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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Botvinnik and Politics

    It was Botvinnik who, as a result of the 1948 world championship tournament at The Hague and Moscow, established Soviet domination of world chess. Botvinnik became the darling of Stalin and the second most powerful man in Soviet politics at the time, Andrei Zhdanov. Part of Zhdanov's empire was propaganda and culture and that included chess.
     Before the Moscow half of the tournament started Botvinnik was summoned to Zhdanov's office for questioning. It seems Zhdanov was afraid Reshevsky would win the tournament and become world champion, but Botvinnik assured him it wouldn't happen because of a) Reshevsky's chromic time troubles and b) Reshevsky lacked deep positional understanding. By the way, many people think Reshevsky was a positional player, but all his peers pointed out he was really a superb tactician, especially in the endgame. Assured that there was no danger of Reshevsky winning the tournament, Zhdanov sent Botvinnik on his way.
     In the meantime Paul Keres was under suspicion because he had spent the war years playing in Nazi tournaments and rumor had it that as part of his "rehabilitation" he was forced to lose to Botvinnik.

     At the outbreak of World War II, Keres was in Buenos Aires for the Olympiad and he remained there to play in a tournament where he tied for first with Najdorf. His next event was a 14-game match with former World Champion Euwe in the Netherlands which Keres won.
     When the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed in 1939 Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union the following year and Keres began playing in Soviet tournaments. The Nazis invaded Estonia in 1941 and the 25-year old Keres then began playing in Nazi tournaments. That put Keres in danger at the end of World War 2. Estonia had been under Russian control when Keres was born in 1916, but it was an independent nation between the two world wars.
     Not only had he played in Nazi tournaments, but in 1942 he had done an interview for a Nazi newspaper that had been used for anti-Soviet propaganda. As a consequence, he was suspected of collaboration with the Nazis and questioned by the Soviet authorities. Keres managed to avoid the fate of his countryman, Vladimirs Petrovs.
     When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Petrovs was in Russia and was unable to return to his wife and daughter at home in Latvia. He remained in Russia and was arrested where on 31 August 1942 under Article 58 for criticizing the decreased living standards in Latvia after the Soviet annexation of 1940 and he was sentenced to ten years in a corrective labor camp. In 1989 it became known that he had died at Kotlas in 1943 from pneumonia. At least that's the official version. Once in the 1970's in a conversation with GM Edmar Mednis, when asked what happened to Petrovs, Mednis' comment was, "The Russians shot him."
     After the War Keres' return to the international chess was delayed, possibly for political reasons. Keres returned to international play in 1946 in the Soviet radio match against Great Britain, but even after he resumed a relatively normal life and chess career, his play at the highest level appears to have been affected.
     Fifty years later in an interview Botvinnik claimed that unbeknownst to him both Keres and Smyslov, on orders of Stalin himself, had been instructed to lose to him. In an interview GM Yuri Averbach said he didn't believe it, claiming it was too farfetched, but he did concede that officials lower down in the hierarchy may have ordered them to lose.  For more information on the Keres-Botvinnik controversy, read the article HERE.
      I was reading Russian Silhouettes by Genna Sosonko and came across the following quote by Botvinnik concerning blitz:  'Young man,' replied Botvinnik, not looking at him, 'Remember this: I never played chess for pleasure.' Botvinnik did not play for pleasure, but was believed that he was fulfilling his life's work, work which had been entrusted to him by his country.
     Sosonko wrote, "On many pages of Botvinnik's books one finds situations where it is suggested that the outcome of a game was not decided at the chess board, because the prestige of Soviet chess, and hence of the entire Soviet state was at stake."
     In the book Sosonko wrote that when Botvinnik was summoned to a meeting with Zhdanov, the meeting went like this: "How would you regard it if the Soviet participants were to lose to you deliberately?' I lost the power of speech. Why did Zhdanov want to humiliate me? During the previous few years I had played in seven tournaments and in all of them I had finished first, demonstrating a clear superiority over my rivals. On again acquiring the power of speech, I refused point-blank. But Zhdanov continued to insist, and I to refuse. The conversation reached an impasse. In order to conclude the argument, I offered a compromise: 'Very well, let's leave the question open. Perhaps it won't be needed? 'Zhdanov was clearly pleased with the possibility of such a decision. 'Agreed' said Zhdanov, 'We are behind YOU' - he emphasised this word - 'we wish you victory.' 
     So, the Russians were afraid that Reshevsky would win the world championship...that's how good he was. The players named to compete for the championship in 1948 were Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Paul Keres, Samuel Reshevsky, Reuben Fine and Miguel Najdorf.
     Many difficulties plagued the tournament. FIDE convened in 1947 with the result being that Najdorf was dropped from the list since the Prague tournament that that he won and originally qualified him was too weak to merit his inclusion. Fine dropped out for personal reasons. So, the final players were: Botvinnik, Euwe, Keres, Reshevsky and Smyslov.
     The Hague and Moscow match/tournament, was to be held from March 2 to May 16, 1948 to determine the new World Champion. The winner was, of course, Botvinnik (14 points out of 20), followed by Smyslov (11); Reshevsky and Keres tied (10 ½); and Euwe (4)the disappointment of the tournament, trailing far behind. Botvinnik thus ushered in the era of Russian chess dominance. Reshevsky was the only player to put Botvinnik in serious danger of losing on three occasions." Always plagued by time trouble, Reshevsky managed to throw away his chances in those games and, as Botvinnik had predicted, Reshevsky lost.
     The last round of the tournament was considered the most exciting because of two games...Keres’ win over Botvinnik, and a move by Botvinnik that Euwe described as "Incomprehensible."

     The Reshevsky versus Euwe game was important because, since Keres defeated Botvinnik (already the champion), Reshevsky had to defeat Euwe, the former World Champion, in order not to drop into fourth place. After the Keres victory cheering spectators stormed forward, the spotlights were turned on and the photographers began snapping pictures. This elicited a criticism of Dr. Milan Vidmar, the tournament director, for not stopping the Reshevsky-Euwe game so things could return to normal and the spectators could be quieted The result was that Reshevsky defeated Euwe when Euwe blundered on move 28 which led to his resignation a few moves later. With their wins, Keres and Reshevsky tied for third and fourth place. 
     Bronstein, in his last book, Secret Notes, published in 2007 just after his death the previous year, confirmed long-standing rumors by writing that the nine Soviet grandmasters (out of a field of 15 players) at Zurich 1952 (candidate's tournament won by Smyslov) were under orders from both their chess leadership and the KGB to not let Reshevsky win the tournament under any circumstances, with Smyslov being the preferred victor.

     When Reshevsky maintained his strong contention late in the tournament, Bronstein claims that the Soviets prearranged several results in games amongst themselves to prevent Reshevsky's victory and at the same time ensuring that Reshevsky faced the maximum test in his own games against the Soviet players.
     Bronstein had earlier written that he was ordered by the Soviets to win as Black against Reshevsky in the second cycle at Zurich and managed to do so after a very hard struggle. Several other writers, including GM Alexei Suetin (who was the second of Petrosian at Zurich 1953), also confirmed the Soviet collusion in Zurich.    
     Back to the 1948 Hague/Moscow tournament: In one incident during the Moscow portion Botvinnik was defeated by Reshevsky and after the game they shook hands. The handshake got Botvinnik in trouble. The next day he was ordered to report to the office of the chairman of the Sports Committee, Lieutenant General Arkady Apollonov who asked him how he, a communist, could shake hands with an American after he had defeated a Soviet player. Botvinnik was peeved and asked if that was the reason he had been invited to see the chairman and told him, "Excuse me. I have to prepare for my next game." and then walked out.
     After winning the world championship, Botvinnik's success went to his head and on at least two occasions he tried telling party leaders how he thought they should run things. He was ignored, but not punished. He still ruled Soviet chess and chess politics and he was not above taking advantage of all the perks and wielding his influence when it came to consolidating his position as champion and gaining rematches if he lost.
     Many chess players had been executed or sent to gulags, but not Botvinnik; he survived because he made himself indispensable. Even the top dog of the Soviet chess organization, Nikolai Krylenko, became a victim of Stalin's purges in the late 1930's when he was accused of spending too much time climbing mountains and playing chess. It had been Krylenko's goal to export chess as part of Soviet culture and to dominate the chess world, but he got purged before he could see it happen.

     Botvinnik was the most important chess player of Krylenko's legacy and he knew how to play the system and that enabled him to survive a revolution, a civil war, collectivization and famine, a reign of terror, a second world war, a cold war, the end of Stalin and a "thaw", the turbulent 1960's and 1970's, the Gorbachev reforms of glasnost and perestroika and the shakeup of the entire Soviet Union.
     I don't remember when, where I read it or who said it, but one person opined that one of the reasons Botvinnik continued to remain so deeply involved in his career as an electrical engineer was because he believed he needed a profession to fall back on in the event that he ever fell out of favor with the Soviet chess political machine.  We'll never know what really happened in those days, I guess.  Was chess deprived of a Reshevsky - Botvinnik match for the world championship and if so, who would have won?  

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…”.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Some Cool Articles

While browsing Chessbase I discovered some interesting old articles on a variety of subjects.

Alekhine's death-an unresolved mystery?
Opening of the Lasker Exhibition in Berlin 
The true secret of intuition in chess 
The surealistic art of chess Dieter Nisipeanu
In the Heart of Transylvania

The Huffington Post also has some interesting reading:
All articles with the word “chess”

Chess History Articles:
Capablanca's death
Capablanca's Widow

Jack Lummus Article on Capablanca's Widow
Obituary of John Littlewood  
Reuben Fine's NY Times Obituary

Friday, February 27, 2015

Morris Schapiro

    Morris Abraham Schapiro (1903 – 1996) was an American investment banker and chess master. His brother was art historian Meyer Schapiro.
     Born in Lithuania in 1903, he came to the United States in 1907. The family lived in Brownsville and Flatbush, Brooklyn where his father worked as a paper and cordage wholesaler, though he also wrote articles on philosophical subjects.
     Schapiro excelled in mathematics and Latin at school and at 16 he entered Columbia University on a Pulitzer Scholarship. He received an advanced degree from Columbia in engineering in 1925. He was a major donor to Columbia University including Schapiro Hall (a dormitory) and the Morris A. Schapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research.
     In addition to his intellectual exploits, Schapiro also excelled in chess. He led the Columbia University chess team to four national championships. In New York, he took 3rd, behind Dawid Janowski and Roy T. Black in 1920, twice won Manhattan CC championship (1921 and 1922). Schapiro won a match against Oscar Chajes (7.5-5.5) in 1923. He finished 5th at Lake Hopatcong 1923 (American Chess Congress).  His career was before Elo ratings existed so he was never rated , but was one of several veteran players who, when the USCF first published rating lists, was awarded the title of Master Emeritus.
     Schapiro served as head of his own investment banking firm, M. A. Schapiro and Company. He established new business techniques for the banking industry and in the course of his career he led some of the banking industry's largest mergers: Chase Bank and the Bank of Manhattan in 1955, then Chemical Bank and New York Trust in 1959.
     "On both deals, Mr. Schapiro followed his traditional strategy. He recommended the two banks' stocks to affluent clients, then asked them to press the banks' managements to agree to a deal," the New York Times wrote in his obituary.
     His strategy caused some of Schapiro's rivals to label him ''the bank liquidator,'' a nickname that was more an honor than a jab. Although he arranged some of the largest business deals in the 1950's, Schapiro never received a fee for his services; instead, he took his profits from the exchange of stock. ''It must be remembered that the bank stockholder is not wedded to banking as a business,'' Schapiro said during a speech in 1949. ''His sole concern is with the value of his investment.''
     Schapiro married Alma Binion Cahn, a painter, who died in 1987 after 58 years of marriage. They had two children, Linda Schapiro Collins and Dr. Daniel Schapiro. His grandchildren include painter Jacob Collins. Schapiro died aged 93 at his New York City apartment in 1996, only a few months after his brother Meyer.
     While disliked (feared) by some bankers, he was extremely well liked by his colleagues. Once, while vacationing in Maine, Schapiro telephoned his office and spoke with everyone there.  Known for his small kindnesses, his 50 employees at his 2 firms received free lunches every day, a practice that is virtually unheard of along Wall Street...or anywhere else for that matter.
     Schapiro died at his apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the age of 93.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

King Hunts

     When a K loses the right to castle it's not always a sign that his army will lose the game. Besides the inability to castle, the K must also be exposed and vulnerable. Sometimes a K flees and escapes; sometimes it doesn't.
     The King hunt in this game was an exciting one. It was a tragedy that Caro's 34th move was of the kind that very few of us are likely to make...he ruined a fine effort against a very good player in a single move and lost almost at once. Who does that?!
     Seriously though, it's easy to sit at home with a couple of engines running and criticize the author and the players but we shouldn't be too hard on the players for the flurry of blunders at the end. It was late in the game and the position was a complicated one even for the engines. And, we have to remember that the author of the book didn't have a powerful engine available that would enable him to instantly spot tactics. The truth is, the author of The Art of Attack in Chess, Vladimir Vukovic, and the players, Mikahil Chigorin and Horatio Caro, were stronger than me or anybody else likely to read this post, so kudos to all of them: Vukovic for writing such a great book and Chigorin and Caro for their contributions to the game, including this exciting and unusual game.
     For a modern King hunt that succeeded check out GM Kavalek's article in the Huffington Post on the Riazantsev vs. Karjakin game that was so complicated even engines had a hard time determining the best move...that happens more often than you might think.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dr. Erich W. Marchand

   When I was just getting into chess and started receiving Chess Life one name that kept popping up was that of Master Dr.Erich W. Marchand, a mathematician, from Rochester, New York. His name kept appearing far into my adulthood, too; he was around a long time.
     Marchand was born on July 07, 1914 and died on August 29, 1999 at the age of 85. He was a professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Rochester and a pioneer in gradient index research. My understanding is that this has to do with the optical effects of materials and is important in the production of things like photocopiers. Sounds boring.
     A USCF Life Master, he amassed so many titles it's impossible to list them all. He was also involved in developing the U.S. Chess Federation's rating system and was also a columnist for Chess Life magazine for many years. He was the first inductee in the New York State Chess Hall of Fame and there is an annual tournament named after him in New York. It's unusual but this tournament was begun in his honor before his death so he had the privilege of actually playing in it.
     At one time he was also involved in correspondence chess and was president of Correspondence Chess League of America, he was a tournament organizer, an officer in USCF, President of the Rochester Chess Club, many times city and state champion, and at one time was the most active player in America. He was also the champion of Missouri prior to moving his family to Rochester, New York where he was State Champion several times. As a player he had a well deserved reputation as one of the best endgame players in America.
     Dr. Marchand left a legacy of integrity and a reputation for hard work in both chess and in his professional life.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Zemgalis Gem

     I have posted on Elmars Zemgalis before HERE. Zemgalis passed away at age 91 on December 8 last year; his Seattle Times obituary is HERE.
     Zemgalis was the last of many great, but not very well-known players, whose careers were interrupted by WW2.  Fortunately for the chess world, back in 2001 John Donaldson published Elmars Zemgalis: Grandmaster Without the Title, an excellent book with vintage photos, a biography and 190 annotated and unannotated games.

In the following game he defeats Ludwig Rellstab with a sudden, whirlwind attack. Rellstab (23 November 1904, Schöneberg, Berlin – 14 February 1983, Wedel) was a German player who won the German Chess Championship in 1942 and was awarded the International Master title in 1950. Rellstab came from a distinguished family of academics and musicians. His great grandfather, also named Ludwig Rellstab, was a well-known poet and music critic. His father Ludwig M. E. Rellstab was a professor of physics and electronics, who in 1914 became chief engineer at Siemens & Halske. His sister Annekäthe was a pianist.

Houdini 4 PRO (?) and Blck Mamba

     The ChessOK website offers free download of several very good engines HERE. At the top of the list I saw Houdini 4 PRO and Houdini 2! Houdini 4 PRO for free?! That's strange because when you go to the Houdini site the latest engine they have for sale is Houdini 4 PRO for about $68. The only free engine I see on the Houdini site is version 1.5.
     A few years back I purchased Houdini 2, but I was curious abut this Houdini 4 PRO that ChessOK is offering for free so I downloaded the .rar file, but didn't have anything to unzip it with. 
     I tried WinZip, but my Webroot anti-virus kept giving me warnings, so I was a little hesitant about unzipping and running WinZIP. After doing some reading up on it at the Webroot site, I think WinZIP is OK, but they didn't like it because it has a lot of invasive crap that, while annoying, is not really dangerous; that's why Webroot gives the warning. At least I think that's what the article was getting at. Anyway, somebody recommended a free program called 7-zip, so that's what I downloaded and installed to unzip Houdini 4 PRO.
     I was suspicious of this free Houdini 4 engine...how can it be free when everybody is selling it? ChessOK is a legit site...I've bought from them before and while I'm not a fan of some of their products, they do have excellent customer service.
     I ran match at 3 minutes per game pitting my Houdini 2 vs. Houdini 4 PRO downloaded from ChessOK. The result: Houdini 2 won with +6 -1 =2. If it's the real Houdini 4 PRO, how can that be? I decided to try a longer (15 minute) game. The result (I only ran one game) was a long, boring draw. Honestly, after the trouncing it took I am skeptical that this is the real Houdini 4 PRO engine.  In fact I think it performed so badly I deleted it.
     While on the subject of engines, a lot of players are looking for "human-like" play from engines. BlackMamba is a multi-core engine for Windows (32 and 64bit), Linux (32 and 64bit) and Android. The engine is very strong and supposedly was written to make (sound, as opposed to just giving away material, I guess) human-like sacrifices. I'm not sure how one tells human moves from computer moves in this situation, but below is a G10 Black Mamba vs Stockfish 6.  If anyone is looking for a human-like engine you may want to try out Black Mamba.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Kim Commons, Club Owner and (Former) Chess Star

    Kim Commons of California was a prominent IM on the US chess scene during the 1970's. He received a Bachelor's degree in physics from UCLA, but it appears he never worked in the field. Commons earned his Master title in 1968, Senior Master title 1973 and International Master title 1976. He served as a chess instructor at UCLA in 1972-1973.
     Commons was one of the most promising players in the US in the 1970’s and was good enough to be invited to participate in the US Championship but he gave up chess because he desired to, as he put it, “become a Grandmaster in real estate.” Apparently he succeeded because he eventually became a real estate broker in California.
     Since 2005 he's been in Arizona where he is President and CEO of Club Red in Mesa and he specializes in audio engineering, event planning, songwriting and advertising. Club Red boasts having over 600 free parking spaces, tour bus parking, twin theaters, good air conditioning, large professional stages, a full bar license, two levels, a green room for headliners and a professional staff. Article on Commons and the club: HERE.
     It's always great to see people successful, but you often wish they would have continued to play chess, too. Watch him maul Reshevsky in the 1974 US Championship in Chicago.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Tahl vs Keller, Zurich 1959

     In 1959 the Schachgesellschaft Zürich celebrated its 150th anniversary with a tournament. Besides Bobby Fischer, they invited Botvinnik, the world champion at the time, but he declined. It was probably a good thing because Mikhail Tahl took his place.
     Everybody knows Tahl, but his opponent in this game is largely unknown. Dieter Keller (born 19 July 1936) is a Swiss chess master who was Swiss Champion in 1958, 1960, 1961, and 1963. He played for Switzerland in three Olympiads with modest results (+9 -9 =17). He was awarded the International Master title in 1961 and his last FIDE rating is 2359; he has been inactive since 2003.
Dieter Keller
     In this tournament Keller beat Fischer in their game and the another highlight of the tournament was his spectacular loss to Tahl. What's fascinating about this game is that in his book The Life and Games of Mikhail Tahl, Tahl provided only a diagram and the last 20 moves of this game, writing, "I did not want to give a faulty analysis, and to work through it to the end is, I am afraid , hardly possible."
     Robert Huebner annotated it though. The first time his annotations were filled with errors and later Garry Kasparov copied Huebner's notes, mistakes and all. Huebner later corrected his notes; it took him 43 pages!  I'm just giving the highlights here but the complications are incredible. Tahl finally wrapped things up with his amazing 29th move.