Paul Keres[ edit ]

Paul Petrovich Keres (January 7 1916 – June 5 1975) (pronounced "CARE-ess") was an Estonian chess grandmaster (born in Narva), one of the strongest chess players of all time, apart from the World chess champions. In fact, 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".

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 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 invaded by Nazi Germany, and he had participated in several tournaments in occupied Europe. In consequence, he was harassed by Soviet authorities and he even feared for his life. It is often believed that he through his career was forced to lose or draw important games in international events, in favour of more politically correct Soviet players (specifically, Botvinnik).

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. 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.

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.

Since the year 1969, an annual chess tournament named after Keres has been held in Tallinn. Starting in 1976, it has been called the Paul Keres Memorial. There are also a number of chess clubs and festivals named after him.

In 2000, people in the countries of West and East Virumaa elected Keres "Viru Vägev (powerful) of the 20th century", and nationally he was elected the Estonian Sportsman of the Century.


"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 worlds 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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article No 652 / last change on 2005-06-30, 05:04pm

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