The horrors of communism seen through the eyes of a genius: the story of Florin Gheorghiu, still shocking in 2024

We live in the times when “hot topics“, which hold the forefront of sports news, are about “Dodel Tanase” and the escapade of the Albu – Borza couple. In reality, some non-subjects, turned on all sides.

Florin Gheorghiu, the greatest Romanian chess player. PHOTO: Inquam Photos

In this desolate landscape, where we have lost the notion of truly valuable sports news, an extensive material published by the Agerpres agency under the signature of the journalist Adrian Țone went unnoticed. Present at the event “Collection Seniors“, a project organized by the Association of the Romanian Institute for Active Aging, with the aim of bringing to the center of attention the great personalities of Romania, Adrian Țone distributed the shocking story of Florin Gheorghiu on the stream. The report was made by the former chess player who will turn 80 on April 6.

Of course, in today's Romania, most people have not heard of Florin Gheorghiu. Probably, from here, the media disinterest in the article published by the journalist Agerpres, not taken up by the important sports websites. However, Florin Gheorghiu's story is worth reading. Because we are talking about the greatest chess player in the history of Romania and because, going through his painful story, we will appreciate differently the life we ​​lead today, without such earth-shattering injustices.

He was denied the chance to work with the great Botvinnik

Florin Gheorghiu began his story, recalling how he got the chance to work with the Russian Mihail Botvinnik, who later launched the geniuses Anatoli Karpov and Garry Kasparov into world chess.

Our only meeting, in Monte Carlo in 1968, with the world champion Botvinnik, who was the creator of the Soviet chess school, ended in a draw, after a very interesting fight. Shortly after the tournament ended, I had the surprise of being offered to be my coach, that is, to be Botvinnik's student. This was a great honor at the time, because it was very difficult to get to Botvinnik's school, and practically there were no foreign players among the Moscow students. But Botvinnik's offer was refused by the federation management and the Ministry of Sports at that time. I say unfortunately because many of his later students became world champions, among the most important being Karpov and Kasparov. That doesn't mean I would have automatically become world champion, but there was a very good chance. A great pity, because I was the youngest grandmaster at the time“, said Florin Gheorghiu.

“In chess, do you play with a goalkeeper or without a goalkeeper?”

Next, the former chess great recalled how he missed the chance of a dream duel with the American Bobby Fischer, another emblematic figure for “the sport of the mind“.

With Bobby Fischer I had the opportunity to meet at the table four times. I won our first game since the Havana Olympics, producing perhaps the biggest surprise. There was astonishment among the spectators and among those in Cuba's leadership, including Fidel Castro. Our second game was a draw in Yugoslavia. The match lasted 18 hours, was interrupted and continued for three days. After this draw, Bobby Fischer, because he was somewhat displeased at not being able to get revenge after Havana, proposed to me that we play a match, unofficially of course, to show the whole world that my victory in Havana was a big surprise and nothing more. The match with Bobby Fischer could be played in Bucharest during that period, because I communicated that I agree to play for free for the Romanian chess spirit… But, again, the party and state leadership, the leadership of the Ministry of Sports, refused , although I think the National Stadium would have been filled. In order for you to understand who were the people who were leading then, I tell you that we were going, the male and female national team, to the Olympics. And they gave us a short speech, to encourage us, to tell us what to do, to represent the country and the flag with honor and so on… And, at one point, one of these people tells us that it has been gnawing at him for a long time a matter. And he tells us like this: <>>“, continued the account of the former chess player.

Paid per diem of $4 per day

Furthermore, Florin Gheorghiu explained how foreign travel was done before 1989.

My first trip to a western country was as world junior champion in 1965, in Argentina. And I made a 12-14 hour flight, with a stopover in France, where the plane changed, but the connection from Paris left after ten hours. And I stayed in the airport for ten hours to wait. Through the care of the Ministry of Sports from that period, the athletes had or did not have a per diem, and the undersigned left without any per diem. Another interesting trip was to Cuba at the Olympics where I won with Bobby Fischer. Our per diem at that time was $2 a day. After we won with Bobby Fischer, the head of the delegation, who was a political figure at the time, thought it was a sensational result and asked Bucharest to allow the national team of boys and girls to have some special conditions. There was a positive response from Bucharest and we had the honor of having four dollars a day“, said Gheorghiu.

The state took his money, Iliescu sent him “for a walk”

Unfortunately, the end of the story of the former great chess player is not a happy one, but downright revolting. Because after his stellar career, the communists confiscated all his prize money winnings of about $200,000. Immediately after the Revolution, Florin Gheorghiu tried to recover his money from the Romanian state, but in vain.

Considering that so many years have passed and I am also of age, I do not see myself suing the state at this time. But, of course, it's regrettable what happened, but we consider it a closed topic. After the turbulent period with the Revolution passed, I sought, somehow, to clarify this situation and I tried to talk to the president Ion Iliescu. His chief of staff and those around the president told me that in that situation, when the president had very important national problems to solve, this was secondary and that we should discuss it later. And when I asked when, they told me in a few years. And then I gave up. Too much time has passed, they have done me so many injustices, that it doesn't matter anymore. It's too late“, concluded Florin Gheorghiu.

Florin Gheorghiu, when he was a young man with formidable results in world chess

Florin Gheorghiu, when he was a young man with formidable results in world chess

The resume of a chess player with a brilliant mind

*Florin Gheorghiu is the first name included in the Romanian Chess Hall of Fame. He participated in 14 Olympiads dedicated to chess. In four of them (Lugano 1968, Nice 1974, Buenos Aires 1978 and Dubai 1986) he was undefeated.

*International Grandmaster, Gheorghiu played with nine world champions: Mihail Botvinnik, Vasili Smîslov, Mihail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spasski, Bobby Fischer, Anatoli Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik.

*Considered the most valuable Romanian chess player of all time, Gheorghiu became, at the age of 16, national senior champion and Master of Sports, a remarkable performance for Romanian chess. This record is maintained after more than seven decades. He has nine Romanian champion titles, he was world junior vice-champion in 1961, in The Hague (Netherlands), and in 1963 he won the first world junior champion title in the history of Romanian chess.