Andria Dadiani was the younger son of Samegrelo’s last reigning Principal, David Dadiani, and brother of Nikolas Dadiani Mingrelski, whose abdication ended the rule of the House of Dadiani.
Although Andria graduated from the Faculty of Law at Heidelberg University and had a successful career in the Russian army, rising to the rank of lieutenant general, he is best remembered today as a chess player. He was admired in his lifetime for his efforts to promote chess by sponsoring tournaments, subsidizing chess publications, and providing prize money to champions, as well as for his own sometimes brilliant skill at the game.
Andria’s career as a chess player was marked by controversies. Perhaps the best-known of these occurred in 1903, when the Russian chess champion Mikhail Chigorin was invited to an international tournament in Monte Carlo at which Andria was honorary chairman. When Chigorin arrived, however, he was informed that he would not be permitted to play, because Andria refused to preside over a tournament in which the Russian was a participant. Although Chigorin was compensated for his travel expenses, the last-minute decision to bar a leading player from a tournament to which he was specifically invited was a major scandal in the polite world of international chess.
Although the reasons for Andria’s animus toward Chigorin remain unclear, contemporary observers suggested that the prince was retaliating for two slights he believed to have suffered from the Russian master. The first was that Chigorin had published columns that critically analyzed the prince’s games, pointing out errors in a manner that Andria’s defenders considered disrespectful. The other was that Chigorin had declined an invitation to play chess at the prince’s house in Kiev the year before, which was a great disappointment for Andria. (As a general in the Russian army, Andria was not allowed to participate in official tournaments; instead, he invited talented chess players to his home for private games.)
The year 1903 also saw the publication of a book by Andria containing the endgames of 100 of the prince’s best games. He assembled this book with the help of his friend, the Russian master Emanuil Shifer. Although published in very limited numbers, it has the distinction of being the first book on chess written by a Georgian master. An introduction by Shifer states:
I dedicate this book, which contains 100 brilliant games played by his Excellence, Prince Dadiani of Samegrelo, to all chess lovers. Those who know the Prince’s game and his personality are excited. Lovers of chess will be grateful to us for gathering and publishing these games.
The reference to Andria’s “games and personality” alludes to the prince’s reputation for unusual tactics, daring attacks, and a willingness to sacrifice pieces to press an advantage. Shifer also quoted an 1897 article from British Chess Magazine that raved, “the chess games of Prince Dadiani of Samegrelo are fabulous, and will remain in books on chess as examples of excellence.”
The book has one peculiarity: the dates and locations of the games, as well as the identities of the opponents, are not given. This may have been because—even though his opponents were world-class chess players—Andria was less interested in trumpeting his victories than in sharing his delight in the game’s possibilities with the world.
The Strange Story of Andria’s Watch
Andria Dadiani’s gold watch, now on display along with other personal effects of the prince in the Dadiania Palace Museum in Zugdidi, initially belonged to his mother Ekaterine. It was custom made in Britain, with an inscription indicating it was crafted by “the watch-master of the Queen of England.” It shows time, date, day of the week, month, and phase of the moon. After receiving the watch as a birthday gift from his mother, Andria had the coat of arms of the Dadiani dynasty inscribed on it, and he always carried it with him. It was, in short, both a valuable family treasure to the Dadianis and an artifact of historical interest to the Georgian nation.
When Andria died in 1910, the watch was passed to Ucha Dadiani , after whose death it was lost. Over the years, it was gradually forgotten by almost everyone.
In 1959, the State Company of Folk Dance of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, led by Nino Ramishvili and Iliko Sukhishvili, was on tour in the United States, giving performances in several major cities. After one of these shows, the dancers were invited to a restaurant by a prominent Georgian expatriate—Levan Dadiani, a nephew of Ucha Dadiani. At this meal, Levan handed a precious object to Iliko Sukhishvili, asking her to pass it along to the Dadiani Palace Museum: Andria Dadiani’s lost watch.
Long after the watch had been given up for lost by his family, Levan stumbled upon it while browsing at a collectors’ shop, and recognized it as his ancestor’s time piece. The shop owner initially refused to sell the watch, but was eventually forced to return it to Levan, who was deemed its legal owner.
In an interview, Levan later confessed that he had been tempted to keep the watch. However, he decided to return it to its homeland because he feared that after his own death, this unique historical treasure would once again find itself in the hands of strangers who did not appreciate its significance.
Andria never married, although he had romantic relationships with several women. The reason Andria choose the life of a bachelor is unknown, although it may have been that he simply enjoyed his freedom and did not want to tie himself down with commitment.
The chess player and writer Tengiz Giorgadze casts some light on Andria’s relationships with women, as well as his prickly sense of pride. Giorgadze relates an anecdote that he heard in 1956 from Metodi Khoshtaria, a well-known agronomist who worked in the 1890s at a national park in Nice, France, where Andria spent his summers. Evidently, Andria was generally very popular with the French women, but could become quite petulant toward those who resisted to his charms. One day Andria was riding his horse in the park when he noticed a young lady who had spurned his advances, sharing champagne on the balcony of a restaurant with a male friend. Seeing this, Andria ordered a bottle of champagne and made a show of sharing it with his horse— prompting the insulted woman to leave the restaurant.
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