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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Prague 1946 – Ruined by the Soviets

Margarita Carmen Cansino
     Things were humming in Prague in 1946. After the War the Czechs looked favorably on the Russians who had liberated them. As a matter of fact, the Communist Party had a solid following dating back to the 1920s when Czechoslovakia was a democratic nation. 
     A “necktie party” was held for Karl Hermann Frank on May 22 when he was hanged before 5,000 spectators in the courtyard of the Pankrac Prison in Prague after being convicted of war crimes and the destruction of Lidice and Lezaky. WARNING: The link to Frank contains graphic content
     Eduard Benes, the postwar president, had signed a friendship treaty with the Soviets while working with the government-in-exile during 1943. By the beginning of 1946, there was no USSR military presence in the country, but the Communists were well-represented in the government. After a lot of political intrigue over the next couple of years Benes, by that time frail and sick, resigned in June, 1948 and passed away on September 3, 1948. 
     After the Communist took over, Czechoslovakia which until then had been the last democracy in Eastern Europe, was doomed to more than 40 long years of totalitarian rule which lasted until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. 
     Besides the political intrigue going on, in 1946, a lady who was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1918 as Margarita Carmen Cansino, the oldest child of two dancers, visited Prague and created a stir. By then she had become a popular Hollywood actress known as Rita Hayworth. 
     She had just starred in her first major dramatic role in the 1946 film, Gilda, which also starred Glenn Ford. 1946 was also the year of the first Karlovy Vary International Film Festival where she made an appearance at the world renowned spa town, and upon seeing the beauty of the Czech Republic, she decided to take in the sights of Prague. 
     The international chess scene was severely disrupted by World War II beginning with the 1939 Olympiad at Buenos Aires. Some teams and players withdrew and others remained in South America for the duration of the war. Also, Alekhine had died in the spring of 1946. 
     After the war ended, the FIDE conference in the summer of 1946 had to reestablish itself and had proposed a world championship tournament including five participants from the AVRO 1938 tournament: Mikhail Botvinnik, Paul Keres, Max Euwe, Samuel Reshevsky and Reuben Fine. 
     Along with those players would be Smyslov plus the winner of either Groningen (the first major postwar tournament. It was held in August and September) or Prague which was played in October of 1946. Prague was a memorial to Karel Treybal and Vera Menchik who both died during the war. 
     The possibility of advancing a player to a world championship tournament was only part of what the Prague organizers envisioned for the tournament. They had invited Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Flohr, Bronstein, Euwe, Reshevsky, and Fine, but none of them played. Tartakower had accepted, but never arrived due to travel difficulties. Karel Opocensky was chosen to replace him. 
     Then on October 2, Moscow notified the organizers that the four-player Soviet players promised wouldn't be coming due to a conflict with the semifinals of their national championship. This unexpected last-minute cancellation threw the Prague tournament into chaos. It also weakened the prospects of the eventual winner, the Polish Miguel Najdorf who had remained in South America during the war, to be included in the FIDE World Championship Tournament scheduled for 1948. 
     Botvinnik won at Groningen and since he was already a candidate, the winner of Prague was presumed to get the open place, but chess politics interfered. In the end, when the Soviets pulled out of Prague, its strength was greatly reduced and so Najdorf's chances to participate in a world championship tournament went with it. 
     As for the tournament itself, Jan Foltys got off to a great start by scoring 4-0, but then after two draws, he suffered two defeats. Three draws in the final five rounds resulted in his only tying for fourth place with Svetozar Gligoric.
     Gligoric also got off to a blazing start, scoring 5.5-0.5 in six rounds, which included a win over Najdorf.  Then he too faded when he scored +1 -2 =4 in the remaining rounds. 
     Trifunovic started with two losses, to Stoltz and Foltys, but then went on a scoring binge, finishing with a +7 -0 =4. Stoltz scored +2 -2 =3, but finished up well by scoring +5 -0 =1. 
     Like Gligoric, Najdorf got off to a blazing start. He scored +6 -0 =1; his loss was to Gigoric. He continued his solid play and coasted to first with a draw against Stoltz with one round to go. 

1) Najdorf 10.5-1.5 
2-3) Stoltz and Trifunovic 9.0-3.0 
4-5) Gligoric and Foltys 8.5-3.5 
6) Golombek 6.5-5.5 
7-8) Pachman and Sajtar 6.0-6.0 
9-10) Katetov and Kottnauer 5.5-6.5 
11-12) Zita and Guimard 4.5-7.5 
13-14) Opocensky and Rohacek 3.5-8.5 

Note that this event is not to be confused with the Prague vs. Moscow match which was also played in 1946. The Moscow team consisted of Bronstein, Kotov, Smyslov, Alatortsev, Simagin, Lilienthal and Bondarevsky. The Prague team was made up of Zita, Opocensky, Katetov, Kottnauer, Sajtar and Pachman. 

     The Czech player Cenek Kottnauer (February 24, 1910 - February 14, 1996) emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1953. Frantisek Zita (November 29, 1909 – October 1, 1977) was born in Prague, then Austria-Hungary and was Czech (Bohemia and Moravia) champion in 1943. 
     The game is interesting because Zita launches an ill advised attack where in the end he wasn't attacking at all; he was just giving away pieces. It reminds me of some of my “attacks.” 

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