8th Chess Olympiad: Buenos Aires 1939

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Basic data

8th Tournament of Nations (Chess Olympiad)
(see all-time tournament summary)
Date: 24th August - 19th September 1939
City: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Venue: Teatro Politeama
Tournament Director: Dr. Joaquín Gómez Masía (ARG)
Chief Arbiter: N/A
Teams participating: 27 (England withdrew before the finals)
Players participating: 133
Games played: 928 (24 games were not played as six matches were set as 2-2 without play; 84 games in the Championship Final did not take place due to England's withdrawal)
Competition format: Two stage four board round robin.
Four premilinary groups and top 4 from each group qualified to the final A.
Final order decided by: 1. Game points; 2. Match points
Time control: N/A
Downloadable game file: 39olm.zip

Tournament review

The 8th official Chess Olympiad was for the first time held outside Europe. The number of entries reached the record since many Latin American teams applied and not so many European nations dropped out of the competition. Germany reappeared after many years of absence but USA, four time gold medal winners were surprisingly missing. Their players expected extra $2,500 compensation for being away from home for many weeks. They were offered just $1,500 and refused to go. Hungary and Yugoslavia were other top absentees. The financial difficulties involved in sending representatives to such a far-off continent were mainly the reason of the absences. Winds of War were starting to blow slowly over Europe. There was no more independent Austrian and Czechoslovak state as Hitler annexed both of these. Two Austrian-born players reinforced German team: Eliskases, at board 1, and Dr. Becker, designated a team captain. Czechoslovakia were allowed to play as separate team but were referred to as "Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia". After long and wearisome negotiations the organizing committee refused to display official Swastika-based flag of the Protectorate and traditional Czech banner flew at the frontal wall of the venue. The favourites were certainly Poland, free of overwhelming presence of continuously winning US team, and combined German-Austrian team with two experienced Austrians and three German newcomers in the squad. The hosts must have been considered favourites, not only because of their respectable chess skills but also due to fact they did not have to travel across the ocean on the board of the ship. Furthermore, since the war did not affect them directly and they did not have to care about the come back they could entirely focus on the games. Czechoslovakia were big mystery with many potentially stronger teams missing on one hand and with their home country being occupied by the Nazis on the other. Capablanca played for Cuba, the Olympic newcomers and he was big attraction for the crowd yet he was many years after his prime time. Alekhine, who regained individual World Championship was put at board 1 of French team for the fifth time. Holland were missing Euwe, a bit demoralised after he had indisputably lost the World Champion title. The memorable journey across Atlantic lasted for more than three weeks and all the European teams were on the board. "Priapolis", the name of the ship have become an epitome of the Chess Noah's Ark for next generations.

Since as much as 27 teams took part in the first time in the history of the Olympiads it was necessary to have preliminary groups apart from the finals. First, the teams were seeded according to their past performance (arithmetical mean was simply taken into consideration, the top seeds were as follows: USA 2,00; Poland 2,66; Hungary 3, 57; Czechoslovakia 4,41) and split into three groups of seven, and one group of six. Top four of each group entered the big final and the rest were put in lower section fighting for "Copa Argentina", a silver cup founded by Argentinian president Señor Roberto Ortiz. Results from preliminaries were not carried forward to the finals. The preliminary stage lasted from 23rd to 31st of August. There were no big surprises. In group one, with three experienced European teams and four American newbies Brazil grabbed fourth place in favour of Canada, who they beat 3-1. Chile played decently in group 2 and firmly entered the finals. Germany beat Latvia, but dropped many points at some minor nations and were down to second place in the group, a fact of no other than psychological importance. Argentina showed good preparation and won all six matches in group 3 with impressive ease. Iceland were surprisingly formidable team with ambition to go through but Denmark defended themselves well. Capablanca lead Cuba to 4th place, enough to become a member of "A" final at the cost of Norway and Guatemala. Capa seemed a bit drowsy and won only one game. Surprisingly their reserve player Planas García turned out to be most successful member of their team of the qualifying stage.

The top final section comprised of 16 teams, 12 Europeans and 4 from America, including newcomers from Chile, Brazil and Cuba. Most of Latin American nations, as expected, failed to reach top sixteen and played in bottom section together with couple of European fries. The finals began on September 1st, the day of the outbreak of The Second World War. This has done much confusion to most European teams. Some players withdrew from the competition, including three members of English team because of which England left the competition immediately. Most of delegates thought the Olympiad should be abolished. However the hosts were very pushy about continuing the event and the assembly of team captains decided to go on with the Olympiad. Poland-Germany and France-Germany were set 2-2 by default since these were with in the state of war with each other. German officials pressed the Czechs to abolish their matches with Poland and France since formally Czechoslovakia, or Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia as they were referred to, were part of Germany and the Germans finally succeeded. Palestine announced boycott of the Germans and refused to play them. Unfortunately bighead Germans did not want to accept this solution since they counted on easy win over Palestine and explicitly stated nothing else than 4-0 would satisfy them. The negotiations were in deadlock. Fortunately for all the Argentinians, one of favourites for a win offered their match vs Palestine to be halved by default, same as Palestine-Germany clash, what had been accepted by everyone as an act of generous compensation for the Germans. We had then a total of 6 matches and 24 games set by default and one team missing the finals. One must admit politics interfered the course of the games significantly. Tense atmosphere did not influence positively the standard of games.

Argentina started impressively knocking down the Czechs, pardon me, the "Protectorate" by 3½-½ in second round while Poland and Germany dropped some points. Germany achieved prestigious win over conquered Czechs in round 3 climbing up the table, Poland sensationally drew against Chile. Germans took over the lead after 4th round outplaying the hosts 3-1 in the crucial scuffle of this stage, Poland again disappointed their supporters and just drew against Palestine. Round 5 exposed them to even more trouble as they lost to Sweden who were a full extra match and 1½ ahead of the Poles. Germany and Argentina were still in the lead. Having lost to Holland in next round Poland seemed totally disrupted as Germany, Sweden and Argentina were in the lead by huge margin. Holland had excellent prospects for future since they ran without a loss so far and were just a fraction behind Poland with a match in hand. Germany had plenty of free time in the middle of the run since they first had an extra bye thanks to their phantom match against France and then a regular leisure day because of absence of English team. Sweden did badly against Brazil and lost excellent chance for taking solitary lead. Poland finally found proper pace and hammered Lithuania by 4-0 and levelled on points with Sweden (but still with a bye and two pre-set draws to meet). Germany and Argentina were close by. Holland lost their first match vs Palestine but retained 5th place. They beat Sweden in round 9, and the following day Poland beat Argentina by faint margin. Germany outclassed Cuba, who were lacking Capablanca, what a gentlemanly gesture from his side. Poland-Germany, a hit of round 11 was a 2-2 walkover of course. Sweden bounced up beating Lithuania but were still a bit behind the top three, Germany, Argentina and Poland, who had yet to suffer unpaid bye (Germany were to receive a bye vs Palestine, but paid with 2 points of course). Both Poland and Germany let down in the next round as they were happy to draw with Latvia and Chile, respectively. France-Cuba, an inconspicuous part of the day, had a perspective of an absolute hit: Alekhine-Capablanca on first board. People were richly disappointed watching Cuban squad without legendary Capa... In round 13 Sweden washed away Argentinian hopes for medals smashing them 3½-½. Poland beat France 4-0 (Alekhine was missing) and Germany had a bye vs Palestine. Poland were in the lead with 32 points, a point ahead of Germany, but Poland had a bye in next round. Sweden, who were third with 30½ pts. might have yet lengthened their dreams about gold, had they only manage to beat Germans in penultimate round. Argentina were thrown down to 6th place, a fraction behind "Protectorate" and most unexpectedly Estonia, lead by Keres, who both made up for a lost ground. Sorry for poor Swedes Germany gave them no chance in penultimate round and were very close to final victory taking a wide 2½ point advantage over Poland. Estonia beat "Protectorate" by impressive 3-1 and surprisingly took over bronze medal position. Argentina lost badly to Holland. The table looked as follows. Germany were in clear lead with 34 points and they were yet to play Holland. Estonia and Poland were in joint runner-up position but Estonia had to play Argentina, who still had some chances for reaching medal zone as they were 2 points behind, and Poland had an easy ride matching Denmark. Sweden were hoping for silver being half a point behind Poland and Estonia and playing average Latvian team. A brisk 2-2 draw against Holland gave the Germans the gold. Poland won 3½-½ and took second place convincingly. Argentina needed 3-1 win over Estonia to take them over but this proved a little too much, as they scored only 2½-1½. This gave Sweden excellent chances for bronze medals since they needed just a mere draw against Latvia. Unfortunately they lost and Estonia took the bronze.

Germany, facing unpleasant ostracism from all the sides, went smoothly through the finals being the only undefeated team. Their newcomers proved very effective, both Michel and Engels did not suffer a single loss and the rest did what they had to do. Four free days diminished game burden a bit, but on the other hand they would probably score better than 50% against those, whom they failed to play because of political manoeuvres. Poland understandably were absent-minded in the beginning of the finals but their finish was simply stunning. They have won three Best board results, among those a gold for Najdorf. Estonia won bronze medals being very consistent and firm team. Friedemann and, of course, Keres contributed mostly to the success. Sweden were just outside the medal area and they had excellent chances for better result. Ståhlberg on board 1 went through the finals undefeated but Bergkvist was much disappointing and the rest did not do very well either. Argentina, the hosts, did not meet huge expectations and fell short of the medals mainly because of infamous Swedish debacle. Pleci, once again set as reserve, scored most impressive result and won gold individual medal. Grau was obviously too weak for top board (30% and no win in the final). Czechoslovak players did not care who they represent much and went decently, though Flohr, who left for USSR, was missing. Both Alekhine and Capablanca went undefeated but they were not delighting at all. Their teams finished closer to the bottom rather to the top. Finally, the Copa Argentina was won by Iceland, who took over Canada thanks to Match Point record, and Norway. Guðmundsson for Iceland scored remarkably well in the finals (10/10!) and 14-year old Yanofsky for Canada was very close to perfection (9½/10). Paraguay lost 10 matches in a row and came last.

Many players, especially those of Jewish origin, were not very prone to come back to Europe. Argentinian government settled certain privileges for those who were willing to stay there and build up the power of Argentinian chess. All the members of German squad stayed in Argentina, some of them forever, as well as Najdorf and Frydman of Poland, Ståhlberg of Sweden, Pelikán and Skalička of Czechoslovakia, Endzelīns of Latvia, Luckis and Vaitonis of Lithuania and many, many more. Buenos Aires was bustling with chess activity throughout blustery years of War. Argentinian chess gathered enormous momentum that soon brought Argentina many terrific successes such as five Olympic medals won in the 50's and early 60's. The War and post-War political new deal shattered old hierarchy. Poland never made even close to their pre-War achievements. USSR appeared as almighty force dominating all over the field. Communist countries emerged from the darkness while the Western world suffered sort of regression. Nothing has left stable. Thus we have sufficient grounds to close the volume one of our book.

End of part 1 of the history of the Chess Olympiads...

Best board results

1st Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. Capablanca, José Raúl CUB A 11 77.3
2. Alekhine, Alexander FRA A 10 75.0
3. Petrovs, Vladimirs LAT A 13 73.1

2nd Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. Foerder, Heinz ISR A 10 75.0
1. Najdorf, Mieczysław POL A 9 12 75.0
3. Lundin, Erik SWE A 13 65.4

3rd Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. Engels, Ludwig GER A 11 86.4
2. Frydman, Paulin POL A 9 12 75.0
3. Bolbochán, Jacobo ARG A 13 73.1

4th Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. Friedemann, Gunnar EST A 10 13 76.9
2. Prins, Lodewijk NED A 11 68.2
3. Regedziński, Teodor POL A 6 10 60.0

Reserve Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. Pleci, Isaías ARG A 13 73.1
2. Zíta, František CSR A 11 68.2
3. Reed Valenzuela, Enrique CHI A 12 62.5

Only results from finals counted for best individual scores. Board medals were awarded separately for both sections. Only results from final A are given above. The prizes for best individual results in Copa Argentina went to Rojahn (NOR), Yanofsky (CAN), Guðmundsson (ISL), Kantardzhiev (BUL) and Arnlaugsson (ISL), from board 1 to 5 respectively.

Best game prizes

The last of the official bulletins announced that a special Best Game Prize, a silver cup, would be awarded later. Unfortunately it is not known if and to whom was it awarded.

Interesting games

According to Eliskases his best game at Buenos Aires.
Eliskases, Erich (GER) - López Arce, Alberto (CUB) 1 - 0

Fancy win of the 14-year old prodigy.
Yanofsky, Daniel Abraham (CAN) - Dulanto, Alberto Ismodes (PER) 1 - 0

White won after pitched battle.
Keres, Paul (EST) - Ståhlberg, Gideon (SWE) 1 - 0

Alekhine' subtle endgame strategy.
Alekhine, Alexander (FRA) - Eliskases, Erich (GER) 1 - 0

Ex-World Champion laid tricky tactical trap.
Capablanca, José Raúl (CUB) - Czerniak, Moshe (ISR) 1 - 0

Thrilling struggle full of startling sacrifices.
Rojahn, Ernst (NOR) - Czerniak, Moshe (ISR) ½ - ½

Stream of ferocious sacrifices proved not enough.
Van Scheltinga, Theodore (NED) - Ponce, N. (ECU) 1 - 0

An instructive and convincing game in its very simplicity.
Petrovs, Vladimirs (LAT) - Grau, Roberto (ARG) 1 - 0

Capa overtaking Mikenas' counter-attack.
Capablanca, José Raúl (CUB) - Mikėnas, Vladas (LTU) 1 - 0

Black recklessly weakened their Kingside.
Tartakower, Ksawery (POL) - Enevoldsen, Jens (DEN) 1 - 0

Black admitted e6 pawn sacrifice and lethal consequences appeared quickly.
Reed Valenzuela, Enrique (CHI) - Danielsson, Gösta (SWE) 1 - 0

Black embarked on an ingenious combination.
Van Scheltinga, Theodore (NED) - Enevoldsen, Jens (DEN) 0 - 1

Vivid, double-chance battle in full swing.
Mikėnas, Vladas (LTU) - Tartakower, Ksawery (POL) 1 - 0

Lovely tactical motive based on tied position of Black King.
Cruz, Wálter Oswaldo (BRA) - Apšenieks, Fricis (LAT) 1 - 0

Black Queen trapped.
Milner-Barry, Philip Stuart (ENG) - Foltys, Jan (CSR) 1 - 0

White King voluntarily went under mortal attack.
Lundin, Erik (SWE) - Silva Rocha, Adhemar da (BRA) 0 - 1

Blocked King's Indian centre means green light for Kingside brisk attack.
Flores Alvarez, Rodrigo (CHI) - Najdorf, Mieczysław (POL) 0 - 1

According to many this game would deserve Best Game Prize with no doubt.
Pleci, Isaías (ARG) - Endzelīns, Lūcijs (LAT) 1 - 0

Flock of Black pawns seeped into White's camp.
Opočenský, Karel (CSR) - Capablanca, José Raúl (CUB) 0 - 1

This game ended in a draw in quite unusual way (see the annotations).
Van Scheltinga, Theodore (NED) - Alekhine, Alexander (FRA) ½ - ½


The only time in the history the individual prizes were awarded ignoring preliminary record.


Three Lithuanians, namely Vaitonis, Luckis and Tautvaišas were the first men to have completed 20 games in any of the official Olympiads.


Two Janofsky brothers met for the first time in Buenos Aires, each of them playing for different country. J. Janowski, 45, was born in the Ukraine and left for Argentina in 1919. His father stayed home and later on moved to Canada along with his 6-month-old son Abe Janowski (English spelling: Yanofsky). Abe became the strongest player in Canada and was named to play first board at the Buenos Aires Olympiad. Reading the list of the participants J. Janowsky was very surprised and was eager to meet one A. Yanofsky from the Canadian team. He showed the photo of his father and Abe exclaimed: "that's my father too!" They happily embraced each other.