‘Legend of Chess’ by Juan Bellon
Joaquim Durão: Legend of Portuguese Chess
by GM Juan Bellon
Joaquim Durão would have turned 90 years this past October 25. In a heartfelt and intimate tribute to Durão, the Spanish legend Juan Bellon published this on his FaceBook today. Enjoy!
JOAQUIM DURAO: ′′ THE LEGEND OF PORTUGUES CHESS ′′
For some time I had planned to write about one of the best chess masters that I’ve known in my long career in the world of chess.
On the 25 of this month he would have turned 90 years old and it was a good time for me to write about him in his ephemerides but unfortunately (and for the reasons you all know I had to enter the hospital) I had to postpone my purpose.
I’m referring to IM Joaquim Durao. You’ll wonder because at the beginning of this report I mentioned Joaquim was one of the best chess masters who I’ve ever known and I’m going to answer you.
For me the best chess master is not the player who has the most elo, or highest title, or who has reaped more in his career, or that in his country he has been the number one or two or three for the longest time. These things don’t matter to me.
For me the best chess master is that player who has achieved with his attitude, integrity, modesty, elegance, sympathy with all of it to make me proud of the profession I chose for my life.
And Joaquim is this person.
I am very proud to include Joaquim as one of my friends and therefore please allow me show you and introduce you to this person who is definitely a legend of Portuguese chess.
If you asked me the question of those who are the 3 players I’ve known that most fit my criteria, I would tell you that they are (no matter the order) Antonio Medina (Spain), Alvise Zichichi (Italy) ) and Joaquim Durao (Portugal).
Curious that none of the three became GMs and none got to have dizzy elo numbers, but I’ve said before this doesn’t define the chess values as I understand them.
Joaquim Durao was 13 times Portugal champion, and for many years was, with our beloved Arturo Pomar, the clear dominant of the Iberica Peninsula.
Joaquim was born in 1930 and Arturo in 1931 and their rivalry on the board and their friendship outside of it was life long, although Joaquim’s best friend in Spanish chess was Roman Toran, as he already commented on a recent post reminiscing on October 1 his passing in 2005.
Joaquim Durao was the first Portuguese player in history to get the MI title (1975) and has also represented Portugal in 10 Olympics.
For you to see the parallel between his life and that of our great Roman Toran, Joaquim was also president of the Portuguese Chess Federation in 3 periods, specifically between the years 1968-1973 the first 1988-1997 and 2005-2007 the second and 2005-2007 the third.
In total 20 years working for and for Portuguese chess and as you can see and unlike other sad examples leaving office and giving way to all those who would like to occupy it prioritizing the good of chess in your country above of your personal ego.
This was the recognition of FIDE for Joaquim’s work in front of Portuguese chess who appointed him as an executive member of FIDE from 1982 to 1996.
In the face of international recognition and professional and personal merits, the President of the Portuguese Republic Jorge Sampaio granted him on March 1, 2006 the Order of Merit as a Commander. (Above photo) Joaquim was proud of this honor for the rest of his life.
No one disappears when he dies if he is not forgotten, and I would like to think that Portuguese chess and all those young players who are emerging with titles and elos superior to this man will always remember that it was Joaquim who was the one who laid the ground work.
In the glorious story of chess, anyone can become a chapter , but not everyone becomes a legend.
Many anecdotes can be told about Durao’s life but it would never end so I will relate some of them to me the most important ones.
In the year 1966 was celebrated in Havana which is probably the most famous Olympics for all that rodeo their celebration and with the presence of the head of state Fidel Castro and Commander Che Guevara as regular visitors and the participation of Bobby Fischer with the American team. In the (photo 1) we can see Fidel shaking hands on our character today Joaquim Durao. And now an anecdote that happened during that Olympiad. The nothing social and very distrustful character of mythical Bobby Fischer and I who had the privilege of following him at the interzonal Palma de Mallorca 1970 I can attest to it.
Well, so you can see the affection and respect that Fischer had to Durao that he already knew from the Leizpig Olympiad years before, in this Olympiad they faced in one of the rounds and Fischer nothing usual in the lent to analyze extensively the game with the Portuguese.
This very grateful invite the American to a reception the Portuguese embassy celebrated in Havana for its representatives and surprisingly the American accept. In the above photo we can see an image of that act in which we spotted not only Fischer alongside Durao but the unmistakable GM Robert Byrne among others. Durao and Byrne with glass in hand and Fischer with the board on the head probably.
And now for my own personal experiences with Joaquim. I met him first in the early 70’s in the Costa del Sol tournament held in Malaga, but our subsequent encounters in Spain were numerous. As well, we met often in the Olympics.
Joaquim was one of those rare people who — whenever you would meet him — left you feeling very positive, even though it might be difficult to explain why.
Very cultivated, being able to talk about anything, and in any language because he was fluent in more than ten of them! I always understood that I was in front of an intelligent and modest person.
Any comment he made was elegant and often with measured humor. Always polite and generous in both victory and defeat. It’s obvious to say that he was a consumate professional in every way.
That’s why he was always surrounded by people who loved him. They say — and it’s true — that the victorious has many friends, while the defeated only good friends. And they are more important.
Now I have a problem explaining an anecdote of mine with Joaquim because it may seem like something presumptuous and pedantic on my part and nothing further from reality. My clashes with Durao reflected a clear favorable score for me from several wins, no draws and no defeat.
No matter the number of games because that’s an irrevelant fact for what I’m going to tell and because I think half of the games I got to win I was completely lost!
In some of these games I gave mate quickly, but Durao’s frequent time troubles, aided by my famous ′′ Bellon luck ′′ was the reason why both Medina and Durao said I was like a fish when they had me caught in the hand I escaped!
Well, back to what I was saying earlier. In a Benidorm tournament I think I remember I had to face Joaquim with the black pieces and after a formal handshake, he stared at me and said ′′ Look, as you will beat me regardless of my opening, I will play your favourite opening! ′′ and he then surprisingly opened the game with 1. b3 instead of his usual 1e4.
And the anecdote is that he got his first half point between our particular encounters but I repeat that unfairly because he had many of my victories positions completely won. This is so those who don’t know Joaquim can check their fine humor.
I could talk about many more values of this person but I’ll summarize it by saying that Joaquim was a person of great integrity and that’s the house where all the other virtues live.
These hard days for me I’ve thought a lot, and I realized that one day you feel good and the next day maybe there is no day. And I thought I’d like to go back to the past but not to change things but to spend more time with the people who deserved it for real and less with those who didn’t deserve anything.
And returning to Joaquin, who is the one I want to dedicate this post with all the love and respect that inspires me his figure I don’t want to forget the immense love he had for his family and sometimes he told me about.
His wife Rosa, hailing from Madrid but half-Catalan, his three children, and now his eight grandchildren can be proud of their husband, father and grandfather respectively, reminding them that very few people in this profession, in our profession, have achieved even half of this!
In the above photo we can see Durao year 2011 four years before his death with the two loves of his life, his family and chess. There he is playing with his two youngest grandchildren Gonzalo and Santiago. I have tried to make a semblance of this Portuguese friend so that when you see a game of his or talk about his legend you know a little more about him after I contributed my grain of sand. Big, big. great has been great and great, great great memory I have of him.
RIP Joaquim Durao 1930-2015
Editor’s note: please forgive my translation from the original spanish.