GM Peter Svidler

Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Full name
Piotr Veniamínovich Svidler
Born
Jun 17, 1976 (age 44)‎
Place of birth
Leningrad, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Federation
Russia
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Bio

Peter Svidler is an eight-time chess champion of Russia and a three-time candidate for the world championship. He came closest to becoming world champion with a second-place finish in FIDE’s 2005 championship tournament.

Early Life And Career

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia (then Leningrad, Soviet Union), in 1976, Peter Svidler learned chess at age six, played in his first major tournament (the USSR Junior Championship) in 1989, and was an IM by 1991.

Svidler became a student of Andrey Lukin in 1993. Although Lukin was an IM like Svidler, Svidler’s career began to take off once the two started working together. The next year, 1994, was a major one in Svidler’s development. He was the under-18 winner at the World Youth Chess Championship and then won his first Russian Championship. While neither competition was a very strong tournament, they gave Svidler his GM norms and the title.

Although he won the Russian Championship again in 1995 and 1997, Svidler’s greatest tournament success of the 1990s came at Tilburg Fontys in 1997. The star-studded tournament included Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Michael Adams, Peter Leko, Judit Polgar and others. With a +5 -0 =6 score in the 12-player single round-robin, Svidler tied Kasparov and Kramnik for first place at 8/11. He did so as Black by defeating Alexander Onischuk in the final round. More notably, Svidler defeated Kasparov in their head-to-head battle; had they drawn instead, Kasparov would have won outright and Svidler would have finished third. 


The next year, having already cracked a top-ten world ranking, Svidler reached a 2700 rating for the first time. Participating in FIDE’s 1998 World Championship tournament, he fell to Adams in the fourth round.

The Next Decade (2000-09)

Svidler continued to play in FIDE’s large knockout championship tournaments and came closest to a victory in 2002, when he fell to Ruslan Ponomariov in the semifinal. For the 2004 tournament, Svidler, then ranked sixth in the world, declined to participate. FIDE dropped the much-criticized format in 2005 as the chess world neared reunification of its title.

While peaking at the number-four world ranking in 2004 and 2005, Svidler played in both the 2005 FIDE World Championship won by Veselin Topalov and the 2007 World Championship won by Viswanathan Anand. Svidler also won his fourth and fifth Russian championships, claiming them in 2003 and 2008.

Peter Svidler
Svidler in August 2005. Wikipedia.

Svidler made the eight-player 2005 FIDE tournament by rating after Kramnik, then a competing claimant to the world championship, and a retired Kasparov did not play. Svidler justified his presence with a tie for second, winning four games and dropping just one for an 8.5/14 score. That score equaled Anand but fell 1.5 points shy of Topalov’s winning score. Svidler’s only loss came against Topalov, but even if Svidler had won that game with no other different outcomes, Topalov would have won the tournament. Svidler’s most impressive result was a 31-move win over Leko, who had pushed Kramnik to the brink in a non-FIDE world championship match the year before, and did so without moving his queen.

Svidler’s performance at the 2007 World Championship was more uneven. In the first five games he lost twice—to Alexander Morozevich in the third round and to Anand in the fifth. Svidler never became competitive, drawing every remaining game until salvaging a victory over Alexander Grischuk in the final round. That win gave Svidler sole possession of fifth place out of eight (and sent Grischuk to the bottom spot).

The 2010s

Svidler’s first big result of the decade came in 2011, when he emerged victorious at the 2011 Chess World Cup. His first notable opponent was Fabiano Caruana, then playing for Italy, in the third round, whom Svidler defeated 3-1. He then swept Gata Kamsky 2-0 to reach the quarterfinals, where he defeated Judit Polgar 1½-½ and then followed with a semifinal win over Ponomariov by the same score. Svidler had the black pieces in the first game of the finals against Grischuk but won a 30-move victory with the Sicilian Defense and drew the next three games to win the World Cup.

The result earned Svidler a spot in the 2013 Candidates' Tournament, where he finished in a tie for third, scoring 8/14. The overriding story of the candidates was the victory of Magnus Carlsen, who went on to win the world championship that he holds to this day.

Svidler played in two more candidates, first as the organizer’s wild card in 2014 and then in 2016 for having finished second in the 2015 World Cup. He ended two points back of Anand in 2014 and 1½ points behind Sergey Karjakin in 2016.

Fedoseev-Svidler, 2017
Svidler, right, at the 2017 Russian Chess Championship. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Outside of his World Cup success, the Russian championship continued to be a major event for Svidler throughout the 2010s. He won it three more times: in 2011 outright and in 2013 and 2017 after winning playoffs. 

Svidler continues to be an active player, but in recent years he has turned his attention to other activities in the chess world. He is ranked #28 in the world as of December 2019. 

Legacy

Coming up while the world championship was split and playing in the era of Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, and Carlsen, striving to be the undisputed world champion was always an uphill challenge for Svidler. A family man and a cricket fan, he nonetheless became one of the top players of his generation. 

Svidler’s total of eight Russian Chess Championships (1994, 1995, 1997, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2017) is perhaps his greatest accomplishment in chess. Rashid Nezhmetdinov has the second-most victories in this tournament with five (although Mikhail Botvinnik and Mikhail Tal won the more competitive Soviet Championship six times), and no active player has more than two. Svidler’s record is likely to remain unmatched for some time.

Svidler’s international record is quite impressive as well. The Chess World Cup became an excellent event for him as he won it in 2011 and finished as the runner-up in 2015. He and Levon Aronian were the only players to participate in all three of the candidates tournaments held from 2013-16. He has also been a key member of the Russian squad during international team competitions.

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