Mikhail Tal. "When Pieces Come Alive", part 5 (last)

Jun 6, 2011, 12:31 AM |

5. Believe until the end


In the winter of 1979, the world champion Anatoly Karpov and the author were invited to a tournament in Canada called The Tournament of Stars. Long before its beginning, it excited the chess world: the organizers promised to assemble a super strong line-up with average Elo rating 2620! I’ve never played in such a strong tournament in my 25-year chess career. And even after the invitation, I doubted that this super tournament would take place. Anyhow, there was contradicting news from Montreal until the middle of March. The organizers met with much difficulty during negotiations with the players who prepared for the next World Championship cycle. Any grandmaster plans his tournaments a year ahead.

The skeptics would say, “An all-star tournament?! It’s unreal…” And they would draw some historical parallels, remembering the brilliant tournaments that never took place. They remembered 1921, when chess stars couldn’t make it to Havana, and the failed super tournament in Mexico in 1973.

Not long before my departure, one of the veterans of Riga Chess Club approached me. He wasn’t a strong player, but he always knew all the latest chess gossips.

“Did you hear? Bent Larsen doesn’t want to leave Canary Islands. He’s usually fishing for mackerel in May… And Vlastimil Hort won’t play; he’s tired after the Lone Pine and ceded his place to Anthony Miles. But is Miles a superstar?

But there’s the last telegram from Montreal. The tournament would indeed take place.

Before the departure, I spoke with Anatoly Karpov who was going to Canada after the Baguio match victory. He suddenly asked, “Is that true that before the game 32 you offered everyone a wager that I’d win?” I answered, “Of course, you looked very determined after you came back from Manila…”

The chess fans probably remember the nervous atmosphere in Baguio before the decisive 32nd game. I’ll just add a few bits.

In the previous game, Karpov overlooked a draw in the play-off; he could easily achieve it if he moved his Rook to c4. The score was tied at 5-5, and so a single victory decided the outcome now. Karpov was much upset after that mistake, he looked exhausted. The match lasted for three months, breaking the duration record of Capablanca – Alekhine match. Everyone was obviously very nervous. And then the chairman of our Chess Federation, cosmonaut Vitaly Sevastianov, suggested the delegation to rest and made a brilliant, though non-chess move! He brought Karpov 250 km away from Baguio, to Manila, by dangerous, wet mountain roads – supposedly to support our basketball national team against Yugoslavia.

Five hours on a hard road, a dramatic basketball game in the packed hall – all that made Karpov forget his oppressive thoughts. He ardently supported our team and was full of sporting fury. “Let’s go back to Baguio”, he told Sevastianov, “we need to finish that match!” Everyone remembers Karpov’s determination in the last, 32nd game. I don’t want to belittle the winner’s play, but I’m sure that Sevastianov’s ingenuity should be made an example for chess coaches.

A good friend of the world champion, the renowned chess writer Alexander Roshal had an accreditation in Baguio press center. He blended well with our delegation and, aside from his direct assignments, he actively helped us to boost Karpov’s morale. Our entire delegation was sure of Karpov’s win. Yes, I did offer the wager, but alas, nobody accepted it. When at the move 39 Karpov moved forward a pawn that humbly stood at the 3rd rank, I knew the game would end soon. This pawn’s march became stronger with each move, wreaking havoc among the black pieces, ruining their logical connections…

But how did I end up in Baguio? I had no coaching skills, but suddenly became a consulting coach of the world champion! Wasn’t the assignment too difficult for me to handle? But I couldn’t decline the offer because of events that are often stronger than human logic…

Everything was decided suddenly, during the last round of an international tournament at Bugojno. Someone called Karpov to the phone, and I watched as his face paled. Someone told him very sad news. A great chess player, his long-time coach and older friend Semyon Abramovich Furman died. I knew him well. We both played in USSR Championships and other tournaments. Furman was dangerous for any opponent. I remember how the grandmasters frowned when they had Black against Furman. He knew openings better than any world champion! And that’s not an overstatement. The grandmasters that knew hundreds of variants and schemes called him “The Chess Encyclopedia”.

He unceasingly worked on the opening theory, searched for unbeaten tracks and constantly discovered something new. Analysis and search were his true passion. He always gladly shared his findings. During one foreign tournament, I told him that I didn’t know how to play for win against Portisch if he chose his favourite defence in Ruy Lopez. Semyon Abramovich immediately took me to his room and showed an original improvement for White. I was amazed: “And that’s it? That simple? I can’t believe…” And he said, “It’s not simple at all. I worked for almost two months. Don’t doubt, I checked everything…”

Furman would gladly give away his novelties (and there were a lot of them) to his opponents; he gave them away easily despite all his hard work to find them. Karpov’s great opening repertoire and well thought-out strategy was largely the result of many years of work with the analyst Furman…

He was Karpov’s coach when Karpov won the youth world championship and when he became a grandmaster. They still worked together at the famous 1973 Leningrad Interzonal, which Karpov won and proved that he was a real title contender for the first time. Furman’s firm hand led him up the Candidates’ ladder. The young grandmaster defeated Polugaevsky, Spassky and Korchnoi in brilliant style…

And then, the Bugojno super tournament – Karpov’s last before the Baguio match. I remember how a dejected Anatoly asked me to visit him in his room. In that sad evening, he offered me to be at his side during the World Championship match.

Could I replace Furman? Of course not! Our playing style was also very different… But I couldn’t decline Anatoly’s request at that point. I just had to hope that my match (and life) experience would be useful in Baguio…

Another thought also encouraged me. I was always sure that a good coach was not just an opening specialist and the source of middlegame and endgame knowledge. Life showed that this alone wasn’t enough. A coach and his pupil should be like-minded people, even friends.

It’s too bad when a coach weighs upon his trainee. For instance, when a player likes to play a sharp, attacking, risky game, and during the training sessions the coach imposes his own outlook on chess on him and makes him play some boring positional schemes.

A boring and soulless coach can just discourage people from playing chess! And, what’s most important, a coach should be a good psychologist and know his pupil’s character. The situations can look the same, but in one case, a player might need some encouragement, and in the other he needs to come a bit down to earth.

When Anatoly Karpov offered me to become his coach for the World Championship matches, I remembered a story from 1963. The youth USSR championship was played at the same time as the match between Botvinnik and Petrosian. A young Riga player Vitolins took part; he was a talented, but very shy youngster. As his fellow-townsman and senior, I coached him a little. He told me that he was going to play against the masters Karen and Levon Gregorians in the last two rounds, and he was very afraid of them. “I’ll surely lose”, he said.

It was futile to console or encourage him. The Grigorian brothers actually played stronger than Vitolins.

“Show me a couple of your victories”, I asked him.

He started to show his games, and I commented with a very serious look:

“Oh, what an idea! Did you calculate this entire variant at the board? Brilliant… if I played like that, I wouldn’t lose the match to Mikhail Moiseevich…”

And Vitolins’ morale was instantly boosted. “Is it really that good?” “Of course! You understand the position like a grandmaster!” And on the next day, Vitolins defeated both Levon and Karen and won the first place. I must add that such “psychotherapy” isn’t for everyone. If someone is too proud, you have to study his losses with him.

(A sad note. Karen Grigorian and Alvis Vitolinsh both committed suicide by jumping off bridges at a relatively young age, in 1989 and 1997, respectively. They were good friends with each other, but suffered from some mental conditions. – Sp.)

“Well, not a lot of experience!” the reader would say and, of course, he’d be right. But in Baguio, it was the first time for many of us and in many ways. Igor Zaitsev and Yuri Balashov never worked as seconds before, and the world champion himself never faced such a long and intense struggle before…

In this situation, friendship and solidarity of our team played an exceptional role. I can’t remember a single emotional outburst during that time. Everyone was fully dedicated to the main goal – to win the match; we stoically endured the losses and celebrated wins together.

I already wrote a lot about the match in Baguio, so I don’t want to repeat myself. I think that most chess fans know everything about the main events. But I want to tell you about one crucial moment of the match.

The 13th game was adjourned. We analyzed the position at home and saw it was bad. We analyzed it for two hours – the play-off was tomorrow. Everyone analyzed in their own corner, then we got together and stated our conclusions. The conclusions were unfavourable: firstly, the candidate had a rich choice of continuations, and all of them were unpleasant for us; secondly, we couldn’t see a clear way to draw… But then Baturinsky, leader of our chess delegation, came to our headquarters. Viktor Davidovich was a lawyer, and he represented the world champion in a special jury that investigated various conflict situations of the match. There were many of them, but it wasn’t our fault… And so, Viktor Davidovich entered the room, apologized before the grandmasters (he was a candidate master) and showed a great defensive idea: 43… Be5 and 44… Kg7!

Karpov checked all the variants himself – everything was all right! And then we laughed together: four grandmasters overlooked a simple move… We were studying the position until the dawn. Someone suggested Anatoly to go to sleep, but he just waved his hand, “Do you think I’d be able to?”

The arbiter called us in the morning. No play-off today, Korchnoi asked for a time-out. The candidate’s reckoning was clear: Karpov would play the 14th game burdened by thoughts of the adjourned, obviously lost game. But he made a mistake. We have found the defensive plan!

A couple of hours before the 14th game, Karpov called his coaches: “I’m going to launch the ashtray today. Isn’t it too early?” Let me explain: the “ashtray” was the code word for a home preparation in Ruy Lopez, or, more specifically, the first move of that preparation, h3. Phone talks in a foreign country, you know… Now I can tell you that the g6 field was coded “the cosmic overload” in honour of Sevastianov. The g3 field was called “delirium tremens”, and so on…

We approved his decision to “launch the ashtray”; Anatoly used his home preparation and quickly achieved advantage. At the move 29, he sacrificed an exchange and adjourned the game in a position where Korchnoi could as well resign. The situation changed. The next day, the distressed candidate came to the play-off of the 13th game and, facing Karpov’s greatly organized defence, became nervous and made a mistake. Karpov immediately counter-attacked and destroyed the White’s position in five moves. Two consecutive victories allowed the world champion to reverse the situation and take the lead 3-1.

Three years later in Meran, during the next match, Korchnoi again tried to flare up tensions, but Anatoly was unperturbed. And so, the candidate only drove himself to the edge… The score became 3-0 at the very start. All three victories were so convincing that even Korchnoi’s seconds could only make helpless gestures: “It seems that this match is going to be pretty much one-sided.”

Karpov’s advantage was obvious at all stages of the game. While in Baguio we had big worries about the outcome of the match (especially in the second half), in Meran our mood was improving with each game. The reason is clear: the score got better and better – 3-1, 4-1, 4-2, 5-2… Anatoly won his fifth game on my birthday – that was the best gift I could imagine…


13. Ne4 Be7 14. Be3 Nxf3+ 15. Qxf3 O-O 16. Rfd1 Qe8 17. Nf6+! +-

First, he played a theoretical novelty in the candidate’s favourite line of Ruy Lopez. The move Nd2-e4 shocked Korchnoi so much that he thought for an hour and twenty minutes on his next move… Four moves later, Karpov sacrificed a Knight. Bent Larsen who commented this game in the lobby joked that this sacrifice was made for my family holiday. The sacrifice was very dangerous. The candidate lost a pawn, and his position was almost destroyed. Any grandmaster would have resigned immediately. But Korchnoi sealed a move and didn’t admit his defeat until the next day.

And then, there was the final game… The first twelve moves were made quickly, as in a blitz game, and the position was the same as in the game where Karpov scored his fifth point. The champion could play 13. Nd2-e4 again. But it’s obvious that if the candidate repeated moves so readily, then he must have prepared something. His preparation remained unknown though, because we have found another improvement for White in our “lab”. Karpov played 13. a2-a4! That was again so unexpected that Korchnoi spent 54 minutes to think on his next move. But even after such a long thought he couldn’t find a good plan, and White achieved decisive advantage at the move 20. Karpov perfectly exploited that advantage, and the score was 6-2!

Time flows fast indeed! It wasn’t very long ago when a shy boy visited me in hospital; he wasn’t even a youth champion then. But now, he’s a three-time world champion and holder of eight Chess Oscars!

The reader, of course, knows about Anatoly Karpov’s wins. His games are known very well. But I want to share my own impressions of this great player whom I’ve closely known for more than ten years. I saw him both in times of triumph and in times of failures and bad luck.

Of course, my impressions about the young world champion probably wouldn’t be impartial, but these are impressions of an eye-witness…

First of all, I must say that Karpov, amazingly, has the qualities of both great tournament player and team player. And we know perfectly that not every strong player is a good team player. Bent Larsen is a good example. He knows it well and even declines to play at the Olympiads… Robert Fischer also wasn’t a good team player and would usually find any excuses not to play for USA. But Anatoly Karpov likes to play in a collective, benefitting the team with both points scored and good advices… He first showed those qualities in 1972, at the Olympics in Skopje. The conditions were quite difficult there. In the first round, we lost to our main competitors, Hungary. Our loss was minimal, but they still had a head start. And then, as ill luck would have it, a drama happened in the game Hubner – Petrosian: the ex-champion didn’t know about the clocks of new construction, where flag fell sooner than usually… As far as I remember, Petrosian never suffered such losses before.

Be that as it may, but before the fifth round, we were behind both Hungary and Yugoslavia teams. It was the first ever time such thing happened! Our team gathered to speak informally, trying to figure out the reasons. And our youngest player, Anatoly Karpov (it was his first Olympiad), spoke. He told us, quite straightforwardly, that the team was accustomed to easy wins and rested on its laurels, thinking that the first place was guaranteed automatically… But the opponents became stronger, so we had to work! A coach tried to argue, but Karpov brought up some badly analyzed adjourned games and cases of bad opening preparations. One example after another…

I must admit that Smyslov, Keres and I were looking at the novice, puzzled. What a substitute player! There was metal in his voice, as though he was a seasoned veteran. But Anatoly was right, and everyone finally agreed with him.

Since the fifth round, the team gained momentum. Karpov was a substitute, but he played in almost every round. He brought the team 13 points out of 15 (!) and proved conclusively that he was strong over the board, not only in criticism…

With each new victory, more and more spectators gathered around the board where Karpov played. More people wanted to get his autograph, more reporters wanted to interview him…

American chess player I. Turover, who long ago retired from active play, but still visited Olympiads, told the reporters that he considered Karpov the main competitor of the world champion Bobby Fischer. At the next Olympiad in Nice, there was an unaccredited lady among the photo reporters who actively took pictures of Anatoly. Later we learned that it was Fischer’s mother on a “secret mission”. Fischer, living as a hermit in Pasadena, wanted to see the world championship candidate en face and in profile…

In previous chapters, I told you about our meetings with the American grandmaster. But it was when Fischer still played chess… After the Reykjavik match where he defeated Spassky, Fischer made a strange decision that astonished everybody. For ten years, he didn’t play a single chess game. What happened to him? Does he have a mental illness, or his fear of failure finally got at him? As far as I remember Fischer, he did show psychological imbalance before important tournaments. We can’t fully exclude the possibility that the sensitive American succumbed to this trait (the 1972 Reykjavik match was nearly cancelled because of it).

To corroborate this version, we can remember how unyielding Fischer was in 1970. There were no reasons at all to argue, but he… That’s how it was. The chess club of Leyden decided to celebrate its centenary jubilee and organize a match between Fischer and Botvinnik, who was especially popular in Netherlands. I must say that the first Soviet world championship has been a chairman of the USSR – Netherlands Friendship Society. It’s an interesting opportunity and a great honour for any chess player to play a match against Botvinnik. For Fischer, it was the last opportunity to fulfill one of his dreams (I heard about that many times): Botvinnik was going to retire from active play the next year.

Such match was a mother lode strike for Fischer. He was a championship candidate, and he couldn’t find a better partner to enrich his game! But during the negotiations, he behaved like someone who just feared to sit at the board… He wanted the 60 years old ex-champion to play without a game limit! Mikhail Moiseevich could only ask, “What does he want, to play me until I die?” Botvinnik offered some alternatives, but Fischer, unexplainably, stood his ground. And the chess world started to realize that Fischer was always very unsure before the start of a tournament… This fear of failure was quite apparent before the match against Spassky, and after that, it must have grown into an insurmountable obstacle.

I won’t say much about the Fischer – Karpov match that was never played. Anatoly did everything he could to play that match. And Fischer didn’t risk.

And now, the current champion is constantly in play for nine years. He takes part in big international tournaments, Olympiads and team matches. He actively collaborates with FIDE and already did a lot for the prestige of chess. A playing champion! Millions of chess fans always wished for that. And here’s a champion who’s winning constantly.

I watch Karpov’s games for a long time, even though our playing styles are considerably different. I can say that his strengths are precisely my weaknesses. Anatoly realizes his advantage greatly – I’ve never managed to do that. He can control himself in the crucial moments – I can’t hold my emotions… Anatoly’s defensive skills always amazed me, he defends at the last line, where many would just surrender. I remember the game between a very young Anatoly Karpov and Ratmir Kholmov at the 38th USSR Championship. At first, Kholmov achieved much: he had better position and an extra pawn. What more such an experienced grandmaster needs to win? But… alternating humble defensive maneuvers with active (often explosive) moves, Anatoly drew with confidence. Kholmov could only shake his head, “Who knew that a young man could defend so well!”

Even more amazing was the situation that occurred in the 8th game of Candidates’ match Spassky – Karpov. The ex-champion used a novelty in the opening and started a very dangerous attack on the Black’s position. After Spassky’s 25th move, every grandmaster present in the press hall started to show each other various mating finals…

“A great game!” one exclaimed, as though the game was already over. I must admit, I thought so too…


Karpov thought for fifteen minutes. And then he made his move, 25… Nf6!! At first, it seemed that this move changed nothing. But only at first! The more all the grandmasters and spectators studied the position, the more obvious was the impossible: White’s attack was completely repelled. Spassky’s pieces were still threatening, but he couldn’t do anything concrete… After some more good moves from Karpov, the disappointed Boris abandoned his hopes to equalize (he trailed 1-2) and offered a draw.


25… Nf6!! 26. Rxh7 Kg7 27. Rhh1 Rad8 28. dxe6 fxe6 29. Nc2 Qf4 30. f3 Kf7 31. a3 e5! 32. Nb4 e4 33. fxe4 Rxd1+ 34. Rxd1 Re8 35. Nxa6 Qxe4+ 36. Qxe4 Rxe4 37. Nc7 b4! 38. axb4 Rxb4 39. Rf1 Rf4. Draw.


What was so special about this move that the young candidate made? An ordinary move; it’s usually said that anyone could see it. Yes! Everyone could see it, but rejected it from the outset. Nobody noticed that a humble Knight’s maneuver suddenly cements the Black’s position, makes it impregnable.

I think that many people noticed Karpov’s ability to “switch gears”. There were times when he would start the tournament slowly, carefully watching the situation. He’s a great tournament strategist, and he sometimes falls behind, watching the leaders, not allowing them to come too far ahead. And then he delivers a great finish. It happened at many tournaments. For instance, at the 1971 Alekhine Memorial, one of the first tournaments we both played in. There was a superb lineup: B. Spassky, T. Petrosian, D. Bronstein, R. Byrne, F. Olafsson, L. Stein… Nobody would reproach a young grandmaster (who held this title for just a year) if he finished mid-table. It seemed that it was coming to that… Anatoly made seven or eight draws, winning only once. He was as though watching his own game, comparing it to that of the greatest players around. Then he understood that he’s strong enough for that company. And everyone saw a different Karpov who suddenly (and very easily) switched gears.

First, Anatoly very subtly defeated Hort. He moved his Rooks with such elegance that the game was acknowledged as the tournament’s best, and the Yugoslavian Chess Informer named it among the best games of the year. Inspired by this victory, Karpov won several more games and shared first place with Stein.

And how can we forget the famous 44th USSR Championship in 1976? For the first time in many years, all the strongest players gathered to play. As in the good old times, chess fans would stop the passers-by at the doors of Central Journalist Recreation Centre, asking for a spare ticket. It’s been twenty-one years since a world champion (don’t confuse with ex-champions) took part in the USSR Championship, so this stirred up much interest. Karpov played in the 44th Championship. He became a world champion without ever winning his own country’s championship – also an unprecedented event.

After five rounds, Karpov had just two and a half points. Too little… Are there really no prophets in their own land?! But then Anatoly began a powerful spurt, and everything fell into place. The world champion executed a great attack against Dorfman who was ahead of him, then defeated Vaganian and caught up with the leaders. He didn’t slow his tempo at the finish and ultimately overtook everyone.

An explosive finish is good, but Karpov more and more often uses a different tactic: quick start. He wins several games and then invites everyone: catch me if you can! It happened at the Moscow international tournament in April 1981. Karpov took a solid lead in the first few rounds and confidently finished first. And I have to note that everyone played at their full strength against the champion.

In Montreal, at the Star Tournament, the grandmasters also tried to “test” the world champion, but quickly fell back… I must add that the whole chess world was interested how would Karpov perform in his first tournament after Baguio. From the purely psychological point of view, his situation wasn’t too easy. Everyone expects the champion to win, but there was a super-strong lineup where half the players could take the first place. And there were no obvious underdogs. In the first round, the American grandmaster Kavalek could seem one. And Larsen? Who could imagine that a player who participated in the Candidates’ tournaments for many years would finish last?

Looking behind, I conclude that the Montreal tournament was the most interesting in the last few years. I don’t say that because I shared first place with Karpov. I just didn’t play in such a strong tournament that wasn’t some sort of qualifying competition for many years! And in that case, everyone can play very relaxedly, without much thinking of the result. What can be more exciting, both for grandmasters and audience?

If a chess player is at his best, he can do everything. His attacks can crush any defence, his defence is impregnable for any attacks. In Montreal, I was at my best. I won six games and lost none. I’m not saying that to boast – I just want to lament my strange sporting form. Several months later, I miserably lost to Lev Polugaevsky in the Candidates’ match, losing three games and winning none. I’m very unstable…

In Montreal I took a trophy that I value the most: the prize for the best game of the tournament – my win over Spassky. Chess players always value such prizes because chess is very close to art. When I manage to win such prizes, I always remember my old chess partner Gedeon Barcsa. The Hungarian grandmaster (he was elderly when I was young) told a very funny story in Portoroz… Once, when he was crossing the French border, his baggage was thoroughly searched. The customs worker (a gorgeous blonde) saw a marble statuette. “Where did you get it?” she asked. The gray-haired veteran answered that this statuette was a beauty prize. The woman ironically looked at the grandmaster and said, “I can imagine how other participants looked…”

Karpov returned from Montreal with another first prize, and I thought, “How would Alekhine score against him if he played at that tournament?” Sadly, there’s no answer for this question. Only one thing is clear: now we play very different chess compared to those in the 1930s.

During a USSR Championship in Vilnius, a new movie hit the theaters, Beliy sneg Rossii (“Russia’s White Snow”). That was a good time for a chess movie. Though chess was but a background for the destiny of the Russian world champion Alexander Alekhine. Very hard, broken, but belonging to his fatherland until the last days. And I couldn’t help but think that we have really learned about Alekhine from grandmaster Kotov’s literary work. He gathered every grain of Alekhine’s chess legacy and all the chess world’s memories about the genius champion. A truly selfless labour!

Kotov wrote the screenplay for this movie, he eagerly awaited its release, but alas, he didn’t live to see it… In the last years, after he ended his practical career, the TV watchers knew him as the host of Shakhmatnaya Shkola (“The Chess School”) program. He also wrote several books. His grandmaster colleagues were ironic at first, they said that it’s impossible to be both a strong player and a good writer. And the punctilious chess journalists denied him of his right to speculate. “How do you know that Alekhine played Capablanca in a grey suit?” Kotov just joked, “Alekhine called me from Buenos Aires and asked to order a grey suit from Tula…”

I remember Kotov as a funny and charismatic man. There were always many jokes around Alexander Alexandrovich, both invented by him and targeted at him. In the latter case, the intended victim laughed louder than everyone. Once a well-known chess journalist decided to joke, “Your latest article was quite poor…” Kotov reacted instantly, “But look at my signature! Grandmaster Kotov! Can you finish your article like that?”

Our chess ways didn’t overlap. I was only beginning my championship career when Kotov played at his last, 25th USSR Championship. Then, in 1958, we have played our first (and only) tournament game. (There are two more games between Kotov and Tal in Chessgames database, both played abroad and both drawn, but I can’t say whether they were played at the tournaments – Sp.) Kotov played badly (he was already past his peak), and I managed to win. When we started to analyze the game, I eventually understood that he wasn’t interested in variants. I lifted my head and saw him thoughtfully looking somewhere to the side…

“Well, Misha”, he suddenly said, “it’s all obvious.”

After that championship Kotov played in several more international tournaments, sharing first place in Hastings and Stockholm. By the way, Stockholm was the stage of Kotov’s best ever performance. In the 1952 Interzonal tournament he established a record that is still to be surpassed. Eight wins in the first eight rounds! I remember Swedish newspapers saying shortly before the tournament’s finish: to win the tournament, Kotov needs just to draw all his remaining games. Though he might as well lose them or even depart to Moscow right now. Kotov scored the incredible 82.5% at that tournament, finishing three points ahead from second place!

He showed his fighting spirits in Groningen, at the first post-war international tournament. He defeated Botvinnik with black pieces in 24 moves, and in the last round, he crushed another leader, Max Euwe. When Kotov was in the mood (and mood played a large role in his performances), he would create true masterpieces over the board. In 1953, during the Zurich Candidates’ tournament, he executed an incredible Queen sacrifice, and Yuri Averbakh had to give away almost all his pieces to postpone the impending checkmate. This Queen sacrifice is mentioned in many chess learning books.


Time is implacable. I remember deaths of many chess comrades in arms. Alexander Tolush, Leonid Stein, Isaak Boleslavsky, Paul Keres, and now Alexander Kotov. The chess world will never forget them.


Only one thing consoles me: each year, many new names appear at the chess horizon. When Karpov defeated Korchnoi for the third time in Merano, and the new Candidates’ cycle began, I was happy to see new young and strong Soviet grandmasters. Garry Kasparov, Alexander Beliavsky, Lev Psakhis earned their places in the Interzonals. And while my sixth effort to participate in the Candidates’ struggle was unsuccessful, I’m not going to give up. Our great veteran Vasily Vasilyevich Smyslov just won an Interzonal – doesn’t it prove that age isn’t an obstacle for chess playing?