Andor Lilienthal dies at 99

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Andor Lilienthal dies at 99After Vassily Smyslov and Florencio Campomanes, the chess world says goodbye to another big name. The world's oldest living grandmaster, Andor Lilienthal, died today of serious illness, three days after his 99th birthday.

In his long career, Lilienthal played against ten male and female world champions. He drew with Alekhine and beat Lasker, Capablanca, Euwe, Botvinnik and Smyslov, as well as players like Bronstein, Larsen, Geller, Najdorf, Taimanov and Tartakower. Only three days ago he turned 99 years old. Today he passed away.

Lilienthal was the oldest living grandmaster, and the last one from the original group of grandmasters awarded the title by FIDE in 1950: Botvinnik, Boleslavsky, Bondarevsky, Bronstein, Euwe, Fine, Flohr, Keres, Kotov, Lilienthal, Najdorf, Reshevsky, Smyslov, Ståhlberg, Szabó, Bernstein, Duras, Grünfeld, Kostic, Levenfish, Maróczy, Mieses, Ragozin, Rubinstein, Sämisch, Tartakower and Vidmar.

Andor Arnoldovich Lilienthal was born May 5, 1911 in Moscow to Hungarian Jewish parents. He moved to Hungary at the age two. He learned playing chess quite late: when he was 16 years old. He quickly fell in love with the game and dreamt about playing with professional chess players. In Budapest he tried to play for money in cafes, as he told the magazine 64. One day he travelled to Vienna, where he played with Grünfeld. He would soon also meet Lasker, and Alekhine:

In Paris in café “Regence” in Rue de Rivoli the portrait of Alekhine hung on the wall, and there was a table at which Napoleon played. Alekhine also was a customer of that café. One day they told him about me. They said that there was a boy who perfectly played simple games. The “Doctor” (that’s how they called Alekhine in “Regence”) offered me to play four games, of course with no stake. To spectators’ surprise he only managed to defeat me in the 4th game, whereas the three first games were won by me. Alekhine demanded revenge but I refused flatly: “Doctor I want to save this result for the rest of my life”, I said. Though Alekhine was a nervous and quick-tempered person, this time he saw my point and burst out laughing. Source: ChessCafe Skittles 172


Indeed it was the time when chess was still largely played in coffee houses, and Lilienthal played at many of them and made his living this way. It was also where he first met with José Raoul Capablanca, who gave a simul in Vienna in 1929.

"Finally I was the last, who was still playing against Capablanca. In the middlegame [...] I got an advantage. However the renowned grandmaster looked at me in such a way that all my courage disappeared and, with a trembling voice, I offered him a draw. Capablanca accepted it so quickly that when I wanted to ask him rather awkwardly for an autograph, he was already gone accompanied by a pretty lady." Source: ChessCafe Skittles 172


Lilienthal soon became strong enough to play in international chess tournaments. His career started in 1930, and his first opponent was 65-year-old Jacques Mieses, born in 1865.

Lilienthal: "Already at the start I was to play with old Mieses,who crushed me in a way like perhaps nobody was able to later. I was so ashamed that could only keep resisting until the 16th move." Source: ChessCafe Skittles 172


Andor Lilienthal played for Hungary in three Chess Olympiads: Folkestone 1933 (scoring +7 =6 -0 as the reserve, the fifth player on the team), Warsaw 1935 (scoring +11 =8 -0 on second board), and Stockholm 1937 (scoring +9 =6 -2 on first board, leading his team to the silver medal). He won the individual gold medal for his board (reserve and second board, respectively) at the 1933 and 1935 Olympiads, and had the fourth-best result on first board in 1937. His total score in the Olympiads was a remarkable 75.51%.

One game will always be connected with the name of Lilienthal. His evergreen was his win over Capablanca, played on January 1st, 1935 in Hastings.

Lilienthal-Capablanca, Hastings 1935

20.exf6!! Qxc2 21.fxg7 Rg8 22.Nd4 Qe4 23.Rae1 Nc5 24.Rxe4+ Nxe4 25.Re1 Rxg7 26.Rxe4+ 1-0

Chessbase added the following paragraph to this game:

Lilienthal used to relate: "Wherever I went on an exhibition tour, both in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, chess players and fans always asked me to show them how I sacrificed the queen against the great Cuban. When Bobby Fischer noticed Lilienthal in the audience at his 1992 return match against Boris Spassky, Fischer greeted him with the remark "Pawn e5 takes f6!


Emigrating to the Soviet Union in 1935, Lilienthal became a Soviet citizen in 1939. He played in the USSR Chess Championship eight times. His best result came in the 1940 championship, when he tied for first with Igor Bondarevsky, ahead of Vasily Smyslov, Paul Keres, Isaac Boleslavsky, Mikhail Botvinnik and fourteen other players. He qualified for the Candidates Tournament once, in 1948.

From 1951 until 1960 he was Tigran Petrosian's trainer. Lilienthal was a good friend of the recently deceased Vasily Smyslov, and was Smyslov's second in his World Championship matches against Botvinnik.

Lilienthal retired from tournament play in 1965 and returned to Hungary in 1976. His last tournament was Zamárdi 1980, where he finished sixth in the B group, scoring +3 =11 -1. His last game in the database is a draw against Emil Ungureanu. Lilienthal was 69, and rated 2385.

Lilienthal was also a close friend of another World Champion he survived: Bobby Fischer. As Slobodan Adzic wrote five years ago for Chessbase:

Their friendship began in 1992 in Sveti Stefan. Lilienthal and his wife Olga was there for the rematch Fischer vs Spassky. In 1993 Fischer lived in Budapest for over a year. One month was spent in Andor Lilienthal’s apartment. “He was always talking about his invention of random chess, but I told him that it was meaningless, and compared to classical chess it seems to be quite boring. Bobby didn’t like what I said and tried to convince me that the future of chess lies in change.” Lilienthal believes that Fischer is absolutely the best chess player of all times. He says that the proof for this is that the lone autodidact Fischer overcame the entire Russian chess imperium.


As Dutch GM and author J. H. Donner noted, Lilienthal had the unique ending of two knights versus pawn not once, but twice in his career (Norman-Lilienthal, Hastings 1934 and Smyslov-Lilienthal, URS ch 1941): "The great natural talent Lilienthal had the endgame on the board twice in his life and on both occasions he failed to convert a winning position. Apparently, it was too difficult even for his very refined chess sensitivity."

Lilienthal was the last famous player of the pre-World War II era. From this period Lasker, Alekhine, Euwe, Capablanca, Rubinstein, Tarrasch and Nimzowitsch are still remembed, but not many more. The games we give below, prove how strong he really was - well into the 21st century, his strength is unjustly forgotten and underestimated. Kasparov only mentions Lilienthal once in his Great Predecessors series, when he includes Capablanca-Lilienthal, Moscow 1936. A classic, also according to Kasparov, so we've included it in the game viewer below.

A few months ago Arne and I were talking about travelling from Amsterdam to Budapest, to interview Mr Lilienthal. He was clearly the only chess player in the world for whom we'd consider doing such a thing. Unfortunately we were too late.

Andor Lilienthal at the Turin Olympiad in May 2006. It was the first international chess event I visited, before this had turned into a serious website. On June 5, 2006 I wrote: 'A photo I'm proud of. This is the last living player of the pre World War II era and the oldest grandmaster in the world. He beat Marshall, Tartakower, Alekhine and Capablanca. Everyone had to wear a badge in Turin; the players had access '1' (Olympic Village)', '2' (Residential Area) and '3' (Oval Access). We had the luxury to enter '4' (Parterre) and '5' (Media Area) as well. The fact that this gentleman had 1,2,3,4,5,6 on his badge, suggested that he had to be Lilienthal. And he was. And he didn't mind posing for a photo.'



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