June 23, 2012

'Soviet chess school' by Prasanna Rao

Chess is the art which expresses the science of logic - Mikhal Botvinnik (World Champion and founder of Soviet Chess School)

        Chess originated at the end of 6th century in India (Known as Shatrang ) The game was different then, elephants replacing the present day rooks and peasants replacing pawns. The "firzan" now known as the queen could only move diagonally one square at a time. Still, the basic elements of modern chess were present: the game was played on an eight by eight board with pieces and the sole goal being to checkmate the opposing king.

The game of chess has been dominated by Soviet Union for almost 60 years (1940 to early 2000s)before the arrival of Euwe , Larsen , Fischer,  Anand, Short , Kamsky in the later stages Carlsen , Aronian , Karjakin and the younger breed of players. During that period Russians had founded the Soviet Chess School theory.

People have always talked how the Soviet chess school dominated the 64 squares from the 1950s to the late 1990s. They ruled the roost in the Chess world. With the lone exception of the great Bobby Fischer

The first one to break the ice

no one became the World Champion in that period other than the well trained masters from the Soviet Chess School! Why they dominated each and every world championship during that period? Were they superhuman? 

Introduction of chess in the curriculum of the Russian students was the starting point of the phenomenal success they achieved which almost spanned for 5 decades!

The idea of was the brainchild of Mikhail Botvinnik (World Champion at that time)

Botvinnik the world champion

and was implemented during his regime. Chess was something of national sport during that period. In most of the school there were chess circles. The world championship games were analyzed in newspapers and on TV. Millions of people were able to comprehend the style and beauty of leading chess players' games. All the top Grandmasters used to train under Botvinik and the cycle was carried from thereafter. But what happened in that chess school? Why was that a runaway success?

Ethics? Training Methods? Learning Materials? Professional Trainers? Discipline? Principles? 

Yes, they had a combination of all these! With Botvinik as the mentor they set themselves very high standards! Under the guidance of Botvinik, they produced world-class training methods, brought in the idea of special training in each and every part of the game (i.e Opening, Middlegame , Endgame). They approached  the game in a more systematic manner which the other countries were not doing at that time .  Disciplined calculation of the moves which was later termed as "Candidate moves" was brought in by them. They covered each and every aspect of the game and found a way to master it due to superb training methods.  The ability to share was the standout between the  Soviet Chess School pupils and the other world.  Other main difference was the willingness of the government to allocate vast resources of money to find out the methods which will enable a chess player to master the game and attain the level of world champion. They also saw this as an opportunity to go ahead of the US during the Cold War period . Russia had their first World Champion(In sports) through Chess so naturally it garnered lot of support from the government.

Mark Dvoretsky said,” I feel that it is no less interesting to be a trainer than to play oneself. I even feel that it is no less interesting to be a trainer than to play oneself. I even take greater delight in the tournament successes of my lads than I do in my own".
Best trainer in the world


No one talks about the Russia when they cannot win gold Olympiad medal (not since 2002) or World Team Championship (once in 2009). The World Champion is Indian; the world #1 is from Norway. Russia had 26 players in the World Cup. Certainly the odds were for them.  But why is the Soviet School a thing of the past? What led to their downfall? Evolution of chess? Breakdown of the Soviet Union? We will be looking  at that in my second part. Stay Tuned!

Reference for the first para is taken from "Wikipedia"

                                                                                        -Prasanna Rao


  1. "No one talks about the Russia when they cannot win gold Olympiad medal (not since 2002) or World Team Championship (once in 2009)"- This is untrue..
    There were huge fights and controversies when Russia didn't perform well in olympiads in last decade.

  2. In the end performance counts!

  3. @Prasanna Rao What??? You didn't understand my simple statement.