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Biel Interzonal Playoff Tournament

Nigel Short3.5/6(+3 -2 =1)[games]
John van der Wiel3.5/6(+2 -1 =3)[games]
Eugenio Torre2/6(+1 -3 =2)[games]
* Chess Event Description
Biel Interzonal Playoff (1985)

Four players from each of three Interzonal tournaments, the Tunis Interzonal (1985), Taxco Interzonal (1985) and Biel Interzonal (1985) (12 players) were to be joined by four seeded players for the new Candidates tournament in October 1985, from which the most successful would advance to Candidates knock-out matches. (1) The purpose was to select a challenger for the World Champion, whether that be Anatoly Karpov or Garry Kasparov. In Biel, three players (Nigel Short, Eugenio Torre, and John van der Wiel) had shared 4th place. A playoff was necessary, and it took place two days after the Interzonal ended. According to the regulations, if the playoff ended in a draw, Short would qualify because he had the highest score against the upper half of the players in the Interzonal, while Torre had a preference over Van der Wiel, because he had won their mutual game. Van der Wiel therefore had to win an undivided first place to qualify. (2) Short got the most attention before the playoff, probably mainly because of his age (20 only), but there was more to it: "If he wins the play-off Short will become the first Englishman to qualify for the candidates' stage of the world championship." (3)

Play was scheduled for Saturday 27 July at 2 pm, "in an almost deserted Palais des Congrès", (4) and in a smaller hall than the Interzonal had been held. (5) Van der Wiel was assisted by Gert Ligterink, (6) and Torre was helped by Lubomir Kavalek. (7) "Dr. John Nunn of London acted as Short's second". (8) Short had been assisted in the Interzonal by Murray Chandler, but he had to leave for Edinburgh for the British Championship (starting 25 July). Nunn was on the last day of the Interzonal in Amsterdam, waiting to play his final game in the OHRA tournament. That evening he received a desperate phone call from Chandler, who asked him to relieve him of his duties. The British Chess Federation made arrangements for the "flying doctor", and as soon as he finished his last-round game he flew from Amsterdam to Heathrow. There he was met by Robert Wade, who gave him files on Short's two opponents. Two hours later he was in the air again bound for Zürich and then Biel. (9, 10) "On my arrival I found the game over and Nigel in the bar." (10)

Game 1 had been lost by an unsuccessful French Defense (Tarrasch variation). Game 2 was even until Torre gave the exchange for a pawn. Van der Wiel was better and could have played on, but he took the draw after 24 moves. In Game 3, "Nigel and I had prepared the system with Nc3, Nf3, h3 and Be3 as an anti-Pirc weapon. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell him to answer ...c6 with a4, so by move 25 Black already had a winning position ... However, Torre played the second session feebly", (10) and he was not able to hold the long rook ending two pawns down. In Game 4 "our anti-Pirc prepararion worked much better, since Nigel obtained a very promising ending right out of the opening", (10) but unlike Torre, Van der Wiel held the rook ending two pawns down. Game 5 was played on the Swiss national day. In the same opening as three weeks earlier (Van der Wiel vs E Torre, 1985), Torre deviated first (9...Bg4), and won again in 58 moves. In Game 6, Torre gave a pawn for initiative, but did not find the best follow-up (22.Nh6+) and after 24.Kg1, Short took over. After six games: Short 2.5, Van der Wiel 2, Torre 1.5.

Wonderboys can also make mistakes

This was printed in the newspapers after Game 7, in which Short defended with a Petroff. Van der Wiel made an error in the opening, and got a hopeless position. (6) The players were then disturbed by a groaning noise through the fabric of the building. There was a tree outside which was attached to the wall by three metal rods, and the sound could be heard every time a gust of wind struck the tree. The sound had been heard before, but now the weather was deteriorating. Van der Wiel had protested at the sound earlier. He declared that the game would have to be moved, and the organizers found another room. (10) Picture taking was out of question at this point. And not everybody was happy. How could the sounds from a tree cause such disturbance? "We know too much the escapades and the demands of certain champions of the world to still be surprised." (11) Short was still better in the game, and could have won had he found 31...f5! (12) Instead, after 31...Kb8? 32.Ne5 Rd8, Van der Wiel found a "sly" trick. (6) Both Nunn and Short missed

click for larger view

33.Nd7+! Kc8? (33...Rxd7! 34.Qe8+ Kb7 35.Qxd7 Ka6! =) 34.Rd6! 1-0

This was apparently "A terrible shock for Black. 34...cd6 35.Qc6 mate, and otherwise 35.Qa8 mate. At long last, I have lived up to my reputation again of being a swindler .. I wonder, if Nigel will think back to the move in a lost moment some time." (13) Van der Wiel now lead by half a point with two games to go (him and Short against Torre), but he had to win Game 8 to be sure of qualification. Whereas Torre had to win both his two last games to qualify. However, the game between them was adjourned (after 56...Rh4) in a drawn position. Game 9 between Short and Torre had to be played before Game 8 could be finished, and as it was clear that Torre could only hope for a draw, Short had to win. Which he did! The next day it turned out that Torre had sealed "the only move, after 40 minutes of thinking(!), that gave Black no single chance of winning." (14) Ten more moves followed, but at 2:34 pm, (11) Van der Wiel gave up his hopes. Torre apologized later - not for the fact that he had made a draw, but for his games with Short. (14) "And so was Nigel Short's persistency which he exhibited almost throughout the tournament rewarded with qualification for the candidates tournament. An important step in his already impressive career." (2)

Biel, Switzerland, 27 July - 6 August 1985

Age Elo* 123 123 123 1 GM Short 20 2575 *** 0½0 111 3½ 2 GM Van der Wiel 25 2520 1½1 *** ½0½ 3½ 3 GM Torre 33 2535 000 ½1½ *** 2

Short had a better tie-break score than Van der Wiel in the Interzonal, and advanced (together with Vasily Smyslov, Viktor Korchnoi, Zoltan Ribli and Boris Spassky, plus the top finishers in Tunis, Taxco and Biel interzonals) to the Montpellier Candidates (1985).

At the British Championships in Edinburgh, "Nigel Short arrived on the final day of play and was greeted by a huge ovation. He then proceeded to demonstrate some of his games from the Biel play-off which has made him England's first world championship candidate. It was amazing to see how many of them wound up being difficult rook and pawn endings. For analysing these brain-wrenching positions Nigel's new second, Dr John Nunn, deserves a great deal of praise." (15)

"It is as if he (Short) has not sufficient concentration at the board unless something important." (16)

"He has one big advantage over leading British chess players: resilience. In difficult positions he fights like a lion, and the endgame technique is good despite his young age. I predict no high ranking in the candidates tournament, but over time he could enter through." (17)

Van der Wiel joined the 5th placed from the Tunis and Taxco Interzonals, Viktor Gavrikov and Jonathan Speelman, for the London Candidates Reserve Playoff (1985). Torre allegedly became disillusioned with chess after losing the Ribli - Torre Candidates Quarterfinal (1983). (18) But at the age of 66, he was still playing well.


(1) Tidskrift för Schack, August 1985, p. 208.
(2) Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam in New In Chess, October 1985, pp. 22-23.
(3) Harry Golombek in The Times, 27 July 1985, p. 6.
(4) Le Matin, 27 July 1985, p. 5. Photo:
(5) Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, 29 July 1985, p. 12.
(6) Alexander Jongsma in De Telegraaf, 5 August 1985, p. T19.
(7) Gert Ligterink in De Volkskrant, 7 August 1985, p. 11.
(8) The Times, 8 August 1985, p. 1.
(9) John Nunn in Illustrated London News, 1 October 1985, p. 112.
(10) John Nunn in British Chess Magazine, October 1985, pp. 418-424.
(11) L'Express, 9 August 1985, p. 20.
(12) Gert Ligterink in De Volkskrant, 5 August 1985, p. 7.
(13) John van der Wiel in New In Chess, October 1985, p. 31.
(14) Gert Ligterink in De Volkskrant, 8 August 1985, p. 9.
(15) Raymond Keene in The Spectator, 17 August 1985, p. 38.
(16) Jon Loftur Arnason in Dagblağiğ Vísir, 17 August 1985, p. 10.
(17) Helgi Olafsson in NT (Iceland), 17 August 1985, p. 9.
(18) Wikipedia article: Eugenio Torre.

*FIDE Rating List July 1985 (

Originals collections: Game Collection: Biel Interzonal 1985 by User: suenteus po 147, and Game Collection: Biel Interzonal Playoff 1985 by User: Tabanus.

 page 1 of 1; 9 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Van der Wiel vs Short 1-0331985Biel Interzonal PlayoffC05 French, Tarrasch
2. E Torre vs Van der Wiel  ½-½241985Biel Interzonal PlayoffE15 Queen's Indian
3. Short vs E Torre 1-0871985Biel Interzonal PlayoffB08 Pirc, Classical
4. Short vs Van der Wiel ½-½731985Biel Interzonal PlayoffB08 Pirc, Classical
5. Van der Wiel vs E Torre 0-1581985Biel Interzonal PlayoffC90 Ruy Lopez, Closed
6. E Torre vs Short 0-1501985Biel Interzonal PlayoffE15 Queen's Indian
7. Van der Wiel vs Short 1-0341985Biel Interzonal PlayoffC42 Petrov Defense
8. E Torre vs Van der Wiel ½-½671985Biel Interzonal PlayoffB83 Sicilian
9. Short vs E Torre 1-0591985Biel Interzonal PlayoffB08 Pirc, Classical
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: Many thanks to both User: suenteus po 147 and User: Tabanus for another informative and well constructed introduction. I really enjoyed reading about this dramatic play-off and I am sure Nigel Short will love reading it.

A very hard-fought contest.

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