Person of day - 20 MARCH 2023
Andrei was born in Vorkuta, but he and his parents moved to Moscow a few years later. Chess was held in high regard in the family: Yuri Sokolov, the father of the future grandmaster, used to head the juniors’ commission of the Soviet chess federation and Andrei’s elder brother also played chess, reaching the level of a master.
When Andrei turned up to the Young Pioneers’ Stadium in Moscow, experienced trainer Vladimir Yurkov quickly recognised his immense chess talent and started to work with him individually and regularly. Yurkov prioritised a harmonious development of the chess player; he never spoiled his mentee’s style for the sake of immediate gain, instead encouraging Sokolov to master entrapping opening lines.
Andrei Sokolov’s first great success was victory (with V. Arbakov) at the Moscow championship of 1981. A year later, he became the junior world champion and in 1984 he triumphed in the Soviet championship, thus winning the right to play in qualifying competitions for the world championship. In that same year, Andrei was awarded the title of grandmaster.
Andrei’s subsequent rise was almost entirely vertical. In 1985, he came third at the inter-zonal tournament in Biel (Switzerland) and qualified for the candidates tournament. In that competition, in the French city of Montpellier, three Soviet grandmasters- Artur Jussupow, Rafael Vaganian and Andrei Sokolov- split first place between them, while Jan Timman from Holland came fourth. Subsequently, following the established rules, the top four players played in knockout style. In one semi-final, Sokolov thrashed Vaganian 6:2, while in the other Jussupow decisively defeated Timman.
The final match between candidates turned out to be extremely dramatic. After 10 games (out of the 14 planned) Jussupow led 6:4 and the outcome seemed obvious. But Sokolov won three games in a row at the finish and, as Kasparov said, confirmed his reputation as a “man without nerves”.
The mid-1980s saw fierce competition between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov, who battled for the world crown on a yearly basis, in 1984, 1985 and 1986, and later in 1987 and 1990. As soon as the championship ended, the new qualifying cycle began. And FIDE decided, for the only time in history, that the winner of the candidates final would not qualify to face the world champion immediately, but would have to play a “super-final” match between candidates with the loser of the match between the “two Ks” in 1986.
Andrei Sokolov had the lot of crossing swords with the 12th world champion, Anatoly Karpov. The match took place in Linares in 1987 and finished with Sokolov’s defeat by a score of 3,5:7,5 (-4=7)
Grandmaster Igor Zaitsev, who was Karpov’s second, wrote:
“Andrei has a memorable attacking style, he calculates difficult combinations brilliantly and precisely and he implements an endgame with efficiency. However, his style cannot yet be called universal, since he feels uncomfortable in several technical and manoeuvring positions, as well as in difficult and threatening situations. Our plan was to avoid the second type of positions and produce the first type. Karpov mostly kept his competitor at arm’s length…”
The results of this dramatic contest were summarised by Garry Kasparov, the 13th world champion:
“An elastic, smooth manner of the great champion was a puzzle that Andrei never solved. Unfortunately, Andrei did not learn all the lessons from his loss and failed to overcome his weaknesses. Gradually, the results of this talented grandmaster began to decline, and several years later, Sokolov left the world chess elite.”
In the next cycle, Sokolov played in the candidates matches once again, but he unexpectedly lost to Canadian grandmaster Kevin Spraggett in the 1/8 final in St. John in 1988. In subsequent cycles, he failed to qualify for the candidates matches.
As a member of the Soviet team, Andrei Sokolov won the 1984 and 1986 Olympiads and the world team championship in 1986. For his successes in chess, he was awarded a Medal for Distinguished Labour in 1985.
At the present time, he lives in France, the country he has represented in international tournaments since 2000.