Svetozar Gligoric, 89; chess grandmaster never won world championship


NEW YORK — Svetozar Gligoric — a chess grandmaster who was considered one of the greatest players of the 20th century but who never won the world championship, in one instance losing a chance to play for the title by executing a fatally impulsive move in response to critics who found his match boring — died Tuesday in Belgrade. He was 89.

The World Chess Federation confirmed the death on its website.

Mr. Gligoric was patrician and gentlemanly in his bearing, but was a dynamo at the chess board and was one of the most successful and respected players in the world in the 1950s and ’60s, winning dozens of tournaments.


He won the Yugoslavian championship a record 12 times from 1947 to 1971 and played for Yugoslavia in the biennial Chess Olympiad 15 times, leading the team to the gold medal in 1950, ahead of the powerful Soviets.

He was among the finalists to challenge the world champion three times, but came up short. In the 1953 tournament in Switzerland to pick the challenger, he finished 13th out of 15 players. Six years later, in Yugoslavia, he tied with Bobby Fischer for fifth out of eight players.

And in 1968, after the format had been changed to a series of matches, he lost in the quarterfinals to Mikhail Tal, a former world champion. Mr. Gligoric took the early lead in that match, which was held in Belgrade, where he lived for most of his life. But, as he later wrote, he unwisely switched strategies in the sixth game and lost after reading criticism in newspapers that the games were boring. That proved to be the turning point in the match, and he went on to lose two more games.

Mr. Gligoric’s tournament opponents included Max Euwe, who in 1935 became the fifth world champion, and Viswanathan Anand, the current titleholder. Among the champions he beat, all at least twice, were Euwe, Tal, Fischer, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, and Tigran Petrosian.


Mr. Gligoric favored ambitious but risky openings. He pioneered and championed systems of moves, some of which are named for him, in many popular openings.

Unlike some players — notably Tal, who tried to unsettle their opponents — Mr. Gligoric avoided psychological tactics. He adhered to the game’s fundamental principles and said he never worried about which opponent he would face. That assertion was echoed in the title of his autobiography, ‘‘I Play Against Pieces’’ (2002).

Svetozar Gligoric was born in Belgrade, in what is now Serbia. His father, Dragoje, was poor and died when Mr. Gligoric was 9. Mr. Gligoric learned to play chess when he was 11 and made his first set of pieces by carving wine corks. He was a master by 16, which was then considered young to accomplish such a feat.

When he was 17, his mother, Ljubica, died, and Mr. Gligoric, an only child, was taken in by Niko Miljanic, a professor who knew him through chess.

During World War II, Mr. Gligoric joined guerrilla fighters battling the Axis powers and was eventually promoted to captain in the resistance forces.

He resumed his chess career after the war, became an international master in 1950, and, a year later, earned the game’s highest title, grandmaster. The Yugoslavian government declared him the country’s best athlete of 1958.

Mr. Gligoric supplemented his chess earnings by writing chess books. He also wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, although not always about chess. His best-known book was ‘‘Fischer vs. Spassky: The Chess Match of the Century,’’ about the 1972 world championship in Reykjavik, Iceland. The book, published by Simon & Schuster in 1973, has sold more than 400,000 copies.


Mr. Gligoric’s wife of 47 years, Danica, died in 1994.

In David Levy’s book ‘‘Gligoric’s Best Games 1945-1970’’ (1972), he quoted Tal as saying that Mr. Gligoric ‘‘has his favorite sort of positions, and when he manages to get them, he creates textbook examples of how to handle them.’’

‘‘Nor does it matter what the class of opposition is when he has such positions,’’ Tal added. ‘‘The people who have been on the receiving end in such cases form a picture gallery of the kings of chess.’’

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