Alexander Tolush (May 1, 1910 – March 3, 1969): Attacking player and successful coach

by Dagobert Kohlmeyer
5/1/2020 – In the middle of the 20th century Alexander Tolush was one of the best Soviet players but was rarely allowed to play abroad. He was famous for his combinations and his brilliant attacking play but he is best remembered as a coach. He was trainer of Paul Keres and Boris Spassky and helped Spassky to become World Champion. Today, May 1, 2020, Tolush would have celebrated his 110th birthday. | Photo: Alexander Tolusch, right, in a game against Fridrik Olafsson

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Remembering Alexander Tolush

In the former Soviet Union there were many excellent chess players whose names are hardly known to the young generation of today.  Among them was the Grandmaster and renowned coach Alexander Tolush. He was born on May 1, 1910 in St. Petersburg. He was famous for his sharp attacking play and took part in ten USSR championships. In 1950 Tolush shared second in the Soviet Championship, behind Paul Keres, whom he coached from 1947 to 1955. He also coached Ludmilla Rudenko (from 1949-53) and Boris Spassky (from 1952-1960). Tolush also worked as a chess journalist and radio commentator. The grandmaster died in Leningrad on March 3, 1969.

Alexander Tolush spent almost his entire life in Leningrad except for his military service – during the World War II he was an officer in the Red Army. He also celebrated his first chess successes in his home town. Between 1938 and 1947 he won the Leningrad City Championships three times and in 1937 and 1954 he shared first place. In 1938 Tolush shared seventh place in the semi-final of the XI USSR Championship in Leningrad and qualified for the final which took place the following year – also in Leningrad. 18 participants took part, Tolush shared 15th to 16th place. The later World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik won.

1944, in his next Soviet Championship, Tolush was more more successful. He defeated, among others, the eventual tournament winner Botvinnik and finished seventh. In the Soviet Championships 1946 and 1947 Tolush finished fifth and in 1950, after his shared second place in the Soviet Championship, he became an International Master.

(from left to right) Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tolush, Keres, Geller, and Petrosian at the Maroczy Memorial 1952

Tolush (right, smoking) playing cards with Mark Taimanov during the Candidates Tournament Zurich 1953 (Source: Zurich Chess Club) 

Tolush's greatest success was his victory in the strong International Tournament in Bucharest 1953. He was clear first with 14.0/19 (+10, -1, =8) and only lost to Smyslov, but finished one point ahead of the field that included players such as Petrosian, Boleslavsky, Spassky, and Szabó. Due to this succes the FIDE awarded Tolush the Grandmaster Title.

Bucharest 1953: (from left to right) Boleslavsky, Smyslov, Petrosian, Tolush, and Spassky

Tolush was twice invited to the Soviet national team, with which he won the European Team Championship in Baden/Austria in 1957 and in Oberhausen in 1961.

Tolush was an excellent tactician and attacking player and won a lot of brillancy prizes. But he also had weaknesses in positional and maneuvering. But it was Tolush's tactical talent and his feeling for dynamic play that helped Boris Spassky, who was trained by Tolush for eight years, to become a universal player and World Champion in 1969.

Grandmaster Mikhail Yudovitch, a Soviet contemporary of Tolush said about him:

"Playing against Tolush was very interesting, but also difficult. He was a chess master who could create surprises that changed the character of the fight sharply. Alexander Tolush won and lost beautifully because he fought to the last pawn. In difficult positions he was able to find hidden traps and made things difficult for his opponent."

Here are some games that characterize Tolush's style. As a young man, before his chess career really took off, he defeated Capablanca in a simul.


Translation from German: Johannes Fischer


Boris Spassky: A chess legend turns seventy-five

Dagobert Kohlmeyer is one of the best known German chess journalists. For more than 25 years Kohlmeyer, who lives in Berlin, has been travelling all over the world to report about and to capture impressions of Chess Olympiads, World Championships, and top tournaments.


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