Books on Soviet Chess

Historical knowledge and information regarding our great game.
MJMcCready
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Books on Soviet Chess

Post by MJMcCready » Fri Aug 02, 2013 6:50 am

Could someone personally recommend a publication on the history of Soviet Chess. I would ideally prefer something written by or with input from an historian rather then something written by a titled chess player. I recently bought Soltis's Soviet Chess 1917-1991 but I found it to be disappointing on a number of levels.

Thanks

Roger de Coverly
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by Roger de Coverly » Fri Aug 02, 2013 7:43 am

MJMcCready wrote:Could someone personally recommend a publication on the history of Soviet Chess. I would ideally prefer something written by or with input from an historian rather then something written by a titled chess player.
"Soviet Chess" by the late Bob Wade is the one usually recommended. It was written by a chess IM and for the period after 1945 is an eye witness account rather than a historian's view. Copies seem available on Amazon.

There's also "White King and Red Queen" written by Daniel Johnston. Although a reasonable amateur player in his youth, Dan Johnston is better known as a journalist and editor with The Times. This is a more recent book and (from memory) covers the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Wade's book doesn't as the Soviet Union was still running when he wrote the book.

Richard James
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by Richard James » Fri Aug 02, 2013 8:00 am

Soviet Chess by DJ Richards (Clarendon Press 1965) covers the early years from a historical rather than a chess perspective.

No games as far as I recall, but I don't have a copy and it's very many years since I read it.

Leonard Barden
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by Leonard Barden » Fri Aug 02, 2013 10:03 am

I have read both Wade and Richards but think that by far the best books for giving a historical, analytical and personal perspective are


Soviet Chess 1917-91 by Andrew Soltis and

Russian Silhouettes by Genna Sosonko

MJMcCready
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by MJMcCready » Fri Aug 02, 2013 1:48 pm

Leonard Barden wrote:I have read both Wade and Richards but think that by far the best books for giving a historical, analytical and personal perspective are


Soviet Chess 1917-91 by Andrew Soltis and

Russian Silhouettes by Genna Sosonko
Ok thanks, well I have read neither Wade nor Richards so I will purchase those two. I am hoping to find something that is written more for historians rather than the general public as it tends to be more rigorous. I thought that Sosonko's work is too personal and subsequently unambitious whereas Soltis's is over-ambitious and can only deal with events superfically, irrespective of how significant they are, however, I did enjoy many of the games within his publication.

To add to all this, I do enjoy reading Cafferty and Taimanov's Soviet Chess despite its hideous pink cover (definitely not the best colour for a chess book). Cafferty, has a great memory and some great insights into the tournaments he listened to in his youth. The only great shame about that publication is that it's so short.

John Upham
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by John Upham » Fri Aug 02, 2013 2:02 pm

There is "Centre-Stage and Behind the Scenes" by Yuri Averbakh.
averbakh.jpg
"Centre-Stage and Behind the Scenes" by Yuri Averbakh
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by John Upham » Fri Aug 02, 2013 2:06 pm

as well as

"The Soviet School of Chess" by Kotov and Yudovich
ssoc.jpg
"The Soviet School of Chess" by Kotov and Yudovich
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MJMcCready
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by MJMcCready » Fri Aug 02, 2013 4:05 pm

John Upham wrote:as well as

"The Soviet School of Chess" by Kotov and Yudovich
ssoc.jpg
Hi, yeah O have that too but I think that the problem with that text is that it is written at a time where freedom of speech just did not exist. I thought Sam Sloane wasn't far off in the introduction with his comments. I would prefer to read something written more critically rather than an attempt to pass everything off as an example of Soviet ingenuity.

MJMcCready
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by MJMcCready » Fri Aug 02, 2013 4:14 pm

Hi sorry, I'm new to this site and the previous post didn't display the image I intended. I was referring to Kotov and Yudovich's book. I have never read Averbakh's book. Given that I asked for personal recommendations, have you read the book?

I do enjoy reading primary source material providing that the author bases his writing on his own experiences and doesn't fabricate material for his own purposes. I found that to be particularly annoying when I read Sosonko, who at one point in Russian Silhouettes makes the blunder of writing in the first person about the life of Keres, forgetting that he was referring to events that occurred before Sosonko was actually born and could not have personally witnessed them as the writing suggests. I understand the urge to add colour to your writing but this is precisely the sort of thing I would prefer to avoid.

Simon Spivack
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by Simon Spivack » Sat Aug 03, 2013 8:22 pm

Averbakh's book was written for the educated Russian reader. The English edition is a fairly faithful translation, minus the poems. There are not enough notes, many English readers will struggle without guidance, as one can see from the abysmal standard of some of the write-ups available on the Internet. It is a good book. I have written extensively about it.

ECF members have access to a perfectly respectable review. It can be found on page 22 of the September/October 2011 edition of ChessMoves. Its author is Andrew Farthing, who was also an excellent CEO for the Federation.

Obtaining Russian language sources and information is often far from easy, even for Russians. A point made by that outstanding historian of WWII David Glantz. The same is true for chess. For instance, the Botvinnik Foundation has been known to sue and, owing to the legal nihilism that prevails in Russia, win. Hence the reason why one outstanding Russian language history (Шедевры и драмы чемпионатов СССР 1920-37. Рипол Классик 2007, hardback, 463pp) stops at the 1937 Championship. I should add that writing something worthwhile on Russian chess history is a labour of love, it takes years. Few are properly equipped. I know that Bernard Cafferty followed the Soviet chess scene for decades, through Russian-language magazines and newspapers as well as Moscow Radio transmissions.

Colin Patterson
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by Colin Patterson » Sat Aug 03, 2013 10:06 pm

I would concur with most of that written above. Averbakh's book is good, although to be honest, I enjoyed it mostly for his personal struggle; the torrid, 'seat of the pants' experiences of his youth were very humbling and endearing. I can't however say I felt particularly enlightened by his recollections of the endless stream of changes within the various Soviet Sports Committees. That element was a little dry, but might suit the very serious historian. There are one or two errors in the book also; I raised one of them on these pages.

Soltis has done a remarkable job. I can pour over that one for hours. All of Sosonko's are brilliantly entertaining and yes, the odd story may be a little embellished, but I believe most of his tales are fundamentally accurate.

A further book I would have no hesitation in recommending is 'Chess: The History Of A Game' by Eales. It includes a very scholarly account of the Soviet hegemony, politics etc. of the 1900s, as you'd expect from that author.

MJMcCready
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by MJMcCready » Sun Aug 04, 2013 8:02 am

Simon Spivack wrote:Averbakh's book was written for the educated Russian reader. The English edition is a fairly faithful translation, minus the poems. There are not enough notes, many English readers will struggle without guidance, as one can see from the abysmal standard of some of the write-ups available on the Internet. It is a good book. I have written extensively about it.

ECF members have access to a perfectly respectable review. It can be found on page 22 of the September/October 2011 edition of ChessMoves. Its author is Andrew Farthing, who was also an excellent CEO for the Federation.

Obtaining Russian language sources and information is often far from easy, even for Russians. A point made by that outstanding historian of WWII David Glantz. The same is true for chess. For instance, the Botvinnik Foundation has been known to sue and, owing to the legal nihilism that prevails in Russia, win. Hence the reason why one outstanding Russian language history (Шедевры и драмы чемпионатов СССР 1920-37. Рипол Классик 2007, hardback, 463pp) stops at the 1937 Championship. I should add that writing something worthwhile on Russian chess history is a labour of love, it takes years. Few are properly equipped. I know that Bernard Cafferty followed the Soviet chess scene for decades, through Russian-language magazines and newspapers as well as Moscow Radio transmissions.
Thank you for taking the time to ad to the post. This is precisely why I prefer to read something that is written by historians. I am certainly not an historian but I did study some historiography at post-grad level and I know just how painstakingly difficult it can be. Generally speaking, I don't enjoy reading things by titled chess players when they don't have expertise in such matters but write anyway. They tend to write uncritically and offer a chronological account of events that explains very little let alone questions the authenticity of sources.

Colin Patterson wrote:I would concur with most of that written above. Averbakh's book is good, although to be honest, I enjoyed it mostly for his personal struggle; the torrid, 'seat of the pants' experiences of his youth were very humbling and endearing. I can't however say I felt particularly enlightened by his recollections of the endless stream of changes within the various Soviet Sports Committees. That element was a little dry, but might suit the very serious historian. There are one or two errors in the book also; I raised one of them on these pages.

Soltis has done a remarkable job. I can pour over that one for hours. All of Sosonko's are brilliantly entertaining and yes, the odd story may be a little embellished, but I believe most of his tales are fundamentally accurate.

A further book I would have no hesitation in recommending is 'Chess: The History Of A Game' by Eales. It includes a very scholarly account of the Soviet hegemony, politics etc. of the 1900s, as you'd expect from that author.
I am reading Soltis's book at the moment. I have to say I find it frustrating as it raises more questions than it answers. He begins by asking what made soviet chess what it was but can't answer his own question. I can't help but feel that if such a publication was written with a critical framework supporting it, such things would be addressed by peers. I personally don't mind having a text which I can use as a platform for further research but I'd rather not have to pay over 60 pounds for it and then find out that I have to do much of the hard work myself. I don't wish to be unkind towards the author but the book is incredibly ambitious and subsequently much of the content is handled superficially.

Regarding Sosonko I think there are many questions regarding his work. The biggest one being that if you have met him or even listened to him speak you will know that his English is actually poor, containing many basic grammatical errors yet his writing is prosiac, sophisticated, and grammatically, error free. This disparity is so great I simply do not believe he should take the credit for the works. He may have dictated content to an editor but the writing, essentially, cannot be his. That is my opinion anyway.

I will look into Earles book. I take it this is Robert Earles, head of history at Canterbury?

Colin Patterson
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by Colin Patterson » Sun Aug 04, 2013 2:20 pm

No and yes! He is Richard Geoffrey Eales (not Robert Earles) ... but I believe he may indeed be head of history at Canterbury.

I understand your frustrations with the other books. My enjoyment is perhaps on a more superficial level, as I have not yet challenged myself to answer Soltis' question. Maybe I will one day.

To counter the expense of Soltis' mighty tome, I may be able to recommend you one further book that is normally very cheap to pick up. And that is 'Total Chess' by David Spanier. Somewhat underrated I think ... it covers such chapters as The Soviet Mind, Jews and Politics among many others. Also, with barely a chess move in sight, it makes for a welcome bedside table companion.

Colin Patterson
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by Colin Patterson » Sun Aug 04, 2013 2:43 pm

Incidentally, I agree entirely with your hypothesis regarding Sosonko not actually writing his books. I saw Sosonko speaking at the last London Classic (I think, or maybe the Candidates) and he is not very fluent at all. I suspect they may be ghosted by Hans Ree, but that is pure speculation on my part.

Gordon Cadden
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Re: Books on Soviet Chess

Post by Gordon Cadden » Sun Aug 04, 2013 3:51 pm

MJMcCready wrote:Could someone personally recommend a publication on the history of Soviet Chess. I would ideally prefer something written by or with input from an historian rather then something written by a titled chess player. I recently bought Soltis's Soviet Chess 1917-1991 but I found it to be disappointing on a number of levels.

Thanks
Yuri Averbach is a Chess Historian, and his memoirs should be reasonably accurate in the Post Soviet Era.

Another Russian Chess Historian is Dr. Isaac Linder, who wrote "Chess in Old Russia", the English Translation published in 1979.

Believe that Andrew Soltis made a good effort, tackling a difficult subject, with "Soviet Chess" 1917 - 1991

A Russian should attempt the Definitive Work. Any Candidates ? (no, not Gary Kasparov).

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