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Paul Keres (1916-1975)

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-“How is that you never managed to become Chess World Champion?”.-

-“Because, like my country, I had bad luck” (Paul Keres)

(Curiously enough, the first time I saw this statement was in Spassky´s words. Both were friends, so …)


I hardly remember when I began to admire him. Perhaps everything began when I managed to get a copy from Anthony Saidy´s book “The Battle of Chess Ideas”(around 1980). In this book the author confess he wants to follow Reti´s path and chose ten modern super GMs, wrote a biographical summary and included games and positions. He also wrote about the history of Chess and the Chess ideas/schools. The GMs Saidy´s analized were: Botvinnik, Reshevsky,Keres, Bronstein, Smyslov,Tal, Petrosian, Larsen , Spassky and Fischer. He also regretted having to pass over names like Korchnoi, for instance.

Or , perhaps like Keres, I have never had good luck either…

Years later, one of my CC opponents from Estonia sent me, as a present, the famous book -in Estonian- “Meie Keres” by V Heuer. And I managed to get other books by Keres : “The Art of Analysis”, “Practical Chess Endings” and an invaluable one: “My Chess Style” (aka “Chess As I play It“). (By the way, Keres is perhaps the only Chess GM who appears in a banknote. He is also a Estonian hero).

(I have written about Keres previously in this blog, so you can find other posts in this site.)

I cannot explain why I am so fond of Keres… Perhaps it is because his personality, his personal history and fate ,or perhaps because I was deeply moved by the images included in that Estonian book “Meie Keres”. What follows is a personal interpretation of the topic.

Keres was born in Estonia. But his country was annexed to the Soviet Union after WW2. The territory has a complex history (it is a borderland) . An independent state, with links to Sweden,the Russian Empire, invaded by the Nazi’s during WW2,later invaded by the USSR,…and so on. Anyway, Keres managed to survive the Stalinist terror regime, played for Estonia and later for the USSR (he died in 1975 being, officially , a Soviet citizen. For more information, please find those other posts in this blog). 

In 1938 Keres won the AVRO Tournament ahead of Alekhine,Capablanca,Botvinnik Euwe, Reshevsky ,Fine and Flohr. The winner of the event would be the official challenger to play for the World Championship (in the hands of Alekhine). But the outburst of WW2 frustrated the possibility of such a match. Estonia was invaded by the Germans and Keres had to survive accepting the new rules. At the end of the war, Estonia fell in Stalin’s iron claws and he had to survive again but being under a severe stress for many years.He managed to survive and protect his family again. Being a Soviet citizen he played for the USSR for the rest of his life , taking part in seven Chess Olympiads in which the USSR Team won the gold medal one after another. Keres can be considered among the ten best ever chessplayers of his time with victories over eight out of nine World Champions and drawing in two games against Anatoly Karpov, for instance. As an anecdote, he had an excellent score against Korchnoi, and Viktor once complained that “It is always the same: I always manage to beat Tal and Keres always manage to beat me”. Keres’ last tournament was in Vancouver (Canada) in 1975. When he was going back home via Helsinki, he suddenly died in the Finnish capital. Botvinnik stated that Keres’ death had been the greatest loss for the Chess world since the death of Alekhine. And Botvinnik very well knew what he was talking about.

(White side)


This position appeared in Smyslov-Keres, USSR Chess championship 1951. Black to move. Could you find the plan/moves Keres found to beat his extremely dangerous opponent?

(White side)

ranviir-keres .

And this comes from a relatively unknown game played in 1947 between Randviir (White) and Keres.

Smyslov Keres went:

36…, Bb1! 37. a3  a5! 38. Bd1 Kg6  39. Kg2  Kf5  40. Kf3  Ke5

 41. a4  g5  42. Ke2  Bf5  43. g4  Bb1  44. Kf3  f5  45. gf5  Kxf5  46. Kf2  Be4  47. Kg3  Kg6  48. Kf2  h5  49. Kg3  h4  50. Kf2  Bf5  51. Kg2  Kf6  52. Kh2  Ke6!   /White resigned in view of 53. Kg2  Ke5  54. Kh2  Bb1  55. Kg2  Ke4  56 Kf2  Kd3 (Suetin)

Randviir-Keres : Keres to move, what would your first move be?: (Remember this is a Pawn endgame, so the basic technique is that of “opposition”)

1… Kb5!! (the only way to avoid a draw according to Keres)2. a4  Kb6  3. Kc4  a5  4. d6  Kc6  5. d7  Kxd7  6. Kxc5  Ke7  7. Kd5  Kf7  8. Ke4  Kf8!!  9. Ke3  Ke7  10. Ke4  Kd6  11. Kd4  h6!  12. Ke4  Kc5  13. Ke3  Kd5!  14. Kd3  Ke5  15. Ke3  h5  16. gh5  Kxf5  17. Kf3  Ke6  18. Kg4  Kf7  19. Kf5  Kg7 / White resigned.

To end this post and for the lovers of  3-movers, perhaps you would like to have a try at the following mate in 3 moves “specially composed” by H. Alton:





Written by QChess

February 7, 2015 at 10:02 am

2 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Chess Musings.


    February 20, 2015 at 5:40 am

    • Dear Chessmusings,
      Thank you very much for reblogging the Keres post.It was very kind of you.


      February 20, 2015 at 10:04 am

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