Monday, September 17, 2018

Czerniak's "Sefer Ha'Sachmat" ["Book of Chess"] - and an Alekhine Quip


We have just received a copy of Moshe Czerniak's Sefer Ha'Sachmat: Yesodot, Be'ayot Ve'Shitot (Tel Aviv: Mofet, 1967, 2nd edition). This literally translates as 'The Book of Chess: Foundations, Problems, and Systems', although the back page has the English title 'Sefer HaSahmat: Chess Strategy and Tactics'. . 

It is a sturdy hardcover, #48 in part of 'Danny's Popular Science Library'. The library (i.e., series of books) was named -- says the front page -- after Daniel Mass, a war hero killed in the 1948 War of Independence, who was the publisher's son, according to Wikipedia (link in Hebrew). Wikipedia adds that the series had published a total of 84 books. They covered everything from geology to philosophy, and indeed had been written, as the back dust cover says, by 'expert professionals'.

The book itself is typical of the "old fashioned" books. The technical parts are excellent -- the book is almost 400 pages, covering all aspects of chess and having many deeply annotated games. These include many subjects usually ignored by primers: for example 'exploiting a small advantage in the endgame' or 'the psychology of the attack'. The book has many well-known games, but Czerniak also brings to the reader's attention many contemporary (1960s) and local (Israeli) games. Obviously Czerniak worked hard in writing the book. 

The one jarring point is... chess history. Czerniak often repeats (in the margins) well-worn chess anecdotes, such as the the Gibaud-Lazar 'shortest tournament game' (Tim Krabbe, Edward Winter and others had noted the game is fiction), accepting as genuine two spurious games by Napoleon, and even -- in the photographic plates opposite p. 17 -- giving a picture of a chess set allegedly 'given as a present to Alexander the Great (4th century BC) -- despite p. 17 itself claiming, correctly, that chess was probably invented in India in the 6th century AD. 

That said, Czerniak also adds, with more verisimilitude, interesting first-person accounts of conversations he had with chess fans. One (p. 335) is a quote from a chess fan who explained to him why he likes Alekhine's games: 'his pieces do not retreat even when attacked'. Did Alekhine himself know of this? Wonders Czerniak. 

Another anecdote, which he gives as one that he had witnesses himself, is of a 'certain player in a certain coffee house' (presumably, Czerniak is thinking of his time as a student in Paris) who would put his knight in blitz games at the corner of four squares. This would give him a piece that could control '16' [actually, 32] squares -- 'the strongest chess piece I've ever seen' (p. 77). 

Not all of the anecdotes are spurious. Some are well-known ones, such as Najdorf's simultaneous records (p. 76) or his own (then) longest game (vs. Pilnik, a 191 move draw, Mar de Plata, 1950). The problem is that it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. 


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Chess on the Front Page

Credit: this cool bar
Edward Winter had kindly posted an example of Israeli "chess on the front page" I have sent him in Chess Notes 10978, dealing with the 1957 Israeli chess championship. The page in question was brought to my attention by Moshe Roytman. As usual, Chess Notes in its entirety is well worth reading.  

Monday, August 13, 2018

Unusual Chess Cartoons

Source: Shachmat May 1985, no page number
A frequent correspondent points out that Shaul Hon, inter alia, had organized the first chess championships of the 'working settlements' -- i.e., the kibbutzim, moshavim, and other Zionist agricultural communities in Israel and pre-state Palestine. The first such championship, notes Hon in an article on the same page as the above illustration, was organized by him in the Summer of 1946. The tradition continues to this day, the last championship (as of this writing) having taken place in 2017 (link in Hebrew). 

Hon reminds the reader that he already wrote in 1946 that this tournament was organized inter alia for Zionist reasons, so that 'the man of work and the field will feel himself part of the national chess effort'. This cartoon is often seen in connection with this championship -- a man plowing a chess board with a plow harnessed to two "horses" which are chess knights, joining agriculture with chess. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Israeli Championship. 1951 -- an Unusual View

Credit: Ami Barav's collection
Above is an unusual view of the Israeli 1951 championship's concluding ceremonies. We see on stage the back of the head of Pinchas Rosen (left) and David Ben Gurion (right), and the players and their wives in the first and second row. The audience seems to be enjoying Tur-Sinai's speech. 

The players in the front row include among others Kniazer (2nd from left), Dyner (3rd from left)), Porat (5th from left), Smiltiner (7th from left) and Czerniak (in dark suit, extreme right, next to Smiltiner). Can anybody identify the rest with certainty? 

A Postcard from Amsterdam

Credits: see below

Above, is the front and the back of a postcard sent to Israel Rabinovich-Barav from Dr. Menachem Oren when the latter was in the chess Olympiad in Amsterdam, 1954. It was brought to our attention by his son, Prof. Ami Barav

On the back there are the signatures of many players. According to Oren's son, the identity of some of the signatures can by identified. It seems to be mostly that of the Soviet team. We have:

Credits: see above
1. Botvinnik
2. Smyslov
3. Keres
4. Kotov 

Can any reader identify more signatures?