Reports | November 22, 2012 11:23

In Memoriam: Elena Akhmilovskaya (1957-2012)

Elena Akhmilovskaya

Elena Bronislavovna Akhmilovskaya passed away in Kirksland, Washington, U.S.A., on 18 November 2012 after a long and serious illness. Born 11 March 1957 in Leningrad, she was only 55 years old. According to the New York Times, her husband Georgi Orlov has said the cause was brain cancer. She also leaves a daughter, Donna, and a son, Nicholas. Our condolences to them, her other family, students and friends.

Elena Akhmilovskaya passed away (1955-2012) | Photo James F. Perry

By IM Arthur van de Oudeweetering

Akhmilovskaya's most well-known achievement was becoming World Championship finalist in 1986, when she was also the second-ranked woman in the world. She lost the match for the title to the first ranked Maya Chiburdanidze.

Two years later she also reached the headlines, this time by secretly marrying the captain of the American team John Donaldson during the Olympiad in Thessaloniki. The two had met three years before at the Women Interzonal in Havana. When the news of their marriage leaked to the press the two decided to leave for the States before the end of the tournament. At the time Akhmilovskaya had a splendid score of 8½ out of 9 at the second and first board.

Earlier in her life, Elena and her family lived in Krasnoyarsk from 1969, where she visited the local Pioneers palace. She was later educated at the renowned Botvinnik chess school. She studied law, but opted to pursue her chess career rather than finish her studies.

Like Nona Gaprindashvili, Akhmilovskaya participated in men’s tournaments as well, something which was not common at the time. Between 1975 and 1987 she played in six USSR championships, culmin ating in a second place in 1987 as her best result. She twice won the gold medal participating in the USSR women’s team: at the Olympiad in 1978 where she scored the perfect 10 out of 10 as a reserve, and at the Olympiad in Dubai 1986 where she scored  8½ out of 12 at second board.

Akhmilovskaya was victorious in many tournaments, among them, the interzonals in Roosendaal 1976 (shared with Alla Kushnir) and Alicante 1979 (shared with Tatjana Lematschko), and the candidates tournament in Malmo 1986. She participated in the battle for the highest title on several occassions. In 1977 she lost in the semi-finals of the candidates matches to Maia Chiburdanidze, while in 1980 she could not surpass Nana Alexandria in the quarter-finals. In 1986 she finally reached the abovementioned match for the Championship against Chiburdanidze. In 1988 she shared first place with Nana Ioseliani in the candidates tournament in Tskhaltubo, but lost the subsequent tie-break match which determined the challenger of Chiburdanidze.

After her flight to the United States she won the U.S. Championship three times: 1990, 1993 (co-winner with Irena Levitina) and in 1994. She also represented the United States at five more Olympiads.

In the 21st century Akhmilovskaya ceased to be an active player. Following her naturalization in the U.S.A., it had been difficult to hold chess as fulltime profession.  Akhmilovskaya worked for some time at a bank and as a bookkeeper, but soon returned to chess -- that is chess teaching. The year 1995 saw her third marriage, with Georgi Orlov, an IM who had also emigrated from the USSR in the early 1990’s, and who had assisted her in her matches in the 1980’s. In recent years the two have run a chess school in Redmond (Washington) and Seattle. In 2010 Akhmilovskaya was awarded the title of FIDE Instructor.

According to the Russian Chess Encyclopedia, Akhmilovskaya excelled in perseverance, the art of conducting complex manoeuvring battles, and a fine endgame technique. Here is a selection of her games. 

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Arthur van de Oudeweetering's picture

Arthur van de Oudeweetering is an International Master and professional trainer. He is one of the editors of ChessVibes Training and from time to time also writes book reviews.


mourn's picture

my condolances

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