Remembering Ratmir Kholmov

Remembering Ratmir Kholmov

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Today we celebrate the birthdays of eight Grandmasters:

  1. Rudolf Marić of Yugoslavia was born on this day, May 13th, 1927, and was meritoriously awarded the GM title posthumously. He passed away August 26th, 1990.
  2. Andrija Fuderer of Belgium was born in 1931, and was also granted an honorary GM title in 1990. He passed away October 2nd, 2011.
  3. Eckhard Schmittdiel of Germany was born in 1960 and became a GM in 1995.
  4. József Horváth of Hungary was born in 1964 and became a GM in 1990.
  5. Niaz Murshed of Bangladesh was born in 1966 and became a GM in 1987.
  6. Sandro Mareco of Argentina was born in 1987 and became a GM in 2010.
  7. Luka Lenič of Slovenia was born in 1988 and became a GM in 2007.

The eighth GM is the late Ratmir Kholmov. He was born on this day, 13 May 1925 in Shenkursk, Russia. He died in Moscow on February 18th, 2006.

He won many international tournaments in Eastern Europe during his career, and tied for the Soviet Championship title in 1963, but lost the playoff.

He was one of the strongest Soviet players from the mid-1950s well into the 1970s, and was ranked as high as No. 8 in the world by Chessmetrics.com from August 1960 to March 1961. Kholmov stayed active in competitive chess right to the end of his life, and maintained a high standard.

Kholmov learned chess at age 12, and was near Master strength within three years, but he was not well known in the West, since he never competed there during his career peak, being confined to events in socialist countries. His chess results were impressive, so this may have been for security reasons, as Kholmov had served as a sailor in the Soviet merchant marine during World War II, sailing mainly the Northern Arctic route.


In 1946, he won in Zhdanovichi (Belarus). In 1948, Kholmov won the next BLR-ch in 1948, unbeaten, with 11½/13. Kholmov won, or tied for 1st, in the Lithuanian championships in 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1960, making a total of ten outright or shared Lithuanian titles. This consistent success meant that he could be a full-time chess professional.

Kholmov defeated Geller at the 1949 USSR Championship in a truly enterprising manner.

Kholmov tied for 1st–2nd places at Dresden 1956 with Averbakh on 12/15. He earned the International Master title for this. He placed 2nd at Szczawno-Zdrój 1957 with 11/15 behind winner Efim Geller. Kholmov won the Soviet semifinal at Tashkent 1958 with 11½/15, ahead of Korchnoi and Geller. His first clear international title was at Balatonfüred 1959, where he scored 10/13 to edge Wolfgang Uhlmann. Kholmov scored one of the best results of his career with a tied 1st–2nd, along with Smyslov, at the Moscow International 1960 with 8½/11. The same year FIDE awarded him the Grandmaster (GM) title.

International tournament at Moscow, 1960. Kholmov is playing Polugaevsky at the table at front left of photo

He won the Soviet semifinal at Novgorod 1961 with 13/16. He was clear first at Bucharest 1962 with 11½/15, ahead of Vladislav Shianovsky. He tied for 2nd–4th places in the Spartak Championship at Minsk 1962 with 11/17, behind Anatoly Bannik. Kholmov won at Kecskemét 1962 with 11/15, ahead of Lajos Portisch and László Szabó. In 1963 he shared 1st–3rd, with Boris Spassky and Leonid Stein, at Leningrad at the 31st Soviet Chess Championships. He made a notable result at Havana 1965 with 5th place on 14½/21, as Smyslov won, but Kholmov defeated Bobby Fischer and finished undefeated in the tournament.

Mark Taimanov watching Ratmir Kholmov playing Laszlo Szabo. Leningrad, 1967.

Kholmov moved to Moscow in 1967 and lived there for the rest of his life. He won at Belgrade 1967 with 6½/9. One of his best career results was 2nd in a very strong field at Leningrad 1967 with 12/16, behind Korchnoi. Kholmov won at Havana 1968 with a powerful 12/14, ahead of Stein and Alexey Suetin. His form in his late 40s had substantially fallen from his best years, and a new generation of Soviet players would earn most of the top tournament places and international opportunities.

Kholmov got just one chance to represent the USSR in a team event at full international level when he played board ten at the European Team Championships, Kapfenberg 1970. He won the board gold medal with 4½/6 (+3−0=3), and helped his side to team gold. Kholmov continued to stay very active in competitive play, and he was generally quite successful. He placed 2nd at Kecskemét 1975 with 8½/13 behind winner Karolyi Honfi. He tied for 1st–2nd at Budapest 1976 on 10½/15 with László Vadász. He placed 2nd at Zalaegerszeg 1977 with 7½/12 behind Evgeni Vasiukov. He had an excellent 2nd place at Moscow 1991 with 8½/11 behind winner Mikhail Ivanov. At age 72, Kholmov tied for 1st–3rd at Moscow 1997 on 7½/11 with Igor Zaitsev and Andrey Rychagov.

Kholmov was known as "The Central Defender" in Soviet chess circles, because of his great skill at repulsing enemy aggression. But he was also a very dangerous attacker, as most of the leading Soviet players learned. During his peak years, Kholmov was difficult to defeat, even at the top levels. He qualified for 16 Soviet finals between 1949 and 1972, with an aggregate well over 50 per cent. He scored wins over World Champions Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, and Garry Kasparov. Kholmov was comfortable as White with both 1.e4 and 1.d4, could play excellent classical chess with both colors, and had an occasional fondness for unusual openings, with which he had good success.

Ratmir Kholmov's nickname was "The Central Defender". World champion Anatoly Karpov was unable to defeat him.

Kholmov tied for the title in the 2000 World Senior Championship at Rowy, on 8/11 with Mark Taimanov, Jānis Klovāns, and Alexander Chernikov. Then he placed 2nd–4th in the same event the next year at Arco, again with 8/11, tied with Klovans and Vladimir Karasev, behind champion Vladimir Bukal, Sr.