Janis Klovans dies at 75 (UPDATE)

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Janis Klovans dies at 75The legendary Latvian grandmaster, contemporary of Mikhail Tal and three times World Senior Champion Janis Klovans passed away on Tuesday. Klovans, nicknamed "Iron John" in Latvia, had turned 75 in April this year. UPDATE: a larger comment by Alexei Shirov.

Janis Klovans in 1996 | Photo GFHund licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Janis Klovans was born April 9, 1935 and started playing chess at the age of 14. He won the Latvian Championship nine times (in 1954, 1962, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1975, 1979 and 1986). Klovans played in two Olympiads; at his first (Manila 1992) he drew twice at second reserve board. In 2000 in Istanbul he scored +5 -4 =4.

Klovans continued to be a very active chess player in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. For his tireless and active lifestyle and multi-annual chess, he was nicknamed "Iron John". For many years Klovans was in the Soviet army and even wore uniforms, while being team leader and coach in the Baltic military district. At this time, he has repeatedly been the USSR Armed Forces Champion and Champion of friendly troops. Klovans was also coach at the Riga Chess School.

Janis Klovans was one of the strongest players in his age groups, and in fact until 1997 one of the strongest IMs around - a title he had earned in 1976. He was probably playing at GM level for years, but was barely given a chance to play form norms outside the Soviet Union.

In 1998 Klovans finally received the GM title at the age of 62 after becoming Senior World Champion in 1997 in Bad Liebenzell for the first time - a magnificent result he managed to repeat in 1999 and 2001. Probably there's no player who became a GM at an older age than Klovans based on current achievements, rather than getting a honorary or retrospective title. Klovans was also a correspondence chess grandmaster.

Klovans was happy with his World Senior title but considered the GM title as his greatest achievement. In an interview with Heinz Baumgartner in 1998 he said:

"For a chess player a big title is always a meaningful achievement, but the GM title is especially important for me, as I have strived for it my whole life. Reaching this goal counts more than the senior title. In my life big results tend to come late."

For example, Klovans only started playing chess at the age of 14.

"Only after my studies of economic sciences I became a professional player and at the age of 25 I became Soviet Master. I married when I was 35, which is also a bit late, when you compare to most people, and seven years later, when I was 42, I became an IM. And now another 20 years later I win this world title and the GM title."

In an interview with Dmitry Mart on his 75th birthday this year, 9 April 2010, Klovans said:

"Chess has long become the main meaning of my life. Although friends ask, "aren't you bored of moving the pieces around after so long, when will you finally be able to do it?" Chess for me isn't work at all, but complete relaxation. Moreover, it helps to keep your mental faculties active. I also work a lot with students. It's encouraging that the young take a lively interest in chess as it means that it'll continue to develop in Latvia. Sometimes parents bring in a child for "general development". But in order to become a real professional you need to forget about everything else in the world."


My wife Astra Klovane was once the six-time Latvian Champion. She's long since given up chess: family, children... We've got two daughters. They don't play. I've never forced them. It seems to me that you need to have the desire yourself. My love for chess came from somewhere above.

While preparing the selection of games below, we were once again reminded of how strong a player Klovans really was. A small list of players he beat includes Taimanov, Tal, Karpov, Bronstein, a young Ivanchuk and a young Alexei Shirov, who was also his student. At a Russian forum, Shirov said: "In chess he taught me above all objectivity and the means of seeking the truth. While volleyball with Janis and Zigurds Lanka on the beach at the mouth of the River Gauja - simply happy moments."

Update: on Friday, October 8th, 2010 we spoke to Alexei Shirov personally in Bilbao. He added:

"What was most remarkable about him is that he was always in a good mood, a very good mood basically. Apart from being very kind to everybody I noticed that he would behave the same to all kinds of persons: small children, bad chess amateurs or great players, or the bosses. He would always talk in the same manner. He had his own style in everything; in chess, in life... this was really remarkable. I think he never had a single conflict with anybody.

He was always working very hard on chess to find the truth about every position, to find the logical opening variation. Searching for the truth was both his life and his chess style. I think in away he was a very clean person and a very clean chess player in a way.

He never worked as my coach but I knew him; sometimes we met, and we were almost neighbours in Riga. Our flats were ten minutes from each other so sometimes we would just meet in his flat or in my flat and look at some chess. That particular phrase was connected to my game against him in 1987, the story was also described in Fire on Board 1. We played a game, we analysed, and then a few months later we met again and I just asked him about this variation again, what he thought, and hten he just smiled and showed me the refutation of the whole set-up and then he said: now you have some homework to do. Then I realized I should not be so excited about my own ideas - in that game I had developed my own analysis - and that I must be more careful whether these ideas are right or wrong, and to be excited whether they are mine or not mine."

Selection of notable wins by Klovans

Game viewer by ChessTempo

Articles used

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