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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Botvinnik and black currant juice

     Vladimir Kramnik called Botvinnik the first real professional because Botvinnik believed his results depended on more than his chess skill; preparation, openings, sleep, diet and exercise were all necessary. Kramnik compared that to the Alekhine – Euwe matches where, for example, Alekhine had a drink and Euwe a business meeting before they sat down to play. 
     The 11th USSR Championship was played in Leningrad in 1939 and was won by Botvinnik who went undefeated and finished a full point ahead of Alexander Kotov followed by Sergey Belavenets and Vladimir Makogonov who tied for third and fourth. 
     This event was also an important turning point in Botvinnik's chess career because he and his wife, Gayane, a ballerina, had been thinking about how to maximize his stamina and energy and their plan was first put to the test in Leningrad. 
     In the fall of 1936 Botvinnik had begun working 12 hours a day on his candidate's dissertation in electrical engineering. The result was a plan that involved dictating when he was to sleep, eat, go for a walk and work. 
     His plans for Leningrad included how to overcome nervousness because he could only think well when he was calm. And, in order to stay calm he had to stay out of time pressure. Botvinnik distinguished between what he called “normal” time pressure which he believed was manageable and extreme time pressure which was to be avoided, so he disciplined himself on time management. 
     In addition to that problem, he also felt he needed to increase his physical stamina because Soviet championships were generally long, 17 to 19 rounds, and lasted a month. By round 12 or so, fatigue began to set in and by the end of the tournament he was exhausted.
     To correct the problem he adopted a strict regimen where after breakfast he walked for one hour prior to beginning preparation for his game which only took him about half an hour. After that, he would rest. Then at 3:30 in the afternoon he would eat lunch then lay down for about an hour. As the games in this tournament ended at 10:30 pm, he would have supper at 11 pm and go to bed at midnight. At least that was the plan, but sometimes sleep eluded him because he would analyze his just completed game in his head for a few hours. That was a habit he was to eliminate; during tournaments he never analyzed games before he went to bed. 
     Eventually he reached the point that nothing was done without rigid scheduling: daily exercise, sleep, diet and work were all according to a strict discipline. 
     After World War Two Botvinnik came to be known for his habit of bringing a thermos bottle to all of his games. What was in it? At first, lemonade and later black current juice with hand squeezed lemon juice. 
     Maybe Botvinnik was on to something. For many years black currants were called “the forbidden fruit” in the United States. Farmers thought that the tart berries, native to Europe and Asia, helped spread a fungus that killed pine trees and so they were banned. 
     The ban started when a certain Lord Weymouth shipped white pine seedlings from America to Britain. Before long, white pines in Germany began showing blister rust. Unaware of the problem, the US began importing European pine seedlings, as well as the disease. Tree experts decided the disease, appearing to threaten the white pine industry, actually jumped from white pines to black currants to white pines. As a result, in 1911, bans against black currant bushes were put into effect. In 1966 some states began lifting the ban, but it still stands to this day in some states. 
     Chinese and European folk medicine both claim dozens of uses for black currants as a curative. Studies show they may play a part in preventing Alzheimer's disease, preventing and treating arthritis, gout, and liver problems, ease problems with menopause, painful periods, and PMS, and fight against against diarrhea. It's even useful topically for healing wounds and treating insect bites. 
     At some point Botvinnik switched to coffee and even began breaking his own rules. During his 1961 return match with Tahl game 20 lasted 121 moves. After the first adjournment, Botvinnik spent a sleepless night analyzing. Upon resumption Tahl missed a winning line in his analysis, but Botvinnik mixed up the variations and by the second adjournment he still had a lost game. 
     Another sleepless night followed and he found a hidden stalemate possibility. After two days of play and two sleepless nights he was thoroughly tired and when he went to resume the game he didn't take his usual thermos of coffee. It wasn't that he didn't want to drink any; it was a subtle psychological ploy. By not having his thermos, he hoped Tahl would expect to play just a few more moves before Botvinnik resigned. It worked. Tahl played too casually, missed the stalemate possibility and the game was drawn.

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