The California Chess Reporter

(Volume XIII Number One, July 1963)

The Piatigorsky Cup Grandmaster Tournament

Editor: Guthrie McClain

The Piatigorsky Cup grandmaster tournament, the greatest tournament held in this country since the 1920's, was a striking success. All California chessplayers are indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Piatigorsky for making it possible. Tournament Director Isaac Kashdan, himself an international grandmaster and FIDE arbiter, conducted the play with impeccable good judgment. Jacqueline Piatigorsky rounded up a staff of lecturers, scorekeepers, and assistants those numbers are too great to list here, but whose work reflected nothing but credit upon Los Angeles chess circles. The arrangements were excellent, and perhaps were the critical factor in putting the players at their ease to make it one of the most pleasant international tournaments on record.

The Ambassador Hotel placed its most beautiful ballrooms at the disposal of the tournament, including the famous Cocoanut Grove. The system of reporting and communicating (utilizing walkie-talkies, many wall boards, and a corps of junior chessplayers for messages) provided the audience with the chessic equivalent of a four-ring circus. The lecture room near the main playing room was manned by a group of Los Angeles masters who discussed the games in progress (and sometimes predicted moves; for example, Irving Rivise once told the audience that since a certain grandmaster had just pushed his king-side pawns he was no doubt preparing to castle on the queen-side - almost immediately the walkie-talkie reported that he had castled king-side!)

The contestants were so friendly and well-behaved that one wonders whether the acrimony frequently reported on the international chess scene is at all necessary. Chess masters could be seen with smiling faces anywhere in the hotel during the four weeks. There were many requests for autographs, there were many foolish questions asked, but every time the grandmaster would reply with unflagging good nature. (When world-champion Petrosian agreed to answer questions one time in the lecture room, it was thought that he would be glad to escape when his 15 minutes expired. But when he heard the audience being told there would be no more questions, Petrosian exclaimed, "But I see someone still with his hand raised. Let me answer all the questions." Then he went on for some time beyond the agreed time period, doing his best to communicate not only the superficial reply, but also dealing with the implications of the questions as he saw them.)

The grandmasters, of course, made the tournament what it was. The two Soviet masters were naturally the headliners (though curiously neither is "Russian" - Petrosian is Armenian and Keres Estonian). Petrosian played the steadiest chess. After being defeated by Gligoric in the sensational second round game, Petrosian was never again in real danger. He finished with nine draws, the same as Najdorf. Keres played aggressively, often appearing to be so dangerous with the Black pieces as to put White on the defensive. He unfortunately caught cold through unfamiliarity with the air-conditioning system, and played some weak games, or otherwise he would have been the clear winner. Keres speaks good English and often acted as interpreter for Petrosian.

The most startling development was that the Soviet players came to California without bodyguards. They had no seconds or commissars. Time after time, Petrosian would go out for an afternoon or evening with the Los Angeles Armenian colony without even Keres along for protection. However, most of the time the two were away from the hotel they were car-shopping. Dollars brought back to Russia must be turned in for rubles at an unfavorable rate of exchange, and autos are in short supply in Russia, so they decided to buy American cars with their winnings. (For the curious, the report was that the Russians eventually purchased Ramblers.)

Najdorf and Olafsson have contrasting styles. Najdorf, a well-paid insurance actuary in Buenos Aires, claims to be also one of the best bridge players in South America. He held his own seemingly with little effort against the best chessplayers in the world, finished early, and went off to play bridge. He and Reshevsky had plus scores against the Russians.

Olafsson frequently took more than two hours for 20 moves, and then had to play rapid-transit chess. An amazing score with this handicap!

Najdorf and Gligoric were the only two players to stay for exhibitions: Najdorf lost only one game in two impressive exhibitions in San Francisco, and Gligoric gave a typically smooth simultaneous at the City Terrace Club.

Reshevsky, who is always feared by the Russians and is considered by Najdorf to be the greatest chess talent of his generation, fell victim to the same air-conditioning system as Keres, and was not in good health through much of the tournament.

Gligoric led at the halfway point, but fell off badly in the later rounds. Just the opposite was Benko, who recovered from .5-3.5 in his first four rounds and became a formidable opponent thereafter. His total number of wins was the same as Petrosian's, but he lost 7 games outright. Panno, with the same score, was steadier, but also slightly out of the fearsome company of the top six.

The finest comment that can be made about the Piatigorsky Cup tournament is that prospects are bright for a continuation of the event in future years, which was so auspiciously inaugurated in 1963.

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