Published on April 24, 2020

Viorel (Victor) Bologan


Confidence is extremely important for a chess player. In general, uncertainty doesn’t improve your play – but going for your opponent like a mad bull is
n’t the ideal approach either. Bologan is a player with strong confidence, though according to one of his coaches sometimes this turned into excessive optimism – and underestimation of his opponent…

Bologan grew up in Moldavia. One of his first coaches was Vyacheslav Chebanenko, and this left its mark on his openings and his strategic thinking. Who doesn’t know the Chebanenko Variation (a6) in the Slav? When later Viorel went to Moscow to study, Chebanenko recommended two good coaches to him. The first turned Bologan away, and, disappointed by this, he didn’t immediately step up to the second – who was Mark Dvoretsky! Bologan only started training with him when he was already a grandmaster.

In Moscow, Viorel’s knowledge of the original openings (Chebanenko) was complemented by Zsigurds Lanka, who mainly focussed on playing for the initiative. Both the master title (1990) as well as the grandmaster title (1991) followed quickly: Bologan attained both these titles in less than six months each! Immediately after this, he took an important decision: he accepted Alexei Shirov’s offer to become his second, and remained in this function for four years. While in the times of Karpov and Kasparov this used to be a sign that your own career was put on hold, by this time it was a logical step for a player who wanted to move to the top.

Bologan himself puts the function of a second in perspective: most important, he thinks, is psychological support. He himself preferred to take his wife along as a second! Apparently he had drawn the right conclusion from his own terminal project, for which Bologan researched the preparation for a tournament of twenty chess players, including himself, on the basis of five features. For himself, psychology was the most important factor. Otherwise, his most important conclusion was that if anything went wrong with even a single one of those five features during the tournament, a top performance was already impossible…

Many of Chebanenko’s and Lanka’s systems were also used by Shirov in this period, even though he clearly made his own choices: against the Sicilian, for instance, he just wanted to hammer away! After Bologan quit his job as a second, he won the World Open in 1997, and nothing seemed to be in the way of further growth – except Bologan himself! He decided to stop playing chess and started working at a stock exchange business in Moscow… long story short, the Russian market collapsed six months later, and Bologan started playing chess again.

He won tournaments (four in a row!), got married, became the father of a daughter, and won the Aeroflot Open in 2003! This resulted in an invitation for one of the three super-tournaments of that year: Dortmund. For an ordinary grandmaster (Bologan’s rating was 2630 at the time, which was good, but still a long way from the 2700 limit), this was a unique chance. And he grabbed it: with his wife as his second, he won the tournament, one point ahead of Anand and Kramnik.

Naturally, this led to more invitations. In Wijk aan Zee and Sarajevo he confirmed his jump in playing strength, but after that he faltered. An early elimination in the World Cup, and at his return one year later in Dortmund he didn’t get any further than six draws – albeit against the world top, of course! The first time he reached 2700 was in 2005, but in the years after that it dropped, and he started writing opening books. Normally this means that you’re not going to play these openings yourself anymore…

Still, this work must have had some effect, since he experienced an upsurge, and around 2012 Bologan had climbed to his highest ever rating: 2732. His status had also grown again, as was proved by his invitation to a top tournament – however, in a quite unusual way! After Alexander Morozevich had started with defeats against Anish Giri and Etienne Bacrot in Biel 2012, he checked out due to ‘medical reasons’ and packed his suitcases, and Bologan was invited as his replacement. Certainly not an ideal start, and he ended in last place.

Viorel decided that that was it, and started writing opening books again – some according to established patterns, but others with a highly individual approach. With admiration, for example, I have leafed through his two big volumes on the Open Games and the Ruy Lopez. Apparently bullfighting is in Bologan’s blood after all… (PvV)