We continue our tributes this week to two veterans that managed to enrich our game despite the fact that they were ‘only’ International Masters, who both never achieved the glittering prize of the title of Grandmaster. And after Walter Shipman in our previous column, today we focus on Nikolay Minev, who died on March 10, aged 85, in his adopted home of Seattle, Washington.
Many will perhaps be saying right now ‘Nikolay who?’, but here was a three-time past Bulgarian champion - and could arguably be said to have been one of the best Bulgarian players before the rise of Veselin Topalov - that was one of the top players of the 1950s and through the mid 60s, who opted instead to pursue a rivalling career away from the chessboard as a medical doctor, and practiced until 1972.
Minev was born on November 8, 1931 in Ruse, Bulgaria, and was a late starter to chess, not taking up the game until he was 15. But for those that knew Minev will be aware that he had a very sharp mind, and it comes as no surprise to discover he was a quick learner in his youth, and just four years later he made his debut in the 1951 Bulgarian Championship and tied for first place. He lost the playoff but went on to win the title in 1953, 1965 and 1966.
He gained his International Master title in 1960, though declined an offer of a monthly salary from his government to turn professional. But he did represent his country in six Olympiads, often on top board, meeting the big names of the day, such as Mikhail Botvinnik, Tigran Petrosian and Bobby Fischer. Not only that, but in international tournaments and other team tournaments, he also beat the likes of Kortchnoi, Larsen, Ulhmann and Kavalek, and drew with Spassky, Stein, Petrosian, and Bronstein (twice).
After many years living under communist rule, Minev, and his devoted wife, Elena, left Bulgaria in 1979 to take up a new position as trainer for the national Greek team where he contributed greatly to improving the title-potential of several players. And from there, later the Minevs moved to Vienna before finally settling in Seattle, where he became a chess coach and leading contributor to Yasser Seirawan’s Inside Chess.
Although not so active anymore as a player during this period, Minev was, though, still a very respected chess author and magazine contributor. And arguably his best piece of work could be said to be his two-volume collaboration with IM John Donaldson, Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King and Akiba Rubinstein: The Later Years, a welcoming treasure-trove that filled the gap in the annals behind the tragic story of this tortured chess genius and comes highly recommended.
For a more fuller tribute, you can read IM John Donaldson’s obituary of IM Nikolay Minev for US Chess.
IM Nikolay Minev - GM Bent Larsen
1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.0-0 0-0 6.c4 d6 7.d5 c5 8.Nc3 Nbd7 9.Qc2 Nb6 10.b3 e5 11.dxe6 d5 The immediate 11...Bxe6 gets hit with 12.Ng5! and White has a big advantage. By temporary sacrificing the pawn for now, Black want's to open the game for all his activate pieces and pick off the e6 pawn later. 12.cxd5 Nfxd5 13.Nxd5 Nxd5 Black can't play 13...Bxa1 because of 14.e7 Qxd5 15.exf8Q+ Kxf8 16.Rd1! Qf7 17.Bh6+ Bg7 18.Qxc5+ Ke8 19.Ng5 with a near winning advantage. 14.Bg5! Larsen must have realized around now he was going to be on the back-foot for the rest of this game. 14...Qb6 15.e7 Re8 16.Rad1 Be6 There's no time to immediate capture on e7 with 16...Nxe7, as Minev has the simple plan of 17.Be3! and Black can't defend c5. But now, after 16...Be6, Larsen can defend c5 by ...Rac8 - but Minev now reveals his deep understanding of the nuances of the position. 17.Bc1! The e7-pawn is doomed anyway, but with this timely strategic retreat, the bishop makes way for the powerful Ng5 that gives Minev a lasting advantage. 17...Rxe7 The coming Ng5 is going to be a headache for Larsen - but he can't prevent it, as after 17...h6 18.e4! fxe4 19.Qxe4 Nxe7 20.Ne5 Bf5 21.Qe3 Nc6 22.Nc4! leaves White with a big advantage. 18.Ng5 Once Larsen's white-squared bishop comes off the board, he's going to have a weakened position - and Minev perfectly executes this strategy. 18...Nb4 19.Qb1 Kh8 Saving the bishop didn't offer any hope either: 19...Bd7 20.Be3 h6 21.Nh3! g5 22.a3 Nc6 23.Rd6! with a commanding position. 20.Nxe6 Qxe6 21.Be3 Rc8 22.a3 Na6 If only Larsen could have been able to retreat back to c6, then his position would have been tenable. But Minev has forced Larsen into this further concession of going to a6, as c6 would have lost the c5-pawn with a big advantage for White. 23.Rd5! The smoothness in which Minev dominates the position is of elite grandmaster-level. Here was a player who, despite 'only' being an IM, could play at a level of the top dogs. 23...h5 Larsen's dilemma was if 23...b6? 24.Qd3! Nc7 25.Rd6 Qg8 26.Bg5 Rf7 27.Rd1 and Black faces a futile battle to stop White from simply pushing him off the board now. So ever the fighter till the end, Larsen opts to keep his bad knight on a6 and tries to make some constructive moves that might give him options to stay in the game. 24.Qd3 Kh7 25.Rd6 Qf7 26.Bg5 Rec7 27.Bd5 Minev has played this game so smoothly throughout, that now all his moves come with ease to give him an easy, winning position. 27...Qf8 28.Bxb7 It's an easy hit, but Minev could have prolonged Larsen's agony further with 28.Rd1! forcing his opponent to struggle to find constructive moves to make. 28...Rxb7? Under severe pressure, Larsen, somewhat uncharacteristically, misses his only hope here of making Minev work hard for the win by first throwing in some confusion with 28...c4!? 29.Qd5 Rxb7 30.Rxa6 Rxb3 31.Rxa7 Rb6 which might have offered some slim hopes of staying longer in the game. 29.Qxa6 Rcb8 30.Rxg6 Larsen's game is now falling apart at the seams. 30...Rxb3 31.Re6 R8b6 32.Rxb6 axb6 33.Rd1 Qf7 34.Qc8! The killer punch of Rd7 is going to be the final nail in Larsen's coffin. 34...Rxa3 35.Rd7 Qg6 36.Bf4 Qf6 37.Qc7 Kg8 38.Rd8+ Bf8 There's no hope in going back to h7: 38...Kh7 39.Rd7 Kg8 40.Qb8+! Kh7 41.Qe8! Ra1+ 42.Kg2 Qc6+ 43.f3 Qg6 44.Rxg7+! Qxg7 45.Be5 with a heavy loss of material looming for Black to stave off a mate. 39.Bd6 Ra7 40.Qxb6 Rb7 41.Qxb7 1-0 Larsen resigns, as after 41...Qxd8 42.Qd5+ the game is over: If 42...Kg7 43.Be5+ wins the queen, and also 42...Kh7 43.Qxf5+ Kg7 44.Qxf8+ Qxf8 45.Bxf8+ Kxf8 is hopeless for Black.