Nezhmetdinov in the Endgame

As the 1000-mile-wide Hurricane Sandy approaches my home (I’m just a few miles north of that big red line that tracks the storm eye), I am reminded of a “hurricane” of the chess world. In his July 7, 2012 blog, Nigel provided an extraordinary documentary on the life and chess of Rashid Nezhmetdinov (1912-1974), acknowledged by the world’s top grandmasters as one of the greatest attacking players in chess history. Nezhmetdinov was called “the greatest master of the initiative” (Polugaevsky), and “virtuoso of combinational chess” (Bronstein). Botvinnik said of him “Nobody sees combinations like Rashid Nezhmetdinov,” and Averbakh “If he had the attack he could kill anybody, including Tal.” Like a hurricane, Nezhmetdinov was always looking for “an active game with great complications.”

Among Nezhmetdinov’s credits include his plus score of +6 =9 -5 in his twenty games against five world champions – Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian and Spassky, including +1 =3 against his more famous attacking compatriot Mikhail Tal. When Tal was asked what day was the greatest in his life he said, “The day I lost to Nezhmetdinov,” referring the beauty of Nezhmetdinov’s combinations. There is a book:  Nezhmetdinov’s Best Games, translated and published by Caissa Editions, 2000. Nigel relates the story of his book acquisition in Russia and the incredible middle-game Polugaevsky-Nezhmetdinov, 1958.

Although renowned for his brilliant middle game play, it is less well known that Nezhmetdinov played some fine endgames (of course, only in cases where his opponent survived to see the endgame). But endgames are not all about the “theory of coordinate squares” and the like – there can be great tactics even with a reduced number of pieces on the board. Nezhmetdinov’s opponents soon came to expect they could never let their guard down, even for a moment in the endgame. If you blinked, you could be mated, as the first example below shows (a lot of interesting lines are contained in the notes):