Paul Keres is arguably the strongest chess player to never get to a match for the World Champion.
Keres missed a chance at a world chess championship match on multiple occasions
narrowly, and has a most impressive tournament record lasting over four decades on international top-level between 1936 and his death in 1975.
He won the 1938 AVRO tournament (on tie-break over Reuben
Fine, ahead of Botvinnik, Euwe, Reshevsky, Alekhine, Capablanca, and Flohr) which led to negotiations for a title match against champion Alexander Alekhine, but the match never took place due to World War II.
At the first world elite tournament after World War II, organised in Groningen in 1946, he was not allowed to play by the Soviet authorities.
Keres participated in the World Championship tournament to determine a successor to Alexander Alekhine, finishing joint third. This would turn out to be the only opportunity Keres would ever have to play directly for the world title.
Keres finished runner-up outright or ex aequo four times in the four consecutive Candidates' tournaments, from 1953 (Smyslov won), 1956 (Smyslov won again), 1959 (Tal won) to 1962 (Petrosian won at 18 points, Geller
and Keres at 17.5 points, followed by Fischer and Korchnoi).
Btw.: Keres won the "2nd place Candidates' play-off" against Geller 4.5-3.5; World Champion Botvinnik then had not not yet formally decided
if he would defend his title in 1963, but finally he did play - and lost to Petrosian.
Missing the Champion Challenger four times in a row as Candidate runner-up, that's why Keres was sometimes nicknamed "Paul the Second", "Eternal Second" or "The Crown Prince of Chess".
along with Viktor Korchnoi and Alexander Beliavsky, defeated nine undisputed world chess champions in classical chess — more than anyone else in history.
Keres was thrice Soviet Champion, in 1947 [rusbase-1], 1950 [rusbase-2], and 1951 [rusbase-3],
and won the Baltic Chess Championship, mostly held in Pärnu (Estonia), Riga (Latvia), or, rarely, in Vilnius (Lithuania), multiple times.
Beginning with the Pärnu training
tournament 1947, Keres made some significant contributions as a chess organizer in Estonia, later also organising the strong Tallinn international invitation series; this is an often overlooked aspect of his career.
(Pärnu 1947 was a strong pure national training round robin tournament, all 14 players were from the USSR. Paul Keres won ahead of 2./3. Kotov, Lilienthal, 4.-6. Bronstein, Boleslavsky, Smyslov, 7. Kasparian, 8. Flohr, etc.: http://al20102007.narod.ru/nat_tour/1947/parnu47.html).
During his chess career, Paul Keres again and again achieved formidable tournament triumphs:
Bad Nauheim 1936 (alongside Alekhine, above Bogljubov, Stahlberg, Vidmar), Margate 1937 (with Fine, best tie-break, ahead of Alekhine), Ostende 1937 (with Fine and surprising Swiss Henry Grob who
had the best tie-break), Semmering / Baden bei Wien 1937 (ahead of Fine, Capablanca, Reshevsky, Flohr, Eliskases), Vienna Quadrangular theme tournament 1937 (Keres surpassing three Austrian players), AVRO
1938 (on tie-break over Reuben Fine, ahead of Botvinnik, Euwe, Reshevsky, Alekhine, Capablanca, and Flohr – considered the eight best players at that time), Buenos Aires
1939 (shared with Najdorf, ahead of Stahlberg, Czerniak), Salzburg 1943 (alongside World Champion
Alekhine), Przepiorka Memorial in Szczawno-Zdrój
1950 (ahead of Szabo, Barcza, Taimanov, Bondarevsky, Foltys, Geller, Averbakh), the great Maroczy Memorial in Budapest 1952 (as clear first ahead of Geller, World Champion Botvinnik, Smyslov, Stahlberg, Szabo,
Petrosian), Hastings 1954-55 (with Smyslov, ahead of Pachman, Szabo, Unzicker, Alexander, Donner), Mar del Plata 1957 (ahead of Najdorf), Santiago de Chile 1957 (ahead of Kotov), Hastings
1957-58, Zürich 1961 (ahead of Petrosian, Gligoric), the first Piatigorsky Cup, at Los Angeles 1963 (shared with Petrosian), Beverwijk Hoogovens 1964 (with Nei, ahead of Portisch,
Ivkov, Larsen), Buenos Aires 1964 (ahead of World Champion Petrosian, R. Byrne, Najdorf), Hastings 1964-65, Mariánské Lázně 1965 (joint with Hort), Stockholm (100
years Jubilee Swedish Chess Federation) 1966-7 (including Larsen), Bamberg (100 years Jubilee SC Bamberg) 1968 (two full points ahead of reigning World Champion Petrosian and Lothar Schmid), Budapest 1970 (ahead of
Szabo, Ivkov, Suetin, Portisch), Tallinn 1971 (together with Tal, ahead of Bronstein and Stein), Tallinn 1975 (ahead of joint Spassky and F. Olafsson, Hort, Bronstein)
Margate 1937 was the first of three world class chess tournaments within two years in which Keres and Fine shared first place, followed by Ostende 1937 (together with Swiss Henry Grob who beat both Fine and Keres), and the legendary AVRO tournament 1938 (Keres first on
tie-break, again with Fine, in a field including four former, present or future World Chess Champions, in chronological order: Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, and Botvinnik; plus Reshevsky and Flohr).
He won top-class chess tournaments from the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s, a span of 40 years, in conreto, GM Paul Keres has an International Elite Tournament win span from 1936 to 1975:
Bad Nauheim, 1936, is notable for young Keres' first international tournament win as he tied for first with Alekhine (both unbeaten, Alekhine had the better tie-break, ten players including previous
winner Bogoljubov, Stahlberg, and Vidmar sr.). It signalled the arrival of Paul Keres (born in 1916) on the international chess scene, upon which he would be one of the world's best players for almost forty years.
1975, is notable for his last international invitation tournament win, Paul Keres triumphed unbeaten as clear first (ahead of 2./3. Spassky, F. Olafsson, 4./5. Hort, Bronstein, 6./7. Taimanov, Gipslis, 16 players), a few months
before his death the same year.
This last major tournament win in Tallinn 1975 was just a few months before he died of a heart attack in Helsinki, Finland, at the age of 59.
His death occurred while returning to his native Estonia from an Open Festival (incl. Browne, J. Watson, Pupols, Forintos, Bilek, or Suttles) in Vancouver, which Keres had won outright, as well as his last game in round ten against Walter Browne.
Final standings, Vancouver Open 1975:
Photo from the game Browne vs. Keres, Vancouver Open 1975:
Browne vs. Keres, Vancouver Open 1975, round 10, to replay:
The Paul Keres Memorial Tournaments have been held annually mainly in Vancouver and Tallinn ever since.
Over 100,000 people were in attendance at his state funeral in Tallinn, Estonia, where the leaders of Estonia were on guard of honour, and FIDE President Max Euwe, his old friend and rival, was also present.
Keres is the first person best known for playing chess and whose portrait ever is on a banknote. The five kroons (5 krooni) Estonian banknote bore his portrait (kroons are replaced by the euro since 2011).
A statue honouring him can be found on Tõnismägi in Tallinn, and a number of chess clubs and festivals are named after him.
In the year 2000, Keres was elected the Estonian
Sportsman of the Century.
Paul Keres is often underestimated, but his results from 1935 to 1975 are worth a long and close look, and Anand once ranked him as one of the ten greatest chess players ever.