Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rubinstein in Lviv

Details: see below.

Our correspondent and chess historian Tomasz Lissowski had forwarded to us the following photo and (below) a transcript of an article, both from the Polish magazine Chwila of March 7th, 1931. The magazine was published in Lviv (to use the current Ukranian spelling), then in Poland. Chwila, adds Mr. Lissowski, was a Jewish-owned, Polish-language magazine read by the Jewish-Polish intelligentsia in Lviv at the time. 

The article and photo were found in Chwila by Mr. Jan Jaremko, who in turn forwarded it to Mr. Lissowski. They concern a simultaneous display given by Akiba Rubinstein in Lviv on March 5th, 1931, in the 'Literary and Artistic Casino' -- today, adds Mr. Jaremko, the reading room of the regional scientific library.

The result was +8 =15 -8 (!). The report was, as can be seen below, written by the chess master Henryk Friedman. It mentions that about 300 people attended as players or spectators, and also names  some of Rubinstein's opponents. Unfortunately no game scores were given. Mr. Lissowski adds that in the first line on the left one can see Edward Gerstenfeld, another of the many Jewish-Polish players -- like Friedman himself -- who later perished in the holocaust.

We thank both Jaremko and Lissowski heartily for their research and permission to publish it on this blog!

Yeshayahu Blaustein Obituary

Source: Ha'Problemai [The Problemist], Oct. 1973, p. 14 

We have previously mentioned Yeshayahu "Shaiy" Blaustein in this blog, including one of his problems. This time, a problem which -- as the photo above notes -- will 'undoubtebly live on as one of the classics of the 20th century'. I am not so sure about that, but it is a very nice problem.

The Hebrew text in the obituary adds more biographical material, much of which can be found in the link given here, and mentioning he was also an architect and an artist (as well as a talented amateur photographer).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chess and Stamps -- Ashdod 2006

Credit: from the collection of Moshe Slav.
Here are two segments of a envelope (limited to 1000 units) that was produced by the Israeli postal office to celebrate the 3rd International Chess Festival in Ashdod, 2006.  

If one wonders about why so many strong tournaments happen to take places in Be'er Sheva (see previous post), Ashdod, and other cities in southern Israel, the explanation is interesting. Those cities, where rent and cost of living is relatively low, became the home to many Jewish emigrants from the former USSR in the 1990s, which led to a huge increase in chess quality, as Ha'aretz [link in Hebrew] explains. In fact, Be'er Sheva in 2005 had the highest concentration of chess grandmasters relative to the population in the world

True, such statistics are not particularly meaningful, since the addition or subtraction of a single GM changes the ranking, GMs being (despite their "inflation" in recent years) quite rare, and the "highest proportion" having more to do with the city's small population than the large number of grandmasters. There are many more grandmasters in total in, say, New York, to say nothing of Moscow or St. Petersburg... 

Still, it does mean something -- eight grandmasters (in 2005) in a town of about 200,000 is quite impressive, especially as it is, in this case, indicative of a high level of chess activity on all levels, as an article in chessbase web site about the Be'er Sheva Chess Club notes. The same article, incidentally, noted that currently Be'er Sheva had been passed by Reykjavik -- another small city with a well-known chess history, of course, as anybody who has heard of Fischer or Spassky knows... 

Chess and Stamps -- World Team Championship Collection

Credit: Moshe Slav's collection

On the subject of chess and stamps, two quick items -- an envelope and a stamp sheet -- celebrating the 2005 6th World Team Chess Championship which took place in Be'ev Sheva.

The WTTC should not be confused, incidentally, with the chess Olympiads, the other important international team chess events. For an explanation of the differences, see the excellent web site about the WTTC, inter alia

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Czerniak's Books

Moshe Czerniak's Ha'Pticha Ha'Spharadit, Cerech Aleph [The Ruy Lopez, Vol. 1], (Tel Aviv: Mofet, 1976), cover and inside front page.
How many books exactly did Czerniak write? By 1976, his book about the Ruy Lopez has 16 previous titles, as the title flap show. Adding this book, and his book about Israel in the Chess Olmypiad (1979), this would make 18 titles.

Checking the 1979 book, incidentally, it transpires that there was no "Vol 2" of the Ruy Lopez book printed since 1976 to 1979 (and, I believe, ever). I chose to give this earlier book in the post due to the elegant cover art (I didn't find the artist's name in the book).

The list shows great versatility. He published books for almost 40 years (1941 to 1979). As the list shows, the originals appeared in three countries (Chile, Argentina, Israel); in three languages (Spanish, Hebrew, and English); and included primers, chess history books, tournament and match books, biographies (a book about Botvinnik's best games), a book about chess endings, and two opening books.

Czerniak reminds me much of Irving Chernev. Both wrote all kinds of chess books, from primers to game collections. Both were confident of their views, openly disagreeing with leading authorites' analysis, when he thought they could prove it was mistaken. Both were honest and hard working: they may have written some mediocre books, but never meretricious ones. All of Czerniak's and Chernev's books shows a lot of work, and most contain a lot of original material in analysis or history.

Why Did Abram Blass Change his Name to Moshe Blass? -- ADDITION 8/10/2014: He didn't, but...

Moshe Blass (right) receiving the Reshevsky club cup from the president, Moshe Liber, in 1971, the last prize he won. Source: Shachmat Vol. 10 no. 4 (April 1971), p. 101. 
Gaige's Chess Personalia (at least, my reprint of the 1987 edition) notes, next to the Palestinian / Israeli master Moshe Blass, a "mystery" player known as Abram Blass, with no birth or death date, and the source being a Polish magazine from 1929. Internet sources such as Wikipedia or Olimpbase also mention 'Abram Blass'.

The wikipedia entry mentions him winning the 1935 Maccabiah championship. As this blog had previously noted, contemporary sources make clear that the person who won this championship was Moshe Blass, as he is always known in Hebrew-language sources from the 1930s on. E.g., Shaul Hon's Ptichot Be'Sachmat [Chess Openings] (Shach; Tel Aviv, 3rd Edition, 1964) mentions him as 'M. Blass' many times in tournament results from that period (including the 1935 Maccabiah victory, p. 85). Blass' obituary, by Moshe Czerniak, from which the photograph above ('The Last Prize') is taken, also names him 'Moshe' and mentions his 1935 Maccabiah victory and, inter alia, him winning the 1928 Warsaw championship -- which Wikipedia credits to 'Abram Blass'.

Clearly, Abram Blass and Moshe Blass were simply the same person -- and, probably, based on where he was known by which name, he changed his name from 'Abram' to 'Moshe' when arriving in Palestine in the 1930s.

Why? It is not clear.

One possibility suggests itself. He was -- as Czerniak notes (see exact biographical details in this post from our blog) -- an illegal immigrant to Palestine, then under British rule, and the last thing he wanted was to be recognized and deported to Poland. Still less could he voluntarily visit Poland and return to Palestine, which is (notes Czerniak in the same link just given) why he didn't play for the Palestinian team in the 1936 Warsaw Olympiad. So perhaps he changed his name to avoid detection by the authorities.

Still, changing one's name from 'Abram' to 'Moshe' while keeping one's surname is not much of a disguise. He may have changed his name merely to signify he was starting a new chapter in his life (as many did at the time, including chess players -- Foerder becoming Porat, etc., etc.). Why 'Moshe' then? Perhaps, like many European Jews, he may well have had a first and a middle name, i.e., Abram Moshe Blass or Moshe Abram Blass, and simply used only one of them in his youth in Poland and decided to switch to the other in Palestine.

Addition, 8/10/2014: It turns out, as Uri Blass, the grandson of Blass' brother Simcha Blass, notifies us, that Moshe Blass did not, in fact, change his name. His full name always was Moshe Aba (אבא) Blass. Uri Blass confirms, however, that 'Abram' Blass is in fact the same person as Moshe Blass. 

This, on second thought, was the most reasonable interpretation from the start: disguise was not likely, as noted above, and most those who changed their name upon arrival in Palestine (or later, Israel) changed it from a foreign-sounding to a Hebrew name, not from one Hebrew name to another. 

But solving this issue presents us with another one: why 'Abram' Blass, as many sources call him in the 1920s, when he played in Poland? Why not 'Moshe' or 'Aba' Blass? A simple mistake? A corruption of 'Aba' (a relatively rare name) to 'Abram' (a more common one) by non-Hebrew speaking reporters? Some other explanation? 

P. S.

It should be noted, for completeness' sake, that the biographical data in the obituary is quoted by Czerniak from Ha'aretz, 12.3.1971, before adding Blass' photograph, two games, etc. The obituary does not explicitly state if Czerniak also wrote the Ha'aretz obituary or merely agrees with it -- the former is likely, as it is written in Czerniak's style and he was Ha'aretz's chess editor at the time. But this is a minor issue.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

More about Politicians and Chess

Both Pictures: credit Moshe Slav and Slav Inc. 
The current Israeli PM, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, is a chess fan, or, at least, has a chess set at home and was photographed playing chess, in particular with his father; see 'political leaders and chess' in this blog. In the above official Israel Chess Federation photograph, he is posing (apparently in the Prime Minister's office), next to a special chess set: the 'Jewish chess' set made by Slav Inc.

as the details in the photo below shows, it is set where the Christian symbols of the traditional Staunton set (a cross on top of the king, a bishop's mitre for the bishop) are replaced by Jewish ones -- i.e., the king is crowned with a star of David, the queen with a menorah, the knight becomes a lion (an old symbol of Judea), and the rook has the ten commandments on it. The open hand on the bishop and pawn seems to be a hamsa, a stylized amulet against the evil eye, which is technically not of Jewish origins but very common in Jewish folk art, especially among oriental Jews.

(One can click on the pictures for a larger version).

An enlarged section of the second picture above.