While digging through the dusty archives, my conviction grew even stronger that life sometimes writes tragedies and dramas that are far more captivating than any stories made up by human authors. The biography of the chess great Peter Arsenyevich Romanovsky is one such story. His life history is just begging for a movie adaptation. And, believe me, this would be an awesome film, worthy of an Academy Award. Consider this: Romanovsky bore witness to the twilight of the great Mikhail Chigorin’s era and the formative years of the famous St. Petersburg chess community. As a student, Peter took part in the Mannheim supertournament, which ended as World War I began. After years as a prisoner of war, he returned to what was now called Petrograd, torn apart by revolutionary fervor. He was “lucky” to live in an epoch of dramatic changes, see the collapse of the Russian Empire and partake in all the “joys” of the transitional period: war, famine, devastation…
Peter Romanovsky wasn’t just one of the founders of the Soviet chess school: he was its cornerstone. At the peak of his playing power, Romanovsky was one of the world’s strongest dozen players. He was the first Soviet chess player to earn the master’s title and twice won the country’s championship. He was the first chess player to receive the
title of Distinguished Master of Sports. It was only because of his prickly personality and Caissa’s whims that he didn’t become the first Soviet grandmaster as well.
The first Soviet chess periodical came to be because of his efforts. In addition to playing in tournaments and matches, he devoted much time to coaching. There are famous grandmasters and masters among his pupils, including Averbakh, Zak, Alatortsev, Lisitsin, Chekhover, Shamaev, Ragozin, Gotthilf, Sokolsky, Ravinsky and Savitsky. Even Mikhail Botvinnik, the first Soviet world chess champion, matured and grew stronger with his help.
Peter Romanovsky’s teaching talent, demonstrated in numerous articles, lectures and books, lured several generations of boys and girls into the chess kingdom. He published 16 books in his lifetime. However, as you will discover on these pages, his was a life cursed with tragedy. Unfortunately, time flies, and it “airbrushes” the great chess personalities. We start forgetting them, or remember them only on important dates. That’s why such books are written – so that these heroes can live on in memories and games. I hope that this work will serve that noble cause as well!
Finally, I would gratefully like to acknowledge the help of Peter’s son
Viktor Petrovich Romanovsky, who lives in Moscow, in preparing this work.