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The road to becoming a grandmaster began when I was a small boy. I was born in 1959 in Berdichev (Ukraine). Since 1960 my family was located in Kaliningrad (West of Russia). Kaliningrad became part of the Soviet Union after World War II. (it was German city Kenigsberg before it).
I started to play chess when I was 6 years old, learning the moves from my father. It immediately became a passion. There were a few kids in our house, who were 2-4 years older than me and who could play chess. We spent hours and hours fighting and I lost a lot of games before getting better. During summer I carried a chessboard every time I went to a park and asked everybody to play with me. As many other Soviet chess players did, I went to Pioneer's House (at age of 8). One of the myths which is very popular in the US is that chess is a part of the school curriculum and so forth. Our chess club in Pioneer's house had about 20-30 kids of different ages and levels and was headed by a great woman who's name was Ninel Grichenko. She was not a strong player (maybe medium A class player due to American standards), but she was very good with kids. She never gave us any kind of formal chess instruction and most of the time we just played tournament games against each other. But there was a difference with average school chess clubs in US. We met 3 times a week, each session for 3 hours (Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 3 till 6 PM. I remember it like it was yesterday).
We didn't have a rating system back then. So, norms requirements were as follows: if you score 75% of all possible points in the tournament where everybody is a beginner you get a forth category. If you score 75% in the tournament where everybody has forth category you get third category, etc. And there were tables which showed how many points did you need for the norm in mixed tournaments. My improvement was pretty stable, though not as fast as I wanted. In my first year I got 4th category, next year 3rd. But then funny (or sad) stories started to happen. It turned out that the last round of the tournament where I had a chance to make a 2nd category norm was held on October, 10, day before my tenth birthday. There is no need to describe how badly I wanted to win this game. My opponent didn't have a good tournament and I was sure that it won't be very difficult to make it. The beginning, indeed, seemed very encouraging:Gregory Kaidanov - Sergey Martinenko
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Bc5? 3.Nxe5 Bxf2+??
My opponent just blundered a pawn and now he decided to win it back.
Now Sergey was ready to play 4...Qf6+ and to pick up a knight on e5, but he noticed 5.Nf3 and changed his plans.
4...Qh4+ 5.Kg1 Qxe4
A terrible play of my friend convinced me that such a desirable goal is close and without too much thinking I played
Now I am threatening to take on f7 and of course he'll miss it. But right after I played my move, I found out that I had one little problem. I even tried to take the move back, but it was too late. 6...Qd4 mate ...and a rain of tears followed.
A very similar story happened a year later, when I tried to get a first category. I needed 1,5 points from the last 2 games. The last round game was against one of my friends, whom I used to beat almost every time we played. However, the game before last had a tragic scenario. I got a winning position right after the opening. My opponent offered me a draw after every 3-4 moves. Eventually we went to the pawn endgame, where I had an extra pawn. Usually it means an easy win, but this particular one was miraculously lost for me. Again I came back home in tears and said that never again I will play a chess game...Fortunately next day was Monday and I was 15 minutes early, waiting for our coach to come and open doors of Pioneer's House Chess Club.
How did I end up in Kentucky?
I hear this question much more often than I expected. So, here is the story.
In 1990, my wife and I visited the US for the first time as tourists. I played a strong round-robin tournament in the Manhattan Chess Club. Before the last round I was a point behind Efim Geller. Our game happen to be scheduled in the last round. I had the White pieces, played a very good game, won it and tied for first with my opponent.
According to schedule, my wife and I were supposed to spend 3 more days in New York City and then to fly to Chicago to visit my long time friend grandmaster Dmitry Gurevich. This is when all the horror happened. It started when all our luggage was stolen from the trunk of the car, when we stopped to have dinner in a restaurant. Especially depressing was that all my chess analyses, fruits of almost 10 years of work were gone. It was terrible, but at least we still had some cash.
Next day on the corner of Broadway and 42nd street we were attacked by a group of people, who recognized that we were tourists. They took all money from my purse except 300 English pounds, probably because they didn't know what those pieces of paper are for. Next two days I didn't want to go outside at all. All I wanted was to go back to Russia. Here Dmitry "Dima" Gurevich came back from Saint Martin and called me to New York. He insisted that we should go to Chicago. This seemed impossible, because our air tickets were gone along with our luggage. Nevertheless, the airline (I believe it was "American Airlines" if memory serves me correctly) allowed us to travel and we flu to Chicago. In his efforts to compensate me for my losses, Dima made some phone calls. One of them was to Lexington to his friend Ken Troutman. Ken in turn also made a few phone calls and as a result I had an arrangement to hold two simuls and play a tournament in Louisville . Here I have to say that though (thanks G-d!) we hadn't been robbed in Chicago, still we saw one more big city with a very high level of crime and one will understand our impressions of Kentucky after we arrived there. So, when in the end of the trip Ken asked me if I would be interested to come to Kentucky for a one year period to teach chess, I laughed. To get a US visa for Soviet chess player to work for one year was almost impossible at the time, and for me, the question sounded almost like "Do you care to make one million dollars?"
After Kentucky, we had one more trip to Las Vegas and then we left to Moscow. However, after spending a lot of his time and putting a lot of effort, Ken eventually got this visa for us and on Christmas eve of 1991 we arrived to Lexington. For those, who never emigrated from one country to another it probably will be hard to imagine how difficult this transition is. However, with the help of our new friends we didn't feel any difficulties. First of all, duplex which they rent for us was completely stuffed with everything necessary for living, starting from furniture and ending with toilet paper. There were several people in the house waiting for us and Don Edwards, the reporter of local paper, among them. The next morning, The Lexington Herald Leader came out with a big article about the Kaidanov family.
From the very first step until now we feel support and hospitality. Ken Troutman, Walter Alexander, Billy Woodward, Jeff Broughton, and Mike Martin became our close friends. I watch all "Wildcats" games, sing "My Old Kentucky Home" and have no plans to move out in the near future
Highlights of chess career