Grand Duchesses Tatiana, Anastasia and Olga, with Nicholas II standing in background.
Grand Duchesses Tatiana, Anastasia and Olga, with Nicholas II standing in background.

By Helen Azar

The Romanov family members loved to play games, even as adults. Various games are mentioned in their diaries and letters, and readers often would like to know exactly what these games were.  I will use Tatiana’s own writing to discuss some of the games.


From the 1916 memoirs of Semyon Pavlov, a patient at the royal infirmary:

[The grand duchesses] arrived at the infirmary at twilight. By this time all the wounded came out on the veranda, or were waiting on the porch. At about 10 o’clock we usually started playing a particular game, called the game of “ruble”, and this game was known to the entire high society of Petrograd. This game was essentially very simple and consisted of hiding a silver ruble under the outstretched palms of your hands on the table, while not allowing the opponent to guess who has the ruble under which hand. The players divided into two sides. The leaders of the parties of course were the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana… Suffice to say, sometimes we played until well after midnight… … Today it is difficult to convey the atmosphere of ease and very genuine and sincere joy that reigned at the table during this game. It was continuous noise and laughter, jokes and witty remarks. In general, the ease with which … the Grand Duchess behaved was wonderful and … simply amazed us… Absolutely no formality or tension. They were simple, lovely and nice people, with whom we the wounded, always felt good, warm and cozy.  

Grand Duchess Tatiana Romanov
Grand Duchess Tatiana Romanov

Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna:

“In the morning the four [of us] rode [our] bicycles in the garden. Ran a little on the giant steps.”

The “Giant Steps” to which Tatiana Nikolaevna refers is one of the machines in the “exercise park” of the Children of Nicholas I – a playground that was built in the Alexandria Park at Peterhof in the 1830’s, and subsequently used by all the children of the emperors.  There were many “rides” here that promoted good physical exercise through use of hidden mechanics.  This early playground still exists, in a somewhat reduced manner.  Several clever machines including the “giant steps” still exist.

“…We 4, Shvedov, Yuzik, Georg. Gr. and Sklyarov played the charades on the stage. It was awfully nice and fun. Then we played various other games. After tea [we] went into the sitting room. Played ‘the whip’”

“Anya recently invited us five: Irina Tolstaya, Rita Khitrovo and her little sister Lyuba. [We] played different games and hide and go seek with them.”

“Later [we] played bloshki with Volodya, Petrov and Lieutenant Girs.”   

"Bloshki" (Tiddlywinks) was another favorite game of the Romanov family.
“Bloshki” (Tiddlywinks) was another favorite game of the Romanov family.

“There was a man with a huge belly who showed [us] all sorts of magic tricks. Then everyone played Dobchinsky-Bobchinsky… It was awfully nice and fun.”

“Bobchinsky-Dobchinsky” is a 19th century aristocratic parlor game based on the names of the characters from Gogol’s “Inspector-General.”  The game is played as a coin is passed from hand to hand under a table by a team.  The participants chant “Dobchinsky, Bobchinsky, ruki na stol!” (“Dobchinsky, Bobchinsky, hands on the table!) and the team places all their hands palm down on the table at once.  The other team tries to guess which person has the coin by goading them into laughing or betraying in some way that they hold the coin.

Dobchinsky-Bobchinsky board game
Dobchinsky-Bobchinsky, 19th century board game often played by the Romanov family

The game is mentioned dozens of times in the journals and letters of the girls and their circle, and in her 1916 diaries, Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna mentions a game in the Tsarskoe Selo hospital that lasted 11 hours.






Tatiana Romanov, Daughter of the Last Tsar: Diaries and Letters, 1913–1918



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