Ivan Bukavshin dies at the age of 20

Ivan Bukavshin dies at the age of 20

Jun 16, 2016, 8:53 AM |

                       He was one of the brightest talents in the world of chess, with an impressive rating of 2658. On 12th of January 2016, at the age of just twenty years and eight months, Ivan Bukavshin died from a stroke, leaving the entire chess world in a state of shock. The 2015 Russian Cup winner is no longer with us. What a player he was, what a beautiful chess career it would have been. A heartfelt eulogy.

Ivan Bukavshin, 3rd May 1995 – 12th January 2016

One of the brightest talents not only in Russia but in the entire world of chess, Ivan Bukavshin, passed away tragically on 12th of January 2016. Preliminary reports say that he died of a stroke. Born on 3rd May 1995, Bukavshin, was 20 years, eight months and nine days old on the day he died. He had a FIDE rating of 2658 and was dubbed as one of the best upcoming talents from Russia. The way he played in 2015, we could have been sure that he would have developed into a world class player in a few years. His death is a huge loss to Russia and the chess world.

Bukavshin at the Aeroflot Open 2015 [picture by Boris Dolmatovski]

Some of Ivan’s best career achievements were:

  • U12 European champion in 2006
  • U14 European champion in 2008
  • U16 European champion in 2010
  • Tied for first place at the Chigorin Memorial in 2013 with ten other players
  • Joint first place at the Chigorin Memorial 2014 along with Ivan Ivanisevic
  • Winner of the Russian Junior (Under-21) Championship in 2014 and 2015
  • In April 2015, third place at Aeroflot Open behind Nepomniachtchi and Dubov
  • Tied for first in the Russian Championship Higher League with Motylev and Artemiev in July 2015 and qualified for the Russian Superfinal.
  • Won the 11th Ugra Governor’s Cup in December 2015 edging out Rakhmanov and Eliseev on tiebreaks
  • Winning the Russian Cup knockout tournament at the year-end defeating players like Eliseev, Khairullin, Khismatullin and Kokarev

Ivan Bukavshin had a special feel for the game of chess by which he made things look simple and easy. He was an excellent technical player. His games show high class handling of the bishop pair as well as perfect use of the king as a piece in the endgame, sometimes even the early middlegame. In one of his annotations for ChessBase Magazine Evgeny Tomashevsky gives us a good idea of Ivan’s style of play:

I went into the round nine game [Russian Superfinal 2015] against Ivan Bukavshin as the sole leader. But my narrow lead in the table and also my awareness of my young opponent's good technique in simple positions gave me the idea of not aiming to be too safe, but rather of defending my lead in a complicated struggle. That is the reason for the choice of the Anti-Moscow Gambit, because this is one of the critical variations for Ivan's repertoire. This meant that I could assume that he would not deviate from it.

In the only Russian Superfinal of his career Ivan did quite well, scoring 5.0/11 [picture by Eteri Kublashvili]

Tomashevsky’s words reveal two important things to us: one, Ivan’s technique was feared even by the best in the world and two, – Bukavshin was a fighter who did not shy away from critical lines and complicated positions. In fact going over some of his games reveals that more often than not he felt quite at home in complex positions and calculated quite accurately. Just to give you an example, here is a position from his game against Khairullin from the Russian Superfinal:

Bukavshin-Khairullin, Russian Superfinal 2015

It seems as if White is lost here. But Ivan found a beautiful resource. Can you do the same?

We contacted Vishy Anand, the five-time World Champion, who said that although he had never met Ivan, this was extremely sad news. India number two and World number 14 Pentala Harikrishna wrote to us, “Even though I did not have personal interaction with Bukavshin, I had heard a lot about him over the years as he grew into strong grandmaster. I was shocked to read the news about his sudden demise. Russia has lost a great talent who would have reached the world top. My deepest condolences to his family and closed ones. May his soul rest in peace.”

GM Vidit Gujrathi, who is almost as old as Ivan was and has the same rating as him, said, “I never met or played with Ivan, but I saw that he was improving at a very quick pace. It’s a highly unfortunate blow to the chess world. He was a great talent. I always kept a tab on his games and a recent idea that he played was really very interesting.

In this very famous position of the Catalan, which has been reached nearly 7,000 times, the most popular move is 7…a6, although some players have experimented with 7…b5!? But it was Bukavshin who came up with this bold concept of 7…b6, against Artemiev at the Russian Superfinal in August 2015. Artemiev did not want to take any risks and captured the pawn with 8.Qxc4. Bukavshin developed 8…Bb7 and had absolutely no problems. In December 2015 Aleksey Goganov decided to play the most critical line against 7…b6 and went 8.Ne5!? Bukavshin boldly sacrificed his rook with 8…Qxd4 and after 9.Bxa8 Qxe5, the game became complicated and Ivan managed to win! Goganov was so impressed with this novelty that after just four days he tried it himself, against Pavel Maletin with the black pieces, and made a draw. Ivan had complete faith in this system and played it against Peter Leko at the Nutcracker tournament, where he was able to hold the Hungarian to a draw. Chess literature and experts all over the world should seriously consider naming the variation starting with 7…b6 the Bukavshin Variation in the Catalan.

Princes at the Nutcracker event: Mikhail Antipov, Gregory Oparin, Vladislav Artemiev and Ivan Bukavshin

When Boris Gelfand was asked what he thought about the openings of the “Princes” at the Nutcracker tournament, the Israeli grandmaster replied: “Bukavshin’s opening preparation is at a good level, and it is clear that in the opening he is clearly superior to others.”

In the Aeroflot Open 2015, which is considered to be one of the strongest tournaments in the world, Ivan played in super solid style, finishing third behind Nepomniachtchi and Dubov. He remained unbeaten, scorings wins over strong grandmasters like Mohammed Al Sayed, Ernesto Inarkiev, Richard Rapport and B. Adhiban. Especially beautiful was his victory over Inarkiev.

Bukavshin-Inarkiev, Aeroflot 2015


Inarkiev, who just played Qd8-d5, thought that he was forcing White to play f3
or go back with his knight to f3, but Bukavshin had prepared a major surprise!

That moment when Inarkiev had had enough! (picture by Boris Dolmatovski)


B. Adhiban, rated 2646, faced Bukavshin in the seventh round of the Aeroflot Open 2015. Adhiban was trailing the leaders by half point and, having the white pieces, desperately wanted to win the game. Ivan essayed the Noteboom Variation as black and soon uncorked a completely new idea with 8…a5!? He played a nearly flawless game of chess to overwhelm his Indian opponent. As Adhiban said to us, “He played just so confidently. I was wondering if it was all his opening preparation. He beat me convincingly. I thought to myself after the game that his rating of 2618 was definitely lower than the level at which he played.

Top three talents of Russia were the top three places at Aeroflot 2015:
Daniil Dubov, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ivan Bukavshin

Another young Indian talent, S.P. Sethuraman (Elo 2639), wrote to us, “I played with Ivan in the World Youth Stars in 2010 at Krishi, Russia. He was accompanied by his coach Jakov Geller. Ever since that time then I have had a good impression of him as a player as well as a person. He was a hard-working and dedicated and had a diverse playing style thanks to which he could handle different types of positions with ease. He was a very creative player and had his own ideas. I was really inspired by his idea a5 in the Marshall Gambit against Adhiban at the Aeroflot. Later I used it in one my own games and won with it. [We have added Sethuraman’s game against Ziaur Rahman in the game above.] He was calm and composed over the board, and this is one of the reasons why it came as a huge surprise that his death was by a stroke. A huge loss to the chess world.”

Ivan Bukavshin is no longer with us and there is nothing that we can do about it. But he leaves behind him a wealth of beautiful games, combinations and ideas which will be studied by chess players and chess lovers all over the world for years to come.

Ivan is gone but his moves will live on. We leave you with a video of Ivan Bukavshin in a blitz game where he tricks the strong Georgian player Baadur Jobava. Look at the ease with which the Russian makes his moves.

Baadur Jobava wrote to us saying, " I can't say that I have been friends with him, but for sure I know that he was a positive guy. It is very sad that he is gone so soon. What to say, this is life...

Bukavshin-Iskusnyh, 2013

In his game against Iskusnyh, Bukavshin played the move Bb5 to c6. His opponent was in a complete zugwang. No pawns can move without being lost, the black king is trapped, the rook on a7 is tied down to the knight and the knight cannot move because Re8 is a mate. Iskusnyh could find nothing better than to resign the game.

In life the most fatal form of Zugzwang is death. Ivan, we will always miss you.