Friday, March 29, 2013

Zagreb Chess Set

      Between 7th September 1959 and 29th October 1959, eight of the strongest GMs in the world met in the Yugoslav cities of Bled, Zagreb and Belgrade for the right to a challenge Mikhail Botvinnik for the World Championship.  The tournament consisted of 28 rounds, each player facing the others four times.
      The eight players in this competition had qualified as follows:
ex-World Champion Vasily Smyslov.
second place finisher in the previous Candidates Tournament  - Paul Keres.

The other six places were determined by an Interzonal tournament, held in 1958 in Portorož, Yugoslavia - Mikhail Tal, Svetozar Gligorić, Tigran Petrosian, Pal Benkö, Fridrik Ólafsson and Robert Fischer.

      Ex-World Champion Vasily Smyslov and Paul Keres were considered strong favorites with Tigran Petrosian being given an outside chance. Of the non-Soviet players Gligorić was considered the strongest but not a likely victor.  Olafsson and Benko had only recently been awarded the GM title and were not considered serious contenders.  Everyone’s eye was on Bobby Fischer and it was expected he would play the role of spoiler in a few games, but he was not considered a threat to win the tournament.  Tahl won the event one and a half points despite losing 3 out of 4 games to the unfortunate perennial runner-up, Paul Keres.
      In commeration of this event The House of Staunton offers the Zagreb '59 Series set which is a reproduction of one of the most popular sets used in international tournaments durign the 1950s and 1960s.  This my set of choice and as usual, the set from HOS comes with two extra Queens.
Tartajubow's Chess Set


Friday, March 22, 2013

The Greatest Secrets of Bobby Fischer by Nenad Nesh Stankovic

      Subtitled The Final Truth About the Greatest Chess Player of All Time. I bought this book the other day by accident.  Ads for the book (in several languages) appear all over the Internet and it even has a Facebook page. All this hoopla initially made me think… sales hype for a real potboiler that’s not worth reading.  The book claims that for the first time, some of Fischer's most intimate confessions and thoughts are told and it focuses on the ideas which lead Fischer toward “misunderstanding, rejection hatred and contempt.”
       After reading the review about it I decided to download it, realizing too late that my $25 gift card was for Amazon, not Nook. Oh, well.  I have only read the first few chapters, but find the book very hard to put down.
       Stankovic was essentially Fischer’s personal assistant when Fischer arrived in Yugoslavia to prepare for his match with Spassky.  Stankovic was more patient with Fischer’s twisted personality and petty, irrational demands than I would have ever been and I commend him for that!
       Just for example, the author describes how that when he arrived in Yugoslavia, Fischer’s clothes were worn and tattered and he had to have new ones tailored at the expense of Mr. Jezdimir Vasiljevic, the sponsor.  After endless searching, Stankovic finally found a tailor to Fischer’s liking, an elderly, well-known female.  Fischer drove the poor woman to tears over the next few months.  At each fitting for his shirts he would find something wrong and make new demands.  The waist was too tight.  The height of the collars was repeatedly adjusted and they were either too limp or too stiff. On and on it went. Then there were his haircuts and beard trimmings.  They had to search all over Belgrade to find a barber that only used a comb and scissors because Bobby didn’t like electronic clippers.  The Fischer would sit in the shop for an hour or so to observe the barbers’ work before finally selecting one. I would have told him to go pound salt, but everybody kowtowed to his demands.
       Of course the real meat of the book is the match with Spassky.  I can’t say much about that as I haven’t gotten that far yet.  What I can tell you is that so far the author has made Fischer come alive and it feels like I am actually in the presence of a disgusting, loutish, jackass whose one redeeming characteristic is that he was a great chess player.  Fischer is like a gory accident scene.  Repulsive, but you can’t look away.
       For $6.99 for the Nook/Kindle edition, how can you go wrong?


“In the overall gloom of his spirit and tempest of thought, Bobby became irrational to the utmost in practical matters that were not his strong suit even in his ‘lucid’ days." - Stankovic
      One day while the author and Fischer were sitting in a hotel lobby in Belgrade two thirty-ish Czech men were sitting nearby laughing and talking.  Stankovic asked Fischer if they were disturbing him and Fischer replied, “No, it’s alright.”  Finally the two of them turned towards Fischer and asked, “Are you Bobby Fischer?” to which he replied, “I am.”  The two men and Fischer then had a short conversation and one of them told Fischer that when they left Prague their neighbor, a Mr. Steelman who was a big Fischer fan, asked that if the run into Fischer to give him his best regards.
       Early the next morning Stankovic was approached by Fischer who was still in his pajamas and bathrobe and white as a sheet.  He explained that the two men in the lobby the night before were sent to kill him.  Fischer’s “proof:”

He did not know this Steelman; he surely did not exist
To Fischer the message was clear: “Steel” and “man.” meaning the men were sent to “pump me full of lead.”  “They will shoot me.”
They had said they were from Czechoslovakia, “the land that is no more.  Therefore they want me gone, too.”

      He asked Stankovic to find them and bring them to him.  Stankovic said Fischer was looking at him with eyes wide open and gesturing for silence so nobody would hear them or record anything. Stankovic did what he felt was his duty and followed up on Fischer’s request to try and locate the men even though nothing illegal had taken place; it was becoming necessary for him to protect Fischer from “demons and spooks.”

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal by Karsten Muller

      Although he died in 1992 Tahl remains a favorite with players everywhere. Known as The Magician from Riga, Tahl took the chess world by storm and in 1961 and at the age of twenty-three won the world championship. Even though his sacrifices were not always perfect, they were spectacular and the problems he set his opponents put them under tremendous pressure.  Most of the time they would eventually crack.
       In this book Muller and journalist Raymund Stolze have selected one hundred exercises highlighting Tahl’s genius.  Most of them have not been seen before.

      The book can’t really by classified as a book of problems. The Prologue was written by Tahl himself and he discusses the differences between knowledge and what he called "poetry.” That is followed by 21 pages written by Botvinnik titled, "Reflections on Mikhail T.”
      Chapter 1 has a list of the "golden rules of attack” followed by 40 exercises and every diagram is followed by a few paragraphs that discuss the circumstances in which the game was played.  It is very helpful that the solutions are both in analysis form and prose!  Another great feature is that Mueller begins each section with 2 or 3 annotated games that illustrate the theme.  All together there are 18 annotated games and about a dozen other game fragments.
      Chapters are titled Correct Sacrifices, Speculative Sacrifices, Correct Way to Defend Against the Magician and there is an epilogue by Tahl.  I’ve had a couple of books on Tahl and this one is my new favorite.