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Keres, Paul

Paul Keres (1916-1975) was an Estonian Grandmaster (1950).  He was Estonian chess champion in 1935.  In the 1930s he played in the tennis championship of Estonia.  In 1938 he tied for 1st (with Fine) in the famous AVRO tournament, which earned him the right to challenge Alexander Alekhine for the world championship.  He participated in German tournaments during World War II.  When the Red Army liberated the country, Soviet authorities planned initially to execute Keres.  Botvinnik interceded by talking to Stalin and Keres was spared. In 1953 Paul Keres became the first sportsman of the year in chess in the Soviet Union.  He was Estonian Sportsman of the Year in 1959 and 1962.  He never became world champion but defeated nine world champions in his career.  He defeated Alekhine, Capablanca, Smyslov, Euwe, Petrosian, Tal, Botvinnik, and Fischer.  In San Antonio 1973, he drew his game with future world champion Karpov.  When asked why he never became world champion, he replied: "I was unlucky, like my country."  He had over 100,000 people at his funeral in Tallinn, Estonia. The National Bank of Estonia issued a 5 krooni (5 crowns) note with a portrait of Paul Keres.  He is the only chess player whose portrait is on a banknote.  Newly opened KGB files show that the Soviets made him throw games.  It also shows that the KGB wanted to execute Keres for treason after the Soviet Union acquired Estonia.  The 1948 Hague-Moscow tournament-match for the world championship had Keres losing the first 4 games to Botvinnik.  Many think that Keres was forced to throw these games to save himself and his family.  At one time he was professor of mathematics in Tallinn, Estonia.   His nickname in chess was “great stone face.”  He won over 30 major tournaments in his life.

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