STIGMERGY: The C4SS Blog
The KGB And Soviet Chess

One of the books I’ve been reading is titled The KGB Plays Chess: The Soviet Secret Police and the Fight for the World Chess Crown. It’s a fascinating read that provides copious detail on the inner workings of the KGB with respect to not only chessplayers but Soviet athletes in general. I’ve just finished the first part of the book. It’s a lengthy historical essay by Vladimir Popov and Yuri Felshtinsky. The former is an ex-KGB agent while the latter is a well known author. Let me quote some choice bits:

Spassky’s departure and Kortschnoi’s defection were not the KGB’s only defeat in the sports arena in 1976. The Summer Olympics in Montreal also caused the KGB a great deal of trouble. It was an established rule that Soviet sports delegations and tourist groups for sports experts and journalists should include undcover state security officers. These state security officers would constitute an “operational group” from the KGB. Major General Abramov, the then-deputy head of the Fifth Directorate, was placed in charge of such a delegation during the Summer Olympics.The operational group headed by Abramov consisted of thirteen people. It was assisted by agents from the KGB’s local rezidentura, operating undercover in the USSR’s consulate in Montreal.

And another choice bit:

Karpov’s main opponent in his fight for the world championship would be Kortschnoi, who had four times been a champion of the USSR. In order to put psychological pressure on the “contender” — as Soviet propaganda referred to Kortschnoi in those years, without mentioning his first or last name — his son Igor was immediately drafted into the army. The term of service in the army was two to three years. But after serving his term, a member of the armed forces was automatically classifed as having had access to state secrets and, by Soviet law, forbidden to leave the USSR for at least another five years. In this way, by drafting Igor Kortschnoi, the Soviet government was making it impossible for him to join his father for the next seven years, if not more. The level of a person’s exposure to state secrets, and its term of expiration, was determined by the KGB. It was perfectly obvious that for the soon of Kortschnoi, “the enemy of the people,” that term would not be brief.

The book has much more, such as a plot to have Kortschnoi killed should he win the world championship match against Karpov. The interested reader is encouraged to pick up a copy. This book sheds light on what happens when sports are taken over by the state. Left-libertarians have a useful history to point to as evidence for this contention.

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