“The one who wins is great!”

In a few days, I will publish a complete review of one of the most majestically beautiful Chess history books I have ever had the pleasure to read:


After having written several posts concerning the plethora of draws recently, especially short ones of less than ten moves, at the Charlotte Chess Center & Scholastic Academy, I wanted to include what follows in the review. To do so would have meant cutting some of the material, but each and every time I attempted to do so it just did not feel right. I therefore decided to publish pages 114 through 118, actually about four pages in total, in their entirety. I hope reading these few pages gives you an idea of how good is this book. This part is titled: A Skirmish With Flohr

In the second half of the 1930’s, the campaign against the “enemies of the people” gained momentum. On 31st March 1936, the Russian SFSR People’s Commissar of Justice Nikolai Krylenko


reported to Stalin

Joseph Stalin was a dictator who led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and premier of the Soviet Union. Library of Congress/©HowStuffWorks.com

that the number of cases and convictions involving “counter-revolutionary crimes” had been steadily increasing since 1935. This was also the time of the first accusations of “sycophancy before the West” in the press. Soviet chess was also affected by the campaign.
In the February 1936 issue of Shakhmaty v SSSR, Peter Romanovsky published an article “Fighting For the Concrete Line, or the Chess Dogma”. It was a vicious attack against grandmaster Salo Flohr,


who, in Romanovsky’s words, “hoisted the banner of routine over the chess world, trying to prove the inevitability of him winning the world championship in the future.”
We should note that a change of power had taken place in the chess world by that point, which was also mentioned by Peter Arsenyevich: “Alekhine, the great advocate of development and deepening of the chess idea, loses an important contest to Max Euwe,


who has strictly dogmatized the strategic methods of his creativity.”
The Western dogmatists and conservatives were grabbing the highest places in the chess world! This was the main concern of Peter Romanovsky’s article. But not everything was so bad, the author contended. The Soviet country had the power to direct chess thought towards creativity:
“The chess community of the USSR counters Flohr’s routine with Botvinnik,


a subtle connoisseur of very diverse positions, which almost always allows him to transcend the limits of dogma when needed, while still basing his play on the said dogma, and to surprise his opponent with unexpected concrete possibilities that are often overlooked by the principal frameworks of chess creativity.” It looks like an advert for the future first Soviet world champion.
While attacking Flohr, the author sympathizes with the “renegade” Alexander Alekhine at the same time. But this “paradox” is really not surprising. During his first match against Euwe, Alekhine sent a telegram to the Soviet chess officials, which was published in Izvestia and 64: “Both as a long-time chess worker and as a person who understands the huge importance of everything that was achieved by the USSR in all areas of cultural life, I send sincere greetings to the USSR chess players in honor of the 18th anniversary of the October Revolution.” There’s a version that Alekhine was planting a seed to return to his homeland with this telegram, but the loss to Euwe disrupted those plans.
The harsh criticism of Flohr continued into 1937, spilling onto the pages of 64. Over three issues (Nos. 13, 15, and 19), Peter Arsenyevich published an article “Some Modern Creative Tendencies”, directly accusing the Western grandmaster of cowardice!
As the starting point for his criticism, Peter Romanovsky cites his game against Botvinnik from the 1935 Moscow International Tournament. Romanovsky sacrificed a pawn for the initiative in that game, but then made a mistake and had to resign:
“Grandmaster Flohr didn’t exactly mince his words about this sacrifice in one of his tournament reports.
‘I personally, he wrote concerning this game, ‘prefer to sacrifice my opponent’s pawns rather than my own.’
This small phrase, seemingly only describing a concrete chess event, actually hides a big and principle-based worldview, based on the concept of excessive caution in over-the-board chess struggle, especially against strong players.”
By sticking to this concept, Flohr acts as a mouthpiece for a lot of players.”
Then Peter Arsenyevich gives a rundown of the so-called “Flohr school and its followers”:
“1. Opening theory is thought as all-important.Playing without creating weaknesses in your own camp.

Avoiding both offering and accepting sacrifices if clear evaluation of the compensation is not possible. Ascribing especial importance to the technical side of the struggle and thus a persistent tendency for positions that are resolved in a technical way.”
After maintaining his silence for a time, Flohr finally answered Romanovsky with an article “More of Modern Creative Tendencies” ((64, No. 36):
“I am not going to counter-attack the distinguished master P. A. Romanovsky, whom I deeply respect, even though he structured his article, published by 64, on a faulty basis and outright insulted me in some places; I would just like to defend my creative views.
P. A. Romanovsky ridiculously simplifies my views of chess by alleging that the quote about preferring ‘to sacrifice my opponents’ pawns rather than my own’ is my credo…
Romanovsky’s article contains a serious accusation that is characteristic of the ideological representatives of the so-called pure combinational school. At every opportunity, they attack the masters, accusing them of ‘betraying’ the chess art…
A modern master should be a master of tactics first and foremost – he should see through his opponent’s plans, find the resulting combinations, use the slightest advantage, deeply understand the dynamics of the chess game. It’s not a purely professional technique. It’s much easier for me to calculate a forced 10-move combination than find one best move in a strategically simple position.”
Then, to reaffirm his words, Flohr shows a subtle endgame from the sixth game of his 1933 match against Mikhail Botvinnik,

Flohr, Salo vs Botvinnik, Mikhail
Event: Moscow/Leningrad m
Site: Leningrad Date:1933
Round: 6
ECO: E38 Nimzo-Indian, classical, 4…c5

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 c5 5.dxc5 Na6 6.a3 Bxc3+ 7.Qxc3 Nxc5 8.f3 d6 9.e4 e5 10.Be3 Qc7 11.Ne2 Be6 12.Qc2 O-O 13.Nc3 Rfc8 14.Be2 a6 15.Rc1 Ncd7 16.Qd2 Qb8 17.Nd5 Bxd5 18.cxd5 Rxc1+ 19.Qxc1 Qd8 20.O-O Rc8 21.Qd2 Qc7 22.Rc1 Qxc1+ 23.Qxc1 Rxc1+ 24.Bxc1 Kf8 25.Kf2 Ke7 26.Be3 Kd8 27.Ke1 Kc7 28.Kd2 Nc5 29.b4 Ncd7 30.g3 Nb6 31.Kc2 Nbd7 32.a4 Nb6 33.a5 Nbd7 34.Bc1 Kd8 35.Bb2 Ne8 36.Kd2 Nc7 37.Ke3 Ke7 38.Bf1 Nb5 39.h4 Nc7 40.Bh3 Ne8 41.f4 f6 42.Bf5 g6 43.Bh3 h6 44.Bc1 Ng7 45.fxe5 dxe5 46.Kf3 h5 47.Be3 Kd6 48.Bh6 Ne8 49.g4 hxg4+ 50.Bxg4 Nc7 51.Be3 Nb5 52.Ke2 Nc7 53.Kd3 f5 54.exf5 gxf5 55.Bxf5 Nxd5 56.Bd2 N7f6 57.Kc4 Kc6 58.Bg6 b5+ 59.Kd3 Ne7 60.Be4+ Ned5 61.Bg5 Nh5 62.Bf3 Ng3 63.Bd2 Kd6 64.Bg4 Nf6 65.Bc8 Kc6 66.Be1 e4+ 67.Kd4 Ngh5 68.Bf5 Kd6 69.Bd2 1-0

with two bishops outplaying the Soviet champion’s two knights. Alexander Alekhine valued this positional masterpiece highly.

  1. “A young master frequently begins his career with fiery combinations. Then, influenced by his experience, he evolves towards the modern way of playing. This is an inevitable process. Other wise, the young ‘combination player’ won’t progress past the average level and will be pushed aside by better players.” (A)
    At the end of his article, Flohr speculated about the inevitability of chess mistakes: “The tactical player who always plays without mistakes, like a clockwork machine, has not yet been born. As soon as the players P. A. Romanovsky dreams of arrive, the art of chess will cease to exist.”
    It was naive to expect the opponents to change their points of view on chess. The grandmaster and the distinguished master held to their own opinions, criticizing each other at every opportunity.
    For instance, Salo Flohr, who moved to the USSR in 1939, played for Moscow in the traditional match against Leningrad. His opponent was Ilya Rabinovich.

Flohr wrote in an annotation to that game: “Master I. Rabinovich is a very obliging opponent.

To the joy of the distinguished master P. Romanovsky, he gives me an opportunity to finich the game in a ‘creative’ style. A combination follows – not too complicated, but the spectators liked it.”
Flohr wasn’t the only “victim of Peter Arsenyevich’s criticism. Romanovsky also targeted another potential world championship candidate – the american grandmaster Reuben Fine.

  1. He explained the American’s wins in the 1937 Leningrad and Moscow tournaments by the fact that the Soviet masters “helped him with his intentions to create familiar setups in the opening rather than trying to challenge him on unfamiliar grounds.”
    Peter Arsenyevich even coined the term “Fine-Flohr style”, heavily used in the Soviet chess press of the late 1930s.
    However, life ultimately reconciled Romanovsky and Flohr! After retiring from active competition, the opponents stopped being too categorical in questions of chess creativity. In his revised training books, published in the 1960s, Peter Arsenyevich rooted for…harmony of styles! Here’s what he wrote in the book Middlegame. Combination (Moscow 1963): “The chess circles still distinguish between positional and tactical playing styles, between positional and tactical players.
    Any of those ‘labels’ stuck on a player are insulting to the players themselves first and foremost, because they suggest that his chess skills and talents are limited and one-sided.
    You cannot execute and prepare a combination without understanding the laws of positional weakness and game planning. You also cannot execute creative plans if you haven’t mastered tactics, if you don’t have a sharp eye for combination motifs.”
    And what about his opponent? “Many years ago, when I lived in Prague, I developed a strategy,: Flohr recalled in 1957 in Shakhmaty v SSSR, No. 4. “At any tournament, I would try to defeat the weak players and draw with the stronger ones. My main motto was, Don’t lose! This brought some good results…
    Lately, I’ve been in the spectator hall a lot, listening to chess fans’ comments. Now I clearly realize that I was deservedly criticized by the spectators in my earlier days when I stopped playing on move 20.
    In 1937 and 1938, I was thinking that the chess world was applauding me: he’s so great, he rarely loses. Oh no, now I understand that I wasn’t great. The one who wins is great!
    I realized long ago that my strategy was limited, poor, defective from the creative point of view. A chess player who adopts such a style cannot be popular among chess fans, and such a player will never become a world champion.
    Now that I am close to retiring from competitive chess, I deeply regret the fact that I stopped dozens of my games prematurely for the sole purpose of avoiding losing a half-point. What do those several draws with Alekhine give me today? It would have been better to have lost a few more games to him, but, on the other hand, maybe I’d have managed to defeat him once?” (B)
    This is the key to the argument between Flohr and Romanovsky from the faraway 1930s! It was the perennial dispute between the creative and consumer approach to chess. We should remember Voltaire’s classic quote: “All genres are good except the boring kind, but boring isn’t a genre.”

(A) After reading this I stopped to reflect on the transformation of the great purveyor of ‘slash & dash’ chess, World Champion Mikhail Tal. After being forced to work with Anatoly Karpov, Tal was transformed into a much more complete player. It has been written that the latter Tal was even stronger than the young Tal.

(B) The closing lamentation of Salo Flohr brought to mind the famous words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.”

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

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,



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!