As with a previous "Great Player" in this series - Fidor Bohatirchuk - little was known of Rashid Gibyatovich Nerzhmetdinov outside of the U.S.S.R. and in fact the Soviet regime allowed him just one chance to play in an international tournament outside the U.S.S.R. There may be many reasons for this, one of which could have been his rather inconsistent results. Despite this, Nezhmetidinov had a reputation for beating the best in the Soviet Republic. It has been said that he was always seeking the inherent beauty of the game rather than concentrating on the accumulation of points. This outlook can be seen in many of his games.
He was born on December 15, 1912 to a peasant family then living in the Kazakstan town named Aktubinsk. Both his parents died when Rashid was very young and it was left to his elder brother to head up the family. They moved to Kazan near to the Volga river and despite great hardship they managed to survive.
Nezhmetdinov claims that his first contact with chess occurred in 1923 when playing hide-and-seek in the Second Palace of Soviets on Lenis Square in Kazan. When rushing up some stairs to find a "hide", he picked up a piece of paper and, not having time to look at it then, put it into his pocket. That evening he remembered the piece of paper and taking it out of his pocket set about deciphering it. It was from a Russian chess magazine, and as Nezhmetdinov was a Tartar, he had some difficulty translating the contents. the article described the rules of chess and intrigued him but he had no way of following up his interest. A few days later he went into the reading room of the first Pioneer group of the Communist Club and noticed some people bent over a board and moving pieces. He suddenly discovered that they were playing the game described on the piece of paper that he had found. The story goes on that after watching the play he asked for a game himself and won! Although his contestants were beginners, they recommended him to to the City chess club. Here, after a rather discouraging start, he improved to the point where, in 1927, he achieved a Category III rating and in the following year took second place in the Kazan Championship.
At this time he discovered his aptitude for checkers. In this game his improvement was faster than at chess and in 1931 he achieved master strength.
It wasn't until after World War Two that he began to excel at chess. In 1946 he took first place in the Soviet Military Administration in Germany. Following his demobilisation from the Red Army as an officer in 1947, he returned to Kazan and soon gained second place in the final of the Russian Federation Championship followed by a high placing in a tournament of candidate masters. This earned him the right to play a match for the title of Soviet Master which was duly arranged against Vladas Mikensas, an international master greatly experienced in U.S.S.R. and international tournaments. The match ended in a draw, which was insufficient for Nezhmetdinov to earn the title.
However, in 1950, he won the Russian Federation Chess Championship against a very strong field and this was sufficient to gain the master title.
In 1954, accompanied by Korchnoi, Furman and Kholmov, Nezhmetdinov was entered into the Bucharest International tournament - the only tournament that he was destined to play outside of the U.S.S.R. This quartet was well prepared by a short training course held under the direction of Bronstein and Boleslavsky, such was the thoroughness of the Soviet chess regime when their players were involved in international tournaments. The Bucharest tournament was won by Korchnoi with Nezhmetdinov second, having lost to Furman in the last round. His result was good enough to earn him the title of International Master.
During his career, Nezhmetdinov beat some of the finest players in the U.S.S.R. including Tal, Bronstein, Spassky, Polugaevsky and Geller. One win against Polugaevsky was described as the best game of chess ever played. Such was his reputation that Tal used him as a second in his first match with Botvinnik for the World Championship.
Amazingly, Nezhmetdinov never achieved a grandmaster title but his games are still well known and loved for their deep combinational content.