Efim Geller, Killer On The Chessboard
Boom goes the chessboard.

Efim Geller, Killer On The Chessboard

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Several years ago I was at a coffee shop in Pasadena, California, and started a conversation with a few young (mid-twenties) Taiwanese people. After we chatted about Taiwan, our talk took a turn into various kinds of pop music. I made it clear that most pop instantly sparks my gag reflex. Then I started raving about the wonders of ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin.

They all were looking at me with glassy eyes and one finally said, “Never heard of any of them.”

Lately I’ve experienced the same thing when I talk to young (10 to 20 years old) chess players: Have you read Eugene Znosko-Borovsky’s books? — “What is a Borovsky?” Have you studied the games of Leonid Stein? — “Who?” How about Isaac Boleslavsky? — “A bowl of what?”

I guess this kind of thing is normal when one is as old as I am. But, in my mind, if you don’t know all the greats from the past, then you’re missing the heart and soul of what chess is about. So many wonderful games. So many stories; some funny, some crazy, some very, very sad.

Due to this youthful “brain drain,” I will discuss various forgotten players that did a lot for chess. My first “oldie but goody” (actually not so old!) is Efim Geller (1925-1998). This “meat and potato” Soviet powerhouse, a cigarette almost always hanging from his lips, was feared by everyone.

You might say, “What does that mean? Surely the top players like Botvinnik, Smyslov, and others would have kicked him to the curb.”

efim geller

Efim Geller via Wikipedia. 

Well, not so fast! The fact is that he held his own against Mikhail Tal (6 wins, 6 losses, 23 draws) and Paul Keres (7 wins for Geller, 8 losses, 21 draws), and had plus scores against Mikhail Botvinnik (4 wins for Geller, 1 loss, 7 draws), David Bronstein (5 wins for Geller, 4 losses, 12 draws), Robert Fischer (5 wins for Geller, 3 losses, 2 draws), Lajos Portisch (4 wins for Geller, two losses, 12 draws), Vasily Smyslov (11 wins for Geller, 8 losses, 37 draws), and Tigran Petrosian (5 wins for Geller, 3 losses, 12 draws).

One might ask why such an obviously super-strong master of attack was never world champion. Bad luck perhaps, since in two candidates' cycles he had to face Boris Spassky, who was in his prime. He lost a match to Spassky in the 1965 Candidates' by 5.5-2.5, and again in the 1968 cycle by the same score. Fate can be a very annoying protagonist.


Geller was one of the first players to recognize the dynamic potential of the King’s Indian Defense. Kotov, a well-known attacking player, gets blown off the board.

The same two players went at it again in 1951 with Geller winning another KID. A third KID between these players occurred in 1952, which ended in a draw, and then later in 1952 a forth KID once again led to an execution with White giving up in 23 moves:


This wonderful game started out with a popular (at that time) anti-Grunfeld attacking line. By move 20, Geller had already built up a winning position, and then the fireworks hit the board!


OK, now it’s your chance to play like Geller by solving four puzzles.

FIRST, A PUBLIC SERVICE: Whenever I give puzzles, quite a few people don’t realize that they can press the question mark at the bottom left of the board and see various notes. Another bit of puzzle confusion is alternative moves. Yes, there are many situations where there is more than one really good move (or even multiple ways to mate!). When this occurs they think that I missed it. No, I didn’t. The problem is that the software will only allow one “best” move. Fortunately, I will usually have mentioned the moves you were screaming about in the notes!

OK, have a good time! And DO read the instructive notes.





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