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Tal - Gligoric Candidates Quarterfinal 1968
Compiled by WCC Editing Project

Tal qualified for this event from his victory in the Tal - Larsen Candidates Semifinal (1965). Gligoric qualified from his shared 3rd finish in the Sousse Interzonal (1967). 1 Tal and Gligoric now squared off in a best of ten games match,2 hosted by the palatial Belgrade Trade Union Hall.3 Lev Abramov was the arbiter.4

Belgrade, Yugoslavia 22 April - 14 May 19685

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Pts. Tal, Mikhail 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 5½ Gligoric, Svetozar 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 0 3½

Trade Union Hall photo:

Tal began preparation in January 1968 with an appearance at Hoogovens (1968). Tal reported that "to put it mildly, I was not in my best form."6 In fact, he hardly disgraced himself, sharing 2nd with Vlastimil Hort and Lajos Portisch, behind Viktor Korchnoi, ahead of Florin Gheorghiu, Stevan Ciric, Aleksandar Matanovic and Borislav Ivkov. 7 Tal then began intensive opening preparation with his seconds, Alexander Koblents and Gennadi Sosonko. 8 They worked especially hard on Gligoric's pet Smyslov Defence in the Ruy Lopez. Sosonko came up with the novel idea of offering a rook sacrifice in this line,8 which Tal referred to as his "secret weapon."3

Gligoric had embarked on a long term preparatory plan as early as 1967, when he employed a new second, Dragoljub Velimirovic, to whip him into shape for the Sousse Interzonal (1967). According to Gligoric, "Velimirovic treated me like a novice in international chess. He forced me to break my regular habits and to spend 2-3 hours each morning in preparation for the game in the afternoon."9 In March 1968 Gligoric scored +3 -0 =7 in a training match against Jan Hein Donner, 10 who later complained that he would never again play the Yugoslav grandmaster, because he couldn't beat him and he couldn't understand his playing style.11

In game one Tal decided to open 1.e4 in order to test the "secret weapon." Gligoric obliged by playing the Smyslov Defence, and using only three minutes, Tal rattled off the first 21 moves in the variation. Tal then uncorked the surprise, 22.Ra3?!

click for larger view

If Gligoric took the bait by snapping off the rook with his bishop, white would quickly obtain a won game. After a 40 minute think, Gligoric declined the poison rook and found the correct continuation. Tal later tried to force the issue and blundered, allowing Gligoric to take a 1-0 lead.12

Game two was adjourned in an equal position. On resumption of play the next day, Tal and Gligoric agreed they would rather attend the France-Yugoslavia soccer match, and agreed to a draw.13 In game three Tal opened with 1.d4, hoping to surprise Gligoric with a prepared line against his favorite King's Indian. Tal tried 9.Nd5, a strategem recently favored by Bent Larsen. Upon playing it, however, Tal suddenly remembered he had already adopted this variation against Ivkov in a 1961 tournament Gligoric had also attended. Indeed, Gligoric seemed familiar with the position and easily found a drawing line.13

Game four resulted in a short draw in the same variation of the Nimzo-Indian Tal had played in game two, and Game five was drawn in the same Smyslov variation of the Ruy Lopez that had been played in game one. Some of the Belgrade press now began to criticize the "monotony of the duel,"9 featuring "the same variations again and again."14 This unsettled Gligoric, who was also feeling harried by a constant stream of well-meaning visitors to his house, which happened to be across the street from the playing hall. At the beginning of game six, Gligoric said he surprised himself by playing 3.Nf3, "which I hadn't even looked at. That spontaneous decision knocked me off balance."14 Tal noticed his opponent playing "inconsistently, making first a safe move, and then an active one," and capitalized on this desultory play to level the score 1-1.15 Tal seized on this shift in momentum to win the next game as well, taking the lead for the first time in the match.

Despite his ill fortunes, Gligoric had not given up. He had worked hard with Velimirovic to prepare a winning line against the same Nimzo-Indian set up Tal had played twice already. Tal, however, had his own surprise ready: "my sense of danger came into operation... In the eighth game I decided to avoid repeating the variation..."15 Gligoric never got the chance to try his new idea. Game nine was adjourned with advantage to Tal. Overnight, famed violinist David Oistrakh joined Tal and Koblents to prepare an 18 move winning variation, which was played out with "lightning speed" the next day.16

Tal had eliminated Gligoric 3-1, and would now go on to play the Korchnoi - Tal Candidates Semifinal (1968).


1 Bozidar Kazic, "International Championship Chess" (Pitman 1974), p.194

2 Hilary Thomas, "Complete Games of Mikhail Tal 1967-1973" (Batsford 1979), p.23

3 Mikhail Tal, "The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal" (Cadogan 1997), p.340

4 Bulletin "Chess Moscow" No. 12, 1968

5 Alexander Khalifman, ed. "Mikhail Tal Games 1963-1972" (Chess Stars 1995), pp.203-209. All game dates are from this source.

6 Tal, p.339

7 Thomas, p.19

8 "Chess Library Encyclopedia" "Mikhail Tal Chapter 2- Matches, Tournaments, Rivals Part 2"

9 Svetozar Gligoric, "I Play Against Pieces" Biljana and Zoran Hic, transl. (Batsford 2002), p.11

10 Di Felice, "Chess Results 1968-1970" (McFarland 2013), p.96

11 David Levy, "The Chess of Gligoric- Svetozar Gligoric's Chess Career 1945-1970" (World Publishing 1972), p.160

12 Tal, pp.340-341

13 Tal, p.341

14 Gligoric, "Analysing by the riverside with Bobby Fischer." In "Chess in Translation- Russian chess news and interviews in English"

15 Tal, p.342

16. Tal, pp.342-343

Original collection by User: Hesam7; Introduction written by User: WCC Editing Project

Game One- 22 April
Tal vs Gligoric, 1968 
(C93) Ruy Lopez, Closed, Smyslov Defense, 46 moves, 0-1

Game Two- 24 April
Gligoric vs Tal, 1968 
(E53) Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3, 41 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Three- 26 April
Tal vs Gligoric, 1968 
(E90) King's Indian, 12 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Four- 28 April
Gligoric vs Tal, 1968 
(E53) Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3, 17 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Five- 2 May
Tal vs Gligoric, 1968 
(C93) Ruy Lopez, Closed, Smyslov Defense, 25 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Six- 4 May
Gligoric vs Tal, 1968 
(E11) Bogo-Indian Defense, 34 moves, 0-1

Game Seven- 7 May
Tal vs Gligoric, 1968 
(C91) Ruy Lopez, Closed, 66 moves, 1-0

Game Eight- 11 May
Gligoric vs Tal, 1968 
(E56) Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3, Main line with 7...Nc6, 27 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Nine- 14 May
Tal vs Gligoric, 1968 
(C93) Ruy Lopez, Closed, Smyslov Defense, 63 moves, 1-0

9 games

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