GM Gregory Kaidanov
GM Gregory Kaidanov
Photo Jacob Okada
Gregory emigrated from Ukraine to the U.S. in 1991, with his three children and wife, to Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington is hardly the epicenter of American chess. How did Kaidanov end up there? Gregory’s first day in America was on a visit in the summer of 1990, in the pre-Guiliani New York, when the city was notorious for a high crime rate. He and his wife were robbed twice in one day! In addition to his savings, he lost 10 years worth of chess analysis. He was devastated. Fortunately, he did not follow his first instinct to give up on the U.S.A. His friend GM Dmitry Gurevich invited him to Chicago, after which Dmitry helped connect Kaidanov with chess organizer Ken Troutman. Troutman organized a series of chess exhibitions for Gregory in Lexington, and sponsored his U.S visa. Rattled from his first traumatic days in New York, he was particularly impressed by the safety in Kentucky.

He barely unpacked his unstolen bags, when he began steam-rolling the U.S Open chess circuit. He won the 1992 World Open in Philly and the 1992 U.S Open. Greg’s great first year performances helped develop the “honeymoon theory”, that Grandmaster emigrates fare fantastically during their first year in the U.S.A. A decade after his streak, he started an equally amazing one. It began at the 2002 Aeroflot Open in Moscow, sponsored by the eponymous Russian airline. Kaidanov prevailed over 82 (!) other GMs in one of the strongest fields ever assembled.

Kaidanov was born in Ukraine, where his dad taught him the rules of chess at six years old. According to Greg, it’s a common American myth that chess was a part of the daily Soviet school curriculum. Still, he’s nostalgic for his childhood chess days, where he played after school for hours on end. Gregory was not a teenaged prodigy. His success came after two decades of solid hard work. His first major tournament win came in Moscow 1987, where he crushed Indian star Vishy Anand. He earned the IM title that same year, and was awarded the GM title just a year later in 1988.

Kaidanov is also the most active Grandmaster teacher in America. He travels from Louisiana to California, coaching, giving lectures and conducting simultaneous exhibitions. He is the head coach of the founded in 2006 by IM Greg Shahade. Several times a year, players from all over the country meet up for a one-week intensive training session in Kaidanov’s current hometown, Lexington. Read more about Kaidanov in FM Mike Klein's January 2009 Chess Life Magazine cover story, "The Quiet Kentuckian."

After a quick bowl of Raisin brain, Gregory often works on chess alone, or with a student, for 12 hours straight. The ability to study and coach chess for such long hours come from a deep love for the game, and for sharing. “I would never give up coaching, even if the money meant nothing to me.” His students range from serious amateurs of all ages to Maurice Ashley, who Kaidanov helped become the first ever African American GM. Kaidanov had a great success in the 2008 Women's Olympiad, where he coached the U.S. team to a bronze medal finish. He is also a frequent coach at the U.S. Chess School.