Remembering Evgeny Sveshnikov (11 February 1950 to 18 August 2021)

by André Schulz
8/19/2021 – Today, the Sveshnikov Variation 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5!? is one of the most popular lines of the Sicilian. It is named after the Russian Grandmaster Evgeny Sveshnikov, who discovered its potential in the 1960s and helped to make it popular. Yesterday, on 18 August 2021, Sveshnikov died at the age of 71. | Photo: Thorsten Cmiel

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In 1967, in a match between the Soviet Union and Hungary, Sveshnikov played with Black against the later World Championship candidate Andras Adorjan and won an interesting game.


This is Sveshnikov's first game in the Mega Database in which he tried the opening that was later given his name. The variation itself was known at the time, but was usually called the Lasker-Pelikan Variation. However, established theory considered it to be dubious because with 5...e5 Black weakens the squares d5 and d6 and after 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Bxf6 gxf6 Black's pawn structure gets even worse – and at that time not even the world's best players saw the dynamic potential of Black's setup.

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But Sveshnikov and his friend Gennadi Timoshchenko believed in Black's system and continued to play the line – with remarkable success.


Gradually, the variation became more and more popular and eventually people called it the Sveshnikov Variation. Currently, it is one of the most popular opening lines and players like Peter Leko, Vladimir Kramnik, Boris Gelfand, Ian Nepomniachtchi or Magnus Carlsen, to name just a few, have played or still play it.

Sveshnikov was born in Chelyabinsk on 11 February, 1950. At the age of two he learned to play checkers. When he was five years old, his father also taught him how to play chess. Sveshnikov was soon able to defeat his father and grandfather and other members of his family. When he was eight years old he went to a summer camp for children and teenagers, took part in a chess tournament and won it. His ambition was piqued. From then on, Sveshnikov regularly visited the chess group at the local Pioneers Palace. His teacher there was Leonid Aronovich Gratvohl. Gratvohl later emigrated to Israel, but Sveshnikov kept in touch with his first and only chess teacher.

After completing school, Sveshnikov studied engineering and after completing his degree, now 24 years old, he was supposed to be doing his military service. Thanks to his chess skills however, he was offered to avoid military service and to become a tournament player. Sveshnikov jumped at the chance. 

At the age of 17, Sveshnikov played for the first time in the USSR championship and according to him he won over 100 tournaments in the course of his long career. He won the international tournaments Decin 1974, the Chigorin Memorial 1976, the Capablanca Memorial 1979, the 51st USSR Championship 1983, Hastings 1984/85, the Chigorin Memorial 1985, Moscow 1989, Podolsk 1983 and the Keres Memorial (1984). 

Sveshnikov also won the Latvian national championships in 2003 and 2010. Between 2004 and 2010 he represented Latvia four times at the Chess Olympiad. In 2016, he was on board one of the Russian winning team at the senior team championship over-65. In 2017, he became Senior World Champion among 65+.

At the end of the 1970s, Evgeny Sveshnikov was one of the 25 best players in the world. At the height of his career, he had played against a number of top players, sometimes achieving remarkable results. Sveshnikov played 13 times against Mikhail Tal and had an even score (+3 -3 =7).


Evgeny Sveshnikov 1981 | Rob Bogaerts/Anefo/Dutch National Archive

A little story may reveal a bit of the character of Evgeny Sveshnikov. In the book "The KGB plays chess" Boris Gulko reports on his endeavours to leave the Soviet Union and emigrate to Israel in the late 1970s. He demonstrated in front of a government building in Moscow along with his wife. The couple were eventually carried away by the police in the face of opposition. While the rest of the passers-by watched in silence, Sveshnikov, who witnessed this, courageously called to the police: "What are you going to do with the man? Let him go! I know him. He is a well-known chess grandmaster." Gulko was allowed to leave the USSR in 1986 and settled in the USA.

Sveshnikov was married twice and has four children. His two daughters from his first marriage live in Chelyabinsk, while his two sons from his second marriage reside in Riga. His son Vladimir Svešņikovs is an International Master and won the Latvian National Championship in 2016.

Sveshnikov at times vehemently advocated that the two players of a chess game are the intellectual authors of the game and ought to acquire a form of copyright for their creation, but this view has not been upheld in any court, nor has it gained traction within the chess community.

As trainer and second Sveshnikov helped players such as Anatoly Karpov, Lev Polugaevsky, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Alexei Shirov and many others, but with his contributions to opening theory he wrote chess history. Apart from his work for the Sveshnikov Variation, he made numerous discoveries in the c3 Sicilian and the French Advance Variation.

Evgeny Sveshnikov died on 18 August 2021 at the age of 71.

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


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