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Obituaries

Eduard Gufeld, 66; Soviet Grandmaster Tutored Chess Greats of 1970s, '80s

September 26, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eduard Gufeld, the Soviet chess grandmaster known as a top trainer when the Soviets dominated the chess world in the 1970s and '80s, has died. He was 66.

Gufeld, who moved to Hollywood from the Georgian Republic in 1995 and was the only grandmaster in Southern California, died of a stroke Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

A Ukrainian chess master in his native Kiev in the 1950s, Gufeld participated in eight national Soviet Union chess championships in the 1960s.

In 1967, Gufeld earned the title of International Grandmaster of Chess, the highest title awarded by the World Chess Federation.

"A lot of people, especially the best players, just play to win and they don't care about how it's done, but he always wanted to create something new, to have an original idea in every game," said Times chess columnist Jack Peters, an international master who was a friend of Gufeld's.

"He was motivated always by a love of the art of chess, the beauty of the game," said another friend, international chess master Anthony Saidy.

Gufeld's personality--gregarious, humorous and emotionally impetuous--made him a fascinating figure both as a player and away from the board.

"He was unrestrained," said Peters, who became friends with Gufeld after he moved to Hollywood. "When he felt bad, it was obvious he felt bad; when he felt good, it was obvious he felt good. There was no reserve at all.

"He just loved chess passionately his entire life. There wasn't anything he liked better than showing people a wonderful game."

As a Soviet chess coach, Gufeld was the trainer of the Soviet team that dominated the Chess Olympiad in the 1970s and '80s.

He also worked for many years with one of the world's top male stars, Ukraine grandmaster Yefim Geller, and after moving to Tbilisi in the Georgian Republic, he guided Maya Chiburdanidze to the women's world championship. In early 1998, Gufeld opened a club, Chess Academy, in his modest apartment building on La Brea Avenue near Sunset Boulevard.

"It was a microcosm of the Soviet Central Chess Club in Moscow," Saidy said.

"He had the walls lined with photos of the world chess champions, with Russian captions to read. He had an active club until the rent was raised and he decided to close it" after about 3 1/2 years.

Until a few months ago, Gufeld continued to compete in nearly all of the major U.S. tournaments, and he won the 1999 American Open.

Gufeld, who had traveled to more than 100 countries over the years, was well known in chess circles as a journalist, lecturer and best-selling author. He wrote more than 80 books on chess, which sold 3.5 million copies in many languages, Peters said.

"One of the amazing things about him was his travel," Peters said. "Back when he was in the Soviet Union, he was one of the very few Soviet grandmasters who got to play in tournaments outside the Soviet Union." And wherever he traveled, the gregarious Gufeld charmed those who met him.

When news of his death spread over the Internet, a Dutch friend of Gufeld's remarked on his "unrivaled ability to make friends with people from all over the globe instantly without reservation.

"I cannot think of anyone who had the ability to transform a room, by creating an instant, joyous atmosphere by his sense of humor, his way of disarming shy and sometimes reserved--even hostile--people."

Gufeld is survived by his sister, Lydia Valdman, and his mother, Eva Yulievna, both of Hollywood, and a stepson who lives in the former Soviet Union. A funeral service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Monday at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

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