August 14, 2012 19:17

Svetozar Gligoric, legend of the King's Indian, dies at 89

Svetozar Gligoric

The legendary Serbian grandmaster Svetozar Gligoric, a former top 10 player and hero of the King's Indian, died today at the Belgrade Emergency Center as a result of a stroke. This was reported by Croatian and Serbian media. Gligoric was champion of Yugoslavia a record twelve times and was declared the best athlete of Yugoslavia in 1958. During the 1950s and 1960s, he was one of the top ten players in the world. It's a sad week for chess, after yesterday's news about the death of Olivier Breisacher.

Svetozar Gligoric was born 2 February 1923 in Belgrade. His first success was winning the championship of the Belgrade Chess Club in 1938, shortly before the start of World War II. After the war, Gligorić worked several years as a journalist and organizer of chess tournaments. He continued to progress as a chessplayer and was awarded the International Master title in 1950 and the Grandmaster title in 1951, eventually making the transition to full-time chess professional.

Gligoric won the Yugoslav Championship a record twelve times in 1947 (joint), 1948 (joint), 1949, 1950, 1956, 1957, 1958 (joint), 1959, 1960, 1962, 1965 and 1971. He represented Yugoslavia with great success in fifteen Chess Olympiads from 1950 to 1982 (thirteen times on first board), playing 223 games (+88 =109 −26). In the first post-war Olympiad, on home soil at Dubrovnik 1950, Gligoric played on first board and led Yugoslavia to a historic result, the team gold medal.

Gligoric was one of the most successful international tournament players of the middle of the 20th century. He finished first at many events, e.g. Mar del Plata 1950, Stockholm 1954, Belgrade 1964, Manila 1968, Lone Pine 1972 and 1979. He finished first or tied for first several times in Hastings, in 1951–2, 1956–7, 1959–60, 1960–61, and 1962–3.

Gligoric at Oberhausen 1961 | Photo Wikipedia

Gligoric also scored several successes at zonal and interzonal tournaments, but he was less successful in Candidates events, with mediocre results in the 1953 and 1959 Candidates Tournaments and a match loss to Mikhail Tal in the 1968 Candidates match series. About this match, Gligoric said the following in an interview:

I was really unlucky: the tournament hall was across the street from my house. Friends from all over Belgrade would drop in to talk to me, and I couldn’t say no. And then I also made a terrible mistake: during the match I read what the papers were writing. After the first five games I was leading: I’d won one game with black [quite a game!] and made four draws. Tal couldn’t do a thing, and he later told me he was sure he’d lose the match. But on the eve of the 6th game I read a comment by a journalist who declared that he was bored watching us choose the same variations again and again.

And then the game started, and I surprised myself on the 3rd move by deciding that instead of 3. Nc3, which I’d been playing up until then, I’d play Nf3, which I hadn’t even looked at. That spontaneous decision knocked me off balance. I was shocked and couldn’t understand why I’d done it. I lost the game with white. After that the whole atmosphere of the match began to weigh on me and I wanted it to end as soon as possible. I lost another two games – and it was all over.

Gligorić had the following record against the world champions he played against: Max Euwe +2 =5, Mikhail Botvinnik +2 −2 =5, Vasily Smyslov +5 −7 =21, Tigran Petrosian +7 −10 =10, Mikhail Tal +2 −11 =19, Boris Spassky −5 =15, Bobby Fischer +4 −6 =6, Anatoly Karpov −4 =6, Garry Kasparov −3 and Vishy Anand =1.

Gligoric vs Bobby Fischer at the Portoroz Interzonal in 1958 | Photo Echecs Photos

Gligoric continued active tournament play well into his sixties, but he became an excellent commentator as well. He was able to take advantage of his fluency in a number of languages and his training as a journalist, to produce lucid, interesting game annotations. He was a regular columnist for Chess Review and Chess Life magazines for many years and wrote a number of chess books in several languages, the most famous being Fischer Vs. Spassky: World Chess Championship Match, 1972.

Gligoric at the Grand Prix in Jermuk, Armenia in August 2009 | Photo by Arman Kharakhanyan courtesy of FIDE

Gligorić will be remembered for his enormous contributions to the theory and practice of a number of openings, in particular the King's Indian Defense. The move 7.Be3 after the starting moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 is named after Gligoric.

PGN string

If Black plays mechanically with 7....Nc6 then 8.d5 Ne7 9.Nd2! is a favourable set-up, so Black most often responds with 7...Ng4.

One of Gligorić's most famous games was this win against Tigran Petrosian at the "Tournament of Peace" in Zagreb in 1970. It displays Gligorić's virtuosity on the Black side of the King's Indian and his willingness to play for a sacrificial attack against one of history's greatest defenders.

PGN string

At the end of his life, Gligoric "returned to his first love": music. As we reported in February 2011, he presented in Belgrade his first music album, consisting of twelve compositions in different genres, like blues, jazz, ballads and even rap. Around 2003, aged 80, Gligoric decided to study music theory and learn to play piano, and at some point he started to compose his own music.

Gligoric playing the piano in Jermuk in 2009 while organizer
GM Smbat Lputian listens along | Photo by Arman Kharakhanyan courtesy of FIDE

David Levy, who wrote the Gligoric biography The Chess of Gligoric in 1972, gave us the following comment:

This is very sad indeed. He was a lovely man, full of humanity and humility. One of the most gentlemanly people one could hope to meet.

Here's how Mikhail Tal described Gligoric (taken from Levy's biography):

Gligoric was Gligoric right from his first steps at the game. There was respect for the laws of Strategy, the ability to punish those opponents who broke these laws, superior endgame technique . . . . Then there were even more concrete characteristics - belief in the strong pawn centre, a slight particularity for bishops, a dislike of passive positions.

He has his favourite sort of positions, and when he manages to get them he creates text book examples of how to handle them. Nor does it matter what the class of opposition is when he has such positions. The people who have been on the receiving end in such cases form a picture gallery of the kings of chess.

At the end of July, chess player Alisa Maric became the Minister of Youth and Sport in the new Serbian government. She wrote the following telegram of condolence:

On behalf of the Ministry of Youth and Sport and on my own behalf I express deep sympathy and sorrow over the death of the greatest Serbian chess player of all time, and above all a charming and noble man, Grandmaster Svetozar Gligorić. Our Gliga made Yugoslavian and Serbian chess famous around the world and he was a teacher and role model for generations of young chess players. It was an honour to know him for decades and learn from him. May he rest in peace.

For this article we used Gligoric's Wikipedia page

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


Amit's picture

RIP Grandmaster Gligorić.
Just yesterday I was going over your KID game with Tigran Petrosian. Your contributions to theory will always be remembered and cherished.

Peo's picture

Rip Gliga...

choufleur's picture

His book
"I play against pieces"
is a masterpiece.

Aditya's picture

You just wrote what I had in mind. That title by Gligoric "I Play against pieces" has inspired all my objective play, whatever it's degree.

Soviet School's picture

I agree just the title of his book 'I Play Against Pieces' shows his healthy attitude.

Anon's picture

A sad day. RIP Gliga.

boki's picture

He was the Legend of Yougoslavian chess

columbo's picture


Tmw's picture

A great player passed away!

noyb's picture

A gigantic piece of chess history has left us. Thanks to Svetozar Gligoric for many great chess games and memorizes. A true gentleman.

Alex's picture

I agree with your comments 100% (memories)! I had the pleasure of watching him play GM Tigran Petrosian once. Hvala, Gliga.

Liew's picture

His best games were very instructive. R.I.P.

Rob's picture

Farewell Gligoric, you we're truly a great man and I'd like to say 'thank you'. Your book "Selected chess masterpieces" (Collection of newspaper articles) was the first chess book I read. It gave me the love for the game and remains a personal favourite.

Igor's picture


Septimus's picture

Wow, what a fantastic game! White was obliterated!

Ivan's picture


petrosian-glicoric 1970 wat een geweldige partij bedankt jer's picture

petrosian-glicoric 1970 wat een geweldige partij bedankt jeroen

petrosian-glicoric 1970 wat een geweldige partij bedankt jer's picture

petrosian-glicoric 1970 wat een geweldige partij bedankt jeroen

Steven 's picture

Thank you for your contributions to chess at the board and away from it. May you rest peacefully.

ps. I play against my own pieces.

Eiae's picture

Have fun playing with Larsen up there!

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