Thursday, September 17, 2015

Shlomo Smiltiner, 1915-2015

Smiltiner (l.) playing Keller, Moscow Olympiad, 1956. Source: 64 Msihbatzot [64 Squares], no. 10-11 (Nov. / Dec/ 1956), p. 161. 

Shlomo Smiltiner (27/11/1915-13/8/2015), who had been mentioned here before, had recently died in his 100th year. He was, as noted in the link, one of those who played Jaque Mieses in a simultaneous display when Mieses visited Palestine in 1936 (and won), played in three Olympiads, was one of the major figures in the 'Reti' club in Tel Aviv in the 50s and 60s (he played in the very first Israeli championship, in 1951), and had good results in many tournaments.

As this link [Hebrew] notes, the poster 'Super Pat Sir' gives a whole list of his achievements in various (mostly local) tournaments, upon Smiltiner's arrival at age 95. Here [Hebrew] the same poster adds more information upon his passing, and, inter alia, adds that he kept the chess set given to him by Fidel Castro in the Havana Olympiad.

He indeed proudly showed me this set when I visited his home a few years ago, and also showed me his collection of trophies, of which a selection is in the photo below:

The cups in the middle (and the one on the left) are for winning, in different years, the 'Reti' club championship, of which, as said above, he was a leading member in the 50s and 60s.

Czerniak - Zakon, 0:1

Moshe Roytman informs us about Eliyahu Shahaf's chess column of Dec. 2nd, 1955, in Davar (p. 2). It includes, inter alia, the interesting note that both the a women's national championship and a youth section in the 'Lasker' Chess Club, which they hope would become the core of a youth's national championship, were established. This is indeed what happened, as Wikipedia (for example) notes.

What's more, the same article notes that Moshe Czerniak is establishing a new chess journal, 'a necessity'. This, too, had indeed occurred, the journal in question, 64 Mishbatzot (64 squares) lasting a respectable (by Israeli / Palestinian chess journal standards of the time...) two years and being quite informative.

The article also notes Czerniak's sole loss in the Israeli 1955 championship (which he won), to Zakon. As usual, Czerniak goes for an all-out attack, but an oversight of a Zwischenzug costs him a pawn and, eventually, the game. Even so, he does not give up, but Zakon is not to be denied victory.

Israeli Championship, 1955.
Czerniak - Zakon
Queen's Indian Defense (E14)
Annotator: Eliyahu Shahaf

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. e3 Bb7 5. Bd3 Be7 6. O-O O-O 7. Nc3 d5 8. cxd5 exd5 9. Ne5 c5 10. f4 Nc6 11. Rf3 cxd4 12. Rh3 g6 13. Nxc6 Bxc6 14. exd4 Ne4 15. f5 Bf6 16. Be3 Re8 17. Qf3 Ng5 18. Bxg5?

18...  Bxd4+ 19. Kh1 Qxg5 20. fxg6 fxg6! 21. Rg3 Qf6 22. Qh5 Re5 23. Qg4 Rae8 24. Ne2 Bxb2 25. Rb1 Ba3 26. Ng1 Re1 27. Rf3 Qd6 28. Qh4 Qe7 29. Qxe7 R8xe7 30. Bxg6 Bc5 31. Bf7+ Kg7
32. Rxe1 Rxe1 33. h4 Bxg1 White resigns (0-1).

Chess In the Cyprus DP Camp

Photo Credit: see below
Our frequent correspondent Moshe Roytman notifies us that the Yad Va'Shem collection includes a machine for making chess pieces and a set of pieces made by it (above) that belonged to Holocaust survivors who donated it to the museum.

The web page tells (in Hebrew) the story of Isaac and Israel Rot and their cousin Aryeh Klein, holocaust survivors who were caught as illegal emigrants to Palestine by the British in 1946, and sent to a Cyprus holding camp until 1948.

They were bored, and a 'chess master' who was another inmate offered to teach them the game if they will get him a set. They started by carving stones from an abandoned cemetery, but then hit upon the idea for "industrial production". They made the lathe from a pair of skates (!) bought from one of the other inmates, and started producing chess sets and selling them to British soldiers as souvenirs.

The web page is in Hebrew, but has many photos of the three at work. Israel made the pieces on the lathe, Aryeh carved their features, and Isaac made the boxes. The identity of the chess master is not given

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Was it Truly a "Mystery" Tournament? Netanya 1964 (and Stahlberg - Blumenfeld 0:1: Complete Game Found)

Several readers notified me that the tournament in question was not at all a "mysterious" tournament. Moshe Roytman for example notified me of other mentions of it in Davar at the time and in Kandelshine's book about Aloni. Amatzia Avni, Alon Greenefeld and others notified me that the games appear (as I suspected) in Shachmat of 1964. Avni already kindly sent me two sample pages from the report. inally Malkiel Peretz sent me a database of the tournament.

Indeed, it was in fact the top, international, tournament in the traditional Shach Kayit ('Chess Vacation') event in Netanya as (for example) Ma'ariv, 9/6/1964 p. 10, reports, as Mr. Roytman informs me. The two others, incidentally, were a closed tournament for strong Israeli players and an open tournament for amateur players.

So, one may ask indeed: where is the big mystery?

In my defense I merely meant to say that the tournament is a "mysterious" one for the non-Israeli public, not appearing in Chessbase or other sources despite having famous players like Filip and Stahlberg. Indeed this seems to be the case: not only does it not appear in those databases, but I got a request from two different European chess historians for games: one of them (which prompted my original post) heard of the tournament but could find no games, another had noted that the tournament's existence was unknown to him!

All this goes to show what should be an obvious point. Databases and the Internet are all well and good -- but to really understand what happened,  one must go back to the original sources. This is especially true when one investigates the history of chess in Israel or in another country whose language is not a major European language, and thus often has material not known to most other chess historians. Indeed, the whole point of this blog is to familiarize the non-Hebrew-speaking public in general, and chess historians in particular, of information that the language barrier (not to mention availability of material) makes hard to find.

In any case, here is the corrected Stahlberg  - Blumenfeld game, which Schachmat reported was played in the 9th round:

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. d4 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be2 O-O 6. Bg5 c5 7. d5 Qa5 8. Qd2 a6
9. f3 e6 10. g4 exd5 11. cxd5 Re8 12. Nh3 h5 13. Nf2 hxg4 14. fxg4 b5 15. O-O
b4 16. Bxf6 Bxf6 17. Ncd1 Qd8 18. Ne3 Nd7 19. Nc4 Ne5 20. Rab1 Nxc4 21. Bxc4
Bd4 22. Qf4

22... Qh4 23. Qg3 Qxg3+ 24. hxg3 Rxe4 25. b3 Bxg4 26. Rbe1 Rxe1 27. Rxe1
Bf3 28. Kf1 Kg7 White resigns (0-1).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Champions of Hebrew

Source: see below. 

We have often noted in this blog the close relationship between education in general, and the teaching or evolution of the Hebrew language in particular, and chess. Our frequent correspondent, Mr. Roytman, notes that Davar reported (Feb. 9th, 1951, p. 9) that when Pinchas Rosen had given the opening speech in the first Israeli championship, he said he "feared" not the chess champions, but the "Hebrew champions" -- prof. Tur-Sinai and minister of education and culture David Remez, both known for their almost-fanatical passion for correct Hebrew.

Good thing he Amounted to Something in the Chess World

Without comment, here is a scan of a document found in the collection of one of Yoram Lubiainker's friends (or, rather, that of a friend of a friend, as he notifies me):

I hardly think FIDE should have denied "T. Petrosian" his participation certificate in the 1964 Olympiad, just because he was world champion at the time, but still, are Lubialinker and myself the only ones who find this amusing?

Stahlberg - Blumenfeld, 0-1

In 1964, a tournament in Netanya took place with Gideon Stahlberg, Miroslav Filip, and others, with the young Yair Kraidman winning (7.5 / 11), ahead of Yidael Stepak and Filip (7), Stahlberg and Guti (6.5), etc. This was one of Kraidman's first significant victories.

Surprisingly the tournament does not appear in the "usual" sources (i.e., Chessbase's databases,, etc.) Davar reported on the tournament, by its chess column editor, G. Palai. The game Stalhberg - Rudy Blumenfeld reached this position:

Source: Davar, 25/6/1964, p. 9 (originally printed w/rook on f8, not e8)
And continued (Palai's annotations):

21... Qh4 practically the winning move, threatening not only g4 but mainly Be5. White must exchange queens and lose two pawns. 22. Qg3 QxQ+ 23. hxQ Rxe4 threatening BxN+ winning the bishop. 24. b3 Bxg4 25. Rbe1 RxR 26. RxR Bf3! Not content with a two pawn advantage, Black weaves a mating net. 27. Kf1 Kg7 White resigns (0-1) due to the unstoppable R-h8-h2 etc. One of the shortest and most decisive games in the tournament.

Unfortunately the score up to this point is corrupted. As printed, it is the impossible:

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be2 c5 6. d5 Qa5 7. Qd2 a6 8. f3 e6 9. g4 exd5 10. cxd5 Re8 11. Nh3 h5 12. Nf2 hxg3 13. fxg4 b5 14. 0-0 b4 15. BxN BxB 16. Nd1 Qd8 17. Ne3 Nd7 18. Nc4 Ne5 19. Rab1 NxN 20. BxN Bd4 21. Qf4.

Can anybody reconstruct the actual game -- or find more games? (I do not currently have at hand Shachmat from 1964, for example, which would be the obvious place to check).

Edited 25/8/2015: Amatzia Avni informs us that, as suspected, the games (or at least most of them) were in fact printed in Shachmat in 1964. 

Edited 30/8/2015: Moshe Roytman informs us that more information is found, for example, in Shlomo Kandelshein's book about Aloni

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Yiddish Descriptive Notation

Credit: California Jewish Voice, Dec. 16, 1932.

Mr. Bruce Monson, who is researching Jewish life in California, found in the Jewish press of the 1930s -- more specifically, in the Yiddish-language California Jewish Voice -- a short-lived chess column edited by Noam Light. It covered, in particular, some games from the Pasadena, 1932 tournament won by Alekhine.

Unusually for Yiddish or Hebrew chess columns, the column used the descriptive notation -- in fact, the "long" descriptive notation popular ca. 1900: E.g., using, 'B. takes P.' insead of 'BxP', 'Castles' insread of '0-0', 'K-B' insread of 'K-B1', etc. This seems to imply Light was an "old timer", using the notation he was used to from ca. 1900. But this is speculation.

Above, is how the beginning of Borochov (or Borochow) - Araiza (Caro-Kann, 0-1, 23 moves) was printed, "translating" the initials from the Hebrew / Yiddish to English:

1. P-K4                        P-QB3
2. P-Q4                        P-Q4
3. QN-B3 (sic)            P. takes P.
4. N. takes P.              N-B3
5. N. takes N. check  K. P. T[akes]. N.
6. P-QB3                     B-Q3

It seems a small wonder that algebraic notation eventually won the day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Romrandom Chess

Credit: see below

Gdali Roisman brings to our attention the following suggestion 'for a new array'. It was published in Shachmat vol. 6 no. 3 (March 1967), p. 102. It was the suggestion of Meir Rom, and given the same reasons as other such suggestions, to wit, the "theory death" of chess.

Rom offers the new array tentatively, and suggests that players 'who are sick of playing by the book until the 20th move' will benefit from it. He notes the array doesn't change the rules (apart from the abolition of castling) or pieces, thus not requiring a change in middlegame or endgame strategies, or the production of new sets. The castling move is, of course, canceled in this array, but there are no other changes to the rules.

The array is interesting, being deliberately asymmetrical. presumably, to give play a more tactical, castling-on-opposite-sides character right from the start. The rooks and bishops, too, seem to start in a prima facie better, more active, position than in the orthodox game. This is unlike most suggestions for unorthodox starting positions, such as Fischer's "random chess" suggestion.

By the way, Tim Krabbe and others noted (though I cannot locate the exact place right now) that Fischer was hardly the first to suggest such a new array. Bronstein, Gulko, and others did, as well as Maarten van 't Kruijs in the 19th century, and the idea (as the article in the link notes) goes back further, to the 18th century. Van 't Kruijs was unorthodox in more ways than one: the "reverse French" (1. e3) is called the van 't Kruijs opening.

Such randomization comes readily to mind for those who wish to create a chess variant, as it requires no new rules, pieces, or boards, and is very easy to set up once the idea occurs to one. I won't be all surprised if Arabic (Shatranj) or even Indian chess was occasionally played in such a randomized fashion, for variety's sake.