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Reflections on GM Khalifman


Reflections on GM Khalifman by Dr Lyndon Bouah

I have been fascinated with chess since about 1987.  In this time we were witness to the great struggles between the two K’s. Grandmasters Karpov and Kasparov dominated the chess horizon with impressive victories in many countries. At the same time, however, the Soviet Union had many players who were still unknown in the West. One of these players was GM Alexander Khalifman.

I saw GM Khalifman for the first time in 2002 when I was captain of the South African team at the Bled Olympiad. He always wore his player’s tag on his back, and he strode the hall like a colossus when it was his turn to move. He was part of the Russian team together with Kasparov that would win the Olympiad. (This was also the Olympiad where IM Robert Gwaze from Zimbabwe scored 9/9 to win the gold medal on board one ahead of Kasparov).

Life and Games by Gennady Nesis

I recently bought the book Khalifman (Life and Games by Gennady Nesis) published by Everyman Chess (2000). Every world champion must be studied because each one, in my opinion, adds to the rich tapestry of chess. Their distinctive style must be studied and absorbed, and we as ordinary players must see how best to use it in our games.

Cover of the book - GM Khalifman life & games.
Cover of the book – GM Khalifman life & games.

Khalifman was born in 1966 and was declared a USSR Master of Sport in 1963 and became an IM in 1986 and a GM in 1990. He was the USSR Junior Champion in 1982 and 1984.  Khalifman was also a member of the Russian team that won the Olympiad in 1992.

He has a string of impressive results.  His crowning glory was the win in Las Vegas of the World Championship when he was crowned World Champion.

In the introductory pages Nesis introduces Khalifman to the reader with the following passage “it is amazing. No one plays like that. How does he give up material just like that, and then play on as if nothing has happened?” I remembered these words when I played through his games. For Khalifman, material was only a factor in the chess game. For many of us, we are scared to go behind in material.

He with no pretension simply sacrificed a pawn or piece if he believes that he will obtain compensation.

Khalifman in his first interview in 1982 stated that he was taught by his father and thanks to ‘A Journey into the Kingdom of chess‘ by Averbakh and Beilin.  Their wonderful book he says led me to the Pioneers palace.  There for nine years now, I have been studying with Vasily Byshev and at home the lessons of Chigorin, Alekhine, Lasker, Capablanca, Nimzowitsch…. ”

Nesis gives the reader a fascinating insight into the Soviet machinery at the time.  The events that were organised, the difficulties in obtaining visas to play overseas.  He also mentions the invitations that were so coveted & were not easily obtained by Khalifman.

FIDE World Champion

In 1999 Khalifman won the FIDE World Championship in Las Vegas. It is true that not all the worlds strongest players were in attendance, but the event had enough of the leading grandmasters. He beat the Indian GM Barua in round one, then GM Kamsky, then GM Polgar. He then defeated Nisipeanu and then in the final beat Vladimir Akopian.

The new world champion gave his views in an interview later in St Petersburg.  Some of his views were quite striking.  In one of these he stated that a reduction in players from the developing third world countries (and three players from Africa for the moment ) should re-considered. He felt that were too many….and perhaps their standard not up to that level.

I was quite taken aback by that statement and put the book away for a week while I was thinking about that statement.

I decided that in 1999 perhaps that may have been the case. However, chess in Africa and third world countries have
developed rapidly.

It did take me a week though of reflection to decide to continue to study Khalifman!

Games section

Nesis ends off with an extensive games section as well. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Benko Gambit was one of Khalifman’s weapons that he used at the highest level. The Benko is also one of my favourite openings. It is a rich pawn sacrifice that allows playing with the initiative. He used it at the top level for many years and scored many famous victories.

If you have an opportunity, do check out this book with 96 annotated games from the top level of chess. It will add to your understanding of chess in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.

Some notable games from GM Alexander Khalifman.

Alexander Khalifman v Robert Zysk

Alexey Dreev v Alexander Khalifman


Khalifman – Life & Games by Everyman Chess.

Reflection on GM Ehlvest.

Dr Lyndon Bouah is an advocate and was captain of the South African Open team during the 2018 Batumi Olympiad.  He is also one of Africa’s most prolific chess writers.
Dr Lyndon Bouah is an advocate and was captain of the South African Open team during the 2018 Batumi Olympiad. He is also one of Africa’s most prolific chess writers.