The Story of a Chess Player

2/4/2005 – If you know the very modest perennial 2600+ GM Jaan Ehlvest, you might expect him to say something like "I used to be a good player." Certainly players on the American tournament circuit would have to say "he still is!" Now the Estonian GM has written a new book.

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Estonian GM Jaan Ehlvest

By Jurgen Kaljuvee

The Estonian GM Ehlvest has made the U.S. his home for the last several years, and in addition to winning many tournaments (the Chicago Open, Foxwoods Open, and National Open of 2004 come to mind), he has been hard at work writing his autobiography The Story of a Chess Player. We assure you that this is no “hit-and-run” type of book, to which readers of chess literature may have become accustomed lately. Jaan—who also has a degree in psychology—tries to discover the hidden forces that make grandmasters “tick”.


Top Estonian GM Jaan Ehlvest

Born in Estonia, Ehlvest became an International Master in chess by winning the European Junior Championship in 1983. After tying for the second place in the Zagreb Interzonal in 1987, he became a Grandmaster. In the first series of the World Cup tournaments, Ehlvest came fourth after World Champions Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov, and grandmaster Valery Salov. In 1989, he won the Reggio Emilia supertournament ahead of grandmasters Vassily Ivanchuk and Karpov. In the last World Championship in Delhi he finished in the top 16. Ehlvest’s highest international rating is 2660, when he was one of the top five players in the world. In 2003, he won the World Open Championship. Ehlvest has been once elected as zonal President of FIDE, the World Chess Federation. He is an active participant in FIDE’s "Chess in Schools" and various training committees. He is currently managing Ehlvest Chess Gates, an organization for teaching chess to children.

Most of Jaan’s book deals with a very interesting time for chess which has almost been forgotten – the period of time shortly before and after the breakup of the Soviet Union. This was, if you can remember, before the development of Fritz, before computers could beat grandmasters like children squashing ants, and before the wide popularization of databases. We understand there was even a thing called “adjournments” – imagine that!

Readers can hear Jaan’s thoughts about the nature of chess, life, childhood, world politics and beyond. Of course there are also commented games, from which the studious reader can glean a great deal of chess knowledge.

We checked out Jaan’s book signing party – an evening of champagne, blitz, and book-marketing – at the Manhattan Estonian house on a cold January night.

The Estonian House is located at the heard of Manhattan, at 243 East 34th Street in a neighborhood known as Murray Hill. It is also the location of the Baltic Chess Center where chess aficionados meet regularly to practice. This upscale chess club usually holds its meetings in the Blue Room, part of which is shown below.


The Blue Room in the Manhattan Estonian House...


... site of the Baltic Chess Center


Enter Jaan Ehlvest, with his new book


With Urve, the bartender, and some Sovetskaya Champagne

Champagne is said to be drink of the winners, and during the Soviet times a Champagne called Sovetskaya was the drink of choice among the victorious. Now you can try it if you are a member of the Baltic Chess Center or the Estonian House, or if you were invited to the presentation. Jaan has also promised that this will not be his last book; in fact, his planning to complete a few text book for children and younger players.


Dave Lerner (left), one of the organizers of the biggest open tournament ever. It will be held in Minnesota in May this year. His opponent looks like someone out of Hemingway, Jaan's favourite author.


Jaan with chess fans in the club

Quotes from the book

“Chess may be the most mysterious sport. Like everything else, people want to find excuses for not succeeding. It is easy to measure why someone is faster or stronger in other sports; but not in chess. The best usually win in chess as well, but what makes them the best—what kind of qualities do they have? Are chess champions normal at all?”
—Jaan Ehlvest, The Story of a Chess Player

I can't remember exactly the date, or even the year; but it was probably at the end of '85. I was in a bus on my routine trip from Tartu to Tallinn. As often, my thoughts were drifting between many subjects. At this moment, I realized that the only way to escape from my path was to return to serious chess. This was a conscious decision that gave me subconscious resolve for the future. I wanted to put the wasted years behind me.”
—Jaan Ehlvest, The Story of a Chess Player

The Story of a Chess Player by Jaan Ehlvest was published by Arbiter Publishing, a specialty publisher based in New York, NY, in conjunction with Ehlvest Chess Gates. You can find out more information including how to purchase the book at the Arbiter Publishing web site.


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