Evgeni Vasiukov, 1933-2018
Evgeni Vasiukov died on May 10. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili/Russian Chess Federation.

Evgeni Vasiukov, 1933-2018

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
May 10, 2018, 1:17 PM |
57 | Chess Players

GM Evgeni Vasiukov, a strong Russian grandmaster and a blitz specialist, died at the age of 85 Thursday morning in a Moscow hospital, the Russian Chess Federation confirmed to Chess.com.

In 1958, a 15-year-old Bobby Fischer visited Moscow for the first time. He wasn't interested in Lenin's mausoleum or Red Square, but went straight to the Central Chess Club at Gogolevsky Boulevard. There, he started beating one Soviet master after another in blitz.

In an interview for ChessPro in 2012, Vasiukov reminisced:

"I suddenly got a call from the chess club. I was told: 'this American child prodigy is crushing all our masters here. You must come immediately to put him in his place, and save the honor of the capital.' 

"I went to the club together with Tigran Petrosian, who was already one of the best players of the country and known as a blitz specialist. (...) Only Petrosian and I managed to compete with him. At first I was inferior to him, but then I seized the initiative, as they say, 'caught the game' and achieved a notable advantage in the score. Tigran Vartanovich also finished with a plus score."

Fischer plays blitz Petrosian 1958

Fischer playing blitz in Moscow, here against Petrosian with Vasiukov beside him. | Photo: Mark Ginsburg blog.

When Fischer and Vasiukov met at the closing ceremony of the famous 6-0 Fischer-Taimanov match in 1971 in Vancouver (where Vasiukov was one of Taimanov's seconds), Fischer was eager to discuss with Vasiukov their blitz games of 13 years back. Taimanov later wrote that Fischer remembered a lot of them, whereas Vasiukov said that they could restore only some opening positions.

It was in 1996 in Budapest that Vasiukov met Fischer for the last time, during the celebration of the 85th birthday of Andor Lilienthal.

Vasiukov:

"Of all the numerous guests of Lilienthal, who came from different countries, Fischer expressed a desire to communicate only with me, and I was, of course, very pleased. Fischer invited me to dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and we had a pleasant time, remembering a lot, including that first meeting at the club on Gogol Boulevard in 1958, which was the beginning of our acquaintance. It is a pity that this outstanding chess player left both chess and life too early."

Evgeni Andreyevich Vasiukov was born on  March 5, 1933 in Moscow from a simple family. During the Second World War, when he was eight years old, he was evacuated to Tula. His father died during the Battle of Kursk.

Vasiukov started a technical education, but didn't finish school. From the age of 15 he was caught with a "chess fever" that would never leave him.

Only seven years after learning the rules of the game, he won his first Moscow city championship in 1955, ahead of Salo Flohr, Viacheslav Ragozin and Andor Lilienthal. He would win this tournament five more times, in 1958, 1960, 1962, 1972, and 1978.

Moscow Championship 1955 | Final Standings

# Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pts SB
1 Vasiukov,Evgeni 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 10.5/15
2 Flohr,Salo 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 9.0/15
3 Khasin,Abram ½ ½ 0 1 1 1 1 ½ ½ 0 1 0 0 1 ½ 8.5/15 64.5
4 Ravinsky,Grigory Ionovich ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 8.5/15 61.5
5 Ragozin,Viacheslav ½ 1 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 0 ½ 0 1 1 1 1 ½ 8.5/15 60.75
6 Simagin,Vladimir 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 0 0 1 8.0/15 58.25
7 Goldberg,Grigory Abramovich 0 0 0 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 8.0/15 56.5
8 Lilienthal,Andor ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 8.0/15 56.25
9 Soloviev,Vladimir A 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 8.0/15 56.25
10 Antoshin,Vladimir S 0 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 0 7.0/15
11 Sherbakov,Vitaly S 0 0 1 ½ 1 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 1 1 ½ 6.5/15 47
12 Chistiakov,Alexander Nikolaevi ½ ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 0 0 1 6.5/15 46.75
13 Gusev,Yuri S ½ 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 0 ½ 1 0 1 0 1 6.0/15 43.5
14 Estrin,Yacov 0 0 1 0 0 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 1 0 1 ½ 6.0/15 42.75
15 Lebedev,B 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 ½ 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 5.5/15 43
16 Beilin,Mikhail Abramovich ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 5.5/15 40.75

"He was a natural talent," Genna Sosonko told Chess.com. "OK, Mikhail Chigorin learned to play chess when he was 16, but a century years later it was quite special to become a grandmaster after learning the game at the age of 15. He was a self-made man."

Vasiukov became Master of Sports of the USSR in 1954 and earned the international master title in 1958. In 1961 he became a grandmaster, after winning the Belgrade Open (alone) and the Moscow International (tied with Smyslov) in that year.

He twice won the World Students Championship, in 1955 (Lyon, France) and 1956 (Uppsala, Sweden.

He was never at the same level of players such as Efim Geller, Viktor Kortchnoi, Tigran Petrosian or Leonid Stein, but nonetheless everyone took him for a very strong player. He reached the final of the Soviet or Russian championship no fewer than 13 times between 1959 and 1996, with a shared fourth place in 1961 (behind Spassky, Polugaevsky and Bronsten) and a shared third place in Kharkiv 1967 (behind Tal and Polugaevsky) as his best results.

Arguably Vasiukov's most famous game was his loss against Mikhail Tal at the 1964 Soviet championship in Kiev, because of Tal's brilliant comments in his "The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal."

Vasiukov's legendary opponent revealed in his biography that, inspired by a poem by Korney Chukovsky, instead of spending more time calculating the knight sacrifice on move 19, he started to wonder how one would drag a hippopotamus out of a marsh...!

Vasiukov won over 50 tournaments, including Polanica Zdroj 1965, Reykjavik 1968 (tied with Taimanov), Skopje 1970 (again tied with Taimanov) Manila 1974, Zalaegerszeg 1977, Dnepropetrovsk 1980, Moscow (B tournament) 1986, Athens 1987, Budapest 1989, and Graested 1990.

The Manila 1974 tournament was probably his career-best performance. Sosonko remembers:

"Vasiukov had to win as Black against Lajos Portisch to secure clear first place. A draw would have been absolutely fine there, but he had the guts to play the Benko Gambit and just crushed Portisch. Typically Vasiukov: He dared."

Manilla 1974 | Final Standings

# Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 Pts SB
1 Vasiukov,Evgeni 2560 2732 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 1 10.5/14
2 Petrosian,Tigran V 2640 2665 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 9.5/14
3 Larsen,Bent 2630 2638 0 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 1 1 1 1 1 9.0/14
4 Gheorghiu,Florin 2540 2618 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 1 1 8.5/14 51.5
5 Gligoric,Svetozar 2585 2615 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 8.5/14 49.75
6 Kavalek,Lubomir 2625 2587 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 8.0/14 53.5
7 Ljubojevic,Ljubomir 2605 2589 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1 1 8.0/14 46.25
8 Pfleger,Helmut 2535 2568 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0 0 1 ½ 1 7.5/14 51
9 Andersson,Ulf 2580 2565 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 7.5/14 45.5
10 Quinteros,Miguel A 2495 2546 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 ½ 0 0 1 1 1 7.0/14
11 Portisch,Lajos 2645 2511 0 ½ 0 1 0 ½ 0 1 0 1 1 ½ 0 1 6.5/14 41.25
12 Torre,Eugenio 2450 2524 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 0 ½ 1 1 6.5/14 37.25
13 Kraidman,Yair 2470 2389 0 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 4.0/14
14 Cardoso,Radolfo Tan 2385 2329 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 1 0 0 1 3.0/14
15 Naranja,Renato 2395 2108 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 1.0/14

Vasiukov had a sharp and uncompromising style. He almost exclusively played 1.e4 and won many attacking games.

As an excellent theoretician who had many original opening ideas, Vasiukov has worked as a second for an impressive list of grandmasters, including Viktor Kortchnoi, Mark Taimanov, David Bronstein, Efim Geller and Anatoly Karpov (during his 1978 match against Korchnoi and his matches with Kasparov in 1984 and 1985).

Vasiukov was also a trainer, for instance, of the Soviet student team and several national and Olympic teams.

Evgeni Vasiukov

Vasiukov as an organizer in recent times. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili/Russian Chess Federation.

Besides the blitz games in 1958, Vasiukov never played against Bobby Fischer. He did help the Soviet participants (Geller, Keres, Kortchnoi, Petrosian and Tal) in their games against Fischer in the 1962 Candidates' Tournament. For instance, it was his advice to use the Pirc Defense with which Kortchnoi beat Fischer there. Also from the ChessPro interview:

"I was instructed to prepare (...) a detailed account of Fischer's work, his chess tastes, favorite setups. By the way, when I studied the creativity of the American, I found out that he was playing some of those systems that I used for a long time, for example, the Sozin variation in the Sicilian defense."

Fischer mentions Vasiukov in his "My 60 Memorable Games." In a note to his game with Petrosian (Portoroz 1958, the "Bear Hug"), Fischer mentions Petrosian-Vasiukov, Moscow 1956 and says:

"I was impressed by that game as Petrosian must have been, since he got crushed."

Here's a win from the 1972 Soviet championship against Vladimir Bagirov, a specialist of Alekhine's Defense.

In the same tournament he played a nice, petite combinaison against Lev Alburt:

In the ChessPro interview Vasiukov spoke about the evening before the crucial final game in 1978 between Karpov (whom he seconded) and Korchnoi, who had just leveled the score:

The head of our delegation, Baturinsky, asked what I think should be done in order to prepare Karpov. I answered that maybe it's worth taking a time-out and taking him to Manila for the final match of the basketball world championship between the USSR and Yugoslavia (I had been in the same plane to the Philippines with our basketball players), and in the meantime we would be working on the opening line in which Anatoly had problems. Baturinsky liked the idea, and even earlier I had introduced him to Vitaly Sevastyanov, then chairman of the Soviet Chess Federation. Sevastyanov got down to business and persuaded Karpov to go by car along the mountain road to Manila, and this trip helped the world champion very much. He got some distraction, rooted for our team (which, however, lost with a break of one point), forgot the game he lost and went to the crucial encounter extremely collected. The result is known: Karpov won and retained the title.

Vasiukov won the World Senior Championship (for players older than 60) in 1995 in Bad Liebenzell, Germany and even after his 80th birthday in 2013 he continued to be an active player who usually could be found on the participants of blitz or senior tournaments in Moscow.

He was a blitz specialist, and won the Moscow blitz championship eight times. According to Yuri Vasilchuk, in speed chess he had roughly equal scores against giants such as Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik.

Here's a crushing win Vasiukov scored at the age of 68 at the Aeroflot Open against Loek van Wely. This was in 2002, when the Dutchman was the world number-14. The game was named as the most beautiful game of the year by Chess Informant.

Vasiukov was also a popular commentator, for instance during some of the later Karpov-Kasparov matches, and wrote several books and many articles and newspaper columns. In 1995 he won a "chess Oscar" for his writings.

At a late stage of his life, Vasiukov had a number of official positions, such as deputy chairman of the Moscow Chess Federation.

Since 2003 he was the head of the Veterans' Commission of the Russian Chess Federation. In this role, he's been hugely important for the further development of veterans chess in Russia. He organized five or six tournaments a year and really gave a big boost to veterans' chess.

Last September, Vasiukov won the Moscow Veterans Blitz Championship, combining two specialties.

Evgeni Vasiukov playing

Vasiukov (front, left) playing in 2016. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili/Russian Chess Federation.

"He was a real chess fan. All his life was about chess. He was a really strong grandmaster, and played at a very high level until the last moments of his life," Mark Gluhovsky, executive director of the Russian Chess Federation, told Chess.com.

The farewell ceremony will take place on Tuesday, May 15 at noon in the Central Chess Club on Gogol Boulevard 14 in Moscow. He leaves behind a wife and a daughter.

More from PeterDoggers
Rising Polish Star Duda Grabs Dortmund Lead

Rising Polish Star Duda Grabs Dortmund Lead

Dortmund R1: Nepomniachtchi Declines Giri's Birthday Gift

Dortmund R1: Nepomniachtchi Declines Giri's Birthday Gift