On January 14, 2014 Vugar Gashimov, Azerbaijani chess Grandmaster and one of the world’s top players, was buried in the Alley of Honor in Baku, Azerbaijan after a long battle with brain tumor. The wake, which took place at the Republic Chess Center, was attended by his family, friends, colleagues and loyal fans, who came to say goodbye to the legendary player.
Vugar Gashimov was born in Baku on July 24, 1986, when Azerbaijan was still part of the Soviet Union – the world’s leader in chess. Sparked by the legendary victory of Garry Kasparov, also from Baku, against Anatoly Karpov at the World Championship in 1985, the popularity of chess was growing. Chess sections in schools and universities were overcrowded.
“Chess and wrestling are more popular than football in Azerbaijan,” Berti Vogts, manager of the Azerbaijani national football team once said in an interview to the German press.
Gashimov’s father, an army colonel, taught him to play chess when he was six years old. Vitaly Tseshkovsky, Russian Grandmaster and champion of USSR, who was brought to Baku to coach Gashimov, said: “He reminded me of a volcano. He had endless fantasy. He could find an effective solution in an absolutely hopeless position. I had no doubt I was working with someone who was going to be the World Champion!”
In 1999 Gashimov won Kasparov Trophy at the age 14. After that he had to take a break due to his health condition. In the following years he underwent three surgeries on his brain.
“After my third surgery, doctor said ‘Go and play, buddy. And don’t think about anything. You are free now.’ That was the best words I’ve ever heard in my life,” Gashimov said in 2007.
His comeback was glorious. After a number of individual successes in Capelle La Grande tournament in France and Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, he led his national team to be the champions of Europe.
On October 31, 2009 Azerbaijan met the Netherlands in the decisive match of European Team Chess Championship in Novi Sad, Serbia. Dutch chess Grandmaster Daniel Steelwagen admitted his defeat from Gashimov and shook his hand. Moments later, Gashimov was wrapped in hugs by his teammates and other members of the Azerbaijani delegation. With this win the Azerbaijani team has outclassed chess giants such as Russia and Ukraine in the race for the title. Gashimov became No.6 in FIDE World Rankings and No.1 in his country. Azerbaijan will have become European Champions again four years later, but this time without Gashimov in their roster.
On November 7, 2011 while Azerbaijan was facing France in Porto-Carras, Greece, Gashimov suddenly collapsed after 90 minutes of play against France’s No.2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The French team proposed a draw right after the incident.
“I returned from captains’ meeting and saw empty tables,” Pavel Tregubov, French team captain said afterwards. “I was told that Gashimov passed out. Azerbaijani players went to search for a doctor and it was impossible to continue our match. I supported my players’ decision to propose a draw.”
Despite health problems, Gashimov did not quit. He played four matches in the next five days finishing the tournament with 2 victories and 2 draws. Azerbaijan came second, losing just one point to Germany.
Two years later while his team gained back the title, Gashimov has been receiving medical treatment in Heidelberg, Germany for almost a year.
“We share this title with Vugar Gashimov and we hope that next time he will play with us,” Shahriyar Mamedyarov, a chess Grandmaster and Gashimov’s teammate said.
In his last interview to Azerisport website published on November 30, 2013, Gashimov said: “My colleagues are the best. Their words made me feel better. I will come back home in 2014 and I will surely play chess again.”
He passed away on January 11, 2014.
Chess players from around the world, including No.1 Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian from Armenia and Garry Kasparov, expressed their condolences to Gashimov’s family.