We have many players who played for the world title and didn’t win the crown. But the great Paul Keres (1916-75) was one of the best players in the history of the game never to challenge for the world title. Keres had a beautiful fluent style that many could learn much from playing through his wonderful, multi-volume series of games - and this year, we celebrate the centenary of his birth, a year designated by Fide, the world chess federation, to be “The Year of Paul Keres”.
A national hero in his native Estonia, Keres was once immortalised on a bank note (five krooni) and received a state funeral. Now in the year of his centenary, Keres becomes the first chess player to be immortalised on a bank note and also a coin, with his face appearing on 500,000 new two-euro coins that went into circulation in Estonia on 1st January.
Commemorative coincard marking Keres' centenary. Photo © | http://pood.post.ee/?id=10952&product_id=8870&c_tpl=1051&&langchange=1
Keres was of world championship calibre from the Alekhine era (late 1930s) right through the Fischer era (late 1960s) - but when he was at his zenith, his chess career was disrupted and arguably ruined by the turbulent geopolitics that defined his era. He got stranded in German-occupied territory when war broke out in 1939, and played in tournaments while his native Estonia was under Nazi occupation.
When World War II ended, with Estonia back under Soviet control, in the post-war Stalinist climate Keres’ playing in Nazi-supported tournaments was more than enough to get him shot. Many speculate that instead the USSR’s chess commissars put the screws on Keres by ordering him to throw his games to eventual winner Mikhail Botvinnik in the 1948 World Championship tournament - and although no documentary evidence to support this conspiracy theory has ever been produced, the debate still wrangles to this day.
To start off his centenary celebrations, the 25th Paul Keres Memorial took place last weekend in Tallin, Estonia. The strong 178-player field was headed by Peter Svidler, the St. Petersburg-based seven-time Russian Champion, and Israeli No.1 Boris Gelfand, the former world title challenger - and he was on the receiving end of a spectacular giant-killing feat in the second round to a lowly-rated, local Fide Master.
FM Juri Krupenski - GM Boris Gelfand
Paul Keres Memorial, (2)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Nge2 d5 6.a3 Bd6 7.Ng3 c6 8.Be2 Nbd7 We've sort of transposed from a Nimzo-Indian to a Semi-Slav Defence, something that Boris Gelfand would feel very much at home with. 9.0-0 dxc4 10.Bxc4 e5 A standard equalising move in the Semi-Slav in such positions. 11.Ba2 Nb6 12.dxe5 Bxe5 13.e4 Qe7 14.Nf5 Bxf5 15.exf5 Rad8 Gelfand has achieved a nice position from the opening. He's liquidated the center, and now looks to quickly mobilise his rooks on the open d- and e-files. 16.Qf3 Qc7 Not a bad move, but stronger would have been continuing with the plan of taking control of the d- and e-files with 16...Rfe8.17.h3 Gelfand has gone from taking central control of both the d- and e-files to dominating just the one, the d-file - but it is not as strong as he thinks it is. 17...Rd7 18.Bg5 h6 19.Bh4 Rd4 20.g4 It's a very brave player who plays like this against a former world title challenger - but he's rewarded for his bravery, as Gelfand misses a big trick. 20...Rfd8 21.Rfe1 Rd3 22.Qg2 Even braver - and he deserves a medal if he saw the cheapo from here. Gelfand was most likely expecting the more natural 22.Re3 Rxe3 23.Qxe3 Re8 and Black holds a small advantage. 22...R8d4 It looks impressive and imposing, but total domination of the d-file with 22...Qd6 was far stronger. 23.Re2 Nh5? Gelfand goes for complications, believing that among the ensuing mess, his active rooks will win the day. But he's missed an epic riposte that leaves him for dead. Instead, he would have held a big advantage with 23...Nfd5 24.Nxd5 Nxd5 25.Bxd5 Rxd5. 24.gxh5 Rxh4 Gelfand no doubt had visions of his rooks wrecking havoc on his opponet's kingside, with the likes of ...Rdxh3 etc. But he is in for a shock. 25.f6! Bxf6 26.Re8+ Kh7 27.Qg6+!! (See Diagram) Ouch! That's got to hurt. Gelfand has totally missed the sting in the tail, and falls to a spectacular mate to a player some 370 Elo rating points below him. 27...fxg6 28.Bg8+ Kh8 29.Bf7+ 1-0 There's a mate now if 29…Kh7 30.Bxg6#.