Title: Soviet Chess 1917-1991

Author:  Soltis, Andrew

Publisher: Mcfarland

Genre: History/game collection

Level: Any level

What is it good for? This is first and foremost a history book. If you are interested in chess history or would like to read a thrilling story then it would be good for that purpose.

Review: This is the book I open the most in my chess library. I read it from cover to cover twice but it is so rich that I always find things I forgot ever existed there. I usually open this book when I want to read a short biography of a player whose game I analyze or when I want to refresh my mind about the table of a historical tournament. “Soviet Chess” tells the story of chess in the Soviet Union chronologically, starting at 1918 and ending in 1991 (but you can find any subject by searching the excellent index.) So let us start by looking at the book’s table of contents. I also add the indices list because they are quite impressive.


Introduction – What Made Soviet Chess? - 1

1. Up from a Basement -  3

2. Chess to the Workers - 15

3. Big Chess - 26

4. Tough Examiners - 45

5. The New Soviet Man - 63

6. International Moscow - 82

7. The Terror - 102

8. Palaces, Twins and Absolute Champions - 115

9. Barbarossa -137

10. Joining the World - 157

Between pages 194 and 195 there are 16 pages of plates containing 23 photographs

11. Golden Age - 195

12. Invisible Crisis - 245

13. Fischer Fear - 278

14. After Reykjavik - 310

15. Target: Korchnoi - 339

16. Scandals - 370

17. Endgame - 391

Notes on Sources - 421

Bibliography - 425

A Guide to the Pronunciation of Players´ Names - 429

Soviet Dominance of FIDE, July1, 1991 - 431

Soviet Championship Summaries - 433

Index of Openings (ECO) - 435

Index of Players and Opponents - 436

Subject Index - 438-450



* chessbug@chessbug.com



What you get in this book is a combination of two stories, one at a national, even world level and the other a saga of the lives and relations of chess greatest players. What I like the most is how Soltis moves back and forth from the “big” story into the small everyday stories of rivalries, partnerships and competitions. On the large scale you see how Soviet chess grew stronger side by side with the growing influence of the Soviet Union in the world. From a humble beginning through the difficulties of the civil war, the party ambitions of the mid 20’s, the Stalinist terror of the late 1930's, Soviet chess arrives to the Second World War, Soviet chess’ worst time and best time. Then come the glorious 1950’s and later the deterioration of Soviet chess marked by the loss of the world title to Fischer and the embarrassments of the Korchnoi – Karpov - Kasparov encounters.

On the personal level you get, not only the life stories of all Soviet world champions but also of other fascinating chess players, opening theorists and chess politicians such as Geller, Stein, Averbakh, Bohatyrchuk, Keres, Zubarev, Udovich, Taimanov, Kotov, Flohr, Lilienthal, Ilyn-Genevsky, Bronstein, Bolselavsky, Veinstein, Panov, Rabinovich, Romanovsky, Kubbel, Petrov and others. Many of these names may be unknown to you but you will find the stories of their lives fascinating and of importance to the subject of chess history.

The book is also packed with games, endgames, tournament tables and match results but in my opinion these only play second and third fiddles to the skillful storytelling of Soltis. I never read another book by Soltis but I know he is considered to be a writer who has great efforts contrasted with real flops. This work definitely belongs to the first group, his wonderful books. The level of production, as with other Mcfarland chess books, is well above anything you expect from a chess book. The book has a hard black cover with the title in classic golden letters. The binding holds firm, no matter how many times you open and close the book (and I used it a lot). I could go on and on endlessly. If only it had cost like the usual chess book it would be ideal but I guess that would really be asking too much.

The Good Things:

  • The definitive book in English about the history of chess in the Soviet union.

  • Unbelievably thourough research with a wonderful bibliography for those who aould like to read more.

  • Grandmaster Soltis is a born storyteller. His narrative unfolds not only the story of chess in the USSR but also the story of the rise and fall of the soviet union and the twentieth century greatest (and lowest) turning points.

  • Great photographs

  • Biographies of chess greatest and a detailed index for later reference.

The Bad Things:

  • Expensive, but I guess if you want the best you should pay something.

Quote: “By beating Keres with Black, Botvinnik broke his spirit, Malkin concluded. Botvinnik indicated he agreed when he wrote, ‘This game had not only sporting but also psychological significance.’ Lev Polugaevsky who was 12 when this game was played concluded that Keres was scarred for life by another loss against Botvinnik’s prepared Nimzo-Indian Defense at the 1941 Absolute Championship.”

The Bottom Line: If you are looking for a present to a chess fan you really love then this book is it. I bought it as a special present to… well to myself, and I have been thankful to me for that ever since.

Rating: 9.5/10

Review written by Chessbug.

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