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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Botvinnik's Log Dacha

     Back in 1949 Botvinnik wanted to design and build his own log dacha, so he and Yakhov Rokhlin (1903-1995), a master, coach and author who was one of the first organizers of the Soviet chess movement at the time, made a trip to a place called Nikolina Gora to check out the possibilities. Nikolina Gora was an elite colony on the north bank of the Moscow River, west of the capital and it was the haunt of artists, writers and scientists. In fact, it's still an elite location today. Nikolina Gora Luxury Estates for Sale   

4.5 million and it's yours

     Lavrenti Beria was the longest and most influential of Stalin's secret police chiefs (Stalin referred to Beria as "my Himmler"), wielded his most substantial influence during and after World War II. He simultaneously administered numerous political offices and served as de facto Marshal of the Soviet Union in command of the NKVD field units. These units were responsible for anti-partisan operations on the Eastern Front during World War II and they apprehened thousands who were designated as turncoats, deserters, cowards and suspected malingerers.
     Beria administered the vast expansion of the Gulag labor camps and was responsible for overseeing the secret defense institutions critical to the war effort. He also played the decisive role coordinating and developing an impressive intelligence and sabotage network behind German lines. After the war, he organized the takeover of the state institutions of Central and Eastern Europe.
     Beria's uncompromising ruthlessness in his duties and skill at producing results caused him to oversee the Soviet atomic bomb project. The project was completed in under five years in no small part due to Soviet espionage against the West organized by Beria's NKVD.
     When Nikita Khrushchev took over, Beria was arrested on charges of treason during a meeting in which the full Politburo condemned him. The compliance of the NKVD was ensured by Zhukov's troops and after interrogation Beria was taken to the basement of the Lubyanka prison and shot by General Pavel Batitsky. Fate is funny sometimes.
     Botvinnik enlisted the help of his friends with political connections and as a result Dimitry Postnikov, who was later to become head of the Soviet chess federation, was ordered by meet with Botviinik and inform him that Beria had refused his purchase request. When Postnikov broke the news to him, Botviinik was undaunted. He went to a telephone and dialed a number. Postnikov overheard a conversation between Botvinnik and Gerogy Malenkov.  Botvinnik requested a meeting with Malenkov and within a week the Sports Committee received a telegram approving his request for his purchase at Nikolina Gora; the approval had been signed by Stalin himself.
     Botvinnik was friends with his neighbors and is reported to even have played chess with some of them. He described scientist Pyotr Kapista as "weak" but had "great respect" for Sergei Prokofiev's play noting that he displayed an aggressive style, creativity and a dislike for defense. Prokofiev was a composer, pianist and conductor.
     He was able to furnish his home thanks to a new Soviet custom. When Soviet players travelled abroad they earned fees from simuls and exhibitions, but were expected to turn half the money over to the State.  That sounds harsh, but in reality it could be described as a government tax on income earned outside the country, although 50 percent is pretty steep. However, as usual with tax laws, there was a loophole: if they spent the money before they returned home there was no tax.  During his trips abroad he bought furniture for his dacha. A couple of things he bought were central heating equipment and...an ironing board. In addition to his preparation for his world championship matches many of his training games were played in his home.
     Yuri Averbach's impression of Botvinnik's character was that at first he made a fantastically good impression on him and it was very interesting to spend time with Botvinnik because his views on many topics were original. The transition from the Stalin era to Khrushchev’s was a troubled time in the Soviet Union and they frequently talked about politics and literature.
     David Bronstein referred to Botvinnik as a "good Communist" but Averbach stated Botvinnik wasn’t “a confirmed Stalinist” as he had his own views on everything.  Averbach, and later Alexi Shirov, commented that if you disagreed with Botvinnik, there was no point in discussing it; your words simply fell on deaf ears and, as Averbach put it, it was like talking to a brick wall. If he’d decided on something then nothing and noone could make him change his mind.
     Averbach described a dialogue with Botvinnik as essentially being a monologue: he would speak and others would listen. Ilya Kan once said, “Botvinnik thinks he’s the World Champion in everything! But he’s only the World Champion in chess, while in everything else, he’s a normal man…”.


  1. "Botvinnik thinks he's the world champion in everything." That's priceless. And think how seamlessly you could substitute the name Kasparov.

  2. Kasparov...indeed, it is true.