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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Nezhmetdinov at Bucharest in 1954

     Nezhmetdinov was also a checker champion and the photo is of him playing the Senegalese player Baba Sy in checker tournament on a 10 by 10 board. Concerning checkers, Bobby Fischer was interested in the game, but he never played it seriously. Besides Nezhmetdinov, quite a few well known chess players also excelled at checkers, but none to the extent that he did. Among chess players known to have been checker players are: Alexandre Deschapelles, Albert Hodges, Harry N. Pillsbury, Frank Marshall, Edward Lasker (who wrote books on both games). Checker champion Newell Banks was also a master chess player. Irving Chernev, who probably was not actually a chess master, also wrote a book on checkers. 
     In the spring of 1954 Nezhmetdinov, who rarely played outside of the Soviet Union, made one of his most successful appearances in any tournament. Four Soviet masters played, Viktor Korchnoi, Ratmir Kholmov, Semyon Furman, and Rashid Nezmetdinov. Joining them were distinguished players Gideon Stahlberg of Sweden, Dr, Miroslav Filip and Ludek Pachman of Czechoslovakia, Alberic O'Kelly de Galway of Belgium, Bogdan Sliwa of Poland and Enrico Paoli of Italy, Bela Sandor, Stefan Szabo, and Gyula Kluger all of Poland, Robert Wade then representing New Zealand plus four Romanian players, Victor Ciocaltea, Ion Balanel, Octav Troianescu, and Paul Voiculescu.  For many of these players this tournament was the one that gained them their first titles.
     At the time the four Soviet players were practically unknown outside Russia and were being allowed to compete in international tournaments as a result of Nikita Kruschev's DeStalinization program. In addition, the Russian Chess Federation wanted to answer criticism that they only sent their top masters to tournaments because they were afraid their “ordinary” masters wouldn't be very successful. 
     In order to make sure Korchnoi, Kholmov, Furman, and Nezmetdinov would do well at Bucharest the authorities sent them to Moscow for training and preparation under the direction of Isaac Boleslavsky and David Bronstein. At the time of this event none of the Russian participants had titles and it was because of their results in this event that all four would be awarded the IM title. 
     The big surprise was Korchnoi's first place finish with a score of +10 -1 =6; his only loss was to Kluger who also earned the IM title as a result of his fifth place finish. Nezhmetdinov, in addition to capturing the first brilliancy prize for his win against Paoli in the fifth round, finished second just a half point behind Korchnoi with a score of +10 -2 =5. For Paoli the tournament was a disaster; he finished next to last with a single win and eleven losses and five draws. Paoli (who died in 2005) had a long and successful career in Italian chess and in 1969 missed the GM title by only a half point; he was awarded the title of Honorary GM in 1996. 
     As for the other Soviet players, Kholmov tied for third with Filip and Furman tied for sixth with Pachman. Just before the fifth round, Nezhmetdinov was informed that his son, Iskander, had just been born. This tournament was also the beginning of Filip's brief (1955 to 1962) foray into the group of the world's elite players. During this period he twice qualified for the Candidates Tournaments for the World Championship (Amsterdam 1956 and Curacao, 1962).
     At Curacao he was pretty much outclassed and afterward he lost interest in tournament play, becoming more concerned with just avoiding defeat rather than winning and turned to writing books, journalism and working as an arbiter. In 2002 he was invited to attend festivities for the 40th anniversary of the 1962 Candidates, but he declined saying he had pretty much lost interest in chess. Interesting fact: Filip was 6 feet 9 inches tall.

     Nezhmetdinov's win over Paoli is well known and has been analyzed many, many times but in case you haven't seen it, it's the featured game here. Even if you have seen it, enjoy playing over it again.  While looking over the game I also discovered the opening followed the Ciocaltea-Filip game from the same tournament, but Ciocaltea missed a fine sacrifice; if he had seen it, it's possible that the first brilliancy prize would have been his. Crosstable

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