Person of day - 16 MARCH 2021
During the second half of the 20th century, the successes of Georgian chess players took the game’s popularity onto a new level. All that disappointed the Southern supporters was that the Georgian chess school’s classical player, Bukhuti Gugrenidze, was not young and had retired from the game to focus on the problems of training his remarkable countrymen. There was no worthy successor until the Soviet chess scene saw the rise of Zurab Azmaiparashvili.
The young chess player quickly became a master, won the Soviet junior championship and did not wait long for success in adult chess. In 1983, Azmaiparashvili qualified for the premier league of the national championship for the first time, where he sensationally defeated the invincible world champion Anatoly Karpov with black pieces in the Pirc Defence. From that moment, this opening became the signature move of the leader of Georgian chess; with it, Zurab won many notable victories.
Before the match for the world championship in Seville in 1987, Azmaiparashvili was invited to Garry Kasparov’s team, who was determined to compensate for the losses of assistants after the scandal at the Leningrad half of the revenge-match in 1986. Azmaiparashvili helped the champion master the English opening, which became one of the main battlefields in the fourth part of the contest between two “Ks”. Immediately after the start of the match in Spain, Kasparov’s second became a grandmaster.
In the start of the 1990s, Azmaiparashvili moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina for a short time, where he played with Kasparov for the local club Bosna, with which he won the European champions cup. Gradually, the grandmaster initiated a political career and he became an assistant of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who appointed him vice-president of the International Chess Federation.
At the turn of the millennium, the native of Tbilisi reached new highs as a player and trainer: he won the European championship and his pupil Teimour Radjabov entered the chess elite. But Azmaiparashvili was also involved in a series of scandals. In a decisive match against Vladimir Malakhov at the Old World championship, the grandmaster paced himself and the chess media accused him of raising his rating artificially. Female Georgian chess players wrote an open letter criticising Zurab and at the closing ceremony of the 2004 Olympiad, the FIDE vice-president got in a fight with security and was taken to a police station. Zurab Azmaiparashvili was forced to abandon politics and focus on his role of coach - a few years later under his guidance, the Azerbaijani team managed to overtake their Russian competitors at the European team championship in Novi Sad.
Recently, another chapter in the Georgian’s career commenced. During another electoral cycle for the European Chess Union’s Presidency in 2014, Zurab put forward his candidacy and launched an active campaign under the slogan “Back to Europe!” The election campaign was rigorous and the Georgian grandmaster and his opponent- the incumbent president Silvio Danailov- engaged in fierce debate in the print media. Eventually, Azmaiparashvili won with almost double the votes.