The Bank of Estonia has issued (January 7) a new €2 commemorative coin honoring the country’s only grand champion chess master, Paul Keres (1916 – 1975), on the centennial anniversary of his birth.
Keres, often remembered as the “Crown Prince of Chess,” distinguished himself as a top-class grandmaster and is also remembered as being the strongest player to have never played for the world championship title, a distinction that is attributed to world political tensions and the outbreak of the Second World War.
Born in the city of Narva, Estonia (then a part of the Russian Empire), Keres was first introduced to chess by his father and his older brother, Harald, and evinced a natural affinity for the game of strategy almost from the start. Keres became a three-time Estonian schoolboy champion, in 1930, 1932, and 1933. His playing matured whilst playing correspondence chess extensively while in high school. He probably played about 500 correspondence games, and during one period had 150 correspondence games going simultaneously. Keres achieved an impressive result at the age of 17 in the master tournament of Tallinn 1933, going on to become champion of a now independent Estonia for the first time in 1935.
At the AVRO tournament in the Netherlands in 1938, Paul Keres was the only undefeated player, finishing in first place, ahead of three world champions. Over the course of his career, Keres beat nine world champions, some of them several times. In fact, after placing first in the 1938 AVRO tournament, he was regarded as the natural successor to the reigning world champion, Alexander Alekhine. In 1939, Keres participated in the VIII Chess Olympiad, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which coincided with the commencement of the Second World War in September. Keres returned to Europe in time to take part in a 14-game match with former World Champion Max Euwe in the Netherlands, which took place from December 1939 to January 1940.
With the Nazi-Soviet Pact having been concluded on August 23, 1939, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union on August 6, 1940, a development which led to Keres playing in his first Soviet Championship at Moscow. The Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and Estonia fell under German control soon afterwards. During 1942 and 1943, Keres and his former opponent Alexander Alekhine played in four tournaments organized by the Grossdeutscher Schachbund.
The close of World War II placed Keres in precarious circumstances. During the war, his native Estonia was successively occupied by the Soviet Union, Germany, and again by the Soviet Union. Keres participated in several tournaments in European regions under German occupation, and when the Soviets occupied Estonia in 1944 he unsuccessfully attempted to escape to Western Europe. Suspected of anti-Soviet sentiment, Keres managed to avoid deportation; however, it is thought he was held in detention at one time. He did return to international play in 1946 in the Soviet radio match against Great Britain, and continued his excellent playing form that year and the next year.
Though he resumed a relatively normal life and chess career, his play at the highest level appeared to have been affected by living under the occupation of the Soviet Union. After being forced to become a Soviet citizen, Keres represented the Soviet Union in seven Olympiads, winning seven consecutive team gold medals, five board gold medals, and one bronze board medal. He was the most consistently successful player of his day and won more international tournaments than any of his contemporaries. He also won the USSR championship three times and played in ten Olympiads, achieving an amazing overall score of 80%.
Keres’ last major tournament win was in Tallinn in 1975, just a few months before his death. He died of a heart attack in Helsinki, Finland, at the age of 59, though it is commonly reported that he died on the same date in Vancouver, Canada. His death occurred while returning to his native Estonia from a tournament in Vancouver. Keres was buried in Tallinn with over 100,000 people in attendance at his state funeral, including World Chess Federation President Max Euwe, his old friend and rival. The Paul Keres Memorial Tournaments have been held annually ever since, mainly in Vancouver and Tallinn.
Keres did not live to see the re-establishment of Estonian independence in 1991, but he was honored on the country’s new currency. His portrait was included on the 5 Krooni bank note, introduced into circulation in 1992 and used until the adoption of the euro single currency in 2011.
The coin is designed by Estonian artist Riho Luuse and struck by the Mint of Lithuania on behalf of the Bank of Estonia. The obverse includes a profile portrait of Keres in later life, with representative chess pieces below the portrait and the text PAUL KERES placed along the edge of the central disc of this bi-metallic coin. The year of issue and the text EESTI are also included on the obverse. The reverse includes the current and standard design for all two-euro coins as introduced in 2002.
|2 €URO||Bi-metallic||8.5 Grams||25.7 mm||BU||5000 pieces|
|2 €URO||Bi-metallic||8.5 Grams||25.7 mm||circulation||500,000 pieces|
The coin is struck in circulation quality and BU, and presented in a folder for collectors. A commemorative stamp, also designed by Riho Luuse, is available. This coin is Estonia’s first commemorative €2 coin issued by the Bank to honor a national event or anniversary since the EU member state adopted the euro single currency in 2011. Each euro zone member state is entitled to issue a total of two commemorative coins subject to the approval of the European commission.
For more information on this and other coins offered by the Bank of Estonia, please visit the Web site of Estonian Post, official authorized Bank of Estonia distributers and retailers. International orders will be dispatched where applicable. To purchase in person, the Bank of Estonia’s Museum shop is open Tuesday to Friday, 12 to 5 PM, on Saturday from 11 AM to 4 PM, and is located at Estonia Puiestee (boulevard) 11, Tallinn.