Person of day - 19 OCTOBER 2023
Alexander Grigoryevich Bakh was born on 19th October 1939 in Riga. During the War, Bakh’s family was evacuated before returning to decimated Latvia after the expulsion of the Germans. As a boy, Alexander showed an interest in chess and he enrolled in the local Pioneers’ Palace under the guidance of Alexander Koblencs. Alexander became a candidate for master, but his career went no further- at a fairly early stage, Alexander concluded that he would achieve more as an organizer. Bakh met Mikhail Tal in Riga and went on to assist him for many years.
Alexander Bakh enrolled at Leningrad University to study physics. He played for Leningrad’s Burevestnik at the Central Officer’s House’s championship. He befriended multiple chess players in the city: Semyon Furman, Gennady Sosonko, Vadim Faibisovich, Vladimir Karasev, Gennady Nesis and Andrey Lukin. Soon after, Alexander brought Sosonko into Tal’s team of coaches, while Furman began to mentor Anatoly Karpov a few years later.
Alexander Bakh worked as a teacher for a while, preparing schoolchildren in the upper classes for university. Among them were chess players and their relatives: Bakh taught Russian, physics and maths to Irina Livitina and Igor Korchnoi, the son of Viktor. And then a rising star from Zlatoust came into his life.
“In the spring of 1969, Leningrad hosted a qualifying tournament for the world junior championship. There, I had the chance to meet Karpov more closely. He complained that he was sharing a hotel room with a drunkard, so he had little chance to rest
“I offered Anatoly to stay with me for the tournament and persuaded Furman to help him. Karpov got to know his future trainer a little better. Anatoly won the qualifying tournament and then became world junior champion; I met him in Moscow on his return from Sweden. He persuaded me to travel to Tula with him, where I met his parents. At the end of 1969, Moscow hosted the USSR championship that was simultaneously a qualifier for the inter-zonal tournament. Tal was playing.
I visited Moscow for a few days to support him. In the press-centre, I ran into Karpov and asked him how things were going. He replied that things were going badly; he found it difficult to study and train and the constant cold in his university halls meant he was permanently ill. I thought about this a little and, knowing my capabilities told him: “I think that you have to move to Leningrad. You will train with Furman and the Leningrad State University will accept you for any faculty and give you a free timetable.”
I knew that Sergey Borisovich Lavrov was watching Karpov’s rise carefully. Anatoly was taken aback and I said: “It will be difficult for you to make that decision on your own, so I am inviting you and your parents to Leningrad for a week. Come, and I’ll introduce you to everyone. Then you can decide.” The parents came, saw that everything was serious and Karpov fled from Moscow.
Botvinnik was not pleased and nor was Bykhovskiy, who attempted to dissuade Anatoly. That was Karpov’s first serious dilemma in life. I told him back then: “If you want to become world champion, move to Leningrad!” It was said as a joke, but as we know, every joke has a bit of truth in it. Paradoxically, that is exactly what happened: he became the world champion in the next cycle. Karpov was coy and kept saying that this was not his cycle, but it was clear that he was fighting for the title.” (A. Bakh)
Alexander Bakh went on to help multiple promising chess players like Vassily Ivanchuk and Valery Salov. Thanks to Bakh’s efforts, Sergey Karjakin moved to Russia. Possessing a fantastic memory and memorising Karpov’s/Furman’s chess textbooks, Bakh became one of the most successful brokers in the USSR. Thanks to his ability to memorise the condition and size of apartments in tens of Soviet cities, Alexander was able to help multiple influential people and obtain new contacts.
After world champion Anatoly Karpov returned to Moscow, Alexander Bakh followed him to the capital and began to work at the Central Chess Club, first under Viktor Baturinskiy, then Nikolai Krogius’ authority. Bakh was valued for his remarkable competence, punctuality and ability to solve difficult dilemmas in little time. In in 1987, Krogius suffered a heart attack at his table. His colleagues flocked around him, unaware how they could help the grandmaster. “Call Alex! Only Bakh can save me…” Krogius whispered. Bakh not only helped Nikolai to survive but also organised his recovery process.
Alexander Bakh headed Anatoly Karpov’s delegation in the latter’s matches against Garry Kasparov in 1984 and 1985 and he organised the last star-studded USSR championship in 1988. The gifted administrator was elected acting director of the Soviet Chess Federation. After the collapse of the USSR, in an attempt to keep chess societies of the former superpower united, Alexander Bakh created an Association of Chess Federations, which organised visas and supported sportsmen’s attempts to hold competitions.
Bakh’s had organisation worked in Moscow’s Denezhny Pereulok for many years, occupying the building formerly leased by the RSFSR chess federation. However, in darker times this building was taken away from them. Alexander did not curb his enthusiasm and persuaded Aeroflot to organise the Aeroflot Open- the largest tournament in Russia. With a short break in 2014, the tournament is an irreplaceable competition for Russian chess players and its winner plays in the super tournament in Dortmund.
After Alexander Zhukov came to lead Russian chess, Alexander Bakh was the executive director of the RCF from 2003-2010.
“I think I only failed in one thing: our men’s team never became Olympic champions. Everything else we set out to do, we completed. Before us, only wealthy children and juniors could participate in tournaments. I came to Zhukov and said: “Alexander Dmitrievich! We need to fix this, or children from modest families won’t even be able to play in championships.”
The RCF President asked me what I would suggest as remedy. I replied that we should divide championships into two leagues. We would bear the financial burden of the Premier League- it would cost around one hundred thousand dollars. Zhukov supported this and the policy has remained in place. Secondly, I think it’s a disaster to play the Russian championship with the Swiss system. We should resurrect championships that are analogous to their Soviet predecessors, which were always super tournaments. This will allow us to raise talented chess players.
It is very important that our women’s team won Olympiads. An important step in this process was the hiring of grandmaster Yury Dokhoian in 2006 to train the women’s team. After 2010, the team won three Olympiads. And the fact that we managed to create a large international tournament in Moscow- that is another significant achievement. Today, the ideology is a little different: Andrey Filatov believes that we should change the name of the tournament every year, since Russia and the Soviet Union bred many world champions. But the Tal Memorial turned into a tournament that will remain alive for centuries.” (A. Bakh)
Today, Alexander remains an adviser to RCF president Andrey Filatov.