Eduard Y. Gufeld – the ultimate chess romantic

by Elmer Dumlao Sangalang
4/18/2016 – Eduard Y. Gufeld is one of the more interesting personas of twentieth century world chess. His untimely demise in 2002 was a great loss to the chess world. Eduard would have turned eighty this March, and friend Elmer Sangalang honors him with and article aimed at the younger generation of ChessBase readers, who should not forget that chess is not all about winning but, more importantly, about creating a work of art.

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.


A Chess Romantic

International Grandmaster Eduard Gufeld visited the Philippines for the last time in 1994. It was his fourth time in our country. For two months in 1985 he trained our international players to help them achieve better tournament results; in 1990, as journalist, he covered the Manila Interzonal Tournament; in the 1992 Manila Chess Olympiad he coached the Malaysian Men’s Olympic Team; and during his final two and a half months (1993-94) in the Philippines, he lectured on chess under the sponsorship of our leading chess club.

I attended many of GM Gufeld’s chess lessons. In the course of our frequent meetings, we became very good friends. My close association with him allowed me access to much personal information and enabled me to gather enough material to write an intimate article about him that got incorporated into his book of selected games. It was he who made me realize that each chessplayer has his own place in the chess world. Not everyone can become a world champion and, therefore, should not even aspire to be one; but each one can play an important role for the popularization and further development of chess. One can contribute his share by being an author, an organizer, a sponsor, a trainer, a promoter, etc. More significantly, he opened my eyes, for the very first time, to the fact that it is chess as art that will make it survive the test of time.

Elmer Sangalang and his friend Eduard Gufeld

These insights of GM Gufeld should attract more people to chess. They should play, not so much for the prize money they stand to gain by winning in tournaments but, more importantly, for the pure enjoyment they can derive from it as an art form. People should actively participate in the popularization of the game, not merely as players, but in various capacities as well.

It was also Eduard who argued with me that the Elo Rating System could be greatly improved. While we agreed that there are at least three principal elements in chess – art, science and sport, he proposed to measure a chessplayer’s real value in terms of all these elements. The Elo Rating objectively measures only the sporting component. “But what about the art and science of chess? Admittedly they are subjective features; still, they should be quantifiable relative to a given set of standards. Otherwise, as we have learned from other disciplines, it would not be possible to pick the winners of an art or music competition or choose the Nobel laureates in the sciences. For chess the artistic criterion could be the novelty of ideas and the scientific norm might be the accuracy of play.”

He suggested that the actual chess rating of a player should be computed as a combination of his ratings in all three components. “For in the end, the true value of a chessplayer to the chess world lies not merely in his superiority as a sportsman but also in his contribution of novel ideas that enhance chess development, and the creation of beautiful games that provide aesthetic pleasure.”

Eduard Yefimovich Gufeld was born in Kiev, Ukraine, on March 19, 1936. He was fondly called Eddie or Edik by friends and admirers, of which there were legions in every country he had visited. Everywhere Eduard went he made a lot of friends. He had the perfect ingredients for winning them: cheerfulness in disposition, gentlemanliness in character, graciousness in manners, and an infectious sense of humor. Who would not double up or be won over when in conversation he would self-deprecatingly explain that his was the least understood of the three types of English: Oxford, pidgin and Gufeld English. And in the same breath would say, “Let us speak in English, because it is better than your Russian.” A Dutch friend of his remarked, “I cannot think of anyone who had the ability to transform a room by creating an instant joyous atmosphere with his sense of humor, his way of disarming shy and sometimes reserved – even hostile – people.”

He learned chess at the late age of 14, became a national master at 22, an international master at 28 and gained his grandmaster title in 1967 when he was 31, an advanced age by present standards, because he had been discriminated against and denied early exposure to international events where title norms are awarded. To the enduring fortune of chess, Eduard chose to pursue a career that did not require regular participation in tournament competitions and so was able to focus on the artistic aspect of the game. For more than fifteen years, he coached the renowned supergrandmaster Yefim Geller who, during this period, consistently qualified in candidates matches for the world championship. In several Olympiads, he served as trainer, coach or captain of the victorious USSR Men’s Chess Olympic Team. For his outstanding contributions to the Soviet School of Chess, he was awarded the title of Merited Coach of Georgia and the Soviet Union. Only after he had become a well-known coach for Maya Chiburdanidze, Women’s World Champion (1978-1991), could he really travel overseas a great deal. But then he could not play so much.

Nonetheless, Eduard had many outstanding tournament results. He was twice a member of the Soviet teams that won the World Students’ Championship. He won first place in international tournaments such as Tbilisi 1974, Barcelona 1979, Tbilisi 1980, Havana 1985, Wellington 1988, Canberra 1988 and Alushta 1993. Included among his collection of best games are beautiful wins against prominent players as well as world champions.

In every tournament Eduard joined, his primary concern was to play his most brilliant game yet. It mattered not whether he won or lost in the process. He did not appear interested in landing the top spot. That attitude certainly contributed to the convivial atmosphere of the competition. But there were unpleasant moments, too. He was emotionally impetuous as most artists are. When he was indignant or upset, he would be heard exclaiming, “This is not chess!”

At the Lucerne Chess Olympiad in 1982, Eduard Gufeld watches Garry Kasparov analyse with Maia Chiburdanidze. Other onlookers are Nana Ioseliani, Nona Gaprindashvili and Nana Alexandria – standing many-times Latvian champion Aivars Gipslis

In an interview with Jerry Hanken, a noted American chess writer, Eduard was asked to explain what then is chess? He clarified, “Chess is a great art; there should be no tricks. Playing two-minute games for the ‘world championship’ certainly isn’t chess. Why not eliminate all the pieces altogether and just bang the clock back and forth? It is not chess when the results on the board and on the clock are out of sync. How can a mechanical instrument become more important than our brain? Sudden death time controls have destroyed the prestige of chess.” He continued, “There is no absolute right to the title ‘champion’. What is important is who is great, like in music – we have no champion, but we have Mussorgsky, Gershwin, Tchaikovsky. I don’t care who is considered world champion right now. I just want to see the great games – the chess art – that the best players produce. Clocks have nothing to do with quality. I was in Seville, Spain, during the Kasparov-Karpov match in 1987. During the last seconds of the last game, if Karpov’s knight goes to the right he becomes champion, but it went to the left and Kasparov retained his title. Championships should not be decided this way! Chess is like music – the artistic element should come first.” It was his contention that the real winner in a tournament is not the player who bagged the top monetary prize for sporting results but the one who played the most beautiful game. It is this game that is anthologized, and together with its players, remembered forever.

Here is a Eduard Gufeld in a historical video expounding and illustrating his opinion that the winner of a tournament is not just the player who makes the most points, but the one that plays the best game.

Prior to the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, the typical Soviet grandmaster lived a comfortable life. Eduard belonged to the intelligentsia, received a state pension and had great political influence. After the breakup, the government withdrew its support and many grandmasters, for lack of work opportunities in the economically devastated ex-Soviet republics, immigrated to other countries. For some years, he spent much time in Malaysia under the patronage of his good friend, Dato Tan Chin Nam. To earn his keep, he assumed coaching duties to young and talented chessplayers and gave lectures in chess clubs and schools to promote chess education and culture.

Eduard was an experienced lecturer. He was articulate and his command of the English language was excellent. Government and private institutions in close to two dozen countries had played host to his animated and entertaining lectures. An impressed student, after attending one of these, could not contain his excitement and remarked that it was like watching a movie. Eduard’s absolutely novel style of teaching – utilizing analogies between situations on the chessboard and events in real life – evoked enthusiastic response from his audience and positive reviews from various print media.

In October 1995, Eduard went to the United States of America to visit his sister Lydia Valdman who lives in Los Angeles, California. He got to like the balmy climate of that western state and found work there. He formed the GM Gufeld Chess Academy in his modest apartment building in North La Brea Avenue, where he gave chess lessons and played simultaneous exhibitions for a fee. He also coached professionally. He had many students and his academy was doing well. “But if I had help with promotion, it could do even better. I need a promoter to help me get in to talk to school principals! Having 5,000 kids making random moves – that’s not chess!”

Eduard competed in nearly all of the major open tournaments in the United States of America. He won first places in the 1998 Western States Championship in Reno, Nevada, and in the prestigious 35th American Open in 1999. “I tried to play my best, while celebrating my 64 years, and indeed I won the last American Open of the millennium!” For this feat his portrait graced the cover of February 2000 issue of the USCF’s Chess Life Magazine, aptly captioned, “The Beauty of Chess”.

Eduard was a prolific chess writer, erudite in all the aspects of the game. Before I lost count, by the year 2000 he had written 57 books on diverse topics of chess – biographical, theoretical, practical, scholastic – translated in different languages. His bestsellers are the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings in the Russian language and his autobiographical magnum opus, affectionately dedicated to his mother (Eva Yulievna Klava), My Life In Chess. This latter book is unique in chess literature. Every game presented therein is introduced by an inscription that honors a particular friend. At least six different editions of the book are in circulation. Two of them are in Russian, three in English (translated by his Oxford-educated stepson Valery Kakeleshweli) and one in Spanish. One of the English versions was published here. When Eduard ran out of copies for use in his academy, I would receive an overseas call from him requesting me to replenish his stock.

I had not heard from Eduard for a long while. He never sent me an e-mail. He did not have an account. A mutual friend of ours living in California did the service of communicating with me on his behalf. According to our friend, Eduard seemed to have a phobia operating a computer. Or perhaps, he did not want to have to type his complex Gufeld English.

On September 18, 2002, I received a message about the state of Eduard’s health. He had suffered from a stroke following a heart attack and the failure of those around him (he was at a card game) to administer CPR. He was in critical condition in Midway Hospital in Los Angeles. Every other day, an updating e-mail followed. I dreaded opening them but had to muster the courage to face reality. Hope glimmered when I read that he momentarily came out of coma and managed to squeeze his mother’s hand. He was to be transferred to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. I wanted to believe he was strong enough to be moved. The next e-mail reported that for two days he had remained unresponsive and was running a fever. In the afternoon of September 23, 2002, Eduard quietly passed away. His mortal remains repose in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

I greatly miss my beloved friend. I was his best friend from my other part of the world, Eduard would warmly say. And he dedicated to me the game he won over Boris Spassky, my chess hero. I lost a very dear friend in Eduard but chess lost so much more. For seldom will there be found a multi-talented chess personality who is at once a grandmaster by title, chess journalist by education, chess author by avocation, chess promoter by profession, chess coach by choice, FIDE official by merit and chess artist by nature.

Dearest Eddie, you will live in the heart and memory of the world chess fraternity for as long as chess is synonymous with beauty. That is, forever.

Below is GM Eduard Gufeld’s immortal game which is known in chess circles as the “Gufeld’s Mona Lisa”. No other game ever gave him so much satisfaction – whenever he replayed it, he forgot all his misfortunes and enjoyed his dream that came true. The annotations by Gufeld and Geller are to be found in Mega Database.

[Event "URS-ch sf"] [Site "Kirovabad"] [Date "1973.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Bagirov, Vladimir"] [Black "Gufeld, Eduard"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E84"] [Annotator "Gufeld/Geller"] [PlyCount "64"] [EventDate "1973.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "15"] [EventCountry "URS"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2008.11.26"] 1. d4 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. e4 Nf6 5. f3 O-O 6. Be3 Nc6 7. Nge2 Rb8 8. Qd2 a6 9. Bh6 b5 10. h4 e5 11. Bxg7 Kxg7 12. h5 Kh8 (12... bxc4 13. Nd5 (13. hxg6 $2 fxg6 14. Qh6+ Kg8 15. Nf4 (15. Nd5 Rf7) 15... exf4 16. Bxc4+ Kh8 17. Nd5 Nh5 ) 13... Nxd5 14. hxg6 Nf4 (14... Nf6 15. Qh6+ Kg8 16. g7 Re8 17. Ng3 exd4 18. Nh5 Nxh5 19. Qxh5 (19. Rxh5 Bf5 20. Rxf5 Re6) 19... Kxg7) 15. Nxf4 exf4 16. Qxf4 hxg6 17. Qh6+ Kf6 18. Qh4+ Kg7 19. Qh6+ Kf6 $11 {:Geller}) 13. Nd5 $1 bxc4 $1 14. hxg6 fxg6 15. Qh6 Nh5 $1 (15... Rf7 $2 16. Qxg6 Qg8 17. Qxf6+ $1 Rxf6 18. Nxf6 $16) 16. g4 (16. O-O-O Nxd4 (16... Rf7 $1 17. g4 Nf6 18. Qxg6 Qg8 $1 19. Qxg8+ Nxg8 $132 {:Gufeld} 20. Rh3 a5 $1 21. Ne3 Ba6 22. d5 Nb4 23. Nc3 Nd3+ 24. Bxd3 cxd3 25. b3 Ne7 26. Kd2 Ng6 27. Nf5 Nf4 {:"64"}) 17. Rxd4 exd4 18. Nef4 $1 Rxf4 (18... Rg8 19. g4 Rg7 $2 (19... c6 20. gxh5 cxd5 21. Nxg6+ Rxg6 22. hxg6 Rb7 23. Qf4 $16 (23. exd5 $16)) 20. gxh5 g5 21. Ng6+) 19. Nxf4 Qg8 20. Nxg6+ Qxg6 21. Qf8+ Qg8 22. Qxg8+ Kxg8 23. Bxc4+ Kg7 24. Rxh5 c6 25. Rg5+ $16 { :Geller}) 16... Rxb2 $1 17. gxh5 g5 18. Rg1 g4 $1 19. O-O-O $1 Rxa2 20. Nef4 { (?!!:Gufeld)} (20. dxe5 Nxe5 21. Nef4 Kg8 $1 22. Ng6 hxg6 23. hxg6 Qd7 24. Rh1 Ra1+ 25. Kb2 Qb5+ 26. Kxa1 Qa4+ 27. Kb2 Qb3+ 28. Kc1 Qa3+ 29. Kc2 (29. Kd2 $4 Qb2+ 30. Ke1 (30. Ke3 Rxf3#) 30... Nxf3#) 29... Qb3+ 30. Kc1 $11 {:Geller}) ( 20. Bh3 Rxe2 21. Bxg4 Rf7 $1 22. Bxc8 Qxc8 23. Nf6 $1 Qb8 $1 24. Rg8+ Qxg8 25. Nxg8 Nb4 $1 26. Rd2 Re1+ 27. Rd1 (27. Kb2 $2 Rxf3) 27... Re2 $11) 20... exf4 21. Nxf4 (21. Bxc4 Ra1+ 22. Kb2 Rxd1 23. Rxd1 $1 Rg8 24. Nf6 Rg7 25. Bg8 $1 Qe7 26. Bxh7 Rxh7 27. Nxh7 Qxh7 28. Qf8+ Qg8 29. Qh6+ Qh7 $11) 21... Rxf4 $1 22. Qxf4 c3 $1 (22... Ra1+ 23. Kd2 c3+ 24. Ke1 Rxd1+ 25. Kxd1 Nxd4 26. Bc4 $36) 23. Bc4 (23. Qf7 $2 Nb4 24. Bd3 Ra1+ (24... Be6 $145 $3) 25. Bb1 c2 $2 (25... Be6 $1) 26. Kb2 cxd1=Q 27. Rxd1) 23... Ra3 $1 (23... Ra4 24. Bb3 Ra3 25. Kc2 a5 $1) (23... Ra1+ $2 24. Kc2 Nxd4+ 25. Rxd4 Rxg1 26. Qe5+ $1) 24. fxg4 (24. Rg2 $2 Nb4 25. Kb1 c2+ 26. Rxc2 Rxf3 $19) 24... Nb4 25. Kb1 $1 Be6 $3 26. Bxe6 Nd3 27. Qf7 (27. Rxd3 $2 Qb8+ 28. Kc2 Qb2+ 29. Kd1 Ra1+ 30. Qc1 Rxc1#) 27... Qb8+ 28. Bb3 Rxb3+ 29. Kc2 Nb4+ $1 30. Kxb3 (30. Kc1 Rb1+ $1 31. Kxb1 Nd5+ 32. Kc2 Qb2+ 33. Kd3 Qb5+ 34. Kc2 Qe2+ $19) 30... Nd5+ $1 31. Kc2 Qb2+ 32. Kd3 Qb5+ (32... Qb5+ 33. Kc2 Qe2+ 34. Kb3 Qb2+ 35. Kc4 Qb5#) 0-1

This is the game Eduard dedicated to me in his autobiographical game anthology, My Life In Chess (published in 1994 by International Chess Entrprises).

[Event "URS-ch27"] [Site "Leningrad"] [Date "1960.??.??"] [Round "13"] [White "Gufeld, Eduard"] [Black "Spassky, Boris V"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C11"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventDate "1960.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "19"] [EventCountry "URS"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. e4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. e5 Nfd7 4. d4 e6 5. Nf3 c5 6. dxc5 Nc6 7. Bf4 Bxc5 8. Bd3 h6 9. Bg3 a6 10. O-O b5 11. Re1 O-O 12. Ne2 b4 13. c3 bxc3 14. bxc3 a5 15. Nf4 Ba6 16. Bc2 Rc8 17. Qd2 Re8 18. Nh5 Bf8 19. Rac1 Ne7 20. Nd4 Nc5 21. Bh4 Qd7 22. Bxe7 Qxe7 23. Re3 Red8 24. Rg3 Kh8 25. Qf4 Nd7 26. Ba4 Nxe5 27. Qxe5 Qc7 28. Qe3 e5 29. Nf3 e4 30. Qd4 exf3 31. Rxg7 Qc5 32. Qg4 Rd6 33. Rg8+ Kh7 34. Bc2+ 1-0

Elmer Dumlao Sangalang studied engineering, taught mathematics and taught engineering courses at the university level, then entered the corporate world, becoming an actuarial specialist. Now retired, he performs consulting work in actuarial and applied mathematics. Elmer was one of the co-creators and consultants regarding FIDE's Elo rating system.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register