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 GM Arkady 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.
In an event littered with upsets, there was none bigger than Switzerland’s Round 7 3-1 win over Ukraine, whose fourth board, GM Zahar Efimenko (2702) was rated 121 points higher than Switzerland’s first board, GM Yannick Pelletier. But Efimenko suffered one of his team’s two losses in the match, falling to a spectacular swindle by Swiss IM Richard Forster.
Black never really justifies his early piece sacrifice (9. … Bxg4?!) in this Sicilian Dragon Yugoslav Attack, but Forster at least serves notice he won’t be going down passively. White eventually returns the gambit to obtain two strong minor pieces for a rook and pawn, and after 23. Nd5 Nxd5 24. Qxd5 Qf4+ 25. Kb1, Naiditsch already is close to a winning positional edge. Black’s only trump card is his passed e-pawn, but some too-casual play by his opponent allows him to collect the trick.
There followed: 25. … e4 26. Nd2 (not bad, but 26. Rd4! Qxh2 27. Qxe4 was cleaner) e3! 27. Rf1?? (see diagram; 27. Ne4 e2 28. Re1 was called for), and Black realizes that 27. … Qxf1+ 28. Nxf1 e2 would net him another queen - if not for that annoying bishop on b5. So: 27…Rcxd7!! 28. Bxd7 (the bishop is now out of the picture) Qxf1+! 29. Nxf1 e2 30. Qb5 (Qc4 e1=Q+ 31. Ka2 Rxd7 32. Qc8+ Kg7 33. Qxd7 Qxf1 and Black is winning) e1=Q+, and suddenly it’s a whole new ballgame - Forster has won a pawn and White’s king suddenly has protection issues.
Reeling from the turn of events, Efimenko misses a last chance to draw, enabling a third Black queen to decide the contest: 38. Qa8+? (the fight would go on after 38. Qg5! Qxg5 39. Nxg5 h2 40. a5 h1=Q 41. Bxh1 Rxh1 42. b4 Kg7, with chances for both sides) Kg7 39. Qa7 h2 40. Qf2 (Nf2 Qc4+ 41. b3 Rd2+ 42. Ka3 Qxc6) Qc7! 41. Ng5 (Qf6+ Kg8 42. Nf2 Rd6 43. Qh4 Qxc6 44. Qxh2 Qxa4+ and wins) Qxc6 42. Qxf7+ Kh6 43. Qf4, praying for 43. … h1=Q? 44. Ne6+ Kh7 45. Qf7+ Kh6 44. Qf4+ with a perpetual check.
But Black interposes 43. … Ra1+!, forcing instant resignation as 44. Kxa1 (Kb3 Qxa4+ 45. Qxa4 Rxa4 wins) h1=Q+ 45. Ka2 Qhd5+ 46. b3 Qxg5 is hopeless.