In Memoriam: Svetozar Gligorić (1923 – 2012)
“This is very sad indeed. He was a lovely man, full of humanity and humility. One of the most gentlemanly people one could hope to meet.” –IM David Levy
Svetozar Gligorić (Serbian Cyrillic: Светозар Глигорић), also known affectionately as Gligo, or Gliga, was born in Belgrade on February 2, 1923.
Gligorić has made his multi-faceted mark on the chess world as a true gentleman, legendary Grandmaster, top-ten player, artist, noteworthy theorist, eloquent commentator, acclaimed journalist (his official profession), as well as a tournament organizer and arbiter. He was the best Yugoslav and Serbian chess player of all time, having won a record 12 national championships and 12 medals in Chess Olympiads starting with Gold in Dubrovnik 1950 (1 gold, 6 silver, 5 bronze).
One of the world’s greatest chess players outside the Soviet Union during three decades after WWII, he played “in more than 70 tournaments and taking about 20 first prizes. Along with Fischer, Larsen, Portisch, and a small handful of others he was one of the few non-Russians who could hold his own against the Soviet Empire at the height of its power, notching numerous wins against their top GMs. He played in seven FIDE Interzonals and was a Candidate three times, in 1952, 1958, and 1968.” Taylor Kingston.
“Gligorić was patrician and gentlemanly in his bearing, but was a dynamo at the chess board.” Dylan Loeb McClain, New York Times.
He first became famous in 1947 for his first place in Warsaw where he defeated Vasily Smyslov. Gliga had seven wins and two draws for a score of 8/9, with two points ahead of Smyslov, Boleslavsky and Pachman.
Another example of his playing strength was the story of how at the 1958 Munich Olympiad both Botvinnik and Smyslov declined to play him White on top board in the USSR-Yugoslavia match (as the former World champion Petrosian once told Gligorić, Soviets had a meeting before the match and Keres was delegated and had to play Gliga).
In Munich, Gliga was in excellent form scoring 12/15, or 80% (+9 =6 -0), and won special prize for best individual result at board 1 ahead of the then World champion Mikhail Botvinnik.
In his prime, there was hardly a player that he did not beat. In a career spanning over 50 years, he has played every world champion from Euwe to Kasparov. Gligorić’s tally against World champions is the following:
- Max Euwe +2 =5
- Mikhail Botvinnik +2 -2 = 5,
- Vasily Smyslov +5 -7 = 21,
- Tigran Petrosian +7 -10 = 10,
- Mikhail Tal +2 -11 = 19,
- Boris Spassky -5 = 15,
- Bobby Fischer +4 -6 = 6,
- Anatoly Karpov -4 = 6,
- Garry Kasparov -3
- Vishy Anand =1
Gligoric was Gligoric right from his first steps at the game. There was respect for the laws of Strategy, the ability to punish those opponents who broke these laws, superior endgame technique, a dislike of passive positions… –Tal
Gligorich’s games , in my opinion, rank as some of the most beautiful examples of how chess should be played! When I am asked by chess amateurs, interested in improving the level of their play, what player’s games they should study, I have never hesitated in recommending the games of Svetozar Gligorich!–Canadian GM Kevin Spraggett
I play against pieces
As well as being recognised as one of the best to ever play the game, Gligorić has also written several books including “The match of the century” between Russia’s Boris Spassky and American icon Bobby Fischer, and “I Play Against Pieces,” a book with his 105 selected games published in Moscow, for the respected Russian series “Famous chess players of the world”, with a printing of 100,000 copies in 1981.
The second edition, in his native Serbo-Croatian, was published in 1989 and the English edition by Batsford in 2002.
“Gligorić’s thoroughly objective approach to chess, always characterized by great clarity and logic, is unmistakable in this acclaimed volume, filled with instructive tactics and strategies. It’s a wealth of model games–including classic wins against world champions and other top players,” Amazon.com.
As Gliga put it, “the unusual title [of I play against pieces] referred to chess as an art and a clean struggle of ideas, thereby trying to ignore the less dignified influence of psychology and personal conflicts.”
You have lived a long life, seen the world, felt many emotions. What would you identify as the essence of life?
The most important things are love and creativity. The harmony between man and woman, as in music, as in life. –Gligorić in an interview by GM Smbat Lputian
Gligorić also wrote “Fischer Random Chess.” It is a variant of chess, also known as Chess960, invented and advocated by Bobby Fischer. There has long been talk of the death of chess, that it would one day be ‘played out’, but with the use of powerful computer programs and databases in recent years, this fear is being taken very seriously. The FRC employs the same board and pieces as standard chess, but the starting position of the pieces along the players’ home ranks is randomized.
As a long-time friend of Bobby, Gliga was thus ideally suited to explain the rules and theories of Fischer random chess. He doesn’t think that classical chess will ever die out, but FRC will never replace classical chess either, and will exist in parallel with it:
“Capablanca feared the spectre of the “draw death” of chess, while Fischer feared the rampant expansion of theory. Perhaps a time will come when grandmasters can’t think up anything new in the opening, but then the struggle’s centre of gravity will shift to the middlegame, and the endgame. To a degree we can already observe a situation like that now.”
Love for Music before Chess?
At the end of his life, Gligorić “returned to his first love”: music. Around 2003, he decided to study music theory, harmony and composition and learn to play piano. He also learned to use PC programs for music composition and at some point he started to compose his own music.
“I’ll tell you how it started. When I was 81 I began to take lessons in musical harmony. I studied for 2 years until my professor told me: ‘You don’t need to take any more lessons from me, you know harmony better than my students who are graduates of the musical academy.’”
No doubt chess and music and harmony have something in common, as both involve combinations.
In February 2011, he presented in Belgrade his first music CD, a life-affirming “How I survived the 20th century – Life is All We Have”, consisting of twelve compositions in different genres, like blues, jazz, ballads and even rap (one track from the CD is here, Melancholy in disguise).
On the left, you see the cover of the CD showing Gliga with his wife in Dubrovnik during the Chess Olympiad in 1950 and during a tournament in Havana in 1960s with Che intently watching.
Gliga has had a special relationship with Fischer. Their friendship began when Bobby arrived to Yugoslavia for the Portorož Interzonal Tournament in 1958 and it lasted for about 40 years.
“I considered it my duty to take care of Bobby; he was 15, while I was 35. We spent a lot of time together. Once we were by the river, swimming and sunbathing. I was a good swimmer but Bobby tried to outswim me. And then sulked when he didn’t succeed. I told him: ‘Bobby, you need to train for about 20 years – and then you’ll beat me!’”
Gliga was one of few who could, if necessary, counter Bobby about his most intimate beliefs with authority, without Bobby getting offended. Everything that was coming from Gliga Bobby was respecting and receiving open-heartedly. At the same time, Gliga remained loyal to Bobby, they maintained a close contact all the time (not that common for Bobby and people around him) and stayed friends till the very end of the American genius. During the two decades of his self-isolation Gliga was one of the very few people who were in regular touch with him. (Another Yugoslav earned Fischer’s trust, Nenad Nesh Stanković; Nesh was Fischer’s personal secretary and assisted him during the 1992 Revenge Match with Spassky having spent a continuous year and a half with Fischer, from July 1992 through September 1993; see his interview A Little bit about Everything on the Most TV Novi Sad; Nesh is the author of “The greatest secret of Bobby Fischer“)
When organisation was under way for the 1992 “Revenge Match of the 20th Century” between Spassky and Fischer, Bobby only agreed to negotiations on the condition that Gligorić was present. He even refused to leave the plane if Gliga wasn’t at the steps.
“During Bobby’s stay in my country he asked me to be in his company all the time, and we went to Sveti Stefan [a luxury resort on the coast of Montenegro] together. He had plenty of time at his disposal and since he had not played chess for 20 years he probably felt uncertain about whether he had maintained his previous form. He therefore asked me to do him a favour: to play ten secret training games against him, with his new chess clock (now valid in the whole chess world), which was due to be used in the Spassky match.
The games were played in Sveti Stefan, while we were waiting for Spassky’s arrival. Bobby and I had two bungalows close to each other, and he was in the best one, where Sophia Loren had stayed during an earlier visit. As far as I recall, we played our ten games there, one per day.”
Here is one of the training games they played in Sveti Stefan:
Нека почива у миру. May he Rest in Peace and be well remembered…