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50 years ago, the USSR was battling the Rest of the World

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50 years ago, the USSR was battling the rest of the World

These days mark a half-century since the legendary ‘USSR v. Rest of the World‘ Match that took place in Belgrade (Yugoslavia).  The event ran from 29th March to 4th April 1970. 

The clash is regarded as one of the greatest chess events of all time, with virtually all the top players in the world taking part.  The elusive Bobby Fischer was in the line-up, who at the time had not played competitive chess for almost two years, but somehow was persuaded to play. Not only that: he accepted to play on the second board – probably not feeling confident enough to face Boris Spassky on board one after such a long period of inactivity.

World Champion Spassky watching Fischer vs. Petrosian during the USSR v Rest of the World. Photo credit Russian National Public Library for Science and Technology.
World Champion Spassky watching Fischer vs. Petrosian during the USSR v Rest of the World. Photo credit Russian National Public Library for Science and Technology.

“The possibility of such an event had been spoken about since the time of the famous USSR v. USA radio match of 1945”, writes the historian Douglas Griffin who, in collaboration with Chess Informant, is working on an expanded 50th Anniversary Edition of the tournament book.  “But the idea did not begin to take concrete shape until March of 1969 when M. Molerović of the Serbian Chess Union asked whether it would be possible to organise a match under the aegis of FIDE”.

Dom Sindikata

The Assembly Hall of the House of Trade Unions (“Dom Sindikata“) was the venue for the event. The other nickname for the venue was “the Belgrade Olympia”. This venue would also host the Candidates Final match between Spassky and Korchnoi several years later.

Spectators packed the 1,600 seating hall during the entire week, and reports from that time mention an audience of more than 2,000 spectators. Sports Illustrated adds the detail that more than 60 foreign correspondents attended the event.

The teams consisted of ten players, plus two reserves, who played over the distance of 4 rounds:

Fischer facing Petrosian in the USSR v Rest of the World Match. Photo credit: Vasily Egorov/TASS.
Fischer facing Petrosian in the USSR v Rest of the World Match. Photo credit: Vasily Egorov/TASS.

USSR v Rest of the World

1 Boris SpasskyBent Larsen

2 Tigran PetrosianRobert Fischer

3 Viktor KorchnoiLajos Portisch

4 Lev PolugaevskyVlastimil Hort

5 Efim GellerSvetozar Gligoric

6 Vasily SmyslovSamuel Reshevsky

7 Mark TaimanovWolfgang Uhlmann

8 Mikhail BotvinnikMilan Matulovic

9 Mikhail TalMiguel Najdorf

10 Paul KeresBorislav Ivkov

  Reserve players:  

  Leonid Stein & Fridrik Olafsson for “Rest of the World”.

  David Bronstein & Klaus Viktor Darga for the USSR.

World Champions in the team

The two formidable teams had no less than six players who had been or would become, World Champions!  Five of them in the Soviet squad, and just one (the future champion!) on the Western side.

The Soviets were the overall favourites, but the “Rest of the World” team performed very well on the top boards, with Fischer defeating Petrosian by 3-1 (two victories followed by two draws). It seemed that the match would end on a 20-20 tie, but Lajos Portisch let Viktor Korchnoi slip way with a perpetual check when he was an exchange up and with several good moves at his disposal. The result of this game upset Fischer so much that he complained to the team captain, Max Euwe.

The USSR won the event by a slender margin of 20½ – 19½. This was a result that probably left both sides a bit disappointed. A similar match-up was organised a couple of times in later years, but never again at the same level. The 1970 match left us incredible jewels, like Spassky’s demolition of Larsen’s pet opening 1.b3 in just 17 moves!

Ben Larsen v Boris Spassky

Another interesting game was Fischer against Petrosian.

Bobby Fischer v Tigran Petrosian

Links

Text and story from FIDE.

Games from the USSR v Rest of the World.