Remembering Milan Vidmar

by André Schulz
10/10/2017 – Milan Vidmar was a phenomenom: Despite being an amateur, between 1910 and 1930 he was one of the world's top players and regularly finished among the top in world class tournaments. Vidmar was an electrical engineer by training and in this field he also made a career. He died 55 years ago, on October 9, 1962. | Photo: Slovenske Novice

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A world class amateur from Slovenia

Milan Vidmar 1930s

Milan Vidmar was born July 22, 1885, in Ljubljana, back then Austria-Hungary, after 1918 Yugoslavia, today known as Slovenia. After finishing school he studied engineering at the Technical University Vienna where he got a PhD in 1910. He then worked first for the Austrian company Elin, and after that for the Hungarian company Ganz. After the end of World War I, Vidmar was appointed as professor for electrical engineering at the Technical Faculty of the University of Slovenia in Ljubljana, a post he had till 1950. In the years 1929/1930 he was Vice Chancellor of the university, and after that dean of the technical faculty for five years.

In 1940 Vidmar was elected to become a member of the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Science, and for a time he also was president of the Academy. In 1948 he became General Manager of the newly founded Institute for Electrical Energy Engineering in Ljubljana. After his retirement Vidmar supported the institute as a consultant.

Photo: Veličan Bešter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Milan Vidmar had a successful career but he was also a successful chess player, and in contrast to the top players of his time he was a pure amateur. He reached his peak from 1911 to 1930. According to Jeff Sonas' historical ratings Vidmar is number 75 on the historical world ranking list — which, however, does not include results after 2004. From 1917 to 1923 Vidmar has a historical rating of 2731 and is number four on the historical rating — in 1917 behind Lasker, Capablanca and Marshall, in 1923 behind Capablanca, Alekhine and Rubinstein.

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The Mega Database 2017 includes 628 games by Vidmar. The first entries are from 1902 when he played an amateur tournament in Vienna. But in the main tournament of the 14th DSB-Kongress 1904, in Coburg, the 19-year old Vidmar was strong enough to share first place with Augustin Neumann. In the Master Tournament, Curt von Bardeleben, Carl Schlechter and Rudolf Swiderski shared first place (with 7½ / 12 each), but with players such as Rudolf Spielmann and Aaron Nimzowitsch the main tournament could also boast of a strong field. Incidentally, Nimzowitsch, who was considered to be a difficult person, was a long-time friend of Vidmar.

At the 15th DSB-Kongress, in Nürnberg, 1906, Vidmar played in the Master Tournament, but with 7½ / 16 he only finished in the middle, as did Tarrasch who also scored 7½ / 16. Frank Marshall won the tournament.

Biggest success: San Sebastian 1911

Vidmar's biggest sucess might well be the famous San Sebastian Tournament, in 1911, where he shared second place with Akiba Rubinstein behind the young Capablanca, who caused a sensation by winning the tournament. The 26-year old Vidmar played very solidly and lost only against Marshall. But he was able to score against the weaker players and won five of his fourteen games.

San Sebastian 1911

Participants of San Sebastian 1911, with Capablanca in the centre and Vidmar circled — for an interesting discussion of this photo see "Unsolved Chess Mysteries (28)" by Edward Winter

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He was a child prodigy and he is surrounded by legends. In his best times he was considered to be unbeatable and by many he was reckoned to be the greatest chess talent of all time: Jose Raul Capablanca, born 1888 in Havana.

In the same year Vidmar played in the International Karlsbad Tournament, a gigantic tournament with 26 participants, and many famous names among them. With 15 / 25 Vidmar finished seventh, but ahead of Tartakower, Alekhine and Spielmann. Richard Teichmann won with 18 /25, ahead of Akiba Rubinstein and Carl Schlechter. By the way: the allegedly peaceful Schlechter won 13 of his 25 games!

Vidmar was one of the players who, in the summer of 1914, took part in the 19th DSB-Kongress in Mannheim. During the tournament, on August 1, 1914, World War I began. The players debated what to do. Mieses proposed to continue the tournament in Switzerland. But in the end the tournament was aborted and the players were reimbursded. Alekhine, who was leading at that time, received 1,100 German Marks, and Vidmar, who was second, could leave with 850 German Marks. But as citizens of an enemy state the Russian players, among them Alekhine and Boguljubow, were interned by the German government.

World War I brought the chess life in Europe to a halt. But in 1918, when the war was still raging, Vidmar took part in the Four-Masters-Tournament in Berlin, organised by the publisher Bernhard Kagan. The other players were Rubinstein, Mieses and Schlechter. The tournament took place in the "Kerkau-Palast", a huge billiards and chess café. Vidmar won with 4½ / 6.

After the war, Vidmar was appointed as a professor but he still was very active in chess and played at least one tournament per year, usually scoring remarkably well. In London 1922, he finished third behind Capablanca and Alekhine. At the Christmas Congress 1925-26, in Hastings, he shared first place with Alekhine. And in Semmering 1926, he finished third behind Spielmann and Alekhine.

Alexander Alekhine (left) and Milan Vidmar (right) (Photo: Soloscachi)

In Semmering he won against Alekhine and this defeat cost Alekhine the tournament victory.


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Vidmar also was one of six participants at the tournament in New York 1927, a five-round all-play-all event where he finished fourth with 10 / 20. Capablanca won the tournament with 13 / 20. In Karlsbad 1929, a tournament with 22 participants, Vidmar shared fifth place with Albert Becker and Max Euwe.

Player, arbiter, author

In 1939 World War II began and interrupted the chess life in Europe once again. But after the war Vidmar continued to play in strong tournaments such as the Staunton Memorial in Groningen 1946 (which was won by Botvinnik), or the Yugoslavian Championship 1947, which took place in Vidmar's hometown Ljubljana. His last tournament is Opatija 1953 where the 68-year old finished last. But apart from his career as a player, Vidmar also was an arbiter, and the main arbiter an the World Championship tournament 1948 in The Hague / Moscow.

At the Chess Olympiad 1931, Vidmar played for the first time for Yugoslavia. He played on board one and Yugoslavia finished fourth. In 1950, Yugoslavia hosted the 9th Chess Olympiad — the first Olympiad after the war. The Soviet Union did not send a team and Yugoslavia went gold. On board 5 of the Yugoslavian team played a certain Milan Vidmar — behind Svetozar Gligoric, Vasja Pirc, Petar Trifunovic and Bralsv Rabar, but was the son of "our" Milan Vidmar. Milan junior also was a strong chess player and became an International Master. In 1950 the FIDE gave Milan Vidmar senior the title of an International Grandmaster.

It is remarkable that Vidmar was one of the best players of his time and yet also managed to make a distinguished career in his profession. He published a number of scientific articles about engineering and he also published books about chess. The best known is his memoir "Goldene Schachzeiten" (The Golden Times of Chess) in which Vidmar tells about his encounters with the great players of his time. Vidmar knew them all, and in his book he brings them back to life. For instance, reveals that Lasker was not particularly talented at Bridge which, however, did not stop him from being a bad loser.

Milan Vidmar died 55 years ago, October 9, 1962.

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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