The Childhood of Russian Chess, Pt. IV

Apr 1, 2012, 7:59 AM |

             Part I                           Part II                           Part III                         Part V

Related Posting(s):     Petroff


   Not a lot can be said about Viktor Mikhailovich Mikhailov because not a lot seems to be known. It's quite unfortunate this is so since Mikhailov's place in Russian chess history is very important.

   Mikhailov was born in St. Petersburg in 1829.  He graduated from the St. Petersburg University in 1850 and went to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an translator.  He was considered among the best players in St. Petersburg during the existence of the Society of Chess Amateurs - 1853-1862.   Although it's said he competed against the first-rate Italian players, I've never been able substantiate it.  In 1862, Mikhailov retired friom his Ministry job and soon moved to Smolensk, about 400 miles south of St. Peteresburg, where he was employed as manager of the Chamber of Control.

   Viktor Mikhailov's greatest contribution was the establishment of the first Russian chess bulletin, Shakhmatny Listok, which he published from 1869-1863.

Viktor Mikhailovich Mikhailov died on June 22, 1883.



Sergey Urusov

Dmitri Urusov

   In 1852 Carl Jaenisch wrote a letter to the editor of the Chess Player's Chronicle stating:

. . . On this occasion, I take the liberty also of introducing the kind readers of the Chess Chronicle two young Russian amateurs, who have entered recently with eclat into the arena of our noble game.  They are two brothers, the Princes Ouroussoff, the eldest of whom is now at Moscow.
   The "eldest" was Sergey, born on Aug. 3, 1827 in Moscow.  Not much of his life is readily evident.  He was born into a princely land-owning family. His father was Simon Nikitich, his mother the former Anna von Markshits.  Besides his brother Dmitri, he had two sisters, Julia and Catherine. He married Tatyana Nesterova Afanasyevna who was two years younger than he and they had one child, a daughter in 1853. His daughter died at age 16 while and his wife had died sometime previous.  He never remarried.

   Sergey was a military officer, a mathematician and a philosopher.  He was considered a fine singer and played both the cello and piano.  At the siege of Sebastopol during the ill-fated Crimean War, he met, and became a friend with, Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy later recounted how S. Urusov proposed the outcome of the battle for their trench should be decided by a game of chess (while Tolstoy proposed a duel). Urusov was honored with the St. George Cross 4th class (the lowest of the 4 classes) which was presented for "undaunted courage."  After the war Urusov was forced to resign his commission in 1861 and, already a very strong player, took up chess seriously. He abandonned chess completely in the late 1870s, after which he gave his entire chess library to Tolstoy's son, Ilya.  The Dictionnaire Raisonné de l'Architecture Française in 1875 notes that:
The Treatise on the opening by Prince Sergeus Ouroussoff, which was expected to be ready for the press this coming season, is likely to be delayed for some months.
   It doesn't seem to have ever been completed.

   He published Differential Equations in 1863,  On the Integral Factor in Differential Equations in 1865,  On Solving the Problem of the Knight in 1867 and in 1868 he published  Survey of the Campaigns of 1812 and 1813 (Obzor Kampanii 1812 i 1813 gg) as well as Ocherki Vostochnoĭ voĭny : 1854-1855, a booklet on the Crimean War in 1866.  He also translated Tolstoy's In What Do I Believe?  into French. He also published a chess manual, "Guide to Study the Game of Chess," in installments in the Shajmatny Listok between 1859-1861.
   Sergey Urusov, who after half a lifetime severed his friendship with Tolstoy because of the famous author's break with the Orthodox Church, is best characterized by Tolstoy's wife and son. :

  Prince S.S. Urusov
        from My Life by Tolsoy's wife, Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya
Prince Sergej Semenovich Urusov. Here was a quite unique fellow.  On one hand, he was a superb mathematician who had written a textbook on geometry, as well as a famous chess-player; on the other, he was a sincerely religious man, who always lived with thoughts of God, self-perfection and love. . . . [he] had a great many eccentricities.  He had a huge build, and always wore boots with very high heels.  He held himself extremely erect, and spoke in a deep bass voice.  He always wore his officer's Cross of St. George, a decoration he received for bravery in the Sevatopol campaign.  With this bald white head and long white beard, he looked every inch the patriarch

           from Reminiscences of Tolstoy  by his son, Count Ilya Tolstoy
   At this period of my life I can also remember Prince Sergei Semyonovitch Urusof. He was a very odd and original man. He was almost a giant in stature. At the time of the Crimean War he was in command of a regiment and I am told he made himself remarkable by his extraordinary courage. He used to climb out of the trenches and walk up and down, dressed all in white, in a perfect rain of shells and bullets.
   The story was—I remember his telling it to me himself—that when the troops were going South, and a General who was reviewing his regiment abused one of the soldiers like a pickpocket for having lost a button off his uniform, Urusof called out to the soldier, "Fire at him!" The soldier fired at the General as he was told, but of course took good care not to hit him.
     Urusof was deprived of his command for this and was to have been dismissed from the army, but he was ultimately forgiven.
     During the siege of Sebastopol he proposed to the Allies to avoid bloodshed by deciding the dispute with a game of chess. He was a very good chess player and could easily give my father a knight and beat him.
     We children were rather afraid of him because he had the St. George's Cross at his buttonhole, spoke in a deep bass voice, and was of such gigantic size. In spite of his inches he always wore enormous heels to make himself bigger and I remember his once scolding me for not wearing them too. "How can you make such a guy of yourself?" he said, pointing at my shoes. "A man's beauty lies in his stature, and every one ought to wear big heels."
     Somehow or other, by means of the higher mathematics, he used to calculate the length of every one's life, and he averred that he knew when my father and mother would die, but he kept the secret to himself and told no one.
    He was strictly Orthodox by conviction. I do not know whether he had any influence on my father at the time when he set out on the search for a religion and began first by looking for it in the Orthodox church, but I think it quite probable that Urusof may have had something to do with it.
Tolstoy himself wrote in Concerning the Congress of Peace (letter to certain Swedes):
     I remember, during the siege of Sevastopol, I was one day sitting with the adjutants of Saken, the commander of the garrison, when into the waiting-room came S. S. Urusov, a very brave officer, a very odd fellow, and at the same time one of the best European chess-players of the time. He said that he had some business with the general An adjutant took him to the general's cabinet. Ten minutes later Urusov passed by us with a dissatisfied face. The adjutant who saw him out returned to us and told us on what business Urusov had come to see S&ken. He came to Sdken to ask him to challenge the English to play a game of chess in the front trench, at the van of the Fifth Bastion, which had several times passed from hand to hand and had cost several hundreds of lives.
     There is no doubt but that it would have been much better to play chess in the trench than to kill people. But Saken did not consent to Urusov's proposition, as he knew quite well that it would be possible to play chess in the trench only if there existed a mutual confidence in the parties that the condition would be carried out. But the presence of armies standing in front of the trench, and of the cannon directed upon it, proved that no such confidence existed. So long as there were armies on either side, it was evident that the matter would be decided with bayonets, and not with a game of chess.
   Sergey Urusov is best remembered today for the gambit named after him: 1.e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nf3 .

   As a chess player, Urusov was close to the top of his Russian contemporaries.  He beat Shumov in 4 separate matches, completely dominating him in earch one. He beat  C.F. Jaenisch in 1854 and the strong German player, Philipp Hirschfeld in 1866. He drew a short match with of of the strongest masters of the time, his former secretary Ignatz Kolisch.  Only A.D. Petrov kept a plus score against Urusov, winning decisively in both of their two matches.
   The following opening variation of the Allgaier Gambit, the Urusov Attack, is named after Sergey Urusov who explored it-
Prince Sergey Semyonovich Urusov died on November 20, 1897.

   In contrast to Sergey, his younger brother Dmitri, born in February 1829, had a large family. He was married to Varvara Silovna Batatova who bore him 4 sons, Sergey, Peter, Dmitri, Yuri and a daughter Katia. While Sergey had Tolstoy, Dmitry was friends with another writer, Ivan Turgenev.  Dmitri retired from the miliarty in 1861 with the rank of Colonel  and moved 160 miles NE of Moscow to Spasskoje in the Yaroslavl Oblast.
   He was one of the founding members of the St. Petersburg Society of Chess-lovers.  His chess tended toward the more positional and he was known as a stout defender of difficult positions. He won a match against Ilya Shumov in 1853.

Dmitry Semyonovich Urusov died on July 23, 1903

   The following game was published by Staunton in his book, Chess Praxis in 1860. No date was given for the game which is a rare example of 4 early Russian players in consutaltion and the only game I could find involving Viktor Mikhailov. The game pits Carl Jaenisch and Ilya Shumov against Dmitri Urusov and Viktor Mikhailov.

   The above game is also an interesting study in what can happen when, after careful analysis a plan is conceived, a player(s) changes his mind at the last minute, thinking he sees a better move but fails to give that move the same analysis.