Vladimir Fedorovich Ostrogsky is best remembered for a 23 board blind seance he conducted in Moscow on February 15, 1904. He scored +9-5=9, breaking the previous world blindfold record held by Harry Nelson Pillsbury. His tournament record, spanning just over a decade, was uneven with a few notable highlights. But what he really loved to do was play blindfold chess.
Few details about Ostrogsky's life are known with any certitude. To say he was born in 1877 and died in 1917 is admittedly an "approximation" by chess historians A. Kentler and V. Faibisovich. A. Kentler, V. Faibisovich "First Match of Two Capitals" http://www.e3e5.com/article.php?id=.... In 1902, Ostrogsky was a student at Moscow Technical College, where he won his first chess prize in a puzzle contest. He solved two difficult chess problems in 35 minutes, winning the book "Chess Evenings." A. Matsukevich, "Forgotton Champion" 64-Shakhmatnoye Obozreniye (No.8, 1985) In the same year, he finished 2nd in a Moscow tournament behind Budberg, ahead of A N Storozenko , V. Tikhomirov, Viacheslav Kalashnikov, Apollon Viakhirev and Alexey Goncharov. [rusbase-1] This was an achievement of some merit, given that he had learned the moves of chess just two years earlier, and possessed only a 3rd Category rank. A. Matsukevich, "Forgotton Champion" 64-Shakhmatnoye Obozreniye (No.8, 1985) He then accomplished something else at his school that would presage the achievement he is best known for: he scored a combined +3-2=1 in two blindfold exhibitions. A. Matsukevich, "Forgotton Champion" 64-Shakhmatnoye Obozreniye (No.8, 1985)
At the end of 1903, Ostrogsky won the Moscow Technical College chess championship, earning the 2nd Category rank.[rusbase-2] He followed this success by scoring +5-1=3 in a blindfold exhibition at the Moscow Chess Club.A. Matsukevich, "Forgotton Champion" 64-Shakhmatnoye Obozreniye (No.8, 1985) Just a week later, Ostrogsky scored +5-1=4 on 10 boards, equaling the Russian blindfold record Mikhail Chigorin had set in St. Petersburg in 1885. A. Matsukevich, "Forgotton Champion" 64-Shakhmatnoye Obozreniye (No.8, 1985) On November 22, Ostrogsky conducted yet another seance at the Moscow Chess Club, in a bid to break Johannes Zukertort 's blindfold record of 16 boards. In a 10 hour session, he scored +6-3=8 on 17 boards. <64-Shakhmatnoye Obozreniye> lauded this achievement, noting that although Ostrogsky was only 2nd Category, "...he played 1st Category strength." A. Matsukevich, "Forgotton Champion" 64-Shakhmatnoye Obozreniye (No.8, 1985) Ostrogsky faced some stiff opposition in this seance, scoring a notable draw against A Sholtz, who had won a Moscow Handicap tournament just a few weeks earlier. [rusbase-3] Ostrogsky and Sholtz subsequently played a 10 game match at the end of 1903, which was drawn 5:5. [rusbase-4] In January 1904, Ostrogsky finished 3rd at the Moscow Chess Club tournament, behind Apollon Viakhirev and V G Veler, but ahead of 13 others, including two previous Moscow chess champions: Alexey Goncharov (shared 1st 1901) and Vladimir A Boyarkov (1902). Ostrogsky handily defeated Boyarkov in their individual encounter:
V Ostrogsky vs V A Boyarkov, 1904.
The World Record
In early 1904, Ostrogsky revealed to the world what he had been planning- an assault on Harry Nelson Pillsbury 's blindfold world record of 22 boards. On February 28, 1904 Ostrogsky began his exhibition against 23 sighted boards at 1 p.m. in the Moscow Chess Club. Unusually, these 23 boards were manned by only 10 players! Almost all of his opponents played multiple boards: J I Rymsa (3 boards); L V Genika (2 boards); A N Storozenko (3 boards); V G Veler (3 boards); Krause (4 boards); Smirnov (2 boards); Pazuchin (2 boards); Pantusov (2 boards); Nikolay Nikolaevich Rudnev (1 board) and Samossky (1 board). From 4:50 pm to 6:30 pm Ostrogsky rested, then resumed play until 2:00 am. After 11 1/2 hours of play, two of his opponents had to leave. The score at this point was +8-5=7, and it was agreed that the positions of the unfinished three boards would be adjudicated. Both games against Pantusov on boards 20 and 21 were judged draws, and the game against Samossky on board 23 was awarded to Ostrogsky. The final score was therefore calculated to be +9-5=9 from 23 boards: a new world blindfold record.La Strategie 1904, p.116
Board 20 vs Pantusov, adjudicated 1/2-1/2 after 24.b4: "In this exciting and complex position Pantusov apparently had to leave..." Hearst and Knott "Blindfold Chess" p.244
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Board 21 vs Pantusov, adjudicated 1/2-1/2 after 27.f3: "As noted for the previous game, Pantusov had to leave at this point..." Hearst and Knott "Blindfold Chess" p.245
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Board 23 vs Samossky, adjudicated 1-0 after 23.Qd3: "Ostrogsky was awarded the win after Samossky departed." This is almost certainly not the final position that was judged in Ostrogsky's favour. See Hearst and Knott for a detailed explanation of the difficulty in recreating this game score.Hearst and Knott "Blindfold Chess" p.245
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Biographical information about Ostrogsky has traditionally been so scarce that some have doubted that he broke Pillsbury's blindfold record. In his 1993 book on blindfold chess, Steinkohl mentions that Ostrogsky "may" have broken the record, but this was in doubt because no further mention of his blindfold play could be found. Hearst and Knott "Blindfold Chess" pp.59-60 This, and the inability of Jeremy Gaige to discover Ostrogsky's birth/death dates, led Hearst and Knott to declaim "It is as if Ostrogsky and his achievements have literally vanished from the earth." Hearst and Knott "Blindfold Chess" p.60 Nevertheless, Vlatismil Fiala discovered all 23 game scores from Ostrogsky's blind seance in <64-Shakhmatnoye Obozreniye Feb-March 1904>, and subsequently republished them in <Cesko Slovensky Sachovy Bulletin 12 (1993)>. Hearst and Knott "Blindfold Chess" pp.63
Less than a month later, Ostrogsky entered the major tournament of the 3rd Baltic Congress at Reval (Tallinn), Estonia. This was perhaps an unexpected turn of events, given that Ostrogsky was still only a 2nd Category player. Perhaps he was accepted on the strength of his world blindfold record. In Reval, Ostrogsky competed against strong international competition for the first time. Theodore Germann (Estonia) was a champion of Tallinn Wikipedia article: Teodors Germans , and Karl Behting (Riga) had earned the Baltic Master title by winning the 2nd Baltic Chess Congress in Dorpat (Tartu) 1901.http://www.edochess.ca/tournaments/... Bernhard Gregory (Berlin, Riga) would soon become a German Master.https://web.archive.org/web/2013040... S Lurie (Riga) would go on to share first at the 4th Baltic Congress in Dorpat (Tartu) 1907. http://www.edochess.ca/tournaments/... Ostrogsky proved more than up to the challenge, scoring +4-0=5 on his way to a shared 1st with Bernhard Gregory. He drew his games against Gregory, Germann and Lurie, and posted a fine win over Karl Behting: V Ostrogsky vs K Behting, 1904 . A playoff with Gregory to decide the championship began with a drawn game, but for unknown reasons the match was not finished.[rusbase-6] So ended another unlikely chapter in Ostrogsky's career- the story of how a 2nd Category player from Moscow became the undefeated Baltic co-champion.
Ostrogsky apparently played only one more event in 1904 before "disappearing" for three years. In May 1904 he finished 3rd at a Moscow Handicap tournament, behind Boris Vasilievich Lyubimov and Apollon Viakhirev, ahead of Dmitry Nikolaevich Pavlov, Krol, Moiseev, Gringaut, A. Sholtz and J I Rymsa.
[rusbase-7] He did not appear again until the Moscow Chess Club tournament in April 1907.[rusbase-8] According to Russian Chess Base, Moscow did not host any tournaments during this three year span, though there were many other events held throughout the Russian Empire- notably in St. Petersburg, Lodz, Riga, Reval (Tallinn), Warsaw, Odessa, Kiev, and Kazan.[rusbase-9] It seems that either Ostrogsky chose not to attend any of these events, or he was not invited. Perhaps he was unable to leave Moscow for financial or other reasons. At any rate, Ostrogsky's return to chess was disastrous. In 1907, the Moscow Chess Club organized a major tournament in honor of the visiting master Mikhail Chigorin, who faced off in a double round robin against Moscow champions Alexey Goncharov and Vladimir Nenarokov, Fyodor Ivanovich Dus Chotimirsky from Kiev, and world blindfold record holder Vladimir Fedorovich Ostrogsky. It is testament to Ostrogsky's reputation in Moscow that he was included in such august company, but he did not show well. Apart from a draw with Goncharov, he lost every game in the worst tournament performance of his career.Wiener Schachzeitung 1907, p.172
Return to Form
Ostrogsky continued to struggle in Moscow tournaments, but he began showing signs of improved form. In the Moscow Chess Club Autumn-Winter tournament 1908-1909 he scored only 3.5/10 on his way to an 8th place finish, but he drew against the winner Alexander Alekhine and defeated the runner up Boris Vasilievich Lyubimov .[rusbase-10] Ostrogsky then shared 2nd with Alexei Alekhine and V. Dekhterev, behind Dmitry Nikolaevich Pavlov at a Moscow Handicap tournament 1910-1911.[rusbase-11] He played this tournament concurrently with his first Moscow Championship, a grueling 15 player event played over three months from December 14, 1910 to March 15, 1911. Ostrogsky finished in the middle of the field, a distant 7th place behind the new Moscow champion Ossip Bernstein [rusbase-12] During the latter half of the Moscow championship, Ostrogsky played another concurrent Moscow Handicap tournament on 5-17 January 1911. Here, Ostrogsky managed his best result since his victory in the 1907 Baltic Congress, finishing in 2nd place just 1.5 points behind Alexander Alekhine , ahead of Benjamin Markovich Blumenfeld and 11 others.[rusbase-13] It is likely that Ostrogsky achieved the 1st Category rating at this time, if it had not already been awarded.Konstantin Novikov "Chess Life in Tula" p.228 In 1911 Pavel Pavlovich Bobrov organized the 1st Moscow - St.Petersburg match, which was played on April 23. Ostrogsky was one of only two Muscovites who managed to win his game, defeating Sergey Fedorovich Lebedev on 6th board. St. Petersburg won the match 6:3. Two side events had been planned for the day after the match: an alternating move simultaneous exhibition featuring Alekhine and Benjamin Markovich Blumenfeld, and a blindfold exhibition by Ostrogsky. http://www.e3e5.com/article.php?id=... The first event was canceled because not enough people signed up, but Ostrogsky's blind seance proceeded according to plan. He faced 12 "fairly strong players" and scored +7-2=3 in just 4 hours.'Rech', May 15th, 1911 In October 1911, the St. Petersburg Chess Club organized a major 22 player event in honor of their late co-founder Sergei Alexandrovich Znosko-Borovsky. The St. Petersburg All-Russian Congress invited "all Russian chess lovers" who were not yet Masters to join in the Hauptturnier. Ostrogsky shared 15th place with Paul List, behind Stefan Levitsky, Alexander Flamberg, Boris Verlinsky, Efim Bogoljubov and others. Ostrogsky was not among the prize winners, but the victor Stephan Levitzky received a princely sum of 300 rubles and subsequent recognition as a Master by the German Chess Federation.Wiener Schachzeitung 1911, pp.348-351
Simultaneous Exhibitions and Blind Seances
From 1911 - 1913 Ostrogsky maintained a regular schedule of both sighted and unsighted simultaneous exhibitions, both in Moscow and various other Russian cities. On 26-28 February he completed three blindfold simuls in Serpukhov. In the first he scored +8-3=3. In the 2nd and 3rd, he made a combined score of +21-1=1.
'Shakhmaty'(Odessa), August, 1911, Issue no.2, p. 57 On 9 March he scored +4-3=4 in a blind seance at the Moscow Chess Circle.'Rech', April 3, 1911 He returned to the Circle for another blind seance on 30 March, but only managed to score +2-5=3. According to <Shakmaty (Odessa)>, this poor result was the result of illness.'Shakhmaty'(Odessa), July, 1911, Issue no.1, page 23 On 24 September Ostrogsky scored +7-2=0 in a sighted simultaneous exhibition at the St. Petersburg Chess Assembly.'Rech', Oct. 9, 1911 He returned to Serpukhov twice more in 1912 to give sighted simuls at the local chess club, but the scores of these events is not known.'Shakhmatny Vestnik', Jan. 15, 1913, Issue no.2, p. 30
In February 1912, the Tula Chess Association invited Ostrogsky to conduct three days of blind seances in their city. Interest was high. Initially, the unsighted exhibitions were scheduled for three successive days, in which Ostrogsky would face members of each body of the Tula Government: the Tula Public Assembly (Feb 20), the Tula Nobles Assembly (Feb 21) and the Tula Merchant Assembly (Feb 22). After Ostrogsky had accepted these dates, the Chess Association convinced him to perform an extra seance on February 21 in the Tula Men's Secondary School. All of the exhibitions were well attended, with the local press faithfully reporting each day on the contestants who managed to draw or defeat Ostrogsky. At the Tula Public Assembly Ostrogsky scored +16-2=2 in three hours. The next day at the Nobles Assembly he scored +8-2=1 in four hours. Later that afternoon he scored +17-2=0 against the students at the Men's Secondary School. On the final day Ostrogsky scored +7-2=2 in four hours at the Merchant Assembly. A planned consultation game against the strongest local chess players was canceled due to lack of time.Konstantin Novikov, "The History of Chess Life in the Tula Region" pp.228-229
Vanished from the Earth
In March 1912 at Moscow Ostrogsky finished sole 1st, winning a tournament for only the second time of his career. He prevailed over a strong lineup, including Nikolay Pavlov-Pianov , S Simson , A M Favorsky , and Lazar I Estrin . [rusbase-14] On 13 April 1912, Ostrogsky scored +0-0=1 against R. Plats on 6th board in the 2nd Moscow-St. Petersburg match. Moscow won the match 5.5:4.5 [rusbase-15]. In 1913, Ostrogsky competed in his 2nd Moscow championship, sharing 6th with K Isakov in a 12 man field. Peter Konstantinovich Yurdansky beat Dmitry Nikolaevich Pavlov +2-1=0 in a playoff match to win the championship. At Moscow 1913, Ostrogsky finished 7th in a selection tournament for the upcoming All Russian championship. [rusbase-16] This was his last known tournament or match appearance.
Nobody really knows what happened to Vladimir Ostrogsky. A. Kentler and V. Faibisovich claim that he committed suicide, but they provide no primary source, and to date their claim has yet to be substantiated by any other publication. They also guess that he died in 1917, again failing to provide a source. But perhaps the most mysterious aspect of Ostrogsky's life and chess career is just how thoroughly, and quickly, he was forgotten. In "The Oxford Companion to Chess" Hooper and Whyld do not mention Ostrogsky or Borislav Kostic in their entry on blindfold chess, though they seem to have remembered everyone else: Jubair, Buzecca, Yusuf Cheiebi, Ruy Lopez de Segura , Paolo Boi , Alfonso Cerón, Alessandro Salvio , Giovanni Saccheri, François André Philidor , Paul Morphy , Joseph Henry Blackburne , Johannes Zukertort , Harry Nelson Pillsbury , Gyula Breyer , Richard Reti , Alexander Alekhine and Georges Koltanowski .David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld "The Oxford Companion to Chess" (Oxford University Press 1992), p. 45 Ostrogsky's absence in the lists of blindfold players began early, suggesting that he was either not remembered, or that his world record seance of 23 games was deemed inauthentic, or even chimerical. Hearst and Knott remark that when Richard Reti established a new blindfold record of 24 boards in 1919, "The accepted record at that time was Pillsbury's 22 board exhibition in Moscow in 1902."Hearst and Knott, p.66 Despite this, Reti himself almost certainly knew of Ostrogsky's 23 board seance, since he chose to break the record with 24 boards- not just the 23 necessary to eclipse Pillsbury's mark.
Although so many of the details of his life and career remain in the shadows, there is no doubt that Vladimir Fedorovich Ostrogsky was a dedicated and talented chess player. He may never have risen above 1st Category, but his career record suggests that he loved to play blindfold chess- with a fervor perhaps unparalleled before or since.