In April, David Bronstein, whose world-class chess career spanned nearly three decades, will be inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame in a ceremony that will co-inside with U.S. Chess Championships in St. Louis. Bronstein, a Ukrainian-born Jew who died at the age of 82 in 2006, nearly became the World Chess Championship in 1951 but he failed to beat (in fact he tied) fellow Soviet grandmaster and incumbent champion Mikhail Botvinnik in a best-of-24 match. (Championships are now best-0f-12 and occur every two years rather than ever three).
The outcome might have been different if Mr. Bronstein had not lost the penultimate game, in which he had a defensible position, or if he had not blundered in the sixth game when he had an easy draw.
For years afterward, there was speculation that Mr. Bronstein was forced to lose so that Mr. Botvinnik, a favorite of the Soviet authorities, might retain the title. Mr. Bronstein denied the speculation, saying he actually chose not to win.
He explained his decision in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a book about his life and games written with Tom Fürstenberg (1995, Cadogan Chess). “I had reasons not to become the World Champion,” he wrote, “as in those times such a title meant that you were entering an official world of chess bureaucracy with many formal obligations. Such a position is not compatible with my character.”
Bronstein needed 12.5 points to win the 1951 title (1 point for a win, 0.5 points for a draw, 0 points for a loss), but he was only able to tie Botvinnik. It is worth reviewing, however, Bronstein’s first win in the match in Game 5, after which he was up 3-2.
Also being inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame is Sonja Graf-Stevenson, a two-time U.S. Champion, and Howard Staunton, one of the world’s best in the mid-19th Century whose standardization of the chess set design probably, and hopefully, adorns tables in your home today.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.