In the Age-Old Tbilisi, part 1

Jul 18, 2011, 2:41 PM |

Next installment in the series of Salomon Flohr's articles is dedicated to the 1959 USSR Championship won by Tigran Petrosian. The original report didn't include games, but I will post all the games he mentioned.

In the Age-Old Tbilisi

The Soviet players visited many famous places in recent years. New York's Broadway, Stockholm's Kungsgatan, London's Piccadilly, Amsterdam's Rembrandt Square, Paris' Palais d'Opera, Florida, Buenos Aires. Now the amazing chess ensemble performs at the Rustaveli avenue in Tbilisi.

It's a tradition that football players go to the Caucasus region to train in this time of year. But now, chess players came here even earlier. They didn't come there to train though - they're competing for the USSR Championship.

It's not the first time Tbilisi hosts a chess championship - there was a tournament in 1937. Many things changed since then. Players that took part in that championship have since retired (actually, some of them were still active, but not on the USSR Championship level. - Sp.). Now, a new pleiad of chess players competes here. Some of them (Tal, for instance) were born around the year the first USSR Championship in Tbilisi was played.

Before the voyage to the south, Paul Keres celebrated his 43th birthday on 7th January. The Estonian Grandmaster read Tbilisi's player list and said, "That's good that Nezhmetdinov plays, or else I would have been the oldest player."

Obviously, nobody wants to occupy the last place, but the role of the oldest player isn't quite enjoyable too!

Tbilisi is struck by a chess virus. You can feel it in the air. Walking the Rustaveli avenue, you can often hear chess-themed talks. Kids and grown-ups alike have already met our chess stars and ask them for autographs.

At the richly decorated stage of the Rustaveli Theater, a silent chess performance begins. The Tbilisi audience is very spirited. After the first few rounds, it's unclear whom are they rooting for, but by some indirect signs one can deduce that T. Petrosian holds quite a few sympathies. Tbilisi is his home town, anyway. He lived there for 15 years - a half of his life. Tbilisians know D. Bronstein well. He lived in Tbilisi during the war. Of course, they also support their compatriot B. Gurgenidze.

There are so many various accidents! In the 3rd round, for instance, nine Grandmasters were seeded against nine Masters. Grandmasters had to prove (and succeeded) that they don't hold their titles for nothing. And Masters wanted to show that the difference between a Grandmaster and a Master isn't too great (and they almost succeeded).

A real "sabre dance" was performed by M. Tal in the game against L. Polugaevsky. One sacrifice after another. He chased the Black King until Polugaevsky resigned on move 34, in the mating net. The audience applauded as ardently as they would usually applaud the People's Artist Akakiy Horava.


Tal is going to use his favourite tactics in Tbilisi, too: defeat his greatest rivals - the Grandmasters. E. Geller lost to Tal without much struggle.
Judging by the first few rounds, M. Taimanov is in a good form. He defeated his friend Yu. Averbakh in style.
At the championship's opening ceremony, the Pioneers said many kind words to each player. To Petrosian, for instance, they wished "not to become the king of draws". "We wish you to get 1's in the tournament, and we'll be getting 5's (highest grade in the Soviet schools - Sp.) in the school."
Petrosian started to avoid draws. But when he salvaged a half-point by meticulous and tenacious defence against Polugaevsky in Round 4, he still got his congratulations. A half-point is better than none.
In the 7th round, N. Krogius had "almost" drawn M. Tal, but only "almost". After Tal's great tactical strike, the audience applauded him, and Krogius... resigned.
P. Keres' face was very anxious. He couldn't hope for anything more than a draw, but his partner R. Nezhmetdinov overlooked the win, this upset him, he got excited and decided, "Well, I'd rather lose than draw!" Nezhmetdinov managed to carry out his "threat", and Keres smiled happily for the first time in this championship.
They say that chess is a serious, difficult and even wise game. That's right. But chess has its funny moments as well. In a won position, L. Polugaevsky suddenly offered a draw, which Gufeld happily accepted. When the winning variant was shown to Polugaevsky, he jokingly asked, "Is the Kura river far from here?"
A. Lutikov created a real firework over the board. His game against Nezhmetdinov was published in many foreign chess newspapers.
Fortune smiled to D. Bronstein very nicely - he scored a whole point with active help from Polugaevsky. Bronstein went up the table.
B. Gurgenidze first gave Taimanov his Queen, and then the point. Tbilisians are obviously unhappy with their compatriot's performance. He gets many letters and even telegrams: "Bukhuti, stop losing, you shouldn't be so hospitable!"
In the 9th round, Petrosian finally returned to play (he missed a week due to flu). He defeated Krogius with incredible ease, and then won against R. Nezhmetdinov and Yu. Averbakh.
The game Tal - Nezhmetdinov came out very interesting. At first, Tal's position was difficult: his partner had a strong attack. Nezhmetdinov's opponents usually get crushed under such onslaught. The hall was buzzing. All demands to keep quiet led to nothing. Tal's face became considerably pale, and he struggled to repel the threats of Kazan Master. The latter failed to find the strongest continuation. He should have agreed to draw. But Nezhmetdinov continued to take risks even when it wasn't worth it... Tal is not the one to be trifled with. The final of this game was dramatic. Nezhmetdinov cracked under pressure. After five hours of the game, being tired, he made an incredible mistake and extended his hand to Tal in resignation. That was Nezhmetdinov's fifth defeat.
Tal's win caused a stir among his opponents. In the next round, he defeated Yu. Averbakh in an exciting encounter.
The eleventh round was marked with a sensation. As we know, Tal was quite pale in his game against Nezhmetdinov (though he still managed to win), but in the Round 11, his face looked healthy, but he'd lost to the novice Gufeld.
The first half of the Tbilisi battle has passed, but, obviously, it's too early to draw any conclusions. Averbakh, Bronstein, Geller, Keres, Kholmov - basically any player can make some changes in the table.
While the championship's first half had a high draw percentage (especially in the 5th and 9th rounds), the second half will surely have more interesting struggles.
Standings after Round 11: 1. Petrosian - 8, 2-3. Spassky, Taimanov - 7.5, 4. Tal - 7, 5-6. Keres, Lutikov - 6.5, 7-8. Bronstein, Kholmov - 6, 9-10. Geller, Korchnoi - 5.5, 11-15. Furman, Gufeld, Juchtman, Polugaevsky, Furman - 5, 16-17. Averbakh, Krogius - 4.5, 18. Nikitin - 4, 19. Gurgenidze - 3.5, 20. Nezhmetdinov - 2.5