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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fischer at Bled 1959

     The 1959 Candidates Tournament for the selection of the next challenger to Botvinnik 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. The tournament was held from September 7, 1959 through October 31, 1959 with the support of dictator Marshal Josip Tito
     Tito (May 7, 1892-May 4, 1980) was a revolutionary and dictator, serving in various roles from 1943 until his death. His presidency was criticized as authoritarian and questions regarding the repression of political opponents were raised, but some historians consider him a benevolent dictator. He was a popular public figure in Yugoslavia and his internal policies maintained the peaceful coexistence of the nations of the Yugoslav federation. He was also an avid chess amateur. 
     Thus exciting tournament had eight of the biggest names in chess participating. It consisted of 28 rounds with each competitor facing the others four times. It was the tournament that catapulted Tahl on his road to become the youngest-ever world chess champion. 
     According to Chessmetrics, in June, 1959 just before the start of this tournament the highest rated players in the world were: 1) Tahl 2782, 2) Botvinnik 2755, 3) Smyslov 2752, 4) Petrosian, 5) Keres 2745, 6) Gligoric 2738, 7) Taimanov 2726, 8) Spassky 2725, 9) Geller 2722 and 10) Korchnoi 2721. Fischer was ranked number 14 at 2701 and Olafsson was in the 21st spot at 2701. Benko was number 24 at 2660. 
     Each player had at least one second and Fischer’s was Bent Larsen who was paid $700, or about $6,000 today. They didn't get along particularly well. Larsen reportedly told Fischer that most people thought Fischer was unpleasant to play against, walked funny and was ugly. Fischer didn't think Larsen was joking and the insults hurt. Fischer called Larsen “sulky and unhelpful.” 
     Tahl’s seconds were Yuri Averbakh and Alexander Koblentz. Keres’s was Vladas Mikenas. Petrosian’s was Isaac Boleslavsky. Smyslov’s was Igor Bonderevsky. Gligoric’s second was Alelsandar Matanovic. Olafsson’s were Klaus Darga and Ingi Johannsson. Benko’s was Rudolf Maric. 
     In those days it was common for the players to wear suits and ties, but not Fischer who had dropped out of high school to play.  He played in his customary garb for those days, a sweater and wrinkled pants. Fischer lost his travelers checks and was short on money during the entire tournament. 
     Tahl was recovering from an appendectomy that had been performed less than two weeks before the tournament. Tahl recounted that he was not much troubled by the effects apart from the fact that during a game he didn't feel inclined to walk around. However, during round 5 Harry Golombek wrote that it was an “impressive sight” to see Tahl get up after he made what he thought was a winning move and pace around “like a man-eating tiger." Fischer also complained that whenever Tahl got up to walk around he'd begin talking to the other Soviet players and they enjoyed whispering about the games in progress. Fischer made the observation to Golombek, who had remarked about how many Caro Kanns the Soviets had been playing, that "they are all just chicken; they just don't want to face Bc4 against the Sicilian.  
     Benko, living in the US but not yet a citizen, qualified as a Hungarian  but was playing stateless. His play was hampered by the fact that he had been working long hours at a US brokerage firm and said he didn't prepare at all.
     The biggest surprise was the lackluster play of ex-World Champion Smyslov, causing Golombek to remark that Smyslov seemed to be struggling, not only against his opponent, but against himself. 
     With one round to go, Tahl only needed a half point against Benko to win the tournament. Benko, as a joke, showed up wearing dark sunglasses to avoid the famous hypnotic Tahl stare. Tahl forced an early draw and earned the right to face Botvinnik in 1960. 

1) Tahl 20.0
2) Keres 18.5 
3) Petrosian 15.5 
4) Smyslov 15.0 
5-6) Fischer and Gligoric 12.5 
7) Olafsson 10.0 
8) Benko 8.0
 

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