Meteor On The Chess Horizon

Copyrighted Material Lcooki Strin

Chapter One The Beginning of the Road On The Way To Chess

Leonid Stein was born on the 12th of November 1934 in the small Ukrainian town Kamenets-Podohk (now the Kamenets-Podolsky Khmelmtsky region) on the Smotrych river, the affluent of the Dncstr. Those who in their childhood read the entertaining story Old Fortress by Vladimit Beliavsky knew the town. His parents, Zakhar La:arevich and Charna Abovna, had two children. His sister was four years older. This was an ordinary, hard-working family with a modest income. Except his father's health left much to be desired.

When the war broke out, Stein's native town was one of the first to be hit by fascist invaders. The family barely managed to evacuate, and after long wanderings »cttled in Uzbekistan near Tashkent. In 1942, at the age of 36, his father died of typhus. His mother became the only provider for the children, and she alone raised them.

Lett to Right: Stein's mother Charna. Leonid Stein, his slater Prima. Bafore going Into the army. 1i53.

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Beginning of in« Road

After the war the family returned to the Ukraine and settled in Lvov, where his mother worked behind the counter in the school cafeteria. Friends of the future grandmaster remembered that he grew up as a sickly, lean, skin and bones boy during the austere war years for he was often undernourished. His harsh childhood could not but leave its mark on his subsequent life. Deprived of a father's strong guidance, he did not have a reputation for being a model student at school, and although he tried not to upset his mother and sister too much with bad grades, he seldom pampered them with A's.

This was a pity because as a boy he was endowed with great intelligence, a photographic memory, and a rich imagination. The trouble was that he could not stand working with textbooks; assiduousness and diligence were not among his virtues. He failed to rid himself of flaws in hi» upbringing which hud been ingrained from childhood. This hurt, in particular. his chess education. Incidentally, his elder sister's character was steadier, she successfully finished school and graduated from a medical college. She now works as a doctor in the Moscow region. Leonid was not on friendly terms with the sciences. It is uncertain what would have happened to him if, at the age of 10, he had not been introduced to a game that eventually attracted him so intensely. He soon became one of the strongest players in his school.

Popular Game

At that time it was difficult to presume about Lvov that a whole galaxy of eminent international grandmasters would eventually emerge, although the city had long-standing chess traditions. Until the reunification with the Soviet Ukraine, the game flourished mainly in numerous cafes, and only in the post-war period did a real chess club appear. One should recall the names of the enthusiasts who had been seeking to create this center of chess culture in the city. At first there were three: Mikhail Antonovich Romanishin (whose son Olcg is a grandmaster), Theodor Petrovich Kukich, a war veteran and one the strongest players of the prewar Lvov and who became the first club director, and Pavlo Pavlovich Yatsmo. who first served as assistant director and then director of the club.

The city began to hold tournaments. The well-known master Alexey Pavlovich Sokolsky was invited for permanent residence. He conducted classes, delivered lectures in the club, published the book Modem Chen Openm/p in Lvov in 1949, which instantly became a "chess Bible." Un-

Copy-fHjhted Material Leonid Stein fortunately, the fruitful activity of the only Lvov master at the time turned out to be rather brief. In 1953 he moved to Minsk where grandmaster I. Boleslavsky lived. He used to coach Boleslavsky when the latter performed in the international arena. Still Sokolsky left a mark in the chess city of Lvov. When Stein became a grandmaster he said that his first mentor had been none other than Sokolsky.

After the war young chessplayers began to progress quickly. Among them one could single out. for example, students Rafael Gorenstein. Viktor Cart, Nikolai Sarhaev, sen-iceman lltrar Kutuev and others. Master Sokolsky. who won the Ukrainian championships in 1947 and 1948. reached the USSR finals in 1949 and 1950, was not always champion of Lvov! For instance, in 1949 Gorenstein became the winner, and Sokolsky finished only fifth.

In 1948 the first postwar team championship of the Ukraine took place in Lvov; the "hosts' participated with two teams. The first team of the Carpathian area led by Sokolsky, took the honorary third place conceding only to the teams of Kharkov and Kiev, the second team was seventh.

The city also provided training for the young generation when the kids' chess club opened in the City Palace of Pioneers and Schoolchildren. School team competitions became the traditional showcase for selecting the most capable young chessplayers. At one such tournament a skinny teenager with live black-velvet eyes drew attention with his fast, confident, and bold play. The thirteen-year-old fifth grader was admitted to the chess club of the Lvov Palace of Pioneers. There for the first time he saw with surprise a chess book. He showed no interest in it. only the game fascinated him.

Thirteen years old! Now they would say. "too late." Recently we have learned of do:ens of teenagers becoming international masters and even grandmasters; the criteria were different then.

Better Late Than Never

In the beginning everything went smoothly. Leonid was confidently raising his rating. In two years he became a first category ("A" by USCF standards) player.

He benefitted from Lvov's favorable chess atmosphere. There was someone to play with, somewhere to play, and there was someone to learn from. He would open a book with apathy, but he would listen to Sokolsky's lectures with breathless attention. The experienced teacher was able to show a grandmaster»' game (or his own for a change) in such a restful manner that the listeners perceived all the hidden nuances of the developments on the board. Results of the games become understandable and logical. With particular excitement young Stein followed doubled-edged battles that were brimming with attacks and counterattacks. These games resembled his favorite action movies and novels! He was in his clement while watching them!

He made several friends. Leonid was the youngest in a gradually formed "chess quartet." Efim Rotstein was a year older, Boris Katalimov two years older, and Igor Semcnenko three years older. Tournaments in the Palace of Pioneers were not enough for them. They would also go to play in the city club, or quite frequently, get together at one of their apartments. The time there flew by imperceptibly when analyzing somebody's tournament game, or in endless speed games, which were interrupted late at night only after the intervention of adults.

As one may assume, that was an original school. Be that as it may. soon all four boys confidently reached the level of the strongest players of the city.

In 1949 it was decided to bold a qualifying tournament to select the best players to represent the sporting honor of Lvov in the fonhcoming Ukrainian team championship. The first place was secured by the already experienced Viktor Cart. Who could have known then that he himself would never become a master, and would devote all his skill and pedagogical talent to the training of future grandmasters: Litinskaya. Romanishin, Beliavsky, and Mikhalchishin-

Thereupon Cart was the leader of the city all-star team. According to the results of the qualifying tournament it consisted of Semcnenko on the second board, and Stein, on the fourth board. Certainly, the team was debilitated by Sokolsky's absence, who had played at the 18th USSR Championship held simultaneously with the team championship of the Ukraine. The young players had to take the more complicated exam. In general, they passed it well. The Lvov team successfully overcame the quarter- and semi-final barriers, and entered the final of the eight strongest teams which had already been organized in 1950.

Tlie overall result, a tie for third, was met in Lvov with dissatisfaction. Yielding the first two places to the all-star teams of Kiev and Kharkov was not shameful, but how could they let the modest team of Vinnitsa catch up with them? As often happens, the youngest player was named as the major scapegoat, for it was his haste that had ruined his performance.

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