San Antonio 1972 Flyer
First Prize $4,000 ($24,400 adjusted for inflation)

The year 1972 was an exciting year for American chess to say the least! Of course, the talk of the chess world was its newly crowned World Champion…Bobby Fischer! However, it was a Texas fast-food chain owner that hosted the strongest chess tournament in the United States in nearly 50 years!

It is fascinating the hear interesting stories about chess history and I encourage others to read about the great masters of the past. Let’s look back at the great 1972 chess tournament in San Antonio, Texas!

San Antonio 1972 Book Cover

The San Antonio 1972 Tournament was full of great games, but the story of the tournament was the superior skill of the visiting players. Grandmasters Portisch, Karpov and Petrosian shared the top prize with 10.5/15 and Gligoric finishing half a point behind the pack. Not a single American finished in the top half. Despite Fischer’s recent dominance, it was clear the USA was still far behind the world’s elite players.

The 15-round event was an exciting spectacle held at the Hilton Palacio del Rio along the Riverwalk. Not since New York 1924 (Capablanca, Alekhine and the winner Lasker) had so many strong players competed on American soil.

The Soviet and European players got off to an early lead, especially displaying their prowess with the White pieces. Paul Keres led the event early including a brilliant finish to his first round game with Hort (see puzzles). Donald Byrne commented he was “surprised by Keres’s strength at age 54”.

Karpov took the lead during the middle of the event but could not hold off the late round heroics of Lajos Portisch. Petrosian was solid throughout, holding true to his reputation, the only player to finish without a loss.

The final round saw two quick draws. Petrosian finished in ten moves, walked across the room to inform Karpov of his result, then Karpov drew moments later. Portisch defeated Larsen in a tense 35-move game in the final round to tie for the lead. The winners earned $2,333 each ($14,233 adjusted for inflation). Canadian IM Duncan Suttles earned his GM title with his performance in San Antonio 1972.

Gligoric ponders his next move
Gligoric ponders his next move

List of Participants:

GM Anatoly Karpov
GM Tigran Petrosian
GM Paul Keres
GM Lajos Portisch
GM Svetozar Gligoric
GM Bent Larsen
GM Henrique Mecking
GM Walter Browne
GM Larry Evans
IM Duncan Suttles
IM Donald Byrne
IM Julio Kaplan
IM Anthony Saidy
FM Kenneth Smith
Mario Campos-Lopez

Karpov and Larsen play their opening moves
Karpov and Larsen play their opening moves

 “The prize fund is too big!” complained Petrosian.

The Soviet players wanted it more evenly distributed so as not to tempt anyone to go for it all.

Ken Smith was known for always playing what is today called the ‘Smith-Morra Gambit’, when an opponent did not play the Sicilian GM Bent Larsen asked “Why not play c5 against him? It wins a pawn!”

World Champion Bobby Fischer was in attendance on the final day and called the quick last round draws “chicken”, possibly alluding to the sponsor of the event.


Chess position with FEN 2k4r/1p1r2bp/pB1pQpp1/3Pp3/5P2/1Pq3P1/P1P4P/2R1R1K1 w
White to move and win!
Browne – Kaplan, Round 3
Chess position with FEN 4r1k1/2q1pp2/3n2pQ/2rP2R1/6P1/1P3R1P/p3NP2/6K1 w
White to move and win!
Keres – Byrne, Round 8
Chess position with FEN 7k/5p2/6p1/1K2P1P1/3B1P2/r7/8/8 w
White to move and win!
Keres – Hort, Round 1
Event crosstable from the San Antonio 1972 chess tournament


1. ♖e4 +-

1. ♖xf7…a1=♛ 2. ♔g2 +-

1. e6+…♚g8 2. e7…♜a8 3. ♗f6 +-

I’m sure by now you are asking the question, “What happened to the chicken place?” Today, Church’s Chicken has over 1,000 locations in 30+ countries, and annual revenue is over $800 million…

The subsequent success of Church’s Chicken leads us to only one logical conclusion…more companies need to sponsor big chess events like San Antonio 1972!