Russia With Love


In 1957, Ian Fleming (1908-1964) wrote From Russia with Love, his 5th James Bond novel. 


In 1961, President John F. Kennedy included From Russia with Love as one of his favorite books, and sales of James Bond books quickly jumped.  An article in Life Magazine was published on March 17, 1961 which gave a list of Kennedy's ten favorite books, which included From Russia with Love.  The movie, From Russia with Love, was the last motion picture that Kennedy ever say, on November 20, 1963.  The film's USA release was delayed from 1963 to 1964 due to the political climate after the Kennedy assassination.


In the novel, Ian Fleming opens chapter 7 by writing, "The two faces of the double clock in the shiny, domed case looked out across the chess-board like the eyes of some huge sea monster that had peered over the edge of the table to watch the game.  The two faces of the chess clock showed different times.


In the book, Tov Kronsteen, a chess grandmaster, works for SMERSH as head of the planning department, the Soviet counterintelligence agency.  He helps devise a plan to trap James Bond by providing a SMERSH decoder (called Spektor in the novel and Lektor in the movie), then killing him.  In the novel, Kronsteen is champion of Moscow for two years in a row and is playing in the championship tournament for his third year.  In the novel, the chess game was described as a Queen's Gambit Declined, Meran Variation (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 Bd3).  The movie version was a King's Gambit Accepted, Modern Defense (3...d5).  In the novel, Kronsteen won by introducing "a brilliant twist into the Meran Variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined to be debated all over Russia for weeks to come."


The novel says that Kronsteen waited for three minutes before accepting his opponent's resignation.  He later had to explain to his superior why he did not obey his order of returning to SMERSH at once and waited 3 minutes before accepting his opponent's resignation.  Kronsteen explained, "To the public, Comrade General, I am a professional chess player.  If, with only three minutes to go, I had received a message that my wife was being murdered outside the door of the tournament hall, I would have not raised a finger to save her.  My public knows that. They are dedicated to the game as myself.  Tonight, if I had resigned the game and had come immediately upon receipt of that message (You are required at once), 5,000 people would have known that it could only be on the orders of such a department as this.  There would have been a storm of gossip.  My future comings and goings would have been watched for clues.  It would have been the end of my cover.  In the interests of State Security, I waited three minutes before obeying the order.  Even so, my hurried departure will be the sibject of much comment."


In the novel, Kronsteen does not die as in the movie, and never encounters James Bond.


The decoder device was inpspired by Ian Fleming's wartime work for the top secret Ultra Network, the group that cracked the German Enigma code during World War II. The group was made up of several top English chess players.


In 1963 (1964 for USA), the second film  (after Dr. No) of Ian Fleming's James Bond moves came out, From Russia with Love, starring Sean Connery.  The opening scene takes place at a chess tournament played at a hotel in Venice, Italy.  The game is supposed to be the deciding game in the Venice International Grandmaster Chess Championship (although it is a match, not a tournament).  The match is between Colonel Kronsteen (played by Vladek Sheybal) of Czechoslovakia and MacAdams (played by Peter Madden) of Canada.  The score stands at 11.5 points each.  Kronsteen (rhymes with Bronstein) has White (in the real game, Bronstein had Black and lost).  The positon from the game is supposed to be based upon the 22nd move of the brilliant game Boris Spassky vs. David Bronstein, in the 27th USSR Championship held in Leningrad in 1960.  However, in the movie, the two center White pawns on c5 and d4 are missing (which makes a difference in the brilliancy).  Black had just played 21.   BxN (21...Bxe5) and White responded with 22.Nxe5+.


In the movie, the cigarette smoking Kronsteen (who looks like Vladimir Putin) plays 1.Nxe5, then calmly says check (saying check out loud would probably would not occur in a grandmaster championship match).  Kronsteen then presses the button on his small BHB chess clock (the clocks are not set correctly.  Time control ends at 6:00 in a normal chess match, and these clocks are nowhere near the start time of 4:00 or approaches 6:00 as in the real game).  After the move is made on the chess board, the move is made on a giant magnetic chess board behind them.  An umpire and a person manning the wall board then announces the move to the audience in English descriptive notation.  This would never happen in a real chess match.  One would not announce the move to the spectators, nor say it in English decriptive notation in a European tournament (they were using algebraic notation on the Continent). 


After Kronsteen makes his move, a waiter brings glasses of water to the participants (that probably would never happen - maybe yogurt).  Besides being a grandmaster, Kronsteen is the Number 5 man in SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), the terrorist organization out to destroy Bond.  A note on the mat under Kronsteen's glass says "You are required at once." (another way to cheat in chess and have the moves delivered).   Kronsteen reads the message, tears up the evidence and tries to finish off his opponent quickly.  MacAdams moves his King to the h7 square to get out of check (the big chess board attendent says "King to Rook Two") and Kronsteen responds with his Queen moving to to the e4 square.  He then punches his clock without saying check.  The move is then announced by umpire and wall board attendent "Queen to King Four."  MacAdams then resigns by tipping his King (he didn't throw it across the room like past grandmaster might have), stands, smiles and offers his hand while saying "My congratulations sir.  A brilliant coup." (he meant to say, "Why must I lose to this idiot." but it didn't come out right).  Kronsteen shakes MacAdams' hand and walks away from the table.  A spectator reaches out to give him a handshake, but Kronsteen ignores him and keeps walking (he was probably mumbling, "Shove off, jerk.")


In the real game between Spassky and Bronstein, Spassky played these moves brilliantly.  In the movie version, without White's two pawns on c5 and d4, after White played 1.Nxe5, Black could have played 1...Ne6 instead of the losing 1...Kh7, since after 2.Qe4, Black would now play 2...Qc5+ oe 2...Rad8 and Black could offer more resistance.


Kronsteen then leaves the playing hall to meet with some other SPECTRE leaders.  There, Number 3, Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) says, "I hope Kronsteen's efforts as Director of Planning will continue to bas as successful as his chess."  Kronsteen replies, "They will be." (Not).  The head of SPECTRE then asks Kronsteen if his plan is foolproof.  Kronsteen replies, "Yes, it is, because I have anticipated every variation of counter move."


In the movie, Kronsteen is killed on Ernst Stavro Blofeld's (head of SPECTRE) orders by Morzeny (created for the film and not in the novel) with a spiked shoe.


Vladek Sheybal (1923-1992), who played Grandmaster Kronsteen, was a Polish actor who did not want the role in a James Bond movie because he thought it might not be a good career move.  His friend, Sean Connery, persuaded him to sign on, which did help his career.


Here is the From Russia with Love chess movie scene from YouTube.



References to the Spassky-Bronstein game include:

Burgess, Nunn, Emms, The World's Greatest Chess Games, page 235, game 42

Cafferty, Boris Spassky, page 101, game 37

Kasparov, On My Great Predecessors III, page 203, game 52