The Gijon International Chess Tournaments, 1944-1965 : Pedro Méndez Castedo & Luis Méndez Castedo
Pedro Méndez Castedo & Luis Méndez Castedo
Pedro Mendez Castedo is an amateur chess player, an elementary educational guidance counselor a member of the Asturias Chess History Commission, a bibliophile and a researcher of the history of Spanish and Asturian chess. He lives in San Martin del Rey Aurelio, Spain. Luis Mendez Castedo is an amateur chess player, a full teacher at a state school, a member of the Asturias Chess History Commission, a bibliophile and an investigator of the history of Spanish chess. He lives in Gijon, Spain.
When I mention Gijón, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Mustard? No, that’s Dijon. Dijon’s in France, but Gijón’s on the north coast of Spain, on the Bay of Biscay.
Small international chess tournaments were held there between 1944 and 1951, then between 1954 and 1956, and, finally, in 1965. These were all play all events, with between 8 and 12 players: a mixture of visiting masters and local stars. A bit like Hastings, you might think, but these tournaments usually took place in July, not in the middle of winter.
The strength of the tournaments varied, but some famous names took part. Alekhine played in the first two events and Euwe in 1951. A young Larsen played in 1956, while other prominent masters such as Rossolimo, Darga, Donner, Prins, Pomar and O’Kelly also took part. The local player Antonio Rico played in every event, with fluctuating fortunes: winning in 1945 ahead of Alekhine and 1948, but also finishing last on several occasions. English interests were represented on three occasions by Mr CHESS, BH Wood.
A nice touch is the Foreword, written by Gene Salomon, a Gijón native who played in the 1947 event before emigrating first to Cuba and then to the United States.
The main part of the book comprises a chapter on each tournament. We get a crosstable and round by round individual scores (it would have been better if these didn’t spill over the page: you might also think that progressive scores would be more useful). We then have, another nice touch, a summary of what was happening in the world at large, and in the chess world, that year. Then we have a games selection, some with light annotations: words rather than variations, giving the impression that little if any use was made of engines.
The book concludes with a chapter on ‘Special Personages’: Félix Heras, the tournament organizer, and, perhaps to entice British readers, BH Wood. Appendices provide a table of tournament participation and biographical summaries of the players.
Returning to the main body of the book, let’s take the 1950 tournament as a not entirely random example. A year in which I have a particular interest.
We learn a little about the football World Cup, the Korean War and a Spanish radio programme, the first Candidates Tournament and the Dubrovnik chess olympiad.
The big news from Gijón was the participation of the French player Chantal Chaudé de Silans, the only female to take part in these events, and rather unfairly deprived of her acute accent here. She scored a respectable 3½ points, beating Prins and Grob (yes, the 1. g4 chap).
Rossolimo won the event with 8½/11, just ahead of Dunkelblum and Pomar on 8. Prins and Torán, playing in his home city, finished on 7 points.
This game, between Arturo Pomar and Henri Grob, won the first brilliancy prize.
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. g3 Bg7 6. Bg2 c6 7. e3 h5 8. Nge2 h4 9. Qb3 Nxc3 10. bxc3 Nd7 11. a4 Nb6 12. a5
12… Nd7 13. a6 Qc7 14. Qc4 Nb6 15. Qc5 Rh5 16. Qa3 bxa6 17. Nf4 Rh8 18. Qc5 Bb7 19. Ba3 e5 20. Nd3 exd4 21. cxd4 Rh5 22. Ne5 O-O-O 23. g4 Nd7 24. Qc2 Rxe5 25. dxe5 Nxe5 26. Rb1 h3 27. Be4 Nxg4 28. Ke2 a5 29. Rxb7 Kxb7 30. Rb1+ Kc8 31. Bxc6 Ne5 32. Bb7+ Kb8 33. Ba6+ Qb6 34. Bd6+ Ka8 35. Rxb6 1:0
The annotations – by result rather than analysis – neither convince nor stand up to computer scrutiny. We’re told at the start of the game that ‘Pomar takes the initiative from Black’s error in the opening and does not relinquish it until the final victory’, but the annotations refute this claim. After criticizing several of Grob’s moves but none of Pomar’s, we’re told, correctly, that Black could have gained an advantage by playing 25… Qa5+. However, Grob’s choice was second best, not a ‘serious mistake’: Stockfish 10 tells me 26… a5 was still better for Black, and 27… a5 (in both cases with the idea of Ba6) was equal, though I guess those moves might not be easy to find without assistance. It was his 27th move, and perhaps also his 26th, which deserved the question mark.
This game was played in the last round of the tournament, on 26 July 1950. Two days later a boy would be born who would learn chess, develop an interest in the game’s history and literature, and be asked to review this book. What is his verdict?
An enjoyable read, a nice book, but not a great book. If you collect McFarland books you’ll want it. If you have a particular passion for Spanish chess history, you’ll want it. Otherwise, although the book is not without interest, it’s probably an optional extra.
The tournaments, apart perhaps from Alekhine’s participation in the first two events, are not, in the overall scheme of things, especially significant. The games, by and large, aren’t that exciting. The annotations are, by today’s standards, not really adequate. The translation and presentation could have been improved.
Just another thought: we could do with a similarly structured book about the Hastings tournaments. There was one published some years ago, but a genuine chess historian could do much better.
Richard James, Twickenham 20 November 2019
Book Details :
- Softcover : 244 pages
- Publisher: McFarland (30 July 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1476676593
- ISBN-13: 978-1476676593
- Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 1.5 x 25.1 cm
Official web site of McFarland