Fyodor Dus-Chotimirsky. Memories, part 2


Read part 1 here.

In 1905, I visited Warsaw and Lodz.

In Warsaw, I visited the Semadani Cafe, the city's chess center.

I remember meeting Poland's strongest players.

First of all, I should name the elderly chess veteran Szymon Winawer. He was a small, slender, modestly dressed and mild-mannered old man. From the very first glance he would win you over, looking at you kindly through his eyeglasses. He spoke rarely, but his ironic remarks were always correct and witty; all chess players listened to him. Winawer would visit the Semadani Cafe almost daily, discussed chess, but he wasn't playing anymore.

The Warsaw citizens were proud of Winawer and his great successes at the international tournaments of 1870's.

I also met a strong player and renowned chess composer Dawid Przepiorka there.

The cafe was almost empty. Przepiorka was reading a recent German chess magazine, and then spoke to me. When I asked him who's the best player in the city, Przepiorka answered: "I'm the best, Poplawski is second-best, and Flamberg (then Polish champion) is the third." When he learned that I was also a chess player, Przepiorka condescendingly sat at the board with me. The result was astonishing to him. Of 10 games, he lost 8, won 1 and drew 1.

I met Flamberg as well, he was a professional chess player and a good theoretician. When in 1911 on my way from San Sebastian to Moscow I visited Warsaw again, I played a match with Flamberg which I won +5-1.

In 1904, I met Poplawski, who was an engineer. He was a "loner" who never played in tournaments, but had an exceptional talent.

Poplawski defeated Flamberg in a match +6-1=3. Flamberg barely managed to win one game when he caught his opponent with a home-prepared opening variant.

I played several games against Poplawski, and had to put in much effort to defeat him.

After Warsaw, I went to Lodz, the big industrial center of Poland. I was astonished by the city's undevelopment. There was no sewerage and no water pipes, which considerably worsened the city's sanitation. Nevertheless, there were 850 factories in the city that gave great profits to their owners.

The "Chess player society" was headed by Chaim Janowski, Grandmaster Dawid Janowski's brother.

During my stay in the city, I befriended Rubinstein and Salwe. We held a friendly training tournaments. I didn't play too well, but still managed to win some games against Rubinstein and Salwe, and shortly after that, I went back to Kiev.

Then the anxious and exciting year 1905 came, the year of the first Russian revolution. Incessant demonstrations, strikes, arrests, gendarmes' raids etc. There was no time for chess in those memorable days.

During a rally at the city's Duma I was arrested and jailed. The small pretrial detention room was packed. There was no space to lie or sit down. We couldn't sleep and lacked fresh air. Finally, we were led to our cells. There were 12 people in cell #1. To distract my fellow inmates from grim thoughts, I've started to teach them chess. We sculpted our pieces from bread. We've even had a tournament of sorts - the Cell #1 Championship.

On the 23th October, the Tsar announced an amnesty under pressure, so I was freed along with other inmates.

In November 1905, after a long hiatus, I returned to competitive chess. Sixteen players took part in the Kiev Championship, among them Nikolaev (a lawyer) and students Lovtsky (future master), Izbinsky, Ben'ko. The tournament's results: Dus-Chotimirsky - 14.5/15, Nikolaev - 13.5/15, Lovtsky - 12/15.

Soon after the tournament, the police ordered me to leave Kiev in 48 hours.

An interesting detail: before ordering me to leave, the police searched my apartment and confiscated a lot of my correspondence with chess players from various towns. The Moscow newspaper Russkoe Slovo (The Russian Word) thereafter reported that "in Kiev, at the apartments of a chess player Dus-Chotimirsky, the police confiscated 500 letters written in some kind of cipher which was presumably used to contact the politically suspect people of our country".

It was painful to leave my favourite city. I went to St. Petersburg, where on 22th December 1905 the Fourth All-Russian chess tournament took place, with Chigorin, Rubinstein, Blumenfeld, Znosko-Borovsky, Salwe, me and others taking part.

At the closing banquet in the Chernorechensky assembly hall, I was playing some casual games with Dr. Kryzhanovsky. Some people stood at the piano and started to sing a revolutionary song. An official demanded the Tsarist hymn be played after that. Everybody stood up upon hearing the first notes, but I still sat at the chess table. The official ran up to me and cried, "Stand up!"

Then, to defuse the incident, tournament organizers Sosnitsky, Velikhov and Saburov came up. There was a lot of noise. The banquet finally continued, but the festive mood was marred.

After the Fourth All-Russian tournament, I stayed in St. Petersburg for a long time. I lived at Sergey Yakovlevich Rozhdestvensky's place, who was a chess enthusiast and close friend of Chigorin. Once we received an invitation from Mikhail Ivanovich for his name day celebration. Chigorin cordially welcomed us, and after the dinner, we sat at the chess board.

I stayed at Chigorin's home for two days. He told me about his travels abroad and meetings with well-known players.

We played a lot of games during this time. First I was mostly losing, but then more or less got my bearings, and the games became more even. They were fun and useful for me at the same time. Chigorin's statements, his evaluations of various openings hugely influenced my own theoretical views and opening repertoire.

Chigorin's view of Tarrasch and Schlechter was skeptical. He was irritated by their dogmatic lectures, undervaluing the lively, creative thoughts. "Be daring, live by your own thoughts - only then you'll be truly creative", Chigorin advised me as we parted.

After some tiresome travels, I came to Russia's heart, Moscow.

Those were the days of grim reaction, and it very painfully affected all aspects of cultural life, chess included.

Big tournaments held by the "Moscow Chess Circle", headed by chess enthusiast Pavel Pavlovich Bobrov, became a thing of the past.

I've learned by chance that chess is actively played in a small recreation room of the Commercial Court. Between the hearings, the jurors and solicitors of the court would visit this room to rest, eat a snack, discuss some things, prepare for the next hearing and to play some chess.

There I met A.F. Goncharov and V.I. Nenarokov who played in the 2nd All-Russian tournament, and a strong Moscow player R.A. Falk. Also, I met some lawyers who needed their cases copied, and so started to earn my living as a copyist.

Soon, I started to give chess lectures to the students of Moscow University, the Institute of Railway Engineering and the Imperial Technical School - there were many strong chess players among them.

I also proposed a match between the University and the Imperial Technical School.

Once, at the Tverskaya Street, I suddenly saw a signboard, "Moscow Chess Player Society". I was amazed, but then I learned that under the chess facade, there was actually a card gambling club in the center of Moscow. There were no chess and no chess players at all!

The club's directors kindly listened to my indignant protests and, seemingly fearing police raids, offered to actually make a chess room in the club.

I've immediately told the good news to the Moscow chess players, and we accepted the club's proposal. Urusov, Falk and me were elected as the chess circle directors, some chess sets were bought immediately. The work started.

In 1907, we organized two master-level tournaments. M.I. Chigorin was invited to play in the first one, and a well-known Austrian master Georg Marco played in the second one. Chigorin and Marko also gave several simultaneous displays. I played in both of those tournaments. I won the second one, 1 point ahead of Marco, and in the Chigorin tournament, I was leading, but no-showed the game against Goncharov due to an illness, forfeited it and finished third overall.

This was also the year of my international debut. I played in Karlsbad 1907 and won the international master title. I was invited to play there by P.P. Saburov. He was the head of St. Petersburg's chess movement and was in contact with the Western chess organizers. Saburov knew that I had no money to go abroad, but he didn't care about the material status of a chess player who was going to defend Russia's honour in an important tournament.

Still, I've managed to reach Karlsbad, but the travels totally depleted my resources.

In Karlsbad, I lived in poverty. At the middle of the tournament, I was very pale and thin. Chigorin saw that and asked if I was ill. I said no, and he understood that I was simply underfed. He was infuriated, called the All-Russian Chess Society leaders "heartless scoundrels" and helped me to settle somewhat better.

There, in Karlsbad, I met Chigorin for the very last time. He was already suffering from diabetes. I still remember our last evenings in Karlsbad, our walks, when I accompanied Chigorin, weakened by his illness, from the tournament hall to his hotel. Chigorin's strength was sapped by the illness, and his score was quite modest, but his great talent still shone through in several games.

Shortly after, on 12th January 1908, Chigorin died. He was a bright chess prodigy, the founding father of Russian chess school, an enthusiast of public life. Chigorin's great talent, his selfless public work and literary writings elevated the authority of Russian chess art to unprecedented heights.


In 1907, I took part in my first international tournament. I won master's title and shared a prize with Marshall, the American champion.

I was invited to this tournament by M.I. Chigorin's recommendation, who had almost fatherly benevolence towards me.

In the same year, I won the first prize in a Moscow tournament in which a well-known foreign master Marco also played, which, of course, also influenced Chigorin's thoughts about me.

The first half of the tournament was a fiasco for me: my score was just 2.5/10 - I couldn't even eat properly due to the lack of money.

Once I sat on a bench, dreaming about some food. Chigorin happened to walk by. My looks worried him, he started to question me delicately and, upon learning about my poor conditions, asked the tournament's organizers to support me financially. I managed to recover and scored 7.5/10 in the subsequent rounds, finishing the tournament with an even score.

The 1907 tournament was the first one in this resort city, the first one in a series. Why did Karlsbad decide to host a chess tournament at all?

The answer is simple. The city's officials decided to remind Europe and America of the Karlsbad resort's existence, with its mineral springs. The newspaper reports about the world's strongest chess players also served as an advertisement for the Karlsbad resort.

Many great players took part in the 1907 tournament: Chigorin, Rubinstein, Maroczy, Schlechter, Vidmar, Duras, Teichmann, Mieses, Spielmann, Janowski, Tartakower, Nimzowitsch and others.

Here are 5 games that I played in this tournament.


During the whole game, especially after understanding that the loss is inevitable, Nimzowitsch was very ill-mannered, trying all sorts of tricks to throw me off balance.

Our Soviet masters, brought up on the traditions of impeccable Soviet sports ethics, will probably be amazed by my words. Nimzowitsch's arsenal was primitive and simple: he would demonstratively copy all my poses and movements, like a mirror; when I was thinking on my move, he would groan and wheeze, pull on a pencil that hung from a stand so that it would fly in my face; he would turn the stool around and sit with his back on me, sighing heavily and pretending to be asleep. And that's not all! That's how one of the greatest Grandmasters behaved.

The next game was very important for the final standings and made the tournament leaders very nervous. It was played in the penultimate round. At the time, Rubinstein scored 15 points, but had no more games to play, while Maroczy, Rubinstein's main rival, scored 14 points and had only one game to play, against me. So, if Maroczy didn't defeat me, Rubinstein would finish clear first.

I sat down with Maroczy. The arbiter started the clock.

Rubinstein, who watched our game, was visibly worried. Finally, he couldn't stand it anymore and left the hall cowardly. He was sure that I would lose because I was a pawn down in a difficult Bishop ending. Rubinstein knew that Maroczy had a great endgame technique and was able to convert even the smallest advantage, and also that he was very self-restrained and composed.

But I rarely defended so tenaciously as in this game. I sympathized with my compatriot Rubinstein and wanted him to win the first prize. The endgame lasted for several hours. Finally, seeing that there was no chance to win, Maroczy signed, looked at me kindly, shrugged and said "Draw" in German with a smile.

Rubinstein came back to the hall. The spectators rushed to him and started to congratulate him as the winner of the tournament. At first, Rubinstein thought that they were joking. But when he learned the truth, he was elated.