Grandmaster Eduard Gufeld
By Sam Sloan
Grandmaster Eduard Gufeld died yesterday afternoon, Monday, September 23, 2002
at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He had suffered a massive stroke
two weeks earlier and had been in a coma since. He had been at Midway Hospital
but then had been transferred to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on September 22.
Eduard Gufeld was born in the Ukraine on 19 March 1936. By the late 1950s,
he had established himself as one of the strongest players in the world. He
defeated Tal, Spassky, Smyslov, Korchnoi, Bronstein and just about ever other
strong Soviet player. In an era where most strong players adopted a slow positional
style, Gufeld went in for tactics and mixed it up with the strongest players
in the world.
Gufeld later became much better knows as a writer, journalist and world traveler.
He wrote more than 100 chess books. There is debate as to whether he wrote the
most chess books of anybody, but he was certainly in the top two or three. He
moved to the Republic of Georgia and lived there for more than a decade, where
he became the trainer of Woman's World Chess Champion Maya Chiburdanidze. He
trained several other of the top woman chess players in Georgia but he never
became a fluent speaker of the Georgian language. One of his most popular short
stories was about how he had fallen in love with a woman chess player, but she
had left the country and he had traveled the world searching for her ever since.
however, was the great mystery about Eduard Gufeld. In an era of dour, tight
lipped Soviet Grandmasters, Gufeld was always available for a comment or a quote
about any subject. He seemed to be able to travel the world freely. He went
to Japan and many other countries where other Soviet chess players almost never
went. In an era where it was almost impossible to get out of the Soviet Union
and where Soviets who traveled abroad were accompanied by a KGB Agent, Gufeld
seemed to be able to come and go anywhere he wanted without escort.
Yet, Gufeld denied to his dying day that he was a KGB Agent. If he was, his
secret died with him.
Whatever connection he had, it enabled him to become the world's most flamboyant
chess grandmaster. I first met him at the 1986 World Chess Olympiad in Dubai,
where he was giving daily free lectures to large audiences on the most interesting
games of the round. I remember telling him during a break in his lecture that
Kasparov had a lost position in his game against Seirawan. The game was still
going and Gufeld did not believe me, but I was right and Kasparov resigned later,
after the game had been adjourned.
Gufeld was such a superstar that after the breakup of the Soviet Union he went
to Hollywood, where he continued to write books, travel, teach, lecture and
play in chess tournaments. Even though he was no longer a world class player,
he won many tournaments, including the US Senior Championship.
Gufeld before a game against Joel Benjamin
He often asked me to co-author a book with him. His idea was that the book
would be about Woman Chess Players of the East vs. Woman Chess Players of the
West. He would write in his half of the book about Maya Chiburdanidze and Nona
Gaprindashvili and I would write about in my half of the book about the Polgar
Sisters. He would say that his were best. I would say that mine were best.
Unfortunately, I never had time to work on this project and now the book will
never be written.
Here are some of Gufeld's games. Please note the sharp attacking, combative
style and the originality of the ideas.
Replay and download games
From Georgi Orlov:
I knew Edi since 1987. At one time we worked together at the press-center of
the Women Candidates Tournament in Batumi, Georgia, in 1998. It was a lot of
fun watching Edi pitching his material to several newspapers at the same time.
He would demand of me "Common young man, tell me what move is good here,
I got to send the report to "Sovietsky Sport"! (Leading Soviet sports
newspaper). Edi was master of long toasts and enjoyed a good party.
Edi was not a saint and he had a temper. He could not stand a loss and he lost
to me twice. Ironically, we were both born in USSR, but played only two games
and both outside the old country, in 1988 in Belgrade and 1999 in Vancouver,
B.C. Edi lost both in a mad time-scramble and made a scene in both cases. Funny
thing, we spoke the next day like nothing happened. Edi would always lose his
temper, but always apologize. He loved chess like a child and the game was everything
to him. He remembered a large number of phenomenally beautiful games and compositions
and was great at showing them to the crowd at chess events. Edi loved crowd
and knew how to make it happy.
He had a sense of humor and loved his food. The legend has it Edi once won
a bet in which he accomplished to eat the entire contents of the menu in small
restaurant. I remember before the start of Canadian Open in 1999 Edi and I had
lunch in the Delta Hotel in Richmond, B.C. I have not seen him in a while and
remember he was very upset about the sad state of Georgia, the republic he spent
a great deal of time in and truly loved. He said: "How could they do this
to such a beautiful country"? Tony Saidy joined us at some point and advised
Edi against the order of a steak. Edi said" : Bull! In my lifetime sugar
was bad, then is it was good for you, now it's bad again. Butter was good and
bad and good and now it's bad again. I love steak, I enjoy it and the hell with
Edi was a great coach. He knew how to motivate his pupils and had a tremendous
confidence in their success. Maya Chiburdanidze was one his pupils and perhaps
the greatest one.
Edi was a character. People loved him or hated him, but nobody ignored him
and he was always there. World Championships and Olympiads, Opens and matches,
all continents and many cities. Edi loved Caissa and she loved him back. She
knows he was a good and loyal soldier.
So long Edi. Our third game has been adjourned. I promise to buy your book
from you when I see you again. Yes, I will not be a coward and will finally
face your King's Indian.
Eduard Gufeld was my close friend for 14 years. I first met him at the Chess
Olympics in Salonika in 1984, and his exuberant, non-Soviet personality stood
immediately out. I invited him to come to Hong Kong after the Chess Olympics
of 1988, where he becamein October 1989 the first Soviet/ Eastern European sportsman
to be able to stay in Hong Kong for more than one day (he was our guest for
three weeks). We got him three times on TV, on three radio programs and he was
in many, many newspaper and magazine interviews.
In return he invited me through the Sports Committee (Ministry of Sports) to
come to Moscow, where he introduced me to all the greats of chess, including
the (former) World Champions. We published two books together: 'Russian Handbook
of Chess Openings' – an small encyclopedia (1993) which especially sold well
in Asia (the Philippines) and Australia; and 'The Art of Mastering Chess' (1994)
which was published for 'RadioShack' – USA & UK with the assistance of Saitek – the chess computer manufacturer. It sold a (for me) incredible 32.000 copies!!
These are just the facts. But behind that was his love of chess – his life-long
passion – and his unrivalled ability to make friends with people from all over
the globe instantly, without reservation. This is truly UNIQUE. I cannot think
of anyone who had this ability, to transform a room, by creating an instant
joyous atmosphere, by his sense of humour, his way of disarming shy and sometimes
reserved, even hostile people. His mixture of jokes, 'Russian' ("translated
inside my head" ) conversation – always direct, always interspersed with
annecdotes, self-mockery never failed to entertain complete strangers.
Then there was his chess abilities, and also his realisation that he had started
to play chess too late to ever become a Candidate. But on a good day he would
challenge even World Champions, and his record stands on that score too.
A man who was also a tireless self-promoter, but who had what it took. He would
never have made it to where he came without that ability in the politics and
back-stabbing of Soviet society and rigid chess authorities. A man who could
lovingly analyse correctly the world of Soviet (chess) politics. A man who loved
the Ukraine, Russia and Georgia and realised in time he could not live there
anymore. Also someone who knew when not to speak in that cruel country, when
it was of no use. A born diplomat!
We had been talking for two years about publishing another one or two books
(unfortunately for the monent lack of budget on my part; but still firmly in
the planning on a new 'Chess Encyclopaedia'). I had promised also to come and
visit him sometime soon, and to invite him overhere in the Netherlands (after
his second successful visit to Hong Kong a few years later).
All this is now past. A great TEACHER of chess has died. There are (in his
own words) many great chess players, and there are many great teachers in chess.
But the combination is really very, very rare. He was the personification of
this. A dynamic personality; a man who knew his own ability to make friends
but never overbearing, never overstepping the limit, never abusive, always willing
and able to step back if people did not show the same entousiasm for his ideas
as he had himself. A born salesman of chess! Always respecting others and leaving
them in their own value, even if their chess abilities were almost nihil. Someone
who had made it his lifelong ambition to ' work in chess and to show that chess
is a form of art.' The man who started the FIDE Committee on 'Chess Art and
He was a rare diamond. He moved without hesitation, in friendship and always
avoiding unnecessary problems across borders in life and across the globe, building
bridges, almost never discouraged. Chess is a tough sport, and only the best
can survive and 'work in chess'. Over 50 it becomes even more difficult. He
added more energy at that age, and even emigrated to the USA at age 60. And
he always remained true to himself.
I also lost a real friend. We were on the phone for close to half an hour on
Sunday 01 September, when he was in great spirits and full of plans about new
books. He was very proud that he was teaching chess at university.
I shall really miss him and cherish his friendship. In his words: it does not
matter that you are a moderate chess players and that you never will be a GM
or even an IM. To those people who are just beginning to play chess, you are
a GM. Just act like one. And I did. My friendship with Eduard 'Goofy' was good
for my chess abilities, and for my love of chess. He taught me so much, about
how to deal with people and to avoid unnecessary conflict.
To demonstrate the point: on his first visit to Hong Kong in October 1989,
we had made a lot of appointments on a certain day, actually too many, and that
included a simultaneous match at the 'German-Swiss' school on the Peak. Normally,
in Hong Kong one is hard-pressed to get 40 players, but in that school 57 (including
teachers) turned up. Of course it took a bit longer than usual, and over 40
players were still 'refusing' to resign, when it was time to go to the next
school for a lecture. So Eduard convinced me to take over the simul, and using
his principles I only lost one game and drew dilpomatically another three.
I sincerely hope that FIDE and the Russian Chess Federation will extensively
honour this greatest of teacher in chess by making a permanent brilliancy
prize for men and women at the Olympiad. I am willing to contribute to it.
Eduard never spoke bad about anyone behind their backs. He told jokes, yes,
but none worse than about himself. The teacher of Maya Chiburdanidze, coach
of countless Soviet men and ladies' Olympic teams, a man who was on friendly
terms with both Karpov and Kasparov, a man who brought laughter and happiness
to hundreds of thousands of chess players around the world by his sheer personality,
his love of life and of people irrespective of their chess abilities, their
backgrounds and their race or creed. A lovely man. Let us all respect his memory,
and occasionally read his books full of anecdotes to forget the petty rivalries
we often are confronted with in chess.
God rest his soul
Final rites for Eduard Gufeld will be on Monday, Sept. 30 at 2:30
P.M. at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Los
Angeles. Chess-players are welcome.
Eduard was the sole earner in a family of elderly, infirm
immigrants. To help with funeral expenses etc. and in lieu of flowers,
people are urged to send a donation to his sister, Lydia Valdman, 1335
No. LaBrea Avenue, Los Angeles, Calif. 90028. Please inform anyone in
the wide circle of chess-lovers touched by the work of this tireless
promoter of the art of chess. – Anthony Saidy