Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Russian Chess Literature: A brief history, Part one.

This is the first of a series of articles tracing the history of chess literature in Russia and the Soviet Union. The information has been compiled from many sources, mainly in the English language; these are listed in the Bibliography at the end. 

This is very much a work in progress, and further information may be added. My knowledge of the Russian language is non-existent and some of the sources give conflicting or incorrect information. Furthermore, Russian writers and historians generally praise highly their literary heritage while Western commentators are usually more measured in their views. I therefore invite comments on any errors or omissions so that a comprehensive and accurate account of Russian chess literature can eventually be completed.

Painting depicting a scene from a Russian folk epic (bylini).

The history of chess in Russia goes back over 1,000 years, but the country was a relative latecomer to the publication of books on the game. No chess manuals were printed before the 1820s and only a small number of chess books were published in Old Russia before the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917.

Sakharov’s Chess Literature, USSR, Bibliography (1775 to 1966) lists 203 chess items plus a few periodicals up to 1917, but many of these are literary works, fiction and poems, or ephemeral items such as club reports and charters. The Catalogue of Chess Literature published in the Russian Empire, USSR and the Russian Federation, 1791 to 1992, which lists mainstream chess works,  but is incomplete, includes just 95 titles before 1917.  All chess books published before the Revolution were printed in very small numbers, generally 1,000 or less and many in editions of between 100 and 500. 

The first written mention of chess in Russia is in the Kornchaya, a 13th century document relating to ecclesiastical rules and canons. At the time the game was frowned upon by the Church and the reference in the Kornchaya is to the prohibition of chess. The Church’s hostile attitude no doubt explains why there are extremely few references to chess from the 13th to 15th centuries.  

However, as Murray notes, far from being stamped out, chess flourished more vigorously than in any part of Western Europe and there are several accounts of the popularity of chess and the proficiency of Russian players, by merchants and travellers to Russia from the 16th century onwards.   

This is commented on, for example, in Gustav Selenus’s manual Das Schach-oder Konig-Spiel published in 1616, and a particularly interesting account is given by the English historian William Coxe following a visit to Moscow in 1772 where he frequently encountered chess playing to a high standard.  (Chess by Twiss volume I, 1787 pages 26 and 27, also Murray’s A History of Chess, 1913, page 384)
The popularity of chess was also exhibited in the frequent references to the game in the bylini, the traditional folk epics and poems passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. Nevertheless, there is little substance in any of these references and certainly no game scores have survived. The earliest recorded game by a Russian player in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games is dated 1838; a correspondence game between Kieseritzky and Jaenisch. It wasn’t until the late 18th century and early 19th century that Russia began publishing its own chess literature.

In 1775, A. K. Leontiev, the secretary of the Russian embassy in Peking, published a booklet in St. Petersburg; A Description of the Chinese Chess Game, which gave for the first time, the general terminology and nomenclature used in Russian chess. The Russian Academy Dictionary of 1794 also included a number of chess terms.   

The first Russian book on chess was a translation of Benjamin Franklin’s Morals of Chess, published in St Petersburg in 1791, a year after Franklin's death and five years after the first appearance of this essay in The Columbian Magazine in 1786. The Russian title actually reads Rules for Draughts, but chess in Russia was often called draughts in the late 18th century and even into the early 19th century (Linder). A copy of this very rare booklet was exhibited at the Grolier Club in 1975, the catalogue stating that only a few copies were known, other copies being in Leningrad and The Hague.

Title page of Franklin's Morals of Chess

It was thirty years before the next Russian chess book appeared. This was the first instructional manual and was published in St. Petersburg in 1821 by Ivan Butrimov with the title O Shakhmatnoy Igrye (On the Game of Chess).  

Title page of Butrimov's O Shakhmatnoy Igrye, courtesy of David DeLucia.

The book was a compilation of what was known about chess theory at the time and “naturally based on Western European works” according to Murray, while Richards is more precise stating that it is largely based on the German work Codex der Schachspielkunst by J.F.W. Koch. Butrimov noted the Eastern origins of Russian chess terminology and discussed the beneficial aspects of the game, where success depends on reasoning and foresight with luck playing little part. The use of algebraic notation aided the progress of chess in Russia. 

Frontis and title of Butrimov's book

Three years later another first in Russian chess literature: Shakhmatnaya Igra (The Game of Chess), by Alexander Petrov, St. Petersburg 1824. This was a more comprehensive work than Butrimov’s book and was the first Russian manual to present a thorough and original treatment of strategy and tactics.  

Title page from Shakhmatnaya Igra by Petrov, courtesy of David DeLucia

Although dismissed by Eales as “yet another version of Philidor” it was, in fact, a book of 500 pages, written in five parts and - Linder grandly claims - “was produced after a profound study and creative reworking of all the best that was to be found in the extant chess literature.”

The third part of the book contained Philidor’s games, with extensive commentary by Petrov who was critical of some of Philidor’s views. Petrov had a deep understanding of chess and wrote intelligently on the game, emphasising the importance of study and endeavour to become proficient.  He put forward several important propositions, carried out significant analytical investigations and advanced the theory of the game.

Frontis and title of Petrov's book

R G Wade’s book Soviet Chess states that Petrov’s manual used descriptive notation but this snapshot from Linder’s Chess in Old Russia clearly shows that the notation was algebraic.  

Petrov’s book stimulated the study of opening theory and laid the foundations for the Russian school of chess. Later authors claim that the book was “rated very highly by contemporaries and it became a reference for several generations of Russian chess players” (Linder), and: “the book was extremely popular and was considered a model chess guide” (Kotov & Yudovich). However, only 300 copies were printed, (of which around 50 have survived), so its influence must have been limited.  

Alexander Petrov

Petrov, the first Russian chess master, was an associate of Butrimov and served in the chancellery of His Imperial Majesty. He wrote a number of short stories with chess as a theme including Scene from the Life of Chess Players, and also the first Russian manual on draughts.

Also published in St. Petersburg in 1824 was: Recueil de parties d’ échecs by M. Bendix. Written in French, this was a collection of games and endings. The book also included the rules of the game, adopted by the London Chess Club. (Sakharov 78)

A basic primer of 39 pages was published in Moscow in 1828; The Rules of the Chess Game, (Sakharov 3). No author is named. This gave the arrangement and movement of the chess pieces, the aim of the game, notation, general notes on the conduct of the game, and a game between Philidor and Count Bruhl. 

A Russian translation of Nouveau Traité du Jeu des Échecs by La Bourdonnais was published in Moscow in 1839. Petrov reviewed this book in the Russian Literary Gazette in 1840 and introduced the concept of “the art of chess” on account of its inexhaustibility and creative possibilities.  A second edition was published in Moscow in 1853.

1853 Russian edition of Nouveau Traité du Jeu des Échecs, (David DeLucia)

The next major contributor to Russian chess literature was the chess master and theoretician Carl (Charles?) Friedrich (Ferdinand?) von (de?) Jaenisch, referred to in some Russian sources as Karl Andreyevich Yanish. He was born in Finland, probably of German ancestry, but spent most of his life in St. Petersburg where he was employed by the Institute of Communication Engineers (Railways?).

Carl Jaenisch

Jaenisch was a frequent guest of Petrov and together they collaborated on research into the chess openings. In 1840 Jaenisch left the Institute to concentrate on his chess activities and published his major work Analyse Nouvelle des Ouvertures du Jeu des Échecs in two volumes in 1842 and 1843. The work was written in French and published in St. Petersburg, but also distributed in Paris, London and Leipzig.

Title page of Jaenisch's Analyse Nouvelle, courtesy of David DeLucia

Eales describes this work as “still much under the influence of Philidor”, but it was in effect the first scientific manual on openings with much original analysis, written in co-operation with Petrov, and served as the basis for many later openings manuals including Bilguer’s Handbuch des Schachspiels and Staunton’s Chess-Player’s Handbook. English editions of Analyse Nouvelle were published in 1847, 1852 and 1855 but there was no Russian language edition.

Jaenisch wrote further chess books which were published in French in St. Petersburg including Decouvertes sur le Cavalier aux Échecs, 1837, a treatise on king and knight versus king and pawn endings, and Traité des applications de l’analyse mathematique au jeu des Échecs, 1862-1863, a three volume work on mathematical analysis of chess, which he was unable to complete (Kotov & Yudovich).

Jaenisch, the strong chess player, openings analyst, problem and endgame composer, chess columnist, match organiser and chess club founder was the veritable Staunton of St. Petersburg. He contributed many articles to European chess periodicals on Russian chess history, chess openings and problems; he challenged the Paris Chess Club to a correspondence game and tried to arrange a match between La Bourdonnais and Petrov, unfortunately, neither of these occurred. 

Along with Petrov and Shumov, Jaenisch was invited to the London 1851 and Paris 1867 tournaments, none was able to compete in either, but Jaenisch, arriving too late for London 1851, did stay to play a match with Staunton, losing 7 to 2 with one draw; this is the first record of a Russian playing a match abroad.

Jaenisch and G.A. Kushelev-Bezborodko, one of the richest men in Russia, established the St. Petersburg Chess Club in 1853. This attracted up to 100 members including many prominent figures in Russian culture. Jaenisch was elected secretary and drew up a set of rules and regulations, which he published, again in French, in 1854 under the title: Regles du jeu des échecs, adoptées par la sociéte des amateurs d’échecs de St. Petersburg. He published a revised charter in 1858 in both French and Russian. These were the first Russian chess codes and clarified many of the previously disputed rules.                        

The first regular chess department in a Russian periodical was inaugurated in 1856 in Vedomosti Sankt Petersburgskiye although individual articles on chess had appeared in the periodical press as far back as 1815 in the almanack Russian Museum.

The 1850s saw much greater communication between Russian chess player's and the rest of Europe, and this stimulated an increase in the publication of chess books in the second half of the 19th century and the launch of several chess periodicals. These will be looked at in the next article. 

Bibliography and main sources of information

Bibliotheca Van der Linde – Niemeijeriana, The Hague 1955
Catalogue of Chess Literature 1791 – 1992, St. Petersburg 1993
Eales R.  Chess: The History of a Game, London 1985
Forbes D.  The History of Chess, London 1860
Gaige J.  Chess Personalia, Jefferson 1987
Kotov A. & Yudovich M.  The Soviet School of Chess, Moscow 1958
Kotov A. & Yudovich M.  The Soviet Chess School, Moscow 1983
Levy D. & O’Connell K.  Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games, 1981
Linde A. Van der  Geschichte und Literature des Schachspiels, Olms 1981
Linder I.M. Chess in Old Russia, Zurich 1979
Linder I.M. The Art of Chess Pieces, Moscow 1994
Murray H.J.R.  A History of Chess, Oxford 1969
Richards D.J.  Soviet Chess, Oxford 1965          
Romanovsky P.  Chess in Russia, London 1946
Sakharov N.I.  Chess Literature, USSR, (1775 – 1966), Moscow 1968
Schmid A.  Literature des Schachspiels, Wien 1847
Twiss R.      Chess, Volume I, London 1787
Wade R.G.  Soviet Chess, London 1968 

                                 © Michael Clapham 2019

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Snuffy Davy

Recent mention of Caxton's Game and Playe of the Chesse recalls the oft-repeated tale of Snuffy Davy from Walter Scott's novel The Antiquary which he wrote in the early months of 1816, setting the story in Scotland in the 1790s. The book was first published in Edinburgh and London in May 1816 in an edition of 6,000 copies.

What is seldom repeated are the circumstances surrounding the telling of the Snuffy Davy anecdote. 

The novel's main character, an antiquary named Jonathan Oldbuck, Laird of Monkbarns, north of Edinburgh, (and largely a self-portrait of Scott himself *), is a collector of antiquities and in particular old and rare books. However, he had a distinct aversion to second-hand book dealers, whom he dismissed as "peripatetic middlemen", preferring to track down volumes for his library from primary sources using his own time and toil.

Here then is the full anecdote from pages 56 to 59 of the first edition of The Antiquary, volume I, narrated in Scott's delightful early nineteenth-century prose:

Oldbuck continues by relating details of a few treasures that he has unearthed himself in this manner, and vividly portrays the fervour and emotions experienced by all collectors as they hunt their quarry:

The anecdote is included in William Axon's Introduction to the verbatim reprint of Caxton's Game and Playe of the Chesse, published by Elliot Stock, London 1883, together with considerable information on the printing of Caxton's work, the whereabouts of the ten known copies (in 1883), and details of sales of this very rare volume, the first book on chess to be printed in English. The British Chess Magazine reprinted Elliot Stock's book in 1968.

The story can also be found in Chess Pieces by Norman Knight, London 1949, pages 99 - 100, followed by further information on Caxton's book.

The British Chess Magazine for December 1891 contains an article about Sir Walter Scott by HRH, on pages 530-531, with details of many references to chess in Scott's writings, but, curiously, there is no mention of the Snuffy Davy episode. An abridged version of this article is on pages 276-277 of Reinfeld's The Treasury of Chess Lore, London 1955.

The British Chess Magazine for June 1946, pages 186-187, gives brief details of the sale of Lord Cunliffe's library including a first edition of Game and Playe of the Chesse which sold for £1,900. This is also included in The Treasury of Chess Lore on page 290.

* This information and a few other details are taken from the website.

                                         © Michael Clapham 2019

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Chess Book Exhibitions; Part 3

The Chess Collection of George Allen, The Library Company of Philadelphia

This typescript pamphlet of 24 pages has no title page and very little introductory matter, just a short paragraph on George Allen (1808-1876):

However, this appears to be the catalogue for an exhibition, held from July to September 1979 at the Library Company of Philadelphia, of items from the George Allen collection acquired by the Library in 1878. Penn Libraries give a publication date of 1980 and names Kevin Coghlan and Sandra Nathanson as contributors. 

The catalogue lists 60 items and each one is described in detail with much illuminating information; there is also a handful of poor quality illustrations. Almost a quarter of the exhibits were associated with the Automaton Chess Player.

The first items listed are Illustrations from the Allen Scrapbooks; three lithographs of von Kempelen's Automaton Chess Player dated 1783, two broadsides printed after Maelzel's acquisition of the machine, a lithograph of Louis Paulsen playing Max Lange,  and a lithotint of the competitors in the first American Chess Congress of 1857.

The next section gives details of eleven books and letters relating to the Automaton, including works by von Windisch 1783, Racknitz 1789, Hindenburg 1784, Hunneman, 1820, Observations on the Automaton Chess Player by an Oxford Graduate 1819, Robert Willis 1821, Gamaliel Bradford 1826 and William Schlumberger.

The compiler of this catalogue makes the unfounded suggestion that the "Oxford Graduate" may have been Maelzel himself.

Among the exhibits was a letter from William Lewis to George Allen recounting his experiences with Maelzel and the Automaton, including an occasion when suspicions arose concerning the player hidden inside; Lewis arranged for his friend W. Hunneman to direct the machine while he socialised with his suspicious chess-playing friends.

The next section is titled The Milieu of the First American Chess Congress and includes books, letters and other ephemera pertaining to that event. Periodicals of the era on display included the complete eleven volume run of Le Palamède from 1836 to 1847, The Philidorian 1838, The Chess Palladium and Mathematical Sphinx 1846, and Fiske's Chess Monthly 1857. The final item in this section is Chess in Philadelphia by Gustavus Reichhelm and Walter Shipley, published in 1898; obviously acquired post George Allen, and no doubt included on account of the considerable amount of Morphy material in the book.  

The section headed Nineteenth-Century European Chess Masters includes books by Alexander Petroff, William Lewis, Bilguer and Kieseritzky together with handwritten items by Petroff, Alexander MacDonnell, Saint Amant and Kieseritzky.

The catalogue concludes with Select Volumes from the History of Chess and gives details of a 15th century manuscript by Jacobus de Cessolis, and many of the important works of the 16th and 17th centuries including Damiano 1512, Vida 1527, Mennel 1536, Ruy Lopez 1561 and 1584, Ducchi 1586, Gianutio 1597, Salvio 1604, Selenus 1616, Carrera 1617, Philidor 1749, Cozio 1766 and Twiss 1787.

A number of items in this exhibition had previously been exhibited at the Grolier Club in 1975.



Monday, 14 October 2019

Chess Book Exhibitions; Part 2

Chess: A Bibliophile's View was the title of an exhibition held at the Grolier Club, New York, from 21st October to 6th December 1975, and the Gazette of the Grolier Club, for June/December 1975, included a Catalogue of the Exhibition on pages 38 to 76.

This remarkable exhibition was planned as an afterpiece to Bobby Fischer's first defence of his world championship title, which, as Stephen Weissman dryly observes in his introduction: "sadly, never took place; exhibition schedules, however, are not so easily ignored, and it was decided by the committee that match or no, the show must go on"

Weissman selected the exhibits and states "I have tried to be fairly complete in my selection of early books on the practical theory of chess, and reasonably thorough in choosing printed versions of important tournaments and matches".

Following his introduction, Weissman lists the circa 200 exhibits ranging from 14th century manuscripts to handwritten items from the 1970s by Fischer and Karpov. Every item is described in some detail, along with introductory remarks on many of the chess personalities featured, (although some of the observations are contentious). Unfortunately, no illustrations are included in the catalogue.

The Catalogue is in chronological order and is extraordinarily rich in the very earliest chess works beginning with seven manuscripts and nine printed books all dated before 1500! 

The incunabula included Caxton's The Game and Playe of the Chesse, Bruges 1475, described in the catalogue as "The most sought after of all printed books on chess", and also Artes orandi, epistolandi, memorandi, by Jacopo Publicio, Venice 1482, which has a woodcut of a chessboard on the last leaf, claimed to be the very first such representation to appear in a printed book.

The illustration below is from a 1490 edition of the same work, courtesy of Jurgen Stigter. (See also LN 4677)

First edition works from the sixteenth century by Jacob Mennel (1507),  Damiano (1512), Ruy Lopez (1561), Rowbothum (1562), Thomas Actius (1583), Gregorio Ducchi (1586), and Gianutio (1597), are all included and the treasures carried on through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with volumes by Salvio (1604), Selenus (1616), Carrera (1617), Saul (1618), Greco (1656), Hyde (1694), Bertin (1735), Philidor (1749), Hoyle (1761). Lambe (1764) and others. 

Ten books and pamphlets discussing von Kempelen's Automaton were exhibited and a large collection of Paul Morphy memorabilia was on display, including his chessboard, letters, scoresheets, the bust by Lequesne, photograph etc.

Many of the most important and influential chess books of the last 500 years, were on display along with a considerable number of manuscripts, letters and other ephemera, with examples from Sarratt, Deschapelles, Saint-Amant, Kieseritzky, Staunton, Löwenthal, Pillsbury and many of the leading chess figures from the 20th century. (Incidentally, a two-line hand-written note of fourteen words by La Bourdonnais dated 1837 sold for £3,380 at auction recently.) 

A bound volume of virtually all of the original scoresheets from New York 1924 was on display, opened at Reti's scoresheet for his famous win against Capablanca. Three further items in Capablanca's hand were also exhibited:   

A small number of bibliographical works were displayed including A Catalogue of Rare and Valuable Works relating to the History and Theory of the Game of Chess, being the Greater Portion of the Famous Library Formed by J. W. Rimington Wilson, London 1929; described as "The finest collection of chess books ever offered for sale."

The lenders to the exhibition were acknowledged as follows: