Outstanding: Paul Keres at the Chess Olympiad 1954

by Johannes Fischer
1/7/2021 – 105 years ago today, on January 7, 1916, Paul Keres was born. For more than 30 years, Keres was one of the world's best players, but although he finished second in four Candidates Tournaments, he never played a match for the World Championship. 105 years is not a round anniversary, but an occasion to look at a highlight of a long career. At the 1954 Chess Olympiad, Keres won gold with the Soviet Union team, and scored 13½/14 on board 4 - one of the best results ever achieved at Olympiads.

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Paul Keres at the Chess Olympiad 1954 in Amsterdam

The XI. Chess Olympiad was played in Amsterdam, from September 4 to September 25. After Dubrovnik in 1950 and Helsinki in 1952, it was the third Chess Olympiad after the war and the second post-war Olympiad in which the Soviet Union participated. In Dubrovnik, the Soviets had renounced possible Olympic glory, but in Helsinki in 1952 they took part and won their first gold medal. This was also the start of a new era, and until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Soviet teams won gold in all but one of the following Olympiads in which they started – only in Buenos Aires 1978 they finished second behind Hungary.

In Amsterdam Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov, David Bronstein, Paul Keres, Efim Geller and Alexander Kotov were part of the Soviet team, and they won smoothly. In the finals they won ten of their eleven matches and drew only against Hungary. But at that time board- and not team-points counted. Here, the six Soviet players scored 34 out of a possible 44 points, 7 more than the second-placed Argentines.

The entire team had an impressive performance, but the most successful player was Keres on board four: he scored 13½/14 and only drew against Zandor Nilsson from Sweden.

In his book "The Quest for Perfection" Keres writes about this achievement in his usual sober fashion, but also with a touch of euphoria:

"At the beginning of the Chess Olympiad in Amsterdam I once again found myself in good form. In this event I played without any sort of tension and without getting into time-trouble, in a style that was at once simple and clear. Everything worked together wonderfully, one win came after another and the end result was that [...] I achieved the absolutely best total of the Olympiad." (Paul Keres, The Quest for Perfection, Batsford 1997, p. 57).

He then presents two short, nice attacking wins – and both show the ease and the power with which Keres played in Amsterdam.

For all Keres fans:

The current ChessBase Magazine #199 includes an extensive chess portrait of the Estonian Grandmaster.

ChessBase Magazine 199

Special: AVRO 1938. "All in One": Anish Giri and Igor Stohl dissect two topical opening lines. Analyses from Norway Chess 2020 by Duda, Firouzja et al. Videos by Erwin l'Ami, Daniel King and Mihail Marin. 11 opening articles and much more!


Keres at the Chess Olympiad 1954 - Games



Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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pgnpioneer pgnpioneer 1/9/2021 01:19
Pilnik could have won with a queen sacrifice in move 40:+2.33 40. Dxe4+ Sg6 41. Dxe8 Lxe8 42. Lg4 fxe3 43. Lxh3 e2 44. Ta1 Se5 45. f4 e1=T+ 46. Txe1 Sf3+ 47. Kf2 Sxe1 48. Kxe1 b3 49. Kd2 Kg6 50. d6 La4 51. Kc1 Kf7 52. Kb2 g6 53. Kc3 Kf6 54. Lc8 Kf7
herr_doktor herr_doktor 1/8/2021 03:34
After his near disaster on Board 1 in Helsinki, 1952 (+3 =7 -2 with no Botvinnik), Paul had something to prove
and he duly delivered.
Johannes Fischer Johannes Fischer 1/8/2021 10:09
@EMeyer @Masquer
Thanks for writing. You are right. It is more precise to write "he never played a match for the World Championship". I changed the text.
Masquer Masquer 1/8/2021 08:41
Sorry, but Paul Keres did play for the World Championship in 1948, the 'match-tournament' that was won by Botvinnik. All he had to do was to finish first and he would have been WC.
EMeyer EMeyer 1/8/2021 03:27
In fact, he played for the World Championship in 1948.