He played ten World Champions!

by Himank Ghosh
3/25/2024 – Take a look at this picture. It is not a Hollywood star, but a chess celebrity. Can you recognize him? Capablanca, Nezhmetdinov, Frank Marshall? No, not any of them! The answer is Andor Lilienthal, an extraordinary chess grandmaster, born in Moscow, but moved to Hungary. In his career, he played against ten world champions, and defeated six of them. Retrospect by Himank Ghosh. | Photo: Edward Winter's Chess Notes archives.

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Lilienthal! I vaguely recalled the name, when I was told who was the dashing gentleman in the picture. I had come across his name when I read about Lasker and Capablanca, and the games of that era. However, this photo quickly peaked my interest. Indeed, the guy looks like a protagonist in a Film Noir! Once I started reading about him, I realized I have been living under a rock. How did I not hear of him before – Andor Lilienthal lived till the age of 99, and holds the unique distinction of playing against ten male and female World Champions. Before his death in 2010, he was the only living player in the World to have defeated Jose Raul Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine!

 Historical pictures of Andor Lilienthal from Edward Winter's collection (Chess Notes 6569)

Lilienthal was among the first 27 original plasyers who were awarded the grandmaster title by FIDE in 1950. He was born on 5th May, 1911 in Moscow, but moved to Hungary soon afterwards.He represented Hungary in 3 Chess Olympiads, and moved back to USSR in 1935 where he played several Russian Championships. This man had a very unique chess career - he was a very strong player who defeated no less than six World Champions, qualified to the Candidates in 1948. Afterwards, he served as the trainer of two great Soviet World Champions – Tigran Petrosian and Vasily Smyslov!

I came across a very interesting story about Lilienthal's relationship with Bobby Fischer. When Fischer noticed Lilienthal in the audience at his 1992 return match against Boris Spassky, he greeted him with the remark "Pawn e5 takes f6!", a reference to Lilienthal's fantastic win against Capablanca in 1935. Fischer was hiding from the US authorities after this match - during this period, he stayed in Lilienthal's apartment in Budapest for a month! Fischer approved of only three chess players to carry his coffin at his funeral - Andor Lilienthal, Lajos Portisch, and Boris Spassky.

Lilienthal's home country Hungary went on to produce many great players - Judit Polgar, Peter Leko, Andras Adorjan, Lajos Portisch just to name a few! The Chess Olympiad 2024 will be held in Budapest, Hungary this year. I found Andre Lilienthal to be a fascinating character in my brief readings about him – if you have more stories/information resources about the great man, please email us at chessbaseindiasocial@gmail.com! Or you can read previous ChessBase stories about this extraordinary man: 

Himank Ghosh is an Engineering undergrad from the small city of Berhampore, West Bengal in India. Himank handles the social media pages of ChessBase India, also writing articles on various chess incidents and transcribing player interviews from time to time. He enjoys covering various chess tournaments and taking in-person/online interviews of chess players. Apart from chess, his prime interests lie in Bengali literature and 90s video games.