Congratulations! Gennadi Sosonko celebrates his 80th birthday!

by André Schulz
5/19/2023 – Gennadi Sosonko was born in and grew up in the Soviet Union, in a golden age of chess. He emigrated in 1972, became a successful player and then an even more successful chess journalist and author. On 18 May he celebrated his 80th birthday. | Photo source: livelib

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


In two worlds: Gennadi Sosonko

Gennadi Sosonko was born on 18 May 1943 in Troitsk, a town in the Chelyabinsk region on the border with Kazakhstan. The family were originally from Leningrad, but had been evacuated to the south-east of the Soviet Union during the war. After the liberation of the city from the Wehrmacht, the family returned to Leningrad. Gennadi Sosonko learned to play chess from his mother at the age of ten. At first they had no chess pieces. Instead, his mother wrote the names of the pieces on pieces of paper. Later she received pieces as a gift from her brother.

Sosonko trained at the local Pioneer Palace, where Vladimir Zak, Vladimir Kirillov, Vasily Byvshev and Alexander Cherepov mentored the young chess students. After joining the Chigorin Chess Club, he was coached by Semyon Furman.

After leaving school, Sosonko began studying geography at Leningrad University, specialising in economic geography and in particular the economic foundations of Western countries.

Sosonko soon achieved master status in the Soviet Union, but did not play much, instead training with other players, including Tal and later Kortschnoi.

Kortschnoi and Sosonko

He emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1972, first to Israel and then to the Netherlands, a move that met with little approval in his native country. In the USSR, emigration was considered a "betrayal of the fatherland". Kortschnoi followed him in 1976.

In the West Sosonko continued his chess career, becoming an International Master in 1974 and a Grandmaster in 1976. He was also selected for the Dutch national team in 1974. At the 1974 Chess Olympiad in Nice, Sosonko played on board three behind Timman and Donner.

Timman and Sosonko | Photo: Gerhard Hund

With 10.5 points from 15 games, he was the fifth best player on this board at the Olympiad. The Netherlands also finished fifth. All in all Sosonko took part in eleven Chess Olympiads and lost only four games. He won 28 games and drew 64. In the 1990s and 2000s he was captain of the Dutch team.

Sosonko won the Dutch National Championship twice, in 1973 and 1978. He played in the Wijk aan Zee tournament several times and won it twice, in 1977 (sharing first place with Geller) and 1981. He also won tournaments in Barcelona and Lugano in 1976, Nijmegen in 1978 and Polanica Zdroj in 1993. He reached the prize money at tournaments in Tilburg, New York, Bad Lauterberg, San Paulo, London and Reykjavik. He finished twelfth in the 1976 Biel Interzonal Tournament. Between 1975 and 1982 Gennadi Sosonko was ranked among the top 20 players in the world, with the highest rating of 2595 in 1981.

As a theoretician, Sosonko made important contributions to the Catalan opening.

Having played little before, Sosonko finally retired from tournament chess in 2004 and concentrated entirely on his work as a chess journalist, especially with New in Chess.

Spassky, Kortschnoi and Sosonko meet below a statue of Paul Keres in Estonia

Sosonko has also published a series of books in which he tells of a world that has now disappeared, the "brotherhood of chess" in the Soviet Union after the Second World War. Chess had a very high status and the chess masters were offered paradisiacal conditions compared to the reality of life for the rest of the population. At tournaments hundreds or even thousands of spectators regularly followed the action on the boards. The chess newspapers and books had huge circulations. The chess grandmasters received a regular salary from the state. Thus the Soviet players gained a great superiority over the non-professionals or few professionals in the West and won the world championships among themselves until 1972.

In his books Russian Silhouettes (2001), The Reliable Past (2003), Smart Chip from St Petersburg (2006), The World Champions I Knew (2013) and Genna Remembers (2021), Sosonko has portrayed many of the protagonists of this period. "It was a fascinating and colourful world, and I felt it was my duty not to let it disappear into this empty abyss," wrote Genna Sosonko in the preface to Genna remembers.

On 18 May Gennadi Sosonko celebrated his 80th birthday. Congratulations!

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register