Fyodor Duz-Khotimirsky: the man who beat Lasker and Rubinstein

by Vlastimil Hort
12/16/2019 – Fyodor Duz-Khotimirsky is a chess legend. After all, at the great international tournament in St. Petersburg 1909 he won against both winners, Emanuel Lasker and Akiba Rubinstein. This success later helped him in a rather precarious situation. VLASTIMIL HORT knows more.

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Fyodor Duz-Khotimirsky

The historical chess mosaic often grows as if by itself. What one person does not know or cannot tell another adds. However, as time passes the memories of the great chess heroes of the past fade or these heroes even are completely forgotten.

To remember Duz-Khotimirsky, bohemian and Soviet Master, I was rummaging around in my memory and add some memories of his contemporaries.

One of my favourite chess books is the tournament book of St. Petersburg 1909, written by Lasker. As the table below shows Duz-Khotimirsky won both of his games against the eventual winners, Akiba Rubinstein and Emanuel Lasker.

Standings after round 19

Rg. Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Pts.
1 Emanuel Lasker   0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 14.5 / 18
2 Akiba Rubinstein 1   1 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1 0 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 14.5 / 18
3 Rudolf Spielmann ½ 0   1 0 1 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 11.0 / 18
4 Oldrich Duras 0 0 0   0 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 11.0 / 18
5 Ossip Samuel Bernstein ½ ½ 1 1   0 1 1 1 0 1 1 ½ 0 0 0 ½ ½ 1 10.5 / 18
6 Richard Teichmann 0 ½ 0 0 1   0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 10.0 / 18
7 Julius Perlis 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1   1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 0 1 9.5 / 18
8 Georg Salwe 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 0   0 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 0 1 1 1 9.0 / 18
9 Carl Schlechter ½ 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1   1 0 0 1 1 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 9.0 / 18
10 Erich Cohn 0 0 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 0 0   1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 9.0 / 18
11 Saviely Tartakower 0 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 0   0 0 0 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 8.5 / 18
12 Jacques Mieses 0 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 1 ½ 1   ½ 1 1 1 0 1 1 8.5 / 18
13 Fedor Ivanovich Dus Chotimirsky 1 1 0 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ 1 ½   ½ ½ ½ 1 0 1 8.0 / 18
14 Leo Forgacs 0 0 1 0 1 ½ ½ 0 0 1 1 0 ½   ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 7.5 / 18
15 Amos Burn 0 ½ ½ 0 1 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½   1 ½ ½ 0 7.0 / 18
16 Milan Sr Vidmar 0 0 0 0 1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 0   ½ 1 0 7.0 / 18
17 Abraham Speijer 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 0 0 ½ 0 1 0 ½ ½ ½   ½ ½ 6.0 / 18
18 Sergey Nikolaevich Freiman 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 0 ½ 0 0 0 1 1 ½ 0 ½   0 5.5 / 18
19 Eugene Znosko Borovsky 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 1 ½ 1   5.0 / 18

"You are a free man"!

In the Spring of 1918 the Czech Legion occupied the Siberian city of Tomsk. The prisons in that city were overflowing. Murderers, thiefs, political prisoners, sadists, the innocent and the guilty were all locked up together. Captain Dr. Karel Treybal was the coroner in charge. He wanted to see each inmate in court. When prisoner number 24 appeared, Treybal suddenly hesitated: "What's your name? You are Fyodor Duz-Khotimirsky, aren't you?"

 "Yes," the rattled prisoner replied. "Are you the one who defeated the great Emanuel Lasker at the chess tournament in St. Petersburg 1909?"

"Yes, yes,", Fyodor now said proud and reassured.

 
 

"You are a free man, you can go." Prisoner number 24 was very surprised and could hardly grasp his luck. But what did Treybal write in the protocol of the hearing? How did he justify the release?

This story is from the book "Dr. Karel Treybal" by Ladislav Prokeš (page 71). As boys Treybal and Prokeš went to the same school and became close friends. I am convinced that this episode happened exactly the way Prokeš described it.

Dr. Karel Treybal | Photo: Archiv Michálek

Dr. Karel Treybal was very popular. As a judge he was human and just, in chess circles he was appreciated as a gentleman.

Yes, I used the memories of Dr. Karel Treybal, who later, in 1941, was executed by the Nationalsocialists, as a source. Prokeš recorded and published conservations and experiences of this honourable chess player.

Insiders may know that Tomsk also saw a match Hromádka vs Treybal and a Czech army tournament which, however, was not finished.

Unfortunately, I do not know why Duz-Khotimirsky landed in prison? Maybe for political reasons? Or simply because he had been hungry and had just snatched something somewhere? At any rate, he was in prison when the October Revolution cast its shadows ahead. Incredible chaos reigned everywhere in Russia. Tsar Nikolaus II and his whole family was kept prisoner in Yekaterinburg where they were murdered by Bolsheviks.

Boris Spassky once called this turbulent time a "a really Russian brothel".

St. Petersburg 1909

For some inexplicable reason Duz-Khotimirsky with his characteristic cap that accompanied him his whole life is missing in the photo of the St. Petersburg tournament 1909.

However, we can see him in the photo of the participants in Karlsbad 1907.

The players and organisers of the Karlsbad Tournament 1907: from left to right, seated: Rubinstein, Marco, Fähndrich, Tschigorin, Schlechter, Hoffer, Tietz, Maroczy, Janowski, Dr. Neustadtl, Drobny, Marshall
Standing: Nimzowitsch, Wolf, Mieses, Cohn, Johner, Leonhardt, Salwe, Vidmar, Berger, Spielmann, Dus-Chotimirski (with cap!), Tartakower, Dr. Olland

After his release from prison Duz-Khotimirsky had to survive the hunger years under Stalin. Here, Rustam Kasimdzhanov added a valuable piece of the mosaic of chess history. According to him the chess bohemian were hiding a couple of years in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and earned his money by giving chess lessons.

Where did my path cross his?

After World War II the likeable cap-bearer was seen again in the famous Moscow chess club at the Arbatskaya square. During almost all tournaments he was sitting in the front row to watch the games. I was once introduced to him when I was visiting. What do I remember? His very, very long white beard and his black cap.

When I was back in Moscow in 1975 for the Alekhine Memorial I looked in vain to the front row. By then Fyodor (1879 – 1965) had been sitting quite a while in the front row of the chess goddess Caissa!

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer




Vlastimil Hort was born January 12, 1944, in Kladno, Czechoslovakia. In the 1970s he was one of the world's best players and a World Championship candidate. In 1979 he moved to West Germany where he still lives. Hort is an excellent blindfold player, a prolific author and a popular chess commentator.
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vnamb vnamb 12/17/2019 03:45
Very interesting article! Looking forward to more of these reminiscences.
Vivek Nambiar
MJFitch MJFitch 12/16/2019 09:25
Thank you SR. for sharing your memories!!!
anandymous anandymous 12/16/2019 06:11
Please write more about the older generations. There aren't many left who remember.
chessstandards chessstandards 12/16/2019 01:12
Calling the turbulent Civil War period “a really Russian brothel” sounds rather bizarre. When did Spassky say it and in what context?
Any way here is some info. on the arrest and release of Duz-Khotimirsky
During the Russian Civil War Duz-Khotimirsky found himself in the Siberian city Omsk. He was arrested under suspicion by the White forces under General Kolchak. He was carrying a photograph showing him seated with the Red revolutionary, Pyotr Voikov. Subsequently the Czech Legion seized Omsk in June 1918. The judge who questioned the prisoners was Dr. Karel Treybal, a Czech master who recognized his name and freed him.
(Source: “Soviet Chess 1917-1991” by Andrew Soltis, McFarland Books)
PhishMaster PhishMaster 12/16/2019 11:43
Hort is a world chess treasure! I still love your book, "The Best Move". I have a first edition, and a recent reprint.
Heavygeardiver Heavygeardiver 12/16/2019 09:02
Dear Mr.Hort,
Love these reminisces!!
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