Cheating in Chess

Some form of chess cheating has been present for a long time. There are many different types of it. An early treatise on chess from around 15th or 16th century had instructions to sit at the board in such a way that the sun shines directly into the opponent’s eyes. Since those days, generally speaking, chess cheating has been sporadic, with some suspicion here and a bit of a scandal there, but it was never in a position to actually ruin the game. That is, until now.

 I for one was always very annoyed with people who get up from the table and discuss position and moves with their friends and others while the opponent is thinking. This happens a lot more than you may believe. And that is just one of many different ways of cheating in chess.

 With the advent of powerful computer chess engines cheating has become a much bigger threat. Last couple of years we had several well publicized cases of cheating or alleged cheating. The problem is that with every case which is blown all over the internet, and other media, the game of chess is tarnished whether the actual cheating took place or not. Then again maybe it’s a sign of the times. We have already had scandals with cheating in soccer, athletics, cycling etc.

 Many people believe the use of computer chess engines in postal play and online competition is common. I do not share that view. Some people do use illegal computer help but vast majority of chess players do not. In my opinion people who use computers to think for them, whether in an illegal manner or not, are likely to stunt their chess and their intellectual development. Obviously, there are some chess players who disagree with me. In order to win a prize, improve their rating and impress others they will use any means available.

 Most of the attention has been given to a few cases of alleged cheating in OTB play. Specifically the use of Houdini and other well known and easily available chess software. Using chess engines a weak or an average player can defeat a much stronger opponent. Lately there has been a lot of concern about computer-aided cheaters bordering on paranoia. With suspected cheating we should not allow the situation to evolve into a witch hunt with torches and pitchforks. It should be done in a better way. Yet the chess organizers and FIDE itself have not seen this type of cheating as a major problem so far.

 The cheaters ought to be caught and punished through some clever control and investigation not through fascist methods. I don’t want to see routine searches or even stripping people naked at the slightest doubt of cheating. Still, I cannot think of a good way to nip this thing in the bud before it develops into an even bigger problem.

 After all the recent hooplah we have a situation where if anybody manages a result that appears to be unlikely he or she might be accused of wrong doing. A player’s reputation can be irreparably damaged even if cleared of all charges. It has been proposed that a jamming device be used in tournament halls to block any kind of electronic communication with the outside world and prevent the cheaters getting machine advice from their cohorts. This seems like a good idea but I have a question or two about it.

 Would this mean an emergency call or SMS could not reach the TD? Would it interfere with the functioning of implanted heart pacemakers? What about if it only blocks connection with outside the hall but the culprit has tiny chess engine hidden on the body or inside it? And how do you make sure it blocks only the tournament hall and not further? Some tournaments are played in hotels etc which creates an obvious problem for the blocking idea. There are people who believe it is enough to compare the moves played in the game with the first, second and third move choices of the leading chess engines. I think this may be a good place to start but it is not enough and not necessarily conclusive. However, when a player who is say 2300 suddenly starts beating regularly 2600+ players this should be a cause for alarm.

 So, what is the solution? Actually, I worry there may not be an efficient and complete solution. With the encroachment of the ever more sophisticated technology it might be impossible to stop the tide. Then perhaps computer help will be allowed to all players in chess tournaments. Did not Gary Kasparov predict just that?

 Vojin Vujosevic.



Chess Teaching

I am not sure why people teach chess professionally. Maybe they have an urge to teach chess for whatever reason of their own? With some exceptions I doubt their main motivation is money although I’ve seen some whose only inspiration seemed to be “dirty lucre”. But you would think such people would find something else more profitable than chess and chess teaching. I had opportunities to do some chess teaching myself but I was always too busy with other things I had to do or wanted to do. Although I am well aware of other methods of teaching chess i.e. remotely via internet or phone etc I won’t be writing about that here.

In Canada and specifically Toronto there are quite a few chess players who actually make a living teaching chess. I do not think anything bad of people who do things for money but then money should be their main reward if not the only one. I do not propose we give them medals for their work unless of course they do something extraordinary.

I know of some average non-masters who are able to maintain a large number of chess pupils, mostly young ones, and make a good living from it. Some masters do the same, others don’t seem to be able to attract enough clientele. Some excellent players seem unable to find chess students for a variety of reasons. Artiom Samsonkin a baby-faced Toronto IM had so many students a couple of years ago he was forced to cease accepting new ones. I am not sure what he charges for a lesson but I guess it may be 50 dollars an hour.

There is another style of teaching, usually based in schools, where lessons are given to a bunch of kids. In my view this is okay but unlikely to produce really good or long lasting chess players who would keep interest for years to come.

One of  the chess teachers par excellence is Toronto FM Roman Pelts. He is and was able to attract not just kids who usually have anxious parents behind them but also adults. The latter are a mixed bag of former chess players, active chess players and total tyros. He has such great (chess) business acumen that some of his lectures, years ago, were attended by 2 or 3 hundred people ready to shell out 50 bucks for his lecture. The interesting thing was he hardly knew any English at the time.

This was before computers invaded chess in a big way. He told me once that he had a lot of business types who received regular individual instruction from him and reached a decent level of play. He urged them to join a chess club and/or enter an open tournament but they regularly refused. When asked why they said they were afraid of losing. I imagine that playing incognito on-line has solved this problem.

The other big chess teaching operation, actually the biggest and Canada-wide, is “Chess’n Math Association : Canada’s National Scholastic Chess Organization”. Among other things they organize chess teaching in schools, supply and pay their own teachers a wage, but I imagine collect a fee from the schools.

I spoke with the man in charge of the entire organization Mr. Larry Bevand of Montreal about what qualities his chess teachers are supposed to have. He said that number one was being able to keep the discipline in the class, number two to deal with kids parents successfully and only number three would be their chess knowledge and ability to transfer that to the kids. I also found out that a lot of kids would take up chess for a year or even just a six month term and then quit. When Larry enquired about that he found the parents wanted kids to experience chess and then the next school year they would move on to something else like music or what have you.

I was surprised to find some of the chess teachers knew next to nothing about chess and never played it themselves. Some did but were rather weak like 1500 rating or so but in class spoke to the beginners with great enthusiasm and as if they knew everything there is to know about chess leaving a lasting impression on those poor little devils.

Over the years I came across many interesting things about chess teaching in Canada and elsewhere. However, it is not the intention of this brief article to go into any depth on this complex matter. I will finish with a little tragi-comical event experienced by a friend of mine while he was trying to teach a large class of 12 year olds in Toronto.

A few minutes into the class the kids went wild. They stopped paying any attention to him or the lecture. They climbed on top of the benches, ran around, shouted at the top of their lungs etc. He did not know what to do. A teacher who was teaching a regular class next door came over to see what was going on. My friend was desperately hoping the man would somehow help him bring this pandemonium to an end. But the other guy just watched and listened for a while and then went back to his class. I do not know what happened after that but I suspect it may have been the end of chess class teaching for my friend.

Vojin Vujosevic.


If You Must Play Chess

GM Arnold Denker published a chess book with the above title in 1947. I do have a couple of his books but that one I have never come across. Must we play chess? The thing is people mostly play chess because they feel an urge to do so. Sometimes it is for fun, sometimes to prove how good one can be, sometimes because it has become one’s occupation and sometimes because there is nothing better to do. It is usually a nice way to waste time although there is a problem. To most people, chess is enjoyable while they are winning or at least winning their fair share. Losing at chess, on the other hand, may make one rather miserable. At a professional level chess does not appear to be much fun and it seems to me the happiest chess players are those who play chess only for enjoyment.

While we are on the subject of Arnold Denker I met the man a couple of times. First time at the Canadian Open in Ottawa in 1971. It was summertime and unusually hot. The air conditioning in the playing hall had broken down and it wasn’t just hot, it was like being in an oven. I and others, all awash in sweat, kept coming out for some air. Like most players present I was in a T-shirt. My opponent had a tie on and was all buttoned up but did not sweat at all or go out for some respite. He just sat there and stared at the board. He was an expert player tough to beat and had earned a reputation of being a cement artist due to his preference for blockaded positions. On the outside I mentioned the fact that my opponent does not sweat even in those extra hot conditions and someone told me: “You can’t trust a man who doesn’t sweat!” In the end I did manage to win the game although by a mere hair breadth.

While outside I kept running into legendary Arnold Denker. We spoke and he asked me where I was from etc. I mentioned the article I had read “Can a Dope Become a Denker?” He looked at me and said I was too young to remember that. In a way he was right, I read that old article a couple of years prior to our conversation.

There was another dimension to that. I always looked younger than I was. Way back while we lived and worked in Sweden my co-workers used to send me to fetch alcohol from a nearby liqueur store and invariably I had to show some identification to prove I was of age even though I was in my mid-twenties.

In 1974 I ran into Denker again at Medellin Chess Olympiad where only women teams competed. I was the captain of the Canadian ladies and Denker had the same role with the American team. GM Pal Benko led the Estados Unidos do Brasil, Portisch, not Lajos but his lookalike brother IM Ferenz Portisch, captained Hungary. Soviet Union was there with GM Aivar Gisplis and an oldie but goodie Aleksandr Konstantinopolsky. Yugoslavia was led by IM Rudolf Maric and a retired general, Bulgaria had with them well known masters Tsvetkov and Vladilen Popov, Holland’s captain was van Sheltinga. etc., and so on. But all that stuff should be matter for another article.

Denker and I spoke a few times and I mostly listened to his interesting ideas about chess and life. We traveled with our wives and some others to some local places of interest. Strangely, I do not remember much if anything of that trip any more except for our conversation.

Arnold told me he was a very, very rich man. “But”, he continued, “what good is all that money if you can’t get it.” In the context of this discussion “it” meant good food, luxuries and other products or services as he felt the World economy was soon to take a nose dive causing severe shortages. Actually, it turns out he may have been right after all as there are, in my humble opinion, many signs that a general economic break down is imminent and of course there has been a slow decline since our conversation as well. Mostly it is visible in the worsening of the quality of products and the decrease of the value of money.

Below we have: Cuatro Americanos del Norte – Three Canadians and One American.

Medellin, Colombia 1974 – Bernard, Arnold, Michel and Vojin. Photo: Smilja Vujosevic.

Denker also mentioned that at some point in the past when he was on the verge of really doing something great in chess, while being at the peak of his chess powers, he decided to make some money and went into business. Chess had to wait for a long time while “some money” turned into oodles of cash. This New Yorker apparently did rather well in business. Still, his wife Nina told us she felt Arnold regretted his decision to go into business and abandon chess. He in retrospect, she felt, was not happy about that decision. The Americans have a saying: “When in command, command!” And I guess about chess we can say: “If you must play chess, play chess!”

I have never been in the same league with the Denkers of this World, I am closer to the chess dopes I suppose. Many years ago I too made a similar decision and neglected and postponed playing chess. It is a moot point if that was a correct decision or not but probably it was. Mind you I don’t have Denker style piles of moolah. Today, if I had to give advice to young people I would recommend they all play chess but not for living. In my view, and I know I am not alone in this, what future there may have been in chess as a profession has been greatly influenced by computers or more precisely by chess software. I think somewhat negatively. So in conclusion: play chess if you must do so.

Vojin Vujosevic.


One Night in St. John’s or How the Hell Do You Improve Your Chess?

The year was 1970, we were in St. John’s, Newfoundland playing in the Canadian Open. I put the above question to GM Bent Larsen of Denmark at the banquet held toward the end of the tournament. The winner of this and many other events said: “Study the games of strong players annotated by strong players!” A sensible advice I suppose but the question today would be: “Since computer programs such as Rybka or Houdini play the strongest chess do we concentrate on their analysis of chess positions or what?”

Personally, I find computer chess and its analytical fruit a bit dull and difficult to digest. But that’s me. I also never liked trying to learn massive amounts of chess theory for the same reason. And maybe that’s the price of getting really good at our beloved game.

If memory serves, I met Larsen in person three times. In 1964 at the Belgrade International Tournament when I do not think I really spoke to him except to ask for an autograph. I was one of the guys manning the demonstration boards. In St. John’s, NFLD in 1970 where I took no picture of him but talked to him a few times. And finally in Montreal in 1974 at the Canadian Open where my wife took a picture of us with an instant Polaroid camera. Alas, that photo has deteriorated over time but I give it here anyway.

Vojin Vujosevic and Bent Larsen in Montreal 1974

Incidentally, Larsen won the St. John’s tournament ahead of GM Benko and GM Browne. Here is one of Larsen’s wins over a direct rival for the first place.

We lived a couple of years in Malmoe, Sweden, in a region known as Skåne or Scania if you will. Copenhagen, Denmark and Larsen were just across the Oresund Strait. I had a job that made me go to Copenhagen maybe a total of 800 times but of course never met Larsen on those trips. While different from Danish the language spoken in Skåne the southernmost province of Gamla Svedala is close enough to Danish to be understood. Having found out about us the great Danish GM in his speech at the banquet said: “If I deliver this speech in Danish there is someone here who would understand me.” He also mentioned his next tournament was the U.S. Open. Somebody asked: “Who is going to win it?” And the reply by always supremely confident Dane: “There is no question about it. I will.” And he did too. He was winning a lot of games and a lot of tournaments in those days.

There was a number of good chess players present, mostly Canadian. I needed to win over Canadian master Walter Dobrich in the last round to be in the money. Somewhere along the way I sacked an exchange, I was on the black side of the French Defence, and managed to place a powerful Knight on e4. It was an interesting and possibly winning position but I could not find a clear win. The time had come to leave for Argentia and the ferryboat to our connection in Nova Scotia and the train for Toronto. The ferry left but the game just went on. Here I still may or may not have something:

Position after 46 moves:

W. Dobrich vs. V. Vujosevic – White to move.

During the game Larsen came and watched my game for a while. He said to my wife Smilja that I was apparently taking a long time to decide whether I wanted to win the game or not. Hours past and we were still playing. Walter Dobrich’s plane left the airport at Gander for Toronto but we were still playing this blasted game in St. John’s. In the end it was a draw by mutual exhaustion. My wife Smilja Vujosevic, on the other hand, managed to be top woman in the tourney outscoring England’s Dinah Dobson and Brazil’s Ruth Cardoso both well known internationally. So Smilja got a prize and a trophy. Quite an accomplishment for a total amateur with zero knowledge of theory.

In many ways it was a great time. Late summer in Newfoundland was pleasant, we were much younger then, the food tasted great and the drinks were divine. We discovered there for the first time Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant and Colonel Sanders chicken prepared with his secret recipe. With the Mountain Dew this meal tasted heavenly after an evening round. St. John’s as well as Newfoundland is a magic place beautiful and pleasant. It was poor. I heard a joke about a 100 megaton nuclear bomb exploding in the center of Newfoundland and causing $24 damage.  The island is the size of Japan but hosts only about 600.000 inhabitants or so. I always wanted to go back for a real vacation but somehow never was able to do so. St. John’s has a great natural harbour, famous Signal Hill above it, large ponds suddenly pop out of nowhere as you walk the streets. Or was it the effect of good Newfoundland screech?

We started the tournament badly because we did not sleep prior to the first round. Smilja and I were tired from the long trip from Toronto mostly by train but also ferryboat and a private car. Man, this is Canada. We are talking some serious space here: the distance from Toronto to St John’s NFLD is 2987 kilometres or 1851 miles. Our destination was the Welcome Hotel on the Main Street but a well meaning local persuaded us it was a bad place ” a dive for homosexuals”, a serious accusation in those days, and created an image of a place where drunks had regular knife fights in the hall. So he took us to a highly recommended safe place, a third rate flophouse, as we could not afford Holiday Inn where the tournament was held. The furniture was broken, our room’s door could not be closed, the bathroom was in the hall and we worried. Paranoia set in and even though there was no danger we hardly slept. Next day we transferred to the Welcome Hotel which turned out to be just fine. 

One evening my friend David was in a group that was doing some analysis after a round and felt hungry but had no money to buy a large pizza in a pizza parlour across the street. A master from Montreal volunteered to go and get some. They were very hopeful but the fellow was not coming back for a long time. David said later that the master said there was no pizza but David detected a strong pepperoni pizza smell wafting slowly in all directions from the guy. You can’t trust chess players, can you?

Anyway, back to the question.

Bobby Fischer’s bizarre advice, on how to improve at chess comes to mind. He answered the question with: “Lesson number 1: Play over all the variations in the MCO! Lesson number 2: Repeat lesson number 1!” Modern Chess Openings by Walter Korn was a huge compendium of “everything you wanted to know about chess openings but were afraid to ask.” We own a copy but never seriously looked at it.

Something like that was actually done by serious chess players in the recent past. They would endlessly study openings and games from books and magazines, specialize in some lines and play them. In those days there were no laptops and desktops, no digital cameras, no cell phones, no internet and an occasional dinosaur roamed the Earth. Their work on openings was never done. Young players with more time, more health and energy, perhaps more funds etc would eventually overcome and push out the older generation. The old geezers would fade away sooner or later and complain about the young whipper-snappers who don’t really understand chess but have memorized all the theory sometimes way into the ending! Now I read how those former whipper-snappers complain about, mostly younger players, who have memorized oodles of computer analysis and win because of those damn computers. But in reality it is the same thing as before.

Naturally, older, sorry, mature chess players are more likely to have health problems, to be dogged by lack of funds, to worry about feeding themselves and their families, to be so tired from the daily struggle for survival that they don’t have sufficient energy, stamina, ambition, and so on one needs to succeed in chess or anything.

I heard an interesting statement from IM Lawrence Day. He answered my question with: “You play best when your confidence matches your ability!” Hmm, maybe true but how do you actually improve? He once wrote that he observed most players work on what are already their strong points and neglect their weaknesses. Well, this sounds right. I have myself thought that what decides your rating is your biggest weakness not your good points. So if you work on two or three of your biggest weaknesses this should really help you improve your play and your rating. Assuming you have the time, the ambition, etc.

On the other hand, while accepting all of the advice above I have always thought that the decisive factor to really succeed in chess, assuming talent, ambition, a lot of free time, drive to succeed, good health and so on is actually – support. Nobody can succeed alone. It is a myth. Not even Bobby Fischer. He, as we know had initially a lot of support from his sister and mother. Much later from others such as GM Larry Evans and GM Bill Lombardy. And before that from his friend and sparring partner John W. Collins. John wrote in his book “My Seven Chess Prodigies” that he played Bobby Fischer at least 50,000 5-minute games! And he was by no means the only sparring partner of young Bobby Fischer. Also RJF was a valued guest of John and his sister and received a lot of tasty free meals as well as advice and moral support.

Bobby was a monomaniac and such people don’t need much advice on how to improve. They know how. Bobby was also helped by a variety of other people. Yugoslav and Serbian champions Svetozar Gligoric and Nikola Karaklajic come to mind. Same can be said for Dimitrije Bjelica. There were also folks like Henry Kissinger who saved Fischer’s 1972 match with Spassky by talking Bobby into playing in Reykjavik and provided, if I am not mistaken, a military jet to fly him over to Iceland when he was late for the match. There were also New York chess book store owner Albrecht Buschke, IM Anthony Saidy, Colonel Ed Edmonson, Frank Brady and many others. And Pal Benko gave up his berth in the Candidates for Bobby. Plus, we don’t even know about all the helpers he had initially when still unknown.

 And what about all the people who contributed money such as British millionaire Jim Slater in 1972 and numerous other people who helped Bobby in many ways? Succeeding alone in a big way? Give me a break!

Fischer’s lawyer and chess master Fred Cramer had arranged for Bobby, then a newly crowned chess king, a series of simuls and lectures, doing TV commercials etc – basically a two-year tour of a number of US cities for a total take of about 20 million dollars. Do you have any idea of what the buying power of 20 million dollars was back then? Probably like $500 million now. And our prima donna refused to participate! It was rumoured Bobby was bothered by other people or companies making even more money than he did. If he were to make a bundle and they went broke in the process I imagine he would have found it more to his liking.

In reality for Bobby it was never about money. His appetite for large chess prizes came from a belief that he and chess itself would be valued and recognized by all if there was a lot of money in the offing. Botvinnik once wrote that Fischer, a product of American businesslike society, was business oriented and therefore demanded more money. In my humble opinion nothing could be further from the truth. To RJF a sum of $100.000 was a big pile of money. A million dollars was another pile of money only bigger.

So, again, how do you improve at chess? It’s quite simple actually. Some day I will write a book on the subject – How to Learn to Play Top Notch Chess in 1004 Easy Lessons!

 All, you have to do to really succeed at the Royal Game is:

Make sure you have a lot of family and friend support. Start at an extremely early age. Use books, magazines, computers, CDs and DVDs on chess, best chess software, play a lot both over the board and on line. It is helpful if you have sponsors with deep pockets and a lot of teachers, sparring partners, publicity, support from your chess association and even your country. Not to mention a fanatical will to win, good health, strong central nervous system, and an ability to work day in and day out. Once you manage all of the above you have it made.

 Vojin Vujosevic.


Svetozar Gligoric, the Twentieth Century Man

When I was a teenager I got interested in chess mainly because a neighbour and a close friend started playing some casual chess with other friends. Soon after I got into it he gave me, what I now consider to be, a bad advice. He said: “If Gligoric were to teach you chess he could teach you to play better but he could not teach you to play like he does!” This advice somehow had a negative influence on me and my interest in chess.

Gligoric was a chess demigod and if even he could not teach me to be a great player what hope was there for me? Now I believe that if Gligoric was a good teacher and he really wanted to help and if I, or another pupil, had talent, he could not only teach one to play like he did, he could teach his protégé to play better than himself! That is the hallmark of a really good teacher.

Recently Gligoric, a much older Gligoric, or Gliga as we all called him, published a CD with the music he composed titled “How I Survived the Twentieth Century.” In the accompanying booklet and numerous interviews and videos Gliga described his life and how he managed to stay alive and thrive all those years. On several occasions he avoided death by chance. One example was while he, a mere youngster, was fighting the German Army as a member of the partisans in Yugoslav mountains. He was setting a machine gun into position when an enemy sniper fired at him from a neighbouring hill. At that point a young comrade who was sitting next to Gligoric rose to his feet in front of Gliga and was hit by a bullet right between the eyes.

Gligoric lived and went on to be a famous chess player and a celebrity, for a while the best player outside the Soviet Union, so strong in fact, that the best Soviet players were eager to avoid playing him if possible. Unbeknown to him there was another serious threat to his life that he found out about only recently even though this happened in 1957 while he was visiting the United States of America. You see, an organization of émigrés was unhappy with such visitors who made Yugoslav communist regime look good and decided to assassinate him. Luckily for Gliga there was an important man among them who prevented it. When told about this Gligoric said: “It’s good they did not do it. I was really playing great at the time.”

Gligoric could have lived anywhere he wanted but he never left the capital of Serbia Belgrade for very long. He was married but had no children. He was a successful reporter but seldom wrote about chess in Yugoslav papers. True, he authored a lot of chess books and articles for chess magazines. I believe his forte was political commentary although he himself appeared to be apolitical.

After his death a number of articles about him were published. I liked best the one by Vladan Dinic in Belgrade paper “Svedok” (Witness) and another one written by a well known chess beauty and a member of Serbian Ladies’ team at the Chess Olympiad 2012 in Istanbul. That would be Maria Monakova from Moscow and Belgrade. The trouble with the best articles about Gligoric, and especially videos, some of them lengthy and very informative, is that while they are available they are almost never in English. In Mr. Dinic’s article we read many new interesting details about our hero including that GM Ljubojevic broke down and cried when he heard the sad news about Gliga’s passing on to that Big Chess Board in the sky.

During my high school days I was living in the city of Split on the Adriatic coast. One day around 1960 Gliga came to town for a simul. We were sitting, some 40 of us, I hear echoes of “Ali Gliga and the forty wannabes”, in a big rectangle. The great hall of the Army House in Split was full with spectators as I took my seat. When Gliga was about to enter there was a hush for a moment and then a thunderous applause. The strong players from the leading chess club “Mornar” (Sailor) sat in a group and we were writing our moves down. Myself among them, some ten or so of us led by soon to be World Junior Champion now GM Bojan Kurajica. Gliga of course knew him and concentrated on him and the rest of us who were serious players. Kurajica drew his game and so did I. There were a couple of other draws and two wins by relatively weaker players. Interestingly enough both of them were sergeants in the Yugoslav Army. They sat somewhere in the middle and did not play theory or write their moves down. They were strong enough but unlike us they did not attract the attention of the “beast”.

When the simul started and Gliga made the first move alternating 1. e4 and 1. d4 all of us laughed loudly. The thing was Gliga was literally running around the hall making quick moves while sprinting! This slowed down after the first few moves. Obviously, he wanted to save some time especially since the number of boards was high. It has occurred to me that a number of his opponents were likely to make mistakes early on especially at that tempo.

My problem was not so much Gligoric who of course was a formidable threat. It was my friend and fan don Ivan Cvitanovic a catholic priest. I am not a catholic but we were good friends from the chess club and sometimes discussed politics and religion, philosophy and poetry or played chess and ping-pong. Talk about a two fisted Christianity. My friend was standing behind me, furious that I did not accept his advice and did not play the moves he suggested. And as a punishment he poked me now and then in the ribs with his huge hard fist. I was sore for days.

Going back to Gliga’s beginnings we must wonder what Gligoric’s chess career might have been had not the WW2 interfered with it. He also lost his parents early but was lucky to be accepted into a Belgrade Doctor Miljanic family becoming his de facto number 4 son. They all moved out of Belgrade as the good doctor anticipated Hitler would attack Yugoslavia, who broke an agreement of friendship with Germany, without bothering with such nonsense as a formal war declaration. Days after Miljanic clan left the city Luftwaffe bombarded Belgrade, did a lot of damage, 16,000 people were killed, many buildings destroyed including the Serbian National Library which had myriads of books including many priceless and irreplaceable books and manuscripts from middle ages etc. Gliga might have easily been killed if they stayed.

In our vast archive of chess books and stuff I happened to find an unpublished game of Gligoric from before the big War. He became a chess master I believe when he was 16 years old. In those days only one person in all of Yugoslavia could become a master each year. There was this yearly tournament of the best non master players, in mid 1930’s Yugoslavia did not have more than 8 or 10 masters in the entire country, and only one of the “amateurs” would graduate to the master level each year.

The following game was played in a training (!) tournament in Belgrade in 1938.

I found this score sheet in a book I acquired many years ago in a Belgrade bookstore. I do not know if the moves were recorded in Gliga’s own handwriting or not. Here only a fragment is shown:

Gligoric – Dolgorukov Score Sheet

Here are the actual moves of the game:

Gliga played in the style that anticipated Petrosian and slowly strangled the opponent.

This Dolgorukov could have been an important man. Incidentally, that was the surname of the uncles of Peter the Great. Dolgorukovs were always members of high level Russian nobility. After the Russian revolution there was a flood of Russian refugees pouring out of the new Soviet state in all directions. Some 120,000 came to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia whose kings were related to the Russian Tsars as well as the British Royal House. Most of them settled in and around Belgrade. This somewhat oriental city was transformed by this huge infusion of mostly well educated professionals. There were a lot of doctors, professors, scientists, writers, military officers, nobles, chess players, painters, composers, musicians, actors, ballet dancers, opera singers etc, etc – among them a daughter of Mikhail Chigorin as well. Belgrade soon became a special city in many ways thanks to this beneficial influence. Unfortunately, as the Nazi threat was growing stronger, most of these people moved on further away to the West. Those who stayed had to endure four years of ugly war and fascist occupation and then had a very bad time when the Red Army entered the occupied Yugoslavia at the end of the war. Stalin did not take kindly to rejection.

One more thing about Gliga: a few years ago he was our guest at our summer residence at the outskirts of Belgrade that unfortunately our family does not have any more. He was brought by a mutual friend for dinner and an unforgettable evening. My wife Smilja prepared a few special things and Gliga brought a bottle of wine. While the wine was cooling in the fridge we drank cold beer. Said Gligoric: “I drink like a fish.” Amazingly, after beers and wine, not to mention his advanced age, he showed no signs of being affected by alcohol at all. The man must have had the proverbial hollow leg.

Gliga proved to be a fascinating conversationalist on a wide range of subjects. I found we agreed on many things. I wish I could say we were friends but that would be pushing it. I met Gligoric a number of times before this dinner but, not surprisingly, he did not remember me. True we were at one time members of the same chess club, the famous Belgrade “Partizan”, but he and most other GMs never came. What surprised me was he apparently did not remember my wife who played in the same team as he did in the national championships many times. True, that was a long time ago and we all had changed. I also remember his wife Dana, whom I did not know, kept asking my future wife to come and visit. Smilja wanted to but didn’t do it as she could not reciprocate due to abject poverty.

Stupidly, I did not take any photos, partly because I did not want to bother the great man and ruin a perfect evening and partly because I thought we would have other opportunities. Regrettably, we did not. In fact I never met him in person again.

So in conclusion: Rest in Peace, Gliga, you were great and so was your century!

Vojin Vujosevic.