Fifty years ago this fall, Bobby Fischer and the Soviets staged a stirring battle for supremacy in the small Yugoslav (now Slovenian) town of Bled.
In one of those monthlong, 20-player extravaganzas that pretty much have disappeared from the chess calendar, the 18-year-old American scored a stunning 3 1/2- 1/2 against a contingent of Soviet stars that included world champion Mikhail Tal, future champ Tigran Petrosian and Soviet legends Paul Keres and Efim Geller. Tal, who lost his first game ever to Fischer in Bled, racked up a number of wins against the event’s tail-enders to capture the event at 13 1/2-5 1/2, a point ahead of Fischer and 1 1/2 points clear of Petrosian, Keres and Yugoslav star Svetozar Gligoric.
Serbian GMBoris Ivkov finished in a tie for 15th but snagged the “best game” prize in a field of superstars for his win over Hungarian great Lajos Portisch. The play features a razor-sharp Winawer French line, very much in vogue when the game was played, and an elegant attack by White after the queens depart the board.
The play is murky at times, but there is one constant: Portisch’s king never finds a safe place to hide. When Black’s French pawn center blows up after 17. Re1 e5 18. a4!? Be8 (exf4!? 19. Rxe7 Rxg2 20. Qf8+ Kc7 21. cxd4 Rxf2 22. c3 is messy for both sides) 19. Qe6 Qxe6 20. Nxe6+ Kd7 21. Nc5+ Kc8 22. Rxe5, the white rooks use the open e- and b-files to box in the Black king.
Ivkov flushes his prey into the open with 24. Bxf5+! Kd8 (Nxf5 25. Rxe8+ Nd8 26. Rf8 Rxf2 27. Ke1 Rf3 28. Bg5, winning a piece) 25. Nxb7+! Kc7 (the White knight and bishop both hang, but Ivkov is just warming up) 26. Bf4+!! (Bh3?! Rg1+ 27. Kd2 Kxb7 28. Rb1+ Kc7 29. cxd4 Bh5, and White does not have enough compensation for his lost material) Ne5 (Kxb7? 27. Rb1+ Ka6 28. Bd3+ Ka5 29. Bc7+ Kxa4 30. Ra1 mate) 27. Rxe5 Nxf5 28. Re7+!, and the Black king is snared in mating net.
White finished things off in style after 28. … Kc6 (Kc8 holds out only a little longer – 29. Rc7+ Kb8 30. Nc5 Bh5+ 31. Kc1 Rg1+ 32. Kb2 dxc3+ 33. Ka2 Rxa1+ 34. Kxa1, and Black can’t counter the twin knight mate threats at a6 and d7) 29. Rc7+ Kb6 30. Rb1+ Ka6 31. Rc6+!, clearing the c7-square for the bishop. Portisch resigned in the face of the geometrically pleasing 31. … Bxc6 32. Nc5+ Ka5 33. Bc7 mate.
Germany, which produced legends such as early world champions Adolf Anderssen and champion Emanuel Lasker, was the world’s strongest chess-playing nation at the turn of the 20th century – and has been pretty much an afterthought ever since. Seeded 10th going into this month’s European Team Championship in Halkidiki, Greece, the Germans once again were not expected to be in the running against such powers as Russia, Ukraine, Armenia and Bulgaria.
But the German squad, anchored by GMArkady Naiditsch – the only 2700-plus player on the team – and GM Georg Meier, scored an improbable gold medal in Halkidiki, clinching first with a last-round upset of Armenia. Azerbaijan took silver and Hungary bronze, as many of the pre-tournament favorites didn’t even earn a spot on the medal podium.