Person of day - 27 JANUARY 2023
Seven-year-old Alexander Nikitin became interested in chess after finding an interesting book with incomprehensible diagrams in his uncle’s library- Emanuel Lasker’s Manual of Chess. The boy studied it from cover to cover and went to Moscow’s Pioneers’ Palace to further his immersion into the game. His first trainers were Andrey Yaroshevsky and Evgeny Penchko and then Grigory Ravisnky - a famous master and pedagogue. “These aren’t Petrushkas of Stravinsky, these are students of Ravinsky!” was a popular phrase among chess players in the middle of the last century.
Nikitin became one of the Soviet Union’s strongest juniors and completed the requirements for master in his first year- back then, it was an amazing achievement. However, back then he did not want to walk the path of a professional chess player and, having graduated from school with a gold medal, he enrolled in a technical university and then worked as a radio engineer for 15 years, devoting time to chess on an infrequent basis. In 1955, 1957 and 1958 he won the students’ world champion as a member of the Soviet team and in 1959 he participated in the national champion, but- as Nikitin himself admitted- realised the impossibility of combining two serious occupations.
Alexander Nikitin’s professional career advanced steadily, but his love for chess did not diminish and in 1973 he decided to change his life when he accepted the offer to transfer to the State Committee for Sport as a trainer of the national team. Soon, the fateful meeting took place: in 1973, at a juniors’ tournament in Vilnius, he met 10 year-old Garry Weinstein (Kasparov).
Alexander remembered: “I did not have to go to Vilnius. Junior’s competitions were not my responsibility. But a friend and colleague, Anatoly Byhovsky- known in the chess world as a children’s trainer- asked me to substitute for him in the trip to Lithuania, since he was leaving for some large international tournament. And I decided to help him out…
I was amazed by Garry’s erudition in debuts and phenomenal memory, which was focused and tentative, like a blotter. He did not struggle to think through multi-variant combinations- for him, it was not a difficult task, but rather an entertaining game. It turned out that he loves reading and his circle of interest was exceptionally widespread. He was very learned in geographic names, historical facts and dates. His manner of reading was supersonic and his astounding memory ensured a firm grasp of material. Any attempt to test his erudition often placed his challengers in difficult situations, since it emerged that the boy knew more than the examiner.”
Soon, Alexander began to train Garry and stayed with him on the long and difficult path towards the world championship. Nikitin was Kasparov’s second in matches between 1983-1987…Alexander Nikitin described their collective efforts in detail and with honesty in his book Beside Kasparov, Move by Move, Year by Year, which was published in 1998 and which became a bilbliographical rarity. A.Nikitin was awarded the title of “Recognised Master of the Azerbaijan SSR” in 1980 and “Recognised Trainer of the USSR” in 1986. In the new century, he was one of the first to receive the new title of “FIDE Senior Trainer” in 2004.
“The playing arena became my Olympus, when Garry won and turned into Golgotha and when he suffered misfortune. For many years, I felt him so well that I could sense which move his considering and whether he likes the position, almost without mistake. For several years, I was an unusual psychological source of support, increasing his self-confidence during competitions. Even in the most difficult situations, I remained calm and attempted to convey that to my companion. The rare moments where my nerves did not survive the events on the chess board have left cuts in my heart for my whole life.” (A. Nikitin)
Aside from Kasparov, Alexander trained the French champion Etienne Barcot and Dmitry Yakovenko, a member of the Russian team and European champion. He was a trainer and assistant to Boris Spassky during his revenge-match with Robert Fischer in 1992. Between 1977 and 1993, Nikitin headed a young chess players’ school of Spartak Sports Society, which was later named after Tigran Petrosian. At this school, many famous grandmasters studied, including Boris Gelfand, Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk, Dmitry Yakovenko and others. In 2012-2013, he participated in the school’s program, “Chess Hopes of Russia”. He is a member of the trainers’ committee of the Russian Chess Federation.
Alexander Nikitin is the author of a series of books, including Mikhail Chigorin (published in Moscow in 1972, with E. Vasukov and A. Narkevich as co-authors) and The Sicilian Defence. Scheveningen Variation (published in Moscow in 1984, with G. Kasparov as co-author). He helped Garry Kasparov to prepare one his books in Kasparov’s series My Great Predecessors and Kasparov Vs Karpov.