Joaquim Durao: Portuguese Chess Legend

October 25, 2013. Happy birthday, Joaquim! 

(This article was originally published when Joaquim turned 79, and it is my pleasure to reproduce it today!)

Reaching 83 is a milestone in anyone’s life (one which I would also like to experience(!)) and today I would like to share with my readers some snap shots of Joaquim’s life in chess.  Enjoy!

On March 1, 2006 Joaquim Durao was awarded by the President of the Republic, Jorge Sampaio, the ”medalla de Ordem de Mérito” (degree of Comendador) in a ceremony at the Palace of Belem.

International Master Joaquim Durao is the best known Portuguese chess player in the world and a living legend in his own right. Thirteen times champion of Portugal (!) and member of the National Team 10 times, 3 times President of the Portuguese Chess Federation (FPX) and Vice-President of FIDE in the mid-1990’s, Joaquim is well liked and highly respected by everyone. He is truly Portugal’s ambassador at large for chess!

Joaquim Durao receiving another award in 2008 in recognition of his enormous contribution to chess
Durao also has a chess playing career that spans almost 60 years and has taken him in his travels to more than 80 countries! Today  Joaquim Durao turned 83 years old.

Joaquim is one of the most remarkable people that I have ever met. He speaks about a dozen languages and is highly cultured, capable of conversing knowledgeably on virtually any topic. He is married and the father of 3 chess playing children and 7 grandchildren!

Joaquim still plays a mean game of chess, as my hard fought draws with him in recent years  at several international opens attest…

Joaquim was born in Lisbon on October 25, 1930 and learned to play chess at the age of 11 while on vacation in Tuy, Spain. By 1952 Joaquim was already a national master and the best player in the country. He would stay ranked number one for the following 19 years consecutively, and was awarded the IM title in the mid 1970’s.


Durao’s style of chess can be described as classical, with a preferance for dynamic and sharp positions. He is very resourceful and has excellent combinative vision. Durao has played many brilliant games, the following being one of his favourite efforts:

Perez Francisco J. – Durao J.

Beverwijk 1961.
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Bg5 c5 6. d5 h6 7. Bh4 Qa5 8. Qd2 g5 9. Bg3 Nh5 10. Bd3 Nd7 11. Nge2 Ne5 12. O-O Ng6 13. f4 Nxg3 14. hxg3 Bg4 15. e5 O-O-O 16. a3 h5 17. Rfb1 e6 18. b4 Qb6 19. Na4 Qa6 20. Nec3 dxe5 21. bxc5 exf4 22. c6 bxc6 23. c5 Qa5 24. Qb2 Bd4 25. Kf1 Kd7 26. Qb7 Ke8 27. Qxc6 Kf8 28. Rb5 Ne5 29. Qb7

An extraordinarily chaotic position! Both sides have been playing very sharply up to this point and after White’s last move it seems that Durao is finished: his Queen has just been trapped! Will Durao resign?
29… h4!! A truly brilliant move!
Durao ignores his Queen and bets everything on his counter-attack against the White King.
30.Rxa5  White does not have better than to take the Queen
Had White tried 30. gxh4?? then 30… Rxh4 brings the rook immediately into play with decisive effect ; And if White tries to play for a perpetual with 30. d6 (threatening Qe7 ch) then simply 30… Rd7 keeps Black’s advantage: 31. Qxd7 Nxd7 32. Rxa5 hxg3 33. Ke1 Rh1 34. Bf1 f3, with an attack similar to the game
30… hxg3 Now the h-file is open and Black threatens mate in 1 move.
31. Ke1 The only move! White is trying to escape over to the Queen side…
31… Be3! A very fine move! Black is down an entire Queen but has a winning attack!

The White King is not allowed to escape to the second rank. Now Black threatens mate in 2 moves starting with …NxBd3.

32. Bf1 Rh1! Threatening mate with …Nd3.
33. Qb5 defending against the threat and seemingly taking the sting out of Black’s attack
33… f3! Another brilliant resource!
Black threatens mate in one move!
34. gxf3 There is nothing better. But now the g-pawn can advance!
34… g2! This pawn is going to score a touchdown!
This is the key move that Durao had envisioned much earlier when he sacrificed his Queen. Black has succeeded in turning the tables completely…
35. fxg4 (there is nothing better!) 35…g1=Q
36. Ra2 ! Defending against the check on f2
36… Qg3 Probably running short of time, Durao misses 36… Nf3! 37. Kd1 Nd4 and mate in 6 . Fortunately, the text move is good enough to win and brings Durao a well deserved victory.
37. Kd1 Qf3
38. Kc2 Rxf1 Now the material balance has been restored, but Black’s attack rages on
39. d6 There is no adequate defence. White tries to keep the d-file closed

39… Nc6! Now this Knight re-cycles itself into play

40. Kb2 Rf2 White can not hold out much longer with the swarm of Black pieces in pursuit!

41. Ka1 The White King has gone as far as it could go, but to no avail.
41… Qh1

42. Nb1
No better was 42. Qb1 Rxa2 43. Kxa2 Qxb1 44. Kxb1 Nxa5 with a large material plus
42… Bd4 Ouch!
43. Nb2 Rf1 A comical position! The White King is about to be hung, drawn and quartered…
White resigns. A brilliant attack by Joaquim Durao!


Portuguese in Madrid

Above  is a 1952 photo taken of Durao (left), Silverio Pereira (right) and Francisco Lupi (center) the strongest Portugese player before the arrival of Durao. Lupi had twice defeated Alexander Alekhine in official play and was highly thought of by the World Champion, enough so that he helped prepare Alekhine for his ill-fated match with Botvinnik. Lupi died a year and a half after this photo was taken in Madrid.


Arturo Pomar Salamanca (born September 1, 1931) and Joaquim Durao have been life-long rivals, and both dominated chess on the Iberian peninsula for decades.  A child prodigy who drew a tournament game with world champion Alexander Alekhine when he was just 13 years old, Pomar went on to win the Spanish championship 7 times and represented Spain at the Olympiad 13 times (!)


Joaquim and Pomar met many times over the board, and very rarely drew!  Below is one of 4 games that Joaquim won against the Spanish genius.

Durao J. – Pomar S.
Malaga 1970.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Bd3 c5 6. Nge2 Nc6 7. O-O b6 8. Bd2 Bb7 9. a3 cxd4 10. exd4 Be7 11. b4 d6 12. f4 g6

Durao has the attacking position that he wants
13. d5! exd5 14. cxd5 Nb8 15. f5! Nbd7 16. Bh6 Re8 17. fxg6 hxg6 18. Bb5 Rc8
Now Durao finds some very precise moves to execute the attack
19. Qd4! a6 20. Bxd7 Qxd7 21. Rxf6 Bd8 22. Rxd6! [1:0]
Durao (right) playing Jose Sanz Aguado (1907-1969).  Sanz was champion of Spain in 1943, but is better known for one of the most famous and beautiful combinations to have ever occurred over the board:   click on photo
Durao with Antonio Medina (1919-2003), Photo was taken in 1951, at the international tournament in Lisbon.  Medina was champion of Spain 7 times.  Medina won the Lisbon tournament.

A world traveler, Joaquim has played in countless international tournaments (visiting more than 80 countries!) and has met all the world champions, including Bobby Fischer, with whom he got along with very well.


Joaquim Durao and Bobby Fischer first met each other in the early ’60s at an Olympiad and maintained a cordial relationship throughout the years. They were paired against each other at the Havana Olympiad in 1966. Fischer was crushing everyone at that Olympiad, and he also won one of his best games against Joaquim.


An anecdote that Joaquim told me about this game is that right before the game Fischer asked if it would be alright if he could eat during the game: Fischer had just observed a religious holiday and was now famished! Joaquim agreed, and so a small dinner table was set up beside the chessboard, and Fischer ate while he played!

As a gesture of goodwill, during the Olympiad Fischer accepted an invitation to visit the Portuguese embassy in Havana! Quite remarkable, infact, since Fischer had a reputation for avoiding ceremonies…


From left: the ambassador Gonzaga Ferreira, William Addison, Francisco Rego, the yougoslav chess journalist Dmitrje Bjelica, the common friend who introduced Durao to Fischer during the Leipzig Olympiad 6 years earlier,Robert Byrne, Maria de Lourdes – the ambassador’s wife-, Bobby, Joaquim Durao and Antonio Rocha.


The Havana Olympiad was the first mediatic opportunity for the Castro regime to show the rest of the world how much Cuba had progressed since taking power in 1959. No expenses were spared in making sure that this would be the best Olympiad ever!


As an example, each team was given a very expensive gift, shipped to any country of destination: a copy of the official chess set used as well as the table and inlaid board! Joaquim still has his at his home in Lisbon!

Fidel Castro welcoming Joaquim Durao. The person in the middle was either a secretary or part of the security.

This is scanned from a magazine that Durao’s son Miguel found while visiting Havana a number of years ago.  Durao can be seen giving an exhibition in the upper left hand corner!

Fischer R. – Durao J.

Havana Olympiad, 1966.
1. e4 e6 2. d3 c5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O Nge7 7. c3 O-O 8. d4 d6 9. dxc5 dxc5 10. Qe2 b6 11. e5 a5 12. Re1 Ba6 13. Qe4 Ra7 14. Nbd2 Bd3 15. Qh4 Nd5 16. Qxd8 Rxd8 17. a4 Rad7 18. Bf1 Bxf1 19. Kxf1 Nde7 20. Nc4 Nc8 21. Bg5 N6e7 22. Nfd2 h6 23. Bxe7 Rxe7 24. Ra3 Rc7 25. Rb3 Rc6 26. Ne4 Bf8 27. Ke2 Be7 28. f4


28… Kf8 29. g4 Ke8 30. Rf1 Rd5 31. Rf3 Rd8 32. Rh3 Bf8 33. Nxa5 Rc7 34. Nc4 Ra7 35. Nxb6 Nxb6 36. Rxb6 Rda8 37. Nf6 Kd8 38. Rc6 Rc7 39. Rd3 Kc8 40. Rxc7 Kxc7 41. Rd7 Kc6 42. Rxf7 c4 43. Nd7 Bc5 44. Nxc5 Kxc5 45. Rc7 Kd5 46. b4 [1:0]
Durao J. – Tal M.
Leipzig Olympiad


(These are photos taken during the lively postmortem of this game!)

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6. Be3 a6 7. f4 Qc7 8. Bd3 Nbd7 9. O-O Be7 10. Kh1 b5 11. a3 Bb7 12. Qf3 Nc5 13. Rae1 O-O 14. f5 e5 15. Nde2 Rad8 16. Ng3 Nxd3 17. cxd3 d5 18. Bg5 dxe4 19. dxe4 Qc4 20. Bxf6 gxf6
An interesting position: White has two Knights and Black has two Bishops.  But the Black King is a bit open and the Bishops are presently neutralized.  This gave Durao confidence in starting an attack against the World Champion.
Durao can maintain a slight edge against the world champion with 21. Rc1! Qb3 ( not 21… Qd3? 22. Nd5! and Black is lost) 22. Qe2 and Tal has to be careful:  22… Kh8?! 23. Nxb5!
21.Qh5!?  Durao can not resist to attack the greatest attacker of modern chess!   21… Kh8 22. Qh6 Rg8 23. Nh5 Rd6

24. Rf3 Bf8! 25. Qe3 a5!

Finally Tal has pushed back the attack is able to create threats of his own.  The game is balanced

26. Rg3?!  Joaquim insists on continuing the attack.  26. Rc1! is about equal.   26… Rxg3 27. Qxg3 b4!

28. Nxf6!!??  A courageous but speculative decision, trying to re-take the initiative at the cost of a piece,   but against the world champion not enough to keep the game going.  Better was to dig in and defend.  28…Rxf6 29. Qxe5 Qa6![29… Qc6? 30. Nd5!] 30. axb4 axb4 31. Nb5?![31. Nd5 Bxd5 32. exd5 h6]
31… h6 32. Qe8 Qa8 33. Qe5 Qd8 34. Nc7 Qd6! 35. Qa5 Bxe4! [0:1]
Durao playing former World Champion Tigran Petrosian at Sochi 1977
Joaquim with Kasparov and Smyslov during the Moscow Olympiad in 1994, where Joaquim was elected Vice President of FIDE

Boris Spassky, Lothar Schmidt and Joaquim at Dresden 2008

Joaquim and Anatoly Karpov having a friendly conversation at Karpov’s home in Elista (1996) at a private dinner thrown to celebrate Anatoly’s victory over Kamsky.

Joaquim, his charming wife Rosa, and Garri Kasparov in Lisbon in 2006

Joaquim prefers to attack, regardless of whether he is Black or White ; whether he is playing Tal or a duffer. To him the initiative is a dangerous weapon , as many a strong player found. The following game is one of Durao’s best efforts in beating a world class grandmaster.
Czech born Jan Smejkal (b.1946) was one of the strongest grandmasters in the world in the 70’s, and had a reputation of being a hard man to beat. In the following game Joaquim completely outplays the young Czech grandmaster, builds up threats on the King side, and in the latter’s time trouble succeeds in crashing through.

Durao J. – Smejkal J.

Skopje Olympiad 1972.
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. f4 Qc7 7. a4 g6 8. Be2 Bg7 9. Be3 Nc6 10. O-O O-O 11. Kh1 Na5 12. Qd3 e5 13. Nb3 Nxb3 14. cxb3 Be6
15. f5! gxf5 16. exf5 Bd7
17. Rf3! Kh8 18. Rg3 Rg8 19. Rc1 Bc6
20. b4! d5 21. Nxd5 Nxd5 22. Qxd5 Qe7 23. Qc5 Qf6 24. Bg5 Qxf5 25. Bd3 Qe6 26. Rf1!

26… Qd5 27. Qc2 e4 28. Bc4 Qe5 29. Qd1 f5 30. Qh5 Bd5
31. Rh3! Bh6 32. Qxh6 [1:0]
Joaquim is also very dangerous with speculative attacks. Witness the following game where Durao blitzes his experienced opponent off the board:

Feller J. – Durao J.

Praia da Rocha ZT 1969.
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ne2 Qb6 8. Nf3 cxd4 9. cxd4 f6 10. exf6 Nxf6 11. O-O Bd6 12. Nc3 O-O 13. Be3 a6 14. Na4 Qc7 15. Rc1 Ne4 16. Qc2!?
16… Rxf3!? 17. gxf3 Nf6 18. Kg2 Qf7 19. Nb6 Qh5 20. h4

20… e5! 21. Nxa8?
(21. Nxc8! )
21… Bh3!

22. Kg3
[22. Kxh3 Qxf3 23. Kh2 e4] 22… e4
White resigns!
Joaquim Durao has spent a lifetime promoting chess in Portugal as a player, journalist, chess politician and good will ambassador.
The Caorle Zonal,  1975; Durao, organizer, Mariotti and Fernando Silva
click on photo
Joaquim playing Yugoslav legend Gligorich in the Dublin Zonal, 1957; from the magazine cover, Cronica Deportiva

click on photo

Joaquim Durao attending the 92nd anniversary of Rui Nascimento, chess player, poet and musician.
Joaquim with a young chess fan.
”Where do I sign?”

Joaquim with Makropoulos

August 1995 at Lausanne.  FIDE with the IOC.  Samaranch is in the centre.

Kouatly, Kirsan, Campo and Joaquim in Paris, November 1995 when Kirsan was elected President of FIDE


Ruy Lopez de Segura
One of my fondest memories is driving back to Portugal with Joaquim Durao after the annual international tournament in Seville in 1993. He suggested that we stop briefly in a small city called Zafra, because he wanted to show me something interesting….
Joaquim brought me to the birth place of the legendary Ruy Lopez de Segura, a sixteenth century priest (and Bishop)! In Zafra, Ruy Lopez is the most famous native celebrity. His birth is celebrated each year.
Ruy Lopez is a name that every chess player knows. Author of one of the first books on chess, his name is given to perhaps the most important opening in the game! Ruy Lopez wrote some good advice for the serious player that is still useful today: place the board so that the sun enters your opponent’s eyes!


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