Viktor Gavrikov: He appeared like a meteor and disappeared without trace…

The chess world has suffered a grievous loss: Viktor Gavrikov has passed away...

In the second half of the 1970s, reports and rumours from internal Soviet events began more and more to feature the name of a master from the small Moldavian town of Kriuljana, Viktor Gavrikov. There was talk of the fantastic memory and colossal opening erudition of this unknown player. And soon there were more weighty arguments: the best result on board two in the 1979 People's Spartakiad, first place in the semi-final and qualification to the Super league of the 49th USSR Championship. Such results were worth more than one or two victories in international tournaments, although it is difficult to explain to the current generation of Open tournament players just what it meant. It was a sign of class…

Frunze 1981: his first USSR Championship. The debutant shared 4-5th places with Tukmakov and qualified for the zonal tournament. He left behind Yusupov, Tseshkovsky, Dorfman, Gulko, Dolmatov and many others - a whole brigade of winners and prize-winners in numerous tournamerts, both at home and abroad. The young master was remembered above all for his extreme principledness: he refused to give autographs, flaty refused to do appearances and lecture sessions, etc. One well-known organiser of the time threatenedd him with unpleasant consequences, but Viktor was adamant. Full concentration only on playing! 

In the zonal tournament, he suffered a copmplete collapse, and ended in last place. Despite his colossal opening knowledge and academic expertise on the game, his opponents seemed to have found the key to the daring upstart and put him in his place. But already at the next zonal tournament, he topped the table with Mikhail Gurevich and Alexander Chernin. In the interzonal at Sousse, he sensationally shared the fourth and last qualifying place for the Candidates tournament! He lost out on tie-break, but his performance had attracted the notice of leading figures in the chess world, and Viktor found himself invited to work with some of the top names in the world... 

Several years later, having moved from Moldavia to the Baltics, he caused a sensation when he announced that he wished to play in the World Cup qualifying tournament under the flag of independent Lithuania. «Why did he need to do this?» – asked many of his colleagues. Many saw it as eccentricity, at the very least. Why at that time express political views that were not the generally accepted ones? The USSR was in its last days, but there was still to come the trauma of the Vilnius TV centre incident, the KGB putsch, and the consequences of such a daring action as his were unpredictable. The strong GM and top trainer showed enviable principledness, and willingness to oppose the current. 

After 1991, an ocean of possibilities opened up before the Soviet players, including freedom to play in Western tournaments. Many of them flourished in this period, and Viktor, of course, was not left out. He played, wrote, trained. He moved with his family to Switzerland and began a new life... But what happened afterwards? Did his health start to give way? Why did Viktor Nikolaevich suddenly just disappear from the chess scene? Only his family and close friends know. He spent his last years in Bulgaria; maybe there the climate reminded him of Moldavia? Last week, he detriorated sharply and went into a coma... He was just 58. 

VIKTOR NIKOLAEVICH GAVRIKOV (29 July 1957 – 27 April 2016)

R.I.P!