We have pleasure in publishing, this month, the first of a series of “Letters from Russia,” and hope,if space permits, to continue them regularly throughout the present volume. They are from the pen of a well known Russian student and player, who being fully in touch with the game in his own country, is in a position to speak authoritatively upon all that concerns it there. That Russian chess will in the immediate future have an interest for Western players is certain, whatever may be the result of the forthcoming match. The game is only in its infancy in the country, and may be expected to gain rapidly in popular favour; the few national players who have visited us have shown that their standard of play is at least as high as ours, and if, as is highly probable, a St. Petersburg international tournament is announced, there is more than the bare chance of a St. Petersburg player winning it.
LETTERS FROM RUSSIA.
The history of chess in Russia is not a very long one, dating only from the early part of last century. The game was probably introduced into the country by the Jesuit missionaries, who possessed no small skill in it, and who are known to have been the teachers of many strong native players. For some years, however, Russian players did not attain anything beyond a local reputation, and it was not until Petroff appeared among them, early in the present century, that they were known at all in Western Europe. Petroff, one of the strongest players of his day, was the first in our country to take up purely theoretical work. He is the inventor of the well-known defence bearing his name—a defence still in vogue, although discounted like many others by later analyses. He published in 1824 a handbook of chess and draughts, and left behind him several valuable analyses of openings. Between 1850 and 1859 he visited Paris and Vienna, where he successfully encountered the strongest local players. It was this visit in fact that established his reputation in foreign chess circles. Contemporary with Petroff appeared Jaenisch, also celebrated for his analyses, Prince Ourossoff, and Schoumow, the two last being counted among the strongest national players. Shortly after them (1860-1869) comes Schiffers, who, defeating nearly everyone with whom he came in contact, rapidly rose to the first place; and Winawer, who still contests successfully in international tournaments. Tchigorin appears in 1876, and after a short but successful record against national players, made the first bid for his international reputation in the Vienna Tournament of 1881. Of late years the records of Russian chess show a constantly increasing popularity. St. Petersburg is, as may be supposed, the home of the greatest number of players, and there was for some time a severe struggle for supremacy at the capital club. Alapin, Ascharin, Beskrowny, Schiffers, Schoumoff, Tchigorin, and Winawer are players who would make doubtful the result of any contest; but Tchigorin, defeating Schiffers who was at first successful, slowly but surely gained first place, and has since maintained it. In Moscow, Soloutzoff and Schmidt maintain local play at a high standard, while Chardin and Sinitzen show that first-class strength is to be found far away from the great centres of population. The men we have mentioned have indeed been instrumental in promoting the study of the game throughout Russia, and they have had the satisfaction of realizing that their efforts in this direction are appreciated by their countrymen generally.
Chess literature is represented by two periodicals: one published at St. Petersburg, under the editorship of Messrs. Makaroff and Otto, and devoted exclusively to the game; and the other dating from Moscow, and treating of chess and draughts, edited by Messrs. Robroff and Sargen.
We have not many chess clubs, although the number is yearly increasing. St. Petersburg boasts of two, the St. Petersburg and the Economists. The rooms of the former are most elegantly fitted up, and in this respect compare favourably with many of the most noted clubs of the west Both are open daily and are well attended. The Economists began their annual handicap on the 23rd October last. There are three classes, and the odds are given, not in the games, as is usual with you, but in the score. If a player in Class II. wins his game against an opponent in Class I., he counts two points; if Class III. beats Class I., he counts three points; and the highest scorer is club champion for the year. Just now, of course, the topic of paramount interest is the Steinitz-Tchigorin match. Our champion left St. Petersburg on the 31st October, and we have recently heard of his safe arrival at New York, after a short stay at Paris. The forthcoming match is one really of international importance. Steinitz has held the position of chess king for twenty-five years—since the death of Morphy—and during that time but few players have appeared who have been capable of contesting, even, his superiority. Tchigorin, his latest and most dangerous rival, seems to have all the qualities that go to make the perfect chess-player. Gifted with a remarkable memory and a splendid faculty of combination, he adds to these advantages immense theoretical knowledge. His over-the-board analyses are profound and withal so correct that there is probably no living player who approaches him in judgment of position.
Of late years Steinitz has entirely altered his style of play. He has, of course, gained in experience (no other player, except perhaps Blackburne, has had such experience in play), but, on the other hand, his talent and imagination, unhampered by the principles of the so-called Modern School, were more powerful in his younger days. Should he win, his principles will undoubtedly receive a new enforcement; but should he be defeated, there will be something like a revolution—a glad throwing off of unwelcome restrictions—in the chess world and a glad reversion to older and more attractive, if theoretically less correct methods.
It is highly probable that this match will be followed by the announcement of another international tournament to take place early in 1892. St. Petersburg owes a debt of long standing to foreign players who have not once been our guests, and when to this fact is added the well known wish of the chief Russian players to cross swords with their foreign brethren, the opportunity of doing so is not likely to be long in coming.
Ursus Major .