10 February 2010

Solutions to Collusion

The previous post, Collusion and Consequences, discussed pre-arranged games at the 1952 Saltsjobaden Interzonal. A few months after the tournament ended, an editorial in Chess Review (March 1953; 'edited and published by I.A. Horowitz'; p.65), presented a Western point of view on the Soviet collusion. I initially planned to give excerpts, but the document makes a number of points relevant to the early evolution of the World Championship, so I give it in entirety.
Syndicate Chess

Russian chess is an instrument of Russian national policy. The government supports an elaborate program of chess activities. Clubs and leagues are organized: competition is subsidized. Chess is taught in the grade schools, with various phases, such as mating with King, Bishop, and Knight, a required subject in each grade. Players are encouraged and, if successful, they are suitably rewarded. In return for this paternal interest, Russian masters must produce. They must win every trophy, title, match, and tournament in sight. They have to show the world that, although the game of chess is one of the two or three things which they have not invented, the Russians, nonetheless, are its most capable exponents.

By and large, this activity has been of benefit to chess. For example, a large number of great players have been developed. The Kremlin cannot supply an individual with talent. But, once they see he has it, they make it possible for him to realize his chess potentialities.

The government, however, is not selfless in its policies. What it wants is for its players to bring it an unbroken string of international successes. The game of chess itself is only a Pawn. The best interests of chess will be sacrificed any time that the bureaucrats in charge of it see the slightest gain in doing so.

The Russian players are good. Very good. They are sometimes not in form. But, when they meet Western players, they are always at their best.

They are soldiers in a war; they are the standard-bearers of Soviet culture. Any time a Russian master is permitted to show his face in the international arena, he must be at concert pitch. He is bound to be in the pink, physically and mentally. He is certain to be armed with all the latest weapons, both offensive and defensive, of opening analysis.

Since they are modern soldiers, they have lots of service troops. In the World Championship tournament, the Russian representatives -- Botvinnik, Keres, Smyslov -- arrived at The Hague attended by a large contingent of auxiliaries. It included, among others, a doctor, a cook, and a most impressive panel of eminent analysts. Such kibitzers as Kotov, Flohr, Bondarevsky, Alatortsev, Lilienthal, Tolush, and Ragozin worked on the adjourned positions. Or, if Euwe or Reshevsky, the non-Russian competitors, found an innovation in an opening, they would devote themselves to finding its refutation.

The Soviet grandmasters also have an additional advantage. Russia controls the meetings of the FIDE -- the Federation Internationale des Echecs. It has the titleholder, plus a disproportionate number of the world's leading players. Thus, it needs the other countries less than it itself is needed. It has a strong position, and no false scruples stop it from making the most of it. Then, in the second place, most Western chess federations are chronically short of funds. Consequently, there are times when they may neglect to send representatives to meetings. Moscow, on the other hand, fills its entire quota of delegates. So do its assorted satellites. What is more, the Western nations (such of them as do attend) cast their ballots as individuals. The communist states always vote as a bloc. They are therefore able to dictate the time and place, conditions and even the composition of any tournaments which have a bearing on the World Championship.

In themselves, none of the above actions are culpable. In fact, some are even meritorious. It is clearly good for chess to have strong, brilliant players and to have them playing profound, exciting and beautiful games. Insofar as Russian policy produces such players and such games, all of us who love chess are their very grateful debtors.

Alas -- let us face it. We expect a successful football coach or big-league baseball manager to make use of every angle, edge, percentage, or advantage. One or two are even known to occasionally push their weight around. We are not used to anyone treating chess as if it were of a similar importance. If the Russians choose to do so, they are strictly within their rights. We have no right to begrudge them their successes.

Still -- we can't help feeling worried.

Some time later in the year, a large tournament will be held [1953 Zurich Candidates]: its winner will then play Botvinnik for the title. A small number of Westerners and nine -- nine -- Russians will be the competitors.

We are worried by this tournament.

We want it to be won by the best player in it. Or, at any rate, the one who is playing best at the time. We hope that this will be Reshevsky. It it happens otherwise -- if another player wins it -- we will not feel too tragic. We are ready to salute him -- no matter who he is, no matter what his nation -- provide that he wins it fairly.

The Russians have a different attitude. They do not care who wins -- or even how he wins -- just so long as he's a Russian!

But each Russian player is an agent of his state. He is thus allied in a common purpose with the others. This is supposed to be a tournament of individuals. Each player in a tournament is supposed to play his best against each of the others. Then, and only then, is it possible to tell which one is the best among them. But the nine Russians in it form a unit of their own (and the Hungarian, Szabo, may be counted on this, too). They play as a team: a syndicate.

Just how this works was shown in the recent Interzonal tournament at Saltsjobaden [1952]. In it were five Russian competitors. Their own Soviet periodicals have always heaped scorn on so-called "grandmaster draws". In their own all-Russian tournaments, they go in for an aggressive, battle-royal type of chess. At Saltsjobaden, however, such games did not suit their purpose. The members of the Russian syndicate, when they came to play each other, calmly called each game a draw, after 16 to 22 moves!

In this coming tournament, the Russian group will constitute more than three-fifths of the entries. Each of them will play about three-fifths of his games against his team mates. The way in which he plays these games will be determined by what suits Soviet interests. If after several rounds, it seems that no Western player has a chance to win the tournament, we may get an honest contest. If, on the other hand, it should turn into a duel between Sammy Reshevsky, and, say, Vasily Smyslov, we are sure that no Russian will venture to beat Smyslov and thus make him lose the prize.

In this observation, we have mentioned but one hazard. There are others. For example, in a gruelling tournament, a day of rest is an incalculable asset. And, in such a duel as we have suggested, we can be sure that Reshevsky would have to work to the utmost against every opponent, Westerner or Soviet. Whereas, if Smyslov should have rigged games or even routine draws, he would be freed of the strain of tournament tension and resting through the majority of his games. As freshness and alertness count so heavily in chess, this factor cannot be disregarded.

We are casting no aspersions. In the Soviet ideology, the state is paramount. If the Kremlin, for some reason, wants to win a prize at chess, it is then the player's duty to help it get it. If this requires winning, he has to try to win. If it requires losing, he must do his best to lose. According to Soviet lights, he is doing nothing bad. In fact, if he did not do so -- he would then be anti-social. When we hint that Russian players may throw games to one another, we are saying nothing slanderous. Rather we are paying them a compliment. We are saying that Soviet chess players are very good Soviet citizens.

Our sense of ethics is different. A tournament which is rigged fills the Western chess lover with nausea.

Our game has always cut across national boundaries. It should continue to do so. If the Russian chess players play as chess players, then it's proper to have nine, or even more, in a tournament. If they play as Russians, it is a dangerous thing to have even two of them.

We think that the sensible thing is to have two tournaments: one for Western players and another for the Soviets. Let the winners play each other -- and the winner meet Botvinnik.

We are sure the Russians won't agree. We will have to reconcile ourselves to playing the tournament on their terms.

In that case, all we can hope is that unpleasantness can be avoided. That a Russian will get such an early that his allies will feel it safe to play fair and scrupulous chess. Or -- even better -- that some Western player, some Samson like Reshevsky, gets into an inspired streak and wins, in spite of all the machinations of the Soviet Philistines.

Despite a dubious premise or two (I'm not sure that chess was taught systematically in Soviet elementary schools) and an unsubstantiated charge of game throwing ('if it requires losing, he must do his best to lose'), I think it makes a good case that the chess board was not a level playing field for Reshevsky. By introducing matches instead of round robin tournaments, the imbalance was solved satisfactorily for the Candidates. It was solved less satisfactorily for the Interzonals by limiting the number of Soviet players advancing to the Candidates. This led to unforeseen consequences for the Soviets.

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