Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: Mikhail Botvinnik is the first chess king of the USSR

Exactly one month ago, on August 17, the famous Soviet chess player Mikhail Botvinnik would have been 109 years old. Late tonight a film about him, The Autumn of a Chess Player, made in 1990 was shown on the Culture channel.

The king of Soviet chess fate is amazing: at the age of 14, he won a game against the world chess champion Raul Capablanca. The famous Cuban was persuaded to come in 1925 to a simuls chess tournament on 30 boards in Leningrad. He never expected to lose to the unknown teenager Mikhail Botvinnik. The enraged world-renowned grandmaster did not even shake hands with the winning opponent.
It was the stellar debut of the future multiple world chess champion Mikhail Botvinnik. The film tells about the birth of the Soviet chess school, about how the top officials of the Soviet state promoted chess tournaments, and why the most coveted game for Botvinnik with Alexander Alekhine, who passed away as an undefeated world champion, did not take place.

The legendary chess player Mikhail Botvinnik turned May 9 into his personal victory day. It was on this day that he won his main title in 1948. This happened in the match-tournament of 1948, when the chess world determined the full-fledged champion, because the previous titleholder Alexander Alekhine died in 1946.
Chess fans in the USSR were jubilant: he won the first champion title in the country, because Alekhine had a French passport. Interestingly, Botvinnik won the title twice more on May 8: in 1951 he defeated David Bronstein and equalized the score in the championship match (which kept him the title), and in 1958, when he regained the crown in a rematch with Vasily Smyslov.
The film about Mikhail Botvinnik contains many wonderful stories. For example, in April 1948, when the second half of the championship tournament began in Moscow, Botvinnik was summoned by the chief ideologist of the USSR, the former chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Andrei Zhdanov. In an open text, he offered Botvinnik to help him win the match tournament, as he feared a possible victory for the American Samuel Reshevsky. Zhdanov said that other Soviet chess players, Paul Keres and Vasily Smyslov, would lose to Botvinnik to secure the first place. Botvinnik managed to convince Zhdanov that there was no need to go to the frames, because one of the Soviet grandmasters would be a champion in any case. But he was right. Few of the current generation imagine how dangerous it was to argue with the authorities in those years. And Zhdanov was one of its most formidable representatives.
There were also funny cases. In the late autumn of 1947, a monetary reform was taking place in the USSR. People rushed to buy everything they could - furniture, dishes, food. According to the official summary of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, grandmaster Mikhail Botvinnik bought seven kilograms of chocolate in bars in a restaurant on November 28, 1947. The next day the chess player in the same restaurant bought another ten kilograms of Golden Label chocolate, having bought up all the restaurant supplies.
By the way, Botvinnik was one of the first chess players in the world to develop a system of preparation for matches. It concerned not only theoretical analysis of games, but also physical training. He preferred to play matches in April-May, when he was in great shape. According to the recollections of his family, Botvinnik went skiing in winter and regularly cycled in summer while living in a dacha on Nikolina Gora. In addition, Botvinnik followed a special diet during matches. For example, he ate black currants pureed with sugar, to which lemon juice was added. And he ate chocolate during parties.
After losing the match with Tigran Petrosian and losing the chess crown, Botvinnik no longer fought for the champion title. He focused on creating his own school, which students were  three famous "K" s:  Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik, the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth world champion. However, regarding the young Karpov, the patriarch of Soviet chess gave a disappointing forecast: “It's a pity, but nothing will come of Tolya.” Ten years later, Karpov proved that Botvinnik had made a mistake.
Editor’s note:. Mikhail Botvinnik was born, in Kuokkala, Vyborg province on August 4, 1911. He we sixth in the history of chess and first Soviet world champion (1948-1957, 1958 - 1960, 1961 –1963). Grandmaster of the USSR (1935), international grandmaster (1950) and referee in chess composition (1956); Honoured Master of Sports of the USSR (1945), six-time champion of the USSR (1931–1952). Chairman of the All-Union Chess Section (1938 - 1939) and the Board of the "USSR - Netherlands" Society (since 1960). Honoured Worker of Culture of Russia (1971), Honoured Worker of Science and Technology of Russia (1991). Doctor of Technical Sciences, Professor.