Photos of the 1936 Third Moscow International Tournament

I recently posted photos of the 1935 Second Moscow International Tournament that were graciously provided by our friend Sergey Dubodel of Belarus. Sergey also provided some photos of the 1936 Third Moscow International Tournament, which I present here paired with historian Michael Hudson‘s account of the 1936 event and other relevant photos and images.

Like the 1935 Moscow International, the 1936 tournament used BFII chess pieces. Unlike the 1935 event, which was a single round robin, the 1936 affair was a double round robin. It was held in the Hall of Columns, the ballroom of Moscow’s House of Unions, and the site of Bukharin’s show trial in 1938.

Stamp depicting the House of Unions, where the 1936 Tournament was held. Both stamp photos are in the public domain.

“A few months after the Moscow 1935 event ended, Botvinnik (who had received a cash prize, an automobile, and a doubling of his post-graduate stipend for his efforts) began to petition Krylenko for another tournament. Botvinnik argued that Moscow 1935 was flawed by the inclusion of too many relatively weak players, which introduced an element of chance and made it difficult to judge the strength of the leading Soviet players. He proposed a smaller ‘match-tournament’ with five strong foreigners and the five strongest Soviet players. Krylenko was initially only lukewarm to the proposal. Selecting the five Soviet players would be difficult and divisive given his embarrassment of riches. More to the point, there was also the expense. Tournaments with Westerner participation required hard currency, which was always in short supply. But eventually Krylenko relented–swayed, perhaps, by an offer from the Central Committee of the Komsomol (the Party youth organization), where Botvinnik had powerful friends, to help with the funding. Significant Komsomol involvement in the Soviet chess organization, which dates from the middle 1930s, would eventually loosen the tight hold the Chess Section had on all aspects of Soviet chess.”

Botvinnik and Lasker. Drawn. Photographer unknown.

“The Third Moscow International Chess Tournament was held in the summer of 1936. The foreign contingent consisted of Lasker, Capablanca, Flohr, Lilienthal and the Austrian master, Erich Gottlieb Eliskases (1913-1997).”

Eliskases and Lasker. Lasker won. Photographer unknown.

“The younger Soviets were well represented by Botvinnik, Ragozin, Ryumin and Il’ia Abramovich Kan (1909-1978). Levenfish, alone, represented the old guard.”

Botvinnik and Flohr. They drew this game. Photographer unknown.
Botvinnik and Flohr several moves later. Photographer unknown.

“The tournament quickly became a contest between Botvinnik and a resurgent Capablanca. Botvinnik claimed to have suffered from the heat and insomnia during the tournament; Capablanca, on the other hand, was inspired by love. He had just met the woman who would become his second wife, and he promised her he would regain the world title. Botvinnik lost to Capablanca in one of their games, and this turned out to be the margin of victory for Capablanca.”

Capablanca and Botvinnik. Capablanca won. Photographer unknown.

“Botvinnik finished one point behind Capablanca, while Flohr finished a distant third. The rest of the Soviet contingent, however, fared rather badly. Krylenko was only grudgingly satisfied with Botvinnik’s play, and he was not at all pleased with his other protégés. In his foreword to the tournament book, he took the Soviet players to task, insisting that the most immediate lesson of Moscow 1936 was that Soviet players needed to drop their conceit, study their games, and learn from their numerous mistakes.”

Ryumin and Capablanca, the tournament winner. Capablanca won. Photographer unknown.

“A curious anecdote about Moscow 1936 was related years later by Capablanca’s widow, the woman whose love was said to have inspired Capablanca’s victory:

It is little known, I believe, that Stalin came to see Capablanca play, hiding behind a drapery. This happened in Moscow in 1936. Capa had mentioned it to me en passant, so I am a bit hazy about the details, such as who had accompanied Stalin–seems to me it was Krylenko. However, the gist of this encounter remains quite clear in my mind. Capa said to Stalin: “Your Soviet players are cheating, losing the games on purpose to my rival, Botvinnik, in order to increase his points on the score.” According to Capa, Stalin took it good-naturedly. He smiled and promised to take care of the situation. He did. From then on the cheating . . . stopped and Capablanca . . . won the tournament all by himself.

“Capablanca’s charges of collusion were not ungrounded. Botvinnik’s friend, the Leningrad master Ragozin, participated in both Moscow 1935 and 1936.”

Flohr and Ragozin, with a clear view of the BFII pieces. Ragozin won. Photographer unknown.

“Although his overall results were mediocre, Ragozin later (in 1946) revealed in his Party biography that he had received a special, secret prize in each tournament for the best score against foreign participants. No such prize was mentioned in the official tournament books.”

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.

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