Men’s champions

‘When I become champion, I experience feelings of joy and peace of mind, albeit temporarily. It’s a very pleasant feeling that you want to repeat over and over again. Everyone has their own bar – that moment when you prove to yourself what you’re worth. For me that bar is men’s world champion…’

Bogdan Panchenkov

Ten-time European champion and ten-time world champion in Russian draughts among juniors.

Ukraine

Along with his career as draughts champion, Bogdan also studies at Zaporizhia State Engineering Academy with a major in automated production control systems. He’s in his third year, but still hasn’t given much thought to where he will apply his knowledge. He is gathering information and has held internships at different companies. He hasn’t ruled out the possibility that his life will forever remain closely tied to draughts.

‘I would love to play draughts for the rest of my life and become the men’s world champion. I have a lot of work to do to accomplish that because everyone has their flaws and things they can improve. And to work 8 hours a day at some company and then have to train would be exhaustingly difficult. So if all goes well, I would like to spend more time playing draughts and also have some sort of job that I like and that makes me happy. Draughts are also work and require full concentration and an unwavering commitment’, he says.

 

Bogdan was introduced to draughts as a child by fate. When he was little, his dad spent most of his free time with his son, teaching him how to play football, basketball, ping pong, draughts and chess. Bogdan took part in his first draughts competitions in kindergarten, where he won the tournament and then beat his kindergarten teacher afterwards just for fun. When Bogdan was in the second grade, an announcement for a draughts tournament among schoolchildren was posted in the local community centre in the area where he lived. His parents saw it while they were out for an evening walk and signed him up. Bogdan finished second despite the fact that his opponents primarily consisted of eleventh-graders. His future coach, Mikhail Shuster, was a judge at the tournament. He liked Bogdan’s thought process and offered to train the boy. A year and a half later, Bogdan was the world champion in the under 10 age group.

 

Ever since then, he has continuously combined his competitions and studies, while struggling mightily at times, he says. He was an ‘A’ student from grades one through five. Due to numerous competitions, he had to catch up at school and fell behind in a few subjects. By grade eleven, however, he nevertheless had an average score of 10 (based on the 12-point Ukrainian scale, which would translate to an ‘A-’).

Q: Do you study in Russian or Ukrainian at the academy and in draughts?

A: Most of our schools are in Ukrainian because external independent testing is also in Ukrainian, and if you study in Russian then translate the assignments in your head, you lose time and this impacts the results. We have teachers at the institute who only teach their lessons in one of the two languages, and then there are those who hold a vote at the start of each year. Whichever language the majority picks is the one in which the subject is taught. I am fluent in both Russian and Ukrainian. Most of the literature on draughts is in Russian because draughts-64 were very popular in the USSR and most of the grandmasters who have written books worth reading wrote them in Russian.

 

Bogdan also uses computer programmes for training since they help to analyse positions and fill in gaps in his knowledge. However, he believes that only competitors at the level of a master of sport need such programmes and that a coach is much more essential prior to this stage. When you compete at a high level, he says, you have to search for your own style of play and spend more time training on your own.

 

Q: What do you mean by ‘style of play’ and how would you describe yours?

A: Initially, a coach influences a person’s style of play. He provides basic instructions, an understanding of the different positions and an opening repertoire. But once you reach the professional level, you have to refine the things that you’re worst at. There are positions in which the best move is entirely unclear. At such moments, the style of play with which you are most familiar comes to the forefront. Some like to play quickly, while others, on the contrary, like a long positional game. Draughts are not an exact science. It’s like football: Barcelona loves total control of the game, while Atletico Madrid doesn’t hold the ball for long, but takes advantage on counterattacks.

Q: Do you like to take risks in draughts?

A: My coach has told me since I was kid that I should never lose. But sometimes there is a chance you might lose and your opponent fails to notice this in which case winning means you ‘pass through zero’. But you shouldn’t ‘pass through zero’ either. You have to envision your strongest plan and stick with it. That’s why I always choose a move in which I am fully confident. That’s what makes draughts such a beautiful game – if all the current and former world champions are playing against you, but you make all the right moves, there’s nothing they can do even together.     

Q: So you don’t feel any mental pressure even if you’re playing against a very good opponent? After all, as long as you take care of yourself, you don’t have to worry about who is sitting across the board from you, right?

A: If you fear your opponent, there is no point in even sitting down to play – fear kills reason. Every draughts player knows that if you’re afraid of someone, you play like you’re in a fog, then look back at the game when you get home and don’t even recognise yourself. You can’t be afraid of anyone. At the same time, you can’t avoid seeing who’s sitting across from you and you have to take into account his strengths and weaknesses.

 

Bogdan’s parents funded his initial competitions for a year and a half prior to the first world championship. Since age ten, however, Bogdan has taken part in competitions with funding from various sources. For this he is extremely grateful to his trainer, who manages to find money despite the difficult times. ‘I owe him a lot’, Bogdan says.

 

Q: Has money been harder to come by given the recent political events?

A: Yes, because everyone talks about the crisis. But I’ve received assistance from the Metalurg sports club of the Zaporizhstal plant since I was ten. In the past, the Ministry of Sport would sometimes provide assistance, albeit very little, but not anymore. Every little bit helped and the money would add up. I don’t know how things will be going forward. Everyone always had problems with funding even during the best years. Only the best were sent to compete. All sports clubs love champions. If you’re a champion, they will allocate money. Things become more difficult if you’re just a medallist, but without any medals at all, nobody will allocate any money for you. That’s why I approached each tournament like it was my final one, particularly when I was a kid.

 

When Bogdan was thirteen, he took part in the Ukrainian championship and he knew that the organisers host the European and world champions free of charge. However, he became very ill during the second round and played the last rounds with a temperature of 39.7 degrees. Ultimately, he still won the whole thing because he knew that if he were to lose, he would miss an entire year. That year ended up being a huge success for Bogdan as he won the European and world championships. ‘Nothing happens without sacrifices’, he says. ‘It’s primarily time, nerves and your health’.

 

Q: Do draughts interfere at all in your personal life? Or, on the contrary, does it help that you’re a champion?

A: I don’t think that being a champion has had much of an effect. It has just been a nice bonus. The girl I’ve been dating for over a year, Olga Gubareva, also plays draughts and is a FMJD master. This is a huge advantage since a lot of people don’t understand such things: how much time it requires, how tired a person gets and how you give it everything you have. Olga and I don’t have any unnecessary arguments because she knows a lot herself and understands without saying a word. I’ve known her since I was twelve. We travelled to all the Ukrainian championships and international competitions together.

 

Bogdan says Olga is an amazing and modest girl, so he doesn’t want to share too many details about their relationship. They started dating at the Ukrainian championship in 2015, where they both won their sub-groups. They both won the Ukrainian championship this year as well, and Bogdan hopes this will become a pleasant tradition.

Q: What do you do in your rare free time?

A: I love reading. I’ve read numerous books, although I must say I haven’t had much time in recent years and now I read much less than I would like. One of my favourite books is Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. I’ve read it twice since starting from chapter four the book just captivates you, draws you into an incredible maelstrom and you can’t put it down. The second time I read it at a slower pace and in greater detail. What makes the book special is that the author so skilfully mixes real facts with certain fictitious events that you can’t tell them apart, plus the book also provides a detailed description of the architecture and history of Rome and other Italian cities.

 

In the eleventh grade, Bogdan was the captain of his school team in the city’s Labyrinth literary contest. His team had spent much time preparing and broke down the literary works literally word by word. In the final round, the subject was the wonderful novel The Twelve Chairs. His team defeated all the other opponents (teams from other schools in the city) with ease and took first place.

‘For me personally all my years of draughts training came in very handy in this contest. After all, you needed a good memory, attentiveness to all subtleties and details, a quick reaction and composure since it was a “brain ring” type contest (after the question is read out, you have to press a button to answer and do so more quickly than your opponent while also controlling your nerves in order to avoid a false start). I was always faster than my opponents because the button was similar to the draughts clock timer, and all draughts players have played blitz draughts since they were kids’, Bogdan says.

 

In addition to books, Bogdan loves football and volleyball, has cheered on Barcelona for eleven years and dreams of attending a game at the team’s home stadium of Camp Nou some day. In volleyball, he roots for the Brazilian national team, but considers Russia’s Vladimir Alekno to be the best volleyball coach ‘because he is a brilliant tactician and psychologist and works so well with his team’. Bogdan also plays volleyball at his college. He is a setter.

‘The setter is the conductor of the team and in the course of the game must be able to quickly recognise an opponent’s block, the effectiveness of its own attacks, the score and the coach’s instructions while also trying to choose and perfectly execute the correct decision. I got into volleyball back in school and was the captain of School 31 and the district champion’, Bogdan says.

 

Q: What immediate goals do you have in life besides draughts that you dream of accomplishing?

A: I have long-term plans such as becoming the world champion and finding a good job. But I mainly take the following approach: after the recent European championship, for example, I returned home and tried to disconnect from draughts as much as possible for a day or two. I recover from travelling, see what I need to do next and proceed in this manner, from point to point. If the goal is big and far away, I don’t know how to approach it. It’s much easier to work towards a goal with small steps. You are in constant motion – the motion of life – and even a small step generates action and progress if a person is doing the right things. We young people all want everything at once, but this rarely happens, unfortunately. Right now I’m at an age where I need to concentrate as much as possible, spend less time hanging out and relaxing, and work on important matters so I can achieve a certain level in anything I undertake. And once I reach this level, then I can choose what I want to do next more clearly.

Q: How did you get such a grown-up perspective?

A: I remember a lot of things from my childhood that my parents told me, such as ‘Knowledge isn’t to be worn under your belt, but always used’. My coach has a positive influence on me, both as a person and an athlete. I think such an approach to life is ultimately formed from picking up little things here and there plus my own thoughts.

 

Text: Ulyana Ryzhova

Photos: From Bogdan Panchenkov’s personal archive

 

Saint Petersburg, April 2016

 

Biography

Ten-time European champion and ten-time world champion in Russian draughts among juniors. Reigning champion of the world (in blitz draughts 2015) and Europe (classic and rapid draughts 2016) in the under 23 age group. Twenty-one time champion of Ukraine. International master.

Bogdan Panchenkov was born on 13 January 1995 in Zaporizhia. He started playing draughts in 2003 under coach Mikhail Shuster.

In 2005, he became world champion in the under 10 age group. He would later go on to become champion of the world and Europe among children in different age groups in different years.

In 2013, he graduated from School No. 31 in Zaporizhia and enrolled in Zaporizhia State Engineering Academy with a major in automated production control systems.

In 2013, he was awarded the title of an international master.

He has won the Ukrainian championship in Russian draughts on 21 occasions.

In 2015, he became the world champion among juniors in the under 23 age group in rapid draughts.

In 2016, he won the European championship for rapid and classic draughts in the under 23 age group.

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