Russia, once the most powerful chess nation in the world, took only 14th place at the 15th European Team championship in Goteborg, Sweden, this month. It was a different story a half-century ago in the same city during the 1955 Interzonal tournament: Five Soviet players qualified for the 1956 Candidates tournament. The youngest among them was Boris Spassky, 18 at that time. "In August you became the world junior champion, in September International grandmaster. If you keep progressing this fast, it would be difficult to play chess with you," FIDE president Folke Rogard told him at the closing ceremony. Clearly, 1955 was Spassky's year, but it would take him another 14 years before he became the champion of the world.

Magnificent Troika

The 1955 Goteborg Interzonal is also known for an incredible story that was played out in the 14th round of the tournament. Three Argentines tried to trap three Soviet players in a new, sharp variation of the Najdorf Sicilian. But Efim Geller's imaginative mind found a brilliant solution over the board against Oscar Panno. Paul Keres and Spassky soon followed and the Soviets sensationally won all three games. The stunning defeats became known as "the Argentinian tragedy," the line as "the Goteborg variation."

Geller - Panno

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 h6 9.Bh4 g5?! 10.fxg5 Nfd7 (The Argentines' idea was to win the square e5 for the knight. It didn't take Geller long to find a knight sacrifice.) 11.Nxe6! fxe6 12.Qh5+ Kf8 (Geller recalled that at this point Miguel Najdorf walked by and told him: "Your game is lost. We analyzed it all." The gamesmanship of the old fox did not last long. Geller threw in another piece.)

13.Bb5!! (After this astonishing move the Argentines fell to pieces. Black can't establish his knight permanently on the square e5 anymore.) 13 . . . Ne5 (The other two games continued 13 . . . Kg7 14.0-0 Ne5 15.Bg3 Ng6 16.gxh6+ Rxh6 17.Rf7+ Kxf7 18.Qxh6 axb5 19.Rf1+ Ke8 20.Qxg6+ Kd7 21.Rf7 Nc6 22.Nd5 Rxa2 and here Spassky chose 23.h3 [Keres played 23.h4 and after 23 . . . Qh8 24.Nxe7 Nxe7 25.Qg5 Najdorf gave up.] 23 . . . Qh8 24.Nxe7 Nxe7 25.Qg5 Ra1+ 26.Kh2 Qd8 27.Qxb5+ Kc7 28.Qc5+ Kb8 29.Bxd6+ Ka8 30.Bxe7 Ra5 31.Qb4 and his opponent, Carlos Pilnik, resigned. In 1958 Bobby Fischer came up with 13 . . . Rh7! that still seems to hold the black position today.) 14.Bg3! Bxg5? (Black now collapses quickly. Protecting the knight on e5 with 14 . . . Nbd7 is met by 15.Bxd7! -- Geller's point! But 14 . . . Rh7!? is playable.) 15.0-0+ Ke7 16.Bxe5 Qb6+ 17.Kh1 dxe5 18.Qf7+ Kd6 19.Rad1+ Qd4 20.Rxd4+ exd4 21.e5+ Kc5 22.Qc7+ Nc6 23.Bxc6 Black resigns.

Reversal of Fortune

Fifty years later, during the European Team championship, the Russian team resembled a vanquished army. One of their grandmasters, Evgeny Bareev, ended on the other side of a brilliant attack, masterfully conducted by Swedish grandmaster Emanuel Berg. It was one of the most outstanding performances in Goteborg this month, an instant classic.

Berg - Bareev

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4 (The Burn variation of the French defense.) 5.Nxe4 Be7 6.Bxf6 Bxf6 7.Nf3 0-0 8.Qd2 Be7 (Preserving the bishop but losing time. Bareev introduced this retreat in the early 1990s.) 9.Bd3 Nd7 10.0-0-0 b6 11.h4 Bb7 12.Qe2 c5!? 13.dxc5 Qc7 14.Neg5! Nf6 15.Ne5 h6 (Berg now has a nasty surprise for his opponent.)

16.Bg6!! (It is rare in the French defense to see such a heavy pounding of "the weakness of all weaknesses" -- the pawn f7. Berg soon manages to sacrifice all three light pieces.)

16 . . . hxg5 (Taking the bishop with 16 . . . fxg6 gives white a powerful attack after 17.Nxg6! hxg5 18.Qxe6+! Rf7 19.hxg5 Nh7 20.f4! and the threat Rh1xh7! forces 20 . . . Bxg5 21.fxg5 Bxg2 22.Rxh7! Kxh7 23.Ne5! and all moves with the black rook lose.) 17.hxg5 fxg6 (The black knight can't move because of mate in three and 17...Ba6 loses to 18.Nxf7! Rxf7 19.Qxe6 Qf4+ 20.Kb1 Ng4 21.Bxf7+ Qxf7 22.Rh8+ Kxh8 23.Qxf7 and white picks up more material.) 18.Nxg6 Ne4!? (After 18...Nh7 comes again 19.Qxe6+ Rf7 20.f4!) 19.Rh8+ (The start of a forced variation.) 19...Kf7 20.Ne5+! (The sacrifice of the third light piece keeps the attack going.) 20...Qxe5 21.Qh5+ g6 22.Rh7+ Qg7 (On 22...Ke8 23.Qxg6+ Rf7 24.Qxf7 mates.) 23.Rxg7+ Kxg7 24.Qh6+ Kf7 25.Qh7+ Ke8 26.Qxg6+ Rf7 (Black has four pieces for the queen, but because of poor coordination he is bound to lose some.)

27.c6! (A splendid deflection that does not give black time to consolidate.) 27...Bxc6 (Even after the better 27...Bxg5+ 28.Kb1 Bxc6 29.Qxe6+ Kf8 30.Qxc6 Re8 31.f3 white should convert his material advantage to victory.) 28.Qxe6 Bb7 (After 28...Kf8 comes 29.f4! Bb7 30.Rh1 Rxf4 31.g6 Bh4 32.Qd7 Ba6 33.Qh7 threatening 33.g7+ and 34.g8Q+.) 29.g6 Rg7 (White wins after 29...Rf6 30.g7! Rxe6 31.g8Q+ Bf8 32.Qxe6+ Be7 33.Rd7!) 30.Rh1! Nf6 31.Rh8+ Rg8 (After 31...Ng8 32.Rh7 Kf8 33.f4! casts a mating net, for example 33...Rd8 34.Rxg7 Kxg7 35.Qf7+ Kh6 36.Qh7 mate.) 32.g7 Black resigns.

Solution to today's puzzle from the 19th century by Francesco Discart (White: Kf8,Qd3,Rd7,Bd6,P:g6; Black: Kh8,Qc3): 1.Be5+! Qxe5 2.Qh3+ Qh5 3.Rh7+! Qxh7 4.g7 mate.

White mates in four moves with a pawn.