Botvinnik 100th anniversary party at Suzdal, part 2

Aug 22, 2011, 1:18 PM |

Part 1, with speeches from Yuri Averbakh, Olga Botvinnik and Mark Taimanov, can be found here:

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)