Born on 2 March 1925 in Odessa in the Ukraine, Geller graduated in political economy from Odessa University but always made chess his career. I played him four times in the first half of the Eighties in four reasonably peaceful draws and so never appreciated at first hand the immense energy which he packed in his prime - or just how great a player he was. Indeed, according to Mikhail Tal, it was only his late start, due to the war, in learning the game, that prevented him from scaling even greater heights.
Geller came third equal, no less, in his first attempt at the mighty Soviet Championship in 1949. Over the years, he had many fine results in this most demanding of events though he ran out the winner on just two occasions: in 1955 after a play-off match with Vassily Smyslov and, amazingly, 24 years later in 1979 when at 54 he was the oldest ever Soviet champion.
For nearly two decades he was one of the mainstays of the world championship cycle and fought his way to three Candidates tournaments in 1953, 1956 and 1962 - and when, following Bobby Fischer's allegations of Soviet collusion at Curacao 1962, the system was changed to matches - in several of these right up to 1971. A noted theoretican, he subsequently acted as a second to Spassky and Karpov in their world championship campaigns.
Geller gathered many first prizes in non-championship events ending up with 11 first or first equal out of 30 strong tournaments between 1952 and 1980. But it's by the macho memory of their results against each other that chess players most judge each other: and in this Geller was quite outstanding. Against world champions he had serious plus scores aginst Botvinnik, Smyslov, Petrosian and (+5 - 3) Fischer; was level with Karpov and Euwe; and behind only against Spassky and Tal.
This is how he defeated Bobby Fischer in just 23 moves as Black - a defeat sufficiently engaging that Fischer included it in his My 60 Memorable Games. Later Fischer showed that he could have won with 20.Qf4!! threatening 21.Rh5 followed by 22.Rxh7+ 23.Qf5+ and mate. But in such a battle you can't control everything. 21...Ba4! was a fine resource. At the end Black wins a rook due to the threat of 24...Ba2+!.
White: Bobby Fischer
Black: Efim Geller
White resignsReuse content