Kindred’s Special: Is There a Justice from Evil in Chess Afterall?

Lots of stories exist about the evils of communism and its encroachment into the lives and events of some of the world’s great tournaments and players.  It is sad that dirty politics play such a role in the history of chess.  The culprits are not so much the chess personages as those who were cultivated into a system that can only be described as pure evil–evil intent, evil corruption, evil for just being evil.  The former USSR had developed a very rich and deep seeded love for the game of chess.  The politicos at every level of soviet society from schools to the working class and military existed within a framework of suspicion and intrigue.  While they espoused the highest ideals for those within the various social fabric of life, there was an underlying control that the government waged that effected every class and included the elite of the supreme soviet sport of which chess was but one.  The writings of some of the great players presented an undertone of that fear because even the walls, thin as they often were, gave ear to those willing to find favor by reporting those who could be marked as suspect for propaganda purposes and perhaps favoritism from party hacks.

President Reagan called the Soviet Union–the Evil Empire.  He believed in telling the truth .  Yet there were those in American life who feared stepping on the toes of the communist ideology as well as upon the very imprisonment of varied national populations.  I speak not of physical imprisonment but rather the sheer elimination of individual liberty and thought.  I think it hard for Americans to fully understand the horrid conditions under which the Soviet Peoples among the various satellites had to endure.  It was essential for communism to exist through the use of fear and re-education of soviet life.  Many national governments were taken in by the propaganda until the evidence was made clear that the Soviets had spy rings set up in many countries which included the United States.

When GM Botvinnik won the world championship in 1948 it was largely due to the lopsided score against GM Paul Keres.  It was the often near misses of subsequent qualifying events that brought rumors of Soviet coercion because Keres was Estonian and the Soviets wanted total Russian supremacy of its beloved sport. Years later after Keres returned home from a successful Canadian trip and tournament win, he suffered a heart attack and died.  Korchnoi claimed he suffered it from stress because he had participated against the wishes of the Soviet Sport authorities and knew he would have to answer for such disobedience.

GM Boris Spassky likewise was chastised when returning from losing the title to Fischer in 1972.  The soviet officials told him to return home using Fischer’s antics as excuse with Spassky leading after just a few games.  Spassky was a fighter and great sportsman and refused.  The Soviets were furious.  Spassky found a home in France after being virtually expelled from Soviet life.  He probably blessed them for kicking him out.  And what happened to another Estonian who was Spassky’s second, Ivo Nei was sent home in the middle of the match due to supposed illness.  This seems to be a communist tactic to punish dissidents.

Bobby Fischer accused the Russians of rigging games by having their leading players (Keres, Petrosian and Geller) in the interzonal draw each other while fighting to beat Fischer.  Geller had a lifetime plus of 4-1 it seems I recall against Fischer and Spassky also had a plus score against Fischer prior to his losing the world title to Fischer. Fischer was outspoken, never mind the social conduct expected of participants.  Fischer exposed this in a Sports Illustrated article.  As a result the Soviets caused a change to a match type selection which replaced the tournament idea and the FIDE forced the Russian players to play each other in the early going to avoid any hint of corrupt and unsportsmanlike behavior.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, many top players were granted freedom to travel and play in international tournaments.  A host of strong players emigrated to other countries, many creating a new popularity for chess as coaches and national figures competing for their adopted countries in the Olympiads.

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