Chess in Croatia

by ChessBase
4/4/2006 – Although it is slightly smaller than the US state of West Virginia, Croatia today has 17 GMs, 50 IMs and 82 FMs. The country can also look back on more than six centuries of chess. Ali Nihat Yazici travelled to Croatia to check its suitability for the European Youth Championships in 2007. Here is his report.

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Chess in Croatia

By Ali Nihat Yazici

We all know that traditionally Croatia is a great chess country. My first visit abroad was to this country, back in 1980, when I was 16 years old. I was sent to Pula, as a candidate of international arbiter, getting courses from Mr. Kazic and from Mr. Karaklaic.

At the time Croatia was part of Yugoslavia, and my own country, Turkey, had excellent relations with our neighbour. The times of 1980s were with full hospitality, and a high level of chess spirit. Yugoslavia was the leader of chess in this part of the world, the Balkans. And counting the number of GMs, tournaments, results in the Chess Olympiads, no doubt that Yugoslavia was a shining example in the chess world.

After almost 25 years, I had a chance to visit Croatia again. This time I have been in two different locations. The first time was in September 2005, when I went from Herceg Novi (do you remember my article about European Youth Chess Championships which was staged in Montenegro?) to Sibenik to inspect the tournament venue for European Youth Chess Championships 2007, on behalf of ECU (European Chess Union). This will be the second part of my article. The second visit was this year to Dubrovnik, a city that was my all-time favourite, 25 years ago.

Old friends: GM Mladen Palac, GM Krunoslav Hulak, Branimir Jukic (member of board), Ervin Sindki (General Secretary) in Sibenik.

A short history of Croatian chess

Chess in Croatia has been played for more than six centuries. The first written trace of the game is the posthumous inventory of belongings of a merchant from the city of Zadar, by the name of Mihovil, who died in 1385. It lists a small table and a chess set! It is documented that chess was played in Dubrovnik (in 1422 and 1434), in the region of Lika (in 1486) and Split (in 1535). The famous English historian and Orientalist Thomas Hyde in his work ‘De ludis orientalibus’, published in 1694, registered correspondence games between Venetian and Croatian merchants as early as 1650!

The Croatian flag with the checkered board

All of that is a fact, but there is a legend, too, witnessing to the deeper roots of the king's game in this area. The legend says that the Croatian king Suronja, who ruled between 997 and 1000, beat the Venetian doge in a chess contest for a number of Croatian islands. It reveals how the chess board of 64 squares was introduced into the coat of arms of the Croatian kings, to be reduced gradually to the red and white inset of 25 squares they have today.

General Secretary Sindik (left) playing and open-air beach game against the head of Croatian chess, President Stjepan Sturlan.

The Croatian chess coaches: GM Krunoslav Hulak (men) and IM Vladimir Bukal (women)

Chess in Croatia was booming in the 19th century, owing to the intellectuals who studied in Vienna, Padova, Bruxelles, Paris etc. The "Pilgrims" of Karlovac published the first chess problems in 1844, while the first chess column appeared inthe Hrvatska lipa in 1875. The first chess tournament was played in Zagreb in January 1886. Dr. Gjuro Pilar, a scientist of world renown and passionate lover of chess, initiated the founding of the Zagrebacki Sahovski Klub, the first Croatian chess club, on March 11, 1886. The first chess primer was written by Vjekoslav Rutzner and it was published in several instalments in the Pobratim in 1893.

A treat for all – the mouth-watering Croatian cuisine

At the beginning of the 20th century chess was played intensively in Zagreb, Karlovac, Varazdin, Sisak, Osijek, Vukovar, Pula, Dubrovnik and elsewhere. In 1904 and 1908 international tournaments were played in Zagreb, while the first chess book in Croatian, Sahovska Abeceda (Chess Alphabet) by Isidor Gross, was published in Karlovac in 1909. Chess clubs were formed all over Croatia. Their delegates founded the Croatian Chess Federation on May 12, 1912 – twelve years before the foundation of the International Chess Federation FIDE. Thanks to the Zagrebacki Sahovski Klub, the strongest club in the state, on August 22, 1920, the founding assembly of the Yugoslav Chess Federation was held in Zagreb. The Croatian Chess Federation remained part of it till 1991. At the Congress of FIDE in Manila the Croatian Chess Federation became a full and respected member of FIDE, owing to the results of its players and organizational competence. At that moment Croatia boasts 17 Grandmasters (plus one WGM), 50 International Masters (plus six WIMs) and 82 FIDE Masters!

The Croatian on Board of Chess: Boris Badanjak (member of EB of CCF) Ervin Sindik (General Secretary), President Stjepan Sturlan, Branimir Jukic ((member of EB of CCF), GM Mladen Palac, Croatian Champion 2005.

The Croatian chess players won the world championships three times: Bojan Kurajica became a junior champion in 1965, Ognjen Cvitan in 1981, Hrvoje Stevic won the Under-16 championship in 1995. Nenad Petrovic and Hrvoje Bartolovic were chess composers who acquired world fame. Nenad Petrovic won the world championship in 1947, 1965 and 1974, while Hrvoje Bartolovic became a champion in 1965! Braslav Rabar won the Gold Medal at the Olympiad in Dubrovnik 1950, while a number of Croatian chess players achieved excellent results in the cycles for the world championship, in Olympiads and European team championships, winning numerous silver and bronze medals (not less than 81 medals!)

Croatia has won a Gold and a Bronze in the recent European Blitz Chess Championship, organized in Cannes in February. From left to right on podium in the front row during the Crotian national anthem: Ali Nihat Yazici (on behalf of the ECU Board), GM Robert Zelcic (champion of Croatia), GM Laurent Fressinet (Silver Medalist from France), GM Mladen Palac (Bronze Medalist from Crotia).

The Croatian Chess Federation excelled in successful organization of many official competitions of FIDE and numerous international tournaments as well. In 1950 the Ninth Men's Olympiad was organised in Dubrovnik, in 1959 a part of the Candidates tournaments was played in Zagreb, the city of Split acted as host to the second Women's Olympiad, the fourth Olympiad for blind players was held in Medulin in 1972. Apart from that, Pula organized the Women's Zonal Tournaments in 1985 and 1990 and the European Men's and Women's Team Championship in 1997. The Interzonal Tournament was played in Zagreb in 1987 and the Men's and Women's Zonal Tournament in 1993.

GM Zdenko Kozul, the strongest Croatian player, maybe not just in chess?

In the end the ECU granted the European Youth Chess Championships in 2007 to the Croatian Chess Federation. I have to tell you that the new management is very ambitious. They are very active and willing to succeed. I am an expert in all these things, and have to say that Croatia is coming back into chess, very strongly.

Top Croatians in the 1st April 2006 Elo List (men)

# Name Title Fed Rating G B-Year
 1  Kozul, Zdenko  g  CRO  2606  43  1966
 2  Palac, Mladen  g  CRO  2561  43  1971
 3  Hulak, Krunoslav  g  CRO  2541  0  1951
 3  Dizdar, Goran  g  CRO  2541  18  1958
 5  Rogic, Davor  m  CRO  2540  16  1971
 6  Topalovic, Zlatko  m  CRO  2539  0  1965
 7  Jovanovic, Zoran  m  CRO  2536  22  1979
 8  Cvitan, Ognjen  g  CRO  2527  45  1961
 9  Brkic, Ante  m  CRO  2526  43  1988
 10  Zelcic, Robert  g  CRO  2525  34  1965
 11  Jankovic, Alojzije  m  CRO  2516  20  1983
 12  Cebalo, Miso  g  CRO  2506  27  1945
 13  Stevic, Hrvoje  g  CRO  2502  25  1980
 14  Fercec, Nenad  m  CRO  2496  41  1961
 15  Kovacevic, Vlatko  g  CRO  2495  11  1942
 16  Sulava, Nenad  g  CRO  2493  39  1962
 17  Leventic, Ivan  g  CRO  2488  21  1970
 18  Lalic, Bogdan  g  CRO  2480  28  1964
 19  Saric, Ante  m  CRO  2474  38  1984
 20  Jovanic, Ognjen  m  CRO  2473  38  1978

Top ten Croatian Women Players





 Puljek-Salai, Zorica




 Macek, Vlasta




 Medic, Mirjana




 Sargac, Rajna




 Jelica, Mara




 Stock, Lara




 Pusara, Vesna



 Trtanj, Tina




 Solic, Kristina




 Stadler, Brigita



Part 2 – Inspection for European Youth Chess Championships in 2007. Coming soon....

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