George Koltanowski's Long Walk
George Koltanowski survived some early trauma in his life to become a chess star.

George Koltanowski's Long Walk

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George Koltanowski was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1903. When he was 11 years old he experienced his first taste of horror.

Here’s what Kolty wrote about it:

In 1914, the Germans marched into Belgium. When they were on the point of reaching Antwerp, my father, who until then had convinced himself that he would not leave his house, was caught up by the popular hysteria and decided to move his family to Holland. I’ll never forget that march! We walked from six in the evening until six in the morning, part of one of those mass movements of population which have become so terribly familiar in more recent times. We had been among the last to flee, and, having left most of our worldly goods behind us, it is hardly surprising that we had also neglected to take any food. Yes, we did eat something—raw carrots stolen from the fields through which we hurried.

George Koltanowski
George Koltanowski. Photo via Wikipedia.

The young Koltanowski would have been amazed if he knew that he would end up as an international master of chess (in 1950) and earn an honorary grandmaster title in 1988.

Now a conundrum: Wikipedia said that Kolty learned how to play chess when he was 14 years old.

However, Kolty wrote: “My father taught me how to play chess in 1919. I took to the game like a baby takes to candy.” If anyone knows the truth, let me know.

In any case, let’s look at the games (no blindfold here, but our next article is all about it).


In his first serious games (1921 and on) Koltanowski didn’t know much about the openings and he also found himself in bad situations (often lost!). However, he somehow saved himself over and over again.

Dunkelblum and Kolty became friends and Dunkelblum was awarded the IM title in 1957.

In this game, Dunkelblum was 16 years old while Koltanowski was 19.


In this game Colle was better (and there were some moments when Colle was just winning), but Kolty defended well and finally was equal. However, on White’s 58.Nfxf4 White’s position crashed.


Black’s putting pressure on White’s b3-pawn. As a result, Colle decides to go for a vicious attack. Will the attack win out, or will defense be the winner?

As you might have thought from the games I showed, Kolty played boring chess. It took a few years for Koltanowski to go for blood. I should also say that this is the way to improve: You study, you play, you suffer and eventually you find that you’re ripping your opponents to bits.

Time to show his stuff:


A few years go by. Experience makes him better and better and suddenly Kolty is a new man!


Game four showed Kolty's dynamics. In game five you'll see his positional acumen.


Kolty plays perfect positional chess.


It looks like White is better, but Rubinstein missed Koltanowski’s move.


From 1929 (in his prime) and after, Kolty had realized that energetic play was important, but learning the endgame is another must in chess. Watch how smoothly White wins.


Once again, Kolty played with energy.

As you can see, Koltanowski was a strong player. However, he was even better in blindfold games.

So check back for the next article, Battles of the Blindfold Wars.

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