- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2016

One hundred years after his birth, he still ranks near the top of any list of the greatest players never to have won the world championship.

Estonian Paul Keres, the “crown prince of chess” born Jan. 7, 1916, had a star-crossed career despite a string of memorable tournament wins and a ranking among the top five players in the world from the mid-1930s to the 1960s. He was peaking as a player with his great win at the 1938 AVRO Tournament, but World War II — and Estonia’s unhappy history under both Stalin and Hitler — robbed him of a widely anticipated title match with Alexander Alekhine.

After the war, the vagaries of Soviet chess politics and his own shaky play at critical moments kept Keres from another shot at the world title. He repeatedly came up just short as players like Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal and Petrosian seized the brass ring.

Keres first made his mark internationally with a breakout performance on top for the Estonian team at the 1935 Olympiad, scoring a respectable 11-5-3 despite facing for the first time some of the best players in the world. It’s a measure of Keres’ amazing career that today’s first game, played against the established Swedish star Gideon Stahlberg at the Olympiad, didn’t even make the cut for Keres’ own three-volume anthology of his greatest games.

A fierce battle over White’s control of e5 dominates the early stages of this Advanced French, but things really get hairy after Black’s 13. Qe2 f6!? 14. exf6 Qxf4 15. Qxe6+ Rf7 16. fxg7 Nde5 17. Qe8+ Kxg7 18. Rxe5 Bh3! 19. Qxa8 Nxe5, when White is a full piece up but all of Stahlberg’s pieces target the White king.

Keres finds an ingenious defense: 20. Qe8!! Nc6 21. Qxf7+!! Kxf7 (Qxf7 22. Ng5 also forks and wins the bishop) 22. Ng5+ Kf6 23. Nxh3, with a rook and two minor pieces for the queen. White’s pieces coordinate beautifully (if, for instance, 27gxh3, White wins with 28. Re6+ Kxg5 29. f4+! Kh5 30. Be2+), and, in the final position, Stahlberg resigns just ahead of 35Kh8 36. Rf8+ Ng8 37. Rxg8 mate.

For the past quarter-century, Estonia has honored its greatest chess star with a memorial rapid tournament in his name in Tallinn. The latest edition was won earlier this month by Latvian GM Igor Kovalenko, but Estonian FM Juri Krupenski honored his countryman’s legacy with a massive upset of Israeli GM Boris Gelfand, a onetime world championship challenger, with the help — fittingly enough — of a well-timed queen sacrifice.

The grandmaster appears headed for a ho-hum win until Gelfand gets too fancy with 21. Rfe1 Rd3 22. Qg2 R8d4?! (both 22Rd2 and 22Rxc3!? 23. bxc3 Bxc3 kept Black in charge) 23. Re2 Nh5? (Nbd5, blocking off the White bishop on a2, was imperative) 24. gxh5 Rxh4.

Black’s attack looks scary, but the open g-file gives White a spectacular counter: 25. f6! Bxf6 (see diagram; if 25g6, 26. Qxg6+ brutally exploits the pin on the f7-pawn) 26. Re8+ Kh7 27. Qg6+!! fxg6 28. Bg8+ Kh8 29. Bf7+, and it’s mate after 29Kh7 30. hxg6; Gelfand resigned.

Keres-Stahlberg, 6th Olympiad, Warsaw, August 1935

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. Nf3 Qb6 5. Bd3 cxd4 6. O-O Nd7 7. Nbd2 Ne7 8. Nb3 Nc6 9. Re1 g6 10. Bf4 Bg7 11. Qd2 O-O 12. h4 Qc7 13. Qe2 f6 14. exf6 Qxf4 15. Qxe6+ Rf7 16. fxg7 Nde5 17. Qe8+ Kxg7 18. Rxe5 Bh3 19. Qxa8 Nxe5 20. Qe8 Nc6 21. Qxf7+ Kxf7 22. Ng5+ Kf6 23. Nxh3 Qxh4 24. Re1 g5 25. Nd2 Qh6 26. Nf3 g4 27. Nfg5 Qh5 28. Nxh7+ Kg7 29. Nf4 Qh6 30. Ng5 Qd6 31. Nh5+ Kf8 32. Re6 Qb4 33. Bg6 Ne7 34. Rf6+ Kg8 35. Bh7+ Black resigns.

Krupenski-Gelfand, 26th Keres Rapid Memorial Open, Tallinn, Estonia, January 2016

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Ne2 d5 6. a3 Bd6 7. Ng3 c6 8. Be2 Nbd7 9. O-O dxc4 10. Bxc4 e5 11. Ba2 Nb6 12. dxe5 Bxe5 13. e4 Qe7 14. Nf5 Bxf5 15. exf5 Rad8 16. Qf3 Qc7 17. h3 Rd7 18. Bg5 h6 19. Bh4 Rd4 20. g4 Rfd8 21. Rfe1 Rd3 22. Qg2 R8d4 23. Re2 Nh5 24. gxh5 Rxh4 25. f6 Bxf6 26. Re8+ Kh7 27. Qg6+ fxg6 28. Bg8+ Kh8 29. Bf7+ Black resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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