50th anniversary of the Interzonal in Palma de Mallorca

by Alfonso Romero Holmes
11/10/2020 – Yesterday, November 9, was the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Interzonal Tournament played in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The best players in the world participated, including four giants of the chess world hailing from the Soviet Union: Vasily Smyslov, Efim Geller, Mark Taimanov and Lev Polugaevsky. | Photo: Chessy Publishing House

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50 years ago

Bobby Fischer’s last tournament

German grandmaster Robert Hübner, who surprised the chess world by finishing fourthth and qualifying to the Candidates matches, declared once the tournament was over: “Due to the great success of Bobby Fischer, this tournament will not be forgotten”. And it should not be forgotten that Fischer scored seven victories in a row in the last seven games of the tournament — simply an astounding performance, which came before his 13 consecutive victories in the three Candidates’ matches against Taimanov, Larsen and Petrosian. 

It was one of the most important events held in Spain in those years. On November 9, 1970 the tournament officially began, and on the same morning the drawing of lots took place in the Town Hall, with the presence of the municipal authorities and the participants. An official tournament within the cycle for the World Championship, which was to designate the candidates to fight for the world title against Boris Spassky. In the end, American star Bobby Fischer gained the right to challenge the Soviet representative and reigning champion.

Bobby Fischer | Foto: Levy

Bobby Fischer | Photo: David Levy

It was Bobby Fischer’s last tournament appearance, as he would only play five more head-to-head matches first among the Candidates and then against the champion. Professional chess gained relevance thanks to Fischer, as prize funds increased notably thanks to his popularity.

This Interzonal Tournament is considered to be the strongest in chess history. A mythical tournament played in Spain, one that was stronger — in my opinion — than those played in Linares later on. 

 Foto: Levy

Photo: David Levy

Another very curious detail is that Bobby Fischer (who was semi-retired) had not participated in the last U.S. Championship, which served as a qualifeer for the Interzonal, so the U.S. Federation needed to make a diplomatic effort to get the approval of the International Chess Federation for him to participate. Paul Benko gave up his sport in order for Fischer to play.

Bobby Fischer

Noticia en el periódico

Chessy, a Spanish publishing house, put out a very special and complete book about this tournament, with press clippings depicting the relevance of the event, an album with photographs of the tournament, daily chronicles, and most of the games with analysis and commentary.

Portada del especial, publicado por la Editorial Chessy 


Alfonso Romero Holmes was born in Barcelona on 28 May 1965. He is a grandmaster, journalist and editor at Chessy Publishing House.
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chessbookchats chessbookchats 11/12/2020 03:25
Amazing that it is 50 years ago, I have also written about this here:
PhishMaster PhishMaster 11/12/2020 02:14
@keithbc6472 You fail to take into account how much harder it is to "perform so". When you now have the volumes of computer analysis, it is impossible to get some of the positions Fischer got against humans out of the opening.

Kasparov and Carlsen are stronger than Fischer because of modern tools. There are more players, who are simply better at the top today, and what Fischer was able to accomplish will never happen again because of those tools, like engines and ChessBase. It keeps players at the top closer together.
Gerald C Gerald C 11/12/2020 12:08
"This Interzonal Tournament is considered to be the strongest in chess history, one that was stronger — in my opinion — than those played in Linares later on".
Really ? With participants such as Addison, Minic, Jimenez, Ujtumen, Rubinetti and Suttles ? The elite tournaments in Linares (even Nottingham 1936) were much stronger.
keithbc6472 keithbc6472 11/12/2020 09:28
No this is not about personality. This is about his greatness with his winning white wash on the elite st the time. Carlsen or Kasparov have not performed so
PhishMaster PhishMaster 11/11/2020 12:53
"keithbc6472 3 hours ago
And some still doubt he was the greatest"

He was certainly the strongest in history at that time, and to this day, still the farthest ahead of his peers at the top; but in terms of pure strength, he has been surpassed by Kasparov and Carlsen. If he were alive and young today with today's technology, his incredible drive might tell a different story, and he could easily reclaim the title of strongest ever.

I guess it matters how you want to define "greatest", and do you include his hating personality in there?
keithbc6472 keithbc6472 11/11/2020 09:51
And some still doubt he was the greatest
MeisterZinger MeisterZinger 11/10/2020 10:08
It's a bit misleading to call his finishing sprint "seven consecutive victories." The last of those games, against Panno, was a win by forfeit, sort of, under odd circumstances -- but "Fischer" and "odd circumstances" went together all the time.

The time for that last-round game was changed to accommodate Fischer's religion. Panno didn't like that, and made it clear that he wouldn't play, even though he had a theoretical chance of qualifying for the candidates' matches if several improbable things had all happened (starting with him winning, probably the most improbable of all). Fischer reportedly played 1.c4(!) after somehow getting Panno to the board(!!), and Panno resigned rather than sit with his clock running for the hour, explaining to Fischer that it wasn't anything personal against him, but rather a complaint against the tournament organizers. He was quoted as saying, "Bobby, let's go analyze our game" after the "result" was duly recorded.

This all according to various reports of the time, whose veracity I cannot judge. Panno is still alive; it would be interesting to see whether any of his reminiscences mention this incident, and whether the stories of the day are true.
maxharmonist maxharmonist 11/10/2020 08:30
”A mythical tournament played in Spain, one that was stronger — in my opinion — than those played in Linares later on”

Well, it didn’t have Spassky or Korchnoi or Petrosian... Linares sometimes had all the best players but with smaller fields and without some lower rated players. For example the 1993 edition had Kasparov, Karpov, Ivanchuk, Anand, Kramnik, Gelfand, Short, Bareev, Kamsky, Shirov, Salov etc.
IntensityInsanity IntensityInsanity 11/10/2020 07:24
Love these articles. May I request that in this article and others like it that you include the final cross table of the tournament? (Including FIDE ratings if they were used at that time, which I believe they were, by 1970.)

Woodford Woodford 11/10/2020 07:14
Also, he played 5 matches afterwards, not four as the article states.........Taimanov, Larsen, Petrosian, Spassky x2
RichardEaston RichardEaston 11/10/2020 05:53
The tournament came BEFORE his 13 consecutive victories in the Candidates Matches (6-0, 6-0, 1st game in the final against Petrosian).