A Threat to the Champions

A Threat to the Champions‎

GM Julio_Becerra
32 | Chess Players

Screen shot 2011-05-18 at 10.41.28 AM.pngEfim Petrovich Geller was born March 8th, 1925 in Odessa, Ukraine. He learned how to play chess as a young man, and was one of the top 10 players in the world for over 20 years. He earned his doctorate in Physical Education.

He won four Ukrainian Championship titles, in 1950, 1957, 1958, and 1959; Geller played in 23 USSR Chess Championships, a record equaled by Mark Taimanov, achieving good results in many. He won the USSR championship in 1955, and later at 54 years old, when his best days seemed behind him, in the 1979 Soviet Championship in Minsk, after a series of seven draws, he won in rounds 8, 10, 11, 12, 14 and 15 and won his second championship of the USSR with an undefeated 11.5-5.5 score, a point ahead of Arthur Yusupov and a further half point ahead of Yuri Balashov and (a very young) Garry Kasparov.


Geller was a Candidate for the World Championship on six occasions (1953, 1956, 1962, 1965, 1968, and 1971; Geller lost a playoff match to Keres in Moscow in 1962 by 4.5-3.5. In the 1965 Candidates' matches, he defeated Smyslov by 5.5-2.5 in Moscow in the first round, but lost to Spassky by 5.5-2.5 in Riga in the semi-finals.  In the 1968 cycle, Geller again lost to Spassky, in Sukhumi by 5.5-2.5, in a Candidates' first-round match. He had to return to the Interzonal stage in 1970 at Palma de Mallorca, but qualified as a Candidate again, losing his first match to Korchnoi in Moscow by 5.5-2.5; Former champion Botvinnik stated that, in his opinion, Geller was the best player in the world in the late 1960s. Geller seemed to be stronger in tournament play than in matches.


He had a positive score against world champions, a +4 -1 record against Botvinnik, +10-7 record against Smyslov, +4-2 record against Petrosian and a +5-3 record against Fischer; no doubt he was always a major threat to world champions as Kasparov described in Volume 2 of My Great Predecessors.

Geller represented the USSR seven times in Chess Olympiads, over an impressive 28-year span from 1952 to 1980, and contributed well each time to the team's gold medal victories. He won three gold medals and three silver medals on his board. His overall score in Olympiad play is: (+46 =23 -7), for 75.7 per cent. Geller was also selected on six occasions for the USSR team to the European Team Championships. His team won gold each time, and he won four gold medals on his board, his overall score in these events is: (+17 =19 -1), for 71.6 per cent.

In seniors' competition, Geller further distinguished himself in the early 1990s. At the World Seniors' Championship, Bad Woerishofen 1991, he tied for first with Smyslov with 8.5/11. Then, in the next year's Championship at the same site, Geller claimed clear first with the same score. Geller remained active in high-level competitive chess until age 70; his last event was the 1995 Russian Championship in Elista.

Efim Geller one of the greatest chess players of all time died on November 17th 1998 at the age of 73. He had been very ill with cancer for quite some time.

According to Botvinnik, the King's Indian wasn't really understood until Geller; according to Tal, only his late start in learning the game (due to the war) prevented him scaling even greater heights than he did.


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