Russia Versus Ukraine
Vladimir Putin is often described as being like a grandmaster in his moves on the diplomatic board. This is based on the clichéd view that Russian skill at chess is a function of national character — which it isn't: besides which, Putin's moves are conditioned by rage and resentment, which leads to highly irrational decisions.
At the time of writing it is far from clear what his sudden advance into Crimea will do to the overall Russian position. But in the purely chess sense, the biggest advantage was gained by his predecessor as President, Dmitri Medvedev, who in 2009 personally granted the application for Russian citizenship of Sergey Karjakin. Karjakin was then the brightest hope of Ukrainian chess, having in 2002 at the age of 12 years and seven months become the youngest ever Grandmaster, a record which has not yet been broken.
This prodigy had been born in the Crimean capital of Simferopol in 1990, a year before Ukraine gained its independence; but according to one of his fellow grandmasters, his switch of allegiance was not politically motivated, so much as a desire to gain access to the much greater training facilities and support available to those affiliated to the Russian Chess Federation. Whatever the reason, it must have been galling for the Russians that in the 2010 chess Olympiad, with Karjakin playing under their flag, they came second — to the Ukrainian team. This was a particularly sweet victory for the poor relations; and their top board, Vasily Ivanchuk — who had played inspirationally in the event — was awarded the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise by decree of the President of Ukraine. For the second time since the break-up of the Soviet Union Ukraine had won the ultimate team chess event, ahead of the Russians. Before then, of course, players from that region were always described as "Russians" — exactly the way Putin still seems to see it.
In the immediate postwar period, the second and third strongest Soviet players, David Bronstein and Isaac Boleslavsky, were both from Ukraine — and, like the Russian world champion of the time, Mikhail Botvinnik, both Jews. It was piquant that Bronstein needed to beat Boleslavsky in a play-off match to decide which of the two would be Botvinnik's first world title challenger in 1951 — they were close friends, and Bronstein later married Boleslavsky's daughter. Botvinnik and Bronstein drew their match 12-12, which meant that the world champion retained his title without any obligation to face a return bout. Many to this day feel it would have been better for chess if the astoundingly creative Bronstein had taken the crown.
No Ukrainian has yet won the undisputed world championship although in 2002 Vasily Ivanchuk and fellow Ukrainian Ruslan Ponomariev (another prodigy who had become a Grandmaster at 14) contested the FIDE world championship, then a hollow affair in the absence of Garry Kasparov, who had broken with the chess governing body. Ponomariev won that match, and thus became FIDE world champion at only 18.