Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The KGB Plays Chess:The Soviet Secret Police and the Fight for the World Chess Crown by Boris Gulko & others

     For me this was an interesting read. It reveals behind the scenes material you won't find in the usual chess books. It’s the story of the KGB against chess players Viktor Korchnoi, Boris Spassky, Boris Gulko and Garry Kasparov who were pressured, blackmailed and persecuted.
     A unique concept is that the perspective is from both sides. To quote the Amazon blurb: The victim and the persecutor, the hunted and the hunter, all describe in their own words the very same events…Former KGB Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Popov, who left Russia in 1996 and now lives in Canada, was one of those who had worked all his life for the KGB and was responsible for the sport sector of the USSR. It is only now for the first time that he has decided to tell the reader his story of the KGB's involvement in Soviet Sports.
     I have to admit that I skipped over most of the book that was written by former KGB agents though because I didn’t find it very interesting…boring actually.
     I have read brief snippets about Soviet players, the KGB and chess politics in the Soviet Union, but this book was an eye-opening expose. I knew the Soviet government went to great lengths to keep Botvinnik on the chess throne, but did not realize how far they actually went to keep Karpov on top. 
     It can be a bit confusing to read the same facts from different points of view in different sections of the book though. It sometimes made it a little difficult to keep things in perspective, but that’s a minor quibble.
     By now everyone probably knows about Karpov's involvement with the KGB and Soviet government and his willingness to do anything to keep his World Championship. Karpov's influence quite possibly could have saved Gulko and Korchnoi a lot of grief, but he wasn’t willing to offer any help. The main story however revolves around GM Boris Gulko and his wife and their attempt to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel. There’s also Korchnoi’s story in his own words, but Korchnoi is not a nice man and it’s sometimes hard to empathize with him.
     Bottom line: I enjoyed the book and there is no buyer's remorse over the $18 I paid for it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dover Chess Books

I am proud to announce that this site is now associated with Dover Publications! Many of the chess books in my library are by Dover; I like them because Dover books hold up well, cover a wide variety of subjects and, best of all, they are reasonably priced. Check out their books using the link on the left.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Chess Books for Kindle

Botvinnik: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala


Botvinnik’s classic One Hundred Selected Games was one of the first chess books I ever really read and, in fact, wore the cover off of it. Botvinnik, along with Reshevsky, was my early chess hero. Add that to the fact that game collections and tournament books have always been my favorite type of chess book so Cyrus Lakdawala’s Botvinnik: Move by Move was a book I couldn’t resist purchasing when I came across it last week.
     Botvinnik was a fascinating individual. He played the communist game to the hilt and as such was a man who was respected for his chess ability but he was also feared by his peers because of his power. He was not above using his influence with communists party leaders to advance his own career and discredit certain of his opponents. I know David Bronstein had little use for Botvinnik. In his “other” professional life he spent many years attempting without success to create a computer program that played strong chess.
     This book is Lakdawala fourth in the “Move by Move” series: Capablanca, Kramnik and Korchnoi being the others. In his play Botvinnik emphasized logic and strategy and Lakdawala illustrates Botvinnik’s skill in the areas of attack, defense, dynamics, exploiting imbalances, accumulating advantages, and the ending. The sixty games contain notes which include questions and answers in the analysis. One thing I personally didn’t care for was Lakdawala’s attempt at humor in the notes though; something Botvinnik would never have approved of. While the title is somewhat misleading (move-by-move analysis it is not, sometimes making the annotations appear rather sparse) it’s the games themselves that count. Also, Lakdawaka’s notes sometimes do nothing more than point out the obvious, at least one is not bogged down with reams of computer generated analysis.
     The book is also available in the Kindle version. Recommend for all players of all strengths.