Mikael Beneficii (Misha’s Favourite); 32 naturally-weighted chessmen without board, wood, Classic Soviet Moldovian (confusingly called ‘Latvian’) Chess Set, rare pattern, white vs. red, antiqued, c.1945-1950
Height: King 9.5cm, wt 15g, base width 3.8cm, Queen 8.5cm 15g, Bishop 7.5cm 10g, Knight 6cm 10g, Rook 5cm 10g, Pawn 4.3cm 5g.
W: antiqued burgundy felt bases B: same
The prolific Portuguese collector, Arlindo Vieira, in his blog Xadrez Memoria (Memories of Chess) refers to this classic so-called ‘Latvian’ design as “Tal’s favourite” and if I were forced to choose just one Soviet set to bring with me to the other side, this would certainly be the one. Vieira, of course, refers to the late World Champion, Mikhail Tal, or “Misha” as he was fondly called, the famous ‘Magician of Riga’ – and one can see why he favoured this particular pattern, as just to glance at them sparks a sudden and immediate urge to play at chess!
The iconic ‘elbow’ or ‘S’ shaped knights have a stark simplicity about them and are very comfortable in hand* – even more so with these rarely seen knights which stand more erect than the standard ‘Latvian’ examples, poised in a serpent-like stance, much like another famous set associated the legendary name of Tal, which it may very well have provided the inspiration for?
The simple tear-drop dome of the bishop can only be inspired by Moscow’s Saint Basil’s Cathedral, erected during the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century with “…its towering domes shaped like the flames of a bonfire rising into the sky” (A. Ivanov, The Tsars p.100). A vivid description I bore in mind when choosing the fiery, antiqued crimson hues for the dark side of this set. The finish has been purposefully kept clean and simplistic and intentionally veers away from the more traditional black v. red/orange set up. I’ve also chosen to keep the finials one colour rather than the usual opposing colours – it just feels and looks right – and perhaps black is more appropriate for this gloomy year we are all living through at the moment.
The pieces are UV resistant and ideal for display as well as casual play. Both kings carry the hand-painted iridescent silver 2020 ‘Power’ signature of the artist on their felt bases.
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