David Bronstein – The tricky David !

“Was David Bronstein an outstanding player? He was a genius, what a genius! A genius is somebody ahead of his time, and Bronstein was far ahead of his time.’–Victor Korchnoi.

This is the third article in the series “Legends who were near world champions!”

Initial years of Bronstein

David Bronstein was born on 19 February 1924 in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine. He was born into a poor family and faced a lot of hardship in his initial years. Bronstein learned chess from his grandfather. He achieved success in his age group events. He completed high school and decided to study mathematics at the university of Kyiv. Like Paul Keres, even Bronstein’s academic and chess career was interrupted by World War 2.

The impact of World War 2

As World war two was going on, chess, as well as academics, was at a halt. Furthermore, David’s father was imprisoned for giving controversial statements. David had a defect of eyesight, so he was declared unfit for the military. Thus during the world war, he had to do part-time jobs to get a living. He did work hard and kept pace with chess.

Opportunities do come when you are working hard on things you wish to pursue. The same was the case with Bronstein. In his first-ever mega event, Bronstein beat the eventual champion Botvinnik in their direct encounter. Thus he kept his efforts at peak and got his deserved place in the Soviet team.

Proving his strength at the top level

Bronstein made the best use of the opportunities he got and kept on producing strong performances. In 1950 candidates, he shared first place with his training partner Isaak Boleslavsky. He best Boleslavsky in tie breaks for qualifying for the match with Mikhail Botvinnik. This was his biggest achievement till then.

World Championship match with Botvinnik

The rules of the world championship back then were 24 games to be played. The current world champion was given the liberty to claim the title at 12-12, which meant that if the challenger (Bronstein) had to win, he had to score 12.5. Thus began their match. The first four games were drawn. Then Bronstein broke the deadlock in the 5th game but conceded a point in the 6th. Thus the seesaw battle started.

Both players exchanged blows at regular intervals, and when it seemed Botvinnik had taken a solid one-point lead, Bronstein came back strongly to win the 21st and 22nd games. This gave him a full-point lead over Botvinnik. Thus everyone expected Bronstein to win the match by drawing the last two games. But it was Botvinnik who had the last laugh as he won the 23rd game and drew the final game. Thus Botvinnik retained his title, and Bronstein had to contend with the Runner-Up position.

1953 Zurich Candidates

The next opportunity where Bronstein could qualify for the world championship was in 1953 candidates. Although he did not win it, he was a strong contender. These candidates match was so interesting that later he wrote a book on this tournament which is to date one of the topmost recommended books.  Later in his book Sorcerer’s Apprentice, he mentioned the pressure put on him and Keres not to win the championship. He further mentioned that Keres and his being non-Russians was the main reason why they both didn’t become world champions which can be considered as a hint of external pressure on them during tournaments. The book Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953 can be bought here.

Success apart from World Championship.

Bronstein made a considerable contribution to the soviet team, which won Gold in the chess Olympiad in 1952, 1954, 1956, and 1958. He was the best player on Board 4 in 1952 and 1956 and Best on board 3 in 1958. Further major tournament victories were achieved at Hastings 1953–54, Belgrade 1954, Gotha 1957, Moscow 1959, Szombathely 1966, East Berlin 1968, Dnepropetrovsk 1970, Sarajevo 1971, Sandomierz 1976, Iwonicz Zdrój 1976, Budapest 1977, and Jūrmala 1978.

David Bronstein as a writer

David Bronstein contributed a lot to chess literature. His famous book 1953 Zurich International Candidates Championship, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 200 open games, The modern chess self-tutor, and much more. He also brought evolution to the Kings Indian Defense with the help of his country mates Efim Geller and Isaak Boleslavsky.

Top qualities of David Bronstein

Bronstein was a strong tactician; he had a tremendous combinative vision. He was good at playing complicated positions to produce insane tactics. Bronstein was a creative thinker. Even before Fischer recommended increment and chess960, it was Bronstein who had this idea in mind to introduce new variants in chess. This is the reason Victor the Great has said, “Was Bronstein an outstanding player? He was a genius, what a genius! A genius is somebody ahead of his time, and Bronstein was far ahead.

Click here to watch some of the best chess games played by David Bronstein.

Previous articles on this series

  1. Paul Morphy – “The First Unofficial World Champion”
  2. Paul Keres “The Eternal Second”



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