Sunday, November 16, 2014

Storrs vs. Citron -- and more about the Jerusalem 'International Chess Club'

Storrs (right) platying Rabbi Citron. Credit: Rafi Kfir's 'Love of Jerusalem' web site [in Hebrew].
We have already noted that Ronald Storrs, who was Jerusalem's military governor after the first world war (as well as the civil administrator from 1920 to 1926, as Kfir's web site notes), was an avid chess player.

Our frequent correspondent Moshe Roytman notes this photo of him, in play with Rabbi Israel Abba Citron (1881-1927), Petah Tikva's rabbi (link in Hebrew), presumably in the 1920s.

Storr's memoirs are available online and contain many references to chess. His father taught him and his other children chess because once this 'king of games and game of kings' is learnt, one will never 'waste time or money on cards' (p. 9). Indeed the memoirs make clear -- quite apart from the above photograph -- that he never stopped playing the game.

Concerning the Jerusalem International Chess Club, which he founded, he notes: 'I founded a chess club "with a Christian (myself) President, Jewish Treasurer, Latin Catholic Secretary, and Moslem [sic] Members of Committee"' (p. 332). He adds on the same page that in the first tournament held, 'the first four prizes were won by Jews, and the fifth by the Military Governor [i.e., himself -- A. P.]'.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Review

Credit: SlavChess Inc. 
In this new book, Israel Gelfer and Boris Spassky -- with the help (as acknowledged in the introduction) of Ram Soffer -- look at the top games of top players and analyze them from scratch. For the book's purposes, 'top player' means those players (whether world champions themselves, like Kasparov, or not, like Keres) who have won serious games against at least 7 world champions -- although not necessarily when they were reigning champions. The book is available online here, or you can go to SlavChess's web site noted above.

In effect this book takes Tim Krabbe's article 'Regicide' (found, e.g., in Heroic Tales: The Best of 1996-2001, Ed. Taylor Kingston, pp. 306-310) about those who beat the world champions and expands it. While Krabbe considers only serious wins against reigning world champions, the authors here are willing to consider games won against world champions before or after they became champions: e.g., Keres beating Capablanca in 1938 and Smyslov in 1939.

The book includes (p. 295-296) the list of the 20 players, from Keres to Kasparov, who have beaten seven or more world champions from Capablanca to Anand. They choose 11 of those.

Keres, BotvinnikPetrosianGellerKorchnoiBeliavsky, Smyslov, Reshevsky, LarsenKarpov, and Kasparov are in the book. The authors re-analyze some of their victories against the world champions (they also add, but do not count for the purpose of the table, two games won by Beliavsky and Korchnoi againt Carlsen). There is a total of 86 mostly deeply-annotated games.

The games themselves (all being serious tournament games) are, inevitably, well known -- and it is to the authors' credit that they do not pretend to have made some huge historical discovery, but modestly suggest that these good games deserve a re-analysis. What's more, they do not claim that the person who beat the most world champions is therefore the strongest player in the world. Kasparov (unsurprisingly) is at the top, but he himself is quoted (p. 9) noting that the list is unfair to the old champions since it includes wins against those who became world champions under the FIDE "knockout" system.

One could add, as Edward Winter noted in his review of Keene and Divinsky's Warriors of the Mind (in Chess Explorations, 1996, pp. 227-230), that another reason for the unfairness of the list is that the moderns, such as Kasparov, often beat "old timer" world champions who were a generation or more older (e.g., in this book, Kasparov - Smyslov, 1-0, 1984). Unlike Keene and Divinsky, however, this book has three advantages that negate such criticism.

1). First, and as noted above, the authors here do not claim that their selection somehow determines who was the "best player ever".

2). Second, limiting the selection to those who beat the most world champions, the premise of the book makes historical sense: it is interesting to see who beat the most of the "chess immortals" at any time, even before and after they were champions. For example, I was a bit surprised to realize that Beliavsky made the list. He is of course a very strong player, but did you know he beat a total of nine world champions -- every single one (except Botvinnik) from Smyslov to Anand (not counting FIDE "knockout" ones)?

3). Third, and most important, Beliavsky's case is typical of the book. Not only do we get games where he beat the "old timers" when they were old timers (a win against Smyslov in 1983 or Spassky in 1990), but also him beating young rising stars (Kramnik in 1993) or the two K's when they were at, or near, the top of their game (Karpov in 1986 and Kasparov in 1983).

This mix between games where the 'regicider' beat the best when they were at their best, and games where he beat a rising future champion or an old veteran, is also the case for mort other players in the book. Of particular interest is that in many cases, the 'regiciders' not only beat the world champions when the world champions were at their best, or close to it, but when they (the 'regiciders') were older, e.g., Larsen defeating Karpov in 1980.

Finally, there are some interesting historical anecdotes. Spassky (who, incidentally, clearly did quite a bit of work for the book, not merely lend his name to the project) notes (p. 7) that his years as world chess champion were the worst and most stressful of his career, bearing 'enormous responsibility' against the 'scalp hunters' and receiving no support. Keres replied with deep silence when Spassky told him he was lucky never to become world champion...

There are also many photographs, most well known (to those in the field) but some more obscure and interesting, though their sources could have been added -- as well as, while we're at it, a bibliography, which is inexplicably missing.

A spot check didn't find any typos, though an odd blunder was found: Short appears on p. 296 as having beaten 9, and on p. 301 as having beaten 6, world champions; clearly the second list didn't consider the FIDE "knockout" ones (i.e., on p. 296 it is noted that Short beat Ponomariov and on p. 301 Ponomariov isn't counted), but this means the second list was not, in fact, made following the 'same system' of counting the champions as the first, as the book says.

Note: there is a strange "bug" in blogger which "breaks" Larsen's name and forces a paragraph break above, for some reason.

Edited to add: Edward Winter just wrote a short review where he, inter alia, calls Spassky's prose in the book  'turgid'  (C. N. 8921) and the book 'humdrum'. I am not so sure: I agree that the quote by Spassky given by Winter, a rather bland note (p. 7) on why do this book at all, is not high prose, but to repeat, I think that it is clear that Spassky contributed significantly to the book, not just wrote a polite introduction. As for the book being 'humdrum',I think the review above addresses the point: the authors make no particular claim to originality in finding new games, but merely that the concept of collecting these particular games -- i.e., a collection, not of games some player(s) won but the games some player(s) (in this case, world champions) lost -- is legitimate.

The only book I know of which was similar was Reshevsky's Great Chess Upsets, though they may be others.Thinking it over, perhaps the reason the format is unpopular is that when you collect serious games great players lost, the games are almost inevitably well known top-tier games. The reader might thus be disappointed of the lack of new games. This may be an argument against such collections in general; but it is not, however, the authors' fault (in either book's case) that world champions simply do not lose serious games to second-tier opponents or play (let alone lose) such games in secret (with some rare exceptions). 

I do, however, note Winter also complains the photographs in the book lack sources (he adds that some of them were taken from Chess Notes). This, like the absolute lack of any bibliography, is a significant flaw that cheapens the book.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

0-0-0-0-0, 0-0-0, or Illegal?

White moves; Black mates. 
We have already noted that Tim Krabbe and Max Pam discovered that, according to the rules of castling in force at the time, a white king can castle with a promoted rook on e8 (under certain conditions).

Raymond Smullyan, in The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes (pp. 76-79 of the 2012 Dover edition; originally published 1980) notes that in the 19th century and later -- indeed, until FIDE changed (or perhaps clarified) the rules of promotion relatively recently-- it was de jure legal to promote to a piece of the opponent's color. This would allow a promotion of White's a7 pawn to a Black rook on a8. Smullyan wonders: is castling possible in that case?

Whether one intuitively thinks it should, or should not, depends on how one views the pieces, notes Smullyan. Is 'queen's rook which has not moved from its original square' meant to apply only to rook on the board at the beginning of the game, or to include a piece created by promotion?

I suspect most players would take an inclusive view here, arguing that castling should be legal -- under the principle that, as all other laws of chess apply equally to promoted pieces, the same should hold for castling. This view, incidentally, is implict in Krabbe's and Pam's argument for the legality of 'extra long' castling.

Should it be Legal? 

Smullyan thinks most players would consider this castling perfectly legal due to the fact that most players have a "Platonist" view of chess -- that the physical pieces are not what makes a 'chess piece', but the way they move or are treated by the rules.

While true, I think the explanation is simpler. In most games (as opposed to sports), the tokens used to designate the pieces do not matter, and what makes a piece a piece is what it can or cannot do according to the laws of the game. One can play Whist, say, with blank pieces of paper as long as one remembers which card is which, or for that matter, it's perfectly possible to play chess (or most other games) sans voir and without any physical tokens.

In this respect all physical game tokens are mere manifestation of the "ideal" pieces, and the game itself is merely (and not necessarily, at that) represented by the movement of physical objects. If this is Platonism -- or, more seriously, a clever way to illustrate Platonism, by analogy, to philosophical novices -- so be it. But there is nothing in this that determines whether the laws of the game should treat a promoted piece, for example, differently than a "regular" piece. Or for that matter allow (say) the h-pawn to move differently than the a-pawn. This question has nothing to do with what physical object represents either piece in a particular game.

The reason most chess players, I suspect, would consider castling legal in this case has nothing to do with Platonism, but with simplicity and harmony. Most players see it as an aesthetic virtue that the laws of the game of chess do not treat promoted pieces any differently than regular pieces. One of the later changes to the laws of chess, in the 18th and 19th century, was the disappearances of special requirements of rules for promotion. It is no longer required the promoted piece be one that was already taken, or one found on the file on which it promotes in the array. A promoted piece need no longer "rest" motionless for a turn.

These and similar laws (or local variations of them) became obsolete since streamlining promotion in this way simplified the laws of the game while enriching the possibilities and depth in endgame play: more from less. So unless there is a very good reason for it, most players would agree that the promoted rook should be treated equally with the original one in the case of castling as well as in other cases.

Is it Legal? 
Whatever one thinks about whether castling should be legal in this case, the letter of the law about castling makes no distinction between promoted and non-promoted pieces, so it seems that it is legal, or at least was until it was formally made illegal to promote a piece to the opposite color. The promoted rook is on (Black's) first rank (which, incidentally, was the official change made to the rules of castling in the 1970s, to prevent '0-0-0-0' cases...), neither the king (we assume) nor the rook have moved, it is Black's turn, and neither e8, d8, or c8 are attacked by any of White's pieces.


So it seems that the following moves meet the stipulation:

1. a8=Black R?!?  Castles QS#

It seems that yet another type of castling not imagined by the official laws of the game is, or at least used to be, possible. Perhaps it should be designated 0-0-0-0-0 (to distinguish it from Krabbe's 0-0-0-0 as well as from regular castling); after all, unlike 0-0-0 or 0-0, such castling could occur even after both original rooks moved, or, for that matter, if they were taken.

0-0-0-0-0 or 0-0-0? 

To be sure, one may with equal plausibility argue this is simply an unusual case of queen side castling, 0-0-0, which doesn't need a special notation any more than any other move with any other promoted piece does. Perhaps most chess players would argue just this for the same reason that they would consider such castling legal in the first place: if the same rules apply to promoted pieces, surely the same notation should as well?

However, this is a purely linguistic matter, which does not affect the legality of the new castling, nor the fact that it is a very unusual kind of castling not foreseen by the laws, but merely what name it should be given.

P. S,

Yes, there is of course a "cook" to this "problem" (1. a8 = Black Q), as well as a "side variation" to the original solution (1. a8 = Black R  Rd8#) but that is hardly its point...

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