Friday, August 5, 2011

Long Live the Chess King


Long Live the Chess King
Posted: 7/22/11 03:12 PM ET

Chess sometimes becomes a beautiful game even in the eyes of those who don't play it. Find a charming town, bring back its glorious past, turn people into chess pieces, invite kids and a jester and you can evoke magical moments.

Every year since 2005, the picturesque Slovak town of Banska Stiavnica stages a game of living chess. It is a powerful, almost mystical, spectacle with human chess pieces dressed into medieval costumes and armed with spears and swords. They are moving on a big chessboard to the sound of drums and trumpets.

On Saturday, July 16, they were recreating a live blindfold game I was playing against the legendary Hungarian grandmaster Lajos Portisch. The top-rated American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura became Stiavnica's king last year, defeating GM Sergei Movsesian. Who would get the royal crown this year?

Banska Stiavnica is nestled in the mountains and surrounded by beautiful lakes. Several churches and castles add to the charm of the Slovak town proclaimed by UNESCO as one of its world heritage sites. It was an important place already in the 13th century, rich in gold and silver, with 40,000 inhabitants. Only 10,000 people live there today. Many of them participated in the chess festivities.

The day of the game began with a costume parade through the town's main street to the Holy Trinity square, where most of the action took place. In the afternoon Portisch and I played simultaneous exhibitions there.

It was in January 1986 when we played a similar exhibition in Italy. Our own encounters over the chessboard go further back. We met the first time at the 1963 Zonal tournament in Halle that Portisch won ahead of Bent Larsen and Bora Ivkov. This grandmaster trio made it even to the Candidates matches. Throughout his career, Portisch was a formidable opponent to anybody and in 1981 was rated as world's number two behind Anatoly Karpov.

During the next five decades Portisch and I fought in two dozen games. He has dominated me in the world-class tournaments, but the advantage tilted slightly in my favor during chess olympiads when we faced each other on the top board. My victory in Thessaloniki in 1984 helped the U.S. team to win the bronze medals just half a point ahead of Hungary. We never played a blindfold game against each other.

Slovakia witnessed a world record in the blindfold simultaneous play in January 1921 in the town of Kosice when another Hungarian champion, Guyla Breyer (1893-1921), played 25 opponents at the same time. Breyer was an immensely talented player and theoretician. His knight leap backward (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8. c3 0-0 9.h3 Nb8) still gives fits to the proponents of the Spanish game. The defense was used by world-top players from Boris Spassky to Magnus Carlsen.

Full article and beautiful pictures here.