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.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Itzchak Aloni, 5/4/1905 - 2/6/1985

Itzchak Aloni by Ross, 1964. Source: Ha'Lochem: Izhak (sic) Aloni (The Winner: Itzchak Aloni), by Shlomo Kandelshine, p. 116. 

It seems odd, but no widely-available database or web page seems to have Itzhak Aloni's exact date of death. Nor does Jeremy Gaige's Chess Personalia, still the most reliable and complete source -- which gives his exact date of birth and birth name (Izak Schaechter) -- has a death date except for "1985". (Note 13/9/2014: a reader notes that the correct Polish-language spelling of the name, which would be the language the birth certificate was written in, would be 'Izaak'). 

The date is given by Shlomo Kandelshine in the same book noted above, on p. 35. Aloni died on June 2nd, 1985, and was buried in Holon, Israel. Perhaps the lack of an exact date of death is due to the fact that the only sources giving it are in Hebrew.

Ironically, Shachmat, the Israeli Chess Federation's journal, had to announce his passing in the August 1985 issue -- right after celebrating his 80th birthday with a career retrospective in the previous two issues.

As said before, for consistency's sake I use Gaige's "Itzchak", but notes he was born "Izak". Kandelshine prefers "Izhak" in the English title of his book. All of these are simply variants of יצחק (Isaac). Think of Victor Korchnoi, Viktor Korchnoj, etc. for Ви́ктор Корчно́й.

Incidentally, Schaechter is a Yiddish name which means "kosher butcher". Aloni changed his name to 'Aloni' -- literally, '[like an] oak tree' -- when he was in a kibbutz in Palestine in 1943 (Kandelshine, p. 14). Changing one's foreign-sounding name to a Hebrew one was quite common among immigrants to Palestine and, later, Israel, until the 1960s. Porat, Oren, Aloni and many other chess players of those generations did so.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thank God for Sources!

Well, blogger is for some reason messing up with my blog's layout and not showing most of the pictures. I was very annoyed at this -- but I learned something about sources.

I always give exact sources for my material. This is annoying, boring, and what not. But what is the result? Well, for starters, it means that when a screw-up like this happens, the blog LOOKS much less nice, yes, but all the information on it is still there. Apart from a few "quiz photographs" posts I deliberately gave without sources, all other posts are simply about historical material that I found. So if worse comes to worst, the information is still found, or easily retrieved, by looking at the picture's source.

Update -- solved -- see previous post. 

Down for Repairs -- and Background Change...

Sorry about the blog's disappearing pictures -- I seem to have a problem with the syncing between the Picasa Album and the blog. Hope it will be fixed soon...

Update: (Aug. 30th, 2014): the problem appear solved; I also -- finally -- found the way to change the background to a more chess-like image.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Success Books and Chess


Chess had often been associated with logic, intelligence, and so on -- in the popular mind; reliable scientific proof strong chess players are more intelligent than non-players is hard to come by, though there is (for instance) some evidence they have, when it comes to chess positions, very good memories.

Such memories certainly helps those who play many blindfold games, for example (how exactly simultaneous blindfold players "see" the boards is an area researched quite a bit by psychologists today).  But, as Edward Winter in particular did much to point out, this hardly that the sans voir feats of, for instance, Pillsbury, were due to some general, magical super-intelligence (linked, in the popular mind, to madness).

Winter correctly insists that all such feats be shown to actually have occurred in contemporary sources and not invented or embellished by "once"-type historians. This is done not to diminish Pillsbury's or other players' reputation, but to enhance it: he believes, correctly, their reputation should be based on their actual chess achievements, not on such public displays which may, or may not, have occurred.

But -- intelligence in general aside -- does playing chess well give one skills to succeed in life, from memory to persistence? Some chess players have written books about success: two Jewish ones are Kasparov (if he is considered Jewish, since his father was), and Susan Polgar, whose book is supposed to come out soon. Do such books do any good?

I am conflicted about this. Usually, books about success are, in the words of Andrew Oldenquist, 'books for losers, for mice who would be supermen' (in his book The Non-Suicidal Society), who think there is a gimmick that will make others give them money, sex, or prestige -- without having the character, ability, or hard work that makes them deserving of it. Or, as G. K. Chesterton put it in The Fallacy of Success,  books about success tend to be written by those who cannot even succeed in writing books.

(Certainly this is true of a well-known chess writer, who wrote one of those 'how to succeed in life using chess' books -- without being strong enough a player to have a single game by him found in the Chessbase 9 database).

And yet, in these two particular cases, one thing is certain: both Kasparov and Polgar are huge chess successes. If anyone has a justification to write 'success and chess'  books,  they do.

Kasparov's book indeed is far better than the usual run of dire 'success' books. He doesn't give quick-and-easy gimmicks, but points out certain character traits and habits which he developed that made him succeed in chess.  He argues, reasonably, that they can be developed, by practice (as he did), and that they are traits that can help to succeed in life in general.

The book is not a masterpiece, nor claims to be; it is not clear to what degree its advice can be carried out in practice; but it is not worthless. It is interesting and useful -- if only due to what it shows us about Kasparov's life and views.

Polgar's book is not out yet. Naturally, I cannot say anything about its content. Presumably she, too, knows about success enough to not give us trite advice -- but to show us, from her experience and life, how she succeeded and what she deemed important for success. Let us hope the book will be useful and interesting as well.

(31/8/2014: post slightly edited per commentor's note).

Mona Karff Carticature

Credits: see below.

Mona Karff had been mentioned in this blog often before. In Chess Notes no. 8756, Edward Winter adds a caricature of her, and of various other players of the Stockholm Olympiad, which were given to Chess Review by Karff herself (the full details are in Winter's post). Above is her caricature -- a small selection of the complete set of caricatures.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Source: 64 Mishbatzot, no. 4., p. 69 (May 1956)
Who says strong players don't enjoy being kibitzers? Here are Keres (middle) and Alekhine looking with great interest at a game in the 1939 Olympiad. The picture is from an article about Israel (actually, then, the British Mandate of Palestine) in the Chess Olmypiads. Later made into a book, it was originally a series of articles by Czerniak in his magazine.