“CHESS, like literature, music and the arts, often suffers a premature loss,” once said chess writer Harry Golombek.
And forty years ago today, the chess world was stunned as it was deprived of arguably one of its greatest attacking geniuses ever, when Leonid Stein died suddenly of a massive heart attack on the eve of the European Team Championships in Bath, England, aged just 38.
Stein proved to be one of the foremost Soviet players during the post-war era and the most consistently successful player in the world in the 1960s. Sadly his brilliant career was cut short by his untimely death in 1973.
Stein came late to the game, only coming to prominence at age 26, but within a year he was in the world’s top 10.
Scoring overwhelming victories against the world’s leading grandmasters and even talked of as a future world championship challenger, Stein not only stormed to an incredible total of three first prizes (out of four attempts) in the very strong USSR Championships between 1963 and 1966, but he also won arguably the two strongest tournaments of all time: Moscow 1967 and the Alekhine Memorial 1971.
Yet through a quirk of the rules, fate decreed that, at the peak of his powers, he would never become a candidate for the world championship, though he twice finished high enough at Interzonals to merit qualification – each time being excluded by a ruling limiting the number of Candidates from any one country.
L Stein – V Smyslov
USSR Team Ch, 1972
1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 Nf3 b6 4 e4 Bb7 5 Qe2 Bb4 6 e5 Ng8 7 d4 d6 8 a3 Bxc3+ 9 bxc3 Ne7 10 h4 Nd7 11 h5 Bxf3 12 Qxf3 dxe5 13 h6 gxh6 14 Bxh6 exd4 15 Bg7 Rg8 16 Rxh7 Nf5 17 Bxd4 c5 18 g4 cxd4 19 gxf5 e5 20 Qd5 Rf8 21 cxd4 Rc8 22 Rd1 Qe7 23 Bg2 Rg8 24 Qb7 Rxc4 25 dxe5 Qxe5+ 26 Kf1 Qb5 27 Kg1 Qc6 28 Qxc6 Rxc6 29 Rh8! Rcg6 30 fxg6 Rxh8 31 Bc6 Rg8 32 Bxd7+ Ke7 33 Bf5 fxg6 34 Rd7+ Kf6 35