Moscow 1925: The Rise of Soviet Chess (November 10 – December 8, 1925) | So Good News


Chess has been rooted in Russia since the beginning of the Middle Ages. At the beginning of the 19thth In the 19th century, when the game flourished in Europe and France and England became the leading chess-playing nations, Russia’s chess traditions began. The country saw its first great players in Alexander Petrov (1794-1867), Karl Jaenisch (1813-1872) and Ilya Shumov (1819-1881), who were outstanding theorists and practical players. Three Russian masters were invited to the first international tournament in history, London 1851, but Petrov and Shumov declined, and Jaenisch arrived late.

Later, the Urusov brothers Sergey (1827-1897) and Dmitri (1829-1903), Emmanuel Shiffers (1850-1904), and Semyon Alapin (1856-1923) emerged as other strong masters. This is Mikhail Chigorin (1850-1908), but he was the most influential Russian player in the 19th century. Playing in two World Cups, he would inspire Russian players into the next century.

All this speaks of the rich culture of Russian chess, but before the first decade of the 20th centuryth century, chess was the game of the nobility, the intelligentsia, and the rest of Russian high society. And a whirlwind of events brought chess to the masses and turned it into a passion of the nation.

In 1917, the Bolsheviks violently seized power and ended centuries of royal rule. While creating a new proletarian society, they faced the task of reshaping Russian citizenship.

Although the Bolsheviks initially viewed chess as a decadent bourgeois pastime, they eventually came to see it as an intellectual sport that could revitalize peasants and workers who had suffered through decades of exploitation.

Chess, slowly but surely entered life. Clubs were organized, newspaper chess columns and magazines appeared, and tournaments were held frequently. In the three years of the new regime, the All-Russian Olympiad of 1920 was held, which was later renamed the USSR Championship after the transformation of Russia into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. To make the tournament possible, the government had to gather all the powerful players of old Russia and cover all their expenses. Alexander Alekhin won the competition to become the first national champion of the USSR.

It certainly helped that even though the Bolsheviks hated chess at first, some of them became real lovers of the game. The architect of the revolution, Vladimir Lenin himself, was an avid gamer. A strong teacher, a true revolutionary, Alexander Ilyin-Genevsky was appointed commissar, a high-ranking member of the Soviet army. This allowed him to organize important tournaments, and Alekhine won the All-Russian Olympiad, which, in fact, was his creation.

However, one realizes that he was not yet the most influential figure in Soviet chess. He was Nikolai Krylenko.

Nikolay Krylenko Photo: Wikipedia

Krylenko, like Ilyin-zhenevsky, was a real-blood Bolshevik, who was entrusted with important tasks after the revolution. He served as the People’s Commissar of Justice and even for a short period as the Supreme Commander of the Red Army. Always a chess enthusiast and frequent tournament participant, he was appointed head of the Soviet Chess and Checkers Section.

No better thing could come to chess than a high-ranking Soviet official. Krylenko would reassemble Soviet players displaced by the revolution. He would advocate state support for strong players. Under his leadership, chess materials became available, so theory was easily shared among the Soviets. Ultimately, he would transform chess from a sport favored by a few Bolsheviks into a state-sponsored sport.

Meanwhile, chess was humming. In 1922, Moscow and Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg), home to the country’s best players, faced off in eleven board matches. In 1923-1925, three more championships of the USSR were held. Pyotr Romanovsky became the national champion in 1923, Yefim Bogolyubov in 1924 and 1925. In 1925, Ilya Rabinovich was the first representative of the USSR to the international tournament when he was sent to Baden-Baden, Germany. He took seventh place.

Efim Bogolyubov Photo:

In the same 1925, Krylenko decided that it was time to test all the achievements of chess since the revolution, he would match the strongest players of the country against the leading foreign masters. The Soviet cast was to be composed of the eight best players from the 1925 USSR championship, namely Yefim Bogolyubov, Grigory Levenfisch, Ilya Rabinovich, Boris Verlinsky, Fyodor Duz-Khotimirsky, Solomon Gottilf, Alexander Ilyin-Genevsky and Pyotr Romanovsky. Fyodor Bokhatyrchuk and Nikolai Subarev brought ten Soviet representatives. Against them were eleven international stars, including World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca, former World Champion Emanuel Lasker, Frank Marshall, Savieli Tartakower, Carlos Torre, Richard Rethy, Ernst Gruenfeld, Rudolf Spielmann, Akiba Rubinstein, Frederic, Frederic and Frederic .

Alekhin went missing. The great Russian was disappointed by the slow development of chess during the first years after the revolution, and did not expect the progress that Krylenko later saw at its head. In his book “Chess Life in Soviet Russia” he wrote:

“Chess players from Petrograd, Kazan, Kharkiv are in the latest news there is began to organize, but there, as everywhere, everything depends on the personal influence of some government official – chess flourished in Moscow only thanks to Ilyin-Genevsky. It seems impossible that you can build upon such a precarious foundation.’

In 1921, Alekhine married a Swiss journalist and received permission to travel to the West with his wife. He never came back. He was not invited because he was considered an “alien hostile to Soviet power.”

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Krylenko secured a bankroll of 30,000 rubles, making Moscow the first state-sponsored tournament in 1925. The tournament lasted from November 8 to December 10, and for about a month, people experienced an unprecedented chess mania. More than a thousand spectators came to the House of Clocks every time. Those unfortunate enough to be unable to sleep were forced to gather outside Theater Square to catch the news, where the police were called in to control the crowd. Tens of thousands of people across the country waited for news from Moscow every day. All the excitement was captured on silent film Chess Feverthen the shots of the participants of the tournament appeared.

Master Class Vol.4: Jose Raul Capablanca

He was a child prodigy and legends surround him. In his prime, he was unbeatable and considered by many to be the greatest chess talent of all time: José Raúl Capablanca, born 1888 in Havana.

Capablanca and Lasker were favorites. The year before, they had won a similarly great tournament in New York 1924, and it would be another close race between them. Even after twenty rounds, Bogoljubov won. He finished with 15.5 points, 13 wins, 2 losses and 5 draws, behind second and third place Lasker and Capablanca.

Final position

With his victory, Bogoljubov entered the fight for the world championship. Moscow 1925 was his greatest victory, but it was only one of many in his post-World War I uprising. He also won Berlin in 1919, Stockholm in 1919, Kiel in 1921, Pistian in 1922, and took 1st-3rd place in Carlsbad in 1923. He would win another major tournament in Bad Kissingen in 1928.

Bogoljubov vs. Capablanca | Photo: Facebook group page “Chess Collections: Soviet and Royal Chess Sets”.

The initial success of the Soviet Union and Krylenko’s eight years of post-revolution work was bittersweet, as Bogolyubov fled to Germany the following year. To the dismay of the Soviets, he and Alekhine would compete in the next three World Championships, with Alekhine winning the title in 1927 and Bogolyubov as his opponent in 1929 and 1934. The Soviet Union could brag about their achievements, but those who obeyed like them were sanctioned with rejection.

And the rest of the Russian participants all ended in disappointment. Romanovsky was the best Russian after Bogoljubov in 7th placeth-8th, the rest finished in the lower half. True, nevertheless, only Alekhin and Bogolyubov were equal before the foreign masters. Krylenko is more determined than ever to find a new champion of the USSR and started working again. In 1935, he held another major tournament in the same city, finding co-winner Mikhail Botvinnik the man to carry the Soviet torch.

Participants of Moscow 1925 | Photo:

The Soviet Union became a major chess power in the late 1940s. But Krylenko could not see that day. During the Great Purge of 1938, he fell out of favor with Joseph Stalin. He was fired for taking part in chess and mountain climbing more than his official duties. Even worse, he was accused of anti-Soviet activities. After a sham trial, he was imprisoned and shot.

Moscow 1925 was crucial in transforming chess from a privileged class game in Tsarist Russia to a tool of propaganda and national regeneration in the Soviet socialist state. The tournament not only produced a Russian contender for the world title, but also set the Soviet Union on the path to becoming a real chess superpower.

Selected games

  1. Capablanca vs. Zubarev – Capablanca plays a beautiful attack based on positional play and short tactics.

  1. Bogolyubov against Verlinsky – Playing a hypermodern opening, Bogoljubov finishes comfortably and carefully puts his opponent into a zugzwan.

  1. Against Rety Romanovsky – Reti can create a Rook vs. Bishop vs. Rook vs. Bishop initiative that ends with bishops of the opposite color. A clever tactic nailed the whole idea.

  1. Ilyin-Genevsky v. Reti – Reti demonstrates the power of hypermodern discovery.

  1. Rabinovitch v. Romanovsky – Feeling the material benefit, White played carelessly, paired up, counterattacked.

  1. Capablanc vs. Ilyin-Genevsky – In one of the Capablanca attacks, Ilyin-Genevsky starts his attack on the opposite flank. A tense game is decided by a passed pawn.

All games


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