Valedictorians of the Soviet school: professionalization and the impact of war in Soviet chess.
The Times could not have been more mistaken. The Soviet team won by an overwhelming margin, 15 1/2-4 1/2. (2) Moreover, on the first and second boards in both games, Botvinnik and Vasilii Smyslov (the next two world champions) devastated the two best American masters, Arnold Denker and Samuel Reshevsky. (3) The Soviet chess journal Shakhmaty v SSSR called the victory the "match of the 20th century." (4) Soviet commentators claimed that a style of play unique to the Soviet Union--the Soviet school of chess--accounted for the victory. This style was essentially romantic, meaning that Soviet players attempted to find hidden combinations or sacrifices that would lead to a dramatic and decisive checkmate. Soviet chess literature contrasted it with an outdated positional style supposedly used by players in the West. Players who adopted a positional strategy stressed incremental gains over the course of the game, favoring careful pawn structure over bold sacrifices. For Soviet chess experts, the obvious conclusion was that the difference between these styles represented the ideological divide between the dynamic East and the declining West; the overwhelming victories of Soviet chess masters represented the inevitable triumph of socialism.
How did Soviet chess masters, virtual unknowns before the war, come to dominate international play by 1945? The answer begins with the founding of the state-run Chess Section in 1924. The Soviet state did not, of course, invent chess. The game appeared in the Russian lands before the 10th century and it was well-known among intellectuals in urban centers during the 19th century. The country's first chess society, the All-Russia Chess Association, was founded in 1914 and had approximately 5,000 members before it discontinued its activities after the outbreak of World War I. Chess, like other forms of bourgeois entertainment, was an activity the new Soviet state co-opted and shaped. Yet party-state officials did not favor all forms of recreation but rather those with a didactic bent, like mountain climbing or tourism. Chess was similar in that initially it was supposed to teach the population skills and qualities that would prove valuable outside the game. However, the goals for chess shifted over time. In the Great Turn, the aims of chess changed in a way that corresponded to what Matthew Lenoe calls the shift from "mass enlightenment project" to mobilization. Nonetheless, throughout the 1920s and early 1930s the Chess Section's main purpose was to spread chess, and whatever good might come with it, among the populace. (5)
Unlike exponents of other didactic forms of entertainment, though, the best Soviet players were at once organizers and high-level competitors in a time of blossoming international sports competition. Barbara Keys writes that the interwar period saw a burgeoning of "internationalist nationalism"--a desire to prove one's country's worth through international sport. Stalin's Soviet Union was no exception. Soviet competitors in the 1920s played mostly in workers' tournaments, but by the mid-1930s authorities began to allow competition against foreign professionals. If Soviet athletes could "catch up and overtake bourgeois records in sport"--a slogan introduced in 1933--they would prove that the Soviet Union could produce elite performers. (6) The state sports administration began to cultivate top-level athletes with this goal in mind. (7) Despite state officials' desire for athletic glory, Soviet competitors had relatively few chances to play against their foreign counterparts before the war. One explanation for this general lack of international competition is that Soviet authorities feared bourgeois contamination via sporting events. An overlooked stumbling block for international competition, however, was the fear of defeat. Chess masters, unlike many Soviet athletes, could successfully contend with foreign rivals, and therefore sports authorities granted them more opportunities for professional competition. (8)
The emphasis on master-level play in the mid-1930s followed a professionalizing trend in Soviet sport in general. Moreover, chess masters, like Stakhanovites and other Stalin-era heroes, reflected increasing social stratification in the USSR during the 1930s. Nicholas Timasheff maintains that the abandonment of the revolutionary ideal of absolute equality was part of a "Great Retreat" into policies of conservative social and cultural norms that Stalin and his ruling group initiated. Extending Vera Dunham's thesis of a postwar "Big Deal" to the 1930s, Karen Petrone characterizes the Great Retreat as a series of "small deals" where party-state officials gave concessions to segments of the population in exchange for loyalty. In sport itself, James Riordan argues that professionalization was "part of a general process of elite-creation in society" characteristic of the conservative shift. Lev Trotskii characterized the policy shifts as a betrayal of egalitarian ideals, and Sarah Davies maintains that some segments of the Soviet populace sympathized with this view. Viktor Papernyi asserts that the increasing hierarchy of Stalinism stemmed from a general spirit of the times (Culture 2) that he contrasts with the more expansive and formless spirit of the preceding decade (Culture 1). With the exception of Papernyi, these authors share a top-down view that makes party-state officials the primary actors in these policies. (9)
This article argues that nonstate actors like professional chess players aggressively lobbied for increasing status and privileges. While administrators' objectives and the spirit of the times played a role in the development of professional players, chess masters themselves were important participants in the process of elite creation in their field. Like their counterparts in other sports, chess players pressed cautious but interested administrators, themselves hungry for international victories, for special treatment. (10) Always watchful of masters and often critical of their behavior, the sports administration nonetheless began to allow them more opportunities and more acclaim. In turn, young chess stars offered their loyalty and, more important, their victories.
The string of postwar triumphs spawned the Soviet school of chess along with a persuasive narrative that combined sport, nationalism, and the war. Robert Edelman asserts that sporting events are contests of meanings; in the Soviet Union, the state attempted to impose its narrative on sports while spectators told their own stories. (11) Before World War II, though, chess officials showed little interest in promoting a specific strategy as an official style; winning was the main priority. If officials and the press favored players, past or present, they did so to promote Soviet-born players over recently nationalized foreign-born masters or to support the Russocentric historical accounts that David Brandenberger and Serhy Yekelchyk examine in other areas of cultural policy. (12) After the war, chess journalism created the Soviet school of chess by combining this Russocentric narrative with aggressive military metaphors and the real tendency among Soviet chess players to use an offensive style. When Soviet players triumphed in postwar international competition, especially over American players, chess took on greater meaning than merely a successful official program of recreation. Each international triumph on the checkered board proclaimed the righteousness of Soviet strategy, which was grounded in the heroic actions of the people and promised Soviet victory in the Cold War.
Winner Takes All: Professionalizing Chess in the 1930s
Mikhail Botvinnik, the first Soviet world chess champion, came to national prominence as a 13-year-old in 1925. The son of secularized Jewish dentists in Leningrad, Botvinnik was a first-category player but not a child prodigy like his American counterpart and contemporary Reshevsky. When the young Botvinnik bested then world champion Jose-Raul Capablanca (Cuba) on a board in a simultaneous exhibition, however, he became a sensation. Botvinnik later recalled the scene when he went to school the following day: "The bell rang--then everyone threw themselves at me. I understood that it was going to get bad and tried to run, but in the hall the teacher caught up and began to shake me." (13) His newfound fame did not fade. After winning the USSR championship in 1931, "Komsomolets" Misha Botvinnik became the youngest grandmaster in the USSR. When he tied Capablanca at a major tournament in England in 1936, Pravda proclaimed that the Soviet Union was "becoming the classical land of chess." (14)
Botvinnik's nationwide celebrity in the 1930s was a new development for the Chess Section. Top-tier chess players had been a part of the section's plan from its inception, but their development was initially a lower priority than "mass work." According to the inaugural issue of its journal, 64, the organization had three goals at its outset: first, to use chess as a "weapon of culture" against the "vestiges of the previous period of tsarism, against darkness and unculturedness [nekul 'turnost']"; second, to grow chess masters who "like an artist with his brush increase cultural wealth"; third, to make chess a "school of struggle and school of upbringing" that would foster character traits "necessary in all our lives." The section's leader, the influential jurist Nikolai Krylenko, was vigorous in emphasizing the connection between popular education and the master. In a speech to the chess organizers, he lambasted those who thought of chess as a "pure art form." Being a master meant an obligation to social activism, to work for the public good rather than personal victories. (15)
The specific didactic goal for chess was to foster a general dialectical worldview and sense of strategy. David Richards writes that the Chess Section wanted to train a revolutionary consciousness through the game. For some Bolshevik leaders, chess games bore a similarity to the dialectical processes of historical progress. If people understood how these processes worked, Lenin maintained, they could act to accelerate historical progress. Similarly, a chess master knowledgeable of how openings unfold could guide a game to its successful conclusion. To prove this connection, Soviet psychologists in 1925 conducted research on chess masters' mental functions for a study, Psikhologiia shakhmatno igry (The Psychology of Chess). They concluded that chess could foster transferable mental skills in logical reasoning--skills that could lead to a revolutionary consciousness. (16)
During the Great Turn, the section turned away from goals of general enlightenment and used chess as a mobilization tool for various party and state campaigns. In the heyday of proletarian promotion, an April 1929 front-piece in 64 called for the Chess Section to "Promote Workers Boldly!" by recruiting them for factory tournaments or even giving them invitations to play in the all-union championship. (17) With increasing demands for massavast" among voluntary and recreational associations, Krylenko implemented a "Five-Year Plan" to expand membership and convert the supposed 1.5 million unaffiliated players into organized members; by 1933, the organization was to include a million players. (18) In the early stages of collectivization, the Chess Section commanded brigades of players out to the countryside: "As one of the most cultured entertainments, with proper guidance [chess] will be a mighty tool to solder together the collective." (19) By the time of the Stalin revolution, chess had changed from a learning tool to a means of marshaling forces.
After the 1933 all-union championship, though, the Chess Section placed increasing emphasis on master-level play. The tournament was Botvinnik's second straight title, and the press waxed ecstatic over the leading representative of the young guard. On the heels of this victory, Flohr approached Old Bolshevik master Aleksandr Il'in-Zhenevskii--then a diplomat at the Prague embassy--to arrange a match with the young Soviet master. Flohr, who emigrated to the Soviet Union after the outbreak of World War II, was considered a potential challenger for the world title and certainly a favorite over Botvinnik. Nonetheless, Krylenko approved the match in September 1933; and the chess journal Shakhmaty v SSSR gave its endorsement: "The moment has come when the slogan 'catch up and overtake' must be realized by the chess organization through top-level indicators." Of course, the editorial did not abandon the policy of chess for the many. It claimed the Flohr-Botvinnik match's main purpose was to bring chess to an even broader audience, particularly to youth. (20)
Flohr met Botvinnik in Moscow that November. Their match would be split into two parts, the first six games in the capital and the final six in Leningrad. In response to the impending match, the Young Pioneer children's organization set to organizing the country's first major youth tournament, dubbed the Tournament of 18 Cities. As Botvinnik faltered in Moscow against Flohr, Soviet children joined in his struggles in the tournament. Pionerskaia pravda gave a figure of 100,000 child participants; it was as if the whole country was playing along with the young master. (21) Botvinnik arrived in Leningrad with the match four to two in Flohr's favor and six games remaining. The masters drew the first two Leningrad games, leaving Botvinnik no room for error. Perhaps buoyed by the 14,000 junior chess players in his home town, the Soviet master stormed back in the final four games against Flohr, winning two and drawing the remainder. The match ended in a 6:6 tie, but the Leningrad chess impresario Lev Rokhlin claimed victory, "The legend that Soviet masters are incapable of catching up with the art of West European chess has been smashed to smithereens." (22) The realization that Soviet chess, personified by the youthful Botvinnik, had attained the level of its more experienced and esteemed Western counterpart validated the program and raised the possibility of further professional-level matches.
The emphasis in the Soviet press on Botvinnik's age and the prominence of the new youth tournaments signaled that the primary audience for chess was shifting toward young people. In 1934, Komsomol Secretary Aleksandr Kosarev described his organization as a kind of "narkomat [people's commissariat] of cultured entertainment"; and it had made chess a standard recreational tool for local youth leaders. Citing a study that claimed a full quarter of Soviet rural youth played chess, Kosarev in 1938 proudly declared, "Chess is a serious type of entertainment, a marker of big culture [bol'shaia kul'tura]." (23) A sports administration directive from 1938 emphasized the benefits of spreading chess among youth on collective farms: "The sport of chess and checkers brings out in youths valuable qualities--the will to victory, quick-wittedness [soobrazitd "hOSt "], and patience [vyderzhka]." (24) This focus on youth in a sense indicated a return from mobilization to a type of enlightenment project. Rather than using chess to promote a dialectical worldview, however, organizers during the Great Retreat focused on the specific qualities--the will to victory, above all--they claimed chess could inculcate in youth.
This emphasis on winning brought increasingly formalized tournaments and training. The Pioneer organization's Tournament of 18 Cities soon became an annual event under the name of the All-Union Youth Tournament. Its winners transitioned quickly from junior champions to de facto professional players. Isaak Boleslavskii, second-place finisher of the 1936 junior tournament, won the Ukrainian championship in 1939. In the next Ukrainian championship, he edged out 16-year-old David Bronshtein, who took second. Vasilii Smyslov won the junior championship in 1938 and two years later took third in the USSR championship. Less than a decade later, Smyslov, Boleslavskii, and Bronshtein would play in the USA-USSR radio match. The Komsomol also trained children as chess players on teams at Pioneer houses (Doma pionerov) that were located in most major cities of the Soviet Union by the end of the 1930s. In Leningrad, for example, Botvinnik himself served as a tutor for the junior team. The relationship was mutually beneficial since Botvinnik used his apprentices, some already candidate masters, for practice before tournaments. But some help from juniors was less formal. In a strange episode, Iurii Averbakh (future grandmaster and head of Soviet chess) tried to give the master Grigorii Levenfish unsolicited help before the 1937 USSR championship against the favorite Botvinnik. Upon gaining entrance to the master's apartment, the 15-year-old saw that Levenfish was not alone--he was playing a practice game with Botvinnik! (25)
On their road to becoming masters, these junior champions joined an elite, close-knit group of professional players willing to work for collective privileges. One way that masters intervened in chess administration was to make its ranking system more stringent at all levels, but most of all for would-be masters. In April 1934, the masters Botvinnik, Levenfish, and Petr Romanovskii coauthored a paper (signed by 43 masters) on the need for tighter control over who could become a master: "The title of master is not just a rank that follows the first [category]. The title of master is a scientific [uchenaia] chess title." (26) Within a month, the Chess Section introduced rules that made the master rank achievable only by winning contests at the national level. Even after a victory of this sort, the section's qualifications commission reserved the right to confirm new masters. To ensure top-flight players continued to compete at high levels, the section implemented periodic qualification checks of first-rank players and masters. For lower-level players, too, the new rules made gaining ranks more difficult. A 1934 revision of the USSR Chess Code increased the number of wins in a tournament needed to attain a higher rank at almost every level, and its 1936 version was even more rigorous. (27)
The revised rating system reveals the motivations behind the Soviet competitive ethos. The Chess Section first introduced a nationwide ranking system in 1929, a fact remarkable in the international context. The International Chess Federation (FIDE) and the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) began to record ratings for competitive chess in 1950 and for all registered players in 1970; previously the USCF had granted titles and organized tournaments based on reputation, not data. (28) If the Chess Section was more interested in ranking than its Western counterparts, the specific purposes behind the system changed from 1929 to 1934. The 1929 ranking system attempted to attract, define, and order players; chess administrators of the early 1930s would likely have welcomed an influx of highly ranked amateurs as statistical proof of mass culture's benefits. The ranking system continued to define players into the 1930s, but it was increasingly meant to defend rank and prestige, particularly for masters.
Professional players also petitioned for material goods. In 1937, top chess players received stipends of 750 rubles per month and the champion 1,000. This stipend was roughly equal to that of soccer players, although unofficially soccer players seem to have received better pay. At a meeting to discuss the results of a 1939 exhibition tournament where foreign masters took first and second place, several players, most prominently Levenfish, complained that they had lost because their material conditions had been worse than those of their opponents or of soccer stars at home. Vasilii Snegov, chair of the sports administration, retorted, "Money does not motivate Bolsheviks." Levenfish replied: "I agree. But you'll agree, Comrade Snegov, that my condition during the tournament was not good for competition .... I had to think: how will I get by [kak prozhit']." (29) Levenfish may have exaggerated his situation when claiming he barely scraped by, but his point was clear; if the administration wanted to produce results against foreign counterparts, it had to provide material conditions similar to these opponents'.
The increasing professionalization of sport in the Soviet Union was not entirely welcome. Officials were well aware of the hypocrisy of supposedly amateur but de facto professional sport in the Soviet Union. "Record chasing" became a charge against various forms of sport's professionalization. Critics claimed that instead of focusing on the physical development of young people--a priority for labor and defense--sports administrators worried too much about records and major international victories. After Kosarev, a major supporter of top-level sport, was purged in November 1938, the phenomenon became known as "kosarevshchina." (30)
Despite the number of sports administrators who lost their jobs, freedom, or lives during the late 1930s, relatively few chess players were repressed. The biggest loss to Soviet chess was its great patron Krylenko, arrested on serious charges regarding his actions as people's commissar of justice (Narkomiust). Besides administrators, problematisty (composers of endgame puzzles) were significantly affected by the purges. In 1936, Botvinnik and L. F. Spokoinyi, the editor of Shakhmaty v SSSR, published a co-written article charging this group with formalism; puzzles were a mere "muddle," which could not develop in a real game. (31) As the practitioners of a kind of art form, problematists were in frequent dialogue with foreign colleagues; before 1937, notifications of composition contests in journals often appeared in multiple languages (usually Russian, German, and English). For connections with German colleagues the Chess Section removed at least two problematists--including the puzzle section editor at Shakhmaty v SSSR--in August 1937, roughly the same time as the major purge of the rest of the sports administration. (32) These woes were akin to those of other intellectuals, particularly those with foreign contacts.
The files of the sports administration from the late 1930s contain many hasty notices removing arrested or compromised bureaucrats but few notices concerning competitors. (33) In White King and Red Queen, the journalist Daniel Johnson writes obsessively about the ties between chess and Stalinist repressive policies. Every example he cites, however, involves administrators, retired players, and/or apocryphal stories. On the whole, it is telling that during perestroika, when other publications frequently published articles about Stalin-era martyrs, Shakhmaty v SSSR published just one article in this vein; the victim was Vladimir Petrov, a relatively obscure master from Riga whose 1942 arrest was mostly likely connected to his being Latvian. (34) Outside chess, soccer's famous Starostin brothers were sent to forced labor camps in 1942, but their arrest came well after they had moved into training and administration. On several occasions, secret police threatened the families of soccer stars, hoping to coerce them onto the police-sponsored Dinamo side. (35) This pattern suggests that politicians and police believed that sports administrators were largely interchangeable but that top-flight competitors had unique skills; stars could be intimidated, but they also needed to be protected.
How far the state went to protect chess masters was particularly evident during wartime. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Chess Section ceased its activities until April 1942. The section's first task upon re-forming was to locate grandmasters and masters who were scattered around the country. Within weeks it located all the grandmasters and nearly all the masters, who had mostly evacuated to safety (Table 1). Evacuees included the best young talents like Smyslov, Boleslavskii, and Averbakh, who played in wartime chess tournaments. Even enlisted masters, like Vladislav Ragozin, were sometimes able to receive assignments away from the front. (36) Unlike the youngest stars, Botvinnik, a candidate of sciences in electrical engineering, took up work in a factory near Molotov (Perm') against the wishes of sports administrators. Botvinnik soon found both his financial and working situation unsuitable. In April 1942, he petitioned Snegov for a stipend increase from the mere 400 rubles he was making at the factory. By August Botvinnik had become disconsolate: "I have quit playing chess, my abilities have weakened and moreover I am losing my fighting qualities.... Would it not be rational to give me the opportunity (as an exception) to play chess (even in a difficult time of war) in order to save me as a top-rank fighter?" (37) Hinting that Botvinnik should consider returning to professional-level chess, Snegov petitioned Molotov who granted both an increased stipend and an extra day off per week.
Although protected, Soviet masters faced surveillance and criticism. When Smyslov failed several exams in his first year as a student at the Moscow Aviation Institute in 1940, the Komsomol Central Committee was informed. (38) Another incident involved the American grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky, an Orthodox Jew. After participating in a 1939 exhibition tournament, Reshevsky complained to the sports authorities that Soviet players--many who were themselves from Jewish backgrounds--had abused him for keeping kosher. Snegov criticized the players' lack of tact and, more generally, for acting as individuals rather than for the good of Soviet sport. (39)
The sports administration also entertained doubts about masters' ability to win. In the 1938 AVRO tournament in the Netherlands, Botvinnik was one of eight participants, four of whom were or would be world champions at one point in their career. He finished a disappointing third behind Reuben Fine (United States) and Paul Keres (Estonia/USSR) and only a half-point ahead of three other players. Perhaps for this reason, when the United States and the USSR sent feelers regarding a chess match involving masters from both countries, the Chess Section's internal scouting memo raised doubts about both Reshevsky and Fine as cultural envoys. Aside from Reshevsky's need for "special cuisine" that the USSR might not be able to furnish in wartime, "they [Reshevsky and Fine] would be the main competitors for our grandmasters, even the absolute champion of the USSR M. Botvinnik." (40)
Despite suspicion and doubt, the efforts of sports administrators to bring the world championship to the Soviet Union showed that politicians were ready to risk uncertainty for the prestige of the world title. All the more remarkable was that politicians considered the possibility of playing against Alexander Alekhine, an emigre noble from Russia. A chess prodigy before the revolution, Alekhine left the Soviet Union in the 1920s and criticized the new regime from his adopted home in Paris. According to Botvinnik's memoirs, at the AVRO tournament Alekhine agreed to a match with any of the participants under the condition that they could raise the $10,000 prize fund. (41) Apparently this attempted Alekhine-Botvinnik match failed, and Snegov and Botvinnik in 1939 began talks with the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) to organize a championship match-tournament. Its projected roster included Botvinnik, Keres, the former champion Max Euwe (Netherlands), Fine, Flohr, and Reshevsky. Snegov did not, however, exclude the possibility that the tournament would invite German players or even Alekhine himself. (42)
With this projected tournament in the back of Snegov's mind, an unexpected outcome in the 1940 USSR championship played on both the administration's desire for victory and its fear of embarrassing losses. The co-champions of the November 1940 tournament were Igor' Bondarevskii and Andor Lilenthal. The latter was a recently nationalized Soviet from Hungary, one of the several chess masters (including Flohr and the aged ex-champion Emmanuel Lasker) to immigrate to the Soviet Union from fear of the increasingly antisemitic, authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe. But if the sports administration was willing to take in and sponsor talented foreign players, it was uncomfortable with having them as the national champion. Snegov's report to Sovnarkom on the tournament's outcome claimed that Lilenthal "until lately was surrounded by people of doubtful social reputation." Even more damning, though, was that neither victor was supposed to be of world championship caliber. Snegov alluded to the potential unseemliness of sending more highly esteemed masters like Botvinnik or Keres instead of the national champion as the Soviet Union's representative. To solve this dilemma, Snegov arranged a match-tournament in early 1941 for the top six in the 1940 championship; Botvinnik (the eventual winner) and Keres were among their ranks. All these schemes came to naught, though. While Soviet masters continued to play during the war, arranging a world championship was out of the question. (43)
When the war ended, talk of championships resumed, foremost among masters themselves. In his memoir, Botvinnik claims that Chess Section administrators Nikolai Zubarev and Boris Vainshtein refused to consider a match with Alekhine for political reasons; a match with the emigre was too dangerous. (44) A persistent Botvinnik went straight to the top, to Stalin himself, in a January 1946 letter. The master wrote that immediately after the Soviet-American match players had petitioned party authorities to arrange a world championship but received no response. According to Botvinnik, two options were available: chess organizers from the United Kingdom wanted to organize a head-to-head match between him and Alekhine, who in occupied France (under circumstances that are unclear in retrospect) had become a collaborator; the Americans favored a match-tournament similar to Botvinnik and Snegov's proposal before the war. (45) Addressing the vozhd directly, Botvinnik played passive-aggressive: "I can accept any decision you think expedient. But it would be shameful if a Soviet master in the upcoming years was removed from the battle for the world championship only because a decision was made too late." (46) Simultaneously deferential and challenging, he appealed openly to national pride to achieve his goal of becoming champion, potentially in competition with an accused collaborator.
How Stalin responded, if he responded at all, is unclear. Nevertheless, Botvinnik got his shot in 1948. Alekhine had died unexpectedly in 1946, clearing the way for a match-tournament for the championship. Soviet authorities allowed three players--Botvinnik, Keres, and Smyslov--to enter the tournament alongside Euwe, Fine (who withdrew before the match), and Reshevsky. Botvinnik did not disappoint: his overwhelming 14:6 victory was the crowning achievement of the Soviet chess program from the 1920s onward.
If Botvinnik's title was a major victory for Soviet sports, his memoir and internal reports reveal that the title match could have come years earlier if not for fear of defeat among Soviet administrators. According to Mikhail Prozumenshchikov, Soviet politicians had trouble dealing with the spontaneous nature of sport and often pulled teams out of competitions if circumstances did not bode well for victory. (47) Citing a specific instance of withdrawal, Jenifer Parks found: "Stalin believed that even the second place finish of Soviet wrestlers at the 1946 European Championships discredited the Soviet Union ... '[I]f you are not ready, then there's no need to participate.'" (48) In contrast, the regime's calculus said that by 1948 chess was "ready." But why were chess masters ready while wrestlers were not? Were Botvinnik and the young masters of the 1940s simply gifted natural players?
Surely talent played a part, but chess is a game where knowledge and technique can be shared among a community. Masters could and did learn from amateurs who had put serious effort into their analyses. To paraphrase Arpad Elo--mathematician, chess master, and namesake of FIDE's rating system--the wider the base of a pyramid, the higher its peak. (49) According to the Chess Section's official figures for 1932, the .... included movement 664,000 registered players in the Soviet Union (399,000 in Russia alone). (50) In contrast, when founded in 1939 the USCF had fewer than 1,000 members. (51) For the state, these numbers meant more people--especially youth--were acquiring valuable qualities. During the war, the Chess Section continued the emphasis on character building, claiming to the army administration, "Chess brings out valuable qualities in the Red Army man--tenacity, the will to victory, and attentiveness." (52) At the same time, the huge numbers of players increased the competitiveness of chess and the overall quality of players in the Soviet Union.
One interpretation of chess as mass sport might be that it was a "big gambit"--a form of negotiation between Stalin's state and parts of society. However, Mark Taimanov, who had conflicted feelings about the regime, believed that support for recreational programs like chess was no crass bargain: "I think that 'Stalin's care' for children was not just a slogan but had a concrete character. In any case, a child who was born into a family of average means, like me, had great chances to realize his abilities." (53) For state administrators, professionals, and rank-and-file players--and the lines dividing these groups were porous--chess was a synergistic partnership. Although these actors often had different motives, their aims were not mutually exclusive.
If the popularity of chess combined with state support provided a base for players to develop, the main ingredient for Soviet dominance of postwar chess was the increasing professionalization of sport in the USSR. Pushing for more benefits, especially those that foreign opponents enjoyed, chess masters not only benefited from an increasingly hierarchal society but helped bring it about. In turn, officials discovered competitors who could consistently beat foreign opponents. As diplomatic tensions between East and West grew in the immediate postwar period, these victories and the strategies that brought them about became weapons in the conflict.
Militarizing Chess: The Soviet School and the Impact of World War II
In 1932, Nikolai Krylenko admonished the Chess Section, "We must finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess." (54) What Krylenko meant was that chess organizers needed to be loyal instruments of state mobilization projects. Yet the game itself--the situations and strategies that have provided such metaphorical riches--had no official narrative before the war. If Soviet players won, this was good; if they lost, this was bad. The path to victory was immaterial. But as the Soviet Union emerged from World War II into the Cold War, chess pundits began to point to a particular Soviet style of play fundamentally different from Western players. The development of a supposedly Soviet chess strategy had connections to the zhdanovshchina, Andrei Zhdanov's campaign of 1946-48 against Western cultural norms. Nikolai Krementsov has shown how Cold War foreign policy influenced Soviet science in the early postwar period: scientists who used purportedly Soviet approaches, supposedly drawing on scientists from the Russian past like Michiurin, gained favor against those who were accused of using methods from the West. (55) Likewise, Robert Edelman's examination of Soviet soccer shows that some teams were reluctant to adopt methods perceived as Western. (56)
The Soviet school of chess incorporated elements of the Russian past, the recent war, and the Cold War present. Soviet-Russian chauvinism manifested itself in the prewar accolades for the 19th-century Russian master Mikhail Chigorin. When the Soviet school emerged as official playing style, it combined Chigorin's legacy and the experience of World War II into a hyperaggressive, winner-take-all outlook that the Red Army had supposedly practiced. With the onset of the Cold War, the Soviet school morphed from war metaphor into representation of the historical and current superiority of the Soviet-Russian way. The links among chess strategy, the Russian past, and the war provided a way to talk about chess in the terms of a regime-approved mythology. More than this, though, it offered Soviet citizens a way to understand the war and current Soviet foreign policy in terms of the game.
Before the war, players and journalists made few attempts to ascribe to Soviet players a collective style. Indeed, the main focus was on just the opposite, the need for various playing styles. In a 1936 article in Pionerskaia pravda, a child asked Botvinnik what style a strong player should adopt in chess. Botvinnik was entirely neutral: "He can have any style. World champions Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, and Euwe--all are chess players of different styles. And if one beats the other it is only because in the moment of battle he played more strongly." (57) Botvinnik encouraged Soviet chess players to learn from and become the best players, without adhering to a particular style of play.
Although they did not yet focus on playing styles, chess journalists of the late 1930s did begin to examine a theme that would become an important part of the Soviet school of chess: Soviet-Russian nationalism. As pundits lauded Botvinnik, they also incorporated Russian chess players from the past, especially Chigorin. The Russian master was born in 1850 and learned chess in his youth. Eventually he became the publisher of Russia's first chess periodical and a contender for the world title. His romantic (or combinational) playing style opposed the "New School" style developed by then champion William Steinitz. By contrast with the careful positional play of Steinitz, Chigorin was known for his use of a breathless attacking style that ended in victory or utter defeat. Never having won the title (although he challenged Steinitz twice), Chigorin faded into relative obscurity as an unsuccessful challenger for the world championship. As late as October 1937, an article in Pionerskaia pravda on chess history claimed that Steinitz was the "founder of modern chess theory, a great chess thinker [who] held the chess title for 28 years" and omitted Chigorin entirely. (58)
Profiles of the Russian master had appeared earlier in chess journals, but it was not until 1937-38 that the Soviet chess historian Mikhail Kogan developed Chigorin into the central figure of Russia's chess history. According to Kogan, Chigorin was the son of a gunpowder factory master and a peasant woman, orphaned at age nine, who despite his disadvantages became the "greatest Russian chess player." Kogan discussed the aggressive chess strategy of Chigorin, but he did not remark on its connection to current Soviet chess players; it was important that he had been a winner, not that he had played in any particular manner. (59)
The war changed the way that chess players and journalists discussed the game. On the broadest level, chess offered a way to act out military concepts: for example, in Sergei Eisenstein's wartime film Ivan the Terrible, the tsar uses a chessboard to illustrate his strategy for beating the Germans. But the specific nature of World War II on the Eastern Front also influenced the postwar Soviet school of chess. The devastation wrought on the Soviet Union during the war personally affected virtually every Soviet citizen, and the sacrifice of so many lives gave rise to a full-fledged cult of public commemoration. (60) The idea of sacrifice became important for Soviet chess as well, but it was the rapidity and offensive nature of the war as waged by the Soviet military that had the largest impact on commentary. (61) In postwar chess literature, offensive warfare and aggressive play became the core of the Soviet school of chess. The Soviet chess historian Nikolai Grekov wrote in 1944: "Presently [in June 1941], hundreds of thousands of our players were engaged in the struggle. They found, oddly enough, that chess had a relevance to themselves and their peril. For, like war itself, it required daring and the will to conquer, as well as firmness and coolness in the midst of great tension. Attack was the keynote--energetic, violent attack!" (62)
Soviet chess players were supposed to express their "will to conquer" with attacking, combinational play. In this regard, noted Grekov, Soviet-Russian chess players were indeed like their great predecessor Chigorin.
In Chigorin, post-1945 chess writers found the perfect representative for the Soviet school of chess while making some modifications to his prewar persona. A June 1945 review of Grekov's dissertation on Chigorin could not fail to mention that many battles of the "great Russian man" were fought against "German theoreticians." (63) According to Grekov's work, Chigorin was not a representative of the old romantic school but a dialectical response to Steinitz's "decadent" New School. "If we talk about a name for Chigorin's 'school' ... it should be called the 'school of the future.'" (64) The Russian master was a precursor to the aggressive playing style of contemporary Soviet players. The association of Soviet players as a whole with a specific style did not occur without some criticism. (65) As ideological lines hardened in 1947-48, however, references to Western greats like Steinitz and Paul Morphy gradually disappeared from the pages of chess journals while references to Russian players increased. Chess journals even rehabilitated Alekhine as a Russian champion, passing over his emigration and unseemly political views. Yet Chigorin was the main focus of the historical Soviet school, and virtually every general book on chess came to include a section on his life and work. His attacking and sacrificial style became the chess doctrine of High Stalinism, even for the stylistic omnivore and new world champion Botvinnik.
In 1951, Botvinnik published a short, programmatic tract, Sovetskaia shakhmatnaia shkola (The Soviet School of Chess). Before the war, Botvinnik had distanced himself from Chigorin, and in general Botvinnik's playing style--heavy on positional analysis and immaculate endgame play--was much closer to Steinitz than Chigorin. (66) Thus the choice of a game between Chigorin and Steinitz as the book's first example (see figure) was not only the perfect encapsulation of the Soviet school but also, from Botvinnik's perspective, entirely motivated by cultural politics. In the match, Steinitz (black) had a slight material advantage, but Chigorin (white) had several means of attacking black's position with his knight. With his next two moves, 19. Nd6:f7 Kg8:f7 20. e5-e6+ Kf7:e6, Chigorin made a daring sacrifice of his knight in order to force the white king into an exposed position. At a material disadvantage, Chigorin attacked black's king relentlessly, eventually winning the game. Botvinnik noted that although Chigorin could have found safer ways to win, the sacrifice was the "creative" and "correct" method to ensure the final triumph. Using this game, Botvinnik stressed that the Soviets--like their Russian forebears--played aggressively, knowing that sacrifices were the most desirable means of victory. (67)
Chess texts of the time attributed to many young Soviet players--particularly war veterans--an aggressive playing style. For example, the masters Aleksandr Kotov and Mikhail Iudovich wrote their own Sovetskaia shakhrnatnaia shkola, in which Aleksandr Tolush wielded the "art of attack," Lev Aronin had a "fighting style," and Viktor Liublinskii "constantly searched for the possibility of counterattack." In each profile the authors noted the war service of the player and often that his level of play had improved during the war. As Kotov and Iudovich maintained, "It is not the nature of Soviet masters to play for a draw but boldly to fight to win, striving to give the people a demonstration of the art of chess." (68)
There is some reason to believe that Soviet players truly favored an aggressive style. The new competition and ranking rules introduced in 1934 favored players who risked daring, aggressive play. In January 1936's Shakhmaty v SSSR a commentator wrote approvingly that the "Soviet chess style, as is already widely acknowledged, is distinguished by its aggressiveness." (69) The historian Leopold Haimson (with help from the American grandmaster Reuben Fine) asserts that the Soviet school of chess did not accurately describe all Soviet masters, but that those who best manifested the aggressive style were also among the youngest. One of them, David Bronshtein, was the epitome of aggressive chess, although this style cost him the 1951 world championship match against Botvinnik. (70)
If the raw material for an aggressive Soviet style existed in the 1930s, why did it come to permeate chess metaphors only in the late 1940s? One reason was that the hidden enemy in the 1930s was incompatible with the known opponent found in the game of chess. Chess is at the core a war game with perfect knowledge. In contrast, the enemy of the 1930s was everywhere and nowhere. Trotskyites, wreckers, and kulaks abounded, according to official propaganda, but their very danger was that they were hidden, masked as high-ranking officials, supposedly loyal workers, and neighbors. The enemy's tactics were only as strong as he was duplicitous and, once he was uncovered, his defeat was inevitable. The task was to show the utmost vigilance in finding and unmasking the true nature of the enemy. For chess to have an equivalent of the 1930s enemy, white pieces would have to become "wreckers" after a certain number of moves and turn black. The enemies of the 1930s could not fit the chess model of attack and defense, gambits and sacrifices. The wartime enemy, however, fit this role perfectly. (71)
For the ordinary Soviet citizen, perhaps a veteran and probably familiar with chess, the game allowed a means of discussing wartime strategy. When Soviet writers credited this Soviet-Russian strategy with the postwar victories in international competition, they proved the correctness of the Soviet strategic path and Russia's native will to victory. The game of chess invited ordinary citizens to reflect on the war and to participate in foreign strategies over which they had little control. Moreover, the notion of sacrifice for final victory must have appealed to the Soviet public that had lost so much in the war. When Soviet chess players triumphed over their foes in the United States and Botvinnik won the world championship, the victories were more than unexpected coups in cultural diplomacy; they were part of the payoff that was supposed to come after the war. The victory of the country's best chess strategists, masters of the game of attack and sacrifice, at once justified, explained, and allowed imagined participation in the international cause through the subtly simple terms of chess strategy.
From 1945 until the end of the century, Soviet and post-Soviet players dominated international chess competition. Beginning with Botvinnik, Soviet players held the world title for almost an entire half-century, excluding the brief reign of Bobby Fischer (United States) in the 1970s. The remarkable run had its origins in Soviet sponsorship of the game from 1924 onward, which turned chess into a major form of recreation in the Soviet Union. Taking advantage of the popularity of chess, the more stratified societal norms of the mid-1930s, and the authorities' newfound desire for sports triumphs, professional players gained prestige and favor. More than merely benefiting from policies that hardened hierarchal boundaries, masters used their cachet to improve their status and increase access to goods and privileges. When chess masters delivered on their promises of victory, journalists lauded Soviet players as emblematic of their country's superiority. Yet only the impact of war made the Soviet school of chess possible. The assertion of a national style created an all-embracing narrative that combined allusions to the recent war, a Russocentric historical narrative, and the real chess strategies favored by many Soviet players.
In his memoirs, Iurii Averbakh (b. 1922) described his first memories of chess: "It seemed to me that those brilliant lacquered figures had always been there at home, but in actual fact they appeared only in 1925." (72) The Soviet school asserted that love of chess and an aggressive style of play were part of the eternal Soviet-Russian character, and commentators from the 1950s to this day largely accept this idea. (73) But like Averbakh, for the vast majority of Soviet citizens the game became part of their lives only during or after the 1920s. The postwar successes of Soviet masters, built on the development and self-promotion of professionals in the 1930s, changed chess from a state-sponsored recreation into a supposedly timeless part of national culture.
Dept. of History
University of Toronto
100 St. George St., Room 2074
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G3, Canada
Thanks are due to Sylvain Dufraisse, Svetlana Frunchak, Thomas Lahusen, Lynne Viola, the University of Toronto's Modern European History Reading Group, and the two anonymous readers, whose comments and suggestions have strengthened this article. Research for this article was supported in part by a fellowship from the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX).
(1) "U.S.--Soviet Chess Headed by Denker," New York Times, 26 August 1945, S12. The Times's pro-American bias may leave some doubt about its prediction for the match. Nonetheless, other sources indicate Soviet chess players were an unknown quantity. For example, Austrian Stefan Zweig's 1942 novella, Chess Story (New York: New York Review Books Classics, 2005), mentions no Soviets as contenders for the world title.
(2) The match was out of 20 points--a point for a victory, a half-point for a draw. The Soviet score meant that, on average, each Soviet player had won a game and drawn a second.
(3) So devastating was the defeat that U.S. Congressional Representative Karl Mundt suggested, with barely concealed wounded pride, that the Soviets should try learning baseball ("Introduction of Baseball in Russia Is Suggested," New York Times, 9 September 1945, 8).
(4) Mikhail Iudovich, "Match dvatsatogo veka," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 6-7 (1945): 167.
(5) Matthew Lenoe, Closer to the Masses: Stalinist Culture, Social Revolution, and Soviet Newspapers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 2, 29-45. On other forms of recreation in the prewar Soviet Union, see Diane Koenker, "The Proletarian Tourist in the 1930s: Between Mass Excursion and Mass Escape," and Eva Maurer, "Al'pinizm as Mass Sport and Elite Recreation: Soviet Mountaineering Camps under Stalin," both in Turizm: The Russian and East European Tourist under Capitalism and Socialism, ed. Anne Gorsuch and Koenker (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), 119-40, 141-63. For an excellent overview of the development of chess in the USSR, see David Richards, Soviet Chess: Chess and Politics in the U.S.S.R. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965). For an insider's account of chess in the Soviet Union (featuring game commentary interspersed with biographical information), see Garry Kasparov, On My Great Predecessors, vol. 2, trans. Ken Neat (London: Everyman Chess, 2003).
(6) Barbara Keys, "Soviet Sport and Transnational Mass Culture of the 1930s," Journal of Contemporary History 38, 3 (2003): 413-34.
(7) For simplicity's sake, this paper refers to the sports administration as such, because its official title underwent many changes during the period.
(8) For a general overview of competitive international sports in the USSR, see James Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977). For a history of spectator sports, see Robert Edelman, Serious Fun: A History of Spectator Sport in the USSR (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). The other sport that had levels of international competition comparable to chess was soccer. See Edelman, Spartak Moscow: A History of the People's Team in the Workers" State (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009). An extensive historiographical overview of Soviet and Russian literature on Soviet physical culture and sport is available in Aleksandr Sunik, Ocherki otechestvennoi istoriografii istorii flzicheskoi kul'tury i sporta (Moscow: Sovetskii sport, 2010). As Sunik points out, the post-1991 literature on sport largely focuses on the Olympic movement or regional sport history. The major exception is Mikhail Prozumenshchikov, Bol'shoi sport i bol'shaia politika (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2004), an archival study of the internal politics of Soviet sport after World War II.
(9) Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 134; Nicholas Timasheff, The Great Retreat." The Growth and Decline of Communism in Russia (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1946); Vera Dunham, In Stalin's Time: Middle Class Values in Soviet Fiction (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990); Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000); David Hoffmann, Stalinist Morals: The Cultural Norms of Soviet Modernity, 1917-1941 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003); Lev Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (New York: Dover, 2004); Sarah Davies, Popular Opinion in Stalin's Russia: Terror, Propaganda, and Dissent (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Viktor Papernyi, Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). For a recent general debate on the Great Retreat in Soviet historiography, see also David Hoffmann, "Was There a 'Great Retreat' from Soviet Socialism? Stalinist Culture Reconsidered," Kritika 5, 4 (2004): 651-74; and Matthew Lenoe, "In Defense of Timasheff's Great Retreat," Kritika 5, 4 (2004): 721-30. This paper uses the term Great Retreat as shorthand for the conservative shift in social and cultural policies of the mid-1930s. However, as Terry Martin maintains, the regime continued the existing political and economic policies of the Stalin revolution. See Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 415.
(10) For this process in soccer, see Edelman, Spartak Moscow.
(11) Edelman, Serious Fun, 20-22.
(12) David Brandenberger, National Bolshevism: Stalinist Mass Culture and the Formation of Modern Russian National Identity, 1931-1956 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002); Serhy Yekelchyk, Stalin's Empire of Memory: Russian-Ukrainian Relations in the Soviet Historical Imagination (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).
(13) Mikhail Botvinnik, U tseli: Vospominaniia, partii (Moscow: Poliri, 1997).
(14) Pravda, 29 August 1936, 1.
(15) "III Vsesoiuznyi shakhmamo-shashechnyi s"ezd," 64, no. 1 (1924): 2-4.
(16) Richards, Soviet Chess, 27-28.
(17) "Smelei vydvigaite rabochikh!" 64, no. 8 (1929): 1.
(18) "Pervyi plenum shakhmamo-shashechnogo sektora Vsesoiuznogo SFK," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 20-21 (1930): 1-3.
(19) "O komandirovanii shakhmatno-shashechnykh brigad v kolkhozy i sovkhozy," 64, no. 4 (1930): 1.
(20) Richards, Soviet Chess, 53; "K programme dal'neishikh rabot," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 11 (1933): 1.
(21) Pionerskaia pravda, 27 November 1933; 19 December 1933; 27 December 1933; 2 January 1934; 14 January 1934. For meeting notes and coverage about the second tournament of Pioneers and schoolchildren in January 1936, see Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (GARF) f. 7576, op. 12, d. 126.
(22) Lev Rokhlin, "Pobeda sovetskogo shakhmamogo masterstva," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 1 (1934): 4-5.
(23) Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsial'no-politicheskoi istorii (RGASPI) f. 1-m, op. 5, d. 27, l. 66; op. 2, d. 145, l. 11.
(24) GARF f. 7576, op. 1, d. 349a, 1. 12.
(25) Mark Taimanov, Vspominaia samykh-samykh ... (St. Petersburg: Retro, 2003), 23-25; Averbakh, Shakhmaty na stsene i za kulisami: Otkroveniia shakhmatista, politika, istorika (Moscow: Ripol, 2003), 26.
(26) "Eshche o shakhmamom mastersrve," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 4 (1934): 1.
(27) Nikolai Zubarev, Edinyi shakhmatnyi kodeks SSSR: Ofitsial'nyi tekst pravil shakhmatnoi igry i shakhmatnykh sorevnovanii, 3rd ed. (Moscow: Fizkul'tura i turizm, 1936). For complete tables, see "Kvalifikatsionnaia rabota," 64, no. 2 (1932): 25-26; "Konsul'tatsiia," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 5 (1946): 107-8. For a brief discussion of qualification requirements, see Nicolai Grekov, Soviet Chess, trans. Theodore Reich (New York: Chess Review, 1949), 111-13.
(28) Arpad Elo, The Rating of Chessplayers Past and Present (New York: Arco, 1978), 66-69, 72, 74-75, 170-71; Al Lawrence, "Ratings, Rules, and Rockets: USCF's 2nd Decade: 1949-1958," Chess Life, no. 2 (2009): 9.
(29) GARF f. 7576, op. 1, d. 381, ll. 26, 34. On soccer pay, see Edelman, Spartak, 89-93.
(30) Snegov used the term at a meeting of chess masters in February 1939 (GARF f. 7576, op. 1, d. 381, l. 9 ["Soveshchaniia u predsedatelia vsesoiuznogo komiteta po delam FK i sporta po voprosu shakhmamogo turnira"]; Edelman, Serious Fun, 66-68. Tellingly, though, after Snegov gave a long speech on youth military preparation at a June 1940 Komsomol plenum, he opened the floor for questions to be asked only about international football matches and how many world records the Soviet Union held (RGASPI f. 1-m, op. 2, d. 205, l. 61).
(31) "Sumbur v kompozitsii," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 3 (1936): 71. The composers in this case were accused of "muddle" on the heels of the scandal over Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. On this famous case of formalism, see Sheila Fitzpatrick, "The Lady Macbeth Affair: Shostakovich and the Soviet Puritans," in her The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), 183-215.
(32) "O nedostupimom sotrudnichestve v germanskom fashistskom zhurnale sovetskikh shakhmamykh kompozitorov," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 8 (1937): 251.
(33) The main removals from fizkul'tura administration posts occurred over the summer and fall of 1937. Many of these came in the wake of the removal and arrest of sports administration chairman Ivan Kharchenko in late July 1937. See GARF f. 7576, op. l, d. 304, passim ("Prikazy Vsesoiuznogo komiteta po delam fizkul'tury i sporta pri NSNK").
(34) Daniel Johnson, White King and Red Queen: How the Cold War Was Fought on the Chessboard (London: Atlantic Books, 2007), 23-42; S. Voronkov, "Sledstvie ne zakoncheno," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 8 (1990): 42-43. The main cases Johnson cites, besides Krylenko and Petrov, are Fedor Bohatyrchuk and Il'in-Zhenevskii. Bohatyrchuk, a prominent master of the 1920s and sympathizer of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, fled the Soviet Union for Canada with Vlasov's army. Il'in-Zhenevskii, according to Soviet official publications, died while being evacuated from Leningrad in 1941. The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History claims the Bolshevik master was arrested by the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) and died in a labor camp. However, internal reports from early 1942 repeat the official story, suggesting that Il'in-Zhenevskii did not face repression (GARF f. 7576, op. 21, d. 16, ll. 30-33).
(35) Edelman, Spartak Moscow, 125-28, 176-77, 183-87.
(36) Botvinnik, Utseli, 101.
(37) GARF f. 7576, op. 21, ll.37-39, 66, 68.
(38) RGASPI f. 1-m, op. 23, d. 1482, ll.65-66.
(39) GARF f. 7576, op. 1, d. 381, ll. 9, 18, 53.
(40) GARF f. 7576, op. 21, d. 16, ll. 27-29.
(41) Botvinnik, U tsdi, 87. The exception was Capablanca, who as champion had forced the challenger Alekhine to provide a much larger prize fund. Alekhine decided to return the favor if the ex-champion wanted a revenge match.
(42) GARF f. 5446, op. 24, d. 296, passim.
(43) RGASPI f. 1-m, op. 23, d. 1482, ll. 59-60, 61-64.
(44) Botvinnik, Utseli, 108-10.
(45) Alekhine published antisemitic articles in Paris Zeitung in 1941 but retracted them at the end of the war. Chess writers still debate Alekhine's real feelings on the matter, but he appears to have been an opportunist rather than truly antisemitic. See Edward Winter, "Was Alekhine a Nazi?" New in Chess 2 (February 1989): 68.
(46) RGASPI f. 17, op. 121, d. 453, 1.21.
(47) Prozumenshchikov, Bol'shoi sport, 65-66. See also the chapter "Pobeda ill ..." for discussion of fear of defeat in the Soviet Union.
(48) Jenifer Parks, "Red Sport, Red Tape: The Olympic Games, the Soviet Sports Bureaucracy, and the Cold War, 1952-1980" (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2009), 37.
(49) Elo, The Rating of Cbessplayers, 112.
(50) "Kontrol'nye tsifry," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 6 (1932); Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 141. It is unclear how much force the regime used to get players into tournaments. Victoria de Grazia's analysis of the Fascist after-work recreation movement (dopdavoro) asserts that it used a combination of popular consent and state force. See Victoria de Grazia, The Culture of Consent: Mass Organization of Leisure in Fascist Italy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
(51) John McCrary, "Before the USCF: Early American Chess Associations," Chess Life, no. 1 (2009): 8; Al Lawrence, "On the Shoulders of Chess Giants: USCF's 1st Decade: 1939-1948," Chess Life, no. 1 (2009): 10.
(52) GARF f. 7576, op. 21, d. 16, l. 41.
(53) Taimanov, Vspominaia samykh-samykh ..., 42.
(54) Quoted in Boris Souvarine, Stalin: A Critical Survey of Bolshevism (s.l.: Alliance Book Corporation, 1939), 575.
(55) Nikolai Krementsov, Stalinist Science (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).
(56) Edelman also maintains that different soccer teams came to embody different relationships with the regime. Spartak Moscow, for example, was identified with a freer and more open style, as opposed to the strong-arm style of police and army-sponsored clubs (Edelman, Spartak Moscow, 160-62).
(57) Pionershaia pravda, 10 June 1936, 2.
(58) Pionerskaia pravda, 6 October 1937, 3.
(59) Mikhail Kogan, Ocherki po istorii shakhmat v SSSR (Moscow: Fizkul'tura i sport, 1938), 201; Kogan, "Chigorinskii Peterburg," Shakhmat7 v SSSR, no. 3 (1937): 88-92; no. 4 (1937): 121-123.
(60) See Nina Tumarkin, The Living and the Dead." The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia (New York: Basic Books, 1994); and Deming Brown, "World War II in Soviet Literature," in The Impact of World War II on the Soviet Union, ed. Susan Linz (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1985), 243-52.
(61) For a recent analysis of Soviet offensive strategy, see Robert N. Watt, "Feeling the Full Force of a Four-Front Offensive: Re-Interpreting the Red Army's 1944 Belorussian and L'vov-Peremshyl' Operations," Journal of Slavic Military Studies 21, 4 (2008): 669-705.
(62) Grekov, Soviet Chess, 217. Masters who did not fight like Botvinnik and Averbakh seemed to be sensitive about their contribution to the war. In their memoirs, both noted that they asked to go to the front but, for various reasons, ended up working well behind the lines. Averbakh, 19 at the time, later claimed he could not go to the front because the army would not take him for his shoddy footwear--in the fall of 1941 in Moscow! (Botvinnik, U tseli, 99-104; Averbakh, Shakhmaty, 18-19).
(63) "Dissertatsiia po shakhmatam," Shahhmaty v SSSR, no. 2 (1945): 50. During the war, the magazine did not operate, although players who did not serve participated in tournaments behind the lines.
(64) Grekov, "Russkaia shkola v shakhmamom iskusstve," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 4 (1947): 89-92.
(65) For an example, see Aleksandr Konstantinopol'skii, "Luchshie sovetskie shakhmatisty," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 3 (1948): 57-58.
(66) Taimanov, Vspominaia samykh-samykh ..., 109.
(67) Botvinnik, Sovetskaia shakhmatnaia shkola (Moscow: Fizkul'tura i sport, 1951), 23.
(68) Alexander Kotov and Mikhail Iudovich, Sovetskaia shakhmatnaia shkola (Moscow: Fizkul'tura i sport, 1951), 21,213-16, 260, 303-5.
(69) "K voprosu o shakhmamykh stiliakh," Shakhmaty v SSSR, no. 1 (1936): 21-22.
(70) Leopold Haimson, "The Soviet Style of Chess," in The Study of Culture at a Distance, ed. Margaret Mead (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 430.
(71) Others have handled the idea of enemies and masking thoroughly. Biographical construction in the Soviet Union was a mask that could be shown false by vigilant citizens: Sheila Fitzpatrick, Tear off the Masks/Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia (Princeton, N J: Princeton University press, 2005). Igal Halfin, in Stalinist Confessions: Messianism and Terror at the Leningrad Communist University (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 2009), maintains that finding enemies was as much a process of self-examination as it was about examining others. In light of this conception of the hidden enemy, a better game for the 1930s might be a modified version of Reversi.
(72) Iurii Averbakh, Shahhmaty, 11.
(73) See, for example, Harry Schwartz, "Secret of Soviet Chess," New York Times Magazine, 23 September 1951: 186; and Nell Charness and Yigal Gerchak, "Participation Rates and Maximal Performance: A Log-Linear Explanation for Group Differences, Such as Russian and Male Dominance in Chess," Psychological Science 7, 1 (1996): 46-51.
Table 1 Activities of Masters, Spring 1942 Military-- Chess whereabouts Factory work Deceased unknown work Grand Masters 2 0 0 3 Masters 4 7 15 2 Evacuated No info. Grand Masters 2 0 Masters 30 4 Source: GARF f. 7576, op. 21, d. 16,11. 30-33.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2012|
|Previous Article:||"Simplistic, pseudosocialist racism": debates over the direction of Soviet ideology within Stalin's creative intelligentsia, 1936-39.|
|Next Article:||Nation and empire: reflections in the margins of Geoffrey Hosking's book.|