For 24 days, from the end of September until last week, the high and austere Congress Hall of Munich's stately Deutsche Museum has been the scene of the world's biennial Chess Olympics—team play for the championship of the world. Rain fell in Munich on the opening day as 217 of the world's best players assembled from 36 nations. And rain was still falling some 1,400 games later when Russia, for the fourth consecutive time, won the tournament.
But hardly anybody talked about the foul weather. "It has been chess and nothing but chess in Congress Hall," wrote SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S John Mulliken. "It has been the greatest mass concentration of chess the world has ever seen."
The spectators who jammed the hall up to the ropes around the tables saw two contrasting styles of play—as different, say, as those of two football teams when one is devoted to the forward pass and the other to the old line plunge. The style of the world chess masters has long been methodical line plunging, exemplified at Munich by Russia's world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, by her ex-world champion Vassily Smyslov, and by this country's Samuel Reshevsky.
The new spirit was personified by 22-year-old Mikhail Tal, the current Russian champion. Tal, a small, dark, hawk-faced bundle of energy, looks something like a disheveled bullfighter or a hammered-down version of Pancho Gonzales. In the final-round matches he won more points than any of the other Russians, and his lightning moves with his crippled hand stunned Munich chess watchers with their audacity.
November 3, 1958
America's Sam Reshevsky kept a journal at Munich. Some extracts:
Oct. 1: "Botvinnik and Smyslov the least friendly and the least communicative of the Russians. When I meet them at a chess event, all I get is a shakehand."
Oct. 3: "The biggest surprise came in the second round when Duckstein of Austria beat Botvinnik. Duckstein is talented, but he is not considered among the world's leaders."
Oct. 7: "After Botvinnik lost he rested for two rounds. Then he played against France. A big lamp was placed at his table at his request. Other players comment at this: 'Is he going to see better now?' One says: 'What excuse will Botvinnik have if he should lose now?' The reply: 'Bad lamp.' "
Oct. 10: "The last qualifying round was extremely exciting. Colombia was playing Argentina. If their fourth board, Martin, won, they would reach the finals. Martin lost. Munoz, the reserve man, said he would have won. Martin, enraged, started a fist fight with Munoz in the playing hall. It was a good fight. Martin's glasses were shattered."
United States strategy called for holding tactics at the first two boards (Reshevsky and William Lombardy), where most world-famous chess masters would be met, while attacking on the third and fourth boards (Arthur Bisguier and Larry Evans, with Nicholas Rossolimo as alternate). Statistics indicated it paid off in the preliminaries. In the first round of the finals the United States met Russia. It was Saturday, and as Reshevsky, an orthodox Jew, could not play until after sundown, his game with Botvinnik was to start three hours after the others.
From Reshevsky's journal: Oct. 12: "Russia refused to allow me to start at 7 p.m. The great surprise of the tournament—the U.S. tied on all four boards, and that without my participation."
Midway in the finals, with Russia pulling ahead and the United States barely holding even with Yugoslavia and Argentina, the Americans decided to play all-out for wins on all four boards—"like a football team that has decided only to pass," Bisguier said. By this time nerves were getting tense. Driving a car lent by the Munich branch of Coca-Cola, Lombardy skidded on wet cobblestones, crashed and was badly stunned. It was two days before he could play again.
Moreover, Reshevsky, one of the most cautious tacticians in the history of chess, could hardly be called a forward passer. Sometimes the result succeeded by its novelty. Reshevsky wrote of his game with Alexander of England: "I saw a terrific move, and when I saw it, I felt an indescribable joy, and my whole body relaxed. I knew I was going to win, and I did."
But more often the passes failed. Chess literature contains no more vivid account of a master's reaction to defeat than Reshevsky's notes of his game with Unzicker of West Germany: "Suddenly he made an inobvious move I had completely overlooked. I began to perspire; my face turned red. My mind became a complete blank. I sat there a few moments gazing at the board. There was no way out, I finally reconciled myself to the fact that I was lost. I made a few more moves, than I resigned."
The result: Russia 34½-9½ (25 won, 19 drawn); Yugoslavia 29-15; Argentina 25½-18½ United States 24-20. Another result, from Reshevsky's notebook: "The Russians seem to be making an effort to be friendly." Lombardy's accident gave the Russian captain, Alexander Kotov, a chance for a gesture. In Moscow for a chess match some time ago Lombardy had played bridge with Kotov and, finding Kotov relatively weak, sent him a bridge book by Charles Goren, with an inscription: "Next time, I hope you play better." After the accident Kotov wrapped up the nearest chess book for Lombardy. "Next time," said the inscription, "I hope you drive better."