It's surprising that it did not happen earlier: Russia's first chess museum was opened on Thursday in Moscow.
Situated in the renovated halls of the Russian Chess Federation's mansion at 14 Gogol Boulevard, the museum contains a unique collection comprised of more than 4,000 rare and valuable chess artifacts.
There are chess museums in the United States, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and other countries, and now finally also one in Russia.
The ceremony attracted many journalists, guests and officials, including FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the President of the Russian Chess Federation Andrey Filatov, but also the world's oldest grandmaster, Yuri Averbakh (92).
Interviewed by Vladimir Barsky for the Russian Chess Federation's website, Averbakh explained that the foundation for the museum was laid as early as the 1970s:
“The basis is formed by the collection Vyacheslav Dombrowsky of Leningrad [now St Petersburg - PD], a great lover of chess. He was the chief of the fire brigade in the siege of Leningrad and was rescued from the fire. After the war he worked as the director of a specialized chess shop on Zhelyabova street.”
Dombrowsky had a large collection of busts, including one of Napoleon, and many special chess sets from the 17th-21st century from countries as varied as Japan and Ireland. There are sets made of ivory and ebony, but also a cardboard one from during the siege of Leningrad. And there is the famous “Gulag chess set” made of barb wire.
Dombrowsky's material, which reflects both heroic and tragic pages of the history of Russia, has been turned into a permanent exhibition in the museum.
The museum's collection includes many antique posters and various cups and trophies won by Soviet and Russian chess champions in tournaments around the world. An example is the Women’s World Chess Championship trophy, first won in 1927 by Vera Menchik and subsequently by many Soviet champions. The latest addition is the Chess Olympiad cup won in Tromsø by the Russian Women’s Team in August 2014.
There are lots of paintings dedicated to chess, rare books, including the first Russian chess textbook published in 1821, and personal items that used to belong to great grandmasters such as Mikhail Chigorin, Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Botvinnik, and Tigran Petrosian. A key part of the exhibition is the chess table from the legendary Karpov–Kasparov match of 1984.
It has the original clock, flags, and even the envelopes for adjourned games.
The location is the same mansion that houses the Russian Chess Federation. The building has a long and colourful history: its owners have included aristocrats, famous merchants, collectors and philanthropists, and Constantine Stanislavsky, Fedor Shalyapin, and Sergey Rachmaninov all performed there.
After 1917, the building housed political emigrants, followed by the Highest Court, and later the Far North Construction Trust. In 1956, thanks to world chess champion Mikhail Botvinnik, the building was given to the Central Chess Club of the USSR and since then has been the epicentre of the country’s chess scene.
The chess museum has free admission; it is open on weekdays.