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Monday, April 9, 2018

Folke Ekstrom, Unheralded IM

     Reviving the most glorious tradition of English chess, the 1945–46 Hastings tourney was the first post-war international tournament when the Hastings chess club at organized their year-end international chess congress to commemorate the 50th anniversary of one of the strongest tournaments of the 19th century, originally won by Harry Nelson Pillsbury. 
     Among the participants were former world champion Max Euwe, the French legend Dr. Savielly Tartakower, and eighty year old Jacques Mieses who had participated in the original tournament fifty years earlier! The rest of the participants were current US champion Arnold Denker and future champion Herman Steiner and Swiss champion Martin Christoffel. Future Dutch champion Lodewijk Prins, future Swedish champion Nils Johan A Folke Ekstroem and six-time Belgian champion Paul Devos; he would become champion once again in 1948. Dr. J.M. Aitken, Edward G Sergeant and Sir George Thomas represented England. 

     The people of Hastings could not have anticipated the scale of death and destruction, which would span almost six, long years in the borough’s history when the country went to war in 1939. 
A bombed street in Hastings
     The town of Hastings took a beating during the War when it was visited 85 times by the Luftwaffe from the first air raid on July 26, 1940 to the end of the war in 1945. It was hit by over 500 explosive bombs and over 750 incendiary bombs. Many of the bombs that were dropped of fell into the sea and caused no damage. By the end of the War, 154 people were killed, 260 were seriously injured and 439 suffered minor injuries. Property damage included 463 houses destroyed and almost 15,000 damaged. 
     By early September, 1940 voluntary evacuations saw the population of Hastings almost halved and as a result casualties were much lower than expected as many houses were uninhabited. 
Life in the caves

     Hastings was not equipped with anti-aircraft guns until October, 1940 so was left completely at the mercy of the Germans planes. Even after anti-aircraft guns were installed the scale of the attacks often made defense impossible. Natural cave surrounding the town formed a natural air-raid shelter and they were supplied with 500 bunk beds. People ate, slept and lived in the underground community which also had a fully equipped medical facility and a dining room. Clothes rationing began in 1941 and the allowance of 66 coupons was reduced as the war went on. 
     The obvious question is, why did the Germans devote so much attention to Hastings? It was because the German High Command apparently had been relying on very old maps which indicated that Hastings was an important harbor. 
     Folke Ekstrom (October 12, 1906 - January 25, 2000) was a Swedish IM both OTB and in correspondence. He was active in national Swedish and international play during a short period of just over five years in the 1940s, with some very impressive successes.
     Chessmetrics assigns Ekstrom a rating of 2714 in January of 1947, placing him at number 10 in the world! The top players were: Botvinnik, Najdorf, Euwe, Keres, Smyslov, Szabo, Bronstein, Reshevsky, Boleslavsky and Ekstrom...pretty good company! 
     He won at Stockholm 1942, tied with Stig Lundholm, ahead of both Gosta Stoltz and Erik Lundin,both of whom became GMs. At Stockholm 1943/44, he finished first. In 1944 he lost a match to Keres, 1-5, which was played after Keres played hors concours in the 1944 Swedish Championship. Ekstrom finished second. In 1944/45 he finished second at Hastings. At Zaandam 1946, Ekstrom shared second with Laszlo Szabo. At Stockholm 1946/47, Ekstrom tied for first with Lundin. Ekstrom represented Sweden on top board in the two-day, ten board team match against Denmark, held at Copenhagen in September 1947. He won the Swedish Championship in 1947 and 1948. 
     In the late 1940s, he chose to pursue a civil career rather than become a chess professional, and this did not please the Swedish Chess Federation. Other than a couple of minor Swedish team events, this seems to be the extent of Ekstrom's career in over-the-board play. He never represented Sweden in Chess Olympiad competition, although he very well could have, based upon his successes, as he was finishing ahead of team members in tournaments during the 1940s. Chess Olympiad competition was dormant during Ekstrom's most active period, due to World War II. 
     Awarded the IM title in 1950, he played correspondence chess with success, earning the CC IM title in 1971. Ekstrom was Swedish correspondence champion in 1941, 1964 and 1971. He won the European Correspondence Championship V, 1967-1971. He placed tied 7-8th in the 7th World Correspondence Championship, 1972-1976. 

1) Tartakower 9.5 
2) Ekstrom 9.0 
3-5) Euwe, Denker and Steiner 7.0 
6) Aitken 6.0 
7) Prins 5.0 
8) Thomas 4.0 
9) Christoffel 3.5 
10) Mieses 3.0 
11-12) Sergeant and Devos 2.5 

     Ekstrom's uncompromising style was clear in Hastings where he scored 9 wins and two losses (to Tartakower and Steiner) and no draws! In this game Ekstrom rolls right over the then US Champion Arnold Denker. 

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