USSR vs. Rest of the World, 1970: Lajos Portisch comments

by Johannes Fischer
4/14/2020 – The "Match of the Century", USSR vs "The Rest of the World", was played in Belgrade, 1970, fifty years ago. But it still provokes discussions. Lajos Portisch comments on the controversy surrounding his draw against Viktor Kortschnoi in their fourth and last game. | Photo: Dagobert Kohlmeyer

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A controversial draw

The match was played on ten boards and the ten players on each board played four games against each other. Before the match the USSR had been the clear favourite but in the end they won the prestigious encounter with the narrowest possible margin, 20.5-19.5.

The Hungarian Grandmaster Lajos Portisch played for the "World" team and won his four-game-match against Viktor Kortschnoi 2.5-1.5. In the fourth game Portisch was an exchange up but agreed to a repetition of moves and a draw to secure victory in his mini-match against Kortschnoi.

In the commentary section of the ChessBase website Portisch reacted to rumours that he had agreed to a draw to avoid a defeat of the Soviet team in the match.

A few comments on my draw against Kortschnoi in our fourth game. When Fischer was later angry with me ... he used to say that I had agreed to the repetition because János Kádár [General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, presiding over the country from 1956 until his retirement in 1988, Ed.] had called me. This is obviously nonsense. A telephone call while the game is still in progress!?

Well, Prof. Dr. Max Euwe was the captain [of our team] but he very rarely gave a direct answer when a real problem occured! Before I made my last move that forced the repetition and the draw I went to Euwe to ask what I should do as many games were still in progress. His answer was "You can decide what to do."

It is true that I was an exchange up but the position was complicated and Black had some attacking chances. We both did not have too much time left and the danger of coming into time pressure was real. Kortschnoi had always been better than me in time-pressure [and I agreed to the draw]. After all, we have never worked like a real team! Just remember the ongoing controversery about the board-order, fees etc. In the Hungarian Olympic team I always accepted such challenges, but here the individual result was more important to me than the outcome of the match! (This is a slightly edited version of the comment by Portisch. Some typing and grammatical errors were corrected. They had crept in because Portisch, as he later said, had been "angry" when writing his comment. Ed.)

Finally, here's the controversial game.

 

Curiously, in the discussions about game four of the match, Portisch's victory with Black in round three is often overlooked. This game was everything but peaceful and in a long and complicated fight Portisch showed a number of interesting defensive and counterattacking ideas.

 

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Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".