1959 Candidates Tournament

Tal vs Smyslov, Bled 1959

Paul Keres in play against Bobby Fischer. Pal Benkö looks on.

Between Monday 7th September 1959 and Thursday 29th October 1959, eight players are contesting for the right to a challenge Mikhail Botvinnik for the title of World Chess Champion. This contest, the Candidates Tournament, takes place in the Yugoslav cities of Bled, Zagreb and Belgrade. It is an epic contest of 28 rounds, each competitor facing the others four times over the two months.

Previous grueling Candidates tournaments produced high-calibre challengers to Mikhail Botvinnik's title. David Bronstein came within a whisker of the title back in 1951, and Vasily Smyslov took two opportunities, and the second in 1957 managed to unseat the reigning world champion. Unfortunately, his own reign was cut short when Botvinnik won a return match less than a year later.

The eight players in this competition had to earn the right to participate in this tournament. One place was allocated to the loser of the previous World Championship match, this was ex-World Champion Vasily Smyslov. Another place was granted to the second place finisher in the previous Candidates Tournament (Amsterdam 1956), and this went to Paul Keres.

The other six places were determined by an Interzonal tournament, held in 1958 in the costal resort of Portorož in Yugoslavia. The 6 top-placed finishers Mikhail Tal, Svetozar Gligorić, Tigran Petrosian, Pal Benkö, Fridrik Ólafsson and Robert Fischer qualified this way and join Smyslov and Keres in this qualification contest.

Ex-World Champion Vasily Smyslov along with Paul Keres must be considered strong favourites. Paul Keres, more than any other player, has come closest but yet so far from a tilt at the World Title. Vasily Smyslov has already won two previous Candidates Tournament, leading to contesting three World Championship matches against Mikhail Botvinnik, it remains to be seen whether he has the hunger for another World Title challenge.

Tigran Petrosian perhaps is an outside favourite - a real dark horse. He has played in previous Candidate events, so has the experience necessary for the long struggle ahead. He is a two-time Russian Champion. So to is Mikhail Tal. This compares favourably with Smyslov's two, and Keres' three USSR Championship wins.

Out of the non-Russians, Gligorić has a track record of taking on the Soviet school of chess with success, and thus earned the epithet of strongest non-Russian chess player. The other three non-Russian players recently gained the coveted Grandmaster title by qualifying for this tournament, so there's a lack of experience in this tough challenge.

The eye here will be on young Bobby Fischer who seems to have the talent and will-power to match his ambition - or bravado. He may cause an upset or three (having got the best of Keres in the super-strong Zürich International Tournament a few months ago). His youth and lack of world-class experience may limit his success here.

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