Advent calendar: December 23

by André Schulz
12/23/2016 – From December 1 to December 24 we invite our readers every day to open a door in our advent calendar. Click and enjoy a little chess treat. Behind door 23 hides one of the best and fastest players in the history of chess. Advent calendar, door 23.

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Fast, faster, Leonid Stein

When Vishy Anand began his rise to the top at the beginning of the 1990s he stunned opponents and public with his incredible speed. He often used only 15 or 20 minutes for the whole game, even against renowned grandmasters. In this respect Anand had a predecessor: the Soviet world class player Leonid Stein who had played with similar speed.

Leonid Zakharovich Stein was born on November 12, 1934, in Kamianets-Podilskyi, a city in Ukraine that in the course of its history was part of Poland, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, Austria-Hungary, Soviet Russia, Nazi-Germany and the Soviet Union.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in World War II the six-year old Leonid Stein fled with his family from Kamianets-Podilskyi to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. The family had to live in great poverty and the situation got worse when Leonid Stein's father died. The harsh conditions under which Stein had to live led to a chronic heart disease which later caused his early death.

When he was ten years old Stein learned to play chess and showed great talent. But he soon fell into the habit of always playing very quickly andhe  could not be bothered to ponder a long time about the best move - often enough he found it nevertheless. He kept this habit throughout his career and even when he was a grandmaster and competed with the world's best players Stein often used only 20 minutes or less of his thinking time.

After World War II Stein returned to Ukraine, served in the Soviet army and played in army tournaments. In the Army Championships of 1955 and 1956 he twice shared first.

Leonid Stein (right) in the army

Stein's international breakthrough came in 1961. He shared third place at the USSR Championships and qualified for the Interzonal Tournament 1962 in Stockholm. Here Stein shared sixth to eighth place and had he not been from the Soviet Union he would have qualified for the Candidates. However, at that time Fide stipulated that only a limited number of players from the same country could take part in the Candidates, and therefore Stein, who was the sixth best Soviet player, failed to make it to the Candidates Tournament in Curacao. However, for his performance in the Interzonal the Fide awarded Stein the grandmaster title.

Leonid Stein at the beginning of the 1960s

At the Interzonal Tournament 1964 in Amsterdam Stein suffered the same misfortune he had suffered two years before. He finished fifth in the Interzonal but again could not go to the Candidates - instead  the non-Soviets Borislav Ivkov and Lajos Portisch, who both had finished behind Stein in the tournament, went to the Candidates.

At the Interzonal Tournament in Sousse 1967 Stein again came close to qualifying for the Candidates. However, not Stein but Reshevsky won the three player tie-break Stein, Reshevsky and Vlastimil Hort had to play for a place in the Candidates.

At his peak, in the middle of the 1960s, Stein was one of the best players of the world. He won the USSR Championships three times: 1963, 1965 and 1966. Stein had an even score against Vasily Smyslov, Tigran Petrosian and Mikhail Botvinnik but against Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky and Paul Keres he had a plus score. According to Jeff Sonas' statistics of historical ratings Stein was number three in the world in 1966 and 1967 and had a historical rating of 2759. In Sonas' list of the best players of all time Stein is ranked as number 47.

Leonid Stein with a young Anatoly Karpov

Stein played a large number of bold attacking games and also had a knack to create miniatures. He played his moves fast and mated his opponents quickly. Today, we want to show you two miniatures which lasted only 23 moves (you might want to dare a guess why we chose this number).





Leonid Stein died from a heart attack on July 4, 1973, at the age of 38.

Leonid Stein's grave

Photos: Soloscacchi


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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