THE LAST VICTORY
The eighth Team Chess Championship of the USSR took place in the end of October
1962. I suppose that some explanations should be made for young readers. There were fifteen republics in the USSR
then, Moscow and Leningrad were regarded to be equal to republics in sport, and, as a
result, Russia as a republic was represented in such events by players from other
There were nine teams in the first league of the Championship, eight in the
second. Two winners of the second league played next year in the first league in place of the two teams from the first league that took the bottom
places. The event was carried out as a round-robin tournament, places to be defined by total
scores. The number of matches won served as an additional showing only. Team composition was as
follows: six men plus one "sliding" reserve player, two women, a boy and a girl under
20. Correspondingly, a match was played at ten boards.
In previous years Moscow won three times (1948, 1958, 1959), chess players of the Russian Republic
(or RSFSR) had two victories (1951 and 1955), as many as Leningrad players had (1953,
1960). The start of the eighth championship made no sensation: the teams of
RSFSR, Moscow and Leningrad broke away from the others, and it was clear that everything should be decided in their matches with each
We played in two places. The rounds were played in a remarkable building on Kriukov channel that was called then
"Palace of Culture named after the First Five-Year-Plan Period". The central match took place on the stage of the theatre
hall, others were played in the lobby on the first floor. The event was worth
seeing. Smyslov, Tal, Keres, Bronschtein, Boleslavski, Geller and many other well-known chess players were among the
participants. Finishes were played in the Chigorin City Chess Club. In those years the time control was 2,5 hours for 40
moves, the games, not finished after 5 hours, had to be postponed and played to the end after a home analysis on specially appointed
In the match Leningrad - RSFSR my opponent was Sanya (Alexander) Zakharov. Now Alexander Ivanovich is known chiefly as the trainer of
E. Kovalevskaya, a strong chess player from Rostov, but then he was one of the strongest juniors who had already become USSR Champion in
1961. I knew him from school tournaments, but it was my first game with him. The struggle was
heavy, as was to be expected. At 9 p. m. the gong rang, and the games were to be
postponed. Sanya wrote down his move, I was busy with my envelope, throwing glances at the board from time to
As I went down from the stage into the empty auditorium that had been full of chess lovers for an
hour, I came right to Igor Zakharovich Bondarevski. I was hoping to here something encouraging from the
trainer. Still, his tone and looks promised no good.
"You could have kept the queens"
"Yes, but I think it is simpler so"
"Young man, do You know the game Capablanca - Lasker?"
"No, I don't", - my answer was as ingenuous as earnest.
"Capablanca proved to be not able to win such an endgame!"
I did not answer. The great names sounded for me then not as magically as they do
"Do You know that we are losing the match?"
"No, I saw nothing, I was busy playing my game."
"Well then. Come to the club tomorrow at eleven, as usual. Study the position and prepare Your
considerations. Goodbye. "
I walked home to Vasilyevski island trying to understand why he should have been so
angry. I scored 3/3 and, besides this game, I had one more postponed position with good winning
prospects. I was in good form, there was time to analyse, and I was going to find a clear
plan. I wanted to get to the board as soon as possible. I did not even think to find the game of the
coryphaei. Only many months after that day I found time to inquire what had alarmed Bondarevski so
In spring 1914 there was an international tournament in St.
Petersburg, the chief subject of which was a duel of the World Champion with the new
challenger. According to the formula of the event they had to play three times with each
other. The first game was a draw, in the second the position after 50 moves looked as
J. R. Capablanca - E. Lasker
As if foreboding his mischief in the third game, Capablanca tried to find a chance during next 50
moves, but Lasker held the equality without any troubles.
51. Ng3 Kg8 52. Ne4 Kf7 53. Bd2 Ra1 54. Bc3 Rf1 55. Nf2 Rc1
56. Bd4 Re1 57. Ne4 Rf1 58. Bf2 Ra1 59. Kf4 Ra4 60. Bc5 Rc4 61. Kf3 Rc1 62.
Bf2 Ra1 63. Kf4 Ra4 64. Kf3 Ra3 65. Be3 Ra5 66. Nc5 Ra1 67. Ne6 Ra3 68.
Ke4 Ra4 69. Bd4 Rb4 70. Kd3 Rb3 71. Ke4 Rb4 72. Kd5 Rb1 73. g5 hg5 74. hg5 fg5
75. Ng5 Kg8 76. Ne6 Rd1 77. Ke4 Kf7
Perhaps only this moment deserves attention. Now if 78. Bg7, then
78... Re1 79. Kd5 Rf1!=.
78. Ng5 Kg8 79. Ke5 Re1 80. Kf4 Rf1 81. Kg4 Rd1 82. Nf3 Rf1
83. Be5 Kf7 84. Kf4 Kg8 85. Ke4 Rd1 86. Ng5 Re1 87. Kd5 Rd1 88. Ke6 Re1 89.
Nh3 Rb1 90. Nf4 Rb6 91. Ke7 Rb5 92. Ng6 Rb6 93. Bd6 Ra6 94. Ke6 Rb6 95.
Ne7 Kh7 96. Nc8 Ra6 97. Ne7 Rb6 98. Nd5 Ra6 99. Nc3 Kg8 100. Ne4 Rb6
1/2 : 1/2
I think that Igor Zakharovich compared the two endgames as soon as he came home and saw the essential
distinction: Capablanca's king was not able to get to g6. He told himself
probably: "The youngster has chances, we must save the match, and let's see
then, we are a strong team…"
Next morning I showed him the results of my analysis and saw that he was apparently in a better mood than the day
"I'll build a pawn chain f3-g4-h5. The base of the chain (the pawn 3f) can be easily defended with the
bishop. Then I'll bring my king to g6. "
Something sparkled in the eyes of Igor Zakharovich.
"Do You suppose that it will be easy? Well, assume that You have done
it. What then?"
As we were discussing the position in the team meeting, a joint analysis sprang up
inevitably, in which mostly different variants of sacrificing the knight for two pawns were
regarded: Ng7 or Nh6. Bondarevski's face regained by degrees its usual severity.
Soon he stopped the turmoil and said stamping, looking straight at me: "You have one more postponed
game, so we shall not regard concrete variants now. But remember: no sacrifices in the
endgame! I allow You to "sacrifice" your opponent's material only. One more
thing: the chain f3-g4-h5 is a good idea, after You build it, play with pieces
only! The advance f3-f4 can weaken the position irreversibly.
In several hours I was in the club again. The game from the third round was to be finished
first, it was the match with Byelorussia. I was lucky and won in an hour. It was sooner than we had
expected. After a short interval the referee G. S. Fridstein opened the envelop with the move of
I could suppose that the analytical staff of the Russia team had advised my opponent to defend
passively, similarly to Lasker's play: the pawn g7 should not be moved, it was going to leave the board only together with the white
In the beginning it went in strict accordance with the plan.
44. Nd4 Kf8 45. Nf5 Ra2 46. Kg3 Kg8 47. f3 Ra3 48. h4 Ra6
49. h5 Ra5
The white king has to get from the third line to the sixth like
upstairs, otherwise White can forget about winning.
50. Ne3 Kh8 51. Kf4 Re5
To cope with the second footstep (from the fourth line to the
fifth) is already much more difficult.
52. Bf7 Kh7?!
52... Re7! 53. Bc4 Re5 54. Nd5 Kh7 55. Nb6 Rc5 56. Bf7 Rc7 57.
Bd5 Re7 58. Nc4 etc. would be more tenacious.
53. Nc4 Rb5 54. Ke4 Rc5 55. Bd5
A forced but very important decision, as the square g6 stays without
control. The main line 55... g6 56. Kd4 Rb5 57. Be4 f5 would cost a pawn to
Black, but there would be still drawing chances because there are too few forces on the
board. Probably the opponent's team had decided in their analysis that it would be safer to keep an even amount of
55... Rb5 56. Ne3 Rc5
If Black would have played 56... g6, then 57. Bf7 gh5 58. gh5 … Bg6, Nf5 would
The time control for finishing was six hours, 16 moves per an
hour. Thus we passed the first control. I remember cheers somewhere at that
moment. The audience greeted Katya (Ekaterina) Bishard who won her postponed
game. The score became 4:5, and now the final result of the match depended on me.
57. Kf5 Rc8 58. Ng2 Re8 59. Be6 Ra8 60. Bf7 Ra6 61. Nh4 Rb6
62. Ng6 Ra6 63. Bc4 Ra3 64. Bd5
I hold the pawn on f3, but the square g6 is still beyond my king's
64... Ra6 65. Nf8 Kh8
Now 66. Kg6? if, then 66... f5! These were most difficult moments for
me. The responsibility was very heavy, I saw no decision and repeated moves
66. Be6 Ra3 67. Bd5 Ra6 68. Ng6 Kh7
It happens not often, but that time I was lucky: an intense check-up of variants gave its
The horizontal will be blocked from the square c6.
69... Rd6 70. Be4 Ra6
Black is in zugzwang.
71. Nc6! Rb6 72. Ke6 Kg8 73. Ke7
The second time control is passed. We were the single playing pair that was staying on the
stage, but nobody from the audience left the hall. After the game I was told that Bondarevski was so agitated that he could not see how we were
playing, he went down to administrator's room and they told him the moves from time to
73... Rb7 74. Ke8 Rb5 75. Ne7 Kh8 76. Kf7 Rb8 77. Nf5
At last it became real to attack the pawn g7. The next aim of White is to bring the bishop to the diagonal
77... Rd8 78. Kg6 Rd7 79. Bc6 Rd8 80. Bb5 Rc8?
Probably he was just tired. 80... Rd5 81. Bc4 Rc5 82. Be6 Re5!
83. Bf7 Rc5 was right, leading to the position that will soon arise in the game.
81. Bd7 Rc3
Now 81... Rc5 is already not as efficient because of the seditious
82. f4, to be followed with 83. Be6.
A deplorable mistake that is hard to explain. Such things are bitter pills for
trainers. 82. Be6 Rc7 83. Nd6 Re7 84. Bb3 Re3 85. Bd5 Rd3 86. Nf7 Kg8 87. Nh6 Kf8
88. Be4 etc. wins easily.
82... Rc7 83. Bf7 Rc5
Now I had to break the second precept of Igor Zakharovich - I could not do without
f3-f4. I was inspired only with the fact that the time was coming to the end. Another home analysis was waiting for
84. f4 Rc6 85. Bd5
The game was postponed again in this position. Unlike the first
time, we had to study only concrete variants now, and Bondarevski showed his analytical abilities in full
measure. Black had several retreats that deserve attention.
First, to the seventh horizontal. In this case we chose the following
continuation: 85... Rc7 86. Nd6 Rd7 87. Nf7 Kg8 88. Nh6! The truth is more than the
precept! The piece still will be sacrificed. 88... Kf8 89. Nf5 Rd5 90. Ng7 Rd6
(90... Ke7 91. h6 with the idea of h7 +-) 91. f5, and the pawn f6 is doomed.
Great problems could arise if the rook would have retreated on the sixth
horizontal. Yet we solved it, though not at once. 85... Rb6 86. Ng7 f5 87. Ne6 fg4
88. f5 g3 89. Kf6!, and further I could control my opponent's passed pawn and prepare an advance of my own at the same
time, for example: 89... Rb5 90. Bg2 Rb6 91. Ke7 Rb2 92. Be4! … f6 or 89...
Rb5 90. Bg2 Rb2 91. Nf4 Rb4 92. Ke5 Rb5 93. Bd5, etc. However, we
were not absolutely sure of this line.
After Igor Zakharovich made certain that I had learned the analysis well, he turned to
"Be so kind, teach the young man to mate with a bishop and a
knight, just to make sure. "
The Champion of the USSR, who played excellently at the first board
then, carried out the request of his teacher readily.
...I was weary of waiting for the finish, as the referee opened the envelope at
last, and fortune smiled on me:
Being in time trouble, my opponent wrote down a bad move. Now it was
86. Be6 Rc7 87. Nd6 Re7 88. f5 Ra7 89. Nf7 Kg8 90. Nh6 Kf8
91. Nf7 Ra4 92. g5 Rg4 93. h6 gh6 94. Kf6 h5?!
Alas, Spasski's trick stayed unclaimed. Though it should have happened after
94... hg5 95. Ng5 Rf4 with the idea of Rf5.
95. g6 h4 96. Ng5 1-0
We held the match with a draw score 5:5.
It's not as pleasant to remember what happened then, but there's nothing to be
done, so it was. The endgame took too many efforts from me, and I managed to score only 0,5/3 in the next three
games. This proved to be enough to get a diploma for first place on the board.
Still, the blow was very serious. My next performances were a cheerless sequence of failures that lasted nearly three
It was not that the team did not feel my bad luck, but there was a margin of
safety, and we finished in a fitting manner. The chess players of Russia that took second place fell 4 points behind
us. This is a quite convincing showing, though not a record. I cite the Chess Yearbook 1962:
"No doubt that the success of the Leningrad players is well-deserved. The team had no weak points and worked as a well adjusted
For Igor Zakharovich it was one of the intermediate summits in his
biography, the triumphal ascension of Spasski was in the future. I only regret that the Leningrad period of his life was over next year
already. After that time our team never won gold in USSR championships again.