Why Are Russians So Good At Chess?

Few would deny that Russia is one of the chess titans of the world. A lot of chess grandmasters are – or have been – Russian.

Why Are Russians So Good At Chess

So many in fact, that their nationality is hardly a coincidence. But why are Russians so good at chess?

There are a few reasons that are tied to Russian history, and the political, economic and social conditions of the Soviet Union. In those days, chess was much more than just a hobby or game.  

To learn more about why Russians are so skilled at chess and how the game is played in Russia, read on!

The History Of Chess In Russia

Chess was a big deal in the days of the Soviet Union, particularly because the Soviets subsided this game, making it extremely popular in Russia, and playing the game was a pastime for many.

But how did the Soviet Union make chess such a big part of people’s lives? Following the revolution, Nikolay Krylenko – the Supreme Commander of the Soviet Union – laid the foundation for chess to dominate Russia.

To improve the skills of chess players, he established many institutes for people to practice.

He also encouraged the creation of chess schools, hosted tournaments, and promoted the game as a way for Russia to establish dominance on the international stage.

Plus, it suited the social and economic reality of Russians at the time, as you just needed skill and was very accessible. 

The Russian people took the opportunity to turn their chess skills into a source of national pride.

In fact, they became so skilled at the game that in international tournaments, Russian players were often persuaded to lose so they could give chess players from other countries a chance to progress.

Chess Champions Are Revered In Russia

Chess is a highly prestigious sport in Russia, with its greatest players showered in accolades, similarly to how the USA has such reverence for its professional sports athletes.

Children in Russia are taught early on that fame and glory can be obtained through being skilled at chess. USSR leaders such as Vladimir Lenin were big chess enthusiasts.

For example, the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky paid tribute to Lenin in the 1920s, penning a poem that makes references to lead a revolution that was able to empower those whose ‘yesterday’s existence had been that of a pawn.’

He went on to say that chess was ‘more useful to leaders’ than other games or pastimes.

This mentality still prevails in Russia to this day, and playing chess is promoted both by the government and the public.

Chess Is Treated Like An Academic Subject In Russia

While this was more so the case in the days of the USSR, there is still an academic and intellectual approach to chess in Russia, while in most countries it’s considered just another game. 

The abilities and skills you learn when playing chess are crucial and can be transferred to diplomacy and business. 

The vast majority of Russians encourage an interest in chess in their children from an early age.

Children tend to start learning about chess when they are 4 years old, and by the time they are 10 years old, most of them take part in tournament-inspired competitions with their peers.

Chess Was Once An Affordable And Accessible Form Of Entertainment

Why Are Russians So Good At Chess

In the days of the Soviet Union, many people lived in poverty, and chess was an affordable and accessible form of entertainment.

Organized sport was inaccessible to most people, while chess was a widely available and widely acceptable pastime and sport to participate in.

In Russia – and other countries that were formerly under the rule of the USSR – public areas such as city sidewalks and parks still host chess games today.

People can challenge others and conveniently and easily develop their chess skills for free.

The Cold Winters Give Chess Players Plenty Of Time To Practice

Russia has seriously cold and long winters, and people needed activities they could do indoors.

Playing chess was an activity that many could take part in without having to go outside, particularly when access to technology was limited.

Russian Chess Rules

As chess evolved in Russia during the days of the Soviet Union, it dominated other games and became a large source of interest in the country.

But as chess became more popular internationally, Russians updated and adjusted the game for them. 

They removed some of the previous chess rules and implemented some new rules. For example, one of the rules of Russian chess involves how you can move the Queen. 

In the 18th century, the Queen was only able to move sideways and diagonally.

But the Russians implemented a new rule for moving the Queen, so the piece could move in an L-shape too, much like the Knight.

How To Play Chess Like A Russian Chess Grandmaster

We can’t talk about the greatest chess players of all time without mentioning Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov is a Russian chess grandmaster, and below you’ll find two crucial tips that Kasparov has previously shared so you can play like a chess grandmaster.

Practice Against The Clock

When chess took Russia by storm in the 19th century, the clock was also introduced to the game.

Practicing against the clock is one of the best ways to counterpart your chess tactics. Practicing against the clock also helps test your speed when making moves.

Practice Over The Board

Kasparov was a big believer in playing on the chess board physically in person. This is also referred to as OTB (playing Over The Board).

If you play chess virtually however, then playing on a physical board can have a dramatic effect on your skills. 

Final Thoughts

The Soviet Union was a chess powerhouse, and even to this day, most of the best chess players in the world hail from Russia – and when we consider how chess is revered in Russia, this makes a lot of sense. 

We hope our article has answered a pressing question in the world of chess, and given you some tips to improve your game!

Jenna Ostria
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