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Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Lithuania and Chess

There is no reliable data about the beginning of chess in Lithuania. Chess pieces were found in some archeological digs in Trakai, west of Vilnius, and in Dubingai. The pieces were dated to the 15th century. The pieces are on display at the Trakai History Museum.

Chess probably first appeared in Lithuania in the 17th century between Lithuanian nobleman. In the 19th centruy, chess was played and organized in Klaipeda. In 1887, a chess players’ circle was established in Vilnius.

Chess developed slower in Lithuania than in the other Baltic states of Estonia (who had Paul Keres) and Latvia (who had Mikhail Tal). Today, most school children in Lithuania learn how to play chess. In the 19th century, major tournaments were being held in Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia, but not Lithuania until the early 20th century.

Inn 1879, Semyon Alapin (1856-1923), born in Vilnius, Lithuania, tied for 1st in the Best Russian Players tournament in Saint Petersburg. He lost the play-off to Mikhail Chigorin. In 1893, Alapin tied for 1st in the championship of Berlin. In 1911, he won the championship of Munich.

In 1896-1898, Arved Heinrichsen (1879-1900), a Lithuanian chess master, went to Berlin to study medicine and was active in several Berlin chess tournaments. His name is attached to the Heinrichsen Opening, 1.Nc3, also known as the Baltic Opening, Kotrc Opening, Dunst, Sleipner, and Queen’s Knight Opening. He died in Vilnius at the age of 23 from tuberculosis.

In 1903, Abram Rabinovich( 1878-1943), born in Vilnius, Lithuania, took 11th – 12th place in the 3rd All-Russian Masters’ Tournament. He was active in many European tournaments. During World War I, he moved to Moscow.

In the Fall of 1909, the first major chess tournament in Lithuania was held in Vilnius. It was won by Akiba Rubinstein, ahead of Sergei Freiman, Abram Rabinovich, Fyodor Duz-Khotimirsky, Georg Salwe, and Solomon Globus.

In August-September 1912, the 4th All-Russian Chess Championship was held in Vilnius. The winner in the master section was Akiba Rubinstein of Warsaw, followed by Ossip Bernstein, Stepan Levitsky, and Aaron Nimzowitsch. The hauptturnier section was won by Karel Hromedka followed by Efim Bogoljubow.

Lithuania became an independent country in 1918.

In 1921, the first unofficial Lithuanian Chess Championship was held in Kuanas, the temporary capital of Lithuania. The winner was A. Rimsas. It was more of a local event, and the tournament was played without chess clocks.

In 1921 and 1922, Lithuanian-born Morris Schapiro (1903-1996) won the Manhattan Chess Club Championship. Earlier, he led the Columbia University chess team to 4 national championships.

In 1922, Antanas Gustaitis (1898-1941) won the second unofficial Lithuanian Chess Championship. He later became a Brigadier General in the Lithuanian Armed Forces and modernized the Lithuanian Air Force. In March 1941, he was caught attempting to flee to Germany during the Soviet Occupation. He was taken to Moscow where he was shot on October 16, 1941.

In 1923, Aleksandras Machtas (1892-1973) won the third unofficial Lithuanian Chess Championship. He won the Lithuanian Championship 7 times (1923, 1924, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1931, and 1932).

In 1924, Solomon Rosenthal (1890-1955), born in Vilnius, Lithuania, won the first Belarusian Chess Championship. He won it again in 1925.

In 1926, Abram Rabinovich won the Moscow City Championship.

In 1929, the first official Lithuanian Chess Championship was held in Kuanas. The winner was A. Jeglinas.

In 1930, the Lithuania Chess Federation was established and it joined the World Chess Federation (FIDE).

In 1930, Machtas played 1st board in the 3rd Chess Olympiad in Hamburg. He was the first Lithuanian chess player to play a formal game against a reigning world chess champion. Lithuania took 14th place out of 18 countries.

In 1930, Isakas Vistaneckis (1910-2000) won the Lithuanian Chess Championship. He won again in 1935, 1941, 1949, 1954, 1956, and 1959)

In May 1931, Vistaneckis won the first Baltic Chess Championship.

In June 1931, Vladis Mikenas (1910-1992) moved from Estonia (where he won the 1930 Estonia chess championship) to Lithuania. He played for Lithuania at first board in 6 chess Olympiads. He was the first Lithuanian chess professional.

In 1931, Lithuania sent a team to the Chess Olympiad at Prague. The team, led by Mikenas, took 13th place out of 19 countries.

In 1933, Mikenas won the Lithuanian Chess Championship. He has won it 12 times (1933, 1934, 1935, 1937, 1938, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1968).

In 1933, Lithuania took 7th out of 15 counties in the 5th Chess Olympiad at Folkestone, England.

In 1934, Povilas Vaitonis tied for 1st in the Lithuanian Chess Championship, but lost the playoff- to Mikenas. He tied for first in 1934, 1937, 1938, and 1942. In 1944, he was leading in the Lithuanian Chess Championship when it was interrupted by war.

In 1934, a match was held between Mikenas and Rudolf Spielmann in Lithuania.

In 1935, Lithuania took 14th place out of 20 countries at the 6th Chess Olympiad in Warsaw.

In 1936, Lithuania took 11th out of 21 countries at the unofficial Chess Olympiad in Munich.

In 1937, Lithuania took 8th out of 19 countries at the 7th Chess Olympiad in Stockholm.
In 1939, Lithuania took 8th out of 27 countries at the 8th Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires.

On September 28, 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany made the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that moved Lithuania into the Soviet sphere of influence.

On August 3, 1940, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union. Chess players from Lithuania now represented the USSR.

In 1941, Vistaneckis won the first Lithuanian SSR Chess Championship.

In 1942, Mikenas was granted the title of sports master of the USSR, the first person to receive such a title.

In 1943, Romanas Arlauskas (1917-2009) won the Lithuanian Chess Championship and the city of Kaunus championship.

In 1943, Lithuanian-Russian master Abram Rabinovich starved to death during the siege in Moscow.

Until 1945, Mikenas was the only player from Lithuania who regularly competed in chess events outside his country.

At the end of World War II, many Baltic chess players escaped to the West, just before the Soviet forces arrived with deportation orders or other persecutions. The chess players included Romanas Arlauskas, Leonids Dreibergs, Lucius Endzelins, Miervaldis Jursevskis, Leho Laurine, Edmar Mednis (1937-2002), Karlis Ozols, Ortvin Sarapu, Povilas Tautvaisas, Povilas Vaitonis, Elmars Zemgalis, etc.

In 1945, Arlauskus won the Baltic Displaced Persons Championship in Blomberg, Germany, ahead of Endzelins and Tautvaisis. Tautvaisis later moved to Boston in 1949 and Chicago 1950. His nickmane was ”The Old Fox.”

When Lithuania became part of the USSR, strong chess players such as Ratmir Kholmov and Tolush emerged.

In 1949, Ratmir Kholmov (1925-2006) won the Lithuanian Chess Championship. He has won it 10 times (1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1960). He was awarded the GM title in 1960.

In 1950, Mikenas was awarded the International Master (IM) title, the first Lithuanian IM.

In 1951, Kholmov won the Lithuanian championship ahead of three guests , Tigran Petrosian, Andor Lilienthal, and Simagin.

In 1951, Vaitonis won the Canadian Chess Championship. He also won it in 1957.

In 1952, Vaitonis was awarded the International Master title. He was inducted into the Canadian Chess Hall of Fame in 2011.

In 1965, Romanas Ariauskas finished 3rd in the World Correspondence Championship and was awarded the Grandmaster in Correspondence Chess title by FIDE. Ariauskas moved to Australia after World War II and won the Australian Correspondence Championship in 1950.

In 1967, Algimantas Butnorius (1946- ) won the Lithuanian Chess Championship. He has won the Lithuanian Chess Championship 10 times (1967, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1982, and 1993).

In 1971, Lithuania won the European team championship.

In 1978, Viktor Gavrikov (1957- ) won the Lithuanian Chess Championship. He shared 1st with Viktorija Cmilyte in the Lithuanian Championship in 2000.

In 1981, Eduardas Rozentalis (1963- ) won the Lithuanian Chess Championship. He also won it in 1983 and 2002. He was awarded the grandmaster title in 1991. He has represented Lithuania as first board in 7 chess Olympiads. He is the highest rated Lithuanian chess player.

In 1982, Camilla Baginskaite of Vilnius won the Lithuanian Women’s Chess Championship at the age of 15, the youngest ever to win a Lithuanian chess championship.

In 1984, Lithuanian-born Victor (Vytas) Palciauskas won the 10th World Correspondence Chess Championship. He was inducted in the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 1993.

In 1985, GM (1984) Viktor Gavrikov of Lithuania won the 52nd Soviet Chess Championship.

In 1987, Camilla Baginskaite won the World Junior Chess Championship for Girls.

In 1987, Vidmantas Malisauskas won the Lithuanian Chess Championship. He has won it 7 times (1987, 1989, 1990, 1998, 2003, 2006, and 2010). He was awarded the grandmaster title in 1993.

In 1987, Vladas Mikenas was awarded the title of Honorary Grandmaster.

In 1991, the Lithuanian Chess Federation joined FIDE again after it became an independent country.

In 1991, Sarunas Sulskis (1972- ) won the Lithuanian Chess Championship. He has won it 8 times (1991, 1994, 1998, 2001, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2014).

In 1993, Viktorija Cmilyte of Siauliai, Lithuania, won the European Youth Championship for Girls (Under 10).

In 1995, Viktorija Cmilyte won the World Youth Championship for Girls (under 12).

In 2000, a woman won the Lithuanian Chess Championship, held in Vilnius. Viktorija Cmilyte, age 16, won the Lithuanian Chess Championship. She won ahead of 3 male grandmasters. She won it again in 2005.

In 2000, former Lithuanian citizen Camilla Baginskaite won the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship. She is the wife of GM Alex Yermolinsky.

In 2001, Viktorija Cmilyte was ranked number one by FIDE amongst girls. That year, she married GM Alexei Shirov. They divorced in 2007. In 2013, she married Danish Grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen.

In 2006, Deimante Daulyte (1989- ) won the Lithuanian Championship for Women. She also won in 2007, 2012, 2013. She is Lithuanian’s second Woman’s Grandmaster after Viktorija Cmilyte.

In 2007, Algimantas Butnorius won the World Senior Championship and was awarded the Grandmaster title. That same year, Viktorija Cmilyte won the World Women’s Rapidplay Championship.

In July 2007, a chess stamp was issued from Trakai depicting the 15th centeury chess pieces found in Trakai.

In 2009, Arlauskas died in Australia at the age of 92.

In 2010, Viktorija Cmilyte was awarded the Grandmaster title.

In 2014, Sarunas Sulskis won the Lithuanian Chess Championship for the 8th time.

The top Lithuanian players are GM Eduardas Rozentalis (2618), GM Sarunas Sulskis (2550), GM Aloyzas Kveinys (2352), GM Viktorija Cmilyte (2525), and GM Darius Zagorskis (2476).

The Lithuanian teams for the Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway are as follows:

Men’s team: Sulskis, Rozentalis, Laurusas, Beinoras, and Pileckis.
Women’s team: Daultye, Zaksaite, Domarkaite, Batkovskyte, and Vanagaite.

– Bill Wall


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