The Central Defender
Ratmir Kholmov was born in the small town of Shenkursk on the 13th of May, 1925. Due to his father’s work he travelled a lot from a young age. At the age of 12 he was left alone with his mother, and this was the time when he started playing chess. In 1940 came his first success- he won the Arkhangelsk state adult championship and already showed a master's class in his games.
He started working early, and survived the Second World War, serving as military sailor. Towards the end of the War he caught a severe cold, lost his voice, and was handicapped for a period of time.
He then returned to chess, and for a long period of time was considered one of USSR’s best players.
In his country he was known as the “central defender.” The sobriquet came in recognition of what a tough-nut-to-crack Ratmir was. Indeed, none, no matter how strong a GM, could definitely claim that he would win his game against Kholmov. On the other hand, one could have been sure that Ratmir would not lose in games like this:
The peculiarity of his style was due to Kholmov’s poor knowledge of opening theory in his early years. He often had to defend inferior or even lost positions. However, thanks to his excellent calculation abilities and stubbornness he managed to save most of them. He was also known for his fair play, and there are many cases in which he spoiled someone’s excellent tournament at the very end.
His best achievements included a 1st-3rd place tie at the USSR championship in 1963 (with Stein and Spassky), 1-2 tie at the Moscow International Tournament 1961 (with Smyslov), and clear first place in Belgrade 1967.
One of his last tournaments was the senior event in Dresden, 50 years after he won a tournament there. He passed away on the 18th of February 2006.
Despite his nickname, Kholmov was an extremely creative attacker, and had a positive or equal score against many top GMs and Word Champions.
It is also quite typical that he achieved victories in the following puzzles as Black: