Full name: Paul Keres
Born: January 7, 1916 – June 5, 1975
Place of birth: Narva, Estonia
World Ranking: 2 (Best World Rank)
Classical (Std): 2615
Paul Keres was a legendary Estonian Chess Grandmaster and writer known for being a three-time Soviet and five-time Estonian chess champion. Born on January 7, 1916, he was considered one of the world’s top chess players from the mid-1930s up to the 1960s and was also notable for almost winning a world championship game on five occasions. Keres was closest to reaching the pinnacle of chess when he finished third during the World Chess Championship in 1984.
His strong successes and impressive achievements in the sport have earned him great respect from chess players across the globe. In fact, chess historians even consider Keres one of the greatest chess players in history and probably the strongest contender who never became a world chess champion.
Some even say that Keres fits the Super Grandmaster description – a neologism used to label the elite players worldwide, usually those who are serious competitors for the World Championship. Besides this, he was also given the nicknames: Crown Prince of Chess, Paul the Second, and The Eternal Second.’
Keres also joins the ranks of Alexander Beliavsky and Viktor Korchnoi for having conquered nine world chess champions – a feat that is greater than anyone has ever achieved in chess history.
While Keres never became a world champion, his reputation in the sport and the grandmaster world was one of a kind. Even his strongest opponents consider Keres as not inferior’ to anyone in the world, as shown by his excellent prowess in playing the sport, making him one of the first all-rounder players ever due to his skills.
Keres was considered a chess genius, harking from the likes of true geniuses such as Zukertort, Tarrasch, McDonnell, Pilsbury, and Chigorin, who could only remain in second place. But while it’s true that Keres always comes in second place no matter his skills, this did not hinder him from earning a respectable and legendary place in chess history.
Paul Keres passed away in Helsinki in June 1975. His untimely death was mourned as the greatest loss’ in the chess world since Alekhine’s death. He was considered a national hero in his home country – a memory that his fellow Estonians fervently honor. His name also makes its way in Tallinn tournaments, where he’s often mentioned.
He was born in Narva, which used to be part of the empire of Russia, and now Estonia.
Keres learned about playing chess from his older brother Harald and his father. Due to the rarity of chess literature in the small town he grew up in, he studied chess notation through the chess puzzles usually seen in daily newspapers. From this, he compiled a tedious handwritten collection of approximately 1000 chess games. He was also known for his sharp and brilliant attacking style during his early days.
At a young age, Keres was already an Estonian schoolboy champion for three years, particularly in 1930, 1932, and 1933.
His playing style only strengthened after extensively playing correspondence chess during his high school years, participating in about 500 games. At one point, he even had 150 correspondence games going on all at the same time.
Two years later, Keres coveted the Internationaler Fernschachbund (IFSB) international correspondence chess championship. He also took up mathematics at the University of Tartu from 1937 to 1941 and accomplished numerous inter-university tournaments.
He was a three-time Soviet champion in 1947, 1950, and 1951, having won multiple massive tournaments before the war took place.
Keres was only 22 years old when he coveted that prestigious AVRO Tournament, where eight of the best chess players worldwide participated. Because of this, Keres has earned the right to challenge World Chess Champion Alexandre Alekhine to a match, but the war came in the way of their supposed duel. World War II was a hindrance to the international chess scene, and not long after, Alekhine had already died – leaving the system of the match indefensible. Keres never got to have the match due to this.
Keres then fought for the world championship title for the succeeding 27 years, though he never played a match to covet the crown. Even so, he always came second in various tournaments four times, which is a fact that deserves enough recognition and praise on its own terms. Botvinnik even pointed out that it’s uncertain to determine which one is more challenging to win: the tournament or consecutively snatching second place four times.
With his dominant run in tournaments from 1937 to his narrow miss at the 1962 Candidates tournament, Keres was still perceived as a top player even decades after. He was able to play against ten global world champions, conquered nine, and possessed a positive score against the three with an equal score against the other three.
He was also a successful author and writer, having written a collection of his 1972 chess games as Grandmaster and authoring one of the best Chess books for beginners to read, ‘The Art of the Middle Game’ alongside Alexander Kotov.
His exceptional techniques also became a valuable contribution to chess theory, touching on the Sicilian Defense, the Nimzo-Indian Defense, and the Spanish Opening.
Did you enjoy reading about Paul Keres? If you did, you might be interesting in reading other player profiles such as Hikaru Nakamura, Magnus Carlsen, and Paul Morphy.