Damsky on Bondarevsky

This is a translation of an excerpt from Yakov Damsky's book King Boris the Tenth - Король Борис Деcятый" (Moscow, Ripol Classic, in Russian, 2004). I should like to thank Yakov Zusmanovich for drawing my attention to it and sending it to me. I should also like to thank Bernard Cafferty for his help with the translation and for adding his own comments. Bernard's notes bear the initials BC, my own SSYS.

Simon Spivack – 20th October 2012.

Bondarevsky and collaboration.

From time to time Bondar1 succeeded in this.

So why couldn't Bondarevsky simply discuss with his new ward2 the so-called KGB topic? Yes why? There's no escaping the truth …

Before the war, the not so young -by chess standards– Rostov native Igor Bondarevsky made a steep rise to fame, in those days this was almost unheard of. In 1936 he was still a candidate master, in 1937 - already a participant in the All-Union championship, and by 1940 - USSR champion: ahead of Smyslov, Keres, by now a Soviet grandmaster, and world title candidate Botvinnik. It's true that Mikhail Moiseyevich was a little perturbed (he himself said that he was scathing about it3), and in the spring of 1941 there arose the uniquely absurd tournament for the Absolute Championship, which had a superb field; but what sort of chess tournament could there be without weight categories??!! Naturally, at this point, everything turned topsy turvy – but now for … the rumour. When, in November 1941, on the 153rd day of the war, the Germans, for the first time, entered Rostov, they learnt that in the city was the chess champion of the Soviet Union. A week later the troops of Field Marshal Von Runstedt were expelled from the city, but Bondarevsky had already left Rostov. And soon there were posters announcing lectures and simultaneous games, they appeared in the capitals of Hungary and Romania, allies of Hitlerite Germany.4

In Bucharest, Bondarevsky also played a short match against the Romanian army medical officer Octavio Troianescu, the strongest chess player, it would seem, of Romania. He was an international master from the time the title was first recognised by FIDE5. Several games against Troianescu were soon published in the magazine Revista Romana de Sah … Needless to say, the Soviet grandmaster played more strongly …

Then the Fascists again grabbed Rostov. After about half a year they were finally expelled, and having come back from his foreign tour, the grandmaster, by a twist of fate, was imprisoned not far from the present city chess club. Collaboration with the invaders - the typical formulaic accusation guaranteed, in those severe years, a stint of a tenner up to a pony6 - that is from 10 to 25 years in Magadan, Kolyma, the Far North, Vologda and other popular seats of Stalin's Gulag; tens of thousands went there, people who hadn't collaborated, but simply remained in the occupied territories - and it applied to both Ukraine and Belarus, and the Baltic states. And a good half of European Russia.

Bondarevsky's term seems light … a few days! If there are any records of interrogations, documents in the top secret archives of the NKVD or Smersh, then no chess player has seen them. Only Igor Zakharovich was released, and he was suspected of establishing contacts with the so-called organs7 either pre-war or during the war. Some were - Bronstein in particular - forthright, but he only whispered his suspicions within his closest circle.

Anyway, Bondarevsky moved to Moscow and his influence on the chess life of the country suddenly increased enormously. In 1945 he received a personal invitation to take part in the USSR Championship: Paul Keres, who had merely played in events in occupied countries, was held in suspense by the authorities, and his fate – and not only his chess destiny – hung by a thread8. Then Igor Zakharovich was honoured with the master of sports title, became fully engaged in the process of our chess federation joining FIDE and in the organisation of the match-tournament for the world championship. He was a member of the chess delegations sent to both the Netherlands and Switzerland, and wherever. He didn't especially conceal his sincere hatred against Jews; and in a very timely manner: anti-Semitism became a state policy of Soviet power. Running ahead of things, some portion of these feelings passed over to Spassky, in the course of a decade of close relations, who definitely did not have them in his Leningrad childhood years. Yes, yes, we are not always fully formed as adults by our childhood … However, it was quite natural that Spassky did not agree with this:

The fact is that our chess world is constructed in the style of the toy world, only on the monarchical principle, the principle of natural selection. We have a king, we have the challengers, we have knights: the masters and grandmasters. We have our parliament. So-called public opinion, the press and, of course, ordinary fans. Here is our realm, and it has no boundaries, for those who play make up the kingdom. And the system of administration. And if you're the king of chess, then you are called to the kingdom …

1 Bondarevsky, note that Bondar is a slur, hinting that he was a collaborator – SSYS.
2 Spassky – SSYS.
3i.e. Bondarevsky playing Alexander Alekhine for the world title – BC.
4Posters normally announce events or performances in the locality, not in another country. How could a chess fan in Budapest get to watch a simultaneous in Russia? - BC.
5i.e. from 1949 – BC.
6A tenner up to a pony is Cockney slang for ten pounds sterling up to twenty-five. The Russian literally says a chervontsa up to a chetvertaka. These were Czarist era coins of varying values, here ten roubles up to twenty-five. The Russian doesn't include an equivalent to stint, I wanted to make the meaning more obvious – SSYS.
7i.e. the secret police – BC.
8It is recorded elsewhere that Keres was banned from the first post-war USSR Championship, as well as from Groningen 1946. Estonian Communist Party members interceded for him, as did Botvinnik – BC.

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