Checkmate! The Love Story of Mikhail Tal and Sally Landau: A Review

Checkmate! The Love Story of Mikhail Tal and Sally Landau,

is a beautiful book written about a lifelong love between two people, one of whom, Mikhail Tal,
happened to win a World Chess Championship match against the man called “the patriarch of the Soviet School of Chess,” Mikhail Botvinnik. (https://en.chessbase.com/post/botvinnik-the-patriarch)

The book, written by Sally Landau, and published by Elk and Ruby Publishing Company (http://www.elkandruby.com/), is a wonderful history of a time long gone with the wind. The author brings to life a different time and the people who lived during the Soviet Communist period. The book, like a Chess game, has only three chapters, the opening by Sally, the middle by Gera, the son of Mikhail and Sally Tal, and the end, again by Sally.

She begins the book by writing about herself. “I am an inconsistent and impulsive person, who first does and only then thinks about what I have done. I am an ordinary, vulnerable woman, in which a womanly nature lived and lives, found joy and finds joy, suffered and suffers, in the full sense of those words. The way I see it, selfishness and a desire for independence somehow manage to coexist inside me with love for the people surrounding me and a subconscious wish to be a woman protected by a man who lives for me – protected by him from all sorts of major and minor everyday troubles.”

Later she writes, “Still sharp contradictions coexisted within me: on the one hand, this immense fear of losing my personal freedom, on the other hand, this equally immense fear of solitude and a subconscious desire to have a strong man beside me with whom I wouldn’t be afraid of falling off an overturned boat in the open seas, even if I didn’t know how to swim. These contradictions played a significant role in my life with Misha…”

She writes about her impression of what it was like being a Jew in the Soviet Union. “So it wasn’t the external appearance of the Tals’ apartment that struck me that evening. Rather, it was its anti-Soviet spirit that I sensed. I immediately inhaled this pleasant middle-class air. It was apparent straight away that the people living there were not “mass-produced” but very much “hand-crafted”, and that relations between them did not fit into the usual framework of socialist society.”

“Misha was born a frail child. He had two fingers missing from his right hand. When she (Ida, Mikhail Tal’s mother) first saw her son after he was brought to her and unwrapped from his swaddling clothes she again fainted in shock at the site of his three crooked fingers. She was unable to breastfeed. Her lack of milk was perhaps due to those shocks. She was treated for a long time after that.

“When he was just six months old, Misha was struck by a nasty meningitis-like infection with a very high temperature and convulsions. The doctor said that his chances of making it were remote, but that survivors turn out to be remarkable people. Well, Misha began to read at the age of three, and by the age of five he was multiplying three-digit numbers – while adults were still struggling to solve the math with a pencil he would tell them the answer.”

“He got “infected” with chess at the age of seven and began to spend nearly all his time at the chess club, nagging adults to play him.”

Gera was a Medical Doctor and qualified to write about Tal’s well known medical problems.

“Well, the actual start of my father’s physical ailments, however banal it may sound, was the fact of his birth. Ever since then he simply collected illnesses. But the fundamental cause of course was his totally pathological, nephrotic kidney. It tortured him relentlessly. People suffering from kidney disease know that there is nothing worse in the world than pains in the kidneys. I don’t understand how such people can even exist, let alone play chess. I’m sure that it wasn’t my father who lost the return match to Botvinnik,

but his diseased kidney.”

“My father treated his life like a chess game, somewhat philosophically. There’s the opening, then the opening transposes into the middle game, and if no disaster strikes in the middle game you get into a dull, technical endgame, in which a person ultimately has no chances. As far as I know, father didn’t gain pleasure from playing endgames – he found them boring and insipid. Force him to give up smoking, brandy, partying and female admirers – basically, the source of intense experiences in the middle game of life – and he would find himself in the endgame, when he would have nothing left to do other than passively see out the rest of his life. However, that would have been a different person just resembling Tal. And what’s the difference – to die spiritually or die physically if you can no longer be Tal?”

Throughout their life, together and apart, Mikhail and Sally had other loves and lovers, yet remained friends. A love interest of his was written about but only named by the letter “L.” Research shows this was Larisa Ivanovna Kronberg,

a Soviet/Russian actress and a KGB agent. She was named Best Actress at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in A Big Family. In 1958, she was involved in the Ambassador Dejean Affair, Kronberg lured Dejean in a honey trap. She was in a long-time relationship with World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal in the 1960s, they parted in the 1970s. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larisa_Kronberg)

Sally had an affair with a man about whom she writes, “I won’t name him in the book. Why? Let’s say he was a high-up government official…I will call him “The Minister”…Let that be his name here.” Reading this caused me to reflect upon something IM Boris Kogan said decades ago about the KGB. “Mike, KGB like octopus with many tentacles that reach everywhere!” The relationship between Sally and “The Minister” was doomed to failure because a good Soviet communist did not consort with a Jew. Sally writes, ” Misha was such a unique person! I was living with Alnis; at the time he was effectively a common-law husband; and Misha understood that perfectly well. And yet, while he treated Alvis with respect, he continued to consider me his only woman and the most important woman in the world – his Saska. Alnis took quite a liking to Misha, saw what a remarkable person he was, and would say of him: “Tal isn’t a Jew. Tal is a chess genius.”


Tal playing the husband of his former wife Joe Kramarz, not only a Chess player but a HUGE fan of Mikhail Tal!

The book is replete with things like this from Yakov Damsky writing in Riga Chess, 1986. “He has a wonderful ability with language and always has a sharp wit. I remember, for example, after a lecture some tactless dude asked Tal: “Is it true you’re a morphinist?” to which Tal instantly replied: “No, I’m a chigorinets!”

“Petrosian once joked morbidly: “If I lived the way Tal does I would have died a long time ago. He’s just like Iron Felix.” (The nickname of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the KGB)

Having worked at the House of Pain I got a kick out of this: “Chess players talk to each other in the language of notation. I was always amazed at this. Although I understood nothing of it, I listened to them as though they were aliens, observing their emotions. If, for example, Tal, Stein and Gufeld got together, their conversation could flow along the following lines:

Gufeld: What would you say to knightdfourfsixbishopg2?
Stein: Bishopgsevenfgknightdefivecheck!
Tal: Yes but you’ve forgotten about if knightfsixintermezzoqueenheight!
Gufeld: Pueenheightrookgeightwithcheckandrooktakesheight and you’re left without you mummy!
Tal: But after bishopeone you’re left without your daddy!
Stein: Bishopeone doesn’t work because of the obvious knighttakesoneecfourdekinggsevenrookasevencheck!

And this wonderful chitchat would continue endlessly, with people not “in-the-know” thinking they were in a madhouse.”

During tournaments at the Atlanta Chess & Game Center it could be, at times, a “Madhouse of Pain.”

A player would walk up talking about his game in these terms while having the position clearly in his mind. I, on the other hand, had no clue, but would nod in agreement, or frown when called for, while commiserating with the player, understanding, but not understanding, if you get my drift. The worst was when two players who had just finished their game would come downstairs talking in variations, bantering back and forth, then look at me asking, “What do you think, Mr. Bacon?!” To which my usual response was, “That’s a heckofaline!” Hopefully they would smile and nod in agreement before giving way to the next player or players wishing to tell me all about their game…

“A grandmaster said to me once: “When Misha finds himself in a hopeless position, his head tells him this but he doesn’t believe that he, Tal, has no chances. He starts to seek a saving combination, convinced that such a combination exists – it’s just a matter of locating it. And as a rule he finds it. However, despite all its beauty and numerous sacrifices, the combination turns out to be flawed, and then the defeat becomes for him even more painful and humiliating than if he had been physically dragged face down in the road.”

After reading the above I reflected upon a game recently played over contain in the latest issue of Chess Life magazine. In reply to a letter to the editor GM Andy Soltis writes, “Good point, Dr. Seda-Irizzary. Tal is a splendid example because he understood the principle of “Nothing Left to Lose.” That is, when you are truly lost, you should forget about finding a “best” move that merely minimizes your lost-ness.” The game follows:

Vassily Smyslov

vs Mikhail Tal

Candidates Tournament Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade 10/03/1959 round 15

B42 Sicilian, Kan, 5.Bd3

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.O-O d5 8.Nd2 Nf6 9.Qe2 Be7 10.Re1 O-O 11.b3 a5 12.Bb2 a4 13.a3 axb3 14.cxb3 Qb6 15.exd5 cxd5 16.b4 Nd7 17.Nb3 e5 18.Bf5 e4 19.Rec1 Qd6 20.Nd4 Bf6 21.Rc6 Qe7 22.Rac1 h6 23.Rc7 Be5 24.Nc6 Qg5 25.h4 Qxh4 26.Nxe5 Nxe5 27.Rxc8 Nf3+ 28.gxf3 Qg5+ 29.Kf1 Qxf5 30.Rxf8+ Rxf8 31.fxe4 dxe4 32.Qe3 Rd8 33.Qg3 g5 34.Rc5 Rd1+ 35.Kg2 Qe6 36.b5 Kh7 37.Rc6 Qd5

38.Qe5 Rg1+ 39.Kh2 Rh1+ 40.Kg2 Rg1+ ½-½

I conclude the review with this paragraph:

“Salo Flohr,

with whom I was great friends, once showed me around the Moscow chess club, and told me, pointing at the photos of world champions on the wall: Sallynka, look at them. They are all the most normal, mad people.” Well, I’m ever thankful that I lived my life among such “normal, mad people” as Misha,

Tigran,

Bobby,

and Tolya Karpov.

(Garry Kasparov is also a genius, but not mad – that’s my opinion, anyway.)”

I enjoyed this wonderful book immensely. Anyone with a love of the history of the Royal Game will be greatly rewarded for spending their time reading a beautifully written love story surrounded by the “mad men” who play the game of Chess. Please keep in mind I have told you not all the words.
I give it all the stars in the universe!

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Rapid is the Future of Chess

The first game of rapid Chess of the 2018 World Human Chess Championship was the first rapid game of any world championship I have ever watched. It was thrilling and exciting, something sorely lacking in the classical part of the WHCC. Rapid is perfect for current Chess fans. It is certainly perfect for Magnus Carlsen, the undisputed Rapid Champion of the Chess World.

When it comes to so-called Classical Chess and Magnus I am reminded of the famous quote by many time World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik,

who said he was, “First among equals.” Magnus did not best Fabiano Caruana in the twelve games of Classical Chess, therefore, Fabiano should have earned another shot at the Champ.

After the game concluded I stretched out, putting a dark tee shirt over my eyes to rest before the second game. I was not down long before getting up to make my second cup of coffee of the day. It was shocking to see the second game had already started. I do not know how much time there was between games but it obviously was not enough, especially for Fabiano Caruana.

I do not know how much time a player needs to gather himself after a loss but certainly there should be at least forty-five minutes before the next game begins, maybe an hour.

While resting my eyes I reflected upon the weekend tournaments at the House of Pain, aka the Atlanta Chess & (What Other?) Game Center. I envisioned a weekend tournament consisting of ten Rapid games. Each round would consist of two games between the same opponents, with each playing white and black. The first could begin at ten am Saturday morning. Game two would begin at eleven thirty. Round two would begin at one pm, with the second game of round two beginning at two thirty. Round three would begin at four pm and the second and final game of the day would begin at five thirty. The first day would end around six thirty.

Round four would begin Sunday morning at ten am, just as the previous day. After the second game of the fourth round beginning at eleven thirty the next, and final, round could begin thirty minutes later than the previous day, at one thirty pm. The last game of the day would then begin at three pm. The tournament would end around four pm.

A total of ten games of Chess could be played over the weekend, which should be enough Chess for anyone. I must point out that playing an even number of games would mean each player would have the white pieces the same number as every other player. I recall one of the stronger players in Atlanta when I was beginning to play tournament Chess, Tom Pate, withdrawing and leaving before the fifth round when he was assigned black. Tom, a 1900+ rated player, was upset because he had previously drawn the black pieces in several (I cannot recall the exact number) tournaments. Come to think of it that may have been the last time Tom played Chess…The Rapid format would obviate that possibility.

A senior tournament could eliminate the third round, allowing for more time between rounds. For example, the second round could begin at two pm, allowing more time for a decent lunch and maybe some camaraderie, one of the best things about a Senior tournament.

The Chess must adapt to changing circumstances. Rapid games may not completely eliminate cheating, but will certainly make it much more difficult for players to consult a device containing a 3500 rated Chess program. In addition, moving to a Rapid format would eliminate one half point byes and the dreaded Zombie attack of re-entries. As Captain Jean-Luc Picard was so fond of saying:

Biothythms of Magnus Carlsen vs Fabiano Caruana

Upon learning I played tournament Chess in the late 1970’s the father of a new girlfriend mentioned a book he had read, Biorhythm: A Personal Science, by Bernard Gittelson, going on to say Bobby Fischer had been profiled during the match with Boris Spassky. Naturally this peaked my interest. I read the book, learning the importance of critical days. For example, the Japanese did not allow any professional driver to work on a double critical day, or allow any to pilot fly on those days and it cut the number of accidents tremendously. Over the course of my life while in a relationship with a woman I have charted their moods by jotting down simple notes such as, “bitchy day,” or “good mood day.” Hold off on those nasty comments and emails, please, as I have done the same for me. In addition I have focused on not only my individual day but on different periods in an attempt to understand biorhythms and whether of not they have anything to do with my state of being. I have come to the conclusion there is something to biorhythms, especially physically. A critical day is when one is changing from one phase to another. One can go from a low to a high phase, or the reverse. It has been my experience that it is much worse to go from a high phase to a low phase, and it becomes increasingly pronounced as one ages. It has been extremely difficult to understand the other two phases, emotional and intellectual. I can, though, say with authority that several woman in my life have sent me to the biorhythm chart when having a…how to describe it…let us say an “overly emotional” type of day. It has also been my experience over the last four decades that it is better to be in an emotionally low phase than a high phase. Being in a high phase is akin to being what is commonly known as “wound too tightly.” Beginning at birth everyone’s day of birth will be a critical day followed by either a peak or floor day. For example, I was born on a Monday, so every other Monday is an emotional critical day for me.

Some years ago I put something on the USCF forum concerning a World Championship match and biorhythms. The nattering nabobs ripped me a new one. I recall “pseudo-science” and “akin to astrology” among other remarks. For this reason I ask the reader to be open-minded and kind when commenting or sending an email.

Magnus Carlsen

Fabiano Caruana

https://www.biorhythm-calculator.net/

When the match begins the graph shows Magnus at his physical nadir while Fabiano is near his physical zenith. It is almost the exact opposite for the two combatants intellectually. Magnus will be going through an emotional critical day, transferring from high to low. Fabi will coming off of his emotional nadir. This illustrates how different are the two players, biorhythmically speaking. This is dramatically shown with this:

Relationship Compatibility

Name: Carlsen
Date of birth 1990-11-30

Name: Caruana
Date of birth 1992-7-30

Physical: 13%
Emotional: 42.9%
Intellectual: 15.2%

Spiritual: 5.7%
Awareness: 33.3%
Aesthetic: 72.1%
Intuition: 100%

http://www.procato.com/biomatch/

The lack of compatibility between the two players in the three main facets is striking. I left the latter part in for illustration purposes only because of the 100% match in intuition. Ordinarily I only look at the ‘Big 3’ but the total match had to be shown even though I have no idea what it means. When I learned about biorhythms there were only the top three.

The physical match up shows Carlsen playing most of the match in a physical high phase, while it is the opposite for Caruana. This could be a major factor, especially in light of the fact Fabiano has played so much Chess leading up to the match. Magnus has demonstrated throughout his career just how much endurance and stamina he possesses. No current player can match Carlsen in this regard. It would be wonderful to step into an alternate universe where the physical cycles are reversed, would it not?

If FIDE president I would strongly advocate a sixteen game match. With only a twelve game match I would advocate a tie match at the end of regulation would require another match one year later. If that match was also tied after regulation, then the champion would remain the champion. The challenger would have had two chances to beat the champ. To obtain another chance the challenger would have to again win the candidates tournament.

The World Champ will begin the match intellectually high before declining into a low phase the second half of the match. The challenger will begin the match low intellectually, but spend the majority of the match in a high phase.

Magnus will play most of the match in an emotionally low phase while Fabiano will only be in an emotional low period at the beginning of the match with the latter two-thirds being in a high phase.

Simply put, the two contestants biorhythms could not be more disparate.

The critical period of the match will be games three through six. One look at the chart of the challenger vividly illustrates this fact. Caruana will be undergoing biorhythmic changes in all three phases. His biorhythms will be going every which a way…

The chart of the World Champion looks much “smoother” in contrast.

I did this comparison in an attempt to make a prediction according to biorhythm theory. After studying the charts I am unable to do so as the disparity is simply too great. How much of a factor will it be that Magnus will be physically high during the latter part of the match? How much will it matter that Fabi will be high intellectually? In a longer match of even sixteen games, the number many time World Chess Champion Mikhail Botvinnik said was needed to determine a winner, the physical factor would play a larger part, but this is a shorter match. They are both young so the physical aspect may not mean as much as the intellectual, but how does one quantify the intellectual biorhythm? As I have grown older the physical factor is much easier to quantify, for example. Some physical critical days, especially transferring from high to low, are pronounced in a way that can be felt and understood. It may take a huge amount of information to demonstrate the kind of impact an intellectual critical day produces. I just do not know…One thing I do know, though, is that this will be an extremely interesting match, biorhythmically speaking.

If my life were on the line I would have to go with the current Champion because of the tiebreak issue. If the match is even then Magnus will be a heavy favorite.

Hypothetically speaking, if there were no tiebreak and my life depended on only the biorhythms of the players, again I would be forced to go with Magnus because of the critical period between games three and six for the challenger and his physical high phase toward the end of the match.

That was from the logical ‘Spock’ part of my brain. The ‘Captain Kirk’ emotional part from my heart will be hanging on every move Fabiano Caruana makes during the course of the match.

I would also like to mention I plan on spending much time watching, and listening, to the best Chess internet broadcasting trio, Yasser Seirwan, Maurice Ashley, and Jennifer Shahade, which can be found here (https://www.uschesschamps.com/2018-today-in-chess/world-chess-championship).

Let the games begin!

MVL Versus Magnus Carlsen: Fooling Caissa

Two consecutive tournament wins ahead of Carlsen

by André Schulz

Four players were at the top in the Norway Chess tournament at the start of round nine: Wesley So, Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura. Caruana and So met each other, while Carlsen was dealt black against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Nakamura faced off against Levon Aronian, also with black. Even Viswanathan Anand, with 3½ points, had chances jump into a tie for first with a win, although the 15th World Champion was black as well, against Sergey Karjakin.

Carlsen, was in no mood to take any chances against Vachier-Lagrave. When the game was in full swing on just move 17, the players began repeating moves in a position reached several times before. It certainly played a role that the two players trained together for Carlsen’s 2016 World Championship title defence, as Magnus himself pointed out in the “confession box” (in Norwegian):

The World Champion conceded half the point. Considering his chances to reach a tiebreak as about 50/50, he was content to watch his rivals fight it out.
https://en.chessbase.com/post/norway-chess-2018-round-9

Unfortunately, I do not understand Norwegian so the accompanying video could not be understood. What I do understand is that Magnus Carlsen, rather than fight like a World Champion, decided to be content with a draw. The decision by the HWCC was an insult to Caissa, and a disgraceful act unworthy of a World Champion. What kind of example has Magnus Carlsen set for all the children playing the Royal game? The above noted article at Chessbase seems to take the position, like most of the Chess world, that what Magnus did was perfectly acceptable. Chess is dying by draw, yet one hardly ever notices a discussion concerning the proliferation of draws. THERE ARE NO DRAWS IN THE ANCIENT ORIENTAL GAME OF GO! Before you send that nasty email, I am aware of the triple Ko situation in Go, in which the game is declared drawn. It happens about as often as a leap year, and when it does occur it makes news all around the Go world. Magnus did not have to agree to a draw; he did it because he is the HWC and can do what he wants to do when he wants to do it, without being called out by anyone involved with Chess. Magnus decided to rest on his laurels. As we say in America, Magnus CHICKENED OUT! I would have more respect for the HWCC if he had fought, and lost, while trying to win, rather than meekly acquiescing to a draw.

The moves in the game have been played so many times one cannot help but wonder if the fix was in…Was it a prearranged draw? Let us examine the “game.”

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

vs World Champ Magnus Carlsen

Altibox Norway Chess 2018

Last round, with all the marbles on the line.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a3 (Stockfish at the CBDB shows 8 a4 as the best move)
8…O-O (Although Komodo shows this as the best move, Houdini has 8…Na5 best)

9. Nc3 (One Stockfish program has this as best, but the other prefers 9 Ba2. Komodo shows 9 Re1 as best)

Na5 (The most often move played in this position is 9…Bg4, and it is the choice of the Dragon. Houdini would play 9…Rb8)

10. Ba2 Be6 11. b4 Bxa2 12. Rxa2 Nc6

13. Bg5 (Although the Stockfish program at ChessBomb shows this best at depth 21 after 30 seconds of ‘reflection’, the Stockfish program at the ChessBaseDataBase at depth 30 gives 13 Nd5. Komodo at depth 24 would play 13 h3)

13…Ng4 (SF at the Bomb has this in second behind 13…Nd7. The Fish and the Dragon at the CBDB would play 13…Qd7)

14. Bd2 (The SF at CBDB plays this move, but Komodo would play 13 Be3, a TN. Meanwhile, the SF at ChessBomb would play 14 Bxe7)

14…Nf6

(Let us stop here too reflect a moment. If the Royal game had the Ko rule, as does Go MVL would not be allowed to play 15 Bg5 and repeat the position. MVL would be forced to play elsewhere)

15.Bg5 (SF at CBDB plays 15 Re1; SF at DaBomb would play either 15 Qb1 or Ra1)

Ng4 16. Bd2 Nf6 17. Bg5 1/2-1/2

Pathetically pitiful…

From the above it is apparent there was a plethora of choices each player could have chosen, had they been inclined to do so. They were not so inclined, for whatever reason. To their credit, fellow countrymen Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So played a full-bodied game of Chess, with neither backing down and offering a draw. THEY PLAYED TO WIN!

Magnus Carlsen embarrassed himself and his reputation with his servile acquiescence to split the point. Magnus took a page out of the old Soviet Union Chess playbook when he decided to not fight in the last round of a major tournament held in HIS OWN COUNTRY! Oh, the SHAME…

Since the candidates tournament I have vacillated between the choice of Magnus versus Fabiano to win the upcoming World Human Chess Championship. The fact is that Caruana has shown much more fighting spirit in the tournaments in which the two have battled since the candidates tournament. Fabiano Caruana has demonstrated tremendous FIGHTING ability recently. We Chess fans can only wish the WCC were longer, as in the past. Mikhail Botvinnik considered sixteen games the optimum number of games, and who would know better than the Botvinnik? If it were a sixteen game match, without any speed games in case of a tie, I would wager on Fabi. Magnus is a much superior speed Chess player, so Magnus has draw odds going into the match, which is an unfair advantage. Speed Chess is NOT Chess! It is ABSURD to settle a WCC with speed games. I have often heard that “speed kills.” Speed Chess is killing the Royal game! The title of WCC should NOT be won by playing speed Chess!

The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein: A Review

Ilan Rubin, founder and CEO, LLC Elk and Ruby Publishing House (www.elkand ruby.ru) read the post, The Laws of the Najdorf (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/the-laws-of-the-najdorf/) in which I mentioned having a desire to read the book published by his company, The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein,

by Genna Sosonko

then contacted me wanting to know if I would be interested in writing a book review. I answered in the affirmative and the book was on its way. I have recently purchased another book published by his company, Team Tal: An Inside Story,

by Valentin Kirillov

and Alexei Shirov,

which has arrived and is on top of a stack of books to be read. So many books, so little time…

David Bronstein

gave a simul at the House of Pain which I have always regretted missing. The owner of the Atlanta Chess Center, Thad Rogers, had some awful things to say about the Bronstein visit. After reading the book I have a better understanding of why Mr. Rogers said those things.

The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein, by Genna Sosonko, is a extremely disquieting book. Yet I was riveted, reading all two hundred seventy one pages in only a few days. I have spent much more time thinking about the book than time spent reading it.

I have read all of the books by the author, and in addition, many articles. Genna is one of the best writers on the game of Chess. This book could be his best work. I write that knowing some may find the subject matter upsetting. The book concerns the aging of a Giant of the Chess world. “Colleague champion” was how former World Chess Champion Max Euwe

addressed David Bronstein in a telegram after the 1951 World Championship match between Bronstein and Mikhail Botvinnik,

the man who called himself, “First among peers,” which ended in a 12-12 tie. There can be no higher compliment.

Certainly there should have been a return match for the crown, but there was no match. When Botvinnik lost his crown, first to Mikhail Tal,

then to Vassily Smyslov,

there was a return match in which Botvinnik regained the title.

“You know, Botvinnik should have allowed me a return match; he was obliged to. In truth, though, I’m glad that I’m not hanging in the gallery at the chess club. Do you realize it was just half a point, half a point? And then, everything would have been completely different. Chess history and everything else. You see, Botvinnik and I had totally different outlooks on chess, and we were quite different people, too.”

The book left me wondering if Bronstein would have won a return match. Bronstein was afraid to win the match with Botvinnik for many of the same reasons Bobby Fischer

was afraid to play a match for the Chess championship of the world against any Russian. At the time of the 1951 match Bronstein’s father was being held in a Soviet gulag. How can one play his best while wondering what the “authorities” might do in reprisal if one wins? When living in a totalitarian system one tends to want to appease those who run the system, or at least not upset the Darth Vader’s in control.

One of the themes of the book considers the mental health of the Colleague champion. It caused me to consider a book read many years ago: Shadow Syndromes: The Mild Forms of Major Mental Disorders That Sabotage Us by John J. Ratey.

No human is perfect; we all have a certain percentage of different kinds of mental illness. The question is what percentage constitutes a full blown mental illness? Those who judge must determine if, for example, someone who has 49% of a particular mental illness, is considered mentally ill. What if that person rates in at 51%? Where is the line drawn? Who draws the line? While working at the Atlanta Chess & Game Center I had several people ask me if I thought this or that person was mentally ill. My answer was invariably the same. “I am not the one to ask that question.” When asked why, the reply would be, “On more than one occasion I have heard it said in the skittles room, “That guy Bacon is NUTS!”

“Botvinnik never took Bronstein seriously. His diary was full of negative and sarcastic commentary on his future opponent’s style: “neurotic and probably plagued by obsessive thoughts, but hard-working,” is one comment.

“Disregarding the fundamental truth that several different excuses always sound less convincing than one, Bronstein found a number of scapegoats and reasons for his loss: his hatred-filled opponent, the atmosphere of that time, fear for his father, his seconds, who neglected their duties, walks with a girlfriend who didn’t care about his career, and the hardships he had endured.”

“Psychologists say that you need to separate the ‘here and now’ from the ‘there and then’. They advise you to stop feeling regret about what was in the past and not to fool yourself. Bronstein didn’t want to come to terms with his past and nobody close to him dared to tell him that the match with Botvinnik was in the past, that life hadn’t stopped, and it was time to move on. Nobody dared to hit him over the head with the facts, to bring him back to reality. I admit to not knowing how such an attempt would have turned out, but nobody even attempted it, and everybody who regularly interacted with him shares responsibility for him remaining in such a state until the very end.”

“Bronstein the philosopher and Bronstein the talker had pushed aside Bronstein the chess player, and he increasingly seemed to be almost at odds with himself.”

“Ideas were bubbling in his head,” Yuri Averbakh

recalled. “He literally breathed them, couldn’t stop talking about everything that came to his mind. ‘How does your wife put up with your fountain of language?’ I once asked him. ‘She goes to visit the neighbours once she can’t put up with it any longer,’ David admitted with a guilty smile.”

Tom Furstenberg wrote: “David has so much to talk about he constantly ‘harasses’ organisers, sponsors, arbiters, and players with his ideas, even to the point of annoying them. This is why organisers occasionally do not want him in their tournaments and people sometimes do not take him seriously.”

“Furstenberg states that Bronstein also had other offers at the time, but none of them came to anything for the same reason. When Tom strongly recommended that he speak less, and especially stop repeating himself, Davy would answer, “I like people.” Of course, that wasn’t quite true. He liked people when they listened to him in admiration. Others, though, interested him only as an outlet to revisit Davy’s past.”

“It would probably have been useful for him to visit a therapist. The latter would have asked about something, and Davy would have talked for hours without even politely inquiring “how are you?” He never asked anybody that question. I can’t ever recall him asking me how things were or what plans I had. It was always about him, himself, and his chess. His place in chess was the meaning and substance of his entire life.”

“His listeners (including me) wouldn’t ask difficult questions out of respect for this great chess player and highly insecure person. As such, we strengthened his conceit and intoxication with his own uniqueness. If my opinion wasn’t the same as his, I would rarely disagree with him openly, although I could have argued frequently. I was constantly aware that I was talking with an outstanding chess player and, at the same time, a slightly unhinged person.”

“Psychotic symptoms are a normal part of human development, and everybody has a genetic inclination to experience them. Particular risk factors, though, are childhood traumas, and a psychotic state or neurosis may fuel or intensify genius.”

It got back to me that the owner of the Atlanta Chess & Game Center, Thad Rogers, said I was a “Small, insecure man.” I have probably been called worse. It made me wonder why someone would say that about me. I am, like Bronstein, a small man. Like most children who were bullied I have reason to be insecure. Bullies pick smaller boys as their targets because they are cowards. I learned boxing at a Boys Club and fought back against the cowards, and feel I have been fighting all my life. Reading this book caused empathetic feelings to be evoked.

“Viktor Korchnoi

invited Bronstein to Brussels in 1991 to his match with Jan Timman,

but he never engaged his services. “He talks so much that it gives me a headache,” Viktor explained to his seconds.

“He would trustingly take his ‘victim’ aside and he would start to fire off his ideas, thoughts, and views in a quiet, nearly toneless voice. Sometimes, they were interesting, sometimes amusing or moralizing, but always original, unexpected, and paradoxical, and Bronstein would experience genuine satisfaction if he sensed he had been able to ensnare his listener in a web of his monologue, filled with complicated twists and turns,” Mark Taimanov

recalled.

"Among his repeat stories, the endless refrain was, of course, his match with Botvinnik, and he constantly talked about what had been and what might have been had what happened not happened. His other monologue subjects included: reforming the rules of chess, including allowing the pieces to be set up freely behind the row of pawns, reducing the time allowed for thinking, the compulsory use of charts showing how much time is spent on thinking, as well as the idea that young players who think that they are the first to comprehend the game's subtleties and who receive enormous prized for doing so, dance on living classics' graves."

I could not help but wonder if a better word would have been "soliloquy" in lieu of "monologue."

"Although conversing with Bronstein was a tough challenge, the reward, when the grandmaster was in the mood, came in the form of brilliant flashes of colorful comparisons, clever thoughts and unusual conclusions that his listeners would never forget."

"Bronstein didn't like the fact that computers brought the truth in chess closer, that memorization had replaced improvisation: "By inventing computers, they wiped the wonderful game of chess from the face of the Earth. Chess is in crisis because it has been analyzed to death. The sense of mystery has disappeared. Chess today has nothing to do with the chess that my generation played."

A friend who stopped playing Chess, turning to Poker, said much the same thing, "GMs used to be thought of as some kind of mysterious Gods. Now there are considered to be nothing more than mere mortals."

Botvinnik was Bronstein's bête noire.

"Moreover, just like in all of Bronstein's deliberations, there was no avoiding the main wrongdoer. He criticized the 'computer' way of Botvinnik's thinking, claiming that the latter "reacted painfully to another man's genius and wrote with pretend disdain about chess as an art. Let's quote Botvinnik here: "Sometimes (and maybe often!) the thinking of a chess player is surrounded by mystique: the workings of a player's brains are presented as some sort of wonder, a magical and totally inexplicable phenomenon. Further, it is claimed that not only is the thinking of chess 'geniuses' a mystery, but that advantage is gained at the board thanks to some magical laws of chess art. We need to accept that unidentified laws of the chess battle do indeed exist, but that they can and will be identified just like the as yet unidentified way a grandmaster thinks. Moreover, it's fair to assume that these laws and the ways of thinking are relatively elementary – after all, youngsters play chess, and fairly well?" Botvinnik wrote in 1960."

"When he began, yet again, to claim: Believe me, that champion's title was of no interest to me," I said, "do you know David, how Toulouse-Latrec's grandfather informed his wife, born a duchess, at the breakfast table just what they had lost in the revolution of 1789?"
Bronstein looked at me nonplussed. "When his wife replied that she didn't give a damn, the artist's grandfather smiled sarcastically and stated, 'you certainly do give a damn, Citizen Duchess, because you wouldn't have talked about it every day if you didn't give a damn.' "
"Let me assure you," said David pulling me by the arm, "that I really don't care at all about this. Do you really think that I missed Na7 in game 23? Such an obvious move? Do you really believe that?"
I realized that any criticism on this matter was pointless and never again interrupted him when he got going about his match with Botvinnik.
The fear embedded in the minds of Soviet citizens who had lived through that terrible era was one reason for his unfinished thoughts, his hints, and his reticence…
How can one express the atmosphere of 1951 – when he was already an adult and a public figure – in words? How much willpower and which subtle hints are required to recreate the darkness of the time?"

Another time, "What ideas did Botvinnik have, I ask? Do you really think I didn't see that I shouldn't have taken the pawn and given white the advantage of two bishops versus two knights in game 23? Do you really think I missed that?"

Still later, "How was I supposed to play chess anyway, when I had this constant feeling of terror? Not facing Botvinnik, although I overestimated him at the time, I thought he was better than he turned out to be. No, it was terror facing my personal situation, the country I lived in, everything together. You experienced something similar, even if it wasn't for long. So you must understand what I'm talking about."

Reading the book made me think of David Bronstein as the Don Quixote of Chess.

"The functionaries did indeed dislike this now professional troublemaker, but realizing he was an oddball, they allowed him to play the role of frondeur, dreamer, village idiot, and eccentric maverick waving a toy sword.”

“That was the case with David Bronstein, too. In the half-century that followed, his tournaments included some brilliant games, elegant moves and original ideas, but there were no consistently strong results, or continual flow of inspiration. The formidable, ingenious player left him long before his actual death.You could perceive his abilities of old here and there in the games, but most of them were lacking in both joy and vigour.”

“At the very end, he became even more irritable and complained about everything. About his life ruined by chess and lived in vain. And of course, Davy complained about this Sosonko dude, who was just waiting pen in hand for him to kick the bucket so that he could publish his memoirs about the near world champion. The interesting thing, though, is that all of Davy’s complaints, although frequently unfair and exaggerated, and sometimes even absurd, had a grain of truth to them.”

“The fate of those long in the tooth is loneliness. Besides illnesses and adversity, the loss of friends and relatives, the horror of living without witnesses was tougher for him to bear than perhaps for anybody else. After all, there is no soul more desolate than an idol whose name was once on everybody’s lips.”

“Once, however, after repeating for the umpteenth time that Botvinnik had been utterly right all along, he added with a childlike smile: “Though that was still one hell of an imagination I possessed.”

“My heart began to ache at those words, however, and a powerful thought pierced my mind: “why did I write all that stuff about this great chess player who suffered so much at the end of his life? Why? What was the point of all that philosophizing and those attempted explanations? Who was all that for?” You see, I knew deep own that I shouldn’t have tried to recall anything. I should have left the departed alone in their graves and should have allowed the living to keep their illusions.”

This “Sosonko dude” was obviously troubled and full of doubt. In deciding to publish the book he has done the Chess world a great service.

“When Vladimir Nabokov

died, his niece scolded his wife, Vera, for apparently allowing her husband to die. The writer’s wife responded: “Vladimir died exactly when he was supposed to die. He was no longer able to do what he enjoyed: thinking and writing.”

After reading those words I realized my life, too, will end when I am unable to do those things.

“Let’s repeat these harsh words here: David Bronstein died exactly when he was supposed to die. He was no longer able to do what he enjoyed most of all – to play, discuss, and think about chess.”

This is a magnificent book, written with love for the subject. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Purchase and read this stunning, thought provoking book.

Where’s Putin?

An article has appeared on the New York Times website, Putin, Said to Be ‘Perfectly Healthy,’ Is Also Nowhere to Be Seen, By NEIL MacFARQUHAR, MARCH 13, 2015, which asks the question, “Where’s Putin?” It begins, “It was the question preoccupying Moscow and much of Russia on Friday, as speculation mounted about why President Vladimir V. Putin had not been seen in public since last week.”

“He canceled a trip to Kazakhstan; postponed a treaty signing with representatives from South Ossetia who were reportedly told not to bother to come to Moscow; and, unusually, was absent from a meeting of top officials from the F.S.B., Russia’s domestic intelligence service.

The last confirmed public sighting was at a meeting with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy on March 5 — although the Kremlin would have citizens think otherwise.

Given that the Kremlin borrows all manner of items from the Soviet playbook these days, there appeared to be an attempt to doctor the president’s timetable to show that all was well.”

Putin is not the only Russian who “…borrows all manner of items from the Soviet playbook these days.” Just as in the days of Soviet Communism, Mikhail Botvinnik and Paul Keres, every game between Russian chess players is suspect.

The NY Times reporter continues, “Early in his presidency, Mr. Putin dropped out of sight when the submarine Kursk sank in 2000 and again two years later when terrorists seized a Moscow theater and took hundreds of hostages.”

Putin obviously has a tendency to “nut-up” when the going gets tough. Or is it something else? The article also contains this, “Andrei Illarionov, a former presidential adviser, wrote a blog post suggesting that Mr. Putin had been overthrown by hard-liners in a palace coup and that Russians could anticipate an announcement soon saying that he was taking a well-deserved rest. Conspiracy theorists bombarded Facebook, Twitter and the rest of social media along similar veins.”
(http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/14/world/europe/russia-putin-seen-in-public.html?_r=0)

Flowing With Intuition

After moving to Hendersonville, NC, I found myself sitting across the chess board playing a speed game at the weekly chess club from Expert Jimmy Hardy. It was my move. I saw the opportunity to retreat my Queen, bringing it back to the center of the board where it would be surrounded by enemy pieces. Nevertheless, it looked like a strong move.
I was never much of a speed chess player and have always thought the reason was because I began playing chess as an adult. While playing speed chess I would often see what to me was a beautiful position and wish there were more time to look into the depths of the position. Sometimes I would try to remember the position so it could be looked at later. When I mentioned this to Big Al after losing yet another speed game after my flag fell, he said, “That’s crazy.” The last time we played speed chess Al won again. He got up from the board saying, “It happens every game…You have a winning position and I win on time. This is no fun.” I beat Oscar Al Hamilton in only twenty moves in what would now be called a “classical” game at a Thad Rogers event, called by the Legendary Georgia Ironman “another nameless, faceless weekend swiss.” Big Al got up after resigning saying, “Nobody beats me like that. NOBODY!” It was only years later I realized how much the loss had affected our relationship.
Another time I was facing Uylsses Martin, a man who had served seven years in the state penitentiary for murder before being paroled. I sat there contemplating whether of not to move my h-pawn and launch an attack. The logical, “Mr. Spock” side of my brain was arguing with the intuitive, “Captain Kirk” side and I went with Spock holding back the pawn move, hoping to make the pawn move next. Without even writing down my move, Uylsses immediately played a move to prevent my moving the wing pawn. I looked at him and sort of grinned. He looked back at me as if to say, “What?” I went on to win that game, but it took much longer than it would have if I had listened to Kirk. As an aside, I won another game against Uylsses, one of the nicest fellows you could ever meet, when his flag fell before he made his twenty fifth move!
I could give many more examples, but you get my drift. Because of the battle between Spock and Kirk that has raged in my brain over the course of my chess career I have been interested in reading about chess intuition. Just this week a new book, “The Enigma of Chess Intuition,” by Valeri Beim, arrived. The book, in excellent condition, cost only $7.95, plus shipping.
The Ironman has a book, “The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal,” by Karsten Muller & Raymund Stolze. Like the aforementioned book, it too is published by New in Chess. I allowed Tim to open “Enigma” and the first thing he said was, “If it’s published by New in Chess you know it has got to be good!” When young and on his way toward the battle for the World Championship with Mikhail Botvinnik, Tal was a creative genius who was an intuitive player. He played moves that defied calculation by humans of the day. Computer programs may be able to refute some of Tal’s moves now, but human players were unable to do so “back in the day.” Just how much chess programs have affected the game of chess is illustrated by this from GM Rafael Vaganian in an interview with Sergey Kim on the chess24.com website:
“Sergey Kim: Both at the board and simply in life you met all the Soviet world champions from Botvinnik to Kasparov. The world champions of the twentieth century – of your generation – and the champions of the third millennium – first and foremost, Carlsen: how do they differ?
Rafael Vaganian: It’s hard to compare, because the chess is totally different. Those champions worked in another setting, playing another kind of chess. With no computers, they worked and created on their own, and their creativity was immense. If they found something it was with their own minds, while now there are these amazing programs. Theory has “grown” to 30-35 moves, and you simply can’t compare the two types of chess. Frankly speaking, I don’t like modern chess, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next. After all, a person isn’t capable of remembering so much, so they simply suffer because of it. They need to remember and learn it all, but then what of creativity? They barely play at the board, but at home, and that’s bad.
I consider those champions to have been greats, though perhaps that’s natural, since I’m a chess player of that generation – the Soviet School – and it all means a lot to me. I find modern chess alien, so it’s possible I’m not objective. Botvinnik, Karpov, Kasparov – they beat everyone for 10-12 years in a row, while for me the thirteenth champion is a separate topic. The way Kasparov and his group worked was incredible. They were a class above the rest and therefore he crushed everyone. Garry won a huge number of games in the opening. His preparation was colossal! But he found moves himself at the board rather than the computer coming up with them. Back then people still beat computers, while now even the world champion can’t beat a computer.” (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/rafael-vaganian-anand-won-t-lose)
After one tournament Gail told me Big Al had mentioned to her that I was “trying too hard.” I gave his words considerable thought, coming to the conclusion Al was right. When at my best I did not have to try so hard because it seemed easy and just kind of flowed. Many years later, after devoting all my time and energy to backgammon, chess was anything but easy. When playing baseball I had to give it my all since I was smaller than the other players. When a senior in high school I was awarded a small trophy that meant all the world to me because my teammates had voted it to me for being the player that best showed what our coach called the “105” spirit. We chattered “105” on the field that year, which meant giving that little extra. It was the only way I knew to play, and it carried over into my chess.
I read something earlier this year by a Go player, Michael Redmond, that seems applicable to a discussion of intuition. “The charismatic Redmond, an American, is one of very few non-Asian Go celebrities. He began playing professionally in Japan at the age of 18, and remains the only Westerner to ever reach 9-dan, the game’s highest rank.”
“The trouble is that identifying Go moves that deserve attention is often a mysterious process. “You’ll be looking at the board and just know,” Redmond told me, as we stood in front of the projector screen watching Crazy Stone take back Nomitan’s initial lead. “It’s something subconscious, that you train through years and years of playing. I’ll see a move and be sure it’s the right one, but won’t be able to tell you exactly how I know. I just see it.” (From-The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win, by Alan Levinovitz 05.12.14)
http://www.wired.com/2014/05/the-world-of-computer-go/
Substitute “chess” for “Go” above and you will understand, grasshopper. “You’ll be looking at the board and just know.” You do not have to calculate, and sometimes it will not matter because no matter how long you calculate you will never to be completely certain as there are just too many possibilities.
Intuition can be found in every endeavor. For example, in a 1997 interview with Robert Hilburn, found in the “Dylan Companion,” while referring to Neil Young in the song “Highlands” from the “Time Out of Mind” album, Bob says, “It’s anything you want it to be. I don’t give much thought to individual lines. If I thought about them in any kind of deep way, maybe I wouldn’t use them because I’d always be second-guessing myself. I learned a long time ago to trust my intuition.”
In a 1995 interview in the USA TODAY not long after his “Unplugged” performance, Dylan said, “As you get older, you get smarter and that can hinder you because you try to gain control over the creative impulse. Creativity is not like a freight train going down the tracks. It’s something that has to be caressed and treated with a great deal of respect. If your mind is intellectually in the way, it will stop you. You’ve got to program your brain not to think too much.”
The first line reminds me of Mikhail Tal. His style of play changed as he grew older. Part of it may have been a natural process, but being forced to work with Karpov also had a lasting effect on his style of play.
What it all boils down to is that one must go with the flow and play what you know, Joe. This is exactly what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a “Positive psychologist,” means when he says that flow is, “A state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.” (http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?language=en)
Viswanathan Anand lost his “flow” but somehow managed to get back into the flow for the Candidates tournament, one of the most amazing things in the history of chess.
After losing the game to Jimmy, our friend NM Neal Harris walked over, asking the result. Jimmy said, “I won, but take a look at this position!” He immediately set up the position to which I referred at the beginning of this article. Jimmy looked at Neal with blazing eyes and said, while moving the Queen to the middle of the board, “Mike missed this crushing blow. I don’t see how I can continue after this move.” The two mountain men continued moving the pieces around while I debated telling them I had actually seen the move, but rejected it. Instead I said, “Yeah, that looks like a real strong move.”

Watching The River Flow by Bob Dylan

What’s the matter with me
I don’t have much to say
Daylight sneakin’ through the window
And I’m still in this all-night café
Walkin’ to and fro beneath the moon
Out to where the trucks are rollin’ slow
To sit down on this bank of sand
And watch the river flow

Wish I was back in the city
Instead of this old bank of sand
With the sun beating down over the chimney tops
And the one I love so close at hand
If I had wings and I could fly
I know where I would go
But right now I’ll just sit here so contentedly
And watch the river flow

People disagreeing on all just about everything, yeah
Makes you stop and all wonder why
Why only yesterday I saw somebody on the street
Who just couldn’t help but cry
Oh, this ol’ river keeps on rollin’, though
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow
And as long as it does I’ll just sit here
And watch the river flow

People disagreeing everywhere you look
Makes you wanna stop and read a book
Why only yesterday I saw somebody on the street
That was really shook
But this ol’ river keeps on rollin’, though
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow
And as long as it does I’ll just sit here
And watch the river flow

Watch the river flow
Watchin’ the river flow
Watchin’ the river flow
But I’ll sit down on this bank of sand
And watch the river flow
Copyright © 1971 by Big Sky Music; renewed 1999 by Big Sky Music

Bob Dylan Watching The River Flow

http://njnnetwork.com/2010/01/bob-dylan-watching-the-river-flow/

LEON RUSSELL, WATCHING THE RIVER FLOW