Today we've got as our quest Yuri Konstantinovich Begunov, academician of the International Slav, Petersburg and Russian Academy of Sciences, member of the Russian Union of writers, doctor of philological sciences of Bulgaria and Russia. And besides he is a chess master candidate. Yuri Konstantinovich is confiding his reminiscences of the past epoch. Studying chess and working with great people for many years he has much to tell a generation of chessplayers.
- Yuri Konstantinovich, how did You get familiar with chess?
- I got familiar with chess just before the war, approximately in 1940 being eight years old, near Siverskaya railway station, Gatchino district of the Leningrad region, where our family had a big country-cottage of the Begunovs. Its owner was my granny Maria Fyodorovna, a merchant's widow. She had eleven children, seven boys and four girls! My father Konstantin Nikolayevich born in 1894, a professional accountant, was in their number. In his youth he was a junior captain of the Wrangel army. He got a military education. All my relatives were born in our city, Petersburg- Petrograd-Leningrad. So it is our native city which we all love madly! It was a big merchant family. Our family was registered in the "All Petersburg" collection as merchants of the first and second guild. The family founder was my grand-father Nikolai Alexandrovich Begunov. One of his shops was there where there is an editorial office of the "Evening Petersburg" newspaper before an auxiliary entrance into the "Apraksin Yard". He had in total, five shops and a big four-storey stone building. It was a rich family. No wonder, we liked chess and other sports games. Chess was a part of education, cultural and intellectual development of man. All my relatives and brother and sister cousins as well gathered in the country-cottage (Tserkovnaya str., it was renamed "Krasnaya" (red) later on). As it happens usually, a large garden (52 apple-trees and 16000 sq. m. (160ar) of ground), joined the cottage. All my childhood passed in this garden. And chess was within cultural entertainments. I played chess with cousins. Of course, beside chess we played all possible outdoor games, for example, lapta (a ball game), gorodki (kind of skittles)... We bathed much in the Oredezh River, it flew near our house. When I was six years old, I was sent into the boy's private school at which lessons were taught by professional pedagogies, husband and wife, Chebotarevs. Studying there, I learnt to read and write competently. Among the subjects offered for studying there were arithmetic, history, literature, German and French. Chess master Derviz, noted afterwards, was in number of my co-pupils.
- Tell us, pleas, about spirit of that time.
- I tell You what time it was, You will wonder... The time at which my childhood and youth passed was much richer spiritually and materially, and intellectually as well.
- Is it really so, why?
- In spite of political yoke (press), personal life of citizens prospered, they managed to live in such conditions, to work creatively, produce values and continue cultural and historic traditions of the great Russian people. The family of Begunovs was notable for merchant traditions, big round tables, tea - drinking with samovar and interminable talks. We distinguished ourselves with love to all Russian and freedom of speech, for what they paid with their life in time to come. The only first category chessplayer in our family was my uncle Begunov Boris Nikolayevich. He lived in Moscow, was a doctor technical sciences, professor of two universities. He became an eminent scientist in the Stalinist time. The manual "Geometrical Optics" belongs to his pen-writing. He influenced me very greatly as a man and chessplayer. We met at chess-board, beginning from the summer of 1946. He invited me to his home and gifted me several chess books...
- May I ask, please, how did You get to Moscow? You were still thirteen years old only! Did anybody accompany You?
- One must say, people at that time were much more self-dependent and full of initiative than nowadays. And this is despite of the fact that there was terror, Stalinist one-sided culture, newspapers, radio, and cinema. There took place one-sided approach everywhere, one Party alone communist slogans alone. And if you don't agree with this, then you're a pariah and you exist in the best case "outside of the society". People accommodated themselves and tried not to speak on critical topics. But at ours they spoke of this at the big tea-drinking tables and then at cards play. The elder generation played cards. Poker, preference, stukalka. Children were allowed to play "500" and "1000". These are the simplified kinds of the preference...
- This all is very interesting, but let's return to chess. However much attractive it were than other games, chess might hardly be compared with them in profundity and inexhaustibility, though.
- The world of chess captured my mind. In 1946 I got familiar with manuals. These were "Chess Game Manual" by J-R. Capablanca and Em.Lasker. I studied Alekhine's games as well. By the way, one must so pronounce the family name of Russian chess champion of the world. He himself said that I was Russian noble Alekhine and "alyokhin'es" ware running in the yard. And when sometimes I see in chess literature "yo" instead of "e" in his name I resent much. In October of 1946 I went into the Palace of Pioneers named after A.Zhdanov and was enlisted in a chess circle. V.G.Zak was its leader. He paid no attention at me. In my view, I had no considerable chess abilities. I fulfilled the fourth category very son and there I met Borya Spassky, he was five years younger than me. Of course, it was chess genius. He conquered me in chess tournaments, but in spare easy games I had even positive result with him. At that time there studied many chessplayers in the Palace of Pioneers who were masters afterwards, say, Vladimir Konstantinovich Lyavdansky, my friend. It was a virgin-gift person; by the way, we sat together at my desk. In 1947 I stopped already playing chess actively in tournaments... But I didn't stop playing chess. I remember very well the 15-th championship of the USSR which was won by Paul Keres in the House of Culture named after Kirov. The whole Palace was given at disposal of chessplayers. There I saw at first all the Great... One must say, in those times attitude towards chess was by several orders higher than today. Thereby there were involved not only children but grown-ups also. There existed DSO (voluntary sports societies) "Trud" (Labour), "Burevestnik" (storm petrel), etc ... That is, for example, I remember that we studied general chess history under G.Levenfish, etudes under V.Chekhover, and opening under S.Furman. These were theoretical lection lessons. Nobody paid attention and took interest for me personally; simply we came up and from 17-18 till closing of the Palace (approximately 22 o'clock) we could play so much, how much we did want! At the same time one could always take occasion and, having asked a question, get a competent answer. There took studies individually with especially gifted children alone. There existed a system of material encouragement for them. For example, Spassky got a stipend which was obtained for him by V.G.Zak after some requests at the City Sports Committee.
- It was not big enough, certainly, was it?
- Well, his family: mother, sister and he himself could live on this money. It was approximately 800-1000 roubles on the old Soviet money. That is, say, the wage of my mother was 300 roubles a month. And she worked as a typist. Besides, Boris got material allowance. He was given valenki (kind of felt boots), clothes, etc ... It was difficult, very difficult time, indeed, after the war. Modern youth apparently cannot dream of it even in a nightmare slumber, but little Borya was walking then in blue dressing-gown (overalls) and big valenki. It's noteworthy that he played while standing up, half-turned. Treating weak chessplayers with some scorn, he it the same time held in rather high respect the strong. Borya was crying when he lost his tournament games. He played in a sharply attacking style. I would say in Morphy's style, regardless of sacrifices. He learnt to do it in the park of culture and rest (TsPKO) named after S.M.Kirov. He went there in 1945 and 1946. During working hours of the chess pavilion Borya held whole days there from the morning till the evening. In winter season all chess work was re-placed into clubs the number of which was two times more than in our days. Attitude towards capable and talented boys and girls was very benevolent and respectful. Everyone tried to help. Generally speaking, the peculiarity of that time, time of my childhood and youth, as mutual aid and friendship irrespective of that who what nationality belongs to, who and how is dressed, who and how looks like, and the main thing in chess who and how plays! It was remarkable! I remember that in the Palace of Pioneers, from the very beginning of my studies there, there were very many Jewish children. Master candidates and masters, Lambert, Monogarov, Ginsburg, Kaplan, Gurevich, Ya.Rovner, and Ya.Feldman grew up out of them... Many of them showed their worth and became well-known in other fields, for example, Scuratov in journalism. Out of super-talented chessplayers who went early out of life I can call Alexei Chuishev. He achieved the first category very early, played in a junior final of the city championship, and then he died of TB. I observed such finals. V.Korchnoi attracted my attention there. Victor came into the chess circle of the Palace of Pioneers earlier than all of us in 1944 and studied, guided by V.G.Zak. Master candidate B.F.Saveliev helped him then. And I studied track and field athletics in parallel with chess. So or otherwise, I learnt much in the walls of the Palace of Pioneers, having understood at the same time that chess is not a matter (business) of my life. Nevertheless till 1948 I achieved the third category and after that I stopped studying chess practically. I turned to the track and field athletics, tried to develop myself harmoniously, went to theatres, and visited operas. Chess by the way was a part of scientific and cultural program of my education as harmonious development of my personality. As I had already said my mother was a typist, my father was subject to repression. The time was heroic; all of us dreamt and strived to build a just communist society, paradise on the Earth. People lived on one breath, on enthusiasm. An indicator of respectability and honesty of the Soviet man was a red passport and radio being switched in at full power. I was greatly impressed, being still a child, then by deeds and meetings of "Cheluskin" - (sailor-scientist-passenger) participants - heroes in 1937 and "Papanin" - North-expedition participants- heroes in 1938. All pre War epoch was saturated with imminent anticipation and approach of the War in which we were sure to triumph! Women were walking, their heads being covered with a red kerchief, light-color dresses were put on the days of parades. At those dates and also during elections citizens were offered free-of-charge or cheap lemonade, cakes and other refreshments. By the way, elections were intended for demonstrating unity of the block of communists and non-party people and its indicator went always over the mark of 99,9 %! Repressive machinery of any state cannot do without so-called secsots (informers). It was a thing widely spread in the Soviet State. They were in each house, each school, and each institution. One word, doubts in the right actions of the Party or Soviet organs were enough, in order to arrest a man and then nobody saw him! In 1942 a part of our family were arrested and shot. They discussed politics. My father in particular was accused of doubting the right way of the collective-farm system. So I became a son of "enemy of the people". It is curious that even Emelyan Yaroslavsky, author of the history of CPSS before it was rewritten by J.Stalin was shot also. Generally speaking, one group of revolutionary men killed the other. The heroic united with the tragic... Chess was means of escaping into another unknown world. There's not, injustice, hypocrisy and slander in chess. In studying it many people saw a way out of the impasse in which life turned out in the USSR.
- And what did You tell, did anything threaten common people?
To be continue...