Paul Keres

From Chesspedia, the Free Chess Encyclopedia.

Paul Keres (born January 7, 1916, in Narva, Estonia; died June 5, 1975, in Helsinki, Finland) was an Estonian chess grandmaster and one of the strongest chess players of all time, apart from the World chess champions. Many claim him to be the strongest modern player (since the line of official World Champions started with Steinitz in 1886) never to play in a world championship match. He was dubbed "The Crown Prince of Chess".

He first learned about chess through solving chess puzzles in a newspaper column. It wasn't until later that he found out the puzzles came from an actual game. In his early days, he was known for a brilliant attacking style. His playing matured after playing correspondence chess extensively.

From 1937 to 1941 he studied mathematics at the University of Tartu.

In 1938 he won the all-star AVRO tournament tied with Reuben Fine (with equal total score, but beating Fine 1½-½ in their individual two games), ahead of chess legends Mikhail Botvinnik, Max Euwe, Samuel Reshevsky, Alexander Alekhine, José Raúl Capablanca and Salo Flohr. It was supposed that the winner of this tournament would be the challenger for the World champion title, but the outbreak of the Second World War brought negotiations with the current champion, Alekhine, to an end. In the 1948 World Championship tournament, arranged to find a champion following Alekhine's death in 1946, Keres finished joint third, with 10.5 out of 20 points. This, probably his main disappointment, must be seen in the context of his difficult personal situation after the end of WWII. His native Estonia had been successively occupied by the Soviets, Germany and then in 1944 the Soviets again, and he had participated in several tournaments in Europe during the German occupation. Upon the Soviet invasion of Estonia in 1944 his attempt to flee the country failed, and as a consequence he was harassed by the Soviet authorities and feared for his life. It is often believed that Keres through his career was forced to lose or draw important games in international events, in favour of more "politically correct" Soviet players (specifically, Botvinnik). His chess career may have been hampered, but Keres did manage to avoid deportation to Siberia or any worse fate during the Soviet occupation.

Keres won the strong USSR Chess Championship three times (1947, 1950 and 1951), and finished a runner-up in the Candidates Tournament four times, never qualifying for a world championship match. He was one of very few players who had a plus record against Capablanca. Here is one win (Keres-Capablanca, 1938, moves given in Algebraic chess notation):

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Ngf3 Nc6 6.Bb5 Qe7+ 7.Be2 cxd4 8.O-O Qc7 9.Nb3 Bd6 10.Nbxd4 a6 11.b3 Nge7 12.Bb2 O-O 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.c4 Be6 15.Qc2 dxc4 16.Bxc4 Bxc4 17.Qxc4 Rfb8 18.h3 Rb5 19.Rac1 Rc8 20.Rfd1 Ng6 21.Nd4 Rb6 22.Ne6 Qb8 23.Ng5 Rb7 24.Qg4 Bf4 25.Rc4 Rb5 26.Nxf7 Re8 27.g3 Qc8 28.Rxf4 Qxg4 29.Rxg4 Kxf7 30.Rd7+ Re7 31.Rxe7+ Kxe7 32.Bxg7 Ra5 33.a4 Rc5 34.Rb4 Ke6 35.Kg2 h5 36.Rc4 Rxc4 37.bxc4 Kd6 38.f4 1-0

He also had plus records against World Champions Euwe and Mikhail Tal, and equal records against Vasily Smyslov, Tigran Petrosian and Anatoly Karpov. Through his long career, he played against no less than ten world champions, beating nine (his games with Karpov were drawn). Other notable grandmasters which he had plus records against include Fine, Flohr, Viktor Korchnoi, Efim Geller, Savielly Tartakower, Mark Taimanov, Milan Vidmar, Svetozar Gligoric, Isaac Boleslavsky, Efim Bogoljubov and Bent Larsen. He was ranked among the top 10 players in the world for close to 30 years, between approximately 1936 and 1965, and overall he had one of the highest winning percentages of all grandmasters in history. Chessmetrics, which specializes in calculating historic ELO ratings and accounting for the inflation, has placed his 20-year peak rating as the seventh highest ever.

He wrote a number of chess books, including well-regarded collection of his games, several tournament books, The Art of the Middle Game (with Alexander Kotov) ISBN 0486261549 and Practical Chess Endings ISBN 0713442107. The latter two are still considered among the best of their kind for aspiring masters and experts.

He died of heart attack in Helsinki, Finland in 1975, at the age of 59.

The five kroons (5 krooni) Estonian banknote bears his portrait.

A statue honouring him can be found on Tõnismägi in Tallinn.

An annual international chess tournament has been held in Tallinn every year since 1969. Keres won this tournament in 1971 and 1975. Starting in 1976 after Keres' death, it has been called the Paul Keres Memorial. There are also a number of chess clubs and festivals named after him. In 2000, he was elected the Estonian Sportsman of the Century.

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"At the Warsaw team tournament in 1935, the most surprising discovery was a gangling, shy, 19-year-old Estonian. Some had never heard of his country before, nobody had ever heard of Keres. But his play at top board was a wonder to behold. Not merely because he performed creditably in his first serious encounters with the world's greatest; others have done that too. It was his originality, verve, and brilliance which astounded and delighted the chess world." - Grandmaster Reuben Fine

"I loved Paul Petrovitch with a kind of special, filial feeling. Honesty, correctness, discipline, diligence, astonishing modesty – these were the characteristics that caught the eye of the people who came into contact with Keres during his lifetime. But there was also something mysterious about him. I had an acute feeling that Keres was carrying some kind of a heavy burden all through his life. Now I understand that this burden was the infinite love for the land of his ancestors, an attempt to endure all the ordeals, to have full responsibility for his every step. I have never met a person with an equal sense of responsibility. This man with internally free and independent character was at the same time a very well disciplined person. Back then I did not realise that it is discipline that largely determines internal freedom. For me, Paul Keres was the last Mohican, the carrier of the best traditions of classical chess and – if I could put it this way – the Pope of chess. Why did he not become the champion? I know it from personal experience that in order to reach the top, a person is thinking solely of the goal, he has to forget everything else in this world, toss aside everything unnecessary – or else you are doomed. How could Keres forget everything else?" - Former World Champion Boris Spassky

"I was unlucky, like my country." - Paul Keres, on why he never became world champion

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