Changes in Soviet economic policy and organization in the 1940s left Soviet planners with a problem. While the numbers of chess players continued to dramatically rise, the Artel and Gulag production that had expanded throughout the thirties to meet the growing demand for chess sets were simply unable to keep pace. During the Great Patriotic War, Artels began to decline in economic importance just as many began to adopt techniques of mass production characteristic of factory manufacturing. Stalin died in 1953, and Beria issued a general amnesty for Gulag prisoners, which significantly diminished the Gulag work force. By 1954, most Soviet officials had come to understand that Gulag production was quite inefficient. In 1956 the Central Commitee sounded the death knell for artels. By 1960, neither Artels nor Gulags formally remained.
Some of the Artels and Gulag workshops converted to State-run factories worked by wage laborers. Other factories arose. One of the most prolific of those state factories was Voenohot Factory No. 2, located in the Moscow region. It manufactured some of the most famous mass-produced sets of the Soviet Union: Voronezh pattern, GM3s, GM4s, Champion, and Yunost sets.
Voronezh Pattern Set
I call these sets “Voronezh Pattern” because a very early specimen in my collection reportedly survived the Great Patriotic War in a basement in the war-torn city of Voronezh. I cannot say where that set was made, but later sets in that style were mass-produced by the Voenohot Factory No. 2 in the 1950s and 1960s, and perhaps later. Here is an example of a factory-made set from the 1950s.
The design is quintessentially Soviet. The concave stem rises from the base to form the pedestal upon which the royal, cleric, and foot soldier signifiers rest without connecting sections separating them from their pedestals. The cleric is signified by a tear-shaped miter. The royals sport wooden finials, which were replaced by plastic ones in later versions. 102 mm kings. Unweighted but decently balanced.
Grandmaster 3 Set
This Soviet Staunton design first appeared around 1950. At first it was used only in top Soviet tournaments. Those sets probably were made in very limited numbers by specially commissioned ateliers. By the 1960s, GM3 sets were being mass-produced by Voenohot Factory No. 2 with plastic finials and black plastic knight heads. Here is an example I believe to have been manufactured in the late 1960s or 1970s.
Grandmaster 4 Set
The GM4 design is an evolution of the GM3 design, albeit simplified and cheapened. But what remains is the basic Staunton architecture of the GM3. Recognizing them to be closely related to the GM3 pieces, Arlindo Vieira wrote that the GM4 pieces are “the last version of this competitive set.” He described them as “elegant and playable,” but “made players crazy” when used on boards with squares far too small.
Here is a specimen from my collection with its original box bearing the factory label in its upper right had corner.
In Xadrez Memoria, Vieira observed that the quality of the Grandmaster pieces degraded over time: “[T]he pieces lost quality from the oldest to the most recent ones, and when I say so, the photos prove it in the very simple question of manufacture: they lost detail, care in the details: look at the Towers, the Horses, in the Bishops and what I said ends up coming to the fore.” Indeed, gone from the original GM3 design are the queen’s crenels, the bishop’s miter cut, and the rook’s merlons. All the crosses, finials, and knights are plastic.
GM4 sets were used in the 1994 Moscow Olympiad. Vieira rightly criticizes the organizers for providing boards that cramped the pieces and garish tablecloths on the playing tables that surely distracted players.
Even so, I find it an attractive set easy to play with. 108 mm kings. Nicely weighted. Leatherette pads, some of which on this specimen have slightly buckled.
From a design perspective, the pieces are within the broad GM3 family (which includes both GM Supreme and GM4 sets), but with knights more like those found in Yunost, Voronezh, and some sets of the forties and fifties, than in GM3 sets.
Like GM4 sets, the knights have plastic heads and torsos. Like GM3 sets, the rooks have merlon cuts, the bishops miter cuts, and the queens shallow, scalloped cuts on their coronets. The finials are all plastic. The set is unweighted, and the finish crude and badly in need of sanding. The miter cuts are asymmetrical. 104 mm kings.
“Yunost” is a category, not a name. It literally means “Youth,” and designates these pieces as suitable for children and students. They were mass-produced for schools and Young Pioneers, with plastic finials and knight heads. Here is an example with the Voenohot Factory No. 2 box and logo.
The kings are 10 cm. tall, and the pieces are unweighted and with narrow bases, leaving them unstable in play.
With the demise of Artel and Gulag production, state factories began mass-producing sets for the growing millions of Soviet chess players. Perhaps no factory was more prolific than Voenohot Factory No. 2 of Moscow Oblast.