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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Svetozar Gligoric

     The legendary GM Svetozar Gligoric died at the age of 89 in Belgrade on August 14, 2012 after suffering a stroke. The hero of a hundred tournaments, his exploits are too numerous to mention, but among them were winning the championship of Yugoslavia a record twelve times from 1947 to 1971 and he played for Yugoslavia in the Olympiads 15 times. 
     In the 1950s and 1960s he was not only one of the top players in the world, but one of the most popular. Gligoric was born in Belgrade to a poor family and his first exposure to chess was watching customers play in a neighborhood bar. At the age of eleven a boarder taken in by his mother, who had been widowed for two years, taught him how to play.  Too poor to buy a chess set, he carved pieces out of corks from wine bottles. 
     Because he was a good student with many athletic successes he was invited to represent his school at a birthday celebration for Prince Peter, who later became King Peter II of Yugoslavia. He later described how embarrassed he was at having to attend dressed in shabby clothes because of his poverty. 
     Born February 2, 1923, at the age of 15 he won he won the Belgrade Chess Club championship. When he was 17, his mother died and Gligoric, an only child, was taken in by Niko Miljanic, a professor who knew him through chess. He seemed to be on his way as a chess player, but then along came World War II and there was no time for chess.  If you speak Bosnian there's more information on Miljanic HERE.  If you don't speak it then Google Translate does a pretty fair job.
     Military operations in Yugoslavia began on April 6, 1941, when the country was quickly conquered by Axis forces. A guerrilla liberation war was fought by Yugoslav Partisans against the Axis forces and their locally established regimes. Simultaneously, a multi-side civil war was waged between the various Yugoslav political groups. 
     Fighting as one of Tito's Partisans, on more than one occasion Gligoric managed to stay alive only by chance. As one example, he described a time when they were fighting the German Army in the mountains of Yugoslavia and as he was setting up machine gun they were fired upon by a sniper. When his companion stood up in front of Gligoric, he took a round, as we used to say in the Marine Corps, right between the running lights. i.e right between the eyes. A chance encounter with a chess playing Partisan officer led to his removal from combat. He was eventually promoted to captain in the resistance forces. 
     After the war Gligoric worked for several years as a journalist and organizer of chess tournaments and progressed as a player, being awarded the IM title in 1950 and the GM title the following year. He eventually became a full-time chess professional and continued active tournament play well into his sixties.  Fluent in several languages, he worked as a journalist and organized many tournaments. 
     Gligoric made significant contributions to the theory and practice of the K-Indian and the Ruy Lopez. He favored ambitious but risky openings, but he stuck fundamental principles and never tries psychological tactics against his opponents. Speaking of Gligoric, Tal said he had his favorite type of positions and when he managed to get them, he created textbook examples of how to handle them. 
     Besides chess, he has a passion for music and in 2011 released a CD featuring compositions that included jazz, ballads and rap. 

     He was among the finalists to challenge for the world champion three times, but came always up short. In the 1953 tournament in Switzerland to pick the challenger, he finished 13th out of 15 players. Six years later, in Yugoslavia, he tied with Bobby Fischer for fifth out of eight players. In 1968, after the format had been changed matches, he lost in the quarterfinals to Mikhail Tal. Gligoric took the early lead, but unwisely switched strategies in the sixth game and lost after reading criticism in newspapers that the games were boring. And, that strategy cost him the match. 
     In the following little known game from the Yugoslavia-Switzerland Match played in 1948, Gligoric defeats Fritz Gygli (November 12, 1896 – April 27, 1980). Gygli was Swis Champion in 1941 and represented Switzerland in Olympiads at The Hague 1928, Warsaw 1935 and Munich 1936. He also played in matches against France (1946), Yugoslavia (1949), and West Germany (1952). 
     For the whole game Gygli's position is badly cramped, but with all his pieces defending his King, what could happen? All seems well until move 28 when Gligoric unleashes a very pretty sacrificial attack. 


  1. When I was very young, and very new to chess, the US Open was held in Chicago and I saw Gligoric in action there. I was far to weak too understand his play, but he made a remarkable impression none the less. He was so elegantly dressed, in a beautifully tailored suit and a silk tie. With his wavy dark hair and neat mustache, he brought a touch of real continental elegance to the event. He finished with 10.5 out of 13, half a point out of first

  2. Thanks for the anecdote! That was in 1963; William Lombardy and Robert Byrne tied for first. Gligoric and Benko tied the next spots. At the time I was sequestered at Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes and was playing 3 or 4 correspondence games without a board. I kept track of the games by drawing diagrams in my notebook!