Article provided by: Janis Vitomskis and Artis Gaujens
During the period 1710-1920 Latvia was incorporated to Russia. From that period we also have the first facts about correspondence chess in Latvia. The first known CC game is the match Jelgava-Tartu (Estonia) 1877-1879. Many Latvian clubs and individual players participated in matches (including international games). The most active was Riga Chess Society which was established in 1890, but there where also many participants from other provinces. For example, Riga-Orel 2:0 1896-1898; Liepaja-Tallinn 2:0 1897-1898; Riga–Moscow (telegraph) 1,5:0,5 1899-1900; Riga-Berlin (telegraph) 2:0 1906-1908; Riga-Stockholm (telegraph) 1.5:0.5 1904; Riga-Moscow (telegraph) 1.5:0.5 1909-1911; Riga-Berlin (telegraph) 1.5:0.5 1911-1913. Those first achievements were connected with the name of Karlis Betins (1867-1943). His first success was in individual Russian tournaments organised by ”Schamatnij Listok” #4 1894-1896 2nd place, ”Novoje vremja” tournament #5 1900-1901 – 1st place and win over Chigorin.
After the First World War Latvia obtained its independence and CC flourished. From that period we can mention the famous Riga-Stockholm matches, in which the opening used was 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5, 4:1 (+3=2-0). Based on those matches and on analyses of Karlis Betins, FIDE named this opening the “Latvian gambit” in 1938.
The Second World War separated CC players. After the war many emigrated – Lucius Endzelins and Karlis Ozols to Australia; Elmars Zemgals, Leonids Dreibergs, Konstantins Grivainis, Viktors Pupols, and Val Zemitis to USA. They participated actively in the tournaments of their respective host nations, international tournaments, and also in Latvian exile tournaments (see MegaCorr CD from Chess Mail, Latvian exiles tournament 1952-1954). Lucius Endzelins was the first Latvian CC GM and took 2nd place in the 2nd World Championship, but he was already representing Australia.
In Latvia, which was incorporated to the Soviet Union, a CC Commission under the Latvian Chess Federation was established in 1958. The first president was Ch. Priede. Afterwards P. Sadurskis, IA Prof. I. Eglitis, and IM E. Vitolins held that post. From 1958 on were started regular Latvian championships. In 2010 started the 28st Latvian championship. In some years as much as 100 players participated. Only four players -J. Vitomskis, N. Zuravlevs, A.Skuja and I.Graudins – have won the Latvian championships twice. From 1963, the Latvian team championships started and the 19th Latvian Team championship finished in 2005.
Also very popular were the Latvian Countryside championships – in 2004 finished the 19th event. Latvia played matches with France 28-12 1960-1963; with Hungary 6:6 1961-1964 In the Soviet Union, Latvian players had limited possibility to play in international tournaments. Some participated in Soviet Union team matches (Asaritis, Sadurskis, Prieditis, Zdanovs), and in Baltic Sea team tournaments. In 1967 Pavels Atars, a Latvian from Venezuela, started Latvian Gambit thematic tournaments, which after his death were continued by Ojars Purins. This was the first possibility for many Latvian players to participate in the international tournaments. Some of them are continuing to play in Latvian Gambit tournaments, like V. Strautins and I. Budovskis.
During the years 1959-1989 the Latvian Chess Federation published the magazine “Sahs”, which always had CC news. We can also name successors like “Sahs Baltija” and ”Latvijas korespondencsahs”.
In 1991 Latvia obtained its independence once again and it joined ICCF in the 1992 Congress held in Graz. Many Latvian players enthusiastically started to participate in the international events. Latvia played matches with France, USA, Australia, Luxembourg, etc. Latvian teams participate in Olympiads ,starting from XII, and European Team championships.
First we have to mention Prof. Imants Eglitis who was head of the ICCF thematic tournaments office and was awarded with a Bertl von Massow medal. After 1991 Latvia was rapidly inserted into ICCF life. Our biggest challenge was the organisation of the 1998 ICCF Congress in Riga. This organisational success is connected with the name of Karlis Vitols – the first president of the Latvian CC Federation, who sadly passed away in May 2002.
Traditionally many strong Latvian OTB players participate in CC tournaments: K. Betins, A. Nimtzovitch (while he resided in Riga, the game Betins-Nimzovitch was published with comments by A. Alekhine). Nowadays these OTB grandmasters play CC: O. Rause, Z. Lanka, I. Rausis, and the late A. Gipslis and J. Klovans. Only Mikhail Tal is known for not being a big CC enthusiast – it was to slow for him! Nevertheless, some CC games by Tal are known (for example M. Tal – G. Stoltz “Dagens Nyheter” 1959). Currently, Latvia has 3 GMs, 10 SIMs, and 9 IMs.
Jurijs Zelinskis: 1st place in the 19th Soviet Union championship 1992-1993.
Janis Klovans: 1st place in the 2nd EU/MSM, board 1.
Aivars Gipslis: 1st place in the Alekhine Memorial 1991-1996.
Janis Vitomskis: 1st place in the 28th European championship, and finalist in the 15th World Championship Final (after taking 2nd place in the ¾ Finals).
Olita Rause: 1st place in the 6th World Cup Final; tied for 1st place in the Marcussi Memorial 1996-2000, and won the CAPA X Jubilee.
Juris Markauss: participated in the World Team in the match Russia-Rest of the World 1992-1998.
Vilnis Strautins: 1st place in the 2nd Latvian gambit World Championship.
Latvia has a strong chess tradition among women: O. Rause is one of the Top 10 players in the ELO list… for men! I. Priedite took 2nd place in 5th World Championship and played in the Final of 6th World Championship.
There is also a great team match tradition in Latvia. We can name the following successes:
3rd place in the Soviet Union V team championships 1975-78 and 2nd in IX championships (1987-1991)
2nd place in the Baltic Sea team tournaments #1 (1964-1967), #3 (1974/78), #4 (1980/85).
So there is no surprise that Latvia took 1st place in the 12th Olympic preliminaries, and 3rd place in the XII Final, following by 4th place in XIII Final!
The Latvian correspondence chess federation organised these international tournaments:
1. Z. Lanka 15/18; 2. J. Markauss 14/18; 3-6 V. Strautins, A. Lanc, J. Saksis, K-E. Krantz 12.5/18.
Memorial K. Betins 1993-1996
1. A. Kupsys 12/14; 2. P. Hugentobler 11/14; 3. U. Rinkis 10.5/14.
Memorial J. Vitomskis 2009-
1. Zhak 9(1) 2.B.Fagerstrom 9 3.A.Kypsis 8(1)
Memorial K. Vitols 2010-
1. K.Muukkonen 9 2.M.Pellen 8.5 3.B.Lindstrom 8(1)