Zurich 1953: Efim Geller, the Trainer
This brings us to Zurich 1953, where he qualified at Stockholm in 1952 to play in the candidates match. Geller takes on Najdorf in his familiar turf in round 13. Najdorf plays the Black side of a mainline Sicilian Defense of the variation named after him. Geller takes him into classical territories of the line with a prepared variation that was meant to offset the positional feel of the game and make use of the developmental advantage for White. The prepared line takes control of Black’s light squares and begins a queen side advance. Underestimating it’s potential, Najdorf attempts some tactical ideas of his own but Geller’s play is much deeper. He refuses the gambit pawn offer and uses it as a weakness to get a positional advantage for his knight. After the pieces are traded off, Geller demonstrates how his centralized knight is stronger than the bishop.
Geller is known for making advances in the King Indian’s defense. This is known today, but was only making some ground back in the day of Zurich. Thus, in round 17, against Euwe’s passive treatment of the once benign defense, he is overcome by Geller’s strong positional advantages.
In Round 19, he shows Boleslavsky a variation of the Schevengin that transposes to Dragon like venom as he entices White to expand the pawns on the king side. Opposite side castling allows Boleslavsky to start a king side maraud. Geller decides to open up the c-file with a rook sacrifice. ( shown here)
Then he gets a couple pawns towards the endgame and is compensated enough to pull in the point.
Round 25 has Bronstein on the ropes after he admits to passive play. Another instance of opposite side castling which allowed White the opportunity of rapid development. Bronstein miscalculates and advances on the queenside and overlooks the fact that White had a bishop on g3 covering the b8 square. It allows Geller to break through and offer a rook as he gains an advanced passed pawn.
In the next round, He plays Gligoric and demonstrates how to win in an endgame with a strong initiative despite his opponent having two passed pawns. Incredible.
If that isn’t enough, in the following round ( 27), Taimanov attempts to take him down an obscure path of the Ruy Lopez with 3…Bb4. Geller’s opening knowledge and transpositional abilities plays it more like an Evan’s Gambit with tempo. This turns into a tactically sharp mêlée with Geller sacrificing two pieces to open up Black’s camp. The final position is shown here:
“ Why is it that today—as compared to ten years ago, let’s say—so few masters will go in for a fierce combinative attacks, with piece sacrifices? More than any other reason, it is because the art of combinative defense these days has reached such a high level that in the heat of the battle it occasionally becomes difficult to determine who is attacking whom.”
His best candidates cycle was in 1962 at the Stockholm Interzonal where he finished second to Bobby Fischer. At the Candidates match he was only a ½ point short of playing for the title at Curacao, tying in second place with Paul Keres. He was known well for his openings expertise pioneering the development of the King’s Indian Defense, new variations in the Sicilian Defense and introducing the Geller Gambit in the Slav. He acted as Boris Spassky’s second for the World Championship match against Fischer in 1972, as well as acting as second for Anatoly Karpov and Tigran Petrosian.
He played strong in senior tournaments up into the 1990’s until the age of 70 where he tied for first place with Smyslov in 1991, and won clear first place in 1992.
As a side anecdote, One story he tells in his autobiography (Grandmaster Geller at the Chessboard, translated by B Cafferty 1969) is of playing in Belgrade for the Soviets against Yugoslavia. He complained that the Soviets didn't get any applause or credit for their games but in one game he was trying to find his matches in his pocket but couldn't. After a little while it became obvious to the audience what his problem was and out of the audience flew a box of matches, which he caught. That was the best applause he got.
He passed away in November of 1998 at the age of 73.