Dima’s Defence – you can help!

by ChessBase
9/2/2005 – He is a bright young lad, a candidate chess master who turned 19 last week. But Dimitriy Zemlyanskiy has been struggling to simply stay alive since he was 14. At the beginning of this year the doctors gave up on him. As a final wish Dima got to play a game against Garry Kasparov. Now it looks as though he might recover. But he needs our help.

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Dima’s Defence

By Olena Boytsun

Dmitriy Zemlyanskiy was a smart, healthy young lad, living in the Russian town of Saratov, about 450 miles south-east of Moscow. He was good at school, active in sports, and an avid chess player. He learnt the game when he was six, watching his grandfather play in a park. He started to read chess books and, when he was 13, went to a local chess school. The trainer told him that he was too old already to become a really good player. But then, within two weeks, Dima achieved his first chess norm. And he started to win tournament after tournament, making it to Candidate Master (approximately equivalent to FIDE Master) within a one-year period. Soon, he was sure, he would get an IM title.

It was a good life. But then, at 14, Dima took ill. It started with fever and swelling, and none of the doctors in Saratov knew what to do about it. For eight months the family went from one hospital to another, without success. Dima himself started to go to local libraries and bookshops, to read medical books about his symptoms. Then, one day, he went to his mother Elena with his finding: “Mother,” he said, “I have lymphogranulomatosis, there is no doubt about it.” [This malignant illness is known as “Hodgkin’s disease” in the West]. He knew that he was in Stage III of the disease, which required aggressive chemotherapy and radiation immediately. If the treatment did not start soon, death would be unavoidable.

Dima Zemlyanskiy at 18, in Münster, Germany

Elena Zemlyanskaya was deeply mortified, not the least because the doctors in Saratov had allowed eight months to pass without treatment and the disease to progress this far. For her there was only one possible course of action: pack their bags and take a train to Moscow.

There they stood, a few days later, in the central railway station, without any money or a place to stay. Elena took Dima from one hospital to the next, but all said they were unable to treat the boy. They needed a referral from a doctor in Saratov. At last they met a lady doctor who said: “We have no time for formalities, he must receive treatment immediately.” At her own responsibility she undertook to treat Dima in the hospital.

After this things started to look brighter. For two years Dima had a stable remission period, which meant that he felt better, and the symptoms had all but disappeared. The family returned to Saratov and the young man, eager to proceed with life, completed an intense course of foreign languages at a special school. After that he entered Saratov State University to study Law. Elena remembers how happy Dima was that time. “The teachers at the University still speak about him and say he was one of the best students. He was so motivated and wanted to get good education so badly.”

Olena Boytsun with Elena Zemlyanskaya, who has herself undergone major surgery

Dima finished the first University course in the summer of 2004, aged 18. At the time he went to the hospital for a scheduled check, one that Hodgkin’s patients must undertake for all of their lives. The horrifying diagnosis: the disease had returned, more severely than before. Tumors were squeezing the left auricle, liver, spleen. “It was terrible news for me,” Dima says. “I had just started to make plans for the future…”

Starting from October 2004 Dima once again started receiving aggressive anti-recurrence polichemoteraphy. This treatment is by itself very dangerous for any organism. Within a few weeks he had lost 30 kilograms and was struggling with a severe inflammation of the brain (limbic encephalitis, a rare but particularly critical side effect of Hodgkin’s). Dima was dying, the doctors said. There was no hope for the boy.

Russia, like many other countries, has a “last wish” program, and candidate chess master Dima had a very specific one: to play a game against Garry Kasparov. Elena Zemlyanskya called Kasparov, who immediately agreed to play with Dima. Soon after that Kasparov spoke to her son. “Dima was so proud,” Elena remembers. “It was the first time he was smiling in quite a long time.”

But the game had to wait. First Dima had to complete a treatment course of radical radiation therapy. However, due to his weakened heart muscle, using the normal accelerators in Russia was impossible. Apart from that the family did not have the money for the treatment, which amounted to over $25,000.

Video (click to replay): Dima, who worries about his English and occasionally falls back into German, tells us about his chess career, which is interrupted by the terrible illness. He is a candidate master (FM strenght), but in Russia one has to defend this title in tournaments, which he obviously cannot do.

Then came a lucky break. Dima’s first teacher of German in Saratov, Michael Blümer, had returned to Münster, Germany. “We knew that his wife had the same illness,” Elena says, “and that the University Clinic in Münster has the required radiation equipment. Michael helped us, he negotiated everything with the hospital, which accepted Dima as a patient. The treatment was started without the question of costs being resolved in advance. It was an exceptional case.”

Video (click to replay): Speaking in German Dima tells Frederic that he plays against the computer whenever he feels well enough to do so. Does he win? "Yep, sometimes I do," he laughs.

Once he had settled down at the University hospital in Münster, Dima was able to take Kasparov up on his offer. The game was played over the Internet, and the whole hospital gathered to watch. In Moscow a TV production company got word about the match and filmed Kasparov’s side of it. The report was broadcast on the central Russian TV channel. “The publicity helped us to gather money to pay for my treatment,” Dima says. Among others they received 300,000 rubles (about US $10,000) from the Russian Chess Federation, headed by the Chairman of the Federation and the First Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Dumas, Alexander Zhukov, who personally made a transfer.

Dima and Kasparov

In July this year Dmitriy had finished the current course of anti-recurrence chemotherapy and radiation. I was at the super-tournament in Dortmund and heard about him for the first time from Frederic Friedel of ChessBase. In the press center he received several phone calls from Garry Kasparov, who was urging him to visit the boy. Frederic told me the story and asked me if I would come along, to help with translation if necessary.

Münster is just an hour by train from Dortmund, and on the last day of the tournament we set out to do Kasparov’s bidding. We find Dima and his mother staying in a home for young cancer victims, attached to the University clinic. They have a small room with two beds. Since the cancer therapy has left his body practically defenseless against infection, Dima has to wear a protective mask, especially in our presence. To this day we have not seen his full face.

Studying economics during chemo and radiation therapy

On the bookshelf in Dima’s room I see a number of books on economics and law. Even the giant volume “Economics” by McConnell and Brue, the base for all students of the subject, is there. It is in Russian – Dima has brought it with him from Russia. Being a university teacher of international economics myself I can’t resist asking him what he thinks about this book. “It is fine,” he says, “but the exercises are too simple”.

On the table in Dima’s room is an IBM notebook with Fritz on the screen. “In Russia I had an Internet connection and I played a lot on the Playchess server,” Dima tells us. “Here in the hospital that is not possible. No Internet for me. So I have to play against Fritz.” Have you ever won a game against the computer, we ask? “Yes, if I set the level to Elo 2000 I always win. If I let it play without restrictions I always lose. But I made a draw against it once like this,” he says with a broad grin, visible through the light blue mask.

Unable to go to chess tournaments Dima plays against the computer

Since their telephone encounter in Moscow Kasparov has played a big part in the lives of the Zemlyanskiy family. Dima tells us how he was rooting for Garry Kimovich in Linares, how he followed the games and how he was sure Kasparov would win this tournament. “During the last rounds I had high fever again, and I could not follow the games online,” he says. “But some days later I heard that Kasparov had won and that he had retired from chess. I couldn’t believe it. I was so upset. Does it mean he will never play chess again?”

Dimitriy had been worried not just for chess in general, but also because of his mini-match with Kasparov. “My dream was to speak with the greatest chess player of all time,” he tells us, “and after that I could dream about actually playing against him. Fortunately his retirement was not so strict that he had to cancel his match against me.” There is a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

Video (click to replay): Chatting with Dima and his mother. Elena Zemlyanskaya came over from the clinic, where she had undergone surgery a few days earlier. Dima introduced her proudly: "This is my mother. She is also quite ill. But she is the smartest person I know." He also speaks, in German, about the problem of his devastated immune system, which has no leukocytes (white blood cells), thrombocytes (platelets) and other defence mechanisms against opportunistic infection agents.

How exactly did the contact come about? I asked Garry Kimovich about it later on the phone from Dortmund, and he told me. “One day the telephone rang. It was Elena Zemlyanskya, who told me about her chess-loving son, his very difficult situation and his dream. Of course I agreed to play with Dima. During that phase of his medical treatment he had to live in a special metal cubicle, so we couldn’t meet personally. Only the mother Elena was allowed to see him. I called him on the phone, and we spoke more than an hour. Dima was interesting and lively, it was a great conversation. I told him about the chess world, about famous tournaments, chess stories. I promised him that we would play a game, without any doubt, as soon as his health condition would allow it.”

“After the conversation with Garry Kasparov I felt I had a goal to live for!” Dima continues his story. “I had to prepare for the game. I was very motivated, and used mostly the books ‘My Great Predecessors’. I studied them by heart. Can you imagine – to prepare for the match with Kasparov using books written by Kasparov! I started to wake up in the morning with pleasure, ready to continue my chess studies. It was easier for me to stand the chemotherapy. And you know, just during that time suddenly the doctors said my condition had become stable, and the tumor was receding very quickly. It was like a miracle, they could not believe their eyes! Unfortunately, I lost the chess game against Garry Kimovich.” Again the big smile, which you can clearly make out through the mask.

Video (click to replay): with pleasure and pride Dima shows us a video of the Russian TV report on his match with Kasparov.

Dima is very proud of his game against Kasparov. He brings out a video tape with the program that ran on Russian TV, and annotates the moves. “He let me have white, which was good, because I had prepared an opening variation with white. I was very lucky. Of course for Kasparov it wasn’t a game like the ones he plays in super-tournaments. But I could feel I was playing against a very powerful chess force. With every move my position became a little worse. After move 15 I understood that I would lose. There was no point of thinking about a draw any more. So I decided to at least lose with dignity. I lasted 31 moves – that was a great success!”

Dima lost the chess game to Garry Kasparov, but currently he has good chances in the middlegame with his terrible disease. He knows for sure he doesn’t want to lose in the endgame.

Helping Dima

Dima’s current situation is still very volatile. The doctors have seen remarkable progress and gave him a 80% chance of survival last month, but in the meantime the fever has returned and there are signs of a possible setback. If that is the case, Dima will need a bone marrow transplant, a massively expensive procedure. But even if the disease is in remission he will need a number of additional checks and therapy courses, all in Germany at the Münster hospital. There a group of well-wishers are doing all they can to keep the treatment going, but the costs are way beyond anything they can manage.

Struggling to survive: Dmitriy Zemlyanskiy

So we are appealing to the chess community for help. Below are two account numbers that collect funds directly for Dima’s treatment. We also provide a PDF page for you to print out all account details and a feedback form. Please make a donation to this worthy cause. And send us a message if you do. Frederic Friedel has committed to $100, and Garry Kasparov is transferring $1000 to the Dima recovery fund. But remember, even small donations are very welcome and helpful. Let’s try to get this boy through!

Donations for the treatment of Dima Zemlyanskiy

The following are two accounts where you can donate to the Dima Zemlyanskiy recovery fund. We have provided the International bank account number (IBAN) and the Bank Identification code (SWIFT/BIC) for international donations. Any transfers made from Germany should give the account number and Bank code instead.




Account: Elena Zemlyanskaya
Bank: Stadtsparkasse Muenster
IBAN: DE89 4005 01500 134499821
Reference: Dima's Defence


Elena Zemlyanskaya
Stadtsparkasse Muenster
Konto nr.: 134499821
BLZ: 400 50150
Betr: Dima's Defence

For donations made from GUS countries you can also use the following Russian account:

ИНН 7707083893 р/с 30301810538000603811 в Сбербанке России г.Москвы
БИК 044525225
к/с 30101810400000000225
в ОПЕРУ Московского ГТУ
Банка России
УДО № 7813 / 01545
Донского отделения СБ РФ
г. Москва
л/сч. № 42307.810.3.3811.8151227
Ф.И.О. Землянская Елена Викторовна


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