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Monday, July 24, 2017

1951 World Championship

  David Bronstein was born on February 19, 1924 and was married three times, having a son by his first wife, Olga Ignatieva. His third wife was Tatiana Boleslavskaya, the daughter of Isaac Boleslavsky. Playing bold and intuitive chess, he was, from the end of World War II to the late 1950s, one of the top three players in the Soviet Union and among the five best in the world. 
     In 1951 Bronstein became the first to challenge Botvinnik who had won the title in 1948. The 24-game match was a seesaw affair between two who not only disliked each other, but had opposite styles. It ended in a 12-12 tie and Botvinnik retained the title. The outcome might have been different if Bronstein had not blundered in the sixth game when he had an easy draw or lost the 23rd game. 
     Ever since there was speculation that Bronstein was forced to lose so that Botvinnik, the favorite of the Soviet authorities, might retain the title. Bronstein denied it, saying he chose not to win.
     Bronstein would not have been acceptable champion to the Soviet government. Coming from a Jewish family and related to the Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky, the Bronsteins were viewed with suspicion by the Soviet authorities and on December 31, 1937 David's father, Iohonon Boruch Bronstein, was arrested as an "enemy of the people". His crime? Defending peasants against corrupt officials. He disappeared into a Gulag and was not seen again until freed seven years later because of ill-health. 
     By then the Bronstein family was living in Moscow but his father was still banned and could not live or work within the city limits. He obtained a job in a factory about 25 miles from Moscow but this was still classed as within the city limits, so he bribed the head of the local police to turn a blind eye. Dad Bronstein died in 1952. In 1955 Bronstein's mother received a letter informing her that the case against her husband was closed and that no crimes were ever committed by him.
     It was during his father's imprisonment that Bronstein established himself. Stalin had initiated his Five Year Plan for Chess with the aim of capturing the world championship from the the West. This aim was achieved in 1948 when Botvinnik won the world title in 1948, an achievement that was hailed as an example of the superiority of the Soviet system. The authorities became nervous when Bronstein became the challenger in 1951. 
     The openly anti-Semitic government found him undesirable and then there was his father's “criminal” past. Botvinnik, on the other hand, had been a perfect champion. He was a firm believer in the system, and had even sent a telegram of thanks to Stalin for providing him with inspiration after winning Nottingham, 1936. 
     In 1976, when Viktor Korchnoi defected, Bronstein was one of the few Soviet GMs who refused to sign a letter denouncing him. As punishment, Soviet officials suspended Bronstein’s monthly stipend, a wage paid to all top Soviet masters. He was also barred from competing in almost any elite tournament within the Soviet Union and from competing in the West; the ban was not lifted until the mod-1980s.
     His match with Botvinnik was tense and error-filled. In the sixth game, in a drawn position, Bronstein thought for 45 minutes before playing an appalling blunder that lost at once. In the ninth game, a complete miscalculation left Bronstein a rook behind for almost nothing, but he managed to escape with a draw. 
     After 22 games (out of the scheduled 24) Bronstein was ahead by on point and winning the title looked assured, but a loss and a draw in the last two games left the match tied and Botvinnik retained his title. 
     Many years later Bronstein wrote, "I have been asked many, many times if I was obliged to lose the 23rd game and if there was a conspiracy to stop me from taking Botvinnik's title...The only thing that I am prepared to say is that I was subjected to strong psychological pressure from various sources...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.”
     Bronstein claimed his goal was to show that his style of lay was just as good as Botvinnik's scientific approach. In later years he often said that he never missed holding the title of World Champion, which only lasts a few years anyway. What he regretted, he said, was not having the lifelong title of ex-World Champion. 
     In the future Bronstein kept running into the rule limiting the number of qualifiers from one nation and there was always too many countrymen ahead of him. As against Botvinnik, he also tended to cave in at the last moment. In the Interzonal at Portoroz, Yugoslavia, in 1958, a last-round defeat by the unheralded Filipino Rodolfo Tan Cardoso cost him a qualifying place and he finished in places 7-11, scoring +4 -1 =15. In the 1964 Interzonal at Amsterdam he lost to Bent Larsen. His is outstanding +10 -1 =12 was only good enough for sixth place behind Smyslov, Larsen, Spassky, Tahl and Stein. 
     In a post mortem with an English player at Hastings in 1975-76 his young opponent kept asking if he had analyzed various move to which Bronstein replied, "Young man, you do not analyze during a game; you analyze before a game and after a game. During the game, you just play." 
      Salo Flohr, who was Botvinnik’s second, recalled the adjournment of that famous 23rd game.  Flohr assumed Botvinnik had sealed the best move and spent the night analyzing the win. In the morning, Botvinnik asked Flohr to show the winning variation to his wife. Flohr was confused because Botvinnik's wife barely knew the moves. Flohr showed her the winning variations and when he went on the stage at the resumption of the game, Botvinnik told him, “You know, Salo, I sealed a different move.” 
     Flohr explained Botvinnik's strange behavior: Botvinnik expected the game to be drawn and he he was about to lose his title, but wanted his wife to think that he had a chance of winning the game. 
     Some have put forth the theory that if the match outcome was rigged then Botvinnik would have secretly (and illegally) gotten the authorities to allow him to change the inferior sealed move for the stronger one. The theory has also been put forth that Bronstein's first marriage was on the rocks and he was in love with another woman. As world champion, divorcing his first wife would have been out of the question. Also, he feared the publicity of being world champion might bring his father’s plight back to the attention of the authorities. 
      All very interesting, but there is Bronstein's famous comment to Bobby Fischer in 1960 at Mar del Plata when Fischer cried after losing a game to Spassky. Bronstein told Fischer, "Listen, they forced me to lose an entire match to Botvinnik, and I didn't cry." In a later interview Bronstein denied having said it, but eventually conceded that he may have uttered something of that nature. "Too much time has passed," he said.

1 comment:

  1. Russian Antisemitism has a long, ugly history, but it became even worse when combined with Stalin's paranoid genocidal policies. Many of the top Soviet players of that era were Jewish, and they must had many sleepless nights wondering if the next knock on their door meant that they were bound for the Gulags, or just a quick bullet in the back of the head! But although Botvinnik and Geller were as Jewish as you could possibly be, they seemed untroubled by by it all. Apparently, their loud, slavish devotion to Stalin was enough to wipe away the stain of their Jewishness.