The Match of the Century: Vlastimil Hort with impressions from Belgrade

by Vlastimil Hort
3/31/2020 – The first round of the match between the USSR and the "Rest of the World" is over and the USSR leads with 5.5:4.5. A detailed report with analyses of key games will follow shortly but Vlastimil Hort was ready to share first impressions about the mood in his team, the atmosphere in Belgrade, and the difficulties to find the best line-up. | Picture: Hort's telegram to the German editors

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Vlastimil Hort: Match of the Century

I don't know how and when the idea for this chess match between East and West was born. The Soviets feel unbeatable. Since Helsinki 1952 they have won gold at all Chess Olympiads.

To measure ourselves against the "unbeatable" is a great challenge for all of us and we gladly accept it. Robert Fischer's time will come, I am sure. This is the chance for him. And also for us, Max Euwe, the FIDE and the rest of the players of the "Rest of the World", it is the unique opportunity to put the "class enemy" in its place and to show what we can do, to present ourselves in public and to show the chess fans what we can do.

Yugoslavia with its large provinces Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia is a great chess nation and the people here are excited about the match. All tickets were quickly sold out and black market traders can look forward to a fat profit.

I was enthusiastic about the invitation to the match and as the Soviets were playing it was suddenly no problem to get the travel visa from the Chess Federation of Czechoslovakia. And I was even allowed to leave the country by car. Good luck for me, because travelling to Yugoslavia by train is a disaster.

Full of anticipation I jumped into my little Renault 8, stepped on the gas and off I went to the tournament. I covered the distance Prague-Belgrade in one day – and finally arrived at the Hotel Metropol, which I knew from previous tournaments.

The playing venue is the House of the Unions, the Dom Sindikat. I was very curious about our line-up. Yesterday before the first matchday we had already held a meeting to talk about it behind closed doors in the Hotel Metropol.

Fischer was very enthusiastic about the idea to play a match "USSR against the Rest of the World" and even conceded board one to Bent Larsen.

Lajos Portisch, our board three, is always well-prepared. We assumed that he would have to play against Viktor Kortschnoi.

However, the discussion about our line-up took quite some time. Why?

Reshevsky and Najdorf both wanted to play on board four and quarreled endlessly. Suddenly the voice of Robert Fischer came from the off: "Vlasty, you will play on board four!" There was no longer any objection to this, Fischer had decided. In the end, the two squabblers were satisfied to play on boards six and nine. The three Yugoslavians, Gligoric, Matulovic and Ivkov, who all come from Serbia, agreed to play on boards five, eight and ten.

Wolfgang Uhlmann from the German Democratic Republic was to play on board seven, Friderik Olafsson and Klaus Darga act as reserves.

Of course we didn't know the line-up of the Soviets but we thought that Leonid Stein and David Bronstein might be the reserve players.

To defeat the Soviet team will be very difficult, I think. After all, they play with Paul Keres, Mark Taimanov and the former World Champions Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov, Mihail Tal, Tigran Petrosin – and reigning World Champion Boris Spassky.

By the way, we're getting a fee of $2,000. Whether Larsen or Fischer negotiated more is beyond my knowledge. The main thing is to take part, that's my motto. I would even have played without any fee (but don't tell anyone).

Even before the start of the tournament I have often been asked to give autographs. All of Yugoslavia is excited, the newspapers are full of reports about the "match of the century". Even Tito does not miss the opportunity to follow the great chess show from his private rooms, one hears.

Josip Broz Tito follows the games

Former World Champion Max Euwe was unanimously elected to be captain of our team. Come on, come on, I was waiting impatiently for the tournament to begin when I heard that I would play against Lev Polugaevsky!

I feel almost at home in Belgrade, because I speak perfect Serbo-Croatian. That's why I treated myself to a Serbian specialty last night: grilled ribs with fava beans. The waiter, also a chess player, was very excited to serve me. He proudly told me that he already had the tickets for all four rounds in his pocket.

Yes, everything is well prepared! The House of Unions actually only has seats for 2000 spectators but I am quite sure many more will come.

The show could begin! How high, Vlasty, are we gonna lose, was my last thought in my comfortable bed at the hotel?

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer


Fischer will play!



Vlastimil Hort was born January 12, 1944, in Kladno, Czechoslovakia. In the 1970s he was one of the world's best players and a World Championship candidate. In 1979 he moved to West Germany where he still lives. Hort is an excellent blindfold player, a prolific author and a popular chess commentator.


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