In Memoriam: David Ionovich Bronstein

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"For the sake of brilliance it is worth taking a risk!" That is how Bronstein played, even in his advanced years. After Tarrasch and Nimzowitsch he is perhaps the most outstanding populariser of the game, a genuine teacher of the chess world.?¢‚Ǩ? ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú Gary Kasparov

David Bronstein was both an outstanding chess player and an excellent writer. Furthermore he was one of the most beautiful players of the twentieth century, always looking for the beauty in chess. Where Botwinnik saw chess as science, Bronstein considered it to be art. And of course it was Bronstein who wrote one of the true classics in chess literature: Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953. Enough reasons to pay tribute to David Ionovich Bronstein.

Bronstein was born on Feburary 19th, 1924 in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine. Trainer Alexander Konstantinopolsky was the first to discover little David's talent and never did a player rise so quickly to the world elite as Bronstein did. After first spots at the Ukraine Ch (1939) and the Moscow Ch (1946), he won the USSR Ch in 1948 (with Kotov) and 1949 (with Smyslov). His first international tournament victory was at the Saltsj?ɬ?baden Interzonal in 1948 and with that he qualified for the first ever Candidates Tournament, Budapest 1950, where he beat Boleslavsky in a play-off. Then suddenly he was allowed to try it against world champion Botvinnik!

Bronstein-Botwinnik That match was held in 1951 in Moscow and ended 12-12, so Bronstein belongs to the list of Great Players Who Never Became World Champion, like Kortchnoi, Keres and Larsen. But Bronstein reached the highest, since he was leading 11,5-10,5 two games before the end! The story goes that after the 24th match game Bronstein and Botvinnik became enemies and never spoke to each other again.

A nice Bronstein quote from Kasparov's My Great Predecessors II is this one, right before the decisive 24th game (that ended in a draw quickly, after which Botvinnik kept his title):

"I spent the entire day before the decisive game in the forest, breathing fresh air and polishing some sharp variation of the French Defence on my pocket set. Therefore I should have played 1.e4! However, I had certain doubts: suppose Black should play 1....e5 or 1...c5 instead? Nevertheless in the given instance 1.d4 was a mistake: I should not have followed the path of Botvinnik. It would have been more sensible to trust in my own imagination, intuition and will-to win."

Co-editor Oak paraphrases Kasparov on Bronstein: "Around the fifties the two B's (Boleslavsky and Bronstein) played the most interesting chess. Especially the King's Indian in the hands of Bronstein called for admiration. He was one of the first to truely use this opening as a weapon, which he describes in his book Bronstein on the King's Indian from 1991."

Z?ɬºrich 1953 Bronstein is a player you can only admire, because of his enduring quest for esthetics. His 'preface' (which is named ?¢‚ǨÀúInstead of a preface') to the book Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953 is telling:

?¢‚Ǩ?ìIn working on this book, I started from the premise that every full-bodied game of chess is an artistic endeavor, arising out of a struggle between two masters of equal rank. The kernel of a game of chess is the creative clash of plans, the battle of chess ideas, which takes on its highest form in the middle game. (?¢‚Ǩ¬¶) The author has tried to avoid weighing down his book with variations. Variations can be interesting, if they show the beauty of chess; they become useless when they exceed the limits of what a man can calculate; and they are real evil when they are substituted for the study and clarification of positions in which the outcome is decided by intuition, fantasy and talent."

Bronstein substantiates these words throughout the book and this is why it became a classic; it's full of comprehensible paragraphs in which the ideas behind the moves are described. The funny thing by the way is that Bronstein wasn't that positive about the book in later years. He disagreed with the general opionion about the book being a classic: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìChess makes progress and Zurich 1953 is old-fasioned and out of date!?¢‚Ǩ? he said in the early nineties.

Whatever the writer claimed, the tournament book is extremely instructive, just like The Sorcerer's Apprentice from 1995, which he wrote together with Tom F?ɬºrstenberg. But also Bronstein's works The Modern Chess Self Tutor and 200 Open Games became best-sellers.

Chess against computers In the eighties and nineties Bronstein played a lot in Belgium and The Netherlands. Thanks to his friend Tom F?ɬºrstenberg Bronstein played in the Belgian league and alson in tournaments in Hoogeveen and The Hague at the AEGON-Man-against-Computer tournaments. Bronstein was one of the few top players of his time who had always liked to play against computers. (He was early with experimenting, by the way, since a few of the games in his 200 Open Games were already against weak computers!)

At the time ?¢‚ǨÀúanti computer chess' (avoiding theory, keeping the position closed) was often enough to beat them, but Bronstein insisted in a hyper-romantic approach. He was of the opinion that computers should be beaten tactically and agressively, and he did not hesitate using openings like the Evans Gambit. And so he beat many of these computer programs with a nice kingside attack. Many analysis of these computer games can be found the book David en Goliath, which until today was only published in the Russian language. Publisher Olms was planning to translate it, but unfortunately they recently decided to put this plan into the fridge. Perhaps Bronstein's passing away will bring them to a more sane state of mind.

IM Gerard Welling played several games against Bronstein. He tells about a post-mortem after a game in Bussum in 1991: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAfter the game my opponent was truely surprised. Had I really missed that I was losing my queen? Because it wasn't a long game, he wanted to analyse with me. Actually it wasn't really analysis; Bronstein showed me one game after another, and was delighted that I knew his game against Kaplan. He put on little puzzles and explained how one can play like Capablanca (?¢‚ǨÀúKnowledge which is more important than all volumes of Chess Informant!'). At the end he explained to me that tactical vision is the true sign of natural talent. 'Botwinnik disagreed but he did not understand it...'"

What Bronstein said to Welling about Capablanca, he later wrote in his book Bronstein on the King's Indian:

"Do you know my theory of how Capablanca played ? He always tried to exchange one bishop, so that he should have no problems about how to arrange his pawn chain. Then he exchanged one rook, if possible - then he had no problems about which rook to place on the only open file. And it only remained to exchange one knight, so that the remaining knight knew which weak square to control in the centre."

Welling ads to this: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìUnfortunatelt he doesn't say that you need to be quite a strong chess player to be able to decide which piece should be exchanged at which moment?¢‚Ǩ¬¶?¢‚Ǩ?

In 1996 Welling played against Bronstein in the Belgian League and put 1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 on the board. "Here Bronstein thought for more than half an hour and then played 2...Nc6. After the game I asked him why, and he gave me the answer: ?¢‚ǨÀúI know that it's a risky move but I desired an interesting game. Of course Black can draw with 2...d6.' "

Welling continues: "He was far less talkative than the first time. He told me he had been to his birth town not long before, and he had spoken to a local farmer. This man asked him straight away what purpose chess has, and what useful thing David had done during his life. David Bronstein kept on pondering about that. Even when I said to him a lot of people had enjoyed his chess games, and he had a lot of friendships he'd never had if he would have stayed in his birth town. It did not really help...?¢‚Ǩ?

So at a later age, Bronstein himself toned down both his great books and his great play. With all the respect we can bring, we chess players 'know better' and will never forget him. 5 December 2006 is the day the game of chess lost one of its most beautiful pieces.

>> replay a selection of Bronstein's games

>> Mark Crowther's wonderful obituary

>> An interview with Bronstein while he visited Apeldoorn on October 7th and 8th, 1995

Thanks to Andr?ɬ© Schulz, Oak and Gerard Welling.
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