Belgrade: Narrow win for the USSR

by André Schulz
4/3/2020 – The fourth and final round of the "Match of the Century" between the USSR and the "Rest of the World" in Belgrade ended with a 5:5 tie. Larsen (against Stein) and Uhlmann (against Taimanov) scored for the "World" while Smyslov (against Olafsson) and Keres (against Ivkov) scored for the USSR. In the end the USSR won the match 20.5:19.5, with the narrowest possible margin. | Photo: Group photo with players and officials

Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer

No other World Champion was more infamous both inside and outside the chess world than Bobby Fischer. On this DVD, a team of experts shows you the winning techniques and strategies employed by the 11th World Champion.

Grandmaster Dorian Rogozenco delves into Fischer’s openings, and retraces the development of his repertoire. What variations did Fischer play, and what sources did he use to arm himself against the best Soviet players? Mihail Marin explains Fischer’s particular style and his special strategic talent in annotated games against Spassky, Taimanov and other greats. Karsten Müller is not just a leading international endgame expert, but also a true Fischer connoisseur.


Narrow victory for the USSR

The battle is over and it was indeed a unique intellectual fight. The best players of the Soviet Union played a match over 20 games against the best players from the "Rest of the World". The battlefield was the Yugoslavian capital Belgrade – neutral ground, so to speak.

The USSR had no less than five world champions in its team: Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian and Spassky. The other five players also belong to the world's best and are possible world championship contenders: Keres, Korchnoi, Taimanov, Polugaevsky and Geller.

The top players of the "Rest of the World" were Bent Larsen and Bobby Fischer – in the wrong order. But before the match began Larsen had said that he would either play on board one or not at all. And to the surprise of many, Fischer agreed to step back. Some people say that Fischer was not too keen to play Spassky against whom he has not yet won a single game. And if Fischer had lost against Petrosian, he could always blame his lack of preparation. After all, the American had played only one single serious game in the 18 months before the match in Belgrade. But Fischer didn't lose. On the contrary, he taught Petrosian a painful lesson.

And Larsen justified his demand to play on board one. He drew against Spassky and won in round four against Leonid Stein.

Before the match in the Dom Sindikata a high victory of the Soviet team was expected. World Champion Spassky had said: "According to computer calculations we will win with a three-point difference. And why should we not believe the machines?" But the question remains: did they ask American or Soviet computers?

But before the last round the Soviets were leading by only one point, the narrowest margin possible. A convincing victory in the match should demonstrate the superiority of the Soviet system, at home, in the Soviet Union, but also abroad, to the rest of the world. But the Soviets had not been superior in the match, especially not on the top boards. Which made the Soviet players nervous. One of them whispered to me in the corridor: "This is a catastrophe. They don't understand at home what's happening here. They think there's something wrong with Soviet culture."

Yugoslavian television broadcasted the final round live for one and a half hours.

In the 4th and final round there were two changes in the teams: Leonid Stein played for Spassky against Larsen because Spassky had declared himself sick. Did the Soviet delegation want to avoid a possible second defeat of their world champion? And Fridrik Olafsson replaced Reshevsky in the "Rest of the World" team.

But both reserve players lost. The final round saw four decisive games and ended with a 5:5 tie.

Larsen had White against Stein and managed to put his opponent into zugzwang:


Position after 71. Kf3.

Black cannot protect g3 and d8 at the same time. Stein decided to give the pawn on g3 but Larsen had no trouble to convert his advantage to a win.

Fridrik Olafsson was completely outplayed in the Catalan.


A terrible position for Black.

Smyslov (O.Masek)

Smyslov continued pragmatically with 35.Qe2. Olafsson avoided the queen exchange but could not prevent his defeat.

Uhlmann (O. Masek)

The game between Uhlmann and Taimanov took a similar but in the end the East German had the better of it. 


The knight on g4 went astray. After 21.h3 Taimanov tried to start trouble with 21...g5 but soon wound up in the worse position.

Keres won against Ivkov and equalized the score: 5:5.


Ivkov hopes to mate with Rd1 but Keres quickly shattered these illusions with 37...Be3.

When their game was adjourned Fischer had a slightly worse endgame against Petrosian. He analysed on his own until four o'clock in the morning and then went to his second Larry Evans to discuss his findings with him. Evans told me at breakfast that Fischer had heard that the telephone in Petrosian's room had been ringing constantly. Apparently, the whole Soviet team and players at home had joined the analysis.


The position after adjournment. Petrosian played 41.Bc6 but found no way to win and the game ended in a draw.

Bobby Fischer

By the way, during his games Fischer prefers a special cocktail: milk with mineral water. Between the rounds he was often seen talking to the organizers, probably negotiating the conditions. Among other things, the American was annoyed that he constantly received requests for interviews from journalists, and even asked his Yugoslavian friend Bjelica whether it was against the law in Yugoslavia to shoot journalists.

In the end the Soviet team only won narrowly: 20.5:19.5.


USSR vs Rest of the World: Total: 20.5-19.5

Round 1: 5.5-4.5
Round 2: 6-4
Round 3: 4-6
Round 4: 5-5

There were two additional special prizes: The winner on board 1, Larsen, got a Fiat, and the player with the best individual result, Fischer, won a Moskvich.

Individual results

1 Spassky =10* Larsen =01*
   Stein ***0      Larsen ***1

2 Petrosian 00== Fischer 11==

3 Kortschnoi ==0= Portisch ==1=

4 Polugaevsky 0=== Hort 1===

5 Geller 1=== Gligoric 0===

6 Smyslov =10* Reshevsky =01*
1 Smyslov ***1 Olafsson ***0

7 Taimanov 11=0 Uhlmann 00=1

8 Botvinnik 1=== Matulovic 0===

9 Tal =01= Najdorf =10=

10 Keres =1=1 Ivkov =0=0

Rating 1970

 1 Fischer, Robert James g USA 2720
 2 Korchnoi, Viktor g URS 2670
   Spassky, Boris V. g URS 2670
 4 Geller, Efim P. g URS 2660
 5 Larsen, Bent g DEN 2650
    Petrosian, Tigran g URS 2650
    Botvinnik, Mikhail g URS 2640
    Polugajevsky, Lev g URS 2640
  9 Portisch, Lajos g HUN 2630
10 Smyslov, Vassily g URS 2620
    Stein, Leonid g URS 2620
12 Hort, Vlastimil g CSR 2610
13 Keres, Paul g URS 2600
    Taimanov, Mark E. g URS 2600
15 Krogius, Nikolai V. g URS 2590
    Tal, Mikhail N. g URS 2590
    Reshevsky, Samuel H. g USA 2590
    Gipslis, Aivars g URS 2580
    Gligoric, Svetozar g YUG 2580
20 Najdorf, Miguel g ARG 2570
    Uhlmann, Wolfgang g GDR 2570
    Bronstein, David I. g URS 2570
    Furman, Semyen A. g URS 2570
    Ivkov, Borislav g YUG 2570
25 Olafsson, Fridrik g ISL 2560
    Kholmov, Ratmir D. g URS 2560
    Savon, Vladimir A. m URS 2560
    Evans, Larry M. g USA 2560
    Matulovic, Milan g YUG 2560
    Darga, Klaus g GER 2550
    Unzicker, Wolfgang g GER 2550
    Antoshin, Vladimir S. g URS 2550
    Averbakh, Yuri L. g URS 2550
    Vasiukov, Evgeni g URS 2550
    Zaitsev, Alexander g URS 2550

Tournament page...

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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