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Monday, March 24, 2014

Walther vs. Fischer Zurich 1959

     Years ago I played a correspondence game against an opponent from England who graciously mailed me a copy of the tournament book (with no notes) from Zurich, 1959. It was a welcome gift because in those days chess books from overseas were rare.
     Ten grandmasters were invited to compete against six top Swiss masters, including the Swiss champion; the tournament was held at from May 18th to June 8th, 1959. Although Tahl viewed the tournament as a minor event, it turned out to be closer than he would have expected. Although he easily defeated five of the six Swiss players, Edwin Bhend dealt Tahl a blow in the first round in a surprising defeat of the future world champion. After that Tahl was in fine form, but then lost again, this time to Gligorich, who would trail him only by half a point in the final. This was also a significant tournament for a young Bobby Fischer. His play was already improving dramatically in international events against stronger opposition, and he came close to tying Tahl in the final. Alas, a loss to the Swiss champion, Dieter Keller, in the penultimate round cost Fischer a spot at the top and he had to settle for shared third with Keres. Fischer also lost to Gligorich and was held to draws by Tahl, Larsen, Barcza, Max Blau and his opponent in this game, Edgar Walther. This game was a very narrow escape for Fischer. In his book, Fischer wrote that he would have resigned on the spot after 37. Re8, creating zugzwang in a few moves.

The final standings:
1st Tal 11½/15
2nd Gligoric 11/15
=3rd Fischer 10½/15 ½
=3rd Keres 10½/15 ½
=5th Larsen 9½/15
=5th Unzicker 9½/15
7th Barcza 8½/15
8th Olafsson 8/15
9th Kupper 7/15
=10th Bhend 6½
=10th Donner 6½/15
12th Keller 6/15
=13th Walther 5/15
=13th Dückstein 5/15
=15th Blau 2½/15
=15th Nievergelt 2½/15

     Fischer's opponent in this game was an FM. Wather passed away last year at the age of 83 in Zurich. He gained a measure of notoriety at Zurich when he had a winning position against the eventual world champion, but thanks to a stroke of luck, Fischer managed to draw when Walther misplayed the ending.
Walther - Fischer at Zurich

     Walther took four national titles: three times he was Federal Champion (1949, 1957, 1971), in 1965 he won the Coupe Suisse. Oddly, he never managed to win the Swiss Championship. The closest he came was in 1965 when he lost the playoff against Marcel Markus after they tied for first.
     As a long-time member of the Swiss national team Walther played in six chess Olympiads. He was a long time member of the Zurich Chess Club. He was also well known in correspondence chess. In 1967 and 1971 he won the tournament for the "Golden Springer," which earned him, for the second time, the Swiss Correspondence Champion title.  In the semi-final of the 8th World Correspondence Championship (1972-75), he tied for first and second and in the final he came in at number 11, for which he earned the title of International Correspondence Master. His last FIDE rating was 2254, down from a high of 2316 in 2007. Kingscrusher does a nice job (in three parts) analyzing this tricky ending on Youtube HERE.

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