Rashid Gibiatovich Nezhmetdinov was born in Aktubinsk, then part of the Russian Empire and now known as Aqtöbe, in Kazakhstan, into a poor peasant family of Tatar ethnicity. Orphaned when very young, he moved to Kazan in the Republic of Tatarstan at a young age under the care of his brother, and it was there that he learned chess by watching local games despite living for some time in great hardship.
He also became a renowned checkers (draughts) player, but it was chess that he turned to after leaving military service after the end of World War II. Notwithstanding this, when the 1949 Russian Checkers Semifinals were held in Kazan, Nezhmetdinov agreed to substitute for a player who didn't show up even though he hadn't played checkers for 15 years. He finished 12/16 without losing a game, earning the title of Soviet Master of Checkers. This also qualified him for the finals, where he finished 2nd.
Nezhmetdinov's participation in chess tournaments before World War II was intermittent. In 1927 at the age of 15, he played in Kazan's Tournament of Pioneers (an 18 and under event), winning all 15 games. In 1929 he won the junior section of the Kazan city championship, and the next year he finished first in the overall Kazan championship and earned a Category I rating. Nezhmetdinov earned the Candidate Master title by winning the All-Union Tournament at Rostov-on-Don in 1939, finishing undefeated with a 9/10 score. In 1941, Rashid was called to military service and stationed in Baikal, where he won the district chess tournament over some strong opposition, including Victor Davidovich Baturinsky and Konstantin Klaman.
After the War, when he dedicated himself to chess, he came 1st in a tournament organised within the Soviet Military Administration in Berlin, 1946, triumphing over future Master and Ukrainian champion Isaac Lipnitsky. After he demobilised in 1947, he began a long and distinguished career, starting with 2nd place in the final of the Russian Federation (RSFSR) Championship behind Nikolay Novotelnov. Later that year Nezhmetdinov finished =2nd in an All-Union Candidate Master tournament, earning him the right to play a classification match in 1948 against Vladas Mikenas for the title of Soviet Master. He drew the match 7-7 (+4-4=6), but did not gain the coveted Master title, because the examiner got draw odds. Two years later, in 1950, he won the Russian Federation Chess Championship against a very strong field and finally earned the Master title. He won the Russian Championship four more times: in 1951 ahead of Nikolai Krogius, in 1953 ahead of Lev Polugaevsky, in 1957 ahead of Boris T Vladimirov, and in 1958 in Sochi ahead of Viktor Korchnoi. In Sochi Nezhmetdinov played his immortal game against Lev Polugaevsky Other excellent results in the RSFSR Championships included 2nd in 1954 behind Leonid Alexandrovich Shamkovich, =2nd in 1956 behind Shamkovich and alongside Krogius and Polugaevsky, and clear 2nd in 1961 behind Polugaevsky after a playoff mini-match against Vladimir Antoshin, Anatoly Lein, and Lev A Belov to earn a spot in the finals of the 1961 USSR Championship. He also finished =3rd in 1963 behind Lein and Georgy Ilivitsky.
Nezhmetdinov was also a regular participant in the USSR Championship cycles in their various incarnations, consistently participating in the quarter and semi finals eliminations for the USSR Championship between 1947 and 1969. His best results were =1st with Isaac Boleslavsky and Vitaly Georgievich Tarasov at the 1956 semi-final, and =1st with Boris Spassky at the 1958 semi-final. He made it to the finals of five USSR Championships, with his best result coming in Kiev 1954 where he finished =7th with victories over Efim Geller, Salomon Flohr, and Andre Lilienthal. He also did well against Grandmaster competition in the Moscow 1957 edition, scoring 2.5/3 against three future world champions, drawing with Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian and beating Spassky and Mikhail Tal.
In 1954, accompanying Soviet Masters Korchnoi, Semyon Abramovich Furman and Ratmir Kholmov, Nezhmetdinov participated in the Bucharest International tournament, one of only three times he played outside the USSR. He rose to the occasion, defeating International Masters Miroslav Filip, Robert Wade, Bogdan Sliwa, and Grandmaster Gideon Stahlberg. He won the tournament brilliancy prize against Enrico Paoli, and finished clear second behind Korchnoi. In recognition of this performance, later that year FIDE awarded him the International Master title. Results in other tournaments include =2nd behind Mark Taimanov at the 1961 Chigorin Memorial and 3rd at the Baku International in 1964 behind Antoshin and Vladimir Bagirov. He participated in the Soviet Club Championships in 1952, 1954 and 1964, winning individual and team silver for his team DSO Spartak in 1952 on board 6, individual and team gold for Spartak in 1954 on board 5, and individual gold on board 6 for Spartak in 1964. He was also a member of the RSFSR Team that played matches with other Soviet Republics, with his best result coming at Vilnius 1958 where he played board 1 for the RSFSR and led them to a 3rd place finish, and also took the individual bronze medal ahead of Paul Keres, David Bronstein, Efim Geller, and Boleslavsky. In 1973 Nezhmetdinov played his last tournament, placing only 3rd behind a weak field in the Latvian Open. He fell ill and did not finish all of his games. However, he did win his last brilliancy prize in his game against Vladimir I Karasev.
Nezhmetdinov was renowned for his imaginative attacking style. His famous and widely published game at Sochi 1958 against Polugaevsky is considered to be one of the best attacking games of the 20th century. He assisted Tal in preparation for the latter's 1960 World Championship match against Mikhail Botvinnik. While he beat many of the world's top players, he was never awarded the GM title even though he won 5 Russian Championships. Nezhmetdinov published an autobiography including his 100 best games entitled Nezhmetdinov's Best Games of Chess (republished by Caissa Editions in 2000). Alex Pishkin published a similar tome entitled Super Nezh, Chess Assassin in 2000.
Nezhmetdinov passed away in Kazan in 1974.
Russian tournament and match archive: http://al20102007.narod.ru/; Photo of bust of Nezhmetdinov in Kazan: http://www.russiachess.org/images/s...; Bust and plaque on a building: http://www.russiachess.org/images/s...; <jessicafischerqueen>'s three-part YouTube documentary: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis... with addendum at Rashid Gibiatovich Nezhmetdinov
*Polugaevsky vs Nezhmetdinov, 1958
Wikipedia article: Rashid Nezhmetdinov