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Bogoljubov - Eliskases 1939
Compiled by Chessical


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 into the National Socialist organisation the Grossdeutsche Schachbund (Greater German Chess Federation - GSB).

Becker, on behalf of the Austrian Chess Association, quickly 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 year's old. Bogolubov was no. 11 and Eliksases 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 1,700 km (1,078 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 then south to Regensburg in Bavaria which was a 450 km journey and 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 short 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 from his world championship matches against 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 Venue

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 extremely probable that this match was held to decide whom the Grossdeutsche Schachbund would support as a prospective challenger to Alexander 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 to Alekhine, Alekhine - Bogoljubov World Championship Match (1929) and Alekhine - Bogoljubov World Championship Rematch (1934)

The players:


Bogoljubov was a strong tactician and this was allied to an optimistic character. In terms of positional skill, he was significantly behind Alekhine and Capablanca.

Bogoljubov's peak had between the second half of the 1920's when he was 4-5th in the world rankings. Efim Bogoljubov in the late 1930s had a series of mediocre results in top-class international tournaments. He had been 10th out of 15 at Nottingham (1936), 3rd 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)

(2) See Chessmetrics,


Eliskases was a predominantly positional player with a particular technical proficiency in the ending.

During the 1930s, Eliskases became one of the strongest players in the world. He was a member of the Austrian national team in the Chess Olympiads of 1933 (Folkestone) and 1935 (Warsaw) where he scored the highest individual score on the third board.

In the late 1930s, his success at major international events put Eliskases into consideration as a plausible world championship candidate for the 1940's along with Reuben Fine, Salomon Flohr, Paul Keres and Reshevsky. Eliskases put together a run of very impressive tournament victories: Swinemünde (Świnoujście) in 1936, Zurich in 1938 and he won in Noordwijk (1938) (ahead of Paul Keres and Max Euwe, with Bogoljubov in fifth place), Milan 1939 and Bad Harzburg and Bad Elster (both 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 Chessmetric's data, Eliskases was behind Reuben Fine (#2) Samuel Reshevsky (#3) Max Euwe (#7) Salomon Flohr (#8) and Mikhail Botvinnik (#12) in the world rankings.

There was no doubt that he was a strong grandmaster, up to end of 1939 Eliskases' personal score against the world's leading players was: Paul Keres (+3 =2 -2), Alexander Alekhine (=0 =2 -2), Jose Raul Capablanca (+1 =2 -1), Max Euwe, Samuel Reshevsky (+0 =0 -2), Salomon Flohr (+1 =2 -6), Reuben Fine (+0 =2 -1).

Whilst he had shown he was very strong, he had not yet shown that he was exceptional. His performances at the elite tournaments: Podebrady (1936), 6th = (+6 =7 -4), Moscow (1936), 7th= which was last place (+2 =11 -5) Semmering/Baden (1937), 6th which was second to last (+2 =8 -4), had been disappointing.

The progress of the match

Eliskases was White in the odd-numbered games.

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

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

Progressive score:

Eliskases was ahead in the match from Game 7 until its conclusion.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Bogoljubov 1 1½ 1½ 2 2½ 3 3 3 3 3½ 4½ 5 5½ 6 6 7 7 7½ 8 8½ Eliskases 0 ½ 1½ 2 2½ 3 4 5 6 6½ 6½ 7 7½ 8 9 9 10 10½ 11 11½

From Game 8, he was never less than two points ahead.

Eliskases was much more effective with the White pieces than his opponent; Bogoljubov only won one game with White (Game 16) whilst 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 was following 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 wide 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, which three years before he had won a spectacular game with Black against - 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 defence. 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 to draw but he missed it.

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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>. The match score was now tied.


Game 4 - Bogoljubov remained faithful to <1.e4> but this time chose a Ruy Lopez. Eliksases used a long theoretical line of the Open defence following his opponent's moves from another Bogoljubov victory A Becker vs Bogoljubov, 1938 the previous year. It seems that as with game two, 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, Eliksases used a defence he had previously played in his 1932 match with Spielmann - Spielmann vs Eliskases, 1932. In a game that proceeded methodically without tactical surprises, a bishops of opposite colour ending led to a draw after 45 moves.


Game 7 - This game began as another Classical Nimzo-Indian but Bogoljubov transposed into a QGD. Eliskases slowly 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, 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 Eliksases easily 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 the real prospect of a rout with Bogoljubov succumbing to demoralisation.


Game 11 - Eliskases has the initiative. He now had White have scored 3.5 out of 4 points in the proceeding games. This game could break Bogoljubov' resistance.

Bogojubov's answer to his predicament was the sharp Budapest Gambit. Bogojubov tactically outplayed his younger opponent and developed overwhelming pressure on the King-side costing Eliksases 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 should have won this game. With two connected outside passed pawns, he wasted a move by pushing the wrong one had 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, Bogojubov 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 his by castling Queen-side (Keres also came to grief with this idea - 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 defended with a new defence in this match, the Grunfeld. He was quickly overwhelmed by a King-side attack culminating in a knock-out blow:

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24. Nf5!! <24...Qe6> (24... gxf5?? 25. Qg3) 24... Bxf6 25. exf6 Qd7 26. Nh6+ Kh8 27. Re7 Qc6 28. Nxf7+ Rxf7 29. Rxf7 Qc5+ 30. Kh2


Game 16 - Eliskases again defended with a Queen's Indian Defence 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 QGD, Eliskases whipped up a King-side attack. Once again, Bogoljubov was to suffer a disaster on <f5>

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Eliskases was now three games up.


Game 18 - Three points ahead, Eliskases introduced the solid Lasker's Defence to the QGD 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 QGA of the match. In the following position, Bogoljubov made a critical decision.

click for larger view

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, but Eliskases stumbled and missed the win in the 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 Lasker's Defence to the QGD. Eliskases 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 in Europe 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 little opportunity to stake a claim for consideration as a candidate. For the ageing Bogoljubov, his time as a realistic challenger for the crown was over. He lost to Euwe (+2 -5 =3) - Euwe - Bogoljubov (1941) at Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary), 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", 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", Erich Eliskases, Magyar Sakkvilág (1939).

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

Text by User: Chessical.

Game 1.
Eliskases vs Bogoljubov, 1939
(E38) Nimzo-Indian, Classical, 4...c5, 44 moves, 0-1

Game 2.
Bogoljubov vs Eliskases, 1939
(C50) Giuoco Piano, 35 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 3.
Eliskases vs Bogoljubov, 1939 
(A70) Benoni, Classical with 7.Nf3, 55 moves, 1-0

Game 4.
Bogoljubov vs Eliskases, 1939 
(C83) Ruy Lopez, Open, 74 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 5.
Eliskases vs Bogoljubov, 1939
(E34) Nimzo-Indian, Classical, Noa Variation, 34 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 6.
Bogoljubov vs Eliskases, 1939
(C77) Ruy Lopez, 45 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 7.
Eliskases vs Bogoljubov, 1939
(E36) Nimzo-Indian, Classical, 69 moves, 1-0

Game 8
Bogoljubov vs Eliskases, 1939 
(D37) Queen's Gambit Declined, 42 moves, 0-1

Game 9.
Eliskases vs Bogoljubov, 1939 
(D19) Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, Dutch, 43 moves, 1-0

Game 10.
Bogoljubov vs Eliskases, 1939
(C58) Two Knights, 51 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 11.
Eliskases vs Bogoljubov, 1939 
(A52) Budapest Gambit, 35 moves, 0-1

Game 12.
Bogoljubov vs Eliskases, 1939
(E14) Queen's Indian, 52 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 13.
Eliskases vs Bogoljubov, 1939 
(D49) Queen's Gambit Declined Semi-Slav, Meran, 69 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 14.
Bogoljubov vs Eliskases, 1939
(E37) Nimzo-Indian, Classical, 30 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 15.
Eliskases vs Bogoljubov, 1939 
(D11) Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, 24 moves, 1-0

Game 16.
Bogoljubov vs Eliskases, 1939 
(E14) Queen's Indian, 73 moves, 1-0

Game 17.
Eliskases vs Bogoljubov, 1939
(D11) Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, 52 moves, 1-0

Game 18.
Bogoljubov vs Eliskases, 1939
(D56) Queen's Gambit Declined, 38 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 19.
Eliskases vs Bogoljubov, 1939 
(D21) Queen's Gambit Accepted, 84 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 20.
Bogoljubov vs Eliskases, 1939
(D56) Queen's Gambit Declined, 56 moves, 1/2-1/2

20 games

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