By Davide Nastasio
288 pages, May 2015. Publisher Everyman chess
David Bronstein is likely one of the most famous chess players in the world, for his classic book Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953, and of course for being a candidate to the world championship against Mikhail Botvinnik.
In the endless debate over who is the best player of all time, I like Bronstein, not because he is objectively the best, but because I came to know him through his writings. Although he has been dead for quite some time, in my mind he is still alive with his advice and nice stories, as well as some of the best games I’ve seen.
This book is not a collection of all the games played by Bronstein, which would surely be a book I would buy. Instead the author defines it as a collection of the lesser known masterpieces played by Bronstein, and many biographical notes.
I would like to quote from the book some important moments of Bronstein’s life which, in the author’s view, have caused him to become bitter, but may have been the result of his living under the totalitarian dictatorship of the Soviet Union. These citations from a few of Bronstein’s works are important because the younger generations don’t know anything of the sufferings of those who, in one way or another, challenged such a tyrannical system and how their lives were affected:
“Bronstein had always been a great traveler who loved meeting people, especially chess players of all levels. Naturally, as a Soviet citizen, he had always been restricted in his ability to travel, but as one of the country’s leading players since the end of the Second World War, he had been relatively privileged and enjoyed his fair share of foreign tournaments, at least up until 1976. This was despite the fact that his father had spent seven years in the Gulag in late 1930s. This fact would usually have meant that Bronstein would be regarded as “politically suspect.”
Everything changed for him in 1976 after Viktor Korchnoi defected. The two had been quite close, and in 1974 when Korchnoi played his first match against Anatoly Karpov, Bronstein was practically the only Soviet GM who was willing to assist Korchnoi with his preparation. He recalls that it was his suggestion that Korchnoi defend the Tarrasch French with 3…c5, taking the isolated queen’s pawn. Despite Karpov’s legendary prowess in IQP structures, he was unable to win a single one of the seven games in which the line appeared in that match, nor the two later games in which Korchnoi used it in their match at Bagiuo City in 1978. Unfortunately, when Korchnoi requested political asylum in Holland after the 1976 IBM tournament, Bronstein was one of the many Soviet GMs who were called upon to sign an infamous collective letter denouncing Korchnoi. To his enormous credit, Bronstein refused, he and Boris Gulko being the only active GMs to do so (Mikhail Botvinnik also refused, but was already retired at the time, whilst Karpov published another, personal letter against Korchnoi). The result was that Bronstein became a neviezdny, someone who was not allowed to travel abroad (or, at least, not outside the Communist bloc). It was hard to imagine a worse punishment for the travel-loving Bronstein, and, whilst most such punishments lasted only a few years, he remained in that position until the onset of Glasnost at the very end of the 1980s.”
Here was another point of grief in Bronstein’s life, always created by living under an oppressive regime:
“Life had dealt Bronstein a tough hand in some ways, especially with the imprisonment of his father as part of Stalin’s crazy purges. He was only a young teenager at the time, and one can scarcely even imagine how traumatic it must have been to see his father carried away, and then to have to live as the son of ‘an enemy of the people.'”
Bronstein was resentful of the fall of the Soviet Union, which left him with a pension that likely even a Western homeless person would consider change money. It must have been particularly hard for Bronstein to see that players like Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik were instead competing for million of dollars, while he was out of the game. (In reality Bronstein was out of the game, I believe, by 1973, and by “game” I am referring to the race for the world championship.)
Now coming to the book itself: the book is made up of 30 deeply-annotated games (plus a few non-annotated games) in which the structure of the Move by Move series is expressed. Such structure is based on questions an amateur could pose that are answered by a titled player.
The games have been arranged by opening and chronologically; this ordering system reminds me of Svetozar Gligoric’s book: “I Play Against Pieces.”
Another of Bronstein’s famous books from 1973, “200 Open Games,” uses this arrangement based on openings. In fact, most of the games in “Move by Move” can be found in “200 Open Games.” This old book is still in descriptive notation, but it is a collection which many champions have read, and it is cheap. It can be found for 2 to 3 dollars used.
One negative note on the book is the following: this is a book of only 288 pages. Bronstein clearly is one of the top players of all time, a true inventor, a precursor of Tal, and whatever combinative genius one could think of, so he would deserve a thicker book–at least 400 pages.
Here are some of Bronstein’s games:
This first one wasn’t included in the book, but I think it is interesting because it was the period in which Bobby Fischer was steamrolling everyone. Bronstein, like Fischer, loved blitz. In one of his biographies it is written that as a kid he would play blitz all day long on Sunday at the chess club. When he was younger, Fischer would play around 4000 blitz games a year! That is true love for chess.
The following game is an all-time classic. It has been analyzed and printed in many books, as it is in “Move by Move.” The author could have made more of an effort to research games which weren’t so common. At the same time this is a game one must see.
This anecdote shows how nice a guy Bronstein was:
“As soon as my opponent played 2.f4. I heard an angry: ‘And I’m having no refusal! Accept the sacrifice! If you don’t take the pawn I won’t continue the game. ‘ There was nothing I could do; I accepted the old maestro’s gambit. Several moves later Dus Chotimirsky played a hurried move and, whilst I was considering my reply, decided … to change his move. Spectators gasped and judges wanted to stop the clocks. But Fjodor Ivanovich suddenly shouted at everyone: ‘What on earth is this? I just made a bad move and now I am changing it for a good one. To hell with rules, this is Chess!… Besides, you do not object?’ said my opponent turning to me. ‘Please, it’s my pleasure.’ And the game went on as if nothing had happened.”
This is another game which is worth studying for the interesting endgame, and of course for the different way we play the Italian game today compared to 1952.
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