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SANDS: Chess world mourns loss of Serbian great Gligoric
The game lost a true superstar last week with the death of Serbian GM Svatozar Gligoric at the age of 89. Playing for much of his career as the top player in Yugoslavia, “Gligo” was one of the very best players in the world in the decades immediately after World War II, tangling memorably and on even terms with such greats as Fischer, Botvinnik, Smyslov and Petrosian. Four of his games with Fischer — three of them draws — ended up in the American’s classic “My 60 Memorable Games.”
Coming of age in an era of Soviet dominance, Gligoric never seriously challenged for the world crown, but had plenty of other career highlights, including a record 12 Yugoslav national titles, multiple first prizes in international tournaments and a gold medal while holding down first board for his country in the 1950 Olympiad.
A polymath who loved music and spoke several languages, he was a fine writer on the game, with a best-selling book on the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match and his popular “Game of the Month” column in what was then called Chess Life and Review. In addition to his masterpieces at the board, he will live on through the many contributions he made to opening theory, notably in the Ruy Lopez and his beloved King’s Indian.
Gligoric played some memorable games even after finally falling out of the world’s top 10, including a brilliant attacking victory over former world champ Petrosian at the 1970 Tournament of Peace in Zagreb and today’s first game, featuring a stunning queen sacrifice against strong Hungarian GM Istvan Bilek at an invitational tournament in England.
Against White’s Botvinnik English, Gligoric reveals his intentions after 17. exd5!? (cxd5 Qd6 18. g4 Nxe2 19. Qxe2 Nf4 20. Qc2 Rac8 is equal) Nf6!? 18. g4 gxf5 19. gxf5 Kh8!, when it is Black who is suddenly pondering a kingside attack along the open g-file. Things remain very much in the balance until Black springs an astonishing idea that Bilek understandably fails to appreciate in time.
Thus: 20. Nc3 e4 21. Kh1 (also getting off the g-file; tricky was 21. Nxe4 Nxe4 22. Bxe4 Qe7 23. Qd3 Rae8) Rg8 22. Bg5 Bf8! (a bizarre-looking move that seems to be walking straight into several killer pins; unsuspecting, White snaps at the bait) 23. Nxe4 (see diagram) Nxe4!! 24. Bxd8 Ng3+ 25. Kg1 Rxd8 — Black has just two knights for the sacrificed queen, but all his pieces are primed to jump into the attack against the exposed White king. White’s dark-squared bishop, the one that took the queen, will be sorely missed by the defense.
White tries to return his extra material to defang the Black attack, but Gligoric will trade down only on his own terms: 28. Raf1 Nxf1 29. Rxf1 (Kxf1 Nxf3 30. Bxf3 Rg3 is very strong) Ne2+ 30. Kh1 (Kf2? Nf4) Ng3+ 31. Kg1 Nxf1 32. Kxf1 Rg3 33. Qd1 (Qc2 Reg8 34. Be4 Rxh3) Reg8, and material is roughly equal but the White queen is no match for the coordinated power of Gligoric’s rooks and bishop. On 35. Qxf7 Be5! (stopping any dangerous checks) 36. f6 Bd4, and White has no good answer to the threat of 37. … Rf2+ 38. Ke1 Rg1 mate; Bilek resigned.
Even as the old generation passes away, a new one is rising to take its place. Alexander Ipatov, a 19-year-old Ukrainian-born grandmaster who now plays for Turkey, is the new world junior champion, claiming the title in Athens on tiebreaks over Hungarian prodigy GM Robert Rapport, who is just 16. Kansas IMConrad Holt was the top American finisher of the event, whose past winners include Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and reigning world champ Viswanathan Anand.
Black catches White in a sharp variation in this “Two Knights Tango” sideline with 9. d5 Na5!?, setting off a tactical skirmish in which Ipatov gets two pawns and a rook for his two knights after 10. Nd2 Rb8! (Black doesn’t even consider the passive 10. … b6 to give his knight a retreat square) 11. b4 Nxc4 12. Nxc4 Nxd5 13. Nxd5 Bxa1 14. Bh6 Bg7 15. Bxg7 Kxg7 16. Qd4+ f6 17. Nc3 d5. But Grandelius may have sealed his fate three moves later with the too-casual 18. Na5 c5! 19. Qf4 (Qxc5? b6 20. Nc6 bxc5 21. Nxd8 Rxd8 22. bxc5 wins the exchange for Black) Bd7 20. Rd1? (Nb3 cxb4 21. axb4 was mandatory) b6 21. Nb3 c4! 22. Nd2 e5, and suddenly the Black central pawns have become an unstoppable armada.
Ipatov gets the e-pawn into the fleet with the well-timed 27. h4 f5!, and sidesteps needless complications on 31. g4 Qg5 32. Qg3!? Rfe8! (Black’s pawns are so formidable that he needs no part of the murkier 32. … Qxc1?! 32. Qxe5+ Kg8 33. Qe6+ Kh7 34. Qh7+ Ke6 35. f4) 33. gxf5 Qxg3, and the queen trade only underscores the dominating power of Black’s pawns.
In the end, White resembles King Canute (a Dane, not a Swede) futilely ordering the tide to halt, as he succumbs to the relentless pawn swarm: 37. d6 (Bh3 Kf7! 38. Bxc8 Rxc8 39. d6 Kxf6 40. d7 Rd8 41. Kf2 Rxd7 and wins) Rcd8 38. g4 e3 39. g5 e2 40. Kf2 d3 41. Ne3 (allowing a nice finish) Rxe3! 42. Rh1 (Kxe3 d2) e1=Q+, and White resigned staring at lines like 43. Rxe1 Rxe1 44. Kxe1 c2 45. Kd2 Rc8 46. Kc1 d2+, and the last Black pawn will crash through.
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About the Author
Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.
At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...
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