May 10, 2010 / 5:14 PM / 10 years ago

Hungarian chess grandmaster Lilienthal dies at 99

BUDAPEST (Reuters Life!) - Andor Lilienthal, the oldest chess grandmaster in the world who beat half of the world champions of the 20th century, has died at the age of 99, the Hungarian Chess Association (HCA) said Monday.

After a long life which made him a legend of world chess, he died Saturday in Budapest, the Hungarian capital which also gave the Polgar sisters to world chess and one of whose landmarks is chess being played in the historic Szechenyi bath.

Silver medalist with Hungary at the chess Olympiad in 1937, Soviet champion in 1940, Lilienthal rivaled world champions for decades, knew all the top players and has been known by all.

“He was an infinitely good man, perhaps that’s why he lived so long,” HCA President Peter Kunos said. “He played against all the world champions in his active period.”

And he beat them. Emanuel Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov all lost games against Lilienthal.

He was born in Moscow to Hungarian Jewish parents, but lived in Hungary from the age of two in a poor family.

The love of chess and hunger together made the child Lilienthal learn the game as he wrote in his book “My life is chess,” which has been translated into several languages.

“When I fell in love with chess, I would have given my last penny so as to learn it. Later I played because, as we the young said “I needed the dough,” he wrote. “I went from cafe to cafe. I lived from one day to the other, for chess and from chess.”

After Budapest cafes, the cafes of Europe opened to the young man as he played better and better. Alekhine once paid his participant fee at a Paris tournament when Lilienthal did not have money.

Lilienthal was most successful in the 1930s and 1940s, after he emigrated to the Soviet Union in 1935. He returned to Hungary in 1976 and his last tournament was there in 1980.

He also earned a name as a trainer. He coached Tigran Petrosian, and Vasily Smyslov in his world championship match against Botvinnik, and was a friend to U.S. world champion Bobby Fischer during the latter’s emigration years.

“Bobby Fischer found shelter from time to time... on the sofa in uncle Andor’s small flat in Obuda (Budapest),” Nepszabadsag newspaper wrote.

“He...led an active life even over 90: he smoked and drove, sent (chess) analysis to papers,” it added.

Viswanathan Anand — who is a player of Hungarian team Nagykanizsa — and Veselin Topalov, playing for the world championship title in Sofia observed a minute of silence in memory of Lilienthal before their 11th game.

The death of the oldest grandmaster does not leave Hungary without chess talents: the youngest living grandmaster, Richard Rapport is also Hungarian, Kunos said.

Reporting by Sandor Peto, editing by Paul Casciato

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