Botvinnik 100th anniversary party at Suzdal, part 1

Aug 22, 2011, 8:36 AM |

Transcript of an almost 1.5-hour long video which can be found here:

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)