Reports | March 27, 2012 10:53

Testimonials translated: living legends speak about Botvinnik

Testimonials translated: living legends speak about Botvinnik

2011 was the "Botvinnik year" in Russia, because Mikhail Botvinnik was born on August 17th, 1911. You'll probably remember the Botvinnik Memorial Veterans rapid tournament, held in August last year and won by Viktor Kortchnoi. In our report, we embedded a long video in Russian in which a number of former opponents of Botvinnik spoke about the 6th World Champion, during a dinner on August 17th, 2011: Viktor Kortchnoi, Lajos Portisch, Yuri Averbakh, Mark Taimanov, Evgeny Vasiukov, Alexander Nikitin, Wolfgang Uhlmann, Borislav Ivkov and also his daughter, Olga Botvinnik.

This video was transcribed in full by chess enthusiast Alex Lorias and posted online not long after the tournament. Because many of you might have missed this, we asked and received permission for cross-posting these unique texts. Here's the video once more (originally posted at the Russian Chess House website), and then the transcription below:

 

GM Sergey Makarychev (from the screen): More than half a century ago, in Moscow, in the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions, there was a closing ceremony of the 1948 World Championship tournament that ended with handing the laurel wreath to a new chess World Champion. For the first time in history, the chess crown was won by a Soviet grandmaster Mikhail Botvinnik. That was a triumph. Triumph of the entire Soviet nation, of the Soviet sport, the concrete and incontrovertible, as they used to say then, proof of superiority of socialistic system over the capitalistic. That's how the people viewed that victory back in 1948, and, as though a re-enactment of the great victory of 1945 on the chessboard, it found its way into hearts of millions. Botvinnik himself, being something like a focus of expectations of those millions, proved our ability to do everything better than everyone else.

You can deny a single person's role in history, but one thing can't be denied: if some other player won that World Championship, the whole modern chess history would have gone in a completely different direction.

Voiceover, archive footage: The candidate of technical science Mikhail Botvinnik is an acknowledged leader of Soviet chess players.

Nikolay Polyanskikh: Hello dear friends. Today's party is hosted by Galina Lvovna Dvorkovich and Nikolay Vladimirovich Polyanskikh (that's me). (Applause) It's a treat for me to be the host today together with Galina Lvovna. In these walls, I feel as though I'm in Vladimir Yakovlevich Dvorkovich sitting room, which is well-known to everyone. And all around, there are very honourable and respected guests. Dear guests, dear friends, we ask you to come to the stage. It's Olga Botvinnik...

Galina Dvorkovich: Yuri Averbakh...

N. Polyanskikh: Anatoly Bykhovsky...

G. Dvorkovich: Evgeny Vasiukov...

N. Polyanskikh: Borislav Ivkov...

G. Dvorkovich: Igor Zaitsev...

N. Polyanskikh: Viktor Korchnoi...

G. Dvorkovich: Alexander Nikitin...

N. Polyanskikh: Lajos Portisch...

G. Dvorkovich: Mark Taimanov...

N. Polyanskikh: Wolfgang Uhlmann...

G. Dvorkovich: Oleg Chernikov.

N. Polyanskikh: Please.

(Pause, as everyone takes their places on stage)

N. Polyanskikh: Good evening again, dear friends, and let me begin the evening dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik.

G. Dvorkovich: Let's begin with wishing Mikhail Moiseevich, who is surely among us now, unseen, a happy birthday. Happy birthday, grandmaster! (Applause)

N. Polyanskikh: Today, we'll try to avoid such phrases as "we call upon...", followed by titles, achievements etc.

G. Dvorkovich: The main motto of the chess players is "We are one people".

N. Polyanskikh: And in the real families, everyone already knows who is who.

G. Dvorkovich: So let the oldest one in the family speak, and everyone else should listen.

N. Polyanskikh: Would you, Yuri Lvovich Averbakh? You probably know better than everyone else what to say this evening. Please, come to the microphone. (Applause)

Yuri Averbakh: I'm sure that you'll hear many more words about Botvinnik's glory, so I'll immediately go down to business. I'll just tell you of my many encounters that I recall while thinking about the sixth World Champion Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik. I began playing chess in 1935, in the days of the 2nd Moscow International Tournament, when all Moscow boys, including me, caught chess fever. I couldn't visit the tournament, but nevertheless, after that I started to search for a place to study chess and came to the Young Pioneers' Staduim in Moscow, there was a very strong chess class at that time; for instance, the future World Champion Vasily Smyslov studied there, along with a long series of grandmasters and other strong players.

And I very clearly remember even the next year, 1936, when Botvinnik played at Nottingham, in England, played with the strongest chess players of the world, and we, the boys from the Pioneers' camp, in the Summer of 1936 would stand at the radio point - you know, those black loudspeakers - stood and listened to the reports from Nottingham, where our Soviet champion defeated the World Champions. That's one of my strongest memories.

Botvinnik became my idol, I studied his games, I tried to learn what person he was and emulate him, and as I moved forward, when I sat at the chessboard against Mikhail Moiseevich for the first time (that happened in 1943 at the Moscow Championship)... when Botvinnik turned away, I pinched myself: "Am I actually playing with Botvinnik?" When I drew the game and came home, my Mom just couldn't believe that I managed to draw Botvinnik.

Then I got lucky: in 1955, Botvinnik offered me... I was already a master, sorry, a grandmaster... he offered me to play training games. We played at his countryhouse, in very strange conditions: with radio turned on. Botvinnik, at one of the tournaments in 1940s, suffered much from the noise in the hall: it irritated him, interfered with his playing, and to cure that "malady", he offered to play with radio turned on, and later, if there was any noise in the tournament hall, he would tell himself: "But I conditioned myself against that, and noise shouldn't irritate me." By the way, when he played training games with his previous second Ragozin, Ragozin smoked at the board, directing the smoke towards Botvinnik, for him to get used to cigarette smoke. This surprized me at first, because after 5 hours of playing and 5 hours of loud radio, the head became roughly that size (shows), but then I understood that he possessed a very interesting quality: I'd call it "self-programming". He programmed himself, went through preparations and persuaded himself that something shouldn't irritate him anymore, and it didn't.

I think that others can add something, I'm done. (Applause)

N. Polyanskikh: Thank you very much. Among the chess family members sitting on stage, almost everyone was connected with Mikhail Moiseevich in some way.

G. Dvorkovich: There's someone on the stage whom Botvinnik really loved, like a father. It's Olya Botvinnik, his daughter, and now - Olga Mikhailovna Feoshkina (sp?) (Applause).

Olga Botvinnik: It's great to be here, it's good that such people gathered here, it's good that it's happening here at Suzdal, not in Moscow... it's good, it's very good to meet everyone here, to hear all those words. That's a pity that other Botvinnik's descendants couldn't come here today, they really wanted to be here but couldn't. On behalf of our family, I want to thank the organizational committee and everyone here. Thank you very much.

N. Polyanskikh: Thank you for coming here... Wait, Olga Mikhailovna, there's the chairman of Vladimir Region Chess Federation, Sergei Borisovich Solonets, and he's also the chairman of the tournament Vladimir Open. (Applause) Well, at our small performance, we have taken a piano from the bushes. Such things happen sometimes. We wanted very much for Mark Evgenievich, chess player and musician, to play some simple song at least, but I know that it's hard for you now. Can you at least not with keyboards, not with combinations of seven notes, but with combinations of words tell us something about Mikhail Moiseevich and your connections with him?

Mark Taimanov: I must say that my whole chess destiny is linked to Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik. Because it was Mikhail Moiseevich who gave me "a ticket to life", and for more than half a century he was the most competent, the most honourable mentor for me. I first became Botvinnik's pupil in 1939, at the Pioneers' Palace. At that time, before our meeing, I have already studied with other coaches - Alexey Sokolsky, Grigory Yakovlevich Levenfish, but only in Mikhail Moiseevich's group did I really learn to love and understand chess and perfect my playing, because Mikhail Moiseevich was an incredibly original and distinctive teacher. He had a group, 8-10 candidate masters, talented young players, with which he studied when he wasn't busy with scientific work and chess tournaments, once a week in average.

Botvinnik was interesting as a teacher because he never read a single lecture for us. He never imposed any opening variants on us... his system was such: he gave his pupils analysis homework - in some principal opening scheme, or in the middlegame, or endgame, and gave a two-week deadline for preparation, after which each of us came to the board and gave a speech about his research, and Botvinnik was the judge and evaluator of that report. He, of course, also was prepared to discuss that topic, he offered very important and useful advices; his praise was the highest praise for us, and his criticism was very, very important. It's interesting that later, after winning a big "absolute USSR championship" tournament in 1941, Mikhail Moiseevich spoke about that from a surprising point of view; he said, "I can thank my pupils who helped me very much with preparations for that tournament." Sometimes Botvinnik would give his pupils a simultaneous display on 6-8 boards with clocks; for me, it was the greatest honour to see my first ever published game in the 64 newsletter, where Botvinnik annotated his pupil's win against the teacher. It was my first published game: the game against Botvinnik.

And then a catastrophe happened: the war began, I had to forget about chess... at least, about studying chess. I forgot to say that Botvinnik's main motto as a teacher was that: "My goal is to teach you to learn", because if you choose chess as your occupation, then for your whole life, you'll have to analyze, learn and research. Of course, all that happened before the advent of computers that, sadly, had a very detrimental influence on the modern chess. Then, we had to think and analyze by ourselves, not to push a button in the database or in some chess engine.

I next met Botvinnik after the war, in 1947. I'll read you an amazing letter I received from Mikhail Moiseevich. That's a rarity, and I'll read it, if you don't mind.

N. Polyanskikh: Please.

M. Taimanov: "Hello Mark. Been to Leningrad on 18th September, just for a few hours, tried to find your phone number, but they informed me that your name wasn't in the list. Right now, I'm beginning to prepare for the World Championship tournament and creating a preparation plan, and so, Mark, I decided to ask you for help. First of all, Mark, I would ask you, if it's not a secret, to tell me about all interesting opening novelties that occurred in the games played at Leningrad. Secondly, I'm searching for partners for a closed training session that will probably take place in the "Podmoskovie" rest home. Possibly, in the event of cancellation of the USSR Championship or the planned All-Slavic tournament, those training session might take longer, from 15th December to 1st February. I ask you, Mark, to tell me if you're ready to help me in principle, and if you are, are you satisfied with those dates? I'm worried if it coincides with your exams period. Still, at least tell me your conditions, the Committee will pay for everything etc. I think that this will benefit you as well: you finally have to take up chess seriously. I'm writing to you, Mark, because I don't have too many friends that are fit for a closed training session, that is, can hold their tongues. I'm hoping on you in that aspect. Waiting for your letter.

With a cordial greeting, M. Botvinnik, 27th September 1947.

P.S. Never tell anyone about this letter and its contents, please. M.B."

An amazing document, isn't it? It's Botvinnik embodied. His wonderful refinement, his respect towards his partners, his kindness, his care for me - he asked if those hypothetic sessions interfered with my education and exams... Some signs of reservedness, loneliness, because he didn't believe many of his colleagues who, as he says quite sharply, can't hold their tongues. It was a great honour for me, a great opportunity to consult with Botvinnik over the chessboard.

I still can't understand, can't remember why this idea, which was so important to me and seemed important for Mikhail Moiseevich, was ultimately scrapped. But still I kept that handwritten letter, somewhat confessionary, as an amazing rarity.

And later, Mikhail Moiseevich's distrustfulness, fear of betrayal from his colleagues was expressed in a variety of ways. Once, during... let me remember another curious event. At a USSR national team training session, near Moscow, where we were preparing for some international team competition, after the lunch Mikhail Moiseevich came to me and said, "Mark Evgenievich..." (He started to call me by name and patronym by that time) "Are you busy this evening?" "Of course not, Mikhail Moiseevich." He said, "Then come to my cottage at half nine." With excitement and interest I came to Mikhail Moiseevich in due time. He opened the door, and after I came in, he immediately closed and locked it, draped the windows and asked me, "Would you like to play ten blitz games with me?" I said, "Of course, gladly, Mikhail Moiseevich." I knew that Mikhail Moiseevich rather disliked blitz, and I couldn't even imagine that he would offer to play it himself. I gladly agreed, we played... Ah, he also warned me, "But please, don't tell anyone that we played at all, let alone the result." We played that match; I was young, I played blitz good - now it's hard to believe, but I managed to defeat Mikhail Moiseevich who played blitz very rarely with a 7-3 score. Mikhail Moiseevich was unfazed because he just completed another stage of his preparation for some other important competition. But before I left, he warned me again, "Please, Mark, don't tell anyone." I have to confess that I kept that secret for 45 or so years. You're almost the first ones to learn about that from me.

I don't know about the time regulations, I've also wanted...

G. Dvorkovich: Viktor Lvovich, maybe you... We wanted to invite Viktor Lvovich next. Mark Evgenievich, maybe, we'd invite other participants to join in, and then you'd continue?

M. Taimanov: I didn't want to overload your attention, I just thought that those materials were rare and unique... To finish off, I just wanted to say that, remembering the classical definition concerning our culture, for the Soviet Union, for Russia Botvinnik's name was definitely "our everything". (Applause)

N. Polyanskikh: Our people have conquered Alps, time to time. First Suvorov used Russian non-standard war science... by the way, Generalissimus Suvorov once began his career as the commander of Suzdal regiment, and then the Vladimir division, in case someone didn't know. Then, Korchnoi conquered the snowy chess peaks of Switzerland...

G. Dvorkovich: Viktor Lvovich has conquered the highest peaks of Switzerland six times, and the last time happened just a month ago. Am I right?

Viktor Korchnoi: I didn't get that. I want... (Applause, laughs)

G. Dvorkovich: He's the six time Swiss and former Soviet Union champion.

V. Korchnoi: Shall I speak, or shall you?

N. Polyanskikh: You shall speak.

V. Korchnoi: I don't belong to Botvinnik's generation, I'm younger. Imagine: there was a USSR Championship semifinal, and master Averbakh played there. And I worked as a demonstrator at that event. It was the year 1944. No, you can't even imagine. Well, I first saw and played Botvinnik at the USSR Championship in 1952. I was prepared by... well, it was my first USSR Championship, and so I was spoken to and prepared to play against stronger chess players by Efim Geller. Efim Geller would look at Botvinnik and say, "The old man understands, understands it all, but he's weakened." In other words, he can't play. And the "old man", by the way, was 41 years old. And, forgive me, I'm 80 now. That's the difference. And so, the old man who couldn't play shared first place with Taimanov at that tournament. The old man... there were some intrigues, or something... the old man wasn't included into the USSR olympic team. The old man resented that. He would say, "Oh, that was Boleslavsky. Oh, no, perhaps maybe Smyslov." Someone did something to exclude him, the World Champion, from the team. It came out that... Botvinnik never learned that, by the way... that the "conspiracy" was organized by a little chess player [GM] Alexander Kotov who arranged a place for himself instead of Botvinnik. That's how it looked in those years, you know.

But Botvinnik remained the World Champion, Botvinnik won some excellent matches, we know that as well. In 1960... I played a total of four games [with him], one win, one loss and two draws... and I felt that he pressurizes me, outplays me, but then I won, and he was preparing for a return match against Mikhail Tal at the time. And Botvinnik, through his coach, offered me to work at his camp. It's interesting that Tal, also through his coach, offered me to work at his camp. I thought "Well, I'm trying to become a World Champion myself", and declined both offers. That was wrong from practical point of view, because I could have learned a lot from both Tal and Botvinnik.

Okay, a few more words about Botvinnik. In a company, Botvinnik thought of himself as a World Champion. A company would gather at the table... Botvinnik never drank, never drank at all, but as a good host, he would say, "Well, let's drink, here's some cognac, good cognac, old Armenian cognac... like your wife", he told me. My wife was really Armenian, but Botvinnik's wife was older than mine, and so I replied, "No, as your wife." He took offence. It was strange for me - I didn't tell anything bad to him, but he still took offence and demanded satisfaction, demanded an apology from me. I did apologize, and he liked that, he said, "Boleslavsky wouldn't apologize in your place." Boleslavsky, who was known to us as a man who wouldn't say a bad word, who wouldn't say boo to a goose... Boleslavsky wouldn't go apologizing. That's how it was.

I'm telling you tales, I hope it's interesting for you... When I defected in 1976, a group of grandmasters wrote an angry letter against me, and 31 grandmasters signed it. Four people refused to sign: Botvinnik, Gulko, Spassky and Bronstein. Each of them suffered for that; nevertheless, it was an expression of their conscience. I remembered that very well. Botvinnik always, no matter how good or bad I played, he always thought kindly and conscientously of me. That's what I wanted to say at Botvinnik's 100th birthday. (Applause)

N. Polyanskikh: A good evening, warm music, kind words, grateful audience. All this was organized by many good people.

G. Dvorkovich: Evgeny Andreevich Vasiukov, grandmaster, coach, journalist, chairman of the Veterans' Committee of the Russian Chess Federation. (Applause)

N. Polyanskikh: I would like to add: a respected chess family member. I think that's a good title, too.

Evgeny Vasiukov: Today is a significant day for chess, for chess players, because we are remembering one of the greatest people in chess, Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik, and each of us, those on the stage, has their own impressions, comments, memories. I first met Botvinnik in 1948. You might ask: what does a 15 years-old kid who caught chess fever during the 1948 World Championship tournament, with all those black loudspeakers remembered by Yuri Lvovich... they were saying that there's a World Championship tournament. Most families owned those loudspeakers, and they were saying that Botvinnik, first in Holland, in The Hague, and then in Moscow, defeats everyone.

I remember that chess was a major trend at schools, and so I became a chess lover, and, bless my luck, there was a boy in my class who found two tickets to the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions, where the second half of that tournament was held. So I can say that my first chess "outing" was in the Pillar Hall, where I saw the famous game Smyslov - Botvinnik... at that day, only one game was played, Reshevsky asked to postpone his game due to religious restrictions, and so on stage of this grand hall we saw the solemn performances of Smyslov and Botvinnik. Botvinnik played Black, and won brilliantly in the Rauzer attack. I was thoroughly impressed with all that atmosphere... you should imagine Moscow in 1948, right after the war, and there's the shine of the Pillar Hall, this environment... Long story short, soon I ended up at the Pioneers' Palace, but I wasn't admitted because I was a beginner, and they told me: "Look, there's Nikitin (he's sitting here), there's Bykhovsky, they already have 2nd grade, and you're only beginning." But still I managed, by right or wrong, to visit the Pioneers' Palace because I lived nearby. And I must say that all that chess environment among children in those years... we looked at Botvinnik as a demigod. He was an idol. Someone could like... I, for instance, liked Bronstein very much, but Botvinnik was on a very high pedestal, and I must say that later, when I started to meet him, I wasn't disenchanted, but rather very strongly impressed.

And when I became an international master, and they sent me to rest for two weeks before a tournament, I was a member of the Trud Sports Society, and I asked, "Can I meet Botvinnik and just discuss chess with him?" I was told, "Of course, we can arrange that." I must admit that it surprized me that Botvinnik immediately responded to an offer from a young chess player to discuss chess. We spoke for two hours, it was very interesting for me. It was already mentioned here how Mikhail Moiseevich analyzed games, predicted outcomes etc., and I couldn't resist to ask Mikhail Moiseevich what did he think about Tal. A Candidates' Tournament had just begun, and Tal's star shone very brightly in that period, but it turned out that even Botvinnik couldn't comprehend what Tal really was. When I asked him, "Mikhail Moiseevich, what do you think, does Tal have a chance to win the Candidates' Tournament?", Botvinnik looked at me slyly and said with a smile, "Only if he plays the entire tournament as a genius. But up till now, he couldn't do that."

But I must say that even later, Mikhail Moiseevich couldn't understand just how unique Tal was. And I think that during the preparations for the match itself, he made a mistake in his analysis. In 1959, chess were first included into the USSR Spartakiad. There was a brilliant lineup, Botvinnik played at board one, Smyslov, Petrosian, Bronstein... I don't remember, did Yuri Lvovich play?.. He didn't. I was the only non-GM in the team, I was a substitute. I could substitute for any team member for any board, should they decline to play. And so there was a meeting before the first ever game Tal-Botvinnik... after Tal won the Candidates', he was asked, which move would he make against Botvinnik. He said, "My first move against Botvinnik will be e2-e4." Tal played White at the Spartakiad.

So, we had a meeting... Botvinnik lived in a countryhouse. We all lived together, in the postgraduate students' dormitories of Moscow State University, and Mikhail Moiseevich resided in his countryhouse and came directly to the game, while we went by the bus. And so Goldberg, Botvinnik's coach and our team's captain, held a meeting, everything was clear - everyone played, I was a substitute. We all left, and then Goldberg said, "Zhenya, please stay." I stayed, and he said, "Mikhail Moiseevich wants to talk to you." I remind you that it was in 1959... Goldberg picked up the phone, dialed Mikhail Moiseevich's number, and Mikhail Moiseevich's thunderous baritone said, "Evgeny Andreevich, you know that I should play Tal today. But I think it would be better if you played Tal today. But please don't tell anybody about that." Well, I said, "As you wish, Mikhail Moiseevich"... And then we're in the bus, discussing whether Tal would play e4 or not, or if it was just a joke. A great multitude of people, the Gogolevsky boulevard was blocked - so many people came to see that game, and I must say that Misha Tal was horribly disappointed when he came up to the second floor and saw a game Tal-Vasiukov taking place. The game ended in a draw.

But this example again shows that even the great Botvinnik could make mistakes in his evaluations, and so it's no wonder that he sometimes lost World Championship matches, but then won all the return matches. I remember one episode: Smyslov worked with Bondarevsky, Bondarevsky was his coach, and Vasily Vasilievich said delicately, "Yes, of course, this match with Botvinnik will be difficult..." Bondarevsky said, "Well, Vasily Vasilievich, why do you say such things for this audience? What difficult match? There'll be a rout." And Vasily Vasilievich was like, "Yes, of course." But we know that when Smyslov played e4 against Botvinnik, and he replied with Caro-Kann, Smyslov only shook his head: he didn't prepare for that opening.

Now, to finish my speech, I'd like to say that I got to speak with Mikhail Moiseevich in various circumstances, and I must say that he was an incredibly responsive man. I was in a bad situation once, my family needed immediate medical care. I asked Mikhail Moiseevich for help, and he did everything he could. He did everything to help. And until the last... we've often played in the team, played each other many times, and I remember that until the last days, he was a loyal chess knight. We once dined with him at Rasko Knezevic's, a Yugoslavian journalist... that was 1994 or beginning of 1995, and he told me, "Evgeny Andreevich, now, the chess sections are closed almost everywhere, and I was contacted by the chief editor of the Trud newspaper. He needs someone to write a chess column. You have all the needed journalist's experience, you're a grandmaster, I think it would be great if a man with a good chess name would take up the chess column in this newspaper." I said, "OK, Mikhail Moiseevich." And then he introduced me to the chief editor Potapov, etc. I'd say that for me, for my generation, Botvinnik was an icon. An icon that could be not only prayed upon, but also could actually help. It's good that such man was in chess. (Applause)

N. Polyanskikh: The hero of this occasion is not only the icon of Russian chess, but of the world's chess as well. This can be proved by our foreign guests - Borislav Ivkov...

G. Dvorkovich: Borislav Ivkov (Serbia), Lajos Portisch (Hungary), Wolfgang Uhlmann (Germany).

Wolfgang Uhlmann: (speaks in German)

Interpreter (translates): Mr Uhlmann was very glad to take part in Alekhine Memorial in 1956.

W. Uhlmann: (speaks in German)

Interpreter (translates): He repeats that he was very glad to meet Mikhail Botvinnik who was an example to him.

W. Uhlmann: (speaks in German)

Interpreter(translates): He had great opening skills and a very strong will to win.

W. Uhlmann: (speaks in German)

Interpreter (translates): And Mr Uhlmann learned from him during those tournaments.

W. Uhlmann: (speaks in German)

Interpreter(translates): He would often meet Botvinnik during Chess Olympiads and other competitions, for example, at Chess Olympiads in Leipzig and Varna.

W. Uhlmann: (speaks in German)

Interpreter(translates): Mr. Uhlmann noticed that during the tournaments, Mikhail Botvinnik would adjust his necktie frequently.

W. Uhlmann: (speaks in German)

Interpreter (translates): Mr Uhlmann tried to repead the moves made by Mikhail Botvinnik in French Defence.

W. Uhlmann: (speaks in German)

Interpreter (translates): Mr Uhlmann is very grateful for the opportunity to come here and play against the grandmasters that played together with Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik.

N. Polyanskikh: Sadly, but I don't know a single word in Hungarian, I didn't study it in the school, but still, we'd all be glad to hear the great Hungarian chess player and singer, known in all the world. By the way, when I was trying to arrange for a piano player - the piano was also brought here for that... well, I just said "Portisch", and heard an amazed reply, "Lajos?" He's very well known even here, in the Vladimir region, even among the musicians. Can you perform a capella?

Lajos Portisch (in Russian): I'll try. (To Taimanov) I know that you don't play anymore, but can you give me some entourage? (To everyone) You know, there was a plan that I would sing here today, but I'm not in the mood. We didn't rehearse, but still, I want to show you my voice.

N. Polyanskikh: Of course. (Applause)

L. Portisch: (sings a couple of lines from a song by P. Tchaikovsky) That's all (Laugh, applause) It's a song by Tchaikovsky, I don't remember the next line. Well, you know - I don't why I got the nickname "Hungarian Botvinnik". To be honest, nobody understands. I never played as precisely as him. Also, people here said that he didn't drink. I like wine, even vodka, Russian vodka (Laugh, applause), but when Robert Fischer was in Hungary, and, you know, he didn't like Russians, and people of any other nations, for that matter, when we set together and analyzed Botvinnik's games, he told me, "Lajos, do you see how precisely he plays up to the very last moment?" Sadly, I can't play so precisely. And we have to... (forgets Russian word) turn our attention that there's a big mistake with stats. We played four games, but I couldn't defeat him once. The score is given as +1-1=2, but actually I lost one game and drew three. Botvinnik was a great chess player. Thank you. (Applause)

G. Dvorkovich: Borislav Ivkov, please.

N. Polyanskikh: Add something to the speech of your Hungarian colleague.

Borislav Ivkov (in Russian): A month ago Politika, our most well-known newspaper, printed an article about Botvinnik. This article was written by an amateur chess player, but it was very good; I think he worked in Moscow and spoke good Russian, and he asked me to give this material in Russian to the organizers. I read one page, and then a catastrophe happened.

Half a century, more than half a century ago when we met our Soviet, our Russian friends, we spoke Russian. Nobody of us - Gligoric, Matanovic, Miljenko Lazarovic and others - ever studied Russian, but we thought that we needed that, and our colleagues spoke with us very patiently. Once they started to speak Serbian. If I remember correctly, Petrosian started that, then Tal and Bronstein. When I meet Korchnoi these days, he speaks Serbian with me.

Getting back to the catastrophe. Even today, I read many chess books in Russian, for instance, Averbakh, Taimanov, Sosonko, Bronstein and others, and I understand the chess terminology very well. But I have to apologize to you, my general knowledge of Russian language is a catastrophe. (Laughs)

I first heard about Botvinnik in 1942 or 1943, I was ten years old. My father liked chess, he would buy chess newspapers time to time, and I read there that the Nottingham tournament in 1936 was won by Capablanca and the young Botvinnik. Two years later I read that the AVRO tournament, perhaps the greatest tournament in the chess history, with all the champions playing, was won by Keres and Fine. And I started to root for Botvinnik and Keres because they were young, there were no political reasons. I liked Botvinnik and Keres, I also liked Reshevsky and Fine, also Euwe...

I know Botvinnik for a very long time, but I played him only three times. It was the 1960 Leipzig Olympiad, Palma de Mallorca (1968) and Belgrade (1969). I think was Botvinnik's next to last tournament. I'm a bit humble, so it's a bit uncomfortable to me to say the score, but I'm proud to draw all three games with Botvinnik. (Applause) There were many great chess players in chess history - Philidor, La Bourdonnais, Andersen, Morphy, then Steinitz and so on, and we can't compare them, I see no reason to do that - but I think that Botvinnik was the best player of our epoch. I think that all those who began playing after Botvinnik learned from him, even Fischer, even Karpov, even Kasparov.

Personally, Botvinnik was a serious and amicable man, no-one could tell that he was a World Champion if they didn't know that. He was a deep chess thinker and analyst, perhaps the deepest of all, and a very good psychologist. I don't know if I understood Taimanov correctly, but it was a curious story in 1952 when Botvinnik was a World Champion and had to play a match with Taimanov. In the last round of the USSR Championship, Taimanov was almost a champion, and Botvinnik played against Suetin. There was a drawish position with opposite-coloured Bishops, and when Taimanov came to the hall, he heard that Botvinnik, by some magical methods, checkmated Suetin in the middle of the chessboard. Botvinnik and Taimanov shared the first place and had to play a play-off match. Botvinnik, the World Champion, had to play a match with Taimanov for the USSR championship. I can't remember how many games they played, perhaps six... (Looks at Taimanov) How many games did you play?

M. Taimanov: Against Botvinnik?

B. Ivkov: In the match.

M. Taimanov: Six games, yes. Score 3.5-2.5...

B. Ivkov: I know that. Taimanov played very good, he was young in 1952, but he lost 2.5-3.5 to Botvinnik. But he learned how to play pawn endgames. There was a very interesting pawn endgame, Taimanov and his second Flohr thought it was drawn, but... (Smiles) I don't know what more to say, perhaps that's all. Sorry for my Russian, I've already said it was a catastrophe. (Applause)

G. Dvorkovich: It's very hard to nurture a champion. Chess players are special people, and there can be only one champion among them. I invite Alexander Sergeevich Nikitin to the microphone, the coach of 13th World Champion, who worked with Garry Kasparov for more than 15 years. (Applause)

Alexander Nikitin: I have never played Mikhail Moiseevich in tournaments. When he was playing on a high level, I came to those tournaments and watched the demonstration board. I was a first-grader or a candidate master then. And then I largely quit practical play, studied in the university, then worked in the space research institute, so our paths didn't cross at all. But in 1973, they offered me to quit radioelectronics and return to chess again as a coach of USSR national team - to provide informational support to the USSR team members. It was a very important task that had only started to develop recently then. Then again, I could have worked for the team, and that's all, but then a chain of lucky coincidences happened.

In 1973, when I started to work in the Sports Committee and visit the Central Chess Club frequently... in 1973, Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik suddenly decided to resume teaching in the Trud Society youth chess school, and the training session was to be held in Dubna. Well, there could be a session, and that's all, but they sent me, a young Sports Committee worker then, to the youth team sports event in Vilnius. It was done with some help from the USSR youth chess team coach, Bykhovsky: he was going to an international tournament, and he asked me to substitute for him in Vilnius. So I came to Vilnius... back then, we didn't distinguish between the 10 year-olds, 12 year-olds, 14 year-olds - everyone played together, and in the Azerbaijan team, I immediately noticed something: some tall kids (shows), then a sharp decrease in height, and again the tall kids. In the Azerbaijan team, there were 18 year-olds, 17 year-olds, and Garry Kasparov among them. First I saw this small boy, then I saw how he played, and it became clear to me that he was talented. And the Botvinnik school training session was due to take place soon; when I came back to Moscow, I offered Botvinnik to take this boy to the session, Botvinnik agreed, Garik arrived with his mother, and when he started to show his games, [GM] Yuri Sergeevich Razuvaev and Botvinnik looked at each other, declared a short break, for 15 or so minutes, then sat and said, "Yes, this boy is worthy to work with." Lev Psakhis was also present at that session, but Botvinnik didn't notice him and started to work with Kasparov. And I became Garik's mentor for the next three years, I would accompany him to all the training sessions, and it was an amazing coaching experience for me. Of course, I don't have any coaching degree from a sports university, I learned all I could from Botvinnik.

I have to say that Mikhail Moiseevich's system for working with children was unique... there weren't many books back then, only now some books started to appear... Botvinnik was a unique teacher, and he gave much to the kids. Many chess players consider themselves Botvinnik's pupils, and they're right to do so. My work with Kasparov continued, and I watched how Botvinnik helped Garik. I'd say that we had many talented kids, some of them became Grandmasters, and some have faded, failing to use their talents fully. Well, they didn't have enough help. If we compare the creative and sporting way of Psakhis and Kasparov, we'd see that Kasparov got his strong starting impulse from Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik's support, because the Sports Committee eyed Kasparov's successes and rapid progress very suspiciously; the head of chess section, GM Krogius, even said openly, "We have one champion - Anatoly Karpov, and we don't need a second one." So Kasparov was deprived of the opportunities to go abroad and play in strong tournaments, but the huge, enormous authority of Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik...

Well, it all began when [Kasparov was] a candidate master who played good chess, as Botvinnik thought, and Botvinnik persuaded the Belorussian chess federation to invite him to the Sokolsky Memorial. It was the first memorial, with all strongest Belorussian players participating, including GM Kupreichik (who, by the way, plays here currently), GM Lutikov... It was an all-master tournament, and the Belorussians protested furiously, "Why on earth would we need some boy from Azerbaijan?" Ultimately, the boy came to play, scored 7 points in the first 8 rounds, and after that, no-one else asked "why on earth do we need him?" His result was amazing, he was 3.5 points ahead of the second place, achieved thenorm... of course, he didn't receive the grandmaster's title, it was different back then - one couldn't get a title in a tournament like that... but people started to talk about him. The talks could have faded in a short while, but then Botvinnik said, "Garik, you need to play in a good international tournament." There was a tournament in Banja Luka, and the Yugoslavians also said, "Well, who's that? Yes, he did win the Sokolsky Memorial, and so what?" They weren't too eager to invite him, and Mikhail Moiseevich made some phone calls and finally managed to persuade their federation and even some high-ranking officials - respect for Botvinnik was very great.

And so, Garik was invited to that Banja Luka tournament. In the first round, he drew Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian, and then scored 9.5 in 10 games! He was on his way to some frightening record, no-one ever had similar results, and it was an all-GM tournament, except for two masters: Kasparov, who was given the National Master title in the last moment, and a local player, Sibarevic, if I'm not mistaken. Kasparov was on his way to the record, but he had one trait that prevented him from achieving maximum results: he made 5 draws at the finish, still getting the first place with a good margin, and received a GM title. Because of Mikhail Moiseevich's support, his career skyrocketed.

And then... there was work, in which I also participated actively, and we always felt that Mikhail Moiseevich watched us. All the working plans, all the ideas... We didn't talk much chess with Mikhail Moiseevich at the time, he was already deeply immersed into computers, but he forbade Garik to play in too many tournaments. There's the famous Botvinnik's formula known to every pupil of Botvinnik school: no more than 60 games a year. If someone played 70 games, they weren't invited to the next training session, because Botvinnik thought that a chess player, especially a young chess player, should analyze his games. If you play 100-120 games a year, as they do now, there's no time to analyze them, because there are always some other activities besides chess. So he imposed that norm, and for a long time... or, perhaps, all of the time, except for the Karpov matches... or even including the Karpov matches as well... Garry Kimovich adhered to that norm, and I have to say that his games were always very deep, because he came to each game like good actors came to stage. A good actor comes to the stage when he can say something new to the audience. If he says the same thing every day, he's not an artist, he's just a craftsman. So Garry came to each tournament with some new... well, new opening, or new playing style feature. Something would always change.

What more can I say? In 1976, Botvinnik again stopped the training sessions in his school for a while, and when Garik became a strong grandmaster, the school reopened as the "Botvinnik - Kasparov school". I, it seems, learned some self-teaching skills from Botvinnik, and so I organized the Spartak school together with Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian. Up to 1984, I worked both in Kasparov's team, helping him under Botvinnik's guidance, and in the Spartak chess school, helping Tigran Vartanovich.

I'm also grateful to Botvinnik for that in the hard times, when I was on bad terms with Anatoly Karpov, then the World Champion, and my destiny should have been decided in court, because after I refused to concede to him, they tried to sack me from my job, I took the matters into court, and two World Champions spoke in my defence: Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik and Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian. And it's obvious that I won the case.

I think that's all. I hope it was interesting to everyone. Thank you. (Applause)

N. Polyanskikh: Getting back to the topic of your pupil, the 13th champion... we have a material where Kasparov congratulates Botvinnik with his jubilee. And Anatoly Karpov does, as well. And Vladimir Kramnik.

A. Nikitin: Kasparov is now in (unclear, some city name) and will go back to Moscow on Sunday.

Nikitin was the last to speak.

Editors's picture
Author: Editors
Chess.com

Comments

Jo's picture

Comment near the end about playing 70 games per year was interesting - with this quiet tournament period for many GM's - they'll have plenty of new ideas when the circuit gets back to normal

val's picture

Poor Wolfgang Uhlmann...his speech in his native German was utterly distorted by that inept interpreter.

Kasparov was in Croatia at the time.

Niima's picture

A fantastically revealing post! Thanks ChessVibes!

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