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Monday, September 28, 2009

Soviet Chess Legend Kira Alekseevna Zvorykina turns 90 today!

On September 29, 2009, the famous soviet chess player Kira Alekseyevna Zvorykina turns 90(!) years old!

Kira Zvorykina is a woman international grandmaster, international arbiter, 3-times USSR chess champion (1951, 1953 and 1956), 2-times winner of the Chess Olympiads in 1957 and 1963, the winner of the Candidates tournament in 1959, 2-times vice-champion of the world (played 2 final matches in 1959 and 1960 against Elizaveta Bykova).

Kira Alekseyevna was born on September 29, 1919 in Nikolaev (Ukraine). Her great-grandparents were from a very good family. They owned a house in Murom, were quite wealthy and had a very good education . Her grandfather Konstantin Alekseevich Zvorykin was a scientist and has written a work on metallurgy. He was the head of the politechinal institute in Kiev. He had threee children – Peter, Aleksey (the father of Kira) and Kozma.

Aleksey Konstantinovich Zvorykin (cousin of the famous pioneer in television engineering Vladimir Kozmich Zvorykin) and Lidiya Terpugova were Kira’s parents. Kira was one of their seven children.

In 1924 the Zvorykin’s family moved to Leningrad. Everbody in the Zvorykin’s family loved to play chess and it was their favorite past-time. But since they only had one chess-set for 9 people home chess tournaments always took a very long time to finish. Most of all Kira liked to play with her father, who was an expert chess player. One day Kira managed to beat him and he suggested that Kira to go to a chess club to learn to play chess better.

Since in 1918 Vladimir Kozmich Zvorykin emigrated from Russia and left to live and work to the US, Kira Zvorykin’s family faced a very tragic destiny. Her father Aleksey, the main engineer and constructor of the ships for the USSR Sea Frontier-Guard, was arrested, named “enemy of the people” and sent to prison in 1928 and was only rehabilitaded in 1964.

After her father's arrest their family was labeled a "traitor of Motherland family members" and that meant that the mother with a good educational degree couldn't find a decent job and had to work as a washwoman in order to be able to feed her 7 children.

So the childhood of Kira Alekseyevna was very far from a bright and happy childhood that one may dream of.

Despite all the problems that her family needed to go over, as Kira herself says "all these obstacles only made our family stronger".

She didn’t like to study chess very much but once by coincidence went to the legendary Palace of Young Pioneers' Chess Club in Leningrad that was led Peter Romanovsky. She started taking chess classes from him regularly. Here is 1937 Kira’s win over the second women’s world chess champion-to be Liudmila Rudenko:

Liudmila Rudenko - Kira Zvorykina, Leningrad, 1937:

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nd2 d6 3.e4 Nbd7 4.Bd3 g6 5.Qe2 e5 6.d5 a5 7.Nh3 Bg7 8.O-O O-O 9.c4 Nc5 10.Bc2 Bxh3 11.gxh3 Nh5 12.Nb3 Nd7 13.Bd2 a4 14.Nc1 Qh4 15.Qg4 Qe7 16.Ne2 Ndf6 17.Qf3 Kh8 18.a3 Ng8 19.Nc3 Bh6 20.Bxh6 Nxh6 21.Nxa4 Nf4 22.Nc3 f5 23.Ne2 fxe4 24.Bxe4 Qh4 25.Kh1 Nxh3 26.Qd3 Rxf2 27.Bg2 Rxf1+ 28.Rxf1 Nf2+ 29.Rxf2 Qxf2 30.b4 Ng4 31.Qf3

31. ... Rxa3! 32.Qxg4 Ra1+ 33.Bf1 Rxf1+ 34.Ng1 Rxg1+ 35.Qxg1 Qxg1+ 36.Kxg1 Kg7 37.c5 Kf6 38.Kf2 e4 39.c6 b6 40.Ke3 Ke5 0-1

In 1937 she became the Leningrad Schoolgirl Champion and also began studying at the Institute of Cinematography. When the Second World War started her institute was evacuated to Alma-Aty where she didn’t have any time to partice chess and got back to it only when the Second World War was over.

Kira Alekseyevna came back to chess by coincidence. Once her friend Valya Belova came to visit her and brought many delicious things like ham, cacao and so on. In the after-war years it was a real rarity. Soon Kira found out that all these tasteful things her friend got by a special card that was given to her as the city’s champion. Before the war Kira always took over Belova in their direct encounters and so Zvorykina decided to start playing chess again. She started to work with Semen Furman who later became the trainer of Anatoly Karpov. And that’s how the chess career of Kira Alekseyevna Zvorykina started.

After a few years of training and tournaments in 1951 Kira Alekseyevna became the USSR women’s chess champion.

Zvorykina married chess grandmaster and trainer Alexey Suetin and in 1952 their son Aleksandr was born. That’s why she didn't play in the 1952 USSR chess championship.

In 1952 the USSR chess federation let the leading women's chess players compete in the quarterfinals of the USSR chess championships. Kira often played in men's tournaments. Here is a photo of her playing against none other than Mikhail Tal:

In 1953, Zvorykina became the USSR chess champion again.

(From left to right: Eduard Gufeld, Kira Zvorykina, Mikhail Tal and general Shevtsov)

Kira Alekseyevna had a chance to work with great chess trainers of her times such as Romanovsky, Furman, Konstantinopolsky, Boleslavsky. Maybe that's why despite her late start in chess she managed to rise to the top of the women's chess.

Her greatest success occurred in Plovdiv at the Women's Candidates Tournament of 1959, when victory over a strong field earned her a match with reigning Women's World Champion Elizaveta Bykova for the title.

She wasn't very succesful in the matches for the world title. In December 1959 she lost her match against Elizaveta Bykova. In the 1960 match Kira lost to Bykova again with the score 4½–8½.

Representing the Soviet Union at the Chess Olympiads of 1957 (Emmen) and 1963 (Split), Zvorykina produced two sparkling, medal-winning performances. On the first Olympiad, on the second board she scored 12 points out of 14, securing both individual and team gold. In 1963 she scored an impressive 5½ out of 6, helping the team to win another gold medal.

Kira Zvorykina not only played chess and was active in tournaments and matches she also ran a chess school and was a dictor of a chess TV program. She still takes part in veteran chess tournaments.

Kira Zvorykina with Nona Gaprindashvili

Here is her win over the third women's world chess champion Elizaveta Bykova, this game was played in 1955.

Kira Zvorykina - Elizaveta Bykova, XVII USSR women's chess championship, 1955

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7 6.Bf4 O-O 7.Qd2 a6 8.Bd3 b5 9.O-O c5 10.Nf5 Bxf5 11.exf5 d5 12.Rfe1 b4 13.Nd1 Nc6 14.c3 a5 15.Bb5 Na7 16.Ba4 Nc8 17.Ne3 bxc3 18.bxc3 d4 19.Nf1 dxc3 20.Qxc3 Ra7 21.Rad1 Qb6 22.Rb1 Qa6 23.Ne3 Nb6 24.Bc6 Rc8 25.Bb5 Qb7 26.Bc4 Bd8

27.Nd5! Qc6 28.Rxb6 Bxb6 29.Ne7+ Rxe7 30.Rxe7 Nd5 31.Bxd5 Qxd5 32.Qe1 Qc6 33.f6 g6

34.Rxf7! Bd8 35.Re7 Qxf6 36.Re8+ Kf7 37.Bh6 g5 38.Rf8+ Kg6 39.Rxf6+ Bxf6 40.Bxg5 Kxg5 41.Qxa5 Bd4 42.Qa7 Rf8 43.Qe7+ Rf6 44.Kf1 h6 45.a4 Kf5 46.f3 Re6 47.Qd7 Ke5 48.a5 Rd6 49.Qb7 c4 50.Qb5+ Rd5 51.Qxc4 Rc5 52.Qe2+ Kd6 53.Qd2 Rc4 54.a6 Ra4 55.Qxh6+ Kc5 56.Qf8+ Kb5 57.Qe8+ Ka5 58.Qc6 Bb6 59.g4 Ra1+ 60.Ke2 Kxa6 61.Qa8+ Ba7 62.Qc8+ Kb5 63.Qb7+ Bb6 64.Qd5+ Ka6 65.h4 Ra3 66.Qc6 Re3+ 67.Kd2 1-0

When this August I visited the Olga Rubtsova memorial in Moscow, Kira Alekseyevna was one of the participants of this tournament.

Kira Alekseyevna is second on the left, standing just behind me, Moscow, August 2009

She played and fought in every game! After the tournament I agreed to make an interview with her and when I came to visit her I was charmed by this lady. Kira Alekseyevna has a very sharp sense of humor, she was telling me so many funny stories of her life with such enthusiasm that I could only say that I'm very happy and honored to succeed her in Russian chess.

From the bottom of my heart on this day I wish Kira Alekseyevna health, happiness and many more wins over the chess board!

Alexandra Kosteniuk
Women's World Chess Champion



  • At September 29, 2009 at 1:35 AM , Blogger Indusan said...

    It is difficult not to sympathize with your words Sasha. You have shown that you are a worthy Champion. My congratulations to Kira Alekseyevna on her birthday!..

  • At September 29, 2009 at 7:13 AM , Blogger Antonio Carlos Brasileiro said...

    Hi, Alexandra. Congratulations to Kira Alekseyevna! Today is a very special day! It's my birthday too! But I'm completing 43 years old! I hope to have more 47 by ahead too :)).
    Antonio Carlos Brasileiro
    acbrasil on Twitter.

  • At September 29, 2009 at 8:28 AM , Blogger Hijo de la Luz said...

    Very inspiring post !! It's sometimes unbelievable how strong can the chess be for helping someone to succeed !!

  • At September 29, 2009 at 4:39 PM , Anonymous Ezekial1 said...

    Hi Alexandra, What an interesting article on Kira Zvorykina. It makes me feel very humble to read about a life of chess that was so inspiring. I think you are a great journalist!

  • At September 30, 2009 at 6:12 PM , Blogger Jan said...

    Kira Alekseyevna is a living testiment to the history of chess in Russia. Thank you so much for bringing her story to us. She is a true inspiration, and her fighting spirit continues to this day. What a privilege to meet her!

  • At December 20, 2010 at 1:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Excelent article of the Great Kira Zvorykina. Please, can you a interview to Alla Kushnir,too?


    Alfredo from Lima Peru


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