Soviet Cheating in FIDE competition: Zurich 1953


“Thrown” games in Zurich, by David Bronstein


My account of Switzerland would be incomplete, if I did not finally reveal the truth about the tournament in Zurich. Yes, the book about it brought me world fame. But for many years the tournament itself has sat like a thorn in my heart. How long can one suffer? And I have decided to pull out this thorn.

The 1953 Candidates Tournament took place at a difficult time. The events of the Spring (the death of Stalin) and the Summer (the arrest of [the Chief of State Security] Beria) disturbed the whole world – everyone was afraid of a new war and it was no time for chess. And for Soviet citizens the very idea of a trip abroad looked suspicious. Why did they need to go there at those troubled times? But nevertheless an imposing Soviet delegation – nine grandmasters and eight seconds (I alone did not have one) – flew to Switzerland. The FIDE schedule had to be respected.


The tournament was nervy and exhausting: two months' play and 30 rounds! The leaders of the delegation (the deputy head of the Sports Committee [Dmitri] Postinkov, his deputy  Moshintsev from the KGB, and grandmaster [Igor] Bondarevsky, who worked for both these organizations) inflamed passions, all the time telling us that on no account must Reshevsky be allowed ahead. If he had qualified for a match with Botvinnik, we would all have had to pay for it. Just think: nine Soviet participants unable to stop one American!


As bad luck would have it, Reshevsky in fact took the lead together with Smyslov. This unsettled our “triumvirate.” And before the 13th round, when I was preparing for my game with Reshevsky, they came to my room (I thought they had had one too many [drinks]) and stated that the following day, despite the black pieces, I had to win. It was an order! There was nothing to be done, and contrary to my habit, for five hours I did not get up from the board – I displayed my zeal. In time trouble, Reshevsky as usual wanted to confuse me. But he met his match. The adjourned position looked only slightly better for me, but fortunately, a study-like way to win was found.


For the time being our leader calmed down. But after Smyslov lost to Kotov, they again grew nervous. Here, after one of the regular [medical] check-ups, the team's doctor Vladimir Alexandovich Ridin reported to Postnikov that Bronstein and Keres were in normal condition, whereas Smyslov had weakened and might not last out to the finish at the desired level....


At any event, the “triumvirate” decided to act. They summoned Keres to the shore of the Zurich lake and over the course of three hours tried to pursuade him to make a quick draw with white against Smyslov, so that in the next round the latter would be able to assail Reshevsky with all his might (I was told this that same eveniing by Tolush, Keres's second).


Keres courageously withstood the pressure. Perhaps he promised to think about it, but he turned up for play … all flushed and agitated, and I saw he was not in a fit state to play. This was also noticed by Smyslov, who suddenly came up to me and asked, “Why is Paul looking at me so maliciously? Have I offended him, or what?” I didn't know what to reply, so I kept quiet – suppose Smyslov did not know what was going on? Keres lost, of course.


The “triumvirate decided to strike while the iron was hot. They convinced Geller that I had supposedly demanded a point from him, so as to not allow Reshevsky to go ahead [of me]....


I naively thought that after Geller the conversation would end. Oh no. “Now,” said Postnikov, lighting up another cigarette, “After Geller, you have Smylov. Remember, that before his game with Reshevsky, he must not be agitated [about the next game with you]. He must know that you will later make a quick draw with him.”


“But I have white!”


“What's the difference? We must not risk an American Winning the tournament.”


“But I too can win in the event of a successful finish.”


“A draw, and a quick one,” Postnikov cut me short. “We have just received a coded telegram from [Moscow]: 'Play between the Soviet participants is to cease.' Do you understand?”


I was stupefied by such a falsehood! My look did not appeal to Moshintsev, and he decided to intensify the pressure by blurting out: “What? Did you seriously think we came here to play chess?!” There was nothing I could say to that. “So,” the KGB agent continued, “Before your game you will go to his room and agree how to make a draw. Is that clear?”




Abridged from “Secret Notes,” by David Bronstein and Sergey Voronkov



Very strong confessions. Men those soviets had it tough.


LOL Botvinnik

The guy to never win a world championship match on the first try.

Yes he was strong, but its so unfair to smyslov and tal who got screwed over by botvinnik.




One my favorite chess book 1953 Zurich, any player who wants to become a strong player is a must study book of Zurich 1953. Bronstein excellent annotation, clearly explaining the middle-game concepts, this book is know as a middlegame book and full of ideas for any player to become stronger. I am sad one of my favorite book is tainted.

Jaime does excellent job in her research and she expose the Soviet cheaters. Keres and Bronstein are man of integrity. Jaime is honest and truthful in all her accounts; that is why I love reading her articles, well research too.


Much of Bronstein's recollections were first published in the famous Russian chess magazine, "64", in 2002, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I have cross-checked the Bronstein book versus accounts from the magazine.  Bronstein is consistent through time.  I tend to give his account credibility, even though it was written decades after the fact.

Some have branded the Bronstein memoirs as "self-serving."  That may be true.  But Bronstein's "editorial" account still reveals eye-opening actions by the political commissars of the old Soviet Union.  I think he accurately captures the paranoia and intrigues of the time.

Smyslov was still alive when the "64" articles were published, as well as when the book was published in 2007.  Sadly, he had become nearly blind late in life.



I wonder if the players realized they were playing a game to fight a war?


That is the underlying theme of the current film, "Pawn Sacrifice," isn't it?


International Master, Dr. Andrew Soltis, writing about the "64" articles:

(Link now dead, 05/2020)


"The most imaginative player who has ever lived died a year ago. He managed to draw a match against Bovtinnik, although only 2 rounds before the end of the match, David Bronstein was [1 point] ahead. Then, something incredibly odd happened: one of the best players in the world made a very mysterious child's mistake in the last round, something which prompted many to suspect that the result had been fixed by the Russian 'Politbureau'. Russia didn't want [staunch Communist] Botvinnik to lose against the son of a Jewish descendant. Bronstein never explained what happened...

"However, just recently a new book has seen the light: "Secret notes", which David Bronstein co-wrote with Sergey Voronkov and only wanted it to be published after his death. In it, Bronstein unveils that the Kremlin forced the Soviet players to fix their games and thus prevent a foreigner [winning] the event.  At the time, nobody believed him, but Bobby Fisher was right when he accused the Soviet Grandmasters of helping each other.

"Bronstein was the only Soviet GM who didn't sign a condemnation letter against exhiled GM Victor Kortchnoi, and that earned him the cancellation of his passport for 13 years."

Bronstein has controversially hinted that there was government pressure on him to lose the [1951 Botvinnik] match. In a 1993 interview he explained that "There was no direct pressure... But... there was the psychological pressure of the environment..." in part caused by his father's "several years in prison" [as a political prisoner and possible relative of Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronshtein)] and what he labeled "the marked preference for the institutional Botvinnik." Bronstein concluded that "it seemed to me that winning could seriously harm me, which does not mean that I deliberately lost."


I believe it was Seirawan who talked of senior masters who claimed that as late as the 1980s, playing in Russia was problematic as there were all sorts of minor dirty tricks to unsettle foreign masters.  For example, random phone calls from wrong numbers in the middle of the night to disturb players' sleep.  In the 1990s, Kasparov made a point of assuring international players in Moscow that things were different and that they would be treated with respect.


Let me add a point here, on which I have not been clear.

Individual players in the old Soviet Union, and in the Eastern Bloc countries, were very much under the thumb of their political bosses.  I don't blame any individual player for "rolling over," when threatened with his livelihood if he did not cooperate.  You did what you had to do to survive.

I find the recollections of folks like Bronstein, Keres, Spassky, and Korchnoi to be refreshing.  In a way, it even restores my faith in human nature, and the struggle to survive in an authoritarian state.


Friends, let's stick to the topic, please.


Is this the actual text from the book Jamie?

robbie_1969 wrote:

Is this the actual text from the book Jamie?

Yes, it is from "Secret Notes" by Bronstein and Voronkov.

Where you see brackets [ ] is where I have clarified the text.

.... means I have skipped some of the intervening text (as unnecessary).

The book is 232 pages, and I quoted from about 11 paragraphs.  The book is Volume 18 in an ongoing series from "Progress in Chess."  It is widely available and worth buying.

With_every_step wrote:

Surely if my original comment was off-topic (like the one before it), you shouldn't be blaming CIMH, and should probably reinstate his comments. Can we have some continuity here.

In any case, it's good that Bronstein could write (re: Bronstein writing stuff.) It really answers the perennial question of what exactly The Hunger Games was better than (re: the quality of Bronstein's writing.) It's unfortunate that they had to go through such ordeals as they no doubt did around the mid-1900s (re: the text presented and Bronstein.)

Alexander (cimh) is a friend of mine.  We see eye to eye on many things.  I value his insights.


The truth, very uncomfortable for Bronstein, is that three years ago at the same candidates tournament the contenders were bullied in favor of Bronstein himself by his second.

That was Boris Samoilovich Vainstein - General of Security Service, the head of planning department NKVD USSR.

He and Bronstein were very close, Bronstein lived in his house.

He was a talented chess writer and published some books under his own name (e.g. about Lasker) and some under Bronstein's - including the famous "Zurich 1953", which provides many strategy insights and is considered one of the best chess books in Russian.

In 1950, when Boleslavsky leaded full point ahead two rounds before the end  Vainstein approached him and asked "To let David catch up". Then Boleslavsky made two draws in clearly better positions and Bronstein won twice, including the game vs Keres, and actually that game is mush fishier than the ones from pretenders' tournament.


All this stuff reinforces the charges that a lot of interference took place in Soviet chess. It now seems that which stories were true or exaggerated or who was to blame is less relevant than the broad claim that various forms of cheating or unethical practices were used to assist the already mighty Russian masters to maintain Soviet chess hegemony beyond what would have been natural as a result of their overall talents.  And this is consistent with published statistical research as well as the variety of anecdotal claims that have emerged.


Jamie in my group:

I have stated in my article, that I did not place blame on all of the Soviet players. They were "under the thumb" of the pwerful Soviet Sports Committee. Many of those players did what they were told. There was a price to pay for those who did not follow orders. Bronstein was kept form traveling for over 12 years, because he helped Korchnoi in the 1975 Candidate finals, when Karpov was the chosen winner.

by JamieDelarosa 119 minutes ago


My answer:

Jamie, Bronstein was a pathetic brazen liar: 09.1975 Teesside 1975/76 - Hastings 1976 London, 1976 Sandoierz, 1977 Budapest, 1979 Vrsac, etc... He played in them all.

by Marignon a few minutes ago

I like your interest, but please, check your sources before you qoute them.

by Marignon a few minutes ago