IM Bryon Nickoloff (1956 – 2004)

8/7/2004 – In 1999 doctors told Bryon Nickoloff that he had cancer and less than six months to live. But the well-known Canadian IM survived for five years, playing strong chess tournaments to the very end. His last game was at the Canadian Open in July, where he defeated his opponent with the black pieces. Bryon passed away on August 3rd. Frank Dixon remembers one of Canada's best.

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Canadian IM Bryon Nickoloff (1956 – 2004)

Remembered by Frank Dixon

The well-known Canadian International Chess Master Bryon Nickoloff has died on August 3, 2004, age 48, in hospital in North Bay, Canada. Nickoloff, born in 1956, had been valiantly battling cancer for five years, and was told by doctors in 1999 that he had less than six months to live. Some 2,500 cards and letters from chess friends around the world, wishing him well, revived his spirits, and he defied the predictions of many doctors by surviving as long as he did. His fighting spirit, so evident in his chess, carried him during those years.

Despite his very serious illness, he competed in the strong 2004 Canadian Open Championship, his last event, where 14 GMs were in the field of 126 players. This tournament was held in mid-July in Kapuskasing, and was won jointly by GM Alexander Moiseenko of the Ukraine, and Canadian GM Dimitri Tyomkin, who each scored 8/10. Nickoloff finished with a score of 6.5 points in ten games, just out of the prizes. These games included a very interesting draw with Latvian GM Daniel Fridman, rated 2594, in round two.

Bryon Nickoloff – Daniel Fridman
2004 Canadian Open, Kapuskasing, played July 11
Queen's Gambit, Semi-Slav, D31
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 Bb4 5.exd5 cxd5 6.cxd5 Qxd5 7.Nf3 Nf6 8.Bd3 Nc6 9.0-0 Qa5 10.Qc2 Be7 11.a3 0-0 12.Bf4 a6 13.Rad1 g6 14.Rfe1 Rd8 15.Bc4 Bf8 16.Ne4 Nxe4 17.Qxe4 Bg7 18.d5 exd5 19.Bxd5 Bf5 20.Bf7+ Kh8 21.Rxd8+ Qxd8 22.Qe8+ Qxe8 23.Rxe8+ Rxe8 24.Bxe8 Bxb2 25.Bxc6 bxc6 26.Be5+ Bxe5 27.Nxe5 c5 28.Kf1 Kg7 29.Ke2 Kf6 30.Nd3 c4 31.Nc5 Ke5 32.Kd2 Kd4 33.Nxa6 c3+ 34.Kd1 Be4 35.f3 Bb7 36.Nb4 Ke3 37.Ke1 Bc8 38.Nc2+ Kd3 39.Kd1 Bd7 40.Nb4+ Ke3 41.Nd5+ Kf2 42.Nxc3 Kxg2 43.Ke2 g5 44.Nd5 Bb5+ 1/2.

Note that all the games in this article can be replayed
and downloaded by clicking the link given at the bottom of this page.

IM Nickoloff won his last-ever tournament game on July 18, 2004, in the final round of the Canadian Open. With the Black pieces, he defeated Yevhen Molchanov, rated 2180. Here is that game. It showed that he kept his wonderful feel for development, strategic use of key squares, and tactical vision, right to the end.

Yevhen Molchanov – Bryon Nickoloff
2004 Canadian Open, Kapuskasing, played July 18
Queen's Pawn Game, Veresov, D01
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bg5 c6 4.Qd2 Bf5 5.f3 Nbd7 6.g4 Bg6 7.Nh3 e5 8.e3 h6 9.Bh4 Bb4 10.Nf2 Qe7 11.Be2 0-0 12.0-0 Rfe8 13.Rae1 a5 14.Bg3 Bd6 15.Kg2 b5 16.Ncd1 a4 17.c3 Nb6 18.Nd3 Nc4 19.Qc1 e4 20.Nf4 exf3+ 21.Bxf3 Be4 22.Nf2 Bh7 23.Kg1 Ne4 24.Nxe4 Bxe4 25.Bxe4 Qxe4 26.Kf2 Ra7 27.h3 f5 28.Re2 fxg4 29.hxg4 Rf7 30.Ke1 Nxe3 0-1.

Nickoloff on the cover of a 1996
issue of En Passant magazine

IM Nickoloff had a bright chess talent, which showed itself early. Growing up in Toronto, Bryon found plenty of strong chess competition right on his doorstep, including 1964 Interzonalist IM Zvonko Vranesic, former Hungarian champion IM Geza Fuster, and Canadian legend IM Lawrence Day.

When the Estonian GM Paul Keres visited Toronto for an exhibition, young Bryon, who had just started high school, defeated the super-Grandmaster. After the game, the kind-hearted GM Keres analyzed with the youngster, and told Bryon that he had the potential to become a Grandmaster himself one day.

Bryon was often absent from school, and was once arrested by a truancy officer in his teen years. Called simply 'Nick' by his many friends, the young chess star, who was movie-star handsome in his twenties, impressed former World Champion, GM Mikhail Botvinnik in 1977 when he held the Russian legend to a draw in a Toronto exhibition.

Nick was a contemporary of GM-to-be Kevin Spraggett, twice (1985, 1988) World Championship Candidate, from their junior years, and the two waged many great battles over a 30-year rivalry. Traceable results from serious games put their lifetime head-to-head score at one win each and seven draws. Here Nick wins a crucial game in the tough positional style he would make his own. It took GM Spraggett nearly 20 years to level the score.

Bryon Nickoloff – Kevin Spraggett
Canadian Junior Championship 1974
King's Indian Defence, Averbakh, E73
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 0-0 6.Bg5 h6 7.Be3 c5 8.d5 e6 9.h3 exd5 10.exd5 Na6 11.Nf3 Re8 12.Bd3 Nb4 13.Bb1 b5 14.a3 Na6 15.cxb5 Nc7 16.0-0 Rb8 17.a4 a6 18.Qb3 axb5 19.axb5 Na6 20.Rd1 Nb4 21.Ra4 Nd7 22.Rxb4 cxb4 23.Qxb4 Ne5 24.Nd4 Bb7 25.Ba2 Ra8 26.Nc6 Qd7 27.Na4 Qf5 28.Bb1 Qf6 29.Bc2 Bf8 30.Nb6 Ra2 31.Bd4 Qg5 32.Kh1 Qh5 33.Qb3 Qe2 34.Bxe5 dxe5 35.Qxa2 Qxc2 36.Rf1 Kg7 37.Qc4 Qxb2 38.Na4 Qd2 39.Nc5 Bc8 40.b6 Bxc5 41.Qxc5 Bb7 42.Kg1 e4 43.Ne7 Qg5 44.Qd4+ Qf6 45.Qxf6+ Kxf6 46.Nc6 Ra8 47.Rb1 Ra2 48.Nd8 Bxd5 49.b7 Bxb7 50.Rxb7 1-0.

Bryon Nickoloff's personal card in the FIDE database

A favorite 'Nick' defence was the Arkhangelsk variation of the Spanish, which he pioneered in the early years of its development, using it to score many beautiful victories.

Robert Wachtel – Bryon Nickoloff
Toronto City Closed Championship 1975
Spanish, Arkhangelsk, C78
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bb7 7.Re1 Bc5 8.c3 d6 9.d4 Bb6 10.a4 h6 11.axb5 axb5 12.Rxa8 Qxa8 13.Na3 0-0 14.Nxb5 exd4 15.cxd4 Na5 16.Bc2 Bxe4 17.Bxe4 Nxe4 18.Qd3 Nf6 19.Nc3 Re8 20.Rxe8+ Qxe8 21.h3 Nc6 22.Be3 Nb4 23.Qb5 Qxb5 24.Nxb5 Nd3 25.b3 Ne4 26.Kf1 c6 27.Na3 g5 28.Ke2 Nb4 29.Nc4 Bc7 30.g4 f6 31.Nfd2 Nc3+ 32.Kf3 Nd3 33.Nf1 Ne1+ 34.Kg3 d5+ 35.f4 Ne4+ 36.Kh2 dxc4 37.bxc4 gxf4 38.Bc1 f3+ 39.Kg1 f2+ 40.Kh1 Ng3+ 41.Nxg3 Bxg3 0-1.

Nickoloff was not quite able to fulfill GM Keres' prediction of Grandmastership, but he did reach the IM title in the early 1980s, after making norms in three straight events in Mexico, where he lived for several years, following the World Student Team Championship there in 1977.

Nick was respected by all who met him for his tremendous fighting spirit and creative, combative style of play. He won or shared the Canadian Open (1992, 1995) and Canadian Closed (1995) titles. Nickoloff captured numerous Open tournaments in Canada, several even after he was diagnosed with cancer. Nick played six times (Buenos Aires 1978, Dubai 1986, Thessaloniki 1988, Novi Sad 1990, Moscow 1994, Elista 1998) on the Canadian Olympiad teams, and took the measure of many of the world's best players. IM Nickoloff regarded the Cuban World Champion J.R. Capablanca as his chess hero, and wrote that he strived for the chess perfection, clarity, and harmony which Capablanca achieved in so many games.

En Passant December 1998

The group photo on the cover of En Passant is of the Canadian national team, taken during the 1998 Elista Olympiad.

From left to right: GM Alexandre Lesiege, Team Sponsor Ladislav, Translator Bairta Tserenova, GM Kevin Spraggett, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, IM Lawrence Day, IM Bryon Nickoloff, and IM Deen Hergott.

The following are three of Nick's favorite games. American GM Michael Wilder was rising in the competitive American chess scene of the mid 1980s.

Michael Wilder – Bryon Nickoloff
Toronto International Open 1987
Queen's Gambit Declined, D55
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Bxf6 7.e3 0-0 8.Rc1 c6 9.Bd3 dxc4 10.Bxc4 Nd7 11.0-0 e5 12.h3 exd4 13.exd4 c5 14.Bb3 cxd4 15.Nd5 b6 16.Nxd4 Bxd4 17.Qxd4 Nc5 18.Bc4 Bb7 19.Rfd1 Re8 20.Qg4 Rc8 21.Ne3 Qf6 22.Bd5 Nd3 23.Rxc8 Qxf2+ 24.Kh1 Bxc8 25.Qc4 Nxb2 26.Rf1 Nxc4 27.Rxf2 Nd6 28.Rf3 Re5 29.Bb3 Bb7 30.Rg3 Ne4 31.Rf3 Nf6 0-1.

The English GM William Watson is known for his ferocious tactical style, but met his match in this sparkling encounter.

William Watson – Bryon Nickoloff
Saint John International Open II, 1988
Spanish, Closed, C92
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 2.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Nd7 10.d4 Bf6 11.Be3 Na5 12.Bc2 Nc4 13.Bc1 exd4 14.cxd4 c5 15.a4 cxd4 16.axb5 Qb6 17.Ra4 Qc5 18.Nbd2 Nxd2 19.Bxd2 Qxb5 20.Nxd4 Qxb2 21.Rb4 Qa3 22.Re3 Qa5 23.Rb8 Qc7 24.Rxa8 Bxd4 25.Rg3 Nb6 26.Bh6 Bf6 27.e5 dxe5 28.Qf3 Qd8 29.Qe4 g6 30.Bb3 Nxa8 31.Bxf8 Kxf8 32.Qxa8 Qc7 33.Qd5 Kg7 34.Qc4 Qb7 35.Qd5 Qa7 36.Rc3 Be6 37.Qc6 Bxb3 38.Rxb3 Qd4 39.Rb1 a5 40.Rb8 e4 41.Ra8 Bh4 42.Qc2 e3 0-1.

The Croatian GM Krunoslav Hulak had just won a massive European Open event ahead of 100 Grandmasters when he met Nick in the super-strong New York Open.

Bryon Nickoloff – Krunoslav Hulak
New York Open 1989
Modern Benoni Defence, A77
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Nd2 Nbd7 8.e4 Bg7 9.Be2 0-0 10.0-0 Re8 11.a4 Ne5 12.Qc2 g5 13.Nc4 Nxc4 14.Bxc4 Ng4 15.Ne2 Qf6 16.Ng3 Qg6 17.Be2 Be5 18.Bxg4 Bxg4 19.f4 gxf4 20.Bxf4 Bd4+ 21.Kh1 Re7 22.Ra3 Kh8 23.Qd2 Rg8 24.b4 b6 25.a5 Bd7 26.axb6 axb6 27.bxc5 bxc5 28.Ra6 Be5 29.Rb6 Rc8 30.Bxe5+ Rxe5 31.Qf4 c4 32.Rb7 Be8 33.Nf5 Qf6 34.Qc1 c3 35.Rb6 Rxf5 36.exf5 c2 37.Rb2 Ba4 38.Rb4 Bd7 39.Rb2 Qc3 40.f6 Bf5 41.Qh6 Rg8 42.Rb8 Bc8 43.Qc1 Qd3 44.Re1 Qc4 45.Qd2 Qc7 1-0.

In 1994, Nick placed second to GM Kevin Spraggett at the Canadian Zonal, defeating the defending Canadian champion, future GM Alexandre Lesiege.

Bryon Nickoloff – Alexandre Lesiege
Canadian Championship, Hamilton 1994
Queen's Gambit Accepted, D29
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bxc4 e6 5.Nf3 c5 6.0-0 a6 7.Qe2 b5 8.Bb3 Bb7 9.Rd1 Nbd7 10.e4 cxd4 11.e5 Bxf3 12.gxf3 Ng8 13.Rxd4 Ne7 14.Nc3 Nf5 15.Rd1 Bc5 16.Ne4 Qb6 17.Bf4 Rd8 18.Bg5 Be7 19.Nd6+ Nxd6 20.Bxe7 Kxe7 21.Rxd6 Qc5 22.f4 Nb6 23.Rad1 Rxd6 24.exd6+ Kf6 25.Qe4 Nc4 26.Bxc4 bxc4 27.d7 Ke7 28.Qxh7 Qf5 29.Qxg7 Qxf4 30.Qg3 Qxg3+ 31.fxg3 Rb8 32.d8=Q+ Rxd8 33.Rxd8 Kxd8 34.Kf2 Ke7 35.Ke3 e5 36.Ke4 Kf6 37.g4 Ke6 38.g5 a5 39.h4 a4 40.a3 Kd6 41.h5 1-0.

Just to show that the above win was no fluke, Nick beat young star Alex again a few weeks later, in the same variation.

Bryon Nickoloff – Alexandre Lesiege
Toronto vs. Montreal team match, Kingston 1994
Queen's Gambit Accepted, D27
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bxc4 e6 5.Nf3 c5 6.0-0 a6 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.Qe2 b5 9.a4 b4 10.a5 Bb7 11.Nbd2 Be7 12.e4 cxd4 13.e5 Nd5 14.Nb3 Qb8 15.Re1 Qa7 16.Ng5 h6 17.Qh5 Bxg5 18.Bxg5 Rf8 19.Bd2 0-0-0 20.Rac1+ Kb8 21.Rc4 Ka8 22.Qg4 g5 23.Qxd4 Qxd4 24.Rxd4 Nb8 25.Bf1 Rg8 26.h4 Nc6 27.Rg4 gxh4 28.Rxh4 Nde7 29.Bxh6 Ng6 30.Rhe4 Ngxe5 31.Bf4 Ng6 32.Nc5 Rd5 33.Nxb7 Kxb7 34.g3 Nxa5 35.Bg2 Ka7 36.Be3+ Kb8 37.Bf3 Nb7 38.Rxb4 Rd7 39.Ra1 Ne7 40.Rxa6 1-0.

In this crazy game, using his Arkhangelsk specialty, Nick came within an eyelash of knocking off the number three rated player in the world.

Alexei Shirov – Bryon Nickoloff
North Bay International Open 1994
Spanish, Arkhangelsk, C78
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bb7 7.d3 Bd6 8.c3 0-0 9.Nbd2 h6 10.d4 Re8 11.Re1 Bf8 12.Nf1 d6 13.Ng3 Na5 14.Bc2 Nc4 15.b3 Nb6 16.a4 c5 17.dxc5 dxc5 18.Qe2 bxa4 19.bxa4 a5 20.Nd2 c4 21.Nxc4 Nxc4 22.Qxc4 Rc8 23.Qa2 Rxc3 24.Bb3 Re7 25.Bb2 Rd3 26.Bc4 Rd2 27.Qb3 Bc6 28.Nf5 Nxe4 29.Nxe7+ Qxe7 30.Rad1 Rxf2 31.Rxe4 Qc5 32.Ba3 Rxg2+ 33.Kxg2 Bxe4+ 34.Kg3 Qxa3 35.Bxf7+ Kh7 36.Bxg8+ Kg6 37.Bf7+ Kf6 38.Rf1+ Bf5 39.Qxa3 Bxa3 40.Bd5 g6 41.h4 h5 42.Be4 Bb4 43.Kf3 Bd7 44.Bc2 Bh3 45.Rg1 Bg4+ 46.Rxg4 1/2.

IM Nickoloff usually opened with 1.d4 as White, and as Black preferred the Spanish and Sicilian in response to 1.e4, and the Nimzo-Indian and Queen's Gambit in answer to 1.d4.

Well known for a lifestyle where he enjoyed wine, women, and song, and very many late nights, IM Nickoloff lived for the moment, and was usually open to playing and analyzing chess with players of all standards at any time of the day or night. He was an often controversial figure, yet never mean-spirited, and will be missed by his many friends and admirers throughout the chess world.

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