SVETOZAR GLIGORIC

counter customisable

1923 - 2012

    NOTE - Other articles on great players can be seen in the Archive section.

 

Photograph as published on "Chess Notes" by Edward Winter.

Many years ago, probably mid 1960's, when living in Exeter, I discovered that a well-known chess grandmaster was to give a simultaneous display at the University.  On the appointed day I hurried to the venue, a part of the University that occupied a building in Gandy Street.  At that time Exeter University was spread about the city and was not the spacious campus that we know today.  Arriving at the building just twenty minutes prior to the start of the display, I was disappointed to discover that all the places had been taken.  The size of the room restricted to twenty-four the number of games that could be played.  However, there was space for some spectators so I resolved to watch the proceedings.  Shortly before the exhibition was due to start a smallish dapper figure was ushered in and introduced as the visiting grandmaster.  After three hours all the games but one had finished, the grandmaster having won eighteen games and drawn five.  The final game he was playing with a university student named Moffatt, was going against him and for the last dozen or so moves played he sat at the board until he saw the trembling hand of the student make the move that sealed his fate, whereupon the grandmaster smiled and held out his hand.  However, he wasn't finished.  He replaced all the pieces in the start position and played through the game from memory making appropriate comments at various stages in explanation of his errors.

That grandmaster was the Yugoslav Svetozar Gligoric, ex patriot fighter under Marshall Tito against the occupying Nazi forces, journalist and fresh from his victory at the Hastings Congress.

For many years, prior to the advent of Bobby Fischer, Gligoric had been well to the fore of European masters who wrestled with the might of the state-sponsored USSR chess machine.  He in company with Samuel Reshevsky were considered to be the most likely contenders of Eastern masters to contest the world championship.  Both tried unsuccessfully on many occasions to win the chance to play a championship match, but the power of the Soviet masses were too much. 

Born in Belgrade in 1923, Gligoric learned to play chess when he was ten years old and at the age of sixteen he won his first tournament at Zagreb.  However, the second world war put an end to his chess playing career and he enlisted in the 5th Montenegrin Liberation Army who fought in the mountains against the occupying forces.  In so doing he reached an officers rank and when demobilized, he returned to his chess activities appearing in his country's first national championship.  Chess was to become his life and he combined this with journalistic output, enabling him to travel the world and serve as an ambassador for his country.  It was unkindly suggested that he was employed by his government to  clandestinely report on the activities of the countries he visited. 

His tournament successes were many and included the Yugoslav Championship on eleven occasions, Prague 1946 1st, Warsaw Pan-Slavic 1947 1st, Mar del Plata 1950 1st, Hastings 1951 1st, Mar del Plata 1953 1st, Montevideo 1953 1st, Rio de Janeiro 1953 1st, Copenhagen 1965 1st, Los Angeles 1974, Montilla 1977 1st and the Chigorin Memorial 1986 1st.  In the course of these tournaments he beat every contemporary world champions at least once.  He gained the grandmaster title following his performance at Saltsj÷baden 1952.

Initially his rather raw chess playing technique earned the title of "guerrilla tactics"  but later, following study and publication of many works on the opening etc., his style became more refined.  In fact, his rather  poor performance in the 1953 Zurich Candidates Tournament, was blamed on over-preparation!

His friendship with Bobby Fischer was to last a long time after he be-friended him when Fischer was just sixteen years old and about to launch himself onto the international scene.  In fact Gligoric helped Fischer during his second match with Spassky and gave him accommodation before during and after the match.   It  says a lot for Gligoric that he was able to sustain this friendship despite the prickly nature of Fischer's relationship with other chess players and journalists. 

Quite apart from his playing career, Gligoric earned a reputation for his chess writings.  Among the books he wrote were his chess autobiography "I play against the Pieces", "Selected Chess Masterpieces" and a well-acclaimed book of the first Fischer- Spassky match.

By his own admission, Gligoric claimed that his best playing years were between 1956 and 1959.  This is how he described that period:

 "After a medium success in the Olympiad in Moscow 1956 (+6, -3, =7 on top board), I felt strangely self-conscious of only having used just a part of my chess strength.  Indeed, in the subsequent strong Alekhine Memorial, also held in Moscow 1956, I achieved a high fourth placing, ahead of Bronstein, Najdorf, Keres .....  In the USSR-Yugoslavia match, Leningrad 1957, against well-known Soviet grandmasters I scored an "impossible" 6 points from 8 games.  Then in the elite tournament at Dallas 1957, I shared first place with Reshevsky and in the Olympiad at Munich 1958 I had the best score on first board (12 points out of 15 games) ahead of the world champion Botvinnik.  In the Interzonal tournament at Portoroz 1958 I was second, half a point behind the winner Tal.  All this was crowned the same year with my election (among all popular sports) as Sportsman of the Year in Yugoslavia.  Bronstein claimed that I was the world No.3 player in that year."

During his lifetime, he earned many  awards, for both his chess  and civic activities, including the "AVNOJ" - the highest state award being a kind of Nobel prize for personal merits in science and arts.  Unfortunately after 1976 his career followed a downtrend and the period included health problems of his wife which led to her early death.  The domestic situation in Yugoslavia also produced problems and he had to endure the bombing of Belgrade in the first half of 1999.  Despite all these troubles he was given an award by the Association of Journalists in Belgrade and in a TV poll in 2001 he was proclaimed "Yugoslav chess player of the 20th century."

Surprisingly, in his 88th year, he produced a CD registering his keen interest in music that was based on his love of jazz and rap.  Quite a feat for an octogenarian!

He died, following a stroke, on 14th August in Belgrade but his impact on chess and chess administration will be forever remembered.

Some games played by Giigoric can be seen HERE

Bill Frost

August 2012