Remembering a Ukrainian super-talent

by Mikhail Golubev
4/3/2020 – On March 5th, Nataliya Vernigora, found her 18-year old daughter Alexandra and her boyfriend, GM Stanislav Bogdanovich dead of apparent accidental asphyxiation in Moscow. Fellow Ukrainian GM MIKHAIL GOLUBEV delves into his life and death, and reports that Bogdanovich was in the same league talent-wise as Karpov, Ivanchuk, Kramnik, Shirov and Ponomariov, with unrivalled fighting spirit — he once played 210 moves for a win in the Ukrainian Championship!

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A tragedy in Moscow

On March 5th 2020 the Ukrainian citizen and local deputy from Zatoka, Odessa Region, Nataliya Vernigora, found her 18-year old daughter Alexandra, a chess-player who was a student in the Moscow State University and Alexandra's boyfriend, and Ukrainian grandmaster 27-year old Stanislav Bogdanovich dead in the flat, which the Vernigora family has been renting in Moscow. Bogdanovich remained in Moscow with Alexandra for a while after his quite successful participation in the Aeroflot-B tournament.

Alexandra and StanislavCircumstances suggest that overdose of laughing gas was a probable reason for the tragedy. A balloon with nitrous oxide was found, and both had plastic bags on their heads.

Several days later, Nataliya Vernigora told to me in great detail what she had seen when she found Alexandra and Stanislav. (I published the account, in Russian, on several blogs, including one on the Odessa news website Dumskaya.)

I'm writing this mainly in order to inform the English-language chess community about this tragedy. And also to tell what kind of player Bogdanovich was and, even more, what kind of player he could have been!

Young Stanislav

My first meeting with then-11-year-old Stanislav was 15 years earlier, on April 9th, 2004 at a blitz tournament (PDF) in the small town of Yuzhny (Yuzhne) where some strong players from the Kramatorsk Chess School and from Odessa had training sessions and played blitz. There were 14 participants.

Final results:

  • WGM Lagno and IM Sumets - 10.5 points out of 13,
  • Bogdanovich - 10,
  • GM Efimenko and IM Fingerov - 9.5,
  • GM Kruppa - 8,
  • IM Pichugin and GM Golubev - 7.5, etc.

It became clear that an extraordinary chess talent grows in Odessa.

A regional TV report from the 2004 Odessa Region Chess Federation press conference with participation of Bogdanovich and his mother Mariya recently became available on Youtube.

Once I called Bogdanovich possibly the most talented Odessa player ever, though not everyone was happy with this assessment. After all, there were not only strong and average grandmasters, as well as some unrevealed talents, in our town, but also such a world star as Efim Geller.

But, as one who worked with Karpov and Ponomariov, and played against, more or less, all strongest USSR/former USSR players of my own generation (Ivanchuk, Kramnik, Shirov and others), I can say that, as long as chess talent is considered, Stanislav was in the same league with them. Bogdanovich had a unique fighting spirit!

The 2013 Ukrainian Championship game against the experienced GM Valeriy Neverov, won by Bogdanovich in 210 moves, became well known. Having two extra pawns, Stanislav lost one of them because of his bad 38th move, and then for a very long time played the position with an objectively insufficient chance for a win against an older player. Again, many were very unhappy with Stanislav's behavior although he didn't break any rules. But most of us simply don't have such a desire to win, nothing even close to that!

 

Returning to Bogdanovich's early career, it can't be said that he didn't have any support at all in Odessa as a teenager. Indeed, it was vital. For example, at age 12, he played in the Geller Memorial Rapid in Odessa (which was won by Ponomariov), where he drew with Kortschnoi, and defeated GM Legky and myself.

 

In 2006, Stanislav was invited to the even stronger edition of the same event.
But, on the whole, support that Bogdanovich obtained in Odessa turned to be rather sporadic, for years he even didn't have a serious motivated coach, and he learned how to work with computer and databases too late, only at age 16 or so.

Therefore, his early successes like the second place in the 2005 U-12 European Championship or winning some Ukrainian youth championships ahead of such strong competitors as Illya Nyzhnyk, were, overall, insufficient for such a talent. His mother often simply had no funds for his travelling to tournaments in other towns and countries.

Eventually Stanislav became a grandmaster, albeit quite late — in 2017. Before that and for some time he was one of the strongest International Masters and had a rating of 2590.

His main successes in events with classical time control include wins in various international tournaments, such as Alushta UKR Summer-2 2010; Amitan Memorial Donetsk UKR 2010; Yuzhny UKR Open 2012; Mukachevo UKR Summer Open 2016; Baku Open AZE 2016; Margaryan Memorial, Yerevan ARM 2017; Avicenna Cup, Hamedan IRI 2017; Archibald Chess Professional, Sochi RUS 2019 (won the playoff for the 1st place against GM Stupak). And also winning the Odessa Region championships for three times, including the 2018 and 2019 editions, which both times were Open championships: international round robins in which one could make GM-norms.

But Bogdanovich's main achievements were in rapid and blitz: in 2012-2019 he participated in the Ukrainian championships in these disciplines each year, winning the rapid events three times, and blitz once (in 2017, when he won both championships), he also got one silver medal in rapid, and two silver medals plus four bronze medals in the blitz championships.

In May 2015, Bogdanovich entered the world's top 10 in blitz. Before that he had won two serious blitz tournaments with perfect scores: 9 out of 9 in the Nabokov Memorial in Kiev and 10 out of 10 in the Shustov Cup & Geller Memorial in Odessa. The latter success was particularly remarkable: most of the strongest Odessa Region players participated, including five grandmasters. GM Yuri Drozdovskij, the European 2006 rapid champion, took 2nd place, scoring 6/10 (four points behind the winner!); I was 10th, scoring 4/10.

As recently as in January 2020, Bogdanovich scored 11 out of 11 to win the blitz tournament in Mumbai.

In 2017, I was very glad to win the Ukrainian clubs blitz championship in Chornomorsk with the Papashon Odessa team. I was the organizer of the team and played on board 3, Stanislav played on board one, Yuri Drozdovskij on board two.

A mysterious death

Just a few days before his death, Stanislav Bogdanovich found himself in the centre of a huge media scandal.

The issue was that on March 1st Stanislav played for "Team Russia" in the "Live Chess World League" internet blitz match against "Team Ukraine", in the 1+1 bullet section (Russia won that match, and Bogdanovich won both his games against GM Zubov on the first board).

This unfortunate decision to play for Russia [given the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine -Ed.] provoked much criticism. Some players and organizers of Team Ukraine became predictably furious. Personally, I was very upset with Stanislav's decision.

It was hard to foresee, however, that Bogdanovich's participation in the, of course, unofficial Internet blitz match caused a storm in the Ukrainian and Russian mainstream and social media.

Explanations, provided by Bogdanovich in a (later deleted, apparently by Alexandra) post on Facebook, that he played "for donates", and at the same time, that it was his "modest contribution to peace" between he two countries, his call for Ukrainians to "play for Russia at least once", only made things worse.

Everything that Bogdanovich ever posted on his Facebook page wasn't exactly one hundred percent serious, and we chess players knew that. But nobody cared.

Anatoliy Hrytsenko, the former Ukrainian Minister of Defense, leader of the political party, and the candidate in three last presidential elections, used quite strong language in his short Facebook post about Bogdanovich. The 'officially unofficial' but influential website Myrotvorets, which reveals personal information of people who are considered by them to be enemies of Ukraine, included Bogdanovich in their database. (As far as I know, three Russian chess grandmasters are listed there: Karpov, Karjakin and Shipov, all of whom at least publicly supported the Russian state politics towards Crimea, what we in Ukraine consider to be a military aggression followed by the annexation of the peninsula. Also listed is FM Boris Rozhin, a pro-Russian military blogger from Crimea, who, incidentally, also played for "Team Russia" in the aforementioned match, in which hundreds of players took part).

I knew enough about Myrotvorets to know that they sometimes do really silly things but I still was surprised by an article from journalist Larisa Voloshina, published at the website DSnews.ua on March 3rd. The title of her article can be translated as "Sport as a weapon. Why the Odessa chess player calls for Ukrainians to play on the side of the enemy".

On the same day, I was asked by one of the Odessa top news sites, 048, to comment on the scandal. And while I in no way supported Stanislav's decision to play for Russia (after all, in 2018, "Team Ukraine", of which I'm an active member, even organized a special online blitz tournament in Stanislav's honor), at least I opined that, from my personal viewpoint, the extreme dramatization of the issue seems excessive.

Two games against GM Zubov in the ill-fated Ukraine vs Russia bullet match possibly were the last of Stanislav's chess games. Also on March, 1st he played in a 3+0 online blitz tournament scoring +20 -5 =1 and occupying the 9th place among 536 participants. His nickname was FrostWyrm.

The tragic death of Stanislav and Alexandra was followed by a storm of news, particularly in Russia, and various attempts to use the tragedy politically. While the aforementioned Ukrainian Myrotvorets trolls "found nothing better" than to write "Liquidated" on the Bogdanovich page in their database. Like he was a well-known terrorist. Later they changed that to "Liquidated by Russians".

The Russian media, in their turn, desperately tried to contact everyone in order to get useful information, and even I got a number of messages from the Russian propaganda outlets such as their 1st channel, RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik; they also tried to get Bogdanovich's relatives to the top Russian talk shows like 1st channel's "Pust govoryat" (Let Them Talk).

The investigation in Moscow is not officially ended yet (as far as I know), and the reason of couple's death is not officially provided. Parents — at least I can say that about both Stanislav's parents and Alexandra's mother — have considerable doubts whether it really was an accidental overdose of laughing gas, and not foul play. The mother of Alexandra, based on what she had seen, excludes the suicide explanation completely.

Regarding conspiracy theories of any kind, I don't see factual confirmation to any of them as of now. Ukrainian chess players know that Bogdanovich did not use drugs, alcohol, didn't smoke — and he was not hiding his attitude towards all these things — thus adding serious grounds to doubt the presumptive cause of death. So, if some respected readers want all answers to all questions, I simply don't have them.

Alexandra

I also knew his friend Alexandra a bit, they were together more than a year, not hiding their relationship. A promising young player, then the U-18 Odessa region champion, in 2015 Alexandra visited the Odessa TV program Shkola Chempionov, which I co-authored.

Later the same year I played against her in a simul.

 

I saw Vernigora for the last time at the 2019 Odessa region open championship, which she visited to support Stanislav, and which he won much more confidently than one year earlier. They looked happy together. That was also the last time I saw Stanislav.

Alexandra Vernigora was buried by her parents on March 8th in the city of Dnepr where she was born. While Stanislav's funeral was much later, on March 22nd in Odessa — because his parents for a while had troubles visiting Moscow and fixing all the formal issues.

Stanislav and his mother

Stanislav and his mother

In memoriam

I'd like to show you three more of Stanislav's games today: his brilliant victory over GM Sharapov in the 2018 internet blitz tournament, a draw with Magnus Carlsen in the extreme 1+0 online bullet event, and a win over IM Frolov in the very strong Chernivtsi (Ukraine) international rapid tournament.

 

Last year, Bogdanovich's (and his mother's) flat in Odessa was robbed, and all money, won by Stanislav in series of successful for him tournaments, about 30 thousand USD was stolen! This sad story received coverage in regional and all-Ukrainian media but the criminals were never found.

Perhaps, because of financial issues Stanislav later decided not to go to the 2019 Grand Swiss tournament, despite winning the right to participate in this ultra-strong Swiss in an internet qualifier. He needed to win money in chess, and not to spend money for playing even in the prestigious competitions.

Wang Hao reacted to Stanislav's sudden death via Facebook and praised his talents not only in chess, but also in studying Chinese. I personally can't judge whether Bogdanovich spoke Chinese really well. But in 2018 when we met I had the idea that he could his fans in Chinese. He agreed, and I posted his very short speech on Youtube:

The whole Odessa chess community is deeply shocked with the Moscow tragedy, and I know that we will be shocked for a very long time.



Mikhail Golubev is a Ukrainian grandmaster, chess journalist and organizer. In 1996 he won the Ukrainian national championship in Yalta.