Three Ex-World Champions lined up at Biel in 1976

Dragutin Šahović, winner of the International Open Master Tournament with 224 participants, played during the Interzonal held at Biel in 1976

Biel was three times hosting city of a FIDE Interzonal Tournament (IZT), in 1976 (round robin), 1985 (round robin) and in 1993 (swiss system, including 28 of the Elo Top 50). The Interzonals at Biel were won in 1976 by Bent Larsen (Denmark, later living with his wife in Argentina), in 1985 by armenian Rafael Vaganian (that time Soviet Union), and lastly in 1993 by belarusian Boris Gelfand (then BLR, today playing for Israel).

The Interzonal in 1976 at Biel (the other Interzonal had taken place at Manila, as noted further below) with 20 strong players was incredible tough. Three Ex-World Chess Champions were in the line-up at Biel:

Petrosian (who advanced after the play-off held in Varese), Tal (unlucky in the play-offs) and Smyslov (missing the play-offs by half a point).

Former Candidate's competing at the IZT 1976 were Bent Larsen (the eventual winner), Lajos Portisch (qualifying after play-off), Robert Byrne and Robert Hübner (both just half a point away from shared second place, alongside with Smyslov), and Efim Geller.

The swiss representative, André Lombard (born in 1950, mathematician, five-times Swiss national champion in 1969, 1970, 1973, 1974, and 1977, he also played on the Swiss team in all five Chess Olympiads from 1970 to 1978, and received the IM title in 1976) drew with Smyslov - was that the crucial half point?, and beat Portisch! The second (assistant) of André Lombard was his Swiss compatriot Heinz Wirthensohn (born in 1951, IM in 1976).

How André Lombard beat an eventual Candidate in round 16 - a shocking loss for Lajos Portisch:
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1092887

In 1985 (1984-1987 cycle), three Interzonals were organized. The Interzonal held at Biel, again a single round robin, all-play-all tournament, consisted of a field of 18 players, with the best four to advance to the next stage. Vaganian won the Interzonal of 1985 (round robin) in Biel outright.

The only Interzonal in the year 1993, held at Biel was played as an Open, a swiss system with 73 participants playing 13 rounds (including three former or future World Champions: Smyslov, Kramnik, and Anand, as well as Ivanchuk, Salov, Shirov, Gelfand, Bareev, Khalifman, Seirawan, Speelman, Adams, Lautier, Piket or Judit Polgar, veterans Hübner, Portisch, Korchnoi, youngsters Kamsky and Topalov), with ten players to advance to the Candidate's.

1993 Biel was the ULTIMATE Interzonal tournament, with 7 Top Ten players ! in a swiss system, and 28 players from the Elo Top 50 ! (Speelman and Hjartarson ex-aequo ranked on position 50/51 with same rating & number of games in July 1993 list, only one is counted), and 48 players from the Elo Top 100 !, in total 74 players were qualified for Biel, one player withdrew just before starting.

It turned out to be the last ever Interzonal because of the FIDE schism that same year forced by Short and Kasparov (Garry later admitted, it was a misjudgement), splitting the chess world into two parallel chaotic Candidate Cycles for many years. Gelfand won the Interzonal of 1993 (swiss system) in Biel outright. 

During these three Interzonal years, there was obsiously no further Grandmaster Tournament held at Biel, but always the traditional Open, an amateur open section and other events such as rapid and blitz exhibitions, senior, youth and female competitions or public simuls.

This article focus mainly on the unforgotten Interzonal in 1976, the first ever to be held at Biel.
It was really close, after 17 laps with two rounds to go, the standigs at the top were as follow:
Hübner, Larsen  11
Smyslov, Tal 10.5
Byrne, Petrosian, Portisch 10

In the penultimate round, Petrosian faced Hübner and was totally lost (and subsequently would have been completely out of the next Candidate's) - but then Hübner is missing a mate in four:
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1107111, a tragic game for Robert Hübner.

 

World Chess Championship
1976 Biel Interzonal Tournament

 

Kongresshaus / Palais de Congrès, 11 July - 6 August 1976

      1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20   Total T/B
1 Larsen 2625 xx 0 1 = = 0 = = = = 1 = 1 = = 1 1 1 1 1   12.5  
                                                   
2 Petrosian 2635 1 xx = = = = 1 = = = = 1 = = = 1 = 0 1 1   12.0 110.75
3 Portisch 2625 0 = xx 0 = = = 1 1 1 1 1 = 1 1 0 = 1 0 1   12.0 108.25
4 Tal 2615 = = 1 xx 0 1 1 = = = = = = = = = = 1 1 1   12.0 107.50
                                                   
5 Smyslov 2580 = = = 1 xx 0 = 1 = = = = = 1 = = 1 1 = =   11.5 106.25
6 Byrne, R. 2540 1 = = 0 1 xx = = 0 = = = 1 = = = 1 1 = 1   11.5 103.00
7 Huebner 2585 = 0 = 0 = = xx = 1 = = = 1 1 = = 1 = 1 1   11.5 99.00
8 Andersson  2585 = = 0 = 0 = = xx 0 = 0 = = = 1 1 1 1 1 1   10.5  
9 Csom 2490 = = 0 = = 1 0 1 xx = 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 1 1 =   10.0 89.75
10 Geller 2620 = = 0 = = = = = = xx = 1 = = 0 = 1 0 1 1   10.0 89.00
11 Smejkal 2615 0 = 0 = = = = 1 1 = xx 0 = 0 1 = = 1 = 1   10.0 87.50
12 Sosonko 2505 = 0 0 = = = = = 1 0 1 xx = = = = = = = 1   9.5  
13 Liberzon 2540 0 = = = = 0 0 = 1 = = = xx 0 = 1 = = 1 =   9.0 80.00
14 Rogoff 2480 = = 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 = 1 = 1 xx = 0 = 1 1 =   9.0 78.75
15 Gulko 2530 = = 0 = = = = 0 0 1 0 = = = xx = 0 1 1 1   9.0 77.00
16 Sanguineti  2480 0 0 1 = = = = 0 0 = = = 0 1 = xx = = = 1   8.5  
17 Matanovic  2525 0 = = = 0 0 0 0 1 0 = = = = 1 = xx = = 1   8.0  
18 Castro 2380 0 1 0 0 0 0 = 0 0 1 0 = = 0 0 = = xx 1 =   6.0  
19 Lombard 2420 0 0 1 0 = = 0 0 0 0 = = 0 0 0 = = 0 xx 1   5.0  
20 Diaz 2385 0 0 0 0 = 0 0 0 = 0 0 0 = = 0 0 0 = 0 xx   2.5  


Varese (Italy) play-off, 1976

      1 2 3    
1 Petrosian  2635 xxx 1 = = = = = = =   4.5
2 Portisch 2625 0 = = = xxx = 1 = =   4.0
3 Tal 2615 = = = = = 0 = = xxx   3.5
 
Source: http://www.mark-weeks.com/chess/wcc-indx.htm by Mark Weeks
All game notations: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chess.pl?page=8&tid=83126
 
  • Interzonal, winner as clear first: 'Danish Dynamite' Bent Larsen (1935 - 2010 R.I.P.) who did win an Interzonal three times in his career, already in 1964 at Amsterdam shared with Spassky, Smyslov and Tal; and outright in 1967 at Sousse (Fischer withdrew while leading after a dispute with the organizers)
  • 9th International Master Tournament Open (MTO) at Biel with 224 players: winner as clear first Dragutin Šahović (1940 - 2005 R.I.P.) from Yugoslavia (Serbia), Šahović was also co-winner at Lone Pine Open, California in 1977 and awarded the grandmaster title in 1978. Like many other Yugoslav chess players fighting in Biel, he depended directly upon his success and the prize money to provide an income and survival of his family. He won nearly 100 events all over the world during his chess career. Mostly were open tournaments, apart from Biel 1976, he won Zurich (SUI) 1981, the mentioned Lone Pine (USA) 1977, his biggest success, and many further Open in Italy, France and Spain, as well as Sombor (8th Ivan Parcetic Memorial) 1978, Dubna (USSR) 1979, or Vrnjacka Banja 1984. Šahović was a great fighter, a very inventive and original player. Together with Aleksandar Matanovic, he founded the universal ECO codes for openings, one of the most sustainable paradigm shiftings in chess!
  • 10th International Master Open (MTO) at Biel with 96 players, won on tie-break by Radovan Govedarica, Yugoslavia (Serbia), he already particpated in the prior Open, finishing on shared 12th place (these two principal Open tournaments have been held one after the other)
  • International Blitz Tournament with 168 players: winner Oscar Panno from Argentina after play-off against Mišo Cebalo from Yugoslavia (Croatia), a regular player and popular commentator at Biel Chess Festival and in many chess events in Italy
  • International Youth Tournament with 72 players: winner Murray Chandler (New Zealand, he was from the early 1980s playing for England, having later reverted his player registration back to NZL Federation), ahead of Eric Lobron (West Germany)
  • An international Open ("Hauptturnier", 139 players) won outright by German Edgar Prang, and a general open tournament ("Allgemeines Turnier", 126 players), won by Christian Flückiger (Switzerland) as clear first.

Chief arbiter of the Interzonal was IA Hansjürg Leuzinger.

The Chess Festival of Biel in summer '76 hosted parallel to the Interzonal another 820 participants from all continents in the mentioned six categories. Responsible media officer of the Festival was the always innovative Yves Kraushaar. 60 journalists reported, and as a technological novelty, two international telephone lines with automatically spoken, daily fresh results were established.

Tournament books:

  • WM 76 Biel-Schweiz. Offizielles Turnierbuch by IM Janos Flesch, Budapest (games annotations) and Alex Crisovan, Pfäffikon (text and translations), editor: Hans Suri, printed by Hertig & Co. AG, Biel 1976. 160 p.;
  • Sakkvilagbajnoksag 1976: Manila, Biel, Varese by Janos Flesch, Sport, Budapest 1979. 391 p. (in Hungarian). 

The lucky ones

Mišo Cebalo, veteran as a regular player and commentator at Biel. Winner of the Open at Biel in 1975 and Senior World Chess Champion 2009

Bent Larsen qualified directly, while Tigran Petrosian and Lajos Portisch qualified via the Varese Interzonal Playoff (1976), Mikhail Tal to be ruled out.

The three players from the Biel Interzonal (1976) were joined by brazilian prodigy Henrique Mecking, Lev Polugaevsky, and Vlastimil Hort from the Manila Interzonal (1976).

The field was completed for the upcoming Candidates matches by Boris Spassky (who had substituted Bobby Fischer who withdrew) and Viktor Korchnoi (from the previous Candidate's Final in 1974).

Spassky and Korchnoi (who eliminated Petrosian in the quarter-finals and afterwards Polugaevsky in the semi-finals), advanced to the Candidate's Final at Belgrade (1977-78), won by then stateless (swiss) Viktor Korchnoi, subsequently meeting Anatoly Karpov again, as Challenger in the notorious World Chess Championship at Baguio City (1978).

Winner of the first Interzonal at Biel in 1976: Bent Larsen

Winner of the second Interzonal at Biel in 1985: Rafael Vaganian

Winner of the third Interzonal at Biel in 1993: Boris Gelfand (picture from 1991, with Boris to be peak-ranked as number three in the ELO world of chess)

Some statistical rhubarbs

All three winners in coincidence made their best ranking as number 3 of the world: Larsen was 3= in ELO list January 1971 (and even higher ranked in the pre-ELO years), Vaganian was 3= in ELO list January 1986 , and Gelfand was 3= in July 1990 & 3 in January 1991.