Rimma Bilunova: "I told Elo that women's ratings were too low"
Two women who would later transform women's chess: Nona Gaprindashvili and Rimma Bilunova (nee Kazmina).

Rimma Bilunova: "I told Elo that women's ratings were too low"

Spektrowski
Spektrowski
|
16

Rimma Bilunova, nee Kazmina (1940-2015) was an international master, one of creators of the Central Chess Club's card index and the head coach of Soviet women's team for a number of years. This is more or less the only big interview she ever gave, to Vladimir Barsky of chesspro.ru in late 2009. The interview was presented basically as a monologue, with only a few questions.

Before her death, Bilunova worked on a book about all the winners of Soviet women's chess championship. As far as I know, she did complete it, but it's not published yet.

https://chesspro.ru/_events/2010/bilunova.html

By current standards, I learned to play chess quite late, aged 11. Before that, I tried other sports, such as volleyball and athletics, and my sister Taisia, sadly, had health problems, so she decided to take up chess; she was very ambitious. We lived in Chelyabinsk at the time. My sister came to the chess circle of our Young Pioneers' House, she was the only girl among 40 boys. The coach told her, "Come on, bring in more girls!" She convinced several girls from her class to join her, and I came too.

When I was 14 or 15, both me and Taisia made it to the Russian SFSR team. Back then, there were very interesting tournaments between the Soviet republics; each team consisted of 8 boys and 4 girls. In 1957, our team, comprised from totally unknown kids from periphery, suddenly won the tournament. Everyone marveled, "Russian miracle!" Nona Gaprindashvili was already a rising star, Alla Kushnir played for Moscow [in the Soviet Union, Moscow and Leningrad competed in chess tournaments as regions as their own, separate from Russia - Sp.], and we had no such big stars.

My sister eventually quit chess, but I stayed. I was especially active when I was a student of the Chelyabinsk Polytechnical Institute: yearly championships of the Burevestnik society, individual and team Russian SFSR championships, intercollege matches, semi-finals of the Soviet championship. When I was in my fifth year, I played in my first Soviet women's championship, when I met Kira Alekseevna Zvorykina for the first time.

This photo was made at the Soviet Armed Forces chess championship in Vladimir, 1971.

I managed to win two Russian SFSR championships (1966 and 1968) and two Armed Forces championships (1966, 1971). In 1968, I won an international tournament in Vladimir and got my International Master title. I played in seven Soviet women's championships, my best result was shared fifth place in 1966. For this, I became a national master - back then, you could only get it for finishing in the top 5 of the Soviet championship. Before that, I had first category - there was no "women's candidate master" title.

Nalchik, 1974

When I was in my last year in the institute, my father was offered a job in the Ministry of Agriculture, and my family moved to Moscow. I finished my education, got my radio engineer diploma and then, after working for a necessary time at a letterbox [Soviet term for secret research facilities only known by their mail addresses - Sp.], moved to Moscow too and got a job as an engineer in the computer center of the Kuibyshev Military Engineering Academy and started playing chess for the army team. After getting married and having a child, I understood that I couldn't juggle all of this at once, so I concentrated only on chess work.

In 1976, I started working in the Central Chess Club. The systematization of chess information was in its infancy back then, the Rabar indexes have just appeared. I was tasked with creating the card index. We prepared information for the World Championship match in Baguio, compiling cards by index and by player's name. Karpov's assistants complained, "Your cards are so heavy, they take up an entire suitcase!"

At the Central Chess Club card room with Anatoly Bykhovsky and Vladimir Antoshin, Moscow, 1980

Viktor Davydovich Baturinsky issued an order: everyone going for a tournament abroad had to give us tournament game collections for a time. We copied the games and immediately added them to our database. We always had the freshest material: not all games end up in magazines. These were the first steps in systematizing the chess information. Our card index was located on the second floor of Central Chess Club behind the great hall, in the so-called "prayer room". Then it was moved to the third floor, to a room left of stairs. Later, the room was "requisitioned" by Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik: he installed an iron door and set up his laboratory there.

In 1980, I was a member of the Soviet delegation heading for the Olympiad at Malta. The women's team had only one coach, Gipslis, and Baturinsky told me, "Okay, cards are cards, but you've got to help the women too!" Maia Chiburdanidze was very young back then, only 18, and her mother, Nelli Pavlovna, was very worried for her. She told me, "Rimma, I entrust Maia to you, you have to be with her at all times, always look for her!" So, I started taking care of Maia. The 17 years-old Garik Kasparov also "joined" our women's team: Baturinsky told me to take care of him too. Seems that I was good at that task, because after we got back from Malta, I was mostly assigned to work with the women's team. In 1982, I was officially appointed as the team's head coach.

NONA GAPRINDASHVILI AND THE "GEORGIAN PHENOMENON"

In 1956, I played Nona for the first time. I still have a photo (alas, of a very poor quality): "N. Gaprindashvili, 1st category (Tbilisi) - R. Kazmina, 1st category (Chelyabinsk)". Later, I played her in the Soviet championships; I'm very proud to have drawn her two times!

Of course, she's a great chess player; without her, there wouldn't have been any "Georgian phenomenon". I remember the 1964 Soviet women's championship in Tbilisi, it was Gaprindashvili first home tournament since she became a world champion. The interest was enormous! We played in the small hall of the Rustaveli Theater, and they still had plays in the great hall. But soon, the actors had to switch halls with us, because nobody went to their plays, and the championship was completely sold out, people would literally sit on the steps in the aisles! I've never seen anything like that again. They love chess in Chelyabinsk too, but not that passionately!

This photo was made during the 1964 Soviet women's chess championship and was later featured in A Picture History of Chess (New York, 1981).

I remember being explained, "Georgia is a very small republic. Who would know about it if not for Jugashvili! When Stalin died, everyone forgot about it. But now, we have Gaprindashvili, and everyone knows about the small Georgia again!"

Nona is a brilliant chess player and sportswoman, but she's also a very kind person. I was always amazed when she would haul large suitcases with gifts from the tournaments. And she would answer me, "Do you know how many nieces I have?"

I would dare to say we're friends with Nona. Just played at the Senior World Championship together. In the second round, Nona lost to her main competitor, Elena Fatalibekova, almost 10 years her younger. I've tried to comfort Nona, but she just answered, "Don't worry, I play very good after a loss."

And she won all the remaining games! Her willpower wasn't eroded by age. Sadly, she's now [in 2009] having it hard from the material point of view: she's in opposition to the Georgian government, her son lost his job, and so Nona is the sole breadwinner for a family of six.

After the dissolution of Soviet Union, Gaprindashvili was the chairwoman of the National Olympic Committee of Georgia, but eventually quit because it was so hard for her: she was constantly bombarded with requests that were very hard to fulfill.

Nona has played in a lot of men's tournaments, and at first, she played in men's senior tournaments too. But this time, she told me, "You know, I'm not sure if I'll manage to perform well in the men's tournament, and I need to win a prize." Such is the prose of life. Of course, Gaprindashvili doesn't just play in tournaments: she gets invites as a member of appeals committee or as a special guests. She accepts all invitations now.

Five years ago, the Russian Chess Federation's veterans' committee, where I now do voluntary work, held two very interesting tournaments in celebration of Kira Zvorykina's 85th birthday. One of my friends who studied chess in the Chelyabinsk Pioneers' House with me, became an influential man and is now the chairman of the South Urals chess federation. His name is Mikhail Abramovich Lozovatsky. I introduced him to Kira Alekseevna, and he was charmed by her. Lozovatsky helped find sponsors for a jubilee tournament. We invited Gaprindashvili, Volpert and other woman players of that era, 8 in total. Nona confidently won the tournament.

Was Gaprindashvili much stronger than the other woman players in the 1960s?

Yes, she was. She easily won the Soviet championships, almost nobody could compete with her. At least until Nana Alexandria grew up, who was 8 years her younger. Alla Kushnir played three world championship matches with Nona, but she quit chess before turning 40. She's now living in Israel and works as an archeologist. Kushnir was never the chess player of Nona's level. Gaprindashvili is fully devoted to chess, and for Kushnir, chess was just one of the hobbies, she was not a fanatic. Unlike Nona, who still transforms completely during the games! By the way the same thing happens with Kira Alekseevna too. When she played blitz with men in Elista, she feared she would score zero points. But once she sat down at the table, she looked lively and concentrated! Nona is similar; chess is their life!

Gaprindashvili is very fair and kind. I think that she was the greatest woman chess player I've ever met. Maia Chiburdanidze followed in her footsteps; back then, a whole pleiad of woman players appeared in Georgia: Alexandria, Gurieli, Ioseliani. Maia was the most determined and hard-working of them all. Nana Alexandria wasn't any less talented than her, but she was somewhat carefree in her youth. Maia was more serious, so she became the world champion. I'll repeat: without Nona Gaprindashvili, these players wouldn't emerge. Nona was brilliant, showed fantastic results in women's tournaments, then she started playing with men and earned men's grandmaster title. She was an incredible role model! She had great creative achievements, many of her games were printed in the Chess Informant, she received brilliancy prizes. As they meaningfully said back in the day, Gaprindashvili played "men's chess".

For years, women's playing was ridiculed. We had to literally beg for the girls to be allowed to play with men. When I was the national team's head coach, I had to fight for every men's international tournament. Oleg Stetsko from the chess department didn't exactly hold back in his language when I asked, for example, to send Chiburdanidze to a men's tournament in Poland. And Maia needed to play against stronger players for further growth.

Maia Chiburdanidze and Rimma Bilunova. In 1986 in Dubai, the Soviet women's team won the Olympiad for the last time. Chiburdanidze would later win the Olympiad again, but it was for the Georgia team.

In Dubai, the United Arab Emirates women's team asked to take a photo with our winners. Nona Gaprindashvili, Rimma Bilunova, Elena Akhmilovskaya, Maia Chiburdanidze and Nana Alexandria are on the photo. In an interview to Sovetskiy Sport, Gaprindashvili said back then, "There was a very friendly atmosphere in our delegation during the entier tournament. In such a nervous struggle which the team tournaments are, it's necessary that everybody sincerely supports each other and is invested in success."

When chess ratings were introduced, women's initial rating was 200 points lower than men's. While a world champion, Nona Gaprindashvili was also head of the FIDE Women's Committee. She asked me to handle rating issues. We wrote a letter to professor Elo: the whole women's rating list lingers behind the men's because the initial rating you give is too low. Let's increase the ratings for all women by 100 points! Someone called us crazy and delusional, but Elo gave it serious thought. He offered to hold a tournament with four men and four women with similar ratings. And women occupied all four top spots! This was conclusive enough, and at the 1986 FIDE Congress, it was announced that all women got 100 points added to their ratings. They wanted to exclude some women who played only in men's tournament, such as Polgar sisters and Cramling, at first. There was some logic in that, but I said, well, let them have their 100 points too, it's going to even out quickly. Everyone agreed with me and made no exceptions. And after that, a lot of women signed up for men's tournaments! So, I think that Nona and I did something good for women's chess!

Nona has a great son and two grandchildren; her husband sadly died. She never despairs, and I think that her worldview can be described by a quote I've already used: "Don't worry, I play very good after a loss!" Maia Chiburdanidze was a wonderful girl - humble, hard-working - but she didn't have Nona's larger-than-life personality. Gaprindashvili says that people approach her at the street and say, "Thank you for the truth!"

THE GREATEST KORCHNOIEST

I have met Viktor Lvovich only a few times. In 1954 or 1955, Korchnoi visited Chelyabinsk. I took part in his simultaneous display and made a draw; it was a great success, everyone was very glad for me. At the youth tournaments, I chatted with Leningrad girls - Flora Dmitrieva, Katya Bishard, and they called Viktor "Our Greatest Korchnoiest" [Velichaishiy Korchneishiy; Korchnoi's last name sounds like an adjective, and the girls jokingly used the superlative form of that adjective as a pun - Sp.]! I liked this nickname very much. They worshipped him, his authority was unquestionable for them.

At the 1988 Olympiad, we had an emergency. Everyone was used to the Soviet team winning the gold, with one or even two rounds to spare. But this time, all three Polgar sisters have been playing for Hungary for the first time; the little Judit literally destroyed everyone at the last board. Our teams were level, but before the last round, Lenochka Akhmilovskaya defected - and, of course, this demoralized the team. Lena played very well, won first place at her board (later, I had to collect her medal for her). And the team finished second. Now, it would've been deemed great success, but back then, it was a horrible failure.

Of course, everyone was talking about the defection. Initially, nobody knew anything; in the evening, we discussed the lineup, everything was business-as-usual. And in the morning, before 10 o'clock, the captain had to submit the lineup. It was quarter before ten, and I was running around - where's Lena, where's Lena? Then one of the American girls came to me and said, "Don't look for Lena, she's not going to play." I barely had time to change the lineup and include Levitina, who had to rest in the last round. There was a lot of nerves...

At the closing ceremony, we were shocked and upset. Then Viktor Lvovich suddenly came to me and said, "Now you'll be in big trouble!"

Did he want to console you?

It was very strange for me. Our ways didn't cross, almost at all. He played for Leningrad, I played for Russia. When I became a coach, he already was at the West. Of course, Korchnoi is a brilliant player. I look at him and marvel at his ability to still keep such a pressure in the ending. Borya Spassky is much more peaceful; I think he could've still played on in some endgames, but he would immediately agree to a draw. Korchnoi retained much of his fighting spirit even aged 78, he's an example for any young player!

At the opening ceremony of the Spassky - Korchnoi match (Elista 2009). Second row: Kira Zvorykina, Rimma Bilunova, Petra Leeuwerik.

MIKHAIL BOTVINNIK'S CIVIL FEAT

I met Mikhail Moiseevich in 1964 through my fellow countryman Tolya Karpov (he's from Zlatoust). When Tolechka was 11 years old, he came to Chelyabinsk for the first time to play in the oblast championship. Despite being 11, he looked like a six years-old kid: very, very small, eyes blinking constantly, and he had to play standing up because he couldn't reach the board while sitting. Tolya played very, very fast. His opponents were demoralized, they would say, "It's impossible to play! What's that? Such a small boy, and makes his moves so fast!" In that tournament, Karpov became a candidate master. He was invited to a banquet to celebrate, and we met there. I won the women's oblast championship.

Two years later, Karpov was invited to Botvinnik's school. At the same time, there was a training camp of the Trud sports society, which I represented back then, in the recreation center Krasnaya Pakhra. Tolya Karpov, Yura Balashov, Sasha Dubinsky and Nyuma Rashkovsky came to study. I accompanied Karpov; I sympathized with him and tried to help him as much as I could. Tolya grew up a bit, became less frail, but still looked way younger than his actual age and had a terrible fear of flying. I remember that I sang to him for the entire flight to distract him!

My parents lived in Moscow already; we slept at their place, and then went to Pakhra in the morning. This was the first time I saw Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik up close. It was very interesting to watch him. To be honest, I was more interested in people playing chess than in actual games they played. I visited several lessons. Botvinnik was very strict and very kind at the same time. I was amazed that such a man can, so to say, "condescend". It was fantastically important for the guys! Not even because he showed them some materials; they literally looked at him as though he was God! It was a colossal psychological stimulus.

Botvinnik gave the boys assignments for self-study. I remember him taking one workbook and saying, "What's that? Only one sheet, and that's all? Look how you need to work!" And he used Karpov as an example. Tolechka brought a large workbook with all sheets filled up with his pretty kid's handwriting. The other boys hated him immediately, as any good pupil who gets praised by the teacher. But Tolya took that in stride.

If not for these Botvinnik's lessons, I don't know how would Karpov's fate play out. Do you know whether he wrote that it was important for him?

He wrote that Botvinnik didn't like him much.

That's not true! I'm telling you what I saw with my own eyes. Tolik tried to fulfill and exceed all requirements, it was a huge stimulus for his work. I think that lessons at Botvinnik's school helped Tolya to make a great leap forward. He was very small at the time. After that, his rise was meteoric, other coaches worked with him, and he probably thinks that they gave him more. But it's important to note the moment: Karpov went to the Botvinnik school in the very beginning of his way, and I think it was a turning point for him.

After that, Botvinnik grew in my eyes even more. He wasn't just a distinguished chess player: I would say that his studies with kids were a civil feat. Smyslov, Petrosian and others created schools in his wake. Mikhail Moisevich's contribution to the development of several chess generation is invaluable: Kasparov and Kramnik went through his school too.

Botvinnik's invluence over Garik Kasparov was enormous. I've already said that during the 1980 Olympiad at Malta, Garik was a "ward" of the women's team, and I'm still on friendly terms with his family. I went through the Kasparovs' photo archives recently, and I saw Garik with shining eyes standing beside Botvinnik. At all the photos from the school, he's standing beside Botvinnik; it was clear that he was Mikhail Moiseevich's favourite pupil. Botvinnik's influence over Kasparov was enormous - he didn't just give him concrete knowledge, but also, if I can say, instilled chess philosophy in him. Mikhail Moiseevich was a huge authority to him, both in chess and life.

Botvinnik was immensely intellectual! He was a doctor of engineering, and in late 1970s, he worked at a chess computer program. He set up a lab in the Central Chess Club, and worked on the practical application of this idea with his assistants. It was so amazing - he wasn't a young man, but still would come to work before all others and meticulously work on his dream of a "thinking" electronic player that doesn't use brute force algorithms.

Mikhail Moiseevich was a true workaholic.

THE BRILLIANT SPASSKY

For us girls Spassky was a brilliant, irresistible young man. I can't help but laugh when I remember that when I was 15 or so, we lived in the Evropeiskaya hotel, in the center of Leningrad. We had a big room on the first floor, there were six of us, I think. And one night, someone knocked at our window. Someone cried: "Girls, look, there's Tal, there's Spassky!" There were other young men, of course, but even back then, everybody knew those two. They asked us out.

We jumped from the window, and they caught us. I was caught by Tal, and I'll remember that for my entire life! There were white nights, and we walked around the city. Tal was incredibly interesting back then; I don't mean his looks, but rather his personality: he was literally bursting from all the energy he had! When he played blitz, it was impossible to look away! I only saw something similar two times: when the young Kasparov and young Anand played blitz. You could almost physically feel the sparks flying!

Borya was a very prett young man! Several years later, he joined our Russian team - Vera Nikolaevna Tikhomirova arranged that. We played for the team together, talked at the training camps. My finest hour was at the 1967 Spartakiad of the Soviet Nations, in Leningrad, when the announcer said, "To raise the Spartakiad flag, we invite Russia's strongest chess player Boris Spassky and Russian women's champion Rimma Bilunova!"

Participants of the Russian SFSR - Hungary match, 1967. Sitting, left to right: 1st - Anatoly Lein; 3rd - Lev Polugaevsky; 5th - Boris Spassky; 7th - Igor Bondarevsky, then Lajos Portisch and Rashid Nezhmetdinov, last to the right - Vladimir Antoshin. Second row, left to right: 4th - Rimma Bilunova, 7th - Valentina Kozlovskaya. 4th to the left in third row - Evgeny Sveshnikov.

Of course, we all supported Spassky. I know his coach, Igor Zakharovich Bondarevsky, pretty well, especially after my friend, Valya Kozlovskaya, married him. In 1977, I was sent to Belgrade, to the Chess Informant editor's office, to share experience; at the same time, the Candidates' Final, Spassky - Korchnoi, was played there. I visited one game, sitting with Igor Zakharovich and Valya. Borya stopped appearing on stage at that point. Nobody understood anything, even Bondarevsky. He would grumble, "Where is he? His clock is ticking, but he's nowhere to be seen!" Korchnoi didn't understand anything too, and he was very nervous. If Spassky would leave for 2 or 3 minutes, that's normal, but he would walk away for 15 - 20 minutes! Later we learned that he watched the game on the demonstration board, walked to the table, made his move and walked away immediately. It was very unusual.

Korchnoi wrote in his book Chess Without Mercy that Soviet parapsychologists worked against him in Belgrade.

Nobody was there, I can say that for sure. Only Igor Zakharovich, Valentina and Ivonin (vice-president of the Sports Committee who oversaw chess). Nobody else was there, it's all Viktor Lvovich's fantasies.

Borya was a nonstandard, unusual man. During the game, he was very concentrated, he could literally pass you by without noticing. Initially, I couldn't understand that, and I resented him a bit. The same thing happened to Garik when he became a world champion. We knew each other well, even read poems to each other. It seems that the demands that a world champion has to shoulder are so high, especially during games, that he literally notices nobody around.

I got to know Boris better as a person when we both became veterans. When he came to Moscow, he would always visit Vera Nikolaevna Tikhomirova, whom he called "Mutter". We were friends with Vera Nikolaevna as well. When Kira Alekseevna moved to Moscow, we celebrated her 80th birthday there. Spassky came to all her jubilees, he was our toastmaster at Zvorykina's 85th and 90th birthdays. He would always plan to visit Moscow at these times. Of course, it's very flattering. At Lyudmila Rudenko's 100th birthday anniversary, the Russian Chess Federation refused to lend us a room in the club to celebrate. So I offered Vera Nikolaevna to celebrate the jubilee at my house. Boris Vasilyevich came too, he said he liked Rudenko very much. It was Spassky who invited me and Kira Alekseevna to Elista as guests.

27th July 2004, 100th anniversary of Lyudmila Rudenko's birthday. Left to right: Vera Tikhomirova, Yuri Averbakh, Radmila Popivoda, Boris Spassky, Olga Katskova, Lyudmila Postnikova, Kira Zvorykina, Rimma Bilunova.

Boris, of course, was the leader of our team. Chess was quite different back then, adjourned games were very important. It was very difficult, but every analysis was a valuable lesson. Borya took part in analysing all games, both men's and women's. Team interests were very important. Vera Nikolaevna valued him for that. She loved to remember the story about Borya returning to Moscow from some international tournament and immediately heading to Leningrad for the Soviet team championship. Tikhomirova met him in the airport, they sat into a taxi and made it in time for the games. His presence was very important for our team, and our opponents hoped that Spassky wouldn't play that day. Of course, his chess authority was huge.

They say that he was a bit lazy and didn't like to study openings. Was it true?

In Belgrade, Valentina told me, "Let's visit Boris!" I refused at first, not wanting to interfere with preparation, but she convinced me. We entered his hotel room, and what did we see? Borya held a racket and bounced a tennis ball against the wall! This was the day where he first used his new tactic of not sitting at the board.

Of course, Spassky was very lucky with Igor Zakharovich, he maintained strict discipline and made him work more. He was very strict! I think that if Spassky didn't part ways with Bondarevsky, he wouldn't have lost to Fischer. Of course, I don't know all the details: world champions lived somewhere in the sky, leaving us plain folks far below. But it's obvious to me that both Nei and Krogius didn't come even close to Igor Zakharovich in terms of influencing Spassky. Perhaps they were good theoreticians, but other considerations are more important.

When I worked with the national team, some looked at me with irony, as though saying, how can she help, she's not even a grandmaster? I was more of a coach-organizer, coach-psychologist, tried to create a climate in the team where everyone can show their best qualities. I was convinced that my approach was correct when I trained Akhmilovskaya individually. We have fought for a long time to get an individual coach for all participants of the Women's Candidates' tournament. I wrote a lot of memos, and they finally had an effect: in early 1986, all woman candidates were allowed to have their own coach at the tournament. Alexandria, Levitina, Semenova, Akhmilovskaya and Litinskaya qualified from our country. They were all brilliant players, but the first two were considered clear favourites. Levitina chose Gipslis as her coach, Alexandria chose Gavrikov, Litinskaya chose Srokovsky; I can't remember who were Akhmilovskaya's and Semenova's coaches. As the head of delegation, I included Lepeshkin, a renowned women's coach, into the list - I was afraid that someone would miss the deadline. And my fears came true: Akhmilovskaya's and Litinskaya's coaches couldn't obtain necessary documents in time. What should we do? I told Akhmilovskaya: "Lena, you have to choose: either Lepeshkin or me!" She said, "I choose you, then." And we went to Malmo, Sweden. Our competitors were Kramling, Wu Mingqian from China and Brustman; 8 players, double round-robin. We immediately agreed with Akhmilovskaya that we wouldn't work on the openings at all: Lena should just play what she knows. I was analyzing the adjourned games and, what's even more important, watch her regimen. And so, Akhmilovskaya adjourned the first three games. When we won all those games, she really believed in me, and we became a unit.

I prayed to God that Lena wouldn't finish last, because then everyone would say, "No wonder, with such a coach!" Two rounds before the end, we suddenly saw that she was in top three. I told her, "Okay, Lena, perhaps that's our chance?" We worked even harder in these last two rounds, and she won the tournament! Of course, nobody expected that. Lena's attitude was always positive. I saw how Gipslis worked with Levitina: they were going to the game, and Ira played Tetris. How could she do that? She just lost concentration! And in 1984, Levitina played a match with Chiburdanidze, so she was considered the favourite in this cycle. It's very important to prepare a player to play at their peak during the games. I held to the same principles when I worked with the national team.

Yes, in 1988 Korchnoi was right when he said, "Now you'll be in big trouble!" I was fired from the national team. What I had to do then? Krogius valued me, so he asked me to work with grassroots chess. I organized Spartakiads and the last Soviet men's chess championship in 1991.

Moscow, November 1991, last Soviet chess championship. Rimma Bilunova and Rafael Vaganian watching Mikhail Tal play.

Of course, Boris Vasilyevich was and still is our idol, and Kira Alekseevna and I are very happy that he remembered about us and invited to the Elista match. I think that the result of this match doesn't matter. The very fact that Spassky and Korchnoi are playing each other is great!

Rimma Bilunova, Kira Zvorykina and Boris Khropov in Kirsan Ilymizhinov's office. Elista, December 2009.