To carve pieces of wood

The last president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mikhail Gorbachev, who died aged 92 in Moscow on Tuesday night, was a man credited with ending the war cold with the United States of America. , negotiating a historic nuclear arms pact with then-US President Ronald Reagan. But Gorbachev also loved chess from the days of World War II until he toured the United States and Russia for more than two years for the Chess for Peace initiative, encouraging the idea of ​​solving difficult situations like playing chess and also making an opening move for seven-time world champion Anatoly Karpov in an event.

“There were three of us, friends, in the village of Privolnoye (near Stavropol): Fyodor Reshchenko, Viktor Legkich and myself (during the Second World War). And Viktor played chess well. The first thing we started doing was carving some wooden pieces. Viktor explained to us what chess was for us, the rules of the game, and we started playing. We were hiding somewhere and playing nonstop. And it lasted a long time. Probably about 5 years, because I also played after the war. It didn’t end until I went to college, and my studies took too long,” Gorbachev told WhyChess in an interview earlier.

While the next five decades would see Gorbachev become the leader of the USSR, which also saw him make key decisions to restrain the Russian military from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to Soviet reforms resulting in freedom from Eastern European regions as a country in 1991, it was not until 2005 that his interest in chess moves was noticed by the world. It was on October 29, 2005 that the former Soviet President, a good friend of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in his later years, visited the town of Lindsborg, a town of just over 3000 inhabitants in central Kansas, to inaugurate the Chess for Peace. An initiative of seven-time world champion Anatoly Karpov. An event that saw chess players from around the world compete over the internet over the course of a year.

Gorbachev with five-time women’s world champion Susan Polgar and seven-time world champion Anatoly Karpov at the Chess for Peace event in Lindsborg, Kansas, USA in 2005. (Photo: Susan Polgar Foundation)

An integral part of the event was Karpov, 54, facing five-time women’s world champion Susan Polgar, 35, in an eight-match series with Gorbachev being the event’s main parade guest from Karpov Chess School in Lindsborg on day one. Led by coach Mikhail Korenman, whose vision was to make the small town a chess hub in the United States, the event saw Gorbachev take part in a town parade with Karpov and Polgar before the trio headed out. heads to the hall at Bethany College for the eight-game blitz. match between Karpov and Polgar later reduced to six.

The former Soviet president, who was accompanied by his daughter Irina and his translator Pavel, was asked about failures that make a difference for world peace. As reported by, Gorbachev replied, “It is quite realistic to talk about this possibility. But this door is not only about chess. The pursuit of peace may involve 100 or 1000 other initiatives. When you want to radically change politics, you can see elections, demonstrations and many types of popular initiatives. And now we have an example of the Internet and this idea of ​​Anatoly Karpov, that through chess we can seek peace, and a lot can be achieved. It is a peaceful pursuit of peace in my opinion and that is why I am here,”

Susan Polgar and Anatoly Karpov in the six-game encounter. (Photo: Susan Polgar Foundation)

Before the match, as reports, Gorbachev, sitting with Polgar on stage, wished for a cup of tea. With only one cup present at the table, Gorbachev offered Polgar the same tea and even prepared for the world champion. The USSR leader told Polgar that she was in a Zugzwang position, where a chess player had to make a move for decisive disadvantage. Minutes later, he headed to the chess table to open the six-game whirlwind match between Karpov and Polgar, with an opening move for white-player Karpov. A younger Polgar against the seven-time world champion gained an advantage, with Gorbachev opting for a rare g4 move on behalf of Karpov. “I want to cause difficulties for the older player,” he told the crowd.

As Polgar lost the opening game, the Hungarian-American grandmaster would call Gorbachev pouring water for both players as a moment of distraction.

“When the president got the water and poured it on us, I completely lost my focus,” she was quoted by

Gorbachev and Polgar at the Chess for Peace initiative in Lindsborg, USA. (Photo: Susan Polgar Foundation)

While the match ended in a 3-3 tie, with both players winning two games and drawing one each, the focus was on Gorbachev making the g4 move for Karpov in the first game of the encounter. The move, called Grob’s opening after the Swiss international master Henri Glob, sees white choosing to advance a flanking pawn to a vulnerable square. An unusual move that is often advised not to be used by international Masters on the world stage with the counter-argument of the element of surprise attached to it. Similar to the surprise Gorbachev gave the world with his quest to end the Cold War and the effort to liberate the countries of Eastern Europe more than a decade earlier.

In an interview with Whychess, Gorbachev drew parallels between chess and politics.

“I think it’s true, undeniably. Before making any decision, you should be able to look 5-10 steps ahead, otherwise it’s not politics. It’s one thing when there is a face-to-face and everything is clear, but generally you have to calculate the consequences of this or that political decision, and what the results of its implementation will be. To me, it feels like there are two sides to the process. I am a very conscientious person by nature, and when I made a decision, I was always tormented by my conscience. It was in the foreground. »

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