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Nicolas Rossolimo

Full name Nikolai Spiridonovich Rossolimo
Country Russian Empire
United States
Born February 28, 1910
Kiev, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
Title International Master (1950)
Grandmaster (1953)

Nicolas Rossolimo (Russian: Николай Спиридонович Россолимо; February 28, 1910, Kiev - July 24, 1975, New York) was an American-French-Greek-Russian chess Grandmaster. He emigrated to France in 1929 and was many times champion of Paris. In 1952 he emigrated to the United States, and won the 1955 U.S. Open Chess Championship.

The Rossolimo Variation of the Sicilian Defence bears his name.

Biography and chess career

Nikolai Spiridonovich Rossolimo (Russian: Николай Спиридонович Россолимо) was born in Ukraine when it was part of the Russian Empire, to Spiridon Rossolimo, a Russian painter and portraitist of Greek ancestry, and his wife née Xenia Nikolaevna Skugarevskaya, an aristocratic writer and war correspondent. He was a nephew of the famous Russian neurologist and psychiatrist Grigory Ivanovich Rossolimo. He lived in Moscow during the mid-1920s, and moved to Paris with his Russian mother in 1929.

Having finished second behind former World Champion José Raúl Capablanca in a tournament in Paris in 1938, he won the French Championship in 1948. Moreover, he was Paris Champion a record seven times, and drew two matches in 1948 and 1949 with Savielly Tartakower. In 1955 he won the U.S. Open Championship held in Long Beach, California, on tiebreaks ahead of Samuel Reshevsky. The prize was a new Buick automobile.

Rossolimo played for France in the Chess Olympiads of 1950 and 1972, and for the United States in 1958, 1960, and 1966. He was awarded the International Master title in 1950 and the International Grandmaster title in 1953.

In 1952, he moved to the U.S. with his wife Véra and son Alexander to rejoin his mother and Greek father in New York. (After moving to the U.S., his first name was often spelled "Nicholas".) In New York he worked as a waiter, a taxi driver, played the accordion and worked as a singer, and ran a chess studio as well to support himself and his family. The legendary Rossolimo Chess Studio was located in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. It was somewhat like a café that served food and drinks, and also sold chess sets and books, but where members of the public - including famous artists such as Marcel Duchamp - could come and play chess with each other, and occasionally play Rossolimo himself for a fee (Rossolimo would play simultaneous chess with many of the patrons).

Rossolimo died of head injuries following a fall down a flight of stairs, just after finishing third in his final event, the 1975 World Open. He was buried in a Russian Orthodox cemetery in New Jersey.

Chess talent

a b c d e f g h
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Rossolimo-Reissman, position after 22...Kh8.

The strongest players Rossolimo defeated were Efim Bogoljubov, David Bronstein, and former World Champion Max Euwe, against whom he had two wins and a lifetime plus score. He also scored draws against four world champions: José Capablanca, Max Euwe, Bobby Fischer, and Vassily Smyslov. His highest ranking was 15th in the world, reached in December 1953.

Rossolimo won many brilliancy and "best-game" prizes for his beautiful chess games, and has been called an "artist of chess". He has been quoted to have said (here in translation): "I will fight for the art of chess. I shall not turn into a monster".

Here is one of Rossolimo's most celebrated brilliancies. Al Horowitz, the late chess columnist for The New York Times, called this game "a brilliancy of astonishing character, elegant and explosive".
Nicolas Rossolimo-Paul Reissman, San Juan 1967
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Bxd2+ 8.Nbxd2 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Qb3 Nce7 11.0-0 c6 12.Rfe1 0-0 13.a4 b6? 14.Ne5 Bb7 15.a5 Rc8 16.Ne4 Qc7 17.a6! Ba8 18.Qh3 Nf4 19.Qg4 Ned5 20.Ra3 Ne6 21.Bxd5 cxd5 22.Nf6+ Kh8 (diagram) 23.Qg6!! Qc2 24.Rh3! 1-0

The Boston Globe wrote: "The truly talented Nicolas Rossolimo played one of the most amazing moves ever in Rossolimo-Reissman: 23.Qg6!!".

a b c d e f g h
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Rossolimo Variation. Black will continue with 3...g6, 3...d6, or 3...e6.


One of Rossolimo's more enduring innovations is the variation of the Sicilian Defence which bears his name - the Rossolimo Variation: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 (see diagram). While generally steering clear of the tactical fireworks common to open Sicilians, the Rossolimo Variation offers White some chance of an opening advantage, while allowing the first player to sidestep massive quantities of theory associated with the open Sicilian.


Rossolimo wrote two books: Les Echecs au coin du feu, a collection of his studies and endgames with a preface by Savielly Tartakower, published in Paris in 1947; and Rossolimo's Brilliancy Prizes, self-published in New York in 1970. He also made a record of songs in Russian, French, and English, with an album cover designed by Marcel Duchamp and produced by the Kismet Record Company. He is the hero of a chapter in the book, Losing Moses on the Freeway. He also held a brown belt in judo and recorded an album of Russian songs.

Tournaments and matches

The following table gives Rossolimo's placings and scores in a number of major tournaments and matches. (The "Score" column gives the number of points / the total possible. The "+" indicates the number of won games, "−" the number of losses, and "=" the number of draws.)

Year City Tournament +W−L=D Score Place
1931 Paris Paris championship +11−3=2 12/16 3-4
1934 Paris Paris championship +12−0=2 13/14 1
1937 Paris Paris International Exposition 1
1938 Paris International tournament +6−1=3 7½/10 2
1939 Paris International tournament +9−0=5 11½/14 1
1947 Hilversum European Zonal tournament +5−5=3 6½/13 7-8
1948 Paris French championship +5−0=3 6½/8 1
1948 Beverwijk Corus chess tournament +3-2=4 5/9 3-4
1948 Bad Gastein International tournament +12−2=5 14½/19 2-3
1948 Paris Match with Savielly Tartakower +1−1=10 6/12 tie
1948/49 Hastings Hastings International Chess Congress +4−0=5 6½/9 1
1949 Southsea International tournament +8−0=2 9/10 1
1949 Heidelberg International tournament +4−1=4 6/9 2
1949 Trenčianske Teplice International tournament +9−4=6 12/19 4-5
1949 Gijón International tournament +9−0=2 10/11 1
1949 Venice International tournament +8−2=5 10½/15 2
1949 Paris Match with Savielly Tartakower +5−5=0 5/10 tie
1949/50 Hastings Hastings International Chess Congress +6−0=3 7½/9 2
1950 Beverwijk Corus chess tournament +4−1=4 6/9 2-3
1950 Gijón International tournament +7−1=3 8½/11 1
1950 Venice International tournament +7−2=6 10/15 3
1950 Amsterdam International tournament +5−2=12 11/19 8
1950 Mar del Plata Mar del Plata chess tournament +5−3=9 9½/17 8
1950 Dubrovnik 9th Chess Olympiad +7−1=4 9/12 2
1950/51 Hastings Hastings International Chess Congress +5−1=3 6½/9 2-3
1951 Reykjavík International tournament +6−0=3 7½/9 1
1951 Southsea International tournament +6−0=4 8/12 1-2
1951 Bilbao International tournament +9−0=0 9/9 1
1951 La Coruña International tournament 6½/8 1
1951 Vitoria International tournament +6−0=1 6½/7 1
1951 Birmingham Howard Staunton Memorial Tournament +4−2=9 8½/15 5-8
1952 Havana International tournament +9−4=7 12½/20 6
1952 Saarland International tournament 1
1952 New York Match with Arthur Bisguier +1−0=1 1½-½ won
1953 Milwaukee U.S. Open Chess Championship 3-8
1953 Beverwijk Corus chess tournament +7−0=4 9/11 1
1954 Hollywood Pan American Chess Championship 3-4
1954 New York U.S. Chess Championship +3−2=8 7/13 6-7
1955 Long Beach U.S. Open Chess Championship 10/12 1
1957 Tarragona International Tournament +6−1=2 7/9 2
1958 Munich 13th Chess Olympiad +6−1=8 10/15 3
1960 Leipzig 14th Chess Olympiad +2−1=3 3½/6
1965 New York U.S. Chess Championship 6/11 6
1966 Havana 17th Chess Olympiad +5−1=4 7/10
1967 Washington, D.C. Eastern Open Chess Championship +7−0=2 8/9 1
1967 Puerto Rico Puerto Rico Open +5−0=2 6/7 1
1968 Málaga International tournament 5½/11 6-9
1969 Monte Carlo All-grandmaster tournament 5½/11 7
1969 Vršac International tournament 8½/15 6-8
1972 Skopje 20th Chess Olympiad +7−6=4 9/17
1975 New York World Open chess tournament +7−1=1 7½/9 3