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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

Keres, Smyslov, an Obscure Game and Other Matters.

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(For more on Keres, I have published two posts in March 1012)

In 1935, the great Estonian chessplayer Paul Keres  played in several tournaments: Tallinn, Tartu,Varsovia and Helsinki.He also played two matches, vs. Friedemann and Kibbermann. Browsing my archives, I found an obscure game played at Helsinki. Some sources offer the game Stahlberg-Keres as one of them, but omit the following one, played against Thorsten Gauffin:

W.: Keres (1)

B.: Gauffin (0)

Helsinki , 1935

1.e4, c5  2. Nf3, a6  3. b4, cb 4. a3, c5  5. ed, Qxd5 6. ab, Bg4 7. Nc3, Qh5  8. Be2, e6  9. 0-0, Nf6  9. 0-0, Nf6  10. Ra5!, Nd5  11. h3!, Bxf3  12. Bxf3, Nxc3  13. dc, Qg6  14. Qd4,!, Qf6  15. Qc4, Nd7  16. Bg5, Qg6  (16…, Ne5/ 17. Rxe5, Qxe5/ 18. Qc6!!)  17. Bb7, Rb8  18. Bc6, Be7  19. Bd7, Kd7  20. Rd1  Black resigned.

Where do I get this game from?.- Well, this is a long story. During my Chess career I have had the opportunity to  meet very interesting people from different countries. One of them was a man who was living in Spain (he sadly passed away around 1996). He had one of the largest Chess collections in Spain, with thousands of books, magazines, documents, etc. You could ask him whatever you needed: he would readily type the matter in question and send them to you. He loved Chess and he loved helping people too. His name was Mr. Cecilio Hernáez, lived in Vitoria , the Spanish Basque Country,  and I feel obliged to pay this little homage to him. He invited me to help him doing translations from English to be published in Spanish-speaking magazines and I readily accepted (I can speak and translate several languages apart from English, namely French, Portuguese, Spanish,) . No matter what you asked him to find: you can be sure he would find it even if he had to spend days looking for it in his enormous collection. He was an exceptionally strong CC player too and a living encyclopaedia.

Concerning the classics, there are two schools of thought : some people consider it a loss of time, some people use it to really learn how Chess has to be understood.  

Some players advocate the study of our contemporaries: Anand, Carlsen, Aronian, Shirov, Krammik, and so on. After all, theory has advanced a lot and they believe studying the classics is a waste of time: nobody can play like them because theory has changed drastically. Other people believe that by studying the classics you are not trying to study the latest cry in opening theory, but the way they think and so, how Chess should be understood. The third approach blends both points of view. 

Keres and Estonia, his native land, had bad luck (Spassky said publicly this too.) As a border-land, the Estonians were a country by themselves, were annexed by the former Soviet Union, invaded by the Nazi Germany , recovered by the Soviet Union and independent again. Keres was a Chess professional player and played in German tournaments during the Nazi atrocious regime. When WW2 finished, Estonia became a part of the Soviet Union, and he had to pay the toll of having played in Nazi territory… (see the above-mentioned posts). He began to play tournaments in the thirties (20th century), won the 1939 AVRO tournament so acquiring the right to play against Alekhine for the World Championship , something WW2 destroyed, but managed to survive the Stalinist period. In the Candidates’ matches which decided the Challenger to Petrosian´s title in the ’60s he lost to Spassky, who eventually became Champion of the World in 1969. 

A match Alekhine-Keres , like a match between Fischer and Karpov would have been two feast for millions of chessplayers throughout the world. But they never took place.

In the time when CC was played using postcards and stamps, many of my opponents in the former Soviet Union and the DDR (East Germany), sent me lots of books (in Russian, German, Estonian, Czech, Hungarian, etc.) From time to time I like leafing through these books. One of them is a Russian edition featuring photographs only (99% is devoted to Karpov. The author was the famous photographer Dmitry Donskoi).

Here you can see Karpov, Botvinnik, Polugaevsky, the young Kasparov, etc. There I found some snaps featuring one of the “forgotten World Champions” as I call them: Vassily Smyslov. Indeed, Smyslov beat Botvinnik in 1957 but lost the title in the 1958 return match.  He was an extremely educated man, an opera singer too. A. Saidy even wrote that his endgame skills were greater that Botvinnik’s ones. But in the end, Smyslov was a victim of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Smyslov died in 2010, in a state of sheer poverty (sharing this damned state with his loving wife) and nearly blind… Then I think about those men who devoting their entire lives to Chess died in poverty… But we have their games and their memories. I have read that nobody really dies until the last person who has known them disappears too…This is an unjust,very sad world indeed…


Written by QChess

April 11, 2014 at 7:12 am

Paul Keres :The Pride and Melancholy of Chess.Part 1

with 4 comments

(Why write about Keres?.- Around 1990 I realized my progress had somewhat stopped. I had spent too many years studying the same type of players: Botvinnik, Petrosian, Karpov, playing closed positions, and so on.  I also realized that I felt very unsecure in tactics and feared losing the grip on my games. Back to the books… I began to devote the next years to widen my approach to Chess. It was time to rescue the collection of games played by Fischer, Tal and Keres.  I had already met many CC players living in the USSR, Hungary, East Germany,etc. And they had sent me teens of books in exchange for other books,  stamps or postcards -of which most of them were avid collectors- From Estonia I had received one of my most beloved books:  V. HEUER’s  “MEIE KERES”. I already had a collection of Keres’s games deeply annotated by himself…)

Paul Keres, Narva (Estonia) 1916, Helsinki (1975). GM : 1950. There are players who have been among the best of the world but never reached the summit : Tarrasch, Nimzowitsch, Bronstein, Korchnoi or  Keres though you may add several other names to this list.

Keres took part in five Candidates’ Tournaments, played the Candidates’ cycle in 1965 -losing to Spassky- and won three Soviet Championships. He took part in seven Chess Olympiads with an overall result of +53 -3 =32.  In 1948 a Match Tournament was held to find the name of the new Champion of the World. Alekhine had died in 1946 while holding the crown and six players were selected to play, already under the rule of FIDE : from the USSR : Botvinnik, Smyslov and Keres. From The Netherlands : M. Euwe (ex-World Champion), and from the USA: Reshevsky and R. Fine. In the end, Fine declined to take part.

Nevertheless, the real tragedy for Keres  had happened years before. He was born in an independent Estonia. But in 1940 his country became a part of the Soviet Union. So he became a Soviet citizen. Then WW2 broke out and Germany invaded the small Baltic state .The Estonians fell under Nazi German rule. Let´s take another step back:

Prior to that, in 1937 Keres, who had started playing postal chess in his native Estonia, won the Semmering-Baden Tournament, ahead of Capablanca, Reshevsky and Flohr. And in 1938, he tied first (R.Fine -USA-) in the so far strongest ever chess tournament: AVRO -The Netherlands-. All this made him be considered a worthy World Championship challenger. Even the then Champion of the World was affectionated towards him. But WW2 and the events related to it shattered his dreams.

Keres began as a brilliant attacking player and tactician. He soon realized that would not be enough to survive against the players with whom he had to compete in the Soviet Union. So he decided to play safely and in the end he turned to a much more classical approach. In my humble opinion I would define his style as “aggressively positional”, avoiding speculative risks but keeping a tactical flavour. As for the openings , you may find his name associated to several systems in the Spanish (Ruy Lopez) Opening, the King’s Gambit, the English -as Black-   (1. c4 e5  2. Nc3 Nf6                          3. g3 c6/  )  and the Keres Defence : 1. d4 e6 2. c4 Bb4. Keres influenced players like Fischer, Kasparov or Spassky. Boris learnt from him that difficult art of starting a wave of attacks one after another in a implacable way.

Now I am going to include some illustrative games because in the next post I will try expose one of the most enigmatic cases in Chess…

W.: Keres  (1)

B.: Stahlberg (0)

Warsaw (Ol) 1935

1.e4 e6  2. d4 d5  3. e5 c5  4. Nf3 Qb6  5. Bd3 cd4.  6. 0-0 Nbd7   7. Nbd2 Ne7  8. Nb3 Nc6  9. Re1 g6                     10. Bf4 Bg7  11. Qd2 0-0   12. h4 Qc7  13. Qe2 f6  14. ef6: Qf4:  15. Qe6: Rf7  16. fg7: Ne5   17. Qe8 Kg7:                 18. Re5: Bh3   19. Qa8: Ne5:  20. Qe8 Nc6  21. Qf7: Kf7:     22. Ng5 Kf6  23. Nh3: Qh4:  24. Rae1  g5                       25. Nd2 Qh6  26. Nf3 g4    27.  Nfg5 Qh5  28. Nh7: Kg7  29. Nhf4  Qh6  30. N7g5 Qd6   31. N4h5 Kf8                     32. Re6 Qb4  33. Bg6 Ne7  34.Rf6 Kg8  35. Bf7  1-0

W..  Keres  (1)

B.:  Smyslov (0)

The Hague /Moscow (W.Ch.) 1948

1. c4 Nf6  2. Nf3 c6  3. Nc3 d5  4. e3 g6  5. d4 Bg7  6. cd5: Nd5:    7. Bc4 0-0  8. 0-0 b6  9. Qb3 Nc3:                 10.bc3: Ba6  11. Ba3 Bc4:   12.Qc4: Re8  13. e4 b5  14. Qb3  Nd7  15. c4 Rab8  16. Rad1 Qa5   17. c5 b4                     18. Bb2 e5  19. Ng5  Re7  20. f4 ed4:  21. f5  Nc5:   22. Qh3 h5  23. f6 Bh6  24. fe7: Bg5:  25. Qf3 f6                       26. Bd4: Nd7    27. h4       1-0


Written by QChess

March 25, 2012 at 6:25 am

Posted in CHESS

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