| 10 | Chess Players


     It's a curious fact that the informal title of "Master" ("Mаэстро"), the equivalent of today's International Grandmaster that was used in Russia during the late 19th-early twenieth century, was based upon the German title "Meisterdrittel" (from "master" and "third").  In order to attain the title sanctioned by the Deutschen Schachbund (DSB - the German Chess Association), one needed to win a German Congress (Hauptturnier) or an approved international tournament by winning at least one third of his games (although some say one third of his possible points*).  Starting in 1909, the All-Russian competitions were included as acceptable tournaments for this purpose and the first Russian to earn this title under DSB requirements was A. Alekhine at the All-Russian Tournament in St. Petersburg in 1909.

               *according to the "Deutsche Schachzeitung," 1905: 
                diejenigen, welche in einem Meisterturnier des Bundes bereits
                erfolgreich gespielt, d.h. mindestens ein Drittel sämtlicher
                Partien gewonnen haben (besser wäre wohl zu sagen: mindestens
                ein Drittel der möglichen Gewinnzähler erreicht haben).

     Stepan M. Levitsky earned the Master title at the All-Russian Amateur Tournament at St. Petersburg in 1911.

          Stephan Michailowitsch Lewitski proved the winner of the all-Russian
          tournament recently concluded at St. Petersburg, finishing with a score
          of 16½ to 4½ [+16-4=1 -sbc], two points in advance of Flamberg, the
          second prize
winner. The winner is 35 years old and has taken a
          prominent part in
other Russian tournaments. His victory earned for
          him the title of
master, which will also be recognized by the
          German Chess Association.

          - "American Chess Bulletin," Jan. 1912

     There had been barely 20 DSB sanctioned titles total conferred at this time.

Stepan Levitsky playing Alexander Flamberg, 1911 All-Russian
standing -Julius Sosnitsky ; seated - Peter Sabouroff


     The 1911 tournament was hosted by the St. Petersburg Chess Assembly at their second-floor rooms in Nevsky 55, an historic building that was torn down over protest in 2005 and replaced with a hotel. The tournament included 40 entrants from 18 cities. Levitky's prize was 300 rubles.

Nevsky 55, around 1910

     In their book "Soviet Chess School,"  Alexander Kotov and Mikhail Yudovich tell us that "the main tournament was won by Tchigorin's pupil, Stepan Levitsky, an original chess player with a talent for good combination."   Tschigorin himself, recognizing Levitsky's potential referred to him as "the hope of Russian Chess." This hope was unfortunately misplaced due to Levitsky's situation that never allowed him to capitalize on his talent through training or through playing enough high-level games.

     Good Year, Bad Year.

     The year after earning his Master title there were two notable occurrences- one good, one bad. Levitky was invited to play in the All-Russian Masters tournament at Vilnius, Lithuania. Against a field that included Rubinstein, Ossip Bernstein, Nimzowitsch, Levenfish, Alekhine, Alapin, Salwe, Abram Rabinovich and Flamberg, Levitsky came in third, beating Alekhine, the rising star, with Black in both their games.

Below is one of Levitsky's wins against Alekhine:

    This was Levitsky's best result to date but it followed on the heels of a less-than spectacular tournament result just the month before at the DSB Congress in Breslau.

Frank Marshall playing Stepan Levitsky, Breslau 1912.

     Levitsky tied for 13th place out of 18 contestants. Although he drew with Schlecter and Tarrasch and won against Meises and Przepiorka, he fell into a rather tragic situation that would ensure him an unfavorable place in the collective minds of posterity. Today, when the name Levitsky is remembered, it's for being on the wrong side of what's considered one of the finest brilliancies in chess. Frank Marshall found a remarkable move in what had been termed his "Shower of Gold" game.  Below is the game with Marshall's own notes from "My Fifty Years of Chess," as published in "Chess Review," March, 1942. 

     The Alekhine-Levitky match.

     A match between the winner of the 1909 and the 1911 All-Russian Tournament, both of whom earned the title of master, was of intense interest. The conditions set for the match were also designed to produce exciting play. All the games were to start with 1.e4 e5, with the Ruy Lopez and Four-Knights games forbidden. Draws were not to counted.  The first contestant to win 7 games would be declared the winner. Adding to the interest was Alekhine youth and the fact that in the All-Russian Tournament at Vilnius in 1912, Levitsky had beaten Alekhine in both their games.


     First a few words about Alekhine and the 1909 All-Russian Tournament:


Alexander Alekhine was only 16 when he won this major tournament.  He scored +12-2=2, meeting the requirements for the master title. This was the first Russian tournament to qualify. Previously, Russia has to send players to outside its borders for a chance at a title. For winning Alekhine received a certificate (pictured below) and the 27" porcelain vase, blue and white with gold handles, with the Tzar Nicholas II's initials and emblem guilded on its side, pictured on the left. This vase must have been his prized possession since, even when he had to abandon most other possessions, he always kept it with him. According to Alekhine himself in a 1937 interview, "This vase was the only thing I was allowed to take out in 1921, when I left Soviet Russia."



      Alekhine had to leave for home missing the ceremony during which all prizes were conferred and only received his own prizes later. The 1909 All-Russian Amateur Tournament apparently was considered the minor tournament of the 1909 St. Petersburg International since Lasker wrote his book on the Tournament, "His Majesty the Czar Nikolaus deigned to give 1000 Rbls. to strengthen the means at the disposal of the Congress and to donate also a magnificent vase of the Imperial porcelaine manufacture as a first prize for the all Russian Minor Tournament."

     Still, this tournament included players such as Peter Romanovsky (just 3 months older than Alekhine), Gersz Rotlewi, Sergey Lebedev, Boris Verlinsky and Stefan Izbinsky.

                                      1909 All-Russian, St. Petersburg


First row (standing in the back): Dawid Daniuszewski, Sergey Znosko-Borovsky (older brother of Eugene; one of the organizers), Boris Verlinsky.
Second row (standing): Vasily Rozanov (didn't play in the tournament), A. Levin (also didn't play), Boris Malyutin, Yuliy Sosnitsky (one of the organizers), P.P. Saburov, Prince Elim Demidov-St. Donato (sponsor), Valerian Adol'fovich Chudovsky (also maybe one of the organizers), Grigory Helback, Karl Rosenkrantz, S. Izbinsky.
Third row (sitting): V. Nikolaev, N. Tereschenko, Petr Romanovsky, Bernhard Gregori, A. Chepurnov, Alexander Alekhine, Petr Evtifeev, Mikhail Elyashov.
             Played, but didn't pose for this picture: Gersh Rotlewi, Sergey Lebedev, A. Vyakhirev


     Elim Pavlovich Demidov, 3rd Prince of San Donato, possibly the richest man in the world at the turn-of-the-century, owned factories and mines in Nizhny Tagil in the Urals. A playboy, his involvement in the family business was minimal. He lived for hunting and chess.  He wrote a book, "Hunting Trips in the Caucasus" and financed some of the All-Russian tournaments.  It seems he also helped Levitsky who worked at his mines and helped finance the Alekhine-Levitsky match. (However, some sources claim the mine authorities did all in their power to discourage Levitsky from playing, viewing his chess playing as an interference).
    Also named as a sponsor of the Alekhine-Levitsky match (as well as the Tschigorin Memorial Tournament of 1909) was Nikolai Semenovich Tereshchenko, a chessplayer, vice-president of the St. Petersburg Chess Assembly and  son of the uber-wealthy Simon Artemyevitch Tereshchenko.

                                A curious footnote:
                                V.A.Chudovsky (pictured in the group photo), a literary man and
                                Chief  Librarian
of the St. Petersburg library, had a connection to
                                the Nizhny Tagil library of Prince Demidov, who owned the mines

                                where Levitky worked.  He also graduated from the Alexander
                                Lyceum in 1904 as a classmate of Eugene A. Znosko-Borovsky.


       Alekhine won his match against Levitsky with a convincing 7-3 result.  None of the games ended in draws, but the conclusion wasn't so evident at the beginning.  Alekhine won the first 3 games, making the match look one sided.  But Levitsky rallied, winning the next 2.  Alekhine won game 6 but Levitsky won game 7, leaving the score at 4-3 in Alekhine's favor.  Then Levitsky fell apart and Alekhine won the last 3 in a row, finishing as he started.  Below are Levitsky's 3 wins. the rest of the games can be found at










     How important Alekhine considered this match is reflected in the fact that he annotated every game for a local paper.

     After losing the match to his much younger opponent, Levitsky gave blindfold simuls in the cities of Vyatka, Vologda and Ryazan.

     Back to the Beginning.

     Stepan Michailowitsch Levitsky was born on April 13, 1876, the fourth of nine children, in the city of Serpukhov, about 50 miles south of Moscow.  He attended elementary school in Serpukhov and high school in Moscow.  He learned chess at 11 but had few opportunities to learn from stronger players.  His family moved frequently. While living in Vyatka, a city just west of the Urals, his father organized a chess club. 
     He volunteered to fight under Garibaldi in the Thirty Day War (also called the Greco-Turkish War of 1887) in 1887.  During that war he contracted typhus and was sent to Odessa to recuperate.  He returned to Moscow where, unable to find work, he subsisted meagerly on giving chess lessons and on winning some chess prizes. He also gave his first blindfold simul.
     In 1895 Stepan enrolled in the University of Moscow.  While there he joined the Moscow chess club and won several prizes.  He did graduate from the school of mining at the University of Moscow

     He was invited to the 1899 All-Russian Tournament held Sept. 2-19 on Dmitrovka Street in Moscow. There he met Tschigorin and Schiffers and placed third behind those two great masters and ahead of Lebedev, Yankovitch, Gelbak, Nenarokov, Genika, Kulomzin, Abaza, Boairkov, Falk, Kalinsky, and Pervago.
     The December 1899 issue of "Deutsche Schachzeitung" informed its readers that Levitsky gave a 6 board blindfold simul at the Moscow Chess Club scoring +4-1=1.
    The May 1900 issue states that Levitsky won first place at the Moscow Chess Club tournament out of a field of 30, calling Levitsky "the strongest players in Moscow."

 Old NizhnyTagil Platinum Mines
                                       "Mining and Scientific Press,"  March 16, 1912
                          The platinum business in the Urals during 1911, thanks to the high
                          price of the metal, continued to develop and the production
                          increased. The leading position is held by the Southern Verebotur
                          district, including the platinum mines of the Nizhni-Tagil factories
                          and the mines of the Platinum Company,


     At this time Levitsky finally found work, but it was as a technician at the platinum mines owned by Prince Elim Demidov-St. Donato in the Perm region in the Urals. The mines employed about 1300 workers while the associated factories employed another 3500. This was considered the hinterland where at the time chess was more spoken about than played.  Levitksy played no real chess in the Urals.  In 1902, at Tschigorin's insistance, he was invited to play in the All-Russian Tournament set for the following year.  He entered "under the flag" of the Nizhny Tagil mines.
         While the out-of-practice Levitsky only placed 7th-8th, he did defeat Schiffers, Salwe and Dus-Chotimirsky in their individual games.

                                                  1903 All-Russian Tournament in Kiev
     back row: Rabinovich,Izbinsky, Kylomzin, Lebedev, Znosko-Borovsky, Levitsky, Kalinsky, Ben'ko, Lowtzky
     front row: Rubinstein, Vengerov, Salwe, Chigorin, Loxting, Count Plater, Yurevich, Bernstein, Schiffers,
     (Plater was the tournament patron, Loxting and Vengerov were tournament  officials.)
Levitsky's game with Fedor Dus-Chotimirsky


      Levitsky played in the 1905-06 All-Russian that took place from December 22 to January 16 in St. Petersburg, placing only 11/17 (+5-8=2). However in their individual game he beat Benjamin Blumenfeld who had tied with Akiba Rubinstein for second place (Georg Salwe won the tournament).

Levitsky with wife and children

     In 1907 Semyon Alapin, the master from St. Petersburg, beat Levitsky convincingly in a short match that lasted six games -  winning five games, drawing one, although previously that year in a tournament in St. Petersburg, Levitsky scored 5/7 (just behind Eugene Znosko-Borovsky) compared to Alapin's 1.5/7.

Levitsky in 1913

     We can skip ahead to 1914, having already talked about the intervening years. 1914  was Levtisky's final active year.  Levitsky played in the All-Russian Tournament from Dec. 23, 1913 to Jan. 17, 1914. The tournament celebrated the 10 year anniversay of the St. Petersburg Chess Assembly. Levitsky only placed 13th out of the 18 participants (from 7 different cities) but the field was strong. Alehkine and Nimzovitch shared first place. The winner of the tournament earned an invitation to the (now famous) 1914 St. Peterburg Master's Tournament. Since Alekhine and Nimzovitch ended up with the same number of points (13.5/17), they played 2 tie-breaking games.  Both games ended in draws, so the committee voted to send both to the major tournament.


                                       1913-1914 All-Russian at St. Petersburg
Front: V. P. Vertogradov, P. A. Evtifeev, R. S. Salwe, J. O. Sossnitzky, B. E. Maliutin, P. A. Saburov, N. N. Kutler,
G. Ya. Levenfish, Ya. V. Taubenhaus, P. P. Saburov, S. N. Freiman.
Back: NN, M. L. Lowtzky, S. M. Levitzky, S. E.  Alapin, A. I.  Evenson, A. D. Flamberg, A. A. Alekhine, B. O. Gregory, E. D. Bogolyubov, P. P. Potemkin, NN, A. D. Durdin, F. I. Dus-Khotimirsky.  (the 2 behind Dus-Khotimirsky unidentified)

     Levitky developed a gastic ulcer, then stomach cancer.  He was invited to participate in the USSR Championship in Petrograd in July of 1923.  Although he showed up fully intending to play, he has a relapse and was hospitalized at the Mariinsky Hospital in St. Petersburg throughout the month of July.  On July 25, Fedor Dus-Chomirsky gave a 24 board simul, donating the proceeds to Levitsky.  Upon his release, he returned to Nizhny Tagil. He gave 2 blindfold simuls in the city of Yekaterinburg between then and when he died on April 3, 1924, just 10 days shy of his 48th birthday.

     Quite interesting are Fedor Dus-Chomirky's thoughts on Levitsky from his Memoires (published in translation by member Spektrowski starting HERE ) :
                   At the All-Russian Tournament, I've managed to beat the future
                famous Grandmaster Akiba Rubinstein. Also, I should tell you a bit
                about some other participants, first and foremost - about Stepan
                Mikhailovich Levitsky. He was a peculiar, whole-hearted and
                original Russian man. His chess talent was phenomenal. It's unknown
                where and when Levitsky learned chess and who taught him.
                Levitsky very rarely played in tournaments, most of his games
                were unpublished and didn't survive.
                     Nevertheless, Levitsky should be regarded among the strongest
                pre-Revolutionary Russian masters.
                     I met Levitsky several times. In Vilno [Vilnius] in 1912 he amazed
                me when he swam in an ice-hole in a freezing weather.
                     In 1911, Levitsky won St. Petesburg Championship. In the 1912
                All-Russian Masters' Tournament Levitsky finished third, just one
                point behind the winner Rubinstein, but ahead of Alekhine,
                Nimzowitsch and others. Levitsky quit competitive chess early
                when he went to work in the province.
                     Levitsky's last chess-related appearance was in 1923. He came
                to Petrograd to play in a tournament, but was bedridden by severe
                disease. A few days later, he went back home to Nizhny Tagil and
                soon died.

     A chess club in Nizhny Tagil, named for Stepan Levitsky, was formed in 1926.


Thanks to Spektrowski, who quite possibly maintains the best chess blog on this site, for help with Russian text and for his insight into the political, cultural and chess climate in pre-Soviet Russia.

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