In Memoriam – Ratmir Kholmov (13.05.1925 – 18.02.2006)

Ratmir Kholmov passes at 80. He was not well known in the West, but as a dangerous attacking player Ratmir Kholmov was able to embarrass generations of world champions, beating amongst others Keres, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer and Kasparov. He was also known as the "central defender" for his defensive skills. Now he has passed at 80. We bring you his last interview.

Young Ratmir learnt chess at the age of 12, and at 14 he was already the master of Archangelsk. His native town, in the north of Russia, has the fifth-largest harbour in the world, as he likes to remind his compatriots.

From 1960 to 1970 Ratmir Kholmov was one of the strongest Soviet GMs. He played in no less than 17 Soviet championships, sharing first with Spassky and Stein in 1963. In his best years he was a very interesting player, nicknamed "central defender" by the Soviet chess players. The reason for this: he was an extremely tough opponent for any attacking player to beat.

Kholmov himself was a supremely dangerous attacking player, possessing very sharp tactical skills. The originality of his unexpected ideas and combinations surprised many players, including world champions. But in spite of victories against such players as Keres, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky or even Fischer and Kasparov, Kholmov is not really known to the western people. For political reasons, during Soviet times Kholmov was allowed to participate only in a few tournaments abroad, all of them in Socialist countries.

Kholmov retained his dangerous attacking style in spite of advancing age, as he recently proved, impressively, at the Seniors Team Championship in Dresden. He had played in the same German city exactly fifty years earlier, in 1956. A few years ago he gave his last interview to me (Kohlmeyer).

What did it feel like, in 1956, to be in Germany, so soon after the war?

I had no aversions, I just came to play chess. Dresden reminded me of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). Both cities had been bombed to rubble. We played in the center of the city, but I can't remember when.

What was the result?

Juri Awerbach and I won the event with 12 points each. That was out of 15 games.

Do you remember your German opponents?

Yes, Wolfgang Uhlmann and Reinhart Fuchs. Nobody from West Germany played in the event.

Tell us about your first name? How did you get it?

It's an interesting story. When I was born, shortly after the October Revolution, parents gave their children names like KIM. That was the acronym of "Communist Youth Internationale". My parents were different. They called me Ratmir, which means "brave warrior", and occurs in Pushkin's famous poem "Ruslan and Ludmilla".

What was your profession?

In my youth I was, for a while, a sailor in the merchant marine. That was during the Second World War. We mainly saild the Northern Route.

Since when have you been living in Moscow?

I moved to Moscow in 1967. Since then I play for clubs in the Russian capital.

Would you consider yourself to be a chess professional?

Yes. For many decades I have been earning my living from chess.

What about the State pension?

That is 50 dollars per month. You cannot live on it, so I earn some extra money with chess.

Can you name some of your most memorable games?

In the Capablanca Tournament 1965 in Havanna I ended up fifth, but did not lose a single game. I played a very good game against Bobby Fischer. It was a Ruy Lopez, and I won it with black. Probably my best game was against Paul Keres, at the USSR Championship 1959 in Tbilissi. 

What is special about chess, for you?

The battle, and the many different ways it can be fought.

Have you always been happy with your life as a chess grandmaster?

Yes, although I know that Alexander Alekhine did not share this view. At the end of his career he apparently sighed and said: "If only I had become a politician!" Perhaps he said that because for so many years he was an emigrant.

Did you have a home base, for instance a chess club?

Yes, in Soviet times I played for the Moscow chess club "Spartak", together with Tigran Petrosjan. Today the club no longer exists, and many others have also disappeared.

Many things have changed. What do you think about the new FIDE time controls?

I am at odds. On the one hand it is good for us, the older generation. You don't have to sit there for five hours or longer. That is very tiring. But for the grand game of chess the short time controls are suicide.

Do you have a solution to this problem?

You have to have both, classical chess and rapid chess. People should be able to choose, whether they play long games or in a tournament were the games last half an hour, or just one or two hours.


  • 6 years ago


    "...for the grand game of chess the short time controls are suicide." -- Ratmir Kholmov

    Ah yes, a man after my own heart.

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