April 17th- May 5th 1972

In 1972 the new town centre of Thornaby- On- Tees hosted one of the strongest chess tournaments ever held in the UK. 1972 the year that Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky to win the world chess championship and in the process created mass public interest in the game. On route to the final Fischer beat Danish Grand master Bent Larsen 6-0 in a candidates match. Bent Larsen was born in 1935 and in 1971 was rated (elo 2660) the third best player in the world behind Fischer and Spassky.

The question is; how did someone manage to get the third best chess player to an event in the north of England, a part of the country best known for its Shipbuilding/steel and chemical industries. The embryo of a grand master tournament was formed in 1970 when Grandmaster Svetozar Gligoric gave a simultaneous display in Finnigan Hall, Eston, Teesside. Local Chess organiser and enthusiast Gerry Walsh ++, arranger of the simil, was present at the event official reception in Eston town hall. A conversation took place between Gligoric and Tim Thornton, the Mayor of Guisborough, during which Gligoric suggested the area should host a Grandmaster tournament. Tim Thornton not being aware of what this involved was duly supplied with the details and he then asked Gligoric if he would play in such event which of course he said he would.

Thereafter Gerry Walsh had meetings with John Pinches chief finance officer of Teesside Borough Council ** and it emerged that the council would provide the finance for this prestigious event. After that Gerry had a meeting with Harry Golembek, England’s elder Chess statesman organiser and international arbiter, they decided who should be invited to play. Following on from this meeting Gerry did much of the ground work including preparing letters of invitation, arranging accommodation at the Marton Country club, and liaising with the management of Thornaby Pavilion which was to be the venue. It is a matter of fact that Gerry spent hundreds of hours making sure this event was a success, without his drive and enthusiasm it would not have happened.

The press took a lot of interest in the tournament which was scheduled to start at the same time as the Fischer v Spassky match but that was delayed until June mainly due to Fischer’s demands.

** Teesside was the forerunner of Cleveland County Council which was formed in 1974. Teesside was in existence for a short time 1968-1974.

++ Gerry went on to become President of Cleveland Chess Association. President of the British/English Chess Federation. Vice President of the European Chess Union and an International arbiter.



 Bent Larsen. Denmark. Born 4.31935. GM title 1956
Ljubomir Ljubojevic. Yugoslavia. Born 2.11.1950. GM title 1971
Lajos Portisch. Hungary. Born 4.4.1937. GM title 1961
Svetozar Gligoric. Yugoslavia. Born 2.2.1923. GM Title 1951
Georgi Tringov. Bulgaria. Born 7.3.1937 Died 2.7.2000. GM title 1963
Istvan Bilek. Hungary. Born 11.8.1932. GM title 1962
Florin Gheorghiu. Romania. Born 6.4.1944. GM title 1965
Bruno Parma. Yugoslavia. Born 30.121941. GM title 1963

International masters:

Gyula Sax. Hungary. Born 18.6.1951. IM 1972 (GM 1974)
Hans Ree. Holland. Born 15.11.1944. IM 1968 (GM1980)
Ulf Anderson. Sweden. Born 26.6.1951. (GM late 1972)
Hans-Joachim Hecht. Germany. Born 29.1.1939. IM 1969 (GM 1973)
Robert Wade. England. Born 10.4.1921 Died 29.11.2008. IM 1950
Robert Bellin. England Born 30.6.1952. (IM 1977)
Raymond Keene. England. Born 29.1.1948. IM 1972 (GM1976)
Bernard Cafferty. England. Born 27.1934

Unexpected problem

Two days before the event started Gerry Walsh got a telegram from the Russian chess federation to say that Tal and Vasukov would not be attending. This was a big blow given the International standing of these two players but good fortune came Gerry’s way when he was able to get Sax and Ree to play at very short notice. This unexpected change was a disappointment to Gerry but also to Harry Golembek who had used his influence as a much respected chess organiser/author/player and arbiter to get the Russian chess federation to send representatives. In particular to have Tal the ex world champion would have added to the interest. Sax and Ree of course were seen as very welcome replacements.

The play

Play took place in the main hall at Thornaby Pavilion. Each board had a demonstration board located directly behind it to allow the viewing public to follow the games. Bent Larsen was clear favourite to win and indeed he demonstrated his position as the third best player in the world by winning the tournament scoring 11/15. He lost one game to Parma.
The games were played in a very good spirit perhaps marred a little by Ljubjevic who believed he had cause to complain to Harry Golembek, Chief Arbiter, that his opponent Bellin was not sitting down at the board when it was his turn to move; he suggested that Bellin could possibly be seeking help from someone else. This complaint was dismissed by Golembek.
The following is a link to the games played - click HERE

The final scores were.
Larsen 11 won 8 lost 1 draw 5+

Ljubjevic 10 won 7 lost 2 draw 6
Portish 9 ˝ won 5 lost 1 draw 8
Gligoric 9 won 5 lost 2 draw 8
Tringov 9 won 5 lost 2 draw 8
Anderson 8 ˝ won 4 lost 2 draw 9
Parma 8 ˝ won 3 lost 1 draw 11
Gheorghiu 8 won 3 lost 2 draw 10
Keene 7 won 3 lost 4 draw 8
Sax 7 won 5 lost 6 draw 4
Bilek 6 ˝ won 2 lost 4 draw 9
Hecht 6 ˝ won 2 lost 4 draw 9
Wade 6 ˝ won 3 lost 5 draw 7
Ree 6 won 2 lost 5 draw 8
Bellin 4 won 0 lost 7 draw 8
Cafferty 3. won 0 lost 9 draw 6

Gerry has mentioned to me that all the players were very friendly and accommodating. On one occasion a member of the public asked him why Gligorics opponent had resigned, Gerry went and asked Gligoirc who was happy to take the enquirer into the analysis room and show him why!

During my research into this event I got in touch with Michael Evans who was a teenager living in Teesside in 1972. Michael is a former member of Stockton Chess. He visited the Grandmaster event and managed to get the autographs of the players in his book ‘My 60 most memorable games’ by Fischer.

Michael supplied me with this scan of those autographs.

I too was a regular spectator not that I understood much about the games but I enjoyed it. I think the thing that sticks in my mind was watching Ulf Anderson spending most of the time playing perched cross legged on his chair, I thought it looked a very uncomfortable way to play chess.

I hope this article gives you an insight into how some of the best chess players in the world were brought to the North of England. In an article Harry Golembek paid tribute to the drive and enthusiasm of Gerry Walsh and I know that Gerry is the first to acknowledge the advice and guidance given by his mentor Harry. John Pinches deserves to be recognised in this article for his determination to make sure Teesside Council provided the funds and facilities to support such a prestigious event in the history of Chess in England. This was the first of a number of important chess tournaments that firmly put the North East of England firmly on the Chess map of our country.
My thanks to Gerry Walsh for supplying me with information and to Michael Evans for supplying me with the scan of the players autographs.

Ernie Lazenby- December 2009.