Person of day   -  4 APRIL 2021

LAJOS PORTISCH

LAJOS PORTISCH

Chess was always fairly popular in Hungary. At the start of the 20thcentury, Geza Maroczy was one of the world’s strongest grandmasters. In the 1950s, Laszlo Szabo competed successfully in international tournaments. He was succeeded by Lajos Portisch, who became one of the strongest chess players of the 1960s-1980s.

The young Hungarian champion became famous in 1961, when at a prestigious international tournament in Bled, he defeated the invincible Petrosian, who was at the peak of his powers. Portisch remained the most difficult opponent for the Iron Tigran, who did not win a single game against him until 1974. 

In 1964, Portisch performed admirably at the inter-zonal tournament in Amsterdam, where he defeated Reshevsky in an additional match and qualified for the candidates tournament. However, he lost in the first round of the candidates matches to Tal. Three years later, in an identical quarter-final, he lost to Larsen in a close contest. In 1974, he was defeated at the same stage by Petrosian. Although he qualified for the eight candidates’ slots regularly, Portisch advanced beyond the quarter-finals just once.  

On the other hand, his consistency and victories at tournaments in Madrid, Sarajevo, Hastings, Beverwijk, Las Palmas, San Antonio (together with Petrosian and Karpov in 1972), Tilburg and many others are testimony to the Hungarian grandmaster’s high level of class. In 1970, he performed at the third board in the Match of the Century, where he defeated Korchnoi 2,5:1,5. In 1978, the Hungarian team, led by Portisch, won the Olympiad, overtaking the Soviet team for the first time.  

At his peak, he was called the “Hungarian Botvinnik” for his formidable positioning style, spectacular openings and high level of technique. Like Botvinnik, Portisch was never content with a move that was merely acceptable, always looking for a better follow-up. A certain timidity in sharp positions, underestimation of dynamics and a lack of a sporting drive stopped Lajos Portisch from achieving greater things. Nonetheless, he is a remarkable individual in chess history who continued the glorious traditions of Hungary’s chess school. 

In 2004, he was awarded the highest sporting title in Hungary- Sportsman of the Nation. Currently, the maestro occasionally plays in Hungarian tournaments, though he does this with decreasing regularity. Portisch’s occasional interviews lament the state of contemporary chess. But his successes remain a wonderful stimulus for grandmasters of future generations, like Zoltan Ribli, Andras Adorjan, Gyula Sax, Judit Polgar, Peter Leko and Richard Rapport.