport, one could assume that chess pros have fewer kids than average. For instance, if you go over the list of the top-100 players in the world, you will realize that quite a few of them are single and don’t have any children. Of course, you have to take age, nationality, and other factors into account and do a more serious calculation to claim anything statistics-wise.

Chess is tough to master

Becoming a titled chess player requires specific talents, a beneficial environment, and years of dedicated training. As a result, only a tiny portion of all the chess players in the world has an official FIDE title.

As of this writing, here is how many FIDE titled players there are in the world:

Grandmaster – 1,731
Woman Grandmaster – 320
International Master – 3,895
Woman International Master – 838
FIDE Master – 8,272
Woman FIDE Master – 1,775
Candidate Master – 1,935
Woman Candidate Master - 810

It is also worth noting that some of the title holders are actually the same people. For instance, a female player who has the GM and WGM titles would have both of them listed on her FIDE profile. Also, some of the deceased people are still listed. Still, even if we add up all the numbers, we will end up with only 19,576 FIDE title holders. As the world population is approaching 8,000,000,000, the professional chess players are just a drop in the sea!

Young age

If we review the list of the strongest chess couples in the world, it will become apparent that many of such families either don’t have any children, or their kids are too young to hold a title!

Let’s talk about the positive examples

Even though it was challenging, I managed to recall some families where both parents and children are/were titled players. Naturally, the list is by no means exhaustive.

Magnus Carlsen’s father, Henrik Carlsen, is as avid chess player who was quite close to qualifying for this list. You can challenge both the reigning World Chess Champion and his Dad in the Play Magnus app!

The Cramling-Bellon chess family. Photo: Lars OA Hedlund

GM Pia Cramling, former #1 player on the FIDE women’s rankings, is married to GM Juan Manuel Bellon Lopez, five-time Spanish Chess Champion. They have a daughter, WFM Anna Cramling Bellon, who represented Sweden at the Chess Olympiad in 2016 and has gained a reasonably large following as a streamer on Twitch.

IMs Cristina Adela Foișor and Ovidiu-Doru Foisor have two titled daughters - WGM Sabina-Francesca Foisor, winner of the US Women's Chess Championship-2017, and WIM Mihaela-Veronica.

WGM Olga Stjazhkina and IM Viacheslav Stjazhkin (who was super GM Peter Svidler's chess coach) have a daughter, WIM Anna Styazhkina.

GM Alexei Bezgodov, winner of the Russian Chess Championship'93 and book author, and WIM Svetlana Bezgodova have a daughter, WIM Maria Bezgodova.

GM Evgeny Agrest, four-time Swedish Chess Champion, is married to WIM Svetlana Agrest. They have a daughter - WIM Inna Agrest.

GM Evgeny Sveshnikov, after whom the popular Sveshnikov Variation in the Sicilian Defense is named, has a son, IM Vladimir Sveshnikov, who shares his father’s passion for chess theory. They have published a book together dedicated to creating an opening repertoire tailored towards rapid and blitz.

FM Sunil Weeramantry, the stepfather of super GM Hikaru Nakamura, was his first chess coach.

GM Thomas Paehtz, two-times winner of the East German Chess Championship, is the father of GM Elisabeth Paehtz, a top female player.

Baruch Harold Wood was a famous English chess player, editor and author who should have earned a title if he lived at a later period. His daughter, Peggy Clarke, was the joint British ladies' chess champion in 1966, while his son, Christopher Baruch Wood, is an FM.

IM Almira Skripchenko, European Women's Chess Champion-2001 and six-time French Women's Chess Champion, had a chess-playing mother - WGM Naira Agababean.

WFM Regina Narva, winner of the Estonian Women's Chess Championship-2013, is the mother of WFM Triin Narva and WIM Mai Narva. Interestingly enough, Regina's parents were Boris Rotov, winner of the Estonian Chess Championship-1978, and Lady International Correspondence Grandmaster Merike Rotova. The former's father was a chess player and journalist. Wow, this is quite a dynasty!

Fourth Women's World Chess Champion Olga Rubtsova had a daughter, WGM Elena Fatalibekova, three-time winner of the Women's Senior Chess Championship.

WGM Maria Albulet, three-time Romanian Women's Chess Champion, was the mother of WGM Marina Makropoulou, who won the Romanian Women's Chess Championship and a record eight Greek Women's Chess Championships.

GM Anton Smirnov's father, IM Vladimir Smirnov, is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Sydney.

GM Alexandra Goryachkina, the #2 active female player in the world as of this writing, was born to FM Juri Goriatchkin and Larisa Goriatchkina, who, according to some chess sites, is a Russian candidate master.

WIM (and Lady Correspondence Chess Grandmaster) Lyudmila Belavenets is the daughter of a well-known Soviet chess master, journalist, and theoretician Sergey Belavenets.

GM Pavel Skatchkov has a teenage son, FM Valery Skatchkov.

GM Evgeniy Solozhenkin's daughter, WIM Elizaveta Solozhenkina, has won multiple medals at World and European Youth Chess Championships.

Super GM Pavel Eljanov's father, IM Vladimir Eljanov, was a well-known publisher of chess books.

WGM Vera Nebolsina, winner of the World Junior Championship for Girls U20, is the daughter of the late Soviet chess master Valery Nebolsin, who used to be her coach.

WFM Svetlana Vifleemskaia and Evgeny Goltsev (a Russian candidate master rated 2000+) have two titled chess-playing siblings: FM Dmitry Goltsev and FM Ekaterina Goltseva.

Celso Golmayo y Zupide was the father of Celso Golmayo y de la Torriente and Manuel Golmayo y de la Torriente. All of them were chess masters.

IM Mihai-Lucian Grünberg is the son of IM Sergiu Henric Grünberg, a former Romanian chess champion.

IM-elect Wolfgang Heidenfeld, the author of several chess books, was the father of IM Mark Heidenfeld, winner of the Irish Chess Championship-2000.

GM Larry Kaufman, co-winner of the Senior Chess Championship-2008, is the father of IM Raymond Kaufman.

GM Dragoljub Velimirovic, three-time winner of the Yugoslavian Chess Championship, was the son of Jovanka Velimirovic, a multiple-time winner of the Yugoslavian Women's Chess Championship.

FM John Littlewood, winner of the British Senior Chess Championship-2006, was the father of IM Paul Littlewood.

IM Cecil Purdy, the first Correspondence World Chess Champion, had a son, Australian master John Purdy, who won the Australian Chess Championship in 1955 and 1963 and later served as President of the Australian Chess Federation.

FM Mike Shahade had two chess-playing siblings - WGM Jennifer Shahade, two-times US Women's Chess Champion, and IM Greg Shahade, founder of the US Chess League.

GM Milan Vidmar, one of the world's top players in the first half of the 20th century, had a son, IM Milan Vidmar Jr.

GM Alexander Donchenko, currently the #1 German chess player, is the son of IM Anatoly Donchenko.

IM Mikhail Yudovich, who was also an ICCF Grandmaster, had a son who was a Soviet chess master named Mikhail Yudovich Jr.