Dragan Solak the Chess Grandmaster: Why Did He Switch Countries?

Before I share my thoughts on Dragan Solak, I would like to make a somewhat ambitious comparison of this grandmaster with the legend of the game of Chess, Wilhelm Steinitz.

Chess is not for timid souls.

Wilhelm Steinitz, Master player & Chess theoretician


A Brief History of Transfers

The Austrian chess player who was an undisputed world champion during the late 1800s, became famous for his strategical sacrifices that he used to make during his play. He was the first player who introduced the strategical positional style to this 1500-year-old game, which was then considered as rather controversial.

A less known detail about Wilhelm is the fact that he was born in Prague, in the Jewish ghetto. After he established himself as one of the most prominent players in Austria, he soon moved to London after his victory in England, in 1862. As a reporter, he used to work for the London’s The Field magazine, but after he was discriminated against because of his heritage, he finally moved to USA in 1883.

As an unquestionable champion, who held the title for more than 32 years, Wilhelm is a figure that altered the world of chess for good. Admired for his contribution to the game and for his journalistic work, he was still continuously challenged due to his origins and his life choices.

It seems that Wilhelm translated his model of play to his lifestyle, making constant sacrifices in order to continue his work and advance as a master player. However, Wilhelm wasn’t the first, or the last player who was forced to switch countries, despite his proven talent and genius. In fact, the list of players who were forced to leave their homelands so that they could continue their play and development in the world of Chess is quite substantial. One could call this occurrence a “trend” or a curse of the legends.

Which Factor Influenced Dragan Solak’s Decision?

Even after hours of research, I failed to find the actual reason why Dragan Solak moved from Serbia to Turkey. I started following Dragan’s work while he was still playing for the national team of Serbia, During the late 2000s. Knowing the troublesome history of the ex-Yugoslavia, and their connections to the Ottoman empire, I started thinking whether this allocation has any political background.

I was surprised to see Dragan Solak’s name listed as a winner of the Turkish Chess Championship in 2012 (and 2013). It seems that this transfer made a substantial impact on his career as a chess player as well, since in 2015 he won the Dubai Open, and finished as second in the World Cup in 2016. These results were quite flattering when compared to his previous results, so maybe Dragan made a good decision when he decided to leave his homeland and start playing for Turkey.

But was he forced, like Wilhelm Steinitz, to sacrifice his national identity in order to advance as a player. Could it be that his career was also influenced by the unstable political situation of the south-eastern Europe? As a passionate fan, I would love to know the reason behind this choice.

Nevertheless, the motive of this transfer remains a mystery for me. Could it be that we will have to wait and see if Dragan was in anyway forced to make this decision just like Wilhelm? Could it be that he will join the legends of chess as a strategist who was conditioned to sacrifice his heritage in order to keep playing?

Cursed as all chess masters, Dragan Solak is a player that we should all follow in the years to come, because I do feel like he is yet to play his prime game.

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