Person of day - 14 APRIL 2023
The future candidate for the world championship Efim Bogoljubov was born in the family of a rural priest in the Ukrainian town of Stanislavchyk. The curious young man did not want to follow in the footsteps of his father and enrolled in a polytechnic university. Later on, he became a regular visitor of a Warsaw Coffeehouse, a chess café. At first, Efim played badly, but he was a true fanatic- he played for days on end and wrote manuscripts in analysis of variants. And soon the self-taught newcomer, who used to be offered a pawn and an extra move, became one of the best players in Kiev. At the Russian Tournament of Masters in 1914, he achieved the title of master.
As one of the strongest players in his country, Bogoljubov attended international tournaments like the German Chess Championship. During that tournament, World War I broke out and, alongside with other Russian players like Alekhine, Bogatyrchuk, Rabinovich and Romanovsky, he was taken prison. During his incarceration, he spent hours playing blindfold chess with Alekhine. After his release, he performed an impressive series of victories in Germany and Sweden, he beat Nimzowitsch and drew with his former neighbour in jail.
The War ended in 1918, but Efim did not return home because he fell in love with Frieda Kaltenbach, the daughter of a local teacher; two years later, they married and had two daughters, Sonya and Tamara. In the following years, Bogoljubov was considered one of the strongest candidates for the world championship and he set about looking for an opportunity to play Jose Raul Capablanca. But that was no easy task: the invincible Cuban and other leading chess players signed an agreement that the prize fund must be ten thousand dollars. Finding this money in a post-war Germany was extremely difficult.
In 1924, Bogoljubov returned to the USSR, where he won two national championships and triumphed in the first international tournament in Moscow by overtaking Lasker and Capablanca. However, Efim’s dreams of a match for the world championship under the Soviet flag were not meant to be: very soon, he wasn’t allowed to attend international tournaments without the approval of the fearsome People’s Commissar Krylenko. He was forced to give up Soviet citizenship, which led to his anathema in the USSR.
Bogoljubov returned to Germany and announced his intention to play against Capablanca, but the Cuban soon lost his title to Alekhine. Efim’s old friend in jail decided to reach out to him because Bogoljubov only raised six thousand dollars for the matches between him and Alekhine. The match took place in 1929 and proved to be extremely intense- as grandmaster Adrian Mikhalchishin recalled, a young Garry Kasparov advised him: “Watch the first match between Alekhine and Bogoljubov. This match is spectacular! One of the best matches for the world crown.”
By that time, Nazis had come to power in Germany and Bogoljubov was forced to play in tournaments organised by Hitler’s regime. In the Third Reich, he was considered a citizen of second sort because he wasn’t Aryan. Entry into the National Socialist Party didn’t help either. Although he was one of the best chess players in the world, Bogoljubov only made one appearance for Germany at Olympiads. After defeat in the rematch against Alekhine, Efim had to devote himself to literature, trained Klaus Junger- a remarkably gifted player who died in World War II- and future grandmasters Wolfgang Unziker and Klaus Darga.
After the end of World War II, he was boycotted by Soviet chess players. Due to pressure from the Soviet chess federation, he was not admitted to the match-tournament for the world championship and several more international tournaments; furthermore, he was taken out of the list of exceptional chess players that were awarded the title of grandmaster in 1950. Justice was restored one year later after the outrage from the Western world. In later years, he trained the West German national team.
Bogoljubov died at the age of 62. To his dying day, he led a difficult life of a chess professional, travelling across Germany to hold training sessions and lectures and his heart gave out. Efim Bogoljubov died in his sleep.
Efim Bogoljubov’s name was rehabilitated in the Soviet Union at the start of perestroika.
“When I play White I win because I am White. When I play Black I win because I am Bogoljubov” (E. Bogoljubov)
“In the Soviet Union, he was called a renegade and fascist and in Fascist Germany he was persecuted for his non-Aryan lineage. He had to manoeuvre between Scylla and Charybdis for his whole life, while defending his right for a happy existence: doing his favourite job and looking after his loved ones. Despite two attempts, in 1929 and 1934, he never became world champion. The great optimist was a little short on luck…” (V. Barsky)
“His main quality was his imagination. In the sphere of chess theory, Bogoljubov was extremely productive: particularly notable is the New Indian line of Queen’s Pawn Game that bears his name …Capablanca “created”, Alekhine “fought”, Lasker “mused” while Bogoljubov “imagined”. And sometimes he too achieved the highest results.” (S. Tartakower)