He won the Russian championship 5 times, so why wasn’t he a grandmaster?


Rashid Nezhmetdinov, aka “Super Nezh”, was clearly GM strength, having a plus score in the 20 games he played against World Champions, including a plus score against his friend, Tal. He was also a five-time Russian champion (this title predates the Soviet Union, and is not the same as champion of the Soviet Union).

I was a Russian linguist in the Air Force during the cold war (1980-1988), and all of my Russian teachers were “off the boat” as they say, meaning they were natives of the Soviet Union, so we heard many stories about life there, and Nezhmetdinov’s story is not uncommon: Lack of favor.

During his peak years, Nezhmetdinov only managed to play outside of the Soviet Union one time, and he finished second to Korchnoi at Bucharest 1954, which again showed that he was strong enough to be a GM. Unfortunately, strength is not the only factor in getting a title. FIDE has long had in place title rules that were designed to make sure that federations could not manipulate titles, thus you have to play x-number of other titled players, and x-number of players from other countries. So, back then, it was harder to get titles because there were not as many titled players as there are today.

Typically, in the Soviet Union, there were also “favorites”, and they were people, who were Communist Party members, or related to those, who were. If you were not a favorite, you could not travel abroad freely as you can today, and they lived behind what was called “The Iron Curtain”. The Party also worried a lot about players defecting, so in essence, your whole country was a prison of sorts. There were exceptions, who were not Party members, but who were so talented that they could bring the Party great favor and prestige, especially when it made the West look bad. Nevertheless, I read somewhere that Nezhmetdinov was a low-level party member, but he was also not a prodigy as were the Tals and Spasskys of the time. As great as Rashid Nezhmetdinov was, he had huge flaws in his game, and thus, he would probably never become World Champion, and the top chess players knew it, and thus, the Party did not favor him. If you were not given the opportunity, you cannot succeed. He was also an ethnic minority, a Tatar, which also surely played a role in this.

Personally, I would love it if FIDE would posthumously award Nezhmetdinov the Grandmaster title. He is easily the best player ever not to get the title, during the era of titles. I have since written an email to FIDE President, Arkady Dvorkovich, regarding the possibility of posthumously awarding Rashid Nezhmetdinov the GM title.

For anyone, who does not know of Super Nezh, I suggest you search for some of his games. He has what might be the greatest queen sacrifice ever.

I was asked in comments why black resigned after 33. Ke2, so I added a sample line just showing where to put the white pieces, and how that will eventually lead to an easy win, and Chernikov knew it.

 [Event "Rostov on Don"]
 [Site "Rostov on Don"]
 [Date "1962.??.??"]
 [Round "?"]
 [White "Nezhmetdinov, Rashid"]
 [Black "Chernikov, Oleg L"]
 [Result "1-0"]
 [ECO "B35"]
 [PlyCount "65"]
 [EventDate "1962.??.??"]
 [EventType "game"]
 [EventRounds "1"]
 [EventCountry "URS"]
 [FEN ""]

 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 Ng4 9. Qxg4 Nxd4 10. Qh4 Qa5 11. O-O Bf6 12. Qxf6 Ne2+ 13. Nxe2 exf6 14. Nc3 Re8 15. Nd5 Re6 16. Bd4 Kg7 17. Rad1 d6 18. Rd3 Bd7 19. Rf3 Bb5 20. Bc3 Qd8 21. Nxf6 Be2 22. Nxh7+ Kg8 23. Rh3 Re5 24. f4 Bxf1 25. Kxf1 Rc8 26. Bd4 b5 27. Ng5 Rc7 28. Bxf7+ Rxf7 29. Rh8+ Kxh8 30. Nxf7+ Kh7 31. Nxd8 Rxe4 32. Nc6 Rxf4+ 33. Ke2 (33. Ke2 a6 34. c3 Rf7 35. Nb4 a5 36. Nc6 a4 37. a3 Kg8 38. Be3 Kf8 39. Nd4 Rb7 40. h4 Ke7 41. Bf4 d5 42. g3 Kf6 43. Kd3 Rb6 44. Bg5+ Ke5 45. Nf3+ Ke6 46. Kd4 Rb8 47. Ne5 Rg8 48. Bf4+- {and Kc5 next wins}) 1-0
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    I've known about this game for a long time, but today was the first time I actually examined it in detail. It's very nice to see that the sacrifice is completely sound, and that Nezhmetdinov managed to conduct the attack with almost zero actual mistakes. The only time he actually made a mistake was on move 23, where Nf6+ would've been a clear improvement. – Scounged Jan 10 at 4:00
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    There is an enjoyable agadmator channel video about this game. – John Coleman Jan 10 at 22:27
  • "he had huge flaws in his game, and thus, he would probably never become World Champion, and the top chess players knew it, and thus, the Party did not favor him" To you have any source to document this ? I find this very surprising and atypical for the Soviet Sport Committee. Being a Tatar and/or not orthodox enough politically are much more probable factors for travel restrictions and lack of tournament invitation n the Cold War USSR... – Evargalo Jun 11 at 12:25

If one is not a GM then apparently they did not satisfy the written FIDE rules for getting to be a GM. Maybe russia had their version of GM titles for players like USA does with USCF.

Was his rating 2500+ ?? Did he play in enough tournaments with enough GMs with enough rounds and score well enough enough times ??

Clearly not since he died in 1974 when the requirements were slightly different, AND he was getting too old to keep scoring well enough.

Back when he may have been that strong they did not award the GM titles like they do now. The modern system did not start until 1953.

Before 1950, the term grandmaster was sometimes informally applied to world class players. The Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE, or International Chess Federation) was formed in Paris in 1924, but at that time did not award formal titles.

The answer is that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time to get the GM title even though he may have been that strong.

FIDE Titles The most prestigious titles are granted by FIDE, which is the World Chess Federation. These titles require high FIDE ratings, and the highest titles also require strong performances in tournaments against other elite players. Once granted, FIDE titles are not taken away from players, even if their performance drops. The FIDE titles and their requirements are as follows:

Candidate Master: This title is awarded to any player with an established FIDE rating of 2200 or higher. This is the least prestigious title awarded by FIDE.

FIDE Master (FM): The FIDE Master title is awarded to any player who establishes a FIDE rating of at least 2300. Many international junior tournaments also award the FIDE title to winners; for instance, one may earn the FM title by winning a section at the Pan-Am Youth Games, even if they do not meet the rating requirement.

International Master (IM): To earn the IM title, a player must normally have an established FIDE rating of 2400. However, players must also prove their strength by having sufficiently strong results in (normally) three tournaments against very strong competition. Like the FM title, however, there are potential shortcuts to winning the IM title, such as by being the runner-up at the World Junior Championship.

Grandmaster (GM): The GM title is the most difficult title to earn for any chess player. To become a grandmaster, a player must establish a FIDE rating of at least 2500. Also, he or she must go through the same norms process required of an IM, but with a higher standard required to achieve each norm. Only a few tournaments award a GM title outside of this system; winning the World Junior Championship or the World Senior Championship are two ways in which a player might earn the GM title despite not otherwise qualifying for it.

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    There is no doubt that he did not fulfill the requirements, but it was a lot more complicated than that. The Soviet Union did not have a "GM" title, but they did have the title "Master of Sport". Assuming that someone did not have an international title, their "Masters" were probably like the average IM, or better. – PhishMaster Jan 10 at 1:50
  • They had that. And of course politics is a factor. I suspect they may have had other titles for chess players but maybe not in his timeframe. – yobamamama Jan 10 at 1:52
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    Among Soviet players, between 1954 and 1959, only Spassky, Korchnoi, and Tal got the GM title. It was very hard due to not being able to travel abroad, and the lack of tournaments. – PhishMaster Jan 10 at 1:58
  • And that travel problem was due to politics was it not? – yobamamama Jan 10 at 2:03
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    Read my answer, yes it was, but it was a lot more than that. The Soviet Union did not allow its citizens to travel as a rule. – PhishMaster Jan 10 at 2:14

Rashid Nezhmetdinov would be a grandmaster, if not for his extreme minus scores against positional opponents, like Korchnoi and Petrosian. The one problem was that Nezhmetdinov spent too much energy on attempting to attack, so he would neglect his own position in the meanwhile. However, his positional opponents kept the position safe, keeping away attacking chances, and then swooping in to take advantage of weaknesses.

So, if not for his desperation to attack, Rashid Nezhmetdinov would have been a grandmaster.

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    This surprising answer would need to be documented. Nezhmetdinov overall score against grandmasters was excellent (matching or even beating grandmaster standards), and if he had scored as well against Korchnoi and Petrosian the question in the OP wouldn't be "why wasn't he a GM?" but "why wasn't he a WC candidate ?". Anyway, he still wouldn't have achieved the GM-title without being allowed to play abroad. – Evargalo Aug 18 at 15:44

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