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Ruslan Ponomariov is maybe the most successful chess player in the entire history of Chess Cups despite the fact that he never became the holder of this trophy.

Ruslan twice reached the finals and once each quarterfinals and semifinals in the four knock-out tournaments in Khanty-Mansiysk  (in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011). Every time the Ukrainian brilliantly passes most of the distance and gets to the point of two steps from the final ribbon, however, at the last moment he missteps and lets one or several of his opponents move forward. Ponomariov’s victory in the FIDE World Championship 2001—2002 (it was also the knock-out tournament) always remains the brightest highlight of his career. This success of the 18-year-old player was like an exploding bomb, because he broke the record of Mikhail Таl who became the champion at the age of 23 and Garry Kasparov who won the chess crown at the age of 22. It seemed that something incredible happened!

Ten years ago the young modest boy was not taken as a serious runner-up for the world chess crown. Obviously, everyone remarked his fighting qualities, steel nerves and mature positional comprehension, but still they didn’t consider him to measure up to the laurels crown. Certainly ten years ago the age standards in chess were not the same; and today with the new «generation next» of Grandmasters it is different and no one is surprised when schoolies are fighting head to head with experienced chess players. The winner himself modestly confessed in his interview that he did not count for such a success. Having become the World Champion in Moscow, Ruslan, as it was written by Pushkin, «made us respect him », but still he did not take his place in the same row with great champions in the mind of chess community. He will have to make another exploit — to win the match for the world crown.

The way to the success of Ruslan Ponomariov is a typical American dream story. The future Grandmaster was born on October 11 in 1983 in a small mining town Gorlovka of Donetsk Region in the family of an engineer and a teacher. When Ruslan was 5 years old his father taught him to play chess. At the age of 9 Ruslan won the Youth Championship of Donetsk Region and got the first category. The director of the chess club in Kramatorsk Mikhail Nikitich Ponomariov discovered a huge talent in the young chess player and offered Ruslan’s parents to train their son. In September 1993 Ponomariov moved to Kramatorsk where he lived in the family of his namesakes.

The lessons with experienced coaches brought fruitful results very fast. In the same year Ponomariov became the Champion of Ukraine Under-12 and in one year he won the 3rd place in the World Championship, and one year later he became the European Champion in his category. Since then Ruslan started playing in the tournaments for grown-ups, in the year of 1996 when he was almost 13 he won the European Championship Under-18 and one year later the World Championship in the same category. Winning one Ukrainian «round» tournament after another Ponomariov has gained a very decent rating and at the age of 14 he got the Grandmaster title — at the moment he was the youngest Grandmaster title holder in the world.

In 1998 the 15-year-old Ponomariov played for the national team of Ukraine for the first time at the Olympiad in Elista and showed the best result of the team having taken the first place on the second reserve board. The Ukrainian team won the bronze medal mainly thanks to his performance. Ruslan won a zonal tournament of the FIDE World Championship in Donetsk in the same year and became the youngest runner-up for the world crown in the chess history.

The young challenger passed the first Round of the FIDE World Chess Championship in Las Vegas very successfully and faced Vesselin Topalov in the next one. The battle of the two future World Champions was very tense. Ponomariov won the first game, but Topalov equaled the score in the second one and after snatched a victory in the tie-break.

In 2000 he participated in the Chess Olympiad for the second time and he moved from the second reserve to the second board. This time the Ukrainian had no competitors. In Istanbul he won bronze medal in the composition of the National team and individual «gold». At the World Championship of the same year he performed not very well, losing in the first round. Who would have thought it that already in a year Ruslan Ponomariov would manage to pass six knock out rounds in the next World Championship, having outplayed Lie Venliang, Sergey Tiviakov, Kiril Georgiev, Alexander Morozevich, Evgeny Bareev and Peter Svidler and would meet Vassily Ivanchuk in the finals, and again winning him with 4.5−2.5? Ponomariov was awarded with the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise for the victory in the World championship.

The same year in the traditional super tournament in Linares Ponomariov confirmed that a victory in Moscow was not just luck but professionalism: he got the second place, being behind only Kasparov and won a game against Ivanchuk.

Being the FIDE World Chess Champion Ruslan Ponomariov had to (in the frameworks of the Unification process stated in the Prague Agreement 2002) play the Unification Match for the «Absolute Champion» title against the winner of the match Kramnik-Leko. Match Ponomariov-Kasparov was planned for September 2003 but was cancelled in the last moment. The reasons are not known by now. At the press conference on the site «Crestbook» Ponomariov made the following comments:

«The official reason of match cancellation was my non-compliance in the question of match organization. But try to understand me. I wanted that I, being the active World Chess Champion, would have the same rights and chances to win the match as my opponent does. I was constantly in touch with the FIDE representatives, came to meet Ilyumzhinov in Moscow. But I never met Kasparov to negotiate it, FIDE was the one to read his position. All attempts of mine to meet him even after the match in Yalta was cancelled were unsuccessful.

It is obvious for me that there was collusion between them for mutual support. Kasparov wanted to become the World Champion again and in return made his peace with Ilyumzhinov and started to support him as FIDE President. I stood on their way. As a result I got the relevant attitude towards me.»

Generally speaking this is very old and dark story. We would like to remind you that Kramnik-Leko match took place anyway. Later there was a Unification match, played by Kramnik vs Topalov, but this is already another story…

Photo by Chess Base

Let us come back to our hero. After the match cancellation it took some time for him to recover. In the next World Chess Championship (knock out system) which took place in Libya in 2004 he just refused to take part in it. He remained in the shadow for some period though he continued winning the strong tournaments and got «gold» at the 2004 Olympiad in Spain in the composition of the Ukrainian National Team.  He was awarded with the Order of Merit. He moved from Kramatorsk to Kiev in the same years.

Starting from 2005 the World Chess Championship which was played in a knock out system was renamed to the World Cup and it was a qualifying competition. We have already written the detailed information on the World Cups. Ruslan Ponomariov started to conquer the new peaks and he did it successfully — he went till the finals in the first Cup, he was eliminated in the tie breaks by the Armenian Grandmaster Levon Aronian. In general 2006—2009 years cannot be called the most successful in Ponomariov’s career. Nevertheless he showed the brightest performance and stable high results. In the

World Cup 2007 Ponomariov managed to go till the quarterfinals, where he lost to the winner of the tournament Gata Kamsky. In two years he again went till the finals where lost to Boris Gelfand in the tie breaks.

In 2010 the dark streak was replaced by the lucky one. In the end of July Ponomariov won the super tournament in Dortmund where he was ahead of Vladimir Kramnik, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Peter Leko. In autumn the same year he won the Gold medal in the composition of the National Team at the World Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk (Ponomariov was back to the team after some break which was caused by some misunderstanding with the National Federation leadership).

This year Ruslan won the strongest from the composition point of view Ukrainian Chess Championship. The tournament took place in Kiev where Ponomariov and his relatives live now. His younger sister Lyudmila used to come to the venue to grieve for Ruslan. Their mother named her children after the heroes of the famous poem of Pushkin.

Ruslan and Lyudmila. Photo by Chess Base

What else we know about Ruslan Ponomariov? Now he lives in three countries — Spain, the Ukraine and Russia. He is not married but has a girl friend, her name is Iness.

With girl friend Iness. Photo by E. Surov

Iness accompanies Ruslan at the tournaments from time to time. He likes to travel during free time, likes to read and listen to the music (basically rock and bard songs), he likes to watch movies (one of the favorite movie directors — Woody Allen). He lives an active life: swims, cycles, roller-skates, goes to walking tours, gym and practices yoga. Ruslan is cool and severe fighter at the chess board. But if you meet this green-eyed blond-brown fellow in jeans and sweater in the streets, it would not be obvious for you.

Maria Fominykh


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