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8th Chess Olympiad

The 8th Chess Olympiad, organised by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), comprised an 'open' tournament, as well as a Women's World Championship contest. The main team event took place between August 21 and September 19, 1939, in Buenos Aires, Argentina and coincided with the outbreak of World War II. The Olympiad is the subject of the book: 'Pawns in a Greater Game' which was published in March 2015.


There was a record number of entries, with twenty-seven teams taking part. This compared with the nineteen nations participating at the previous Olympiad; the substantial increase being mostly due to the interest shown by other Central and South American nations, including Cuba, led by former World Champion José Raúl Capablanca on the top board.

Due to certain political events, prominent Austrian players Erich Eliskases and Albert Becker were playing under the German flag and official sources referred to the Czechoslovak team as 'Bohemia & Moravia'. Two of the teams that did not compete were those that finished first and second at Stockholm, namely the United States and Hungary. Indeed, some nations found the cost of sending a team such a distance for a lengthy period prohibitively expensive.

Following the Preliminaries, the teams were split into Final Group A or Final Group B, with the former contesting the Hamilton-Russell Cup and the latter playing for the 'Copa Argentina', a consolation trophy presented by the Argentine President.


The preliminaries were played from August 21-31, 1939. There were three groups of 7 teams and a group of 6. From a round-robin format, the top four in each group then went forward to Final A, the remainder to Final B. Group winners were Bohemia & Moravia (tied with Poland, Group 1), Latvia (Group 2), Argentina (Group 3) and Sweden (Group 4).


The finals commenced on September 1, the very date of the outbreak of World War II. This led to much confusion amongst the European teams, although most players wanted to continue. The England team, despite having qualified for Final A, were the only team to return home immediately and their place was not filled. Three of five English representatives: Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander, Stuart Milner-Barry, and Harry Golombek were soon recruited into Bletchley Park, the British codebreaking centre during World War II.

Concerning the remaining delegations, a crisis assembly was called to vote on how to proceed; this comprised team captains, the hosts and organisers. Leading roles were reportedly taken by World Champion Alexander Alekhine (France), Savielly Tartakower (Poland), Albert Becker (Germany) and the president of the Argentine Chess Federation, Augusto de Muro. The verdict was to continue with the Olympiad.

The political ramifications continued, however, when it became apparent that six of the scheduled finals matches could not be played due to tensions aroused by the war. After considerable deliberation and negotiation, a total of six matches (GER-POL, GER-FRA, GER-PAL, B&M-POL, B&M-FRA, and ARG-PAL) were declared drawn 2-2 by mutual forfeit and this allowed the remainder of the competition to be played out to a conclusion.


At the conclusion of events, many participants decided to stay in Argentina or moved elsewhere in South America, rather than face an uncertain future by returning to a Europe in the midst of war. The players affected included Miguel Najdorf, Paulino Frydman, Gideon Ståhlberg, Erich Eliskases, Paul Michel, Ludwig Engels, Albert Becker, Heinrich Reinhardt, Jiří Pelikán, Karel Skalička, Markas Luckis, Movsas Feigins, Ilmar Raud, Moshe Czerniak, Meir Rauch, Victor Winz, Aristide Gromer, Franciszek Sulik, Adolf Seitz, Chris De Ronde,John Francis O'Donovan, Zelman Kleinstein, Sonja Graf and Paulette Schwartzmann. Most of them were Jewish and had come to Buenos Aires in August 1939 on the Belgian steamer "Piriapolis". The ship has therefore come to be regarded as the epitome of Noah's Ark for a generation of chess players. Significantly, all five members of the German team (Eliskases, Michel, Engels, Becker, Reinhardt) also chose not to return to Nazi Germany.


Final A

# Country Players Points
1 Germany Eliskases, Michel, Engels, Becker, Reinhardt 36
2 Poland Tartakower, Najdorf, Frydman, Regedziński, Sulik 35½
3 Estonia Keres, Raud, Schmidt, Friedemann, Türn 33½
4 Sweden Ståhlberg, Lundin, Bergkvist, Danielsson, Ekenberg 33
5 Argentina Grau, Piazzini, Bolbochán Jac., Guimard, Pleci 32½
6 Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia Opočenský, Foltys, Pelikán, Skalička, Zíta 32
7 Latvia Petrovs, Apšenieks, Feigins, Endzelīns, Melngailis 31½
8 Netherlands van Scheltinga, Cortlever, De Groot, Prins, De Ronde 30½
9 Palestine Czerniak, Foerder, Winz, Kleinstein, Rauch 26
10 France Alekhine, Gromer, Kahn, Rometti, Dez 24½
11 Cuba Capablanca, López, Alemán, Blanco, Planas 22½
12 Chile Castillo, Flores, Letelier, Salas, Reed 22
13 Lithuania Mikėnas, Vaitonis, Luckis, Tautvaišas, Andrašiūnas 22
14 Brazil Trompowsky, Silva Rocha, Cruz W., Souza Mendes, Cruz Filho 21
15 Denmark Enevoldsen, Poulsen, Christensen, Sørensen, Larsen 17½
16 England (Alexander, Thomas, Milner-Barry, Golombek, Wood) -

Prizes for best individual performances (based on results in the final only) went to:

Final B

# Country Players Points
17 Iceland Möller, Ásgeirsson, Guðmundsson, Þorvaldsson, Arnlaugsson 28
18 Canada Morrison, Yanofsky, Opsahl, Holowach, Helman 28
19 Norway Rojahn, Larsen, Rebnord, Austbø 27
20 Uruguay Rotunno, Hounie Fleurquin, Gulla, Roux Cabral, Olivera 26
21 Bulgaria Tsvetkov, Neikirch, Kiprov, Kantardzhiev, Karastoichev 25½
22 Ecuador Ponce, Morales, Sierra, Suarez Dávila, Ayala 21
23 Guatemala Vassaux, Asturias, Cruz Bulnes, Salazar 15½
24 Ireland O'Hanlon, O'Donovan, Kerlin, Minnis, Nash 15½
25 Peru Dulanto, Pinzón Solis, Castro de Mendoza, Soto, Cayo 14
26 Bolivia Cordova, Baender, Rodríguez Hurtado, Zavala, Reyes Velasco 10
27 Paraguay Díaz Pérez, Espínola, Laterza, Boettner, Aponte

Prizes for best individual performances (based on results in the final only) went to: