Person of day - 21 AUGUST 2023
Lev Alburt was born in Orenburg. He graduated from Odessa University’s physics faculty. After two years of undergraduate studies, he decided to concentrate on chess and between 1972 and 1974, he won the Ukrainian championship five times before becoming an international master in 1976 and a grandmaster a year later. Alburt played in five Soviet championships, won the European team championship with the USSR and won the European Cup with his native Burevestnik. His trip to another tour of the European League would be the last for Alburt as a Soviet citizen- in 1979, the grandmaster asked West Germany for political asylum.
Genna Sosonko: “On their return to Moscow, the whole team was taken to the headquarters of trade unions where government officials were waiting. It was not hard to spot young men earnestly listening to the testimonies.
The first word was given to Smyslov. A protracted silence overhung us. According to witnesses, Vasily stayed silent for at least a minute. At last, he said: “Lev Alburt was not of my generation…” after which he fell silent once again. “What else can there be to add?” he asked rhetorically. He continued: “He was a demonic type. One could expect anything from him…”
Lev Alburt: “My dislike of the Soviet system began when I was a junior. The dislike merely strengthened with age. I managed to remain out of the Communist Party and the Komsomol, which I’m particularly proud of, since the latter was rather difficult. We were taught from childhood that the Soviet Union was under constant threat of intervention and I hoped that this would happen one day and that the Soviet government would fall. However, after I aged, I realised that this was an illusion. After this, I began to hope that the system would change from the inside. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 shattered this dream. It became obvious that I had to try to leave. Not only for my future. Only when I was abroad in the free world would I be able to open people’s eyes to the nature of this system and the danger it carried for the world.”
In the West, Alburt moved to the US and settled in Manhattan. He won his new homeland’s national championship three times and played for the American team in world team championships and Olympiads, winning two bronze medals. In 1980, he captained the American team and played against the world champion, Anatoly Karpov.
Lev Alburt: “Anatoly Karpov whispered to me before the match: “You know, Lev, I won’t shake your hand today.” I was ready for this and even asked friends to capture the moment when I would stand, hand outstretched in vain. I had no bitterness for the disregard of this pre-match ritual.”
He seconded for Viktor Korchnoi- another famous defector- and took part in the organisation of the second half of the Kasparov-Karpov match in New York.
Lev Alburt: “It happened spontaneously. I introduced my pupil (in America, it is customary to take lessons in whatever age)- billionaire Tel Field - to Kasparov. Ted liked Garry so much that he immediately took to calling him his younger brother. When Kasparov began to talk about difficulties with organising the world championship and began to gesticulate, the businessman took out a pen and calmly asked: “In whose name should I make out a check for four million dollars?”
He is a long-time author of Chess Life magazine and in 2003, he was included in the Hall of Fame of American chess. In the 1980s, he was the Chairman of the Board of the American Chess Federation. He became a recognised trainer of FIDE in 2004 and he is the author of books about Alexandre Alekhine, the Pirc Defence (with A. Chernyn), an encyclopaedia on openings (with R. Dzhindzhikhasvili and N. Krogius) and a textbook on chess and the endgame (with N. Krogius). Lev Alburt’s book about the Carlsen-Karjakin match in New York in 2016, which he wrote with Jon Crumiller and with the active participation of Vladimir Kramnik, was awarded the highest honour by the Union of Chess Journalists of USA.
Lev Alburt is a renowned expert on the Alekhine Defence; the line 1.е4 Kf6 2.d4 Kd5 3.d4 d6 4.Kf3 g6 is named after him in the West.
In recent years, as relations between Russia and the West has deteriorated, the former dissident unexpectedly made several statements in the press that fully supported the Russian President’s policy.