Alexander Beliavsky turns 70 - Happy birthday to the legendary player who defeated nine world champions!

by Eduard Frey
12/17/2023 – Today, 17 December 2023, Alexander "Big Al" Beliavsky celebrates his 70th birthday. 50 years ago, in 1973, he became World Junior Champion and has been a fixture in the chess universe ever since. For decades he was a world class player and in the course of his illustrious career Beliavsky defeated no less than nine world champions in classical chess - a feat achieved only by Paul Keres and Viktor Korchnoi! Eduard Frey congratulates and presents highlights of a remarkable career. | Alexander Beliavsky at his first Chess Olympiad in Lucerne 1982 | Photo: Dr. Klaus Krtschil via Wikipedia

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Alexander Beliavsky was born on 17 December 1953 in Lviv, Ukraine. In 1973 Beliavsky became World Junior Champion, which also brought him the IM title. In 1975, two years later, he became a Grandmaster. Today, Beliavsky is a citizen of Slovenia and lives there. Let us honour him with ten highlights from his outstanding chess career.

World Junior Champion 1973

Beliavsky at the World Junior Championship | Photo: Twitter David LLada, B. Kroshtul (APN)

In the summer of 1973, Alexander Beliavsky won gold at the World Junior Championship in Teesside, England. He had been coached by Botvinnik and Boleslavsky before the event, and won his group and the Final A round robin ahead of Tony Miles (silver) and Michael Stean (bronze), who represented the host nation. Miles went on to win the World Junior title a year later in Manila in 1974.

Beliavsky's achievement suddenly opened a door for him. In October 1973, he was given a place in the Soviet Championships as a replacement for the great Leonid Stein, who had died in the summer of that year at the age of just 38 and a half. It was arguably the strongest Soviet championship ever held and a brutal experience for the virtually unprepared youngster, who finished eighteenth and last after losing all of his games in the the first five rounds. Boris Spassky, in 1972 dethroned as world champion by Bobby Fischer, won the event in style.

Rising to the top

A year later, in 1974, Beliavsky won the Championship for the first time, sharing first with Mikhail Tal, ahead of Polugaevsky and Vaganian in joint third place. The field was weaker than the year before, with defending champion Spassky, Petrosian, Korchnoi and Karpov absent. Throughout the race, Beliavsky remained on course for a podium finish.

After Beliavsky drew level with tournament leader Tal in the penultimate round and both drew their final games, the 21-year-old Beliavsky won his first Soviet crown, while Tal won his fifth as they tied for first place (no play-off).

In his book "Uncompromising Chess" Beliavsky quotes Tal:

"This game confirms an old truth, that it is is difficult to play a game of chess having in mind two possible results: you are happy with a draw, and you also want to try and win … at some point one excludes the other."

Subsequent sources have paraphrased Tal as: "You can't play to draw and to win at the same time". Replay this instructive game:

A perfect score at Alicante

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Alicante organised a cosy little series of international invitational tournaments. In the 5th Torneo Internacional Ciudad de Alicante 1978, Alexander Beliavsky finished with a clean 13/13, a full five points (!) ahead of Mark Diesen (USA) and Evgenij Ermenkov (Bulgaria), as well as Rhode, Damjanovic, Medina and players from the Spanish host nation.

Important international tournament achievements

Beliavsky won in Tilburg in 1981 (clear first ahead of Petrosian, Timman, Portisch, Ljubojevic, Spassky, Kasparov with only 50%, Andersson, Larsen, Sosonko, Hübner, Miles) and triumphed again in Tilburg in 1986 (clear first ahead of Ljubojevic, Karpov, Miles, Timman, Portisch, Hübner, Korchnoi). Beliavsky was the sole winner of the last two strong OHRA-Amsterdam tournaments in 1989 and 1990 and shared the title with Viktor Korchnoi at the traditional Wijk aan Zee tournament in 1984.

Beliavsky's first victory abroad was at the Parcetic Memorial in Sombor (Yugoslavia, now Serbia) in 1972, where he finished clear first ahead of Csom, Timman, Matulovic, Velimirovic, Adorjan, Knaak, Jansa and others.

He also won the following international tournaments: Kiev International 1978, Alicante 1978, Frunze International 1979, Bogota 1979, Tashkent 1980 (USSR ch semi-final), Bucharest 1980 (three points ahead of Suba), Baden near Vienna 1980 (with Spassky), Bosna, Sarajevo 1982 (scoring an amazing 12. 5 out of 15 points in a strong field), Chigorin Memorial in Sochi 1986 (tied with Gligoric and Vaganian, ahead of Tal, Smyslov, Geller, Razuvaev), Aker Brygge, Norway (Chess for Armenia) 1989 (Quadrangular, clear first ahead of Tal, Smyslov and Agdestein), Munich (Mephisto-SKA) 1990 clear first, Belgrade (Investbanka) 1993 (with Kramnik, Khalifman and Bareev; Beliavsky clear first, 1.5 points ahead of top-seed Kramnik), León 1994, Cacak 1996 or the Rubinstein Memorial in Polanica-Zdrój 1996.

Beliavsky is a record five-time winner of the Vidmar Memorial: 1999, 2001, 2003 (together with Sutovsky) and 2005 in Portorož, and 2011 in Ljubljana (as the Slovenian National Championship, then part of the Vidmar Memorial series).

Beliavsky co-won the IBM-Vienna Invitational Open in 1986 with Korchnoi (first on tie-break), ahead of luminaries such as Karpov, Spassky, Nunn and Zsuzsa Polgar. He won several other major Open tournaments (Swiss System), e.g. the famous Lloyds Bank Open in London in 1985, the Bled Open in 1996, or the traditional Politiken Cup in 2002, with Tiviakov as the winner in the tie-break. In 2015, at the age of 62, he won the HIT Open Nova Gorica (Slovenia).

Four times USSR Champion

Beliavsky won the USSR Chess Championships four times, namely in 1974 (with Mikhail Tal), 1980-81 (with Lev Psakhis), 1987 (defeating Valery Salov in a play-off) and 1990 (he shared first place with Leonid Yudasin, Evgeny Bareev and Alexey Vyzmanavin, but won on tiebreak as there was no play-off). Beliavsky is also a multiple Slovenian champion (he won his first title in 1996 and later again). Only Botvinnik and Tal have won more Soviet championships, but Petrosian and Korchnoi also have four titles.

World Championship Candidate

As runner-up to Garry Kasparov at the Moscow Interzonal in 1982, Beliavsky qualified for the Candidates, though he to the eventual winner and future World Champion Garry Kasparov in the quarter-finals of the 1983 Candidates Tournament. Beliavsky also finished second at the Tunis Interzonal in 1985, this time behind Artur Jussupov, and qualified for the subsequent Candidates tournament in Montpellier in 1985, where Beliavsky narrowly missed out on a place in the top four. In the following Candidates cycle, he finished a clear fifth at the Interzonal in Szirak in 1987. Beliavsky did not participate in the last two Interzonals in Manila in 1990 and in Biel in 1993.

Alexander Beliavsky in 1986 when he became clear winner of the Tilburg tournament | Photo: Rob Gerrits, Anefo

Longtime team player – Multiple Gold medalist

At the second USSR vs. Rest of the World match in London in 1984, Beliavsky was the ultimate top scorer for the victorious Soviet team with 3.5 out of 4, defeating Yasser Seirawan 2-0 and Bent Larsen 1½-½.

He was a four-time member of the gold medal winning USSR team at the Chess Olympiads in 1982, 1984, 1988 and 1990 (in 1986, despite winning in Tilburg, Beliavsky was ultimately not selected by his own federation, while the much lower-rated Vitaly Tseshkovsky got a place as the then reigning USSR champion). In 1992 Beliavsky played for Ukraine, and between 1996 and 2016 he played for Slovenia.

At the first two editions of the Men's World Team Chess Championship in Lucerne in 1985 and 1989, Beliavsky won the individual and team gold medals for the Soviet Union twice. He was also a member of the winning USSR team at the 1983 and 1989 European Men's Team Chess Championships, playing for Ukraine in 1992 and then every two years from 1997 to 2011, and again for Slovenia in 2015 and 2017.

Beliavsky at the Chess Olympiad 2016 in Baku | Photo: Andreas Kontokanis via Wikipedia

The Dinosaur

Beliavsky entered the Top 100 in 1975, and his last top 100 ranking was in December 2013, at the age of 60. At that time he was by far the strongest active chess player in the world of that age - and he continues to play frequently.

Beliavsky was a regular top five player in the mid and late 1980s and a top ten player throughout the 1980s and occasionally in the 1990s, with a peak ranking as no. 3= in (July) 1985, and a clear no. 4 in the world in (January and July) 1988. It tends to be somewhat erratic. In January 1996 his rating temporarily dropped to 2615. A sign of Beliavsky's resilience is that he was able to work his way back up to 2710 in the July 1997 list and then reached his peak rating, being ranked no. 8 in the world.

Beliavsky's career has seen success and a few setbacks, but he has always been there!

Beliavsky at age of 65 at the Sunway Sitges Open 2018. His opponent is German IM Peter Meister, a regular guest in Sitges near Barcelona. | Photo: Official Website

Uncompromising chess

Beliavsky is known for his powerful and creative style of play, combined with a classical opening repertoire, including openings such as the Queen's Gambit, Ruy Lopez, the French Defence or the Two Knights Defence. Beliavsky is a formidable attacker  and a fierce fighter who plays to the end with a deep aversion to grandmaster draws. On more than one occasion, his maximalist aspirations have led him to throw away a first place finish rather than win with a quick draw. In 1998 Beliavsky published his book "Uncompromising Chess", a title that encapsulates his chess creed.

Beliavsky is a prolific and successful writer, especially on modern endgame theory and technique, often collaborating with Adrian Mikhalchishin. A first-class composer of endgame studies, Beliavsky has also won many first prizes in composition tournaments and is a notable chess coach and senior trainer, who e.g. has worked as a second for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Beliavsky also worked for Kasparov during the 1993 World Championship title match between Kasparov and Short.

Lviv – the chess capital of Ukraine. The picture shows legendary Mikhalchishin, Romanishin, and Beliavsky. Photo: Vladimir Grabinsky,

More inspirational games from Big Al:

Beliavsky vs. Larsen 1-0, Tilburg 1981:

Beliavsky vs. Kasparov 1-0, Candidate's qf, Moscow 1983:

Beliavsky vs. Gelfand 1-0, Linares 1992:

Beating nine World Champions

Paul Keres, Viktor Korchnoi, and Alexander Beliavsky, are the only players to have defeated 9 undisputed World Champions in a classical game. | Photo: ChessBaseIndia

  • Keres defeated Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Fischer.
  • Korchnoi defeated Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov and Carlsen.
  • Beliavsky defeated Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand and Carlsen.

Should Fabiano Caruana ever become World Champion, Korchnoi and Beliavsky would have beaten 10 World Champions.

Note: The list only includes undisputed World Champions (FIDE Champions such as Khalifman, Kasimdzhanov, Ponomariov, Topalov are not included). The list is also limited to classical chess, rapid, blitz, or simuls are not included. Of course, the world champions have a handicap to beat this record as they cannot win against themselves.

Happy birthday, health and happiness to Grandmaster Alexander Beliavsky, the chess community hopes to see you again in a game over the board!

Photo: Beliavsky at the European Individual Chess Championship 2022 in Terme Čatež, Slovenia | Photo: Official website, ŠZS/Luka Rifelj

Some data are taken from the site, maintained by the author.

Eduard Frey was born in spring 1967, is an economist (lic. et mag. rer, pol.) and works as a coach in human resources. He learned the game as a child from his father. Chess is a hobby without rating. He has been a frequent visitor to the Biel Chess Festival since 1976, as well as to Lucerne (1982 Olympiad, and the 1985, 1989, 1993, 1997 World Team Championships), and to the international tournaments in Zurich or the Lugano Open series. Frey spoke with many top players; he knew Viktor Korchnoi, Wolfgang Uhlmann and Mark Taimanov more closely.