Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dayan and Chess

Source: Ma'ariv, Feb. 2nd, 1973

The following note (given to me by a frequent correspondent) is from an interview of Ruth Dayan, Moshe Dayan's wife. Dayan was the minister of defense in the 6 day war, and chief of the general staff in the 1956 Suez war. She notes, about the 6 day war: "Assi [Assaf Dayan, their son], a reserve man in an anti-aircraft unit, was called to the service. But once the war broke out there were no targets for them after the first day -- so all the war was passed by him playing chess with old-timer reserve duty men in one of the installations in the north. He is our family's pacifist -- but this fate annoyed him."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chess and Politics, Again

Photo credit: Mister Chess

Menachem Begin (l.) playing against Zbigniew Brzezinski, Camp David, 1978.

More about Najdorf from Horacio Volman

Najdorf, Fischer, and a few non-chess-playing friends in a typical Najdorf  situation., ca. 1970. Najdorf seems significantly more comfortable than Fischer... the young girl between them is one of Najdorf's two daughters. From GM Ocampos's web site

I promised the readers more anecdotes about Najdorf from my meeting with Horacio Volman. It is well known he got rich -- but not from chess, rather from running an insurance company. Aileen Volman's (Horacio's wife) father was a famous gynecologist in the Jewish community in Buenos Aires. His clinic was practically across the street from the Club Argentino de Ajedrez [Argentinian Chess Club] in the city, where Najdorf was a regular player. Every other day, apparently, for years, Najdorf used to come into her father's clinic and try and sell him insurance. Her father never did -- apparently one of the few Buenos Aires Jews who managed to resist his charm, or his persistence...

This did not stop her father from being friendly with Najdorf, indeed even delivering one of his daughters' babies. This, too, Horacio and Aileen told me, was typical: Najdorf was a charming and generous man and had no enemies. Indeed, he often offered to pay people's entry fees to "force" them to play in tournaments, sometimes paid for the Argentinian team's tickets to various international events, invited everybody on the Argentinian team -- secretaries and helpers included -- to dinner in a fancy restaurant during an Olympiad / FIDE congress, etc.

Less well known, perhaps, is Volman's note that Najdorf did not consider himself a serious theoretician (the Najdorf variation in the Sicilian defense notwithstanding). He knew very well certain openings and variations, of course, and did his own deep analysis of them, but as for the openings in general he was helped by the strong player and opening theoretician Julio Bolbochan (who was also Jewish).  Also, though hardly news, in particular Najdorf thought very highly of Fischer, and analyzed games with him in the 1970 Olympiad.

My Trip to Paris

Photo Credit: 

There is something about Paris that brings out the proverbial rustic in all of us. One close relative came back from Paris very impressed from the (as the relative pronounced it) "tomb-es l-es invalid-es". Another close relative and I -- with whom I was walking in Paris on a rainy Tuesday this week -- stumbled upon what he later called "a small place off the guidebooks" -- the Montparnasse cemetery. As for myself, I found out that my ability to translate, say, Poincare (as I had to during my studies) did in fact allow me to read the newspaper, road signs, Metro instructions, menus, etc. -- but as for speaking, the French might as well have been talking to me in High Martian, for all I understood. Everybody should just speak a normal language like English that people can understand, that's what I say.

Well, in the Montparnasse cemetery, I had insisted on visiting Alekhine's grave. To my astonishment, the board on the gravestone was -- you guessed it -- rotated 90 degrees, with a black square on the lower right corner. How could such a thing happen on the grave of the world's chess champion? The solution is simple: as chessbase notes, the grave today is a restoration, with both the marble image and the board renewed after being damaged in a hurricane in 1999. It was then, not when the tombstone was originally erected in 1956, that the screw-up occurred. It would have been indeed astonishing for FIDE in 1956 to set up a chess board wrongly on Alekhine's grave, quite another for a restorer to do so 43 years later.

To my mind, the originals were far better, not only because the board was in the right orientation, but because the marble image of Alekhine on the grave was superior.