By Milan Dinic
A hundred years since the birth of one of the greatest names in the history of chess, friends, players, officials and lovers of the game gathered in the Serbian capital to remember Svetozar Gligoric
Grandmaster Svetozar Gligoric, who died in 2012, would have turned 100 today. Gligoric was born on 2nd February 1923 in Belgrade and rose to fame in the 1950s and 1960s as one of the strongest chess players of that time. He was instrumental in helping Yugoslavia become the second chess nation in the world, after the USSR – the place it firmly held for three decades.
In honour of Gligoric’s 100th birthday, over a hundred guests, including FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich and Grandmaster Aleksandar Matanovic, attended the chess ceremony in Belgrade’s Veterans’ Club where once Gligoric’s chess club – Partizan – was based.
FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, who is in Serbia for the first Chess Olympiad for people with disabilities, praised Gligoric for his contribution to the game.
“When we discussed the organisation of this Olympiad, it was quite natural for us to have it coincide with the centenary of the birth of the Great Svetozar Gligoric”, Dvorkovich said.
Speaking at the event was Grandmaster Aleksandar Matanovic, another great name of Yugoslav and Serbian chess from the second part of the 20th century, a chess author and one of the founders of Chess Informant. At the age of 92, Matanovic is the world’s oldest living Grandmaster.
Matanovic spoke about his 64-year-long friendship with Gligoric, from the early days of youth competitions to chess Olympiads, matches and tournaments.
“We were mischievous opponents on the chess board, friends, for 64 years. These 64 black and white squares brought us together and decided both his and my life path”.
Matanovic reminded those present about Gligoric’s motto – embedded in the title of one of his books – “I play against the pieces”. The original sentence reads: “Chess, that is a struggle with oneself. I never play against the opponent; I play against his pieces”.
Matanovic evoked the memory of a game he witnessed between Gligoric and the then-rising US chess star, Bobby Fischer, in the early 1960s.
“After some thirty moves, Fischer said to Gliga – ‘draw’. Head in his hands, deeply focused on the position, without even raising his look, Gligoric just responded ‘no’ and went on to win the game”.
The guests were shown an inspiring 13-minute video by the journalist Marko Maksimovic featuring clips from Gligoric’s interviews, appearances at events (including the famous photo of Che Guevarra watching Gligoric play at the 1966 Olympiad in Havana), radio talk shows (he was also a radio journalist), and photos from his private archive.
When he turned 80, Svetozar Gligoric decided to give up competitive chess and – unlike most people well before that age – he didn’t retire. Instead – he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to music. In his final years, Gligoric composed music ranging from jazz, funk and soul to rap. Some of his published work was played at the event, and you can listen to one of his tunes here.
A memory: The day Gligoric died
(A memory by Vladan Dinic, a Serbian journalist and author)
I knew Gliga for many decades, and our wives used to play cards as we would travel and meet in tournaments – he, a great player and me, a reporter for a national newspaper covering politics and chess.
It was a Tuesday, 14th August 2012, and I was sitting in a café in the centre of Belgrade with Ljubomir Ljubojevic, another household chess name in Yugoslavia and the world. We were discussing some old names from the Yugoslav chess scene – Andrija Fuderer, Milan Matulovic, Dragoljub Velimirovic, Bora Ivkov, Beka – Aleksandar Matanovic, Milunka Lazarevic, dr Petar Trifunovic… At one point, my phone rang – it was someone from the Serbian chess federation. The voice told me: “Just to let you know that Gliga has died. Please pass this on to Ljubo (Ljubojevic)”.
I’m not sure how I reacted or looked, but Ljubojevic overheard me saying “Gliga” in a surprised tone and probably noticed my reaction. As I hung up, I looked at Ljubojevic, who responded with a teary voice – “Gliga has died?! Is that possible” as I noticed his eyes going red.
The news spread around quickly, and the disbelief.
An old person dying is not a surprise, of course, but living legends and heroes – especially if you had a chance to know them or even live in their time – they never die!
Suddenly, I remembered what Gliga told me about a sad but telling event from 2003, when a burglar broke into his home while he was there! The masked burglar tied Gligoric up to the chair and started ransacking his home until, at one point, he turned around and said – “are you Gligoric, the chess player”? Gliga confirmed and, as he told me, the burglar all of a sudden showed uneasiness, as if he was almost embarrassed and quickly left, taking a few belongings but giving up on ransacking the whole house.
But not even that horrible experience deterred Gligoric. That was the year he started dedicating himself to music.
One night he invited me to his home to give me a CD with his songs and compositions. We discussed co-authoring a book, “Gliga against the Russian chess school”. He even gave me some initial ideas written on paper. I asked him: “How do you find the time to do all of this?”
He said: “Dinja, music is my passion nowadays, not chess. But, I planned on living until I’m 102, so we’ll see”.
When I heard those words, I was sure Gliga would go on to live to see his 100th birthday. But he didn’t. That is life.
When he gave me one of his books – “Playing against the pieces”, he wrote: “To Vladan Dinic, my younger colleague…”. I used to tease other Grandmasters that he meant I was his colleague in chess, not journalism!
Svetozar Gligoric was one of the people who made chess beautiful, who made life beautiful and who made others feel appreciated. As long as there is an appreciation for beauty and good in life, his music, both on chess board and on the piano, will live on.
Photos: Mark Livshitz