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.

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