Grandmaster Ivan Bukavshin by Jakov Geller: A Review

It is news when any Chess Grandmaster dies, but when the death happens to a young man with much promise the news travels faster than a bullet game. In an article at Chessbase, dated 1/13/2016, Sagar Shah wrote, “He was one of the brightest talents in the world of chess, with an impressive rating of 2658. On 12th of January 2016, at the age of just twenty years and eight months, Ivan Bukavshin died from a stroke, leaving the entire chess world in a state of shock. The 2015 Russian Cup winner is no longer with us. What a player he was, what a beautiful chess career it would have been.” (

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.” ― John Greenleaf Whittier

GM Jakov Geller, has written a magnificent homage to his friend, which reminds one of the lovingly written book about Mikhail Tal by his wife, Sally Landau.

With the plethora of Chess books hitting the market like a tidal wave these days it could be easy to overlook this nugget, published by Elk & Ruby. (

The book begins, “In late December 2015, two young men were strolling down the snowy streets of Togliatti. One could rather easily identify the travelers as two local grandmasters, Ivan Bukavshin and Jakov Geller. They were heading to one of the largest fitness centers in Russia’s Motor City. Ivan could’ve easily passed for a “Bogatyr” – a kind-hearted warrior of immense strength from Russian fairy tales to whom younger colleagues would gravitate, seeking support and justice, and in whom girls would seek love and protection. My companion had recently completed a chess marathon and returned from his latest tournament, where he’d performed brilliantly, so it wasn’t a tortuous workout in the gym that awaited us at the end of our route, but some ping pong, a nice swim, a session in the sauna, and a thirty-minute soak in hot Jacuzzi. This was far from, we recalled Khanty-Mansiysk, where Ivan had to play 34 tournament games over the span of 20 days he first won a qualifying round of the Russian Cup, then he came in second at a qualifying round for the Rapid Grand om the first time we were taking this forty-minute journey together. We’d pass the time by talking about everything imaginable.”

After a few paragraphs, “Later on, we recalled Khanty-Mansiysk, where Ivan had to play 34 tournament games over the span of 20 days (je first won a qualifying round of the Russian Cup, then he came in second at a qualifying round for the Rapid Grand Prix, and then after that, he won the Russian Cup Final, a knockout tournament that year).

“Maybe it’s time you move up to the big leagues?” I asked.
“Nah,” he answered without vacillating for a second. “It’s too early for me to start thinking about that. I’m just going to focus on playing as well as I can.”

“When the decision to pen a full-fledged book about Ivan took shape inside me I was hardly thinking about my friend’s qualities as a chess player. I could have recounted his opening novelties, presented swathes of analysis, written about his dozens of chess files that all contained some interesting idea or pretty position, or reminisced about the hundreds of hours we’d spent together at the board. Among other things, he checked the analysis provided in Kasparov’s marvelous series – a prolonged endeavor – merely to verify just how solid the ace’s recommendations were. I always took pride in my friend’s chess success in his achievements even when he’s no longer with us.”
“The thing is, completely different images surface from the depths of my subconscious when I hear the name “Ivan Bukavshin”: innumerable trains, planes, hotels, and suitcases; morning runs through the Togliatti forest, soccer video games, net busters in real life, macaroni mayhem in Cannes’ a dazzling bike ride that included traversing the Vola and his insane wailing when they were stitching him up at a small hospital in Bulgaria… We had many, many other experiences that had nothing to do with chess. Ivan was an integral part of my life; he often came to my aid when I really needed it and he knew exactly when to offer his support. He was a top-notch guy who you could alsays count on and for whom you always wanted to do something nice.”

“Many people strove to assist Ivan as he rose to the pinnacle of mastery, which by no means diminishes his accomplishments, talent, or work ethic. I’m referring mostly to the grandmaster’s friends, family, and colleagues, rather than to his actual coaches. I simply cannot mention everyone, but the close reader will be able to compile a rough list themselves by perusing the list of commentators in this book. I tried to strike a balance of sorts by including GM Bukavshin’s gems, as well as some imperfect, yet crucial games that helped to define his chess career.”

The author succeeded. I have chosen only four games for this review, when there could have been so many more. The first is given exactly as it appears in the book. The others have been truncated because of space limitations. Hopefully, everyone reading this review will purchase the book in order to read all of the excellent notes.

Bukavshin, Ivan (2365) vs Stukopin, Andrey (2380)
Event: Young Stars of the World
Site: Kirishi RUS Date: 05/10/2009
Round: 2 Score: 1-0
ECO: D24 Queen’s Gambit Accepted, 4.Nc3

Commentary by Andrey Stukopin

Physics junior and grandmaster Andrey Stukopin won first place in the U.S. Chess Masters tournament, which took place last month in Greensboro, N.C./Ana Cahuiche/The Rider
Physics junior and grandmaster Andrey Stukopin won first place in the U.S. Chess Masters tournament, which took place last month in Greensboro, N.C./Ana Cahuiche/The Rider

Before this encounter, Ivan and I had played countless practice games and we knew each other very well. I have to admit that I always struggled to get out of the opening against Ivan. At times, it ended miserably, like in this game, and Ivan would finish me off with stupendous speed, depriving me of any chance at salvaging my position.

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 dxc4 4.Nc3!? (The Vienna Gambit is still part of my opening repertoire to this day. Ivan really surprised me when he chose this opening, since even back in 2009, I thought I knew it quite well. Later on, Bukavshin began favoring on 4.e3.) 4…e6 5.e4 Bb4 (Of course, there are other alternatives, but for some reason, I alwasy optimistically opted for the main line in the Vienna Gambit.) 6.Bg5 c5 7.e5!?

This is a very tricky move that leads to mind-boggling complications. If you don’t know the right reply, you can lose in twenty moves! Ivan was excellent at finding opening sidelines that weren’t to my liking.
7…h6?! (This is where it all started, I just made a series of natural-looking moves. 7…cxd4 is the strongest reply, and as far as I know, White has yet to demonstrate any way of achieving an edge.) 8.exf6 hxg5 9.fxg7 Rg8 10.Qc2!? Rxg7 11.0-0-0!

A brutal move! White won’t let his opponent take a breather. 11…g4 (This looks rather logical, but Black is still severely lagging behind in development.) 12.dxc5! (A mundane, yet elegant in-between move. 12.Ne5?! cxd4 13.Qa3+ Nd7=/+.) 12…Qa5 13.Ne5 (Now it becomes clear that most of Black’s forces are underdeveloped, and those pieces that have pushed ahead are being attacked with tempo.) 13…Qxc5 (13…Bxc3 14.Nxc4! Qb4 {if 14…Qxc5 15.Qxc3+ 17.bxc3-utter dominatin! The knight on d6 is worth more than either of Black’s rooks.} 14.Nxc4 Qc7? (Too slow. I correctly calculated that I would be deprived of any chance at equality if I exchanged my dark-squared bishop, but that was actually the lesser of two evils. 14…Kf8 15.a3 {15.h3} 15…Bxc3 16.Qxc3+/-) 15! Qf4+ 16.Kb1 Nc6

17.g3! (Very sneaky. White continues to develop his pieces in what appears to be a completely winning position.) 17…Qb8 18.Bg2!? (It’s very hard to play against an opponent who knows where to develop every piece and when. I’d say that was one of Ivan’s most remarkable talents.) 18…Rg5 19. Ncd6+ Ke7 20.Qh7! (Immediately exploiting the vulnerable h7-square and f7-pawn. There’s no defense.) 1-0

Ivan made it to the “Big Leagues.”

Bukavshin, Ivan (2618) vs Rapport, Richard (2709)
A performance pontszáma egészen elképesztő volt, 2973! Egyben ezzel sikerrel életében először a 2750 pontot is átlépte, ezzel 17. a ranglistán. Utoljára 7 éve volt magyar sakkozó 2750 fölött!

Event: Aeroflot Open A 2015
Site: Moscow RUS Date: 04/01/2015
Round: 6.3
ECO: D07 Queen’s Gambit Declined, Chigorin defence

Commentary by Danill Yuffa

1.d4 (During the tournament, our whole crew genuinely wanted Ivan to qualify for Dortmund {the winner of the Aeroflot Open earned a trip to a major tournament in Dortmund – editor’ note}. Defeating Richard Rapport enabled Ivan to come as close to achieving that goal as possible.) 1…d5 2.c4 Nc6 (The Chigorin Defense is part of the Hungarian player’s opening repertoire.) 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.e3 e5 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.a3 (This makes more sense than the more popular 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Nf6 8.f3 since after 8…e4 9.Qb3 Qg5 Black has good piece lay.) 6…Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 Nf6 8.c4 Qd6 9.d5 Ne7 (Rapport subsequently played 9…Nb8 against Wojtaszek, and after 10.Ne2 0-0 11.Nc3 Bf5 White could secure an advantage with 12.Be2 {12.a4 Na6 13.Ba3 Nb4 was played in the game, and Richard equalized easily} 12…Na6 13.g4, looking to meet 13…Bg6 with a crushing pawn march: 14.h4 h6 15.f3+/_.) 10.a4 c5?! (In my opinion, this is an impulsive decision. Now White has a comfortable positional advantage. I assume Black didn’t like the look of 10…0-0 11.Ba3 Qd8 12.Nf3 Bg4 13.Qc2, forcing him to part with his second bishop. That may’ve been the lesser evil, though.) 11.Bb2 0-0 12.Nf3 Ng6 13.Nd2 e4 (Ivan could’ve kept cranking up the pressure, but instead, he decided to go for some forcing complications.) 14.Bxf6 Qxf6 15.Nxe4 Qe5 16.Nd2 Bg4 17.Be2 Bxe2 18.Kxe2 Rae8 19.Kf1 f5

(The quality of play shown by both players is worthy of admiration.) 20.g3?! (This is a misfire, actually, and White’s advantage slips away. The computer says 20.Ra3…) 20…f4! 21 exf4 Nxf4 22.gxf4 Qxf4 23.f3 Re3 24.Rg1 Qxh2 25.Rg2 Qh4 25.Rb1

26…Qd4? (The decisive slip-up. 26…Rfe8!…) 27.Rxb7! Rfxf3+ 28.Qxf3+ Qa1+ 29.Rb1 Rxf3+ 30.Ke2 (The White monarch sets out on a triumphant crusade.) 30…Qc3 31.Nxf3 Qxc4+ 32.Ke3 Qxd5 33.Rb8+ Kf7 34.Ng5+ Ke7 35.Ne4 Qd4+ 36.Kf4 Ke6 37.Rg5 h6 (This quickens Black’s demise.)
38.Rg6+ Kf7 39.Rd6 Qxa4 40.Kf5 1-0
This is a brilliant game in which Ivan calculated well, defended superbly, and showed stellar technique!

The next game features Commentary by Yuri Yakovich

Bukavshin, Ivan (2655) vs Svidler, Peter (2739)

Event: 68th ch-RUS 2015
Site: Chita RUS Date: 08/16/2015
Round: 7.6 Score: ½-½
ECO: D98 Gruenfeld, Russian, Smyslov variation

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3! (White’s principled reply warrants an exclamation mark! While we were preparing for this game we decided to allow Peter Svidler to play the Grunfeld Defense, although he’s considered an indisputable authority on the opening. The highly complicated middle-game promised fascinating positions, and we just couldn’t pass that up!) 3… d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 O-O 7.e4 Bg4 (A surprise. Peter generally opted for 7…a6, and we had some minor novelties up our sleeve.) 8.Be3 Nfd7

(We had devoted some of our attention to the Smyslov Variation before the tournament. Abstract deliberation over the board, without really turning on the computer, yielded…) 9.Nd2!? (That’s what Mikhail Botvinnik played against the originator of the 8,,,Nfd7 system, Vasily Smyslov, way back in 1948 during the world championship tournament. Currently, 9.Qb3 or 9.Rd1 are much more popular.)
9…Nb6 10.Qc5!? (This was the crux of our idea. Botvinnik continued 10.Qd3, and in my opinion, Black had various ways of equalizing.) 10…c6 11.f3 Be6 12.O-O-O f5 13.e5 (When we were preparing we used this pawn structure as a benchmark. Although the computer likes Black’s position, the prospect of drumming up an attack appealed to us. As we were moving the pieces, we came to a key conclusion – if the knights disappear, White’s chances at gaining a serious advantage from significantly.) 13…N8d7?! (In light of what I wrote above, 13…a5!?, not committing the b8-knight, was worth considering. For instance, there’s 14.h4 h6 15.Kb1 a4 with complex play.) 14.Qa3 Nd5 15.Nxd5 Bxd5 16.h4 h6 (To Black’s dismay, c6c5 doesn’t work.) 17.Nb1?! (White is absorbed by the idea of exchanging off the remaining pair of knights. The calm 17.Kb1 promised some sort of advantage.)17…Nb6?! (Surprisingly enough, Peter doesn’t object to White’s plans, and he leads the knight towards d5. Black had 17…b5 18.Nc3 Bf7 with mutual chances.) 18.Nc3 Be6 19.Kb1 Qd7 20.Bd3 Nd5 21.Nxd5 Bxd5

(White has achieved his strategic goal. He has a steady advantage now that the knights are off the board. Shortly, he can begin attacking the king.) 22.Ka1 e6 23.Qc5?! (Why? An immediate 23.Rhf1! followed by g2-g4 promised White a strong attack.) 23…Rf7 24.Qc1 Kh7 25.Rh3? (Just horrendous! White protects the f3-pawn from a remarkably bad square and weakens the 1st rank. Ivan lost focus for an instant, thinking that Black didn’t have any active ideas. He was punished on the spot. 25.Rhf1! would’ve allowed White to contend for a clear advantage.)25…c5! Of course! Svidler launches a counterattack as soon as he’s afforded the opportunity.) 26.dxc5 (Forced. 26.Qxc5?? loses because of 26…Qa4.) 26…Qa4 27.Bb1 Bxe5?! (Not the best decision. Black’s king comes under attack once he loses the h6-pawn.) 28.Bxh6 (Now with both players on the attack, White’s chances look preferable once again.) 28…Rc8 29.Be3 Rc6 30.h5 g5 31.Rhh1?! (Ivan strives to minimize the consequences of his 25th move, so he returns the rook to the 1at rank. This isn’t the most opportune time for that, though.)
31…Bb3! 32.Bxg5 Ra6?! (Too optimistic. Black fails to account for his opponent’s brilliant reply.) 33.Rh4! (Disrupting the coordination of Black’s pieces.) 33… Qa5 34.Bd2?? (Both players were under severe time pressure, which explains why they made some imprecise moves in a highly complex position.) 34…Qd8 (With both players under time pressure, Black tightens up the position.) 35.Re1 (Once again, White avoids exchanging his rook for the bishop. As we’ve already seen, the bishops are no weaker than the rooks in this game.) 35…Rd7 36.Rb4? (White’s king is in danger once again.) 36…Bxa2 37.Bxa2 Qa5? (Black should’ve just ignored the b7-pawn!) 38.Qc4! (Now that White is able to activate his queen, both players have equal chances, once again.) 38…Rxd2 39.Rxb7+ Kh8 40.Rb5 Qa3 41.Rb8+ Kh7 42.Rb7+ Kh6 (Black shies away from perpetual check, but he has to play precisely in the arising endgame.) 43.Qf4+ Bxf4 44.bxa3 Rxa3 45.Rb2 Kxh5 (45…Rdd3 46.Rxe6+ Kxh5, keeping both pairs of rooks on the board, is more precise. Black’s active pieces compensate for the pawn.) 46.Rxd2 Bxd2 47.Rxe6 Be3 48.c6 Bd4+ 49.Kb1 Rc3 50.Bd5?! (50.Rd6! would’ve given White better winning chances…) Rc5 51.Bb3 Kg5 52.Bd1 Kf4 53.g4 ½-½

The constant struggle for the initiative and remarkable tactical and strategic ideas make this encounter, in my opinion, one of the most interesting from the 2015 Russian Championship Super Final!

Next we come to an interview…

“After the triumphant tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk came to a close, the newly-minted champion gave Dmitry Kryavin, who’s been a correspondent for the Russian Chess Federation for many years, a lengthy interview.”

D.K.: “If we digress a bit and recall the last Super final, what impression did playing at the top level have on you?”

I.B. “After Chita I realized with great pleasure that I was still a weak player and I still had things to learn. That made quite the impression on me. for instance, it’s not every day that I get to play against Peter Svidler! This give you both experience and improves your outlook on chess as a whole. Everyone, except for those who have teams of analysts, are almost equal in terms of opening preparation. Great players outmatch their opponents in every area by a little bit. When you play against them, you understand and feel it, although this feeling is difficult to put into words.”

We have, unfortunately, come to the final game in this review. Although it is a “rapid” game (which could mean almost anything these days as far as the time control goes, I believe this was a thirty minute game) and I am loathe to print anything other than what goes for “classical” Chess, I am making an exception because the “Commentary is by Alexander Morozevich.”

“Ivan Bukavshin, who tragically left this world under mysterious circumstances, was one of the most dazzling and promising players of his generation.”
Third prize winner Ivan Bukavshin on the podium with Areoflot co-champions Ian Nepomniachtchi & Daniil Dubov 4/7/2015

Bukavshin, Ivan (2657) vs Morozevich, Alexander (2692)
Alexander Morozevich. Photos by Anastasiya Karlovich.

Event: Nutcracker Rapid 2015
Site: Moscow RUS Date: 12/25/2015
Round: 5.3 Score: 1-0
ECO: E91 King’s Indian, 6.Be2

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 O-O 6.Nf3 c5 (This isn’t the most popular move, but I played it quite often in those days.) 7.O-O Re8 (My love for 6…c5 cannot be attributed to a certain fondness for Maroczy Bind-like setups-actually, I preferred to play them for White-but to a pathological attachment to Re8. Although this move may look ludicrous, it does serve a particular purpose. It isn’t just an abstract pass. The only problem is that if White replies with anything remotely decent, Black cannot hope to achieve full equality or drum up any play.) 8.Bg5 h6 9.Be3 Ng4 10.Bc1 (Placing the pawn on h6 is to Black’s detriment, actually, and White can cleverly exploit that fact.)10…Nf6 (A voluntary retreat. This wasn’t obligatory, but the other moves were no better.) 11.dxc5 (The most direct attempt at playing for an advantage.) 11…dxc5 12.Be3 Qxd1 (Black has to compromise and voluntarily exchange queens.) 13.Raxd1 Nfd7 (Other replies cause their own difficulties.) 14.Nb5 Na6 (Up until this point, we were both playing quite quickly and we were still in our home preparation.) 15.b3 (15.Rd2 was the only move I could remember.) 15…g5? (Black has gone afield. With the poorly-placed knight on a6 and the underdeveloped queenside, he cannot afford to step out of line. He should’ve continued following standard procedure with 15…Nf8 or 15…Nbd8, preparing to bring the c8-bishop into the action. Ivan’s reply was spot-on.) 16.h4 g4 17.Nh2 h5

18.Rfe1! (I didn’t see this subtle, yet crucial move. White has prepared f2-f3, and it won’t be all that easy to protect the h5-pawn. Not wishing to go down without a fight, I decided to feign activity.) 18…Bf6 19.Rd5 Ne5 20.f4 gxf3 21.Nxf3 Ng4 (What an active, intimidating knight. Well, not really…The trouble is that the rest of black’s pieces can’t support it.) 22.Bc1 e5 (Black suddenly latches onto the h5-pawn, and this stabilizes his center, at least somewhat.) 23.Nd6 Rd8 24.Nxc8 (This is a logical move, yet White loses part of his advantage. According to the computer, 24…Bg5 would’ve given him a nearly decisive edge. Making that evaluation isn’t easy, though.) 24…Raxc8 25.a3 Nc7 (Black is flying high. He has a real chance at improving his pieces significantly at the cost of the c5-pawn.) 26.Rxc5 (Even discussing not capturing on c5 is somewhat strange.) 26…Be7? (This is the wrong way of handling things! The bishop on c5 is just one check that costs two pawns. It’s hard to believe but after 26…b6 27.Rc6 Ne6 28.Rxc8 Rxc8 Black has good chances at holding the position. It’s difficult to explain, but the more you analyze, the more you come to realize that.) 27.Ra5 b6? (Continuing the faulty plan.) 28.Rxa7 Bc5+ 29.Kf1 (Black gave a check, but it’s unclear what he should do next. The move b3-b4 is on the horizon.) 29…f5? (The final brush stroke of black’s self-destructive activity. The rest of the moves wound up being half-measures, justifiably so. This one looked more like suicide, though.) 30.b4 Bf2 31.Rd1 Rxd1+ 32.Bxd1 Be3 (32…fxe4 would’ve been more tenacious, but at any rate, White wouldn’t have had to demonstrate razor-sharp precision.) 33.Bxe3 Nxe3+ 34.Ke2 f4 35.Bb3 (The rest is simple.) 35…Kf8 36.Nxe5 Ne6 37.Ng6+ Ke8 38.Re7+ Kd8 39.Rxe6 Ra8 40.Nxf4 1-0’s_Indian_6.Be2

Jakov Geller writes, “2016 began, and at the very beginning of January, Ivan and I set off for training camp at the Togliatti Grandmaster School, which wound up being his last session. That’s where he played his final tournament-one evening he unleashed a harsh blitz exam for the upcoming generation of chess talents. Ivan was clearly having a great time; he kept cracking jokes and enjoyed the time he spent with his girlfriend.
…. Irreparable damage was done a few days later. On the morning of January 12th, 2016 Ivan Bukavshin was found in his room exhibiting no signs of life. Several years have passed since that day, which will forever be marked in black on many chess lover’s calendars, yet, as of this book’s release date, the circumstances of that tragedy remain a mystery. The investigation continues…”

One thought on “Grandmaster Ivan Bukavshin by Jakov Geller: A Review

  1. An intriguing essay that inspires me to work on my chess game, which has only one way to go: up. Glad you’ve come out of blogtirement.

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