08 March 2009

The Father of Soviet Chess?

Who can be considered the Father of Soviet Chess: Chigorin?, Alekhine?, Botvinnik?, someone else? 'Success', as they say, 'has many fathers':-

Organized Soviet chess, supported by the State, found its beginnings in Moscow in the early days of 1920. Up to this time chess had been regarded, by most of those Bolshevik authorities who considered the game at all, as simply a bourgeois pastime with no real significance in the new society. The change in the official attitude to the game was brought about in the first instance almost entirely by the enthusiasm of Ilyin-Zhenevsky.

A.F. Ilyin-Zhenevsky (1894-1941) joined the Bolshevik party and engaged in revolutionary activity while still at school. After the October Revolution he held a series of important posts in the Soviet government and the Communist party. Dedicated to both chess and communism, he saw that each could help to promote the other. He played a leading part in organizing the All-Russian Chess Olympiad [1920] and was one of the first to put forward a Marxist program for chess.

Early in 1920, Ilyin-Zhenevsky was appointed chief commissar at the Headquarters of the General Reservists Organization (Vsevobuch) in Moscow. This organization had been set up shortly after the October revolution to provide elementary physical and military training before conscription into the Red Guard and, later, the Red Army. Local Vsevobuch commissariats were set up throughout the country and military sports clubs were establushed under the aegis of Vsevobuch in factories and railway centers. This was the beginning of the Soviet state-controlled physical culture movement.

In his memoirs Ilyin-Zhenevsky records how he hit on the idea of including chess in the pre-conscription training program, which was then being drawn up. [long quote from I-Z's memoirs] Ilyin-Zhenevsky's enthusiasm found support in the persons of N.I. Podvoisky, the over-all head of Vsevobuch, and of V.N. Russo, who was then head of Vsevobuch in the Moscow district. Consequently Vsevobuch chess in Moscow developed very rapidly.

Source: D.J. Richards, 'Soviet Chess', p.10

Alexander Ilyin-Zhenevsky (Ilyin-Genevsky) is identified in my post on the 4th Soviet Championship (1925). This allows another identification in my post on Nikolai Krylenko, where he is sitting first row, second from the right, between Krylenko and Ragozin.

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