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Lajos Portisch

Lajos Portisch in 1968
Full name Lajos Portisch
Country Hungary
Born 4 April 1937
Zalaegerszeg, Hungary
Title Grandmaster (1961)
Peak rating 2655 (January 1980)

Lajos Portisch (born 4 April 1937) is a Hungarian chess Grandmaster, whose positional style earned him the nickname, the "Hungarian Botvinnik". One of the strongest non-Soviet players from the early 1960s into the late 1980s, he participated in twelve consecutive Interzonals from 1962 through 1993, qualifying 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 his age. His main hobby is singing operatic arias; he has a fine baritone voice, a quality shared by Vasily Smyslov, a chess world champion and grandmaster who also had talent as an operatic singer. His younger brother, Ferenc (born 1939), is an International Master.

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 fourth; the winner was Boris Spassky. Portisch tied for first through third places in a master event at Budapest 1956, along with Joszef Szily and Bela Sandor, 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 twenty Olympiads (see below). He excelled at his first individual international event, winning at Balatonfüred 1958 with 9/11, ahead of strong Grandmasters László Szabó and Alexander Tolush. He earned the International Master title. He finished second at Hastings 1958-59 with 7/9, behind Wolfgang Uhlmann.

Nine-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 nine 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 second/third place, on 13.5/21, along with Arturo Pomar; the winner was Svetozar Gligorić, as all three advanced. Portisch was awarded the grandmaster title by FIDE in 1961.

Portisch's first Interzonal appearance was Stockholm 1962, where he tied for ninth/tenth places, after losing a late-round game to one of the tail-enders, 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 eighth/ninth place (the winners were Mikhail Tal, 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 13.5/21 for a solo fifth-place finish. The winner was Bent Larsen. Portisch then lost his first-round Candidates' match to Larsen at Porec 1968, by 4.5-5.5. He qualified from the Raach 1969 Zonal, after tying for second/fifth 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 seventh/eighth places on 13.5/23, after another late defeat at the hands of one of the outsiders; the winner was Fischer. Portisch and Smyslov played a drawn match (3-3) at Portorož 1971 for a reserve place, with Portisch declared the winner, as his tiebreak score from Palma was superior, though this proved unnecessary.

Portisch qualified from the Petropolis Interzonal 1973, scoring 11.5/17 for a shared second/fourth place (the winner was Henrique Mecking), then surviving a further three-man playoff for two berths against Lev Polugaevsky and Efim Geller, at Portorož 1973, by winning outright with 5.5/8; however, 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 second/fourth places on 12/19 with Petrosian and Tal, after Larsen. Then, in a three-way playoff for two spots, held at Varese 1976, Portisch scored 4/8 for second place, with Tal being eliminated. In the Candidates' matches, he first advanced to the semifinals after beating Bent Larsen by 6.5-3.5 at Rotterdam 1977, then lost to Boris Spassky by 6.5-8.5 at Geneva 1977.

In 1979 he advanced from the Rio de Janeiro Interzonal, sharing first/third places, on 11.5/17, along with Petrosian and Robert Hübner. Portisch got his revenge against 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. He then lost the semi-final to Hübner by 4.5-6.5 at Abano Terme 1980. Qualifying from the Toluca Interzonal 1982, where he tied for first/second 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, and was eliminated.

At the 1987 Szirak Interzonal, Portisch scored 12/17 to tie for third/fourth places, along with John Nunn; he then defeated John Nunn by 4-2 in a playoff match at Budapest to advance to the Candidates'. He won his first-round match at Saint John, New Brunswick 1988 by 3.5-2.5 over Rafael Vaganian; he then lost to Jan Timman by 2.5-3.5 at Antwerp 1989. At the 1990 Manila Interzonal, he scored +3 -5 =5, after beginning with +3 =2. In his final appearance in the world championship series, Portisch played well at the 1993 Biel Interzonal, scoring 7.5/13 and outperforming his ranking significantly, but did not advance.

Tournament successes

Portisch in 2005

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 thirty 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 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 fourth/sixth place; the winners were Spassky, Smyslov, and David Bronstein. At Balatonfüred 1959, he shared third/fifth 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 fourth/seventh place; the winner was Korchnoi. At Moscow 1961, he made 6/11 for a shared fifth/seventh place; the winners were Smyslov and Evgeni Vasiukov. Two disappointing results followed, but he was gathering top-class experience, which would come in useful. At Torremolinos 1961, he made only 5/11 for eighth place; the winners were Gligoric and Arturo Pomar. Then at Bled 1961, with six of the world's top eleven players in the field, Portisch scored 8/19 for a shared fifteenth/sixteenth place; Tal won.

Beginning in 1962, Portisch became a consistent tournament winner at the international level. He shared the title at Sarajevo 1962 with Svetozar Gligorić on 8/11. He shared second/third places at Kecskemét 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 fifth place as Uhlmann and Smyslov won. At Beverwijk 1964, he was third with 11/15 behind Paul Keres and Iivo Nei. He shared second/third at Málaga 1964 on 7.5/11 behind Arturo Pomar. He shared the title at Beverwijk 1965 on 10.5/15 with Geller. At Yerevan 1965, he was fifth with 7/13 as Korchnoi won. With six of the world's top 25 in the field at Zagreb 1965, Portisch scored 12/19 for a shared third/fourth place, as Borislav Ivkov and Uhlmann won. He was third at Mar del Plata 1966 on 9.5/15, with Smyslov winning. Portisch shared the title at Kecskemét 1966 on 6.5/9, along with Vlastimil Hort. At Santa Monica 1966, with seven of the world's top 16 players in the field, he shared fourth/fifth places on 9.5/18, as Spassky won, ahead of Fischer. Portisch was third at Palma de Mallorca 1966 on 10/15, with 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 sixth/eighth places with 9.5/17, and defeated World Champion Petrosian; the tournament winner was Leonid Stein. Portisch placed fourth at Palma de Mallorca 1967, where seven of the top 30 played, with 11.5/17; Larsen won. At Wijk aan Zee 1968, he shared second/fourth places with 9/15 as Korchnoi won. Portisch shared sixth/eighth places at Monte Carlo 1968, which had five of the top 16 players; Larsen won. One of Portisch's career highlights was his clear first place at Skopje/Ohrid 1968, ahead of Geller, Lev Polugaevsky, and 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 third/fourth places on 10/15, behind winners Mikhail Botvinnik and Efim Geller. Portisch shared first/second 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 Gligorić. At Budapest 1970, he shared fifth/sixth 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 Gligorić, and Wolfgang Uhlmann. At Amsterdam IBM 1971, he shared second/fourth 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 six 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 finished third with 9.5/15, as Bent Larsen won. Portisch shared first/third places at San Antonio 1972 (with eight of the top 25), on 10.5/15, with Anatoly Karpov and Tigran Petrosian. Portisch shared third/fourth places at Palma de Mallorca 1972 on 10/15, with Oscar Panno and Ljubomir Ljubojević winning. He won at Ljubljana/Portorož 1973 (Vidmar Memorial) with 12.5/17. At Madrid 1973, Portisch shared sixth/seventh places on 9/15, with Anatoly Karpov winning.

and Wijk aan Zee 1975 (ahead of Robert Hübner and Efim Geller). He won the second Interpolis Tournament in the Netherlands in 1978, ahead of Timman. He tied with Borislav Ivkov for first/second at the Tigran Petrosian Memorial, Moscow 1999.

Team chess results

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

He also led the Hungarian chess team to the gold medal in the 23rd Chess Olympiad held in Buenos Aires in 1978 with a personal score of 10/14. This was the only Olympiad not to be won by the Soviet Union between 1952 and 1990 (except in 1976 when Soviet Union boycotted the competition). 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:

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 follows:

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.

Personal life

Portisch is a Roman Catholic.

Notable chess games