Alexander Nikitin, Coach of a Chess Champion, Dies at 87

Alexander Nikitin, the head coach of the world chess champion Garry Kasparov from the time Mr. Kasparov was 10 years old until many years after he became the owner, died on June 5 in Moscow. He was 87 years old.

The International Chess Federation, the game’s governing body, announced his death on their website. No cause has been given.

Mr. Nikitin, an international master, met Mr. Kasparov by chance in 1973. As Mr. Nikitin recalled in an interview published this year on the website of the Russian Chess Federation, a coach Another, Anatoly Bykhovsky, is expected to work with young players. at a youth tournament in Vilnius, Lithuania. But Mr. Bykhovsky was preparing for an international tournament and asked Nikitin, who has been a longtime coach, to come to Vilnius to replace him.

Mr. Nikitin immediately noticed Mr. Kasparov, partly because he was only 10 years old and the others on his team were all six or seven years older.

Mr. Nikitin received Mr. Kasparov as a student, which was not easy; Mr. Kasparov is living in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he was born, and Mr. Nikitin in Moscow. Mr. Nikitin sent letters and research papers for Mr. Kasparov to study, and somehow the cooperation worked. (Mr. Kasparov eventually moved.)

Mr. Kasparov’s promotion was very rapid. He won the USSR Junior Championship at the age of 12; won a major international tournament in Yugoslavia at the age of 15, placing him in the World Top 20; and won the world youth championship in 1980. By the age of 17, he was a grandmaster.

Mr. Kasparov qualified for the final round of the 1982 World Championships. He and Mr. Nikitin are currently training full-time. They will run together to build up Mr. Kasparov’s stamina, an early form of training with practical results.

In September 1984, Mr. Kasparov faced Anatoly Karpov, the defending champion, in a title match. The winner will be the first player to score six wins.

The match turned out to be a grueling one, lasting for five months and 48 games – the longest in history. It started badly for Mr. Kasparov, partly because of his lack of experience, having lost four of his first nine games. But he settled down and started drawing games.

After falling 5-0, he returned to win Game 32 then Game 47 and 48. At that time, in February 1985, Florencio Campomanes, president of the Chess Federation King of the International, suspended the match, saying he was worried about the health of the players.

A new match was held later in 1985. It would be limited to 24 matches. Mr. Kasparov won it with a score of 13-11.

He then faced Mr Karpov in the 1986 second leg, winning again, this time 12.5-11.5. The two faced each other again in 1987, with a tie, 12-12 – allowing Kasparov to retain the crown, as the relationship belonged to the defending champion.

In all those matches, Mr. Nikitin was Mr. Kasparov’s main coach. In a 2020 Chess News Russia interview with Nikitin and Kasparov, Kasparov said that they were “close friends”. But the tension of the matches took a toll.

“All those world championship matches, from start to finish, were more than just a battle of wits between two players,” explained Nikitin. The internal debates between coaches and their players are no less acrimonious. We tried to prove that our opinion was right, the player tried to prove his opinion. We are always stressed, and we gradually burn out.”

Mr. Nikitin and Mr. Kasparov continued to work together until 1989. But by Mr. Kasparov’s fifth and final match against Mr. Karpov for the world championship in 1990, they parted ways.

Nikitin was born on January 27, 1935 in Moscow. Little is known about his immediate family, and there is no news of any survivors. He was married and divorced before meeting Mr. Kasparov, and he never remarried.

Nikitin discovered chess when he was 7 years old and came across a book by Emanuel Lasker, a previous world champion, in his uncle’s classroom. He was immediately mesmerized and read the entire cover of the book.

He became one of the best young players in the Soviet Union, along with future world champions including Michael Tal, Tigran Petrosian (whom he would later teach) and Boris Spassky.

Despite his obvious talent, he wasn’t sure he wanted to become a professional chess player – a possible career in the Soviet Union – so he continued his normal academic path. me. He studied engineering at university and then worked for 15 years as a radio engineer.

In 1959, Nikitin qualified to play for the first and only time in the championship of the USSR, then considered one of the strongest tournaments in the world. Although he was generally satisfied with the quality of his game, he finished in the end. He realized he couldn’t be a full-time engineer and a professional footballer, so he closed that possibility.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Nikitin grew tired of engineering and yearned to play chess. Fortunately, there are opportunities for chess coaches, and he has determined that he has some aptitude for that. Shortly after starting full-time coaching, he met Mr. Kasparov.

After working with Mr. Kasparov, Mr. Nikitin continued to coach at a high level. He has coached Étienne Bacrot, a French prodigy who has risen to number nine in the world, and Dmitry Jakovenko, a Russian who has reached number five in the world.

Mr. Nikitin also wrote two history volumes during his years with Mr. Kasparov, “Train Kasparov, year by year and move step by step”.

In 1993, although he was no longer a chess player, Mr. Nikitin was awarded the second highest title of the game by the International Chess Federation, international master.

Mr. Nikitin and Mr. Kasparov remained friendly even after their professional relationship ended. As Mr. Kasparov said in the 2020 interview, “We’ve lived a whole life of chess together.”

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