17 February 2011

The KGB and the Soviet School

While reading the 'The KGB Plays Chess: The Soviet Secret Police and the Fight for the World Chess Crown' by Boris Gulko, Yuri Felshtinsky, Vladimir Popov, and Viktor Kortschnoi [Korchnoi; Russell Enterprises, 1910], I noted a section of the Foreword by Boris Gulko that well summarized the rest of the book:-

At the heart of this book are the fates of six chess players. Five of them opposed the KGB. All of them attained their goals. [Boris Spassky, Viktor Korchnoi, Garry Kasparov, Boris Gulko, Anya (or Anna) Akhsharumova (Gulko's wife)]. Of course, these victories at times had to paid with years of imprisonment for people who were close to us, with ruined careers and nervous systems, with disappointments in various friends. But victories, as chess players know, must always be paid for.

The sixth major character in this book, Anatoly Karpov, fought on the other side of the barricades. And he, too, was successful. [vs. Korchnoi, vs. Kasparov, vs. the Gulkos] Now, when the leadership of the KGB has partly privatized Russia, Karpov has also received his piece of the pie.

I had to ask myself, 'When did the wonderful promise of the Soviet School of Chess, which achieved such great accomplishments in the royal game, start to sink so low?' In pondering this question, I stumbled on a chronology that is useful for defining its life cycle; the 'Five Stages of Evolution' of the Soviet School:-

  • Pre-Soviet School : before 1917
  • Early Soviet School : 1917 to 1948
  • Mature Soviet School : 1948 to 1972
  • Late Soviet School : 1972 to 1991
  • Post-Soviet School : after 1991

The years should be self-evident to anyone who dabbles in chess history. There is too much in the book that I haven't digested properly, so I'm not ready to comment on it, especially since it possesses obvious faults. In the meantime, here are three reviews by well known chess book reviewers.

Although I don't agree fully with any of these reviews, taken together they offer a comprehensive portrait of the book.

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