Congratulations! Rainer Knaak celebrates his 70th birthday

by Johannes Fischer
3/20/2023 – Rainer Knaak was born on 16 March 1953 in Pasewalk, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. In 1974, at the age of 21, Knaak became the then youngest grandmaster in the world. The mathematician is a 5-time champion of the German Democratic Republic, and always caused a stir with his optimistic and elegant attacking style. Knaak was also successful as an author. He published numerous books and began working for ChessBase in 1994. He was editor-in-chief of ChessBase Magazine and published a number of popular ChessBase DVDs.

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Rainer Knaak learned chess at the age of five from his father, who was a teacher and athletics coach by profession and loved to play chess. Knaak grew up in Forst/Lausitz, but at the age of 16 he moved to Leipzig for better training opportunities, where he still lives today.

Knaak’s chess talent showed early and developed continuously. In 1966 he became the Under-14 GDR (German Democratic Republic) Champion, and three years later the Under-18 GDR Champion. In 1971 the first IM norm followed, in 1973 the title of International Master. One year later, in 1974, at the age of 21, he became the then youngest Grandmaster in the world and won the GDR Championship for the first time. He impressed with his courageous attacking style, and many of his games were published in books and magazines.

However, the GDR’s restrictive sports policy prevented him from rising to the absolute top of the world. Since the GDR Sports Federation only promoted Olympic sports from 1972 onwards, GDR chess players were no longer allowed to travel to tournaments, Chess Olympiads and other tournaments in the West. There were simply no opportunities to compete with top international players.

In 1979, Knaak finished his mathematics studies and climbed to the 25th spot in the international world rankings with 2565 points. He worked as a computer scientist and chess professional and achieved numerous successes in tournaments in the GDR and in the countries of the Eastern Bloc.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Knaak started working for ChessBase in 1994. He is the author of numerous books and DVDs, among others on Emanuel Lasker, 100 years of chess history, the Trompowsky attack, and opening traps.

Rainer Knaak has played numerous remarkable games during his long career. Here we present three examples.

Perhaps Rainer Knaak’s most famous game is his victory over David Bronstein at the 1979 Keres Memorial in Tallinn. The game was voted as the second-best game of the previous semester by the Informator readers.



Knaak could not only attack, but also defend. This is shown by a game against the American grandmaster Larry Christiansen, played at the 1988 Chess Olympiad.



Why optimism can be good in chess is shown by the following attacking win over Oliver Reeh, who would later become his colleague at ChessBase.



After he retired, Knaak started playing again. In 2022, he won the gold medal at the 65+ Senior Team Championship with the Lasker Chess Foundation Berlin team. With a score of 7½ out of 9 on the top board, he contributed significantly to this success.

He proved that he still feels comfortable in sharp tactical positions in his game against Nikolay Legky, among others:



Presumably more successes and spirited attacking games will follow! Congratulations on your 70th birthday in any case!

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Tricks and traps, especially in the opening, are a dangerous reality of competitive chess. All sorts of surprises await the unwary player, from devastating sacrifices to cunning move order ploys. A knowledge of such ideas is essential if a player wants to be the hunter rather than the victim.


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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