13-Year-Old Andy Woodward Earns Final GM Norm in Saudi Arabia

13-year-old Andy Woodward earned his third and final GM norm in Saudi Arabia with his 6/9 performance at the Jeddah Chess Festival’s Young Masters invitational Round Robin. Woodward finished in a three-way tie for second place, a half-point behind IM Yagiz Kaan Erdogmus (who beat Woodward in the first round).

With a FIDE rating already over 2500, Woodward has met all of the requirements to become a grandmaster, although the title is not yet official. Woodward, who turns 14 on May 2, is now the current youngest (unofficial) grandmaster, taking the title from 14-year-old Ukrainian GM Ihor Samunenkov (born June 15, 2009).


Image Caption
courtesy Jeddah Chess Festival


Featuring ten players age 18 and under — including three grandmasters — the event was certainly not the typical mix of young norm-seekers and established GMs.

The tournament could not have got off to a worse start for Woodward, either, whose blunder in a tricky position against Erdogmus was compounded by a second consecutive loss (to GM Volodar Murzin, who eventually tied for second with Woodward) after spending a long time in the opening before sacrificing a piece.




From there, Woodward rebounded with three consecutive victories. A nice win against slightly passive opening play from Argentinian FM Faustino Oro paved the way for Woodward to return to a level score by outplaying Indian GM Pranav V with the black pieces in a Najdorf.




Then, a win over reigning World Junior Girls champion WGM Candela Francisco put Woodward on a plus-score for the first time in the event. Moreover, having already played two of the three grandmasters, the thought of earning the requisite three points out of the remaining four games had to have crossed his mind, as it was by no means out of the realm of possibilities.



Then, a long endgame against Polish IM Jan Klimkowski almost changed everything. Minor piece endgames are always tricky, and this bishop-versus-knight position was particularly difficult to evaluate. Woodward had to defend with the knight for a long time, and Klimkowski was never able to find the proper time to break through, while Woodward was ready with astute defensive maneuvers at the critical moment, balancing waiting moves with tactical necessities.



After saving the draw, Woodward then had to play another long grind against another Polish IM, Jakub Seemann. This time, it was Woodward pushing for the win with a queen against an assortment of pieces, and he was able to navigate complications to both break down Black’s fortress and quell any nascent activity.



It is worth noting that this tournament was played without a second time control, meaning that these 75-plus-move games were played entirely in time pressure. Against Seemann, Woodward was down to eight minutes by move 29, and against Klimkowski, he was under ten minutes as early as move 25.

With a last-round pairing against GM Raunak Sadhwani (who eventually tied for second with Woodward and Murzin) looming large, Woodward’s eighth-round game with Spanish FM Jaime Rey Martinez was clearly the best chance to score a full point. Indeed, he came through with his trusty Najdorf once again, although not without some chances for White to turn the tides:



Now, all that was left was holding a draw against a GM who also appeared to be content to finish in a tie for second:


And there it is! Woodward was only the sixth-highest rated player in the field, clocking in at 2501 behind Erdogmus, Klimkowski, and the three 2600+ grandmasters, really emphasizing what an impressive result this was.

Woodward has been generous in sharing his journey with Chess Life and Chess Life Online, issuing this personal essay on his unique summer vacation in Serbia back in the fall of 2022. While he modestly credits good fortune for some of his results, he was clearly already a mature, tactically alert player who is unafraid of the long grind. Since then, his results have continued to pile up, including an impressive first-place finish in the SPICE Cup last December ahead of GM Christopher Yoo.

In his interview from the November 2022 issue* of Chess Life magazine, the then-12-year-old Woodward was already thoughtful and articulate with a clear vision and approach to his chess study. Not much has changed since then: he still prefers combative openings such as the Najdorf, his knowledge and appreciation of classical games manifests in confident piece coordination in imbalanced endgames, and he still works with GM Yaroslav Zherebukh.

“We have been working with Andy regularly on a weekly basis since 2020, usually having [one] or [two] hours of lessons per week,” Zherebukh said in a quote provided to Chess Life as well as Chess.com. “Back then, Andy’s FIDE rating was still below 2000, so he certainly made a ton of progress in the past few years. In 2023, Hikaru Nakamura started sponsoring our chess lessons very generously, which allowed us to meet for [four-to-six] hours per week (depending on Andy’s tournament schedule). I’m immensely grateful that Hikaru was able to recognize Andy’s talent and decided to take a personal interest in him.”

As to the question of Woodward’s potential, Zherebukh was understandably optimistic. “With the GM title under his belt,” he continued, “Andy can now play stress-free without thinking about the titles or norms. He should be able to reach 2600+ in the nearest future, and then he has a full capacity of reaching a super GM level of 2700 and beyond. His family is extremely supportive of his chess pursuits, and his parents Wendy and David accompany him to the tournaments in the US or overseas. Overall, I think Andy has a bright future in chess and should reach his full potential with the right amount of work and discipline."


*All issues from more than a year ago are available to the public via our archives. For issues within the past year, US Chess members can access digital versions of the magazine here.