The Soviets in Haifa: a final farewell

by Efstratios Grivas
1/23/2024 – The 9th European Team Championship was played in Haifa, Israel, 35 years ago. There are many reasons why it was a notable landmark in history. It was the last time the unbeatable team from the Soviet Union took part. And it was the first time in over 25 years that they set foot on Israeli soil. They won Gold, but in the third round were surprised by the Greek team, consisting of five IMs and one FM. Efstratios Grivas, at the time a lowly IM, describes the match.

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The Event

35 years ago the 9th European Team Championship was played in Haifa, Israel. There are many reasons why the 1989 Championship is a notable landmark in history.

First of all, for the first time in the then 30 year old history of the Championship the preliminaries were abolished, and every team was eligible to participate in the newly reformatted nine round Swiss-System Championship final.

Then, there was a six-year gap between the two consecutive Championships, as the 1986 event did not finally come into being. Finally, this was the last time an unbeatable Soviet Union team took part. The Haifa Championship definitely closed a rather dull period of one-team shows, while the rest of Europe were struggling for what the Soviets courteously left for them.

28 teams arrived, and only Holland and Denmark were absent as far as the strongest teams are concerned. The Soviet Union team were the first Soviets to have set foot on Israeli soil for more than 25 years, melting to some extend the political ice in diplomatic relations between Tel Aviv and Moscow. Once again chess helped to unite people which follows the ‘Gens una Sumus’ idea.

The event was played from November 23rd to December 3rd, in Dan Panorama and Dan Carmel hotels, in a six-boards team format (9 rounds Swiss System - 8 players per team), with 216 players (including 52 GMs, 80 IMs and 30 FMs). Time control was 40 moves in 2 hours, then each next 20 moves in one hour.

Soviet Union won the Gold Medal with 36 game-points, followed by Yugoslavia (33) and West Germany (31½). More info and valuable data can be found here.

The Greek Team

The Greek Team had a good tournament, ending in the honourable 12th place with 29 game-points. But it must be noted that we played against all the three first winners of the Championship!

The real sensation of the event was our third round match versus the mighty team of the Soviet Union. Six strong and famous Soviet GMs, with an average rating of 2596, against five IMs and an FM from Greece, with just an average rating of 2418!

The expected ‘mathematical’ score was 1½:4½, as the difference of these 178 rating points was hard to deal with… But we were afraid that it could be even worse. Due to our small expectations we even rested our 4th (IM Nikolaos Gavrilakis) and 5th (IM Nikolaos Skalkotas) boards!

But, somehow, we played rather well and managed to draw the match on 3:3! We could even have won it, as we lost big chances on boards two and three!

So, Sunday, November 26th, 1989, marked the biggest ever team match success by a Greek Chess National Team. For me personally it was a memorable tournament, as I played extremely well (+4/=5/-0 * 6½/9), not only scoring my first GM-norm, but I gained as well the Gold Medal in the 3rd Board (together with English GM Julian Hodgson).

The games

You can replay the game between the Soviet Union and Greece here: The ones between Gelfand and Grivas, and between Polugaevsky and Makropoulos are deeply annotated.

Efstratios (30.03.1966) is a highly experienced chess trainer and chess author. He has been awarded by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) the titles of International Chess Grandmaster, FIDE Senior Trainer, International Chess Arbiter and International Chess Organiser.