A Chess Biography of Boris Verlinsky

A Chess Biography of Boris Verlinsky

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This week I got my hands on a book which I have been looking forward to ever since I first heard about the project - this one.

My recent readers will be aware of my love of what I call the first Soviet school of chess. My more longstanding one's will recall a blog I threw together some years ago now :-   

They will recall the story behind the title shared by my blog and the book 'First Grandmaster of The Soviet Union'. Boris Verlinsky - or , as I always think of him as the Germanic transliteration was the first I came across over 40 years ago, Werlinski

Originally from the magazine ''64''. Date taken unspecified

He was indeed the first player to hold the Soviet title of Grandmaster - more than that, I think, he was probably the first player in the history of the game to be awarded that title by a recognised chess organisation. ( you saw it here first!!)

Two years later he had the title taken away from him, and his title  was never reinstated. 

In the comments to my blog my friend @Spektrowski  related how that came about. I quote :-

''By the way, I found a historical document that explains why exactly Verlinsky was stripped of his grandmaster title.
In 1931, the Seventh All-Union Chess Congress (that coincided with the Soviet chess championship; the same one I quoted Krylenko's speech from) issued a document titled Resolution on the Questions of Qualifying. I'll post it here with some omissions;

1. Considering the importance of qualifying work as an organizing factor, and also as a factor that allows to increase the quality level of Soviet chess and checkers players, the congress considers this area of chess/checkers movement a matter of utmost importance.
The congress would like to point out that the desire to increase the qualification, i.e. playing quality level, has nothing in common with such unhealthy phenomena as "championships", points-chasing etc., which are characteristic for a narrow, individualistic approach to chess and checkers.
Because of this, the congress attaches exceptional importance to systemic holding of qualifying competitions, starting from the lowest collective level up until national level.
2. <omitted>
3. The congress would like to point out that the existing system of determining the result by counting points has a number of faults, because, first, individual creativity isn't taken into consideration, and second, the point system itself (1 - 0.5 - 0 points) is too rough to determine the exact results of games.
However, the congress thinks that at the current development stage of chess/checkers movement, there are no other methods of determining the qualification; so, as we leave the current system in place for the time being, we offer the Highest Qualifying Committee to work out the question of refinement of the game result determination, not only by its ending position (checkmate, stalemate, etc.), but by its internal content too, which can give an estimate of the creative level of individual chess and checkers players.
4. The congress thinks that tournaments and team matches should be the main types of qualifying competitions.
5. Considering the necessity of involving new qualified chess/checkers players in the process, the congress would like to emphasize the importance of the grassroot chess/checkers qualification and deem it necessary to hold low-level qualifying tournaments in all the primary chess/checkers collectives.
6. <omitted>
7. Considering that the title of the "All-Union tournament winner" is already prestigious enough, the congress considers the existence of a special "grandmaster" title unnecessary.

8-10. <omitted>''.

So, basically, in 1931, Verlinsky didn't get "stripped" of his grandmaster title - the title itself was abolished.
( To that I – Simaginfan – would add that Botvinnik won that 1931 USSR Championships, but, in view of the congress decision, was not awarded the Grandmaster title. That came later, in 1933 when the title was reinstated. The fact that Verlinsky did not have his title restored to him at that point is a subject for debate! He had a terrible tournament, finishing equal 12th.)

The book has an interesting addition to that information.

Page 238.
The conference also abolished the allegedly bourgeois
"championship" and "champion", replacing them with more proletarian-
sounding "premiership" and "winner of the premiership". The fight against
the "corrupting influence of the west" began in the 1930s, and chess did not
avoid that process.
Master Nikolai Zubarev.', the head of the qualification committee, explained
the official line of the country's chess bosses in more detail for chess fans: "The
master's title is not only an honorific one, but also a category title, defining
the highest level of chess strength in our qualification system. And since
it is so, there's no reason to retain the fancy, but somewhat expressionless
'grandmaster' title, which is essentially analogous to the term 'champion',
which was already abolished in the Soviet physical education movement. So,
the decision of the conference that abolished the honorific 'grandmaster' title
and did away with the terms 'champion' and 'championship' is completely
understandable." (Shakhmaty v SSSR, No. 23-24, Deceurber 1931.)
And so, our Verlinsky started the tournament as a grandmaster and
finished it as a master...

So, with that bit of history attended to, I will tell you about the book! ( this is not a review of any formal  kind, it is just my thoughts!)

I have spoken about the author's work before here :-  

I was expecting something good, but this book just had me going WOW!! Just today I was reminded of the great Voronkov's book on Janowski, and I would rate this book on the same level. It was beyond my expectations. Absolutely one of the best of it's type that I have ever seen, and I have seen plenty. You can find a preview here :-  

It is, in it's approach, rather like one of my blogs extended to over 400 pages! You get the biographical material as you go along. Lot's of annotated games and fragments. BIG brownie points here to Sergei. In his introduction he makes a point that I have often made. If you want to properly understand a player you don't just look at the best games, you have to look at the bad days as well, and he includes losses and draws. For example - along with a picture of Simagin which I had never seen before - you get this horrible mauling.

Interspersed with that you get plenty of pictures and cartoons - many are rare and great finds. You get cross-tables and reports - including many round by round comments on Verlinsky's game from contemporary sources. Many of the events covered are obscure, and , even though I have spent many hours looking for his games, there are lot's which are totally new to me.

This is just a wonderful book on every level! Let's go look at some stuff. Regarding the game notes I have something to say. There are wonderful chess history researchers who are simply not strong enough as players to understand the games properly, and resort to engine 'better is', etc. There are strong players who couldn't do proper historical research if their lives depended on it and write rubbish. Tkachenko, 

Sergei Tkachenko.

brilliant as he is at the historical research, enlisted strong players to look at the games with human eyes. THAT gets my respect.

Normal thing here. All material - including the pictures - are reproduced with the permission of Ilan at Elk and Ruby publishers. They have the rights to the material so please - lazy charlatans that you are - please don't just steal it because it is on the internet. 

Where to start. O.K. A forgotten tournament, and a magazine article.

The chess. Tkachenko doesn't include the game in the article pictured. it's rather nice!

The game given from the event.

O.K. I am running out of time here, so I can't include all the material in the files. ( sighs of relief from my readers!!) Will throw in what I can, with apologies for my haste.

7th Ussr Championships semi finals.

When I wrote the blog linked to above, I considered the following game to be the only real 'find' in it, discovered in a rare game anthology. Tkachenko's book gives it as the last game in the book, with notes by Verlinsky himself .

To finish, Tkachenko gives some great background to this forgotten tournament, together with details of a blitz tournament won by Verlinsky at the event. I really like the game, and, like many in the book, it was totally new to me. A voyage of chess discovery!

There is a picture to go with it included in the book, which is a major historical document in it's own right. ( my only - minor - gripe with the book is that some of the pictures are not given with primary source information.) That minor quibble aside - one which, as Lasker put it tells you more about the reviewer than it does about the play! - this is an absolutely magnificent book. One of the very best of it's type that I have ever seen.  With my thanks to the author and his team of helpers, and to Ilan at Elk and Ruby, I will close with the picture and my advice to just go buy the book - It's wonderful!

Page 118. No source given.