Checker Champion Alex Baljakin Contests World Championship
In 1994, he contested the World Championship in Den Haag, Netherlands and faced a roster of
knowledgeable checkerists in this checkers arena. However, he was outplayed by Guntis
Valneris, who placed first and Harm Wiersma, who ranked second and then Alex tied for
third place and the bronze medal with Macodou N’Diaye at 24 points. Then the
following year, Alex Baljakin participated in several checkers competitions at the club
and national level. His checkers skill led to yet another prize and title, as he placed
first in the Grandmasters 1995 competition also held at
Harderwijk. Here he defeated Harm Wiersma, Bassirou Ba, and Alex Schwarzman in checkers
matches in a run for the championship title.
He also faced skilled opponents across the
checkerboard in the
Maars Tournament held
by the Gelderse Dambond (Checkers Club) that
year. His challengers ranked high in the
checkers world: Guntis Valneris, Ton Sijbrands,
Alexei Tsjizjov, Vadim Virni, Iser Koeperman,
Alexander Dibman, Alexander Schwarzman, Auke
Scholman and Macoudou Ndiaye. It was a field
of high caliber games, wherein checkers strategies
and game board tactics abounded until the
final round. Guntis Valneris placed first
with 19 points, followed by Alex Baljakin
in second place with a final score of 16
points. Sijbrands ranked as 3rd, Alexei Tsjizjov
and Vadim Virni finished in a tie for 4th.
Following this competition of skill and ingenuity, Baljakin played in the Heijtings
Damtoernooi or tournament hosted by his home checkers club, DV VBI Huissen. Alex’s
games were part of Group A and again many of the familiar European faces were there.
Guntis appeared to be on a winning streak because once again the Latvian Grandmaster
took first place and the championship cup with a score of 15 points. Alex ranked third
for Bronze with 9 points.
Baljakin also enjoyed the challenge of meeting opponents at the checkerboard in the
Russia-Netherlands Championship match in Rotterdam in 1996. One of his competitors was
Harm Wiersma and the challenge was on for the win.
Alex Baljakin vs Harm Wiersma
Russia-Netherlands Championship, Rotterdam Netherlands.
Checker Champion Alex Baljakin
The World Checkers Championship path led the master players on a sojourn to Abidjan,
Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa for 1996. The list of contenders recorded leading
players arriving mostly from Europe. Familiar checker faces, familiar checker styles,
so who would take the winning prize this time? Challenge after challenge one round at
a time and eventually the leaders set the trend at the checkerboard.
In the last round, Rob Clerc defeated Alex Schwarzman to end his tournament play in
a tie position with Alexei Tsjizjov with a final score of 15 points. Schwarzman
followed just behind the competition leaders with 14 for a second place finish. The
next in line was Alex Getmanski and then Guntis Valneris also tied with Anatoli
Gantwarg. In this world play, Alex Baljakin ranked somewhere around 5th, also tied
with Edvard Bouzinski.
The final decision for the World Championship checkers title did not take place until
early in 1997 when Rob and Alexei fought it out across the checkerboard for the honor
of being World Champion in the International checkers arena. During this match held
in Groningen, Tsjizjov defended his title and successfully defeated Clerc nine to
seven to remain the World Champion for yet another year in the field of checkers.
Alex Baljakin continued to play the mind sport at various levels and faced numerous
opponents in challenging and perhaps not so challenging checkers matches over the
next couple of years. Then he entered the World Rapid Draughts Championships in 1999
and by displaying his inherent checkers techniques, finished the competition in
second place and received the Silver Medal as reward for his skill in the tournament.
Alex Baljakin in the 21st Century Checkers Arena
The 21st century brought another time of change for Alex Baljakin and also a period of
increased checkers activity, as he participated in a variety of checkers matches. From the
beginning of his Russian checkers journey in the 1980’s through to Minsk, Belarus in
1990’s, Alexander Baljakin contested many European competitions and several World
Championship tournaments. Although he won first prize in quite a few checkers matches, the
ultimate place as World Champion has so far eluded the Russian/Dutch Grandmaster.
Considering the number of checkers games Alex has so far played and the number of places
he has traveled to in order to participate in competitive play, it is obvious that he has
a true heart for the mind sport and a natural drive to compete with skill and finesse, while
seeking the ultimate win. If the unsmiling face usually seen in his photos is any
indication, it would be easy to surmise that Baljakin has always been very serious about his
checkers game. His visage is usually one of deep concentration and focus on the action on
the checkerboard and only a break from the strategic or tactical moves on the game board
will draw him away from that attention.
Over the years, Alex has been very successful in the checkers realm and has acquired
numerous top level placements and awards, but he has yet to see first place in the World
Checkers Championship. Baljakin is one of several checkers Grandmasters who has favored
this mind sport for almost two decades. In 2000, he continued to travel the checkers circuit
and entered a number of different tournaments, primarily in Europe. He placed first in the
Nijmegen Orap Open Dutch Championship and won the Gold
medal after a play of ten rounds with an end score of 16 points, followed closely by Alexei
Tsjizjov, Alexander Schwarzman and Guntis Valneris with 15 points.
Then in the Bijlmer
2000 Open, Alex Baljakin was one
of three master players who shared 2nd to 4th
places. Schwarzman and Valneris were his checkers
partners in this rank. The winner of the competition
was Ndiaga Samb, an African Grandmaster now
playing in Holland and showing the wealth of
game knowledge acquired in Africa.
The following year, sometime in 2001, Alexander changed his domicile again as a
result of a conflict with the Minsk Checkers Association. Baljakin came to Canada
but found that the Netherlands was more interesting because of the major checkers
clubs competitions. He acquired a temporary residence visa for the Netherlands and
by the following April had lived in Holland long enough to then received his Dutch
Within a short period of time, Alex Baljakin
quickly reached the
status for a sports figure. This national level
secured Baljakin a position in a sports career
professional Dutch checker player wherein top
sportsman in the Netherlands are paid an income,
or scholarship, to live on so that he could
now focus on his particular sport ~ namely,
International draughts/checkers. This salary
has allowed the Dutch Grandmaster to pursue
his specialty in the mind sport. Alex also
became a coach within the Huissen checkers
club and over the years has earned a reimbursement
or income from that as well, which has allowed
him to maintain his checkers profession.
In an interview a few years ago, checker champion
Alex Baljakin stated that this remuneration
as well as the winnings he has acquired through
his checkers tournament and championship play
has given him enough to sustain a decent living
for his wife and daughter in Arnhem.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, Baljakin has availed himself of numerous
opportunities to meet and defeat high caliber opposition at the checkerboard and he
has been rewarded with various gold, silver and bronze medals, as well as trophies
and cups to signify his accomplished career as a Grandmaster checkerist.
In the Netherlands Orap Open of 2001 held in
Den Haag, Alex was one of five master players to
contend for first place with a score of nineteen points and in other competitions,
the end result has often been a point or two differential.
In some checkers tournaments, the high level of competitive play across the
checkerboard leaves the referees with the ultimate decision of final ranking and
often, in later years, the result has become one score for many players. Who ranks
where? The ultimate wins and draws take precedence over any loss in match play and
the final checkers total score determines the finish. Often it is merely a point
that separates the rank in a tournament play or the difference between the medal