Sunday, June 22, 2008

Czerniak Quip

Moshe Czerniak in South America, 1940s. Credit: Yochanan Afek.

From Ad Ha'ragli Ha'acharon ("Fighting to the Last Pawn") by Yochanan Afek, Horacio Volman, and Amatzia Avni (Israel: Gambit Press, 2000), p. 38:

"After losing a won game, one of Czerniak's young pupils told him: 'whoever invented this game was a big fool!'. 'I don't know if he was a fool' -- said Czerniak -- 'but he was certainly thoroughly evil.'"

Najdorf-Czerniak Match, +5 -1 =2, October 1929

The book Ad Ha'ragli Ha'acharon ("Fighting to the Last Pawn"), by Yochanan Afek and Horacio Volman (authors), Amatzia Avni (ed.) (Israel: Gambit Press, 2000), says that Moshe Czerniak, when a young man in Poland, kept meticulous notes of his games in a notebook, and played a match against his friend, Miguel Najdorf, in 1929. Afek kindly allowed me to digitally photograph the (one surviving) notebook, from which I got the information in the title of this post (see above photograph).

Only a fragment from one of these eight games (a draw) was published in the book (p. 19), and only two pages from the notebook (p. 65). I do not, however, know if Najdorf, or any of his chess biographers, had ever mentioned this match. Presuming that Najdorf doesn't give the game scores of this match anywhere (a likely assumption, since most players did not keep notes as meticulously as Czerniak did), does anyone out there know Polish and would be interested to translate the games and Czerniak's notes?

It would be, I think, worthwhile to do so even if the games were already well-known, since it is not that common to get a peep at the notes a strong player (Czerniak) made for himself as he was developing in his youth, certainly not when playing an even stronger player (Najdorf) who was also still on the rise. Here, in addition, the games are surely not well-known, if not exactly "lost" (the match was mentioned in Afek and Volman's book, after all.) They do not, for instance, appear in any of the commercial, or online, databases I checked.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Flohr-Grob, 1933: Spot the Differences

In this position (after 25. ... Qb5 from Salo Flohr - Henry Grob 1933 match, 1st game), Flohr (White) resigned due to the obvious threat of 26 . ... Qf1#. According to George Koltanowski in his 1968 book TV Chess, Flohr was told "by a schoolboy", "a few years after that particular game", that 26. Kh1 prevents mate and wins the game. In fact, points out Edward Winter in Chess Notes #2857 (also in Chess Facts and Fables, p. 228), the possibility of 26. Kh1 "had been pointed out by almost all magazines which published the game".

But does 26. Kh1 win? Not according to Mordechai Bronstein in his article "The Pathology of Chess Games" (Ha'Sachmat, June/July 1966, pp. 163-165). He claims the famous grandmaster David Bronstein looked at the game "and discovered the resignation was justified" due to 26. Kh1 Qf1+ 27. Bg1 Bxd4+ 28. Qxd4 f3! "with unavoidable mate".

And indeed it would be unavoidable mate... if only the pawn on f4 were black, as in the diagram Mordechai Bronstein provides as the basis for David Bronstein's analysis:

The purpose of Mordechai Bronstein's article, as he says, was to show one must not trust published analysis blindly. He seems to have proved his point in a way he didn't expect.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Chess Envelope (and the Identity of a "Mystery Player")

The above envelope, which was given to the ICA's chess house by Eliezer Pe'er, has the signatures of (most of) the players who participated in the 1958 international tournament in Israel--the first of its kind held in the country.

The signatures include those of Samuel "Sammy" Reshevsky, Arthur Dunkelblum, Robert Wade, Itzchak Aloni, Arie Rosenberg, Ignacy Branicki, Moshe Czerniak, Carel van der Berg, Rudy Blumfeld, Yosef Porat, Israel Dyner, and Silvan Burstein. Laszlo Szabo and Raphael Persitz did not sign.

Burstein--a "young master from France", who "played in the 1954 and 1956 Olympiads" (as Dan Klein reprts in Al Ha'Mishmar, Nov. 10th, 1958), is, for some reason, not mentioned at all in Jeremy Gaige's Chess Personalia, while chessbase's 3-million-strong 2005 database only has "S. Burstein". Klein also reports that Branicki's second surname was Grunfeld (not mentioned in Gaige or chessbase's database) and that he spoke fluent Hebrew, which he learned as a child in the cheder (Judaism's equivalent of primary school.)

Tomasz Lissowski adds (6/9/2012): 

Izaak GRYNFELD was a strong chess player in Lodz in 1930s. Nobody knows where Grynfeld spent the years of WWII. He participated several times in the championship of Poland (see wikipedia in English).

The official in Polish chess organisation in the 1950s. He translated one chess book from Russian into Polish (as I remember, it was Keres' openings manual). Ca. 1955 he changed his family name - one day he became Ignacy Branicki. It was not such a rare case, many Poles (not only of Jewish roots) did the same after the WWII, from various reasons.

Grynfeld adopted the name of aristocratic family, the prince (!) family, which produced a line of marshals, archbishops and senators. Also first name "Ignacy" was obsolete and rather typical for wealthy noble families (remember Ignacio Loyola!). His biography has many "white spots". Even his date of birth is doubtful. According to some sources Branicki was much younger than Grynfeld - but it is one person!
Mr. Lissowski describes Grynfeld's life and chess career in a two-part article, "Zapomniany Polski Olimpijczyk - Pogromca Donnera"  [Forgotten Polish Olympic Player - Donner's "Crusher"] in Vistula Chess Monthly

I add that changing one's name to a aristocratic one happens also in other places. There is the famous case of a Jewish immigrant in Boston, related by Isaac Asimov in Asimov Laughs Again, originally named Kabotinsky or something similar, who changed his named legally to Cabot -- a name of a very aristocratic Boston family. The Cabot family appealed, but the judge ruled that so long as he does not say or imply he is part of the famous family, he can be called by any name he wishes... 

Is Chess Work or Play?

The old cliche says that chess is too serious to be a game and too much fun to be work. Samuel "Sammy" Reshevsky's position on this issue was interesting. In the interview above (from Maariv, Oct. 31, 1958), on the occasion of the first international tournament held in Israel, Reshevsky states why, as a observant Jew, he doesn't play on the Sabbath (from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday):

"I know the halacha allows playing chess on the Sabbath, but it is forbidden to work during the Sabbath. Since chess is my profession and I make a living from it, I am not allowed to play during it."

So play on the Sabbath is OK... for everybody except chess professionals.

During the tournament (which he won), Reshevsky's portrait--as well as those of the other players in the tournament--was drawn by the famous caricaturist Buchwald:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lasker Street

IM Yochanan Afek (who is also an IM for Chess Compositions as well as IA for both over-the- board and composition tournaments) has sent me this photograph of a building in Emmanuel Lasker street, in southern Tel Aviv. None of the passersby (or residents) Afek had asked knew who Lasker was, let alone why anyone would name a street after him.

The street is in a rather shabby and run-down area, as the photograph shows. Poor Lasker: not only is the street named after him on skid row, but for decades Tel Aviv's Lasker chess club was housed in a similarly shabby location: it was on the second floor... above the local brothel.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Who is a Jew(ish Chess Player)?

As the image above shows, not only are there many Jewish chess players--there are enough of them for a rather substantial book dealing only with those Jewish chess players who appeared on stamps.

But the mention of Yosef "Tommy" Lapid and Garry Kasparov in the previous post got me thinking: who decides who is a Jew? The reason is that, technically speaking, Kasparov isn't a Jew--his mother isn't Jewish (only his father is) so he isn't Jewish, either, according to the halacha (Jewish religious law). But Lapid told me that Kasparov, when visiting Israel, told him he considers himself a Jew--and, indeed, a right-wing Zionist Jew, who complained to Lapid Israel doesn't treat the Palestinians harshly enough.

The opposite of course is also true: Robert "Bobby" Fischer was, technically, a Jew since his mother was; and yet not only did he not consider himself Jewish, he was (at least in his later years) a viciously antisemitic holocaust denier. In his case, there is a general agreement that his antisemitism was more a symptom of mental illness than of a calculated world view: for instance, he was on friendly terms with many Jewish chess players, such as the Polgar sisters, Pal Benko, Andor Lillienthal, and others, who he somehow separated, in his mind, from "the Jews" who are out to get him. But the fact remains that he was a Jew according to Jewish religious law.

Of course, nobody says self-definition or Jewish religious law are the only possible criteria. Many ultra-orthodox Jews would deny that either Kasparov or Fischer are Jews--the former due to his gentile mother, the latter due to his behavior. For that matter, according to the Nazis' Nuremberg laws--or Israel's "Law of Return"--both Kasparov and Fischer would be considered Jews, having at least one Jewish parent. (The "Law of Return", which grants automatic Israeli citizenship to all Jews who want it, defines "Jew" deliberately in a way similar to the Nuremberg laws. The reason is that, if someone was Jewish enough for the Nazis to try and genocide, they should be Jewish enough for the Jewish state to give them citizenship.)

So how does one decide? Is Kasparov a Jew? Was Fischer? Are both Jews? Are neither? What does the reader think?

In Memorium: Yosef "Tommy" Lapid.

Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, who had recently died, was a well-known Israeli journalist, politician, and chess fan. Among other things, he was the head of the Israeli Chess Association (ICA), and (before that) the editor of its chess magazine. A very good journalist and editor, he was responsible for greatly improving the magazine's content and quality.

During his time as the head of the ICA, membership greatly increased. He was instrumental in getting the ICA a lot more sponsorship--both of wealthy donors (including, as he told me, talking one donor into giving money to chess instead of to a veterinary hospital...) and of strong international chess players. The most famous is Garry Kasparov, with whom he's photographed above.

It was due to his friendship more than any other reason that Kasparov often visited Israel, and allowed his name to be used (for a year) in the title of the new ICA chess center in Tagore St. in Ramat Aviv. Such celebrity sponsorship could only be dreamed of previously.

Finally, despite not knowing me from Adam when I first contacted him for help about chess history, Lapid--a modest, charming man--not only agreed to meet me, but was extremely helpful, giving me free access to his chess archives as well as answering all my questions. A planned one-hour interview stretched to over three hours.

Requiescat in pace.