The Childhood of Russian Chess, Pt. III

Mar 18, 2012, 4:31 PM |

             Part I                           Part II                           Part IV                         Part V

Related Posting(s):     Petroff

    In 1584, Ivan the Terrible died of a stroke while playing chess.  150 years later, Peter the Great was also known as a chess player during his reign as Tsar,  as was Catherine the Great who ruled up until Alexander Petroff was born.
   Even before Petroff began his informal chess meetings in his apartment in 1837, Russia had a thriving, if somewhat unorganized chess scene.  We know the great Russian author, Alexander Pushkin was a lover of chess.  Well known persons such as Nikolai Brusilov, former-governor-of-the -Vologda-province-turned-writer,  Ivan Butrimov, the Baron (Paul) Schilling who invented a type of electric telegraph, as well as the Decembrists Mikhail S. Lunin, Nikolay V. Basargin, Alexander P. Belyaev and Sergei P. Troubetzkoy, all met for chess at the home of various players, such as M. P. Pogodin (who would become a friend of Prince Urusov, sharing his Slavophile views), in  early 19th century St. Petersburg.
   When Petroff was transferred to Warsaw in 1840, the era of random meetings was to give way to a more organized manner of conducting chess. The leading forces behind this change were Petoff's most famous followers, Carl Jaenisch and lya Shumov.


Ilya Stepanovich Shumov


   Ilya Stepanovich Shumov was born on June 16, 1819 in Arkhangelsk, which is about 500 miles northeast of St. Petersburg. While the transitional Jaenisch had one foot in the old and one in the new, Shumov, who was 6 years younger than Jaenisch (and 25 years younger than Petroff), was firmly in the new.

The Admiralty, St. Petersburg.


  Shumov was born into nobility.  He graduated from the Naval College (the Sea Cadet Corps) in St. Petersburg and did service on the Baltic but in 1847 took a position with the Admiralty, finally retiring with the title of Statskiy Sovetnik or Counsellor of State, at which time he devoted himself to chess.

   How strong any player of early Russia might have been is hard to determine, even relative to his Russian contemporaries. Schumov had a slight edge in his recorded games against Jaenisch, but fared poorly against both Sergei and Dmitri Urusov, Ignatz Kolisch, Simon Winawer and even lost his single game to Prince Dadian of Mingrelia in 1874. Petroff's decisive match win over S. Urusov would indicate that Shumov was significantly weaker than Petroff.
   Ilya Shumov does have the distinction of having won the first known organized Russian chess tournament in St. Petersburg in 1859.  Ironically or coincidentally, Dr. Isaak Linder published "Artist of Chess, I.S.Shumov" exactly 100 years later (1959).

   A rather curious thing is the practice of blindfold chess.  In Europe Philidor had been a celebrated blindfold player. Petroff, who was an ardent follower of the teachings of Philidor and who himself is known to have played, and won, a blindfold game against the telegraph inventor, Paul Schilling in the home of Count Julia Pompeevicha Litta (also known as Count Giulio Litta Modignani- an Italian general/diplomat living in St. Petersburg and married to the favorite lady-in-waiting of Catherine II). Ilya Shumov attempted blindfold play himself. The following game against a strong amateur was played sans voir in 1852.
   The game was found in Volume 13, 1852, of the Chess Player's Chronicle which states:  A very interesting Scotch Gambit recently played by Mr. Schumoff aganst an amateur of St. Petersburg of more than ordinary strength;  Mr. Schumoff playing without seeing the chess-board, but reserving to himself permission to see another chess-board without any pieces on it.
(It should be noted that Shumov is also written as Shumoff, Schumoff, Schoumoff and Shoumoff. )

   Besides being one of the founding members of the original Society of Chess-lovers of St. Petersburg, Shumov founded a later club in 1869 to replace the defunct original.  This club, which met in the huge building that covered  14-21 Officers' Street (now Dekabristov Street)  included many of the original members such as Nikolay Ivanovich Petrovsky, G. F. Klements (one of the Klements brothers associated with Grigory Eliseev at whose home the original chess society met for a time) and M. S. Beskrovny.  More importantly, the club became the learning ground for young Emmanuel Schiffers.  
     Below are a pair of games between Shumov and M. S. Beskrovny:

   That same year (1869) Shumov started a chess column in Vsemirnaja illjustracija (World Illustrated). After Shumov's death, Tschigorin would continue the chess column in that weekly - from 1881-1890.

It was in 1867, the same year that Petroff died, that Shumov made his most distinctive contribution to chess by publishing Russia's first book of chess problems, Recueil de Problèmes Scaccographiques Positions Curieuses et Autres.  The book is a collection of problems many of which represented historical events.

An very nice example of one of Shumov's historical chess problems is one he published in his chess column in 1878 entitled "Going Through the Balkans." The problem included some commentary and a poem.

White to move and mate in 8 moves

A literary-chess monument to the Russian-Turkish Liberation War (1877-1878). We see that in this position, pieces and pawns depict the continuous obstacle course of rugged mountains. The white king, moving over the mountain range symbolizes the march of the Russian army. (The 8 moves symbolize the 8 days march.)

                                            Going Through the Balkans
                                              Our heroes have crossed the Balkans!
                                              Their frightening journey was not quick:
                                              The freezing cold, the Turks, the blizzards,
                                              All the enemy forces of the formidable mountains,
                                              forming malicious obstacles,
                                              Sought, in vain, for eight days
                                              To stop our warriors.

                                              Nature itself is defeated!
                                              From here on our Bulat Steel will prevail
                                              And on the eighth day
                                              We will easily reach our goal - Mate.

(thanks to member, bobmacambob, for procuring this great translation.)



If Carl Jaenisch signified the scientific aspect of chess, then Ilya Shumov signified the artistic aspect, not only through his problems but also his imaginative play.  The Russian player/journalist, Viktor Mikhailov, claimed: The more difficult the situation, the more complex the combination, the better Shumov becomes.

Howard Staunton invited the best Russian players to take part in the 1851 International tournament. These were Petroff, Jaenisch, Shumov and Kireevsky. Kireevsky, Kireefski or Kirejevski, although his first name isn't mentioned in any chess literature, was almost certainly Ivan Vasilievich Kireevsky, a Russian philosopher and literary critic. Kireevsky, who spent part of his youth in St. Petersburg was a Moscovite and the Chess Player's Chronicle in 1852 gives us two correspondence games between himself and Shumov. The two game were begun Sept. 5, 1850.   The first game is below; the second was unfinshed due to mutual consent because Schumoff had to undertake a long journey into the interior of Russia.

Below is one of Shumov's few wins against the younger Urusov in 1853 -

Ilya Stepanovich Shumov died in Sevastopol in July 1881

From the BCM, 1882:

We omitted in our last, for want of space, to record with much regret the death of his Excellency M. Schumoff, which, as we are informed by the Strategie, took place at Sebastopol, whither he had gone last summer on account of ill health. M. Schumoff was born in 1819 of a noble family, and passed the earlier years of his life as an officer in the Russian navy. In 1847 he obtained an appointment at the Ministry of Marine, aud afterwards held other Government offices. In 1881 he retired with the rank of Privy Councillor, which gave him the title of Excellency. M. Schumoff was one of the few Chess-players who have succeeded in combining excellence in play with proficiency in problem composition, aud he also shone as an editor, having for some years conducted with much ability a Chess column in a weekly Russian illustrated newspaper. In 1867 he published a collection of letter problems, of which the Chess Player's Chronicle has lately been giving specimens, and up to 1874 he contributed problems to the Strategie and other periodicals, but latterly he devoted himself more to practice over the board, and since the deaths of Messrs. Petroff and Jaenisch, whose intimate friend he was, he has always been considered the champion of Russian Chess. In private life he was loved for his amiable manners, his cheerfulness, and his jeux d'esprit. He was fond of showing his games and conditional problems, of which last he used to give the solutions in Russian verse, and was about to issue a collection of his problems when death overtook him.