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Ukrainian Chess School “How to become an Olympic Champion” by GM Smirnov

Recently I’ve been analysing the games from the 39th World Chess Olympiad, where Ukraine won the gold medal. By the way, I am from Ukraine as well, so I know the chess situation here well. I guess it will be interesting for you to know “How it is possible to become an Olympic Champion?”. This is what I will be telling you in this issue.


First, I have to say the chess situation in Ukraine is quite sad. Maybe it sounds strange, but it is true. Ukrainian chess players don’t have any real support from their country. I remember a few years ago those players from the Olympic team did NOT even want to go to the Olympiad.

It is a funny situation really: normally any sportsman dreams to be in an Olympic team and to take part in a World Olympiad. At the same time Ukrainian chess players don’t want too (despite the great results of the Ukrainian team)!

It happens because they don’t get much profit even if they become Champions. These players can earn much more playing individually in international commercial tournaments.

Also I remember that about about 5 years ago the 1st prize in the Ukraine Championship was 200 USD 🙂 (in a country with a lot of 2600-2700 players!) Of course nobody played there…

These are only a few facts, while I can tell you many more ones that are similar.


At the same time Ukraine got almost all the possible gold medals in the last few years: Individual World Champion, World Team Champion, Olympic team Champion, Europe individual Champion, World Cup Champion… etc (even Woman World Blitz Champion – E.Lahno 🙂 )

Here we come to the main question: How did the Ukrainian chess players achieve such great results despite the facts I mentioned above?

It happens because Ukraine has a Chess School. I mean a School in the broad sense – the system of chess teaching. For example, when I was a schoolboy, I was learning in a Sport School as well. In the end I got the diploma of a a chess teacher and a local chess arbiter.

We have special Universities, which prepare chess teachers. It takes 5 (!!) years of a constant learning. You see that everything is very serious.

A chess player (or a chess teacher) is a job; and the same applies to all other professions; it requires a special system of preparation.

For some strange reasons many chess players don’t understand it. They think that it is enough to buy some chess books, to read them, to have some practice, and “voila” – you are a strong chess player. 🙂

What if doctors (let’s say surgeons) start using the same method of learning? 🙂 Luckily, they don’t do it. Otherwise, they would cut off something by mistake 🙂


By the way, chess players often ask me: “Why are my results not stable? Sometimes I can beat a strong opponent, but other times I play like a patzer.” The answer is very simple and logical: random study brings random results. (do you still remember our surgeon? 🙂 )

There is the same problem with chess coaches in the world. Nowadays everyone thinks that he/she can be a chess teacher (and it is enough to be a little higher rated player to do so). It is a very harmful situation, because such “teachers” damage the chess careers of talented players.

I know many “teachers” who teach little kids, showing them modern lines of Najdorf variation along with Rybka analysis… Of course it is totally useless for a kid, who makes blunders and loses pieces. Moreover, after some time such “teachers” say “he is a bad pupil” or “you don’t have chess talent” or something like this. Some players believe in these statements and lose their enthusiasm. Such stories make me angry.



  • You need to have a serious system of chess training. This will make your progress constant and steady.
  • If someone says “you don’t have a talent for chess” – do NOT believe them! Everyone can become a Grandmaster (or at least an International Master).
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    GM Igor Smirnov

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