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Musings of a Resident GM: Two Games That Ended a Career

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Grandmaster Mikhail Gurevich was one of the best players in the world, until ...

Two Games That Ended a Career

By GM Ben Finegold

You know, one of the top players in the world from 1987-1990 was GM Mikhail Gurevich. Although you may not have heard of him, almost everyone else in the world thought he was No. 3 on the planet -- behind Kasparov and Karpov. Mikhail won many tournaments, had a great strategical understanding, and great opening knowledge.  He was a solid player: he didn’t take too many risks, but he didn’t play a lot of boring draws, either.

Mikhail moved to Belgium with his family around 1991, when I was living there. We hung out sometimes at tournaments, and even drove to a very strong blitz tournament in Holland one weekend (which he won). Mikhail was one of Kasparov’s seconds in his many World Championship clashes with Karpov.

The Manila Interzonal took place in 1990 with most of the world’s top players, and the top eight finishers would qualify for the Candidates Matches. Mikhail was having his usual great tournament and, unlike most Super GM events, this tournament was 13 rounds. After round 11, Mikhail was in clear first, having beaten GMs Alonso Zapata, Mikhail Tal, Anthony Miles, Simen Agdestein and Sergey Dolmatov. It looked like a forgone conclusion that Gurevich would not only qualify, but also have good chances to eventually play for a World Championship.

Then, disaster!

In round 12, Mikhail lost to Vishy Anand. Mikhail was black in a French, his favorite, and was even slightly better after 23 moves!  Then, nerves came into play.

Okay, not a great result, but, he only needed a draw with white in the last round, against Nigel Short. Then he would tie for second or third place overall, and still qualify to the Candidates Matches. Instead, he was methodically outplayed in an Exchange French (!) and once again, nerves played a factor.

Gurevich did not qualify for the Candidates due to these losses. Many chess players have not heard of Mikhail Gurevich or, if they have, they think he is just one of MANY other GMs named Gurevich. Some players don’t even think he is better than American GMs Ilya Gurevich or Dmitry Gurvich.

Well, if Mikhail had not lost both of these games, this would not be the case.

Gurevich was never the same after those final rounds of the 1990 Manila Interzonal. He never challenged for the World Championship, and never again won any Super GM events thereafter. He slowly went down the rating list, to where he was first fighting to stay in the top 50, then to stay in the top 100 -- and now he’s just another run-of-the-mill 2600 FIDE Grandmaster.