Zurich 1953: Laszlo Szabo, Attack with Flair!

May 10, 2009, 7:47 AM |

Most of you probably have not heard of Laszlo Szabo, the Hungarian Grandmaster unless you read about his name in the tournament book. More should be written about this attacking player. Born in Budapest on March 19, 1917 made him 36 at the 1953 Candidates match in Zurich. His early claim to chess fame was how he startled the world winning the 1935 Hungarian Championship at the young age of 18 ( At that time this was a remarkable feat). Some speculate that the young Laszlo studied under Maroczy.

Let’s look at some of his highlights at Zurich. In round 5 ,he soundly beats Bronstein with a skewer tactic that follows a deflection of Black’s queen. This starts out as an Old Indian defense but Szabo early on takes him out of the comfort zone. Szabo begins a king side marauder run with pawns and finishes with some nice tactics.

The next round he plays the black side of the Open Defense of the Ruy Lopez against Gligoric. They pretty much follow a book line until about move 14 when Szabo takes advantage of white’s subtle neglect of a Queen’s side pawn advance. During the middle game, Gligoric was trying to force a win in a positional game that allows Szabo to offer a queen exchange and take it into an end game with a good bishop over a bad one. It was all a matter of simplification and technique ( I always wanted to say that!)

He beats Stahlberg in round 13 using good judgment in the Smyslov variation of the Grunfeld defense. He was well prepared for a line that allowed black the freeing move of c5 and regained the center. Stahlberg underestimated the weakness of his second rank and falls. One of the techniques that stood out in this game was how Szabo was able to taunt his opponent into advancing a pawn in front of his king with mere threats. Once the weakness was created, he was able to zoom in and exploit it.

There were several draws that were of no technical merit. An exception was round 19, his draw against Reshvesky. Unbelievably, both grandmasters miss this mate in 2 on move 21.

Szabo plays 21 Bxf6 Can you see a better move? A few moves later, Szabo missed another forced mate and ends up accepting a draw after a long contemplation. He was crushed and it probably affected his play for the rest of the match.
His draw in round 22 with Taimanov was interesting in that I think he had a win in this rarely seen double stonewall positional choreographic dance. Taimanov, resourceful as he was, had a perpetual check in hand to salvage the game with a ½ point after Szabo misses another forced win..

he rallies in the last couple of rounds. In round 29, his forth win came at the hands of Boleslavsky. As Black, he plays a pseudo Benoni-English and aggressively goes after the knight on c3. He exchanges queens early to grab a pawn and then the game takes on a Divide and Conquer aspect as the endgame with balck’s better placed pieces prevails.

Finally, in Round 30 he beats Kotov in a R+P endgame with possession of the more active rook. Despite Kotov finding a way to activate his rook, it was too late.

5 wins and 16 draws he places 12th.


He went on to represent Hungary in 11 Olympiads helping his team win the bronze in 1956 and ten years later in 1966. In the 1960’s and 70’s, Laszlo found some successes in international events placing first in Zagreb 1964, Budapest 1965, Sarajevo 1972, Hilversum 1973, and Hastings in 1973/74 ( tied with Kuzmin, Timman, and Tal)

He wrote a couple of games collections in 1986 and 1990 before his death in 1998.

His family donated his entire chess library and papers to the Cleveland Public Library under the John G White Chess and Checkers Collection ( notably the largest chess library collection in the world with over 32,000 volumes of books and periodicals).