Chess players never get dates!

Well, that depends on what kind of date…

Dating a tournament can be a difficult task at times, if one wants to know the exact dates (and times!) each game is played. In the modern era this isn’t so difficult, many times you can actually see the game live. That means you not only know the exact time of the game but also the time of each and every move.

In the world before TWIC (The Week In Chess) this was not so easy. Sometimes it was next to impossible, depending on how well the media of the day covered the event. The usual source of information, the one which is considered most definitive by many, is the tournament book, or report. Most tournaments in the olden days would publish such a report, consisting of some introductory information (if you’re lucky), a final crosstable and standings result, and the actual games, round by round.

Many times such reports would omit the exact dates of the start of each round and just cite an overall span of dates for the tournament, i.e. the start to finish dates. As concerns the exact date of the finish of a game, that is almost never recorded in the generic tournament report.

Chess is a niche market, and so limited copies of such reports were made for the more pedestrian tournaments.  And as time passes these reports go out of print, and become harder and harder to obtain, even for important tournaments. The job of the biographer then becomes increasingly difficult.

Consider the Interzonal held in Subotica 1987. I volunteered to make a collection for that tournament on <CG>. Having done so, the next task for the masochist would involve trying to obtain some biographical data for the tournament. (That, and adding all the games that <CG> appears to be missing). The simplest biograhical would be the dates on which the tournament is held. Just get the tournament book, right?

Not so easy.WorldCat is perhaps the best library reference resource on the internet. It lists just two libraries as having copies of the Subotica ’87 tournament book. An English language copy in the Netherlands, and a Yugoslavian copy in Cleveland Ohio (USA). Neither of which are readily accessible to me, nor do they generally do interlibrary loans of such rare reference materials.

This tournament, which really occurred in the modern era, is also difficult to find on the internet. At least, at the level of detail that would distinguish the actual days of the tournament versus the year it was held. Let alone determining who the TD (tournament director) was. OK then, use Di Felice, the well-known Italian biographer who wrote a large series of books with details about chess tournaments throughout history.

Di Felice is a respected source, but one that is difficult for me to access. I don’t own any of his series of Chess Results books, nor do any of the public libraries I utilize. And even if I did own the entire series, they stop at 1970, so no help. I did just notice that there is a hardcover Di Felice:

Chess Results 1747 – 1900: Comprehensive Tournaments (2004)

Despite the title, if it not as comprehensive as his other books. Still it might have Subotica 1987, if only I had access to a copy I could find out.

But there there are other sources of information, at least for the tournament dates, that the crafty biographer can utilize. One, some obvious, is utilizing the bibliographical information from the actual tournament reports themselves.Here’s an example for Wijk aan Zee 1978:


But this doesn’t always work (e.g. for 1976):


The crafty biographer can try to use more devious methods.  Another technique involves piggy-backing off the world of commerce. There is a market for both old tournament reports and other memorabilia from tournaments. Once again, when looking for information about a tournament one can find an old tournament report being offered for sale, and the biographer can glean information from the photograph of the item, or its description.

An example of this occurred just the other day on <CG> where the question arose – what was the “official” title of the 1959 Moscow tournament in which Smyslov participated. <RUSbase> gave the tournament name as the “Alekhine Memorial Moscow Tournament” (or somesuch) whereas (the not always so reliable) Wikipedia omitted 1959 from its list of Alekhine Memorial tournaments. Who to believe? (I know who I’d believe in case of conflict! But it’s nice to confirm.) The tie-break was found in the item description from this auction:


So, the descripton: “Moscow 1959, Russian bulletins. Alekhine Memorial“. Alekhine Memorial it is!

Now, to close this post, let us return to Subotica izt (1987).  While exploring the internet for any information about the tournament I found a site which sold old collectable stamps commemorating chess. These old artifacts can be extremely useful for the biographer, and are much more fun than rummaging through scanned copies of newspapers written in a language you can’t read!

As for the Subotica tournament, it ran from Monday, June 22, 1987 -> Tuesday, July 14, 1987. You can find details on how this was determined in a previous post I wrote, here:

Or you can read it off yourself below (I added the yellow highlighting to help guide the eye:

Subotica '87 (zoom+hilight)(Click on picture to expand)


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