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Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade Candidates Tournament

Mikhail Tal20/28(+16 -4 =8)[games]
Paul Keres18.5/28(+15 -6 =7)[games]
Tigran V Petrosian15.5/28(+7 -4 =17)[games]
Vasily Smyslov15/28(+9 -7 =12)[games]
Robert James Fischer12.5/28(+8 -11 =9)[games]
Svetozar Gligoric12.5/28(+6 -9 =13)[games]
Fridrik Olafsson10/28(+6 -14 =8)[games]
Pal Benko8/28(+3 -15 =10)[games] Chess Event Description
Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade Candidates (1959)

The 1959 Candidates Tournament was hosted by three cities in Yugoslavia. The first 14 rounds were played in Bled, rounds 15-21 in Zagreb, and rounds 22-28 in Belgrade. This event would select the next challenger to world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, who had just recaptured his title in the Smyslov - Botvinnik World Championship Rematch (1958). Mikhail Tal, Svetozar Gligorić, Pal Benko, Tigran Petrosian, Friðrik Ólafsson and Bobby Fischer qualified from the Portoroz Interzonal (1958). Vasily Smyslov and Paul Keres were seeded directly into the candidates tournament on the strength of their 1-2 finish in the previous Amsterdam Candidates (1956). Harry Golombek was arbiter, and the seconds were Bent Larsen (Fischer), Yuri Averbakh, joined later by Alexander Koblents (Tal), Vladas Mikenas (Keres), Isaac Boleslavsky (Petrosian), Igor Bondarevsky (Smyslov) Aleksandar Matanovic (Gligorić), Klaus Viktor Darga and Ingi Randver Johannsson (Ólafsson), and Rudolf Maric (Benko).1, 2

Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 7 September - 29 October 1959 3

1 Tal XXXX 0010 ==== 01=1 1111 1=11 111= 111= 20 2 Keres 1101 XXXX 0=== 1==0 0101 ==11 1110 1111 18.5 3 Petrosian ==== 1=== XXXX ==0= 11== 0==1 100= =11= 15.5 4 Smyslov 10=0 0==1 ==1= XXXX ==10 0=10 =1=1 =011 15 5 Fischer 0000 1010 00== ==01 XXXX 10== 01=1 =1=1 12.5 6 Gligoric 0=00 ==00 1==0 1=01 01== XXXX ==10 =1== 12.5 7 Olafsson 000= 0001 011= =0=0 10=0 ==01 XXXX 00=1 10 8 Benko 000= 0000 =00= =100 =0=0 =0== 11=0 XXXX 8

The players would meet each other four times, twice in Bled and once in both Zagreb and Belgrade. In Bled, the players stayed at the Grand Hotel Toplice, the site of Alexander Alekhine's historic triumph in Bled (1931). 4 Mikhail Tal had just had his appendix removed less than two weeks earlier, but FIDE insisted he make it in time for the tournament. According to Tal, "I was not much troubled by the effects of the operation, apart from in a purely mechanical sense; during a game I did not feel inclined to stroll about ..."5 This information may have come as a surprise to Harry Golombek, who commented after Round 5 that "it is an impressive sight to see him (Tal) get up after he has made what he obviously thinks is a winning move and pace around the table like a man-eating tiger."6 It may also have surprised Bobby Fischer, who complained after his first game with Tal that whenever he "rose from the board ... he'd begin talking to the other Soviet players, and they enjoyed whispering about their or others' positions."7 Pal Benko later revealed that due to his "demanding" job in a US brokerage firm, he "didn't prepare at all" for the event, although he reckoned "I did reasonably well."8 He didn't. After the first cycle Tal, Paul Keres and Tigran Petrosian shared the lead.

During the second cycle, shortly after the beginning of Round 8, Golombek remarked to Fischer on how many Caro Kanns the Soviets had been playing. Bobby replied "they are all just chicken; they just don't want to face B-QB4 against the Sicilian."6 Tal emerged the hero of Round 8 with his spectacular win over Vasily Smyslov. He won the brilliancy prize by crushing the ex-world champion with a series of sacrifices he later described as "pure improvisation": Tal vs Smyslov, 1959 9 Such improvisation did not serve him as well in his Round 10 encounter with co-leader Keres, who "seemed to enjoy taking all the material Tal was offering": Tal vs Keres, 1959. According to Golombek, "most onlookers thought (Tal) might well have resigned ten moves earlier."10 Though Tal finished off the cycle with three straight wins, it was Keres who led by a half point when the players set off for Zagreb.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the first two cycles was the lackluster play of Smyslov, who trailed a full four points behind Keres. Golombek had noticed that in his Round 11 game against Benko, "Smyslov seemed to be struggling, not only against his opponent, but against himself": Benko vs Smyslov, 1959 11 Now it seemed it was Petrosian's turn to struggle. Though he finished the second cycle respectably close to the leaders, he too would fall back to join Smyslov in the middle of the table. According to his biographer Vik Vasiliev, "It was ... the uncompromising vigor of ... Tal and Keres ... which troubled Petrosian ... He began to reckon his chances of success as extremely small."12 Petrosian's Round 15 game can't have helped his spirits, though it became one of very few bright spots for Friðrik Ólafsson: Petrosian vs F Olafsson, 1959. Their adjourned game was finished on a balcony overlooking Zagreb's Republic Square, where a giant demonstration board had been erected: "A crowd of ... 5,000 assembled to watch. Olafsson won to ... great acclamations ... When he tried to go back to the hotel ... the crowd insisted on carrying him on their shoulders."13

Tal led Keres by a point and a half as the final cycle began in the 2,000 seat Belgrade Trade Union House, with the rest of the field trailing far behind.14 Smyslov's woes continued in Round 22 when he blundered so badly against Tal that a Russian journalist actually sent in a report that Smyslov had won the game, and "later had to contact Moscow again by telephone and eat his words": Tal vs Smyslov, 1959. 14 Keres showed he was still full of fight in Round 24 when he won the best game prize against Tal: Tal vs Keres, 1959. The hometown favorite, Yugoslavian grandmaster Gligorić, had played a disappointing tournament until he beat Smyslov in Round 26 in just eighteen moves: Smyslov vs Gligoric, 1959. Needless to say, this created quite a stir. As Golombek later described the scene, "There came a full-throated roar from over 2,000 (spectators) ... and it was quite impossible for the other players to continue their games. So I hurriedly asked Gligorić and Smyslov to vacate the stage at once."15 With one round to go, Tal only needed a half point against Benko to win the tournament. Benko showed up wearing dark sunglasses, "fearing- or pretending to fear the hypnotic power of Tal's eyes."16 Unfazed, Tal easily forced an early draw by perpetual check to emerge victorious over Keres and all the rest. He had earned the right to face Mikhail Botvinnik in the Botvinnik - Tal World Championship Match (1960).



Grand Hotel Toplice:

Zagreb Republic Square:

Belgrade Trade Union House:


1 Harry Golombek, 4th Candidates' Tournament, 1959 - Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade - September 7th - October 29th (Hardinge Simpole, 2009 (First published as BCM Quarterly No. 3, 1960)), p. vi.
2 Tidskrift för Schack, Oct. 1959, p. 229; De Telegraaf, 10 Sept. 1959, p. 13.
3 De Tijd De Maasbode, 7 Sept. 1959, p. 12 ( De Waarheid, 30 Oct. 1959, p. 3 (
4 Golombek, p. 1.
5 Mikhail Tal, The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal (Cadogan 1997), p. 117.
6 Golombek, p. 77.
7 Frank Brady, Endgame (Crown Publishers 2011), Chapter Five The Gold War Gladiator.
8 Pal Benko and Jeremy Silman, Pal Benko - My Life, Games and Compositions (Siles Press 2003), p. 86.
9 Tal, p. 119.
10 Golombek, p. 98.
11 Golombek, p. 107.
12 Vik L. Vasiliev, Tigran Petrosian - His Life and Games, Michael John Basman transl. (Batsford 1974), p. 91.
13 Golombek, pp. 148-149.
14 Golombek, p. 218.
15 Golombek, p. 254.
16 Golombek, p. 272.

Additional reading: Game Collection: Bled Candidates Mirror.

Original collection Game Collection: WCC Index (Candidates Tournament 1959) by User: Resignation Trap; Introduction written and sourced by User: WCC Editing Project.

 page 1 of 5; games 1-25 of 112  PGN Download
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Keres vs Fischer 0-1531959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesB99 Sicilian, Najdorf, 7...Be7 Main line
2. Petrosian vs F Olafsson 1-0371959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesE50 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3 O-O 5.Nf3, without ...d5
3. Smyslov vs Tal 1-0651959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesB92 Sicilian, Najdorf, Opocensky Variation
4. Benko vs Gligoric ½-½351959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesE61 King's Indian
5. Fischer vs Petrosian 0-1681959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesB11 Caro-Kann, Two Knights, 3...Bg4
6. Smyslov vs Keres 0-1591959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesC99 Ruy Lopez, Closed, Chigorin,
7. Tal vs Gligoric 1-0471959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesE89 King's Indian, Samisch, Orthodox Main line
8. F Olafsson vs Benko 0-1541959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesC92 Ruy Lopez, Closed
9. Benko vs Fischer ½-½491959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesA16 English
10. Keres vs Tal 1-0641959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesA16 English
11. Petrosian vs Smyslov ½-½601959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesA21 English
12. Gligoric vs F Olafsson ½-½421959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesE54 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3, Gligoric System
13. Fischer vs Gligoric 1-0321959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesB56 Sicilian
14. Keres vs Petrosian 0-1511959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesB39 Sicilian, Accelerated Fianchetto, Breyer Variation
15. Smyslov vs Benko ½-½281959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesB96 Sicilian, Najdorf
16. Tal vs F Olafsson 1-0431959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesB96 Sicilian, Najdorf
17. F Olafsson vs Fischer 1-0451959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesB90 Sicilian, Najdorf
18. Benko vs Keres 0-1391959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesA29 English, Four Knights, Kingside Fianchetto
19. Petrosian vs Tal ½-½121959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesD40 Queen's Gambit Declined, Semi-Tarrasch
20. Gligoric vs Smyslov 1-0381959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesD16 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav
21. Tal vs Fischer 1-0411959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesE93 King's Indian, Petrosian System
22. Keres vs Gligoric ½-½661959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesC72 Ruy Lopez, Modern Steinitz Defense, 5.O-O
23. Petrosian vs Benko ½-½421959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesE62 King's Indian, Fianchetto
24. Smyslov vs F Olafsson  ½-½671959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesB41 Sicilian, Kan
25. Fischer vs Smyslov ½-½521959Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade CandidatesB11 Caro-Kann, Two Knights, 3...Bg4
 page 1 of 5; games 1-25 of 112  PGN Download
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Kibitzer's Corner
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Premium Chessgames Member
  An Englishman: Good Evening: Great presentation and layout of this tournament. I notice that Fischer kept Keres from winning the tournament; turn Keres' two losses into victories and he beats Tal by a half-point.
Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: Here are the four Fischer vs Tal encounters of this tournament video annotated:

Cheers, K

Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: Statistically there are 7 games in Fischer's "My 60 Memorable games" which are consecutively from this Candidates tournament of 1959!. In fact this is a greater sample for any tournament in the entire book and possibly this section could have been called "The Russians vs Fischer" :)

USA Championship 1963-4 gets 4 games

Stockholm 1962 gets 3 games

Leipzig Olympiad 1960 gets 4 games

Mar De Plata 1959 gets 3 games

So from this perhaps we can conclude this was Fischer's most memorable tournament during the period of the book.

Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: Chessreview has a round by round report of this tournament:

Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: I have created a video annotated playlist for this tournament:

Cheers, K

Feb-22-14  RookFile: Poor Keres. He takes 3 out of against Tal yet still doesn't win.
Premium Chessgames Member
  FSR: Tal's 4-0 against Fischer was key in allowing him to win and thereby advance to the world championship against Botvinnik (which he also won). Note that Tal won by 1.5 points ahead of Keres, who only scored 2-2 against Fischer.
Dec-19-14  suenteus po 147: I wonder if it irked Tal at all to finish the event with a minus score against Keres? Tal didn't have much love for postal chess, yet Keres was a longtime correspondence player and managed to win three of their four encounters. Eh, he was probably too happy to be going up against Botvinnik for the crown to give it any thought.
Dec-20-14  kellmano: <The hometown favorite, Yugoslavian grandmaster Gligoriæ, had played a disappointing tournament until he beat Smyslov in round 26 in just eighteen moves: Smyslov vs Gligoric, 1959. Needless to say, this created quite a stir. As Golombek later described the scene, "There came a full-throated roar from over 2,000 (spectators)... and it was quite impossible for the other players to continue their games>

is fantastic detail.

Premium Chessgames Member

<Expendable Asset: Bobby Fischer's very first clashes against THE best the chess world had to offer in 1959.>

Not exactly- he had already clashed with Tal, Gligoric, Petrosian, Benko, and Olafsson at the Portoroz Interzonal (1958).

It was indeed his first clash against Keres and Smyslov.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <jess> Fischer had defeated Keres at Zurich in the spring.
Premium Chessgames Member

<perfidious> Thanks for the correction-

<Zurich 19 May - 8 June 1959>

Zurich (1959)

Fischer vs Keres, 1959

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <jess> On a broader scale, <expendable>'s point is not so far off the mark: this tournament was of a vastly different character than even Portoroz in the sense that there were no relative outsiders, only front-line GMs.
Aug-05-15  SpiritedReposte: <unluckythirtyfive> I think it's safe to say Fischer peaked as a player a little bit after 1959, but Tal's performance is impressive here.
Feb-19-16  RookFile: If you take away Tal's 4-0 rout of Fischer it's actually a very good result. Profile of a Prodigy put it well when it said that Tal was not going to stopped by a boy, no matter how gifted.
May-18-16  diagonal: some photos from the 4th Candidate's tournament:
Sep-10-19  Nosnibor: <diagonal> These photographs are extracted from the original book entitled "Turnir Kandidata 1959 by Gligoric and Ragozin published in May 1960.This was written in Serbocroat.The book shown above the photograph was a later Russian edition and may well have also included the same photographs.
Jan-06-20  thegoodanarchist: From the description:

<According to Tal, "I was not much troubled by the effects of the operation, apart from in a purely mechanical sense; during a game I did not feel inclined to stroll about ..."5 This information may have come as a surprise to Harry Golombek, who commented after Round 5 that "it is an impressive sight to see him (Tal) get up after he has made what he obviously thinks is a winning move and pace around the table like a man-eating tiger."6 It may also have surprised Bobby Fischer, who complained after his first game with Tal that whenever he "rose from the board ... he'd begin talking >

I've heard that <The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal> (source 5) was not really written solely by Tal.

I once owned a copy of the book, and read it cover to cover. And indeed, some of it reads like Soviet propaganda. So the above "quote" by Tal might be fake.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: While Fischer would soon become known for his sartorial splendour, it is clear from the photographs taken in Yugoslavia that the transformation had not yet taken place.
Oct-01-21  suenteus po 147: While looking at Keres' games from this tournament, I noticed that he was +2 -5 against the Sicilian. Had he ever lost so badly to the Sicilian in any other event? Granted, most of the losses came from past and future world champions Fischer, Petrosian, Tal, and Smyslov. But one loss also to Olafsson! Also interesting is all four games against Fischer were decisive and black won in all four games. Keres couldn't win against Fischer's KID any better than his Sicilian, but Fischer didn't learn anything in his first Caro-Kann, Two Knights game against Keres because he lost to the same defense in their second match-up.
Oct-31-21  fabelhaft: Keres scoring +10-0=4 in 14 games with black in a field like this is amazing. He was in his mid 40s and had won AVRO more than 20 years earlier. The other participants were considerably younger and the event was quite exhausting. Keres was in the lead at half time but tired towards the end and was overtaken by the more than 20 years younger Tal in the second half.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <fabelhaft....The other participants were considerably younger and the event was quite exhausting....>

Smyslov was five years younger than Keres and Gligoric, seven; I suppose they would have qualified as 'considerably younger' in some circles.

Oct-31-21  fabelhaft: <Smyslov was five years younger and Gligoric, seven>

Indeed, even if the average age difference Keres vs others was 15 years and over 28 rounds that should have some effect. The field was also quite strong, with Keres facing Chessmetrics #1, #2 and #3.

Oct-31-21  fabelhaft: Candidates winners were fairly young, in the sequence Bronstein-Smyslov-Smyslov-Tal-Petrosian-Spassky-- Spassky-Fischer-Karpov 1950-74 the oldest winner was Smyslov at 34. Keres was 40, 43 and 46 when finishing second.

Korchnoi destroyed the list of fairly young Candidates winners. Common with Candidates winners in their 20s also lately though, like Kasparov, Short, Anand, Shirov, Leko, Carlsen, Karjakin, Caruana. Nepo is no extreme youth in that respect, winning the Candidates at 31 (the same age as Spassky the second time he won it) even if he feels comparatively young, maybe because he hasn’t been in the top ten for more than a couple of years.

Nov-14-21  PaulPetrovitj: The best way to experience the strength of these players is in my opinion to try to figure out the moves as if you are playing the game yourself in a tournament setting. Only afterwards should one study comments or check with a computer engine.
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