The Meteor Called Leonid Stein

The Meteor Called Leonid Stein

24 | Chess Players

He started playing chess at age 10, became a Candidate Master at 18, a Master at 24… At that point, it seemed as if this player would never emerge as a truly exceptional chess talent. He had the habit of playing fast, 15-20 minutes per game was typical, no matter whether he was winning or losing. He was Leonid Stein.

He was born on November 12, 1934 in the small Ukrainian town of Kamenets-Podolsky. Early in his life, he lost his father in the war, and his family moved to Lvov. At the age of thirteen, Leonid discovered chess books, but showed no interest. What he wanted was to play. His talent even by that time was striking. But so was his carelessness.

His first success came in 1955 when he won the individual Army Championship after an additional match against A. Lutikov. He defended his title the next year.

In 1958 he almost quit chess after his failure to qualify for the Ukrainian Championship. But… Kaissa put out her gentle hand, and as one of the qualifiers could not take part, the lucky spot was given to Stein. He did not miss his chance this time, won a bronze medal, and overcame the master result by 1.5 points.

This is when it all started. In the next few years he became Ukrainian champion, won a bronze medal at the USSR Championship in 1961, and qualified for the Stockholm Interzonal. In this thrilling tournament, Leonid shared 6-8th places and won the additional match for the last candidate spot and… failed to play in Curacao due to a FIDE rule which limited the number of participants from the same country to three. This same rule tormented Stein, keeping him from trying his chances in the fight for the World Championship, throughout his life - but at least from Sweden he returned home as a Grandmaster.

In the next four years, Leonid won three USSR championships (1963, 1965, 1966)! His domination was so impressive that Robert Fischer offered to play him in a match immediately after the Olympiad in Havana. Unfortunately, the American and USSR champions never had the chance to play this match.

It was very common for him to start slowly in a tournament, and then produce a long string of remarkable wins. His best tournament wins were seen in Moscow 1967 and 1971.

At the age of 38 and at the peak of his career, Leonid Stein passed away abruptly from a heart attack. He will be long remembered for his attacking mastery:


His game against the former world champion is an ultimate piece of continuous attacking brilliance:

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