What makes Vassily Ivanchuk so Special among Chess Fans?

Certainly there is quite a bunch of chess players in the elite which you could root for, but one among them seems to stand out from the rest. The name Vassily Ivanchuk and the word geniality are often inextricable. The 48-year-old Ukrainian is one of those persons you see and immediately feel comfortable with. One wonders whether those blue eyes could be the reason of his popularity. Nope, they’re not.

Chucky —as he is known among either fans and colleagues— is an extremely creative player whose amazing combinations have caught the attention of amateurs all around the world. Well, I truly think we could say the same for two or three great contemporary players, but I have the ultimate feeling that with Chucky all is different.

You want this guy to win. We feel great when the oldie crushes the elite one by one. What’s the reason for this? Might it be his unique style, that hallmark which separates him from archetypal models?

Indeed, in certain way you could see Vassily Ivanchuk as some kind of rock star who violates stereotypes inside or outside the chessboard. His game flows daring and freely as he’s always in the search for new ideas. At the playing hall, one day you see him on an elegant suite and for the next could be the turn of some shorts.

Probably what makes him so special could well be his eccentricity. Some colleagues say that Vassily apparently lives in ‘Planet Ivanchuk’. Vishwanathan Anand’s words at The Indian Express gives as some insight:

He’s someone who is very intelligent […] but you never know which mood he is going to be in. Some days he will treat you like his long-lost brother. The next day he ignores you completely. I have seen him totally drunk and singing Ukrainian poetry and then the next day I have seen him give an impressive talk. For a while he was trying to learn Turkish. Don’t ask me why. Everyday is a surprise with him. —The Indian Express

People tend to identify more easily with good-hearted characters. In the case of Ivanchuk no one would say there’s a pinch of evil in him. Personally I have never read about a wrangle concerning him and a colleague, but this alone wouldn’t be enough to explain why this genius is so popular.

Could it be the fact that this veteran of many wars doesn’t expose too much to the social media or the press? The absence of constant information generates a cloud of mystery in our days of five-posts-a-day. I mean, in some way I could tell what Nigel Short did yesterday but what about Vassily Ivanchuk.

Usually this halo of silence is broken by a fantastic victory and then we all remember the Ukrainian is alive. More or less the way it’s happening right now in Tbilisi at the FIDE World Cup. Ivanchuk have knocked-down Vishy, then Giri and now goes straight for Aronian’s throat.

The current World Rapid Chess Champion is also a bit naïve and this too could help explain why so many people root for him. Do you remember that viral video on YouTube where Ivanchuk plays checkers with GM Baadur Jobava while the announcer keeps calling Vassily’s name to finally deliver the champ’s gold medal?

Well, that moment alone has the power to stoke the fire and revive old fan’s sparks. Pretty sure it also guaranteed him a horde of new followers. He might not even notice.

Not only is he popular among amateurs, many chess players have expressed in favour of the Ukrainian. Recently, the World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen said that if there’s anyone he wants to succeed that is Vassily Ivanchuk. ‘He has been a classic player for thirty years. He really deserves it [on his gold medal in Doha].’

Good looking, eccentric, naïve, genius, successful, mysterious. Hard to come up with another chess player than the great and unique Vassily Ivanchuk. He’s popular for the simple reason that being such a giant he behaves like a regular guy.

Below you’ll find a diagram from one of his games. Try to guess what the master played and leave your reply.

Ivanchuk-Shirov, Wijk aan Zee 1996 (3), position after 20…Rd7


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