Monday, April 27, 2009

Zurich 1953: Svetozar Gligorić, The Chess Theory –Myth buster

Born February 2, 1923 in Yugoslavia, made him 30 years old at the time of Zurich 1953. He was brought up in a simple struggling impoverished household. His father died when he was young. At eleven he learned how to play the game from a boarder who was taken in by his mother. He had to make a chess set by carving pieces of cork from old wine bottles. His first tournament success was in 1938 ( age 15) winning the championship at the Belgrade Chess Club. Like many young chess players of that time, World War II interrupted his playing as he was part of a partisan unit ( irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area) which meant a high risk. Fortunately, a chess-playing officer led to his removal from combat which probably saved his life.

He worked as a journalist following the war and organized chess tournaments. He became an IM in 1950 and a year later was titled GM when he transitioned to full time chess player.

Being a freshly minted GM for Zurich 1953 didn’t make him no slouch. Despite coming in third from the bottom, his games are very instructional. In fact, all the games I studied so far from the bottom up started out strong and have gotten progressively better with each player. Gligoric demonstrated that the king’s Indian defense can be a lethal weapon. In round 5, Averbakh attempted a prepared line against Gligoric’s formula involving exchanging the center pawns to clear the way for the fianchetto bishop and playing his knight to c5 and rook on e8 to put pressure on the weak e4. An extension of a hypermodern idea shows how he originally allows White to occupy the center with pawns, only to make him eat it. He tactically defends a weak d6 ( white’s only counter attacking chances.) Averbakh miscalculates a exchange sacrifice and that leaves the gate wide open.

Another King’s Indian game, has Euwe in round 7 cautiously playing a different route that Averbakh. Gligoric attacks e4 in a very similar way and Euwe attempts to carry out a king side attack but soon realizes that the e4 is really where he should put his action. Gligoric, opens up the center, then drops a rook for a knight to get a killer advanced passed pawns with his more active pieces.
White is forced to return the material or lose. (Diagram) The game ends in a draw.

He plays Euwe again in round 22 in what turns out to be one of the most instructional three versus four pawn and rook endgames following a heavy IQP positional battle. Bronstein debates that a rook and pawn endgame as such with all pawns on one side can’t be won. But Gligoric pushes the envelop like a Myth Buster. First, Black gets an IQP following a Nimzo-Indian defense central exchange. It appears that Black’s counter chances of attacking Gligoric’s King side is strong but Gligoric does the right thing. He systematically exchanges the minor pieces off exposing the weak d-pawn. Euwe then goes for a theoretical drawn end game of 3 vs 4 pawns versus rooks with all pawns on the same side of the board. He clears out the pawns on the queen side. But here is where the MYTH BUSTER goes forth! In this supposedly drawn endgame, he first gets black to advance his h-pawn as far as possible before picking it up. Then he chases his rook away by getting him in zugzwang. The last piece is to get the rest of his pawns advanced to e6 and f5 before black has a chance to defend. It’s an incredible game worth the time to study.

In round 14, he draws Reshevsky as White in a very standard Ruy Lopez, closed variation of the Chigoran variation. They pretty much stay in “book” through move 20. On move 28 Gligoric stabs the black kingside with a g4-g5 thrust. Two moves later he offers his queen. But Reshevsky isn’t up for any greek gifts. ( Diagram) Taking the queen would again leave Gligoric with a favorable passed pawn with 2 rooks and a bishop to support it against a queen and a rook.

I took a look at the round 18 Gligoric vs Najdorf in a Sicilian Najdorf variation. Gligoric does an odd thing and gets his rook to occupy an open 4th rank but can’t decide whether to support the f-pawn or the b-pawn. Najdorf offers a draw on move 28 which Gligoric accepts. It seemed like there was still some play left for Black.

In the previous round, Gligoric plays his own variation of the Moscow variation of the Sicilian defense against Taimanov. White gambits a pawn to get an edge in development but can’t sustain it. That was all Gligoric needed to turn that small advantage into a win. Systematically he exchanged pieces and pulled through in the end.

Overall, he finishes with 15 draws ( a lot of them being short disappointing GM draws I might add), 5 wins ( the other two wins were against Stahlberg which were interesting to some extent but clearly outplayed the last place finisher) to end with 12.5 points.


Following Zurich 1953, he actually placed first in Stockholm in 1954, Belgrade in 1964, Manila 1968, and at Lone Pine in 1972 and 1979. He was a regular at the annual Hastings event held at the end of the year with wins ( or ties for first) in 1956,1960, and 1962. He scored well in several Zonal and Interzonal events during the 1950’s and 1960’s qualifying him for Candidates matches the following years ( like Zurich) but not successful in any of those marathon events.

He leaves a legacy of opening theory in the King’s Indian Defense, Ruy Lopez, and Nimzo-Indian Defense. The King’s Indian line demonstrated in this Tournament with the exd4 followed by Nc5 line, landed him several spectacular victories on both sides of the board. significant variations in the King's Indian and Ruy Lopez are named for him. His battles with Bobby Fischer in the King's Indian and Sicilian Defense (particularly the Najdorf Variation, a long-time Fischer specialty) were the stuff of legend and often worked out in his favor.

He had a regular “Game of the month” column in the USCF magazine ( Chess Review and later Chess Life) where it often became a complete tutorial of opening theory and game analysis. He contributed to the Chess Informants as well.

He’s still with us today as a successful chess career spanning over 5 decades of tournament play, arbitrtation, organization, game commentary and books written in several languages.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Zurich 1953: Machgielis (Max) Euwe, the Mathematician

"Strategy requires thought; tactics requires observation." - Max Euwe

Born near Amsterdam on May 20, 1901, Dr. Max Euwe earned his doctorate in Mathematics at the University of Amsterdam in 1926. He taught math in Rotterdam and later in Amsterdam. Along the same lines as Dr. Lasker, he published a mathematical analysis of the game of chess using the Thue-Morse Sequence to show that the then current official rules did not exclude the possibility of infinite games.

Dr. Euwe won every Dutch chess championship he participate in from 1921-1952 and again in 1955 winning a record of 12 titles. Having a young family in the late 1920’s through the 1930’s, he could only play competitive chess during school vacations. This limited his opportunities for top level international events, but when he participated, he performed well.
"There's something wrong with that man. He's too normal." – Bobby Fischer
He was not a "professional" chess player yet he became a World Champion! Dr. Max Euwe became the fifth World Champion in 1935 after 30 games across 13 different cities around the Netherlands defeating Alekhine by 15.5 -14,5. This win gave a huge boost to chess in the Netherlands. I don’t like the debates that Euwe’s win over Alekhine was due to either Alekhine’s alcoholism or over confidence. I prefer to think that his fighting spirit, creativity, and ability
to not lose his nerve under tough positions was the edge he gained over the 4th World Champion. In 1936, he was in top form at Nottingham and again in AVRO 1938 finishing in 3rd and 4th place respectively and in both instances ahead of Alekhine.

Now, in Zurich 1953, we see Max Euwe at 52 making him the oldest contestant at this event who still has some spectacular capabilities and nerves of steel. In the first round, he has the white side of Kotov’s Benoni Defense. As White, he gets some space on the Queen’s side and doesn’t waste any time getting his troops deployed to the open terrain. Kotov, under pressure, decides to exchange a rook for a minor piece to allow for some feeble counter attack. With Nerves of
steel, Dr. Euwe weathers the temporary marauding raid by black and then continues squeezing the Queen’s side.

He wins his first brilliancy prize in round 2 as Black against Geller in a firey Nimzo-Indian- Rubinstein system. Had Black played a typical Queen’s side attack, Geller’s sharp pawn sacrifice on c4 would have had more of a sting. Black decided to use the Queen’s side as a means to establish lines of communications to attack White’s King. In the heat of attack versus counter attack, Dr. Euwe offers a rook to decoy the White queen deep into the rears of his own back rank! But, the rook sacrifice is vindicated as Black developed an unstoppable mating threat on a weak King. ( Diagram)

I looked at several of Euwe’s draws and decided to comment on the round 6 Bronstein game ( he drew both games against him). In the notes inside the game, I tried to capture Bronstein’s views and comments about how both sides were sacrificing material to “assail” the other’s king. One, in an attempt to draw the king to the sixth rank, the other making a run for the cowering king in the corner with a weak back rank. The game ends in a draw with a Queen versus two rooks and a time scramble on both sides. They come back after the adjournment and agree to a draw.

He beats Taimanov in round 8 with a Nimzo-Indian defense as black. In an over-emphasis of maintaining the bishop pair, White allows black to complete his development which allows Dr. Euwe to attack first. White’s bishops were imprisoned behind locked pawns. Black then was able to turn the development edge into longer term structural issues for White. White had one saving grace in the form of a passed d-pawn. However, he ignores the significance and falls prey to the aggressive rooks of Euwe.

His second brilliancy prize was found in round 9 as White against Najdorf. Black allows white to expand in the center in this modern defense. Euwe decides to push it to the extreme and advance the d-pawn to d6 which cuts off communications for Black’s King and Queen side. This allows him to follow through with a King side attack starting with h4 and offering a knight on g4. (diagram)WITH A ROOK DOWN!

White continues this swashbuckling attack in a fashion seen 100 years prior with Anderssen vs Kersietsky. The astounding thing was that this was an intuitive sacrifice with no real forcing lines, only strong initiative and great attacking chances that pushes the king into submission.

His last victory I looked at was against Stahlberg in round 14 as white. This was a matter of dueling outside passed pawns and careful calculations. If you are looking for a lesson beyond Silman’s simplistic “fox in the hen house” approach to outside passers, then this game is worth a study . In the book, Bronstein includes some of Euwe’s analysis which I folded into the game comments. ( for reference, GD are my feeble analysis, DB are David Bronstein’s and those marked with ME are Max Euwe’s)

With the five wins, he draws 13 games to finish with 11 ½ points. This was his final major tournament.


He played in a few more Chess Olympiads after Zurich through 1962 representing the Netherlands concluding a 35 year span on first board. In 1957, he played a short match with a young Bobby Fischer winning one game and drawing the other.

From 1970-1978 he was the president of FIDE doing what he considered was morally right rather than politically expedient. This brought him into conflict with the Soviet Chess Federation who felt they brought in a larger share of the budget and Soviet players dominated the world rankings. Presiding over FIDE during some of the most turbulent times with Fischer and the soviets.

His legacy is found in several books he authored. One in partcular, “ The road to mastery” is still a popular book seen on the table of most book sellers at large events. His granddaughter, Esmee Lammers, has written a children’s book titled Lang Leve de Koningin (Long live the Queen). It is a fairytale about a young girl who learns to play chess and at the same time finds her father. Lammers filmed the story in 1995.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Zurich 1953: Gideon Stalhberg, Working on the Knight moves

Born in 1908, he would have been 45 at the time of Zurich 1953 making him one of the older players for this event. In 1927, he won the Swedish Chess Championship and later gained chess notoriety after winning matches against Rudolf Speilman and Aaron Nimzovitch in 1935.
Stahlberg finished in 6th place at the 1952 Stockhom Interzonal tournament. This earned him a place in the Candidates match at Zurich.

Despite finishing in last place (15th) in a field of tough competition, he did manage to win both games against 10th place finisher, Averbach . As Black in round 12, he plays a Tarrasch variation of the French Defense and is allowed some counter play on the Queen’s side. Oddly enough this game wasn’t as well annotated by Bronstein in the book and I found this following position peculiar of a missed win for White on move 44: ( diagram)
Had Averbakh simply played 44. Re8+ Nf8 ( forced) 45. Ne6 I felt this was winning for White. Having missed that, White instead plays 44. Re7 and allows Stahlberg to wiggle out and actually gain the upper hand.

When they flipped sides in round 27, playing an older line of an Indian Defense, he draws his opponent to over extend himself. This gives him an opportunity to play take over control over the light squares. Averbach overextends the pawns on both sides and this creates longer term structural weaknesses for the endgame. Once the Queens are off the board, Stahlberg demonstrates a nice 2R+Ps endgame with active rooks that takes advantage of the holes created in the middle game.

His third win was against Kotov ( yes, the Think Like a Grandmaster author) in round 2. Here he plays a signature Knight maneuver that has both Smylov and Bronstein puzzled for a good refutation. In this position on Black’s move 11, he plays 11…Nf8 before ( see diagram below) castling to get his knight to e6 as a sharp variation for an other wise quiet semi-closed position. He doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of White’s confusion and jumps on an opened b-file following a queen exchange. Again, in the endgame, he takes advantage of a structural weakness made in the middle game.

By the time he encounters Bronstein in round 22, his opponent has had a chance to observe this peculiar knight move and prepare a line. In response to the Nf8-Ne6 line, Bronstein tries a King’s side attack initiated with an h-pawn. He calculates a winning line had Stahlberg continued with the g6 push. Instead he counters with h6 and the alternate variation he prepared has Bronstein soon realizing the attack can’t work as it now loses a tempo. He changes plan to a central struggle with a passed pawn. Stahlberg gets an extra pawn in the mix but Bronstein’s advanced passed pawn on e6 has all the pieces tied up. Bronstein underestimates the burden of hanging on to the pawn without his king in closer proximity and finally wiggles his way out. Stalhberg ends the melee with a perpetual check as a means to stop Bronstein from over coming his extra material with tempo.

Smylov as Black in round 19, leading the pack, decides to play for a safe draw in a very bookish mainline Slav. He didn’t want to take any chances. Likewise, Reshevsky in round 21, plays a rather Dull line of a King’s Indian to avoid any sharp lines for Stahlberg and draws in a 3 fold repetition.

There were several GM draws in 30 moves or less against Stalhberg. 10 draws in all for a total of 8 points gained for the event.


After the Candidates match of 1953, he went on to Umpire in the World Championship matches between 1957 and 1963 ( Botvinnik and Petrosian). He published several chess books ( 10 in all) , some of them originally in Swedish. I kamp med världseliten (In Battle against the World Elite, 1948, 1958); Schack och schackmästare (Chess and Chess Masters, 1937,1959);Strövtåg i schackvärlden (Excursions in the World of Chess). They seemed to be a collection of either his games or those of his predecessors.
In 1967 he travelled to Leningrad to take part in an international tournament but died of a heart attack before playing his first game.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Zurich 1953: An Introduction

As the gull wings of the De Lorean swing open, I find that it’s late summer in Zurich, Switzerland 1953. The dawn of a very famous International Chess Tournament is about to commence. Since this is a FIDE organized double round robin Candidates match to beat the world Champion, Michael Botvinnik, there were 8 players from the 1952 Stockholm Interzonal match; Kotov, Taimanov, Petrosian, Geller, Averbakh, Ståhlberg, Szabo, and Gligoric who qualified for this event. Seven more players were seeded due to past performances. Bronstein, Boleslavsky, Smyslov, Keres and Najdorf were the best in the previous candidates’ tournament in Budapest 1950. Reshevsky and Euwe had participated in the world championship of 1948.

Eight rounds were played in the Kirchgemeindehaus in Neuhausen am Rheinfall (Pictured on the right)from August 30 through September 12 and the remaining twenty-two rounds in the Kammermusiksaal of the Kongreßhaus in Zürich (pictured on the left) from September 13th until October 23rd of 1953. A total of 30 rounds will be played in approximately 2 months.

In this time period, the Candidates Tournament was a triennial chess tournament organiszed by the world chess federation, FIDE, as the final contest to determine the challenger for the World Chess Championship. The winner earns a right to a match against the incumbent World Champion.

Most of the serious players I’ve interviewed claim that studying this tournament helped them reach beyond a rating of 2000. Considering the level of play of a Candidates match, I can understand how this might help one achieve a better level of understanding and appreciation of the game. Bronstein’s narrative is really what makes the tournament book stand out. He comes out and says that his book is more of an essay for middle game play.

In the Preface, he describes the evolution of the openings leading up to the event. He takes Tarrasch’s positional ideas and turns them on its head. Claiming Dr. Emanual Lasker had it right when he played “ second rate” moves to entice his opponent to a more dynamic game only to take advantage of the hole his opponent would create chasing a faux weakness.

In Bronstein’s words:
“ We might give ourselves weak spots and weak pawns, in order to distract our opponent; give up open lines, in order to save the rooks for other, more promising plans; or mount an attacking demonstration, in order to hide our real intentions.”

When I first purchased this book and tried to assimilate the ideas I was in over my head. I needed to go back to the romantic period of swashbuckling chess of the London 1851 tournament to get my bearings. Moving to the Hastings 1895 helped me see the evolution of positional ideas to the closed positional styles of that period. My most recent study of the New York 1924 hypermodern era helped me understand the different approach to positional ideas with the asymmetrical positions and flexibility. All very good preparation necessary for me to understand the magic I am about to see with new eyes.

Like my previous journeys, in this series I will be following the players through the 30 rounds. I may change course at some point but for now I plan on following the players from the bottom up.

For this event, I have no continuance factor like my previous events following Henry Bird from London 1851 to Hastings 1895 and Dr. Lasker from Hastings to New York. Part of the reason is that New York had an “older” set of players that were no longer in competition or living for this event. The closest I get is with Euwe and Stahlberg. Max Ewe was the Dutch Champion in 1921 while Gideon Stahlberg was the Sweedish Champion around that same time period. Nether were qualified for the New York 1924 event. Incidentally, I start the series with both of these players because, they finished 14th and 15th. All the other players were either children or not born in time to compete in New York 1924.
L-R:Smyslov, Reshevsky, Keres and Bronstein

If you followed my previous series and enjoyed those, I hope you will find this series just as informative and moderately entertaining.