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Friday, March 10, 2017

David Bronstein and the King's Indian

     If you were going to make a list of the greatest but least appreciated players of all time surely David Bronstein (February 19, 1924 – December 5, 2006) would be included. He almost became world champion and his books are among the best. 
     His tournament books on the 1953 Zurich candidates tournament is a classic. In 200 Open Games and The Sorcerer's Apprentice he gives examples of world class play in a witty and instructive manner without giving reams of computer generated analysis.   In Bronstein on the King's Indian he explains this difficult opening with great clarity. Every move and the plans are explained from the very first move. The bonus is that the book contains 64 annotated games plus 50 without annotations, so you not only have a collection of games, but by playing over them you can learn a lot. 
     Bronstein also gives some interesting insight in what it was like to be a Soviet player in those days. For example, in the introduction to one of his games against Reshevsky, Zurich 1953, Bronstein wrote that it was well known that Soviet players were put in a difficult psychological position because every move they made was going to be scrutinized. Not just by fans, but by numerous Soviet officials and mistakes were not forgiven. A player's "well-being", as he put it, could depend on the result of a single game! So, when he sat down to play Reshevsky he had received an "ultra-difficult" order; he had to win! 
     In looking over the games in Bronstein on the King's Indian singling out only one game is almost impossible, but I have selected his game against Anthony Santasiere from the 1945 USA vs. Soviet Radio Match. A few years ago I did a 58-page booklet on this match with notes by the US players to some of the games. The games are in descriptive notation. You can download the booklet from Dropbox HERE.
     Let' take a look at the Santasiere-Bronstein game. Bronstein had taken 3rd place in the USSR Championship and for that reason he was included on the Soviet team way down on tenth (last) board and scored 2-0 against Sanatsiere. 
     These games took a long time and during the games the Soviet players were fed and dozed off and on during the time the games were played. Bronstein admitted that he was nervous and was especially anxious to show that he could play the King's Indian. He describes Sanatsiere as a strong and talented player who was the last American romantic. 
     Concerning the opening in this game, when Santasiere published The Futuristic Chess Opening, it stated it was his formal introduction of his new opening. 
     He wrote: "Is my system a "good" opening? That depends on what we mean by good.  Can it win games against masters? Certainly. You will find the proof here later. But, much more important than such a material consideration is the clear fact that it is rich spiritually by which I mean that it constitutes a challenge to the middle game abilities of both players; and further that it is romantic, by which I mean it leaves far behind the safe and sound chains of chess for the clean, laughing freedom of daredevil adventure. 
     To be reduced to the more prosaic mechanics of the mind, just what are the ideas behind this opening? For let no one imagine that it is the product of a disordered mind wedded to insanity. On the contrary, there are often deep waters where all seems shallow and stagnant." You can tell the guy was a poet. The opening invites the exchange of White's b-Pawn for black's c-Pawn, then White will be left with a majority of pawns in the center. Additionally, the opening invites the challenge ...a5, to which white replies b5, with the result that black's Q is denied the c6 square, and Black's a- and b-Ps are often weak; though White's pawns, too, are compromised! Just some fun! The opening he was writing about was 1.Nf3 d5 2.b4. Reuben Fine took umbrage with Santasiere's claim and in the January, 1942 issue of Chess Review made a big deal out of a game Santasiere lost to Louis Levy. You can read Santasiere's New York Times obituary HERE.
     To be honest, before playing over this game I expected Santasiere to be the victim of a lopsided beating, but that wasn't the case. It seems to me he lost because he did not appreciate some of the finer nuances in the position. And, that is the difference between ordinary masters and GMs. GMs appreciate, and are able to take advantage of, the minutiae. This game took over 15 hours and both players were in time pressure for much of the game. 
 

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