Saluting some greats of greatest generation
Chess is witnessing the passing of its own “greatest generation” of luminaries who came of age in the years after World War II and would reshape and dominate the game for decades. In the past few years, we’ve lost two world champions — Bobby Fischer and Soviet star Vassily Smyslov — as well as such notables as German GM Wolfgang Unzicker, American Larry Evans, and the British player and author R.G. Wade.
Of the great Soviet generation of world titleholders born before the war, only Boris Spassky is still with us.
Two great veterans still on the scene are 89-year-old Serbian GM Svetozar Gligoric, who engaged Fischer in some memorable battles in the 1960s, and Russian GM and endgame wizard Yuri Averbakh, who turned 90 last month and is the world’s oldest living grandmaster. The two stars were in their prime when they met in a 1966 tournament in Yugoslavia, with Gligoric emerging the winner after a long and fascinating fight.
Some of the greatest combinations lie buried deep in long games like this one, where a magnificent tactic by Gligoric is followed not by mate but by another 47 tense moves in the endgame. Averbakh as Black holds his own in a Rubinstein Classical Nimzo-indian, and by 23. Qe3 Nxd3 24. Qxd3, the only question that matters is whether White’s isolated d-pawn is a weakness or a strength.
After 30. d5 Rc1?! (the tiniest of inaccuracies overlooking an astonishing resource for White — better was 30. . . . Bxd5 31. Nxf5 Rc1 32. Ne3 Rxd1+ 33. Qxd1 Qf6, with full equality) 31. d6 Bd5 32. Nxd5 exd5 33. Qxd5 Rxd1+ 34. Qxd1 Rc6 (see diagram), Black must have calculated that the White pawn was doomed. But Gligoric has other ideas, employing a rook that appears to be badly out of play.
Thus: 35. Rh6!! (the first point: 35. . . . gxh6 36. Qd4+ Kg8 37. Qd5+ Kf8 38. Qxc6, retaining the extra pawn) Qd7 36. Re6! (the second point: taking the rook clears the path for the pawn) Qxe6 (h6 37. Qd5 Rc5 38. Qb3, again emerging a pawn ahead) 37. d7 Rd6 38. d8=q+ Rxd8 39. Qxd8 Qg8 40. Qxb6.
Queen-and-pawn endings are notoriously tricky, but White has enough pawn shelter for his king to avoid endless checks while he makes progress on both wings. With Black’s king pinned to the h-file, Gligoric uses the constant threat of mate on h8 to keep the black queen occupied. The final break is perfectly timed: 77. Qe7+ Kh6 78. g4! (the queen nicely covers the check on e1) hxg4 79. hxg4 g5+ (Black stop 80. g5 mate) 80. fxg5+ Kg6 81. Qf6+! (and now going to the pawn ending White can win) Qxf6 82. gxf6 Kxf6 83. Kh5 Kg7 84. Kg5 (with the opposition) Kh7 85. Kf6 Kh6 86. g5+ Kh7 87. Kf7, and Black resigns as the pawn must queen.
Known as a positional specialist, Averbakh could conduct an attack when the position demanded, as Russian NM Igor Platonov learned in their game from the 1968 Soviet championship tournament, an event Averbakh won or shared first twice in his career. In a QGD Semi-tarrasch, Black’s 10. Bb2 b6? allows White to open up the game on his terms, with the two bishops soon raking the Black kingside.
After 14. c4 dxc4 (Bg4 15. cxd5 Qxd5 16. Qc3 f6 17. Bc4 shows the dangers already facing Black) 15. Bxc4 Kh8 16. Qe4 Bb7 17. Rfd1, White has a beautiful attacking position and probably already has a won game, but Averbakh finishes things off with panache.
The winning combination: 21. Rd7 Be7 (Nd4 22. Kh1!) 22. Rxb7! (one just knew a queen sacrifice was lurking in this position) Bxh4 23. Nxh4 Qg5 (White also dominates after 23. . . . Qh7 24. Bd3 Rad8 25. Bxf5! Rxf5 26. Rxg7 Re5 27. Rxh7+ Kxh7 28. Bxe5 Nxe5 29. Rc1, with a winning endgame) 24. f4! Qg4 (Qxh4 25. Bxg7+ Kh7 26. Bf6+) 25. Be2!!, and the final deflection forces resignation as 25. . . . Qxe2 (Qxh4 26. Bxg7+ Kg8 27. Bc4+ Rf7 28. Rxf7, leaving no defense against a slew of threats) 26. Ng6+ Kg8 (or 26. . . . Kh7) 27. Rxg7 is mate.