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Looks at Books Still Going Strong: Yuri Averbakh

This month a great chess player, historian, author and trainer turns ninety years old. Yuri Lvovich Averbakh lives in Moscow, and during a visit to the Tal Memorial in November, he invited me to the Moscow Central Chess Club (now dedicated in honor of Mikhail Botvinnik) on Gogolevsky Boulevard, for a friendly chat. In a hall flanked by black and white

portraits of grandmasters and formal world champions, with a chessboard in front of him, Averbakh shared some of his insights into professional chess, and how he approaches the game, both as a com- petitor, and now as a coach and mentor. Of particular interest to me was his

characterization of players based on sty- listic archetypes. He has six:

Killers:Marked by the desire not only to win, but to score decisive knockout blows. Alexander Alekhine, Viktor Korchnoi, and Mikhail Botvinnik were killers.

Fighters: Have an extreme will to win, but not necessarily by knockout. “[Garry] Kasparov is a fighter with strong motiva- tion. Let’s say he’s half fighter, half killer.”

Averbakh notes that the necessary qual-

ities of fighters and killers may be harmful to a player’s life away from chess. Kas- parov, he suggests, isn’t a successful politician because he’s too much of a killer, too eager to score that knockout blow, which runs counter to the political requirement of compromise.

Sportsmen: View chess like any other game. They play to win, but lack any obsessive tendencies, and away from the chessboard are readily able to lead a nor- mal life. José Raúl Capablanca and Boris Spassky are two.

Gamblers:Enjoy many games, such as bil- liards or cards. Karpov is the classic example.

These first four groups all have strong motivation, endemic to their character.

Scientists (also known as Explorers): Approach chess the way they would sci- ence, with a particular fondness for analysis. Chief among their aims is the accumulation of knowledge—they seek to understand chess, but may lack the single-minded focus on victory that it takes to reach the absolute summit of the chess hierarchy. These include Aron Nimzowitsch and Akiba Rubinstein.

And finally: Artists: For artists, it is not only impor-

14 Chess Life — February 2012

tant to win, but to do so artistically. Each chess game is an opportunity for artistic expression. The Russian grandmaster Vladimir Simagin was one.

Sometimes a player doesn’t fit neatly

into one category, but is instead a hybrid of two. David Bronstein and Mikhail Tal, for instance were both fighters and artists. Averbakh counts himself among the sci-

entists, and in fact he studied engineering before becoming a professional chess player. “I discovered immediately when I

started ... that I have not enough motiva- tion to be a real champion. But from another point [of view] I like to analyze, I like to work on chess, and of course my approach was scientific.” As a professional, Averbakh tried

methodically to improve his game by exer- cising his subconscious mind, and intuition. “It is very important to raise con- sciousness when you are working in chess,” he explains. Theatre has long played an important role in Russian cul- ture, and Averbakh found inspiration as a player in the method-acting training approach of Constantine Stanislavski. It turns out a relative of Averbakh’s

wife was a student of Stanislavski, and recommended that the young Averbakh examine Stanislavski’s oeuvre. “May I say I was looking for what I have found in Stanislavski’s work—a way how to approach chess [analysis]. To use the same system which Stanislavski used in [the] theatre. The same approach.” “For instance I was working on some

ideas in endings ... I had one problem to solve and I couldn't find the solution. And when I was not working on this ... I was away somewhere, not over the chess- board, but immediately I found the solution, because my mind was working. The gap between a strong grandmaster

and a world championship candidate is partly a difference in the ability to attain peak performance during the game. Aver- bakh thinks this is about more than just study of positions, but it lies in the subcon- scious churning away while the player is, for instance, walking in a park or sitting in the theatre watching a performance. “I believe it is the best way to create real

chess masters: To use Stanislavski’s system.” But what does this mean in practice? It’s

clearly an individual process, which may not be amenable to sweeping generaliza- tions. Averbakh seemed to be describing the need for a player to get himself into a particular frame of mind at the board,


whereby he or she may hit that peak of concentration and creativity. Finding a personal approach is impor-

tant for Averbakh. In the West we have often heard lauded the “Botvinnik school,” the training methods followed by many of today’s top grandmasters—including Kas- parov and Kramnik. But Averbakh stresses that Botvinnik’s method only works for Botvinnik, citing as an example Taimanov’s crushing defeat at the hands of Bobby Fischer in their 1971 Candidates Match. “[Botvinnik] wrote ‘this is my method’

and you can see the story of Taimanov ... He asked Botvinnik to help him and Botvinnik gave him lots of advice. This advice was very good for Botvinnik but not for Taimanov, because Taimanov was a completely different man—completely dif- ferent—in approach to life [and] to chess.” Taimanov, a concert pianist has an

“artistic personality,” says Averbakh, and therefore an artist such as Mikhail Tal would have been better suited to aid his match preparation. Nevertheless, Taimanov counted himself as a pupil of Botvinnik and so sought his help instead. Avarbakh sees this as a mistake. “It was necessary to think about Fischer

too, because [Botvinnik] gave advice, not thinking about what personality Fischer [had], because he wanted to fight Fis- cher on Fischer’s territory. And Fischer on his territory was too strong for Taimanov —too strong,” he emphasizes. Nowadays, Averbakh says he is trying

to combine the scientific and artistic approaches. “When I look at chess, I try to represent games as theatre. You can show on a chess board, any kind of play —drama, tragedy, comedy, ballet. All what is typical for art, you can represent on a chess board.” In the theatre you may find a tragedy

in four acts, but Averbakh showed me the “tragedy of one tempo.”

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White to move and win or Black to move and draw

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