The Personal Island of Anastasia Golubenko (Part two)

6/25/2012 – She was one of the most dedicated and successful coaches Estonia ever had, producing national, European and even world champions in the junior categories. But as a Russian she was ostracized, as were some of her students. Her tireless battle for their rights ended when Anastasia passed away at the age of 46. Her loving family and friends are planning a tribute for her. You can contribute.

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The Personal Island of Anastasia Golubenko (Part two)

By Valery Golubenko

The Personal Island of Anastasia Golubenko (Part one)
10.06.2012 – Like a bright comet in the cool Estonian sky she appeared, a quarter-century ago, from her far-off Volgograd island, to mass-produce a youthful army of chess champions of Estonia, Russia, Europe and the world. Then she made her final journey back to her home and her parents, full of vitality, which slowly ebbed from her. After a long illness Anastasia Golubenko, 46, died. She will not be forgotten.

The period until June 2007 is presented in a very detailed article of my friend Valery Adzhiev from our native vicinity of Mt. Elbrus. We have known each other since 1970, we went to the same school in Cherkessk, and then studied in the same institute in Moscow. Could I ever dream, visiting with Valery the local chess club in the Palace of Pioneers, that my daughter would play in the Women’s World Championship which, after a long bidding process throughout the world (Prague, Argentina, Almaty, Istanbul, Baku, Iran, and Singapore) would be finally held near our native Elbrus, in Nalchik?! Valery Adzhiev’s article (sorry, it’s in Russian, in spite of the fact that Valery lives in the UK) has a flashy title “Estonian Republic Against Grandmaster Girl” and ends with the words: “Is it really a war?”

The original article in Russian is here, but you can go through a Google translation to catch the gist.

In June 2007 it turned into a real comedy: the Estonian Chess Federation had for so many years furiously tried to destroy the chess career of our daughter, and now they had to register her grandmaster title (the first in Estonian history) at the FIDE Presidential Board meeting in Tallinn! After this our friend Ivan Mandekic, chess organizer from Rijeka, and the Croatian Chess Federation took Valentina under their full patronage, and in a half year Valentina was already playing for the Croatian national team, which finished among ten best teams in Europe in 2007! Her mother’s, Anastasia’s, heart was really happy...

You may not believe it, but the Estonian Chess Federation began to send out protests, asking why Valentina was playing for Croatia without a forfeit period. And after this fiasco the Federation switched to Valentina’s mother, to Anastasia. Five long years they refused to give her the deserved highest chess coach grade (5th in Estonia, valid throughout the European Union). They “lost documents”, they “didn’t get the registered envelope”, and they offered Anastasia a lower, 4th, grade. Even when Valentina became the World Champion for girls under 18 in 2008, they delayed it till spring 2010. Without doubt all these troubles shortened the years of Anastasia...

Anastasia was not only the most productive and successful chess trainer of Estonia, but also a real human rights activist to her chess children. Thanks to this public work she became the best in her profession. Anastasia believed if a sport coach doesn’t teach students to stand up for their sporting or human rights, then such training means nothing. She spent the last not so robust ten years of her life, and not an insubstantial part of our family budget in courts, fighting against the following problems of Estonian chess:

  • Tournament irregularities – the most common complaint was that tie-break rules would be revealed after the last game is played.
  • Playing chess in children championships behind closed doors. This is a gross violation of fundamental children rights. A legal representative of your child has the duty to protect him/her from arbitrary rules during a game!
  • Excluding children because of their parents’ nationality. Let me explain: notion of citizenship in Estonia is applicable to children from above 15 years. Before that it is defined by the citizenship(s) of their parents. The Estonian Chess Federation prohibits children from playing in the Youth World and European chess championships starting from any age (from 5 or 6, for example) if they haven’t citizenship of Estonia.
  • Excluding children because of their social status. By law, in Estonia, sport clubs preparing prize winners of the Estonian youth championships get state donations from the Ministry of Culture through the sport federations. For example, ten years ago, the gold medal in chess in ages from 10 to 18 was worth at EEK 5,000 (EUR 320). But the Estonian Chess Federation paid this money only to clubs preparing prize-winners who are citizens of Estonia.

Anastasia always stood up for her chess children. We fought in the Estonian courts not for rights of our daughter Valentina, because everything needed she had in her own family, but for the rights of other children who did not have “chess parents” like she did. In 2004 we filed an important lawsuit against the Estonian Chess Federation. It was very tough and very important case, and we spent three years, 2004-2006, to win it.

And please remember: the coach is the legal representative of your child during a chess event, with all ensuing consequences. As I write this I learn that three leading Estonian GMs boycotted the Estonian Championship, citing dissatisfaction with policies of the Chess Federation's acting head. One of the players is Aleksandr Volodin, Anastasia’s student, who was also born in 1990. He grew up with Valentina in the chess group until 2005, when he started to take lessons from St. Petersburg GM Evegeniy Solozhenkin and the well-known theoretician Sergey Ivanov (St. Petersburg is two hundred km from us).


Valentina Golubenko and Aleksandr Volodin with Boris Spassky at the Central
Chess Club in Moscow, 25th June 2006

Anastasia’s last public activity was in June 2010. Because of the financial crisis municipal powers continuously cut donations to sports clubs, and clubs couldn’t pay their trainers even minimum wages (278 Euros in Estonia in 2010). The sports clubs threatened to picket the city authorities. Anastasia compiled a petition which was signed by a majority of sports clubs. All newspaper and Internet media quoted her words during the city council meeting with the sports clubs: “The situation is hard because we ourselves elected these people. They solemnly promised not to touch sport, because during a severe crisis people and their children need something to do. Sport is the only motivation left in our city for most people.” Only a very strong personality could tell them to their faces: “The situation is particularly hard because we elected you.”


Valentina beween GMs Antoaneta Stefanova and Anna Muzychuk, playing at the Women's
European Individual Championship 2007 in Dresden, where she shared the 5th place


Mostly chess began for Anastasia from the first Karpov-Kasparov match in 1984. Recently chess writer and AP correspondent in Moscow ’84 Eric Schiller sent me a color photo with Anastasia from the KK1 Press Center:


Press Centre in Moscow, The Hall of Columns, Oct 1984, during Karpov-Kasparov 1

In the above photo Eric is interviewing Anastasia for Associated Press. It was after the 14th game, which was a quick draw. Exactly 18 years later, to the day, Anastasia gave birth to our younger daughter Alexandra. This April, when Anastasia was still in the land of living, the first school championship was held in our town. And the school headed by nine-year-old Alexandra Golubenko fought for first place against a school headed by eight-year-old Andrei Timoshin, another young talent of Anastasia. This time Alexa’s school took the gold. She is not very strong for her nine years, but she tries:

Trofimov,Erik - Golubenko,Alexandra [C57]
Kohtla-Jarve school championship, 03.04.2012
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Nxf7 Qe7? Alexa hadn't played chess more than a half year and forgot everything. 5...Bxf2+ was necessary. 6.Nxh8 Nxe4 7.Qh5+ g6 8.Qh6? Qf6 9.Bf7+ Kd8 10.Qxh7? Qxf2+ 11.Kd1 Nd4 12.Qg8+ Ke7 13.Nxg6+ Kd6 14.Qf8+ Kc6 15.Nxe5+ Kb6 16.Qh6+ d6 17.Re1.

In the Traxler Counterattack Alexa has lost the left part of her army, but mate is inevitable: 17...Bf5. Missing mate in two: 17...Qf3+!! 18.gxf3 Nf2#, but creating a new mate threat: 18...Nc3+! and 19...Bxc2#. 18.Nd3 Qf3+! Again missing simple mate after: 18...Bg4+ but seeing how to distract the enemy knight on d3. 19.gxf3 Nf2+! 20.Nxf2 Bxc2#

0-1. Now you see that the entire left half of Black’s forces is absent. Half an army defeated a whole army. This is the royal chess. When Alexandra came home after this tournament, she happily told her mother that her school was champion, and that she had won all five games. Anastasia smiled mildly in response.


I leaf through old postcards Anastasia kept to her last days. This one is from Dresden, dated 24.01.1985, sent with German punctuality ten days before Anastasia’s birthday. Who is this girl? In USSR girls were generally in correspondence with girls from German Democratic Republic, and Anastasia was as well. I translate this simple greetings from German: “Dear Asja, my heartfelt congratulations on your birthday. From all my heart, your friend Tanja.” Where are you today, Tanja? Do you remember Asja Sinowjewa?

Dresden repaid Asja for her attachment to a friend. In April 2007, at the European women’s championship, Valentina took all she herself and her mother dream of. April 12: two final WGM norms. April 13: WGM rating. April 14: two IM norms and a place in the Women’s World Championship 2008. Every evening we called Anastasia from the coin telephone booth near the Dresden Congress Center and she didn’t believe us. Anastasia never watched online games when Valentina was playing, she just waited for our calls...


Valentina Golubenko attends the Nalchik's Theatre Square festivities
before the Women's World Championship 2008 opening ceremony.

In September 2006, on Krk Island, when Valentina was trying to make her second WGM norm (there is a ChessBase report), Ivan Mandekic told me about a Russian couple, both chess masters, who played ten years earlier in the Croatian team championship. Ivan’s wife was to look after their two-year-old daughter while they played. Several times Ivan would bring the child into the playing hall, just to let her see her mother and stop her crying. I listened with half an ear until he mentioned her name, with big Yugoslav accent: Gladisheva. “Tanja?” I asked. Ivan was surprised: “From where do you know her?” I explained that Tanja is the best friend of my wife, they lived during all the Moscow years in one room.


Tatiana Gladisheva and Asja Zinovjeva in Moscow, on Campus, in January 1984


Our wedding, Kohtla-Järve, 11.11.1989, in a Chaika Soviet wedding car, with Tanja on the left

In July 2010 Ivan Mandekic invited Valentina to play in his traditional Cvijet Mediterana (again there is a ChessBase report) in Rijeka, and the rest of our family to vacation in the neighboring Opatija.


This is our family self-portrait from those last happy days in Opatija, 3rd July 2010

We returned through Düsseldorf and specially made a stop for one night there to meet our friend Alexander Schmidt living in Duisburg, as you already know. First Alexander wanted to drive us to Oberhausen to show us their soccer octopus “Paul the Great Predictor”, but then we decided just to drink beer in the Alt Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf, Duisburg, and Oberhausen are the same point on the map.


Alexander Schmidt, who realized I caught them from the other side of the street, and
Anastasia in Düsseldorf, 13th July 2010


Our daughters Alexandra and Valentina in Düsseldorf, 13th July 2010

Less than a week later Anastasia got her terrible diagnosis. We didn’t think about that in our last happy days in the first half of summer 2010, but it is turned out all our happy days began with Alexander Schmidt in 1987 and ended in 2010 with him. Yes, Anastasia was attached to her friends to her last days. But most of all she was attached to her parents, living in Volgograd. Anastasia grew up in a very simple Soviet family. Her mother, Valentina Nikolaevna, worked as an insurance agent on flexible hours, and so could accompany Anastasia to various youth chess events:


Young Asja Zinovjeva with her mother Valentina Nikolaevna during a tournament


Asja Zinovjeva playing in the Belaya Ladya USSR final, Antracite, Ukraine, Aug 1979

Anastasia’s first coach was WIM Josefa Gurfinkel (above right), USSR vice-champion 1954 and participant of the candidate tournament 1955. Her husband, Alexander Konstantinov, is a chess theoretician and Soviet master. The above picture was taken in their Volgograd flat in August 1996. Josefa Gurfinkel created the legendary Volgograd team from the secondary school no. 8, which became in 1976 the champion and then in 1977 and 1979 the vice-champion of the famous White Rook (Belaya Ladya) all-Soviet chess school event. Anastasia was a member of this team in 1979.


View Larger Map

Every summer, every July and August, Anastasia spent with her parents in their summer cottage on Sarpinsky Island near Volgograd, the biggest river island in Europe. Here she underwent surgery in the summer 2010, and on this island she returned in the summer 2011 to see her parents for the last time... In January 2011 we thought we beaten her deadly disease, and Anastasia returned to active coach work. Together with her pupils she again participated in the Estonian Youth Championships, and she even played herself in a few friendly matches. We trusted Anastasia’s doctors (of course!), and that was our decisive mistake. They simply stopped monitoring her condition. They let her go to Volgograd, to the deadly heat, half a month at +45°C in the shade.

We all begged Anastasia not to go that summer, but she couldn’t bring it over herself not to see her parents for the first time is so many years? So she went, and came back terribly ill. She underwent very difficult brain surgery at the Tartu University Hospital, and in this January she was administered the latest immunotherapy, passed by the EU only last August. All analyses were clean, and we really hoped again for full recovery. And then I made the last mistake. I asked doctors in Tallinn to monitor Anastasia and to treat one of side effects. They kept her for a week, failed to understand the cause, and instead of leaving things as they were they poisoned her with huge amounts of strong tablets she had never been taking at all.

After all tribulations Anastasia returned to her native home. We never spoke about a funeral because to the last we hoped to overcome her disease. But I knew she wanted to return, and so she went back.


Anastasia Chess School and Memorial Tournament

In August 2008 we spent a week on Krk (Punat) during a youth chess course. Valentina was being prepared for the Women's World Championship 2008 by GM Ognjen Cvitan (who won the 1981 World Junior Championship ahead of Jaan Ehlvest), and Anastasia gave lessons to a Croatian boy.


Valentina giving a simul to participants of the school on twelve boards on Krk Island.
Standing in the green shirt is Ivan Mandekic, who will help with our Croatian projects

We have decided, with our friend Ivan Mandekic to conduct a ten-day International Youth Chess School on Krk island (picture below) in August. The "Anastasia Chess School" will be organised together with a U14 cadet tournament – or if we are able a U14, U12 and U10.

ChessBase has kindly agreed to donate software prizes for the participants in the Anastasia Memorial Tournament. If you wish to support the tournament you can pay a sum to the organisers:

Chess Club "Draga" Rijeka
BKS Bank, SWIFT/BIC BFKKHR22,
Account 2488001-1100110201
IBAN: HR3924880011100110201

or send prizes to the following address: Chess Club "Draga" Rijeka, Brig 72E, 51000 Rijeka, Croatia.

You can also contribute to the completion and publication of the book "The Language of Chess" by Anastasia and Valery Golubenko, using PayPal to send it to golubenco@gmail.com. Contributions should be marked "Donation". They will be use to 100% for the projects described above.

Contact: Valery Golubenko, Kohtla-Järve, Estonia, golubenco@gmail.com

Copyright Golubenko/ChessBase


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