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Friday, February 3, 2012

Lajos Portisch

Now there’s a name that’s unknown to a lot of players today, but there was a time when Portisch (born 4 April 1937 in Zalaegerszeg, Hungary) was one of the world’s best players.  He was one of the strongest non-Soviet players from the early 1960s into the late 1980s and participated in twelve consecutive Interzonals from 1962 through 1993 and he qualified for the Candidates matches eight times (1965, 1968, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1985, and 1988).

In the Hungarian Championships he either shared the title or won it outright eight times (1958, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1971, 1975, and 1981). He also won many strong international tournaments during his career. In 2004, Portisch was awarded the Nemzet Sportoloja, Hungary's highest national sports achievement award. His main hobby is singing operatic arias; he has a fine baritone voice.  Chess skills are also shared by his younger brother, Ferenc (born 1939) who holds the IM title. 

Portisch represented Hungary at the World Junior Championship in1955. In that tournament he scored 4.5 – 2.5 in the preliminary round to advance to the final, where he scored 5.5 – 3.5 and finished fourth.  Boris Spassky won the event. 

Portisch successfully represented Hungary in several team matches in 1956 and 1957, against Poland, Estonia, the Soviet Union, Belarus, and Yugoslavia. He made his first Student Olympiad and full Olympiad appearances for Hungary in 1956 and eventually represented Hungary a record twenty Olympiads.

He won his first individual international event, Balatonfired, 1958 with 9 – 2 finishing ahead of Laszlo Szabo and Alexander Tolush.  Then he finished second at Hastings 1958-59 with 7 - 2 behind Wolfgang Uhlmann.  Portisch made his first national top-level appearance in 1955 at age 18, at the Hungarian Championship. He would eventually win or share the national title on eight occasions.

Portisch entered the World Championship cycle for the first time with the Madrid 1960 Zonal, where he tied for second/third place with Arturo Pomar and advanced along with Pomar and the winnier, Gligorich. Portisch was awarded the grandmaster title in 1961.

Portisch's first Interzonal appearance was Stockholm 1962, where he tied for ninth/tenth places, after losing a late round game to one of the tail-enders, and did not advance.

He won the Halle Zonal 1963 and advanced to the next Interzonal. Portisch qualified from the Amsterdam Interzonal in1964 and defeated Samuel Reshevsky in a playoff match to advance to the Candidates' series for the first time. He lost his match against Mikhail Tal, 2.5 - 5.5.

In 1967 he won the Halle Zonal and qualified for the Sousse Interzonal in 1967 where he finished in fifth place with 13.5 – 7.5  He then lost his first-round Candidates' match to Larsen in1968, by 4.5 - 5.5.  He qualified from the Raach 1969 Zonal then won a playoff (against Ivkov, Smejkal and Ulf Andersson) for a spot at Prague 1970.  Unfortunately he narrowly missed Candidates' qualification at Palma tghe Mallorca Interzonal 1970, tying with Vasily Smyslov for seventh/eighth places.

Portisch and Smyslov played a drawn match (3-3) at Portoroz 1971 for a reserve place in case somebody dropped out.  Portisch declared the winner based on his tiebreak score from Palma.  Nobody dropped out, so Portisch did not get to play.

Portisch qualified from the Petropolis Interzonal 1973, then surviving a three-man playoff for two berths against Lev Polugaevsky and Efim Geller for Portoroz 1973.  He again failed to survive his first Candidates match by narrowly losing to Tigran Petrosian who beat him 7 – 6.

At the 1976 Biel Interzonal, he tied for second/fourth places with Petrosian and Tal and in a three-way playoff for two spots Portisch scored 4 -4 for second place and Tahl was eliminated. In the Candidates' matches, he advanced to the semifinals after beating Bent Larsen by 6.5 - 3.5 but then lost to Boris Spassky by 6.5 - 8.5 in 1977.

In 1979 he advanced from the Rio de Janeiro Interzonal and got his revenge against Spassky in 1980, when he tied their quarterfinal match 7-7 in Mexico, and advanced to the semifinals since he had more victories with the Black pieces. He then lost the semi-final to Huebner by 4.5-6.5 in 1980.

Portisch still wasn’t done with Interzonals!  He qualified from the Toluca Interzonal in1982, where he tied for first/second with Eugenio Torre but, once again, failed to advance when he lost to Viktor Korchnoi by 3 - 6 at Bad Kissingen 1983. In 1985 in the Tunis Interzonal he qualified for the Montpellier Candidates' tournament but also failed to advance.

At the 1987 Szirak Interzonal, Portisch tied for third/fourth places with John Nunn whom he defeated 4-2 and again advanced to the Candidates.   This time he won his first-round match at by 3.5 - 2.5 over Rafael Vaganian but then lost to Jan Timman by 2.5-3.5 at Antwerp 1989.

At the 1990 Manila Interzonal, he scored 9.5 – 8.5 and in the 1993 Biel Interzonal he scored 7.5 – 5.5 and failed to advance in either tournament

Portisch was very active on the international tournament scene, participating in many top class events from the late 1950s through the early 1990s, and was a top performer for over thirty years, often finishing ahead of the top Soviet Grandmasters.  He won at least one major international event per year for nearly two decades. He was known as a “mini-Botvinnik” because his style resembled the Soviet Champions’.

A recent interview with Portisch can be found on Chessbase.

1 comment:

  1. I well remember Portisch as being one of the top players of the day. Too bad he is not remembered. There was a book of his best games published in English, but it is probably no longer available.