Raymond Keene

The Godfather

It is often asked how chess became so popular in the USSR. My answer is that most areas of creative thought were closely supervised by the state; literature, art and even music, as Shostokovich and Prokofiev found, were subject to government control. Shostokovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was severely criticised by the Communist Party Congress, for instance. Antagonising the state could be fatal.

In chess, though, creative thought could flourish without interference from the commissars. The notion that chess moves could be ideologically unsound was rarely entertained.

My theory for the popularity of chess would have had no currency within the Soviet Union. Soviet writers would have claimed that the obsession with chess was inspired by Mikhail Chigorin, the so-called godfather of Soviet chess, a player who came tantalisingly close to winning the World Championship.

Mikhail Chigorin: the Creative Genius by Jimmy Adams is published by New in Chess.

Chigorin-Tarrasch: St Petersburg 1893; French Defence

1 e4 e6 2 Qe2 This unusual move was a Chigorin speciality and, essentially, leads to positions similar to the modern King’s Indian Attack. 2 … c5 3 g3 Nc6 4 Bg2 Be7 5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Nh3 a6 7 Nf4 Nd4 8 Qd1 Nf6 9 d3 b5 10 0-0 Bb7 11 Be3 Rc8 12 a4 b4 13 Nb1 (see diagram 1) 13 … e5 This is a strategic mistake as now White gains control of the d5- and c4-squares. Much better is 13 … 0-0 intending 14 Nd2 d5 with an equal position. 14 Nd5 Bxd5 15 exd5 Qd6 16 Nd2 If Black now takes the d5-pawn with 16 … Nxd5 there follows: 17 Nc4 Qe6 18 Bxd4 cxd4 19 Bxd5 Qxd5 20 Nb6 and White wins the exchange.

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