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.
This, 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.
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 the doctor!".
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 Exhibition'.
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