Leonid Stein died prematurely, at the peak of hi» creative power». He performed in the international arena for only a short time. Yet during this brief period he reach01 ed such impressive results, and created such spectacular samples of chess art, that it put him in the ranks of the world's best chessplayers.
Time Hies and the rising generation of young chessplayers know little about the life and creative activity of Leonid Stein. We have done our best to remedy this gap. It is sufficient to recollect just two episodes to understand Stein's role in the chess world.
Moscow, June 17 1967. The Red Banner hall of the Soviet Army Central Club is brightly lit and filled to capacity. The closing ceremony of the international tournament is devoted to the 50th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution and is under way.
That was a first-class tournament! It had eighteen of the strongest grandmasters from many countries. Among them: world champion T. Petrosian. two former world champions V. Smyslov and M. Tal, contenders for the world throne D. Bromtcin. E. Gellcr, P. Kent, M. Najdorf. L. Ponisch, W. Uhlmann. M. Filip and others. Who distinguished himself in this constellation of chess superstars.'
Here comes the happy winner, warmly greeted by the audtcncc. The grandmaster from Lvov. Leonid Stein. Though only 32. he has already won three national championships Only the main award is needed to make the collection complete. Isn't he worthy of competing for that award with the world champion? Tme, there arc barriers which must be overcome. For now, he carries the day.
Four years passed. Moscow was again hosting eighteen of the strongest grandmasters, and again among (hem we see the world champion, and not two but three former crown holders: V. Smyslov, M. Tal. T. PctTosian. and a future "Icing," A. Karpov. The participants also included such well-lcnown players as R. Byrne. V. Hort. F. Gheorgiu, F. Olafsson. B. Parma. W. Uhlmann, D. Bronstein, V. Savon. Y. Balashov, and V. Tukmakov. Who won? Again, Leonid Stem! This time he shared the laurels with Karpov. who managed to catch up with the leader in the last round. Stein's tnumph was obvious as he once again confirmed himself in the highest of classes. His name had been mentioned again among the immediate contenders for the world title.
Who would have thought that the winner of the Alckhinc Memorial only had a year and a half to live? He was preparing for his third participation in the European Team championships, after which he was to play in the lntcr:onal tournament for the world championship, but his sudden death snatched him from the ranks of the outstanding chessplayers of modern times. Even the world champion of that time, Bobby Fischer, who had not been heard from for nearly a year, wired to Moscow:
"I am »tunned by the premature death of Leonid Stein—the remarkable international grandmaster and good friend. I exprc» my condolence» to his family and to all chess brotherhood.
"Sincerely, Bobby Fischer."
The ROE president, and former world champion Max Euwc, noted in his cable that "the chess world will remember Stem as a strong chessplayer and a colleague-sportsman." Indeed. Stein left a bright mark in the history of chess.
Stein's place among chess' superstars had been defined.
Let's also recall what kind of man he was.
He had numerous friends in the chcss world and beyond. We will even assert that he had no enemies at all. His sociability seemed to have no boundaries. He demanded selfless loyalty from his friends, and he himself treated them in the same way.
Stein's love of chess was unselfish and overwhelming. With an open heart he received all with which he had been endowed: both joys and upsets, to the fullest extent possible. He had never requested anything for himself.
Tall, slender, 3nd with an amiable smile, he immediately evoked sympathy. One's first impression was magnified after ju« a little socialcing with this intelligent, sincere, kind, and a bit of ingenious man. It was noticed a long time ago that ingenuity was a frequent companion of talent.
His talents first revealed themselves in the game of chess, producing a definite paradox. The thing is that stars at the chcss hori:on generally begin to rise quite early. Let's recall a few: Capablanca. Alekhinc, Botvinmk, Keres. Smyslov, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov. Kasparov... All of them quickly displayed great talent, and by the ages of 16-17 had already reached a high level of skill. Nowadays, even a 14-15 year old chess master is not a wonder. Chess an creates its own Morarts. Stein was not among them. He learned to play at the age of 10. became a candidate master (an expert) at 18. and a master only at 24.
What was even mote striking was that Stein's late maturity did not interfere with his breaking even against the strongest chessplayers in the world. What kind of talent was it that had emerged so slowly?
The reason behind this paradox, as we will see, consisted in the fact that Stein's rare natural gift resembled a partially polished diamond which did not sparkle with all of its facets. We will tell you why and how this happened.
What were the outstanding facets of Stein's play.'
First and foremost was his ease and elegance. It sometimes seemed that he did not even strain himself, sitting sideways towards the board and casually moving the pieces. In his formative years he would spend 15-20 minutes for the whole game, irrespective of its result. Stein's victo-
(^opyjypgjed Malarial ries, scored at lightning speed, always produced an impression as of a small wonder.
However, more surprising than the speed of his game was the impetuosity of his attach, which seemed to originate from nothing and were frequently accompanied by beautiful sacrifices. He lilted and excelled in conducting such stratagems. He would lose interest in positions void of such features and play haphaiardly. Gradually his talent got stronger, matured, and became more versatile. He always had that rare gift of discerning many hidden opportunities in a position, calculating variations so fast and deeply, that jokers used to say Stein's head contained a highspeed electronic computing device. The press would even call him the "computer" Stein.
His manner of play generated a legend that Stein seemed to have never, under any circumstances, opened a chess book. We may as witnesses testify that was not true, although there was a grain of truth in it. Certainly the more he participated in tournaments the more he had to study chess literature. On the other hand he devoted much less time and effort to the independent study of those books which his talent required.
It cannot be denied that his natural gift saved him in situations where knowledge would have been of no assistance. He could win games in ways that his opponents would not understand where they had gone wrong. He could win any of the highest level tournaments and other times he could lose in a way that any grandmaster of his rank simply had no right to do.
Courageous and fearless at the board, impressionable and easily hurt in life, he seemed to have been woven out of all possible contradictions. In chess Stein was both an actor and a boxer. In moments of upheaval he played easily and gracefully, but his moments of inspiration alternated with distressing collapses. He was mercilessly competitive, and during the last years of his life even highly rational and prudent over the board. Still, smiles of tournament fortune would be superseded by spells of bad luck, when everything went from bad to worse, and he hated to touch the pieces.
Among the aphorisms of the famous chess writer and grandmaster Saviclly Tartakovcr there was one especially liked by Stein:
"He who risks, may lose, but he who doe» not risk, loses."
The ability to take a creative risk is one of the brightest features that will always differentiate a chessplayer from any high-speed wonder of electronic technology. Stein was one of the most "unprogrammed" of grandmasters. If the assertion* to the existence of intuitive style arc legitimate, then the main character of this book rightly belongs to this trend. His manner of playing was especially close to Tal's.
Stein's "risk strategy" had an original character. As a rule, risk in his games did not originate from the romantic spirit of pursuit, as was the case with, let us say, V. Simagin. The urge for winning electrified him more than chasing the magic bird of beauty. Stein was a fighter who was consumed with the battle for victory. In these battles he often made use of tested recipes. The number of his discoveries in the chess openings is not large.
Every once in a while he applied the weapon of risk so as to take fuller advantage of his capabilities in the so called "calculation" of variations, as Tal would do. Tal used to conscientiously violate the basic principles of the game in order to create favorable positions for himself.
Stein tried to play sound chess. He would risk only when he did not sec any other way of winning.
Here is one of his examples:
USSR Championship, Semifinal Tallinn. 1959
Stein had to win the game, but logical continuations held little promise for success. That was why he sacrificed a piece for two pawns and, the main thing, for the initiative:
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