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Paul Keres

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Paul Keres
Keres in 1969
Soviet Union (1944–75)
Born(1916-01-07)7 January 1916
Narva, Russian Empire (now Estonia)
Died5 June 1975(1975-06-05) (aged 59)
Helsinki, Finland
TitleGrandmaster (1950)
Peak rating2615 (July 1971)

Paul Keres ([ˈpɑu̯l ˈkeres]; 7 January 1916 – 5 June 1975) was an Estonian chess grandmaster and chess writer. He was among the world's top players from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, and narrowly missed a chance at a World Chess Championship match on five occasions. As Estonia was repeatedly invaded and occupied during World War II, Keres was forced by the circumstances to represent the Soviet Union (1940–41, 1944–75) and Nazi Germany (1941–44) in international tournaments.

Keres won the AVRO 1938 chess tournament, which led to negotiations for a title match against the reigning World Champion Alexander Alekhine, but the match never took place due to the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Keres was runner-up in the Candidates Tournament on four consecutive occasions in 1953–1962. Due to these and other strong results, many chess historians consider Keres one of the greatest "Super grandmasters"[a] in history, and the strongest player never to become world champion.

Widely considered an Estonian national hero,[1] he was nicknamed "Paul the Second", "The Eternal Second", and "The Crown Prince of Chess".[2]

Early life[edit]

Keres, c. 1938

Keres was born in the town of Narva (now in Estonia), then Petrograd Governorate of the Russian Empire. He was two years old when Estonia became an independent country in 1918. Keres first learned about chess from his father and his elder brother Harald (afterwards a prominent physicist, who later told friendly jokes to his students: "I am not Paul's brother; Paul is my brother"). With the scarcity of chess literature in his home town, he learned about chess notation from the chess puzzles in the daily newspaper, and compiled a handwritten collection of almost 1000 games.[3] In his early days, he was known for a brilliant and sharp attacking style.[4]

In independent Estonia[edit]

Keres was a three-time schoolboy champion of the country, in 1930, 1932, and 1933. His playing matured after playing correspondence chess extensively while in high school. He probably played about 500 correspondence games, and at one stage had 150 correspondence games going simultaneously. In 1935, he won the Internationaler Fernschachbund (IFSB) international correspondence chess championship. From 1937 to 1941 he studied mathematics at the University of Tartu, and competed in several interuniversity matches.[5]

Keres achieved a very good result at the age of 17 in a Master tournament in Tallinn 1933 with 5/7 (+5−2=0), tied 3rd–4th, half a point behind joint winners Paul Felix Schmidt and V. Kappe.[6] Keres became champion of Estonia for the first time in 1935. He tied for first (+5−2=1) with Gunnar Friedemann in the tournament, then defeated him (+2−1=0) in the playoff match. In April 1935, Keres defeated Feliks Kibbermann, one of Tartu's leading masters, in a training match, by (+3−1=0).[7]

Keres played on top board for Estonia in the 6th Chess Olympiad at Warsaw 1935, and was regarded as the new star, admired for his dashing style. His success there gave him the confidence to venture onto the international circuit.

At Helsinki 1935, he placed 2nd behind Paulin Frydman with 6½/8 (+6−1=1). He won in Tallinn 1936 with 9/10 (+8−0=2). Keres' first major international success against top-level competition came at Bad Nauheim 1936, where he tied for first with Alexander Alekhine at 6½/9 (+4−0=5). He struggled at Dresden 1936, placing only 8–9th with (+2−4=3), but wrote that he learned an important lesson from this setback. Keres recovered at Zandvoort 1936 with a shared 3rd–4th place (+5−3=3). He then defended his Estonian title in 1936 by drawing a challenge match against Paul Felix Schmidt with (+3−3=1).[8]

Keres had a series of successes in 1937. He won in Tallinn with 7½/9 (+6−0=3), then shared 1st–2nd at Margate with Reuben Fine at 7½/9 (+6−0=3), 1½ points ahead of Alekhine. In Ostend, he tied 1st–3rd places with Fine and Henry Grob at 6/9 (+5−2=2). Keres dominated in Prague to claim first with 10/11 (+9−0=2). He then won a theme tournament in Vienna with 4½/6 (+4−1=1); the tournament saw all games commence with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 Ne4, known as the Döry Defence. He tied for 4–5th places at Kemeri with 11½/17 (+8−2=7), as Salo Flohr, Vladimirs Petrovs and Samuel Reshevsky won. Then he tied 2nd–4th in Pärnu with 4½/7 (+3−1=3).

This successful string earned him an invitation to the tournament at SemmeringBaden 1937, which he won with 9/14 (+6−2=6), ahead of Fine, José Raúl Capablanca, Reshevsky, and Erich Eliskases. Keres, in his autobiographical games collection, refers to this major event as a 'Candidates' Tournament', and claimed that he was recognized as a Grandmaster after winning it,[9] although its parallel connection with later FIDE-organized Candidates' tournaments (from 1950 onwards) is not exact, and the Grandmaster title was not formalized by FIDE until 1950.

Keres tied for second at Hastings 1937–38 with 6½/9 (+4−0=5) (half a point behind Reshevsky), and at Noordwijk 1938 (behind Eliskases) with 6½/9 (+4−0=5). Keres drew an exhibition match at Stockholm 1938 with Gideon Ståhlberg on 4–4 (+2−2=4).[8]

He continued to represent Estonia with success in Olympiad play. His detailed results for Estonia follow. Of note was the team bronze medal attained by Estonia in 1939; this was exceptional for a country with a population of less than two million people.[10]

  • Warsaw 1935, Estonia board 1, 12½/19 (+11−5=3);
  • Munich 1936 (unofficial Olympiad), Estonia board 1, 15½/20 (+12−1=7), board gold medal;
  • Stockholm 1937, Estonia board 1, 11/15 (+9−2=4), board silver medal;
  • Buenos Aires 1939, Estonia board 1, 14½/19 (+12−2=5), team bronze medal.

World Championship match denied[edit]

Keres playing against Reuben Fine at AVRO tournament in 1938

In 1938, he tied with Fine for first, with 8½/14, in the all-star AVRO tournament, held in various cities in the Netherlands, ahead of chess legends Mikhail Botvinnik, Max Euwe, Reshevsky, Alekhine, Capablanca and Flohr. AVRO was one of the strongest tournaments in history; some chess historians believe it the strongest ever staged.[citation needed] Keres won on tiebreak because he beat Fine 1½–½ in their individual two games.

It was expected that the winner of this tournament would be the challenger for the World Chess Championship, in a match against World Champion Alexander Alekhine, but the outbreak of the Second World War, especially because of the first occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union in 1940–41, brought negotiations with Alekhine to an end. Keres had begun his university studies in 1937, and this also played a role in the failure to set up a match.

Keres struggled at Leningrad–Moscow 1939 with a shared 12–13th place; he wrote that he had not had enough time to prepare for this very strong event, where he faced many Soviet top players for the first time. But he recovered with more preparation time, and won Margate 1939 with 7½/9 (+6−0=3), ahead of Capablanca and Flohr.[8]

World War II[edit]

During World War II, the previously independent nation of Estonia was invaded and occupied by the Stalinist Soviet Union in June 1940. This lasted until the 1941 invasion and occupation by Nazi Germany, which in turn lasted until the Soviet Union reoccupied Estonia in 1944. The country remained under Soviet control for the rest of Keres' life. The 1944 Soviet reconquest of Estonia was a particularly dangerous time for Keres.

At the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Keres was in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the Olympiad. He stayed on to play in a Buenos Aires international tournament after the Olympiad, and tied for first place with Miguel Najdorf with 8½/11 (+7−1=3).

His next event was a 14-game match with former World Champion Max Euwe in the Netherlands, held from December 1939 – January 1940. Keres won a hard-fought struggle by 7½–6½ (+6−5=3). This was a superb achievement, because not only was Euwe a former World Champion, but he had enormous experience at match play, far more than Keres.

First Soviet occupation (1940–41)[edit]

Estonia was invaded and occupied by the Soviet Red Army in June 1940, and formally annexed by the USSR in August 1940. Keres played in his first Soviet Championship at Moscow 1940 (URS-ch12), placing fourth (+9−4=6) in an exceptionally strong field, placing him ahead of the defending champion Mikhail Botvinnik, among others. The USSR Chess Federation organized the "Absolute Championship of the USSR" in 1941, with the top six finishers from the 1940 championship meeting each other four times; it was split between Leningrad and Moscow. Botvinnik won the event, one of the strongest ever organized, with 13½/20, and Keres placed second with 11, ahead of Vasily Smyslov, Isaac Boleslavsky, Andor Lilienthal, and Igor Bondarevsky.

German occupation (1941–44)[edit]

After Nazi Germany had invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Estonia came under German control a few weeks later. During 1942 and 1943, Keres and Alekhine both played in four tournaments organized by Ehrhardt Post, President of the Grossdeutscher Schachbund. Alekhine won at the Salzburg 1942 chess tournament (Six Grandmasters' Tournament) in June 1942, at Munich (European Individual Chess Championship) in September 1942, and at Prague (International Tournament) in April 1943, always ahead of Keres, who placed second in all three of those tournaments. They tied for first at Salzburg (Six Grandmasters' Tournament) in June 1943, with 7½/10.

During World War II, Keres played in several more chess tournaments. He won all 15 games at Tallinn 1942 (Estonian championship), and swept all five games at Posen 1943. He also won the Estonian title event held at Tallinn 1943, and Madrid 1944 (13/14, +12−0=2). He was second, behind Stig Lundholm, at Lidköping 1944 (playing hors concours in the Swedish Championship). Keres won a match with Folke Ekström at Stockholm in 1944 by 5–1 (+4−0=2).[8]

As resident of German-occupied Estonia (then part of Reichskommissariat Ostland) in 1941–1944, Keres was able to travel across the European continent and participate in a number of international tournaments, held both in neutral countries (1944 Madrid, Lidköping, Stockholm) and in countries under Nazi German control (1942 Tallinn, Salzburg, Munich; 1943 Prague, Posen, Salzburg, Tallinn).

Second Soviet occupation (after 1944)[edit]

Before the Soviet Union reoccupied Estonia, in the autumn of 1944 Keres made an unsuccessful attempt to escape from the country over the sea to the west.[11][12] A 1942 newspaper interview with Keres was later used by the Nazis for anti-Soviet propaganda. As a consequence, he was suspected of collaboration with the Nazis and questioned by the Soviet authorities.[13] Keres managed to avoid deportation or any worse fate (e.g., that of Vladimirs Petrovs); however, he may have been held in detention; precise details are difficult to ascertain.[14]

But his return to the international chess scene was delayed, in spite of his excellent form; he won at Riga 1944/45 (Baltic Championship) (10½/11). Presumably for political reasons, he was excluded from the ten-player Soviet team for the 1945 radio match against the US, and he did not participate in the first great post-war tournament at the 1946 Groningen tournament which was won by Botvinnik, just ahead of Euwe and Smyslov.

He won the Estonian Championship at Tallinn 1945 with 13/15 (+11−0=4), ahead of several strong visiting Soviets, including Alexander Kotov, Alexander Tolush, Lilienthal, and Flohr. He then won at Tbilisi 1946 (hors concours in the Georgian Championship) with a near-perfect score of 18/19, ahead of Vladas Mikėnas and a 16-year-old Tigran Petrosian.[8]

Keres returned to international play in 1946 in the Soviet radio match against Great Britain, and continued his excellent playing form that year and the next year.

World Championship Candidate (1948–1965)[edit]

Keres in 1954

Although Keres participated in the 1948 World Championship tournament, arranged to determine the world champion after Alekhine's death in 1946, his performance was far from his best. Held jointly in The Hague and Moscow, the tournament was limited to five participants: Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Paul Keres, Samuel Reshevsky, and Max Euwe. (Reuben Fine had also been invited but declined.) The event was played as a quintuple round-robin. Keres finished joint third, with 10½ out of 20 points. In his individual match with the winner, Botvinnik, he lost four of five games, winning only in the last round when the tournament's result was already determined.

Since Keres lost his first four games against Botvinnik in the 1948 tournament, suspicions have sometimes been raised that Keres was forced to "throw" games to allow Botvinnik to win the championship. Chess historian Taylor Kingston investigated the available evidence and arguments, concluded that Soviet chess officials had given Keres "strong hints" that he should not hinder Botvinnik's attempt to win the World Championship, and that Botvinnik only discovered this about halfway through the tournament and reportedly protested so strongly that he angered Soviet officials; and that Keres, in Kingston's assessment, probably did not deliberately lose games to Botvinnik or anyone else in the tournament.[15]

Keres finished second or equal second in four straight Candidates' tournaments (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962), making him the player with the most runner-up finishes in that event. (He was therefore occasionally nicknamed "Paul II".) Keres participated in a total of six Candidates' Tournaments:[8]

  • Budapest 1950, 4th, behind David Bronstein and Isaac Boleslavsky, with 9½/18 (+3−2=13).
  • Zürich 1953, tied 2nd–4th, along with David Bronstein and Reshevsky, two points behind Smyslov, with 16/28 (+8−4=16).
  • Amsterdam 1956, 2nd, 1½ points behind Smyslov, with 10/18 (+3−1=14).
  • Yugoslavia 1959, 2nd, 1½ points behind Mikhail Tal, with 18½/28 (+15−6=7). He had positive or equal scores against all the competitors, including 3–1 against Tal, but this was not enough, since Tal scored 14½/16 against the bottom four finishers.
  • Curaçao 1962, tied 2nd–3rd, with Efim Geller, half a point behind Tigran Petrosian, with 17/27 (+9−2=16). This event is discussed further at World Chess Championship 1963. Keres won a match at Moscow 1962 against Geller, for an exempt place in the 1965 Candidates, by 4½–3½ (+2−1=5).
  • Riga 1965, lost his quarter-final match to eventual Candidates' winner Boris Spassky by 6–4 (+2−4=4). This was the only match loss of Keres' long career.

Keres' run of four successive second places in Candidates' tournaments (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962) has prompted suspicions that he was under orders not to win these events. Taylor Kingston concludes that: there was probably no pressure from Soviet officials, since from 1954 onwards, Keres was rehabilitated and Botvinnik was no longer in favour with officials. At Curaçao 1962, there was an unofficial conspiracy by Petrosian, Geller and Keres, and this worked out to Keres' disadvantage, since he may have been slightly stronger than both Petrosian and Geller at this stage.[16] Bronstein, in his final book, published just after his death in late 2006, wrote that the Soviet chess leadership favoured Smyslov to win Zurich 1953, and pressured several of the other top Soviets to arrange this outcome, which did in fact occur. Bronstein wrote that Keres was ordered to draw his second cycle game with Smyslov, to conserve Smyslov's fading physical strength; Keres, who still had his own hopes of winning the event, tried as White to win an attacking game, but instead lost because of Smyslov's excellent play.[17]

Three-time champion of USSR[edit]

In several other post-war events, however, Keres dominated the field. He won the exceptionally strong USSR Chess Championship three times. In 1947, he won at Leningrad, URS-ch15, with 14/19 (+10−1=8); the field included every top Soviet player except Botvinnik. In 1950, he won at Moscow, URS-ch18, with 11½/17 (+8−2=7) against a field which was only slightly weaker than in 1947. Then in 1951, he triumphed again at Moscow, URS-ch19, with 12/17 (+9−2=6),[8] against a super-class field which included Efim Geller, Petrosian, Smyslov, Botvinnik, Yuri Averbakh, David Bronstein, Mark Taimanov, Lev Aronin, Salo Flohr, Igor Bondarevsky, and Alexander Kotov.

Keres won Pärnu 1947 with 9½/13 (+7−1=5), Szczawno-Zdrój 1950 with 14½/19 (+11−1=7), and Budapest 1952 with 12½/17 (+10−2=5),[8] the latter ahead of world champion Botvinnik and an all-star field which included Geller, Smyslov, Gideon Ståhlberg, László Szabo, and Petrosian. The Budapest victory, which capped a stretch of four first-class wins over a two-year span, may represent the peak of his career. The Hungarian master and writer Egon Varnusz, in his books on Keres, states that at this time, "The best player in the world was Paul Keres".[18]

International team successes[edit]

Keres represented the Soviet Union in seven consecutive Olympiads, winning seven consecutive team gold medals, five board gold medals, and one bronze board medal. Of note was his appearance on board one for the USSR in 1952, when the Soviets entered the event for the first time; Keres was the only Soviet team member with Olympiad experience (from his previous appearances for Estonia), and world champion Mikhail Botvinnik was not on the Soviet team. His four straight board gold medals from 1954–1960 is an Olympiad record. Although not selected after 1964, Keres served successfully as a team trainer with Soviet international teams for the next decade. Altogether, in 11 Olympiads, playing for both the USSR and Estonia (counting the unofficial Munich 1936 event), and in 161 games, Keres accumulated a brilliant total of (+97−13=51), for 76.1%. His detailed 1952–1964 Olympiad results are:[19]

  • Helsinki 1952, USSR board 1, 6½/12, team gold;
  • Amsterdam 1954, USSR board 4, 13½/14 (+13−0=1), team gold, board gold, best overall score;
  • Moscow 1956, USSR board 3, 9½/12 (+7−0=5), team gold, board gold;
  • Munich 1958, USSR board 3, 9½/12 (+7−0=5), team gold, board gold;
  • Leipzig 1960, USSR board 3, 10½/13 (+8−0=5), team gold, board gold;
  • Varna 1962, USSR board 4, 9½/13 (+6−0=7), team gold, board bronze;
  • Tel Aviv 1964, USSR board 4, 10/12 (+9−1=2), team gold, board gold.
Gedeon Barcza (left) vs. Keres, European Team Championship 1961

Keres also appeared three times for the Soviet Union in the European Team Championships, winning team and individual gold medals on all three occasions. He scored 14/18 (+10−0=8), for 77.8%. His detailed Euroteams results are:[20]

  • Vienna 1957, USSR board 2, 3/5 (+1−0=4), team gold, board gold;
  • Oberhausen 1961, USSR board 3, 6/8 (+4−0=4), team gold, board gold;
  • Kapfenberg 1970, USSR board 8, 5/5 (+5−0=0), team gold, board gold.

Keres also represented the USSR in many international team matches, in Europe and the Americas, with great success. He represented Estonia on top board with distinction in Soviet team championships, contested between regions.[21]

Later career[edit]

Beginning with the Pärnu 1947 tournament, Keres made some significant contributions as a chess organizer in Estonia; this is an often overlooked aspect of his career.

Keres continued to play exceptionally well on the international circuit. He tied 1st–2nd at Hastings 1954–55 with Smyslov on 7/9 (+6−1=2). He dominated an internal Soviet training tournament at Pärnu 1955 with 9½/10. Keres placed 2nd at the 1955 Gothenburg Interzonal, behind David Bronstein, with 13½/20. Keres defeated Wolfgang Unzicker in a 1956 exhibition match at Hamburg by 6–2 (+4−0=4). He tied 2nd–3rd in the USSR Championship, Moscow 1957 (URS-ch24) with 13½/21 (+8−2=11), along with Bronstein, behind Mikhail Tal. Keres won Mar del Plata 1957 (15/17, ahead of Miguel Najdorf), and Santiago 1957 with 6/7, ahead of Alexander Kotov. He won Hastings 1957–58 (7½/9, ahead of Svetozar Gligorić). He was tied 3rd–4th at Zürich 1959, at 10½/15, along with Bobby Fischer, behind Tal and Gligorić. He placed tied 7–8th in the USSR Championship, Tbilisi 1959 (URS-ch26) with 10½/19, as Petrosian won. Keres was third at Stockholm 1959–60 with 7/9. He won at Pärnu 1960 with 12/15. He was the champion at Zürich 1961 (9/11, ahead of Petrosian). At the elite Bled 1961 event, Keres shared 3rd–5th places, on 12½/19 (+7−1=11), behind Mikhail Tal and Bobby Fischer.[22] In the USSR Championship, Baku 1961 (URS-ch29), Keres scored 11/20 for a shared 8–11th place, as Boris Spassky won. Keres shared first with World Champion Tigran Petrosian at the very strong 1963 Piatigorsky Cup in Los Angeles with 8½/14.[8]

Further tournament championships followed. He won Beverwijk 1964, with 11½/15, tied with Iivo Nei. He shared first place with World Champion Tigran Petrosian at Buenos Aires 1964, with 12½/17.[23] He won at Hastings 1964–65 with 8/9. He shared 1st–2nd places at Marianske Lazne 1965 on 11/15 with Vlastimil Hort. In the USSR Championship at Tallinn 1965 (URS-ch33), he scored 11/19 for 6th place, as Leonid Stein won. He won at Stockholm 1966–67 with 7/9. At Winnipeg 1967, he shared 3rd–4th places on 5½/9 as Bent Larsen and Klaus Darga won.[8]

Keres in Amsterdam (1971)

At Bamberg 1968, he won with 12/15, two points ahead of World Champion Tigran Petrosian. He was 2nd at Luhacovice 1969 with 10½/15, behind Viktor Korchnoi. At Tallinn 1969, he shared 2nd–3rd places on 9/13 as Stein won. At Wijk aan Zee 1969, he shared 3rd–4th places on 10½/15, as Geller and Botvinnik won. He won Budapest 1970 with 10/15, ahead of Laszlo Szabo. Also in 1970, Keres's 3:1 win over Ivkov on the tenth board gave victory to the Soviet team in the match vs Rest of the World. He shared 1st–2nd at Tallinn 1971 with Mikhail Tal on 11½/15. He shared 2nd–3rd at Pärnu 1971, on 9½/13, as Stein won. He shared 2nd–4th at Amsterdam 1971 with 9/13, as Smyslov won. He shared 3rd–5th places at Sarajevo 1972 on 9½/15, as Szabo won. He placed 5th at San Antonio 1972 on 9½/15, as Petrosian, Lajos Portisch, and Anatoly Karpov won.[8]

At Tallinn 1973, he shared 3rd–6th places on 9/15, as Mikhail Tal won. His last Interzonal was Petropolis 1973, where he scored 8/17 for a shared 12–13th place, as Henrique Mecking won. That same year, he made his last Soviet Championship appearance, at Moscow for URS-ch41, scoring 8/17 for a shared 9–12th place, as Spassky won.


Keres' health declined the next year, and he did not play any major events in 1974. His last major tournament win was Tallinn 1975, ahead of Spassky and Friðrik Ólafsson, just a few months before his death.[24]

Paul Keres' tomb at Tallinn's Metsakalmistu cemetery

Keres died of a heart attack in Helsinki, Finland, at the age of 59 (it is often erroneously reported that he died on the same date in Vancouver, Canada). His death occurred while returning to Estonia from a tournament in Vancouver, which he had won.[8] He was buried at Metsakalmistu cemetery in Tallinn. The Paul Keres Memorial Tournaments have been held annually mainly in Vancouver and Tallinn ever since.

Over 100,000 were in attendance at Keres' funeral in Tallinn, Estonia; and FIDE President Max Euwe, his old friend and rival, was also present.[25]

Memory and memorials[edit]

A statue honouring him is located in Tõnismägi, Tallinn. A bronze statue of Keres was unveiled on his 100th birthday in his hometown Narva on 7 January 2016. There is also a street in Nõmme, a district of Tallinn, named after Keres.

The five kroons (5 krooni) Estonian banknote bore his portrait. Kroons have been replaced by the euro since 2011.

An annual international chess tournament has been held in Tallinn every other 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 Tournament. There are also the annual Keres Memorial tournament held in Vancouver[26] and a number of chess clubs and festivals named after him.

In 2000, Keres was elected the Estonian Sportsman of the Century.

The World Chess Federation named 2016 as "The Year of Paul Keres".[27]

Legacy and writings[edit]

The Paul Keres Chess House in Tallinn

The unofficial Chessmetrics system places Keres in the top 10 players in the world between approximately 1936 and 1965, and overall he had one of the highest winning percentages of all grandmasters in history.[citation needed] He has the seventh highest Chessmetrics 20-year average, from 1944 to 1963, behind five World Champions and Victor Korchnoi.[28]

He was one of few players to have plus records against Capablanca, Euwe and Tal, and he also had equal records against Smyslov, Petrosian and Anatoly Karpov. In his long career, he played 10 world champions. He won at least one game against all from Capablanca to Bobby Fischer (his two games with Karpov were drawn), making him one of only three players to beat nine undisputed world champions (the other two are Victor Korchnoi and Alexander Beliavsky). Other notable grandmasters against whom he had plus records include Fine, Flohr, Viktor Korchnoi, Efim Geller, Savielly Tartakower, Mark Taimanov, Milan Vidmar, Svetozar Gligorić, Isaac Boleslavsky, Efim Bogoljubov and Bent Larsen.

He wrote chess books that included a well-regarded, deeply annotated collection of his best games, Grandmaster of Chess ISBN 0-668-02645-6, The Art of the Middle Game (with Alexander Kotov) ISBN 0-486-26154-9, and Practical Chess Endings ISBN 0-7134-4210-7. All three books are still considered among the best of their kind for aspiring masters and experts. He also wrote several tournament books, including an account of the 1948 World Championship Match Tournament. He authored several openings treatises, often in German: Spanisch bis Französisch, Dreispringer bis Königsgambit ISBN 4871875431, and Vierspringer bis Spanisch. He contributed to the first volume, 'C', of the first edition of the Yugoslav-published Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings (ECO), which appeared in 1974. Keres also co-founded the Riga magazine Shakhmaty.

Keres made many important contributions to opening theory. Perhaps best-known is the Keres Attack against the Scheveningen Variation of the Sicilian Defence (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.g4), which was successfully introduced against Efim Bogolyubov at Salzburg 1943, and remains an important line. An original system on the Black side of the Closed Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Nd7) was introduced by Keres at the 1962 Candidates' tournament, and was popular for several years. He also popularized the Keres Defence (1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+) and a system on the Black side of the English Opening that runs 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 c6.

Keres published 180 problems and 30 studies, including a rook ending that won a first prize in 1947."[29]

Keres won top-class tournaments from the mid-1930s into the mid-1970s, a span of 40 years, and won major events in western Europe, eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, South America, and North America. Botvinnik, by contrast, never competed in the Americas during his career.

His rival Samuel Reshevsky said that Keres failed to become world champion because he lacked a killer instinct and "was too mild a person to give his all in order to defeat his opponents. He took everything, including his chess, philosophically. Keres is one of the nicest people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. With his friendly and sincere smile, he makes friends easily. He is goodnatured and kind. Yes, he loves chess, but being a human being is his first consideration. In addition to chess, Keres was interested in tennis, ping-pong, swimming, and bridge."[30]


Notable games[edit]

Tournament and match record[edit]

Keres' tournament and match record:[24][37]


Year Tournament Place Notes
1935 Warsaw 6th Olympiad +11−5=3 on first board for Estonia
1935 Helsinki 2 Frydman won
1936 Nauheim 1–2 shared 1–2 with Alekhine
1936 Dresden 8–9 Alekhine won
1936 Zandvoort 3–4 Fine won
1937 Margate 1–2 shared 1–2 with Fine
1937 Ostend 1–3 shared 1–3 with Grob and Fine
1937 Prague 1 ahead of Zinner
1937 Vienna 1 Quadrangular
1937 Kemeri 4–5 Reshevsky, Flohr, and Petrovs shared 1st–3rd
1937 Pärnu 2–4 Schmidt won
1937 Stockholm 7th Olympiad individual silver (+9−2=4) on first board for Estonia
1937 Semmering/Baden 1 ahead of Fine
1937/38 Hastings 2–3 Reshevsky won
1938 Noordwijk 2 Eliskases won
1938 AVRO 1–2 shared 1–2 with Fine, ahead of Botvinnik
1939 Leningrad–Moscow 12–13 Flohr won
1939 Margate 1 ahead of Capablanca and Flohr
1939 Buenos Aires 8th Olympiad +12−2=5 on first board for bronze medal winning Estonia
1939 Buenos Aires 1–2 shared 1–2 with Najdorf
1940 12th USSR Championship 4 Lilienthal and Bondarevsky won
1941 Absolute USSR Championship 2 behind Botvinnik
1942 Tallinn 1 Estonian Championship +15−0=0
1942 Salzburg 2 behind Alekhine
1942 Munich 2 "European Championship", behind Alekhine
1943 Prague 2 behind Alekhine
1943 Poznań 1 ahead of Grünfeld
1943 Salzburg 1–2 shared 1–2 with Alekhine
1943 Tallinn 1 Estonian Championship +6−1=4
1943 Madrid 1
1944 Lidköping 2 Swedish Championship
1944/45 Riga 1 Baltic Championship
1946 Tbilisi 1 Georgian Championship
1947 Pärnu 1
1947 15th USSR Championship 1
1947 Moscow 6–7
1948 World Championship Tournament 3–4 Botvinnik 1st, Smyslov 2nd
1949 17th USSR Championship 8
1950 Budapest 4 Candidates Tournament, Bronstein and Boleslavsky 1st–2nd, Smyslov 3rd
1950 Szczawno-Zdrój 1
1950 18th USSR Championship 1
1951 19th USSR Championship 1
1952 20th USSR Championship 10–11 Botvinnik won
1952 Budapest 1
1952 Helsinki 10th Olympiad +3−2=7 on first board for gold medal USSR team
1953 Zürich 2–4 Candidates Tournament, Smyslov 1st
1954 Amsterdam 11th Olympiad individual gold (+13−0=1) on fourth board for gold medal USSR team
1954/55 Hastings 1–2 shared 1–2 with Smyslov
1955 22nd USSR Championship 7–8 Geller won
1955 Göteborg 2 Interzonal, Bronstein won
1956 Amsterdam 2 Candidates Tournament, Smyslov won
1956 Moscow 12th Olympiad individual gold (+7−0=5) on third board for gold medal USSR team
1956 Moscow 7–8
1957 24th USSR Championship 2–3 Tal won
1957 Mar del Plata 1
1957 Santiago 1
1957/58 Hastings 1
1958 Munich 13th Olympiad individual gold (+7−0=5) on third board for gold medal USSR team
1959 26th USSR Championship 7–8 Petrosian won
1959 Zürich 3–4 Tal won
1959 Bled/Belgrade/Zagreb 2 Candidates Tournament, Tal won
1959/60 Stockholm 3
1960 Leipzig 14th Olympiad individual gold (+8−0=5) on third board for gold medal USSR team
1961 Zürich 1
1961 Bled 3–5 Tal won
1961 29th USSR Championship 8–11
1962 Curaçao 2–3 1962 Candidates Tournament, Petrosian won
1962 Varna 15th Olympiad individual bronze (+6−0=7) on fourth board on gold medal USSR team
1963 Los Angeles 1–2 1st Piatigorsky Cup, tied with Petrosian for first
1964 Beverwijk 1–2 Hoogovens tournament, shared 1–2 with Nei
1964 Buenos Aires 1–2 shared 1–2 with Petrosian
1964 Tel Aviv 16th Olympiad individual gold (+9−1=2) on fourth board for gold medal USSR team
1964/65 Hastings 1
1965 Mariánské Lázně 1–2 shared 1–2 with Hort
1965 33rd USSR Championship 6 Stein won
1966/67 Stockholm 1
1967 Moscow 9–12
1967 Winnipeg 3–4
1968 Bamberg 1
1969 Beverwijk 3–4 Hoogovens tournament, behind Botvinnik and Geller
1969 Tallinn 2–3
1970 Budapest 1
1971 Amsterdam 2–4
1971 Pärnu 2–3
1971 Tallinn 1-2 with Tal
1972 Sarajevo 3–5
1972 San Antonio 5 Karpov, Petrosian, and Portisch shared 1st–3rd
1973 Tallinn 3–6
1973 Dortmund 6–7
1973 Petropolis 12–13 Interzonal, Mecking 1st; Geller, Polugaevsky, and Portisch 2nd–4th
1973 41st USSR Championship 9–12 Spassky won
1975 Tallinn 1
1975 Vancouver 1


Year Opponent Result
1935 Gunnar Friedemann +2−1=0
1935 Feliks Kibbermann +3−1=0
1936 Paul Felix Schmidt +3−3=1
1938 Gideon Ståhlberg +2−2=4
1939/40 Max Euwe +6−5=3
1944 Folke Ekström +4−0=2
1956 Wolfgang Unzicker +4−0=4
1962 Efim Geller +2−1=5
1965 Boris Spassky +2−4=4
1970 Borislav Ivkov +2−0=2

Scores against other top grandmasters[edit]

Only official tournament or match games are accounted for.

Awards and achievements
Preceded by Estonian Sportspersonality of the Year
Succeeded by
Preceded by Estonian Sportspersonality of the Year
Succeeded by


  1. ^ Super grandmaster is an informal term to refer to the world's elite players — usually players who are serious contenders for the World Championship


  1. ^ Leonard Barden (29 September 2023), "Leonard Barden on chess: Pride of Estonia: Paul Keres, one of the best to never hold chess world crown", The Guardian
  2. ^ David Hooper, Ken Whyld, Kenneth Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess, Oxford University Press 1992, page 198
  3. ^ Paul Keres, Grandmaster of Chess: The Complete Games of Paul Keres, ed. and trans. by Harry Golombek, Arco, New York, 1977.
  4. ^ "Paul Keres". Zone.ee. Archived from the original on February 24, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  5. ^ Grandmaster of Chess: The Complete Games of Paul Keres, by Paul Keres, edited and translated by Harry Golombek, Arco, New York, 1977
  6. ^ rogerpaige.me.uk/tables4.htm
  7. ^ Grandmaster of Chess, by Paul Keres, Arco 1972, pp 188–89
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l http://www.chessmetrics.com, the Paul Keres results file
  9. ^ Grandmaster of Chess: The Complete Games of Paul Keres, by Paul Keres, edited and translated by Harry Golombek, New York, ARCO Publishing 1972
  10. ^ http://www.olimpbase.org/players/cq6agwkb.html (1935, 1937, 1939 results); Grandmaster of Chess, by Paul Keres, translated by Harry Golombek, New York, ARCO Publishing 1972, p. 188 (1936 results)
  11. ^ Хеуэр, В. (2004). Выдающиеся шахматисты мира (in Russian). Олимпия Пресс. p. 464.
  12. ^ "GM Rogers: Paul Keres – the Real Coodabeen Champion | Gardiner Chess".
  13. ^ Heuer, Valter, “The Troubled Years of Paul Keres, the Great Silent One”, New In Chess #4, 1995, Amsterdam, Holland; Jan Timman, editor.
  14. ^ Paul Keres' Best Games Volume 1 – Closed Games, by Egon Varnusz, Cadogan Chess, London 1994, introduction
  15. ^ Kingston wrote a two-part series: Kingston, T. (1998). "The Keres–Botvinnik Case: A Survey of the Evidence – Part I". The Chess Cafe. and Kingston, T. (1998). "The Keres–Botvinnik Case: A Survey of the Evidence – Part II". The Chess Cafe. Kingston published a further article, Kingston, T. (2001). "The Keres–Botvinnik Case Revisited: A Further Survey of the Evidence" (PDF). The Chess Cafe. after the publication of further evidence which he summarizes in his third article. In a subsequent two-part interview with Kingston, Soviet grandmaster and official Yuri Averbakh said that: Stalin would not have given orders that Keres should lose to Botvinnik; Smyslov would probably have been the candidate most preferred by officials; Keres was under severe psychological stress as a result of the multiple invasions of his home country, Estonia, and of his subsequent treatment by Soviet officials up to late 1946; and Keres was less tough mentally than his rivals – Kingston, T. (2002). "Yuri Averbakh: An Interview with History – Part 1" (PDF). The Chess Cafe. and Kingston, T. (2002). "Yuri Averbakh: An Interview with History – Part 2" (PDF). The Chess Cafe. (subscription required)
  16. ^ Kingston, T. (2001). "The Keres–Botvinnik Case Revisited: A Further Survey of the Evidence" (PDF). The Chess Cafe. (subscription required)
  17. ^ Secret Notes, by David Bronstein and Sergey Voronkov, Edition Olms, Zurich 2007
  18. ^ Paul Keres' Best Games, Volume I: Closed Games, by Egon Varnusz, Cadogan Chess, London 1987, p.xii
  19. ^ Men's Chess Olympiads :: Paul Keres. OlimpBase. Retrieved on 2009-11-06.
  20. ^ European Men's Team Chess Championship :: Paul Keres. OlimpBase. Retrieved on 2009-11-06.
  21. ^ Grandmaster of Chess: The Complete Games of Paul Keres, by Paul Keres, edited and translated by Harry Golombek, Arco, New York 1977
  22. ^ "BLED 1961". Thechesslibrary.com. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  23. ^ "BAIRES64". Thechesslibrary.com. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  24. ^ a b "Paul Keres". Zone.ee. Archived from the original on February 24, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  25. ^ Paul Keres' Best Games, Volume I: Closed Games, by Egon Varnusz, Cadogan Chess 1987, p. xiii
  26. ^ "Keres Memorial History Summary". Keresmemorial.chessbc.ca. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  27. ^ rexfeatures.com Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  28. ^ Peak Average Ratings: 20 year peak range, Chessmetrics, 2005
  29. ^ Paul Keres' Best Games, Volume 1: Closed Games, by Egon Varnusz, London, Cadogan 1987
  30. ^ Great Chess Upsets, by Samuel Reshevsky, Arco Publishing, New York 1976, p. 185.
  31. ^ "Paul Keres vs. Alexander Alekhine, Margate (1937)". Chessgames.com.
  32. ^ "Paul Keres vs. Jose Raul Capablanca, AVRO (1938), The Netherlands". Chessgames.com.
  33. ^ "Max Euwe vs. Paul Keres, Amsterdam 1939/40". Chessgames.com.
  34. ^ "Paul Keres vs. Jaroslav Sajtar, Amsterdam ol (Men) fin-A (1954), Amsterdam". Chessgames.com.
  35. ^ "Paul Keres vs. Mikhail Botvinnik, Alekhine Memorial (1956), Moscow". Chessgames.com.
  36. ^ "Paul Keres vs. Edgar Walther, Tel-Aviv ol (1964), Tel Aviv". Chessgames.com.
  37. ^ Bisguier, Arthur. "Paul Keres, 1916–1975". Chess Life & Review. Vol. December 1975.. Reprinted in Pandolfini, Bruce, ed. (1988). The Best of Chess Life and Review, Volume 2, 1960–1980. Simon and Schuster. pp. 352–53. ISBN 0-671-66175-2.


  • Keres, Paul. Harry Golombek (ed.). Grandmaster of Chess: The Complete Games of Paul Keres. Arco, New York, 1977.
  • Varnusz, Egon. Paul Keres' Best Games, Volume 1: Closed Games. Cadogan Chess, London, 1994, ISBN 1-85744-064-1.
  • Paul Keres Best Games, Volume II: Semi-Open Games, by Egon Varnusz, London 1994, Cadogan Chess, ISBN 0-08-037139-6.
  • Paul Keres: der Komponist = the Composer, by Alexander Hildebrand, F. Chlubna, Vienna, 1999.
  • Peeter Järvelaid. Paul Keres ja Boris Meissner. – Pärnu Postimees, 8. jaanuar 2011, lk. 11. http://www.parnupostimees.ee/?id=368933

External links[edit]