Lightning From a Blue Sky

Lightning From a Blue Sky‎

GM BryanSmith
32 | Middlegame

Today we will be seeing a game by grandmaster Svetozar Gligoric, who recently passed away.  Gligoric was born in Belgrade in 1923 and died on August 14 at the age of 89. After first learning chess by watching people play at a local bar, he made rapid progress and was a national master by the age of 16. Although the Second World War interrupted his progress as a chess player, soon after it ended he took his place among the best players in the world, which he maintained for decades. For quite some time, he has been a living legend.

As evidence of the strength of his life spirit, at the age of 88 he recorded and published a jazz, blues, and rap CD called “How I Survived the 20th Century”. Although I would like to hear the songs, I haven’t yet been able to find them anywhere online. Nevertheless I think I can understand the dual meaning of the title – part of it obviously refers to the turbulent times he lived through as a Serb in the twentieth century; but I can surmise that there is a second meaning that relates to his longevity or perhaps that it is music and/or chess that allowed him to live. I understand that one of the songs is about Bobby Fischer.

Gligoric was a player with a classical style. He respected the pawn center and space. Nevertheless, he was one of the greatest experts in the King’s Indian Defense. Normally as white he opened with 1.d4, and he made many contributions to theory, especially in the 4.e3 line of the Nimzo-Indian.

I picked a very entertaining and apparently light-hearted game which varies a little bit from his later style. This game was played in 1946, right after the World War had ended. Gligoric had fought in the resistance against the Nazis who were occupying Yugoslavia, and during that time his chess career was on hold. Thus in 1946 he did not even have the international master title. In this game, unlike throughout the majority of his chess career, he opened with 1.e4.

When I was driving back from a recent tournament in Indianapolis, some time in the early evening the sky was a very dark shade of blue. There was no evidence of anything coming, when suddenly the entire sky ahead of me exploded in lightning, like fractures in a window. Then instantly the rain started. That reminds me of this game – White’s development seems slow and passive, by the fifteenth move his pieces still do not occupy any square beyond the third rank and Black seemingly has pressure on the d-file. But then out of nowhere comes the improbable advance d4 and then d5, the black pieces are driven back, the white knights jump in to the kingside with four consecutive moves, and the black kingside is ripped apart. White’s slow buildup concealed the hidden energy of his position, which exploded like lighting from a clear sky.

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