Ponomariov wins the Geller Memorial in Odessa

7/4/2005 – What is with the Ukraine? They have the best chess players in the world, but hardly any top-notch tournaments. However, this paradox is about to change. A bank in Odessa has just conducted a very successful event with a promise to continue the tradition. Read all about it in Olena Boytsun's spectacular pictorial report.

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The Geller Memorial in Odessa

Pictorial report by Olena Boytsun

All images in the following report, unless otherwise specified, are by the author.

It sounds like it cannot be true, but here are the facts. The first is: Ukrainian chess players are among the best chess players in the world. The Ukrainian team holds the titles of both Olympic Champion and World Champion. Ukrainian Ruslan Ponomariov is the youngest world champion in the history of chess. Ukrainian Andrei Volokitin is the best-rated junior for a long period of time.


At Soborka Square in Odessa, where traditionally chess fans play all day long in the park, a fan presents Ruslan Ponomariov with a poem about chess, Soborka, Odessa and the young Ponomariov.

Ukrainian Sergey Karjakin became a grandmaster at the age of twelve, a record that still stands and is unlikely to be broken soon. Ukrainian Kateryna Lahno is the fresh Women European Champion. All of this is still part of fact number one. The second fact is – Ukrainian chess players have to travel abroad to play in tournaments. There are few or no interesting regular international chess events in Ukraine.


The venue of the Geller Memorial in Odessa

The paradox of these two facts makes it evident that something needs to be done to balance out the situation. I personally doubt whether the chess players in Ukraine will be willing to lower the level of their play; which of course means that another way must be chosen. We must find strong and serious sponsors who are interested in bringing Big Chess back to Ukraine.


Players and spectators at the Geller Memorial [Photo: Bukhman]


A bird's eye view of the event [Photo: Bukhman]


The decorations in the playing hall

From July 1-4, 2005 the Efim Geller Memorial was organized by Bank Pivdenniy (“Southern Bank”) in Odessa. The philosophy of the bank is “we are a smart bank for intelligent people”. What can fit better with chess?! The Chairman of Pivdenniy, Vadim Morochovskiy, came to this conclusion as well. And their first initiative was to establish a rapid chess event in homage of Efim Geller, who was born in the southern Ukrainian town of Odessa.


Viktor Kortchnoi vs Mikhail Golubev [Photo Bukhman]

The participation of the big Ukrainian star, Ruslan Ponomariov, provided the special attention of the mass media and spectators. Long queues of dedicated fans stood to get the autograph or to make a photo. During the tournament Ruslan also gave a press conference, telling the journalists about his impressions about Odessa and the tournament.


Viktor Kortchnoi and Vadim Viktorovich Morochovskiy, the Chairman of Bank Pivdenniy


Kortchnoi greets a young admirer [Photo: Bukhman]

It was unbelievable for many chess fans to see chess legend Viktor Kortchnoi come to Odessa as well. At the opening ceremony the son of Efim Geller, Alexander, emphasized the historical importance of the participation of Korchnoi.


Ponomariov being interviewed by a Ukraine TV station

The organizers from Bank Pivdenniy did their best to present chess well for the spectators. The games were played in the hall of the Theater of the Music Comedy in the heart of the Odessa. The two main games were projected on giant big screens for the convenience of the visitors. Young chess players were so excited and impressed with the tournament that they spent the whole day in the theater, watching games, playing against each other, solving chess quizzes and participating in simuls. A lot of children also preferred to follow the games by standing near the boards, sometimes making noise or staying too close. Young fans even used special tricks to gain access to the grandmasters, like slowly moving the dividing green line.


Ruslan Ponomariov and Alexander Kaluisskij on the Potiomkin Stairs

“I couldn’t understand why the spectator barrier at the end of the day is always so close to the tables, after we had started at 1.5 meters in the morning”, said Alexander Kaluisskij, the head of the marketing department of Bank Pivdenniy. “But then we saw how children secretly moved it and everything became clear”.


Creeping up on the players: spectators get a first-hand glimpse of the action


Chess fever in Odessa


Following the games on giant plasma screens

The winner of the first Efim Geller Memorial was Ruslan Ponomariov. One should also mention the bright performance of Odessa’s young hope, Stasik Bogdanovich, who is 12 years old.


12-year-old Stanislav Bogdanovich facing former FIDE world champion Ponomariov

The draw with Viktor Kortchnoi and two wins against Mikhail Golubev and Nikolaj Legkij show that this lad feels quite comfortable in rapid chess with GM participation.


Yuri Drozdovskij vs Ruslan Ponomariov in round one (result: 0-1)

At the closing ceremony it was announced that there was an initiative by the chess community of Odessa to name one of the street in the city after the brilliant chess player Efim Geller. At the closing ceremony the organizers from Bank Pivdenniy also announced that they have clear intention to support chess in the future.

Additional photos


980, 981 The worldwide famous Opera Theatre in Odessa


Bronze sculpture of sailor's wife waiting for him to come back home


WGM Masha Klinova of Israel


GM Valery Beim, Austria, 2512


IM Mikhail Podgaets, Ukraine, 2487


GM Nikolay Legky, Ukraine, 2455


GM Yuri Drozdovskij, Ukraine, 2517


Viktor "the Terrible" Kortchnoi in Odessa


Stasik Bogdanovich, 12, Ukraine, 2128


Viktor enjoying himself at the event [Photo Bukhman]


Efim Petrovich Geller was born on March 2nd, 1925, and died on November 17, 1998. He achieve the title of International Master in 1951, became a Grandmaster the following year. He was amongst the top ten players in the world for twenty years and took part in 23 USSR chess championships, a record equalled only by Mark Taimanov. Geller was always amongst the contenders and won the USSR Champion title in 1955 and 1979. Amongst his best international results were equal first with Mikhail Botvinnik at Wijk aan Zee 1969 (ahead of Paul Keres), first at Moscow 1975 (ahead of Boris Spassky, Viktor Kortchnoi and Tigran Petrosian) and equal first with Vassily Smyslov at Wijk aan Zee 1977.

He reached the late stages of the World Championship several times, most notably finishing just half a point short of playing in the final match when he scored 17/27 at the 1962 Candidates Tournament in Curacao (the event was won by Tigran Petrosian who went on to win the title).

Geller is best remembered for his tactical brilliance and ferocious attacking style, especially during the earlier part of his career. He was a recognised openings expert and worked as second to Boris Spassky in the World Championship match of 1972 against Bobby Fischer. He is one of the few players in the world (possibly the only one) who had a positive score against the American chess genius. In fact his total score against world champions was +39 31 =123 (Mikhail Botvinnik +4 –1 =5, Vassily Smyslov +11 –7 =31, Mikhail Tal +6 –6 =22, Tigran Petrosian +6 –2 =33, Boris Spassky +6 –9 =22, Bobby Fischer +5 –3 =2, Anatoly Karpov +1 –2 =5, Gary Kasparov +0 –1 =3).


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