Ray Keene obituary of Andor Lilienthal appears in today’s TIMES –


and Impala –


Special thanks to James O’Fee for sharing it with us.

Andor Lilienthal was the world’s oldest chess grandmaster and had the distinction of having played against or met every single world chess champion from Emanuel Lasker to Viswanathan Anand, with the sole exception of the first champion Wilhelm Steinitz whose tenure had commenced in 1886. This is a record that is no longer possible to surpass or even remotely emulate.

Among his world champion victims Lilienthal could number Lasker, Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik and Vasily Smyslov.

Lilienthal could also boast three blitz game victories against the chess genius Alexander Alekhine, though these, played at the rate of five minutes per player per game, did not count for official tournament records. After his defeats in these quickplay contests, Alekhine, invariably generous to promising young chess talents, personally funded Lilienthal’s entry to an important blitz tournament for which the young Hungarian could not afford the entry fee. Lilienthal went on to reward his benefactor’s munificence by duly winning the first prize in the blitz tournament. When Lilienthal, now flush with cash after his victory, offered to refund the world champion’s subsidy, Alekhine declined the offer, insisting that his reward would be for Lilienthal to go on to become a master of the game that Alekhine loved and to which he had committed his own life.

In spite of these successes against the supreme champions, Lilienthal’s absolute moment of glory was to come in his clash against the near-invincible former world champion José Capablanca at the international tournament held at Hastings over the turn of the years 1933-34.

Capablanca was a virtuoso of the chessboard who was capable of going for years on end without losing a single game. Indeed, in the match that had brought him the world title against Lasker in 1921, Capablanca not only avoided losing a single game but also claimed that he had never even been in an inferior position against the defending champion.

Lilienthal, however, remained glacially unimpressed by his formidable opponent’s reputation and delivered a death blow to the mighty Cuban in a sparkling game featuring a sublime queen sacrifice. This coup de foudre not only went the rounds of the world’s chess press but became instantly recognised as a classic of its genre that firmly established Lilienthal as a new chess superstar. Thereafter he became a welcome competitor at many of the most prestigious chess events in the calendar.

Andor (also known as Andre) Arnoldovich Lilienthal was born to Jewish Hungarian parents in Moscow in 1911, but when he was 2 his family moved back to Hungary.

Later basking in the glory of his victory against Capablanca, Lilienthal decided to return to Moscow and make it his home. He had been leading the bohemian and precarious life of a chess professional in Western Europe in the 1930s (much of this time being in Paris), but his decision to return to his Muscovite roots coincided felicitously with the great Soviet drive to establish the intellectual credentials of the revolutionary Bolshevik regime by winning the world chess championship.

Taking advantage of the opportunities thus on offer, Lilienthal became a Soviet citizen in 1939, accepting a post as chess trainer to the trade unions. He went on to achieve the greatest tournament success of his career by sharing first place in the Soviet Championship of 1940, level with Igor Bondarevsky but ahead of Botvinnik and Paul Keres. This triumph resulted in Lilienthal’s invitation to the Soviet Absolute Championship of 1941, a dry run for Soviet grandmasters in their quest for the world title. Sadly, this event was a disappointment for Lilienthal who was clearly overshadowed not just by a resurgent Botvinnik and Keres but also by the decade-younger Vasily Smyslov.

Thereafter Lilienthal’s world title hopes began to fade. He was not invited to the Hague-Moscow World Championship match tournament of 1948, all of the Soviet billets being taken by the three grandmasters who had shattered his hopes in the 1941 Absolute Championship. Two years later Lilienthal did compete in the Budapest candidates qualifier for the world cycle but without success; another young star, the brilliant David Bronstein, seizing the laurels and thus earning the right to challenge Botvinnik for world supremacy on the chessboard.

Lilienthal continued to be a much loved and highly respected member of the global chess community. His games were lauded for their elegance and his chess wisdom and experience admired for their depth and insights. He published a book of his best games and became a consultant to the future world champions Smyslov and Tigran Petrosian. However, after 1950 his own world title aspirations were conclusively buried.

In 1976 Lilienthal returned to Hungary, gradually accommodating himself to the role of honoured guest at important chess functions and to his dawning position as the world’s senior grandmaster.

Andor Lilienthal, grandmaster, was born on May 5, 1911. He died on May 8, 2010, aged 99

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