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Paul Keres

Keres in 1969
Full name Paul Keres
Country Estonia
Soviet Union
Born January 7, 1916
Narva, Russian empire
Title Grandmaster
Peak rating 2615 (July 1971)

Paul Keres (January 7, 1916 - June 5, 1975) was an Estonian chess grandmaster and chess writer. He was among the world's top players from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s.

Keres narrowly missed a chance at a world championship match on five occasions. He won the 1938 AVRO tournament, which led to negotiations for a title match against champion Alexander Alekhine, but the match never took place due to World War II. After the war Keres was runner-up in the Candidates' Tournament on four consecutive occasions.

Due to these and other strong results, many chess historians consider Keres the strongest player never to become world champion and one of the greatest players in history. He was nicknamed "Paul the Second", "The Eternal Second" and "The Crown Prince of Chess". Keres, along with Viktor Korchnoi and Alexander Beliavsky, defeated nine undisputed world champions - more than anyone else in history.

Early life

Paul Keres

Paul Keres was born in Narva (then under supremacy of Russian Empire, now Estonia).

Keres first learned about chess from his father and his older brother Harald (afterwards a prominent physicist, who later told friendly jokes to his students: "I am not Paul's brother; Paul is my brother."). With the scarcity of chess literature in his small town, he learned about chess notation from the chess puzzles in the daily newspaper, and compiled a handwritten collection of almost 1000 games. In his early days, he was known for a brilliant and sharp attacking style.

Keres was a three-time Estonian schoolboy champion, in 1930, 1932, and 1933. His playing matured after playing correspondence chess extensively while in high school. He probably played about 500 correspondence games, and at one stage had 150 correspondence games going simultaneously. In 1935, he won the Internationaler Fernschachbund (IFSB) international correspondence chess championship. From 1937 to 1941 he studied mathematics at the University of Tartu, and competed in several interuniversity matches.

Pre-war years

Keres achieved a very good result at the age of 17 in a Master tournament at Tallinn 1933 with 5/7 (+5 −2 =0), tied 3rd-4th, half a point behind joint winners Paul Felix Schmidt and V. Kappe. Keres became champion of Estonia for the first time in 1935. He tied for first (+5 −2 =1) with Gunnar Friedemann in the tournament, then defeated him (+2 −1 =0) in the playoff match. In April 1935, Keres defeated Feliks Kibbermann, one of Tartu's leading masters, in a training match, by (+3 −1 =0).

Keres played on top board for Estonia in the 6th Chess Olympiad at Warsaw 1935, and was regarded as the new star, admired for his dashing style. His success there gave him the confidence to venture onto the international circuit.

At Helsinki 1935, he placed 2nd behind Paulin Frydman with 6½/8 (+6 −1 =1). He won at Tallinn 1936 with 9/10 (+8 −0 =2). Keres' first major international success against top-level competition came at Bad Nauheim 1936, where he tied for first with Alexander Alekhine at 6½/9 (+4 −0 =5). He struggled at Dresden 1936, placing only 8-9th with (+2 −4 =3), but wrote that he learned an important lesson from this setback. Keres recovered at Zandvoort 1936 with a shared 3rd-4th place (+5 −3 =3). He then defended his Estonian title in 1936 by drawing a challenge match against Paul Felix Schmidt with (+3 −3 =1).

Keres had a series of successes in 1937. He won in Tallinn with 7½/9 (+6 −0 =3), then shared 1st-2nd at Margate with Reuben Fine at 7½/9 (+6 −0 =3), 1½ points ahead of Alekhine. In Ostend, he tied 1st-3rd places with Fine and Henry Grob at 6/9 (+5 −2 =2). Keres dominated in Prague to claim first with 10/11 (+9 −0 =2). He then won a theme tournament in Vienna with 4½/6 (+4 −1 =1); the tournament saw all games commence with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 Ne4, known as the Dory Defence. He tied for 4-5th places at Kemeri with 11½/17 (+8 −2 =7), as Salo Flohr, Vladimirs Petrovs and Samuel Reshevsky won. Then he tied 2nd-4th in Pärnu with 4½/7 (+3 −1 =3).

This successful string earned him an invitation to the tournament at Semmering-Baden 1937, which he won with 9/14 (+6 −2 =6), ahead of Fine, José Raúl Capablanca, Reshevsky, and Erich Eliskases. Keres, in his autobiographical games collection, refers to this major event as a 'Candidates' Tournament', and claimed that he was recognized as a Grandmaster after winning it, although its parallel connection with later FIDE-organized Candidates' tournaments (from 1950 onwards) is not exact, and the Grandmaster title was not formalized by FIDE until 1950.

Keres tied for second at Hastings 1937-38 with 6½/9 (+4 −0 =5) (half a point behind Reshevsky), and at Noordwijk 1938 (behind Eliskases) with 6½/9 (+4 −0 =5). Keres drew an exhibition match at Stockholm 1938 with Gideon Ståhlberg on 4-4 (+2 −2 =4).

He continued to represent Estonia with success in Olympiad play. His detailed results for Estonia follow. Of note was the team bronze medal attained by Estonia in 1939; this was exceptional for a country with a population of less than two million people.

World Championship match denied

In 1938 he tied with Fine for first, with 8½/14, in the all-star AVRO tournament, held in various cities in the Netherlands, ahead of chess legends Mikhail Botvinnik, Max Euwe, Reshevsky, Alekhine, Capablanca and Flohr. AVRO was one of the strongest tournaments in history; some chess historians believe it the strongest ever staged. Keres won on tiebreak because he beat Fine 1½-½ in their individual two games.

It was expected that the winner of this tournament would be the challenger for the World Champion title, in a match against World Champion Alexander Alekhine, but the outbreak of the Second World War, especially because of the first occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union in 1940-41, brought negotiations with Alekhine to an end. Keres had begun his university studies in 1937, and this also played a role in the failed match.

Keres struggled at Leningrad-Moscow 1939 with a shared 12-13th place; he wrote that he had not had enough time to prepare for this very strong event, where he faced many Soviet stars for the first time. But he recovered with more preparation time, and won Margate 1939 with 7½/9 (+6 −0 =3), ahead of Capablanca and Flohr.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, Keres was in Buenos Aires for the Olympiad. He stayed on to play in a Buenos Aires international tournament after the Olympiad, and tied for first place with Miguel Najdorf with 8½/11 (+7 −1 =3).

His next event was a 14-game match with former World Champion Max Euwe in the Netherlands, held from December 1939 - January 1940. Keres won a hard-fought struggle by 7½-6½ (+6 −5 =3). This was a superb achievement, because not only was Euwe a former World Champion, but he had enormous experience at match play, far more than Keres.

With the Nazi-Soviet Pact having been concluded on August 23, 1939, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union on August 6, 1940. Keres played in his first Soviet Championship at Moscow 1940 (URS-ch12), placing fourth (+9 −4 =6) in an exceptionally strong field, placing him ahead of the defending champion Mikhail Botvinnik, among others. The Soviet Chess Federation organized the "Absolute Championship of the USSR" in 1941, with the top six finishers from the 1940 championship meeting each other four times; it was split between Leningrad and Moscow. Botvinnik won event, one of the strongest ever organized, with 13½/20, and Keres placed second with 11, ahead of Vasily Smyslov, Isaac Boleslavsky, Andor Lilienthal, and Igor Bondarevsky.

With the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Estonia came under German control soon afterwards. During 1942 and 1943, Keres and Alekhine both played in four tournaments organized by Ehrhardt Post, a President of Nazi Grossdeutscher Schachbund. Alekhine won at the Salzburg 1942 chess tournament (Six Grandmasters' Tournament) in June 1942, at Munich (European Individual Chess Championship) in September 1942, and at Prague (International Tournament) in April 1943, always ahead of Keres, who placed second in all three of those tournaments. They tied for first at Salzburg (Six Grandmasters' Tournament) in June 1943, with 7½/10.

During World War II, Keres played in several more chess tournaments. He won all 15 games at Tallinn 1942 (Estonian championship), and swept all five games at Posen 1943. He also won the Estonian title event held at Tallinn 1943, and Madrid 1944 (13/14, +12 −0 =2). He was second, behind Stig Lundholm, at Lidköping 1944 (playing hors concours in the Swedish Championship). Keres won a match with Folke Ekström at Stockholm in 1944 by 5-1 (+4 −0 =2).

Dangerous circumstances

The close of World War II placed Keres in dangerous circumstances. During the war, his native Estonia was successively occupied by the Soviet Union, Germany and again the Soviet Union. Estonia had been under Russian control when Keres was born in 1916, but it was an independent nation between the two world wars.

During World War II, Keres participated in several tournaments in European regions under German occupation, including those Nazi-organized (1942 Tallinn, Salzburg, Munich, 1943 Prague, Posen, Salzburg, Reval), and when the Soviets occupied Estonia in 1944, he unsuccessfully attempted to escape to western Europe. His 1942 Nazi newspaper interview was used for anti-Soviet propaganda. As a consequence, he was suspected of collaboration with the Nazis and questioned by the Soviet authorities. Keres managed to avoid deportation or any worse fate (e.g., that of Vladimirs Petrovs); however, he may have been held in detention; precise details are difficult to ascertain.

But his return to the international chess scene was delayed, in spite of his excellent form; he won at Riga 1944/45 (Baltic Championship) (10½/11). Presumably for political reasons, he was excluded from the ten-player Soviet team for the 1945 radio match against the U.S.A., and he did not participate in the first great post-war tournament at the 1946 Groningen tournament which was won by Botvinnik, just ahead of Euwe and Vasily Smyslov.

He won the Estonian Championship at Tallinn 1945 with 13/15 (+11 −0 =4), ahead of several strong visiting Soviets, including Alexander Kotov, Alexander Tolush, Lilienthal, and Flohr. He then won at Tbilisi 1946 (hors concours in the Georgian Championship) with a near-perfect score of 18/19, ahead of Vladas Mikėnas and a 16-year-old Tigran Petrosian.

Keres returned to international play in 1946 in the Soviet radio match against Great Britain, and continued his excellent playing form that year and the next year. Even after he resumed a relatively normal life and chess career, however, his play at the highest level appears to have been affected by living under the occupation of the Soviet Union, which at a minimum must have aggravated the stress of playing under the watchful eye and tight control of the Soviet chess hierarchy.

World Championship Candidate (1948-65)

Although he participated in the 1948 World Championship tournament, arranged to determine the world champion after Alekhine's death in 1946, his performance was far from his best. Held jointly in The Hague and Moscow, the tournament was limited to five participants: Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Paul Keres, Samuel Reshevsky, and Max Euwe. (Reuben Fine had also been invited but declined.) The event was played as a quintuple round-robin. Keres finished joint third, with 10½ out of 20 points. In his individual match with the winner, Botvinnik, he lost four of five games, winning only in the last round when the tournament's result was already determined.

Since Keres lost his first four games against Botvinnik in the 1948 tournament, suspicions are sometimes raised that Keres was forced to "throw" games to allow Botvinnik to win the championship. Chess historian Taylor Kingston investigated all the available evidence and arguments, and concluded that: Soviet chess officials gave Keres strong hints that he should not hinder Botvinnik's attempt to win the World Championship; Botvinnik only discovered this about half-way though the tournament and protested so strongly that he angered Soviet officials; Keres probably did not deliberately lose games to Botvinnik or anyone else in the tournament.

Keres finished second or equal second in four straight Candidates' tournaments (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962), making him the player with the most runner-up finishes in that event. (He was therefore occasionally nicknamed "Paul II".) Keres participated in a total of six Candidates' Tournaments:

Keres' run of four successive second places in Candidates' tournaments (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962) has prompted suspicions that he was under orders not to win these events. Taylor Kingston concludes that: there was probably no pressure from Soviet officials, since from 1954 onwards, Keres was rehabilitated and Botvinnik was no longer in favor with officials. At Curaçao in 1962 there was an unofficial conspiracy by Petrosian, Geller and Keres, and this worked out to Keres' disadvantage, since he may have been slightly stronger than both Petrosian and Geller at this stage. Bronstein, in his final book, published just after his death in late 2006, wrote that the Soviet chess leadership favoured Smyslov to win Zurich 1953, and pressured several of the other top Soviets to arrange this outcome, which did in fact occur. Bronstein wrote that Keres was ordered to draw his second cycle game with Smyslov, to conserve Smyslov's fading physical strength; Keres, who still had his own hopes of winning the event, tried as White to win an attacking game, but instead lost because of Smyslov's excellent play.

Three-time Soviet champion, career peak

In several other post-war events, however, Keres dominated the field. He won the exceptionally strong USSR Chess Championship three times. In 1947, he won at Leningrad, URS-ch15, with 14/19 (+10 −1 =8); the field included every top Soviet player except Botvinnik. In 1950, he won at Moscow, URS-ch18, with 11½/17 (+8 −2 =7) against a field which was only slightly weaker than in 1947. Then in 1951, he triumphed again at Moscow, URS-ch19, with 12/17 (+9 −2 =6), against a super-class field which included Efim Geller, Petrosian, Smyslov, Botvinnik, Yuri Averbakh, David Bronstein, Mark Taimanov, Lev Aronin, Salo Flohr, Igor Bondarevsky, and Alexander Kotov.

Keres won Pärnu 1947 with 9½/13 (+7 −1 =5), Szczawno-Zdrój 1950 with 14½/19 (+11 −1 =7), and Budapest 1952 with 12½/17 (+10 −2 =5), the latter ahead of world champion Botvinnik and an all-star field which included Geller, Smyslov, Gideon Ståhlberg, László Szabo, and Petrosian. The Budapest victory, which capped a stretch of four first-class wins over a two-year span, may represent the peak of his career. The Hungarian master and writer Egon Varnusz, in his books on Keres, states that at this time, "The best player in the world was Paul Keres".

Unmatched International team successes

After being forced to become a Soviet citizen, Keres represented the Soviet Union in seven consecutive Olympiads, winning seven consecutive team gold medals, five board gold medals, and one bronze board medal. Of note was his appearance on board one for the USSR in 1952, when the Soviets entered the event for the first time; Keres was the only Soviet team member with Olympiad experience (from his previous appearances for Estonia), and world champion Mikhail Botvinnik was not on the Soviet team. His four straight board gold medals from 1954-60 is an Olympiad record. Although not selected after 1964, Keres served successfully as a team trainer with Soviet international teams for the next decade. Altogether, in 11 Olympiads, playing for both the USSR and Estonia (counting the unofficial Munich 1936 event), and in 161 games, Keres accumulated a brilliant total of (+97 −13 =51), for 76.7%. His detailed Soviet Olympiad results are:

Gedeon Barcza (left) vs. Keres, European Team Championship 1961

Keres also appeared three times for the Soviet Union in the European Team Championships, winning team and individual gold medals on all three occasions. He scored 14/18 (+10 −0 =8), for 77.8%. His detailed Euroteams results are:

Keres also represented the USSR in many international team matches, in Europe and the Americas, with great success. He represented Estonia on top board with distinction in Soviet team championships, contested between regions.

Later career

Beginning with the Pärnu 1947 tournament, Keres made some significant contributions as a chess organizer in Estonia; this is an often overlooked aspect of his career.

Keres continued to play exceptionally well on the international circuit. He tied 1st-2nd at Hastings 1954-55 with Smyslov on 7/9 (+6 −1 =2). He dominated an internal Soviet training tournament at Pärnu 1955 with 9½/10. Keres placed 2nd at the 1955 Göteborg Interzonal, behind David Bronstein, with 13½/20. Keres defeated Wolfgang Unzicker in a 1956 exhibition match at Hamburg by 6-2 (+4 −0 =4). He tied 2nd-3rd in the USSR Championship, Moscow 1957 (URS-ch24) with 13½/21 (+8 −2 =11), along with Bronstein, behind Mikhail Tal. Keres won Mar del Plata 1957 (15/17, ahead of Miguel Najdorf), and Santiago 1957 with 6/7, ahead of Alexander Kotov. He won Hastings 1957-58 (7½/9, ahead of Svetozar Gligorić). He was tied 3rd-4th at Zürich 1959, at 10½/15, along with Bobby Fischer, behind Tal and Gligorić. He placed tied 7-8th in the USSR Championship, Tbilisi 1959 (URS-ch26) with 10½/19, as Petrosian won. Keres was third at Stockholm 1959-60 with 7/9. He won at Pärnu 1960 with 12/15. He was the champion at Zürich 1961 (9/11, ahead of Petrosian). At the elite Bled 1961 event, Keres shared 3rd-5th places, on 12½/19 (+7 −1 =11), behind only Mikhail Tal and Bobby Fischer. In the USSR Championship, Baku 1961 (URS-ch29), Keres scored 11/20 for a shared 8-11th place, as Boris Spassky won. Keres shared first with World Champion Tigran Petrosian at the very strong 1963 Piatigorsky Cup in Los Angeles with 8½/14.

Further tournament championships followed. He won Beverwijk 1964, with 11½/15, tied with Iivo Nei. He shared first place with World Champion Tigran Petrosian at Buenos Aires 1964, with 12½/17. He won at Hastings 1964-65 with 8/9. He shared 1st-2nd places at Marianske Lazne 1965 on 11/15 with Vlastimil Hort. In the USSR Championship at Tallinn 1965 (URS-ch33), he scored 11/19 for 6th place, as Leonid Stein won. He won at Stockholm 1966-67 with 7/9. At Winnipeg 1967, he shared 3rd-4th places on 5½/9 as Bent Larsen and Klaus Darga won.

At Bamberg 1968, he won with 12/15, two points ahead of World Champion Tigran Petrosian. He was 2nd at Luhacovice 1969 with 10½/15, behind Viktor Korchnoi. At Tallinn 1969, he shared 2nd-3rd places on 9/13 as Stein won. At Wijk aan Zee 1969, he shared 3rd-4th places on 10½/15, as Geller and Botvinnik won. He won Budapest 1970 with 10/15, ahead of Laszlo Szabo. Also in 1970, Keres's 3:1 win over Ivkov on the tenth board gave victory to the Soviet team in the match vs Rest of the World. He shared 1st-2nd at Tallinn 1971 with Mikhail Tal on 11½/15. He shared 2nd-3rd at Pärnu 1971, on 9½/13, as Stein won. He shared 2nd-4th at Amsterdam 1971 with 9/13, as Smyslov won. He shared 3rd-5th places at Sarajevo 1972 on 9½/15, as Szabo won. He placed 5th at San Antonio 1972 on 9½/15, as Petrosian, Lajos Portisch, and Anatoly Karpov won.

At Tallinn 1973, he shared 3rd-6th places on 9/15, as Mikhail Tal won. His last Interzonal was Petropolis 1973, where he scored 8/17 for a shared 12-13th place, as Henrique Mecking won. That same year, he made his last Soviet Championship appearance, at Moscow for URS-ch41, scoring 8/17 for a shared 9-12th place, as Boris Spassky won.


His health declined the next year, and he did not play any major events in 1974. Keres' last major tournament win was Tallinn 1975, ahead of Spassky and Friðrik Ólafsson, just a few months before his death.

He died of a heart attack in Helsinki, Finland, at the age of 59 (it is commonly reported that he died on the same date in Vancouver, Canada). His death occurred while returning to his native Estonia from a tournament in Vancouver, which he had won. He was buried at Metsakalmistu cemetery in Tallinn. The Paul Keres Memorial Tournaments have been held annually mainly in Vancouver and Tallinn ever since.

Over 100,000 were in attendance at his state funeral in Tallinn, Estonia, where the leaders of Estonia were on guard of honour, and FIDE President Max Euwe, his old friend and rival, was also present.

Chess legacy and writings

The unofficial Chessmetrics system places Keres in the top 10 players in the world between approximately 1936 and 1965, and overall he had one of the highest winning percentages of all grandmasters in history. He has the seventh highest Chessmetrics 20-year average, from 1944 to 1963.

He was one of the very few players who had a plus record against Capablanca. He also had plus records against World Champions Euwe and Tal, and equal records against Smyslov, Petrosian and Anatoly Karpov. In his long career, he played no fewer than ten world champions. He beat every world champion from Capablanca through Bobby Fischer (his two games with Karpov were drawn), making him the only player ever to beat nine undisputed world champions. Other notable grandmasters against whom he had plus records include Fine, Flohr, Viktor Korchnoi, Efim Geller, Savielly Tartakower, Mark Taimanov, Milan Vidmar, Svetozar Gligorić, Isaac Boleslavsky, Efim Bogoljubov and Bent Larsen.

He wrote a number of chess books, including a well-regarded, deeply annotated collection of his best games, Grandmaster of Chess ISBN 0-668-02645-6, The Art of the Middle Game (with Alexander Kotov) ISBN 0-486-26154-9, and Practical Chess Endings ISBN 0-7134-4210-7. All three books are still considered among the best of their kind for aspiring masters and experts. He also wrote several tournament books, including an important account of the 1948 World Championship Match Tournament. He authored several openings treatises, often originally in the German language, as listed by the Hungarian writer Egon Varnusz: Spanisch bis Franzosisch, Dreispringer bis Konigsgambit ISBN 4871875431, and Vierspringer bis Spanisch. He contributed to the first volume, 'C', of the first edition of the Yugoslav-published Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings (ECO), which appeared in 1974, just before his death the next year. Keres also co-founded the Riga magazine Shakhmaty.

Keres made many important contributions to opening theory. Perhaps best-known is the Keres Attack against the Scheveningen Variation of the Sicilian Defence (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.g4), which was successfully introduced against Efim Bogolyubov at Salzburg 1943, and today remains a topical and important line. An original system on the Black side of the Closed Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Nd7) was introduced by Keres at the 1962 Candidates' tournament, and it had a run of popularity for several years. He also popularized the Keres Defence (1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+). Another important system on the Black side of the English Opening was worked out by him; it runs 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 c6.

The Hungarian writer Egon Varnusz wrote that Keres "published 180 problems and 30 studies. One of his rook endings won first prize in 1947."

Keres won top-class tournaments from the mid-1930s into the mid-1970s, a span of 40 years, and won major events in western Europe, eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, South America, and North America. Botvinnik, by contrast, never competed in the Americas during his career.

His rival Samuel Reshevsky, while paying tribute to Keres' talent, tried to pinpoint why Keres never became world champion, and also complimented his friendly personality. "Well, I believe that Keres failed in this respect because he lacked the killer instinct. He was too mild a person to give his all in order to defeat his opponents. He took everything, including his chess, philosophically. Keres is one of the nicest people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. With his friendly and sincere smile, he makes friends easily. He is goodnatured and kind. Yes, he loves chess, but being a human being is his first consideration. In addition to chess, Keres was interested in tennis, Ping-Pong, swimming, and bridge."


2016 has named the year of Paul Keres by FIDE

The former Estonian 5 krooni banknote with a portrait of Paul Keres USSR stamp devoted to Paul Keres, 1991 (Michel 6163, Scott 5964)

The five kroons (5 krooni) Estonian banknote bore his portrait (kroons are replaced by the euro since 2011). He is the only person who is best known for playing chess and whose portrait is on a banknote.

A statue honouring him can be found on Tõnismägi in Tallinn.

An annual international chess tournament has been held in Tallinn every other year since 1969. Keres won this tournament in 1971 and 1975. Starting in 1976 after Keres' death, it has been called the Paul Keres Memorial Tournament. There are also the annual Keres Memorial tournament held in Vancouver and a number of chess clubs and festivals named after him.

In 2000, Keres was elected the Estonian Sportsman of the Century.

There is also a street in Nõmme, a district of Tallinn, which was named after Keres.

Notable chess games


Tournament and match record

Keres' tournament and match record:


Year Tournament Place Notes
1935 Warsaw 6th Olympiad - +11−5=3 on first board for Estonia
1935 Helsinki 2 Frydman won
1936 Nauheim 1-2 shared 1-2 with Alekhine
1936 Dresden 8-9 Alekhine won
1936 Zandvoort 3-4 Fine won
1937 Margate 1-2 shared 1-2 with Fine
1937 Ostend 1-3 shared 1-3 with Grob and Fine
1937 Prague 1 ahead of Zinner
1937 Vienna 1 Quadrangular
1937 Kemeri 4-5 Reshevsky, Flohr, and Petrovs shared 1st-3rd
1937 Pärnu 2-4 Schmidt won
1937 Stockholm 7th Olympiad - individual silver (+9−2=4) on first board for Estonia
1937 Semmering/Baden 1 ahead of Fine
1937/38 Hastings 2-3 Reshevsky won
1938 Noordwijk 2 Eliskases won
1938 AVRO 1-2 shared 1-2 with Fine, ahead of Botvinnik
1939 Leningrad-Moscow 12-13 Flohr won
1939 Margate 1 ahead of Capablanca and Flohr
1939 Buenos Aires 8th Olympiad - +12−2=5 on first board for bronze medal winning Estonia
1939 Buenos Aires 1-2 shared 1-2 with Najdorf
1940 12th USSR Championship 4 Lilienthal and Bondarevsky won
1941 Absolute USSR Championship 2 behind Botvinnik
1942 Tallinn 1 Estonian Championship +15−0=0
1942 Salzburg 2 behind Alekhine
1942 Munich 2 "European Championship", behind Alekhine
1943 Prague 2 behind Alekhine
1943 Poznań 1 ahead of Grünfeld
1943 Salzburg 1-2 shared 1-2 with Alekhine
1943 Tallinn 1 Estonian Championship +6−1=4
1943 Madrid 1
1944 Lidköping 2 Swedish Championship
1944/45 Riga 1 Baltic Championship
1946 Tbilisi 1 Georgian Championship
1947 Pärnu 1
1947 15th USSR Championship 1
1947 Moscow 6-7
1948 World Championship Tournament 3-4 Botvinnik 1st, Smyslov 2nd
1949 17th USSR Championship 8
1950 Budapest 4 Candidates Tournament, Bronstein and Boleslavsky 1st-2nd, Smyslov 3rd
1950 Szczawno-Zdrój 1
1950 18th USSR Championship 1
1951 19th USSR Championship 1
1952 20th USSR Championship 10-11 Botvinnik won
1952 Budapest 1
1952 Helsinki 10th Olympiad - +3−2=7 on first board for gold medal USSR team
1953 Zürich 2-4 Candidates Tournament, Smyslov 1st
1954 Amsterdam 11th Olympiad - individual gold (+13−0=1) on fourth board for gold medal USSR team
1954/55 Hastings 1-2 shared 1-2 with Smyslov
1955 22nd USSR Championship 7-8 Geller won
1955 Göteborg 2 Interzonal, Bronstein won
1956 Amsterdam 2 Candidates Tournament, Smyslov won
1956 Moscow 12th Olympiad - individual gold (+7−0=5) on third board for gold medal USSR team
1956 Moscow 7-8
1957 24th USSR Championship 2-3 Tal won
1957 Mar del Plata 1
1957 Santiago 1
1957/58 Hastings 1
1958 Munich 13th Olympiad - individual gold (+7−0=5) on third board for gold medal USSR team
1959 26th USSR Championship 7-8 Petrosian won
1959 Zürich 3-4 Tal won
1959 Bled/Belgrade/Zagreb 2 Candidates Tournament, Tal won
1959/60 Stockholm 3
1960 Leipzig 14th Olympiad - individual gold (+8−0=5) on third board for gold medal USSR team
1961 Zürich 1
1961 Bled 3-5 Tal won
1961 29th USSR Championship 8-11
1962 Curaçao 2-3 1962 Candidates Tournament, Petrosian won
1962 Varna 15th Olympiad individual bronze (+6−0=7) on fourth board on gold medal USSR team
1963 Los Angeles 1-2 1st Piatigorsky Cup, tied with Petrosian for first
1964 Beverwijk 1-2 Hoogovens tournament, shared 1-2 with Nei
1964 Buenos Aires 1-2 shared 1-2 with Petrosian
1964 Tel Aviv 16th Olympiad individual gold (+9−1=2) on fourth board for gold medal USSR team
1964/65 Hastings 1
1965 Mariánské Lázně 1-2 shared 1-2 with Hort
1965 33rd USSR Championship 6 Stein won
1966/67 Stockholm 1
1967 Moscow 9-12
1967 Winnipeg 3-4
1968 Bamberg 1
1969 Beverwijk 3-4 Hoogovens tournament, behind Botvinnik and Geller
1969 Tallinn 2-3
1970 Budapest 1
1971 Amsterdam 2-4
1971 Pärnu 2-3
1971 Tallinn 3-6
1972 Sarajevo 3-5
1972 San Antonio 5 Karpov, Petrosian, and Portisch shared 1st-3rd
1973 Tallinn 3-6
1973 Dortmund 6-7
1973 Petropolis 12-13 Interzonal, Mecking 1st; Geller, Polugaevsky, and Portisch 2nd-4th
1973 41st USSR Championship 9-12 Spassky won
1975 Tallinn 1
1975 Vancouver 1


Year Opponent Result
1935 Gunnar Friedemann +2 −1 =0
1935 Feliks Kibbermann +3 −1 =0
1936 Paul Felix Schmidt +3 −3 =1
1938 Gideon Ståhlberg +2 −2 =4
1939/40 Max Euwe +6 −5 =3
1944 Folke Ekström +4 −0 =2
1956 Wolfgang Unzicker +4 −0 =4
1962 Efim Geller +2 −1 =5
1965 Boris Spassky +2 −4 =4
1970 Borislav Ivkov +2 −0 =2

Scores against other top grandmasters

Only official tournament or match games are accounted for.

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Uno Palu
Estonian Sportspersonality of the Year
Succeeded by
Hanno Selg
Preceded by
Toomas Leius
Estonian Sportspersonality of the Year
Succeeded by
Toomas Leius