14 December 2008

Bias in the Soviet School

Watching Kasparov discuss Predecessors IV (see Kasparov (Live!) on Fischer - Gligoric), I was reminded that one of the themes running through Kasparov's Predecessors series is to track the Soviet School through its dominant position in chess. Even volume IV, subtitled 'Stars of the West', addresses this theme. During Kasparov's lecture at the London Chess Centre, his host Malcolm Pein asked him about a passage where Romanovsky wrote critically about Fine.

Kasparov: Let's not forget that Romanovsky had to write bad things about Western players, especially American players, because in the Soviet Union we had to criticize foreigners for being passive, non-creative, non-attacking, and only the Soviet chess style deserved praise. Romanovsky wrote some nasty things about Fine just before the AVRO tournament in Amsterdam. [1938; reads from Predecessors IV (p.33)] 'The Fine-Flohr style is fundamentally alien to the creativity of Soviet masters.'

Pein: Sounds like good, solid propaganda, Garry, but is there any truth in it?

Kasparov: Before the tournament [Romanovsky] said, [reads another passage from the same page, where Romanovsky is not identified as the author] 'Fine's practical play is fundamentally remote from tactical trickery, resourcefulness, and playing for complications. Because of this Fine loses very rarely, but also usually he only wins against masters who play weaker than him.' That was written before the tournament. In the first five rounds of AVRO, Fine scored 4.5, beating Botvinnik in the first round, then beating Euwe, Flohr, and Reshevsky. While writing the book I came up with some statistics. I'm not sure, but I think Fine is the only [non-World Champion] who had a positive score against World Champions. There are some players who had one or two games, but I'm talking about a player who had 25 games against five World Champions and a +3 score, which is quite impressive, when one talks about him only beating 'weak players'.

Kasparov went on to mention that Leonid Stein also had a positive score against World Champions and, speaking of records, that Reshevsky played 11 World Champions and Najdorf played 10.

Kasparov: Reshevsky was a real threat to the Soviet domination. He couldn't win a candidate tournament, but he had some great moments. In 1955, he beat Botvinnik in a four game USSR-USA match in Moscow. In the center of Moscow, in front of Soviet Union officials, he beat Botvinnik 2.5-1.5. That counts for something.

When I finish with Chigorin, whom Kasparov discussed in Predecessors I, I'll come back to his points about Fine, Flohr, and Reshevsky; plus maybe Romanovsky and Stein.

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