Feel the age of change in chess

by ChessBase
12/19/2008 – Vlastimil Hort was born a year after Bobby Fischer and played no fewer than eight world champions in his career. On his new DVD 'Facing the World Champions' Hort looks back at these encounters, devoting a chapter to each of them. The DVD is packed with personal memories and anecdotes and represents a unique piece of chess history. Buy it now or read more.

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Vlastimil Hort: Facing the world champions

Review by William Frost

The Czechoslovakian Grandmaster, Vlastimil Hort, now domiciled in Germany, was an active player during an exciting period in the evolution of modern chess. Born a year after Bobby Fischer, he became one of the top players in the world and witnessed the overwhelming superiority of the Soviet School of Chess followed by the rise and success of the American genius. Many times both a Czech and German national champion, he represented both countries in several Olympiads after 1960 and contended in world championship candidate tournaments. One of his greatest achievements was to take fourth board for the Rest of the World team against the USSR in 1970, defeating Polugayevsky by +1 =3. In later years he become a well respected commentator at various international tournaments able to deliver his observations in many languages with wry humour.

Who better than Hort to relate his experiences and reminiscences of the world champions he has played? He does so with considerable panache on this DVD in the Fritztrainer series.

In the course of nearly four hours of video presentation, he discloses that he first took an interest in chess when aged five and a half, during a period when he had to spend a considerable time in hospital. Unable to sleep at night he was befriended by a doctor who introduced him to the mysteries of the movement of the pieces and instilled him with an understanding of the magical games of Alekhine.

Rather than delivering a talk on each of the World Champions whom he knew and played against, Hort chooses to illustrate their playing style by way of the games he played with them. In order to show the best of their style he had to make the rather onerous choice of demonstrating the losses he sustained at their hands. This he does in good humour and at times in a rather self-deprecatory manner.

His encounters with the world champions, both on and off the board, give rise to some personal anecdotes which Hort relates with enthusiasm. For instance, he recalls that Petrosian wore a hearing aid, and at times when he was looking for and expecting a draw offer, the hearing-aid remained installed. On the other hand, if he were playing for a win the hearing aid was removed! Also, Petrosian had the habit of writing a move down before he played it on the board and left this in full view of his opponent. When the written record had been seen and digested by his opponent he was just as likely to play a different move.

Hort's admiration for Bobby Fischer's chess playing is boundless and he names Fischer as his 'guru'. They were contemporaries, born within 12 months of each other. He - Hort - was impressed with Fischer's insatiable desire to win, draws were not to his taste and grandmaster draws were completely unpalatable. Hort also notes Fischer's impact on chess after he had played his last game i.e. his continual championing of better playing conditions, better prize money, random chess and the introduction of Fischer time controls to avoid adjourned games.

Hort's distaste of the Soviet regime becomes very apparent when he discusses Karpov's personality. He describes Karpov as a "Soviet man" having at his disposal the help of many Soviet chess players when contending for the world championship. It is clear that Hort has an abhorrence of players who mix chess and politics and to demonstrate his disgust he relates a story that shortly before the start of a match between Czechoslavakia and the USSR, Brezhnev's death was announced. This was followed by the Soviet national anthem and whilst all the Soviet players stood and Karpov cried, Hort and many other non-aligned players went to the toilet! This lecture includes the one and only Hort win on the DVD!

However, he was an admirer of Karpov's chess-playing ability and comments that statistics showed that he had an overwhelming number of victories with the white pieces and a predominance of draws as Black.

When speaking about Kasparov, Hort points to his style of dynamic chess, and particularly his striving to win with the black pieces à la Fischer and unlike Karpov. He is strongly of the opinion that the first match between Kasparov and Karpov should have been allowed to run its course.

The whole choice of subject matter for this DVD is very interesting as it spans a period of immense change in chess culture. During the period from Botvinnik's reign to Kasparov's significant changes came about. The World Chess Championship was wrestled away from the Soviets, and computers came onto the scene. More and more teenage grandmasters mounted the international stage, and more countries began to make an impact.

Hort has witnessed and accepted these changes and is able to describe them explicitly from his own experiences. He imparts to the viewer a taste of his participation in this age of change, a taste that leaves one hoping that he will re-visit his memories and provide us with more anecdotes he has derived from his love of chess and participation at the highest level.

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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