Milan Vidmar

by Bill Wall


Milan Vidmar was born on June 22, 1885 in Laibach (Ljubljana), Austria-Hungary (Yugoslavia, now Slovenia).  At the time, Laibach was the capital of the Austrian province of Krain.  His father and grandfather were named Milan Vidmar.


In 1895, his brother Josip (1895-1992) was born.  He became a politician, literary critic, essayist, and translator.   Before World War II, he was the artistic director of the Slovenian National Theater.  From 1943 to 1944, he was the Chairman of the Yugoslav Liberation Front.  From 1944 to 1953, he was the President of the Presidium of Yugoslavia (Slovenia).


He learned chess in 1900 at the age of 15 from his father.


His first serious chess opponent was Frano Poljanec, a school friend of his.  Vidmar then met a real master, Hebrik Pfeiffer, who was living in Ljubljana.


Vidmar became an amateur chess player in 1901and remained an amateur player the rest of his life.


In 1902, Vidmar played Poljanec in a match, but lost with 2 wins, 5 losses, and 1 draw.


In 1902, he began studying mechanical engineering in Vienna.  While studying in Vienna (1902-1907), he took the opportunity to play in several chess tournaments.  One of Vidmar’s teachers was the Hungarian Otto Blathy (1860-1939), a chess composer and renowned electrical engineer.  Blathy once composed a chess problem with mate in 290 moves.


During his stay in Vienna, Vidmar, Reti, Spielmann, Tartakower, and Perlis met daily at the Wiener Schachklub chess club or at the Cafe Central, two blocks away.  Other players around included Schlechter, Marco, Heinrich Wolf, Albin, Professor Berger from Graz, and Max Weiss (co-winner of New York 1889).  Maroczy from Budapest and Duras from Prague sometimes showed up.  Sometimes, Baron Albert von Rothschild would sponsor Vidmar in a chess tournament.


In the autumn of 1902, Vidmar was recommended to compete in the Wiener Schachklub championship.  But Vidmar had to pay the membership fee of 40 crowns.  Vidmar obtained a loan from his university colleagues to play in the event.  Vidmar was expected to pay the loan back after winning a prize.  The tournament lasted several months.  Vidmar ended in 6th place and was able to pay his loan back.


He was a professor at the University of Ljubljana, a member of the Slovene Academy of Arts and Sciences (SAZU), and the founder of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering.  Big producers of electrical equipment in several European countries became his customers, and he became their consultant.


He took 4th-5th in the Vienna Chess Club Amateur tournament in 1903.


In 1904, at the age of 19, he tied for 1st with Augustin Neumann in the 14th German Chess Federation championship in Coburg, Germany.  He lost the playoff match to Neumann, drawing 3 games and losing one.


In 1904-05, he took last place in the Vienna King’s Gambit tournament (won by Schlechter).


He tied for 3rd-4th at Barmen in 1905, behind Duras and Rubinstein.


He took 7th-9th at Vienna in 1905.  This was the Austro-Hungarian Championship, won by Schlechter.


In 1906, his chess teacher, Tarrasch, encouraged Vidmar to play at Nuremberg.  This was his first international master championship.


In 1906, he took 9th-11th in the 15th German Chess Federation championship in Nuremberg.  He earned the master title after this event.  This allowed him to be invited to other master tournaments.


He defeated Tartakower in 1906 in match play (+4 =3 -2).


He graduated in 1907 at the University of Vienna with a mechanical engineering degree and began his doctoral thesis.  He took a job as an engineer in the Elin factory near Graz.  He later specialized in the field of transformers.


In 1907, he took 3rd-5th at Vienna in the first Trebitsch Memorial, behind Mieses and Duras.


He took 5th at Karlsbad (Carlsbad or Karlovy Vary) in 1907 (won by Rubinstein).


He took 3rd at Prague in 1908 (behind Schlechter and Duras), ahead of Rubinstein, Teichmann, and Maroczy.


In 1909, he tied for 15th-16th place at St. Petersburg.  This was the Chigorin Memorial.  Lasker and Rubinstein tied for 1st.


His first notable win (won 6, drew 2, lost 1) was at Goteborg, Sweden in 1909.  This was the Nordic Chess Championship.


On December 16, 1909, he son Milan Vidmar, Jr (1909-1980) was born.  He was an electrical engineer and an International Master.


In 1910, he competed in no chess tournaments.


In 1911, Vidmar tied for 2nd (+5 =8 -1) at San Sebastian with Akiba Rubinstein, a half point behind Capablanca, and ahead of Schlechter and Tarrasch.  Vidmar almost did not play in this event.  At the very last moment, he took 200 Crowns and headed for San Sebastian, Spain to play.  Europe required no passports in those days, except for Russia.


In 1911, he tied for 6th-7th at Karlsbad.  There were 25 players.


In 1911, he got his Ph.D. degree in electro-engineering from the Technical faculty in Vienna.  Thanks to Maroczy, he obtained a new engineering job in an electro-engineering plant in Budapest.  The plant was owned by Otto Blathy.


From 1910 through 1935, he was among the world top 10 chess players.


In 1912, he published his only chess tournament book, Carlsbad 1911.


He took 1st at Budapest in 1912 (Hungarian Championship), a point more than Maroczy.


In 1913, he tied for 8th-9th at Budapest (won by Spielmann).


In 1913, he left Budapest and returned to Ljubljana, where he found a job in a small factory,


In 1914, he was in 2nd place, behind Alekhine, at Mannheim (the 19th German Chess Federation Championship), when the tournament was stopped in the 11th round of 17 rounds, due to the First World War.  At the time, Vidmar was undefeated and had met stronger opposition.  He had 8.5 points (6 wins and 5 draws) and Alekhine had 9.5 points.


World War I found Vidmar in Austria, where he took a job in the Elin factory, near Graz.


He took 1st at Vienna in 1917-18 (+5 =6 -1), ahead of Tartakower and Schlechter.  This was the 8th Trebitsch Memorial.


In 1918, Vidmar played a few off-hand games with Sammy Reshevsky, who was living in Poland.


He won at Berlin in April, 1918 (+3 =3), ahead of Schlechter and Rubinstein.


In 1918, he took 2nd place at Kaschau (Kosice), behind Reti.


He defeated Tartakower in 1918 in a match (+2 =4 -0).


Around 1919, he was given the academic title of a Dozent and began to lecture at the Polytechnic in Vienna.  When the independent kingdom of the Serbs, Slovenes, and Croats came into existence, Vidmar returned to Ljubljana and became a director of a major engineering plant.


When the university was founded in Ljubljana, he began to teach there.


In 1921, he served as Chairman of the Yugoslav Chess Federation.


He took 3rd at London in 1922 (+9 =4 -2), behind Capablanca and Alekhine, ahead of Rubinstein and Bogoljubow.


He tied for 1st at Hastings 1925-26 (+8 =1) with Alexander Alekhine.  Vidmar and Alekhine drew each other and defeated everyone else.


He took 3rd at Semmering in 1926 (+9 =6 -2), behind Spielmann and Alekhine, ahead of Nimzovich and Rubinstein.


He took 4th at New York in 1927 (+3 =14 -3), after Capablanca, Alekhine, and Nimzovich, and ahead of Spielmann and Marshall.  It was in this tournament that Vidmar lit up a cigar while playing his friend Nimzovich.  Nimzovich was irritated by the smoke and complained to the tournament director, GM Geza Maroczy.  After consulting with Maroczy, Vidmar agreed to stop smoking and the game resumed.  A few minutes later, Vidmar absent-mindedly pulled out another cigar, but was not smoking it.  Nimzovich went up to Maroczy and complained again.  Maroczy said that Vidmar was not smoking.  Nimzovich replied to Maroczy, “You’re a Grandmaster.  You know the threat is stronger than the execution.”


He took 4th at London in October, 1927, behind Nimzovich, Tartakower, and Marshall.


He took 2nd at Kosice in 1928.


He took 5th at Karlsbad in 1929, scoring 12-9.  The event was won by Nimzovich.


Between 1928 and 1929, he was the 10th Chancellor of the University of Ljubljana.


At Bled in 1931, he scored 13.5-12.5, sharing 4th place.


He competed in the Chess Olympiads of 1931 (Prague) and 1935 (Warsaw).  Vidmar played Board 1 for the Yugoslav team in 1931, and the team finished in 4th place.


In 1932, he tied for 1st at Bad Sliac (+6 =7) with Flohr, ahead of Bogoljubow.


In 1934, he published the textbook Sah.


In 1935, he took 8th place in Budapest.


In 1935, at the chess Olympiad in Warsaw, he played Board 1 for Yugoslavia.


In 1936, he took 8th at Nauheim.


Vidmar was scheduled to play Capablanca in the 10th round of the 1936 Nottingham Tournament.  The game was postponed because Vidmar became ill.  The game was set for the next free day, before the 14th round.  The other competitors, however, insisted that the game be played before the start of the 11th round.  Capablanca refused to cooperate, saying, “I did a favor for a colleague when he was ill.  Surely Vidmar can understand that it is out of the question for me to cancel a date with a lady.”


Vidmar took 9th place at Nottingham.


In 1936, he defeated Reshevsky in a match at the Marshall Chess Club, but it was not a formal match.  It was merely a series of 6 quick games (+3 =1 -2).


In 1936/37, he took 4th-5th at Hastings.


In 1936-37, he won a strong correspondence tournament, the Correspondence League Championship.  He took up correspondence chess because of health problems.  He was overweight and a heavy smoker.


In 1938, he took 5th-7th at Ljubljana.


In 1939, he took 3rd-6th at Stuttgart.


In 1939, he took 1st at Agram.


In 1939, he was Yugoslav Champion.  It was the strongest Yugoslav championship up to that time.


In 1940, he took 2nd at Budapest.


During World War II, the invading Nazis and the Italian fascists left him alone.  The respected him for his engineering work and his chess.


In 1945, Milan Vidmar and his son tied for 2nd place at Ljubljana.


He played at Groningen in 1946 at age 61, but did not do so well.  He only scored 6.5 points and ended in 17th place.


In 1946, he wrote Dialogue with a Beginner.


He devoted himself to his academic and electrical engineering career, becoming Dean at Ljubljana University.  He was a specialist in power transformers and the transmission of electric current.  Botvinnik once said that he would trade all his chess skill for half of Vidmar’s ability at engineering.


Capablanca said “I am lucky that Vidmar is torn between engineering and chess; otherwise my title would be seriously threatened.”


He became the chief referee at the Hague/Moscow 1948 Match-Tournament to select a new World Champion.


In 1948, he founded the national electrical engineering institute in Yugoslavia.  It is now named after him (Milan Vidmar Electric Power Research Institute (EIMV)).


In 1950, he was awarded the International Grandmaster (GM) title.  He was Yugoslavia’s first GM.  In the same year, his son, Milan Vidmar Jr, was awarded the International Master title.


In 1950, he took 9th-13th at Bled.


In 1950, his son played in the Chess Olympiad.  Vidmar senior was the senior arbiter.


In 1951, he was awarded the International Arbiter title.


In 1951, he wrote his autobiography Pol Stoletja Ob Sahovnici (Half Century at the Chessboard).


In 1952, he took 1st at Basle at age 67.


His final appearance in an international tournament was at Opatia (Opatija) in 1953.  He took last place.


In 1961, he wrote Goldene Scachzeiten, a book of chess reminiscences.


In 1961, at the age of 76, he was the chief arbiter at Bled.


He passed away in Ljubljana on October 9, 1962 at the age of 77.


He wrote 35 books on engineering.  For many years, he was chess editor of the Yugoslav newspaper Jutro.


He was married twice and had two sets of children. 


The Slovene Chess Federation organizes an international tournament called the Milan Vidmar memorial.  The first was held in Ljubljana in 1969.


Norman-Hansen – Vidmar, Harsting 1926

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.e4 Nxe5 5.f4 Nec6 6.Be3 Bb4+ 7.Nd2 Qe7 8.Qf3 d6 9.Bd3 Nd7 10.Ne2 Nde5 11.fxe5 Nxe5 12.Qg3 Nxd3+  0-1


Vidmar – Goldsand, Vienna 1902

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ng5 h6 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.d4 d5 8.Bxf4 Nf6 9.Nc3 Bb4 10.Bd3 Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 Nxe4 12.O-O Kg6 13.Qe2 Bf5 14.Be5 Rf8 15.Rxf5 Rxf5 16.Qxg4+ Kf7 17.Qxf5+ Nf6 18.Qg6+  1-0