Evgeni Vasiukov, a Russian chess grandmaster who was among the world’s best players for more than 15 years and won tournaments in five different decades, but whose career was eclipsed by brilliant contemporaries in a Soviet Union stocked with daunting talent, died Thursday in Moscow. He was 85.
His death was announced on Twitter by the Russian Chess Federation.
On the official ranking lists compiled by the World Chess Federation, Mr. Vasiukov was tied for No. 17 in January 1976. But those rankings have existed only since 1970, which was after his peak. According to Chess Metrics, a widely respected website that has compiled retroactive rankings going back more than 200 years, Mr. Vasiukov was No. 11 in the world between August and October 1962.
Mr. Vasiukov’s good fortune in being from the Soviet Union, where chess was exalted, was also his bad luck. In any other country, he probably would have been a star. But in the Soviet Union, which had almost all the world’s best players at the time, he was just one of the pack.
A naturally aggressive and creative player, Mr. Vasiukov was sometimes compared to Mikhail Tal, the former Soviet world champion, who was three years older.
Mr. Vasiukov’s style, like Tal’s, was ideally suited to blitz chess, in which each player has five minutes to make all his or her moves. Mr. Vasiukov won the Moscow Blitz Championship, arguably the most competitive in the world, eight times.
Among those who respected Mr. Vasiukov was world chess champion Bobby Fischer, who noted in his book “My Sixty Memorable Games” (1969) that he had been impressed with how Mr. Vasiukov had “crushed” future world champion Tigran Petrosian in the 1956 Moscow Championship.
Indeed, at regular tournament time controls, Mr. Vasiukov was formidable. In addition to winning the Moscow Championship six times (the first in 1955 and the last in 1978), he won international tournaments in Yugoslavia in 1961, East Germany in 1962, Poland in 1965, Iceland in 1968, Macedonia in 1970, the Philippines in 1974, Hungary in 1977, Greece in 1987, and Denmark in 1990. In 1995, in Germany, he won the world senior championship.
Mr. Vasiukov beat some of the world’s best players, including Vasily Smyslov, Mark Taimanov and David Bronstein. In 2002, at the Aeroflot Open in Moscow, when Mr. Vasiukov was 68, he demolished Loek van Wely, a Dutch player then ranked No. 14 in the world. The influential publication Chess Informant called that game the most beautiful of the year.
Despite Mr. Vasiukov’s successes, his path to higher laurels was blocked by his contemporaries, many of whom, including Tal, Petrosian, Boris Spassky, and Viktor Korchnoi, were clearly better. Mr. Vasiukov played in the Soviet championship, a qualifier for the world championship cycle, 11 times, but finished no higher than a tie for third in 1967, which was not good enough to advance to the next stage.
Evgeni Vasiukov was born in Moscow on March 5, 1933. During World War II, his family was evacuated to Tula and his father died in the Battle of Kursk.
Mr. Vasiukov did not learn to play chess until he was 15, very late even by the standards of his time. (By comparison, Spassky became a grandmaster at 18.) But he was a quick study, and only seven years later he claimed his first Moscow Championship.
He earned the title international master in 1958 and three years later was named a grandmaster after winning international tournaments in East Germany and Moscow. At the time, there were fewer than 100 grandmasters in the world. (There are now more than 1,300.)
In later years, as his playing career declined, Mr. Vasiukov became a trainer and a coach. He worked with Korchnoi in the 1960s; after Korchnoi defected in 1976 and became a challenger for the world championship in 1978, Mr. Vasiukov assisted Anatoly Karpov in his successful defense of the title against Korchnoi. He continued to work with Karpov when he played Garry Kasparov for the title in 1984 and 1985.
And he continued to play until the final months of his life, participating in blitz and rapid tournaments this year.
Mr. Vasuikov, who lived in Moscow, leaves his wife, Evgenia, and a daughter.