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Sensational Serb: Celebrating Svetozar Gligoric at 100

His talent was immense, but his timing might have been a little off.

Yugoslavian/Serbian great Svetozar Gligoric, born 100 years ago on Feb. 2, is the greatest player his chess-mad country ever produced and one of the premier players of the postwar chess generation. He won or shared 12 Yugoslavian national titles, played in 15 Olympiads, won a slew of major tournaments, and defeated a string of world champions over the board, including Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian and Bobby Fischer. He was an innovative opening theorist and a fine writer and analyst known to a generation of American players for his deep-dive “Game of the Month” columns in Chess Life.

But Gligoric had the misfortune to come of age when the Soviet chess juggernaut was at its most formidable, and then to see his way to the top blocked by the remorseless rise of Fischer. (Gligoric was a respectable 4-6 with eight draws against Fischer, and four of their games, including two scintillating draws, made their way into “My 60 Memorable Games.”)

Still, he spent two decades in the world’s top 10, seems to have been universally liked and respected, and produced a rich legacy of brilliant games. He qualified for the world championship candidates matches just once, in 1968, losing to Tal 3-1, but he made the ex-champ work for it by winning the first game of their match in sterling fashion.

In a classic Ruy Lopez battle, Tal appears on his way to another trademark crushing attack after 20. Rg4 Na5! 21. Bxh6, but Gligoric holds the kingside and actually steals the initiative with the well-timed 21 … Nxb3! 22. Ra3 bxa4 23. Rxa4 Rab8 24. Rxa6 exd4 25. cxd4 c5 26. Be3 (a rare retreat for the Latvian great) Rb4. White tries to revive his attack and things hang in the balance until Tal overreaches and Gligoric’s inspired defense pays off.

Thus: 27. Rg5!? (still, pressing, but 27. Rh4 Nxd4 28. Nxd4 cxd4 29. Rxd4 Rxd4 30. Qxd4 Qxd4 31. Bxd4 Re1+ 32. Kh2 keeps things equal) Qb7 28. Rh6 Nxd4! (admirable sangfroid; White had a nasty threat of 29. Ne5 g6 30. Nxf7!!; e.g., 30 … Bxh6 31. Rxg6+ Kxf7 32. Qh5! Ke7 33. Qe5+ Kd8 34. Rd6+ Kc7 35. Re6+ Kd8 36. Rxe8+ Kd7 37. Re7+ and wins) 29. Nxd4 (Ne5 Rb1!) Rb1 30. Bc1 Qb2 31. Qh5? (Tal’s relentless style lets him down here; it’s still a fight after 31. Nb3! Qxb3 32. Qh5 Rxc1+ 33. Kh2 Bd6+ 34. Rxd6 Qb1 35. Qh6) Qxc1+! 32. Kh2 Bd6+! 33. Rxd6+ (g3?? Qg1 mate) Qf4+ 34. Rg3 Qxd6 35. Nf5 Ree1! 36. Qxf7+ Kxf7 37. Nxd6+ Ke6 38. Rg6+ Kd5 — the smoke has (finally!) cleared and Gligoric is up the exchange for a pawn, but it’s the power of Black’s passed c-pawn that will prove decisive.

Gligoric simplifies efficiently on 40. Ne3+?! (Rg5 was tougher, though Black still has a clear edge) Rxe3! 41. fxe3 Rc7, and the Black king and rook form a perfect escort for the pawn. It’s over on 45. Ra6 (Ke3 Kb4 46. Rb6+ Ka5 47. Rb1 c2 48. Rc1 Kb4 49. Kd2 Kb3 50. e5 Rd7+ 51. Ke2 Rd5 and wins) c2 46. Ra1 Kd3, and the passed pawn will cost White his rook; Tal resigned.

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Congratulations to Poland for winning the inaugural over-the-board FIDE Olympiad for People with Disabilities — held, by coincidence, in Gligoric’s hometown of Belgrade — and congratulations to the world chess organization for coming up with the idea in the first place.

Some 26 teams and more than 100 players participated in what it is hoped will be a regular event on the chess calendar.

Master Marcin Molenda was the star performer for the Polish squad, going 5½-½ on Board 2 and providing a number of critical match points. It wasn’t a picnic: Many of Molenda’s wins were tough, lengthy affairs that were in doubt until the final move. Among them was Molenda’s Round 5 win over Indian expert Kutwal Shashikant, where a blunder in a taut position proved decisive.

This time it’s a classic Sicilian battle, where Black escapes White’s early pressure with 20, Nxd7 Qxd7 21. Nd5 d5!, easing the cramp with the classic Black freeing move in this opening. But Molenda gets right back in trouble on 24. Rxf4 Bg5?! (Bc5+! 25. d4 Rfe8 26. Qf3 Qxf3 27. gxf3 Be7, and the two bishops and White’s isolated d-pawn give Black a clear positional edge) 25. Rg4 f6 26. Rd4 Rde8?! 27. Qf2 Qe6 28. Bb4 Rf7 29. Re1 Qc8.

White seems to have a killer knight fork on d6, but now things get tricky: 30. Rxe8+ (Nd6 Rxe1+ 31. Qxe1 Qd8 32. Nf5 Rd7 33. Qe6+ Kh8 34. Qf7! h6 35. Qxg7+ Rxg7 36. Rxd8+ Rg8 wins a pawn, but even stronger might have been 30. h4! Bh6 31. Nd6, in lines such as 31 … Rxe1+ 32. Qxe1 Qd8 33. Nf5 Rd7 34. Be7 Qe8 35. Nxh6+ gxh6 36. Qe6+ Qf7 37. Rg4+ Kh8 38. Bxf6+ and wins) Qxe8 31. h4 Bh6 32. Nd6 Qe3!, and now Shashikant fails to appreciate the danger still lurking in the position.

After 33. Nxf7 Kxf7 (see diagram; White’s best now is 34. Kf1! Qc1+ 35. Qe1 Qxb2 36. Qe7+ Kg6 37. Rg4+ Kf5 38. Re4 Qb1+ with very unclear play) 34. Rd8? Qc1+!, Black turns the tables with a winning attack — 35. Qe1 (Kh2 Bf4+ 36. Kh3 [g3 Qh1 mate] h5! 37. Be1 Bc7 38. Rd4 Be5 and the bishops dominate the board) Qxb2 36. Rf8+ Kg6 37. h5+ (Qg3+ Kh5 and it seems there has to be a mate for White here somewhere, but the Black bishops protect the king by covering the key checking squares) Kxh5 38. Qd1+ Kg6 39. Qg4+ Bg5 40. Rh8? (failing to see his queen is overworked defending the mate on g2 and the bishop on b4; 40. Be1 Qe5 41. Kf1 Qd6 42. Rc8 fights on a little longer) f5! 41. Qh3 Qxb4, and the loss of a piece forces White’s capitulation.

(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)

Tal-Gligoric, FIDE Candidates Quarterfinals, Game 1, Belgrade, April 1968

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 h6 10. d4 Re8 11. Nbd2 Bf8 12. Nf1 Bb7 13. Ng3 Na5 14. Bc2 Nc4 15. a4 d5 16. b3 dxe4 17. Nxe4 Nxe4 18. Bxe4 Bxe4 19. Rxe4 Qd5 20. Rg4 Na5 21. Bxh6 Nxb3 22. Ra3 bxa4 23. Rxa4 Rab8 24. Rxa6 exd4 25. cxd4 c5 26. Be3 Rb4 27. Rg5 Qb7 28. Rh6 Nxd4 29. Nxd4 Rb1 30. Bc1 Qb2 31. Qh5 Qxc1+ 32. Kh2 Bd6+ 33. Rxd6 Qf4+ 34. Rg3 Qxd6 35. Nf5 Ree1 36. Qxf7+ Kxf7 37. Nxd6+ Ke6 38. Rg6+ Kd5 39. Nf5 Rb7 40. Ne3+ Rxe3 41. fxe3 Rc7 42. Kg3 c4 43. Kf4 c3 44. e4+ c4 45. Ra6 c2 46. Ra1 Kd3 White resigns.

Shashikant-Molenda, FIDE Olympiad for People with Disabilities, Belgrade, February 2023

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bc4 Qb6 7. Nb3 e6 8. O-O Be7 9. Bd3 O-O 10. a4 a6 11. a5 Qc7 12. Be3 Bd7 13. f4 Rac8 14. Na4 Nb4 15. Nb6 Rcd8 16. Qe2 Bc6 17. Bd4 e5 18. Bc3 Nxd3 19. cxd3 Nd7 20. Nxd7 Qxd7 21. Nd2 d5 22. exd5 Qxd5 23. Nc4 exf4 24. Rxf4 Bg5 25. Rg4 f6 26. Rd4 Rde8 27. Qf2 Qe6 28. Bb4 Rf7 29. Re1 Qc8 30. Rxe8+ Qxe8 31. h4 Bh6 32. Nd6 Qe3 33. Nxf7 Kxf7 34. Rd8 Qc1+ 35. Qe1 Qxb2 36. Rf8+ Kg6 37. h5+ Kxh5 38. Qd1+ Kg6 39. Qg4+ Bg5 40. Rh8 f5 41. Qh3 Qxb4 White resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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