Chess Heroes: Isaías Pleci

Isaías PleciIsaias Pleci was born in 1900, he originated from Argentina. Pleci used to say that once he had a chance to play against great chess players he realized how poor his theoretical background was. Perhaps this was not far from reality. Moreover he was never a player with thorough positional outlook which was another serious handicap for him. How come then that the lucky star shone over his head throughout his Olympic career? One has to stress that contrary to the popular image of Pleci as an offensive player - he even earned a nickname "the tank" - the observation of his Olympic games shows it otherwise: he was cautious in the openings and lacking initiative, sometimes showing less technical skills than his partners.

Where did his strength come from then? From the endgames. The endings and the stage of the game that we used to call the pre-endgame, gave ample compensation for other phases of the game. He had reliable instinct about when and how to simplify the position, and his rivals must often have been surprised when the "frightful attacker" went on for series of trades heading towards seemingly even position where he found tiny yet stable advantages. Sometimes he had a chance to conduct a mortal counterstrike biting from the back ranks the exposed pieces of his enemy.

It might be argued that his enormous successes came from the fact that he used to play at 3rd and 5th board at the Olympiads (the difference between the boards used to be much larger in the past). But there comes an interesting anecdote in this respect. (this is most probably vague story yet still interesting to hear; W.B.) In Warsaw, 1935, Pleci, Argentina's board #3 lost couple of games in the middle of the tournament. Grau, the team captain, decided to put him at board #1 (team Argentina had no reserve players), since in there was no strict board order those days (there was, since 1931! W.B.). The reason was clear: the reserve player was likely to be defeated at top board yet the rest of the team were facing weaker opposition enhancing their chances for earning more points. However Pleci surprisingly started to play much better and defeated a few well-known players. Isaías Pleci is being known as an aggressive, risky, tactical player. We do not think this is correct. The well-known Pleci-Endzelins game (Argentina-Latvia, Buenos Aires 1939 Olympiad), that became famous around the world, is an exception among others. He earned his nickname "Tank" simply because he was the winner, not because he was a master of tactics.

He made his first chess steps at the Círculo de Ajedrez ("Circle of Chess") club in Vélez Sársfield, but most of the time he played for "Jaque Mate" ("Checkmate") Chess Club. He participated in a couple of Argentina Championship's qualifiers until he finally qualified for the main final ("Torneo Mayor") in 1928. He qualified for the final round soon but he lost the match for the title against Grau by 0-4. He took fierce revenge on the next year beating Grau by 4-2 and earning well-deserved title of the Champion of Argentina. As a Champion of Argentina he was invited to take part in the international tournament in Liège (Belgium), 1930. Series of unlucky circumstances - we do not mention his partners' skills here - caused biggest disaster of his international career, as he came last. After having returned to Argentina he defended his title defeating Fenoglio in a final match but then he was beaten twice by Jacobo Bolbochán who made enough effort to get familiar with secrets of positional play. He went back to Europe in 1935 to play for his home country at the Warsaw Olympiad in Poland. He also played in Stockholm, 1937 and at the home soil in 1939, of course. He has superb overall Olympic performance of 41/55 (75%) and he won two medals for his individual performance (bronze in 1937 and gold in 1939). Another memorable achievement of him was the first prize won at the international tournament in Mar del Plata, 1936.

Pleci became frequent visitor at "Círculo de Ajedrez" Chess Club in Villa del Parque once they moved at San Blas St. 3425, just a few minutes from Pleci's house. He obviously enjoyed these visits. He truly enjoyed giving lessons to young and talented chess players, and although some people recognized his attitude a little bit conceited he had gentle and mild personality in fact. One of his club-mates told us about his last visit to the club (this was in 1980). On the following day he had to go to the hospital. He felt that his illness was mortal. He wandered slowly through the club halls, absent in soul, casting hazy glances at all the tables, all the walls, all the pictures. Then he left the club without speaking to anybody...

Here are two of his classical, dazzling wins:
Eliskases - Pleci 0-1, Warsaw 1935 Olympiad
Pleci - Endzelins 1-0, Buenos Aires 1939 Olympiad ("la inmortal Argentina")

/Based on "Nuestro Círculo" bulletin no. 76, translated and revised by Wojciech Bartelski/