Smyslov on the Couch: A Review

Smyslov on the Couch,

by Genna Sosonko, published by Elk and Ruby, (http://www.elkandruby.com/) is broken down, like Smyslov at the end of his long life, into three parts. This review will, therefore, be in three parts.

Part 1: The Real Vasily Smyslov

The author writes, “He possessed an incredible memory.” Most, if not all, World Chess champions were blessed with a memory far above most human beings. Some no doubt contained a brain possessing an eidetic memory. How else can one explain Bobby Fischer

recalling a speed (that was five minutes and only five minutes per game ‘back in the day’) game that had taken place decades earlier? (…just prior to his historic match with Taimanov, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Fischer met the Russian player Vasiukov and showed him a speed game that the two had played in Moscow fifteen years before. Fischer recalled the game move by move.) (http://billwall.phpwebhosting.com/articles/Memory.htm)

Smyslov says, “Oh Genna, don’t wake my memories. What’s done is done, done to oblivion. I don’t remember a thing! I’ve been blessed with the ability to forget. There is an uncanny pattern to things, though; you best of all remember what you should forget.”

“His style was very clear-cut; he was considered a wonderful master of the endgame. Jan Timman,

known as the Best of the West during the eighties, who grew up on Botvinnik’s games, once said that he thought Smyslov’s style, due to his original strategic vision, lucid play, and virtuosic endgame technique, was the best.”

“Indeed, Max Euwe,

who had a very poor record against Smyslov, would say, “This amiable giant of the chess world (who) makes moves that, frankly, any other grandmaster could make. There’s just one small difference: Smyslov wins, but the other GM’s don’t. His playing style is really slippery; he doesn’t attack you head-on, doesn’t threaten mate, and yet follows some path that only he sees. His opponent’s are caught off-gaurd and fail to see his secret plans. They think they have a perfectly decent position….The suddenly they realize something isn’t right, but it’s too late! An attack is building up against their king and they can’t beat it off. Yeah, Smyslov is an amazing player, an amiable and obliging man, but so dangerous to play against.”

The author writes, “Or Boris Spassky,

highlighting Smyslov’s incredible intuition, called him “the Hand”, explaining this as follows: “His hand knows on which square each piece belongs, he doesn’t need to calculate anything with his head.” Later on there is this, “We had already said our goodbyes, but then suddenly he stepped off to the side, visibly distressed by something. “I thought of the game I lost to Van Wely yesterday. At first, I had a clear advantage. Then the position was equal. And then…no, it’s terrible, just terrible. Like an apparition haunting me. An evil force led my hand astray.” Shaking his head, he went towards passport control.”

The author, who had earlier emigrated from the Soviet Union, writes, “I visited Leningrad in 1982. Although I already had a Dutch passport by then, I was strongly advised against taking that trip. It was the height of the Cold War, and the consequences of such a visit were unpredictable in the Soviet days.” Genna “follow(ed) his own route,” and “…poked my head into the Chigorin Chess Club a few hours before the ship’s departure from Leningrad. “The doors are all shabby. When are they going to renovate the place?” I blurted out as I walked into the building I’d known since my Leningrad childhood. New “details” of my visit surfaced later on. Sosonko had supposedly come to Leningrad in secret and promised to donate ten thousand dollars to renovate the club.”

“I heard all about your foray into Leningrad, Genna,” Smyslov said smiling, when we met up a month later at the Tilburg tournament. “You decided to make a run for it? Have you completely lost your mind?” he chided me in a fatherly tone.

We faced off in round five. We had drawn all of our previous games, sometimes without trying. Smyslov played passively in the opening, and my advantage grew with every move. When Black’s position was completely lost, he rose slightly from his chair, extended his hand, and congratulated me, “Enjoy this one, Genna, but don’t let it go to your head. I can’t play against my friends.” He moaned and groaned the whole next day, still upset with me: “That guy? Yeah, he’d knock off his own father for five hundred dollars. Him donating ten thousand? I don’t think so!” But then everything went back to normal, with our daily walks around the village of Oisterwijk near Tilburg, where the tournament participants were staying, and long talks about everything.”

Gennady Borisovich Sosonko

vs Vasily Smyslov

Interpolis 6th Tilburg NED 1982.10.06

D46 Queen’s Gambit Declined semi-Slav, Chigorin defence

1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. e4 dxe4 8. Nxe4 Nxe4 9. Bxe4 c5 10. O-O Qc7 11. Re1 Nf6 12. Bc2 Bd7 13. Ne5 cxd4 14. Qxd4 Qc5 15. Qc3 Qb4 16. Bd2 Qxc3 17. Bxc3 Bxe5 18. Rxe5 O-O 19. Rd1 Bc6 20. f3 Rfd8 21. Rxd8+ Rxd8 22. a4 Nd7 23. Re2 Nc5 24. b3 b6 25. a5 Nb7 26. a6 Nc5
27. b4 Na4 28. Rd2 Rc8 29. Bd4 Be8 30. Bb3 Kf8 31. Kf2 f6 32. f4 b5 33. Bxa4 bxa4 34. Bxa7 Rxc4 35. Bc5+ Kf7 36. Rd6 1-0

Smyslov did not care for Fischer Random Chess, and nor do I. For one thing, allowing a computer to choose the opening setup of the pieces is absurd! If the game is going to be played why not put the pawns in their positions and have the player of the white pieces place the first piece, etc.? Smyslov says, “Chess is harmonious just the way it is. Fischer chess is utter nonsense. That setup deprives the game of its inherent harmony.”

Smyslov says, “I have noticed I play better if I treat my opponent with respect, no matter what disputes may arise. That type of attitude cleansed my soul, which enabled me to focus solely on the board and the pieces. My inspiration would wane and my performance would suffer whenever I let my emotions get the better of me.”

Part 2: Match Fixing in Zurich and the Soviet Chess School

This part of the book shines a light on the dark and dirty Soviet School of Chess, where every result can be questioned beginning with the 1933 match between the Czechoslovak master, Salo Flohr,

“…on his first trip to the Soviet Union, and the rising star of Soviet chess, Mikhail Botvinnik.”

Flohr won the first two decisive games of the match, but Botvinnik “won” games nine and ten, the final games of the match, to draw the match to send the fans into a frenzy.

The author blames everything on the “monstrous state system…” He never assigns any blame on any individual, yet a “system” is comprised of “people.” The author writes, “Soviet chess, with its undoubted achievements on the one hand and cynicism and total absence of morals on the other hand, was the fruit of the monstrous state system, controlling everything that was the Soviet Union. And it died alongside that country.” Really? “As Stalin used to say, ‘no person-no problem’.” (Pg. 139 of Checkmate, by Sally Landau https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2019/04/21/checkmate-the-love-story-of-mikhail-tal-and-sally-landau-a-review/) An excellent case can be made that when it comes to Russia today, only the names have changed as Putin continues to eliminate former Russian citizens on foreign soil, and even on home soil, proving if there is “no person” there is “no problem.” It is not the “system” which is corrupt, but the people who comprise the system. The American system is not corrupt, but many, if not most, of the people comprising the system are corrupt, and that includes those at the very top, including the POTUS, who is so obviously corrupt, and corruptible. It is not the “system” that needs be changed, but those in charge of the corrupt system, no matter what system and what it is named, who need to be eliminated, as Malcoln X said, “by any means necessary.”

The author used Former World Chess Champion Emanuel Lasker

to prove his point when he writes, “Emanuel Lasker had visited the Soviet Union back in 1924. He played in all three international tournaments and, escaping from the Nazis, he moved to Moscow in 1935. In his memoirs, Mikhail Botvinnik wrote about the Nottinghanm tournament of 1936, one of the greatest competitions of the twentieth century: “World Champion Euwe led the tournament for a considerable time, and I found it hard to keep up. At a critical moment in the battle, Lasker unexpectedly turned up in my hotel room. ‘I now live in Moscow,’ he announced pompously, ‘and as a representative of the Soviet Union I consider it my duty to play for a win against Euwe, especially as I’m playing White.’ At the same time, the old Doctor bore quite an alarmed expression. ‘Don’t be silly, Dear Doctor,’ I objected, waiving my hands in the air. ‘If you draw that will be fine.’ Lasker breathed a sigh of relief: Well, that will be easy,’ he said, and then left the room, having shaken my hand. The next day, Euwe, playing to win missed a somewhat straightforward tactical subtlety in an equal ending and lost.”

“Let’s reflect for a moment on the meaning of Lasker’s words,” writes Sosonko. “When learning that the aging doctor, as a representative of the Soviet Union, wondered whether he should play to win against a rival of his new fellow-countryman, you instinctively think just how quickly a person becomes influenced by their stay in a strict totalitarian system. Even a very short stay. Even a wise man and philosopher who was born free.”

Let us reflect for a moment…Lasker had the white pieces and should have, therefore, played for a win. If Bobby Fischer had been playing Euwe the next day he would have been playing to win even with the black pieces!

“Sammy Reshevsky,

who played not only in the 1948 world championship but in subsequent candidates tournaments as well, noted that the Russians always played as a team.”

There are wonderful tidbits in the book. Two of my favorite concern Chess books. “When Judit Polgar was asked about her favorite chess book, she replied almost instantly: “Levenfish and Smylov’s Rook Endings. Those endings arise more often than any of the others. Everything is explained so simply in the book.”

Smyslov, “By the way, have you read Tarrasch?

Tarrasch fell out of favor in the Soviet Union, later on, like so many other people did. He was banned, but his book The Game of Chess

is excellent. He explained everything in a very accessible way. You haven’t read it? I really recommend you do. It’s never too late.”

The Tarrasch book always brings to mind NM Guillermo Ruiz and the Chess book. (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/the-chess-book/)

The last part of the book, Part 3, is, The Final Years.

The part about Judit Polgar’s

favorite Chess book is in the final part of the book. “When Judit Polgar was asked about her favorite chess book, she replied instantly: “Levenfish and Smyslov’s Rook Endings.

Those endings arise more than any of the others. Everything is explained so simply in the book.”

This, too, is included in the final part of the book: “July 22, 2004. “You know, whenever I think about Fischer, I start feeling sorry for him. I’m afraid he’ll get sent back to America.He just always needed someone who’d be there for him, take care of him, look after him. He was always a Don Quixote, if you see what I’m getting at.”

Other than a few things, reading the final part of the book was terribly depressing. Since at my age I am knocking on heaven’s door, I may not be the most objective person to review the latter part of the otherwise excellent book. The fact is, I do not even want to review it. The final section detracts from the book and the less said about it, the better. Read the book and judge for yourself, and leave a comment on the Armchair Warrior blog.

I give the first two parts five points each, making a total of ten points. Unfortunately I can only give a couple of points to the final part, so divide twelve by three and…you do the math.

“Tal wins by tricks. I consider it my duty as a grandmaster to beat him properly” ~ Vasily Smyslov

Chess with Suren
Published on Apr 10, 2019

In the autumn of 1959, in the Yugoslav towns of Bled, Zagreb and Belgrade the four cycle tournament of eight candidates for the world crown took place: The candidates were Smyslov, Keres, Petrosian, Tal, Gligoric, Olafsson, Benko and the 16 year old Fischer. Tal was not regarded as one of the favorites. Moreover, a couple of weeks before the start he underwent an operation for appendicitis (later it transpired that the pain he was suffering was caused by a kidney illness). When Mikhail Tal started his rise to the world championship crown, his risky style of play was viewed with disdain by most grandmasters; for example, former world champion Vassily Smyslov commented that Tal wins by tricks. “I consider it my duty as a grandmaster to beat him properly.” What happens next is from “must watch” series. In their first ever encounter Tal chooses an offbeat line in Caro-Kann defense and soon by going for a bishop sacrifice manages to unleash a dangerous attack. Although for some time Smyslov manages to find the most accurate defensive moves but soon he fails to withstand Tal’s devilish pressure and makes a mistake. Using his chance Tal goes for a queen sacrifice, exploiting the back-rank weakness and soon Smyslov’s position goes down quickly!
_________________
Mikhail Tal vs Vasily Smyslov
Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade Candidates (1959), Bled, Zagreb & Belgrade YUG, rd 8, Sep-18
Caro-Kann Defense: Breyer Variation (B10)
1.e4 c6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 e5 4.Ngf3 Nd7 5.d4 dxe4 6.Nxe4 exd4
7.Qxd4 Ngf6 8.Bg5 Be7 9.O-O-O O-O 10.Nd6 Qa5 11.Bc4 b5 12.Bd2
Qa6 13.Nf5 Bd8 14.Qh4 bxc4 15.Qg5 Nh5 16.Nh6+ Kh8 17.Qxh5 Qxa2 18.Bc3 Nf6 19.Qxf7 Qa1+ 20.Kd2 Rxf7 21.Nxf7+ Kg8 22.Rxa1 Kxf7 23.Ne5+ Ke6 24.Nxc6 Ne4+ 25.Ke3 Bb6+ 26.Bd4 1-0

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Evil-Doer: Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi: A Review

“The “Evil-Doer”, as the Soviet chess players now called Korchnoi, had turned chess into a matter of state urgency. The Soviet leadership received real time accounts of the world title matches as though they were dispatches from the front in time of war.”

It is difficult for anyone not living when Viktor Korchnoi

defected to understand what his leaving the “Mother country” meant to the Chess world at that time.

“…in taking a one-man stance against the hulking Soviet monster, he gained the entire world’s attention and imprinted his name in the history of the game forever. Just as a poet in Russia was much more than a writer, a grandmaster in the Soviet Union was much more than a chess player.”

“Chess’s next wave of popularity was exclusively down to Viktor Korchnoi. He represented quite a melting pot: the conflict between two opposing systems, the international tension caused by that very Cold War, and his personal drama, with the Soviet authorities refusing to allow his family to leave for the West. News of this standoff made chess front-page news again, and it was even the subject of the madly popular musical Chess, which ran for years in London and New York.”

Thus the stage is set by the author, GM Genna Sosonko in his magnificent new book, Evil-Doer: Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi.

“Almost half a century later, it is not easy to appreciate what such a decision by Korchnoi meant for a Soviet citizen, and how incredibly hard it was to make that final leap to freedom.”

Sosonko emigrated from the Soviet Union before Korchnoi, but he left after receiving permission from the monolithic State; Korchnoi defected, thus earning the opprobrium and enmity of not only the Soviet authorities, but also of the citizens of Russia. Korchnoi was considered a renegade; a traitor.

The following paragraphs explain the author’s aim in writing the book:

“There was a time when Sigmund Freud

dissuaded the writer Stephan Zweig

Stefan Zweig in seinem Salzburger Domizil am Kapuzinerberg. 1931. Photographie von Trude Fleischmann. [ Rechtehinweis: picture alliance/IMAGNO ]

from attempting to compile the former’s biography: “Whoever becomes a biographer forces himself to tell lies, conceal facts, commit fraud, embellish the truth and even mask their lack of understanding – it’s impossible to achieve the truth in a biography, and even if it were possible, that truth would be useless and you could do nothing with it.”

“I have to agree with the father of psychoanalysis and I have not attempted to write Korchnoi’s biography as such. Rather, this is a collection of memories, or to be more precise still: a collection of explanatory notes and interpretations of incomprehensible or misunderstood events from the complex life of a man whom I knew for nearly half a century, and alongside whom I spent in total many months – indeed years. I want to believe that these recollections will not only uncover the motives behind his controversial actions, but will also shed light on his approach to the game, his personality and behavior in everyday life. In any event, a portrayal of Korchnoi must obviously highlight the most important feature of his life – his dedication to chess – which grew into an obsession.”

“When he turned seventy, he asked me to write the foreword to his collected games. Naturally, I hardly imbued my text written for his big occasion with “plain speaking.”

“Yet, in the book you are now holding, I have attempted to do just that: in my reflections on this great player, I wanted to display him, as the English say, warts and all.”

The author has achieved his goal. It must have been painful at times to write so openly and honestly about someone with whom one spent so much time, and about someone for whom he obviously had so much affection, but Sosonko has done a masterful job in this outstanding work of art. I lived during the era of which the author writes, but did not play Chess seriously until 1970. Therefore I learned much from the early, pre-1970, period of Viktor the Terrible. Even though I have read extensively about the Chess world much of what I read in this book shed light on some of the dark spots.

“This is how Canadian grandmaster Kevin Spraggett

described a conversation with (Boris) Spassky:

He began to list Korchnoi’s many qualities:

…Killer Instinct (nobody can even compare with Viktor’s ‘gift’)

…Phenomenal capacity to work (both on the board and off the board)

…Iron nerves (even with seconds left on the clock)

…Ability to calculate (maybe only Fischer was better in this department)

…Tenacity and perseverance in defense (unmatched by anyone)

…The ability to counterattack (unrivaled in chess history)”…Impeccable technique (flawless, even better than Capa’s)

…Capacity to concentrate (unreal)

…Impervious to distractions during the game

…Brilliant understanding of strategy

…Superb tactician (only a few in history can compare with Viktor)

…Possessing the most profound opening preparation of any GM of his generation

…Subtle psychologist

…Super-human will to win (matched only by Fischer)

…Deep knowledge of all of his adversaries

…Enormous energy and self-discipline

Then Boris stopped, and just looked at me, begging me to ask the question that needed to be asked…I asked: “But, Boris, what does Viktor lack to become world champion?” Boris’s answer floored me: “He has no chess talent!”

And then Spassky roared with laughter…(https://kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com/author/kevinspraggettonchess/page/366/)

Viktor Korchoi was what is popularly known as a “late bloomer.” He may have had little, or no, talent for Chess, but no Grandmaster ever out worked the Evil Doer. He rose to the rarefied heights attained by strong determination, and an indomitable will to win.

“Korchnoi was born in Leningrad into a Jewish family on 23 March 1931. Lev Korchnoi (Viktor’s father) was killed at the very beginning of Russia’s involvement in World War II, and Rosa Abramova (his mother) took Vitya’s upbringing upon herself. The little boy lived through the Blockade of Leningrad, the death of many nearest and dearest, cold and hunger, and at one point was hospitalized with dystrophy.”

“Graham Greene

claimed that a difficult childhood was a priceless gift for a writer, while Soviet grandmaster Alexander Tolush

asserted that you needed to be poor, hungry and angry to be good at chess. There is no doubt that being brought up without his father and his tough childhood contributed to Korchnoi’s difficult personality, and were the reasons for complexes that it took him many years to shed.”

Viktor overcame the obstacles in his path to challenge for the World Chess Championship, becoming the second best Chess player in the world.

“If he noticed somebody voluntarily choosing a passive or quite unpromising opening line, he would shake his head: “What can we say here? X had a difficult childhood, a difficult childhood.” He would repeat this at a training session of the Dutch team prior to the Haifa Olympiad (1976) when we were analyzing some opening of Polugaevsky’s. This expression caught on, and became part of Dutch chess folklore for many years: what, did you have a difficult childhood or something?”

“Vladimir Tukmakov,

who worked with Korchnoi in the early 1990’s, was also amazed at the famous veteran’s energy and emotional state:

The several days that we spent analyzing together during his candidates quarter-final again(st) Gyula Sax

(Wijk-aan-Zee 1991) enabled me to understand him much better than the ten or so games that we had played against each other until then. Korchnoi was spewing out ideas like a fountain. Sometimes we would spend almost an entire day on chess, yet like a child he would then continue to play around with the chess pieces, trying out various positions.

Vasily Ivanchuk

also noticed this quality:

Sometimes you ask somebody to look at a position and they refuse – “I’m not interested, I don’t play that line.” Well, you would never hear such words from Viktor Lvovich. He would analyze any position, attempting to grasp it and suggesting ideas. For example, we would look at a position where we needed to find a way for black to equalize or for white to gain an advantage. When it looked like we had found it, everything seemed to work, and we had checked the variations, I would have stopped there. Yet Korchnoi always tried to penetrate the position more deeply, and to see if there was another way.

Jan Timman,

who had composed studies since he was young (http://www.arves.org/arves/index.php/en/halloffame/264-timman-jan), recalled: Viktor, unlike many colleagues, always took an interest in my compositions, and we would often spend hours analyzing together.”

Now the players no longer analyze, they head for the nearest computer for the answer.

“Korchnoi was sixteen when he managed to draw a game against Estonian master Ivo Nei

after escaping from the jaws of defeat. “This was the first time that I felt pleasure from a difficult, tiresome defense! But if, in my youth, the desire to defend was driven by mischief, a love for risk, then in the subsequent years defense became my serious, practical and psychological weapon. I enjoy drawing my opponent forward, allowing him the taste of attack during which he might get carried away, drop his guard, sacrifice some material. I often exploit those episodes to launch a counterattack, and that’s when the real battle begins,” Korchnoi said at the start of the 1960’s. He concluded: “Masters of defense have contributed no less to chess history than masters with an attacking style!”

“Only Korchnoi can capture that pawn!” became a widely-used cliche to describe position where any sane chess player would not even consider accepting a sacrifice.

“Shall we ‘Korchnoi’ a bit?” I had heard masters and even grandmasters suggest this during analysis back tn the Soviet Union, when they considered capturing material that appeared particularly dangerous to accept.

Journalists of course lapped up the Leningrad grandmaster’s attitude to the game: “A man of courage who chose defense as his weapon!”…”Korchnoi captured the poisoned pawn and chalked up another win!”…”After the Leningrader accepted everything thrown at him in sacrifice, his opponent found himself without a mating attack and raised the white flag.” Phrases like these were often found in tournament reports.

“At the end of his life, Francois Mauriac wrote” “I’m not brave enough to revise my technique, as Verdi did after Wagner appeared.”

“Well, Korchnoi did have enough bravery. Middle aged, he decided to review his approach to the game, to become broader minded, to throw off his focus on material, to learn to play positions with the initiative, with sacrifices and with material imbalances. He managed to do this in the prime of a successful career. Only professionals are capable of appreciating the gigantic effort that Korchnoi made.”

“He said one day: “You know, I have a son in Ukraine, he’s 32 years old. Recently, he wrote to me that he had just realized that he had lived half his life. Well, at that age I suddenly realized that I didn’t know how to play chess!
Even though that’s when I won the national championship for the second time! I suppose you need a great deal of talent to win the championship of the Soviet Union without knowing many of the laws of chess! After all, all sorts of things have been written about me! I’m a great defender, that my play resembles Dostoevsky and all sorts of nonsense. Yet I couldn’t have played any differently, I didn’t know how to! So I started to work. I analyzed thousands of games. I mastered the most important skill of all – to wield the initiative!”

“Yet, after changing his style, he retained his won, original way of looking at the game. Korchnoi’s deliberations about chess were always to the point, yet unexpected.”

I end the review here. I could continue, going on and on, ad infinitum. I have attempted to convey the tenor of the book to the reader to the best of my ability. You, the reader, will decide if I managed to impart a glimmer of what this marvelous book contains.

A personal note: While reading a book to review I never write in the book; any book. To do so would be to deface the book. A book is sacrosanct. I place paper in the book, and then reread the pages containing the inserted slips of paper. It is almost like reading it twice. I agonized on what to include, which caused much anguish after deciding to exclude parts for the review. While rereading parts of the book I cogitated on how to begin the review. This, too, caused much anguish. There is so much contained in the book that I could write other, totally different, reviews, using none of the above.

I have read every book written by the author, one of the very best writer’s on the Royal game, not to mention his many articles. My admiration for Genna Sosonko is unbounded. This work is his pièce de résistance.