Person of day - 24 JULY 2023
Vugar rose to prominence in 1999, when he won a well-attended juniors’ tournament at the Kasparov Cup in Moscow. He was 13, while most of his opponents were two or three years older- a considerable advantage in juniors’ tournaments. Garry Kasparov called Vugar Gashimov a chess player with a wonderful sense of position and a sharp tactical eye. Soon after, Vugar became a prolific Internet-competitor, which became the battle site for the best blitz players at the turn of the millennium. However, performances at the chess board were exceptionally rare. Shortly after, it was revealed that the young man was ill with a brain tumour.
Two-time Soviet champion Vitaly Tseshkovsky, after travelling to Baku several times to train the young Gashimov, marvelled at the Azerbaijani talent: “A true volcano with burning eyes, he leaves you no time to set up your position on the board before bombarding you with variants. His imagination is endless and his calculations precise; even in stale positions, he found interesting, original ways to continue to fight. I’ve seen many promising players, but this was something special. Just like when I met Vladimir Kramnik, I knew that I faced a future world champion!”
Vugar bravely survived several operations on his brain and the illness subsided for a while. In 2007-2008, Gashimov played in several strong open tournaments, before splitting 1st-3rdplaces with Magnus Carlsen and Wang Yue in a round-robin tournament in Baku that was attended by the world’s finest grandmasters. Eventually, he came first in that tournament thanks to superior tie-break overtaking Grischuk, Svidler, Karjakin and Radjabov. Vugar Gashimov’s rating soon surpassed 2750 and he became one of the world’s top ten players who won medals at some of the world’s largest tournaments. In 2009, the Azerbaijani team won the European championship for the first time and the decisive point was won by Gashimov, who outsmarted the Dutch grandmaster Stellwagen in a protracted contest.
In an attempt to regain what he lost, Vugar played a lot, and enjoyed it. He performed in team tournaments in different countries, including Russia; he won championships of Croatia, Turkey, Romania, Iran, Spain and Moldova. He liked difficult, complicated and nerve-racking positions; it was Vugar Gashimov who forced the world to review a risky opening such as the Modern Benoni Defence. It was previously considered improper, but due to Gashimov’s original interpretation, we began to see more and more of it at tournaments at the highest level.
Alas, this happy tale did not go on for long, as his illness retuned. In November 2011, at the European teach championship, Vugar Gashimov fell ill during one of the matches. His colleagues carried him outside, where he received first aid. Vugar found the strength to finish the tournament and even won twice more, before performing wonderfully at the World Mind Sports Games in Beijing. But this was his swansong…In January 2012, he played one more tournament at Wijk aan Zee, but he was not himself during the games.
Vugar Gashimov was a bright, friendly, and kind man, who rejoiced in every day of his life, who smiled often and who never complained. He had many friends and all had faith that Vugar would return soon. When his team-mates from Azerbaijan won their second European championship in 2013, they dedicated their victory to Gashimov. Alas, he died a month later, in January 2014…
Azerbaijan remembers its hero: the city of Shamkir holds a super tournament- the Vugar Gashimov Memorial- every year.