Mikhail Botvinnik: The Life and Games of a World Chess Champion

Mikhail Botvinnik: The Life and Games of a World Chess Champion

Andrew Soltis has written another fine book.

There are about a hundred annotated games taken from all stages of Botvinnik’s career, but Soltis devotes just as much space to his life and a consideration of his personality. We learn some things about him that we did not know but might well have guessed. For example, that he did his own ironing and was a demon declutterer.  He had no qualms about throwing things away if he hadn’t used them for a period of years, reasoning that he didn’t really need them. ‘He couldn’t abide disorder,’ says his daughter. ‘His home had to be clean and everything in its place.’

One of Botvinnik’s chief characteristics, we learn, was a habit of creating rules for himself, in chess and in life. Soltis sees at least some of these rules as narrow-minded or misguided, maybe even authoritarian. For example, he believed that children should learn to play chess at 12; that was the best age because that’s when he learnt the game. This clashed with the considered opinion of Vladimir Zak, an experienced junior chess coach, who settled on 8 or 9 as the ideal age. Granted, certain of his rules were limiting. Others, though, were highly effective, allowing him to act with a focus and clarity of purpose that other, perhaps more talented players – Keres, Bronstein, Smyslov – lacked. And, certainly, his achievements – world champion for 13 years or so; founder of a chess school that produced Karpov, Kasparov and Kramnik, amongst others; a prolific, first-class author and analyst; a pioneer of computer chess – dwarf theirs. I would compare Botvinnik’s ‘rules’ with Gerd Gigerenzer’s heuristic-based approach to decision making (e.g. as set out in his recent book Risk Savvy); they’re one of the secrets of his success.

There is one story in the book which shows Botvinnik at his best, a man of iron integrity. During the Terror, Sergei Kaminer, an endgame composer and a friend of Botvinnik’s from their schooldays, suspected (quite rightly) that he would soon be arrested. So he entrusted a folder of his studies to Botvinnik, who kept it safe for over 40 years. They were eventually published in 1981.

Andrew Soltis’s book makes you aware of Botvinnik’s many achievements and gives you a good sense of his life and times. The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.


Book Details

Mikhail Botvinnik: The Life and Games of a World Chess Champion

By Andrew Soltis

McFarland, 2014

ISBN: 9780786473373


Dynamic Chess Strategy

Dynamic Chess Strategy

Suba’s book is at once a memoir, a games collection and an innovative and intriguing re-engineering of chess strategy.

The author writes about his life as a chess professional, and in particular about living and surviving in Romania during the communist period. It makes for a fascinating read, does this aspect of the book. There is also chess and among the 36 games there are victories over Kortchnoi, Larsen, Portisch and others. In general these are strategic games with lots of flank openings on show, not least Suba’s beloved Hedgehog. One of my favourite quotes from the book concerns the wily woodland creature:

I like to play it from both sides; as White you must always introduce some new tricks because over the years the Hedgehog has proved to be rock-solid. Playing it as Black gives more satisfaction – it’s like defending truth, justice and the poor simultaneously.

When tactics do occur in Suba’s games, they are quite often strikingly original – as, for example, the rook sacrifice in one of the two victories over Timman (game 15) and the move 19…Bh3!! in the brilliant win against Ward (game 36). Perhaps this is a consequence of his unique approach to strategy and, taken on their own, some may find Suba’s thoughts on strategy to be abstract and even arid. Chapter 4, for example, consists of 13 pages of solid prose with only three chess diagrams in sight. But link these thoughts with the given games and they come alive. Also, the strategic reflections in the notes are unfailingly interesting. One admirable aspect of the book, to my mind, is the way Suba links strategy to psychology: the objective (or ‘inter-subjective’?) with the subjective. I think this is necessary in a game like chess: both strategy and psychology impact on decision-making, ours and our opponent’s, and so influence the outcome of a game.

As well as the games, there are 17 or so quiz positions with solutions and explanations.

All in all, Dynamic Chess Strategy is a thought-provoking read. It radiates intelligence, humour and integrity.

The author recommends his book for players with an ELO rating of above 1900, but lower rated players could likely get a lot out of it as well, I feel. Very highly recommended indeed.


Book Details

Dynamic Chess Strategy: An Extended & Updated Edition

By Mihai Suba

New In Chess, 2010

ISBN: 9789056913250