15 August 2012

Fortunate with His Temperament

Fischer (1943-2008), Filip (1928-2009), Smyslov (1921–2010), Larsen (1935–2010), now Gligoric (1923–2012); one by one the World Championship contenders of the mid-20th century are leaving us: Svetozar Gligoric, legend of the King's Indian, dies at 89, (Chessvibes.com, 14 August 2012).

The first chapter of Gligoric's I Play against Pieces (Batsford 2002) is autobiographical, with several passages relating to his struggles for the World Championship. A sample:-

An episode from my 'comeback' in 1967: After the Interzonal in Portoroz 1958 I gave the impression of being one of favourites in the Candidates tournament 1959 of 8 participants, and I disappointed my audience when I finished 5th-6th in the company of a young grandmaster by name of Bobby Fischer... I continued my 'going down' in the Interzonals at Stockholm 1962 and Amsterdam 1964, failing twice to qualify for the Candidates stage. When I went to Sousse in 1967, nothing spectacular was to be expected from me.

At that time, I had some new ideas for a safe opening repertoire and intended, as usual, to rely on my intuition during play. My plan was not to lose a single game and to gain the minimum number of wins necessary for qualification -- and that I thought I could do.

I was 44 and it surprised me when my new second, young Velimirovic, treated me like a novice in international chess. He forced me to break my regular habits and to spend 2-3 hours each morning in preparation for the game in the afternoon. It was like a prophecy of how chess players behave nowadays, where preparation can offer a 90% guarantee of success.

Gligoric finished tied for 2nd-4th (+7-0=14) with Korchnoi and Geller (1967 Sousse Interzonal Tournament). The following year he played Tal in the first round of the Candidate matches.

My tactics were like balancing on the brink of a threatening abyss -- if I lost a single game. It did happen in my next match with Tal who, in 1968 said that for several reasons Belgrade as a playing site was a handicap to me. I was leading after five games and both Tal and his second Koblentz believed that I was going to win the match.

Then in the 6th game, stupidly irritated by journalistic comments on the 'monotony of our duel', I shocked myself with a sudden decision at the board to make a 3rd move as White for which I was unprepared. After that defeat I collapsed. If one could explain it -- I must have been tired of the situation with no tranquillity. Among other things, the playing hall was across the street from where I lived downtown with my wife and this was like an open invitation to benevolent visitors to frequent our place. However I was fortunate with my temperament and did not regret one bit my lost chance.

Not only was Gligoric a world class player, he was also a world class journalist and a world class arbiter. The man who declared himself to be 'fortunate with my temperament' is already in the books as one of the greatest.

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