The most beautiful chess club in the world

by André Schulz
3/27/2021 – The Central Chess Club in Moscow is the most beautiful chess club in the world. The edifice on Gogolevsky Boulevard has a long history and an even longer prehistory which offers a profound look into the society of pre-revolutionary Russia. | Photo: admagazin.ru

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The Central Chess Club in Moscow is probably the most beautiful chess club in the world. The clubrooms are located in a venerable building on Gogolevsky Boulevard, whose history goes back deep into the 19th century. Many Russian noble and merchant families successively inhabited the mansion before it was forcibly transferred to state ownership after the Russian Revolution.

The Central Chess Club in Moscow

The Russian People’s Commissar for Justice Nikolai Krylonko then made the mansion his headquarters. Since he was the motor of the Soviet chess movement, he also brought the royal game to the historic edifice. 

The history of the mansion begins in the first half of the 19th century. The property on today’s Gogolevsky Boulevard lay fallow after the Muscovites themselves set fire to their city in 1812 to deprive the French of shelter and food. In 1822, Catherine Ivanovna Grekova, wife of the boyar and first lieutenant Alexei Vasilchikov, bought the vacant lot and had two houses built there.

The couple’s son, Nikolai Vasilychikov, also became an officer in the Russian Army and was known as one of the so-called Decembrists who refused to take the oath to the new Tsar Nicholas I on 25 December 1825 (according to the Gregorian calendar) in St. Petersburg. The Decembrists protested the social conditions in the autocratic Tsarist Empire, which were characterized by serfdom, arbitrariness and censorship. The uprising was crushed. Nikolai Vasilychikov received a suspended sentence after a short imprisonment and was exiled to a unit in the Caucasus, where he took part in the wars against the Persians and Turks. He was also banned from the Russian capital, St. Petersburg, and the other major Russian cities. In 1830, Nikolai Vasilychikov was discharged from military service with honours and was allowed to return to Moscow in 1831.

In the early 1830s, the Vasilychikov family sold the estate to Countess Ekaterina Zubova. She was married to a great-grandson of the Russian general Alexander Suverov (1730-1800). Prince and Princess Zubov had the house extensively rebuilt. In 1859/1860 the two houses were finally combined into one building. Prince Serge Obolensky lived there for a while in the 1860s.

In 1865, the estate changed hands again and now belonged to the wealthy, merchant Alexeyev family. A nephew of the new owner was Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938), who made a name for himself as a theatre director and theorist. He was an occasional visitor to the estate. Actually, Stanislavski’s surname was also Alexeyev, but he adopted a stage name so as not to jeopardize his family’s reputation.

Twenty years later, the manor house became the property of Vladimir von Meck. He was a son of the philanthropist and music lover Nadezhda Filarétovna von Meck, who maintained an intensive pen friendship with composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky for many years.

The von Meck family circa 1875. Baroness Nadezhda Filaretovna is seated on the left and holds the youngest daughter Lyudmila (Milochka) in her arms. The girl’s father was Alexander Yolshin, seated on the left, secretary to the baroness’ husband, engineer Karl von Meck (centre with dark hat). Karl von Meck only learned this much later through the second daughter Alexandra, and subsequently had a heart attack. The von Meck couple had 18 children (between 1848 and 1872), 11 of whom survived. In the centre of the photo, wearing a white hat, sits Vladimir von Meck, one of the Baroness’s favourite sons.

The von Meck family was of Baltic German origin and had come to great wealth in Russia as owners of railway lines. The house was owned by the von Mecks for 30 years. In 1890, Vladimir von Meck [pictured] died after a long illness. 

In 1895, the house was sold to the Falz-Fein family. The Falz-Fein family came from Germany and were also successful entrepreneurs in Russia. Under its new owners, the house was equipped with balconies and was electrified. Friedrich Falz-Fein had bought the Anhalt colony of Askanija-Nova near Kherson, 100 km north of the Crimean island, and maintained a 65,000 HA farm with a huge nature reserve. Before World War I, he kept herds of horses and cattle and owned half a million sheep. He also bred over 400 species of mammals, including antelope, bison, zebra and ostrich, and undertook scientific research. After the revolution, the family members were either expelled or shot.

After only a few years, in 1899, the Falz-Feins sold their Moscow house again. The new owner was Lyubov Simina, sister of Sergei Simin, who founded the famous Simin Opera Theatre in 1903. In the 14 years of its existence, 120 operas were staged in the theatre. In 1917, it was closed as there was no longer an audience for opera after the Russian Revolution. Sergei Simin’s sister was married to opera singer Nazariy Kapitonov-Raisky, who was also a teacher at the conservatory. During this period, the Simins’ house was an epicentre for many Russian musicians. Composers Alexander Glazunov, Sergei Taneyev and Sergei Rachmaninoff as well as famous singer Feodor Chalyapin were frequent guests.

After the Russian Revolution, the house on Prechistensky Boulevard, as the street was then called — it was only renamed Gogelvsky Boulevard after Nikolai Gogol in 1924 — was nationalized and divided into several smaller flats. The former owners were assigned flat No. 4 as their new home.

In 1923, the Peoples’ Commissariat for Justice of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) made the house its headquarters. Deputy People’s Commissar since 1923 was Nikolai Krylenko. In 1931, he became the People’s Commissar of Justice. In his capacity as Prosecutor General, he was responsible for countless death sentences.  

Krylenko was an enthusiastic and good chess player, and was active as an organizer of tournaments and team competitions. He was the driving force behind the popularization of chess in the Soviet Union. In 1925, he organized the first major international chess tournament in the Soviet Union after the revolution in Moscow. With Nikolai Krylenko, the leadership of the not yet existing Soviet Chess Federation also moved into the mansion on Gogolevsky Boulevard. 

Nikolai Krylenko, 1918 | Photo source: Wikipedia, author unknown

Krylenko had brought Emanuel Lasker to Moscow after his emigration from Germany, but as more and more Russian chess players disappeared during the Stalinist “purges”, Lasker secretly packed his things together with his wife and left Moscow for New York. Krylenko was arrested in 1938 and shot after a show trial.

In the late 1920s, the mansion on Gogolevsky Boulevard was also used for a while to house communists who had been forced to flee their countries. In 1940, the state trust company “Dalstroy” had its headquarters here.

In 1956, the house, where chess had played a role since the mid-1920s, was designated as the building of the Central Chess Club at the suggestion of Vasily Smyslov. Smyslov lived near by in a skyscraper on Barrikadnaya and was friends with the chief architect of Moscow, Mikhail Posokhin.

Fischer and Petrosian, playing Blitz in the Central Chess Club, 1958

In 1980, a chess museum was established in the mansion. In addition, the editorial office of the Russian chess magazine “64” is located there.

The chess museum

In the times of the Soviet Union and even afterwards, the rooms of the Central Chess Club were not particularly well maintained. For a long time, the building gave a somewhat run-down visual impression, typical of many old buildings in communist Russia. During a “renovation” in 1980, more was destroyed than preserved. In 2014, however, the building was restored in a historically correct and elaborate manner, and now it shines in its old splendour.

The large room often used as a tournament hall | Photo: admagazin.ru

The library | Photo: Admagazin.ru

After the fall of communism, there were several attempts by investors to acquire the house to set up expensive offices or flats at the exquisite location in Moscow. But the Muscovite chess enthusiasts resisted all offers, and when necessary, an oligarch with an affinity for chess stepped in to pay dues and taxes which the club could not pay.

The Russian Chess Federation has also been using the magnificent rooms of the Central Chess Club for many years now for tournaments, ceremonial receptions and other major events. 

The Moscow Central Chess Club has now built its own website, which allows chess fans to visit the club virtually.


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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/29/2021 02:32
Problem solved!
André André 3/29/2021 12:56
I wrote and published an article on the Moscow Central Chess Club, and to illustrate the article I added a picture of Nikolai Krylenko. I found this picture on the internet, but not on Mr. Winter’s site. I did not know that Mr. Winter had scanned and then published this picture on his website, but thanks for pointing out the important fact that he indeed seems to have made a scan of the original picture and that copies of this scan then found their way to the internet. However, since the picture in question was obviously from a very old newspaper or book from 1926 I regarded it as public domain.
I respect Mr. Winter very much for his great work of publishing notes about everything related to chess, but I would never use any pictures from Mr. Winter’s website because I know his views about claiming copyrights for scans.
I have now exchanged the picture in question with another picture, which hopefully is not a scan made by Mr. Winter.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/29/2021 11:35
OGUSG,
I already quoted British and American case law on this. When mr. Winter just put a book in a scanner, you can't maintain that this is 'intellectual creation'. There is only 'creation' by the person who made the picture, but after a specified period of time, his work will fall in the public domain. You simply can't prolong that period by reproducing the work. So Tartakower only had rights if he had procured them from the photographer, Winter and chessbase had rights because the picture is in the public domain after over 90 years. And the difference between scanning and copypasting is insignificant compared to the making of the photo.
Case law is in some cases based on how the majority of reasonable people think; you can't simply dismiss it. Of course there is a gliding scale: did Winter extensively retouch the picture, is it not yet in the public domain and has he paid for the rights to publish it, etc. That is not (or seems not) to be the case here.
On the other hand, chessbase as usual remains silent, and I don't see why. Giving credits as an act of decency is not the same as admitting you are obliged to do so.
OGUSG OGUSG 3/29/2021 01:23
"The difference is, chessbase gave no credits, which would have been the decent thing to do."

The real difference is that Mr Winter invested money, time and effort in presenting the photograph to Chess Notes readers, whereas ChessBase merely did a copy-paste which required a few seconds.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/28/2021 05:14
OGUSG,
As was already clear Winter 'lifted' the photo from a Tartakower book – nothing wrong with that, it was in this way made available to a wider audience, with no direct gains for himself. Chessbase does the same – we are not paying to visit this site, or to post comments on this forum. The difference is, chessbase gave no credits, which would have been the decent thing to do.
I quoted some copyright law opinions, because they reflect how people commonly think about these issues. You can have your private opinion, but if you meant that websites can't use public domain material from other websites when giving credits/acknowledgments, I think you are exaggerating.
OGUSG OGUSG 3/28/2021 03:42
It is not a matter of copyright or, even, of selective credits/acknowledgements. Websites such as Chess Notes which go to the trouble and expense of obtaining rare photographs and placing them online should not have that material lifted by ChessBase.
InHocSignoVinces InHocSignoVinces 3/28/2021 03:40
Botvinnik's laboratory was on the last floor , where now redaction of 64 is located. Visited it and spoke with the Parriarch
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/28/2021 03:08
OGUSG,
Yes, you have a point there, but still.
See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Portrait_Gallery_and_Wikimedia_Foundation_copyright_dispute. I also found this: https://www.quora.com/Can-copyright-be-claimed-on-a-scanned-image: "In 2015, the UK copyright authority put out an informational document (not a change in law) that reported an opinion of the European Court of Justice that said: 'Copyright can only subsist in subject matter that is original in the sense that it is the author's own <intellectual creation>. Given this criterion, it seems unlikely that what is merely a retouched, digitised image of an older work can be considered as <original>.' It turns out that US law operates on a similar basis."
An EXTENSIVELY retouched photo MIGHT fall under copyright laws. Not clear whether this is the case here (all caps by lack of italics).

On the other hand, giving proper credits is not something that should just be seen as a law issue. It is also common decency. At least Tartakower should have been mentioned (although I wouldn't know whether he made any effort to credit the photographer).
OGUSG OGUSG 3/28/2021 02:23
"Is there any proof that chessbase used Winter's scan instead of scanning the book page themselves?"

There is, obviously, absolute proof. In both cases, the technical dimensions of the picture are identical (851 x 631 dpi).

No decent website should take scans from other sites without permission.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 3/28/2021 12:56
@Rambus I guess Wilhelm Steinitz has not visited it.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/28/2021 12:36
In chess notes 4831 it says that the Krylenko picture comes from a book by Tartakower. In this case, it seems Winter has no copyright. I don't believe scans themselves are protected, it is the underlying material that is protected. It would be different if Winter is the owner of the photo. Is there any proof that chessbase used Winter's scan instead of scanning the book page themselves?
Still, I think chessbase should have given the original source, as chess notes did. As I remarked several times before (regarding chess compositions), chessbase is a bit sloppy when it comes to giving credits.
OGUSG OGUSG 3/28/2021 10:53
ChessBase articles continue to help themselves to scans from Edward
Winter's Chess Notes site. This time it is the
Bogoljubow/Krylenko/Lasker picture (see
https://www.chesshistory.com/winter/winter31.html#4831._Bogoljubow_and_Lasker).

As Mr Winter wrote in
https://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/copying.html:

"Nor does Chess Notes exist to offer a free scanning service for
photographs (some of which we have acquired at considerable expense) to
individuals who lack the relevant archive resources of their own."
SermadShah SermadShah 3/28/2021 09:27
Only problem is that, when playing chess, people cannot look beyond chess board.
Rambus Rambus 3/28/2021 07:29
This is a hallowed ground! Is there any World Champion who has not set foot in here?
cross cross 3/27/2021 05:16
I have a lot of fond memories of playing there in the 90's. I'm glad to see they renovated it.
anandymous anandymous 3/27/2021 03:09
A very informative article. Thank you for writing this.
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