Belgrade, Round 3: Larsen bounces back and beats Spassky

by André Schulz
4/2/2020 – The "Match of the Century" between the Soviet Union and the "Rest of the World" in Belgrade is close. After three rounds the USSR narrowly leads 15.5:14.5. In round two Bent Larsen had suffered a devastating defeat against Boris Spassky on board one, but in round three Larsen bounced back and won with Black against the World Champion. Samuel Reshevsky and Lajos Portisch also scored for the "World" but in the Soviet team Mihail Tal was the only one who could win.

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The "Rest of the World" bounces back

The great hall of the Dom Sindikat in Belgrade was again packed to capacity. As if people knew something special was going to happen.

Man of the hour was the Danish grandmaster Bent Larsen. In round two he had suffered a devastating defeat against Spassky but in round three Larsen, who is famous for his optimism and fighting spirit, managed to bounce back. Larsen refused to play it safe and won a tense and complicated battle – though not without help from World Champion.

Bent Larsen (O. Masek)

For a long time the game had been dynamically balanced but then Spassky blundered a piece.


37.Kf1? Rh1 38.Ke2 Rxd1 White resigned. This was the first loss Spassky has suffered since he became World Champion by beating Tigran Petrosian in their World Championship match 1969.

On board two Fischer played against Petrosian and they again discussed the Caro-Kann. Fischer tried an old favourite of his, the Two Knights Variation, but without much success.


Petrosian had lost the first two games against Fischer but still seems confident.

Fischer again tried to play for a win but Petrosian parried all threats and Fischer finally had to give up his winning attempts.


The final position.

With this draw Fischer now leads 2.5-0.5 in his mini-match against Petrosian and has good chances to win the special prize for the best individual result: a new Moskvich car.   

The new Moskvich. But does Fischer have a driving license?

Hort and Polugaevsky were not in a fighting mood and drew after eleven moves. It is a surprising that Polugaevsky agreed to this "grandmaster draw". After all, he is behind in the match. But he was playing with the black pieces and probably did not hope for much against the solid Grandmaster from Czechoslovakia.

The game between Geller and Gligoric also ended in a draw. In the main line of the Spanish the position was soon completely blocked.


The final position.

The remaining games were adjourned and Fischer predicted that the third round match would end in a 5-5 tie. In the evening Fischer and Reshevsky, who had been bitter rivals for years, analysed Reshevsky's adjourned game against Smyslov together and seemed to be rather confident.

Reshevsky was a pawn up in a queen endgame and was finally able to convert his advantage to a win. During the game Smyslov had repeatedly made draw offers but Reshevsky steadfastly continued to play for win.


41.Qc8+ Kf7 42.Qd7+ Kg8 43.b5 Qc2 44.Qd5+ Kh7 45.Kg2 e4 46.Qd4 Kg8 47.b6 Qb3 48.Qc5 Qb2 49.Qc6 Kf7 50.h4 g6 51.Qc7+ Ke6 52.Qh7 Qf6 53.Qxh6 Qf3+ 54.Kg1 1-0

Tal (O. Masek)

In round two Mihail Tal had lost against Miguel Najdorf but in round three he took revenge.


With 38.Rd8 and 39.Qg8 the white decisively entered Black's position.

Taimanov and Uhlmann drew just as Ivkov and Keres. 

But the Hungarian grandmaster Lajos Portisch managed to beat Viktor Kortschnoi in the endgame.

Lajos Portisch (O. Masek)

For a long time Portisch had been worse but he managed to hold and this stubbornness was rewarded.


In this position Kortschnoi played 62.Rb5 but after 62...Rxb5 63.cxb5 Nc5 White is lost. The black pawns will queen but Black's knight stops White's b-pawn.

The last remaining game was the encounter between Matulovic and Botvinnik. Matulovic was a pawn down in a queen endgame and had to fight for a draw. Which made some observers wonder why Matulovic had not been already replaced by Olafsson or Darga who are considered to be stronger than the Yugoslavian. Hardly anyone expected that Matulovic would be able to hold this endgame against former World Champion Botvinnik, whose analytical skills are legendary. But somewhere Botvinnik went wrong and after 93 moves the Patriarch of Soviet Chess had to give up his winning attempts and agree to a draw.


The game still continued for 30 moves but Botvinnik was unable to make progress.

This round was won by the "Rest of the World"!

With one round to go the Soviet team who had started the match as clear favourite leads only 15.5:14.5. A very narrow margin and reason enough for some Soviet players to become nervous. After all, rumour has it that the players had promised Pavlov, the head of the Soviet Sports Section, a high and convincing victory in the match. For the Soviets the current result is much too close for comfort and things would be even more embarassing for them should the Soviet team lose in round four.



Translation from German: Johannes Fischer


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


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