Book review of:

"The Lubyanka Gambit", by Sergei Grodzensky.

Elk and Ruby have re-issued this book now in the English language, which was already published in 2004 in Russian language. It is a completely different book about Chess than other books which were announced or reviewed at this website. The other Chess books reviewed here are mainly about the beauty of Chess, especially the Chess Endgame studies.

This book also contains Endgame studies, about 72 Chess games and a number of Problem Compositions, but most importantly it is about the lives of victims lost during a terrible totalitarian regime which endured from 1917 until 1991. It is about chess players and composers who died in camps or were executed. It is also about the history of the process of how this all developed from about 1924.

It starts with the expelling of Alekhine. It also mentions the excluding of jewish chess players. The author has done a lot of research in trying to find the history right. That’s not easy when this all was suppressed or deleted.

The title of the book refers to the KGB’s headquarters on Lubyanskaya Square in Moscow, known as the Lubyanka building.

The book contains 320 pages, with many pictures of the persons chosen. The English is perfect and the chess comments are fine to read. For our subculture: “Endgame studies”, composers: Lazar Zalkind, Arvid Kubbel, Mikhail Platov and Sergey Kaminer having the first chapters in 80 pages.

(some more about these composers at this website:

Zalkind, Lazar 1886-1945Kubbel, Arvid 1889-1938Platov, Mikhael 1883-1942Kaminer, Sergey 1908-1938)

It follows up with Problem composers and otb players. Also novel-writer and Nobel prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn has a chapter in the book, because the author had a relation with as a student of him.

For Lazar Zalkind about 51 compositions are showed at 23 pages. For Arvid Kubbel (the elderly brother of the famous Leonid Kubbel), 24 compositions and 12 games are showed at 35 pages. 25 studies of Mikhail Platov the brother of Vasily are showed. For Sergei Kaminer 23 studies have a place in the book.

For me the tragic stories and tragic history in this book touched me deeply. Of course anyone who wants to know the history of the USSR, could have read about these gulags in other books, but the details are still horrifying. The loss of young lives reminds me also about a dutch book named: “Partij verloren” which was published in 1947 and is about Dutch chess players lost during WW2.

After the touching foreword by Alexander Yakovlev (see below), the touching introduction by the Author Sergei Grodzensky (also see below) starts by the reason for this book. “It is our duty to pull back from oblivion as possible …” and also it aims about repentance hoping to intentionally embark on a better life, after reading this.

The first 20 pages are about “Chess and Soviet Totalitarianism” where the development of Bolshevism or Stalinism and Chess are described. It starts in 1924 and soon after that with declaring world champion Alexander Alekhine as an enemy. He was a bourgeois which conflicted with the proletarian idea. Slowly more and more politics takes control over chess, making it a tool of the cultural revolution. Krylenko slowly but firmly takes away the freedom or called “non-partisan nature” of chess. During the early 1930’s there still was resistance by some writers, but in 1937 they were attacked in the press for underestimating the class struggle. The general hysteria with Stalin’s deification increases and the hatred to capitalist countries as well. Blind adoration of their leader like Stalin by Alexander Kotov and Mikhail Botvinnik or Brezhnev by Anatoly Karpov are mentioned.

In 1937 enemies of the people were declared and executed, where they were called fascist spies or traitors. Many chess players signed the verdict. Also chess workers were accused of not enough ideological work being done. Many were arrested and disappeared. In later chapters we can read what happened to individuals in this terrible period. As of 1930 the sending of compositions to foreign newspapers or competition was restricted and firmly regulated.

After the war there was also some anti-Semitism going on where even world champion Botvinnik, Boleshlavsky and Konstantinopolsky were left out of the selection to Olympiads. The resistance of Krogius, Korchnoi and Spassky to rehabilitate Zak, who was accused by Bondarevky of only educating kids of Jewish origin, is mentioned.

So in general the whole chapter gives an insight, how totalitarianism did influence also chess which in fact only is a game. In later chapters the personal details give also insight.

The next chapters is about Endgame study and Problem composers as mentioned. Another 100 pages are about over the board players.

Then a chapter is about controversial figures like Nikolai Krylenko who was a brute prosecutor but also the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Chess School. He established magazine 64. But finally was arrested in 1938 being charged having relations with an anti-soviet organisation and after a 20 minute trial, shot.

The next chapter is about chess in the Destructive-labor camps with 56 pages. A part is about the famous novelist and Nobel-prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn 11 pages are written.

The content of the stories about the lives of the victems, touched me deep.

Also I see parallels going on now all over the world where censoring or demonising people and propaganda are increasing.

Peter Boll.


Below you find 18 sample pages with the contents and a part of the pages about Zalkind, Lazar 1886-1945

Further below you find:

the Foreword by Alexander Yakovlev,

the introduction by the Author,

the Afterword,

the Epilogue and

the Back cover where you also can read who the author is..

If you have an iOS device (iPad or iPhone), browsing the PDF file will not work properly, Open the PDF here separately


In memory of my parents

Nina Evgenievna Karnovskaya and

Yakov Davidovich Grodzensky

We need to know how this happened

so that no one can ever steal our future again.

The study of the past is the salvation of the future,

its guarantee.

From The Manifesto of Memorial

I would like to name everyone by name,

but they took away the list and there is no way to find them out.

Anna Akhmatova. Requiem

Foreword by Alexander Yakovlev

Vita memoriae

The cancer of Bolshevism mercilessly destroyed generation after generation all around the world and, above all, in Russia. Therefore, in my introduction to the Russian edition of The Black Book of Communism, I noted with regret that the first book about the crimes of Bolshevism – this social disease of the 20th century − was not written by Russian historians.

The book you are now holding is based on the materials of Russian archives and is devoted to the life and work of famous chess artists who became victims of unjustified repressions.

The most terrible thing that exists in the world is the distortion of everything beautiful. The Bolshevik regime appeared out of revolutionary determination, inspired in words by humanistic ideals. The Leninists were convinced that violence was the universal and sole means of achieving these ideals. In the end, the ultimate means of creation was the struggle of all people with all others and with everything.

An ideological monopoly ensured universal control over everyone. Minds and souls were assigned to the same category as objects. Dissenters

were destroyed or isolated. Free labor, free thought, and free speech were abolished. The search for truth was forbidden. Science and art were

bolshevized. Moreover, agronomy, medicine, electronics – all and everything – were transferred to the ranks of ideological subjects. The book The Lubyanka Gambit, named after the KGB’s headquarters on Lubyanskaya Square in Moscow known as the Lubyanka building, provides examples of how the USSR fought against “bourgeois ideology” and imposed a class-based approach in chess.

Everything that happens to us is our punishment for Bolshevism. Only after being cured of this social disease can Russia count on health and wellbeing today and in the future. A new wave of Bolshevism must be prevented, so that the Communist occupiers will forever remain in the dustbin of history, as the West managed to achieve with Nazism.

This is a serious book, tightly packed with facts, many of which are new discoveries. I think that the reader will find it interesting from various points of view. It is truthful and instructive.

Alexander Yakovlev, 2004

Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Chairman of the Commission under the President of the Russian Federation for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression


Introduction by the Author

The idea of writing this book came to me at the time of the birth of Memorial – at its founding conference, which was held on January 28, 1989, in the Palace of Culture of the Moscow Aviation Institute. This meeting was unusual. People who had been deprived of the opportunity to speak freely for many years rose to the stage. Because, as Mandelstam wrote in the 1930s:


We live without feeling the country under us,

Our speech cannot be heard ten steps away,

But when we are able to say half a word,

The Kremlin mountain-dweller will inevitably be mentioned.

But under the vaults of the Palace of Culture, people wanted to speak out, or even shout out, or even cry their eyes out.

Millions of people were lost to our country during these times of trouble, which lasted for almost three quarters of the twentieth century. After the delegates and guests of the conference observed a minute of silence in memory of the victims, someone remarked that if we gave one minute to the memory of each deceased person, we would be there for another half century.

Thousands of victims of Stalinism (I use this generally accepted term to characterize the single era of Leninism-Stalinism-Khrushchevism-Brezhnevism – from the Bolshevik coup in October 1917 to the collapse of the Putsch in August 1991) have been named, but millions more remain a faceless, human mass.

It is our duty to pull back from oblivion as many names as possible of people whose destinies were broken during the era of totalitarianism. Among the victims of terror there are many cultural figures. And chess players could not avoid the repressions, many of them falling down a steep path. It is now known that the lives of dozens of chess masters, composers and organizers were tragically cut short during the years of Stalinism, and their mournful list continues to grow.

This book is the result of many years of research in the following areas: identifying chess figures who were repressed, analyzing the cult of personality with respect to chess (specifically, the impact of lawlessness and arbitrariness on chess life in the country), collecting the best works of chess players and composers who fell victim to such arbitrariness, and collecting memories of how chess helped people to survive the labor camps.

But how should I write about this subject? Varlam Shalamov noted: “It should be recounted exactly, without sounding bombastic. With brevity, simplicity, cutting off everything that might be called ‘literature.’” This book was also difficult to write because it was necessary to name those who – for the sake of their career, due to cowardice or simply out of indifference – signed the incriminating documents. Alas, there were always “do-gooders” who, in an act of self-affirmation, or sometimes in the hope of taking someone else’s place, tarnished the attempts of courageous individuals to resist what was prescribed by the “script”.

The time has come to carry out what was foreseen by Alexander Galich in his poem In Memory of B.L. Pasternak:


We won’t forget that laughter

Or that boredom!

We will remember by name all those

Who raised their hand!

This book names for the first time those, including popular figures, who were guilty in the tragic fate of colleagues, and the reader will be repeatedly convinced that the 20th century refuted the formula of Pushkin’s Mozart: that “genius and villainy are two incompatible things.”

There’s been a lot said about “repentance” lately. But do we interpret this word correctly? It is typical that this word was not included in any of the Soviet encyclopedias (either the Big or Small editions). Only in the last edition of the Big Soviet Encyclopedia (1975) do we find the term “church repentance”, classified as a Christian rite. In the Dictionary of the Russian Language (1987) we find: “Repentance is the recognition of a committed offense, a mistake.”

Well, in my opinion, the closest definition is the one from the 19th century Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language compiled by Vladimir Dal: “To repent something, to bring repentance, to confess a misdemeanor, to confess your sins and repent; to renounce the old, bad, sinful life, to consciously proceed to a better one.”

If this book helps someone to intentionally embark on a better life, the author will consider his goal accomplished.



In this book, we were unable to write about many chess figures who fell victim to political repression. In some cases, it wasn’t possible to collect the necessary materials, while in others we didn’t have complete confidence that the fate of the person belonged to the book’s subject. The words from Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem, the epigraph at the beginning of this book, are so appropriate here: I would like to name everyone by name, but they took away the list and there is no way to find them out.


In his monograph Notes of a Non-Conspirator, first published in Russian in 2001, the outstanding philologist Efim Etkind noted: “our Talleyrands ran the university departments of the international workers movement... Our Napoleons were chess grandmasters.” He also proposed the law of “conservation of intellectual energy”: “in culture, it happens that if you once shut someone up, a thought, a talent, a word will eventually escape another time.” Etkind claims that the outstanding French generals Hoche, Moreau and even Bonaparte could have become chess players. Perhaps Lenin himself, had he lived in Stalin’s era, would have built a career not in politics, but in chess.

Taking such a point of view, the incredible flourishing of chess culture in the USSR is explained by the fact that the party and government leadership encouraged the spread of the ancient game as a safe way of preserving intellectual creativity. And chess players effectively contributed to the propagation of the Soviet agenda: “And even in the field of ballet, we are ahead of the whole planet!” One can argue about ballet, but the fact that we were “ahead of the whole planet” in chess never caused doubt even among the most ardent anti-Soviet observers.

There was an opinion among some political emigrants that in the USSR society was divided into executioners and victims; there could be no “middle class”: the intelligentsia either sold its soul to the communists or perished in the Gulag.

However, there was another point of view, which the author adheres to: the true Russian intelligentsia continued to fulfill its duty, only using legal means and without entering into a political confrontation with the regime. And the regime was forced to tolerate it. This stratum of the intelligentsia created cultural assets, including in chess.

The twentieth century came to an end, and here is what Osip Mandelstam said about the last century: “The century of wolfhounds grabs me from behind...” The following lines by Nikolai Glazkov also come to mind:


I look at the world from under the table.

The twentieth century is an extraordinary one,

The more interesting it is for the historian,

The more tragic it is for the contemporary.

Finishing this book about the tragic events of the last century, I would like to hope that all the variations of the Lubyanka Gambit will stay in the past.


Epilogue – Bullet Chess

To be honest, I have never been either a sports fan or a chess fan; but nevertheless I knew that chess was a part of Russian culture, like fine art, literature, and music. Naturally I, like most Soviet citizens, admired the talent of Botvinnik and Tal and obviously, when I read the press, I felt for all Soviet chess players. And I wore the blinkers of Soviet mythology which recounted that chess was one of the many branches of knowledge supported by the authorities.

And yet, the Soviet government viciously invaded all spheres of culture that it patronized. In particular, it destroyed many outstanding chess players. At best, it drove them out of the country (for that we might say “thank you”!); at worst, there was another outcome – CHECKMATE.

I agreed to write these lines only so that people opening this book would never forget about the system that Stalinism gave birth to. After all, the young people of the 1920s-1930s, high on Bolshevik ideology, adopted this system with great pleasure. That includes young chess players under the leadership of the People’s Commissar of Justice Nikolai Krylenko, who, as it happens, died in this same vicious circle of lawlessness. And I also agreed because both my late husband Ernest Ametistov and I were to a certain extent victims of this same era.

Professor Olga Nikolaevna Zimenkova,

President of the Ametistov Foundation