10th Chess Olympiad: Helsinki 1952

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Basic data

10th Chess Olympiad
(see all-time tournament summary)
Date: 9th - 31st August 1952
City: Helsinki, Finland
Venue: Helsinki Business College
Tournament Director: N/A
Chief Arbiter: IA Karel Opočenský (CSR)
Teams participating: 25
Players participating: 140 (incl. 13 GMs and 38 IMs)
Games played: 740
Competition format: Two stage four board round robin.
Top three from each preliminary group qualified to the final A.
Final order decided by: 1. Game points; 2. Match points
Time control: 40 moves in 2 hours 30 minutes, then 1 hour for each next 16 moves
Official logo: HELSINKI 1952
Downloadable game file: 52olm.zip

Tournament review

The date and venue of 10th Chess Olympiad were a reference to abandoned idea of making Chess Olympiads part of Summer Olympic Games. Chess event was held concurrently with the rest and same city was the host. There was not attendance all-time record though it seemed it could be even up to 30 teams participating. Finally the number of entries went down to 25, including of course long-expected newcomers - the Soviet Union. Only few were missing, like Belgium, France, Bulgaria, but no bigwigs among them. The newly imposed regulations gave a ban on an old habit of making two rounds on same day, something that hurt the players and shattered the progress table because of adjournments. The adjournment sessions were this time held the following morning.

The teams were divided into three groups of 8 and 9. Top three of each qualifying group were entering main Olympic Final, the followers were put in section "B" and "C", respectively. The jury seeded the teams at their discretion, making this contest highly disputable. Top five were USSR, Argentina, Yugoslavia (the titleholders), Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The teams were split into pots and drawing of lots had been done according to them.

Preliminaries began in 10th of August. Only group 3 delivered some tension into supporters' hearts. The rest was clear from start to end. In group 1 Argentina, Czechoslovakia and West Germany, definitely the favourites, jumped ahead immediately. Denmark had a good start but they played only minor teams. Germany were in the lead after 3rd round with 10 points, a point ahead of Denmark and Argentina. Czechoslovakia were lying in 4th place with 4½ points, but they already had passed a bye-round and 2-2 match vs Argentina. Czechoslovakia beat Denmark 3-1 in round 4 and virtually secured their place in the finals. After that Denmark lost surprisingly to Iceland and then were trashed by Argentina earning a single draw and were definitely out. England, another potential contender, didn't even try to push in after they had lost ½-3½ to Argentina in first round. Cuba easily won 6th place and qualified for "B" final. Czechoslovak master Pachman lost sensationally to Benker from Saarland in the very last round. In group 2, with Sweden, Austria and three Eastern teams it seemed it could be hard fight for top three, but it wasn't. East Germany were yet far behind the rest and Austria was enormously weakened compared to their pre-war team. Sweden started with 8/8, then drew with Hungary and felt comfortable. Yugoslavia and Hungary were out of danger at any stage of the games, of course. East Germany won first three matches, but their finish was worse than bad, after moderate loss against Hungary they retained excellent runner-up position but then lost to poor Italians (!) and, in penultimate round struggling for 3rd place, were swept out by Yugoslavia. Austria and Italy pushed Brazil aside in a tense, close run for "B" final spots. Szabó beat Gligorić with Black pieces in most prestigious game of this group. Group 3 comprised of USSR, USA, the hosts and other strong teams like Holland and Israel. USSR won all the matches but they were unexpectedly not very far ahead of the rest. Holland beat USA at the beginning but Finland took excellent start with valuable 3-1 over Poland. USA made partly up for a lost ground beating Israel 4-0 and dispelled Israeli hopes for reaching top 3. Netherlands neatly beat Finland and Poland lost as much as 1½ point vs Greece. To bring even more excitement to the crowd, Finland ran over USA in the next round! Four teams were yet left in the battle for Olympic Final places: first USSR, then Netherlands, Finland and USA behind their back. Next rounds proved decisive, since USA earned much space thanks to their two consecutive 4-0 wins, Finnish hero Eero Böök beat Keres and Finland lost by the lowest margin possible vs USSR, while Holland scored same result but facing Israel, far weaker than the Soviets. Surprisingly all the contenders lost their chances in penultimate round: USA merely drew with Poland, Finland lost to Israel and Holland were beaten by Switzerland, a team that was already relegated to the bottom final section. Surprisingly Israel found themselves a mere point behind Finland and they both were yet to face two bottom nations. Holland must have destroyed Poland, had they yet dreamt about going through. Unfortunately they lost, and it was indirect Israel-Finland match. The home fans were delighted to see their team reaching their all-time summit as they beat Switzerland, same Switzerland that sent Holland home yesterday, with ultimate record of four wins! Israel did the same but of course it was too little. Finland were in the final, a huge sensation for the experts who seeded them down in 19th place and much enjoyment to the host nation.

Each final section comprised of just 9 teams, not very successful implementation. Apart from the inconvenience caused by the odd number of participants, nine teams were much too few. Occasional gain of a single point from a blunder might play relatively important role in the final order. Because of Helsinki experience the rule had been established that no final section in a future may be smaller that 12 teams in order to reflect fairly true strength of participating countries. The Final A was a tough fight all across the field. USSR started moderately, beating Hungary and drawing with the American team. Finland beat West Germany but were down the table because of a bye at the start. Yugoslavia earned valuable 3-1 win over Hungary in round three. Most of matches were either draws or 2½-1½'s. This is why progress table was not very clear and whether a team already had or not a bye was a major factor influencing their position. This is why USSR were down to 6th place (!) in the halfway. They barely halved with Hungary and Czechoslovakia in consecutive rounds. Lucky for them the rest did no much better. USA were, apart from USSR, the only undefeated team but they unexpectedly lost to Sweden in round 7 and lost all the hopes for medals. Yugoslavia beat Czechoslovakia but Keres took savage revenge on Böök and USSR were just 2 points behind the leaders with a match in hand. Argentina and Hungary were chasing them. Both SU and Argentina won their eight round matches by a wide margin and USSR finally found themselves in the lead, with a point of advantage over USA, who had a bye in last round, and 1½ point ahead of Yugoslavia and Argentina. Is looked like Yugoslavia are going for silver since they had easier run in the last round, but no. Argentina beat Hungary 3-1 and desperate Finns wrenched three draws from Yugoslav pocket. Czechoslovakia were up to 4th place thanks to their impressive final spurt. Hungary were only 6th and Finland by a fraction missed last but one place.

Netherlands and Israel dominated battle for 10th place, a top final B position. It was Holland who won and Israel came just behind. The rest of the pack came in tight group. Poland took third place, and 12th overall although their final B record was only 50%+½. Finally, Brazil was by far the strongest team of final C and won all matches but one finishing five points ahead of the runners-up, team Greece. Switzerland finished is awfully disappointing 22th place overtaking only three qualifying group 1 minnows. This was surprisingly even contest since five out of seven teams finished inside one point range.

Soviets won their first gold medal at their Olympic debut but it was not as easy as they might expect. Keres' performance was close to 50% and he was apparently out of shape. Other players did not fail. They won three Best board results, among them two gold (2nd and 3rd best overall individual score prizes went to Smyslov and Bronstein). Argentina's silver medals were no big surprise. Najdorf reached his peak winning individual gold at board 1, same as Rossetto, their reserve. Bolbochán went throughout entire contest undefeated. Yugoslavia were firm all along but they were lacking fierce play-for-win hawks. Strangely both of their reserves were very rarely put into the squad. Czechoslovakia's 4th place was no disappointment at all given that they virtually played without reserve. Their top three were in 55% area, decent but too few for medals even with outstanding Kottnauer (83% and best individual record of the Olympiad) in the squad. They were very hard to beat, they lost only 3 games in the finals (all of them by Filip, board 1!) but on the other hand they were too friendly. USA (another team with just four active players in the squad!) couldn't be happy with their appearance. Reshevsky and Byrne did what they were expected to do but Bisguier and especially Evans were much below where they should be. They both scored less than 50%. Same might be told about Hungary. Both reserves were virtually nonexistent (but still Pogáts' record is a perfect 3/3!), #1 and #3 did reasonably well (75% Szabó, 64% Szily) but Barcza and Flórián were much disappointing. Sweden, with all the top players in the squad lacked stabilization. Sköld's record in the final was unbelievable 0/5. Only GM Ståhlberg played at world class level. Brave Finns achieved the final A but this was all they could afford. Still not bad. Holland were lacking Euwe and were unlucky to go down to final B. Young Donner proved their top player. Israeli team based on Polish expatriates (among them Dr. Oren who won bronze Olympic medal with Polish team, 1928 - known as Chwojnik then) finished in decent 11th. Today's Poland was much weaker though. Superior talent of Bogdan Śliwa shone as he scored 75% at #4 (and won silver medal for his individual record) and Grynfeld, another future Israeli player, scored 70%. Unfortunately for them two members of their team, Makarczyk and Gawlikowski were expelled short before the start and replaced with two politically correct players of, say, moderate strength. Guess which two were they? Please forgive us, we shall not explore the problem of what political correctness meant those days of Stalinist tyranny. East Germany were promising in their debut and their performance had to be bettered soon. England seemed not very happy laying down in 16th place. Frankly speaking they didn't deserve much more. Team Iceland (23th overall) had Mr. Ólafsson, future FIDE president, at board 2. That was the beginning of the Soviet era, lasting, to be sincere, until today...

Best board results

1st Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. GM Najdorf, Miguel ARG A 12½ 16 78.1
2. GM Ståhlberg, Gideon SWE A 10 13 76.9
3. GM Szabó, László HUN A 10½ 14 75.0

2nd Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. GM Smyslov, Vassily URS A 10½ 13 80.8
2. IM Schmid, Lothar GER A 9 12 75.0
3. IM Rabar, Braslav YUG A 8 12 66.7

3rd Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. GM Bronstein, David URS A 8 10 80.0
2. IM Donner, Jan NED B 10 13 76.9
3. IM Byrne, Robert USA A 10½ 15 70.0

4th Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. IM Kottnauer, Čeněk CSR A 12½ 15 83.3
2. GM Geller, Efim URS A 10½ 14 75.0
2. Śliwa, Bogdan POL B 9 12 75.0

1st Reserve Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. IM Rossetto, Héctor Decio ARG A 8 10 80.0
2. Horne, Dennis Morton ENG B 9 61.1
3. Lange, Wilfried GER A 5 10 50.0

2nd Reserve Board
no. name flag code fin. pts gms %
1. IM Rellstab, Ludwig GER A 9 72.2
2. Grynfeld, Izaak POL B 7 10 70.0

Only two players completed at least a minimum of 9 games at 2nd reserve board. This is why Boleslavsky's 7/8 record was ignored. Kottnauer, Smyslov and Bronstein received special prizes for best individual results and Najdorf, Rossetto and Rellstab were awarded with best board results.

Interesting games

The time had come and Black's pressure exploited.
Böök, Eero (FIN) - Szabó, László (HUN) 0 - 1

Black d3 pawn had been a deadly pin for 52 moves.
Lundin, Erik (SWE) - Najdorf, Miguel (ARG) 0 - 1

Swedish GM beautifully outsmarted his opponent.
Ståhlberg, Gideon (SWE) - Szabó, László (HUN) 1 - 0

White passed pawns were blocked and Black passed pawns proved mortal.
Gligorić, Svetozar (YUG) - Szabó, László (HUN) 0 - 1

White carried out pert pawn assault and succeeded.
Ståhlberg, Gideon (SWE) - Filip, Miroslav (CSR) 1 - 0

Immaculate strategic plan by White.
Reshevsky, Samuel Herman (USA) - Tarnowski, Alfred (POL) 1 - 0

Polish fighter got out of thumping wedge.
Van Scheltinga, Theodore (NED) - Tarnowski, Alfred (POL) 0 - 1

We had rarely seen Keres as passive as here.
Szabó, László (HUN) - Keres, Paul (URS) 1 - 0

Samisch King's Indian gains space but leaves White pawns exposed.
Teschner, Rudolf (GER) - Gligorić, Svetozar (YUG) 0 - 1

If you decide to play a gambit then developing your pieces is a must.
Reshevsky, Samuel Herman (USA) - Böök, Eero (FIN) 1 - 0

Barcza should really choose more standard line.
Smyslov, Vassily (URS) - Barcza, Gedeon (HUN) 1 - 0

It is recommended that White considered to activate more pieces than sole King.
Stoltz, Gösta (SWE) - Bronstein, David (URS) 0 - 1

Far-sighted plans realized with an iron grip.
Poschauko, Karl (AUT) - Donner, Jan (NED) 1 - 0

If any game of chess may look like a windmill there it is!
Bolbochán, Julio (ARG) - Evans, Lawrence Melvyn (USA) 1 - 0

This is hard to believe that White dared to play in such anti-positional way.
Pytlakowski, Andrzej (POL) - Smyslov, Vassily (URS) 0 - 1

Simply stunning attack. By far most dazzling game of Helsinki Olympiad.
Ojanen, Kaarle (FIN) - Lundin, Erik (SWE) 0 - 1

Such dangerous attack on both wings at the same time is true rarity.
Byrne, Robert (USA) - Śliwa, Bogdan (POL) 0 - 1

White got totally bogged down.
Bisguier, Arthur Bernard (USA) - Fred, Aatos (FIN) 0 - 1

Shortest game of the Olympiad.
Enevoldsen, Harald (DEN) - Ortega, Rogelio (CUB) 0 - 1

Najdorf's famous blunder cost him a Queen.
Reshevsky, Samuel Herman (USA) - Najdorf, Miguel (ARG) 1 - 0

Despite of time pressure White found winning 38th move.
Byrne, Robert (USA) - Bachmann, P. (SUI) 1 - 0

Ferocious attacks on both wings. Who will be faster?
Cobo Arteaga, Eldis (CUB) - Platz, Hans (GDR) 1 - 0

White carelessly tied all Black pieced down, and...
Danielsson, Gösta (SWE) - Lange, Wilfried (GER) ½ - ½

Classical ending mastery by GM Schmid.
Gonzáles, Juan Carlos (CUB) - Schmid, Lothar (GER) 0 - 1

White had winning advantage but went too quickly.
Pachman, Luděk (CSR) - Benkner, Otto (SAA) 0 - 1


Only 2 players did not miss a single game during the preliminaries and the finals: Gonzáles (Cuba) and Najdorf.


As much as 12 players stayed undefeated. 8 of them played at most 5 games though.


IM Koch (East Germany) was the one with worst individual performance (37%) out of all titled players.