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Bogoljubov - Eliskases Match

Erich Eliskases11.5/20(+6 -3 =11)[games]
Efim Bogoljubov8.5/20(+3 -6 =11)[games] Chess Event Description
Bogoljubov - Eliskases (1939)


After the Nazi annexation and absorption (Anschluss) of Austria (12th March 1938), Austrian chess players such as Erich Eliskases, Albert Becker, Ernst Gruenfeld and Josef Lokvenc were incorporated in the National Socialist organisation Grossdeutsche Schachbund (Greater German Chess Federation - GSB). Becker, on behalf of the Austrian Chess Association, then wrote to Otto Zander, the head of the GSB, "In indelible gratitude towards the man who has led us German Austrians to freedom and unity, we greet our chess comrades in the Greater German Chess Federation with Heil Hitler!" (1) Eliskases was the German Champion in both 1938 and 1939. The only other grandmaster of equal stature in the Greater German Chess Federation was Efim Bogoljubov. At the time of the match, Bogoljubov was almost fifty whilst Eliskases was twenty-five years old. Bogoljubov was no. 11 and Eliskases no. 9 in the January 1939 Chessmetrics rating list. (2)

The match

The match was of twenty games and was played between 4th January and 12th February 1939 in eleven towns and cities in Germany. The itinerary involved over 1700 km (1078 miles) of travel. Although opening in the capital, Berlin, from then on the match's progress was an untidy zigzag path across Southern Germany and in particular Bavaria. In its itinerary, only Berlin and Munich were, by population, in the top ten cities of the country.

After two games in Berlin, the first leg south was 160 km west to the medieval city of Magdeburg on the River Elbe for one game. Then it was south to Regensburg in Bavaria, a 450 km journey which passed by the great cities of Dresden and Leipzig. The third leg, north-west through Bavaria to Nuremberg, was less taxing at 110 km. Bamberg was a hop north at 62 km, but the next stage, south to Augsburg, passing Nuremberg again, accounted for 207 km. Then it was 72 km south-east to the Bavarian state capital of Munich, and a further 90 km south-west to the small Swabian town of Kaufbeuren. The tiny Black Forest town Triberg, involving a 267 km trek west may seem a surprising choice, but it was also Bogoljubov's adopted home. The players then proceeded north-west and into the Rhineland-Palatinate to play at Kaiserslautern (250 km) and finally, the match ended to the east amidst the baroque splendour of Mannheim (67 km). Bogolubov would have been familiar with this, having played across the country in his world championship matches against Alexander Alekhine. The constant upheaval and travel of this peripatetic match does not seem to have weighed more heavily on the older grandmaster, as he scored more points in the second half of the match! Game venues:

1 Berlin 2 Berlin 3 Magdeburg 4 Regensburg 5 Nuremberg 6 Nuremberg 7 Bamberg 8 Augsburg 9 Augsburg 10 Munich 11 Munich 12 Munich 13 Kaufbeuren 14 Triberg 15 Kaiserslautern 16 Kaiserslautern 17 Mannheim 18 Mannheim 19 Mannheim 20 Mannheim

It seems probable that the match was held to decide whom the Grossdeutsche Schachbund would support as a challenger to Alekhine for the world championship. Would it be the established but ageing Bogoljubov or the much younger Eliskases? Eliskases had won the 1938 and 1939 championships of the Grossdeutsche Schachbund whilst Bogoljubov had twice been the world championship contender (Alekhine - Bogoljubov World Championship Match (1929) and Alekhine - Bogoljubov World Championship Rematch (1934)).


Bogoljubov was a strong tactician and this was allied to an optimistic character. In terms of positional skill, he was significantly behind Alekhine and Jose Raul Capablanca. His peak was in the second half of the 1920s when he was 1st-4th in the world rankings. (2) In the late 1930s he had a series of mediocre results in top-class tournaments. He had been 10th out of 15 at Nottingham (1936), 2nd of 4 in Bad Nauheim-Stuttgart-Garmisch (1937), and 5th of 10 at Noordwijk (1938). Whilst there were some successes, such as winning the strong Stuttgart tournament (May 1939), this appears to have been a period of on-going decline. (3)


Eliskases was a predominantly positional player with a particular technical proficiency in the ending. During the 1930s, he became one of the strongest players in the world. He played on the Austrian national team in the Olympiads of 1933 (Folkestone) and 1935 (Warsaw), where he had the highest individual score on the third board. In the late 1930s, his success at major events put him into consideration as a plausible world championship candidate for the 1940's along with Reuben Fine, Salomon Flohr, Paul Keres and Samuel Reshevsky. He put together a run of impressive tournament victories: Swinemünde (Świnoujście) (1936), Zurich (1938), and he won in Noordwijk (1938) (ahead of Paul Keres and Max Euwe with Bogoljubov in 5th place), Milan (1939), Bad Harzburg (1939) and Bad Elster (1939). Both World Champions of the 1930s used his services as a second, Euwe in 1935 and Alekhine in 1937.

Eliskases was 'Österreichischer Vorkämpfer' (Austria's foremost standard bearer). According to Chessmetrics, he was behind only Mikhail Botvinnik (#1), Fine (#2), Alekhine (#3), Reshevsky (#4), Keres (#5), Capablanca (#6), Euwe (#7) and Flohr (#8) in the rankings. (2) There was no doubt that he was a strong grandmaster; up to end of 1939 his personal score against the leading players was: Keres +3 =2 -2, Alekhine +0 =2 -2, Capablanca +1 =2 -1, Euwe/Reshevsky +0 =0 -2, Flohr +1 =2 -6, Fine +0 =2 -1. Whilst he had shown he was very strong, he had not yet shown that he was exceptional. His performances at Podebrady (1936) (=6th, +6 =7 -4), Moscow (1936) (=7th which was last place, +2 =11 -5) and Semmering/Baden (1937) (6th which was second to last, +2 =8 -4) had been disappointing.

The progress of the match

Halfway through the match at Game 10, Eliskases was three games up. Bogoljubov had not won since the opening game, yet did not fold. Instead he showed his fighting spirit. In the next ten games, Bogoljubov won two games and only lost two further games.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Eliskases 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 11½ Bogoljubov 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 0 ½ ½ ½ 8½

Eliskases was White in the odd-numbered games. Progressive score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Eliskases 0 ½ 1½ 2 2½ 3 4 5 6 6½ 6½ 7 7½ 8 9 9 10 10½ 11 11½ Bogoljubov 1 1½ 1½ 2 2½ 3 3 3 3 3½ 4½ 5 5½ 6 6 7 7 7½ 8 8½

Eliskases was ahead in the match from Game 7 until its conclusion. From Game 8, he was never less than two points ahead. He was more effective with the White pieces than his opponent; Bogoljubov only won one game with White (Game 16) whereas Eliskases won five. In defence, Bogoljubov won two games with Black and lost five, whilst Eliskases as Black won one but lost two.

The games

Game 1. Eliskases played a topical line against Bogoljubov's Nimzo-Indian. Whether by choice or by chance, Eliskases followed his opponent's method of play in the Classical variation; Bogoljubov vs Saemisch, 1937. Bogoljubov equalised, and then outplayed his opponent in a Rooks and Knights late middlegame. Just before the time control, Bogoljubov became distracted by his opponents passed <a> pawn and missed the winning line 40...Nxd4 playing his Rook to a2 instead.

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Luckily for him, Eliskases also missed 41.Rb3+ which would have snatched a draw from imminent defeat. Bogolubov was to use this variation himself in Game 14, as he deployed a variety of systems against his opponent's Queen Pawn opening from established to the experimental.

Game 2. Bogoljubov chose a solid but old-fashioned opening, the Giuoco Pianissimo, with which three years before he had won a spectacular game with Black (G Machate vs Bogoljubov, 1936). Eliskases played energetically and drew the Rook and Pawns ending.

Game 3. Having played an antique opening with White in the previous game, Bogoljubov defended with a hyper-modern Modern Benoni. Eliskases secured the centre but Bogoljubov had sufficient counterplay, before he made a number of second-best moves in a sharp position and lost. Once again, Eliskases presented him with one fleeting opportunity:

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Eliskases played the natural 30.Kg2?! whereas 30.Rf2! wins as after 30...Bxf2+ 31.Kg2! leaves the Black Queen with no squares, whilst taking the b2 pawn loses the vital key-stone pawn on d6. Eliskases won anyway, and the match score was now tied.

Game 4. Bogoljubov remained faithful to 1.e4 but this time chose a Ruy Lopez. Eliskases used a long theoretical line of the Open defence following his opponent's moves from another Bogoljubov victory the previous year (A Becker vs Bogoljubov, 1938). It seems that as with Game 2, this was the result of studying of his opponents' games in preparation for the match. Bogoljubov won a pawn but despite trying for many moves, he could not win with two pawns versus one with both sides having Black-squared bishops.

Game 5. Eliskases' second game using the Classical variation of the Nimzo-Indian was more successful than the first in that he drew, but he was unable to handle any initiative from the opening as White.

Game 6. With Black in a closed Ruy Lopez, Eliskases used a defence he had played in his match with Spielmann (Spielmann vs E Eliskases, 1932). In a game that proceeded methodically without tactical surprises, an ending with bishops of opposite colour led to a draw after 45 moves.

Game 7. This game began as another Classical Nimzo-Indian but Bogoljubov transposed into a Queens Gambit Declined. Eliskases outmanoeuvred his opponent and dominated the centre. Defending a cramped position Bogoljubov shed pawns and finally resigned three pawns down.

Game 8. Bogoljubov unveiled a new opening, the Catalan, and Eliskases defended with a closed version. Eliskases had a passed <c> pawn which Bogoljubov mishandled. This toxic pawn fatally tied him down in the endgame and Bogoljubov recorded his second loss in two games.

Game 9. With Black and two successive losses, Bogoljubov employed the solid Slav Defence. He developed a comfortable position, but an oversight gave his opponent the advantage:

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31...Bb7? instead of Qxc5 allowed Eliskases to play 32.Rd6! establishing a very powerful protected passed pawn. Bogoljubov attempted to launch an attack before an endgame emerged which would have been hopeless for him. It seemed he had chances by insinuating his Queen into Eliskases' King-side. Instead, his opponent had seen more and trapped the Black Queen.

Game 10. Bogoljubov now had White, and as he had suffered three losses in a row he could be expected to be 'out for blood'. Eliskases defended with the combative Two Knight's Defence when he could have easily gone into quiet lines along the lines of Game 2. Bogoljubov had some advantage, and eventually won a pawn, but Eliskases held the ending. This was to be the last <e> pawn opening of the match. The first half of the match completed, Eliskases was four wins to one up; there was a real prospect of a rout with Bogoljubov succumbing to demoralisation.

Game 11. Eliskases had the initiative. He now had White and 3.5 out of 4 points in the proceeding games. This game could break Bogoljubov's resistance. Bogojubov's answer to his predicament was the Budapest Gambit. He tactically outplayed his younger opponent and developed a strong pressure on the King-side costing Eliskases both a piece and the game.

Game 12. Bogojubov chose to open with a Queen-side debut and Eliskases defended with a Queen's Indian Defence. Obviously buoyed up by his previous win, Bogoljubov played energetically and he should have won this game. With two connected outside passed pawns, he wasted a move by pushing the wrong pawn and had to resort to a perpetual check:

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45.b4? drew but 45.a5! wins (45.a5 Rxg3+ 46.Kd2 Rd3+ 47.Ke2 Rxb3 48.a6 Rb2+ 49.Kd1 Rb1+ 50.Kd2 Rb2+ 51.Kc3 Rc2+ 52.Kb3 Rd2 53.a7)

Game 13. Bogojubov came close to winning this game on the black side of a Slav Defence. Despite spoiling a winning position in the previous game, he was still fighting hard but in this game his opponent showed great resilience and technique. Eliskases managed to construct a draw-by-stalemate two pawns down.


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Game 14. Bogoljubov as White chose the Classical Nimzo-Indian. He overplayed by castling Queen-side (Keres also came to grief with this idea in Keres vs Botvinnik, 1941) and was only saved when Eliskases overlooked a tactic:

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23.Bxh7+! Kf8 24.Bc2. The final position bears testament to the "hair-trigger" nature of the game:

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Game 15. Bogojubov employed a new defence in this match, the Grünfeld. He was quickly overwhelmed by a King-side attack culminating in a knock-out blow:

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24.Nf5!! (24...Bxf6 (24...gxf5?? 25.Qg3) 25.exf6 Qd7 26.Nh6+ Kh8 27.Re7 Qc6 28.Nxf7+ Rxf7 29.Rxf7 Qc5+ 30.Kh2)

Game 16. Eliskases defended with a Queen's Indian despite his experience in Game 12. For a long time, the game was equal until Eliskases blundered and allowed Bogoljubov to establish two connected passed pawns. Bogoljubov had pulled a game back but was still two games down.

Game 17. On the White side of a Queens Gambit Declined, Eliskases whipped up a King-side attack. Once again, Bogoljubov was to suffer a disaster on <f5>:

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51.Rf5+! Eliskases was now three games up.

Game 18. Three points ahead, Eliskases introduced the solid Lasker Defence to the Queens Gambit Declined into the match repertoire. Bogoljubov could make no headway and a completely drawn ending ensued.

Game 19. Bogoljubov once again varied his defence by playing the first Queens Gambit Accepted of the match. In the following position, Bogoljubov made a critical decision:

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Instead of taking the Rook on b7, he tried to complicate and protected his Knight with 25...Bd8. The transaction was to leave him two pawns down. Bogoljubov defended with tenacity, and Eliskases stumbled and missed the win in a long Bishop and Pawn endgame.

Game 20. Bogoljubov, with the White pieces, could have agreed on a quick draw, but he fought on. Eliskases, as in Game 18, used the Lasker Defence. He had weak pawns on the Queen-side but Bogoljubov could not exploit this advantage and the game was drawn.


Whilst the match was in progress, the British Prime Minister Chamberlain was in Rome trying to negotiate with Mussolini. The clouds of war were gathering and neither player was to have an opportunity to take further part in the world championship. Eliskases was left isolated without financial or national support in South America. From there, he had no opportunity to stake a claim for consideration as a candidate. For the ageing Bogoljubov, his time as a realistic challenger was over. He lost to Euwe at Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) (Euwe - Bogoljubov (1941)), but more importantly, his reputation was to be irrevocably soiled by association with Nazi Germany.


(1) The Chess Game as Phenomenon of the Cultural History of the 19th and 20th Centuries, by Edmund Bruns, quoting M. Ehn, Zwei Männer und Anschluß 1938 in Der Standard, 20th January 1991.
(2) See
(3) See

Eliskases wrote a book about the match: Der wettkampf Bogoljubov-Eliskases, 1939. Magyar Sakkvilág (1939).

This text by User: Chessical. The game collection was cloned from a collection by User: Pawn and Two who also used Eliskases' book of the match to supply the dates and locations of the games. Also see Di Felice, Chess Results 1936-1940, p. 272.

 page 1 of 1; 20 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Eliskases vs Bogoljubov 0-1441939Bogoljubov - EliskasesE38 Nimzo-Indian, Classical, 4...c5
2. Bogoljubov vs Eliskases ½-½351939Bogoljubov - EliskasesC50 Giuoco Piano
3. Eliskases vs Bogoljubov 1-0551939Bogoljubov - EliskasesA70 Benoni, Classical with 7.Nf3
4. Bogoljubov vs Eliskases ½-½741939Bogoljubov - EliskasesC83 Ruy Lopez, Open
5. Eliskases vs Bogoljubov ½-½341939Bogoljubov - EliskasesE34 Nimzo-Indian, Classical, Noa Variation
6. Bogoljubov vs Eliskases ½-½451939Bogoljubov - EliskasesC77 Ruy Lopez
7. Eliskases vs Bogoljubov 1-0691939Bogoljubov - EliskasesE36 Nimzo-Indian, Classical
8. Bogoljubov vs Eliskases 0-1421939Bogoljubov - EliskasesD37 Queen's Gambit Declined
9. Eliskases vs Bogoljubov 1-0431939Bogoljubov - EliskasesD19 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, Dutch
10. Bogoljubov vs Eliskases ½-½511939Bogoljubov - EliskasesC58 Two Knights
11. Eliskases vs Bogoljubov 0-1351939Bogoljubov - EliskasesA52 Budapest Gambit
12. Bogoljubov vs Eliskases ½-½521939Bogoljubov - EliskasesE14 Queen's Indian
13. Eliskases vs Bogoljubov ½-½691939Bogoljubov - EliskasesD49 Queen's Gambit Declined Semi-Slav, Meran
14. Bogoljubov vs Eliskases ½-½301939Bogoljubov - EliskasesE37 Nimzo-Indian, Classical
15. Eliskases vs Bogoljubov 1-0241939Bogoljubov - EliskasesD11 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav
16. Bogoljubov vs Eliskases 1-0731939Bogoljubov - EliskasesE14 Queen's Indian
17. Eliskases vs Bogoljubov 1-0521939Bogoljubov - EliskasesD11 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav
18. Bogoljubov vs Eliskases  ½-½381939Bogoljubov - EliskasesD56 Queen's Gambit Declined
19. Eliskases vs Bogoljubov ½-½841939Bogoljubov - EliskasesD21 Queen's Gambit Accepted
20. Bogoljubov vs Eliskases ½-½561939Bogoljubov - EliskasesD56 Queen's Gambit Declined
 page 1 of 1; 20 games  PGN Download 
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Dec-26-17  offramp: I would like to thank User: Chessical for his fantastic work on this match. Although it is not well known the games are very exciting.

Happy holidays, User: Chessical!

Nov-25-18  laskereshevsky: "...Eliskases wrote a book about the match: Der wettkampf Bogoljubov-Eliskases, 1939. Magyar Sakkvilág (1939)..."

I'm the owner of an original, i suppose, copy of this book

(48 pages in german)

On the cover is wright:

der ungarischen schachwelt
(magyar sakkvilág)
IX. band
von erich eliskases

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