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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Curacao 1962 - a Treasure Trove of Great Games

     Curaçao is a Dutch Caribbean island known for its beaches and its expansive coral reefs rich with marine life. The capital, Willemstad, has pastel-colored colonial architecture, floating Queen Emma Bridge and the sand-floored, 17th-century Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue. It’s also a gateway to western beaches like Blue Bay, a popular diving site. And, in 1962 it was the venue for the Candidate's Tournament. 
     Going back to 1956 the chess community in Curacao was small, about 150 members, but they wanted to organize the candidates tournament. At the time they were unsuccessful because it turned out to impossible to arrange for the financing in such a short time. However, FIDE did agree to hold the 1962 Candidates there; it would be the first to ever be held outside Europe. 
     Once the financial issues were taken care of the organizers aimed for perfection and achieved it with meticulous preparation. Noiseless air conditioning in the tournament hall, visas for the iron curtain players were arranged, chess tables were constructed, the world's first electric clocks were synchronized with those outside the tournament hall and demonstration boards were set up. 
     At the start of the tournament Bobby Fischer arrived late due to his missing his flight, but he finally showed up the morning the first round started which probably played a role in his loss to Pal Benko that evening. There was also a shouting match between Benko and Fischer that lead to Benko actually slapping Fischer. The altercation was over the use of the sole second the USCF had provided, Arthur Bisguier. After the incident the USCF made the decision Benko didn't have any right to a second and Bisguier could only assist Fischer. Fischer, upset at being slapped, lodged a protest with the tournament committee demanding Benko be fined and kicked out of the tournament. 
    Benko was there as a result of a three-way tie in the Interzonal at Stockholm between him, Stein and Gligoric. They had a playoff to decide sixth place. Stein won and Benko was second, but due to the restriction on the number of players that could qualify from any one zone, Stein was out. The restriction was to eliminate the possibility that the Candidates would be an all Soviet event.
     The Soviets arrived with much less fanfare. They got there a couple of days early with the players Petrosian, Keres, Geller, Korchnoi, Tahl and two seconds, Yury Averbach and Isaac Boleslavsky. There was also a "leader" named Sergey Gorshkov. He had replaced Alexander Kotov and was assumed to be a KGB agent whose purpose was to keep an eye on everybody. When Boleslavsky played a simultaneous against local players, Gorshkov demanded that Boleslavsky's fee be handed over to him instead. The wives of the Soviet players arrived about halfway through the tournament. 
     There was never a tournament book published for the event because the daily tournament bulletins were of such a high standard, but 43 years later Jan Timman finally wrote one titled Curacao 1962, The Battle of Minds That Shook the Chess World. Unfortunately most of his notes were light and superficial. 
     After the tournament Bobby Fischer's article appearing in Sports Illustrated claimed that the Soviets cheated by agreeing to draws in advance and openly and audibly discussed their games against him while they were in progress.
     Reports of Keres, Geller and Petrosian agreeing to draws began appearing about midway through the tournament. There were doubts about Korchnoi though. He had a strong start but then began losing games. Fischer observed that in the first half Korchnoi was also taking draws against his compatriots, but after a six-day break at the midpoint, he suddenly started losing. To this day no one is sure. Was Korchnoi ordered to lose, was he part of the conspiracy or did he just collapse? 
     The tournament itself went very smoothly and there were no official protests from Fischer over the behavior of the Soviets. The only major incident was Tahl's departure from the tournament during the fourth cycle due his his being hospitalized with kidney problems. The only player that visited him was Fischer. After his hospital stay Tahl remained on site and was a regular in the press room. 

The final standings : 
1) Petrosian 17.5 
2-3) Keres and Geller 17.0 
4) Fischer 14.0 
5) Korchnoi 13.5 
6) Benko 12.0 
7-8) Tahl and Filip 7.0 

    In spite of the allegations of collusion and the gaggle of short draws, Curacao was a great tournament and the following game from round 2 has been described as one of the most complicated ever played between Tahl and Keres. 
     Of the few annotations of this game that I saw, most strongly criticized just about every decision Tahl made. But analysis with Stockfish and Komodo seems to suggest a different story. While Tahl did get into a tight situation after 24.Nf4, and 33.Rc5 made his defense more difficult, he was not completely out of the game until he missed his last chance of holding out for a long time when he played 36.Re8. It was a typical Tahl game filled with risks; this time though his opponent's play was impeccable and Tahl's risky play proved his undoing. A great effort by Keres.

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