Study of the Month: April, 2018

by Siegfried Hornecker
4/28/2018 – Chess is a wide field with many interconnections, and while preparing this month’s article about pawn endgame composer Nikolay Grigoriev, study expert and historian SIEGFRIED HORNECKER learned about a nearly forgotten chess organizer from the early Soviet Union, Valerian Eremeev. But also Alekhine’s five queen game might have influenced Grigoriev.

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The Pawn Whisperer

Author's note

When I write an article, I usually decide in advance whom I write about and then write about that person. In this case, as the connections between the person I wanted to write about — Nikolay Grigoriev — and the person I never heard about before — Valerian Eremeev — were important for a comprehensive view, this article has become an opportunity to delve outside the territory I usually cover, and into a part of Soviet chess history unknown to almost everyone outside the former USSR countries. This, however, led to the article becoming longer than originally intended. For this reason, I divided it into several parts, the originally planned part starting at “The life and chess of Nikolay Grigoriev”. If you wish, you may skip to the part about Grigoriev, or directly to the studies selection, however, I believe that it is important to have written it in a rather comprehensive way.


GrigorievAgain we will have a look at a classical Soviet composer who died during the Great Terror, but he did not become a victim of it, rather dying of natural causes. Although newer chess historical research points to Chapais as the inventor of many motifs in the pawn endgame, including the Réti manoeuver, opposition, and so on, the work of Nikolay Dmitrievich Grigoriev (pictured at right) (14.viii.1895 - 1938) who was born and died in Moscow. Grigoriev, in his last years, fell terminally ill and died of lung cancer, as the Russian article “The King of chess pawns” (note that the word “Пехота” as inflected in the title has multiple translations, normally “infantry”, but in the chess context it means usually “pawns”) by Sergey Tkachenko on ChessPro from 2008 tells us. (Actually, it's Sergey N. Tkachenko as evidenced by the photo there, not to be confused with Sergey I. Tkachenko). Large parts of this article will be based on his research.

Who was Valerian Eremeev?

For me personally, Nikolay Grigoriev and Mikhail Zinar who both specialized in kings and pawns studies, or “kindergarten” studies, as the problemist chess term is, are very much among my favourite composers. If I see a Zinar study in an article, it is the first study I look at. However, delving into the incredible work of Mikhail Zinar is something that requires an own article and can only scratch the surface. A small appetizer is added to this month’s selection of studies.

As Tkachenko has provided a wealth of research on his article that we linked above, we will take the information from there: Grigoriev was not only a composer of endgame studies, but also an organizer of chess events in the Soviet Union. Tkachenko goes as far as to say Grigoriev, together with Valerian Eremeev, founded chess history in this then young union. Wait, who is Valerian Eremeev? This would be the story of a man whose extensive work is unknown in the west, except for a few mentions in books. “Sputnik shakhmatista” (“Sputnik chess player” or “Satellite chess player”) in 1932 was compiled by Rudolf Goltz (1889-1938, another victim of Stalin who was shot after a trial for counter-revolutionary activities, as Murad Amannazarow of the Russian chess house confirmed to the Chess Museum website) and Valerian Eremeev (10 July 1889 - 15 September 1980). Not much about Eremeev is found in English online, but using his Russian name Валериан Евгеньевич Еремеев with or without “otchestvo” (the father’s name Evgenievich in the middle) one even finds an entry on Russian Wikipedia.

KrylenkoAs not all readers will understand Russian, and I myself admittedly need to use an auto-translation, the important points are listed here: Eremeev was “Responsible Secretary of the All-Union Chess Section”, which makes little sense unless one knows this actually means the USSR Chess Federation, serving as an example of the differences of our languages that make a blind automatic translation not possible to understand in all cases. Thankfully here entering the Russian name in a big search engine showed the Russian Wikipedia page, leading to the English one. We learn there that the board consisted of a chairman, deputy chairman, secretary and treasurer. So Eremeev was the Secretary of the USSR Chess Federation from 1924 to 1936 when Nikolay Krylenko (right) was the chairman. This is the same Nikolay Krylenko who was a politician who participated in show trials and ironically was executed in 1938 in the Great Purge during one such. His successor as USSR chairman was Vladimir Herman in 1939 with an aspiring player in Leningrad taking this office in the interim: Mikhail Botvinnik.

Eremeev did numerous other deeds for Soviet chess, such as leading the chess departments in the Pravda (1928-1933) and (not to be confused) the Komsomolskaya Pravda (1926-1936). He was chairman of the Far Eastern Regional Chess Federation (if that's the right translation) (1937-1938), leading the chess section of the Central Spartak Center (1938-1941) and organizing numerous tourneys (USSR and Moscow championships, the latter in 1925, 1935 and 1936). In his later life, starting with his move to Sochi in 1961, Eremeev was chess journalist at the Radio and Television Studio in Sochi until his death. From the article (linked below) we learn at the same time there was a boom in chess in this part of the Russian Soviet Federation with many grandmasters moving to Sochi — related to Eremeev, or was Eremeev’s move because of that boom? For chess historians, his article series in the Riga Shakhmaty (not to be confused with Shakhmaty v SSSR) from 1977 to 1978 about the Soviet chess in 1921 to 1940 might be an interesting read and source of information. Sadly I don’t think it is available online.

After I was done with most of this article, I found yet another source in Russian with a lot of details about Eremeev. He was “person of the day” on the Russian Chess Federation website on 10 July 2017, and from this article, there are more details on his life given below and further below when Grigoriev meets Eremeev.

Euwe and Eremeev

Max Euwe and Eremeev, car tour around Leningrad, summer of 1934 | Chesspro.ru

Eremeev was born in Tuapse but began his chess organizer career in Ivanovo-Voznesensk. After the Grigoriev chess tour in 1924, initiated by Eremeev when meeting Grigoriev in March 1924, Eremeev was called to Moscow where he likely rented an apartment. This is when Eremeev and Krylenko met, becoming “comrades in arms”. As is also written in the Grigoriev section, Eremeev and Grigoriev working in the USSR Chess Federation organized various national championships as well as the Moscow championships 1925, 1935 and 1936. Furthermore, Ermeev organized correspondence chess championships. He invited the Cuban world champion Capablanca for lectures and simultaneous exhibitions in the USSR. When time became short, Capablanca even flew by plane (rare at the time). Vladimir Neistadt tells in detail the following episode of which we repeat the most important details: On 21 July 1936 Capablanca boarded a plane for the first time, in fear of his upcoming death giving his last will to Eremeev for safekeeping. Eremeev refused, as he told the master they flew together, so Capablanca left it at the head of the airport. Of course, after having lost his “aeroplane travel virginity” — or as Neistadt calls it, having received the “air baptism”, Capablanca flew again and again by plane.

German world champion Emanuel Lasker, invited by Eremeev, moved permanently to the USSR (as we read in Tkachenko’s article, from 1935 to 1937) and afterwards to the United States.

In 1937 Eremeev was sent to the Far East to work in the mentioned Far Eastern Regional Chess Organisation. Unfortunately, my sources give no information about this organisation ("Дальневосточной краевой шахматной организации") which however apparently today has a blog-like website at dvchess.ru.

Vyshinski’s arrest of Krylenko’s chess associates followed (background on that rivalry is found in the Grigoriev chapter). Vyshinski met with Stalin, and in the end, Krylenko was murdered. Eremeev and Grigoriev were, as far as can be told, not accused by Vyshinski, so Eremeev returned to the Far East to lead the chess section of the CS “Spartak” (1938-1941) and the military championship Moscow 1942 as director.

As all good things need to come to an end, so after the 1961 move to Sochi (see above) and many more frugal years of chess, Eremeev’s life did also. Born on 10 July 1899, the chess organizer that nearly was forgotten in the west left, not only Russia, but the entire world on 15 September 1980 in Sochi. His legacy, of course, can be seen in every chess history book.

The life and chess of Nikolay Grigoriev

Dmitry Grigoriev, the father of Nikolay, was a musician who played at the Bolshoi theatre. (Interestingly enough again a Dmitry Grigoriev played with the Bolshoi Theater Symphony Orchestra in 2015 — possibly a descendant?) Dmitry’s son Nikolay inherited the love for art, playing the violin at a young age. He also painted, but I didn’t yet see any of his paintings. Did they survive?

Not only art but also mathematics and anatomy were fascinating to young Nikolay. At the age of fourteen, he fell in love with chess. Four years later, he entered the exclusive Moscow Chess Club.

In 1914, while World War I broke out in Europe but left Russia at first widely unaffected, Nikolay Grigoriev finished gymnasium and started studying at the Physics and Mathematics Department of the University of Moscow. Another year later, Grigoriev played a game against a certain Alexander Alekhine, and it was not Grigoriev who composed then... (see the game in our PGN player). There is a lot wrong with the composed game, and even Alekhine’s coup de grace does not win, as Tim Krabbé analyzed. But did this influence Nikolay Grigoriev?

Grigoriev 1925Grigoriev’s first proven composition is from 1920 (pictured in 1925). Was Alekhine’s composed five queens game a factor in inspiring Grigoriev to compose, or to publish his compositions? The pair met again in Moscow in 1920 for the USSR championship (officially “All-Russian chess Olympiad”), and again Grigoriev suffered a crushing defeat against the later world champion. As Wolfgang Pieper tells us, in “Alexander Alekhine’s Chess Games” by Skinner and Verheuven a simultaneous game from 15 October 1915 between Grigoriev and Alekhine was shown in Shakhmatnaya Moskva, 11 June 1960. The book lists a total of eleven games — probably not all — of both players, for example, a win by Grigoriev in a blindfold simul game of Alekhine in Moscow, 9 August 1918. It would be interesting to know if, at any of their meetings and numerous games — including their training matches in 1921, they talked about the composed game, if Grigoriev talked about his compositions. Grigoriev played his games (already at that time or only some years later?) with great tranquillity, also not being bothered enough by a hanging flag to refrain from lighting another cigarette and calmly finding the best move.

Vasily Panov (1906-1973), whose name is associated with the Panov Attack 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e:d5 c:d5 4.c4 and who was the 1929 Moscow champion (and later in Kiev 1938), remembered one egregious case where Grigoriev once pondered for 40 minutes over an especially difficult move in a game — the first move.

 

As the war progressed, it also required more Russian vigilance. In 1917, Grigoriev was drafted into the army. Nothing is known about Grigoriev’s experiences at the front. Levenfish wrote that Grigoriev returned seriously ill. Yet, Grigoriev kept the chess players in Moscow motivated even through the hard years to 1919, as Alekhine reported later. Yet, Grigoriev remained away from politics but his belief in a better future and trust into authorities to build a communist paradise likely was influenced by his friendship to Alexander Iljin-Genevsky, a fanatical chess player and revolutionary-Leninist who helped to rebuild chess in Moscow starting in December 1918.

Beginning in 1920, he led the first important Soviet chess column in “K novoi armii” where Grigoriev had two studies published the same year. Despite the civil war still going on, the above-mentioned USSR championship was arranged, with Grigoriev sharing 5th to 7th place (+8 -6 =1). Ilyin-Genevsky described in his “Notes of the Chess Master” (in Russian) in 1929 how hard it was to simply deliver enough food. After a protest, the committee of Ilyin-Genevsky, Alekhine, Grigoriev and Grekov managed to satisfy a few demands and convince the players to stay. Ilyin-Genevsky reached out to Fyodor Raskolnikov, commander of the Baltic Fleet, who donated several loaves of cheese to the tourney. His 1939 “Open letter to Stalin”, accusing the dictator of “mass repressions”, led to him “falling out of a window”, as NKVD assassinations were apparently called, marking the end of Fyodor Raskolnikov. But why was this high-ranking military officer and later diplomat asked to donate food, and why would he do that in times of civil war? Well, it might have had to do with the fact that his name “Raskolnikov” was a pseudonym. His mother was the daughter of a general — A.V. Ilyina, mother of Fyodor “Raskolnikov” Ilyin and Alexander Ilyin “Genevsky”. I.e. He was asked by his brother.

Alekhine won the tourney and later praised Grigoriev as “one of the brightest stars that have risen on the Russian chess horizon.” The next year, their farewell match ended with 4½ : 2½ for Alekhine, and as the master left his Russian homeland forever, Grigoriev posed strong competition for his opponent who in some games had, as Levenfish wrote later, “exceptional ingenuity” to not lose. Two wins and five draws for Alekhine were an honourable result for Grigoriev, who went on to win the Moscow championships 1921, 1922, 1924 and 1930 as well as the 5th USSR championship in 1927.

But let us return to 1920: Grigoriev now was leading the Moscow Chess Club. Two years later, Grigoriev became a writer for Isvestia with the full trust of chief editor Yuri Steklov, so Grigoriev’s weekly chess column there covered a broad range of themes, including book reviews and original compositions, many by Grigoriev himself. The first study in our selection, a timeless masterpiece with only four pieces, is one such example where White wins a tempo by allowing a check “earlier”. as in further up the b-file, than he has to.

As for Yuri Steklov (1873-1941, sometimes written Stekloff), he was an influential intellectual and historian who wrote biographies of the revolutionary anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) in 1913  and the “father of Russian socialism” Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) in 1920. His 1928 book, "History of the First International about the First International" (that is the International Working Men's Association as founded on 28 September 1864 in London), is available online on a Marxist website which, as I'd rather stay away from identifying with Marxism, will not be linked but can be easily found by searching for the book title. Steklov’s importance led to his demise in the Great Purge where, after being arrested in February 1938, he died in prison on 15 September 1941. (The information here is taken by the short entry on his English Wikipedia page.)

Now in possession of a powerful original column, Grigoriev necessarily “fathered” or “mentored” other composers such as Tigran B. Gorgiev (see also our September 2017 article).

Grigoriev started editing a “chess player page” in the newfound magazine “30 Dnej” (“30 Days”), which became very popular by printing the satirical novel “Dvenatsat stulev” (“The Twelve Chairs”), starting with the January 1928 issue. Closing the circle to chess, the novel was written by the authors with the pseudonyms Ilya Ilf (1897-1937) and Evgeny Petrov (1903-1942), despite their time of death not victims of the Great Purge but of tuberculosis (Ilf) and a plane crash (Petrov). Both authors were cited by another famous chess composer, the author Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977, also known by his pen name Vladimir Sirin), in Pale Fire in 1962 as “two joint authors of genius”. Of course, Nabokov easily would deserve an article of his own, which is why there are already some on ChessBase, for example “Nabokov, chess composer” by Carlos Alberto Colodro last month, “Nabokov: Poems and problems” by the chess curiosities collector Christian Hesse in 2014 and, not about Nabokov but about one of his favorite characters, Lewis Carroll’s Alice, “Lewis Carroll envisioned his Alice playing chess” by Sergio Negri in January. Sadly, Nabokov’s Wikipedia article lacks detailed information on his chess problems. It is hard to believe the 19 problems in “Poems and problems” (18) and “Speak, memory” (1) are all he created. There is indeed one from the Sunday Times 1968 that I found while researching this on the internet. Are there more?

In 1924, Grigoriev travelled to Ivanovo-Voznesensk (after 1932 just Ivanovo, today the administrative centre of the Ivanovo Oblast in Russia), Ukraine and the Caucasus to promote chess. In Ivanovo-Voznesensk Grigoriev became acquainted with the head of the provincial chess federation, which was none other than Valerian Eremeev! Grigoriev and Eremeev became friends, and Grigoriev’s suggestion led to Eremeev being elected as secretary and treasurer of the USSR Chess Federation. They were organizers of the Moscow championships 1925, 1935 and 1936, showing their organisation talent in hard times, with Grigoriev as chairman and chief judge and Eremeev as his helper. Of course, Grigoriev chose to take this opportunity to announce a tourney for endgame studies in the magazine 64 with a prize fund of 200 rubles, at the same time as the Moscow championship. Both organizers, Grigoriev and Eremeev, also were responsible for all the USSR championships prior to the Second World War.

Boris Pereleshin (18?? - 1938), an author of novels, characterized Grigoriev in 1924 as (rather literally translated) “Grigoriev, slim, terribly mobile, like a black fire. Always impetuous, always in a hurry.” Unfortunately, I was unable to figure out what “like a black fire” means. Rainer Staudte guesses it is a poetic expression by Perelyshin. Knowledgeable readers are invited to comment about the meaning of the expression. Perelyshin’s books were never translated into English, from what I know. According to the 2013 book “Jewish Women Writers of the Soviet Union” by Rina Lapidus, Perelyshin founded the literary circle “Fuism”. Her footnote gives the source “Nikolay Brodsky, N. P. Sidorov: Literary Manifestos, page 319-20”, a 1924 book from Moscow. Further research shows that literary circles were common in Russia in the 1910s to 1930s years. So we can conclude Pereleshin was a very active author and poet, but not as well-known as those of the bigger literary circles.

In the 1968 book, “Pervye shagi” (“First steps”) Eremeev remembers that Grigoriev, much to the dismay of Krylenko, never showed up on time to appointments. Eventually, Krylenko invited Grigoriev always half an hour early. Tkachenko attributes this to the heavy workload Grigoriev put on himself.

It took a few more years for Grigoriev to see that Krylenko... well, I find no polite words for that. Krylenko, as opposed to Grigoriev, was a heavily political agitating man. After the 1929 expulsion of Leo Trotzky (not related to Troitzky) he closed the “Shakhmaty” magazine by Nikolay Grekov (1886-1951, not to be confused with the 19th-century poet of the same name). In 1930 Lazar Zalkind (1886-1945), another famous chess composer was arrested and in 1931 sentenced to maximum possible isolation in a Menshevik trial. Krylenko, hateful because his sister was married to the American Max Eastman and friends with Leo Trotzky, began with this his career of crimes. Eastman later called the 1930s Krylenko “a ruthless Bolshevik”.

Krylenko in 1936 was arrested by the NKVD himself, tasting his own medicine after being an opponent of Stalin’s dog, Soviet Prosecutor General Andrey Vyshinsky (1883-1954), who deserves even worse words than Krylenko which I would gladly tell in the strongest language if this article wasn’t intended to be readable for all ages. In any case, Krylenko was not saved from Vyshinsky by his obvious Leninism and after the arrest by the NKVD, although my sources don’t say it explicitly, was likely tortured to a false confession of anti-Leninist activism, shot directly after his “trial” in July 1938 which lasted for 20 minutes and saw Krylenko retract his “confession”.

Knowing this short part of political battles, readers will grasp the reason behind Grigoriev’s train being intercepted by NKVD officials as it returned from Siberia in the far east of Russia. Grigoriev was asked about Krylenko’s relation to “Blucher” (likely Mashal Vasily Blyukher who was shot on Stalin’s orders in 1938). Without a result, the already sick Grigoriev, tortured and bleeding from his throat, was examined by doctors and concluded to live only for a few more weeks. The release of Grigoriev from the arrest was ordered.

Grigoriev apparently recovered, and he judged a match between Botvinnik and Levenfish, wrote articles for Shakhmaty v SSSR, and composed more studies. But, as Levenfish reported, an “unexpected illness” — possibly related to the time in the NKVD cellars, as Tkachenko speculates — befell Grigoriev. Being only able to stay in bed, an emergency surgery tried to save him. It is unclear if the surgery weakened Grigoriev further or was completely unsuccessful, but the reason for his illness was not removed, and on 10 November 1938 the world lost its greatest composer of pawn endgames to cancer, this time in the form of lung cancer.

His widow remarried to Vladimir German (1906-1988). It was German’s 32nd birthday when Grigoriev died. Books mistakenly give his birthdate as 1907 sometimes. German was a passionate hunter and fisher, but as a member of the Union of Journalists since 1932 likely also a passionate writer. In 1955 a book on the “Selected Works” of N. A. Zvorykin was issued by him, possibly Nikolay Zvorykin (1854-1884) who was meteorologist, physicist, pedagogue and naturalist. In the short biography on the “Librusec” website, we see a lot more hunting books published by German. He also wrote some texts for children and worked in the “Fizkultura i sport” publishing house.

As there is not much “evolution” in Grigoriev’s studies, as pawn studies and endgames with few pieces are of a rather condensed nature already, showing, if anything, a high talent of composition, the selection this month follows different criteria: I have tried to find studies that are interesting both from an artistic and practical point. If this succeeded can only be decided by the readers. It is however of note that “the king of pawns” often delved into studies with other material, yet with two rook endgames they are over-represented in our selection. Readers are invited to look at our sources, namely the ChessPro website article, for many more exciting Grigoriev studies. While the text is hard to read, the moves are replayable.

 

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    World Federation for Chess Composition

    World Federation for Chess Composition (www.wfcc.ch)

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    Siegfried (*1986) is a German chess composer and member of the World Federation for Chess Composition, subcommitee for endgame studies. His autobiographical book "Weltenfern" (in English only) can be found on the ARVES website. He presents an interesting endgame study with detailed explanation each month.
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