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Monday, September 22, 2014

Chess in 1959

     In 1959 I started playing correspondence chess. I was 14 years old and had been playing chess for a couple years and it would be another two years before I entered my first tournament, the State Junior Championship, where I drew my first round game against a Class A player and eventually scored +1 -2 =2 for a 1667 rating.
     The big news was the 1959 Candidates Tournament which was hosted by three cities in Yugoslavia. The first 14 rounds were played in Bled, rounds 15-21 in Zagreb, and rounds 22-28 in Belgrade. This event would select the next challenger to world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, who had just recaptured his title in the Botvinnik - Smyslov World Championship Rematch (1958).
     Mikhail Tahl, Svetozar Gligorić, Pal Benko, Tigran Petrosian, Friðrik Ólafsson and Bobby Fischer qualified from the Portoroz Interzonal. Vasily Smyslov and Paul Keres were seeded directly into the candidates tournament on the strength of their 1-2 finish in the previous Amsterdam Candidates (1956). Harry Golombek was arbiter.
     The players would meet each other four times, twice in Bled and once in both Zagreb and Belgrade. In Bled, the players stayed at the Grand Hotel Toplice, the site of Alexander Alekhine's historic triumph in Bled (1931).
     Mikhail Tahl had just had his appendix removed less than two weeks earlier, but FIDE insisted he make it in time for the tournament. Bobby Fischer, who complained after his first game with Tal that whenever he "rose from the board... he'd begin talking to the other Soviet players, and they enjoyed whispering about their or others' positions."
     Pal Benko later revealed that due to his "demanding" job in a US brokerage firm, he "didn't prepare at all" for the event, although he reckoned "I did reasonably well."
     During the second cycle, shortly after the beginning of round 8, Golombek remarked to Fischer on how many Caro Kanns the Soviets had been playing. Bobby replied "they are all just chicken; they just don't want to face B-QB4 against the Sicilian."
     One of few bright spots for Friðrik Ólafsson was his win over Petrosian. Their adjourned game was finished on a balcony overlooking Zagreb's Republic Square, where a giant demonstration board had been erected: "A crowd of... 5,000 assembled to watch. Olafsson won to... great acclamations... When he tried to go back to the hotel... the crowd insisted on carrying him on their shoulders."
     As the final cycle began in the 2,000 seat Belgrade Trade Union House. The hometown favorite, Yugoslavian grandmaster Gligorić, had played a disappointing tournament until he beat Smyslov in round 26 in just eighteen moves. As Golombek later described the scene, "There came a full-throated roar from over 2,000 (spectators)... and it was quite impossible for the other players to continue their games. So I hurriedly asked Gligorić and Smyslov to vacate the stage at once."
     With one round to go, Tal only needed a half point against Benko to win the tournament. Benko showed up wearing dark sunglasses, "fearing- or pretending to fear the hypnotic power of Tal's eyes." Unfazed, Tahl easily forced an early draw by perpetual check to emerge victorious over Keres and all the rest. He had earned the right to face Mikhail Botvinnik in the Tahl - Botvinnik World Championship Match (1960).

The 1959 Women's World Chess Championship was won by Elisabeth Bykova, who successfully defended her title in a match against challenger Kira Zvorykina.

The 60th US Open Championship was held at the Sheraton - Fontenelle Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska from July 20 - August 1, 1959. It was directed by George Koltanowski. Brooklyn's Raymond Weinstein's smashing last round victory over Pal Benko gave first place to Weinstein’s cousin, Arthur Bisguier. Winners:    
1st - Arthur Bisguier - 10             
2nd - Pal Benko - 9.5             
3rd - Raymond Weinstein - 9.5           
4-5th - Eliot Hearst and Hans Berliner - 9

The US Junior Championship was held July 13-18th at the Hotel Rome in Omaha and had 40 entrants. Scores:             
1st - Robin Ault - 7             
2nd - Gilbert Ramirez - 7             
3rd - Larry Gilden - 6.5             
4th - Ray. Weinstein - 6.5             
5th - Walter Harris - 6

A total of $2,225 in prize money was distributed at a banquet following the final round. Trophies were awarded to Arthur Bisguier, Robin Ault, for the highest score made by a USCF rated Expert, Walter Harris, for the highest score made by a Class A player, to Donald Seifert, for the highest score made by a Class B player, to Sonja Graf Stevenson, for the Woman's Open Championship.

     One interesting incident involved a strong player who had lost a number of games in the early rounds on the time limit. The reason remained a mystery for some rounds until Koltanowski took an interest. It appeared that the player who was losing on time was using his own clock and carried it around with him constantly and even refused to let anyone else handle it. The time limit was 50 moves in 2.5 hours but this player was in time pressure in only half that time. It turned out that one of the clocks was defective and the clock’s owner had been sitting on the defective side of his clock in every game. 

Howlin’ Wolf put out this album on Chess Records:

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