Same player, same tournament, forty years later!

11/23/2002 – The small Caribbean island of Curaçao hosted the 1962 Candidates, a quadruple round robin with eight of the world's best players. Four have sadly passed on, three have retired from competitive play. But one, Viktor Kortschnoj, is still one of the world's top players, and certainly one of the most active! He is playing in this year's commemorative event in Curaçao. Here is an illustrated report by John Fernandez.

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Curaçao 1962-2002 Tournament

By John Fernandez

As you can see on the above map, Curaçao is just off the cost of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean Sea. Curaçao is a beautiful island, where the temperature is always around 28 Degrees Centigrade (82 Fahrenheit). The tournament site is in the capital city of Willemstad, in the Van Der Valk Plaza Hotel, which is nestled right on the entryway to the harbor from the Caribbean Sea.


A view east along the southern coast of Curaçao from the Penthouse.


A view west of the harbor in Willemstad.

Forty years ago, the small Caribbean island of Curaçao hosted the 1962 Candidates tournament in order to find an opponent for World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik. From May 2nd until June 28th of that year, the quadruple round robin pitted eight of the world's best players against each other. When the dust settled, Tigran Petrosian stood a half point clear of the field with a score of 17.5/27. Petrosian was the only player to not lose a single game, and his momentum carried him to the World Championship, where he defeated Botvinnik in March to May of the next year by the score of 12.5 to 9.5.

The eight players in the tournament represented the crème de la crème of the chess world in 1962. The Stockholm Interzonal held a few months before had decided six of the players who would play in Curaçao. Nineteen year old Bobby Fischer had taken the world by storm in Stockholm, where he trounced everyone with the ridiculous score of 17.5/22 (+13 =9 -0), finishing two and a half points clear of the field. Efim Geller had taken shared Second Place with Petrosian in Stockholm, booking his ticket to Curaçao. Czech Grandmaster Miroslav Filip also joined the party. Mikhail Tal also had rights to play in the event, having won the world title before losing the rematch to Botvinnik. Enigmatic Estonian Paul Keres also had booked his place to Curaçao years earlier when he took second place in the Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade Yugoslavia Candidate's Tournament in 1959.

There were two other players who participated in Curaçao 1962 and deserve special mention due to the fact that they are here in Curaçao 40 years later!

Placing equal fourth in Stockholm was a thirty-one year old (then) Soviet named Viktor Kortchnoi. It was Viktor's first Candidate's cycle, but it most certainly wouldn't be his last. While sadly four of the eight players from Curaçao 1962 have passed on, and the other three have retired from competitive play, Viktor continues plugging on, and at the age of seventy-one is still one of the world's top players, and certainly one of the most active!


Viktor Kortchnoi playing Bobby Fischer in the 1962 Candidate's Tournament


And in 2002, while his wife Petra looks on

Another player who played in Curaçao 1962 and is here this time is Pal Benko. Although he has now more or less retired from competitive play, he is a regular kibitzer at events all over the world, and is always interested in looking at games of all the players in the tournament. Benko is known best these days as one of the World's foremost endgame authorities.


Pal Benko playing Mikhail Tal in the 1962 Candidate's Tournament


And in 2002, still formidable in blitz

A VIP from the 1962 event who is here in Curaçao is the famous Yuri Averbach. A second in 1962, he returns in 2002 as the Chief Arbiter of the event. Averbach is also a great endgame authority in his own right.


Yuri Averbach and Isaak Boleslavskij in analysis in Curaçao 1962


And today, as Chief Arbiter of the 2002 Curaçao tournament.

Blitz Tournament

On the day before the opening ceremony, a Blitz tournament was held, to warm up the players and get the local players some extra experience against those visiting the island. The players were broken up into three groups of eight, eight and nine players respectively. The top eight players would move on into the knockout final. Moving onto the finals were Grandmasters Kortchnoi and Kosashvili, International Masters Gert Ligterink and Sofia Polgar, FIDE Masters Riku Molander and Joel Salman, German National Master Andreas Popitz, and the writer of these lines.

In the first phase of the knockout, there were no upsets, as both Grandmasters and International Masters defeated their lower-rated opponents. However, in the Semi-Finals, things got quite interesting.

Sofia Polgar had not done very well against Viktor Kortchnoi in the past, in fact, she had never taken even a half point off of him! That was to change as Sofia defeated him in the first blitz game, then managed to hold on for dear life in the second. Viktor's response was rather typical "That is the first time, and the last time, you will beat me!" In the other game, Yona Kosashvili was able to beat Gert Ligterink in the second game to move onto the final.

The final was a family affair, as Yona Kosashvili is Sofia Polgar's husband! The husband and wife had no problem playing against each other, as in the first game, Yona sent Sofia's king on a little walk in the early middlegame, where it was checkmated on h4. Sofia decided to show off her attacking skills in the second game, where Yona's king was given a similar fate. They went on to an Armageddon game, but Sofia wasn't able to break through against her husband's solid defense. The true winner, may actually be their very young son Alon, as one of the prizes donated by a local software company was the ever popular gaming console Playstation 2!


GM Yona Kosashvili, Winner of the Blitz Tournament.

Opening Ceremony

On Sunday, we were treated to a beautiful Opening Ceremony on the pool deck of the Van Der Valk Plaza Hotel. A multimedia presentation was made about the prior events in 1962 and 2001. IM Hans Bohm was our master of ceremonies, and he invited the three individuals who were here in 1962 to come on stage and discuss their thoughts about the event.


Pal Benko, Yuri Averbach and Viktor Kortschnoi sharing their thoughts on the event.

GM Jan Timman also made a presentation where he showed the game Tal-Fischer from the 18th Round of the 1962 Tournament.


GM Jan Timman showing Tal-Fischer


Ger Jan Meijer, Organizer of the 2002 Tournament, Leonart Coffea, Netherlands Antilles Commissioner of Education and Sport, and Lily Meijer opening the 2002 tournament.

After the fourth round, not too many upsets have taken place. In the lead with the only perfect score is Polish GM Bartek Macieja. Trailing behind him in clear second is Dutch GM, and defending Curaçao Open Champion Jan Timman. The two will play in the fifth round in a game which ought to be very influential in the final standings. Behind them is a pack of players at 3 out of 4 led by the great Viktor Kortchnoi. Things are just heating up here.


Leader GM Bartek Macieja

Leading standings after Round 4:

1.  GM Bartlomiej Macieja   POL  2615
2. GM Jan Timman NED 2594
3. GM Viktor Kortschnoj SUI 2634
GM Yona Kosashvili ISR 2543
WGM Sofia Polgar ISR 2462
IM Carlos Gallegos VEN 2432
IM Gert Ligterink NED 2401
IM Jose Sequera VEN 2378
IM Alexander Hernandez VEN 2269
FM Joel Salman USA 2236
11. GM Alonso Zapata COL 2556

Links: Official tournament site (with games and results)


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