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Budapest Interzonal Playoff Match

Lajos Portisch4/6(+2 -0 =4)[games]
John Nunn2/6(+0 -2 =4)[games]
* Chess Event Description
Budapest Interzonal Playoff (1987)

In addition to five seeded players from the previous cycle, three players from the Subotica Interzonal (1987), three players from the Szirak Interzonal (1987) and three players from the Zagreb Interzonal (1987) would advance to the seven Candidates eighthfinal matches in 1988. In Szirák, Lajos Portisch and John Nunn had shared third place, and a playoff match between them was arranged. (1) This took place in Budapest, about 50 km SW of Szirák, 6-7 weeks after the Interzonal. It was best of 6 games, and in case of 3-3, Portisch would advance due to his better Interzonal tiebreak score. (1, 2) The match was sponsored by Hungaroil, Budapest Bank, Chemolimpex, Coopinvest and others, (3) so that though the FIDE rules did not require prize money for a playoff match, (4) the winner would get 140,000, and the loser 60,000 Hungarian forints. If 3-3, the players would get 100,000 forints each, (5) i. e. around 8,500 USD in 2019 value. According to Nunn, the conditions were much better than at Szirák. He was even given all the hotel room keys and invited to pick the room he liked best. (4) Many people took a keen interest. In addition to the television coverage, magazine and newspaper writers attended, and even the hotel staff were watching the games. (4)

The playing venue was the Mátyás Hall of the Budapest Hilton Hotel, (5) where Game 1 was set to start at 3 pm on September 26th. (6) The game was preceded by a brief opening ceremony. (7) Portisch, who had Istvan Csom as his helper, (6) turned up alone, while Nunn was accompanied by his second Murray Chandler. (7) Nunn was offered a sparkling wine (to laughter from the audience), but he took a vitamin-rich refreshment instead. The players were welcomed by György Némedi, Director of the hotel, Sándor Szerényi, President of the Hungarian Chess Federation, and Tamas Tibor, Vice President of ÁISH (State Youth and Sports Institution). The photographers were on the podium for some minutes, until the chief arbiter Tibor Florian started the clock at 3 pm. (7) Both players were opening experts. According to Max Pam, Portisch was perhaps the best prepared player in the world, except from Garry Kasparov. "He has said he spends at least six hours per day on opening theory." (8) Portisch's knowledge became apparent already in Game 1, where Nunn surprised by playing his first ever Grünfeld Defense. (4, 7) After 1.c4 g6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.Rc1 (not played by Portisch since Portisch vs Sax, 1972 and Portisch vs W Schmidt, 1972) dxc4 6.e4 c5 7.dxc5 Qa5 8.Bxc4 O-O,

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Nunn was prepared for 9.f3, but Portisch played a new move, 9.e5!, after which 9...Nfd7 10.Nf3 Nxc5 11.O-O Nc6 12.Nd5 Be6 13.b4! Nxb4 14.Nxe7+ Kh8 15.Bd2 Rad8 was not a good enough answer and he soon went down. (4, 9) On Game 2, Baruch Harold Wood noted that "Nunn's vast range of book titles testifies to his modern opening repertoire and theoretical grasp, so Portisch revives an old chestnut, the Berlin Defence." (10) Nunn was better prepared this time, and gained the advantage. He could have more or less decided the game in his favor on move 21 (21.Qg5), but was still better, until he chose to give an exchange by

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27.Rxd6? Now, after 27...Bf8 28.Rxe6 fxe6 29.Nxe6 Bd6, Portisch was better. The game was adjourned when Portisch was winning (7) (apparently on move 54), and set to be finished the following day, (7) but Nunn resigned and Game 3 was played instead. (11) Down 0-2, Nunn was smiling as he sat down behind the black pieces. His opponent's match experience and thorough preparation was perhaps too much for him. After 26 minutes, he offered the draw (on move 14), which Portisch accepted. (11) The Englishman now had to win the next game. A draw would send him into the cold. Two days later, he arrived first for Game 4, grimly determined. (12) Portisch appeared a little later. The game was televised and the arbiter started the clock at exactly 3 pm. (12) In a main line of the Caro-Kann (the Classical Variation), Portisch made a new and solid move (14...Be7), and Nunn could not break through. Portisch had one chance to improve (with 24...e5), but he preferred to play it safe. With a time control of 2 hours each for the first 40 moves, Nunn had 5 minutes left on move 35. The draw was agreed on move 53. (12) At 3-1, Portisch was a Candidate for the eighth time in his career.

The last two games were to be played as part of the prize-winning competition. (12) Sponsors and chess fans were probably more delighted about this than the players. Game 5 eerily resembled Game 3, with a draw agreed after 13 moves and half an hour. (13) The prize money forints could now have been distributed, but Game 6 was played two days later. It was witnessed by János Kádár, (14) the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, who stayed for five hours, showing that he too was a big chess fan. (4) The game lasted no less than 68 moves and ended in a draw. There is a photo at showing Kádár and some other notables watching the post-game analysis. (15)

Budapest, Hungary, 26 Sep - 3 Oct 1987

Age Elo* 1 2 3 4 5 6 Portisch 50 2615 1 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 4 Nunn 32 2585 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2

Portisch advanced to the Portisch - Vaganian Candidates Eighthfinal (1988), as announced by the FIDE headquarters in Lucerne on October 5th. (16) Portisch and Nunn next played in Reggio Emilia (1987/88) and Hastings (1987/88), respectively.

Match book: Hungaroil sakk világbajnok-jelölti páros mérkõzés. Hungarian Hydrogen Industry Research Institute, Budapest. 20 pp. (


(1) Mark Weeks' website (
(2) Gunnar Johansson in Tidskrift för Schack, October 1987, p. 284 (
(3) MTVA Archívum photo (Game 1) (
(4) John Nunn in British Chess Magazine, December 1987, p. 514
(5) Nógrád, 26 September 1987, p. 11 ( )
(6) Pest Megyei Hírlap, 26 September 1987, p. 11 ( )
(7) Pest Megyei Hírlap, 28 September 1987, p. 7 ( )
(8) Max Pam in Trouw, 17 October 1987, p. 31 (
(9) Robert Eugene Byrne in New York Times, 3 January 1988 (
(10) Baruch Harold Wood in CHESS Magazine, Christmas 1987, p. 308
(11) Pest Megyei Hírlap, 29 September 1987, p. 7 ( )
(12) Somogyi Néplap, 1 October 1987, p. 7 ( )
(13) Délmagyarország, 2 October 1987, p. 6 ( )
(14) Dunántúli Napló, 4 October 1987, p. 2 ( )
(15) Sakkozó és operaénekes - Portisch Lajos 80 éves. In M4 Sport's website, 4 April 2017 (
(16) AP report in De Volkskrant, 6 October 1987, p. 11 (

*FIDE rating list July 1987 (

Original collection: Game Collection: Budapest Interzonal Playoff 1987 by User: Tabanus. Game dates (from the Hungarian newspapers at ): September 26, 27, 28, 30, October 1, 3. Game 5 was probably identical to Game 3, and is not included in CG database. Thanks to User: Paint My Dragon for information from British Chess Magazine and CHESS Magazine, and to User: OhioChessFan and User: Annie K. for helpful suggestions.

 page 1 of 1; 5 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Portisch vs Nunn 1-0281987Budapest Interzonal PlayoffD82 Grunfeld, 4.Bf4
2. Nunn vs Portisch 0-1531987Budapest Interzonal PlayoffC65 Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense
3. Portisch vs Nunn ½-½131987Budapest Interzonal PlayoffE60 King's Indian Defense
4. Nunn vs Portisch ½-½531987Budapest Interzonal PlayoffB18 Caro-Kann, Classical
5. Nunn vs Portisch ½-½681987Budapest Interzonal PlayoffC65 Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: A fascinating intro from User: Tabanus. It gives an idea of how very popular chess is in Hungary.

Hungarians are intelligent, beautiful people living in a beautiful and historic country. Chess has always been popular there.

The players must have been delighted to play in the Budapest Hilton. I have no idea what it is like but it <MUST> be ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐, as is Tabanus's introduction.

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: Note that games 3 and 5 were identical, so game 5 is not actually given.

In the table above game 5 is actually game 6. That is why Nunn appears to have two whites in a row.

Feb-13-22  spingo: <Grand Playoff Budapest Hilton Hotel>.

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