The Personal Island of Anastasia Golubenko (Part one)

6/10/2012 – Like a bright comet in the cool Estonian sky she appeared, a quarter-century ago, from her far-off Volgograd island, to mass-produce a youthful army of chess champions of Estonia, Russia, Europe and the world. Then she made her final journey back to her home and her parents, full of vitality, which slowly ebbed from her. After a long illness Anastasia Golubenko, 46, died. She will not be forgotten.

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The Personal Island of Anastasia Golubenko

By Valery Golubenko

For the first time in my life I had seen a girl whose pet name Asja matched so perfectlly her maiden name Zinovjeva – although, you need to know Russian very well to understand that strange feeling. She became my wife Anastasia. She possessed unique personality traits and everyone could appreciate it, most of all I, her husband and our two daughters.


Anastasia Golubenko (Asja Zinovjeva), 1966–2012

The first time I saw Anastasia was exactly a quarter-century ago, on May 12th, 1987. She was about to finish her studies at the Moscow State Institute of Physical Culture with its famous chess department headed by IM Boris Zlotnik. She visited our local chess club in Kohtla-Järve in Estonia for several hours, to explore the possibility of employment as a graduate. It was a special system in the USSR: all higher education graduates had to follow a prescribed placement plan. Only those in possession of the so-called red diploma, – one earned with distinction, an honours diploma – in higher education (or HNC in the UK, DEC in French-speaking countries), like Anastasia, could choose from two or three places to work. I say she came to “our” club, but I myself had come to Estonia just three years earlier, after graduating from another Moscow institute, now the National Research Nuclear University.

Why do I know this date, 12th May 1987, precisely? Certainly, I remember those times like yesterday, but I know this specific date thanks to chess. When Anastasia entered our club, the first all-Estonian Individual Olympiad was in the full progress, and I was playing a game against my teammate Alexander Schmidt. So the date is on our scoresheet, very simple. Yes, I remember like yesterday. Suddenly I felt there was a light shining on my back and watching our game. I couldn't find a win, and instinctively turned round. Better I hadn't. I forget everything for a while, and the only thought left in my head was: I must win this game, through thick and thin, by hook or by crook, for love or money. For money or love...

[Event "Estonian Chess Olympiad"] [Site "?"] [Date "1987.05.12"] [Round "?"] [White "Golubenko, Valery"] [Black "Schmidt, Alexander"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A90"] [PlyCount "133"] [EventDate "2012.04.30"] [SourceDate "2012.04.30"] 1. d4 e6 2. c4 d5 3. Nc3 f5 4. g3 c6 5. Bg2 Nf6 6. Nf3 Bd6 7. Bf4 Ne4 8. e3 O-O 9. O-O Be7 10. h4 Nd7 11. Qc2 Ndf6 12. Rae1 Bd7 13. Ne5 Be8 14. Bh3 Nd7 15. Ne2 h6 16. f3 Nxe5 17. fxe4 Nxc4 18. exf5 exf5 19. Bxf5 Bd7 20. e4 Bxf5 21. exf5 Bf6 22. b3 Nd6 23. Bxd6 Qxd6 24. Qd3 Rae8 25. Nf4 Rxe1 26. Rxe1 Bxh4 27. Re6 Qc7 28. Ng6 Qxg3+ 29. Qxg3 Bxg3 30. Nxf8 Kxf8 31. f6 Bh4 32. fxg7+ Kxg7 33. Rd6 Bf6 34. Kg2 Kf7 35. Rd7+ Ke6 36. Rxb7 Bxd4 37. Rh7 Kd6 38. Rxh6+ Kc5 39. Kf3 a5 40. Ke2 Kb5 41. Kd3 Bb2 42. Rh4 Ba3 43. Rh8 Kc5 44. Rb8 Bb4 45. Rb7 Ba3 46. Ra7 Kb5 47. Ra8 Bb4 48. Kd4 Bc5+ 49. Ke5 Ba3 50. Rc8 Bc1 51. Kd4 Bb2+ 52. Kd3 Ba3 53. Rg8 Bb4 54. Rg6 Ba3 55. Rg2 Kc5 56. Rc2+ Kb5 57. Kd4 Kb6 58. Ke5 Kb5 59. Ke6 Bf8 {I was completely unable to count anything more than three ply, and played} 60. a4+ $2 ({White could win after} 60. Kd7 c5 (60... d4 61. Rxc6 d3 62. Rc3 d2 63. Rd3 Bh6 64. a3 Bf8 65. Rxd2 Bxa3 66. Rd4 Bb4 67. Ke6 a4 68. Rd5+ Bc5 69. bxa4+ Kb6 70. a5+ Kc6 71. a6 Ba7 72. Rd7 Kb6 73. Kd5 Kxa6 74. Kc6 $18) 61. Ke6 d4 62. Kd5 Be7 63. Rc4 d3 64. a4+ Kb6 65. Rg4 d2 66. Rg6+ Kb7 67. Rg1 Bg5 68. Ke4 Kc6 69. Kd3 Bf4 70. Kc2 Kd5 71. Rg8 Kc6 72. Rg6+ Kb7 73. Rf6 Bg5 74. Re6 Bf4 75. Re4 Bg5 76. Re5 Bh6 77. Rxc5 Kb6 78. Rf5 Be3 79. Rf6+ $18) 60... Kb4 61. Rxc6 Kxb3 62. Kxd5 Kxa4 63. Kc4 Bb4 {The position is a dead (and theoretical) draw. What can you do - just activate the rook.} 64. Rg6 Be7 65. Rg3 Bb4 66. Rf3 Ba3 $4 {Practically the only move that loses.} 67. Rf2 ({ Because} 67. Rf2 Bb4 68. Ra2+ Ba3 69. Kc3 Kb5 70. Rxa3 {wins.}) 1-0

Blushing, I rose from the table. Anastasia was still there. “You shouldn’t have won,” she said, “you tricked him.”

From Sep 1987 Anastasia started her career as a chess teacher and coach in the local Kohtla-Järve sport school and chess club Diagonaal. It was her first and the last working place – the only entry in her workbook during a quarter-century. We became friends and very soon I’ve a got a chess pass to her. It wasn’t difficult: I just showed my game against her former teacher:

[Event "Tallinn, Kooperaator, rapid"] [Site "?"] [Date "1985.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Golubenko, Valeri"] [Black "Zlotnik, Boris"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A45"] [PlyCount "83"] [EventDate "2012.05.05"] [SourceDate "2012.05.05"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 g6 3. Bxf6 exf6 4. e3 f5 5. c4 Bg7 6. Nc3 O-O 7. g3 Re8 8. Bg2 d6 9. Nge2 Nd7 10. O-O Nf6 11. b4 Bd7 12. Qb3 c6 13. b5 Rb8 14. Qa3 Qc7 15. Rfc1 g5 16. Rab1 Ra8 17. bxc6 bxc6 18. Rb2 a5 19. Rcb1 Ra7 20. Rb6 Bf8 21. Qb2 a4 22. a3 Rea8 23. Na2 Be8 24. Nac1 d5 25. c5 Nd7 26. Rb4 Qd8 27. Nc3 Qe7 28. Qc2 Qe6 29. Rxa4 Nf6 30. Rxa7 Rxa7 31. a4 Ne4 32. Nxe4 fxe4 33. Ne2 Be7 34. Nc3 Bd8 35. Rb8 Qd7 36. Qb3 Kg7 37. Bf1 h5 38. h3 ({Better was} 38. Nxd5 cxd5 39. Bb5 Qe7 40. Qxd5 Bxb5 41. axb5 Rd7 42. Qf5 Rb7 43. Rxb7 Qxb7 44. b6 Qc6 45. h3 Qe6 46. Qxe6 fxe6 47. g4 hxg4 48. hxg4 Kf6 49. f3 $18) 38... Ba5 $2 {[#]Now comes the decisive combination:} 39. Nb5 Rb7 40. Ra8 Bd8 41. Qa2 cxb5 42. Bxb5 1-0

Two months later, in Nov 1987, I got a chance to continue my studies as a post-graduate student, and returned to Moscow. It was just a night train between us, and standard mail. I played again in the Moscow university championship and Moscow men’s quarterfinals. In 1986 Anastasia played in the women’s final of Moscow championship, and I tried to duplicate her success. However hard I might try, I only reached the semi-final in 1988. Anyway, from time to time I dedicated little combinations to her.

[Event "Moscow ch 1/4"] [Site "?"] [Date "1989.04.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Krasnov, Sergei"] [Black "Golubenko, Valery"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B07"] [PlyCount "81"] [EventDate "2012.05.02"] [SourceDate "2012.05.02"] 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. Bg5 h6 5. Bh4 Bg7 6. Qd2 O-O 7. f3 c6 8. Nge2 Nbd7 9. Bf2 b5 10. Be3 Kh7 11. g4 b4 12. Nd1 c5 13. Bg2 Qc7 14. a3 a5 15. axb4 cxb4 16. O-O Nb6 17. b3 Bd7 18. Ng3 Rfc8 19. Rf2 a4 $5 20. Qxb4 Rab8 21. Qe1 axb3 22. cxb3 Na8 23. Rb2 Qb6 24. Nf1 Nc7 25. Nd2 Nb5 26. Nc4 Qd8 27. Qd2 d5 28. Ne5 Be6 29. h3 h5 30. g5 Nd7 31. exd5 Bxd5 32. f4 Nb6 33. Qd3 Nd6 34. Nc3 Be6 $6 35. Qd2 $2 {[#]} Bxb3 $1 36. Qe1 $2 (36. Rxb3 Nbc4 (36... Ndc4 37. Qd3 Nxe3 38. Be4 Bxe5 39. fxe5 Kg7 $15) 37. Rxb8 (37. Qa2 Nxe3 38. Rxb8 Rxb8 $17) ( 37. Nxc4 Nxc4 38. Rxb8 Rxb8 39. Qd3 Nxe3 40. Ne2 Nxg2 41. Kxg2 Rb2 $19 {1989}) 37... Nxd2 38. Rxc8 Nxc8 39. Nc6 Qd7 40. Bxd2 Na7 $3 41. Rxa7 Bxd4+ 42. Nxd4 Qxd4+ 43. Kh2 Qxa7 44. Nd5 $11) 36... Nbc4 $19 37. Rbb1 Nxe3 38. Qxe3 Nc4 39. Qd3 Nxe5 40. fxe5 Bxe5 41. Bd5 (41. Bd5 {Because of} Bg7 42. Bxb3 Rxc3 43. Qxc3 Bxd4+) 0-1

I already had a chess pass to Anastasia, but I didn’t have a pass to her heart. And one summer day I said to her: “Do you want me to become the world champion?” I was serious. I felt so much energy from her presence that I was game for anything. She replied seriously: “You’ll never be the world champion, you haven’t nature of killer.” It was our first summer together. We played chess and didn’t play chess. And we decided to make a match of it. We were happy. We made plans.


Anastasia in Alajõe, Lake Peipus, Estonia, Aug 1989

This photo is from that summer. It was the first time we had invited players from the German Norderstedt, the partner city of Kohtla-Järve. In the background you see Natalie Lüth, now an air controller at Hamburg Airport, and Ralf Bohnsack, now civil engineering adviser in the Norderstedt Rathaus. Anastasia’s play was simple and strong, her trademark not only in chess.

[Event "Alajoe International Festival"] [Site "?"] [Date "1989.08.04"] [Round "3"] [White "Olde, Hendrik"] [Black "Zinovjeva, Anastasia"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A07"] [PlyCount "76"] [EventDate "2012.05.08"] [SourceDate "2012.05.08"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 Bg4 4. O-O Nd7 5. d3 Ngf6 6. h3 Bf5 7. Nbd2 Qc7 8. Re1 e5 9. e4 dxe4 10. dxe4 Bg6 11. Qe2 Bc5 12. b3 O-O 13. Bb2 Rfe8 14. a4 a5 15. Rad1 Rab8 16. Bc3 b5 17. Ra1 Bb6 18. Kh1 h6 $1 $15 {A little move, neutralising white's big position.} 19. Nh4 Bh7 20. Bf1 $6 Nc5 21. f3 $6 Ne6 22. Rac1 $6 {White is totally disoriented.} Nd4 23. Bxd4 Bxd4 24. c3 Bb6 $17 25. Ng2 $6 Red8 26. Ne3 Nh5 27. Kh2 Qe7 $19 28. Red1 $4 ({After} 28. Ng4 Nxg3 $1 29. Kxg3 h5 30. Ne3 Qg5+ 31. Kh2 (31. Kf2 $2 h4 32. Bg2 Bxe3+ 33. Qxe3 Rxd2+ 34. Re2 Rxe2+) {Now Whites lose by x-ray, one of favorite Anastasia's hooks:} 31... Bxe3 32. Qxe3 Rxd2+) 28... Qg5 $2 ({Also winning but} 28... Qc5 $1 29. Re1 Qxe3 {won immediately.}) 29. Ng4 {[#]} Nxg3 $1 30. Kxg3 h5 31. Nb1 hxg4 32. hxg4 Be3 33. Rc2 Rxd1 34. Qxd1 Rd8 35. Bd3 Qf4+ 36. Kg2 Rd6 37. Kf1 Rh6 38. Ke1 Qg3+ {and mate in two.} 0-1

It was clear that Anastasia was one of the strongest woman players of Estonia. In 1989 she had won the bronze medal in the Estonian Championship. But nobody in Tallinn offered her a Zonal tournament or the like, for her chess development. Certainly, she was very disappointed, but then again she had come to Estonia not to play chess but teach chess. And that is what she did. It was her mission, and she was a real professional, as we say: born and bred. And as a professional she didn’t like this perestroika, uskorenie, glasnost, etc. – the politics and orgy of speechmaking, which simply distracted her and her students from studying chess.

After this summer tournament in 1989 the players from Norderstedt asked us to repay the visit in the next summer, 1990, and invited Anastasia to join the team. She couldn’t, as she was expecting our first child. Anastasia was alone in Estonia (I was in Moscow, as you know), and to avoid any risks we decided she must go to Volgograd, where her parents lived.

This photo was taken in May 1990 by an unknown street photographer in Moscow, on Krymsky Bridge. It shows Anastasia with her old friends, classmate Marina Dobrinkova from Volgograd and Tatiana Gladisheva. Which reminds me of an incredible coincidence. One time, in 1988, Anastasia came to Moscow to visit her best friend Tatiana Gladisheva and to meet me (I even remember the movie we saw in the cinema, it was Ballad of Narayama). Tatiana lived half hour from Moscow, in Krasnogorsk, and as it turned out, just a hundred meters from my own best friend, Andranik (we have know each other since 1978, over a third of a century now). But this is not the last story about our friends…

So, I substituted for Anastasia for the trip to Germany, more specifically to the BRD (the DDR existed until 03.10.1990). All documents were made in Estonia, so my scientific supervisor in Moscow didn’t knew about my trip from USSR to “one of the most capitalist counties” on Soviet doorstep. It was my first trip abroad, and surely it was unforgettable. We flew from Leningrad to Berlin, we saw the Berlin Wall, the separation of the two states…

Our daughter Valentina was born in three weeks after my return from Germany. The next year I finished my post-graduate studies in Moscow and we all returned to Estonia. It was August 1991, the time of the ominous GKChP (“Gang of Eight”, a group of eight high-level officials within the Soviet government, the Communist party and the KGB who attempted a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev on 18 August 1991).


1996: five-year-old Valentina plays her first game against Kasparov – actually
the Kasparov chess computer of Saitek

Valentina grew up in a chess atmosphere, and like a child grows in a home environment and begins to speak a native tongue, in four years she began to understand the language of chess. We never forced her learn or play the game, she just grew up in this atmosphere.

The Language of Chess – this was a life project of Anastasia, our common project. We didn’t get around to publishing it, because we were fighting for Anastasia’s health. But all materials are safely in my possession. We treat chess as a language, with its own lexical units. We catalogued all the different chess notions (or think we got them all), and wanted to make this “dictionary” available to everybody. Anastasia also wanted that, I know this for sure. She never kept her chess understanding from her students. They were like her own children.

When Valentina entered a kindergarten, Anastasia went back to playing in the Estonian Championships. She was still strong as ever.

[Event "Eesti (ch), w"] [Site "?"] [Date "1996.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Golubenko, Anastasia"] [Black "Rannuku, Maja"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C02"] [PlyCount "47"] [EventDate "1996.??.??"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 b6 4. c3 Ne7 5. Bd3 a5 6. Ne2 Ba6 7. Bc2 c5 8. O-O Nec6 9. Re1 Be7 10. Nd2 h5 11. Nf1 Nd7 12. Nf4 cxd4 13. cxd4 Qc7 14. Ne3 Nb4 15. Bb1 Rc8 16. a3 $1 {[#]} Bg5 {Desperation.} (16... Nc6 17. Bf5 $3 {Do you know that in the Closed (Advance) Variation of French Defense the seemingly the strongest pawn structure is in reality is the weakest? This is one of Anastasia Golubenko's little opening secrets.} exf5 (17... Nf8 18. Bh3 $16) 18. Nxf5 Kf8 (18... g6 19. Ng7+) 19. Nxd5 $18 Qa7 20. Qf3 Bc4 21. Nfxe7 Nxe7 22. e6 Nf6 23. Nxf6 gxf6 24. Qxf6 Ng6 25. Bg5) 17. Nxe6 fxe6 18. Bg6+ Kd8 19. axb4 Be7 20. bxa5 b5 21. Bd2 Nb8 22. Rc1 Nc6 23. Nc2 Qd7 24. Bxh5 1-0

Graduates from different years: Mikhail Perelshteyn (now USA), Mikhail Kobalija (Moscow), Tõnu Truus (Tallinn), Evgeny Eletsky (Moscow), Vladimir Shishkin (worked in Poland), Danko Bokan (Serbia), Liga Ungure (Riga), Boris Zlotnik (Spain), Vladimir Vulfson (Moscow), Anastasia Golubenko (Kohtla-Järve), Aksel Rei (Tartu), Vladimir Hayrapetyan (Yerevan)

[Event "Eesti (ch), w"] [Site "?"] [Date "1997.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Golubenko, Anastasia"] [Black "Laesson, Tuulikki"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B09"] [PlyCount "51"] [EventDate "1997.??.??"] 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. f4 Bg7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Bd3 c6 7. O-O Nbd7 8. e5 Ne8 9. Ne4 c5 10. c3 cxd4 11. cxd4 Nb6 12. Qe1 dxe5 13. fxe5 f6 14. Bc2 Nc7 15. Qh4 Be6 16. Bh6 Bxh6 17. Qxh6 Rf7 18. Nc5 Bd5 19. Rad1 Qf8 20. Qxf8+ Rfxf8 21. b3 Kg7 22. Rfe1 Rad8 {[#]} 23. Be4 $1 $16 {The timely exchange, a trademark hook of Anastasia Golubenko.} Bxe4 24. Rxe4 Rb8 $2 (24... f5 25. Ree1 Rb8 26. d5 $3 $18 Ncxd5 (26... Nbxd5 27. Nd7) 27. Ne6+) 25. exf6+ exf6 $2 (25... Kxf6 26. Ne5 Rfd8 27. Ng4+ Kf7 28. Rf1+ Kg8 29. Rxe7 Nbd5 30. Ref7 $18) 26. Re7+ ( 26. Re7+ Rf7 27. Rxc7 Rxc7 28. Ne6+ $18) 1-0

In Jan 1997 our Valentina, now six, still in kindergarten, played in her first Estonian Championship for girls under ten (G8 wasn’t held in those times). She became the vice-champion. Anastasia stopped playing and turned to coaching full time. Not only our daughter, but many other chess students around the same age. She had achieved her first big success as a coach in 1996, when her pupil Ksenia Starceva, nine, became the Estonian champion G10 and then participated in the World Championship on the Menorca Island, Spain. That was also a debut for Anastasia.


Valentina playing in her first European Youth Championship, Girls' Under 10
in Tallinn, Estonia in 1997. She came second in that event.


1999: Valentina shares third place in the European Girls' Under 10 championship in Greece. The winners on the stage are: Scarcea Raluca (ROM), Muzychuk Anna (UKR), Gakhokidze Tamar (GEO), Marinina Tatiana (RUS), Golubenko Valentina (EST), Atnilov Bella (ISR).


1999: Valentina sharing the sixth place amongst 100 boys at the World Youth Festival for Boys Under 10 in Spain B10. In the picture she is facing Tulay Berkay from Turkey. Valentina won the game in the Kalashnikov Variation.

Our path from then until the end of 2004 was presented in the first ChessBase story about Valentina and Anastasia:

The talented Miss Golubenko
28.12.2004 – She is 14 years old and 16-time champion of Estonia in various age categories. Valentina's trainers are her parents, both strong players. But the three Golubenkos, who live in Kohtla-Jarve, Estonia, are Russian citizens, and so Valentina cannot play in Youth World Championships. We bring you the story and a picture album of Valentina's chess career.

– Part two to follow –

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