Saturday, March 3, 2018

Anatoly Lein, 1931-2018: Grandmaster, Coach, Author

Grandmaster Anatoly Lein--one of the top chess players in the world in the 1960s and 1970s and an accomplished chess coach/author--passed away yesterday. Lein's beloved wife Barbara passed away on February 16. Lein was born in the former Soviet Union in 1931 and achieved prominence there--earning the International Master title in 1964 and the Grandmaster title in 1968--before emigrating to the United States in 1976. Although Lein was perhaps past his prime by the time he arrived in this country, he nevertheless made an immediate and huge splash on the chess scene, sharing first place that year in both the World Open and the U.S. Open. Lein lived in New Jersey for many years, working as a chemical engineer, before relocating to Cleveland, Ohio in the 1990s. Cleveland remained his home for the rest of his life.

Lein won the U.S.S.R. Armed Forces Championship in 1962. He followed that up with a first place finish in the 1963 Russian championship and he was a member of the Soviet Union's team that won the 1965 European Championship. He also coached the Russian junior team to a gold medal and he won two gold medals as a member of the Russian adult team. Lein was a seven-time participant in the prestigious Soviet Championship Final, a field which was dotted with World Champions past, present and future. Lein scored wins in tournament games against World Champions Mikhail Tal and Vassily Smyslov. Some of Lein's many big tournament first place finishes include the 1971 Moscow Championship, Cienfuegos 1972, Novi Sad (1972 and 1973) and the 1973 Capablanca Memorial.

After emigrating to the United States, Lein participated in four U.S. Championships (1977, 1978, 1980, 1981). He also represented the United States in the 1978 Chess Olympiad, helping the team win a Bronze medal. Lein won the New Jersey State Championship in 1993 and 1995. In 1999, Lein added the Ohio Championship to his list of titles, scoring 5/6 in the Ohio Chess Congress to tie for first place with International Master Calvin Blocker.

Lein was inducted in the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 2004.

FIDE (the International Chess Federation) has published chess ratings since the late 1960s (the ratings became "official" in 1971) and according to their calculations Lein peaked in 1969 as the 24th highest ranked player in the world. Lein was ranked in the official top 50 in the world as late as 1979 (when he was 48 years old, an advanced age for top level chess) and after dropping as low as 194th in the early 1980s he had a revival in late 1985/early 1986 during which he surged back to 53rd in the world. Lein was still among the top 300 players in the world when he was in his early 60s.

According to Jeff Sonas' historical chess ratings, Lein peaked in the late 1960s as the 26th highest rated player in the world and he maintained top 100 status until past the age of 50, ranking among the 60 highest rated players of all-time in the 50 and over age group.

In addition to his accomplishments as a player and as a coach, Lein wrote or co-wrote several chess books, including Sharpen Your Tactics, In the World of Tactics, The Latvian Gambit: A Grandmaster View and Kasparov v. Karpov 1990 (a book that he was particularly--and justifiably--proud to have co-written with Garry Kasparov, Efim Geller and Viktor Chepishny).

I first met Lein in the early 2000s, when he was still playing in large events such as the Chicago Open. I took some chess lessons from him in the mid-2000s and some of the concepts/methods/approaches that I learned from him played a role in helping me get within 10 points of attaining the U.S. National Master title. My understanding and appreciation for top level chess increased immensely as a result of the time that I spent with him and I will forever feel privileged that I had that opportunity.

Lein could be both proud and self-deprecating, often in the same sentence: he would say, "I used to be a Grandmaster, but now I am a Grandpatzer." He had keen insight about the current chess scene. For instance, Lein told me that Anish Giri was a player to watch prior to Giri receiving much media attention. "This boy has real talent," Lein commented, after looking at some of Giri's early games--and that statement meant something coming from Lein, who often thought that even some of the most famous chess players were overrated.

Lein was an avid reader who could converse intelligently on many subjects. I enjoyed not only learning chess from him but also hearing his stories about his various experiences in the world of elite Grandmasters, as well as his observations about life.

I know that Lein felt underrated as both a player and a teacher but I always told him how much I appreciated his accomplishments and the time that he spent with me. This article can only provide a mere glimpse into what made Lein special but I hope that it serves as a worthy tribute and as a source of information for those who do not fully know chess history and Lein's rightful, prominent place in that history.

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