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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Lacking the Killer Instinct

Polugayevsky in 1979
     Lev Polugaevsky (November 20, 1934 – August 30, 1995) was a frequent contender for the World Championship and was one of the strongest players in the world from the early 1960s until the late 1980s, as well as a distinguished author and opening theorist. Those are are bare bones facts about this remarkable GM. 
     Boris Spassky observed that while Polugayevsky was somewhat overshadowed by others but he understood chess better than many of those who achieved greater successes. He understood chess so well because he analyzed a great deal and penetrated exceptionally deeply into a position and even became stronger after he was forty, reaching his peak between the ages of 45-47. 
     In their 1980 match in Buenos Aires, which was won by Korchnoi (+3 -2 =9), Polugaevsky was no weaker than Korchnoi, perhaps even better, but the match atmosphere created by Korchnoi had a depressing effect on Polugayevsky. See Chessgamesdotcom for details.
     Korchnoi, who always behaved in a snotty manner to Polugayevsky, and Polugayevsky had difficult relations. Korchnoi had a big plus score, but there was a period, from roughly 1960 until 1966 when Polugaevsky regularly was the winner in their individual games. Korchnoi did admit though that Polugayevsky could have been a serious contender for the World Championship had he not "remained forever the same fifteen-year-old boy he was when he came into big-time chess." 
     The problem was that Polugayevsky did not have that malicious streak and hatred of his opponents that is required of world-class GMs. One GM who knew him, Sosonko, said that right to the end he retained a kind of childishness, naivety, an unwillingness to offend anyone and was a good natured individual. Even Polugayevsky himself admitted that he did not have a killer instinct. 
     As he grew older and had new concerns, he began to play more rarely and less successfully. He was also beginning to suffer from illness which began showing up as gaps in his memory. It turned out to be the result of a brain tumor.  During one tournament he remarked to his wife that he could not see the middle of the board. 
     An operation performed eighteen months before he died appeared to have been a success. He was regaining his health and making plans, saying that he could analyze well, but playing was still difficult. 
     A few months before his death, illness and the operation had caused him to lose his hair, his speech was slow and he tired quickly, but he seemed to be doing well. Shortly, the symptoms reappeared and in those days in the Soviet Union doctors traditionally did not to tell a patient about the hopelessness of their illness and it was considered correct for family members to hide the truth from the patient.  So, Polugayevsky was told it was a virus and it would pass. 
     His end was a sad and depressing one. During that time he was very restless and somewhat delusional, at one point telling the nurses in the hospital that the previous day he had not recognized his wife. As his condition grew worse, he began forgetting all the languages he knew, remembering only his native language. He also lost all concern for everyday matters, but remained devoted to chess.  When he could no longer analyze on the set by his bed, his wife would tap the pieces on the board so that the familiar sound would have a calming effect.  He would often speak to his wife about his GM colleagues, telling her that Korchnoi was his favorite player because of his colossal talent. It was not long before he passed away in Paris where he had been living. He is buried, like Alekhine, at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, and their graves are quite close. 
     His opponent in this game was Vladimir Zagorovsky (born Jun-29-1925, died Nov-06-1994, 69 years old). Zagorovsky was awarded the IM title in 1964 and the GM title in 1966. He won the 4th World Correspondence Championship in 1965. In the 5th Championship he was fourth, in the 6th he finished second, in the 7th he was third and in the 8th he was second. In 1951, he won the Soviet Army championship. He was also Moscow Champion in 1952. 

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