Happy Birthday to Grandmaster Jozsef Pinter, a legendary player from the golden era of Hungarian chess

by Eduard Frey
11/9/2023 – Jozsef Pinter is 70 years old today. He is known as a long-standing and important member of the Hungarian team, having won several strong international tournaments during his career, as well as an individual gold medal at the 1984 Chess Olympiad and the first World Team Chess Championship in 1985. Pinter is also a distinguished writer and teacher.| Photo: sakkmezo.hu

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Jozsef Pinter was born in Budapest on 9 November 1953. This means that four great Hungarian players, namely Adorjan (born in 1950, he died this year in May 2023), Sax (born in 1951, he died in 2014), Ribli (born in 1951) and Pinter, were born within three years of each other! In many other countries, Pinter would have been number one or two for a long time.

Pinter was overshadowed by his compatriots Portisch (born 1937), Csom (born 1940, died 2021) and the aforementioned Adorjan, Sax and Ribli in terms of invitations to closed international tournaments, for example Pinter never played in Linares and never played in Wijk aan Zee-A. But Pinter had a significant influence on team events.

In his childhood, Jozsef first trained in fencing for three years before taking up chess seriously. Pinter became International Master in 1976 and Grandmaster in 1982. National champion in 1978 and 1979, he was a solid top fifty player in the 1980s, with a peak ranking of joint 22nd in 1985. Pinter achieved victories over Korchnoi, Larsen, Portisch, Ljubojevic, Beliavsky, Speelman and several other greats of his generation.

In later years, Pinter was a prominent trainer and leading lecturer at the Hungarian Junior Chess School, and served as captain or coach of national men's and women's teams at numerous events.

He is the author of several books (series), including 1000 Minor Piece Endings, 1000 Queen Endings, 1000 Rook Endings, 1000 Combinations or 7 Men.

Important tournament wins

Jozsef Pinter is thrice and record winner at Rome International Invitation series (“Banco di Roma”), he won Rome 1979 (outright), Rome 1982 (together with Viktor Korchnoi) and again Rome 1983 (outright).

1985 was definitively Pinter’s best year with three principal tournament wins:

  • Prague Zonal in February 1985, together with Mihai Suba and Vlastimil Jansa, surpassing Lubomír Ftacnik, Florin Gheorghiu, Andras Adorjan, Istvan Csom, Ivan Farago and others. 
  • Copenhagen in March 1985, Pinter's best performance according to Chessmetrics, finishing as clear first, 1.5 points ahead of 2.-4. Bent Larsen, Helgi Olafsson, Curt Hansen, followed by Vasily Smyslov, Nick DeFirmian, Johan Hjartarson, etc., in a rather strong international invitational tournament, organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Brønshøj chess club, the corresponding district being part of the municipality of Copenhagen.
  • Szirak in October 1985, together with Vladimir Tukmakov, ahead of Gyula Sax, Andras Adorjan, Kiril Georgiev, Anatoly Vaisser, Andronico Yap, Wolfgang Uhlmann, Rainer Knaak, Josef Klinger.
  • Pinter then reached his highest position as no. 22= in the July to December 1985 list. His highest rating of 2595 Elo followed much later in 1998, when he was ranked 88th in the world.

Pinter also won the Warsaw Zonal 1987, Leon GM 1989 (together with Zsuzsa Polgar), Beersheba 1991, Montpellier 1996 (together with Hichem Hamdouchi, ahead of Glenn Flear, including the young Etienne Bacrot), Budapest Zonal 2000 (played in the Swiss system, a five-way tie, but in the rapid play-off Pinter missed a place to advance), Baden, Switzerland, Casino Open 2000 (outright) or Dortmund A-Open 2000 (outright).

Winning the Dortmund A-Open in 2000. On the left, Helmut Kohls, the Director of the sponsoring Sparkassen. | Photo: Gerhard F. Hund

Pinter was an important runner-up at Szirak in 1986 (Lev Psakhis won, Pinter was the only runner-up behind Jesus Nogueiras, Ian Rogers, Andras Adorjan, Oleg Romanishin) and shared second place at the Dortmund Invitational in 1988 (with Daniel King, Smbat Lputin won).

Three times in a row participant in the Interzonals

Pinter qualified for an interzonal tournament three times in a row: 1982 in Las Palmas (Ribli won ahead of veteran Smyslov, two players to advance, former and/or future candidates missing were Larsen, Petrosian and Timman, in alphabetical order), 1985 in Taxco, Mexico (Timman won, 2. Nogueiras, 3. Tal, 4. Spraggett, four players to advance, Speelman missed) and 1987 in Zagreb (Korchnoi won ahead of 2./3. Ehlvest, Seirawan, three players to advance, Nikolic, Nogueiras, Miles, Polugaevsky and Torre missed out, again only former and/or future candidates).

Pinter always finished in a solid midfield position, but never managed to qualify for the Candidate's, unlike Portisch (eight times), Ribli (twice), Sax (twice) and Adorjan. Of course, these players were preceded in the first three Candidates' tournaments by Szabo, later Leko and not to forget Judit Polgar.

Match winner against the USSR

Pinter is the match winner for Hungary against USSR, WTCC 1985 in Lucerne. | Photo: sakkmezo.hu

Hungary au grand complet at the first edition of the World Team Chess Championship, played in Lucerne in November 1985 on six boards (!), with eight players per nation, ten teams in all. Pinter won individual gold on board four and team silver with Hungary behind the USSR.

In the absence of the newly crowned World Champion Kasparov, Viktor Korchnoi was by far the best individual player, scoring the most points (7.5/9, six wins, three draws), the highest percentage score of all players (83.3%) and the highest performance (2805 Elo), more than a hundred points ahead of Miles on 2699 Elo.

Replay Pinter's decisive victory over Alexander Beliavsky, who will celebrate his 70th birthday in December 2023 (ChessBase will also honour him next month):

World elite

In the official FIDE Elo rating from July to December 1985 (half-year lists), Pinter arrived in the absolute world elite, looking back with nostalgia:

 1 Karpov 2720 (48 games from their first and abandoned title match 1984/85)
 2 Kasparov 2700 (48 games, Garry became the number one again in 1986)
 3 Timman 2640
 3 Beliavsky 2640
 5 Korchnoi 2630
 6 Portisch 2625
 6 Vaganian 2625
 8 Hübner 2620
 9 Ljubojevic 2615
10 Ribli 2605
11 Nunn 2600
11 Jussupow 2600
11 Polugaevsky 2600
14 Smyslow 2595
15 Andersson 2590
15 Romanishin 2590
15 Spassky 2590
18 Short 2575
19 Gawrikov 2570
19 Seirawan 2570
19 Dzindzichashvili 2570
22 Nikolic 2565
22 Tukmakov 2565
22 Larsen 2565
22 Pinter 2565
22 Smejkal 2565
22 Tal 2565
28 Miles 2560, a.o.
46 Adorjan 2535
46 Sax 2535

Five former, current or future world champions (Smyslov, Tal, Spassky, Karpov, Kasparov) in the top thirty. Kasparov and Karpov well ahead of the rest. Gavrikov is probably the least known Top Twenty player in this Elo list from July to December 1985.

The youngest player in the top twenty in 1985/II was Kasparov (*1963), followed by Short (*1965).

The oldest player in the top ten was, of course, Korchnoi (*1931), who was last in the top five at the age of 58 in 1989 (July-December list) and last in the top twenty at the age of 68 in 1999 (both half-year lists). The oldest top twenty player was, of course, Smyslov (*1921), who last appeared in a joint top twenty in 1986 (January to June list) at the age of 65.

There are no less than five Hungarians in the top fifty, two of them (Portisch and Ribli) in the top ten.

The highest rated player from the Hungarian Federation today is Sanan Sjugirov (Elo 2703, ranked no. 35 in the official Fide Elo list from November 2023), a Russian chess grandmaster who now represents Hungary. Remember that Richard Rapport has moved to the Romanian Federation. 

Lajos Portisch, Zoltan Ribli, Gyula Sax and Jozsef Pinter (in front) at the Dubai Olympiad in 1986.| Photo: Gerhard F. Hund

Important team player – Individual Gold at the Chess Olympiad  

Pinter took part in eight Olympics between 1980 and 1998, winning an individual gold medal for the best performance on board five in 1984 and a team silver medal in 1980.

Despite winning the national championship in 1978 and 1979, Pinter was not selected in 1978 when Hungary famously won gold: Portisch, Ribli, Sax, Adorjan and Csom played the first five boards, the nomination for the sixth board was a race between Vadasz, who got the place for the second reserve, Farago and Pinter. However, Laszlo Vadasz only played three games out of 14 rounds and after a loss in round 7 against Denmark, he had to take a break for the rest of the tournament.

Pinter was European Club Cup Champion in 1980-1982 and won the 3rd European Chess Club Cup with Spartacus Budapest.

He played for several clubs in different countries, e.g. in France, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Belgium and Switzerland.

Thirty years ago, when Garry Kasparov beat Nigel Short with distinction in their title match, the great Gazza wasn't far away from losing to Jozsef Pinter in the 1993 French Team Championship, Kasparov playing for Auxerre, Pinter for Montpellier. What a battle of 114 moves:

Brillancy against Portisch

Jozsef Pinter is well known for a 1984 brilliancy against Lajos Portisch in that year's Hungarian Championship:

Dennis Monokroussos writes on Pinter’s immortal game:

In the mid-1980s, Hungarian grandmaster Lajos Portisch was in the world's super-elite, while his countryman Jozsef Pinter was "only" a strong GM. In this game from the 1984 Hungarian Championship, however, the expected roles are reversed: while Portisch certainly didn't play poorly, Pinter's chess was brilliant.

In what looked like a position where Portisch would have all the fun, trying to milk a small edge in space and structure, Pinter proved that the dynamic factors had not yet been exhausted. The queens were off, but that didn't mean that it was an endgame or that Portisch's king was thereby immune to all danger.

Pinter was able to whip up a dangerous attack, and ironically, the crucial piece in that attack – the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back – was his own king!

Pinter pictured in recent years.| Photo: jochapress.hu

Happy birthday, health and happiness to Grandmaster Jozsef Pinter, the chess community hopes to see you in a cardinal role at the forthcoming Olympiad 2024 to be held next year in Budapest.


More articles by Eduard Frey...

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.