Paul Keres Trivia



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Today on a popular Toronto-chess message board (LINK) ,  an old photo (1975)  of the great Paul Keres giving a simultaneous in Toronto shortly before his death was published.  It was asked if anyone could recognize the other faces…I recognize a young Paul Janicki sitting to the right of Jonathon Schaeffer (exact centre of photo).  I would also think that I see Vlad Dobrich standing between the photos of the Queen and Prince Philip, but Vlad should be able to confirm that.
Here are what several readers contributed:

I would guess third from the left I can see Phil Haley, maybe Keith Kerns is next player down, maybe Brett Campbell 2 players down and Andy Dimitri 3 more players down with his face half in a shadow facing Paul Keres. Back row Jonathon Shaeffer in the centre and Martin Davenport to the left.
One of the spectators looks like Jack Black, who was a great pool player and an avid chess fan.
Hope that helps.  Ian Findlay

I can see myself with my good friends Gary Fauland and Edward King as some of the spectators.

We are standing next to the man with the dark tie and checked suit that is near the woman in a dark outfit.  John Brown

Toronto organizer Vlad Dobrich, who is alive and well today, contributed this wonderful bit of TRIVIA about his encounter with Keres:
Vlad Dobrich     back in the 1970’s is one of Toronto’s most active chess promotors
Just before or after the simul I had the pleasure of showing Keres some of the Toronto tourist sites. While driving south on Jarvis Street, I asked him if he had recently played some tournament. “Yes.” he said and mentioned some event in one of the northern states where he won First Prize.
“So, how much did you win?” I asked as if it was any of my business.
“$17,000” he said without hesitation.
“Very nice! I said, “So what will you do with all the money?”
“I bought a car!” he said.
“What kind of car did you buy?”
“I bought a Chevrolet!” he enthused.

“You paid $17,000 for a Chevrolet?!” I said thinking he had been robbed.
“Oh no, I paid $6,000 but I will have to pay 200% import duty when it arrives in the Soviet Union – $12,000! more!” Ah the robbery was still to come I thought but said nothing.
“So”, I said, “what will you do in a few years when you may need parts for the car?”
Said Keres, “When a 60 year old man marries a 20 year old woman, he does not ask what will happen when he is 80 and she is 40!”
I still laugh when I think of that answer.
Sadly, the great man never had the pleasure of driving his Chevy in Talin. He died at the Helsinki airport while waiting for his flight to Moscow. Even though his home in Talin was less than 100 kilometers across the water, he would have had to fly thousands of kms to enter his country by way of Moscow!

Vlad Dobrich

To add to this trip down memory lane, I re-produce here an earlier blog article that I wrote back in 2009 about the great man. ENJOY!

Paul Keres January 7,1916-June 5, 1975
Paul Keres needs little in the way of an introduction! A legend. Keres was quite possibly the best player of his generation and many experts believe he was also the strongest player to have never won the world championship title. He has been nicknamed the Crown Prince of chess for having narrowly missed playing a match for the world championship 5(!) times: Keres won the 1938 AVRO tournament, which led to negotiations for a World Championship match against Alexander Alekhine, but the match never took place due to World War II starting in 1939. Then after the war he was runner-up in the Candidates’ Tournament on four consecutive occasions!

His list of international tournament victories and match successes is long. Keres won the Soviet Championship 3 times and was a member of the juggernaut Soviet Olympiad team not less than 7 times.

Paul Keres was a hero in his native Estonia, and when he died prematurely at the age of 59, returning home from a visit to Canada, a 100,000 people attended his funeral, including international dignitaries.

Paul Keres was given a state funeral

Paul Keres has his image on the national currency in Estonia! The only chess player anywhere in the world to have been so honoured in his own country!

His image is featured on stamps from many countries

Numerous streets in Estonia are named after Keres

There are many statues dedicated to Paul Keres in Estonia

Even the house where he was born is a national monument!

Paul Keres was infact loved and admired by chess fans all over the world. He was part of the aristocracy of chess that stretched from the golden times of Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine to the more modern age of Fischer and Karpov. When he was invited by John Prentice to visit Canada in early 1975, Keres was celebrated wherever he went, be it Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. He gave lectures, clock simuls and even played (and won!) in a strong open tournament in Vancouver that today has become an annual event and is known as the Paul Keres Memorial.

I remember Keres giving a simultaneous at Place Ville Marie (Montreal), attended by hundreds of spectators. Even the media showed up. One radio program gave a move by move account! I have never seen anything like it since!

Former world champion Boris Spassky wrote:

“I loved Paul Petrovitch with a kind of special, filial feeling. Honesty, correctness, discipline, diligence, astonishing modesty ? these were the characteristics that caught the eye of the people who came into contact with Keres during his lifetime. But there was also something mysterious about him. I had an acute feeling that Keres was carrying some kind of a heavy burden all through his life. Now I understand that this burden was the infinite love for the land of his ancestors, an attempt to endure all the ordeals, to have full responsibility for his every step. I have never met a person with an equal sense of responsibility. This man with internally free and independent character was at the same time a very well disciplined person. Back then I did not realise that it is discipline that largely determines internal freedom. For me, Paul Keres was the last Mohican, the carrier of the best traditions of classical chess and ? if I could put it this way ? the Pope of chess. Why did he not become the champion? I know it from personal experience that in order to reach the top, a person is thinking solely of the goal, he has to forget everything else in this world, toss aside everything unnecessary ? or else you are doomed. How could Keres forget everything else?”

Every year a tournament in Paul Keres’ honour is held in Tallin, Estonia
But it is not Paul Keres that I really want to tell the reader about in this blog entry: this and much more can be found on thousands of websites! Did you know that while it has been more than 34 years since his death (at the age of 59), both Paul Keres’ wife Maria as well as his older brother Harold are still alive and well?

Maria Riives Keres is still going strong at the ripe old age of 93!

Maria and Paul were married in 1941

In January 2006 a special ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the birth of Paul Keres was held, with guests including Spassky, Korchnoi, Shirov (and many others):

Boris Spassky speaking to Maria (seated in the middle)

Here you can see Shirov and his wife; Korchnoi and his wife

Harold Keres, born November 15, 1912 (!), has a phd in mathematical physics and is a scientist of some international repute. He is still in excellent health at the age of 96!

Harold Keres attended (1932) Pärnu Boys’ Gymnasium; graduated from University of Tartu in 1936; 1947 Candidate of Science in physics and mathematics; doctorate (1949) D.Sc. in physics and mathematics. In 1954 Harold became a university professor and today has emeritus status at the University of Tartu.

He has also won many national awards for lifelong service to mathematics and physics!
Paul (left) and Harold, 1918
Harold (left) and Paul, 1923
In November 2007, Prof. Harold Keres, then aged 95, was honoured at a special ceremony:

”Paul’s father, Peter, was the son of a peasant farmer in Viljandi. Peter was a good-humoured and sociable man who enjoyed games. Paul’s mother, Marie Lämmergas, came from a village blacksmith’s family in Läänemaa County. Paul inherited his father’s good-humour and love of games and his mother’s sense of responsibility, self-discipline and determination. These characteristics helped him to move surely ahead in his sports career. The Keres family established a tailor shop in Pärnu which was acknowledged by the local upper-class. In 1915, due to the oncoming war, the Keres family moved to Narva with their first son Harald. Peter Keres opened an odds and ends shop and Marie continued sewing”

Keres’ father playing the harp

”They lived near Peter Sq., in an old wooden house on Posti St., in a three room apartment behind the store. Paul Keres, future international grandmaster, was born here on January 7, 1916.”

Paul Keres was not a weaker player than Misha Botvinnik (in my opinion) but he could never quite bring himself to defeat Botvinnik when it really counted. Many think that Keres let Botvinnik win the important games for political reasons.” I was unlucky, like my country.” he once said, explaining why he never became world champion.

In the 1948 Candidates Tournament, to decide the world champion (since Alekhine had died in 1946, leaving the title vacant), Keres played exceptionally weakly against Botvinnik. Only once Botvinnik had enough points to assure himself of winning the tournament (and hence the world title) did Keres let him have it: he crushed Botvinnik in 25 moves the very next day!

Keres and Botvinnik analyzing, surrounded by fans. Can you recognize any of the faces (future gms)?

Three of my favourite players: Bronstein(left), Keres and Botvinnik. The secrets they took with them to their graves….

After winning AVRO 1938 (on tiebreak over Fine), Keres became a national superstar. Here he is with the Estonian head of government.
Two of my favourite grandmasters: S.Tartakower interviewing Keres after winning the AVRO tournament.

Paul Keres playing Bobby Fischer at the 1959 Candidates tournament. Bobby won a wonderful game and it is included in his ’60 games’ collection. Fischer has just played his 9th move

Another view of the same game. Do you recognize Benko?

Fischer and Keres at the 1962 Curacao Candidates Tournament. Another victory for the American! (Also included in Fischer’s book!)

A postcard with Keres’ famous victory over Alekhine in just 22 moves!

At the Paul Keres Chess House; a life-like wax image of Keres!

Karpov visiting the House
Another shot from the House
And yet one more! Lots of space to play chess…

”Headquarters of European Draughts Confederation is located at Paul Keres Chess House in Tallinn, Vene street 29. The headquarters were opened with a festive ceremony on April 23rd, 2009. The cover from the plaque with the EDC logo on the façade of Tallinn House of Chess, which has become a centre for mind sports for Tallinn and Estonia, was removed by Estonian Minister of Culture Laine Jänes, the mayor of Tallinn Edgar Savisaar, the Secretary-General of the Estonian Olympic Committee Toomas Tõnise and head of Tallinn Youth and Sports Department Rein Ilves.
This location – Vene street 29 – is mentioned for the first time in Tallinn´s documents already in 1362, but there is no information about the building. The building itself is first mentioned in a document that dates back to the year 1405. More detailed information about the architecture of the building gives a testament from the year 1727. The building has had owners from different nationalities, including French and Scottish. During the renovation in 1968, the building was changed into a chess school.
There were rooms for classes, board and trainers and a separate room for library. New renovation started in 1973; in 1975 it was decided to be named Paul Keres Chess House that was opened on 21st of November. Chess House bought a library with 3000 books from Dombrovski, who was a collector of chess literature. Later, Paul Keres´s library with 2000 books was added to the collection. Museum room of Paul Keres was opened in 2004.”


Three of my favourite Keres books:

Co-written with Grandmaster Kotov, I bought this book in early 1975. A great book! My strength jumped a hundred points overnight!

Perhaps the best written endgame book! It doesn’t get involved in all of the messy types of examples that one might encounter in endgames, and limits itself to general principles and methods. This book contains virtually everything you would need to know about the endings to get you up to GM standard… I also got hold of this best seller in 1975. I still refer to it!

Today Estonia is one of the strongest chess countries in Europe. You can see Narva in the upper right hand corner (the birth place of Keres)

Estonian Grandmaster Kaido Kulaots. We play on the same team in the French Team Championship (Gif sur Yvette). Thanks to him I was inspired to write about his fellow countryyman….


I won this book at an interscholastic chess tournament in Montreal in early 1970. LeDain was the organizer, and ran a super successful school program that involved hundreds of youngsters amongst Montreal’s highschools. I can not tell you how helpful this book was for me in my progress in those days. Even today I keep a copy close at hand in my library!
Although I don’t generally like Fred Reinfeld books, in this book he essentially copies Keres’ own annotations from other magazines and limits himself to do a bit of horn blowing!

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