In The Grandmasters' Circle
In May of 1962, having made sure that the five Soviet grandmasters participating in the Candidates' Tournament arrived in Curasao, Stein joined masters and candidate masters in the latest championship of the Ukraine.
Everybody believed that he would easily take first place, but Gufeld gave him serious competition, and the newly minted grandmaster managed to secure a half point victory margin only in the last round. That was his second Ukrainian Championship title.
Thus he used (his tactic in all the competitions of the following year the Yugoslavia-USSR match (Games »15-16), the Third USSR Peoples Spartakiad. and the All-Union Semifinal in Sverdlovsk. He discovered, to his satisfaction, that the number of wins did not diminish, and he started to lose less! The draws grew in number but at the cost of possible earlier defeats!
The 31st Championship, held at the end of 1963 in Leningrad, was another qualification competition for the mext inter:onal. Stein, like before, could not gain his first victory for quite a while. The win would not come easy, and he did not force it. When an unfavorable position arose, he would defend it much more persistently than before. The result was amazing, eight draws in a row.
He did catch it from the media for his passivity. One famous reporter rhetorically asked, in a chess bulletin, whether Stein had been recently fond of checkers.'! Stein himself felt ill at ease in the "king-of-draws" robe. He knew that the problem had not been in his complacency, but rather in his failure to find the right form. What if he were not to find it until the very end of the tournament.' Then, farewell to any hope of entering the Interzonal! The road to reaching it was much more complicated than it was three years ago. This time it was enough to place among the first six at the initial level. However, that would only provide an entry into an intermediate stage, a zonal tournament, where a double round-robin would determine the fate of four Interzonal vacancies.
In the ninth round Stein finally beat A. Novopashin (Game »18). At last! From then on he was on a roll. As in Stockholm. Stein began overtaking one rival after another as if he was playing a leap frog game. After the sixteenth round he saw only Ratmir Holmov's back in front of him. They were to meet in the next round.
It was an extraordinary game. In the opening the pieces were disappearing from the board with lightning speed. Connoisseurs were unanimous in their judgment: a quick draw was the most likely outcome, as there was nothing to play with anymore!
Before this time the Lvov player would have had no interest in playing such a boring position; he would not even have known what to do. Now everyone saw a new Stein, a skillful master in technical positions. Even Holmov. a virtuoso of playing similar simple positions, being in a somewhat inferior ending, failed to solve all the problems created by his opponent.
They exchanged places, and before the final round Stein became the sole individual leader, half a point ahead of Spassky and Holmov. A
place among the first six guaranteed, he started thinking of his first gold medal for the USSR championship. He could achieve this goal once he defeated V. Bagirov in the last round with the white pieces.
How to Become the Country's Champion?
That evening he still was out of luck. Again, as in the old days, he couldn't control his nerves, and he played recklessly. It turned out that even a half point would have brought him the gold medal as both Spassky and Holmov drew their games.
Stein lost and Spassky and Holmov only just caught up with him. Thus, there was a chance once again of fighting for the championship's title in the play off held in Moscow at the beginning of 1964.
In the first round, Spassky, whom many considered to be the favorite to win, rushed to attack Stein's position. It turned out that the onslaught was not justified. Having repelled the threats. Stein assumed a counter offensive. He was just as skillful at this as he was at attacking. Soon the white King was under attack by the black pieces and Spassky was checkmated.
In the following round Spassky, with a great effort, drew his game against Holmov. Stein failed to win a similar endgame against Holmov as he had done a month before in Leningrad. He didn't properly analyze the adjourned position, and after resuming the game he selected a plan that led only to a draw.
In the second round Spassky did not succeed in taking revenge. Moreover, on his sixtieth move, the grandmaster from Lvov overlooked a big chance to win. Afterwards Spassky overwhelmed Holmov. Again everything was to be decided in the final round. For Stein, a draw against Holmov would suffice. Would he be able to achieve a draw with Black? If not. all three of them would have an equal amount of points and the playoff would have to be continued.
How many times had Stein been cursed in that final round? That evening, however, he played so confidently and efficiently that Holmov, who needed only a victory, couldn't handle the pressure, gambled, and came under a formidable attack. Having soberly evaluated the situation. Holmov offered a draw which Stein had no reason to refuse.
The media paid its due to the new USSR champion. The specialists did not fail to notice the changes in his playing style. This is what the sports journalist Viktor Vasiliev wrote in the tournament bulletin on the eve of the zonal championship: "With his play in the championship Stein completely overturned the opinion regarding him as a narrow specialist, a representative of a vividly expressed combinative trend."
"In the match Yugoslavia—USSR, held in the city of Rieka in June of 1963, according to the team's coaches, he not only played better than anyone else on his team but also displayed a really universal style. In the national championship Stein played freely and with great confidence at every- stage of the game, and showed no obviously vulnerable spots. Stein's performance in the championship and. probably morcso, in the playoffs with the other two winners, convincingly revealed the fact that the division of the world's top grandmasters just became more crowded."
Next on the list was a round-robin :ona! competition. Before it began, the USSR Chess Federation released Smyslov from playing in it, since they had given him one of the interzonal entries without any selection. This complicated Stein's task: only three vacancies remained for the seven participants. Following his tradition he flopped at the beginning of the tournament, five draws and a defeat from Gellcr. Stein had no right to blame himself for the loss; Gellcr played extremely well, and the decisive mistake of the Lvov player was not very obvious.
However that did not make things any easier. He finished the first round in fifth place with IVi points. Bronstcin had 44, Holmov 3VS. and Gellcr and Suetin 3. Two players were tied with Stein, and there was nobody behind him! As they say. there was no place to retreat. Realistically speaking, third place was a stone's throw away.
Two victories in a row at the beginning of the second round propelled him so quickly that even four draws at the end could not spoil the situation. Spassky finished brilliantly by scoring seven points, and took first place. On yielding half a point. Stein and Bronstcin also won vouchers to the Interzonal tournament to be held in Amsterdam.
Nerves of Steel and Power Tricks
In the tournament bulletin international master V. Panov wrote: "Leonid Stein's success is not a surprise. It is understandable and even
BWMld inevitable. It would have been senseless for the USSR champion not to get to the interzonal tournament! Most of all I liked two elegant 'power tricks' by the Lvov grandmaster. Stein began the country's championship with eight draws in a row, and only then won the gold medal! This rime he started the tonal tournament even more effectively: five draws and a defeat! And still he entered the leading trio. What self-control and confidence! It reminded me of a scene from 'Cyrano de Bergerac,' when the French poet was fencing with an arrogant marquis, improvising a ballad, and during the last stanza ran his enemy through. Exactly like Stein! Such nerves of steel and faith in himself will secure new achievements for Stein."
Stein was read these notes with a sad smile. They were flattering, though. And how beautifully written! But what about those iron nerves? He knew better than anyone that that was not true at all. Or "power tricks?" On the same grounds, a trick might be called a jump over a seven foot wall by a person chased by an angry dog. His finishing spurts were not a result of having a good time. He had paid a high price for them!
For instance, how could you put a marker on his first win at the zonal tournament ? In a clearly winning position Stein screwed up so much that Suetin could have forced a draw. What about the twelfth round draw with Bronstein? After the opening Stein had such a huge advantage that he could have won in several ways. He made a random choice and overlooked a brilliant counterplay of his opponent.
What about the next to the last round draw with Holmov, who was only half a point behind, playing White, and desperately fighting for a
Copyrighted Material Ixvmui Stein all of whom were dangerous rivals. For the first time Stein met the picturesque B. Larsen, whom many called the strongest foreign grandmaster after Fischer. The attitude towards Stein was also different. Two years prior to the event he was an unknown master who had to prove that his appearance in such eminent society was not accidental. Now he already had a great reputation. "USSR champion" sounded authoritative! Every"' one viewed him as a worthy candidate for an upscale battle.
And what about Stein.' He felt that everyone was looking at him with increased attention and he could not control his nerves. In the second round he had a promising position against Bronstcin. He could have consolidated it as he had proven himself capable of doing. However, he wanted to force the course of events, sacrificed a Knight, and in 3 couple of moves realized with horror that he had blundered. The second defeat followed immediately after the first one. It had been a while since Stein had defended a position as badly as he did in the fourth round against Portisch!
After eight rounds his total added up to only three and a half points! He finished miles apatt from the top six competitors, having the worst result among the Soviet quintet.
However Stein's result did not astonish anyone. Stein had accustomed everyone to such lousy beginnings. Now everyone was expecting his stormy, raging comeback.
And it came. One after another, Gligoric (Game »21), Benko, Evans (Game »22), Ivkov, and then Larsen (Game »23), the leader of the tournament, laid down their arms. This was the fifth consecutive victory for the USSR champion. All in all, starting with the ninth round, he scored eleven victories with only two draws out of thirteen games! Before the last round Stein had sixteen points. He was tied for third through fifth places with Spassky and Tal, half a point behind Smyslov and Larsen and half a point ahead of Bronstein. He had secured a place among the top six not only practically but also theoretically. His nearest pursuers, Ivkov and Portisch, lagged behind by one and a half points. Had it not been for the "rule of three," the USSR champion would have already been a candidate. He needed to outrun either Spassky or Tal.
"Rule of Three" Once More
In this dramatic situation Stein's nerves let him down once again. During the last round, playing White against master K. Darga from West Germany, he acted too academically, even with restraint, and by the 32nd
move agreed to a draw.
That evening he recalled Tartakover's favorite aphorism: "If you risk, you may lose, if you do not risk you have already lost." Stein did not gamble in the last game and lost, not the game but his participation in the candidates' tournament. Tal and Spassky risked and won. They caught up with Larsen and Smyslov and tied with them for first. Stein was only half a point behind and took fifth place. He was thrown by the wayside, as well as was Bronstein, who finished sixth. The remaining two visas were issued to Ivkov and Ponisch who were correspondingly seventh and eighth.
The injustice of the "rule of three" was so evident to everyone that the FIDE Congress (Wiesbaden, September 1965) abolished it. Stein was none the better for it. His second attempt at climbing Olympus was fruitless. Again he was successful at the chess board, but he had to retreat before the artificial barrier of extra chess arithmetic.
Still he had grounds for reproaching himself. Yes. he did play better in Amsterdam than in Stockholm. Nevertheless, he did not learn how to program himself to reveal his full potential in the starting rounds! And also, the notorious and fatal last round; Leonid had already mastered how not to lose in it, but had not learned how to win it when it was necessary.
Still the impression of the USSR champion's performance was strong. "Stein was just a fraction short of getting to the candidates' list," wrote the chief arbiter Salo Flohr. "With his energetic play he won everyone's affection."
Copyriflhted Material Leonid Slrin
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