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.

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!

Source: http://www.christianfunnypictures.com/ 
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...

Credit: www.ace949.com 
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

Credit: www.richasaking.com

Credit: www.amazon.com
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).