The Urusov brothers

Apr 24, 2014, 1:02 AM |

A small article from this blog.

Both Urusov brothers, according to their father's wishes, were enrolled into the First St. Petersburg Military Corps in the early childhood. They graduated with high distinction and became the Guard officers. They participated in wars.

Sergey, the older brother, finished his career as a Major General. There are some stories about how he kept his love towards chess even during wars.

Chess players have a reputation for being quirky. Sometimes it really seems strange for someone who doesn't play too often or even at all.

But here are some examples: perhaps they'd make you think, "maybe, chess isn't just pieces and the board, it's not that simple with this hobby?"


Urusov's systematic chess studies were interrupted by the Crimean War of 1854-55. But even at the war, he managed to find some time for chess. He first met Lev Tolstoy at the chess board.

At Sebastopol, S. Urusov was assigned to the 4th bastion that was the main object of enemy siege. Soon he was appointed to command the Poltava infantry regiment. Under his command, in June 1855 the platoon brilliantly repealed the French attack on the 2nd bastion. For his bravery, S. Urusov was awarded with an officer's Croix de Saint-Georges.

But the participants of the Sebastopol defence also remembered other things about Sergey Semyonovich after the war.

Once, during a bombardment, Urusov coolly played three blindfold games simultaneously. The atmosphere was greatly described by V.I. Baryatinsky:

"Everyone watched the games intently; there was a dead silence, interrupted only by the voices that called the moves. I have to point out that during all this time, everyone present was in grave danger, because the missiles that the English launched at us from the Inkermann heights, were directed at our position each evening... Despite the strong shaking and a lot of noise from these missiles, Urusov, unperturbed, continued his triple game, sipping his tea... The games finished past midnight; Urusov won two games and lost one."

There was also an instance when S. Urusov offered to play the best chess player from the enemy forces, with one trench on the stake.

L. Tolstoy recounted this story many years later:

I remember that during the Sebastopol siege, I visited Saken's adjutant (Saken was the garrison commander). Then Prince S.S. Urusov arrived; he was quite eccentric, but nevertheless one of the best chess players of Europe at that time. He said that he wanted to speak to the general. The adjutant led him to the general's office. Ten minutes later, Urusov passed by, with an unhappy face. The adjutant returned to us and, laughing, told us what Urusov wanted from the general. He proposed to challenge the Englishmen to a chess game, with a forward trench before the 5th bastion as a stake; this trench already cost both sides several hundred lives".

Sergey Semyonovich was a man of many talents. The nature endowed him with good musical hearing and gentle singing voice. He composed romances himself and sang them. His mathematical talents also showed at an early age. S. Urusov held lectures on differential equations at the Moscow Mathematical Society conferences and even wrote The Guide for Studying Geometry, Algebra and Trigonometry, published in three parts in 1870-71. But he was best known as a chess player. After the end of Crimean War and retirement from the active service, Sergey Semyonovich, seriously preparing for a decisive match against Petrov, started studying theory in earnest.

One of his first Bishop's Opening researches, published in 1857 in Schachzeitung, already showed his analytical skills. Urusov's Gambit was discussed on the pages of many magazines and was published in theoretical guides.

Later, Alexander Alekhine wrote:

"After 4... Nxe4 5. Qxd4 White has a very strong attack. I principially avoid any such early material games in the opening: they only lead to time loss and hinder development".

In 1859 he was objectively the second-strongest Russian player, beating Ilya Shumov convincingly (+7-3=3). It was obvious that he could try and play an unofficial Russian championship match.

De facto, Urusov's match against Alexander Petrov in Warsaw was the final of the Russian Championship. Despite Petrov's advanced age (he was 65, while Urusov was 32), the veteran still won.

They played 21 game. The score was +13-7=1 in Petrov's favour.

That's what Petrov said about his opponent:

"Prince Urusov has all the qualities necessary for becoming a strong player. He has the ability to calculate many variants even in the most complicated situations. He's clear-sighted, knows openings, is exceptionally patient, resilient and has a very good memory. Most probably, he can successfully face the best foreign players."

Petrov's characteristic was quite spot on. He successfully played not only against Shumov (+6-2=1 in another 1859 match) and other Russian masters, but also proved his worth against foreign players. A match against the Hungarian master Kolisch in 1862 (+2-2), the victory against P. Hirschfeld in 1866 and games against other opponents proved that S. Urusov was one of the strongest European masters.

Dmitry Semyonovich Urusov also played quite well.

He was very bold in his playing, and could crush anyone in style. He was remembered as a player who could clearly evaluate the dynamic potential of pieces in certain circumstances.

Sacrifice a Queen just for two minor pieces? Without an obvious mate? Only for sustained positional pressure?

Such decisions were the calling card of the younger Urusov. Not any master would dare to do that in an important game! This player's bravery was unlimited.

The pinnacle of Dmitry Urusov's chess successes was in 1854. Several Moscow championship matches were played. After Shumov defeated Jaenisch, everything depended on his match against Urusov. Everyone thought that Shumov would win, but D. Urusov defeated him +7-4.

Only 20 games of D. Urusov survive from the period of 1852-57 - that's very few. After 1857, he quit playing chess altogether. In that year, his father died and bequeathed a manor in the Spasskoye village (Yaroslavl province) to him.

"D. Urusov wanted to resign for a long time... the service in a privileged Izmailovsky regiment, all the noise of court life didn't satisfy him. And now he had a reason to resign. In 1860, Dmitry Semyonovich married Varvara Silovna Batashova, resigned from military service and retired to his manor.

Dmitry Urusov's name was mentioned very scarcely in the Shakhmatniy Listok after that, but the St. Petersburg chess players remembered him for a long time. Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev wrote to his friend I.P. Borisov from Baden Baden on 23th December 1869: 'Tell Urusov that I'm very glad that he amicably accepted my gift; this means that he still remembers me. Also tell him that chess have totally passed me by...'"