Pursuits: Chess

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The Independent Culture
THE SOVIET dominance of world chess was at its greatest in the Fifties: so it's not unexpected but most sad to have to report on the death on Tuesday from cancer of another of their old war horses - that most fiery charger, Efim Petrovich Geller.

Born on 2 March 1925 in Odessa in the Ukraine, Geller graduated in political economy from Odessa University but always made chess his career. I played him four times in the first half of the Eighties in four reasonably peaceful draws and so never appreciated at first hand the immense energy which he packed in his prime - or just how great a player he was. Indeed, according to Mikhail Tal, it was only his late start, due to the war, in learning the game, that prevented him from scaling even greater heights.

Geller came third equal, no less, in his first attempt at the mighty Soviet Championship in 1949. Over the years, he had many fine results in this most demanding of events though he ran out the winner on just two occasions: in 1955 after a play-off match with Vassily Smyslov and, amazingly, 24 years later in 1979 when at 54 he was the oldest ever Soviet champion.

For nearly two decades he was one of the mainstays of the world championship cycle and fought his way to three Candidates tournaments in 1953, 1956 and 1962 - and when, following Bobby Fischer's allegations of Soviet collusion at Curacao 1962, the system was changed to matches - in several of these right up to 1971. A noted theoretican, he subsequently acted as a second to Spassky and Karpov in their world championship campaigns.

Geller gathered many first prizes in non-championship events ending up with 11 first or first equal out of 30 strong tournaments between 1952 and 1980. But it's by the macho memory of their results against each other that chess players most judge each other: and in this Geller was quite outstanding. Against world champions he had serious plus scores aginst Botvinnik, Smyslov, Petrosian and (+5 - 3) Fischer; was level with Karpov and Euwe; and behind only against Spassky and Tal.

This is how he defeated Bobby Fischer in just 23 moves as Black - a defeat sufficiently engaging that Fischer included it in his My 60 Memorable Games. Later Fischer showed that he could have won with 20.Qf4!! threatening 21.Rh5 followed by 22.Rxh7+ 23.Qf5+ and mate. But in such a battle you can't control everything. 21...Ba4! was a fine resource. At the end Black wins a rook due to the threat of 24...Ba2+!.

White: Bobby Fischer

Black: Efim Geller

Skopje 1967

Sicilian Sozin

1.e4 c5

2.Nf3 d6

3.d4 cxd4

4.Nxd4 Nf6

5.Nc3 Nc6

6.Bc4 e6

7.Be3 Be7

8.Bb3 0-0

9.Qe2 Qa5

10.0-0-0 Nxd4

11.Bxd4 Bd7

12.Kb1 Bc6

13.f4 Rad8

14.Rhf1 b5

15.f5 b4

16.fxe6 bxc3

17.exf7+ Kh8

18.Rf5 Qb4

19.Qf1 Nxe4

20.a3 Qb7

21.Qf4 Ba4

22.Qg4 Bf6

23.Rxf6 Bxb3

White resigns