The recent Sinquefield Cup was created in 2013 and is named after the husband and wife chess patrons Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield, both of whom have done much to turn St Louis into not only the American chess capital but arguably also one of the world’s top chess destinations. And in many ways, their cup competition pays tribute to another husband and wife team who half a century ago did likewise to put America on the chess map.
In 1963, Jacqueline Piatigorsky - a member of the Rothschild banking dynasty - and her husband, the world-renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, sponsored the Piatigorsky Cup tournament in Los Angeles, that would showcase Bobby Fischer playing top Soviet stars in his homeland for the first time, such as the new world champion, Tigran Petrosian, and Paul Keres.
And three years later, in 1966 - in this, the 50th anniversary week of its conclusion - the second Piatigorsky Cup took place in Santa Monica, and it managed to outshine the first with the prize fund more than doubled and an even stronger world-class field, and until the arrival of the Sinquefield Cup in 2013, made it one of the strongest tournaments ever to be held on American soil.
The field included ten world-class grandmasters, headed by the return of defending champion Petrosian, who had just successfully retained his world title against challenger Boris Spassky (who went on to capture the title in 1969), and they would do battle alongside non-Soviet potential world championship aspirants Fischer, Bent Larsen and Lajos Portisch - and those two Piatigorsky Cup competitions played a crucial role in helping to promote and aid Fischer’s quest to go on to become world champion.
Fischer though had a dreadful first half to the 2nd Piatigorsky Cup, losing in successive rounds to Larsen, Miguel Najdorf and then Spassky, that was to prove to be his first and only three-game losing streak as a professional. But Fischer rallied in the second half, where he showed his fighting spirit to storm back into contention to score 7.5/9 - but he was pipped to first place by Spassky (thanks to his earlier defeat of the American) in what became an exciting a two-horse race to the finish.
The rest, as they say, is history. Spassky and Fischer were the coming men in world chess and destined to meet for the crown, and would face each other in 1972 in Reykjavik, Iceland, in what would be heralded by the media to be the ‘Match of the Century’.
2nd Piatigorsky Cup
1. Spassky 11½/18; 2. Fischer 11; 3. Larsen 10; 4-5. Unzicker, Portisch 9½; 6-7. Reshevsky, Petrosian 9; 8. Najdorf 8; 9. Ivkov 6½; 10. Donner 6.
GM Boris Spassky - GM Bobby Fischer
2nd Piatigorsky Cup, (8)
Grünfeld Defence, Exchange Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 Fischer seemed to reserve his special weapon of the Grünfeld Defence for critical games with top opponents, such as Mikhail Botvinnik and now Boris Spassky. 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0-0 10.0-0 Qc7 The Smyslov variation was to be the battleground for two epic Spassky-Fischer encounters before their historic world title bout in 1972 in Reykjavik. 11.Rc1 Rd8 12.Qe1 When both players would meet next, at the 1970 Siegen Olympiad, which was truly an epic contest of champions, the game continued 12.h3 b6 13.f4 e6 14.Qe1 Na5 15.Bd3 f5 16.g4 fxe4 17.Bxe4 Bb7 18.Ng3 Nc4 19.Bxb7 Qxb7 20.Bf2 where Spassky had the attack yet again, but Fischer had more dynamic defensive resources this time, and indeed the game should have been a deserved draw between the two upcoming title contestants, but Fischer made an error allowing Spassky to win - you can view that encounter by clicking here. 12...e6 13.f4 Na5 14.Bd3 f5 15.Rd1 Also an option was 15.Qf2 b6 16.Rfd1 as played in Cuellar-Jimenez, Santiago 1965. 15...b6 16.Qf2 cxd4 17.Bxd4! Spassky exchanges off an important defender. 17...Bxd4 18.cxd4 Bb7 19.Ng3 Qf7?! Not the most accurate from Fischer, who should have played 19...Qg7 that would have taken the sting out of Spassky's coming attack. 20.d5! (See Diagram) 20...fxe4 21.dxe6 This intermezzo wouldn't have been possible had Fischer played more accurately with 19...Qg7. But now, Spassky has a forceful attack brewing. 21...Qxe6 22.f5! Qf7 As Spassky noted in his own analysis to this game, no good is 22...gxf5? 23.Nxf5! Qf6 (23...exd3?? 24.Qg3+ Qg6 25.Ne7+ wins the game.) 24.Qe3! and White is winning.. 23.Bxe4 Rxd1 24.Rxd1 Rf8! 25.Bb1! Qf6?! The queen remains somewhat exposed on the f-file, meanwhile, Spassky's pieces now combine to force home the win. 26.Qc2 Kh8 27.fxg6 hxg6 Spassky has reduced the number of defenders around Fischer's king, as his knight on a5 is offside and there's the possibility of Spassky's rook getting to the seventh, making any endgame scenario difficult for Fischer. 28.Qd2?! A confident Spassky, at this time of his career when he was in his pomp, was a dominant force in chess - but uncharacteristically, he missed the best chance here with 28.Nh5! Be4! (The only move, as 28...Qf7 29.Qc3+ Kh7 30.Qg3 Bc8 31.Rc1 with a winning attack) 29.Qe2 (Also the forced ending with 29.Nxf6 Bxc2 30.Nd7 Bxd1 31.Nxf8 despite the exchanges, would still be good for White.) 29...gxh5 (29...Qc3 30.Bxe4 (Also looking like a won ending for White is 30.Qxe4 Qc5+ 31.Qd4+ Qxd4+ 32.Rxd4 gxh5 33.Rh4) 30.Bxe4 Kg7 31.Bf3 and White has a big advantage, as Black's king is vulnerable and his knight is still way offside. 28...Kg7 29.Rf1 Qe7 30.Qd4+ Spassky's forces working in unison is stretching Fischer to the limits, but he finds the right way to attempt to nullify Spassky's attack and get to a sort of manageable endgame. 30...Rf6 31.Ne4 Bxe4 32.Bxe4 Qc5! The more pieces being exchanged now by Fischer will help to save the game. 33.Qxc5 Rxf1+ 34.Kxf1 bxc5 35.h4 Nc4 Fischer has resourcefully dragged himself back into the game - but be in no doubt that Spassky still holds all the aces in the endgame with his dominant bishop and the possibility of a dangerously passed h-pawn. 36.Ke2 Ne5?! Retooling your brain to go from dealing with a major crisis to a much lesser crisis at the board is not easy, and a more accurate route to safety for Fischer would have been 36...Kh6! 37.Kd3 (Not 37.g4?! Ne5! 38.Bf3 g5 and Black has saved the game.) 37...Ne5+ 38.Ke3 g5 39.hxg5+ Kxg5 and Black has equality here with a very manageable endgame. 37.Ke3 Kf6 38.Kf4 Nf7 39.Ke3 g5?! According to the notes to this game given by the Yugoslavian giant Svetozar Gligoric, Fischer missed his last chance for survival here with 39...Nh6! - but even this is difficult for him after 40.Kf4. 40.h5! The outside passed pawn proves to be a major headache for Fischer, as his knight's mobility is now curtailed having to defend against it - and this leaves Spassky's king free to pick off the loose pawns on the queenside. 40...Nh6 41.Kd3 Ke5 42.Ba8 Kd6 43.Kc4 g4 44.a4 Ng8 45.a5 Nh6 46.Be4 g3 47.Kb5 Ng8 48.Bb1 Nh6 49.Ka6 Kc6 50.Ba2 1-0 Spassky is going to take the uber-cautious route to victory by playing Bc4 first and then capturing on a7.