Alexander Nikitin, who coached a chess champion, dies at 87

Alexander Nikitin, the head coach of World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov from the time Kasparov was 10 until years after he became the title holder, died on June 5 in Moscow. He was 87.

The International Chess Federation, the game’s governing body, has announced his death on its website. No reason was given.

Mr. Nikitin, an international master, met Mr. Kasparov somewhat by chance in 1973. As Mr. Nikitin recalled in an interview published this year on the site of the Russian Chess Federation, another coach, Anatoly Bykhovsky, would young players work. at a youth tournament in Vilnius, Lithuania. But Mr. Bykhovsky left for an international tournament and asked Mr. Nikitin, who was already an established coach, to go to Vilnius in his place.

Mr. Nikitin immediately noticed Mr. Kasparov, partly because he was only 10 and everyone else on his team was six or seven years older.

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

Mr. Kasparov’s ascent was quick. He won the Soviet Junior Championship when he was 12; won a major international tournament in Yugoslavia when he was 15, placing him in the top 20 in the world; and won the World Junior Championship in 1980. At the age of 17, he was a grandmaster.

Mr. Kasparov qualified for the 1982 World Championship cycle. By now, he and Mr. Nikitin were training full time. They went for a run together to strengthen Mr. Kasparov’s stamina, an exercise that quickly paid off.

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

The match turned out to be a grueling one, spanning five months and 48 matches – the longest in history. It started disastrously for Mr. Kasparov, who lost four of the first nine games, partly due to inexperience. But he sat down and began to work out draws.

After trailing 5-0, he came back to win Game 32 and then Games 47 and 48. At that time, in February 1985, Florencio Campomanes, the president of the International Chess Federation, suspended the game because he was concerned about the health of the players.

A new competition was organized for later in 1985. It would be limited to 24 matches. mr. Kasparov won it with a score of 13-11.

He then took on Mr. Karpov in a return game in 1986, taking another win, this time with a score of 12.5-11.5. The two faced each other again in 1987, and the match ended in a draw, 12-12 – allowing Mr Kasparov to keep the crown, as the ties went to the reigning champions.

During all those matches, Mr. Nikitin was Mr. Kasparov’s head coach. In a 2020 Chess News Russia interview with Mr. Nikitin and Mr. Kasparov, said Mr. Kasparov that they were “good friends”. But the stress of the games took its toll.

Nikitin explains: “All those world championships, from the first to the last, are not just a fierce battle between two players. The internal discussions between coaches and their player are equally fierce. We tried to prove that our opinion was correct, the player was trying to prove his opinion. We were always tense and we gradually burned out.”

Mr Nikitin and Mr Kasparov continued to work together until 1989. But by the time of Mr. Kasparov’s fifth and final match with Mr. Karpov for the world championship, in 1990, their paths had parted.

Mr. Nikitin was born on January 27, 1935 in Moscow. Little is known about his immediate family, and there was not a word about survivors. He was married and divorced before meeting Mr. Kasparov, and he never remarried.

Nikitin discovered chess when he was 7 and came across a book by Emanuel Lasker, a former world champion in his uncle’s study. He was immediately entranced and read the book from cover to cover.

He became one of the top young players in the Soviet Union, along with future world champions including Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian (with 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 viable career in the Soviet Union – so he continued his regular education. He studied engineering at university and later worked as a radio engineer for 15 years.

In 1959, Mr. Nikitin for the first and only time to participate in the championship of the Soviet Union, which was then considered one of the strongest tournaments in the world. While he was generally pleased with the quality of his game, he finished last. Realizing that he couldn’t be a full-time engineer and a professional player, he closed the door to that opportunity.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Nikitin was tired of technology and longed to play chess. Fortunately, there were openings for chess coaches, and he had already established that he had an aptitude for them. Shortly after he started coaching full-time, he met Mr. Kasparov.

After with mr. Kasparov, Mr. High level coaching Nikitin. He coached Étienne Bacrot, a French child prodigy who rose to number 9 in the world, and Dmitry Jakovenko, a Russian who peaked at number 5 in the world.

Mr. Nikitin also wrote a two-volume history of his years with Mr. Kasparov, “Coaching Kasparov, Year by Year and Move by Move.”

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

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

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