24 June 2008

The Soviet Grandmaster Title

In Soviet Players I wrote, 'The Soviet lists of grandmasters and masters are *not* the same as those based on the FIDE titles. I wasn't able to pin down the exact criteria for awarding titles, which will have to wait for another day.' That other day has finally arrived:

In 1929 Soviet chess counted 25 masters: by 1934 there were 43, at the outbreak of the Second World War nearly 50. The first player to receive the grandmaster title was Botvinnik, in 1935. By the outbreak of the Second World War he had been joined by Levenfish, Kotov, and Smyslov and also by the two new Soviet citizens, Liliental and Keres. (Liliental remained in the USSR. after the 1935 Moscow tournament and became a Soviet citizen in 1939; Keres became a Soviet subject in 1940, when the Baltic States were annexed by the U.S.S.R.)
From 1933, when the first Uniform Chess Codex of the USSR. was formulated, the grandmaster title was awarded to the victor in a Soviet championship or to a player finishing second or third in two championships. This title can also be gained in an official match with a recognised grandmaster or by achieving outstanding international tournament results.

Source: Soviet Chess by D.J.Richards (Clarendon Press, 1965), p.51-52


In 100 Selected Games, Botvinnik (1911-1995) attributed the grandmaster title to his tie for 1st/2nd with Flohr in the 1935 Moscow international tournament. In the same book, he mentioned that he was awarded the master title in 1927.

In The Complete Games of Paul Keres, the great Estonian player (1916-1975) didn't mention the Soviet grandmaster title. His narrative skipped the years 1940-41, when Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union (August 1940). Although he included one game from the 12th Soviet Championship (September 1940), there is no mention of the USSR Absolute Chess Championship (March 1941), where he finished second behind Botvinnik.

The introduction by Romanovsky to Smyslov's Best Games, 1935-57 mentions that Smyslov (b.1921) received the grandmaster title for third place in the 1941 Absolute Championship. From this, we can infer that Keres received the title at the same time.


Tom Chivers said...

It seems highly appropriate on a symbolic level for Botvinnik to have been the first Grandmaster, since he more than anyone ushered in the modern, scientific era.

ejh said...

Mark - have you written anything about, or are you aware of any source that explains, precisely what constituted a first category or second category player? One sees these terms frequently but it's much harder finding out exactly what they mean!