Ilyin-Genevsky. The 'Lost Memory' story.

Ilyin-Genevsky. The 'Lost Memory' story.

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O.K. A short while ago, my friend @Spektrovski posted a great article here  

The subject of Ilyin-Genvesky having to learn chess twice was mentioned in the comments. It is one of those things that always comes up when you read about him, but I have never seen his own account on the internet, so thought that I would take the time to pass it on, plus a small relevant addition.

A quick note before I forget. The transliteration of Russian names is a minefield that I have gone into in some depth before. You will often find 'Ilyin-Zhenevsky' amongst other spellings. Originally Alexandr Fyodorovich Ilyin, he added the 'Genevsky' during his time as a student in Geneva. ( He was excluded from education in Russia due to his Bolshevik ideology.) So, it seems to me, that the spelling with 'G' is more appropriate.

He was a fascinating man, and I have touched on him in a previous article, that I will come back too in my next effort, which is work in progress. You can find out some fascinating stuff here  - an article from which I have taken the picture used in this article, with thanks. ( I believe it is available on other websites!!)

O.K. Down to the business of the day. 

Over 30 years ago, the lovely Bernard Cafferty - a man who was very kind to me many years ago, and from whom I learned a little about Steinitz - translated Ilyin-Genevsky's book 'Notes of A Soviet Master'. What a fantastic little book it is!! One that I would never part with. 

The relevant story, from pages 15-16 of the book.

'At the end of 1914, people of my age were subject to the draft ( conscription ), and at the start of 1915, I was in the army. On May 15th, 1915, I graduated from the Petersburg ensign school and was sent to the front-line army. This was the most difficult period of the campaign when our troops, lacking ammunition, were retreating all the time in the face of the pressure from the Germano - Austrian forces.

The average life-span for an infantry ensign at that time was reckoned to be just a few days. I too was not long on active service. On the 30th of May, I was poisoned by a German gas attack near Warsaw.

After I had recovered and gone back to the front line, I was seriously shell-shocked [ today we call this PTSD. Simaginfan} on July 9th near the village of Peski in the Kholmskaya Gubernia. This shell-shock turned out to be very severe.

My legs were paralyzed, and my arms were subject to partial paralysis. I also lost my senses of feeling, memory and hearing. Moreover, the doctors diagnosed a general lowering of the psyche.

I was evacuated to Petersburg and lodged in the Konig Military Hospital where I was in the care of the experienced psychiatrist V. V. Sreznevsky, who is now a professor.

My course of treatment lasted almost a year, and when I finally started to get better, a curious phenomenon was noted: I had forgotten how to play chess. All my previous knowledge of chess had to be learned again starting with how the pieces move.

How all this happened I can not remember, but the details are well remembered by Professor Sreznevsky who was in charge of my case. Even nowadays he refers to the case in his lectures as an interesting and rare case of the consequences of psycho-nervous trauma.'


Ilyin-Genevsky's brother is referred to by Alekhine, in 'Das Schachleben in Sowjet-Russland, Kagan, 1921.

And so on to the second part of the story!

In July 1916, my course of treatment finally came to and end, but a medical commission found me unfit for active service, i.e. fit for service only in peacetime conditions and non-combatant duty. I was assigned by the general staff to the reserve in a flame- thrower and chemical unit battalion stationed in Petrograd.

As a result I once again got the chance to play in chess competitions.

In January, 1917, I entered with great enthusiasm for the tournament of the Petrograd Chess Assembly. There were 36 entrants, including such strong players as Chepurnov, Talvik, Golubev, Gelbak, Rozenblat, Professor Koyalovich, and so on. These  players were divided into three groups.' 

{ This event was played in two stages - a three group preliminary stage, and a final.

Rusbase gives the following tables,


Ilyin-Genevsky says that he won his group ahead of Golubev, Rozenblat, Koyalovich ' and so on'. He gives the other group's qualifiers for the final as:- Chepurnov - a fascinating chess figure! - Vait, Rozenman, Pashkovsky, Talvik and Gelbak,  -   Gelbak - spellings vary ( the transliteration thing again!!), is probably the player found in an earlier post of mine St. Petersburg Amateur Tournament 1909.   

Simaginfan.} Back to the Ilyin_Genevsky account! 

'I was very concerned about how i would be able to play after such a serious illness. Would I be able to play at all? The first game I played gave a positive answer to the question. I take the opportunity to quote my first game after having learned how to play chess for the second time. 

L. Borkhov - A. Ilyin (sic.) February 3, 1917.