The greatest chess tournaments of all time

6/8/2004 – Chessplayers love to argue. Who was the greatest World Champion? The greatest tactical player? What's the best way to face the King's Indian Defense? And, of course, there's the question "What were the greatest chess tournaments of all time?" A great new CD from ChessBase attempts to answer that last question; you'll find a preview of it in this week's ChessBase Workshop.

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previewed by Steve Lopez

This week we're going to preview another new CD offering from ChessBase: The Greatest Tournaments in the History of Chess -- 1851-1986 (hereafter abbreviated as GT). Even before I tore the shrinkwrap off of the CD case, questions were already running though my mind. I'm sure that it's not hard for you to guess what the biggest question was: "What were the criteria for selecting the 'greatest' tournaments?"

Obviously, the answer was the first thing I hunted for when I launched ChessBase for a look at the disk's contents. The answer, nebulous thought it was, came early in the game: the CD's introduction provides a comprehensive essay on how the selection was made. The answer is really the only one anyone can give; the short version of the answer is "It's a subjective thing". But you'll definitely want to read the intro; editor Rainer Knaak's essay is pretty interesting and quite historically informative -- some might even term it "insightful".

OK, without looking at the box, name three tournaments that you think qualify for inclusion on the GT CD. My money's on nine out of ten readers choosing New York 1924, AVRO 1938, and Zurich 1953. (However, I will allow that Cambridge Springs 1904 and Hastings 1895 might also pop up as sentimental favorites, along with St. Petersburg 1914, the first "grandmaster" tournament). Now here's another surprising question: which of these tournaments is not included as one of the "greatest"? Big shocker here -- it's Zurich 1953. I was really surprised by this at first, until I gave it some further thought. Was the 1953 Candidates Tournament at Zurich all that great? It's got a terrific reputation among chessplayers, especially because of the outstanding tournament book written by David Bronstein. Saaaaaayyyyyy, wait a minute...there's the answer. It's the book, not the tournament, which has the wonderful reputation. It was a good tournament, but not a great one, and its place in chess history is as a result of the book instead of the event itself.

That's why it's crucial for users of the GT CD to read the introduction. It will shed a lot of light on why some more obscure (at least to the average club player) tournaments like Dallas 1957 earned a place on the CD while Zurich 1953 was omitted. That's the great thing about CDs like this -- they're great jumping-off points for all kinds of debates even before you look at the CD itself.

GT contains the admittedly subjectively chosen fifty greatest tournaments from 1851 to 1986. The tournaments are physically presented twice on the CD. There's a master database containing all fifty events in chronological order. Each tournament is also provided separately in its own database for users who want to concentrate on a single event and wish to access it quickly without doing a database search. The master database contains 6843 games and texts, with over 1400 games annotated.

What makes this CD especially interesting is the way tournaments are structured within the database (or within their individual databases). Each event starts with a text which contains illustrations pertaining to that tournament (for example group photos of the participants, the cover of the tournament book, the official poster or logo for the tournament, etc.); the text is called the Tournament Report. In addition to the illustrations you'll also find the complete story of the event told in text form (most of which were written by chess historian/antiquarian Manual Frith). You'll also find tournament crosstables, quotes from the participants, and some interesting anecdotes of events that happened at the tournament. Each tournament report also contains a section called "Important Games" which provides a short description of the game and a direct link to it in the database (click on the link to load that game). Of especial interest to chess historians will be the "Bibliography" section of a tournament report, which will provide you with sources of additional information on the event.

Each tournament, whether in the master database or in its own individual database, is set up to essentially be the "book" for that event. So the GT CD is for all intents and purposes a collection of fifty tournament books collected onto one disk.

Now to address the big question burning on everyone's lips: which 50 events are gathered together onto the GT CD? Here's the list:

London 1851, New York 1857, Vienna 1873, Leipzig 1877, London 1883, Hastings 1895, St Petersburg 1895, Nuremberg 1896, Vienna 1898, London 1899, Paris 1900, Cambridge Springs 1904, St Petersburg 1909, Karlsbad 1911, San Sebastian 1911, San Sebastian 1912, St Petersburg 1914, Mährisch Ostrau 1923, New York 1924, Baden-Baden 1925, Moscow 1925, Bad Kissingen 1928, Karlsbad 1929, San Remo 1930, Bled 1931, Moscow 1935+36, Nottingham 1936, Kemeri 1937, AVRO 1938, Salzburg 1942, Sverdlovsk 1943, Groningen 1946, Moscow 1956, Dallas 1957, Bled 1961, Capablanca-Memorial 1963, Los Angeles 1963, Santa Monica 1966, Moscow 1967, Moscow 1971, San Antonio 1972, Milan 1975, Moscow 1975, Leningrad 1977, Bugojno 1978, Tilburg 1978, Montreal 1979, Moscow 1981, Bugojno 1986, Tilburg 1986.

The CD also contains the ChessBase Reader program; no other software is required, so the CD is self-contained. However, using ChessBase 8 or any of the Fritz family of playing programs (in lieu on the Reader) will provide increased functionality in the use of the CD.

If you have an interest in chess history or want to just play through the games of the greatest events ever held, I encourage you to check out The Greatest Tournaments in the History of Chess -- 1851-1986. You won't be disappointed -- there's some great chess here.

Until next week, have fun!

© 2004, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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