Monday, April 22, 2013

The Childhood of Russian Chess

Mikhail Tschigorin is often cited as being the Father of Russian Chess. While, indeed, he was the greatest Russian player of the 19th century, he might be better considered, with his Romantic style, the apex of Russian Chess' adolescence. 
Ivan Alexandrovich Butrimov, Alexander Dmitrievich Petroff  and Major Carl F. Jaenisch could be thought of as the birth of Russian Chess while the Soviet School might be the mature adulthood of Russian Chess.
This series will try to examine Russian Chess' Childhood, the time between Petroff's early contributions and Tschigorin's later accomplishments.
In 1837 the players in the city of St. Petersburg were meeting at the apartment of A.D. Petroffin the Kolomna area that city .  This included not just dedicated players such as Ivan Butrimov and Carl Jaenisch, but literary types such as the playwright Alexander Danilovichem Kopyev also.  Petoff moved to Warsaw in 1840 and the chess circle dissolved.
On March 27, 1853 the St. Petersburg Society of Chess Amateurs, sometimes translated as the Chess-lovers Society, was founded in the home of Count Alexander Grigorievich Kushelev-Bezborodko at 1-3 Gagarinskaya Street. 
An 1853 edition of Vedomosti (the Record) said: "On March 27 at 8 pm at the home of Count Alexander Gregorievich Kushelev-Bezborodko the opening ceremony  of the newly founded Society of Chess was performed with governmental permission." It was charted in 1854, becoming the first organized chess club in Russia,one year prior to the Count's death.  The difference between it's founding date and charter date can be attributed to the political climate of the time. 
While the government was petitioned to allow the charter of such a group (the petition was sent by Count Kushelev-Bezborodko, Major C. F. Jaenisch and two influential parties - which is possibly the only reason it was eventually approved), it took amost a year to receive the approval.  The Chess Society, with its annual dues of 15 rubles in silver, was a congress of very wealthy, influential men. Although it peaked at 50 members, by 1860 it inexplicably dissolved for lack of funds.  
The Count's son, Grigory Alexandrovich Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya reorganized the society which then was meeting first at the Hotel Demuth, an extravagant building at the junction of an equally extravagant street, Nevsy Prospekt, and the Moika Canal.  Then the club rented rooms from January-May 1862 at the house of the Eliseev brothers (Grigory and Stepan) also located on Nevsky Prospekt.  The club had been chartered in 1854  just one year prior to the Count's death.  It became the first official chess club in Russia. Petroff, himself, traveled from Warsaw to attend its inaugural meeting, signifying it's importance.  Among the members were  Petoff, of course, Ilya Stepanovich Shumov,  Dmitri Semenovich Urusov, Sergei SemenovichUrusov (brother of, and a more accompished chess player than, Dmitri) Carl Jaenisch, Viktor Mikailov, the player/chess author Ivan Butrimov,  the revolutionary Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky (whose presence there caused the club's demise in 1862, shut down by the police for suspicion of insurrection)  and the chemist Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev.  Many dignitaries visited the home for chess (some were probably members) including the authors Ivan Tuegenev, Nikolai Akhsharumov, Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Yevgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin, Dimitri Ivanovich Pisarev and Ivan Ivanovich Panaev, the poet Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov,  the composer Léon Fyodorovich Minkus, the Minister of War Prince Vasily Andreevich Dolgorukov and Ignatz Kolisch, former secretary to Prince Sergei Urusov .   
Some of the members and visitors were government spies. Nicholas I came into power in December 1825. At the beginning of his reign there was an attempt to overthrow him called forever the Decembrist Revolt.  Although he rather quickly supressed the revolt, one result was that Nicholas regime became a repressive one, replete with spies and oppressive laws.  Gatherings of artists, musicians, writers and now even chess players (usually the groups were mixed) became targets for this oppression and the Society of Chess Amateurs was no exception.  One particular habitué, Nikolay Chernyshevsky was arrested in 1862 and incarcerated in the Fortress of St. Peter and Paul, after which he was exiled to Siberia.  The Chess club was shut down.  

The Society had organized the first tournament played in St. Petersburg, won by I. S. Shumov.   Grigor A. Kushelev-Bezborodko also published the Shakhmatny Listok (the first chess periodial in Russia) which was edited by Viktor Mikailov.

Count Alexander Kushelev-Bezborodko's house at 1-3 Gagarinskaya Street
In 2010 the palace sold for 740 million rubles.

The Maison of the Brothers Eliseev, 1830

Grigory Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya                    Count Alexander Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya

  Sergei Semenovich Urusov                                            Dmitri Semenovich Urusov

Carl Friedrich Andreyevich Jaenisch                                                Ilya Stepanovich Shumov          

Russian chess at that time followed the Italian rules which allowed free castling and passar battaglia(the disallowing of en passant).  While the club charter of 1854 followed Jaenish's old-school preference for the Italian rules, the new charter of 1857 allowed for en passant.  That the Russians followed the Italian rules (which still existed up to 1881 when the 3rd Italian Chess Congress played in Milan used standard rules ) isn't strange since the Russians had close ties with the Italian chess scene at the time. While Serafino Dubois, the great Italian master of that time, doesn't seem to have ever visited St. Petersburg, several Russian players visited Rome (including Turgenev, Akhsharumov, Mikilov and and Kushelev-Bezborodko whose game is shown below) and played with Dubois. Jaenish had frequent correspondence with Dubois concerning the standardization of chess rules.

Here is a match game between Prince Sergey Urusov and Ignatz Kolisch shortly before the club was closed. The match result was spit 2-2.  Kolisch also played Shumov and beat him 6-2.  Shumov's one win, a stodgy defense against the Evans Gambit follows.
[Oddly, gives 8 games of Kolisch vs. Shimov.  The St. Petersburg match is the only contest the two players had to which I could find any reference.  If the games at are all the match games, they show Kolisch winning the match 7-1.  Rod Edwards of Edo Historic Chess Ratings helped me look into this.  He found a news item given by Herr Lowenthal in his chess column in the Era in Sept. 21, 1862 that confirms the match went 6-2 in Kolisch's favor.]

Chess Player's Chronicle,  vol. 14, 1854


The establishment of a Chess Society, or, as we should call it, "a Chess Club," in the capital of the Russian Empire, is an event of far more importance than the mere fact would seem to indicate.

In this country the circumstance of a number of noblemen or gentlemen forming themselves into a club for the purpose of enjoying any particular amusement, whether sedentary or athletic, intellectual or physical, is a matter of trifling moment to any but the parties immediately concerned; but in Russia the case is widely different; there, no "Societies" or " Institutions" of any kind are allowed to exist, except by the especial permission of the Government itself, and hitherto this permission has been rigorously withheld in almost every case where application has been made, and interest used, for the establishment of a society, no matter what the object of it may have been. It is gratifying to find that at length there is some relaxation in the severity of precaution which has always been exhibited upon this peculiar point, and we cannot help thinking that the first remission being in favour of a pastime so thoughtful, so suggestive, and, we may add, so eminently scientific in its character, is honourable to the Emperor, and a high compliment to the game.

The club in question is entitled "Societe Des Amateurs d'Echecs de St. Petersburgh," and iscomposed of the first nobility of the Empire. At the official inauguration (which took place on the 8th ult. in one of the salons of the Count Korecheloff-Besborodko's spacious mansion), in accordance with the statute of the Institution, approved by Government, the meeting proceeded to elect three directors for the year, and a perpetual Secretary. The Directors chosen were—

1st. The Baron de Meyendorf (Aide-de-Camp General of his Majesty the Emperor).
2nd. Lieut.-General de Kluepfell.
3rd. Le Comte General Korecheloff-Besborodko (Senator). Perpetual Secretary, Mr. C. F. deJaenisch (Conseillor de la Cour Imperiale, &c.)

Under such auspices, there can be no doubt of this Society becoming the most brilliant of its kind ever known. Upwards of one hundred of the most distinguished names of the Empire were enrolled within the first few days. Among them we observe—

Aides-de-Camp General Annenkoff and Filosofoff.
General of Artillery, Baron Korff.
Lieut.-General Baron Rosen.
Mouravieff and Bakhtin, Members of the Council of the Empire.
General Prince Dolgorouki.
Baron P. de Frederiks.
Besides a host of other elevated functionaries.

At a subsequent meeting of the club, Field Marshal Prince Paskevitch (an enthusiastic amateur of Chess), and Mr. Petroff, the distinguished Russian player, were unanimously elected Honorary Members. The election of foreign Honorary Members, the choice of whom will be scrupulously select, is deferred until the autumn.

It is much to the credit of this newly-formed and eminently aristocratic coterie, that one of their first measures was to grapple with a difficulty the evasion of which has been a standing reproach to the Chess-players of Europe for the last half century. We allude to the anomalies and absurdities so long permitted to disfigure and render ridiculous the "Laws of Chess." At a meeting held by the members for the purpose of considering the present state of the laws and rules of the game, it was resolved that the Secretary, M. C. F. de Jaenisch, be requested to draw up a new code of "Laws" for the use of the Society. The task could certainly have been intrusted to no better hands. Profoundly versed in all that relates to the practice and theory of Chess, and conversant almost above all other men with its History and Literature, M. Jaenisch, there can be little question, will produce a digest of the Rules of Chess which will win the sanction and become the guide, not only of his own countrymen, but of Chess-players generally throughout the world.

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