When is a finesse boring? When it is not understood. Most who have read of Soviet chess history will know of the Sports Committee. Its composition, size and name was subject to change; however, for the purposes of this post, this will be ignored.
On page 129 of the English edition there is an account of how Averbakh replaced Kotov and Abramov as coach and head of the Soviet delegation which was sent to contest the Candidates Tournament on the island of CuraÃ§ao in 1962. Alexander Alexandrovich Kotov, the author of Think Like a Grandmaster
, will be known to most Western chess players, so I shall just give a sketch of International Correspondence Chess Master Lev Yakovlevich Abramov (1911, Warsaw â€“ 2004, Moscow), the one time head of the Chess Section of the Sports Committee. Actually, some readers may recognise Abramov as the author of several chess books, one of which was translated into English by Bernard Cafferty under the title Chess â€“ Move by Move
. There are two Russian language tributes to Abramov available at http://www.64.ru/old/2004/3/mar10.html
. They are by Alexander Roshal and Vladimir Dvorkovich, the father of presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich. There also appears to be published a Russian language biography of Abramov. Apparently he won two awards whilst working for the Defence Committee during the Great Patriotic War. Bernard Cafferty wrote to me:
Bernard Cafferty wrote:I spoke briefly to Lev Abramov at the Malta Olympiad 1980, when we discussed the flaking off of whitewash from the walls of the venue. He had been trained as an engineer like many Russians of the 1930s, and was fine upstanding figure of a man. A civil engineer, I now see. He was reputed to be an authority on the rules and on controlling competitions. I read somewhere that he was trusted by the players since he did not absent himself in the bar like soma arbiters, but was hands-on and walked round the stage of the venue, checking the sum total of time shown by the mechanical clocks every hour or so. Presumably some clocks had a habit of malfunctioning. It is always good when an arbiter is an eye witness of what has happened rather than having to be told by complainants of what has created an incident, since accounts sometimes vary, as we all know.
I recall that Mikhail Moiseyevich Botvinnik said that Abramov phoned him nearly every day, so I assume that Abramov was a supporter of Botvinnik, but there may have been others, higher in the administration who saw Petrosyan as the coming man.
Averbakh in his memoirs writes that the organisers at CuraÃ§ao invited the wives of the players and organisers to come to the Caribbean island. The players' wives were allowed by the Sports Committee to come, however, it baulked when it came to the rest of the delegation. Averbakh's wife worked in a defence factory, she could not come for reasons of national security, hence Averbakh was the ideal replacement.
Perhaps I am being true to my east European forbears when I say I find this explanation incomplete, even if it was the official one. Intriguingly, in the Russian, but not the English, edition Averbakh's account of his appointment ends with the folk saying:
ÐŸÐ¾Ð¸ÑÑ‚Ð¸Ð½Ðµ, Ð½Ðµ Ð·Ð½Ð°ÐµÑˆÑŒ, Ð³Ð´Ðµ Ð½Ð°Ð¹Ð´ÐµÑˆÑŒ, Ð³Ð´Ðµ Ð¿Ð¾Ñ‚ÐµÑ€ÑÐµÑˆÑŒ!
Truly, you never know where you will find (something) and where you will lose (it).
or, in idiomatic English,
What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts.
What is that sentence doing there? As indicated by Bernard Cafferty above, it is possible that others in the Sports Committee supported the players, such as Petrosyan or Geller; Averbakh would have been perceived of as more neutral, rather than a supporter of Botvinnik the Patriarch of Soviet chess (yes, of course, Averbakh played training games with Botvinnik, as mentioned earlier in the book, however, his account of the champion, whilst respectful, is far from being blind to his faults). Blat
, i.e. the unofficial use of contacts) could have been a consideration. Note that in 1962 a lot of sports officials who did not live up to their responsibilities
or were immature
were recalled by Nikolay Romanov, the then head of the Sports Committee. The handover from Romanov to Mashin in 1962 may have had something to do with Averbakh being preferred. Note, too, that Soviet citizens sometimes took cheap items produced in the Soviet Union for sale overseas. In turn they brought back items not easily obtainable inside the USSR for private sale (as given by Averbakh in his book, a chess player could use the prize money he had won, instead of the proceeds from any sales). An embarrassment the Soviets definitely did not want a repeat of was the 1956 arrest in London of discus thrower Nina five hats
Ponomaryova for shoplifting. There is a British PathÃ© film of crowds awaiting her appearance at Bow Street Magistrates court available at http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=66111
No reader will be surprised by Averbakh's hint that his assistant
was from the state's security organs, nor that the only recorded input from the assistant
was to instruct Averbakh to tell Kortschnoj to keep away from the casino, which Averbakh did indirectly, to no avail, by speaking to Kortschnoj's wife. Averbakh later relates how Kortschnoj was punished when the assistant
, despite being bribed, made his report.
As an aside, there should have been a note about Yuri Dmitrievich Mashin (1932 â€“ 2006) on page 133, or possibly earlier in the book (he is first mentioned on page 51 of the English edition). He was a relatively young party official who was seconded to the position of head of the Sports Committee (1962 - 68) (The book's use of union sports society
, whilst not wrong, is misleading to a Westerner, it was the Sports Committee). He managed to survive the fall of Khrushchev. He was removed just before the Mexico City Olympics, in the vain hope that the Soviet Union would not come second to the United States. There is a brief Russian language obituary available at http://www.sovsport.ru/news/text-item/217165
, also http://www.gazeta.ru/sport/2006/03/14_n_562298.shtml
. Note that Averbakh personally spoke on the telephone to this powerful figure, such was the prestige of chess inside the former Soviet Union.