Fischer will play!

by André Schulz
3/30/2020 – Up to the last minute Max Euwe has tried to convince Bobby Fischer to play in the "Match of the Century" that starts today in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. With success! Ten of the best players from the Soviet Union will play four rounds against ten of the best players from the "Rest of the World" and Fischer has agreed to play on board two behind Bent Larsen. The match is one of the biggest chess events this year and will certainly lead to a number of classical games. It will also be remembered for a long time. ChessBase will follow the games "live". Start of the transmission: 16.00 pm CEST (10.00 EDT, 14.00 UTC).

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USSR vs Rest of the World

This is truly the match of the century. The ten best players from two worlds face each other in a battle of wits. On the one hand a team with the best players from the USSR, on the other hand a team with the best players from the "Rest of the World". While the West and the East, separated by the "Iron Curtain", seem to have difficulties to find common ground in politics, chess players from West and East meet in the Yugoslav capital Belgrade for a unique competition.

The venue is the large hall in the Dom Sindikat, the Chamber of Commerce. The imposing building is located in the centre of the city on Marx-Engels-Platz, within sight of the Yugoslavian parliament building.

Dom Sindikat

The players are staying in the magnificent Metropol Palace Hotel. It was built in 1958 and is considered as one of the landmarks of modern Belgrade. Jozip Broz Tito, a passionate chess player himself, regularly celebrates his New Year's Eve parties here.

Prominent guests and visitors of Yugoslavia often stay in the Metropol, most recently the US astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men on the moon. We all remember this memorable event from last year vividly. It started a new era and in 50 years the moon might be populated by humans.

In about 14 days the launch of a new moon mission is planned and Apollo 13 will be sent into space.

The tickets for the match were sold out immediately. The hall can hold about 3000 spectators. The interest is of course much greater and outside the hall a huge screen has been installed that allows the public to follow the moves. The ultramodern transmission technology was provided by the Yugoslavian Atomic Center. Inside the hall Milan Bertok will comment the games in the press room but huge loudspeakers outside allow the spectators to follow his comments.

Metropolis of the Balkans: Belgrade

This match is basically a continuation of the radio-match USSR vs USA that was played from September 1 to September 4, 1945, soon after the end of World War II. The Soviet Union won 15.5:4.5 – a convincing but surprisingly clear victory of the USSR that marks the start of the Soviet chess dominance after World War II.

Back then the well-known journalist and grandmaster Savielly Tartakower had already proposed a match between the USSR and the "Rest of the World" as one country alone could obviously no longer take on the Soviet chess superpower. In fact, during the World Championship in 1948 there were some negotiations about such a match but they came to nothing.

Last year the President of the Serbian Chess Union, M. Molerović, took up the idea again, proposed it to FIDE and was met with open arms. The USSR also declared itself ready for such a match after. Rumours have it that the leading Soviet players had assured S.P. Pavlov, the chairman of the Committee for Sport and Culture, that they would win such a match as convincingly as the one in 1945. Whether this is realistic or optimistic, it puts pressure on the Soviet players.

At the last FIDE congress in San Juan, the conditions for the upcoming match were quickly agreed upon and FIDE President Max Euwe gladly agreed to act as captain of the "Rest of the World" team.

In a training camp near Moscow the Soviet team prepared intensively for this prestigious match. Physical fitness was as important as preparing openings and finding novelties. Each of the players received a comprehensive dossier on possible opponents. The line-up of the Soviet team shows how serious the USSR takes this match: the Soviets come with some of the world's best players and with Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian and Spassky it has all the World Champions since 1948 in its ranks.

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Deciding on the line-up World Team was difficult. Who was going to play on board one? Euwe wanted to line up according to the recently introduced Elo ratings which would put the American Bobby Fischer on first board. However, Fischer has only played one game in the last 18 months, while the Danish player Bent Larsen has proven his strength with a number of excellent tournament results. The Dane indeed has good reason to claim his place on board one and he emphatically did so – in fact, he stated that he would either play on board one or not at all.

Fischer and Larsen, the best players from the West

For a long time it was unclear whether the eccentric Fischer would agree to Larsen's demands but in the end and to the surprise of many he did.

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The match USSR against the "Rest of the World" will be played on ten boards and over four rounds.

Group photo with all players

The line-ups:

USSR:

1. Boris Spassky
2. Tigran Petrosian
3. Viktor Kortschnoi
4. Lev Polugaevsky
5. Efim Geller
6. Vassily Smyslov
7. Mark Taimanov
8. Michail Botvinnik
9. Michail Tal
10. Paul Keres

Reserve: Leonid Stein

Rest of the World

1. Bent Larsen
2. Bobby Fischer
3. Lajos Portisch
4. Vlastimil Hort
5. Svetozar Gligoric
6. Samuel Reshevsky
7. Wolfgang Uhlmann
8. Milan Matulovic
9. Miguel Najdorf
10.Borislav Ivkov

Reserve:

Fridrik Olafsson
Klaus Darga

The tournament will be opened by the Yugoslavian Prime Minister Mitja Ribcic. The Yugoslavs have invested a lot in this competition which is said to have cost 100,000 US dollars.

ChessBase will transmit the games with a certain delay but you can follow the match as it unfolds. Start of the transmission: 16.00 pm CEST (10.00 EDT, 14.00 UTC).

Douglas Griffin who plans to publish a book about this match in collaboration with Chess Informant contributed to this article.

Translation from English: Johannes Fischer
 



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