Tuesday, November 5, 2013

World's Greatest Chess Master to Appear on Good Shabbos Nebraska

This Shabbos will be the most historic and memorable episode ever of Good Shabbos Nebraska!  We have the honor to host Boris Gulko.

Along with Natan Sharansky, Boris Gulko is among the most famous of all Russian refusniks.  He was the chess champion of the Soviet Union in 1977, but because he was a Jew he suffered persecution, incarceration, and even physical abuse by the KGB.

Besides being one of the greatest chess players of all time, he is a piece of modern Jewish history, as well as one of my own personal heroes.  It is with great honor that we welcome him to Beth Israel as a guest on Good Shabbos Nebraska.

On Sunday he will play a simultaneous game against the 20 best players in the state of Nebraska at Beth Israel.

On Shabbos at 10 am Grandmaster Gulko will tell us about his experiences and also why he thinks that Jews have proven historically to be so adept at chess.

Even if you are not a chess enthusiast, you will not want to miss this episode of Good Shabbos Nebraska.

For the next week I will be publishing on my blog some excerpts about Grandmaster Gulko from Fred Waitzkin's  Searching for Bobby Fischer: The World of Chess, Observed by the Father of a Child Prodigy (pages 98-107)
More than ever I wanted to meet Boris Gulko. Still, I was apprehensive when I received a call on our room phone in the hotel saying that a meeting with “our friend” had been arranged. What if the meeting was a setup? If we ended up in jail, what would happen to Josh? 

In a few minutes Volodja’s small car pulled up, and he gestured for us to crowd into the back seat. Next to him in the front sat Gulko. 

Volodja nervously checked the rearview mirror. “Boris has just won the semifinals of the Soviet championship,” he said. I was surprised, because there had been no report of his participation in newspapers or chess magazines, and most players and chess journalists I had asked said that they didn’t know what had become of Gulko. “Oh, I am allowed to play a few games a year,” he said, “but they are never reported. If I win a tournament they only write who came in second or third.” Gulko said that he had played Kasparov twice during the past three years and won both games. Almost no one beats Kasparov, and such news would have been on television and on the front page of Pravda were Gulko not a refusenik, one of the living dead.
Boris Gulko is a distinguished-looking white-haired man of medium height with a small pursed mouth and a gentle face. He appeared to be fifty-five or sixty. His speech was serene, almost in the manner of an Eastern mystic, except for a sharp laugh that was filled with irony. At times there was an eerie disparity between his subject and his tone of voice. For example, he would describe a period of intense physical and emotional trauma—a hunger strike or a brutal beating—almost in passing, as if he were beyond feeling pain. I was shocked when Gulko told me that he was thirty-seven. He smiled. “If you don’t eat for forty-two days you too will look sixty,” he said.
I asked if he’d been following the match.
“I would love to go, but Krogius won’t sell me a ticket,” he said, referring to the head of Soviet chess. “Perhaps I would be an embarrassment. Two years ago I got in touch with Karpov about my problems, but he refused to help.”
Even during the early stages of the Karpov-Kasparov match there had been discussion among Russian intellectuals, grandmasters and journalists about whether the event was a legitimate contest. In several of the early games we had attended, Kasparov had advantages and had failed to follow up on them. Later in the match, he aroused the suspicion of grandmasters and chess journalists around the world by offering draws in games in which he seemed to have winning chances. Miguel Najdorf said that Kasparov’s play was inexplicable and a disgrace. “I wouldn’t offer draws in such positions, and I’m seventy-five years old,” he said. In the Times of London, chess columnist Harry Golombek wrote: “Perhaps Kasparov has been warned not to play well and has been given to understand that the consequences for him and his family would be disastrous if he did.”
I asked Gulko if he was surprised by Kasparov’s poor play and whether he thought it was possible that the challenger had been ordered to lose the match because the Central Committee didn’t want a Jew to be world champion (Kasparov's father was Jewish - RJG). “It is impossible to know this for a fact,” Gulko answered. “Perhaps Kasparov is just playing poorly. He is an emotional young man. But in Russia chess is political and it is difficult to refuse if you are asked to throw a game. If they don’t want a chess player to play, like me or Bronstein, for example, they’ll stop you for years.


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