Four Styles of Grandmaster Chess Sets: GM2 “Bronstein” Pieces

Originally classified “Grandmaster 2” as one of four “Grandmaster” sets by Portuguese collector and historian Arlindo Vieira, the “Bronstein” name was added by American collector Mike John Ladzinski based on a 1968 photo of Bronstein and Tal playing with such pieces.

David Bronstein and Mikhail Tal. Riga, 1968. 6th Soviet Team Cup. 1-0. Photographer unknown.

The GM2 sets were mass produced to meet an immense demand for sets among the vast chess-playing Soviet public. Shakhmaty v SSSR, 9/1962, at 278-279. Their design is quintessentially Soviet. It incorporates large, bulbous bases, curving up to concave stems, which trumpet into the pedestals upon which the crowns and miters perch. The bulbous bases are echoed in the large, rounded bases of the king’s crown and bishop’s onion-shaped miter, which itself reflects the shape of orthodox church domes. Large proletarian pawns reflect the importance of the working class to socialist ideology. CV-shaped Knights are carved in the distinct manner of the sixties. The following 1950s-early 1960s version has 105 mm kings and original dark blue cloth bottoms.

c. 1960 GM2 Pieces. Note the large wooden knights and the wooden finials.
Chuck Grau Collection, photo.
c. 1960 GM2 Pieces. Note the large wooden knights and the wooden finials.
Chuck Grau Collection, photo.

By 1967, the GM2 sets, manufactured in the Perkhushkovaya Factory of Cultural Goods in Moscow, began to sport plastic finials. Here is a set made in 1967 from the collection of Eduardo Bauza, together with its original cardboard box and sales receipt. Consistent with Soviet practice, the set lacks a distinct name, and is described by the box and receipt only as “Tournament Chess,” that is, a set suitable for tournament play.

1967 GM2 set. Eduardo Bauza Collection, photo.

By 1967 the set also saw some variation in the finials atop the kings. GM2 pieces with plastic, spike-shaped finials were used in the 1967 USSR Championship in Kharkiv, as shown by a photo of Uri Sakharov playing Lev Alburt in that event.

Uri Sakharov, Kharkiv, 1967. 0-1. Club Avangard photo.

Here are pieces similar to those in the Sakharov photo.

c. 1967 GM2 Pieces. Chuck Grau Collection, photo.
c. 1967 GM2 Pieces. Chuck Grau Collection, photo.

By the 1980s, the pieces were slathered unevenly in taffy apple varnish. Here are some photos of the sets in use in the seventies and eighties.

Alvis Vītoliņš, 1973. Photographer unknown.
A jubilant Nona Gapridshavili. Photographer unknown.

Here is a set from the seventies. It is slathered in uneven, taffy apple varnish. The knights are all wooden but the wooden finials have been replaced with plastic ones.

c. 1970s GM2 Pieces. Chuck Grau Collection, photo.

Some subtle changes to the design are evident. For example, the king of the 1980s set is taller, but with a narrower and less bulbous base. Its stem is shorter, but its crown is taller.

c. 1960 GM2 (left) vs. c. 1980 GM2 (R). Chuck Grau Collection, photo.
c. 1960 GM2 (left) vs. c. 1980 GM2 (R). Chuck Grau Collection, photo.

The c. 1980 knight, however, is shorter and slimmer, its carving lacking details like the mane and the bit-hole found in the mouth of the c. 1960 knight. The curves of the c. 1980 knight are cruder, less smooth than those of the earlier knight.

By the 1980s, this “Tournament Chess” had been given a numerical designation “No. 5” to distinguish it from other sets also generically described as tournament sets. The label from the inside of a box of a 1985 set refers to it as “Wooden Tournament No. 5.”

Inside label from 1985 GM2 “Wooden Tournament No. 5” set. eBay photo 2021.

As we will see with other mass-produced sets, production eventually was simplified with the use of less expensive plastic knights. Here is an example from the collection of collector John Moyes illustrating the plastic knight.

GM2 Plastic Knights. John Moyes Collection, photo.

The Grandmaster 2 Bronstein chess set served Soviet chess for decades. It was mass produced for a chess-playing public in need of thousands and thousands of sets. Its curvaceous design was quintessentially Soviet, even as it evolved to incorporate plastic parts and discard some detail in an effort to economize its production and make it more accessible to a Soviet public hungry for playing sets.

Author: Chuck Grau

I'm a chess collector, chess player, and retired attorney. I've been collecting Soviet and Russian chess sets since 2014. I'm interested in their history, design, and the people who made and played with them.

2 thoughts on “Four Styles of Grandmaster Chess Sets: GM2 “Bronstein” Pieces”

  1. Great piece Chuck.

    I’d also point out that my set from which you pictured the knights contains bishops with an onion domed mitre. It’s the only such example I’ve seen in a Bronstein set, the others having a tear-shape.


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