The Chess World in 1969
50 Years Ago
Memories. In the summer of 1969, though I was not yet a tournament player — I had discovered the chess world only some months before during my first year in high school — I spent my summer vacation learning everything I could about the fascinating world of chess, its history of championships and its superstar champions.
There was no internet at the time, and I had not yet learned that Montreal had a number of chess clubs (that ‘discovery’ would only come the following year). Though this learning process was a bit slow — all I had were a few chess magazines and encyclopedias — everything was new and exciting.
Reflecting back on this period of ‘discoveries’, I think that my younger readers would be surprised to realize how much the chess world has changed since then. So let me try to take you back in time to the chess world in 1969. Enjoy!
Spassky becomes 10th World Champion
The thirty-two year old Russian Boris Spassky became the 10th World Champion on June 17 of this summer, defeating 40 year old Armenian Tigran Petrosian in Moscow by a score of 12.5 to 10.5. Curiously, Petrosian lost his title on his birthday!
The match was the best of 24 games, as was usual in those times, and had started on the 14th of April. The rules were that if the score was tied after 24 games then the title holder would remain World Champion. Tie breaks were unheard of! Everything would be decided with one single time control.
Today such a long match would be unthinkable, but in those days the title of World Champion was very prestigious to the Soviet Union and held great propaganda value.
It was tradition to play 3 games a week and have adjournments. The rate of play was 40 moves in 2.5 hours each. Then the game would be adjourned, and the rate of play would then become 16 moves for each additional hour of play.
Karpov becomes 10th World Jr. Champion
Another Russian was crowned World Champion in the summer of 1969: 18-year old Anatoly Karpov. Held in Stockholm between the 10th and 30th of August, Karpov won the ‘finals’ by a whopping margin of 3 points.
‘Toya’, as he is affectionately called, had arrived. Even so, who could have guessed that in a mere 6 years he would be crowned the 12th World Champion? By this time Karpov had already started working with Russian coach Grandmaster Semyon Furman, who would be Karpov’s closest collaborator until untimely death in 1978 at age 57.
Furman and Karpov returning to Moscow, September 1, 1969
Curiously, Karpov was only the 2nd Russian to win the World Junior Championship up to that time (the World Junior Championship was first held in 1951), the first being Boris Spassky (!) who won the title in 1955 at Antwerp.
Spassky playing the Spaniard Miguel Farree at Antwerp, 1955
In those days the World Junior Championship was held every two years, unlike today when it is organized annually. Another big difference from today was the format used: a series of all-play-all qualification groups, with the top two finishers in each group meeting in the finals.
In those days ‘Swiss Opens’ were almost never heard of. Notable players who failed to qualify for the 1969 finals: Kenneth Rogoff, Eugene Torre, Giorgios Makropoulos, Evgeny Ermenkov, Alexander Sznapik, Juan Bellon and Jean-Luc Seret. (You can read more about this HERE.)
While the young Karpov needed some luck to qualify for the finals, his play in the finals was very impressive. Witness his game against Ulf Andersson. No doubt one of Karpov’s very best games ever!
It was published in virtually every magazine in the world at the time, and little did anyone realize that Karpov’s boa-constrictor style of play would influence future generations of up and coming stars!
Karpov,A – Andersson,U
Stockholm 20.8.1969 (1-0)
Fischer’s ’60 Memorable Games’ published!
In January of 1969 Fischer’s long awaited /long delayed book of his best games was finally published. Entitled “My 60 Memorable Games” and published by Simon & Schuster, the book was an immediate success. I got my hands on it towards the end of the year, when my high school library acquired it and proudly added it to school’s growing chess collection.
No doubt this book is one of the most widely read chess books in history, translated into dozens of languages. How many copies have been published? This is hard to say since almost no public information exists, but also because there have been many copyright violations. In Russia, for example.
I would estimate that atleast several millions of copies have been sold since first published. I would also assume that most serious players in the past 50 years have read the book, while the Fischer-Boom of the post Reykjavik-1972 period must have seen astronomical sales.
I personally have gone thru 3 or 4 editions as the soft-cover editions are not made for constant wear and tear. The copy I currently have in my library is held together with tape! I also have a number of pdf copies, as well as in pgn.
Fischer continues to boycott FIDE in 1969!
While on the topic of Bobby Fischer, the year 1969 saw the 26-year old American genius continue his self-imposed exile of all FIDE events, which began after he walked out of the Sousse Interzonal in protest. During an 18 month period — which lasted until early 1970 when he agreed to participate in the USSR vs World match in Belgrade — Fischer played absolutely no tournament chess!
Chess journalists were beginning to compare Fischer to the legendary Paul Morphy of the 19th century, who – upon his triumphant return from Europe at age 21 – retired from chess and would never play again!
Paul Morphy, circa 1859, has been called the ‘Pride and Sorrow of Chess’
Bobby did, however, agree to play one game — in the traditional Manhatten Chess Club versus Marshal Chess Club match in late November of 1968 — and what a game it was! This game was voted the 2nd best played game of the entire year!
Saidy,A – Fischer,R
Who was FIDE president in 1969?
By 1969 the Swedish lawyer Folke Rogard was already into his 20th year (!) as FIDE president, having been first elected in 1949. Born in 1899, Rogard was only the 2nd FIDE president. By all general accounts, he was a very competent administrator and helped FIDE to grow into a respectable organization in the difficult post second World War period.
At the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal. Korchnoi, Andersson (city official), Rogard and Bobby Fischer sharing a story.
During Rogard’s presidency FIDE saw many positive developments:
- The ‘Grandmaster‘ title was officially introduced in 1950
- The ‘Zonal‘ structure was established, as well as a formal qualification system leading to the World Championship.
- The Olympiad was re-established in 1950 and organized as a two year cycle.
- The World Junior Championship was established in 1951 and also organized as a two year cycle.
- Rogard also helped prepare the way for the introduction of the ELO rating system in 1970
A tired and weary Rogard would step down at age 71, in 1970, but instead of recommending his replacement a young and dynamic man, he supported Max Euwe, a man about to turn 70 years old himself! In my opinion, Rogard’s only ‘blunder’ during his 21 year presidency!
What did FIDE use before the ELO system?
Many chess players today would find strange that in 1969 FIDE had not yet officially introduced the ELO rating system. That would only come in the following year, 1970. Up until and including 1969, FIDE used a ‘ranking’ system, incorporating Grandmasters and International Masters.
Tournaments were classified according to the number of GM’s and IM’s participating. Open tournaments did not really exist in Europe at that time, and so the norm was the all-play-all round robbin.
And the Grandmaster title was EXTREMELY hard to get in those days (remember, FIDE only introduced this title at the beginning of the 1950’s) and so there were very few grandmasters.
In all of 1968 FIDE awarded only 1 GM title! To be awarded the GM title, a player needed to score 55% against a minimum of 8 grandmasters, and a staggering 85% against the rest!
But the system worked excellently, as do almost all ‘ranking’ systems. Even with the introduction of the ELO system in 1970 the number of GM titles was low.
That all changed in the mid-1970’s when Max Euwe, fearing for FIDE’s finances because of the fast ebbing Fischer-Boom following Fischer’s shocking withdrawal from chess, decided to try to ‘commercialize’ chess and use the Grandmaster title as a sort of commodity. All in the name of ‘promotion’ of chess, of course! (cough! cough!)
Euwe needed and got the Soviet Union’s support for his plans
The chess world would never be the same. Within years the number of GM’s increased several fold, especially since Euwe needed to lower the qualification standards.
Curiously, Karpov would later openly regret his support of Euwe’s ambitions, but the genie was already out of the bottle. The rest is history: today there are almost 2,000 grandmasters in the world and FIDE continues to rake in the money with ever new titles being introduced all the time! When you consider the FIDE trainer titles, the arbiter titles, etc etc, that exist today, FIDE must have made (and continues to make) millions of dollars to help fatten its bank accounts and pay for its ‘promotion’ of chess.
In 1969 you could still smoke during a game!
That is right! Today it is hard to believe, but in those days the ‘Smokers’ had rights. Maybe too many, because when I started to play in tournament chess the following year in Montreal (1970), more than just a few of my adult opponents would use cigarette smoke as a game strategy when things got unpleasant for them. And we could not complain to the arbiter!
I think it was only around 1989 that FIDE really started to get tough on smoking during the game. I remember being approached by Misha Tal before the tournament in Marseilles (1989) and he asked me if it was OK for him to smoke in our game? I agreed, out of respect, and he reciprocated by giving me a fast draw when the day came to actually sit down and play.
Apparently Tal asked all of his opponents, and the arbiter allowed him to smoke. Unfortunately, Misha Tal died three summers later.
Miss August 1969 PlayBoy Magazine!
Penny James graced the cover of the August 1969 edition of PlayBoy magazine. Born in Colorado in 1942, Penny was ‘discovered’ at age 20 when she won the Miss Colorado beauty contest, and in rapid succession appeared not less than 5 times on the cover of PlayBoy before the end of the decade!
An Ad from the August PlayBoy Magazine!
Back in the good old days when chess was still chess, and men were not ashamed of using hair spray! Great photo…too bad about the board being set up incorrectly (wrong corner!). But, hey, this still happens today more than we would like to admit.
Canadian Chess in 1969!
Between August 10th and August 23, in Pointe-Claire (Montreal/Quebec), the Canadian Zonal was held. At the same time a ‘Reserves’ tournament was organzied. Cross tables below.
Fate would have it that Duncan Suttles and Zvonko Vranesic tied for first with 13 points each. A short but hotly disputed match was later held at Hart House (Toronto) and Suttles won 2.5 to 1.5 (only 1 draw), earning Suttles the right to play in the interzonal that would be held in Majorca towards the end of 1970 (which Bobby Fischer — finally coming back to chess –would win by a zillion points enroute to his conquest of the World title in 1972).
Below is the game from the Suttles-Vranesic match (1969) featured in the photo above. Vranesic won with the Black pieces! Unfortunately, I am not sure the number of the game.
Suttles – Vranesic
Hart House, Toronto 1969