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Strong character! Part 1.

Alexander Vassilievich continues to answer questions, shares his invaluable experience of trainer's work and his ideas on chess and one's perfection in it.

- Alexander Vassilievich, the Great Patriotic War was over. What year did you demobilize?

- - I replaced my uniform with civilian clothes in 1946; feeling that it would not be desirable to serve in peace time. I became an officer, that is, a professional soldier, only as a result of the war. And besides it is difficult for a Leningrader to refuse to serve Leningrad! As a result I went to work at the "City Management of Labour Reserves". My post was named the Inspector of Sports Society "Trudovye reservy" and I held it until 1949.

- - What turn in your fate took place in 1949?

- At the end of that year I passed into the Palace of Pioneers named after A.A.Zhdanov where V.G.Zak invited me to work. Vladimir Grigorievich was in the same society "Trudovye Reservy", and among his his pupils were Korchnoi and Spassky! And I knew V.Zak from the pre-war years; we had good relations. By the way, this Society paid a student allowance of about 1200 roubles to Borya Spassky. Its representatives did work on introducing chess into the working public, factory - and - workshop schools, and vocational schools. In the beginning of 1948 together with Zak I went to have a rest in Kemeri, lived in one room of the hotel, and even visited the dining room and saw that table behind which Alekhine played in the famous tournament of 1937. Then instead of Zak I went with Spassky and Korchnoi to Minsk to play at the championship of the Central Council of the "Trudovye Reservy". Viktor played together with me in the adult tournament and Boris played in junior one. At the end of the tournament Spassky shared first and second place, and by winning a further match, he became the winner of the junior event. I managed to win the adult tournament, Muscovite Tshcherbakov took second place, and V.Korchnoi took third. I remember that as the winner I offered some of my prizemoney to the other prizewinners, as otherwise there would have been no other prizes due to the negligence of the local organisers. I believed that the balance would be handed over to me afterwards, however, this never took place... In short, by the end of 1949 Vladimir Grigorievich persuaded me finally to pass from a " bureaucratic" post into a "pedagogical" one. At that time V.S Esterkina and Boris Fyodorovich Saveliev worked there. They conducted the younger groups, V.Zak ran that of the grown-ups. And I came to him to give a helping hand. Then I was still a Candidate Master. V.G. Kirillov came after me to work there, and later V.M. Byvshev. At the beginning of the fifties V.G.Zak decided on the basis of my good results to entrust me with the training of all the young women! Thus, more or less capable girls got to me! All the champions of the city among women of those years were my pupils: Flora Dmitrieva, Lena Bishard, Lyuba Kristol... Other trainers simply had no girls at all! And at the same time I handed over more capable boys to others. So, the promising Andrei Lukin was sent to V.G.Kirillov, and Vladislav Vorotnikov to V.M.Byvshev. At that time I regularly communicated with V.G.Zak in informal conditions and knew the whole Zak family. Therefore I suggested strongly that not only I should be responsible for the girls. Competition should take place; after all, it was for the public benefit! Besides, other trainers had their own directions, their vision of pedagogical process. Zak agreed with this. On this point, when Irina Levitina, future vice-champion of the world, appeared much later under Vassily Mikhailovich Byvshev's guidance, I had no regrets. Yes, I saw how he worked with her. Everything was all right! I remember, he put return checkmate problems, positions from problem-solving circles. And one day I saw a retrograde analysis and she solved it successfully. Well, I thought: "Byvshev has a brain!" And so we all worked. Of course, Zak bore the main burden. As a matter of fact, it was he who organized this club, or more truly, reorganized the chess work of the entire city, formed a methodical association, made people work...

- That is, he was dictatorial?

- Yes, he was, but it was necessary to be so and he knew this. Vladimir Grigorievich was a man of duty. He quarrelled with his colleagues, for example when he learned that they had been late for their work - he was very exacting. He spared neither himself nor others. And as a former officer I understood him well. Somewhere beneath the exterior, however, there was a very mild person. Only I knew this; others thought him to be very dry! Nothing of the kind! A friend and colleague from the trainers' institute, Sergey Khavsky, demobilized at the beginning of the fifties, then having worked as a trainer in the House of Officers he was invited by me into the Palace of Pioneers.

- And when was the sports school of the Olympic reserve organized at the Palace of Pioneers?

- I don't remember precisely but it was at approximately the same time as the Team Championships of the USSR were replaced by the Soviet People's Spartakiads which were carried out simultaneously in twenty-one different sports.

- - How were candidates in groups admitted?

- - At first it was done on their degree of readiness. I'm not sure that this was correct, later we rejected such a method. We conducted sessions of simultaneous games and those who did not play on the first move "at the centre": were sent into district Houses of Pioneers. Then we understood the inefficiency of this method and began to act more individually. Let's say, we estimated the degree of enthusiasm, as they say now, conducted testing, and asked what else they studied... As a rule, I heard answers approximately as follows: "I study language, music, etc"... Such boys had to choose one thing or another at some stage. And the House of Pioneers was recommended for general development. By the way, some far-seeing trainers sent their boys and girls to play in our tournaments. Some tried to study with us and we took them. One such boy, Dima Mikhailov, came out of "a selection" and even played for a combined team of city schoolboys in 1981. But there were also trainers who held on to their pupils, never transferring them. My friend August Livshitz was such a trainer.

- He seems to have worked in the Petrograd district?

- Yes, he did, and then he worked in the Primorsky (Seaside) district. All our problems were solved jointly on the Trainer's Council. Many competitions were carried out in our Palace. Team.

- And were pupils divided by age? Or did they all play together?

- They played all together. There were both negative and positive aspects to this. The young could gather experience faster in such tournaments. For example, the young Spassky gathered his experience in this way. I remember when he played there as the youngest, he ... cried. It was in 1948 when Borya was eleven years old. And there played "uncles" of 17- and 18-years-old with him. Others made their way in chess in this way as well, for example, L.Yudasin.

- Was interest in chess greater or lesser in those far-off times than it is now?

- Then the interest in chess was greater, more tournaments were conducted...

- Do you remember those memorable Games at which the Leningrad junior team won the Gold medals?

- This was in Alma-Ata, 1974. It was necessary for us to beat the Moscow team in the decisive match by at least a score of 5:3 in order to finish level with the Muscovites, and to thereby win first place on tie-break through winning this individual encounter. As is known, in those days we played with adjournments. The match was adjourned after the first session with the score at 3:1 in favour of Moscow. The trainers, on learning this, were initially in low spirits. But all four games were adjourned in better-for-us positions. Having learnt that we had an opportunity to win first place, they began to create a fuss. They brought chocolate to the participants, various drinks...

- And who began this fussing?

- Our officials, the heads of the sports delegation. And then, finishing the games, we won one, then another, then a third: But in the fourth (that of A.Yermolinsky) there arose a drawn rook ending. Though Yermolinsky had an extra pawn, his opponent could reach a draw by playing his king to the short side. Having seen all this, S.V.Khavsky approached M.Yudovich (jun.) and Kimelfeld and began congratulating them on their victory in the Games. But I said that I would not congratulate them while the game was still being played. And then a crisis came about: the Muscovite made a mistake, Alexey won, and we the match with the score we needed. Khavsky shook his hand and said: "You played like Z.Sturua!". Everyone was in "seventh heaven" with happiness. Apart from Yermolinsky, A.Sochagin, A.Yuneev, L.Zamansky, D.Egorov and M.Afinogenova (now Aseeva) played in that star team.

- Is it true that when V.G.Zak went with the team it did not occupy high places?

- No, this is not quite so. They occupied the first and the third places in the Team Championships of the USSR. But boys in his presence felt more stress, and as a result were held back.

- I am sure that you have read G.Sosonko's book "I knew Capablanca".

- Yes, I have.

- He described in detail V.G.Zak's pluses and minuses. Who didn't V.G.Zak and V.M.Byvshev suit each other? Especially since Byvshev was a great authority both as a chess player and as the trainer at that time?

- I think the point was in their characters. They were both very difficult. Besides a front contusion, Vassily Mikhailovich suffered from epileptic attacks. From to time to time it was rather difficult to communicate with him. I went two times with him to competitions of children's Junior Chess Schools of the Ministry of Public Education and took first place there. But I could stand him, and Zak couldn't. At one time they didn't talk to each other. Vassily Mikhailovich held that Zak's pupils were held back.

- And what the actual situation?

- It is difficult to say. Other things being equal, each trainer tries to promote his pupils. Later on at V.G.Zak's request I became the senior trainer, though more truly his deputy.

- Alexander Vassilievich, do you remember the unlucky Games where in order to qualify for the final it was enough for those under your tutorship to lose to the Ukrainian team, moreover with a score 2:6!

Yes, such an episode took place in my work as a trainer. This was in Volgograd, in 1963. We were in the lead in our semi-final group with a big score. The last match was with the team of Ukraine. We - I, with Vassily Mikhailovich, represented the Leningrad team. On that trip he was the second trainer... He was a cautious person, Vassily Mikhailovich. Despite the favorable tournament position of our team he asked me: "Do you think we shall take the two points?" - "Why, Vassily Mikhailovich, you're joking, arent you?" - I countered confidently. - "We'll take two points beyond any doubt!" We were sure of our boys, but the girls needed support. The day before the last round I personally went to prepare our first board Tanya Saranzheva for the game. At that time she was a bronze-medal-winner of the All-Union Girls' championship, but she had to play against the gold-medal winner from the previous year's championship. I had noticed before that her opponent played a risky variation, and I convinced her that she had to use the still poorly-studied at that time variation: 1.e4 c5 2.c3!? And though Tanya was against this - as well she might have been, because she would have to from "a clean page" - I managed to make her change her mind... There began the match ... Before the first hour had passed; T.Saranzheva had caught her opponent neatly and won. We lead 1:0 in a match where it was enough for us to lose 2: 6! Here I would draw a parallel with football. In such a situation football players stop playing well. For example, on one occasion there played "Spartak" Moscow against "Dynamo" Bucharest. They won at home and considered the outcome to have been decided already. And in leaving the city they stopped playing; they simply didn't play! It was the same with us. I saw that when Saranzheva won, the boys began walking around, laughing. It seemed to them that they had reached the final; they were already rubbing their hands with joy. I saw that their play stopped completely. Well, although the trainer can affect such a situation in football, it is known that such prompting in chess cannot be done! In short, Vladik Vorotnikov was offered a draw, and he refused, not wanting a draw, and then let even this slip... A.Lukin stood to win by a direct attack, only to get into time trouble, and then reached a position that was no better than drawn. And then we began losing all the other games in succession. The match was adjourned. A.Lukin didn't manage to win, and we lost two other games in which we stood somewhat worse. As a result, it was defeat with the score 1?:6?. Later on, we lost a match to the RSFSR team 3:5 and we were out of the prize-list. I remember Vassily Mikhailovich saying to me: "Isn't it a dream?" So incredible and unexpected was such a turn of events for all of us. Of course, we 'got it hot' from the officials, but as they say, the thing was done. After a long reflection I came to the conclusion: the boys were being held back. In those times a team going to the Games of the USSR was accompanied by a Komsomol organizer from the city young communist committee, by a physical sports organizer, and there was also a person who, as they say, supervised the team. For us it was the head woman of the Sports Department of the Palace of Pioneers. She personally went around and checked that by eleven o'clock in the evening everyone had gone to bed. Naturally, did not succeed in its objective. Boys have keen feelings after the round, besides it was hot in June in Volgograd... It was stuffy in the room, whether ventilated or not:Though I tried to convince that those in charge that change should take place, I didn't succeed. As a result, the mode of day was observed, but the boys were "burnt out" before the match and this gave the rivals big odds both psychologically and physically. This was the largest failure. But our team was strong, especially the junior one. In 1972 I came to know the particulars of the team of Ukraine in Lvov. On the whole we acted unsuccessfully, reaching the second final only, but I managed to pull them together for this match, and we won it 5:3, though we could even have done so 6:2! I myself prepared every participant personally, having discharged from this task the second trainer N.Novotelnov. I knew opponents well, and convinced the boys that they could win. By the way, the team of Ukraine took the first place in the Games and lost to nobody after our encounter! Only Leningrad won against them! And when I prepared the team for the match, what I'm always proud of and talk about, was that I approached the Komsomol organizer and also the Physical Sports organizer Oleg Maslov and told him: "Neither the second trainer nor you believe that we may win. Our participants are not quite sure, though I prepared them. The team of Ukraine is sure that they will beat us, the arbiters are also sure of that. Ukrainians spectators believe in the victory of their team too. All are against us. Only I know that we can win..."

- What you have told us, Alexander Vassilievich, of course, will be useful for inexperienced trainers in particular. On the whole, however, the team played in Lvov unsuccessfully?

- Yes, you may understand, Natasha Zubova and Lena Belova played on our girls' boards. If Natasha, on the whole, acted well, Lena simply "failed". It appears that she had concussion of the brain shortly before that competition, and V.G.Zak didn't tell me anything about it. He alone conducted the preparations of the team, but it turned out that he himself could not go to Lvov and so and he asked me to go in his place. I supported him always; I understood that he would never ask me without good reason.

Translated by Sergeev V. V. Town of Pushkin.

We are many thanks to Mr.Douglas Griffin, chessfriend from Scotland, U.K., for help in edit of the interview.


На верхupdate 19-03-2005 

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