Wednesday, May 6, 2009


It is quite appropriate to revisit Curacao 1962 as a tribute to one of its
protagonist GM Miloslav Filip who died on April 27, 2009.

The 1962 Candidates' Tournament in Curaçao was one of the fiercest chess battles of all time. At the height of the Cold War, eight players contested the right to challenge World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik. The format of the tournament was a gruelling quadruple round-robin. Twenty-eight games were to be played on the tropical island, in a contest that lasted two months. The air trembled with drama and intrigue. One of the favourites, the brilliant Mikhail Tal,was taken to hospital after 21 rounds and had to withdraw. Three other players from the Soviet Union, Keres, Petrosian, and Geller, were making suspiciously short draws when playing each other. The two American players came to blows over the services of the second they were supposed to share. Bella Kortchnoi, whose husband took an early lead in the tournament, was a puppet in the hands of the scheming Rona Petrosian, the wife of the later winner. And one of the favourites was a lanky 19-year-old boy from Brooklyn, Bobby Fischer, who openly accused the Soviets of collusion and was later proven right. In the end, Tigran Petrosian was the winner and went on to become the new World Champion the following year. But such was the impact of Fischer's accusations that this was the last time such a battle was organised. Henceforth the challenger to the highest crown was determined in a series of matches. Curaçao 1962 was the last Candidates' Tournament.

In Curaçao 1962, Jan Timman returns to this clash of giants and takes a fresh look at the games. Timman describes the course of the tournament and annotates the most important games (including 16 of Fischer's!) in his usual lucid and instructive style. Curaçao 1962 revives a tradition of great tournament books, such as Alekhine's New York 1927 and Bronstein's Zurich 1953.

Curaçao 1962
The Battle of Minds That Shook the Chess World
by Jan Timman

Reviewed by Prof. Nagesh Havanur
(Originally posted at Chessville Reviews )

New in Chess, 2005

More than four decades after Curacao 1962, the passionate debate over the tournament that changed the course of chess history rages as fiercely as ever. Not the least because some of its protagonists like Fischer, Korchnoi and Benko are still in our midst. It all began with Fischer's article: The Russians Have Fixed World Chess which appeared in Sports Illustrated magazine soon after the Curacao event. It was reprinted in Life Magazine later. The thrust of his accusations was that the Soviet GMs Petrosian, Keres and Geller made suspiciously short draws among themselves and aligned themselves against him. [Editor's Note: See also: Did the Soviets Collude?: A Statistical Analysis of Championship ...]

Jan Timman’s book supports the main point of Fischer’s allegations, while pointing out that Bobby's other charges, like Korchnoi throwing his games to his compatriots, were wide of the mark.

What is not so well-known today (Timman also seems unaware of it) is that Keres did make a belated response in passing to Fischer's accusations of Soviet collusion in his Thoughts On The Current Chess Scene in the May 1964 issue of Chess, Sutton Coldfield Magazine. In the article Keres denied all the allegations. Indeed, he pooh-poohed Fischer's claim that he posed a serious challenge to the Soviets.

Unfortunately, Keres's own record and the tournament score table belied his claims. He lost only two games, to Fischer and Benko. In the last round he failed to win against Fischer. A victory would have enabled him to win the Candidates' Tournament and challenge Botvinnik. He had been striving for it since 1948.

What is more, contrary to his denials, the Soviets did take Fischer’s challenge seriously. He had won the Stockholm Interzonal ahead of them. Indeed, it was Petrosian who let the cat of the bag in a candid admission:

"During the flight from Moscow to Curacao, Keres and I spoke about Fischer, and we arrive at the shared conclusion that the most the young American could count on at this moment was third place. Geller was of the same opinion. The results of the tournament showed that we had not been far from the truth." (Russians versus Fischer, Edited By Plisetsky and Voronkov, p.83.)

( To be continued.. )

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