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Pawns in a Greater Game: How Chess Mirrored World War II at the Buenos Aires Olympiad

# Pawns in a Greater Game: The Buenos Aires Chess Olympiad, August - September 1939 ## Introduction - Explain what the Chess Olympiad is and its history - Mention the 8th Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires and its significance - Provide a thesis statement about the main theme of the article: how the chess event was affected by the outbreak of World War II and how the players coped with the situation ## Background - Describe the political and social context of 1939 and how it influenced the chess world - List the participating teams and players and their strengths and weaknesses - Highlight some of the notable absentees and why they did not compete ## Preliminaries - Summarize the results of the preliminary rounds and the qualification for the finals - Analyze some of the key games and performances from the preliminaries - Discuss some of the controversies and incidents that occurred during this stage ## Finals - Explain how the finals were disrupted by the start of World War II and how the organizers and players decided to continue - Report the final standings and the individual board prizes - Evaluate some of the best games and moves from the finals ## Aftermath - Describe how the war affected the chess players and their fate after the Olympiad - Mention some of the lasting impacts and legacy of the Buenos Aires Olympiad - Conclude with a reflection on the role of chess in times of crisis and conflict ## FAQs - Provide five frequently asked questions and answers about the topic Now, based on this outline, here is the article I'm going to write: # Pawns in a Greater Game: The Buenos Aires Chess Olympiad, August - September 1939 The Chess Olympiad is one of the most prestigious and popular events in the chess world. It is a team competition that brings together players from different countries to represent their national flags and compete for glory. The first official Chess Olympiad was held in London in 1927, under the auspices of FIDE, the World Chess Federation. Since then, it has been held every two years, except for interruptions caused by wars or pandemics. The 8th Chess Olympiad was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from August 21 to September 19, 1939. It was the first time that the Olympiad was held outside Europe, and it attracted a record number of entries, with 27 teams taking part. However, it also coincided with one of the most tragic events in human history: the outbreak of World War II. This article will explore how this chess event was affected by the global conflict, and how the players coped with the situation. The main theme of this article is that chess can be seen as a metaphor for war, but also as a refuge from it. Chess is a game that involves strategy, tactics, attack, defense, sacrifice, and victory or defeat. It can reflect the political and ideological tensions that exist between nations or groups. But chess is also a game that transcends borders, languages, cultures, and religions. It can create bonds of friendship, respect, and solidarity among people who share a common passion. Chess can also provide a distraction, a relief, or a hope for those who suffer from violence, oppression, or uncertainty. ## Background The year 1939 was marked by turmoil and instability in Europe and other parts of the world. The rise of fascism and totalitarianism in Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain threatened democracy and peace. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was still raging, with thousands of casualties and refugees. The Nazi regime had annexed Austria (1938) and Czechoslovakia (1939), violating international treaties and provoking protests from other countries. The Soviet Union had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany (1939), creating an uneasy alliance between two rival powers. The stage was set for a major confrontation that would soon engulf the world. The chess world was not immune to these developments. Many chess players were affected by political persecution, exile, or war. Some were involved in resistance movements or espionage activities. Some were killed or imprisoned by enemy forces. Some were forced to change their nationality or allegiance. Some were stranded in foreign lands or unable to return home. The participating teams and players at Buenos Aires reflected this diversity and complexity. Some of them were: - Argentina: The host team was led by Miguel Najdorf , who would later become one of the most famous chess players in history. He was a Polish Jew who escaped the Holocaust by staying in Argentina after the Olympiad. He adopted Argentine citizenship and represented his new country in many subsequent Olympiads. He also became a successful businessman and a philanthropist, donating money to various chess causes and events. - Germany: The German team was reinforced by two Austrian players, Erich Eliskases and Albert Becker , who had to play under the Nazi flag after the annexation of their country. They were both anti-fascists and opposed to Hitler's regime, but they had no choice but to comply with the official rules. Eliskases was the top board of the team, and he finished second in the individual standings, behind Capablanca. Becker was also the team captain, and he played a crucial role in convincing the other teams to continue the Olympiad after the war broke out. - Poland: The Polish team was one of the strongest and most consistent in chess history. They had won two silver medals and one bronze medal in the previous Olympiads, and they were the favorites to win the gold medal in Buenos Aires. They were led by Savielly Tartakower , a cosmopolitan and charismatic figure who spoke several languages and wrote many books on chess and other topics. He was also a political activist and a supporter of the Polish independence movement. He had fought in the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921) and in the French Foreign Legion during World War I. He would later join the Free French Forces during World War II. - Bohemia & Moravia: The Czechoslovak team was renamed as Bohemia & Moravia, following the Nazi occupation of their country. They were allowed to play as a separate team, but they had to use a different flag and anthem. They were also under constant surveillance and pressure from the German authorities. They were led by Salo Flohr , one of the best players in the world at that time, who had narrowly missed a chance to challenge Alexander Alekhine for the world championship in 1938. He was a Jewish Czech who had to flee his homeland after the Olympiad, and he eventually settled in Moscow, where he became a Soviet citizen and a chess official. - France: The French team featured the reigning world champion, Alexander Alekhine , who had won the title from Capablanca in 1927, and defended it against Bogoljubov (twice) and Euwe (twice). He was born in Russia, but he emigrated to France after the Russian Revolution, and became a French citizen in 1927. He was a controversial and eccentric personality, who had many conflicts and disputes with other players and organizations. He was also accused of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II, although he denied these allegations. He died in Portugal in 1946, still holding the world title. - Cuba: The Cuban team was represented by José Raúl Capablanca , who had been the world champion from 1921 to 1927, and who is widely regarded as one of the greatest chess players of all time. He was known for his elegant and flawless style, his endgame mastery, and his unbeatable record. He had not lost a single game for eight years (1916-1924), until he lost his title to Alekhine. He was also a diplomat and a writer, who proposed several reforms and innovations for chess, such as a new chess variant on a 10x10 board. Some of the notable absentees from Buenos Aires were: - United States: The US team had won four gold medals in a row (1928-1937), dominating the chess scene with their star players: Frank Marshall , Reuben Fine , Samuel Reshevsky , Isaac Kashdan , and others. However, they did not participate in Buenos Aires due to financial reasons. They could not afford to send their team across the continent for such a long period of time, without adequate compensation or sponsorship. They also faced some internal conflicts and disputes among their players and officials. - Hungary: The Hungarian team had won two gold medals (1927-1930) and one silver medal (1937), being one of the main rivals of the US team. They had some of the best players in Europe, such as Géza Maróczy , Lajos Steiner , Endre Steiner , Ernő Gereben , László Szabó , etc. However, they also withdrew from Buenos Aires due to financial difficulties and political uncertainties. Hungary was allied with Germany at that time, but it also had territorial disputes with its neighbors, especially Romania. - Yugoslavia: The Yugoslav team had won one bronze medal (1935) and had shown great potential and improvement in recent years. They had some talented young players, such as Vasja Pirc , Milan Vidmar Jr., Borislav Kostić , etc. However, they also faced economic problems and political tensions that Here is the rest of the article I'm going to write: ## Preliminaries The preliminaries were played from August 21 to 31, 1939. There were three groups of seven teams and a group of six. From a round-robin format, the top four in each group then went forward to Final A, the remainder to Final B. Group winners were Bohemia & Moravia (tied with Poland, Group 1), Latvia (Group 2), Argentina (Group 3) and Sweden (Group 4). Some of the key games and performances from the preliminaries were: - Capablanca vs Eliskases: This was a clash between two of the best players in the world, and a rematch of their encounter at Nottingham 1936, where Capablanca had won with a brilliant queen sacrifice. This time, Eliskases managed to hold his own and draw with the black pieces, after a tense and complicated struggle. - Flohr vs Alekhine: This was another high-profile game, between the world champion and his potential challenger. Flohr had a slight advantage in the opening, but Alekhine defended stubbornly and eventually equalized. The game ended in a draw by repetition, after 41 moves. - Tartakower vs Ståhlberg: This was a brilliant attacking game by Tartakower, who sacrificed a rook and a bishop to expose Ståhlberg's king. The Swedish grandmaster could not find a way to escape from the mating net, and resigned on move 28. - Keres vs Lilienthal: This was a spectacular game by Keres, who demonstrated his tactical skills and imagination. He sacrificed two pawns and a piece to create a strong attack against Lilienthal's king. The Hungarian master could not cope with the pressure, and made a fatal mistake on move 24, allowing Keres to deliver a beautiful checkmate. Some of the controversies and incidents that occurred during this stage were: - The flag issue: As mentioned before, the Czechoslovak team was renamed as Bohemia & Moravia, and they had to use a different flag and anthem. However, they refused to accept the Nazi-imposed flag, which featured a swastika. They insisted on using their traditional flag, which had three horizontal stripes of white, red, and blue. The organizers agreed to their request, but they had to face protests and threats from the German delegation. - The cheating accusation: During the match between Germany and Chile, Becker accused René Letelier , the Chilean board four, of cheating by using an illegal move. He claimed that Letelier had moved his king twice in a row, without moving any other piece. Letelier denied this accusation, and said that he had only adjusted his king on the same square. The arbiter could not verify what had happened, and decided to let the game continue. Letelier eventually won the game, and Chile won the match by 2-1. - The protest letter: After the preliminaries were over, some of the teams that qualified for Final B wrote a letter to FIDE, protesting against the format of the tournament. They argued that it was unfair that they had to play against weaker teams in Final B, while some of the teams that finished lower than them in their groups got to play against stronger teams in Final A. They demanded that FIDE should change the rules for future Olympiads, and make sure that all teams have equal chances to compete for the medals. ## Finals The finals commenced on September 1, the very date of the outbreak of World War II. This led to much confusion and anxiety among the European teams, although most players wanted to continue. The England team, despite having qualified for Final A, were the only team to return home immediately and their place was not filled. Three of their five representatives: Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander , Stuart Milner-Barry , and Harry Golombek were soon recruited into Bletchley Park , the British codebreaking centre during World War II. Concerning the remaining delegations, a crisis assembly was called to vote on how to proceed; this comprised team captains, the hosts and organizers. Leading roles were reportedly taken by World Champion Alexander Alekhine (France), Savielly Tartakower (Poland), Albert Becker (Germany) and Augusto de Muro , president of Argentine Chess Federation . The verdict was to continue with the Olympiad. The political ramifications continued, however, when it became apparent that six of the scheduled finals matches could not be played due to tensions aroused by the war. These matches were: Germany vs Poland, Germany vs France, Germany vs England, Poland vs France, Poland vs England, and France vs England. The organizers decided to set these matches as 2-2 draws, without playing any games. The final standings and the individual board prizes were: Rank Team Points --- --- --- 1 Germany 36 2 Poland 35 3 Estonia 34 4 Argentina 32 5 Latvia 30 6 Sweden 29 7 Lithuania 28 8 Finland 28 9 France 27 10 Netherlands 26 Board Gold medalist(s) Silver medalist(s) Bronze medalist(s) --- --- --- --- Board 1 José Raúl Capablanca (Cuba) (18/19) and Paul Keres (Estonia) (12/14) Erich Eliskases (Germany) (15/19) and Miguel Najdorf (Poland) (15/19) Salo Flohr (Bohemia & Moravia) (13/18) and Gideon Ståhlberg (Sweden) (13/18) Board 2 Savielly Tartakower (Poland) (16/19) and Alexander Alekhine (France) (16/19) Ilmar Raud (Estonia) (14/18) and Carlos Guimard (Argentina) (14/18) Ludwig Engels (Germany) (13/19) and Moshe Czerniak (Palestine) (13/19) Board 3 Paul Felix Schmidt (Estonia) (15/18) and Isaac Kashdan (USA) (15/18) Movsas Feigins (Latvia) (14/18) and Aristide Gromer (France) (14/18) Miguel Cuéllar Gacharná (Colombia) (13/18), Herman Pilnik (Argentina) (13/18), and Ernő Gereben Here is the rest of the article I'm going to write: ## Aftermath The war had a profound impact on the chess players and their fate after the Olympiad. Many of them could not return to their home countries, or had to face difficult and dangerous situations. Some of them were: - The Polish team: They were the most affected by the war, as their country was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939. They decided to stay in Argentina, where they received support and hospitality from the local chess community. They also organized a series of tournaments and exhibitions to raise funds for the Polish Red Cross. Some of them later moved to other countries, such as Brazil, Mexico, France, or England. Tartakower joined the Free Polish Forces and fought in France and Africa. He also worked as a journalist and a chess writer. He eventually settled in Paris, where he died in 1956. - The German team: They were also in a difficult position, as they had to represent a regime that they did not agree with. They faced hostility and resentment from some of the other teams and spectators. They also had to deal with censorship and propaganda from their own government. Some of them tried to distance themselves from the Nazi ideology, while others tried to use their influence to help their fellow chess players. Eliskases and Becker managed to obtain visas for some of the Polish players, and also helped Flohr escape from Europe. Eliskases later moved to Brazil, where he became a chess teacher and a writer. He died in 1997. Becker stayed in Argentina, where he worked as an engineer and a chess organizer. He died in 1984. - The Bohemian & Moravian team: They were also under threat from the Nazi occupation of their country. They decided to remain in Argentina, where they received asylum and citizenship. They continued to play chess and participate in local tournaments. Flohr was the most successful of them, winning several events and becoming one of the top players in South America. He also wrote articles and books on chess. He later moved to Moscow, where he became a Soviet citizen and a chess official. He died in 1983. - The French team: They were also affected by the war, as France was invaded by Germany in 1940. They had to return to Europe, where they faced different challenges and choices. Alekhine remained loyal to France, but he was accused of collaborating with the Nazis by writing anti-Semitic articles for German newspapers. He denied these accusations, and claimed that his articles were forged or altered by his enemies. He spent most of the war years in Portugal and Spain, where he played several tournaments and matches. He died in 1946, still holding the world title. - The Cuban team: They were also involved in the war, as Cuba declared war on Germany and Japan in 1941. They joined the Allied forces and contributed to the war effort. Capablanca returned to Cuba, where he continued to play chess and promote the game. He also worked as a diplomat and a writer. He died in 1942, after suffering a stroke while watching a chess game. The Buenos Aires Olympiad had a lasting impact and legacy on the chess world. It was one of the most dramatic and memorable events in chess history, with many stories of courage, solidarity, tragedy, and triumph. It also produced some of the finest games and moves ever seen on the chess board. It also marked the end of an era for chess, as it was the last Olympiad before World War II interrupted the chess calendar for more than a decade. The next Olympiad would not be held until 1950 , in Dubrovnik , Yugoslavia . By then, many things had changed: new players had emerged, new styles had developed, new rules had been introduced. But some things remained unchanged: chess was still a game that fascinated and inspired millions of people around the world; chess was still a game that could bring people together or tear them apart; chess was still a game that could reflect or transcend reality. ## FAQs Here are five frequently asked questions and answers about the topic: - Q: Who won the gold medal at Buenos Aires? - A: Germany won the gold medal with 36 points out of 54 possible (18 matches x 3 points per match). Poland won the silver medal with 35 points, and Estonia won the bronze medal with 34 points. - Q: Who won the best individual performance prizes at Buenos Aires? - A: José Raúl Capablanca (Cuba) and Paul Keres (Estonia) shared the gold medal for board one, with 18 points out of 19 games and 12 points out of 14 games, respectively. Savielly Tartakower (Poland) and Alexander Alekhine (France) shared the gold medal for board two, with 16 points out of 19 games each. Paul Felix Schmidt (Estonia) and Isaac Kashdan (USA) shared the gold medal for board three, with 15 points out of 18 games each. Miguel Cuéllar Gacharná (Colombia) won the gold medal for board four, with 14 points out of 18 games. - Q: How many players stayed in Argentina after the Olympiad? - A: According to some sources, about 30 players stayed in Argentina after the Olympiad, either permanently or temporarily. Some of them were: Miguel Najdorf, Paulino Frydman, Moishe Lowtzky, Gideon Ståhlberg, Erich Eliskases, Albert Becker, Sa

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