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Game of Chess in Soviet Russia

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

During the cold war Soviet Russia used superiority in athletic competition to promote their political agenda. They supported and trained individuals to win competitions. Chess was no exception.

Soviet Chess

The game of chess is a popular game in Russia and the Soviets developed a large pool of young players. Teachers and parents were encouraged to point out children with a natural talent for the game. These players were given trainers and materials to further development. As students progressed, they entered tournaments to further their career.


Grandmasters and other players at the highest levels, compiled a series of books for teaching. This material was distributed to schools throughout the Soviet Union.  This material covered all phases of the game; opening, middle and endgame.

When chess players reached the highest levels, grandmaster,  international master and master, they were expected to do well in international competition. Players at the highest level were given special treatment with jobs such as editing chess magazines. If they had other jobs, chess was their focus. Some had titles such as journalist and wrote articles on chess.  Mikhail Botvinnik's education was in computer science. This wasn’t isolated to chess, but all forms of athletic competition.


Alexander Ilyin-Shenevsky


The Soviets viewed chess as an intellectually and culturally superior game. They championed chess and cited the large number of Soviet grandmasters as proof of the superiority of their system. It was a matter of national prestige. Alexander Ilyin-Zhenevsky’s quote, “Chess develops in man boldness, presence of mind, composure, a strong will and something which sport cannot, a sense of strategy," seems to be the Soviet attitude towards chess.

Soviet Playing Tactics 

Scoring for chess tournaments and matches awards the winner one point, the loser zero and a draw a half point to each player. Bobby Fisher openly accused the Russians for cheating. He claimed they              would draw easy games with each other, and play for wins with everyone else. This provided an opportunity for Russians to place in the top positions. The American Ruben Fine declined to play in the 1948 World Championship tournament for similar reasons. In the 1960s and ‘70s the only players that did well against the Soviets were, Bobby Fischer and Pal Benko from the U. S., Bent Larsen from Denmark, and Svetozar Gligoric from Yugoslavia. Earlier, in the 1930s through the ‘50s Americans Ruben Fine and Sammy Reshevsky could hold their own against the Russians.

After the world chess champion Alexander Alekine died in 1946, the International Chess Federation, FIDE, devised a schedule for regular championship matches. FIDE organized the 1953 tournament in Zurich, Switzerland was to determine the players for the championship match in 1954. Of the 15 players in the tournament,9 were Soviet Russian. After the breakup of the Soviet Union some of the Russian players admitted the officials preferred Vasily Smyslov to win, and under no circumstances should Reshevsky win.

Soviet Chess Publications

The Soviets published some of the finest chess magazines and books of the time. Shakhmatny Bulletin or Chess Bulletin, was published from 1955 to 1990. Bobby Fisher and others considered it the best chess magazine in the world. It published the latest theory from grandmasters and perhaps the largest number of games of any magazine at the time. It was the only Soviet chess magazine that didn’t carry political commentary and was devoted strictly to chess.

Shakmaty v SSSR, Chess in the USSR, published from 1921 through 1991. 64 was another well-known Russian chess magazine. Except for the Chess Bulletin, players from outside Russia were able to subscribe to the magazines, and even copies of Chess Bulletin made it outside Russia.

Even with these fine magazines, they were willing to read any good chess magazine or book. Bobby Fisher’s My 60 Memorable Games sold out in a week.

My 60 Memorable Games

The Soviet Russians developed a system of studying chess that included all aspects of the game. The system produced some brilliant players by tapping the large pool of players, and giving the best a chance to develop. Although, there were punishments if they didn’t follow the rules.



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