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Saturday, June 12, 2010

He Should Have Been World Champion

David Bronstein came close when he drew the 1951 match for by a score of 12-12 with Mikhail Botvinnik.

The lead swung back and forth several times and every game was played hard to a clear finish. The quality of play was very high in the entire match. Bronstein led by one point with two games to go, but lost the 23rd game and drew the final game to tie the match and allow Botvinnik to keep the championship.

It has been alleged that Bronstein was forced by the Soviet authorities to throw the match to allow Botvinnik to win. Also in the 1953 Candidates' Tournament it has been speculated that there was pressure on the top non-Russian Soviets, Keres and Bronstein, to allow Smyslov to win. And of course during the Candidates tournament in Curacao, 1962, Bobby Fischer made claims that the Soviets cheated by agreeing to the outcome of individual games against each other. But that’s another story.

Bronstein never confirmed these rumors in his public statements or writings, admitting only to 'strong psychological pressure' being applied. In his final book, however, published in 2007 after his death, Bronstein wrote that Smyslov was favoured for Zurich 1953 by the Soviet Chess Federation, and that other Soviet representatives were pressured to make this happen.

In the really great book, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Bronstein wrote "I have been asked many, many times if I was obliged to lose the 23rd game and if there was a conspiracy against me to stop me from taking Botvinnik's title. A lot of nonsense has been written about this. The only thing that I am prepared to say about all this controversy is that I was subjected to strong psychological pressure from various origins and it was entirely up to me to yield to that pressure or not."

He also added “I had reasons not to become the World Champion, as in those times such a title meant that you were entering an official world of chess bureaucracy with many formal obligations. Such a position is not compatible with my character.” And he later wrote that it was likely better that he didn't win the world title, since his artistic personality would have been at odds with Soviet bureaucracy.

But that’s not the reason for this post. The reason is that many years ago I came across the game Zita-Bronstein from the Prague-Moscow match in 1946. In that game Bronstein played the fantastic exchange sacrifice 17…Rxa1 and I never exactly understood the reason why. It was only when I purchased The Sorcerer’s Apprentice that I found a satisfactory explanation which I give here. I was even more amazed to discover that earlier he had played the same move in a slightly different position against Pachman. I am giving both positions with Bronstein,s explanations in this post. For anybody that’s interested in playing over some truly fantastic games and reading a little history of Soviet chess in the days of yesteryear, I can highly recommend this book.

I urge you to follow Bronstein’s explanations of these two positions; he makes chess sound simple!

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