Cheats, Spies, Crooks and Commies
Nikolai Krylenko, the Soviet Commissar of Justice and Prosecutor General, used to sentence innocent people to death in show trials in the 1930s, until he himself perished in 1938 in Stalin’s Great Purge. He neglected his work by spending too much time on chess and mountain climbing, his accusers claimed. In chess, Krylenko had a vision: He wanted to export the game as part of Soviet culture and to establish Soviet domination in the chess world. He began a ruthless game, playing with human pawns ¿ the Soviet chess masters and champions. In 1948, Mikhail Botvinnik won the world title. The aim was achieved.
Since 1931, Botvinnik was regarded as the best Soviet player and everybody thought that he, and only he, had the right to be World Champion, David Bronstein explained in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” (The second, updated and enlarged edition of Bronstein’s classic was recently published by New in Chess.) With the championship came political power, and Botvinnik and his helpers used it. In 1951, Bronstein’s father was not allowed to go to Moscow to see his son in the world championship match against Botvinnik. Bronstein smuggled him in anyway and almost won the match. It ended in a 12-12 tie, but there was no love lost between Botvinnik and Bronstein through the end of their lives. Shortly before he died, Botvinnik got irritated when someone mentioned Bronstein’s name. Botvinnik said, “Please never mention his name in my presence ever again; he is my enemy!” Upon learning of Botvinnik’s death, Bronstein quipped: “What a surprise; he was human after all!”
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