Russian legacy to chess

Historical knowledge and information regarding our great game.
John Foley
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Russian legacy to chess

Post by John Foley » Tue May 22, 2012 1:19 am

Many chess-playing countries have contributed to chess language or terminology in some way - at least as we know it in English. We have chess expressions in French, Italian, Spanish, German, Arabic, Yiddish, Persian etc. However, as far as I am aware there appears to be very little which we have inherited from historically the greatest chess playing nation of them all - Russia. Of course, they have provided plenty of theory and names of openings which stem from Russia, but not basic concepts. Is this because the language of chess had already been established by the time the Soviet Union geared up its efforts? Or did the Soviets keep their thoughts to themselves? Does anybody know?

On an obverse point, are there any chess expressions in English which have become adopted as standard in any other language?

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by Roger de Coverly » Tue May 22, 2012 1:24 am

John Foley wrote: Or did the Soviets keep their thoughts to themselves? Does anybody know?
Every Russian schoolboy knows ......

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by Paul McKeown » Tue May 22, 2012 10:06 am

Chess was invented in northern India in the 6th century, was taken up by the Persians and then by the Arabs by the 8th century. The Arab literature was extensive and of high quality. The vocabulary (e.g. names of the pieces, etc.), consisted of Arab translations of Farsi translations of Sanskrit or mistranslations or the direct use of Farsi words in Arabic. Chess arrived in Romance Europe by the 10th century, again names of pieces were translations (often through the lens of European social systems), mistranslations or direct importation (e.g. the English "rook" from "rukh", Farsi for chariot). At about the time of Renaissance, the rules applying to the bishop and the queen changed to their modern forms, probably in Spain or Italy and probably some time between the mid 1470's and the begin of the 1490's. As the queen was now more powerful than her medieval forbears, the game became known as "esché de la dame enragée", "dela donna", "ala rabiosa" or some similar term, "chess of the raging queen" :wink: The pawn double move had been introduced earlier in medieval Europe. The early centres of European chess were Italy and Spain (hence "Ruy Lopez" and "Giuco Piano", etc.) and then France and later London and Germany. Chess was of no great cultural significance in Russia until the late 19th century, by which time all the important matters of chess vocabulary had already been settled. There was nothing to import from Russia.

George Szaszvari
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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by George Szaszvari » Tue May 22, 2012 10:06 pm

John Foley wrote:Many chess-playing countries have contributed to chess language or terminology in some way - at least as we know it in English. We have chess expressions in French, Italian, Spanish, German, Arabic, Yiddish, Persian etc. However, as far as I am aware there appears to be very little which we have inherited from historically the greatest chess playing nation of them all - Russia. Of course, they have provided plenty of theory and names of openings which stem from Russia, but not basic concepts. Is this because the language of chess had already been established by the time the Soviet Union geared up its efforts? Or did the Soviets keep their thoughts to themselves? Does anybody know?

On an obverse point, are there any chess expressions in English which have become adopted as standard in any other language?
Very interesting questions, John. The accepted historical view of how chess spread from India obviously goes a long way to explaining the rich legacy of chess expressions we have, but a look into the history of languages might tell us more, how the prevailing lingua franca of a trade/military empire and/or a dominant centre of learning would influence common usage in certain matters. For instance, was there not a period when Russians would look westwards to a German speaking university for higher education?

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by Paul McKeown » Tue May 22, 2012 11:28 pm

George Szaszvari wrote:For instance, was there not a period when Russians would look westwards to a German speaking university for higher education?
Westwards, yes, but not just to German speaking universities (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), but also to those in France and Italy. For education in the school of life, rather than in formal university scholarship, Russians, from royalty downward, also learned their professions or trades in the Netherlands and in Britain.

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by Colin Patterson » Wed May 23, 2012 12:19 am

Not particularly relevant - but I just recalled an anecdote From Averbakh's autobiography

When Taimanov and Bronstein attended the 1952 World Students' event, the contestants were asked to justify their student status. Taimanov was able to do so easily as he was a legitimately enrolled at the Leningrad Conservatoire. Bronstein, when asked where he studied, replied "In the Soviet School Of Chess".

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by George Szaszvari » Wed May 23, 2012 6:10 am

Paul McKeown wrote:
George Szaszvari wrote:For instance, was there not a period when Russians would look westwards to a German speaking university for higher education?
Westwards, yes, but not just to German speaking universities (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), but also to those in France and Italy. For education in the school of life, rather than in formal university scholarship, Russians, from royalty downward, also learned their professions or trades in the Netherlands and in Britain.
Right, and perhaps suggests that all those languages might have been preferred over Russian in expressing ideas in general (as well as about chess) because of that, even if a native Russian speaker was the originator. However, John's observation concerning a lack of Russian terms and expressions about chess in English (the extensive vocabulary of which is largely made up from foreign loan words) is something that never occurred to me before, and I would have thought that the enormous Russian influence on the game over the last century, and before, would have contributed more than it has, even in recent history. Perhaps Russian doesn't lend itself to having loan words so readily accepted into English as happens with other European languages. Any students of Russian language/ literature/ history out there with some insights or opinions on this?

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by Paul McKeown » Wed May 23, 2012 10:49 am

George Szaszvari wrote:Perhaps Russian doesn't lend itself to having loan words so readily accepted into English as happens with other European languages.
That can't be right. Vodka is one that springs to mind immediately. Never mind bliny, apparatchik, zek, Bolshevik, Menshevik, Kolkhoz, babushka, Gulag, mammoth, pogrom, ruble, kulak, tsar, Kalashnikov, tokomak, beluga, dacha, raskol, ukase, stakhanovite, oprichniki, cheka, KGB, Sputnik, tundra, banya.

I'm sure others could expand this list without trying hard at all.

The English language vocabulary for chess doesn't include lots of Russian words, simply because whilst the vocabulary was being established, Russia had nothing to give. The big exception until the mid twentieth century was "Petroff's defence". After that, naturally, lots of openings have received names of Russian origin, such as "Sveshnikov variation", "Chelyabinsk variation", "Kalashnikov variation", "Voronezh variation", "Panov attack", etc. One word that has achieved a certain vogue is "tabiya". That is an Arabic word, but I think it's current English usage as a standard position from an opening variation has arisen from its use in Russian. Previously it wasn't much used and would have been used in connection with the ancient Arabic chess literature.
Last edited by Paul McKeown on Wed May 23, 2012 11:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

Roger de Coverly
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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by Roger de Coverly » Wed May 23, 2012 11:09 am

John Foley wrote: On an obverse point, are there any chess expressions in English which have become adopted as standard in any other language?

Averbakh did a book in 1988 which was a dictionary of chess words and phrases in English, German, Spanish, French, Russian and Serbo-Croat. Browsing through I spotted three French words or expressions and one German that seemed common across all languages.

So J'adoube, en passant, en prise and Zugswang.

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by Paul McKeown » Wed May 23, 2012 11:09 am

Coming to think of it, I left off "sable", "troika", "Kremlin", "agitprop", "intelligentsia", "balalaika", "duma" and "kopeck".

Never mind "refusenik" and the later adoption of the Russian suffix, "-nik", into English, resulting in such neologisms as "beatnik". And never mind the use of the Clockwork Orange's Nadsat by Cool Kids, so that one sometimes hears, "droog", "horrorshow", "lewdies", "glazzies", "Gulliver" or "litso".

George, your statement that Russian does not lend words to other languages is utterly wrong.
Last edited by Paul McKeown on Wed May 23, 2012 11:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by Paul McKeown » Wed May 23, 2012 11:10 am

Roger,

The verb "adouber" is not much used in modern French, as I understand it! How we have ended up using, "j'aboube", is a mystery worthy of explanation. You could add Zwischenzug to the list of everyday German chess words, although I couldn't say whether it has been taken up in lots of languages other than English.

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by Roger de Coverly » Wed May 23, 2012 11:34 am

Paul McKeown wrote: You could add Zwischenzug to the list of everyday German chess words, although I couldn't say whether it has been taken up in lots of languages other than English.
Averbakh has German and Spanish as Jadoube, but Serbo-Croat as Popravljam. I'm not going to attempt the Russian word but it looks similar to the Serbo-Croat one.

Also from Averbakh is the phrase "I overlooked this intermediate move" in the six languages, but Zwischenzug is only in the German.

There's also zeitnot from German which is the same in the other languages, but English usage is normally time trouble or time pressure.

Kirsan once claimed that the rules of chess being the same on all continents was because of his aliens. European ships is more likely.

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by John Upham » Wed May 23, 2012 12:47 pm

This http://www.goddesschess.com/chessays/eurochess.pdf essay appears to be an interesting read. :D

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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by JustinHorton » Wed May 23, 2012 1:59 pm

Here's a question - does anybody else say "exchange" or do they all say "quality"? If the latter, why do we say "exchange"'?
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Re: Russian legacy to chess

Post by Roger de Coverly » Wed May 23, 2012 2:11 pm

JustinHorton wrote:Here's a question - does anybody else say "exchange" or do they all say "quality"? If the latter, why do we say "exchange"'?
According to Averbakh, "quality" outside of English. But no English language author would ever write "In the Sicilian Dragon, the quality sacrifice on c3 is played". During the Master Game series, as well as "winning the quality", East European players such as Hort would talk of "changing" pieces. Words such as zietnot and tabiya by contrast have a partial acceptance.

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