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Lajos Portisch

Lajos Portisch (born April 4, 1937 in Zalaegerszeg, Hungary) is a Hungarian chess Grandmaster, whose positional style earned him the nickname of the "Hungarian Botvinnik". One of the strongest non-Soviet players from the early 1960s into the late 1980s, he participated in twelve straight Interzonals, and qualified for the World Chess Championship Candidates' cycle a total of eight times (1965, 1968, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1985, and 1988). Portisch set several all-time records in chess Olympiads. In Hungarian Chess Championships, he either shared the title or won it outright a total of eight times (1958, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1971, 1975, and 1981). He won many strong international tournaments during his career. In 2004, Portisch was awarded the 'Nemzet Sportoloja', Hungary's highest national sports achievement award. He still competes occasionally at age 71. His main hobby is singing operatic arias; he has a fine baritone voice.

Early years

Portisch represented Hungary at the World Junior Chess Championship, Antwerp 1955. He scored 4.5/7 in the preliminary round to advance to the final, where he scored 5.5/9, to finish 4th; the winner was Boris Spassky. Portisch tied for 1st-3rd places in a Master event at Budapest 1956, along with Joszef Szily and Bela Sander, ahead of Pal Benko; the three winners scored 7/11. In a second Master event at Budapest 1956, Portisch made 7.5/11. He was in the pack at Debrecen 1956 with 5.5/11.

Portisch successfully represented Hungary in several team matches in 1956 and 1957, against Poland, Estonia, the Soviet Union, Belarus, and Yugoslavia. He made his first Student Olympiad and full Olympiad appearances for Hungary in 1956; he would eventually represent Hungary at a record 20 Olympiads (see below). He excelled at his first individual international event, winning at Balatonfured 1958 with 9/11, ahead of strong Grandmasters Laszlo Szabo and Alexander Tolush. He earned the International Master title. He finished 2nd at Hastings 1958-59 with 7/9 behind Wolfgang Uhlmann.

Eight-time Hungarian Champion

Portisch made his first national top-level appearance in 1955 at age 18, at the Hungarian Chess Championship. He would eventually win or share the national title on eight occasions. His complete Hungarian Championship results follow (from

World title Candidate

Portisch entered the World Championship cycle for the first time with the Madrid 1960 Zonal, where he tied for 2nd-3rd, on 13.5/21, along with Arturo Pomar; the winner was Svetozar Gligoric, and all three advanced. Portisch was promoted to Grandmaster in 1961. His younger brother Ferenc Portisch (born 1939) is an International Master.

Portisch's first Interzonal appearance was Stockholm 1962, where he tied for 9th-10th places, and did not advance; the winner was Bobby Fischer. Portisch won the Halle Zonal 1963 with 14/19 to advance to the next Interzonal. Portisch qualified from the Amsterdam Interzonal 1964, with 14.5/23, in a tied 8-9th place (the winners were Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky, Vasily Smyslov, and Bent Larsen). Portisch defeated Samuel Reshevsky in a playoff match to advance to the Candidates' series for the first time. But he lost his first round match against Mikhail Tal at Bled 1965, by 2.5-5.5.

Portisch won the 1967 Halle Zonal with 15.5/19, to advance. He qualified through the Sousse Interzonal 1967, with 14/22 for a tied 3rd-5th place; the winner was Bent Larsen. But he lost his first-round Candidates' match to Bent Larsen at Porec 1968, by 4.5-5.5. He qualified from the Raach 1969 Zonal, after tying for 2nd-5th places, on 13.5/21, then winning a four-way playoff for two berths at Prague 1970 with 4/6, against Borislav Ivkov, Jan Smejkal, and Ulf Andersson. He advanced, but narrowly missed Candidates' qualification at the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal 1970, tying with Vasily Smyslov for 7th-8th places on 13.5/23; the winner was Bobby Fischer. Portisch and Smyslov played a drawn match (3-3) at Portoroz 1971 for a reserve place, which did not in fact materialize.

Portisch qualified through the Petropolis Interzonal 1973, scoring 11.5/17 for a shared 2nd-4th place (the winner was Henrique Mecking), then surviving a further three-man playoff for two berths against Lev Polugaevsky and Efim Geller, at Portoroz 1973, by winning the playoff with 5.5/8. But Portisch lost his first-round Candidates' match to Tigran Petrosian in 1974, by 6-7 at Palma de Mallorca. At the 1976 Biel Interzonal, he tied for 2nd-4th places on 12/19, along with Tigran Petrosian and Mikhail Tal; the winner was Bent Larsen. Then, in a further playoff, held at Varese 1976, Portisch scored 4/8, for 2nd place, to advance. In the Candidates' matches, he first advanced to the semifinals after beating Bent Larsen by 6.5-3.5 at Rotterdam 1977, but he then lost to Boris Spassky by 6.5-8.5 at Geneva 1977.

In 1979 he advanced from the Rio de Janeiro Interzonal, sharing 1st-3rd places, on 11.5/17, along with Tigran Petrosian and Robert Hübner. Portisch got his revenge against Boris Spassky in 1980, when he tied their quarterfinal match 7-7 in Mexico, and advanced to the semifinals since he had more victories with the Black pieces. There he lost to Robert Hübner by 4.5-6.5 at Abano Therme 1980. Qualifying from the Toluca Interzonal 1982, where he tied for 1st-2nd places on 8.5/13 along with Eugenio Torre, he lost his first-round match to Viktor Korchnoi by 3-6 at Bad Kissingen 1983. Qualifying from the Tunis Interzonal 1985, where he scored 10/16, he made 7/15 at the Montpellier Candidates' tournament 1985, and was eliminated.

At the 1987 Szirak Interzonal, Portisch scored 12/17 to tie 3rd-4th places, along with John Nunn; he then defeated Nunn by 4-2 in a playoff match at Budapest to advance to the Candidates'. He won his first-round match at Saint John 1988 by 3.5-2.5 over Rafael Vaganian. But he then lost to Jan Timman by 2.5-3.5 at Antwerp 1989. At the 1990 Manila Interzonal, he scored only 5.5/13, well short of qualifying. But Portisch played well at the 1993 Biel Interzonal, scoring 7.5/13 and outperforming his ranking significantly, but did not advance.

Tournament successes

Portisch was very active on the international tournament scene from the late 1950s through the early 1990s, and was one of the top performers for over 30 years, with many titles against elite fields. He often finished ahead of the top Soviet Grandmasters at important events, was usually near the top of the table, and only very rarely finished with minus scores, showing remarkable consistency. Portisch won at least one major international event per year for nearly two decades.

His first top-class round-robin event was Moscow 1959, where he was the youngest contestant, and scored 6/11 for a shared 4-6th place; the winners were Boris Spassky, Vasily Smyslov, and David Bronstein. At Balatonfured 1959, he shared 3rd-5th with 7.5/13; the winner was Ratmir Kholmov. Portisch stepped up his activity in 1961. At Budapest 1961, he scored 9/15 for a shared 4-7th place; the winner was Viktor Korchnoi. At Moscow 1961, he made 6/11 for a shared 5-7th place; the winners were Vasily Smyslov and Evgeni Vasiukov. Two disappointing results followed, but he was gathering top-class experience, which would pay off in the years ahead. At Torremolinos 1961, he had a minus score with 5/11 for 8th place; the winners were Svetozar Gligoric and Arturo Pomar. Then at Bled 1961, with 6 of the world's top 11 players in the field, Portisch scored 8/19 for a shared 15-16th place; Mikhail Tal won.

Beginning in 1962, Portisch became a consistent tournament winner at the international level. He shared the title at Sarajevo 1962 with Svetozar Gligoric on 8/11. He shared 2nd-3rd places at Kecskemet 1962 on 10.5/15 behind Ratmir Kholmov. Portisch won Amsterdam IBM 1963 with 6/9 ahead of Jan Hein Donner. He won Sarajevo 1963 with 7/11, ahead of Gligoric, Vladimir Simagin, Wolfgang Uhlmann, and Borislav Ivkov. At Havana 1964, he scored 14/21 for 5th place as Wolfgang Uhlmann and Vasily Smyslov won. At Beverwijk 1964, he was 3rd on 11/15 behind Paul Keres and Iivo Nei. He shared 2nd-3rd at Malaga 1964 on 7.5/11 behind Arturo Pomar. He shared the title at Beverwijk 1965 on 10.5/15 with Yefim Geller. At Yerevan 1965, he was 5th with 7/13 as Viktor Korchnoi won. With 6 of the world's top 25 in the field at Zagreb 1965, Portisch scored 12/19 for a shared 3rd-4th place, as Borislav Ivkov and Wolfgang Uhlmann won. He was 3rd at Mar del Plata 1966 on 9.5/15, with Vasily Smyslov winning. Portisch shared the title at Kecskemet 1966 on 6.5/9, along with Vlastimil Hort. At Santa Monica 1966, with 7 of the world's top 16 players in the field, he shared 4th-5th places on 9.5/18, as Boris Spassky won, just ahead of Bobby Fischer. Portisch was 3rd at Palma de Mallorca 1966 on 10/15, with Mikhail Tal winning.

Portisch won Amsterdam IBM 1967 with 8/11 ahead of Alexander Kotov. At Moscow 1967, which had 12 of the world's top 33 players, he shared 6-8th places with 9.5/17, and defeated World Champion Tigran Petrosian; the tournament winner was Leonid Stein. Portisch placed 4th at Palma de Mallorca 1967, where 7 of the top 30 played, with 11.5/17; Bent Larsen won. At Wijk aan Zee 1968, he shared 2nd-4th places with 9/15 as Viktor Korchnoi won. Portisch shared 6-8th places at Monte Carlo 1968, which had 5 of the top 16 players; Bent Larsen won. One of Portisch's career highlights was his clear first place at Skopje/Ohrid 1968, ahead of Efim Geller, Lev Polugaevsky, and Vlastimil Hort, with 14/19.

The year 1969 was his most successful to date. He won Amsterdam IBM 1969 by 1.5 points with 11.5/15. At Wijk aan Zee 1969, he shared 3rd-4th places on 10/15, behind winners Mikhail Botvinnik and Efim Geller. Portisch shared 1st-2nd places at Monte Carlo 1969 with Vasily Smyslov on 8/11. Then he took clear first at Hastings 1969-70 with 7/9, ahead of Wolfgang Uhlmann, Vasily Smyslov, and Svetozar Gligoric. At Budapest 1970, he shared 5-6th places on 8/15, with Paul Keres winning. Portisch played board three at Belgrade 1970 in the USSR vs Rest of the World match, defeating Viktor Korchnoi by 2.5-1.5. Portisch won at Hastings 1970-71 with 6/9, ahead of Vlastimil Hort, Svetozar Gligoric, and Wolfgang Uhlmann. At Amsterdam IBM 1971, he shared 2nd-4th places on 9/15 behind Vasily Smyslov.

By 1972, Portisch was a major contender to win any tournament he entered. He won Wijk aan Zee 1972, which had 6 of the top 25 players, with 10.5/15, ahead of Arturo Pomar, Walter Browne, Vlastimil Hort, and Vasily Smyslov. Portisch won Las Palmas 1972 with 12/15, ahead of Bent Larsen, Vasily Smyslov, and David Bronstein. At Teesside 1972, he ended 3rd with 9.5/15, as Bent Larsen won. Portisch shared 1st-3rd places at San Antonio 1972 (with 8 of the top 25), on 10.5/15, with Anatoly Karpov and Tigran Petrosian. Portisch shared 3rd-4th places at Palma de Mallorca 1972 on 10/15, with Oscar Panno and Ljubomir Ljubojevic winning. He won at Ljubljana/Portoroz 1973 (Vidmar Memorial) with 12.5/17. At Madrid 1973, Portisch shared 6-7th places on 9/15, with Anatoly Karpov winning.

and Wijk aan Zee 1975 (ahead of Robert Hübner and Efim Geller). He tied with Borislav Ivkov for 1st-2nd at the Tigran Petrosian Memorial, Moscow 1999.

Team chess legend

Portisch represented Hungary four times at Student Olympiads, steadily improving his results, and winning three medals. His totals are: (+19 =11 -8). From, his detailed record follows.

  • Uppsala 1956: board 2, 3/6 (+2 =2 -2), team silver;
  • Reykjavík 1957: board 2, 6/11 (+5 =2 -4), Hungary 4th;
  • Varna 1958: board 1, 5/9 (+3 =4 -2), Hungary 5th;
  • Budapest 1959: board 1, 10.5/12 (+9 =3 -0), board gold, team bronze.

He also led the Hungarian chess team to the gold medal in the 23rd Chess Olympiad held in Buenos Aires with a personal score of 10/14. This was the only Olympiad not to be won by the Soviet Union between 1952 and 1990. According to, he participated in a record 20 Olympiads from 1956 until 2000, playing a record 260 games, over a record six decades, and won 11 medals. His total Olympiad score is: (+121 =113 -26), for 68.3 per cent. His detailed Olympiad data follows.

  • Moscow 1956: 2nd reserve, 6/8 (+4 =4 -0), team bronze;
  • Munich 1958: board 3, 10.5/15 (+7 =7 -1);
  • Leipzig 1960: board 2, 11/17 (+7 =8 -2);
  • Varna 1962: board 1, 9.5/16 (+6 =7 -3);
  • Tel Aviv 1964: board 1, 12/16 (+9 =6 -1), board bronze;
  • Havana 1966: board 1, 11.5/16 (+8 =7 -1), team bronze;
  • Lugano 1968: board 1, 11/15 (+8 =6 -1);
  • Siegen 1970: board 1, 11/16 (+7 =8 -1), team silver;
  • Skopje 1972: board 1, 12/17 (+8 =8 -1), team silver;
  • Nice 1974: board 1, 10/16 (+6 =8 -2);
  • Buenos Aires 1978: board 1, 10/14 (+8 =4 -2), team gold;
  • La Valletta 1980: board 1, 9.5/13 (+6 =7 -0), team silver;
  • Lucerne 1982: board 1, 7.5/12 (+6 =3 -3);
  • Thessaloniki 1984: board 1, 7.5/12 (+5 =5 -2);
  • Dubai 1986: board 1, 6/10 (+4 =4 -2);
  • Thessaloniki 1988, board 1, 8.5/11 (+6 =5 -0), board silver, rating bronze;
  • Manila 1992, board 2, 4.5/9 (+3 =3 -3);
  • Moscow 1994, board 2, 7/9 (+5 =4 -0), board silver, rating bronze;
  • Yerevan 1996, board 2, 5.5/9 (+4 =3 -2);
  • Istanbul 2000, board 4, 6/9 (+4 =4 -1).

Portisch has also represented Hungary at eight European Team Championships, winning a total of nine medals. He has scored (+16 =39 -4). His detailed European teams data, from, follows.

  • Oberhausen 1961: board 2, 6.5/10 (+4 =5 -1), board gold, team silver;
  • Hamburg 1965: board 1, 5/9 (+1 =8 -0), team bronze;
  • Kapfenberg 1970: board 1, 4/7 (+1 =6 -0), team silver;
  • Bath, Somerset 1973: board 1, 3.5/5 (+2 =3 -0), team bronze;
  • Moscow 1977: board 1, 4.5/7 (+3 =3 -1), team silver;
  • Skara 1980: board 1, 3.5/6 (+1 =5 -0), team silver;
  • Plovdiv 1983: board 1, 4.5/7 (+3 =3 -1), board gold, team bronze;
  • Debrecen 1992: board 1, 4/8 (+1 =6 -1).

Portisch played board one for Hungary at the inaugural World Team Championship, Lucerne 1985. He scored 5.5/9 (+2 =7 -0), as Hungary won the team silver medals.

Notable chess games

Ex-World Champion Smyslov did not lose very often with the White pieces, but Portisch turns the trick here.

External links

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