23rd Chess Olympiad: Buenos Aires 1978

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Basic data

23rd Chess Olympiad
(see all-time tournament summary)
Date: 25th October - 12th November 1978
City: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Venue: River Plate
Head of Organizing Committee: Mr. Rodolfo Zanlungo (ARG)
General Director: Mr. Héctor Decio Rossetto (ARG)
Chief Arbiter: IA Paul Klein (ECU)
Teams participating: 66 (incl. Argentina "B")
Players participating: 388 (incl. 61 GMs and 60 IMs)
Games played: 1848 (2 games were forfeited)
Competition format: Four board fourteen round Swiss.
Final order decided by: 1. Game points; 2. Buchholz; 3. Match points
Time control: 40 moves in 2 hours 30 minutes, then 1 hour for each next 16 moves
Official logo: Buenos Aires 1978
Downloadable game file: 78olm.zip
Special thanks to Carlos E. A. Drake for all kind of help on the topic.

Tournament review

The 23th Chess Olympiad came back to South America after 39 years. Unfortunately no participant from 1939 appeared in the line-ups although bigger gaps have been seen in the history of the Olympiads. We have seen 66 nations, among them team USA, the titleholders, together with group of hawkish youngsters from Western European teams and full set of Communist nations, including USSR of course. The Soviets were lacking Karpov and Tal this time having put three newcomers into the squad. It was the second time when the Olympiad was running according to the rules of Swiss system, but the first time when both West and East countries joined. The 4-year break made it hard to predict who is going to reach the medal zone, apart from the Soviets who, as usual, were big favourites for Gold. Hungary lead by Portisch, Ribli and Sax looked very solid as well as Yugoslavia with Gligorić and Ljubojević, The American squad was based on their Haifa golden team. Argentina, the host nation, once again were deprived of their best players (Najdorf, Panno, Quinteros and more) who missed the Argentinian Championship, the major and only Olympic team qualifier.

The turn of October and November means the height of spring at the Southern hemisphere. This is why Argentinian heats were quite hard to tolerate for the Europeans and that was sort of handicap for them. The games of the Olympiad were played inside tight passageways of the famous "River Plate" football stadium, a structure that hosted the football World Championship final some six months earlier (it was Argentina who took the Gold beating 3-1 Holland after extra-time). According to FIDE General Assembly settings the number of rounds was extended to 14, since the number of participating countries exceeded 50. Unlike Haifa Buchholz became the major tie-break at a cost of match points.

Of 33 first round clashes as much as 16 ended up in a clear 4-0 but no major team managed to do so. Hungary and Yugoslavia dropped a fraction, USSR and USA left a full point behind the leaders beating Wales and Paraguay respectively by 3 to 1. Experienced Hölzl of Austria lost to G.Broomes of Guyana but it were the impatiently expected newcomers from China who produced major round 1 sensation hammering Iceland 3-1, where Qi trashed GM Sigurjónsson at board 1. Nothing interesting happened on the next day when we have seen the favourites taking what they should take, with few exceptions like Sweden's lost to Norway or Spain dropping 1½ point vs Venezuela. England took over the narrow lead ahead of Bulgaria and Holland. The Brittons retained the lead at the end of the next day as they ran over Argentina. Hungary wiped out the Netherlands and Soviet Union beat Romania comfortably. Cuba beat West Germany by surprisingly easy 3-1. Poland struggled vs Hong Kong only to achieve a modest win. Next day saw bunch of 2-2 and 2½-1½ results with only USRR and USA pulling up thanks to 3-1 wins. Poland recovered impressively hammering Brazil 4-0 to move into top 10. USSR moved into a share of lead together with England - at last. Miles' outstanding win over Spassky was only enough for a draw for England in key match of round 5. We saw four draws at table 2, where Hungary shared points with USA. Cuba recovered from last day's loss killing the Dutch - to everyone's astonishment. On the next day Spassky's win over Portisch sealed Soviet's win in a match that seemed to be decisive about the gold medals. USA cruised to a prestigious 2½-1½ win over England. Denmark murdered Canada leaving them just a half of a point and mounted the runner up position - together with Bulgaria who beat irregular Cubans. England dropped back to 4th shared with USA. Hungary, Yugoslavia and Poland were lying down in joint 6th. Bulgaria put up tough resistance vs USSR (Padevsky beat Gulko) but this was only enough to avoid heavy loss. Hungary barely halved vs amazing Danes despite Portisch's firm win. USA beat Yugoslavia and Polish newly emerged star Kuligowski sealed his country win over England. Cuba continued their swing play defeating Philippines. Germany reverted to the top hammering poor Welsh team. It were USSR who were the leaders at the halfway a full point ahead of USA and Denmark followed by Germany, Bulgaria and Poland. Round 8 proved to be successful fishing for USSR and Hungary who scored 3 points both vs USA and England respectively. Denmark drew vs Cuba and West Germany went on with their stunning pace wiping out the host nation. That day we have seen one of most memorable Olympic curiosities as Liu Wenzhe of China demolished GM Donner in a game that soon happened to become an epitome of China's rising power. USSR retained their lead ahead of Germany and Hungary. Round 9 brought major upset as USSR lost to West Germany (Pfleger beat Polugaevsky) to only make themselves nervous and lacking confidence followed by their opposition's boost in morale. Hungary modestly beat Bulgaria and USA crushed sensational Denmark by 4-0, flushing the latter down to 18th position in the table. The Soviets were still in the lead though, a fraction ahead of Germany and USA, and bearing a one point advantage over Hungary. The rest were far behind. The next round brought another major disappointment for the Soviet team who were lucky to avoid loss vs Israel. West Germany and Hungary did not even try to take a risk and halved quickly. USA beat Cuba but it was still not enough given Lombady lost to García Martínez wasting huge chance to overtake the leaders to whom the Americans only levelled on that day. The rest day did not help the Soviets who got on with their pathetic run dropping 2 points vs Sweden. A stiff USA-West Germany match gave the Americans the minimal win and Hungary took all their chances defeating 3-1 team Iceland. Israel recovered from scratch and climbed up to 4th place thanks to 3½-½ victory over Cuba. However they came back when they were earlier just 24 hours later after having been defeated by mighty Americans. The Soviets finally managed a win but a 2½-1½ over Poland barely revived their hopes. Hungary destroyed Sweden to become yet one more nation to find themselves at the top of the table. Canada demolished France 4-0 and were back in top 10. With two rounds to go the medal winners were already decided, since USA, Hungary and USSR earned comfortable advantage over the rest. But not over each other... In penultimate round the Hungarians dispelled Israeli hopes for medals but conceded three draws while the Soviets beat Canada 3-1. The United States were very lucky to avoid loss vs stunning Poles. The rest of the top matches were all draws. Before the last round started Hungary were in the lead ahead of Soviet Union and USA. Everyone was hoping for very close finish but it was not the case. The Soviets managed only one win in a pallid last round clash vs The Netherlands and the Hungarians did not miss the chance of their life crushing Yugoslavia 3-1 to enjoy the most surprising Olympic title in the history. USA easily retained their bronze medal positions halving vs Switzerland (Kavalek lost to Kortschnoj) but they never looked like making it better than that. Germany came 4th ahead of Israel and Romania. Denmark and Poland were very happy to see their teams in top 10, something they definitely deserved. England, the early leaders were down in 12th, still better than Yugoslavia (15th) and Argentina, the host nation. The Chinese finished 20th showing truly good form and Brazil once again did badly, although they were deprived of Mecking who was suffering muscular atrophy at the time. France did not improve much finishing in joint 37th despite promising start.

The fully deserved success of Hungarian team was achieved thanks to their top 3, namely Portisch, Ribli and Sax. Portisch contributed most and scored >70% despite of two losses. The reconstructed Soviet team missed a clear leader, Polugaevsky achieved most valuable result perhaps. The bronze for USA, exactly what they were supposed to get, is primarily owed to Tarjan who won gold individual medal for his excellent 9½/11. Superb youngster Kuligowski boosted performance of Polish team and Kortschnoj produced stunning performance for his new homeland Switzerland. Bordonada of Philippines and Turner of British Virgin Islands (best individual percentage performance) did remarkably well also. The 1978 Buenos Aires Olympiad was one of those that did not bring much spectacular games and events, apart from Hungary celebrating their first Olympic gold since 1928.

Individual medals

1st Board
no. name flag code pts gms %
1. GM Kortschnoj, Viktor Switzerland SUI 9 11 81.8
2. GM Rodríguez Vargas, Orestes Peru PER 8 10 80.0
3. GM Andersson, Ulf Sweden SWE 10 13 76.9

2nd Board
no. name flag code pts gms %
1. Kuligowski, Adam Poland POL 10 13 76.9
2. IM Biyiasas, Peter Canada CAN 9 12 75.0
3. Rantanen, Yrjö Finland FIN 8 11 72.7

3rd Board
no. name flag code pts gms %
1. GM Tringov, Georgi Bulgaria BUL 11 77.3
2. GM Polugaevsky, Lev Soviet Union URS 8 11 72.7
3. GM Sax, Gyula Hungary HUN 12 70.8

4th Board
no. name flag code pts gms %
1. Bordonada, Glenn The Philippines PHI 7 9 77.8
2. IM Bellón López, Juan Manuel Spain ESP 10 13 76.9
3. Braga, Cícero Brazil BRA 8 11 72.7

1st Reserve Board
no. name flag code pts gms %
1. GM Tarjan, James Edward United States USA 11 86.4
2. IM Birnboim, Nathan Israel ISR 6 8 75.0
3. GM García Martínez, Silvino Cuba CUB 8 11 72.7

2nd Reserve Board
no. name flag code pts gms %
1. Turner, John U.S. Virgin Islands ISV 7 92.9
2. Zhang Weida China CHN 8 81.3
3. Navarro, Roberto Mexico MEX 6 8 75.0

Interesting games

There weren't much individual upsets in Buenos Aires.
This is perhaps the biggest one.
Ostos, Julio (VEN) - Díez del Corral, Jesús (ESP) 1 - 0

The shortest decisive game.
Braga, Cícero (BRA) - Campbell, John (IVB) 1 - 0

Black tempted for an extra pawn and it did not pay the rent...
Matanović, Aleksandar (YUG) - Ciocâltea, Victor (ROM) 1 - 0

That is what is called a thunderstruck!
Sosonko, Gennadi (NED) - Schneider, Lars-Åke (SWE) 1 - 0

The excellent and brave victory sealed historical success of the Hungarians.
Matanović, Aleksandar (YUG) - Sax, Gyula (HUN) 0 - 1

The pair of Bishops overcame the pair of Knights.
Miles, Anthony (ENG) - Portisch, Lajos (HUN) 0 - 1

How come Black overlooked the c5 pawn is hanging?
Kuligowski, Adam (POL) - Liberzon, Vladimir (ISR) 1 - 0

Black bounced all the blows and went on for a winning pawn storm.
Gulko, Boris (URS) - Padevsky, Nikola (BUL) 0 - 1

Obsolete opening does not mean obsolete play.
Lein, Anatoly (USA) - Shaw, Terrey Ian (AUS) 1 - 0

Trapped black Knight sealed Spassky's win but it was Hungary who took the Gold.
Spassky, Boris (URS) - Portisch, Lajos (HUN) 1 - 0

It was White who chose aggressive line
yet it was Black who was in aggressive mood.
Velimirović, Dragoljub (YUG) - Tarjan, James Edward (USA) 0 - 1

Gutsy 22. ... g5! is truly amazing counterattacking concept.
Nickoloff, Bryon (CAN) - Ghindă, Mihail Viorel (ROM) 0 - 1

One of most famous and spectacular Olympic games:
the obscure Chinese step into the world of top chess.
Liu Wenzhe (CHN) - Donner, Jan (NED) 1 - 0

Another Pirc debacle conceded by Dutch giant man.
Sax, Gyula (HUN) - Donner, Jan (NED) 1 - 0

Sarapu had his plane tickets booked and agreed draw
although he had chances to force a winning line.
Sarapu, Ortvin (NZL) - Torre, Eugenio (PHI) ½ - ½

"A wonderful bird is the Pelican,
its beak can hold more than its belly can..."

Nunn, John (ENG) - Bhend, Edwin (SUI) 1 - 0

A stunning game full of fireworks like in old, good 1900's.
Day, Lawrence (CAN) - Morovic Fernández, Iván (CHI) 1 - 0

Is that Ruy Lopez line called a "Downing Defence"?
Powell, John (JAM) - Downing, Carlos (IVB) 1 - 0

Schneider's win was quite a surprise, but fully deserved.
Schneider, Lars-Åke (SWE) - Romanishin, Oleg (URS) 1 - 0

Original opening treatment followed by ingenious Kingside attack.
Kortschnoj, Viktor (SUI) - Miles, Anthony (ENG) 1 - 0


Mauritania reversed playing order at boards #1 and #4 in the third round match vs Uruguay. Since they lost 0-4 over the board they were not penalized. However more pairing discrepancies were found. By the time of start of round one only two members of team Philippines arrived. Strangely enough Philippines #5 and #6 were paired at board 1 and 2 respectively, leaving the rest of the boards empty.


The well-known Argentinian chess historian Miliciades Lachaga took all the 1978 documents to complete the tournament book from the Argentinian Chess Federation bureau just two days before huge fire consumed their offices. Luckily everything was saved concerning the 1978 Olympiad.


The team of Irani Republic applied but failed to arrived. Too bad for them since they apparently missed their last chance to play chess. Two months later, in January 1979 the Ayatollah Khomeini put a ban on chess in newly established Islamic Republic of Iran.


One of the members of a Middle East team tried to buy one of the volunteer girls for $1 million. The offer was not taken up. /This anecdote has originally been published by Bill Wall/


Amazingly the two teams to win most games were Sri Lanka and Syria - 24 each.


Six players scored 10 points, but no one managed to exceed that, the only case in the history of Olympic 14-round Swiss. Gheorghiu of Romania was the only one to avoid loss having played all 14 games.