Monday, December 31, 2012

Memories of a 3500 Player (for New Year's Eve)

(Yes, this post has nothing to do with Jews -- but I am allowed one such post a year, am I not?)

First, I would like to apologize for the lack of updating of this blog for a while, for personal reasons. I hope to get better soon at it.

Second, I am the 3500+ player in question. Well, not really. My rating is, let us say, significantly below 2000. But, if all the chess books I have had fulfilled their promise -- "will raise your rating by 50 / 100 / 200 points" -- then, put together, they should have made me at least a 3500, if not a 5000, player. It is a mystery to me as to why this is not the case.

There really ought to be a law about books that promise such rating increase. It almost never happens. But what is more, it completely misses the point. Suppose there was some simple trick -- say, a sure-fire way to make sure you never ever hang a piece or a pawn -- that made it possible for you to beat all mediocre players, and thus make you by default a "master" player. Would this make you a good player? Certainly not! You would win a lot of rating points, sure -- by waiting for your mediocre opponents to blunder. But you would not really know chess any better.

It is simply absurd that amateur players are so concerned about their meaningless rating. What difference did it ever make for an amateur to be rated, say, 1400 instead of 1800? I challenge anybody to give me one instance where it made any difference, apart for one's ego.

If it were up to me, I would simply cancel the rating system for anybody below FM strength. The advantage -- easier to fit people with similar skill -- seems to me to be far outweighed by the disadvantages, namely, that most amateurs consider actually playing the game to be a bother, a necessary distraction on the way towards the REAL goal, raising one's rating from 1625 to 1677.

Is this not absurd? Would it not be much better if amateur players simply played the game -- and get a lot stronger -- than "protect" their (meaningless) rating? What's more, rating stops improvement. Instead of players trying to learn, say, new openings, or trying to play in ways they are weak in so as to eliminate their weaknesses (say, positional players deliberately going for tactical complications and vise versa), they prefer to settle for the same-old, same-old, so as not to risk losing games and "hurt their rating" -- damning them to never, ever improve significantly... not to mention, never actually enjoying the richness of the game.

After all, the vast majority of us will never play as well as the top players. But surely the whole point is to sample the richness of the game of chess -- even if we risk losing? It is one thing if, say, Bobby Fischer has a "secret weapon" in the Sicialin Najdorf to unleash against other top GMs, or for Petrosian to prefer a prophylactic, positional style. We say they played like that because they could play any sort of position very well, only they preferred specific styles when possible. It is something completely different than for an amateur to be deathly afraid to play the Sicilian (for example) because he simply had no idea about tactics, and thus is afraid to lose rating points!

This is not a player who has a "positional style" -- this is a player who doesn't know how to play chess, period.  Had he learned to play tactically, as well, and then found out that he prefers positional play, even on a lower lever than the top players (of course), that is one thing. But saying your style is "positional" because you don't know tactics, or to claim your style is "aggressive" because you do not know the simplest rook endings and therefore must do or die with sacrificial attacks, is meaningless. It's fooling yourself -- because you are afraid to lose games when you try to improve. And why do you fear to lose games? Because, oh heaven, you might lose rating points.

My new year's wish? Elimination of the rating system for all but the world's top 1%, or 0.1%.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Game from the First-Ever (1929) "Championship"? Apparently not...

Sometimes, one finds unknown games that are worth presenting. Here is a game played between Stavsky and Gildberg (ph. spelling), published in Doar Hayom on Feb. 8th 1929.

The interesting point, apart from the game itself, is that Stavsky, White, is identified as the "Palestinian Champion". Usually the first Palestinian championship is given as having taken place in 1936 (won by Czerniak; see here for Hebrew-language link.) However, it is sometimes said that there was an earlier, 1929 such tournament took place. If so, it is possible that Stavsky had won it.

As for the game itself: could it be from that championship? Doar Hayom merely notes, unfortunately, that Stavsky sent them the game. No venue is suggested. However, it just might be one of the games played in that championship -- due to the very fact that it was recorded, a rare event in the 1920s in Palestine. If so, then 50 years after an effort was made to find game scores from the tournament without success (as the link above about the 1929 tournament notes), this might, just possibly, the first game of the championship to ever emerge.

Edited to add: a reader notes that Doar Hayom reported Stavsky as participating in the Tel Aviv city championship of 1928 (link in Hebrew) on Oct. 16th, 1928. It seems, based on the dates, that this is the championship in question, and not any "Palestine Championship". Ah well!

The annotations are credited, with thanks, to Shahar Gindi.

Event:  Championship of Palestine (1929)? Tel Aviv Championship 1928
White: Stavsky
Black: Gildberg
ECO: B44
Annotator: Shahar Gindi

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5.Bd3 Not the most popular move, but definitely playable. 5... Nc6 6. Be3 6. Nxc6 is most often played. 6... d5! =  7. Nxc6 bxc6 8. e5 Nd7 9. f4 Be7 Passive. A nice option for Black here is 9...Ba6! using tactics to get rid of his own bad bishop and White's best attacking piece: 9... Ba6! 10. Bxa6 Qa5+ 11. Nd2 Qxa6 =.

10. O-O O-O 11. Nd2 Re8 Passive, but still playable.12. Bxh7+? Too speculative. 12. Qh5 g6 13. Qg4; or 12. Rf3 c5 13. Bxh7+ Kxh7 14. Rh3+ Kg8 15. Qh5 f5 and White at least has a draw. 12... Kxh7 13. Qh5+ Kg8 14. Rf3 g6 15. Qg4 Kg7 16. Rh3 c5  Stavsky gives this move a "?", and indeed it is more to the point to play a defensive move, but it's far from losing. However, 16... Rh8! leaves White with very little for the sacrificed material.

17. f5 exf5 18. Bh6+ Kg8 19. Qf4 Bb7 20. Nf3 20. Bg7 doesn't work: 20. ... Bg5! -+ (20... Kxg7?? 21. Qh6+ Kg8 22. Qh8#). 20... f6?

Now White plays brilliantly to the end. 20... Nf8, bringing another piece to the defense, saves the game for Black: 21. Bg5 f6 22. exf6 Bxf6 -+. 21. Rg3! Kf7 22. e6+! Kxe6 23. Re1+! Kf7 24. Qxf5!! gxf5 25. Rg7+ Kf8 26. Nh4

Now mate is inevitable. 26. ... Ne5 27. Rxe5 fxe5 28. Ng6# 1-0. The final position deserves a diagram:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Curt von Bardeleben and Chess in Palestine

Curt von Bardeleben. Credit: wikipedia

It turns out that chess in Palestine has a connection to (of all people) Curt von Bardeleben. Doar Hayom reports on Aug. 10, 1923 (p. 8):
After various issues which stopped the [Lasker] chess club [in Jerusalem] from operating were solved, we decided to hold a re-opening party on Aug. 14th. ... Mr. Mechlin [ph. spelling] will open in the name of the club, and after a short break we will hold a simultaneous display by Mr. S[haul] Gordon. (Mr. Gordon returned from abroad recently, and played there, by the way, a series of games with the local players with good results; he played a few games with the well known German chess master C. von Bardeleben.) 
The fee was 3 Egyptian piasters (0.03 Egyptian pounds, about $1.50 in today's money). Not a bad deal, for the chance to play someone who played von Bardeleben. It should be added that Bardeleben died on Jan. 31st, 1924. Gordon was, therefore, probably one of the last masters who played him in a serious game.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Chess on the Radio

Credit: Occam's Razor blog

A frequent contributor had returned from the evening in honor of Shimon Kagan, the first native-born winner of Israel's national championship (in 1967) among other achievements, had noted that those who arrived had reminiscences of the "good old days" -- and, in particular, noted the importance of radio in Israeli chess. They recalled how they used to listen to chess programs on the radio, and when Zadok Domnitz had drawn with world champion Tigran Petrosian in the 1964 Olympiad held in Israel, this item opened the radio's regular news program.

A few more details: there were already regular chess radio columns in the 1940s before the declaration of the state of Israel in Kol Yerushalayim ["Voice of Jerusalem"], the British-mandate run radio channel. After the founding of Israel and of the national Kol Israel ["Voice of Israel"] channel, Shaul Hon ran the chess column for a few years, followed by Moshe Czerniak. Czerniak's programs were quite advanced: in 1951 he ran an entire series of broadcasts about chess endings, including "Queen vs. Pawn" (14.2.1951) and "Bishop vs. Pawns" (11.4.1951), to name two.

Edited to add: a (different) frequent contributor notes that Aviad Yafe [link in Hebrew], an Israeli politician who was inter alia the head of the Israeli Chess Federation, had given an interview in the 1970s where he remembered how, in 1936 or 1937, as a 13-year-old, he served as an assistant to Czerniak in producing his radio column. This makes it likely that Hon took over when Czerniak, who left for the Argentine Olympiad in 1939 and only returned in the early 50s to Israel, was not in the country. Hon, apparently, gave the column "back" to Czerniak by the 1950s. The same reader also notes Davar mentions as recently as 1964 regular chess columns in the radio and provided us with the link (below).

Also, from Yochanan Afek
During  Haifa olympiad 1976 there was a special national radio studio there run by  professional presenters like Amos Goren and Khaiuta Dvir with a daily program broadcasted at 23.00. Moshe Czerniak was the chess expert summerizing the daily round and  interviewing  celebrities of whom I can remember the good old Edward Lasker. My own role in that studio was to announce every night the results of the day to the entire nation.

Sources (In Hebrew): "A Listener's Comments" [B. Ron], Davar, 21.1.1949; "A Radio Chess Department" [Shaul Hon], 29.10.1948; also the weekly "radio guide" published in Davar (Friday supplement) for details concerning Czerniak's programs. "The New Kol Israel Schedule", Davar, 27.3.1964 (chess is mentioned in the last line [link in Hebrew]); personal email from Afek and a contributor.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Quick One this Time -- Political Leaders and Chess

Shimon Peres (l.) vs. GM Alik Gershon (r.). Credit: The Happy Hermit

In 2010, Alik Gershon established a new simultaneous record (playing 523, drawing 58 and losing only 11). At about the same time, a reader's correction: the above photo is actually from 1996, before the elections, when Peres was not President, but Prime Minister. To judge by the board, Peres -- like Ben Gurion -- considers developing pieces optional. What is it with Israeli political leaders and bad play?

Politics and Chess - Again

Time cover of edition with Abdullah I's interview (copyright Time magazine)
Considering the situation right now in the middle east, it is only fitting to look at chess history to see what effect, if any, chess had on war and politics in the middle east. First, we have often commented on, for example, chess in the IDF, or on political leaders and chess (see blog's tags).

Second, we have found something interesting. As is well known, in the war of independence the Jordanian king, Abdullah I, seemed rather reluctant to invade Israel (although Jordan did indeed participate in the war and even captured some territory, notably the old city in Jerusalem). In an interview in Time, titled "Chess Player and Friend", a few months before that (Feb. 16th, 1948), Abdullah is described as follows:

Last week, fingering a set of exquisitely carved chess pieces in his winter palace at Shouneh, a few miles east of the River Jordan, he told a TIME correspondent: "Politics is like chess: you cannot rush your pawns across enemy territory, but must seek favorable openings".
Of course, we are not suggesting Abdullah didn't invaded with full force in 1948 because he though this would not fit with chess strategy. But it is interesting that he uses chess metaphors to describe his famous caution. What's more his metaphor shows a greater understanding of chess than the usual ones political leaders use. 

It's amusing to compare his chess with the way David Ben Gurion played -- very much "rushing his pawns across enemy territory" without any concern for a favorite opening. Perhaps there is a deeper lesson here? Perhaps it is not so much lack of chess skill, but the aggressive vs. cautious character which both leaders were famous for that determined, partially, their chess-playing way? 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gamesmanship, Legitimate Play, or a Tall Tale? Or, why it is Harder to Write History than one Might Think.

I am writing a relatively long post to show the way chess historians must be careful not to buy anything they are told -- but also not to dismiss everything they are told, either. While many laymen believe everything people recall about the past due to exaggerated respect to eyewitness testimony, amateur historians tend to fall into the opposite extreme: to dismiss all accounts that have minor variations in them as "inventions", and rely only on "published documents", forgetting that psychological factors make recall fuzzy as time goes on, which hardly means the eyewitness is lying, and that documents can be just as wrong as eyewitness statements.

The worst cases of this are seen in holocaust denial, where amateur historians (David Irving most famously) ignore the context and the times, relying only on published documents, and thus take at face value the Nazi's talk of "evacuations" and "fighting partisans", and claim minor discrepancies in eyewitness testimony as "proof" they are all lying. The reality, as historian Michael Shermer notes, this is getting it backwards: the Nazis deliberately used obfuscations in their official documents, while it would be extremely surprising if all eyewitnesses, each with their own point of view, would have told exactly the same story.

Something similar, if on a much more benign level, happened to me, when trying to establish the truth about an historical incident. I was told yesterday by a veteran Israeli player, IM A, that another Israeli player, IM B, had used the following trick:

In a lost position, with both players in desperate time pressure, IM B had deliberately hanged his queen! He slammed down his undefended queen on d4, forking the opponent's queen on a7 and the king on g7. His opponent, famous American GM C, was shocked, and started thinking furiously. He might indeed have lost on time, as IM B intended, if it weren't for IM B's unfortunate mistake: he slammed the clock so strongly his own flag fell! After the game, GM C and his colleagues told me, angrily: "this is just not done!"

The problem? I checked the database and no game between IM B and IM C which fits the description took place. What's more, IM B apparently never reached such a position in any formal game. Incidentally, the position itself occurred quite rarely, even with the queen defended: only about 200 times in nearly 3 million games in my database.

It is easy to now dismiss the story as an invention, a tall tale. But this would be hasty. There was indeed a game between IM B and GM C in the said time and place which IM A had noted. What's more, the game ends, two moves before the time control, in the following position:

In this position, after Black's move (... h5) the database says Black won (0-1). Indeed he is about to mate White. But, if here White played Qd4!? in an effort to make Black think a few seconds and lose on time, it would fit well with IM A's story. It is not surprising that if this is so, this last "tactical shot" was not noted in the database.

But this is not the end of the story. Does this mean IM B actually tried to "pull a fast one"? Possibly: objectively, Qh1, Qe2 or even Qxg4 are better (although they still lead to a dead-lost position) but would not have such a psychological effect on the opponent. So an attempt at a "swindle" seems possible. On the other hand, he might have been so short on time he might have blundered in earnest: after all, even great players sometimes commit oversights.

If I knew how hard it would be to get to the truth in chess history, I might never have taken up this hobby...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I have a Secret Admirer...

Credit: Calvin & Hobbes, 7 Nov. 1992

The memorial event for Yaakov "Yashek" Bleiman passed with great success, if I say so myself. Two "surprise guests" were videos by his daughter (and his grandchildren), as well as an interview with various VIPs (top engineers in Rafael, high-ranking officers who knew him, etc.), both live and on video. We are considering how. and whether, to put the event online.

The next day I received a delivery of flowers. I would have liked to thank the sender, of course, but there was no return address for the sender... so in case you are reading this, thank you! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Chess and Politics, Continued

Eliezer Zurabin (l.) playing with Yitzhak Modai. Photo credit: A.P.

The above photo was taken 23/3/1979 on Menachem Begin's plane, as he was travelling in 1979. The two were close associates: Zurabin was the head of Begin's 1977 election campaign, and Modai one of the ministers (minister of energy and also minister of communications) in Begin's government.

It is interesting to note that the two, despite being VIPs, are playing with a cheap plastic (the pieces) and paper (the board) set, the kind of beginners' set Israeli children used to buy for pocket money. As for the game itself, White seems to have just queened, but Black is still a rook and knight for a couple of pawns ahead. The two seem to be taking this rather absurd position quite seriously.

The photograph is hanging in El Al's building in the Ben Gurion airport, together with many other candid photographs of Israeli PMs on El Al's flight. Begin and Ben Gurion themselves, as we have seen, occassionaly played chess, although neither were particularly good at the game (nor claimed to be).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bleiman's Event -- 25 10 2012 (Hebrew)

For Hebrew reading folks: attached is the invitation's to Bleiman's event.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Image credit: St. Paul's Anglican Church

The Israeli Chess Federation is preparing a memorial event for Ya'akov Bleiman (1947-2004), a chess player, chess child prodigy, engineer, and winner of many awards for his contribution to Israel's security managing projects in Rafael. The event will take place on Oct. 25th, ca. 5 PM, in Beit Ha'Sachmat in Tagore St., Ramat Aviv. More details will be given soon.

Bleiman was nicknamed the "Vilna Gaon", for good reason, as can be seen from my previous post about him. He lived a fascinating life, and played superb games. The public is invited -- more details will be given later.

Answer to Quiz: Chess and Zionism

A Zionist postcard, with Herzel in the center, ca. 1900. from  The Jerusalem Connection.

The notation is reversed. Doar Hayom uses a notation where the files are signified from left to right -- the h-file is the Aleph (א, first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) file, the g-file the Beyt file (ב, the second letter), and so on. In particular it means the kings are on the d (ד, Daleth, the fourth letter) file and the queens on the e (ה,  Hey, the fifth letter) file. Thus the game notation is "mirror imaged" from the usual current Hebrew notation, where the a-file is signified with an א, the b-file with a ב, etc.

The game given in the previous post actually started 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. e4 (the Scotch gambit), etc. By the way, the term used for the queen -- the Hebrew letter ג, for גבירה (Gvira, Dame, as in the French) was later replace by מה, for מלכה (Malca, Queen, as in English).

Why the weird notation? The reason is Zionism. The Lasker chess club members which ran the Doar Ha'Yom chess column were ardent Zionists, and they wanted to revive Hebrew in all fields -- including chess. This meant, inter alia, translating all chess notation. Since the "gentile" chess notation in the European languages goes from left to right, this was ruled out. Instead, a "Jewish" chess notation -- from right to left, as in Hebrew -- was instituted.

This notation did not last long, as it made comparing or translating games from foreign sources unnecessarily difficult and even more prone to error than  chess notation usually is. In every move the translator had to remember to "translate" the first English letter into the eight Hebrew letter, the second into the seventh, etc., and vise-versa. By the 1930s at the latest the notation reversed back to what it is to this day, namely, the a-file is the Aleph file, the b-file the Beyt file, etc.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Quiz for our Hebrew-Speaking Readers

The following rather odd game was published in Doar Ha'Yom, on 23/4/1923, p. 4, as "a miniature player in the Jerusalem Passover championship":

It is, apparently:

White Aryeh Mohilever, Black N. N.

1. d5 d5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. e4 Qc6
4. Nf3 dxe4
5. Ne5 Qe8
6. Nxe4 NxN
7. QxN f6
9. [sic, meaning of course 8] Qd5+ Nd7
9. Nf7+ Black resigns (1-0)

What is going on here -- and why?

Solution in the next post.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Did Rauch Teach Najdorf to Play Blindfold?

Alekhine giving a blindfold display, Paris, 1925. Credit: 

Miguel Najdorf (1910-1997) was, as is well known, extremely talented in blindfold chess, setting the world record twice (1943 -- 40 opponents, 1947 -- 45 opponents) in Argentina.

Surprisingly, it might be that he learned the "trick" from Meir Rauch (1909--?), a Palestinian (later Israeli) player who, like Najdorf, had been stranded in Argentina in 1939 when WWII broke out in Europe, being part of the Palestinian team (1st reserve board). Our frequent correspondent Moshe Roytman brings to our attention two articles in the Israeli press:

Ma'ariv, Sept. 28th 1956, p. 7:

"Blind" Fate
In the "Fil" shoe store in Allenby St. in Tel Aviv, works a short, thin clerk -- Meir Rauch. This modest man is the father of a world record, achieve through fun and entertainment. 
In 1939 our chess team travelled to the chess Olympiad in Argentina. In the meantime the war broke out and many players were stranded there after the Nazis overran their countries. Among those was the Warsaw player Mendel Najdorf, who played for Poland. He won the "second homeland"'s championship a few times and, in gratitude, changed his name to "Miguel". This ambitious Jew decided to make a name for himself in chess, and if he can't be world champion -- to at least be a champion in blindfold chess. He did not then know the technique of this game, where the player competes with his opponents without looking at the board. He learned it from the Israeli player Rauch, our champion in this field, who long ago played against 18 opponents blindfold in Germany.
Najdorf learned quickly and, between tournaments, would train himself in blindfold chess, Soon the pupil overtook his Israeli master and set a world record playing against 45 opponents at one time, considering 45 different plans without looking at the board.
Rauch never imagined the fun he had with Najdorf would give birth to a world champion in this field. Now there are two world champions. Now there are, in the two poles, two Jews: a communist Jew -- Dr. Mikhail Botvinnik, the world chess champion, and a Jewish "capitalist", the world champion in blindfold chess, Mendel, Miguel Najdorf.

In Ma'ariv, Dec. 30th, 1960, p. 12, Shaul Hon summarizes this story in one paragraph in an article about Najdorf (on the occasion of his visit to Israel), adding that Rauch is a member of the Reti chess club in Tel Aviv, and also holds the Israeli record for a blindfold simultaneous game (8 players, at the time).

The 1956 story, notes Roytman, seems somewhat "puffed", giving to Rauch as much credit as possible, i.e., in claiming that Najdorf didn't know how to play blindfold chess at all before training with Rauch, which seems unlikely. I add it is has some obvious inaccuracies:

1). It is unlikely Najdorf changed his name to Miguel out of gratitude to Argentina, as opposed to the immigrants' age-old custom of changing a name to one that fits with the new country's culture.

2). There is, of course, no such thing as the "world blindfold champion". If the phrase is used loosely to mean holding the world record in the number of opponents played simultaneously, Najdorf's motivation was (as noted here for example) to notify his family in Europe of his whereabouts.

Is anything more known, however, about the Najdorf / Rauch connection in relation to blindfold chess?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Set

I had promised in "Chess and Gefilte Fish" to load pictures of the chess set discussed there as soon as possible. Well, the owner of the set had kindly sent me pictures of the chess set. It is a beautiful, obviously Russian-style set, from early in the 20th century. It was made in Russia or the USSR (the set has cyrillic markings) but there is no exact date. Can any reader solve the mystery of the set's maker?

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Vilna Gaon

Ya'akov Bleiman, as the winner of the 1963 Israeli youth championship (detail from Tarbut Encyclopedia, from Mrs. Sarah Bleiman's collection.) 

Chess prodigies are not often known for achievements outside chess, although certain exceptions exist -- the most famous being probably Philidor, who was also a talented musician, and Emmanuel Lasker, a mathematician and philosopher.

I suggest that perhaps the man who made the greatest contribution to society outside chess was Ya'akov Bleiman (1947-2004). A child prodigy from Vilnius (Lithuania), he came with his parents to Israel in the 1950s and quickly began to win numerous tournaments in the 50s and 60s. Nicknamed the "Vilna Gaon" (the "Genius from Vilnius", after the title of the famous 18th century rabbi), he received a rare tribute: a picture of him (painted from a photograph) was published in what was then Israel's most popular general encyclopedia for youngsters, Tarbut (see above). There is another picture on the same page -- of Emmanuel Lasker... 

He then studied engineering, and was the head of the Israeli SPICE project. He won both Rafael's "manager of the year" award and the Israel Defense Prize -- Israel's top award for defense-related projects -- for heading the project. He sadly died of ALS ("Lou Gehrig's disease") when only 57. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Bastards -- or are they?

Excerpts from Doar Ha'Yom, Sept. 23rd, 1931, p. 3. 
As was noted on this blog before, Akiba Rubinstein visited Palestine in the spring of 1931 and gave many simuls. His visit was a huge "push" to the chess life in Palestine -- especially to the Rubinstein club, in Tel Aviv, which officially invited him. You'd think that, this being the case, he would be treated generously. Well, not so quickly.

Above is an excerpt from a letter to Doar Ha'Yom by a man who was with Rubinstein on the ship from Haifa to Trieste (the full article can be found here), on which Rubinstein travelled as he left Palestine on May 25th, 1931. The reader signed himself "one of the passengers" for reasons that will presently become clear.

As Rubinstein told the letter's author aboard the ship, he should have received 120 [presumably Palestinian] pounds. He received 50 for expenses, and when he left Palestine he had little left, except for a third-class ticket to Trieste given to him by the club, because they had "not collected all the money yet"; and that therefore a club representative should meet him in Trieste and pay him the remainder, so he can reach his home in Antwerp. But what if they won't? He asked. "Then things will be very bad" -- replied Rubinstein -- "but it is hard to believe the club will cheat me. It's an official club with a seal and everything."

The author immediately made a collection among the ship's passengers, and they gave Rubinstein the six pounds raised so he could reach Antwerp. A letter from Rubinstein's wife to "one of her relatives in Palestine", dated June 2nd, which the letter's author "happened to see", says inter alia that nobody from the club met him in Trieste, and if it weren't for the fact that he was lent those six pounds, he would have been stranded in Trieste. The money had not yet arrived. "How can our brothers in Palestine do this to us?", complains Rubinstein's wife. "I am utterly disappointed. Do all you can to wire us the money".

The bastards.

Or are they?

First of all, how come the man -- who admitted he did not know Rubinstein personally before -- happen to see a personal letter from Rubinstein's wife? This letter raises quite a few questions apart from that: e.g. why a man who signs himself as merely "one of the passengers", give details (that he met Rubinstein and the club representatives in Tel Aviv's train station as they went to say their good-byes to him, that they asked him to keep Rubinstein company during the trip, that he saw the letter from Rubinstein's wife, etc.) that would quickly identify him. Also, for an historian, the letter reveals that Rubinstein's in-laws were in Palestine at the time. What else is known about his wife's family in Palestine?

What is more, the man responsible bringing Rubinstein to Palestine was probably Moshe "Mendel" Marmorosh, who was the main organizer of chess events in Tel Aviv at the time. He was known as a man of impeccable integrity. It is very unlikely that he, or anyone else in the club, would deliberately set out to defraud Rubinstein.

I suspect they told Rubinstein the simple truth: yes, they promised to pay him 120 pounds, to be collected as playing fees from those who played in the simuls, as well as club funds; they did indeed pay him over 50 pounds (a large amount of money at the time for a Palestinian chess club); but those who promised them money to help pay for the visit, or perhaps those who "forgot" to pay the simul fee, had left them without funds, and thus in an embarrassing situation, being unable to pay Rubinstein what they promised.

Naturally, this is speculation on my part. What is clear is that the whole incident requires further research.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

In Memorium: Svetozar Gligoric, 1923-2012

The recent death of Svetozar Gligoric, one of the strongest players of the 20th century (he played for his country, Yugoslavia, in 15 Olympiads, with great success) is universally regretted, Gligoric being known not only as a strong player, but also as a gentleman and a decent, friendly person.

For example, he remained friendly with Robert "Bobby" Fischer for decades -- no easy task -- and recorded his first popular music album at the age of 88 (I haven't checked, but it's probably some sort of record). He was also known as a chess teacher for generations of younger players.

This being the case, I am sure Gligoric would not have minded for me to commemorate his death with a game he lost -- because he lost it in an amusing manner, showing all us patzers that, contrary to what we might think, awful one-move blunders occur on all levels of play. What's more, the move he missed -- a queen sacrifice -- is pretty in itself.

The Jewish connection? He blundered against the Israeli chess master, Yosef Porat.

Perhaps the most famous example of high-level blunders is Fischer's 29. ... Bxh2? in the first game of the world championship against Boris Spassky, 1972. Fischer, however, surely saw the reply 30. g3 traps the bishop. His real error was more excusable error of calculation: he mistakenly believed that he could extricate it. In the Gligoric-Poratt game, on the other hand, the error is a real "oops!" one-move slip.

Gligoric-Porat, Amsterdam Interzonal, 1964.  Position after 18. ... Rad8.

Porat played well and has some advantage, although the game should probably be a draw. Gligoric, perhaps wishing to "make a draw" by exchanging queens, played 19. Qf5?? --- only to resign immediately after Porat's pretty 19. ... Qg2! (20. Rxg2 Re1#; 20. Rd1 Rxd1+ 21. Kxd1 Qf1+ 22. Kd2 Qxc4-+).

It happens to them, too.

Chess and Art: Samuel Bak, still Going Strong

Credit: Pucker Gallery
We have mentioned the holocaust survivor and artist Samuel Bak several times in this blog. Bak is still very active, and we'd like to inform the readers that he has a whole new chess-themed exhibition in the Pucker Gallery, Boston, titled "Your Move".

The exhibition opens in October, and interested readers (if any...) in the area might well wish to purchase some of his art. Those who are not in the area and/or cannot afford to buy the original art, might console themselves with Lawrence A. Langer's study of chess in Bak's art, a large-format, well-produced  "coffee table" book (in the good sense of the word), The Game Continues. It is available on amazon and elsewhere.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chess for Gefilte Fish

Gefilte Fish. Credit (public domain photo): 

One would hardly expect a Jewish chess history blog to be complete without a link of chess history to that most Jewish of all foods -- gefilte fish. How could there possibly be a connection? It is rather more dramatic than one would imagine.

Simcha and Shula Moretsky  were married for many years until Simcha passed away recently. They were the parents of a good friend of ours. Among their possessions was an old, beautiful chess set -- by its looks, ca. 1920s or earlier. Where did they get it? Shula sent her the following mail, which he forwarded to me for publication. I translated it and (very) slightly edited it.
After the first bombing of Warsaw in 1939... Simcha, his sister, and his mother had managed to smuggle themselves to the USSR by crossing the Bug river, and lived in a while in Brest-Litovsk. The refused a Soviet citizenship and were therefore expelled at the end of 1940 -- on rafts -- to Komi, USSR, not far from the capital, Syktyvkar. 
That city was a place where Stalin and Trotsky exiled political prisoners since 1927 [sic -- a reader notes this is slightly inaccurate. Trostsky lost power by then, and the town was probably used as an exile place already in Tzarist times.] So apart from "anti-socials"  there was in the city also an intellectual elite... most of the labor camp's workers did work on the Syktyvkar river, cutting trees and sailing them down the river. Where there's a river, there are fish! ... he and his sister remembered their mother making gefilte fish and would barter it for needed items. It is possible they got the set from one of her customers then -- sometime between 1941 and 1943.
His father got ill with tuberculosis and his mother with kidney disease. As incredible as this sounds, they both got released from the work camp [in 1943] for medical reasons [! - A. P.] and moved to Voronezh, where they both worked for the railway administration, as it was an important railway center.
The city is on both sides of the Voronezh river, and, when she was not hospitalized or in treatment, his mother would get fish and make gefilte fish. People didn't have money to pay, as there was a terrible shortage of everything, so they bartered. One client taught him to play the violin. It is possible another taught him chess and left his set with them as payment. ... at any rate the set is in our family's possession at the very latest from the beginning of 1944. 
The set is still in their possession. From its looks it is from pre-revolutionary Russia, and probably a treasured possession of the chess teacher or worker who traded it for gefilte fish. I will post a photo of it as soon as I can.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Long Distance (Chess and Stamps, part VIII)

Image credit: A. P.

In pre-interent days, the post was of course the way to get chess news. We have sometimes discussed in this blog Chess in Israel magazine, which was published in the 1990s by the Israeli Chess Players' Association (a competing body to the Israeli Chess Federation), edited by Efraim Carmel and Nigel Davies.

Carmel's widow had shown me, inter alia, the following postcard -- a request for subscription from, of all places, Cuba. How, in those pre-internet days, the man who requested the subscription even heard of the new magazine, is beyond me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Early Mentions of Chess in the Hebrew Press -- 1880

Credit: see below.

Another early mention of chess in the Hebrew-language press is -- again -- HaZefira. On April 27th, 1880 (p. 7), S. Chervhevesky from Odessa [phonetic spelling of the Hebrew שערשעווסקי -- clearly a Polish name, but I am probably mis-transcribing it]. The author notes that chess is called in Hebrew nardshir, based on the mention of a game by that name the Talmud, which Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yizhaki, whose commentary on the Talmud appears in most editions of it) translates as "chess" [Ishkakish, a corruption of the French echecs] in the Ketubot tractate, p. 61.  

The article describes the pieces, the board, some poetry mentioning chess, the old legend about the Indian sage who asked the king, as a reward, for one grain of wheat on the first square, doubling every square, and so on. It is notable for two reasons. 

First, the author does not mention a queen, but a vizier [משנה למלך], as in the Arab game. Second, the editor, in a footnote, disagrees with the author's claim that nardshir is chess. The reason given? Not any knowledge of chess' history (i.e., the that game was invented in India in the 6th century at the earliest, long after the Talmud's time), but that nardshir is mentioned in the Talmud in the context of a man who complains that his wife plays nardshir excessively, so the editor claims surely the game cannot be chess, but probably "some sort of easy game women like to play". 

I wonder what Susan Polgar would say about that.

Early Mentions of Chess in the Hebrew Press: Lasker - Steinitz 1894

Credit: see below.

In what is an early mention of chess in the Jewish press, on 6/6/1894 (new style -- the paper's cover uses the old style and Hebrew dates), Ha'Zefira (Warsaw) mentions (p. 2) the Lasker-Steinitz match. In the usual dramatic language of the time, the paper notes:
About the game of chess it is proverbially said that it is too serious for a game and too much of a game for a serious occupation. Be that as it may it is remarkable that many of the masters in this wise occupation are Jews, which is evidence that this game agrees with our national talent. It is now much spoken about in the chess world about the latest war between Steinitz and Lasker. Steinitz has been considered until now an unbeatable hero on the chess board, an incomparable old hero. But this Goliath was defeated by the little David, Lasker, about 26 years old, who battled with him in a match and beat him. They are both Jews, and Lasker is a relative of the late political leader [Eduard] Lasker, and is also known for his engineering [perhaps "scientific" or "technical" is a better translation in context -- A.P.] What does chess have to do with Jews? Intelligence, hard work, study -- these are the qualities which the Jews have always excelled in. The history of the Jews and their war with their enemies are very similar to chess, and the Jews are the player which no opposing peace can beat. 
Obviously the love of non-playing writer's penchant for cliches about Jews and chess, or chess and war, had not changed much in the last 120 or so years; nor does the writer bother to give any details apart from the mere fact that Lasker won, or shows any awareness that Lasker's young age was a significant advantage, not a disadvantage, in his match against Steinitz. (Tarrasch allegedly quipped, "the old Steinitz is no longer the Steinitz of old".) It is also curious that Lasker is assumed to be known, if at all, as a cousin of a German politician.


While Tarrasch's pun would work equally well in German, presumably the original language, does anybody have an exact -- original -- quote? Tarrasch is the chess world's Mark Twain, a man which any witty remark could safely be attributed to without any need for verification.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Celebrities and Chess -- Winning, this Time

Reuven Dafni (standing at right),  with other parachutists, Sept. 1944,  Barry, Italy. Credit: 

On Saturday, Feb. 16th, 1946 (reports Davar on Feb. 18th, p. 4), Moshe Marmorosh gave a simultaneous display, (+18 -2). Not noteworthy in itself; but, as the indefatigable Moshe Roytman who alerted us to the report notes, the winner was no other than the parachutist Reuven Dafni, who parachuted into occupied Europe in 1944 with Hanah Senesh and others on a commando mission, and in particular saved her most famous poem, Ashrey Ha'Gafrur [Blessed is the Match] from oblivion, as she gave it to him before going on the mission in which she was caught. Dafni later had a long and honorable public career as a diplomat.

To the non-Israeli readers, an explanation is in order. These Jewish parachutists were trained by the British as commandos, and were inserted, by parachute (usually) or otherwise, into German-occupied Europe. While numbering only 37 men and women, they, like the Jewish Brigade, they were a symbol that, for the first time in 2000 years (as the saying goes) Jews are fighting back -- and, what is more important, not as individuals (there were of course Jewish soldiers in the allies' armed forces), but as representatives of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rubinstein's Simuls in Palestine -- Eyewitness Account

Source: Doar Ha'Yom, 27/4/31, p. 1

Akiba Rubinstein had, as was noted here previously, visited Palestine in April, 1931, and gave various simultaneous exhibitions. This event made quite a splash -- and, again, was on the front page of the papers, in this case Doar Ha'Yom, with his picture. On 26/4 (p. 4) and 27/4 (p. 1) the newspaper reported about a simultaneous exhibition in Jerusalem on 25-26/4 (+34 =3 -3) and Haifa on 22-23/4 (+38 =8 -5) -- the same exhibition reported about more shortly here by Davar -- with the names of the winners and those who drew.

The organizers of the Haifa simul were G. LevinKniazer and Marmorosh; in Jerusalem they were (again) Marmorosh,  Wilson (perhaps the same Wilson who wrote the letter to Doar Ha'Yom in the previous post?) and the lawyer Schmetterling (phonetic spelling), although on 26/4 the total number of players in the Jerusalem simul is reported to be 36, and on 27/4, 40. It is added that the opponents in Jerusalem included two blind players, and a combination of young pioneers in work clothes with religious Jews in traditional clothes.

The 27/4 report notes that both took place from the evening to the early morning without a break. It adds that the Haifa simul was in effect a consultation simul, since "behind every player stood a group of friends who gave him advice", and that sometimes the sets were such that Rubinstein found it difficult to distinguish between a pawn and a piece. It adds that Rubinstein might play a live chess game in Palestine -- which had not occurred.

On 28/4 Doar Ha'Yom added a long eyewitness account (p. 2) of  the Jerusalem simul by K. Silman. Some choice quotes:
Rubinstein does not look at the players. He only cares about the moves. In one moment he sees the entire battle, what to do and what to avoid. But sometimes he sees a serious situation or a deep problem. Then he lights his cigarette and stays a while longer. When he sees an unexpected move his brows rise for a minute and his eyes become slightly red. That is a time of great thinking.
... His opponents had left their work, or leisure, or studies of the Talmud or mathematics, and absorbed themselves in this halacha [lit. "religious teaching" -- A.P.], the chess game. Sometimes their hands are clenched, and sometimes, the thumb moves as it does when the man studies the Talmud, while thinking: "Ay, ay, ay... what does this mean? What does he want to show us with this move? What does it means?" The [Orthodox] Jewish Jerusalemites seem to have forgotten where they are, and think they are in their schul.
The public paid particular attention to Shlomo Hazan and Eliyahu Gomel, two students from the school for the blind, who were moving their hands over the pieces
... It is interesting: Rubinstein puts all his might into the pawns. He leaves the other pieces for later, leaving them behind his pawns. A democratic Jewish measure! ... He seems to be willing to abandon them at every opportunity, but takes care of his pawns. He is even willing to sacrifice his queen... the real power belongs to the pawns.
... Neither once nor twice he exchanged his queen for a mere knight, so as to fortify the position of another pawn. At the end of one game, the master has four pawns to his opponent's three on an otherwise empty board. He allowed his opponent to queen a pawn; but the master, at the same time, had attacked the king and mated it: one, two, three forced moves, and it is mate.
... Who lost? Who lost? A player who always plays in the "Vienna" cafe in Jerusalem, a man who always brags of his chess power... and also that man... and him -- he is completely lost...
... Mate, mate mate! The master was mated! And everybody knows the letters [in Hebrew of course -- A.P.] of "mate" [מט, "mat"] are an acronym of מזל טוב [mazal tov]: "congratulations"!
This rather colorful account seems to imply that Rubinstein "gave value for the money" in terms of sacrifices and attacking play. Unfortunately, no game scores were given.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Where Rubinstein Learned Chess -- Updated

My colleague Moshe Roytman, remarking on this post, noted that it is based on a much longer and detailed letter to the editors of Doar Ha'Yom from 20/2/1923 (p. 4), by Mr. Wilson, who was an eyewitness to the events in Bialystok, ca. 1900. As one can see by comparing the two, the 1931 article seems to be a recollection of the 1924 one, with minor changes, i.e., the name of the cafe owner in Bialystok changing between the two versions, from Troisky to Stein.

Source: Doar Ha'Yom, 20/2/1923,  p. 4 (click for larger image)


About Rubinstein's Personality (A letter to the editors).
To the editors of "Doar Hayom".
Dear Sirs! 
On 31/1/1923 the Emmanuel Lasker chess club published an article about Rubinstein. I wish to shed some light on some of Rubinstein's biography, which seem like a legend according to that article. To Mrs. Troisky's [ph. spelling] cafe, in Wishilkover St., Bialystok, where our chess club was at the time, a swarthy, sickly young man began to come in 1900. This was Rubinstein, about 18, coming in to drink yogurt to help his health. 
He would sit for hours, looking at the game, but not participating. One evening he came to me to help him learn the rules of the game, and I obliged. After the first games I recognized he has an exceptional talent. When he asked me to come to my house (Vishinsky house on Neulet [ph. sp.] street -- Rubinstein will surely remember these names) I gladly agreed. 
Ever since he stole from me Saturday mornings, since he would come to my house at sunrise to play. After three months I could not win a single game from him. He would play with me blindfold, without looking at the board, and always win. He played a few times with Kna'al [ph. spelling], our top player, and after defeating him consistently, Kna'al stopped playing him. He apparently was ashamed to be defeated by a youth.  At the time there was in Bialystok the (Russian) chief railway engineer, who played with Steinitz in his day, and who would have their games published in the press. He, too, was defeated by the the Jewish youth. Also, the head of the city's business school was probably quite ashamed to be defeated by the swarthy youth, and in our club there was great joy, that such a talent was discovered among us. 
We must admit, that even then we expected great things from Akiba Rubinstein. But he surpassed our wildest expectations. Greetings to you, the winner!
The chess historian, Mr. Tomasz Lissowski, informs me that the railway engineer mentioned was probably Ing. G. G. Bartoszkiewicz. Wilson's letter was itself a reply to an article in Doar Ha'Yom from 31/1/1923, about the Vienna tournament at the time, which gave a pen portrait of various contestants, and that week chose Rubinstein:

Soruce: Doar Ha'Yom, 31/1/1923. Click for larger image.


The Chess Department 
(Managed by the chess club "Immanuel Lasker")
A review of the Vienna tournament
C). Rubinstein
Akiba Rubinstein was born in 1882 in Stawiski (Lodz Lomza -- an alert reader's correction county, Russian Poland). He came to Lodz as a young yeshiva student, and started visiting the well-known chess cafe, where Salwe ruled supreme. Rubinstein would choose opponents among the rook players, and even among them he was one of the weakest. This way he continued his visits for a long time, playing with much passion but without improving noticeably.
One time, he was absent from the cafe for a few weeks. When he returned, he went directly to Salwe and asked him for a match. Something happened that nobody imagined: Rubinstein won, and from that time was one of the two strongest players in the club (Reti, from his book Modern Ideas in Chess). 
Now, the story about Rubinstein being absent from the Lodz club for a few months, and then coming back and beating Salwe would seem to suggest that he went back to Bialystok and got better there, plotting his "revenge". However, other evidence seems to contradict this. 

For one thing, if Rubinstein came back from Lodz to Bialystok after having played chess there, if badly, it would make no sense for him to ask Wilson to "help him learn the rules of the game", although perhaps Wilson was speaking metaphorically. What's more, a detailed note from Mr. Tomasz Lissowski, relying on many other sources, informs me Rubinstein probably moved to Bialystok ca. 1900, did not participate in many games due to lack of funds, but got better, defeating Bartoskiewicz (one of the best players in the city), and then moving to Lodz. 

But in that case, it is not clear why he would be considered a "weak rook player" upon arrival at Lodz, as Reti (or at least Doar Ha'Yom's quote) says. So a mystery remains, and clearly neither story could be 100% true -- it might well be that Rubinstein's alleged weakness upon moving to Lodz is an exagerration. But at least now we have more information on Rubinstein's early career. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Chess in the Israeli Press -- Summing Up

Anand-Gelfand live, in the Israeli sports channel. Credit: see below.

Gelfand - Anand on ynet, Israel's major news site. Credit: see below.

Due to Boris Gelfand's battle for the world championship, the Israeli press looked at chess -- for once -- with a different eye. Not being a television fan, I didn't know that the Israeli sports channel actually transmitted the game live and that for seven hours Gelfand - Anand was the top story in, Israel's most popular news web site. (Credit: Ha'ayin Hasvhi'it [The Seventh Eye, a media blog and magazine], "When Gelfand Scratched his Head" [Hebrew], by Shlomo Mann for the photos above).

Mann's article is quite interesting (if a bit cynical). He notes that the media's lack of interest in chess isn't, necessarily, due to bias, but due to the fact that it is not a television-friendly medium. The real movement in chess is in the invisible thoughts inside the players' heads, which doesn't make for must-see TV, and to non-players the commentaries are "advanced gibberish" in any case.

Mann ends his column with the same idea that I have reached in my Jerusalem Post article the other day: the hope for chess' popularity is on the Internet. While this seems blindingly obvious, we both apparently agree not enough was done in this respect in Israel. His suggestion is that if one of the main media outlets in Israel would be willing to give chess a professional web page column on their web sites, things might look different.

Then again, there is a downside to all the publicity. In Ma'ariv this week, Gelfand is on the front page of the weekend edition, and the interview with him, over seven pages, shows as usual his intelligence and strength of character. Excellent publicity for chess -- but, the problem is, he is photographed on the cover with an Israeli actress which decided to "come out" as a lesbian this week, in time for the yearly "pride march" of the homosexual community in Tel Aviv.

This sort of cheap sensationalism makes one wonder whether chess should be all that popular. Certainly Gelfand himself, in the interview and elsewhere, sees popularity as greatly overrated.

Friday, June 1, 2012

How Rubinstein Learned Chess

It is often said that Akiba Rubinstein learned chess relatively late. The following account claims he was a "late blooming" wonderkind, describing how he learned chess at the age of about 15. Source: Doar Hayom, April 14th, 1931.

My translation: 
In Bialystok there was then Mrs. Stein's coffeehouse, where games were recorded (sic) and played.  One day a youth came in to drink yogurt, and watched the games. After a while he went to one of the players (the constructor Wilson, now in Tel Aviv) and asked him to show him how the pieces moves. He heard, wrote it down, and went away. After a month he came back and started playing his teachers like an experienced player, and within three months he beat the best players in the town.
Is there any other source to this story? 

Final Note About the Gelfand-Anand Match

Putin meeting with the players after the match. Image: Reuters. Israel Hayom, 1/6/2012, p. 21

Well, it's over, and Gelfand lost the match in the play-off to Anand. It is always a problem to decide whether such quick-finish play-offs mean anything, chess-wise. Still, perhaps they are the best of a bad lot: the possibility of an interminable championship until one of the players collapses from exhaustion means even less, chess-wise speaking, and is much more costly and less interesting to the spectators.

Nevertheless, he did far better than most people expected. To the Israeli press' credit, for once there was significant interest in chess, including daily coverage in most newspapers, daily caricatures about the match in most newspapers, and so on. Ronen Dorfman went to Russia as a special correspondent for the daily Israel Hayom, for example. Above is a photo from today's edition of Dorfman's column, where he interviews Gelfand about his ideas of making chess popular, with Putin greeting both players after the match. Let us hope this leads to some higher popularity for the game -- and chess in general -- in Israel.

Hans Frank and Chess (and the Black-Square-in-Right-Corner Mafia)

Credit: Ullstein Photo, from The Trials of the Germans, by Eugene Davidson, p. XXXV in the photo section.

In Chess Notes #5533 and the article Hans Frank and Chess, the indefatigable Edward Winter gives this photograph of Hans Frank in 1940, playing chess as governor of Poland, but in a much lower quality photo, presumably taken from a contemporary magazine. He notes that Olimpiu Urcan referred him to a web site which has that photo in a higher resolution. The web site in question seems to have been taken offline, so I am submitting here a higher-quality photograph of Frank playing chess.

And, yes, in the book where I found the photograph, the picture is -- as is so often -- reversed (unless one is to believe Hans Frank was both left-handed and set up the board incorrectly). Interestingly, in a different picture given by Winter in the same article, taken in 1941, Alekhine and Frank seem to be using the same chess set he uses here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Unique Playing Conditions

The same frequent reader as in the last post had alerted me to the following item in Davar's chess column, March 23, 1956, p. 7 (found by the superb historical Jewish press database):

In the chess championship of the Kibbutzim Union (איחוד הקיבוצים), to take place in April 1956 in the Givat Haim Ihud kibbutz, there is a curious condition: every participant must work in Givat Haim Ihud's collective farm (משק) four hours every day, to cover the tournament's expenses.

Has there ever been a similar "entry fee" in any other chess tournament?


Source: Hapoel Ha'Tzair, March 15th 1910, p. 11

A frequent reader had sent me the following. It is a very early -- pre-WWI -- mention of chess in the Jewish press in Palestine. In the article, A Letter from Petah Tikva, the author, who signed with the pseudonym "Ben Sarah" ("Son of Sarah"), writes about the many problems and difficulties the town of Petah Tikva was facing at the time. It is an interesting historical document.

Near the end of the melancholy list of natural and man-made problems, the writer finds time to criticize the town's social scene (between red markers):
Social life among the workers is very lacking. We have virtually no public events to unify and improve their lives. The only institution where the workers get together every night is the club, but the club is no longer, currently, the spiritual center its founders envisioned. Poetry readings, balls, public meetings etc. are very few due to the lack of intellectuals, and for that reason the club is used only for chess games and drinking tea.
So much for the "chess players are intellectuals" myth.

Friday, May 25, 2012

My New Job

Image credit: Ecumenical Buddhism blog
Well, as I said in a previous post, some things are moving. I am now responsible for updating the history and "hall of fame" sections of the Israeli Chess Federation's web site. The plan is to make them more professional and informative, and, in particular, to add more people to the hall of fame (currently it includes only one person). Another plan is to add a "this day in history" section.

Currently, only a few "coming soon" changes were made in the Hebrew version of the web site (as well as adding a few links to the Hebrew section's "Israeli chess links" tab), so please be patient!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Update & Caricatures

"Really... you call this sport? Where's the violence? The stun grenades?!!"  The speaker is  the minister of sport, Limor Livnat. Caricature by Yonathan Wachsman, Calcalist, 22.5.2012.  
Anand and Gelfand have drawn the 9th and 10th games. In the meantime, the Israeli press is more or less daily reporting on the series. A selection of articles from the Israeli press -- most in Hebrew, one (from the Jerusalem Post) in English -- has been posted on the Israeli Chess Federation's web site by the site's manager, Avraham Kaldor. The press doesn't only report on the games, but also -- as in the caricature -- uses them to comment on more general social issues, such as the violence in soccer games. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Gelfand Loses 8th Game

Anand - Gelfand after 17. Qf2 1-0. Credit: 17 moves. The match is now tied, 4-4. This was the shortest decisive game, so far as I know, in the world chess championship's history (not counting forfeited no-move "games", as in the second game of the Fischer-Spassky world championship match.)

Gelfand Wins in the 7th Game

Gelfand - Anand, Game 7, final position (38. Nxe6 1-0). Credit: 

Naturally, this was reported everywhere, in particular in the Israeli press. For an English-language example go here or here. Again, it's pointless for this history blog to comment further on these much-discussed games, but to note that this is, whatever the final result, a historical event for the Israeli chess world.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Quick Update

Gelfand - Anand (Game 4, WCN 2012). After 17. Nxd4

Currently, the world championship match is tied, 2:2 -- four draws. The third game, in particular, was quite dramatic. This is not the place for extensive commentary on the world championship, but just a note that this really is a "first" in Israeli chess history. Ha'aretz -- in a atypical move -- covers the match on its front cover (though at the bottom of the page). A curious position -- to non-players, at least -- occurred after the 17th move. The d-file is completely occupied.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Truly Historical Moment

Final position, Game 1, Anand-Gelfand: After 24. ...Bf5 0.5-0.5 

Today, for the first time, an Israeli -- Boris Gelfand -- is playing for the world chess championship against the holder, Viswanathan Anand. As both players are, simply put, gentlemen (in the best sense of the word), it is not likely that any shenanigans or walkouts will occur, no matter what the score. The game is very widely published, of course (official site is here) and was a draw in 24 moves, although by no means a "grandmaster's draw", according to the commentators.

The prize fund, at 2.55 million dollars, is quite respectable. For comparison, when Fischer won the world championship in 1972 he received $250,000 -- by the largest prize at the time. Spassky got about $1400 when he won the title (from Petrosian) in 1969.

Israel Hayom, a popular Israeli daily, had a two-page article about the subject, noting that -- as usual -- chess is underfunded, seen essentially as a charity, with little corporate interest, as Moshe Slav, the head of the Israeli Chess Federation, says. Let us hope this duel changes things, whatever the result.

"Two kings, one board" -- the headline in Israel Hayom's weekend magazine, 11.5.2012, p. 22. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Politics and Chess, Again

 Credit: Israel Hayom, 1.5.2012 (in Hebrew)

Two days ago, Benjamin Netanyahu's father, Benzion Netanyahu, died at age 102. In the obituary published in Israel Hayom (1.5.2012) there is a picture of him playing chess with his son: Can anybody figure out the position?