GM Boris Gulko Print E-mail
GM Boris Gulko
Photo Jennifer Shahade
Boris Gulko might have achieved even more than becoming a strong Grandmaster if not for his chaotic brush with politics. Boris opposed communism and in the late 70’s and applied with his wife WGM Anna Aksharumova to immigrate. They were denied and became prominent Refuseniks. Boris and Anna were vocal against the communist regime, even going on three hunger strikes. One was a female only hunger strike organized by Boris, and another lasted for 38 days. Boris was briefly jailed, and once beaten for his beliefs. In his thirties, Boris should have been at the peak of his career, playing in tournaments constantly and improving his level. Instead, both he and his wife were barred from top-level competitions for several years, and when they were allowed to play, it was only within the U.S.S.R. “The idea of traveling outside was as grand as the idea of going to the moon.”

In 1986, the couple was finally permitted to immigrate to Israel and travel freely to chess tournaments. “39 is too old to start playing and training to reach the highest achievement in chess,” said Boris, “those 7 years were a serious blow for my chess career, but I don’t regret them.” Boris traveled to the United States for the U.S. Open, and immediately saw that the United States offered more opportunities for a chessplayer. Anna and Boris moved to the U.S. after only a few months living in Israel, eventually settling in New Jersey.

Twenty years after his persecution for his political beliefs, his Jewish faith interfered with his career. The 2004 World Championship was held in Libya, and Boris qualified to play. He accepted the invitation until President Qadafi’s son announced: “We did not and will not invite the Zionist enemies to this championship.” Boris, along with other Jewish players from Israel and the United States withdrew from the tournament. Boris sent a scathing letter to the president of FIDE, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, “I implore you not to be the first president of FIDE to preside over the first world chess championship from which Jews are excluded. Our magnificent and noble game does not deserve such a disgrace.” The tournament went on as scheduled, without Gulko.

Gulko is known for his strong middlegame positional play and solid style- he’s not easy to beat. Gulko is one of few players to hold a plus score against Kasparov (+3, -1 and =4). Despite this or maybe because of it, Boris has a lot of respect for Kasparov. He recommends Kasparov’s books (The Great Predecessors series and Test of Time) more highly than any others and calls them required reading for aspiring masters and grandmasters. 

In 2008, Gulko joined the US Chess League team, the New Jersey Knockouts. In 2009, Gulko scored 5/5 on board two earning a spot on the All Star Team.