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Keres - Stahlberg Match

Paul Keres4/8(+2 -2 =4)[games]
Gideon Stahlberg4/8(+2 -2 =4)[games]
* Chess Event Description
Keres - Stahlberg (1938)

Paul Keres and Gideon Ståhlberg played a match in Gothenburg, Sweden, from Wednesday, 20th April, to Sunday, 1st May, 1938. It ended tied, at +2 =4 -2. 1, 2 The match was arranged by the Gothenburg Chess Federation, and the referee was Helge Westerberg. 1


In the late 1930s, Keres gained recognition as an up-and-coming talent. He had been one of the top scorers in the 1935 Chess Olympiad, and had come first in two elite tournaments: Bad Nauheim (1936), where he shared first prize with Alexander Alekhine, and Semmering/Baden (1937), where he was the sole winner.

This match was practice against a strong grandmaster, and excellent preparation for the upcoming AVRO (1938), 6th to 27th November 1938, a tremendously strong tournament which included Alexander Alekhine and Jose Raul Capablanca. By winning this tournament, Keres became the preferred FIDE world champion candidate.

First meeting in 1935, Keres and Ståhlberg had played seven times prior to this match, with Keres having a positive score (+4 =1 -2).


Ståhlberg was Sweden's strongest player in the 1930s, and twice a world championship candidate (in 1950 and 1953). He had first made his name with matches against two giants of the previous generation, Rudolf Spielmann (Stockholm, February 1933) and Aron Nimzowitsch (Gothenburg, January 1934). He defeated both masters by the margin of 5-3. Nimzowitsch was impressed:

He is in fact a brilliant technician in the opening...(and) his endgame pressure is uncommonly strong. 3

Ståhlberg was strong enough to attract the interest of another young rising star, Reuben Fine. Ståhlberg's supporters raised the funds for a match in Gothenburg (January-February 1937), which he lost by +2 -4 =2. 4, 5 In the late 1930s, Ståhlberg was playing consistently and successfully. His best results included: third equal at Dresden (1936), fourth at Podebrady (1936), and tying for second with Keres at Parnu (1937).


Game 1 - Wednesday, 20th April 1938
Game 2 - Thursday, 21st April 1938
Game 3 - Friday, 22nd April 1938
Game 4 - Monday, 25th April 1938
Game 5 - Tuesday, 26th April 1938
Game 6 - Wednesday, 27th April 1938
Game 7 - Thursday, 28th and Friday, 29th April 1938 Game 8 - Saturday, 30th and Sunday, 1st May 1938 3

All the games were played in Gothenburg. Photograph of the contestants:

The progress of the match

The match was close, with first Ståhlberg then Keres taking the lead. It was hard-fought, and the general standard of the games was high. The match was one of closed openings. Keres did not use any of his King's Pawn openings, but preferred hyper-modern systems, in which he fianchettoed his king's bishop early.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Keres 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 0 ½ 4 Ståhlberg 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 4

Progressive score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Keres 0 ½ 1 2 2½ 3½ 3½ 4 Ståhlberg 1 1½ 2 2 2½ 2½ 3½ 4

Keres was White in the odd numbered games.

The games

Game 1
Keres had White in the first game, and opened with <1.c4>. Ståhlberg went for a Semi-Tarrasch Defence, and both players played sharply but accurately, creating a book line (see Kholmov vs Antoshin, 1956 and Benko vs J Peters, 1975, for high level games which followed this game for 17 moves). Ståhlberg equalised, but neither player sought an early draw. Ståhlberg began to make something out of nothing, in a same-colour Bishop-and-Rook ending. Keres sacrificed a pawn for counterplay, but Ståhlberg sharpened the play still further, with an enterprising sacrifice of the exchange for a pawn. He now had two pawns for the exchange in the ending. Keres moved his rook away from Ståhlberg's passed kingside pawns in order to win back one pawn, only to find that he was then unable to stop their advance.

Game 2
Ståhlberg played a favourite line: the Nimzo-Indian, Spielmann Variation (E22), which was popular in the 1930s at the highest level, but which has since become a rarity in tournament practice, as drawing lines were discovered. Keres equalised, and threatened to take the initiative. Ståhlberg tried to trade pieces down to a draw, but Keres avoided an exchange of queens. Now Ståhlberg was under pressure, but Keres could not force any advantage. He decided to ensure a draw by going into a bishops of opposite colour ending, at the cost of being a pawn down, but with a passed pawn on <e2>. He played accurately to hold the draw, despite Ståhlberg pressing in a long endgame.

Game 3
In the third game, Ståhlberg quickly equalised against Keres' Catalan. By an ingenious pseudo-sacrifice of a knight, he trapped Keres' queen into a forced repetition. So far in this match, the balance of the struggle had been with Ståhlberg.

Game 4
This could have been an opportunity for Ståhlberg to gain a significant advantage in the match. By winning it, he would be two games up with four to play. Ståhlberg remained faithful to the Spielmann Variation, but once again he could not get any advantage out of the opening. The ensuing single rook and pawns ending should have been drawn, but inaccurate play cost Ståhlberg a pawn and ultimately the game.

Game 5
Keres played a topical line of the Catalan, but Ståhlberg played accurately and equalised. In a long game, neither player could seize the initiative.

Game 6
Keres played a sharp defence, to which Ståhlberg replied in an aggressive, but not the most accurate fashion. Keres then offered an imaginative exchange sacrifice. Ståhlberg correctly declined, but this left Keres with the initiative. With his king under attack, Ståhlberg made a subtle blunder and lost a pawn. Keres was then able to force through his <c> pawn to win.

Game 7
Keres played a Réti opening, aggressively sacrificing his <b> pawn. His scheme proved overambitious, and his king was left without secure shelter. Ståhlberg soon broke through, winning material. Even so, this was the longest game of the match, with Keres vainly attempting to hold an endgame three pawns down.

Game 8
Ståhlberg gained no advantage with White, and for a long time the game was even. He then miscalculated, and Keres came close to winning in the endgame:

click for larger view

50...b4! 51.h4 b3 52.Kg3 Rb4 53.Rb2 Kc5. But as Keres missed this line, Ståhlberg was then able to hold on for a draw.


1 Ståhlberg in Tidskrift för Schack, June 1938, pp. 110-112,
2 Tidskrift för Schack, April-May 1938, pp. 77-79 & 86-93,
3 Aron Nimzowitsch 1928-1935: Annotated Games & Essays by Aron Nimzowitsch, ed. by Rudolf Reinhardt, pp. 282-283.
4 Chess Review, April 1958, p. 110.
5 New York Times, 9th February 1937.

Original collection: Game Collection: Keres - Stahlberg by User: Chessical.

 page 1 of 1; 8 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Keres vs Stahlberg  0-1571938Keres - StahlbergA14 English
2. Stahlberg vs Keres  ½-½681938Keres - StahlbergE22 Nimzo-Indian, Spielmann Variation
3. Keres vs Stahlberg  ½-½201938Keres - StahlbergA14 English
4. Stahlberg vs Keres 0-1661938Keres - StahlbergE22 Nimzo-Indian, Spielmann Variation
5. Keres vs Stahlberg  ½-½491938Keres - StahlbergA14 English
6. Stahlberg vs Keres 0-1371938Keres - StahlbergE11 Bogo-Indian Defense
7. Keres vs Stahlberg  0-1951938Keres - StahlbergA09 Reti Opening
8. Stahlberg vs Keres ½-½641938Keres - StahlbergD10 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

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