Grandmaster Dmitry Svetushkin died last Friday, 4th September, at the age of just 40, after falling from a 6th floor window. The 2000 Moldovan Champion, with a peak rating of 2621, was a familiar figure in the chess world, but he was also much more than that. His friends Ilia Smirin, Carl Strugnell and Murtas Kazhgaleyev recall an open and incredibly well-rounded person who managed to combine playing and streaming chess with such diverse interests as Russian literature, Jewish metaphysics and Ironman Triathlons. He was clearly also a wonderful friend.
Israeli Grandmaster Ilia Smirin:
A few days ago, on 4th September, at around 1 pm in Kishinev, a tragedy took place. Grandmaster Dima Svetushkin, my friend and colleague, suddenly jumped out of a 6th floor window and died. Dima was only 40 years old, he was exceptionally talented and in excellent physical shape. There was no suicide note, nothing to explain this sudden departure from life. I spoke to him just the day before on Skype, from Israel – he looked refreshed, joked, laughed, discussed the works of Dovlatov, who he’d become interested in, and was planning to study chess with me in a couple of days. “Make sure to call me when you play in the league at the weekend, ok?” he asked me. I couldn’t keep the promise. Dima committed suicide while I was still playing, and I still can’t shake the thought that if I’d finished playing an hour earlier and phoned immediately then perhaps the tragedy wouldn’t have happened. Perhaps someone just had to be there at the right time at the onset of depression and that would have held him back?
Dima really did correspond to his surname – he was somehow a bright, pure person, one of those who know how to give without calculation or looking back. He didn’t even like to swear, he couldn’t stand it. But gifted, intelligent and bright Dima was still lonely and personally unsettled. Of course, he had no shortage of acquaintances and friends, but here somehow everything coincided. The damn pandemic, which destroyed the usual rhythm of life and isolated people, meaning a vacuum of the tournaments that had kept him afloat, that unsettledness, loneliness – perhaps that’s why this terrible thing happened.
Why is it that precisely such people, of great human gifts, so often depart early? It strikes me as horribly unfair.
In recent years he was, perhaps, the closest of my colleagues.
But it so happened that Dima, a brilliant chess player with whom I was not only friends but also studied chess (I remember him already around 17 years), lacked those qualities without which it’s very tough in professional chess. Chess is quite an egotistical activity. In sport, hardness, invulnerability and emotional detachment are essential. In short, a “killer instinct”. When it came to egoism and a killer instinct Dima had issues. He was hopelessly kind and indulgent. Too generous. It hindered him – if he’d been tougher he would have reached much greater heights. He had no lack of talent and was capable of hard-work. He was also extremely versatile, reading and thinking a lot. And in much knowledge, as they say, there’s much sadness. A thinking, spiritually rich person inclined to reflection. And therefore more defenceless.
What wasn’t Dima interested in! He felt, knew and loved poetry. He was well-read in the Oberiuts (Zabolotsky, Kharms), loved Brodsky, Tsvetaeva, Mandelshtam, Pasternak. He knew the Russian classics very well. He got deeply into biblical studies, Jewish metaphysics, he studied Hebrew and stunned me, an Israeli, with the depth of his knowledge and judgments. I well remember how he discussed the difference in the Kabbalah between the different levels of the soul – what is “nefesh” and what is “neshama”. He studied German seriously, again, in order to read Goethe in the original. In parallel he did sport professionally, he had great endurance, ran marathons, was into Ironman Triathlons. It was very interesting to be with him, as chess ideas were interspersed with conversations that rarely arise in the chess world. At the same time, Dimon (as his friends called him) was completely devoid of that petty vanity which many of us are guilty of: he never puffed out his cheeks and didn’t boast of his broad outlook. That was of no interest to him. He was interested in something entirely different – to dig down to the essence of things, to some deep truths.In chess he also always strove for depth and thought in concepts, but he was a talented tactician, something I got to experience myself once in our only decisive game. He also had his trademark resources, for instance, exchange sacrifices a la Petrosian. Dima had an excellent feel for the initiative. Alas, wonderful results (for example, at the Olympiad in Tromso in 2014, where he performed brilliantly for the Moldovan team) alternated with annoying setbacks, which, given his talent, could have been avoided. In recent years, Dimon was passionate about training young Moldovan chess players – he was also a wonderful coach. And few people know how to be friends or support others like that. During tournaments we both played we took long walks, joked and chatted – and that was a real energy boost, one I hope was mutual.
And also the streams in which I participated, when the pandemic was at its height, were organised by Dima. Therefore now there is a feeling of some unpaid debt – we didn’t save him, we weren’t in time, we didn’t stop him.
It’s hard to believe that I’ll never see or hear him again. Farewell, Friend! Farewell, dear Dimon! Rest in peace.
Welsh FIDE Master Carl Strugnell:
When we first met in 2013 in Cappelle-la-Grande we have to admit it was off to a rough start. I remember Sergey Fedorchuk and yourself had lost the first round and, to stabilize your nerves, as we say, you both hit the bottle. In our circles that never shocked anyone, it was “tradition” (and when pronounced with your Moldovan accent, one could hardly resist being a part of it). As you won the proceeding rounds, the tradition continued all the more joyously (“if it’s working, why stop?”), and so we spent a bit of time together, enjoying life in the mad way of chess fanatics, but also, both of us being headstrong, not without our share of arguing. And then, we were paired to play together. After you duly won in a positional style unique to yourself, I shook your hand and let out a big smile; it was an invitation, as if to say, come on, let’s leave winning and losing for over the board, who is right in life doesn’t matter. The arguing changed to teasing, and whole-hearted laughter – in hindsight, I should never have let you tease me so much, it would have avoided you finding the nickname you later gave me (Bingo-Bongo!). And so, we followed a rule that friendship seems to share with chess: the more antagonistic the opening, the more passionate the middlegame ahead!
After that, our paths crossed on a few occasions. First, unexpectedly, in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria, a little later the same year. I remember perceiving you from a distance trying to make out if it was indeed you, before jumping up and down, waving and shouting over the busy crowd of holidaymakers to get your attention. “Dimaaaa!!!” A smile lit up your otherwise poker face, and still with your suitcase in hand, you sat at my table, dismissed the fact you were priorly looking for your hotel room and called the waiter to order some food.
The next memory you left me to reminisce, was in Skopje, where you almost won the tournament before losing the last round to Kiril Georgiev. “Ah man, my heart goes out to you, weren’t you winning at some point?” I said, and you let your true humility shine through your macho-man persona. “No, no, I’m happy for him, he played well, he’s a great player, a true fighter”. We spoke hypothetically about you giving me some lessons over the internet, but quite a bit of water passed under the bridge before we actually got to it. As a trainer, you were great. After a quick scan of my games you were easy in pinpointing my weaknesses and taught me with passion all about Chebanenko’s use of extreme prophylaxis and hanging pieces. Amid the technical stuff, I never had to tell you I was playing somewhere, you already knew, and I’d always be happy to see a message pop up with a suggestion on what to play against my next opponent. It wasn’t the practicality; it was the thought that counted, I never had to ask, you were always there for me.Before long, I counted you as someone close to my heart, and can only hope it was mutual. Tears come to my eyes as I write these words, as I, like many, still don’t want to believe you’re gone. You had your fair share of problems, but nobody could have guessed your sense of spirituality would not be more than enough to fight off these demons. I remember during the Batumi Olympiad, as we walked on the pier, I told you that “surely the Jewish people had got it wrong, to not mix milk and meat has nothing to do with God. And you, although an Orthodox Christian by tradition, immediately rebuffed: “it is actually extremely deep but it doesn’t astonish me at all that you don’t understand”. How we laughed!
For those who don’t know you, I will tell them the story of your first encounter with cinema. To everyone I tell, it never fails to make them smile. As a child brought up on Cheburashka, you went one day on vacation to Odessa, I believe it was, where there was no censorship of western movies. There you watched your first film: The Terminator. I asked you if you liked it and you answered, “you are missing the point! I was in total shock, I only knew Cheburashka and could not believe such a world exists.”
The truth be told, this is your story. We are in a war. It is a war between the highly functional people – the Machines – and the highly sensitive, the Cheburashkas of this world; those who look for beauty in art and literature, those who believe in the heart. And in this war, you were a soldier, who, just for a second, could no longer take the agony, could no longer see the love.
Kazakhstani Grandmaster Murtas Kazhgaleyev:
Terrible news shocked and made the chess world shudder yesterday – the well-known Moldovan Grandmaster Dmitry Svetushkin had passed away.
Any death is a tragedy, but when it happens to a young, cheerful person, a chess player with the highest title, who regularly plays in the best opens and European leagues, who has his own YouTube channel and students, then you involuntarily start to ask questions – were we unaware of something important about the grandmaster, or is life too random a thing. Just as unexpectedly, unwilled as it arose – it disappears again? I can’t say I was a friend of Dima’s or knew him very well, but we saw each other many times at tournaments, played a few games, talked at breakfast or parties. More than any other grandmaster Svetushkin made the impression of an adult child – he was wide open, even if somewhat uncomfortable or gloomy in the mornings – you could feel that he’d had a tough night. But in the evening, as a rule, he’d be in excellent form. He joked, smiled and at any moment he was ready to laugh whole-heartedly – he breathed kindness and it spread to the person he was speaking to. Dmitry had a wonderful sense of irony – not the most widespread quality among chessplayers, and all the more precious for that. Only at times in conversation did some kind of vulnerability, the pain of a wounded soul, slip through. But that was forgotten at once – after the next philosophically clothed phrase of a grown-up child. There was no way to speak seriously – and no need either – there’s too much of that in our life anyway.
At the board Dima was transformed – from a smiling, cheerful guy with slightly dishevelled brown hair into a fierce chess warrior, ready to claw out his points and half-points from the strongest in this wonderful, illusory world of chess, where there are talents everywhere, and alongside them excellently trained and ambitious chess fanatics, albeit not so gifted.
Svetushkin was not a super-talent from birth – an Aronian, Navara or Hikaru. He also wasn’t a pupil of the famous St. Petersburg or Moscow schools. But in his play, of course, there was class, character and desire. His education was exclusively Moldovan – a tradition that came from Chebanenko – a great theoretician and coach of all the Moldovans, and that was passed down to Viktor Komliakov, Viorel Bologan and other chess players of the previous generation – the 60-70s. That could be felt particularly in Dmitry’s openings – the Rossolimo Variation in the Sicilian, the “quiet” Italian, King’s Indian structures and, of course, the Chebanenko Variation of the Slav Defence. Despite not being a hyper-dynamic chess player, he was great at calculating variations and a master of tactical traps. When he talked about them he became like the unsuccessful hero of a comedy, who suddenly gets lucky. You had to see it. Perhaps the strongest side of Svetushkin’s play was the endgame – there his ability to arrange the pieces perfectly, calculate variations deeply and a good knowledge of theoretical positions were reinforced by faith in himself and an optimism that gradually grew. I recall how twice, imperceptibly, move by move, the ground slipped from under my feet in endings that at first looked promising.
A few years ago he stunned the chess world by successfully getting through a half “Ironman” – a triathlon competition pushing the human body to total exhaustion. I was proud of my colleague, but when meeting him I asked if he was thinking of continuing? When he said he was giving up the triathlon super-distances I breathed a sigh of relief and was delighted. I also ran a marathon and consider it good to do once or twice. Then collapse and injury follow. And, for us chess players, it would be good to have a fresh head. But the fact that Dima decided to endure such a trial speaks of his human boldness and readiness to push the limits set by nature and approved by modern society – a society where a good car is the measure of success, and a million followers on Instagram a raison d’etre. Dima sought his own path and kept to it. I think he was a wonderful coach.
Yesterday I watched his video on YouTube where he talks about how in a tournament in the UAE in 2003 he beat a well-known cheater. The game was complicated and ambiguous – it showed his strong and weak points as a chess player. But the commentary, where his sincerity was off the scale, vividly demonstrated his character as a cheerfully ironic person, a gambler and an interesting thinker. Just like that, laughing, is how I’ll remember him.
Dima, you were awesome, with unique class. Thanks for everything.
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