Chess is something that keeps mad people sane... Peter Romanovsky case

Chess is something that keeps mad people sane... Peter Romanovsky case


Chess is not something that drives people mad, chess is something that keeps mad people sane...

The above famous quote is attributed to William Hartston, English chess player and journalist [concerning its origin, check Winter's CN 10823]. A really smart saying, that can cause feelings of sympathy and fondness towards the chess players... so towards oneself too. It's obvious that the quote is referring to cases that chess helps in a way one's mind to be kept in the limits of sanity.

The following case isn't exactly what one could bring to mind when reading the above quote... but this quote came to my mind as I was reading for the first time about Peter Romanovsky in Soltis' Soviet Chess [for more info about Peter Romanovky ckeck this simaginfan's blog]. I'm referring to the Siege of Leningrad during WW2...

Peter Arsenievich Romanovsky, from his Selected games found in

The following writings are based mainly on

The Siege of Leningrad started on 8 September 1941 and found Romanovsky and his family in his house at Krestovsky Island. During the Siege, that lasted 872 days, many inhabitants of Leningrad [over one milion] died, mainly from starvation, as the blockade of the city was solid enough. While the first winter of 1941-42 was the hardest. From about Nov 1941 the Road of Life, across the frozen Ladoga lake, NE of Leningrad, started to be functional. A dangerous road, as the ice could be broken at any time, either by bombs or cause ice wasn't thick enough. It was mainly used for supplies but also for some evacuation...

Inter alia, Peter Romanovsky's son, born in 1945, is reproducing some of his father's notebooks, written during these days. The one part that made me think the above quote is the following:

"On January 31, 1942, on the first page of a clean notebook, with the number 15, appears in a calligraphic handwriting entry:

'Within 20 days, the harsh reality extinguished my entire family. On January 6, 1942, Asya died - 56 years old, on January 10, Svetlana - 17 years old, on January 14, Anya, my dear!- 6 years old, January 29, Rogneda - 15 years old, on January 26, Kira - 18 years. [his four daughters and possibly the housekeeper]

Why do I live, and why did fate spare me till now and for how long? The only opportunity to live is to work. So, until death grab my throat, I'm starting a new work, The Selected Games.'" [This book was finally pubished in 1954].

[=31 января 1942 года на первой странице чистой тетрадки под номером 15 появляется выведенная каллиграфическим почерком запись: «В течение 20 дней суровая действительность уничтожила всю мою семью. 6 января 1942 г. умерла Ася — 56 лет, 10 января — Светлана — 17 лет, 14 января — Аня — золотко мое!— 6 лет, 29 января — Рогнеда — 15 лет, 26 января - Кира - 18 лет. Зачем мне жить, и почему судьба пощадила меня пока и надолго ли? Единственная возможность продолжать жить — это работать. Итак, пока смерть не схватила меня за горло, я начинаю новую работу «Избранные партии»...]

According to his son's article, Romanovsky was living for some time of this winter, among the frozen bodies of his beloved ones, probably working on his new book!!! "Only when he lost consciousness, it was succeeded to put him on a stretcher."[=Только когда он потерял созиание, его удалось положить на носилки.]... around March 1942. And left Leningrad through Ladoga lake...

How to judge a situation like this? Chess kept him sane enough, letting him live? Or kept him mad, stuck on the memories of his past life? Don't know...

Leaving Leningrad through the Road of Life, across Ladoga lake, found in waralbum

He was transferred sick and weak at the hospital of the city of Alexandrov, near Moscow. And after some time, a little stronger and on his feet, he went at the near town of Ivanovo, to join his elder brother Alexander. Ivanovo, northeast of Moscow, had received many of the Leningrad casualties and evacuees. There he played his first games after the siege... some simultaneous and 10 within a local tournament, around July, where he won all of them. His son writes that 9 of them survive in his notebooks. I've tracked one in Romanovsky's Selected games, against Nikolai Ovechkin, leading chess figure of Ivanovo, and one in his son's article, against his brother Alexander Romanovsky.

According to the description of Romanovsky's Selected games, p. 34, it's from a Romanovsky's simul at the hospital of Ivanovo, 1942

the games



According to his son's writings, Peter Romanovsky was transferred in a sanatorium near Moscow, around the summer of 1943, where he met his future wife [mother of the 1985 article's author], Elizaveta Sergeyevna, who worked in the library...