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Happy Birthday Helmut Pfleger!

8/6/2003 – Who is the best-known German chess player? If you count the number of people who know his name or would recognize him on the streets then GM Helmut Pfleger wins the contest hands down. Not because he was one of the most talented players in the sixties and seventies, but because he has brought chess into the mainstream media. Today Helmut turns sixty.
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Opening Encyclopedia 2016

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Helmut Pfleger, Doctor and Grandmaster

Helmut Pfleger is best know for his TV coverage of chess event, his numerous light-hearted and humorous magazine columns, and his chess books. For some time now he has been quite sporadic in his tournament appearance, so that one tends to forget that in the sixties and seventies he used to be one of Germany's brightest talents. His highest ranking was number 40 in the world, and were it not for his many other interests and talents he is sure to have gone higher.

Pfleger's chess career began in 1960, when he won the German Junior Championship, followed by a fourth place in the World Junior in 1961. In 1963 and 1965 he tied for first in the German Championship, and in 1964 he scored a spectacular 12.5/15 at the 16th Chess Olympiad in Tel Aviv, Israel. That brought the German team an unprecedented third place in the final standings. In 1978 he was still at it, at the 23rd Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There he defeated Lev Polugaevsky in a key game, which won Germany the fourth place and spoiled the victory of the Soviet Union, who ended second to Hungary.

Polugaevsky,L (2620) – Pfleger,H (2530) [D34] Buenos Aires ol (Men) Buenos Aires (9), 1978 [Pfleger/Treppner]: 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 c5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.d4 Nc6 7.0-0 Be7 8.Nc3 0-0 9.Bg5 c4 10.Ne5 Be6 11.Nxc6 [Three years earlier Pfleger had beaten "Polu" in the same line] 11...bxc6 12.b3 Qa5 13.Na4 Rfd8 14.e3! [14.Qc2 Rac8 15.Bxf6 Bxf6 16.Nc5 Bxd4 17.Nb7 Qb6 18.Nxd8 Rxd8 19.bxc4 Bxa1 20.cxd5 is better for Black] 14...c5 15.Bxf6 gxf6 16.dxc5 Bxc5 17.Qh5 Rac8. Polugaevsky had prepared all of this carefully and actually used it again successfully in the same tournament against the Canadian Lawrence Day. 18.Rfd1 Bf8 19.Rac1 Qb4 20.Bxd5? [20.Nc3! cxb3 21.Nxd5 Rxd5 22.Bxd5 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 b2! ( 23...Qb5? 24.e4 bxa2 25.Ra1+-) 24.Rb1 Qc5 25.e4 Qc1+ 26.Qd1 Ba3 27.Bxe6 fxe6 28.Kg2 with the idea Qd3, f4, Kh3+/= [Polugaevsky]]

20...Rxd5! 21.Rxd5 cxb3 22.Rxc8 Bxc8 23.axb3? [23.Qd1 Qxa4 24.axb3 Qc6 25.Rd8 f5 -/+ would offer more resistance] 23...Bg4! 24.Qh4 [or 24.Rg5+ fxg5 25.Qxg5+ Bg7 26.Qd8+ Qf8 and Black is winning] 24...Qe1+ 25.Kg2 Be2 26.g4 Qf1+ 27.Kg3 Qg1+ 28.Kf4 Qg2 29.Qxf6 Qxf2+ 30.Ke5 Qxe3+ 31.Kf5 Qf3+ 32.Kg5 Qe3+ 33.Kf5 Bd3+ 34.Rxd3 Qxd3+ 35.Kg5 Qe3+ 36.Kh5 Be7 0-1. [Replay game]

Pfleger also defeated players like Kortschnoi (in 1965, after he had won a number of USSR Championships), Larsen and Ribli. Here is a nice ending to a game against the Danish world-class GM:

Pfleger,H (2535) – Larsen,B (2630), Manila 1974

White has a problem to avoid a quick black draw. Obviously 61.Nf5+ Kxh3 62.Kxa7 Nb4 63.Kb6 Nxa6 doesn't work, but neither does 61.Ng6 Nb4 62.h4 Kg4 63.Kxa7 Nxa6 64.Kxa6 Kh5 and draw. So how did the 20-year-old Pfleger outwit his famous opponent? You should spend some time thinking about it before you look up the answer in our replay page.

Career highlights (extracted by ChessBase 8.0 from Mega 2003)

Wch U20 prel-B 1961   4/6 +2  Rank 2 
FRG-ch 07th Bad Pyrmont 1963   11.5/15  +8 Rank 1
FRG-ch m Hamburg 1964   1.5/4 -1 Rank 2
Zuerich U18 1964   8.5/11 +6 Rank 1
Tel Aviv ol (Men) fin-A 1964   9/11 +7  
Hastings 6465 1964   6/9 +3 Rank 4
FRG-ch 08th Bad Aibling 1965   11/15 +7 Rank 2
FRG-ch 08th playoff 1966   2/4 +0 Rank 2
Rubinstein mem 1971 VI 9.5/15 +4 Rank 1
FRG-CSR m Bamberg 1972 XI 2/2 +2 Rank 2
IBM Amsterdam 1978 XII  7.5/13 +2 Rank 4
EU-chT qual Elvetham Hall 1979  XI 2/2 +2 Rank 1
Havana 1982 IX 7/11 +3 Rank 2
Royan 1988 X 5.5/9 +2 Rank 4

All of Pfleger's chess success was achieved on a purely amature status. His father owned a pharmaceutical company, and Helmut Pfleger studied medicine, specializing in psychology and psycho-analysis. In his best chess years he worked almost full-time as a doctor with little time for openings preparation. This meant he often had to "repair" unfortunate positions he achieved on the board.

Pfleger's second career began in the seventies, when the BBC and the Hamburg TV station NDR produced the series Master Game, which he moderated together with IM Bill Hartston (against whom he has a +4 score). He also appeared on numerous TV reports on the world championship matches, and in 1983 started to moderate the yearly WDR live TV game "Schach der Großmeister". Everyone, including Karpov, Korchnoi, Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, Zsuzsa and Judit Polgar, have appeared on the show, which will be produced for the 21st time on August 19 this year.

Currently, on his 60th birthday, Helmut Pfleger is sitting in a darkened area behind the stage of the Dortmund GM tournament, commenting on the games via infra-red earphones for the public in the Stadt Theater. Which is what he does in his own entertaining, personal style for all top tournaments in Germany.

Happy Birthday Helmut – may you be blessed with interesting games!

Thanks to Gerd Treppner for games and biographical details.

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