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Monday, January 24, 2011

Laszlo Szabo

Szabo vs. Botvinnik at Oberhausen, 1961, European Team Championship
László Szabó (March 19, 1917 – August 8, 1998) was a Hungarian Grandmaster who remains little known by today’s players but he was one of Hungary’s top players and in the post-WW2 era was also one of the best players in the world. Szabo was primarily noted for his aggressive style of play and startled everyone when he won the 1935 Hungarian Championship at the age of 18, which at that time was considered a remarkable feat; he would go one to win it a total of 9 times.

Prior to WW2 Szabo also finished first at the 1938/39 Hastings tournament. In his non-chess life he was a banker and at the outbreak of war, was attached to a Forced Labour Unit and later captured by Russian troops who held him as a Prisoner of War.
After the war, he returned to chess and played in many major international events. He finished fifth at Groningen 1946, an extremely strong tournament which included Botvinnik, Euwe, Smyslov, Najdorf, Boleslavsky and Kotov. Then in 1948 at the Saltsjobaden Interzonal he finished 2nd behind Bronstein and then finished first at Hastings 1947/48, Budapest 1948 and Hastings 1949/50. After scoring strong finishes if other major tournaments he was awarded a place in the Amsterdam Candidates tournament in 1956. His finish there was a tie for third with Bronstein, Geller, Petrosian and Spassky behind Smyslov and Keres. Pretty good company!

In the 1960s and 1970s, he continued to excel in international competition; first at Zagreb 1964, first at Budapest 1965 (with Taimanov and Polugayevsky), first at Sarajevo 1972, first at Hilversum 1973 (with Geller) and tied for first at Hastings 1973/74 (with Kuzmin, Timman and Tahl). Szabo represented Hungary at 11 Olympiads, playing first board on five occasions. In 1937 he took the team silver and individual silver medals, in 1952 an individual bronze, in 1956 a team bronze and in 1966, team bronze and individual silver. In the early to mid-1960’s he was finally overtaken by Lajos Portisch as Hungary’s best player and it’s a pity his games are not better known.

In the following game he defeats GM Alexander Kotov in the first great post-WW2 tournament.

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