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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Herman Pilnik

Pilnik vs Wade in 1956
     Pilnik is a name I well-remember from back in the old days. But, I got to thinking, I don't know anything about him nor have I played over more than a very few of his games and they were probably ones he lost to better known players. So here's what I found out about him.
     Pilnik was born on January 8, 1914 in Stuttgart, Germany and won the city championship at the age of 15 in 1929.  The following year his family moved to Argentina. That was a surprise because I thought he was originally from Argentina.
     He first drew attention when he came in third (behind Alekhine and Najdorf) in a speed tournament in Buenos Aires in 1939.  And, in the intervening years he improved greatly so that by the mid-1950s he was one of the ranking players in the world as evidenced by his qualifying for the Candidates Tournament in 1956. 
     Ludek Pachman, in his book Chess and Communism, wrote of Pilnik that he was very often seen on romantic evenings with beautiful women. Pilnik was a romantic in all areas of life, optimistic, a very good conversationalist and in chess possessed he a vigorous attacking style, but was, at the same time, considered a player of the Classical School. The Pilnik Variation of the Ruy Lopez is named after him. It is a slower variation for stronger players looking for a long, strategical game where experience will count as it avoids a lot of mainline theory.
     Once Argentine President Juan Peron invited members of the Argentine Chess Olympic team to a reception, among them Pilnik, whose political views were anti-Peron. The atmosphere was cordial though and President Peron, accompanied by his wife, as a way of appreciation for the achievements of the team offered a gift where he asked each player what he wanted. One replied life insurance, another asked for a house and when it was Pilnik's turn he asked Eva Peron for a kiss! 
     He won the Argentine Championship three times: in 1942, 1945 and 1958. According to Wikipedia, Pilnik began his international career in 1942 when he tied for 10-11th in New York, but I was unable to locate this event.  He did play in a tournament in New York in 1948/49 where he finished tied for third.  In 1942 he tied for second with Stahlberg behind Najdorf at Mar del Plata. 
     In 1944 he tied for 1st with Najdorf, also in Mar del Plata.  According to Chessmetrics this was his best ever tournament with a 2722 Performance Rating. In 1945 he was undefeated and finished third at the Pan-American Tournament held in Hollywood. 
     At the beginning of the Hollywood tournament some of the invited players were unable to attend because America was still at war in the Pacific and travel was difficult. Albert Pinkus and Edward Lasker withdrew as they could not obtain reservations. Weaver Adams, a last-minute replacement, was delayed enroute and arrived three days late with Dr. Cruz of Brazil. Pilnik, another replacement, also had his misadventures. He lost his plane reservation and proceeded by car. He crashed into an unlighted truck at night and woke up in a Yuma, Arizona hospital. He arrived in Hollywood three days late with his head swathed in bandages. Other players withdrew for various reasons. Pilnik received First Brilliancy Prize for his win over Weaver Adams. 
     In 1951, he won both Beverwijk and Vienna in 1951/52. In 1952 he finished first in Belgrade and in 1954, he won in Stuttgart. Pilnik played for Argentina in five Olympiads: 

1950 - he won the team silver medal and the individual gold medal playing at first reserve board (+6 −1 =3) in Dubrovnik 
1952 - team silver medal at fourth board (+6 −1 =7) in Helsinki 
1954 - team silver medal playing at fourth board (+3 −2 =2) in Amsterdam 
1956 - team silver medal playing at fourth board (+7 −3 =3) in Moscow 
1958 - team bronze medal at first board (+5 −2 =8) in Munich 

   He was awarded the IM title in 1950 and the GM title in 1952. 
   Pilnik finished 10th (last place) at the Candidates Tournament at Amsterdam 1956 where he scored +1 -9 =8. His lone win was against Szabo who tied for third and he scored a draw and a loss against all the other players. The tournament was won by Smyslov. 
   Chessmetrics assigned him his highest rating of 2670 in 1945. After FIDE ratings began to be published, Pilnik's rating hovered around the mid-2400s which put him about a hundred points below the world's best in those days. 
   Pilnik eventually moved to Venezuela where he taught chess at the Caracas Military Academy. He passed away on November 12, 1981 at the age of 67 in Caracas. For a copy of one of his 1945 visas see HERE.
   Here is his Brilliancy Prize game against Weaver Adams. Pilnik's attack seems to come out of nowhere and it was difficult to determine exactly where Adams went wrong, but all his trouble seems to stem from 15...Nd7 which withdrew the N from the K-side where it would have helped with defending the K. A very subtle mistake that Pilnik wasted no time in taking advantage of. 


  1. Greetings! I am a USCF Life Master and while I did not spend a lot of time analyzing or look at the game with an engine I think your evaluation of 15...Nd7 is spot on. Maybe an engine would prefer a different move but the way humans play Pilnik conducted the attack almost flawlessly! Good job!

  2. Great information. I came across it while researching info on the Pilnik variation of the Ruy Lopez. Thanks.