The Amazing Argentinian Chess Tragedy

The Amazing Argentinian Chess Tragedy

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The Gothenburg Interzonal (Sweden) in 1955 was a 21-player round robin that was held from August 15 to September 21.

The top group was the Soviet players (in no particular order): David Bronstein, Efim Geller, Paul Keres, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky, and Georgy Ilivitsky, who had previously come in third by tiebreaks in the 1955 Soviet championship, half a point behind Smyslov and Geller (Geller beat Smyslov in the playoff), but ahead of Spassky, Petrosian, Botvinnik, Taimanov, Keres, etc.


Paul Keres via Wikipedia. 

The second strongest group was Argentina, which at that time was considered a chess powerhouse: Oscar Panno, Miguel Najdorf, Herman Pilnik.

The other players: Arthur Bisguier, Wolfgang Unzicker, Jan Hein Donner, Carlos Guimard, Bogdan Sliwa, Miroslav Filip, Ludek Pachman, Braslav Rabar, Laszlo Szabo, Andrija Fuderer, Gideon Stahlberg, and Antonio Angel Medina Garcia.

In the first part of the tournament Keres beat Panno in a variation of the Najdorf Sicilian. Since all three players from Argentina intended to use that opening as Black, they had little time to find a new way to play.

Here’s the Keres vs. Panno game:

After this blow, and after the Argentinians realized that the Russians would all play the new (and apparently very powerful) 7.f4 (it was also first played in 1954), they understood that they needed to come up with something themselves.

On their off day they desperately looked for another Najdorf line that would suit their tastes, and when they realized that Pilnik had tried (after 7.f4) 7...Be7 8.Qf3 h6 9.Bh4 g5 in an earlier game in 1955 against Fridrik Olafsson (White won!), the Argentinian players decided that they could fix what went wrong in the Olafsson game.

After hours and hours of analysis they walked away in confidence, hoping that someone would walk into their opening trap.


What they didn’t know was something extremely bizarre would occur, which was given the name: The Argentinian Tragedy!

Geller said (in his wonderful book, Application of Chess Theory):

“Several times in my career situations have occurred which are known by the name of ‘twin games’. This was the case when in the 19th USSR Championship two games were played, between Geller vs. Flohr, and Petrosian vs. Smyslov, which up to a certain point were identical.

In one of the rounds of the 1956 USSR-Yugoslavia match the games Geller vs. Karaklaijic and Averbakh vs. Ivkov coincided, and at the international tournament in Budapest in 1973 the same happened in Geller vs. Karpov and Host vs. Hecht.

Finally, the present game had simultaneously two ‘twin brothers’: Keres vs. Najdorf and Spassky vs. Pilnik — a unique instance in the history of chess! Subsequently it received the name of the ‘Argentinian Tragedy.’

“In twin games it is in principle more advantageous to occupy the second position, since it is possible to introduce corrections using the experience of one’s neighbor. Unfortunately it has never worked out that way: it has always been me who has had to commit himself first. Sometimes this was provoked by an urge to solve the problems of the position myself, sometimes because I learned of the existence of the ‘twins’ later than my colleagues.

“At times I had to pay for the ‘haste’ (against Floor and Karaklaijic), whereas my neighbors, Petrosian and Averbakh, achieved more. In the present game, on the other hand, priority was rewarded by a quicker win than in the other games.”

One of the “twins” that Geller referred to was a later round in the Gothenburg tournament when Keres was White against Najdorf, Spassky was White against Pilnik, and Geller was White against Panno. The Argentinian players were delighted since they were sure that at least one of the Soviet players would walk into their analysis. As it turned out, ALL three Soviet players entered the opening trap!

So what occurred? The position after 9...g5 appeared on all three boards at the same time, and as all three players reached the position after 10…Nfd7, Spassky and Keres pondered whether or not to sacrifice on move 11, while Geller did it quite quickly.

And from that moment on, Spassky and Keres simply watched Geller’s board and copied everything he did!

Here’s what happened to Keres:

And here’s Spassky’s game:

After this the variation was named the Gothenburg Variation.

Of course, this line seemed to have been refuted and everyone avoided it. However, in 1958 the great Svetozar Gligoric was shocked when a 15-year-old Bobby Fischer (in 1958) walked right into the “refuted” line!

As it turned out, Fischer had analyzed the Geller game to death and decided that 13...Rh7 would, with best play, lead to a forced draw. Here’s the game:

And here’s a modern grandmaster game that proves, once and for all, that 13...Rh7 does indeed lead to an exciting draw:

Returning to the 1955 Gothenburg Interzonal Tournament, Bronstein (15 points) was undefeated with 10 wins and 10 draws. Keres was second (13.5 points), and Panno was third (13 points). 4th was Petrosian (12.5). Geller and Szabo tied for 5th and 6th (12), and Filip, Pilnik, and Spassky tied for 7th through 9th (11 points). Pachman and Ilivitzki tied for 10th and 11th (10.5). Guimard and Najdorf took 12th and 13th (9.5 points). Rabar and Fuderer tied for 14th and 15th (9 points). Unzicker was 16th (8.5). Stahlberg and Bisguier shared 17th and 18th (8.0). And Medina, Sliwa, and Donner all tied for 19th through 21st (5.5 points).

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