David Bronstein, 1924-2006

Chess Life is reporting that David Bronstein has died of unknown cuases at the age of 82.

Bronstein resides on a short list of players, along with Paul Keres and Viktor Korchnoi, who can vie for the title of Greatest Player Never to Win the World Championship. His peak came in the late forties and early fifties, when his tactical brilliance and his advocacy of then offbeat opening like The King’s Gambit and The King’s Indian Defense propelled him to the upper tier of professional players. With regard to that latter opening, he was truly ahead of his time ; the King’s Indian later became a favorite of both Bobby Fischer and Gary Kasparov.

His big chance came in 1951, when he played a match with then World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik. The match ended in a 12-12 tie, meaning Botvinnik kept his title, but only some sort of supernatural inteverntion can explain how Bronstein managed to not win that match. In one famous game he blundered away an easy draw after thinking for 45 minutes. And holding a one-point lead with two games to go, he lost a difficult endgame to let Botvinnik tie things up.

I met David Bronstein when I was in high school. He played a simultaneous exhibition in Princeton, and I was one of the people who had the chance to play against him. I was doing well for a while, but then made what turned out ot be a terrible blunder. It took Bronstein less than second to pounce on my mistake. Even after he played his reply and moved on to the next board, it took me a few minutes to figure out how badly I had botched it. I resigned of course.


Ironically, one of his most famous games is one that he lost. On the black side of a King’s Gambit, no less. Playing white was future World Champion Boris Spassky. You can find the game here.

Why is the game so famous? Because it was immortalized in an early scene of the James Bond movie From Russia With Love. Click here, for more. The character playing white is a criminal genius working for SPECTRE. His cold-blooded victory, following in Spassky’s footsteps, is meant to establish what a calculating bastard this guy is. The character’s name? Kronsteen.

An amusing footnote to this incident: The position on the board in the movie is altered slightly from the positon of the actual game. Two of white’s central pawns were removed. The director of the movie made the change based on the mistaken belief that chess games were copyright protected.

But the removal of the pawns actually rendered the combination unsound. Follow the above link for the details. If Kronsteen could overlook such a think, it’s no wonder that James Bond was able to defeat his scheme.

I have several of Bronstein’s books on my shelf. He will be sorely missed.

Comments

  1. #1 afarensis
    December 11, 2006

    I have several of Bronstein’s books on my shelf. He will be sorely missed.

    I used to have several of his books myself – don’t know what happened to them. He will definitely be missed!

  2. #2 Travis Bernhardt
    December 17, 2006

    Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953 is of of my favorite chess books. It’s a prime candidate for an “if I could one take one to desert island” type question (Life and Games of Mikhail Tal would be a contender).

    Honestly, though, if asked I would have guessed that he was already dead! So I’m doubly shocked, and saddened. Thank you for posting this–I don’t follow chess much anymore, and your chess posts are always appreciated.

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