Peter Arsenyevich Romanovsky
Romanovsky was one of the foremost figures in the development of chess in the Soviet Union. In deciding to write a post on him it quickly became clear that a proper appreciation would turn into a book. Romanov's 1984 volume on him is made up of ten chapters, together with over 100 games,
so instead I put together what I give here. As the games from his major events are easily found, I give a selection of lesser known ones with my own notes.
In transliteration, I have used the modern English forms, except where quoting from other sources, where the original forms have been used.
Peter Romanovsky was born in St. Petersburg in 1892, into a chess playing family - two elder brothers both being strong players. His tournament career extends from 1908 through to beyond the end of WW2. In 1914 he took part in the Hauptturnier at the Mannheim tournament which was interrupted by the outbreak of WW1. Along with a number of other players, including Alekhine,and Bogolyubov, he was interred. More details can be found on a post of Batgirl's, here.
The English chess historian, A.J.Gillam, has recently published a book on the internees and their series of tournaments. these events were instrumental in making a number of the players involved into players of world class.
His career in the Soviet Championships started with the first one - on which more later, and saw him Champion in 1923, second in 1924, and joint champion with Bohatirchuk in 1927. There is a story to tell about the 1927 event. Romanovsky was awarded the International Master title in 1951. The Soviet Chess Federation intended to apply for the Grandmaster title on his behalf, on the basis of the 1927 championship. However, the application was not put forward, because it was realised that this would mean that Bohatirchuk, by then an emigree persona non grata, might also be awarded the title, so i give that result first.
In international events, he took part in two of the great Moscow tournaments of the period - in 1925 and 1935.
From the second of these Romanov gives the following lovely cartoon of Romanovsky and Lasker. Right of picture is Martha Lasker. It is by, I think, M.Badutzkoi, and is on page 95.
In between these events, in 1934, (1935 according to some sources) he became the first chessplayer to be awarded the Soviet title of 'Honoured Master of Sport', following his shared second place (with Riumin) at the Leningrad tournament, behind Botvinnik, but ahead of Euwe. With regard to Botvinnik, it has been said that Botvinnik regarded Romanovsky, along with Grigory Levenfish, as one of those members of 'the old guard' who was openly antagonistic towards him. That is possibly true. Botvinnik was favored by the then head of Soviet chess, Nikolai Krylenko, who had taken the position from one of 'the old guard', Alexander Ilyin-Genevsky. As part of Krylenko's program for the development and popularisation of chess, the likes of Romanovsky, Levenfish, and Duz-Khotimirsky had to fulfil the role of educators. This involved travelling to wherever they were sent, giving lectures, simultaneous exhibitions, coaching and so on. Romanovsky was openly critical of Botvinnik's failure to win his match with Salo Flohr, to which Botvinnik responded by referring to Romanovsky's crushing loss to Bogolyubov in 1924. You can read into all that what you wish!!
As part of his role as an educator, Romanovsky wrote two books on the middle game that are considered to be of great value. They have since been translated into English in various forms, most recently as a single volume under the title 'Soviet Middlegame technique, I believe. (Not having this book, I am happy to be corrected!!) He was also a regular contributor to the Soviet chess magazines. In 1951 he was awarded the title of 'International Arbiter' by FIDE, along with his International master title. He was also a member of numerous organisational and administrative committees within U.S.S.R. chess, including being a member of the Presidium of the U.S.S.R Chess Federation.
During W.W.2, he was a victim of the horror known as 'The Siege of Leningrad'. When he was found by a rescue party, his wife and family, along with his housekeeper, had died of cold and starvation. It is reported that there was no furniture left in the house - it had all been used as firewood.
Romanovsky died in Moscow on March 1st 1964. He contributed a great deal to chess, particularly as one of that group of players who were instrumental in building the great Soviet chess powerhouse, played many wonderful games and deserves to be remembered.
In 1958, in 'The Soviet School of Chess', Kotov and Yudovich say this. 'Romanovsky is an artist and seeker'. Further comment is unnecessary.
They also give this photograph, that i have not seen in any other source.
The 1920 Tournament.
This photograph of Romanovsky and Alekhine is dated 1920.
What is now regarded as the first Soviet Chess Championship was originally conceived as part of a larger event – The All-Russian Sports Olympiad. Whilst the economic situation meant that the Olympiad itself was scrapped, the chess event, under the organisation of the Vsevobuch under Ilyin-Genevski and Russo, went ahead. It was to be a strange and unique event, scheduled to begin on October 1st, 1920.
Under Ilyin-Genevski, an organising committee was formed in early 1920 that included Alekhine, Nikolai Grigoriev – of study composing fame, and one of the key figures in Moscow chess circles at the time, and Nikolai Grekov.
Given the situation of the time, organising the event required what Ilyin-Genevski later described as ‘a military mobilisation of chess players’. In Effect, players were conscripted to take part. Local authorities were empowered to use the Red Army’s resources to locate players and arrange for them to be sent to Moscow, where they were to be billeted in army training quarters.
Once a player had been located, a ‘despatch’ was sent to his workplace ordering his release. It is reported that Abram Rabinovich found out that he was required to attend by seeing his name on a poster on a street in Kiev.
Romanovsky, who was employed in the Soviet Bank of Petrograd ( St. Petersburg) gives the following account of his personal experience. His invitation read:-
Due to the extremely great importance attached to the development of chess playing in Russia as an inherent constituent part of the obligatory preparation of working people for future military service, the Main Directorate of Vsevobuch organises from October 1st through October 25th (1920) in the city of Moscow the All-Russian Chess Olympiad as a festival to demonstrate the refined creativity of the mind. For the success of the Chess Olympiad, it is necessary to assure the participation of the strongest Russian chess players.
That is why the Main Directorate of Vsevobuch requires you to send on this mission P.A.Romanovskii, for him to be placed under our specific instructions for the time period from October 1st through October 25th of this year.
Commissar A. Il’in-Zhenevskii.’
In Shakhmaty v SSSR, Oct 1950 he comments, ‘Am I really going to the All-Russian chess tournament? The country is in the fire of civil war, the invaders fiercely attack the young Soviet Republic’.
Those players who were not Moscow residents were billeted to the Vsevobuch barracks, and fed in the mess hall. Within the context of the time, that was as much as could be done. The memoirs of one participant, Grigori Levenfish, are known to have been severely ‘edited’ prior to publication ( a great loss to chess history, but Levenfish was not favored by the Soviet authorities) but this extract remains.
‘I travelled from Petrograd on the day before the tournament was due to open and was billeted in an unheated room in a military training barracks. For our meals we were temporarily included among the trainees. Hunger and destruction, caused by intervention and the Civil War, were felt at every step and rations were of course less than modest.’
The rations appear to have consisted of 200 grams of bread, a thin, herring head soup, and fried herring tails. Levenfish jokes ‘Where the middle part of the herring had gone, we did not succeed in establishing!’
Other problems of a financial nature quickly surfaced. Travelling expenses were not reimbursed, and the rumor spread that the promised prize money did not exist at all. After the fourth round the general dissatisfaction of the players reached a crisis point.
A group of players presented an ultimatum, refusing to continue to play unless their demands were met. The ultimatum reads.
‘Declaration of the Participants of the All-Russian Chess Olympiad.
In view of the significant deterioration in provisions, we consider it essential to declare that in the circumstances now prevailing, we are unable to continue the tournament and are obliged to break it off from Sunday, October 17th, in the event of the non-fulfilment (sic) of the following demands:
- The issue of an advance of 15,000 rubles per player.
- The immediate issue of the remaining cheese to the players.
- An increase in the bread ration, or compensation in some other form .
- The immediate issue of cigarettes.
P.Romanovskii, A.Kubbel, I.Rabinovich, I.Golubev, Ia.Danyushevskii, Mund, G.Levenfish.’
On the matter of the cheese. In his ‘Notes of a Soviet chess master, page 25, Ilyin-Genevsky says, ‘Since the basic rations for the participants were the meagre meals on the senior organising courses of Vsevobuch, we made every effort to get hold of some other provisions. Thus, I recall that we managed to get hold of some big rounds of cheese from the Moscow Producers Society.’
As with the herring, the whereabouts of the missing cheese never came to light.
At the start of the event, Alekhine stood down from the organising committee in order to concentrate on his own participation in the event. Although not signing the ‘ultimatum’, he supported it to the extent of refusing to ‘play against hungry opponents’.
Ilyin Genevsky managed to arrange the payment of the promised expenses, and increase the bread and cigarette rations, and it appears that the cheese question was negotiable.
The tournament eventually concluded, with the results given in the cross table.
Romanovsky’s second place finish earned him the Master title.
Instead of the promised prize money, the three winners were awarded handwritten certificates and the choice of some items ‘confiscated’ from enemies of the state.
A game of Romanovsky's from this event.
Romanovsky's introduction to master level chess was prior to the 1909 tournament that is covered here.
Kotov and Yudovich give this information. 'The first big test of his powers came about accidentally in a tournament at the St. Petersburg Chess Club in 1908 when he replaced his brother alexander, who had fallen ill at the last moment. Playing by clock for the first time in his life, he beat Master Freyman and immediately won first-catagory rating. He was then 16.' Romanov's book gives the final standings.
1st equal S.Freyman and K.Rosenkrantz. 3rd, V.Maliutin, 4th equal G.Ghelbach, S.Lebedev and P.Romanovsky.
Some selected games. I have chosen them because they caught my eye. As mentioned, many of Romanovsky's games, particularly from various U.S.S.R tournaments and the Moscow events can easily be found.
A Photograph of Romanovsky taken around the time of this game, i.e. 1945 I believe.