Reports | April 11, 2014 14:24

Ups & Downs for Ukrainian Chess

Ukraine has been the epicenter of international news since its President was replaced and Crimea taken over by Russia. The first signs of the turmoil affecting the chess scene are there: the strong Sberbank rapid tournament, scheduled for May, has been cancelled while the Lviv Regional Chess Federation has proposed to declare Anatoly Karpov, Sergey Karjakin and Alisa Galliamova persona non grata. There is also positive news: a Ukrainian chess charity has won a national award.

None of our readers will have missed the developments in Ukraine in the past few months. Its President Yanukovich was impeached in February, illegaly in the eyes of Russia, who took control over Crimea. Since this is a chess website, international politics will not be discussed (except on one day of the year) and consequently, political debates in the comments section are discouraged. There are much better places for that.

However, it cannot be denied that the chess scene in the Ukraine has been hit too by the turmoil in the country. This week the organizers of the Sberbank rapid tournament in Kiev had to cancel their event for this year due to the political situation.

It's a big blow for chess in Ukraine, since the Sberbank tournament has been the strongest event of the year for a while. The participants in the top group for this year would have been Michael Adams, Vishy Anand, Pavel Eljanov, Sergey Karjakin, Anatoly Karpov, Alexander Moiseenko, Ruslan Ponomariov, Veselin Topalov and Loek van Wely. Last year Karjakin won the tournament ahead of Topalov.

The tournament was doing well. During the press conference in 2013, GM Alexander Areschenko praised the organizers and said he really liked it that famous chess players were in the same hall as a children's tournament, which was attended by about 180 children under the age of 16: “Young children running around, watching us play – it's great.”

Persona non grata
Earlier this week it was reported that the 
Lviv Regional Chess Federation (LRCF) has proposed to declare persona non grata Anatoly Karpov, Sergey Karjakin, Alisa Galliamova and other players who openly support the annexation of Crimea by Russia. In a letter on its website the following was written:

“The seizure of Crimea by the modern vandals provoked a fair indignation of the world community. The outstanding chess players Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik have expressed their indignation with the fact together with the civilized world. We support the attitude of the grandmaster Mikhail Golubev of Odessa and the initiatives like "chess on Maidan" organised by him, and we are also very thankful to Garry Kasparov for his support of Ukraine. We also support the letter of Ukrainian chess players “for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and we are surprised to know that some of the GMs who are planning to play at the Russian Team Championship in April didn't sign the petition.”

The letter refers to GM Mikhail Golubev, who has had a chess TV show in Odessa since November 2012 called Shkola Chempionov (“Champions School”). In the 34th edition he strongly opposed to the participation of Karjakin and Karpov at the Sberbank tournament because these players openly supported Russia's actions in Crimea:

Meanwhile Karjakin has responded to Soviet Sport about the initiative of the Lviv Regional Chess Federation.

I have always felt in that Crimea is Russian. I have a clear position with this issue. All my many friends and relatives are in solidarity with me. I want to stress that I have an excellent relationship with all Ukrainian chess players. I do not want to quarrel with anyone. I will still be friends with them.”

Chess for Children
Luckily there is also positive news coming from the Ukrainian chess scene. This morning received a press release about t
he All-Ukrainian Charity Foundation Chess for Children, which was declared Social Initiative of the Year at the national award ceremony Sport Stars 2013 in Ukraine.

The ceremony took place on Sunday, April 6th at the National Olympic Area in Kiev - on what was the first International Day of Sport for Development and Peace in Ukraine. This festive day was launched at the General Assembly of the United Nations on August 23rd, 2013. To celebrate this day in April 2014, the Sport Committee of Ukraine organized the festive ceremony “Sport Stars of the Year” for awarding the best sport personalities in 2013.

The winner in the Social Initiative of the Year section was Chess for Children, a charity founded in Ukraine in November 2012 by WIM Olena Boytsun. The primary purpose of the foundation is “to discover the potential of every child through engaging children into a game of chess and to promote chess and healthy lifestyle in the society.”

In 2013 the foundation ran 7 projects and implemented 20 events all over Ukraine. An example is the project Chess Ukraine, which supports establishing new chess clubs and schools all over Ukraine as well as providing consultations, chess equipment and literature. 

The greatest attention is attracted by a new modern chess club and chess school for children in Krivoy Rog. It was launched in 2013 with the support of the “Chess for Children” foundation and currently the school has more than 200 children. At the local art square near the club the highest in the world 5 meter tall chess marble piece is situated. 

Another example is the Literary Chess project which develops and distributes free books to children with the rules of the game of chess, made in an entertaining style, in order to engage children to play chess. In 2013 the foundation took part at the Lviv Book Forum and the Frankfurter Book Exhibition with the presentation of the book Babish Gilzi plays chess by Olena Boytsun. 

A photo overview of the activities of the “Chess for Children” foundation in 2012-2013 can be found here in PDF. The program for 2013-2015 can be found at its website:

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Mother Russia's picture

Russia shall not be intimated by NATO's "threats" nor other intimidation tactics, and its chess players will remain strong and confident. The Russian economy is healthy and its government has no debt, while our chess players are represented abundantly in the upper echelons of both men's and women's chess. We have nothing to fear.

Chris's picture

invading an neighbour is a shame

AAR's picture

You are maintaining your house and yard clean and neat. But your neighbour is not properly maintaining his yard and garden. Then snakes and bugs from the neighbour will invade your house. So to protect your house, you need to do after ever is necessary.

Thats what Russia is doing.
Thats what India has not done and our border states are infiltrated with illegals from Bangladesh.

Chris's picture

You are in fault. Russia is an totalitary and dictatorship country. It is an agression vs other country.
Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, then India supported rebel in Bangladesh and... is having its results.

Artem's picture

US was wrong on Bangladesh and pakistan is a fake nation created by anglo saxons and will be wiped out in time. Russia is doing the right thing. US and NATO can go and cry in the UN.

Chris's picture

US does not want war but in case of war US vs Russia - US would smash Russia. The difference in military technology is big. Other consequence will be destroyed Europe and here is problem.

Artem's picture

Keep dreaming. There will be no US left and everyone including US congress knows this.

Chris's picture

nth to dream. Russian troops are mobilized and can be in Berlin in 2 weeks. NATO is not able to mobilize armys in 1 week. One way to stop invasion is use nuclear weapon on the areas of east and central Europe.

RG13's picture

Their is no technology that will reliably stop over 1,000 ICBM's
Have you not heard of mutually assured destruction? That is why their was no war when Russia punished U.S. 'ally' Georgia.

Chris's picture

it was not punishment but the other invasion. Russia behaved as an aggressive hooligan and was not punished. It was a mistake.

RG13's picture

Georgia attacked their troop positions in South Ossetia. Their invasion response WAS punishment for that attack. I am not defending either side, but it was what it was.

Anonymous's picture

South Osetia is being Georgia, so it is natural not allow other country army being there.

KingTal's picture

Hehe, US never wants a war, that´s why they always bomb civilians in foreign countries like Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan with made up reasons.

Russia on the otherhand is very evil, it invaded the Ukraine.. their troops, who were stationed legaly in Crimea according to a contract with Ukraine, didn´t fire a single shot at Ukrainian troops. Wow, this is clearly a big invasion which is unheard of. ))

Btw in case of US vs Russia, not much of the whole world would be left, both have nuclear weapons, if you think a little bit.

RG13's picture

Was it a shame for the U.S. to invade Canada (1812), Vietnam, Grenada, Panama & Iraq? None of those countries threatened the U.S. in the slightest. Great powers act in what they consider their interests. The difference between Russia and the U.S. is that the U.S. considers the whole world their interests while Russia considers nations that border them their interests.

Anonymous's picture

"Was it a shame for the U.S. to invade Canada (1812), Vietnam, Grenada, Panama & Iraq? None of those countries threatened the U.S. in the slightest. Great powers act in what they consider their interests"

That is no reason to support their actions, or claim that no one should support Ukraine's right to be a sovereign state because someone in the past did not support some other country when it was invaded by some other country.

RG13's picture

Actually I agree with you completely.

Ardjan's picture

The Russian economy is already affected by the agression to Ukraine, and getting worse. There's no Russian world champion in sight in both the men's and women's section.

Anonymous's picture

Karjakin is a slimey spineless traitor

Ardjan's picture

The Russian economy is growing worse by the day and there is not a Russian World Champion in sight for the next 10 year, both men and women...

RG13's picture

If Kasparov returned he would get an automatic seeding into the candidates based upon rating. Based upon the nervous play of most of the candidates I think that Kasparov would be a betting favorite to win the thing.

Bronkenstein's picture

Here it´s OK to take away a piece of territory and there it´s not, yesterday it´s human and necessary, today ´tis a war crime... ah, good old politics =)

Anonymous's picture

There's always a nice excuse to support authoritarian rulers by referring to something else happening somewhere else once upon a time.

Artem's picture

So true. Wonder who is supporting the Saudi king and other tin pot arab dictators.

Septimus's picture

Politics should not be allowed to taint sport.

Frits Fritschy's picture

As I wrote to someone lately in jest, paraphrasing Von Clausewitz: sport is the continuation of war with non-military means. Or maybe it's not the continuation, but the prelude. There is Berlin 1936, there is Sotsji 2014. A last show-off before the real battle commences.
I don't know what Karpov and Galliamova have said, but I can understand Karjakin. He has been there and seen it, so I don't expect a completely objective point of view from him. Even so, he doesn't close the door on his ex-compatriots. Of course Russian inhabitants of Ukrain have reason to feel a bit wary and of course the Russian government makes use of this for internal purposes, in my view.
I've heard about a Russian speaking Ukrainian chess player with a dissenting opinion. I would like to hear more dissenting opinions, from either side.
Ukrain and Russia are two of the greatest chess nations, with a love/hate relationship, and it can't be anything else that the current situation has a huge impact on chess players there.
So, come out with the stories about how it affects you - that's a lot better than pretend sport and politics have no connection.

Thomas Richter's picture

Sport and politics have a connection because life - private and professional - and politics is connected. This also means that VIPs (which includes professional chess players) are expected to have an opinion and to give their opinion in public. Here I disagree, I would grant everyone the right to be undecided and/or to keep silence.

Whatever people say will be used one way or another by those with direct interest in and strong opinions about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. From his point of view, I can understand Karjakin - another story is if it was needed and wise to speak out in public repeatedly. It is well-known that Kasparov uses every opportunity to criticize Putin ... . As to Kramnik, did he actually express "indignation" (i.e. choosing sides in the conflict) rather than concern about the situation - or is this a claim by the Lviv federation? Until recently, it didn't matter that he has an Ukrainian second, and I didn't even know that his mother is from Ukraine.

What exactly would be a "completely objective point of view", does it even exist? Are foreign observers - Frits Fritschy, myself, western media - all objective?? What is a "dissenting opinion"? Frits seems to make a certain distinction between 'Russian inhabitants of Ukraine' and 'Russian speaking Ukrainians' - probably rightly so, but what is the difference? Does it matter if someone's family lived in Ukraine for generations, or if someone or someone's parents moved from Russia to Ukraine just a few decades ago?

As to opinions from (presumably) Russian speaking Ukrainian chess players: I am aware of Eljanov (from Charkov) criticizing Obama's reactions as not strong enough, and Kharlovich (in an 'animated' Twitter exchange with Pogonina) saying that she doesn't want to be 'saved' by Putin. Others have the right to speak out, but IMO noone is obliged to do so.

Pozzi's picture

Is there anybody here, who can give first hand the Russian point of view on this struggle between Ukraine and Russia?
I am from EU and also think Russia is returning to the cold war Sowjet Union politics, but I am aware, I do not understand Russian point of view.
Beside of this I completely do not understand why to punish Anatoly Karpov, Sergey Karjakin and Alisa Galliamova. Will this change anything? Did they invade in Ukraine? Is every chess player responsible for failures his country does?
In case Russia is really completely controlled by Putin, I would suggest Karjakin to say what he did. otherwise he and maybe even his family could be punished.
I live in EU and I do not completely agree with everything that is done in EU (e.g. money spent on banks, how to handle Lobbying, cracy rules like the one about cucumbers, etc.), but I hope that the main advantage of EU, which is all countries want to join although they are struggeling with themselves (Scotland wants to sperate from England, Czech and Slowakia separated, but joined EU, etc.), they all want to join and after they joined there is no war. So I hope sometimes Ukraine and Russia will join and peace is everywhere.

Anonymous's picture

I heard that Putin is a master level chess player and he has given the Russian view already.

Unanimous's picture

I have always felt that Nova Scotia is part of the United States.

Anonymous's picture

Crimea used to be part of Russia. It has now rejoined the collective. The U.S. state of Alaska also used to be part of Russia. I bet Putin could take it back without a shot being fired!

Chris's picture

Crime for centuries belongs to Tataras. Then Russia came, murdered and/or moved the milions of Tataras to the far east. Crimea is tatarian field. It is clear. Problem is return back removed Tataras to their motherhood from far east.

Anonymous's picture

Why not shift all the tournaments to Moscow?

Bartleby's picture

Lviv is Vasily (or Vasyl) Ivanchuk's city and Alisa Galliamova used to be married to him for a while. I somehow cannot imagine that he supports the push to declare chess players non grata but I also cannot imagine that the Lviv chess federation would act against his opposition. Maybe he should speak out.

Karjakin is careful to say only things that form at least a valid point of view. It would be even more valid if he added an afterthought if he prefers the rule of law or the law of the jungle. (He might even see Russia's side as the legitimate one.) On the other hands for Russian players who don't like Putin's re-introduction of opportunistic land grab into the art of international power chess, it probably would not be wise to say so.

Anonymous's picture

If Putin invades also eastern Ukraine many will be quick to say that no one should support Ukraine in this conflict since the US has done many bad things.

Anonymous's picture

If Ukraine has no appetite to fight for their own land then why should anyone help them? If they do want to fight then perhaps they can get weapons help like the Afghans did and make the Russians weep.

artem's picture

May be the afghans would like the wepons to drive the americans out first. Perhaps russians can oblige.

Anonymous's picture

Anyone else thought Karjakin looked like a schoolboy in love when he praised the Mighty Putin for retaking what is rightfully theirs? Will he be as starry eyed about full scale invasion too? Wonder what Ukrainian Karlovich thought, she did have a hearted argument with Pogonina on the subject about Putin being ready to save the whole Ukrainian people.

Anonymous's picture

I recently made the mistake of reading Pravda on the Ukrainian conflict (and mind you, Pravda = the opposition, the Communists). It wrote in article after article about how the Leader is more popular than ever, about how fascists and terrorists have started nationwide pogroms against Russians and Jews in Ukraine with huge casulaties, that it wasn't possible to wait any longer, the country must be saved, The whole Europe was united in support of fascism and terror and murder, Russia alone wanted to save Ukraine. This is how the "opposition" describes things, just imagine how the pro-Putin media looks, no wonder the Russians are wildly supportive of as harsh measures as possible. When the next move comes it will be wildly supported and celebrated.

RG13's picture

The invasion of East Ukraine has begun and Russia has warned Kiev against using force there. I wonder what Karjakin will say now!

"Busloads of armed men

On Saturday, armed men took over police stations and official buildings in Sloviansk and two other eastern towns - Kramatorsk and Druzhkovka.

Similar reports emerged from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk of armed men dressed in camouflage arriving in buses and storming the police stations."

Anonymous's picture

Russia is today a fascist country, and the similarities with Germany in the 1930s are too many to count.

Anonymous's picture

not facists country but communist one. It is even worse. Communissm is worse then facsism.

Anonymous's picture

Well, in principle the same thing. One leader should control all power, and he is worshipped like a deity, with the help of state controlled propaganda. Then everything is allowed as long as it is for the good of the leader, while the citizens are considered to be simple insects made to be sacrificed. And it works, the Russian people is baying for blood and will celebrate in the streets no less than the Germans in the 1930s when the tanks roll in over the Ukrainian border more openly than this far. And the Ukrainians, well, they are used to the Russians and remember the 1930s and later decades.

Anonymous's picture

Long live Mother Russia!!!!!

Anonymous's picture

Maybe Karjakin and Pogonina will have much to celebrate in the near future, five cities now annexed by Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine, soon the whole country might be freed from itself :)

Anonymous's picture

Of course. How can Europe be free without the return of the Soviet Union?! (sarcasm)

fiercebadger's picture

once the sanctions kick in and a few oligarchs have been inconvenienced...that is when putin will be kicked out ..or he catches a bullet

masöz istanbul's picture

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