You are here:   Cold War > Red Pawn

Gennadi Sosonko, pictured in Amsterdam in 1978: the best of all chess writers (credit: Dutch National Archives)
One of the attractions of chess is its lack of ambiguity. In this spirit, I assert that the best chess magazine in the English language is, without question, New In Chess. In fact this luxuriantly printed review appears in Dutch and English, being based in Holland, published by the Anglophile entrepreneur Allard Hoogland and edited by Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam.

Although each of its eight issues a year contains lengthy contributions by the British grandmasters Nigel Short and Matthew Sadler, it is a Dutch element which provides the greatest pleasure. New In Chess is where Genna Sosonko's articles appear — and he is the best of all chess writers, if what you are seeking is deep historical and personal understanding, beyond topical analysis of the latest tournaments and opening novelties.

I have written about Sosonko before in this column, explaining that he was a leading trainer within the Soviet chess empire before becoming (in 1972) one of the thousands of Jews who emigrated from the USSR, where he became an unperson. In the latest issue of New In Chess he reveals a remarkable document which, more than anything else I have read, exposes how even a pursuit so abstract as chess became poisoned by the politics of totalitarian Communism, especially under Stalin.

 This is a letter from the main KGB archive in Moscow, in which the Russian chess master and theoretician Vasily Panov (1906-73) denounces a book of opening analysis by Paul Keres. To understand the danger to Keres in this, it is necessary to know that, as an Estonian, he had played in Nazi-organised tournaments when his country had been occupied by Germany in the Second World War. He had been interrogated by the KGB after the Soviets had captured Estonia and made him, willy-nilly, a Soviet citizen.

Panov's letter of denunciation was written in 1950, in the late Stalinist period when all Jews were seen as potential traitors ("cosmopolitanism is bourgeois nationalism") but when a man such as Keres would also be at great risk. Panov begins his letter: "The Estonian state publishing house has published the first volume of chess grandmaster Keres's theoretical work Open Games. For an author of theoretical research there is no nobler or more responsible task than to establish the indisputable authority of the pre-revolutionary Russian and Soviet chess schools and to clearly and convincingly show the leading role of the Russian people in such a unique branch of culture as chess. Keres did not succeed in this task. Worse, he used the platform that had been provided for him for the unrestrained glorification of foreign theoreticians, even including fascist mercenaries and traitors to the Soviet people, whose ‘theoretical' labours are of no value at all."

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.