Olafsson was born 26 January 1935 and is an Icelandic GM and former president of FIDE. Few contemporary players have heard of Olafsson, but he was one of the better non-Soviet players after World War II and was strongest player in Iceland for many years.
He participated in the world championship cycle and has wins over the likes of Tartakower, Larsen (many), Fischer (twice), Petrosian (twice), Keres, Tal (twice), Karpov (when he was world champion), Korchnoi, Timman and Seirawan. He was also FIDE President, serving immediately before Campomanes’ reign began.
Born in Reykjavik, he won the Icelandic Championship in 1952 and the Scandinavian Championship a year later, rapidly becoming the strongest Icelandic player of his generation. His first international success was sharing first with Viktor Korchnoi at Hastings, 1955-56.
His best result in World Championship competition was in the 1958 Interzonal tournament at Portoroz where he finished equal 5th-6th, earning the grandmaster title and qualifying for the 1959 Candidates Tournament. The Candidates Tournament was the final event and determined the challenger for the World Champion. The 1959 event was held in Bled, Zagreb and Belgrade. Olafsson finished in seventh out of eight competitors with a score of with 10-18. He also played in the following Interzonal at Stockholm, 1962, but failed to qualify for the Candidates.
Among his best tournament results were joint third in the First Piatigorsky Cup, Los Angeles 1963, with 7.5-6.5 and sharing first with Ljubojevic at Wijk aan Zee 1976, ahead of Mikhail Tahl.
In 1978, he succeeded Max Euwe as President of FIDE. During his tenure he presided over the 1981 Korchnoi-Karpov World Championship match. Since Korchnoi defected from the Soviet Union in 1976, the Soviets were holding Korchnoi's son, Igor, hostage. Olafsson delayed the planned September 19 start date of the match in a bid to get the Soviets to release Victor's son. For this attempt, Olafsson drew the wrath of the Soviets, who then backed the FIDE Vice-President, Florencio Campomanes for Presidency of FIDE. As a result of this pressure from the Soviet Union, Olafsson lost the election in 1982 and Compomanes began his reign.
After that, Olafsson was appointed Secretary to the Icelandic Parliament and continued to play occasionally into the 21st century, winning a rapid match against fellow veteran Bent Larsen in 2003 by a score of 5-3.
Olafsson usually played the Sicilian against 1.e4 and the Nimzo-Indian against 1.d4. With White, he usually played the English, but played almost as many games with 1.d4 and 1.e4. Prior to 1974 when he became a chess professional, he worked as a lawyer at the Icelandic Ministry of Justice.