Igor Ivanov - Grandmaster and pianist

by ChessBase
1/3/2006 – In November Igor Ivanov, born in 1947, passed away. He was a very strong chess player, one who had beaten the reigning World Champion Anatoly Karpov in 1979. But his mother wished him to be a concert pianist. We found a splendid article on Igor on the One Good Move website, with some beautiful piano music by Chopin. A moving tribute to the maestro.

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In November we reported on the passing of this outstanding figure in American chess. At the time there was a short autobiographical note on the web site One Good Move. To our great pleasure we see that someone named Norm has posted a much longer article on the site, and also provided a sound file of Igor at the piano. Pure delight to hear. We bring you an excerpt of the new article, all relavent links and an article from ChessBase Magazine 109 – all as a farewell tribute to Igor Ivanov.

Igor Ivanov 1947 - 2005

Posted by Norm on One Good Move

There are thousands of chess-players around the world who knew Igor Ivanov. They opened their homes and their hearts to his brilliant mind, to his kind soul, to his hearty laugh, and to his friendship. He was always respectful of others, and I never heard him utter an unkind word to anyone. He was a Grandmaster while most the the rest of us were patzers, but he treated us as equals. His respect for us didn't dim when we played chess with him. We almost always lost, but we always left the board feeling good. He brought out the best in everyone. It wasn't that he didn't have strong opinions he did. I often disagreed with him about politics, but it was never personal, and we agreed on all the important things in life, a love of music, of literature, of chess, and the value of good friends.

I remember that day in March when he called and told me he had cancer, and how it was inoperable. We both knew that he didn't have long, but his spirits were high. I asked him if he'd heard the Monty Python song, "Always Look on The Bright Side of Life." He hadn't but was anxious to hear it. I sent him a copy and a few days later he was back on the phone. He didn't start with his usual hi Norm it's Igor instead he said "I love that part where they say You come into life with nothing and you leave with nothing, what have you lost nothing." and then that infectious laugh of his. That is how I’ll remember Igor laughing and embracing life while facing death. Igor is gone now, but our memories of him remain.

Here are a few of mine, but first a few pictures of Igor, the background music is Chopin’s Fantaisie-impromptu in C sharp minor, a piece I heard Igor play many times.

Click on the picture to play the video (Quicktime Video 16.8MB 4'46)

Grandmaster Igor Ivanov

By John Donaldson

Igor Ivanov was born in St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) on January 8, 1947. At age five his mother taught him to play chess and it was not long before he could beat her. Igor's first book was one on chess and even at a very young age he could remember his games.

By age eight Igor was an accomplished player, attending the chess palace daily where he was singled out as one of the most promising young talents, but this potential was to lay dormant for some time. Igor's mother wished him to be a concert pianist and asked her son to emphasize his musical abilities rather than play chess.

It was only when she died when he was 14 and left an orphan that he started to play again. His music talent (piano and cello) earned him special privileges and his own room in the orphanage but it was chess that he loved more. At 18 he matriculated at the University of Leningrad, but soon gave up the study of mathematics to pursue a career as a chess professional.

Igor Ivanov playing in the Soviet Union in the 1970s

Initially Igor had a job as the manager of an army chess club in Leningrad. The work was fine but did not allow him much time to play so when he was offered a position as a professional player in Tajikistan he quickly accepted. Igor stayed there only a year before moving to Uzbekistan where he played first board for the republic in the annual Spartakiad. It was in such a competition that he first came to the attention of the entire chess world when he beat reigning World Champion Anatoly Karpov in 1979.

Malevinsky-Sturua in the foreground; Ivanov playing in the background

Soviet players had become familiar with Igor's name years earlier, but particularly in 1978 and 1979. Playing throughout the Soviet empire Igor not only won several important competitions but did it in such a dominating fashion that he couldn't help but be noticed: 1st in the Zaitzev Memorial in Vladivostock in 1978, 1st at Yaroslavl 1979 and again first at the Tashli Tailiev Memorial in Ashkhabad at the end of 1979. His score in the latter was 12 from 13 (!), three points ahead of second place finisher Kakageldyev. Regrettably few of the games from these events are preserved. You can find some here and there in Shakhmaty Bulletin, Shakhmaty Riga, Shakhmaty v SSR and lesser known Soviet chess journals, but never complete bulletins for the events, the game scores of which were likely lost long ago. Igor was never a good record keeper so the games from Vladivostock and the 1978 USSR Semi-final in Daugavpils (=1st with Kasparov) in the accompanying game file give just a taste of a time where Igor describes his play as "fearless with no sense of safety."

The victory over Karpov earned Igor his first trip abroad to play in the Capablanca Memorial in Cuba in 1980. The return trip home to the Soviet Union made a refueling stop in Ganders, Newfoundland, where Igor asked for and was granted political asylum by the Canadian government. This move had, as one might expect, profound changes on Igor's life. An increase in personal freedom was balanced by a lack of economic security. As a professional player in the Soviet Union Igor did quite well, but such an occupation barely existed in North America in 1980, especially in Canada. Igor also had to adapt as a chess player. Playing in Swiss System events over a weekend with two or three games a day is not quite the same thing as a 16 player round robin that lasts three weeks. Nor is having to score almost 100 percent to win a prize.

Igor settled in Montreal and quickly picked up French and English. He and the rapidly improving Kevin Spraggett would dominate Canadian chess over much of the next decade. Igor won the Closed Championship of his newly adopted country four times in five tries from 1981 to 1987. In 1985 he tied for first place in both Canadian Open and Canadian Closed Chess Championships at Edmonton, Alberta, while playing his games simultaneously! Igor played for Canada in the 1984 and 1988 Olympiads and represented the nation in the 1982 Interzonal in Toluca, Mexico. This event was to prove to be a heartbreaker for Igor, though he didn't know it at the time. Scoring 7.5 from 13 he was fourth on tiebreak, but the GM norm - good for the title in an Interzonal - was 7.8. Certainly the way Igor was playing he probably thought the title was just around the corner, but it would be 24 years before he would become a GM. One can't help but wonder how that title might have made his life easier with more invitations and better conditions.

Canada is a very nice country, and one that has produced some good chess players (Yanofsky, Suttles, Biyiasas, Spraggett, Lesiege, Charbonneau and Bluvstein) but it is not a promising place to be a professional. It is no accident that former Candidate Kevin Spraggett lives in Europe nor that Igor moved to the United States. There is no pot of gold for professional chess players in the USA but if you are willing to travel there is always someplace holding an event with a first prize of $300 on up. Chess players from around the world are familiar with the World and National Opens, massive events often with over 1000 players participating and five figures for first place. Such tournaments are few and far between and the competition is such that no one can be certain to win. To survive as a professional in North America on a diet of just playing requires one find smaller events where the chances of winning are highly likely. Igor hit this trail in earnest in the 1980s and by 1997 he had won 9 of the US Chess Federation's Grand Prix series. This yearly competition, where points are awarded each event on the basis of the amount of prize money available ($300 first might equal six points, saw Igor reach close to 500 points in a single year. This does not equal many weekends off! At the end of the year Igor would often have to make long journeys to play in small events to secure his victory in the Grand Prix. One time he traveled back and forth to Atlanta from Los Angeles (roundtrip close to 6,000 miles or 10,000 kilometers) in less than a week by bus!

North Bay 1994 International Open (left to right): Boris Spassky (honored guest), Igor Ivanov, Jonathan Berry (tournament director), Deen Hergott, Derrick Bessette (tournament co-organizer), Ron Smith, Eduard Rozentalis and Alexey Shirov.

Igor started to play less frequently in the late 1990s turning his attention to coaching. He had worked in the past as a second for Viktor Kortschnoj in the 1981 World Championship, but he was most successful in his job at the Shelby School in Arizona, where he coached them to two national championships. More recently Igor relocated first to Central and then St. George, Utah. He is the Grandmaster-in-Residence (he got the GM title in 2005 for norms that he made in the early 1990s and was unaware of) at the St. George Chess School and lives in the mountains of southern Utah with his wife Elizabeth, a retired teacher. He teaches chess, runs a chess camp every summer, gives piano recitals at the St. George Tabernacle, takes care of Petruska and Sasha (two very spoiled cats) and is an avid gardener and reader. Igor is much liked by the many chess players that appreciate his excellent sense of humor, kindness towards animals and love of life. The author of this piece is confident that Igor and his games will be remembered for a long time.

A note on Igor's games. I have made a conscious decision not to select games of Igor's that are already in ChessBase, exceptions being limited to Vladivostock 1978 and Daugavpils 1978, games where I was able to locate annotations, and some recent US Championship games that were too good to pass up. Many of the games in this are from weekend tournaments in the United States played in less than optimal conditions, but Igor's creativity still shines through. I used several American magazine's to find them including Player's Chess News, Chess Life, Inside Chess as well as various state publications. I would love to hear from readers who have games played by Igor that are not in Mega2005. They can contact me at imwjd(at)aol(dot)com.

From ChessBase Magazine vol 109 (December 2005)

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