Vasily Smyslov is no stranger to Candidates tournaments, winning the last two (Zurich 1953 and Amsterdam 1956) to earn the right to challenge the World Chess Champion. He became the seventh World Chess Champion in 1957, beating the reigning World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik 12½-10½. He lost the title in a return match to the same opponent a year later. Smyslov is one of the stars of the Russian school of chess announcing his arrival to the world in an impressive second place in the inaugural 1948 World Championship Match Tournament. Since then he has gone on to win 2 USSR Championships amongst his string of tournament victories over the last 15 years. With his pedigree, Smyslov enters the 1959 Candidates Tournament as a strong favourite.
Paul Keres is elite grandmaster accustomed to the trial-by-fire of Candidates Tournaments, but he has yet to win the right to a World Championship Match. He first burst onto the world chess scene before World War 2 with startling successes against the World Champion-calibre field in AVRO 1938, and notable wins over reigning World Champion Alexander Alekhine during the War. He finished a frustrating third place in the 1948 Match Tournament, attributable to his bitterly disappointing 4-1 loss to Botvinnik in their mini-match. But 2 second place finishes in the 1953 and 1956 Candidates tournaments, and a three-time winner of the USSR Championship, have cemented Keres' position in the world elite. This surely must be his turn to challenge the World Champion.
Petrosian is the current Russian champion and yet another regular in the Candidates Tournament, finishing a credible fifth in 1953, and third in 1956. His play is marked by extreme solidity and nerves of steel. He is regarded as a difficult opponent to beat. His career progress so far shows continuous and steady progress with no hiccups. He is a serious contender for first place particularly if it's a close finish.
Only 22 years old, Mikhail Tal is the darling of the chess world. Thanks to his daring and sacrificial style of play he has won the adulation of the chess public. He is already a twice winner of the USSR Championships, the second of which qualified him for the Portorož Interzonal. A clear first place finish at Portorož qualified him for this, his first Candidates Tournament. The major question in this tournament will be whether Tal's active and aggressive play stands up to World-class scrutiny.
The sixteen year-old American Robert James Fischer, like Tal, qualified for the Interzonal through surprisingly winning his country's national Championship (finishing one point ahead of Samuel Reshevsky). He scored enough points in the Interzonal to take one of the qualifying places for this Candidates tournament, and in so doing earned the Grandmaster title, the youngest player to have done so. Although still a teenager, Fischer is regarded as a resourceful fighter, demonstrating composure and accurate calculation.
An eight time Yugoslav champion Gligorić is regarded as a national hero (and interestingly once the national champion of Bulgaria). He is considered one of the strongest non-Russian chess players, and capable of holding his own against them. This includes a first place in the 1947 Warsaw International Tournament ahead of Vasily Smyslov. He is currently in the best form of his career so far, qualifying for this Candidates tournament by finishing a remarkable second place in Portorož. He was awarded the Grandmaster title in 1951.
Pal Benkö won the national championship of Hungary in 1948 aged only 20. Two years ago he left Hungary and moved to the United States. This sparked a series of successes up to and including the Interzonal. Benkö qualified in fourth place in Portorož to secure his place in this Candidates tournament, and the Grandmaster title
Ólafsson followed up winning his native Iceland's National championship in 1952 by annexing the Scandinavian Championship title a year later. He became Iceland's first Grandmaster by qualifying for this tournament after finishing joint 5th in Portorož.
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