The Childhood of Russian Chess, Pt. I
Related Posting(s): Petroff
Mikhail Tschigorin is often cited as being the Father of Russian Chess. While, indeed, he was the greatest Russian player of the 19th century, he might be better considered, with his Romantic style, the apex of Russian Chess' adolescence.
Ivan Alexandrovich Butrimov, Alexander Dmitrievich Petroff and Major Carl F. Jaenisch could be thought of as the birth of Russian Chess while the Soviet School might be the mature adulthood of Russian Chess.
This series will try to examine Russian Chess' Childhood, the time between Petroff's early contributions and Tschigorin's later accomplishments.
In 1837 the players in the city of St. Petersburg were meeting at the apartment of A.D. Petroff in the Kolomna area that city . This included not just dedicated players such as Ivan Butrimov and Carl Jaenisch, but literary types such as the playwright Alexander Danilovichem Kopyev also. Petoff moved to Warsaw in 1840 and the chess circle dissolved.
On March 27, 1853 the St. Petersburg Society of Chess Amateurs, sometimes translated as the Chess-lovers Society, was founded in the home of Count Alexander Grigorievich Kushelev-Bezborodko at 1-3 Gagarinskaya Street.
An 1853 edition of Vedomosti (the Record) said: "On March 27 at 8 pm at the home of Count Alexander Gregorievich Kushelev-Bezborodko the opening ceremony of the newly founded Society of Chess was performed with governmental permission." It was charted in 1854, becoming the first organized chess club in Russia,one year prior to the Count's death. The difference between it's founding date and charter date can be attributed to the political climate of the time.
While the government was petitioned to allow the charter of such a group (the petition was sent by Count Kushelev-Bezborodko, Major C. F. Jaenisch and two influential parties - which is possibly the only reason it was eventually approved), it took amost a year to receive the approval. The Chess Society, with its annual dues of 15 rubles in silver, was a congress of very wealthy, influential men. Although it peaked at 50 members, by 1860 it inexplicably dissolved for lack of funds.
The Count's son, Grigory Alexandrovich Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya reorganized the society which then was meeting first at the Hotel Demuth, an extravagant building at the junction of an equally extravagant street, Nevsy Prospekt, and the Moika Canal. Then the club rented rooms from January-May 1862 at the house of the Eliseev brothers (Grigory and Stepan) also located on Nevsky Prospekt. The club had been chartered in 1854 just one year prior to the Count's death. It became the first official chess club in Russia. Petroff, himself, traveled from Warsaw to attend its inaugural meeting, signifying it's importance. Among the members were Petoff, of course, Ilya Stepanovich Shumov, Dmitri Semenovich Urusov, Sergei Semenovich Urusov (brother of, and a more accompished chess player than, Dmitri) Carl Jaenisch, Viktor Mikailov, the player/chess author Ivan Butrimov, the revolutionary Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky (whose presence there caused the club's demise in 1862, shut down by the police for suspicion of insurrection) and the chemist Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev. Many dignitaries visited the home for chess (some were probably members) including the authors Ivan Tuegenev, Nikolai Akhsharumov, Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Yevgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin, Dimitri Ivanovich Pisarev and Ivan Ivanovich Panaev, the poet Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov, the composer Léon Fyodorovich Minkus, the Minister of War Prince Vasily Andreevich Dolgorukov and Ignatz Kolisch.
Some of the members and visitors were government spies. Nicholas I came into power in December 1825. At the beginning of his reign there was an attempt to overthrow him called forever the Decembrist Revolt. Although he rather quickly supressed the revolt, one result was that Nicholas regime became a repressive one, replete with spies and oppressive laws. Gatherings of artists, musicians, writers and now even chess players (usually the groups were mixed) became targets for this oppression and the Society of Chess Amateurs was no exception. One particular habitué, Nikolay Chernyshevsky was arrested in 1862 and incarcerated in the Fortress of St. Peter and Paul, after which he was exiled to Siberia. The Chess club was shut down.
Count Alexander Kushelev-Bezborodko's house at 1-3 Gagarinskaya Street
In 2010 the palace sold for 740 million rubles.
The Maison of the Brothers Eliseev, 1830
Grigory Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya Count Alexander Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya
Sergei Semenovich Urusov Dmitri Semenovich Urusov
Carl Friedrich Andreyevich Jaenisch Ilya Stepanovich Shumov
Russian chess at that time followed the Italian rules which allowed free castling and passar battaglia (the disallowing of en passant). While the club charter of 1854 followed Jaenish's old-school preference for the Italian rules, the new charter of 1857 allowed for en passant. That the Russians followed the Italian rules (which still existed up to 1881 when the 3rd Italian Chess Congress played in Milan used standard rules ) isn't strange since the Russians had close ties with the Italian chess scene at the time. While Serafino Dubois, the great Italian master of that time, doesn't seem to have ever visited St. Petersburg, several Russian players visited Rome (including Turgenev, Akhsharumov, Mikilov and and Kushelev-Bezborodko whose game is shown below) and played with Dubois. Jaenish had frequent correspondence with Dubois concerning the standardization of chess rules.
Here is a match game between Prince Sergey Urusov and Ignatz Kolisch shortly before the club was closed. The match result was spit 2-2. Kolisch also played Shumov and beat him 6-2. Shumov's one win, a stodgy defense against the Evans Gambit follows.
Chess Player's Chronicle, vol. 14, 1854