He grew up in a fam­i­ly of Jew­ish rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and became the first world cham­pi­on from the USSR.

Mikhail Botvin­nik was born in August 1911 in the hol­i­day vil­lage of Kuokkala on the Kare­lian Isth­mus. Now Botvinnik’s small home­land is called Repino in hon­or of its most famous res­i­dent, the Russ­ian artist Ilya Repin.

First successes in chess

In the first decades of the 20th cen­tu­ry, celebri­ties vis­it­ed the vil­lage — from the singer Fyo­dor Chali­apin to the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. If some­one had a toothache, they turned to par­ents of the future grand­mas­ter: moth­er Shifra (Ser­afi­ma) Samoilov­na Rabi­novich worked as a den­tist, and father Moses Gir­shovich Botvin­nik made den­tures.

The chess player’s par­ents were Jews; they were also unit­ed by a rev­o­lu­tion­ary past. The father for­bade the moth­er to speak Yid­dish with the chil­dren so that they would assim­i­late suc­cess­ful­ly.

Botvin­nik start­ed play­ing chess only at the age of 12, before that he was inter­est­ed in pho­tog­ra­phy and gym­nas­tics. At the age of 20, Botvin­nik became the USSR cham­pi­on for the first time, and in August 1933 he received the title for the sec­ond time.

Becom­ing a chess play­er Botvin­nik was not poor. Already at the age of 25, he had a black GAZ‑A and a doc­u­ment for free refu­el­ing in Moscow, which was signed by Joseph Stal­in.

Victory at the World Championship and work in science

Botvin­nik became the strongest chess play­er in the world only in 1948: It was not only the war that inter­fered, but also sci­ence. In the peri­od from 1948 to 1951, Botvin­nik did not play in a sin­gle tour­na­ment, devot­ing him­self to his doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion.

Botvin­nik worked at the All-Union Elec­tric Pow­er Research Insti­tute for more than 50 years. He became a Doc­tor of Sci­ence, designed and devel­oped asyn­chro­nized tur­bo­gen­er­a­tors that worked at pow­er plants in the USSR.

Botvin­nik so was impressed by the scale of the Cher­nobyl dis­as­ter, which appealed to the Sovi­et author­i­ties with a request to move all nuclear pow­er plants to the Far North, then trans­fer­ring their ener­gy to the main­land. How­ev­er, I did not receive a response to my pro­pos­al.

Botvin­nik became the first Sovi­et world chess cham­pi­on and the sixth in the his­to­ry of the game. He won the world title three times, and in total played 1202 games in chess com­pe­ti­tions at var­i­ous lev­els, scor­ing almost 70% of the points.

Life after career

After fin­ish­ing his career, Botvin­ni cre­at­ed his own school, where he trained many grand­mas­ters. He tried to use the achieve­ments of chess the­o­ry to cre­ate arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, includ­ing chess com­put­ers.

Botvin­nik died on May 5, 1995 in Moscow from pan­cre­at­ic can­cer. As the nephew of the world cham­pi­on Igor Botvin­nik recalled, Mikhail Moi­see­vich died in full con­scious­ness, with the great­est courage and dig­ni­ty, and on the eve of his death he gave his rel­a­tives com­pre­hen­sive instruc­tions on the pro­ce­dure for orga­niz­ing the funer­al.

Botvin­nik left behind a child — daugh­ter Olga. The chess play­er believed that a child should start learn­ing as late as pos­si­ble, so he for­bade his daugh­ter to read until she was six years old. This did not stop Olga from becom­ing a can­di­date of tech­ni­cal sci­ences, an employ­ee of the O. Yu. Schmidt Insti­tute of Earth Physics.