Pegasus chess extravaganza in Dresden

by Sagar Shah
9/10/2014 – Do you recognize the three chess legends in our thumbnail image? All three played in the 1971 Candidates cycle (which Bobby Fischer won to become the challenger). The same three met again, 43 years later, to play a consultation game with live chess pieces in Dresden. We bring you the game and pictures of the legends today, playing in the Pegasus Chess Summit.

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The Pegasus chess extravaganza in Dresden

By Sagar Shah

Going down the memory lane. Can you recognize these legends? [Photos from Wikipidea]

The year was 1970. Boris Spassky was the World Champion. The new cycle had begun to find a worthy challenger for him. Back in those days a tournament called the Interzonal was held. Elite players of the world would be playing in it. The top six players of the Interzonal tournament along, with two more (loser of the previous World Championship and runner-up of the previous candidates), would qualify. These eight players would play the Candidates. The winner would then challenge the World Champion. We all know who that guy was!

The 1970 Interzonal tournament was held in Palma de Mallorca and was extremely strong. Along with the American superstar Robert James Fischer there were other big names like Larsen, Geller, Polugaevsky, Smyslov, Portisch, Gligoric, Reshevsky and many more. This fierce tournament was won by Bobby Fischer with a stunning score of 18.5/23. That was 3.5 points ahead of the second placed Larsen, who finished with 15/23.

The cross table for the 1970 Interzonal, generated by ChessBase – click here to enlarge

Number five and six were Mark Taimanov from Soviet Union and Wolfgang Uhlmann from East Germany respectively. Both of them qualified for the 1971 Candidates, along with Viktor Korchnoi, who was the runner-up of the previous candidate’s cycle.

Wolfgang Uhlmann then faced Bent Larsen in the Candidates Quarter Finals and lost by a score of 5.5-3.5, while Mark Taimanov was blanked by the great Bobby with a 6-0 score. Viktor Korchnoi fared a little better, beating Geller in the quarter finals but losing to Petrosian in the Semis. Uhlmann, Taimanov and Korchnoi all fell out of the cycle, but one cannot deny that they had all engraved their names on the pages of chess history. (Of course Korchnoi later went onto scale even greater heights fighting for the highest title not just once but twice against Anatoly Karpov).

So why am I focusing on these three players i.e. Uhlmann, Taimanov and Korchnoi? The reason is: they are not just the three gentlemen in the picture that I have showed you above, but I saw these legends with my own eyes on the 22nd August 2014 in Dresden.

Viktor Korchnoi (83 years), Mark Taimanov (88) and Wolfgang Uhlmann (79)

The Pegasus Chess Summit was held on the 22nd of August 2014. The main intention of the event was to bring together the masters of the past in a discussion match between Germany and Rest of the World. There were three players in each team, and the basic condition was that each of the players had to be 75 years or above. Pegasus is a real estate company which is involved in building beautiful residential houses in one of the most attractive locations of Dresden.

The three players in the German team were:

  1. GM Hans-Joachim Hecht (Elo 2336, 75 years)
  2. GM Wolfgang Uhlmann (Elo 2322, 79 years)
  3. GM Klaus Darga (Elo 2453, 80 years)

Hans-Joachim Hecht (left in the picture above) was two time German national champion. He was also quite a popular contributor to Mega Database and has annotated nearly 2000 games in it. Wolfgang Uhlmann (middle) was of course the German hero who qualified for the Candidates in 1970 as mentioned above. He was also one of the leading exponents on the French Defence and exclusively relied on that opening in his chess career. And lastly Klaus Darga (right) shared the first place in World Junior in 1953 with Oscar Panno. His greatest achievement was beating Boris Spassky in 1964 Interzonal.

The German team was great, but the World team did look stronger, at least on paper, thanks to two great legends in their team: Viktor Korchnoi and Mark Taimanov.

Viktor Korchnoi (Elo 2499, 83 years) definitely needs no introduction. I think he is the strongest chess player who has not been able to become a World Champion. He was involved in the fight for the World Championship title in 1978 and 1981 against Anatoly Karpov. Mark Taimanov (Elo 2386, 88 years) has an entire openings variation named after him: the Sicilian Taimanov! Though he is famous for his 0-6 defeat to Bobby Fischer in 1971, very few players have been able to beat six world champions in their life (Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Karpov) as Taimanov has done. Nikola Padevsky (Elo 2355, 81 years) was a top class Bulgarian grandmaster. He has been the Bulgarian national champion four times and also played on board one for his team at the Olympiad on three occasions.

The game was highly interesting and lasted for nearly two hours. The three players had to discuss amongst themselves and come up with the move which they made on the board. This was then communicated to the other team who was sitting around ten metres away.

It began with the German team, who had the White pieces, playing 1.c4. The game went into the Semi Slav territory and then into the Meran. The world team played the relatively unknown 6…Bb4, which I am sure was Korchnoi’s idea, and the game became quite original. After the opening the world team had a clear edge, but a wrong recapture of the queen gave the Germans an advantage. Korchnoi, Taimanov and Padevsky tried to muddy the waters as much as they could. They unleashed a highly tactical sequence. But the team of Uhlmann, Hecht and Darga maintained their cool and kept an advantage. The game was reaching its pinnacle of excitement as the German team was playing some excellent chess. But the organizers were running behind schedule and Dirk Jordan, who was the moderator, asked the players to agree to a draw. All the six players were unhappy to split the point, but according to me the World team should be happy with the result.

[Event "Pegasus Chess Summit 2014"] [Site "?"] [Date "2014.08.22"] [Round "?"] [White "Germany"] [Black "World"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D45"] [Annotator "Shah,Sagar"] [PlyCount "71"] [EventDate "2014.08.30"] [SourceDate "2014.08.30"] {The white side consisted of GMs Uhlmann, Darga and Hecht, while the black side was represented by Korchnoi, Taimanov and Padevsky. It was a discussion game: the three players would come to a consesus and then a move would be made. } 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. d4 c6 5. e3 {The Meran Variation of the Semi Slav has a rich history – a perfect opening for these veterans to battle in!} Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bb4 {But this is not such a popular move. Of course the main move is Bd6, but I guess Korchnoi had some new idea prepared for the game.} 7. Bd3 dxc4 8. Bxc4 Qe7 9. O-O O-O 10. Ne4 $6 (10. e4 e5 11. Re1 {could have been another way to play in the position for White.}) (10. a3 Bd6 11. e4 e5 12. h3 $14 {and we reach a very common position in the Meran, with White having the extra move a3, which should not really matter too much.}) 10... Nxe4 11. Qxe4 Bd6 $11 {The bishop was doing nothing on b4, so it is brought back to d6 in order to prepare for the move e5.} 12. b3 e5 13. Bb2 Nf6 14. Qh4 e4 { Even at their advanced age the black side is playing tremendously accurate chess.} 15. Ne5 Be6 16. f4 $6 {This move was made with a flourish, and it looked as if the German team was on the offensive. But of course the World team had it all under control.} Nd5 $1 17. Qxe7 Nxe7 $2 {Not a great move. This now gives White a risk-free edge in the endgame.} (17... Bxe7 {would have given Black a nice position. But it was important to see that after} 18. f5 Bc8 $1 {though the bishop has retreated, the e3 pawn is hanging and f6 is coming up next.} 19. Rae1 f6 20. Ng4 b5 21. Bxd5+ cxd5 $17 {Black is clearly better.}) 18. Bxe6 fxe6 19. Nc4 Rad8 20. Rac1 {The players now shuffle their pieces around a bit, bringing them to their ideal location before starting anything concrete.} Rf7 21. Kf2 Nd5 22. Ke2 h5 23. Rg1 Bc7 24. Bc3 b5 $5 {The World team had enough of moving around and has decided to break through!} 25. Nd2 c5 $1 {b5 would have been pointless if you didn't continue this way. The idea is to open the d-file for the black rook on d8. It's wonderful to see these old players playing so sharply.} 26. dxc5 b4 (26... Bxf4 {was similar to the game, but Black would have retained the option of taking on c3 at the right moment.} 27. exf4 Nxf4+ 28. Ke3 Nd5+ 29. Kxe4 Nxc3+ 30. Rxc3 Rxd2 31. c6 $14 {White is pressing here.}) 27. Bb2 Bxf4 28. Rcf1 (28. exf4 Nxf4+ 29. Ke3 Rd3+ 30. Kxe4 Rxd2 $15) 28... Bxe3 29. Rxf7 Kxf7 30. Rf1+ Kg6 31. Nxe4 {The complications have passed and White has a nice position with a strong bishop on b2 and a well placed knight on e4 with a pawn on c5. White is definitely better.} Bf4 32. g3 Bc7 33. Rc1 Kf5 34. Nd2 g5 35. Rf1+ Kg6 36. Nc4 {At this point Dirk Jordan, the President of the ZMDI Chess Festival, moderated and a draw was agreed. Of course neither side wanted to agree to a draw and wanted to continue the game. But truth be told the World team should be happy with the result. In the final position White has a clear advantage, as there are a lot of weaknesses in the Black camp.} 1/2-1/2

The nice part about this game was that the moves that were being made by the players were actually played on a giant chess board with human chess pieces.

The black army gets ready for the game

A very cute five-year-old white pawn [photo by Karsten Wieland]

There was also a small chess ballet before the game. Here you can see
the two queens fighting it out. [photo by Karsten Wieland]

This unique exhibition match was held in one of the most popular areas of Dresden. The Frauenkirche (also known as the church of our lady) is considered as an excellent example of Protestant sacred architecture, featuring one of the largest domes in Europe.

Dresden's famous Frauenkirche

The church has a lot of space in front and many cafes nearby

The town square around the Frauenkirche

People passing by one of the most popular spots in Dresden would stop and have a look at
what was going on. Soon, a substantial crowd had gathered to watch this unique event.

People in the nearby café with magnetic chess sets waited for the next move ...

... and as soon as the move was executed they would get down to business!

That’s what true chess passion is all about: not just making moves on the
mini chess set but also writing them down neatly on a score sheet

The biggest attraction for me was definitely meeting the great Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi

Through the crowd and security, I somehow managed to reach
him and give him my pen along with my autograph book

This page in my autograph will remain a lifetime treasure for me

Korchnoi looked quite frail, sitting in his wheelchair before the game. However, once the game began he was in his element, joking and analyzing and talking with great enthusiasm with his old friend Mark Taimanov.

There were also three other 75+-year-old great players who had come to kibitz the game. On the left is GM Fridrik Olafsson, who was the president of FIDE from 1978-82; in the center IM Andreas Dueckstein, whose biggest achievement was beating Mikhail Botvinnik in 1958 Munich Olympiad; and finally Yuri Kraidman, the man on the right, who is a famous Israeli grandmaster. He was in fact the first sabra to earn a GM title.

Karsten Wieland is a great chess enthusiast. He was one of the main photographers of the event. Karsten has this beautiful book in which he has the pictures of famous players taken by him. Later, when he meets them, he gets their autographs on those images. I was lucky to see the entire book, which had pictures of Carlsen, Topalov, Aronian, Polgar and so many top players.

When I asked him which was his favourite picture, he showed me the one of
Boris Spassky that he is holding in his hands.

On 22nd of August 2014 I not only had a chance to see the legends of this game in action but also was able to get their autographs. Add to that the beautiful chess ballet in one of the most scenic locations of Dresden – what more can a chess lover ask for!

Photos by Amruta Mokal

Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 9/12/2014 05:27
great moments .....a bunch of immortals ....playing the immortal game!
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 9/12/2014 12:40
Nostalgia rules! Wonderful stuff.
alf022 alf022 9/11/2014 02:04
I'm very happy to see all these legend GM still playing chess.
tigerprowl tigerprowl 9/10/2014 11:55
That is just amazing. Seeing Korchnoi and Spassky in wheelchairs and old guys following their game. Amazing. I might be doing that someday when Anand plays Kasparov in 30 years.