Monday, 24 September 2012

Averbakh 15: Budapest Candidates Tournament, 1950.

This is discussed from page 59, but, before proceeding, given that not all readers will be able to decipher the Cyrillic in the photograph at the top of that page, I shall digress and point out that Averbakh's opponent in that picture was German Samuilovich Fridstein (1911 – 2001). He became a Soviet master of Sports (i.e. a chess master) in 1945. He is best known in the West for his book on the Pirc-Umfintsev Defence, as that opening was called in the former USSR.

When discussing some of the background to the Budapest contest, Averbakh relates how the Yugoslav grandmaster Petar Trifunovich (Trifunovich has earned the reputation of being a very hard man to beat, and the other grandmasters have acquired a healthy respect for his technical skill. At Bled, for example, he lost only this one game - from the introduction to game 33 of Fischer's My Sixty Memorable Games, SBN 571 093 4) was kept out of the tournament. This was a knock-on effect of the breach between the communist dictators Stalin and Tito. The Soviets, in order to keep the Yugoslav out, sacrificed Bondarevsky's place. Grandmaster Bondarevsky will be known as Spassky's trainer, a subject treated by Averbakh elsewhere in the book. A bit of spice can be added by revealing that there may have been links to the NKVD (i.e. the Cheka).

On this page, chess historian Sergey Voronkov wrote:

Кроме того, Бондаревский тоже находился на оккупированной территории (и даже играл с румынским военврачом, мастером Троянеску), поэтому мог судить о происходившем «в тылу врага» не только по передовицам газет. Одно смущает. После освобождения Ростова осенью 1942 года он попал не в концлагерь, как любой бы другой на его месте («за сотрудничество с оккупантами»), а прямиком в Москву, где принял участие в турнире мастеров. Так что разговоры о том, что 28-летний гроссмейстер остался в Ростове по заданию советской разведки, не лишены оснований…

In English this reads:

Furthermore, Bondarevsky was also in the occupied territories (and even played against the Romanian doctor, and master, Troianescu), he could therefore judge what happened behind enemy lines, and not just from reading newspaper editorials. One thing that could confuse. After the liberation of Rostov in the autumn of 1942, he was not sent to a camp, as others would have been in his situation (for collaboration with the invaders), but sent straight to Moscow where he took part in a masters tournament. So talk that the 28 year old grandmaster remained in Rostov on the orders of Soviet intelligence is not without basis …

Rostov-on-Don, the gateway to the Caucasus, changed hands several times during the Great Patriotic War. It first fell to the invader, somewhat unexpectedly, on 21st November, 1941 (some accounts give the 20th). The outnumbered Nazis (outnumbered save in armour) were driven out by a counter attack that began six days later. This led directly to the resignation of Von Runstedt, the commander of the Nazi Army Group South. Following a major Nazi victory at Kharkov (a former capital of Soviet Ukraine, a status it lost in 1934) in the summer of 1942, a subsequent Nazi offensive captured Rostov again on 23rd July 1942:

Not that Rostov had surrendered lightly: NKVD units, crack, fanatical troops under rigid command, turned the city into a death trap, the streets tangled with spectacular barricades, houses sealed up with firing points.

Quoted from Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad. ISBN 0 297 76877 8, page 370.
There was time to evacuate. Note that Rostov was recaptured again by the Soviets in February 1943.

I suspect there is a typo in the Russian text and that the autumn of 1941 is intended, rather than the given 1942. It isn't easy to be precise over these things. Before examining this further, it should be pointed out that the Absolute USSR Championship of 1941 was completed before the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union. The best known tournament from the war years was the very strong Sverdlovsk (the name of that city has reverted back to  Yekaterinburg) 1943 contest. It cannot be either of those, Sverdlovsk is not near Moscow. It must be another competition. The 1964 Shakhmatny slovar' (i.e. Chess dictionary) contains a bird's eye view of Soviet events provided by I Z Romanov. Those occurring during the Great Patriotic War only include just the year. There is an entry for 1942, this masters' tournament was headed by Bondarevsky (10/14), followed by Petrov on 9½, then a quadruple tie involving lesser figures such as Mikenas, Panov … Later that year the Moscow Championship was won by Smyslov.

Those conspiratorially minded can feed on the non-existence in the famous series of Black Books (i.e. biographical and semi-biographical accounts of masters such as Mikenas, Panov, Kholmov, Ragozin, Lilienthal, Makagonov, Gufeld, …) of a volume about Bondarevsky. Bondarevsky's name doesn't feature as often as one might expect in other chess books. As Voronkov wrote: … talk that the 28 year old grandmaster remained in Rostov on the orders of Soviet intelligence is not without basis …

I should stress that Averbakh makes no such accusation of any association between Bondarevsky and the NKVD in his autobiography.

I should like to thank to Bernard Cafferty for the exchange of ideas on this topic and for looking up his copy of the 1964 Shakhmatny slovar' on my account.

Reverting back to the Budapest 1950 Candidates, which was won jointly by Boleslavsky (not to be confused with Bondarevsky!) and Bronstein.

Chess historians looking for evidence of machinations behind the scenes at the Budapest 1950 Candidates' Tournament will be disappointed. It is well known that Isaac Boleslavsky agreed a quick draw in the last round, which gave David Bronstein the opportunity to come equal first should he overcome Paul Keres, which Bronstein managed. There is a translator's note describing the allegation that this was prearranged by Bronstein's second Boris Vainstein, who was a member of the NKVD. As far as I am aware, the charge of collusion has never been substantiated or shown to be false. If anything, Averbakh, by examining Boleslavsky's character, appears to be hinting that there is nothing to this story. Boleslavsky and Bronstein were and remained firm friends (Bronstein later married Boleslavsky's daughter). Isaac Yefremovich Boleslavsky did not feel hard done by. Should an edition of Averbakh's memoirs come out aimed specifically at the Western reader, then Yuri Lvovich could boost sales by providing accusations of alleged improprieties that are of lesser interest to the Russian intelligentsia.

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