Sunday, 28 October 2012

Averbakh 22: The Sports Committee and the Chess Section.

Inevitably, the same family names crop up over and over again. This can lead to confusion. On page 144 Averbakh informs his readers that Serov was the Chairman of the All-Union Chess Section. The grandmaster's words are: Serov, a Communist Party official. He is discussed further on pages 152-3. This was Alexey Kapitonovich Serov (1918 – 93), a former assistant to Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party and de facto ruler of the Soviet Union until his ousting in 1964. This shift in power could have made Serov seem vulnerable, even four years later. This bureaucrat should not be confused with the mass murderer Ivan Aleksandrovich Serov (a Chekhist general notorious for his roles in the Ukraine famine and post-war deportation from Checheno-Ingushetia) or the artist Vladimir Serov.

The English text on page 153 should have included a note as to what was meant by People's Control Committee. The People's Control Committee's, a successor to Rabkrin (The People's Commissariat of Workers' and Peasants' Inspection), function was to root out bureaucracy and red tape in all Soviet institutions. Its first head was Stalin and it was useful as a tool for him when seeking to obtain absolute power in the 1920s.

The one name of a leader of the chess section that has defeated me is Postnikov. I did find one article; however, its author stated that Beria ran the Soviet Union in Stalin's twilight years, an interpretation of history I do not subscribe to. For what it's worth, he called Postnikov an old Stalinist, which could well be true, but I'd prefer a higher standard of proof. None of my books, apart from Averbakh's, revealed anything. I spent hours trawling the Internet (I tried various permutations of Постников спорта Дмитрий Васильевич шахмат) in this futile search. As stated in previous blog entries, this result is unsurprising.

Far easier to provide an account of is Yuri D. Mashin (1932 – 2006). Note that there is a spelling error on page 51, not Mishin, Mashin. Mashin took over the Sports Committee in 1962. I do wonder whether that had anything to do with Averbakh being preferred to lead the Soviet delegation for the Curaçao 1962 Candidates tournament. Mashin's tenure as chairman of the Sports Committee lasted until 1968. As one can see from his birth year, he took over this comparatively senior position at a fairly young age. On the Internet is a speech given by him in Moscow at the fifty-ninth session of the Olympic Committee. It is available here. A brief Russian language obituary is available here. It can also be found here.

Mashin's predecessor Nikolay Nikolayevich Romanov (1913-1999) is also mentioned in the book. This Russian language article doesn't add much to Averbakh's account. According to this article he liked to smoke nearly three packets of cigarettes a day before giving up on doctor's orders. A brief, Russian language, notice, together with a photo of his grave is available on this page.

Mashin's successor Sergey Pavlovich Pavlov (1929 – 1993) followed the tradition of being a former head of the Komsomol. A Russian language article can be found here. A brief English language account is given here.

Of Sports Committee head Apollonov, Averbakh wrote: Strangely enough, Apollonov loved chess and was a good player, about first category strength. In other words, no one would have been taken aback if Apollonov had known nothing of the game. Arkady Apollonov (1907-1978) was one of those NKVD operatives who was involved in the deportation of the Chechens on Stalin's orders in the mid-1940s. There is a Russian language chronology of his life available here. Note that he was awarded a medal for his treatment of the Chechens (a crime against humanity. One reason this operation went smoothly {sic, not a few died en route} is that many women, children and old people were forcibly removed. The menfolk were in the Red Army fighting the Nazis.) and other groups. That page mentions his involvement in fighting against the OUN (the Organisation of Ukrainian nationalists) at the fag end of WWII, that conflict lasted into the 1950s. From what I can recall reading, Apollonov lacked the vile reputation of Ivan Aleksandrovich Serov, that could be ignorance on my part.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Averbakh 21: World Defence Committee.

On page 126 whilst discussing Living Chess Averbakh relates:

Most of the money from selling tickets went to the World Defence Fund, and this gave chess a political significance, and it was well looked upon by the authorities.

I am not convinced that all readers would recognise the words World Defence Fund. There should have been a note. The Russian is Комитета защиты мира. That would probably be better translated as World Peace Committee. The Soviet Union's World Peace Committee was established in 1949, it was a member of the World Peace Council, also established in 1949. The latter has a website here. It is a non-governmental member of the United Nations. Its aims include the elimination of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as a reduction in conventional arms stocks. Its first president was the physicist Frédéric Joliot-Curie of France.

Rapid collectivisation (i.e. the elimination of private ownership of farms and so forth) was a reality of the tightening of Stalin's grip in 1948 on eastern Europe. The dictator at that time did not feel secure in the recent aggrandisement of his empire: for there was no Soviet nuclear bomb until August 1949. Given Stalin's paranoid nature, an international body devoted to world peace was useful as a means of discouraging a pre-emptive nuclear strike from the USA, regardless of whether the Americans intended to do such a thing or not.

Averbakh's words as to the political significance of the money going to the World Peace Committee are well chosen.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Bondarevsky and collaboration.

This subject was first discussed in my post of 24th September. It is possible to clarify matters a little, thanks to Yakov Zusmanovich of California, who was kind enough to email me an extract from Yakov Damsky's book King Boris the Tenth - Король Борис Деcятый" (Moscow, Ripol Classic, in Russian, 2004). In it Damsky discusses the case of Bondarevsky. Many readers will be aware that Zusmanovich and Voronkov are writing a Russian language account of the life of Fyodor Bohatirchuk, who, together with Peter Romanovsky, won the Soviet chess championship in 1927.

Here is the extract:

A translation is available here.

It appears that Bondarevsky, following the first capture of Rostov in November 1941, ended up playing in Hungary and Romania in 1942. Given that Bondarevsky also played in a masters' tournament in Moscow that year, he must have escaped east before the second recapture of Rostov in February 1943. Thus his detention took place well after his return to the Soviets. Did somebody denounce him? Did someone in the NKVD see a copy of a chess magazine published in Romania or Hungary during wartime?

It would be useful to see the germane copy of the Romanian magazine Revista Romana de Sah to clarify matters. Equally handy would be sight of Bondarevsky's NKVD file, although whether that ever sees the light of day is problematic. Putin's Russia has been cracking down on bodies such as Pamyat’ (Memory, Memorial or Monument), the organisation dedicated to recalling the victims of the Georgian tyrant.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Averbakh 20: How many GMs?

One discrepancy, possibly too strong a word, between Averbakh's account and Mikhail Tal's recollection can be found on page 112 of the English edition. Averbakh relates how the grandmaster title was awarded to the then USSR champion Mikhail Tal in exchange for also awarding it to the then US champion Arthur Bisguier.

On page 63 of The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal (first English edition, RHM Press, US; Pitman, UK. ISBNs: 0 89058 0278, RHM; 273 014 90 3 Pitman), Mikhail Nekhemievich wrote:

During the championship of Europe a FIDE Congress was held, and our Federation proposed me for the title of International Grandmaster … I was 'exchanged' for L. Evans and A. Bisguier.

I've checked the Russian text of Averbakh's memoirs. There is no mention of Evans. Many years ago I had a conversation with the late Bob Wade about this deal. Unfortunately, he could not remember anything about it.

Tal was awarded the title in 1957; the same is true of the two Americans.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Averbakh 19: Byasha's poem.

In my introductory post, I mentioned that I couldn't come up with satisfactory rendition of Glazkov's poem dedicated to Averbakh's poodle Byasha. This comes up on page 152 of the English edition of Averbakh's book. I tried rhyming couplets, first as pentameters, then tetrameters; sometimes iambic, other times not.

One can't translate poems, one hears this all the time. Yet, the attempts are made and books written. I was ticked off by a friend for mutating As I was when twenty-five … in my first post to And what I was when agéd twenty-five. Nonetheless, my rendering followed the original rhyme scheme aabb ccbb ddbb bbcc eeff, used pentameters and was iambic. The slight loss of accuracy seemed insignificant. However, this time I admit to being beaten.

The following follows no scheme. I won't cop out and call this free verse.

At grandmaster Averbakh's
Resides his dog,
Which sits nearby on its haunches,
And is treated to the finest sugar:
The discussion of chess battles,
Of beautiful openings' moves,
Endgame discoveries,
Of studies and three-movers.
And the dog understands it all,
It just doesn't play chess!

And the Russian original?

У гроссмейстера Авербаха
Проживает в доме собака,
Он сажает ее с собой рядом,
Угощает ее рафинадом,
Рассказывает о шахматных битвах,
О красивых ходах самобытных,
О концовках и находках,
Об этюдах и трехходовках.
И собака все понимает,
Только в шахматы не играет!

I offer this as a challenge to my readers. Can you do better? Should a non-chess player wish to try, a three-mover is a technical term. It is largely self-explanatory, a task must be completed in three moves; for instance, White to play and mate in three. There is an impishness in the Russian, which it is useful to try and emulate too.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Averbakh 18: Russian geography.

Paris? Yes that's in Texas, a venturesome American might say to a Britisher. He might even be understood. However, the number of English speaking Westerners who could correctly locate Sovetsk (spelt, uncommonly, Sovietsk on page 93 in the book) is rather more modest. I'm not certain that many readers of the campaigns of Napoleon would do any better. Yet, tell them that it was once called Tilsit and recognition dawns: it's in East Prussia, where the emperors Alexander and Napoleon made peace in 1807 they would say. They might tell of Napoleon's victory at Friedland, which persuaded the Czar to become an ally. They might further relate it to Napoleon's first significant check on land at Preussisch-Eylau, earlier that very year. But there is no note in the book to guide anyone. Even the prosaic it's on the Baltic coast in the Kaliningrad enclave would have helped. Although not everyone knows that Kaliningrad was once Koenigsberg: a very important town in the history of Prussia, where the estates of East Prussia met and raised the banner of rebellion against Napoleon at the beginning of 1813. Thus can one make sense of Averbakh's comment about a ship to Sovetsk in the context of his military service.

As an inhabitant since birth of Cobbett's Great Wen (London), I can recall when the then IM Sergio Mariotti left the land of his forfathers, rather than be subject to an absurd law of conscription, I was about twelve years of age. My recollection is that he was set the senseless chore by the Italian military, for a chess master, of peeling potatoes (a less than spellbinding task; one, I suppose, that even a US Republican Party supporter would quail in horror of). Quite a few, to avoid such a fate, trod the road from Italy to London. In the Soviet Union, it wasn't so easy for Lieutenant Averbakh to skip what he should never have had to endure in his thirties in peacetime. But the account on page 94 is not quite right, had the initials VMF been explained, that they stand for Военно-морской флот (the Russian letter В corresponds to the English V, the м to M and the ф to F), literally the military-sea fleet i.e. the Navy, then the English reader would have known that something was rotten in the sentence: Senior Lieutenant Averbakh to be sent to take command of VMF in Moscow. Preferable, possibly, is: Engineering Lieutenant Yu. L. Averbakh to be sent to naval headquarters in Moscow. The Russian reads: Направить инженера-старшего лейтенанта Авербаха Ю. Л. в распоряжение командования ВМФ в Москву.

The absence of strict editing by the publisher has resulted in further inconsistencies of explanation. On page 44 the reader is told that Izhevsk is in the western Urals, which is correct. But then why isn't he also informed as to the location of Murom? I'd have also reported where Vladimir is, although I can more readily understand an omission in that instance. I can recall two towns called, in English, Murom, there may be more; one is north-east of Kharkov (Ukraine), roughly equidistant on a triangle whose other vertices are Kharkov and Belgorod, one can infer from the context (… Vladimir, and then on to Murom) that that is not the town, rather the Murom under discussion is in Vladimir Oblast (province). The principality of Vladimir-Suzdal may be famous in Russian history, as one of the successor states to Kievan Rus; however, I have my doubts that many English speaking chess players interested in Russian chess history can do more than, perhaps, name Alexander Nevsky (considered a saviour of the Russian nation and, accordingly, canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church). The associations are all there to a Russian chess player; a foreigner needs help, he would not relate to Prokofiev,  Eisenstein and the famous film sequence The Battle of the Ice, which is about fifty-three minutes into the motion picture Alexander Nevsky (regrettably the sound quality is poor), from which one can see and hear how many of the ideas contained therein have been filched by generations of Hollywood producers and composers. He would have to have pointed out the design of the helmets of the crusading Livonian knights, for it was no coincidence that they were similar to those worn by the Kaiser's men during World War One. Indeed, Alexander Nevsky was used for propaganda purposes throughout the Great Patriotic War. At the very least the book should have included a publisher's note that Vladimir is some 120 miles east of Moscow, and Murom roughly seventy miles south-east of Vladimir. The very name Murom is testimony to the existence of Finnic tribes in northern and central Russia. Modern Russians are, amongst other things, an admixture of Finnic and Slavic tribes.

Tushino, given on page 149, is now part of Moscow, in the north. Previously, it was classified as a separate town. The name may be recognised as the haven of the second False Dmitri in the Time of Troubles, the interregnum between the death Fyodor I, the son of Ivan IV (The Terrible), and the ascension of Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov in 1613.

On page 140 Staraya Ploschad, more commonly spelt Staraya Ploshchad, is not explained in the sentence I was suddenly summoned to Staraya Ploschad, to see comrade F. Mulikov of the Sports Section. Staraya Ploshchad (Old Square) is about a mile from the Kremlin, it is often a figure of speech, in Soviet times to be summoned to Staraya Ploshchad meant to be summoned to see Soviet officialdom. The Communist Party archives were kept there. Mulikov actually worked for Agitprop, the Agitation and Propaganda Department. Many Soviet organisations had this section. Thus the discussion about abstractness in chess would have been in his proper sphere, absurd though it is in Western eyes. As usual, is is doubtful whether this bureaucrat played chess seriously.

The editor should have included a footnote on page 150, where the account turns to Vladimir Pavlovich Simagin; he should have indicated that Kislovodsk is in the North Caucasus and, moreover, it is the birthplace of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

The shortage of time in which to check things led to uncalled for complications. On page 165, the English text reads … at the beginning of 1972 I was sent to Pakhru, … I believe this is the Pakhra River, which is a tributary of the Moskva River. The Russian text reads:

Я забыл сказать, что еще в конце 60-х годов меня назначили председателем тренерского совета федерации и в начале 1972 года отправили в Пахру, где проходил тренировочный сбор Бориса, что бы посмотреть, как идет подготовка.

Pakhru is a closer rendition of the correct pronunciation for a native English speaker, however, Pakhra is the commoner spelling in English. The country near the river is a destination for tourists, it is convenient for Muscovites. As an aside, there is a mild rebuke administered to Spassky for not trying harder in his preparation for the match against Fischer. The image of a proffered bottle of whisky certainly is a lackadaisical one. The Russian text used is виски, which could be Scotch whisky, as given in the translation, or North American, Isle of Man, Japanese, Irish or Lord knows what else whiskey. Given we are talking of Spassky, I suspect it was whisky. The Scottish distillers have sued and will sue any non-Scottish rival who omits the letter e!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Averbakh 17: Outside the world of chess.

Trickling down the pages, in ones and twos, sometimes more, are the names of many whose involvement with chess was at best tangential: few are identified. It can be that little is in the public domain. An all too common problem when researching individual Soviets. Even the life histories of relatively prominent men can be largely obliterated. For instance, David Glantz (page 130, Kharkov 1942, ISBN 978-0-7110-3468-6) quotes Marshall Bagramyan's biography of an army group commander:

Maj-Gen Leonid Vasilyevich Bobkin (birthplace unknown) joined the Red Guard in 1917 and later served during the Civil War, where he earned the Order of the Red Banner. A cavalry officer, during 1924 and 1925 he served with G.K. Zhukov, K.K. Rokossovsky, A.I. Yeremenko and Bagramyan at the Higher Cavalry School in Leningrad. There, and subsequently, he proved to be a skilled commander and expert in cavalry tactics. In May 1942 he was Assistant Commander of South-Western Front forces for cavalry. In this capacity Timoshenko tasked him with organising and leading the specially formed Army Group.

The commander of the 38th Army at that time, Lt-Gen K.S. Moshkalenko, endorsed this assessment of Bobkin's abilities: an extremely capable, skilful and energetic commander.

To remove all doubt, Bobkin's name does not pop up in Centre-Stage.

On page 119 Averbakh tells of a battle between Armenians and Georgians when the music of Babadzhanian was played over and over again. Probably many readers will know that there are many rivalries in the Caucasus, thus both nations, despite practising distinct forms of Christianity, have traditionally had troubled relations. Something that Moscow has been able to exploit in the past. Incidentally, Bagramyan, briefly mentioned above, notwithstanding his status as a hero of the Great Patriotic War, was ethnically Armenian, something his name so indicates. Similarly, Prince Bagration, a Russian hero from the campaign of 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia, was a Georgian prince.

Arno Harutyuni Babadzhanian (1921 – 1983) was a notable composer and pianist. Born in Yerevan, he studied composition at its Conservatory, graduating in 1947. He moved to the Moscow Conservatory from which he graduated in 1948. In 1950 he became a faculty member at Yerevan Conservatory. His Piano Trio, with its strong national overtones, won a USSR State Prize in 1953.

There is no note on page 120 about Vakhtang Mikhaylovich Chabukiani (1910 – 1992). Dancer, choreographer and teacher, he first studied ballet in Tbilisi, before moving to Leningrad Ballet School (the School was founded at the same time as the Maryinsky Ballet, it has been known successively as the Imperial Theatre School, the St. Petersburg, the Petrograd State Ballet School, the Leningrad Ballet School and from 1957 as the Vaganova School) from which he graduated in 1929. He then became a leading soloist at the Kirov (as the Maryinsky Ballet was then known. There has been much debate as to whether Sergey Mironovich Kirov was murdered in 1934 on Stalin's orders.) until 1941, during which time he developed a broad repertoire and became known for his magnificent technique, particularly for his heroic style and great leaps. He was one of the first Soviet dancers to visit the United States (1934). Moving to Georgia in 1941, he served as the principal choreographer and teacher of the Paliashvili Theatre of Opera and Ballet (an online history is available at the official site) until 1973, as well as other arts establishments within Georgia.

On page 125 Ivan Kozlovsky enters the narrative, The Soviet Union, a biographical dictionary gives:
Ivan Semenovich Kozlovsky (born 1900) Tenor. Ivan Kozlovsky was born in the village of Mar'yanovka. Of humble origins, he studied under Yelena Murav'eva at the Kiev Institute of Music and Drama (1917-19), after which he served in the Red Army for the following five years. In 1924 he became a soloist with the Khar'kov Opera Theatre, joining the Sverdlovsk Theatre in 1925. From 1926 to 1954 he was attached to the Bol'shoy, where his lyrical tenor voice with its appealing timbre was highly esteemed. He was made a People's Artist in 1940 and is the recipient of several State Prizes.

Worth recording is that Mar'yanovka is a village of some antiquity, in Kiev Oblast. Kozlovsky passed away in 1993. There are videos dedicated to him on YouTube, I enjoyed  listening to them. According to this web page there is a bust dedicated to his memory in Kiev. As an aside, Sverdlovsk has reverted to its earlier name of Yekaterinburg.

Also mentioned in that same sentence is Igor Ilyinsky. The Biographical Dictionary yields: Igor Vladimirovich Il'insky (1901-1987) Actor. Il'insky was an enormously popular comic actor of stage and screen. He began his career in Foregger's Theatre of the Four Masks in 1918 appearing in French farces and worked in the Meyerhold Theatre from 1920 to 1935, acting in Meyerhold's productions of Verhaeren's 'The dawn' (1920), Mayakovsky's 'Mystery-bouffe' (1921), and Ostrovky's 'The Forest' (1924). He later worked in the Moscow Malyy Theatre. His first film role was the detective in Protazanov's 'Aelita' (1924) and he subsequently played with great success in 'The Cigarette Girl from Mosselprom' (1924), 'The Tailor from Torzhok' (1925), 'The Three Millions Trial' and 'Miss Mend' (both 1926), 'The Kiss of Mary Pickford (1927) and 'The Feast of St Jürgen' (1930). One of his greatest film roles was his portrayal of the bureaucrat Byvalov in Alexandrov's 'Volga-Volga' (1938).

Unknown to me prior to reading Averbakh was Artur Arturovich Eisen (1927 – 2008). I couldn't find his name in any book of mine. There is a web page here, it appears to have been written by one of his children. It says that he sang the role of Don Basilio in The Barber of Seville. From which I conclude that he was a bass opera singer. Another web page, which is consistent with the first is here. This second looks inaccurate to me, it states that he was born into a family of Latvian nationalists. The noun nationalist is a loaded word, it seems incongruous for a Soviet singer. The first text prefers revolutionary, which is likely to be closer to the truth, given the source.

Quickly going through the other names given:

Nikolay Osipovich Ruban (1913 – 1987), another opera singer, he seemed to specialise in lighter roles. This is sourced from this Russian language website, which is credited to his daughter Tatiana Nikolayevich Ruban.

Mark Bernes (1911 – 1969) unlike the previous singers was more of a popular entertainer. He also appeared in Soviet films. Examples of his art can be found on YouTube using the Russian Марк Бернес.

Boris Sergeyevich Brunov (1922 – 1997) was a Soviet actor. He was born in Tbilisi. He was the director of the Moscow Variety Theatre from 1983. There is a Russian language article about him available here. On this page one can see his well maintained, imaginative grave. Also worth reading is this.

Mikhail Naumovich Garkavy (1897 – 1964) was a professional actor and comedian. There is an online article devoted to him (in Russian) available here. First mentioned on page 125 in the English edition of Averbakh's memoirs, a portrait is painted on pages 148-9. Quite amusing is the tale of the simultaneous display (sic) given by Garkavy!

Vadim Svyatoslavovych Sinyavsky (1906-1972) was a radio sports commentator. He briefly attracted attention in the West following some adverse comments about British hospitality in relation to the tour of Britain by Moscow Dynamo in 1946. Sinyavsky had accompanied the footballers. There is a Russian language interview with his daughter available online here. A brief Russian language biography is available here. Apparently he was badly wounded (1942) during the siege of Sevastopol.

Nikolay Ozerov (1922 – 1997) also was a Soviet sports commentator, a very well known one, which he took up when his tennis career ended. He also was an actor at the Moscow Arts Theatre. There is an English language article devoted to him here.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Averbakh 16: Publishing pitfalls.

On page 138 of the English edition part of the text reads: … Comrade Stalin's work Marxism and Linguistics?

The book under discussion is more commonly translated as Marxism and the Problems of Linguistics. Note, however, that this is not obvious from a reading of the Russian title: Марксизм и языкознание.

In 1950 an article in Pravda by Stalin denounced the long dead Professor Marr (1865-1934) and his school of linguistics. The dictator, had he not been convinced of their honesty, would have said that these disciples of the late professor were guilty of wrecking. Even leaving aside the bizarre sight of a country's ruler devoting time to what, for him, was a peripheral matter, the incongruity of the timing has to be marvelled at: North Korea was on the verge of invading the South!

Several careers in linguistics were destroyed as a result of Stalin's words; however, dismissal was fairly minor compared to what could have happened, it does not appear that anyone ended up in the Gulag or suffered death as a consequence of the interest taken by the supreme genius of mankind. An irony is that Marr, when alive, had harried and persecuted fellow linguists. From what I have read, Marr's theories are dismissed today by academics specialising in this subject.

It should be borne in mind that failure to mention Stalin was a serious lapse in judgement. This was the hidden meaning of the challenge Yudovich endured. Note, too, that article 58 of the Soviet code of laws (not to be confused with Stalin's 1936 constitution) prohibited the spreading of anti-Soviet propaganda, a catch-all that could ensnare anyone whose name appeared in print.

The author's humour is brought into play in the Russian, but omitted from the English (page 139). Specifically when discussing Yudovich's watchfulness; При мне умудренный опытом Михаил Михайлович зорко следил, чтобы, не дай Бог, на страницы журнала не проникло ничего крамольного. This has been translated as: In my time, Mikhail Mikhailovich watched carefully to ensure that nothing subversive appeared in the magazine, … The translation of не дай Бог has been omitted. This clause means Heaven forfend or God forbid. Rather unsuitable language for a communist state!