Lviv – the chess capital of Ukraine

7/1/2009 – Chess was popular in the Ukrainian city of Lviv (or Lvov) before World War II, but it reached its golden age in the 1960s, when Leonid Stein gave inspiration to young young boys and girls. But it was the work of legendary trainer Viktor Kart that brought the country to the forefront of chess, producing some of the best players in the world. Illustrated report by Vladimir Grabinsky.

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Lviv – the chess capital of Ukraine

By Vladimir Grabinsky

When it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from 1772 till 1918, the western Ukrainian town of Lviv or Lvov was called Lemberg. It is situated 70 km from the Polish border. Owing to historical events the city became an encounter point of the Ukrainian, Polish, German, Armenian, Jewish and Russian cultures. Although Lviv is only seventh rank in population amongst Ukrainian cities, it is often called the cultural, tourist and chess capital of the country.


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Chess was popular in Lviv before World War II, but it reached its golden age after the success of Leonid Stein. He became the triple winner of the USSR Championships – 1963, 1965, 1966, with especially strong participation – giving push and inspiration to many young boys and girls, who started to attend chess classes. In one of them his good friend Viktor Kart was the trainer, and to his classes came the young Alexander Beliavsky, Oleg Romanishin and later Adrian Mikhalchishin and Marta Litynska.


The father of Lviv chess school Viktor Kart together with Alexander Beliavsky

One must note that the chess futures of Alexander Beliavsky and Oleg Romanishin are very similar. In 1973 they both won youth championships under 18, which became their first serious achievements. Beliavsky became World Champion in England, when Romanishin became European Champion in Holland. Both Alexander and Oleg played in Candidate Matches for the World Championships. They had bad luck with the pairing,: Beliavsky had to play the future World Champion Garry Kasparov in 1983, while Romanishin had to face another chess king, Viswanathan Anand. Both Ukrainian GMs had dissimilar styles of play, but they resembled each other in fighting spirit and a total absence of compromise over board. For a long period Alexander used to be the third highest-rated player in the world (after Kasparov and Karpov). Oleg Romanishin won the third prize in the Chess Oscars in 1978, behind Viktor Kortchnoi and Anatoly Karpov.


First generation of Lviv grandmasters: Mikhalchishin, Romanishin, Beliavsky

Adrian Mikhalchishin initially assisted both his landsmen, and after he was a second for Anatoly Karpov in his matches against Garry Kasparov for the world crown, he devoted himself to a training career, having achieved the highest acknowledgement – the title of Chairman of FIDE Trainer Committee. Marta Litynska won interzonal tournaments twice and was stopped only in the semifinal match in her fight for the women's chess crown.

The second generation of the chess surge in Lviv was headed by Vasily Ivanchuk. In his early career experienced chess coaches from Lviv, Viktor Zheliandinov, Vladimir Buturin and Mykhail Nekrasov would go to his native Ternopil region for training sessions. Later, having entered the Lviv Institute of Physical Culture, Ivanchuk decided to move to Lviv. That is why it is not a surprise that the mayor of Lviv City decided to award Vasily the title of “Best Lviv Citizen of 2008”, thus having once again highlighted the importance and high level of chess in the city.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union many grandmasters moved abroad: Josif Dorfman, Vitali Golod, Arkadij Rotstein, Felix Levin, Zoja Lelchuk. And many gradually started training careers: Orest Gritsak, Alexander Sulypa, Mikhail Kozakov, Roman Vidoniak, Andrei Maksimenko.


Lviv trainers at the Europe Youth Championship.

Many talented players took up permanent training careers: IMs Mikhail Klenburg worked with Israeli players and Vladimir Grabinsky with the Ukrainian team; the daughter of Jaroslav Srokowski played for Germany; GM Adrian Mikhalchishin works with Turkish girls; Zheliandinov helped the Polish boys; and GM Alexander Sulypa has been training the women’s team of Poland for a long time already.

But to replace them a new generation of players appeared – like mushrooms after the rain: Anna and Maria Muzychuk, Kateryna Lahno and Andrei Volokitin.


In 1997 Anna Muzychuk and Andrei Volokitin, conquering their first world youth championship in Cannes, France. Behind them is Vladimir Grabinsky

A bit later the talents of my students were revealed: Yuri Vovk, winner of Cappelle la Grande 2009, Martyn Kravtsiv, winner of the First Mind Games in Beijing, Yuriy Kryvoruchko who was selected to the World Cup after the European Championship in Plovdiv, Mykhailo Oleksienko, Andrei Vovk, all grandmasters. Yaroslav Zherebukh, Aleksander Ipatov and Volodymyr Vetoshko are very young, but my advice is remember their names. One easily predicts that they will be top grandmasters in the near future.


The ancient game is really adored in Lviv. If you are walking through central square on your way to the Opera House you will notice local citizens spending their free time over a chess board.


Nearby experienced players awaiting innocent tourists


Having seen a man with camera they offer to play me for a beer

Not many countries can be proud of having produced 33 international grandmasters – all the more fantastic is that this was achieved in a city with a population below 800 thousand. In honor of the 80-year anniversary of Lviv chess school founder Viktor Kart two blitz tournaments were held. On the market square which surrounds the municipal government, in one of restaurants, 12 men and 4 women decided who is best in this form of play.


Fans who have come to watch the blitz tournament


The main favorites in the men's tournament were Alexander Areshchenko and Andrei Volokitin. But after tough play in the fourth round their paths branched off. The main competition for Andrei Volokitin was presented by his young colleagues Yuri Vovk and Mykhailo Oleksienko.


Alexander Beliavsky and Oleg Romanishin enjoyed sharing memories with their coach, Viktor Kart (middle), who came from Hannover specially for his anniversary, to celebrate it in the circle of his students and friends.


Prize winners of the tournament: Oleksienko vs Vovk



Despite the cold weather Alexander Sulypa played in a single shirt


A most useful competition for Volodymyr Vetoshko, silver-prize winner of the European Championship under ten. Another defeat against Volokitin, but an unforgettable lesson.

The winner of Mind Games in Beijing in blitz fought well in Lviv, but didn’t reach the leaders.


Martyn Kravtsiv is especially dangerous in blitz games


Mikhail Kozakov had time to organize the tournament and play in it

The women's tournament was won by young mother Natalia Hryhorenko. Giving birth to a daughter two months ago apparently inspired her play.


Natalia Hryhorenko (right) vs Vita Chulivska


Participants of the competition celebrate Viktor Kart and wish to play in such an event for his hundredth birthday


The author of this article, IM Vladimir Grabinsky, honorary coach of Ukraine, meets a friend in an alley of his native city.



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