Nikita Vitiugov: “Since the war I haven’t thought much about the chessboard”
The Russian champion, who has lived in Spain since the pandemic, now trains the chess player who aims to become the world No.
A few months ago, he tweeted, “I was a chess player a lifetime ago,” along with a photo of his newly born son in a baby carrier. But he wasn’t referring to how drastically his life had changed with parenthood, or at least not only. It was early February and her world was about to change. His next tweet, a few days later, explained it all: “Russians and Ukrainians are brothers, not enemies. Stop the war,” he said.
Nikita Vitiugov, the 2021 Russian chess champion, lives in Spain and he was one of the first to speak out against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Since then, he has remained neutral, but it is true that his life has changed.
“Since the war, I don’t think much about the chessboard anymore,” he says. Now he is concentrating on his family and his work by training Ian Nepomniachtchi, third in the world ranking, while helping to promote chess, which he will do tonight, Friday October 14, at the La Térmica cultural center in Malaga.
Vitiugov is one of the strongest players on the international chess scene. It occupies the 25th place in the ranking of the International Chess Federation. He will meet with journalist and writer Manuel Azuaga, author of the book Cuentos, Jaques y Leyendas. After the talk, which will begin at 6:00 p.m., he will give a demonstration of simultaneous chess. Admission is free within the limits of available places.
Vitiugov looks very pleasant as he answers the phone, trying to carry on a conversation in the Spanish he has just learned. And he makes himself understood.
Since 2021, he and his wife have been living on the Costa Blanca and this is where their son was born a year ago. “Spain will always be very special for us,” he said.
It was the pandemic that pushed them to refocus their lives and get closer to the Mediterranean. “Although this summer it was too hot,” he admits, having grown up in northern Russia.
They had been on holiday in Spain, but Vitiugov’s emotional connection to the country is stronger than that: he is a huge Atlético de Madrid fan and has been a member of the football club for six years. It’s not uncommon to see pictures of him on social media in his red and white club shirt.
He loves his country, but returning there is not an option. He admits that when the conflict started, it was a shock. “I could never have imagined this. You realize your home country has started a war. It’s unbearable,” he says. Since then, he experiences a sadness that is not normal for him. “And I think a lot of Russians feel the same way,” he says.
His consolation is his family and his job as a coach, as the pandemic has also caused many tournaments to be canceled and it is now more difficult to make a living from competition. That’s why, when asked about the popularity the game has gained since series such as Queen’s Gambit aired and so many YouTubers started teaching chess online, he replies: “There five years ago there were a lot more tournaments than there are in 2022. I don’t think the situation has changed in favor of professional chess players. Maybe those who work with amateurs, at a grassroots level, are better off now, but not in my case.”
Its current success comes from the triumph of Ian Nepomniachtchi.
“All my ambitions had to be put aside so that I could focus on this goal,” he says. Vitiugov was part of the team of advisers to the player with whom he won the last Candidates Tournament in Madrid.
Nepomniachtchi became the challenger to current world champion Magnus Carlsen, but he decided not to defend his title and the Russian will now have to play against Chinese player Ding Liren to claim the title. “I appreciate this new facet,” says Vitiugov.
He never glorifies chess or adds to the legends surrounding this sport. He denies the connection to drugs and alcohol as portrayed in the TV series. “I understand that they want to make it more spectacular, but it’s not like that,” he says.
He is aware of the advantages of learning and training offered by the Internet but does not approve: “I am not a fan of online chess. For me, it’s a game that is played face to face,” he says. said. And he says the belief that chess players never get Alzheimer’s disease or have higher intelligence is “a myth”.
But beyond that, this Russian grandmaster says it’s a “very supportive and useful pastime at any age.” Because, also, it does not require much. “In football you need to have a field, to swim you need a swimming pool, but to play chess you just need a chessboard and pieces. You can play on the beach, in a train, anywhere “, he explains. And at the La Térmica cultural center this Friday as well.