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.





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".


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passiwitz passiwitz 4/15/2020 08:50
Nice travel back in the past ....
These commentaries are very agreable to read for players as I who followed our "Oldies" chess stars when i was still student.
I hope - but i'm not sure - younger players will have interest too.

As comment : no reason to have a doubt with the logical explanation from Lajos.
GR2 GR2 4/15/2020 06:15
I think Lajos did everything right. As noted in another response he consulted the team captain and was told to make his own decision. His explanation about Korchnoi's skills in time trouble makes sense. And he had already done his bit for the team winning his match. He could have thrown earlier games if he wasn't a team player. Lajos you were a great player in one of Chess' great eras!! I think Vlasty would agree . We are lucky to have you both and others who lived through this great period of chess and can tell us the stories!!
sshivaji sshivaji 4/15/2020 12:29
The more I look at the position, the more I am convinced that Portisch was low on time and was scared of Korchnoi's skills in mutual time pressure. Objectively, should be fine for white to just castle long and play on.
adbennet adbennet 4/14/2020 09:30
Until I read Portisch's reply, I had my doubts. Now I am satisfied. "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." Absolutely correct behavior. Nobody can ask for more from a team player. And he did just what Euwe told him to do. Case closed.
sshivaji sshivaji 4/14/2020 09:10
Question on the Portisch Korchnoi game. What is wrong with white playing 22. OOO castling long? The engine gives plus 2 for white, but more importantly, I dont see much danger for white, just get the King to b1 and bring rooks to the center and white can play with the extra exchange. However, my rating is 300 points below Portisch of the time, what am I missing in terms of practical considerations?! Could it be fear of swarm of activity from the black knights? Or maybe Portisch was fixated on only castling kingside?
Chris Holmes Chris Holmes 4/14/2020 04:22
Was there any incentive for the Rest of the World team to win the match ?
Was there extra prize money or was it just a matter of pride ?
If it was just down to individual results, then why expect a heterogenous bunch of chessplayers to act as a team ?

Because if there was no reason to fight harder, Portisch could be perfectly satisfied with his result. 2.5-1.5 against Korchnoi is not a bad result. He did better than the average for the team.

If you're going to badmouth anybody, it should be those players who scored under 50%.
Somewhat Experienced Somewhat Experienced 4/14/2020 02:52
what a fool you are.
You are a bad chess player, and your I.Q. is on the wrong side of average which motivates you to worship the machine.
Portisch was absolutely correct to accept the draw (if Tal had been black he wouldn't even have offered one in such a complex, tactically rich position).
But it is always the same with the ignorant: lack of knowledge replaced by feelings, premonitions, hysteria sniffing out bad attitude everywhere, conspiracy believers.
This is the curse of social media age: people like you who used to live under stones and behind hedges come out and pump themselves up with indignation...
daftarche daftarche 4/14/2020 02:40
Not the best decision to have players from countries who are run under the influence of soviet union when you are playing against them. Maybe no one told anything to him because they didn't need to. he was aware of his living conditions. maybe that was a subconscious decision not to crush soviets 3-1. back in those days there were a lot of unwritten rules.. you crush soviets you may suddenly not get invitations to super tournaments anymore etc... fischer didn't have to think about this stuff because he was living in the "free" world.
bbrodinsky bbrodinsky 4/14/2020 02:36
By the way, after ....Qb5, white has no less than THREE moves which give him an advantage of more than +2.00. So it's not even a question of finding a single difficult move here. This was a travesty.
bbrodinsky bbrodinsky 4/14/2020 02:34
Holy spit, can anyone blame Fischer for being furious? With a match on the line, a guy agrees to a draw in THAT position?? Black had attacking chances? I'll give black another free move after the obvious ...Qb5 and black would still have no "attacking chances".
Portisch was always a pretty stand-up guy, so I would not accuse him of a "fix", but nor could I blame Fischer for suspecting anything. We all know Fischer was kind of kooky at times over these accusations (totally correct other times), but nobody could blame him for being furious.
I"m only an amateur, but I did captain a couple of corporate teams in my day. Had a player agreed to a draw in such a situation, he would not have played for my team again.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 4/14/2020 01:57
First, Kádár could have called before the game to put pressure on Portisch. Portisch's argument that he could not be called during the game is accurate, but potentially just a weak deflection. Second, I cannot imagine anyone taking a draw there with white in a team match unless it was already won. It is STILL very suspicious.