Review of "I Play Against Pieces" (Svetozar Gligoric, 2002)

Read David Surratt’s review of ‘I Play Against Pieces’, the autobiographical compendium by Svetozar Gligoric.

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I Play Against Pieces
I Play Against Pieces
©  2002 by Svetozar Gligoric
Batsford, 2002
ISBN: 0713487704

When I was growing up, I always waited eagerly for each new issue of Chess Life and Review to arrive in my mailbox.  What a wonderful world it revealed to me, the world of international chess!  The names of the greatest (at that time) chess players in the world fairly spilled from the pages, enchanting me with their exotic sounds and conjuring images in my mind, images that seemed to shimmer just beyond my ability to understand.  Tal, Geller, Korchnoi, Spassky, Petrosian, Fischer, Larsen, Gligoric, these were some of the names that fired my 17-year old imagination!

The first column I looked for was the “Game of the Month”, then the sole province of one of the strongest players in the world – Svetozar Gligoric.  The magic that man could weave!  First, he brought into my living room some of the finest games played from all over the globe, then – even greater magic – he made the pieces dance across the sixtyfour squares of the chessboard, all the while revealing their intricate dance for the carefully crafted and executed plans of a master’s mind.

I expected I Play Against Pieces to be like going home again, to that magical place in my memory.  130 of this giant of the chess world’s finest efforts, against the best players in the world!  How could I go wrong?

This is the 3rd edition of Gligoric’s autobiographical compendium, newly updated and expanded.  Earlier editions of I Play Against Pieces contained 105 and 120 games, with the first edition having been published in 1981. 

The title of this book was taken from an interview Gligoric gave to the Editor of that first edition, referring “to chess as an art and a clean struggle of ideas, thereby trying to ignore the less dignified influence of psychology and personal conflicts.”

A mere half-dozen pages of I Play Against Pieces are used to recount the author’s “Chess Autobiography”, including some personal details that reveal more about the man then the chessplayer.  B

orn in 1923, he was orphaned at age 17, just months before Hitler invaded his homeland.  On the run in the mountains, he eventually joined the growing resistance movement, finishing the war a decorated Captain, with “the good fortune of not having been wounded.” 

After losing six years of his life and his chess career to that war, he was understandably happy to return to his home town, and resume a more normal life.  He would go on to acclaim in dual careers, both as a journalist and as a Grandmaster. 

A lengthy list of Gligoric’s chess successes (over 50 first place finishes), and accounts of his decline, along with other details of his career complete this section.  On to the games!

This edition of the book I Play Against Pieces contains 130 of Gligoric’s finest efforts, spanning the period from 1939 to 2001.  The games are arranged by opening, with 27 different openings represented.  Naturally, I turned first to the section on my beloved French…

Game 14, Gligoric vs the Swedish GM Gideon Stahlberg, from their 1949 match:  “1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 exd5 5. Ngf3 Nc6 6. Bb5

I Play Against Pieces

6…a6!?  This is how Stahlberg defeated Medina in a tournament game and it is understandable that he was optimistic about entering the same line again.  However, the move order can’t be good. 

In order to gain a temporary advantage of the bishop-pair and an illusory improvement in his centre, Black allows himself to get behind in development.  White’s advantage lies in the fact that he is quicker getting his pieces into play and this will enable him to exchange one of the black bishops and later blockade his opponent’s ‘strong’ centre with pieces.  Then Black’s centre pawns will actually become immobilized and his whole queenside weak. 

On 6… Qe7+ I would have played 7. Be2, as in the game Keres-Capablanca, Amsterdam 1938, while on 6… Bd6 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. O-O Nge7 9. Nb3.”  Here the book contains an error: the move given is 9…Bd6, but then 10…Bxe3 is impossible.  I researched the game given, and the actual move played was 9… Bb6. 

Gligoric continues: “10. Be3 Bxe3 11. Bxc6+”  Once again, the move given by Gligoric differs from the game as shown in my database, which gives instead 11. fxe3 O-O.  Continuing with Gligoric: “11… bxc6 12. fxe3 O-O 13. Qd2 Rb8 14. Rab1” and now Gligoric gives 14…Rc8, not quite practical, what with the bishop still sitting on that square and all.

This short section of the game captured for me the beauty and simplicity of Gligoric’s annotations, while frustrating me with the errors.  Of course, it is possible that the game as given in my database is incorrect, but even so, the other errors show a need for better proofreading.

While there may be the periodic error in the transcription of moves, there are no errors in the clear, lucid, and easily understandable text.  Gligoric’s pen is as crisp as ever, and time has not dimmed his chess eye.  This is a book that will entertain you, but also educate you. 

I strongly recommend it both to younger players who may not be as familiar with Gligoric’s play, as well as those who, like me, remember his play all too fondly.  This time, you really can go home again.