Monday, December 22, 2008

Najdorf-Czerniak 1929 Match, Game 5

Czerniak,Moshe - Najdorf,Miguel [B01]
Warsaw Match (Game 5), Oct. 1929
[Annotations: Czerniak]

1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5? (3.Bb5! probably gives White the better game (see the 7th game of the match)) 3...Qxd5 4.Nf3 e5! 

(Much better than 4...Bg4 which could be answered by 5.Nc3! Bxf3 6.Nxd5 Bxd1 7.Nxc7+ Kd8 8.Nxa8 Bxc2 9.d5! followed by Bf4 and the trapped knight escapes to freedom via c7.) 5.c4? (5.dxe5 would also be a mistake because of 5...Qxd1+ 6.Kxd1 Bg4 7.Be2 0–0–0+ 8.Nbd2 Bxf3 9.Bxf3 Nxe5 with advantage to Black; the relatively lesser evil was 5.Be3 , though even then Black stands better.) 5...Qe4+ 6.Be2 (If 6.Be3 exd4 7.Nxd4 Bg4 followed by 0–0–0 with excellent play.) 6...Nxd4 7.Nxd4 Qxd4 8.0–0 (Better was 8.Qc2 .) 8...Qxd1  

9.Bxd1? Nonsense. Of course the capture should have been with the rook. One of my weakest games. 9...Be6 10.Re1 0–0–0 11.Bf3 f6 12.Be3 Kb8 13.b3 Ne7 14.Nc3 


14...Nf5! Liquidation. 15.Bg4? White reckons that after ...Nxe3 he will reach an ending with opposite-coloured bishops. 15...Nxe3! 16.Bxe6 Nc2 17.Red1 Bb4! 

The point. 18.Rxd8+ Rxd8 19.Rd1 White counted on just this. 19...Nd4! 


Simple and pretty. Black wins a piece in all variations. White resigns. 0–1

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Najdorf-Czerniak 1929 Match, Game 4

Najdorf,Miguel - Czerniak,Moshe [A45]

Warsaw Match (Game 4), 1929

[Annotations: Czerniak]

1.d4 Nf6 2.e3 b6 3.Nf3 Bb7 4.Bd3 e6 5.Nbd2 d5 6.0–0 Bd6 7.c4 Nbd7 8.b3 Rc8 9.Bb2 0–0 10.Qe2 Ne4 11.Rfd1 c5 12.Rac1 f5 

Black momentarily masters the important e4-point, but White prepares interesting counteractivity. 13.cxd5 exd5 14.dxc5 (Presumably 14.Ba6 gave more solid play.) 14...Ndxc5 15.Ne5 Qh4 Threatening 16...Nxd3 17.Qxd3 Qxf2+ etc. If 16.f3? then 16...Nxd3 etc., just the same. 16.Ndf3 Qh5 17.Bb5! a6 18.b4 axb5 19.bxc5 Bxe5 20.Bxe5 bxc5 21.Qxb5 Bc6 22.Qa6 g5!? 

(Clearly better was 22...Qe8! with the threat of ...Rc8-a8 as well as ...Bc6-b5-e2xf3.) 23.Bd4! Very good. 23...f4 Again not the best. (Precise calculation of two interesting variations was required. 23...cxd4 24.Rxc6 Ra8 25.Qb5; and 23...g4 !?! 24.Ne5 g3! 25.hxg3? cxd4 26.Nxc6 dxe3 27.Ne7+ Kh8! with a beautiful mating attack. If instead on move 25 White captures not with the h-pawn but with the f-pawn, he achieves a clear advantage.) 24.Bxc5! Nxc5 25.Rxc5 g4 26.Rxc6 Ra8 27.Qb5! Rab8 28.Rb6 Rxb6 29.Qxb6 gxf3 30.Qe6+! 

30...Qf7 31.Qxd5 Qxd5 32.Rxd5 fxg2 33.Kxg2 fxe3 34.fxe3 Ra8 35.Rd2 

 (...) and Black did not resign until the 52nd move. 1–0

Monday, December 15, 2008

Najdorf-Czerniak 1929 Match, Game 3

Czerniak,Moshe - Najdorf,Miguel [E60]
Warsaw Match (Game 3), Oct. 1929
[Annotations: Czerniak]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0–0 5.e4 d6 6.Ne2 e5 7.d5 a5!  

(Rather not immediately 7...Nbd7 8.0–0 Nc5 (as in the game Capablanca-Bogoljubow, Karlsbad 1929) which can be answered by 9.b4! ( 9...Ncxe4 is impossible because of 10.f3 ) and White stands slightly better.) 

8.h3 Na6 9.0–0 Nc5 10.Nbc3 b6 11.Be3 Bd7 (In the game mentioned above, Black played 11...Qe7? upon which White freed himself with a3! and b4. At present, in the event of a3!? comes a4!.) 12.Qd2 a4! 

Very good. Directly threatens ...Qc8! 14.Kh2 Qa6! gaining a pawn. 13.f4 exf4 14.Nxf4 Re8 15.Bxc5 bxc5 16.Rae1 Rb8 17.Qc2 Rb4 18.b3 Qb8 19.Rb1 Qa7 20.Nd3 axb3 21.axb3 Rb6 22.e5!

An ingenious combination; it leads to interesting and complicated play. 22...dxe5 (Black must pick up the gauntlet; declining to take the pawn could have fatal consequences, e.g. 22...Nh5 23.g4 Ng3 24.Rf3!) 23.Ra1 Ra6 24.Rxa6 Qxa6 25.Nxc5 Qb6 26.Qf2

At first glance Black's position seems hopeless...

26...e4!? A bolt from the blue. A seemingly crazy move, actually unusually strong and subtle. The tangle of manifold combinations is so difficult to calculate that only after over half an hour of thought did I decide on a move, and then not the strongest one. 27.Kh2? (Play should probably go as Mr Lowtzky showed in his analysis, 27.N3xe4! Nxe4 28.Bxe4 Rxe4 29.Nxd7 with a good game.) 27...Bf5 28.g4 Bxg4 29.N5xe4 Qxf2 30.Rxf2 Nxe4 31.Nxe4 Bd1

From here Black is playing in great time trouble. 32.b4 f5 33.Nc5 Re3! 34.Ne6 Be5+ 35.Kh1 Be2! 36.c5 Bg3 37.Kg1 Bc4 38.Rf3 Re1+ 39.Rf1 Bxf1 40.Bxf1 c6! 41.dxc6 (If 41.d6 Rxe6 42.d7 Bc7 43.Bc4 Kf7 and Black wins.) 41...Rxe6 42.Bc4 Kf7 43.b5 Ke7 44.Bxe6 Kxe6 45.Kg2 Be5 46.b6 Bd4 47.c7 Kd7 48.c6+ Kc8 0-1

[The amusing final position deserves a diagram - A.P.]:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Annoying Reviews

Okay, this has little to do with Jewish chess history in particular, but it's one of my pet peeves.

One of the curses of chess literature is the numerous poor books that pass uncriticized by reviewers. Edward Winter is famous for taking such authors and reviewers to task, and I would like to add my own minor contribution.

In a recent review in -- which, actually, generally does a good job in criticizing worthless books -- 606 Problems for Chess Nuts (2008 Sterling Publishing) by Fred Wilson and Bruce Alberston is reviewed rather positively by Steven Goldberg. I haven't read the book, I must admit, but I strongly suspect its quality when the puzzle used to illustrate it in the review is the following, puzzle #354 (Black to play):

The book's solution is 1... Ra3+. This is indeed the best move, as it wins a full queen (or mates) but neither the reviewer nor, apparently, the authors bother to note that the much simpler 1... exd5 (or, even simpler, 1... Qxc3+ 2. bxc3 2. exd5), while technically "only" winning a rook, are much simpler, as they win just as easily and without any sacrifices or complications.

This, mind you, is supposed to be a realistic position for the 'intermediate player'. How many intermediate players have their opponents hang rooks to them in such a fashion? And, if they do, how many bother to calculate deeply to see if it isn't possible to win the Queen instead, risking a mistake or loss on time?

Having a few of Wilson's and Alberston's other books, they display all the usual signs of hack work: mostly trivial tactical problems, only two problems per page (to take up as much space as possible, in order to make the book look longer than it is), and so on. Apparently this latest book is no different, as it too, the reviewer notes, has two problems per page, and a full 1/3rd (202) of its puzzles are dedicated to what the authors call 'advanced beginners' (an oxymoron), which means people who are 'thoroughly conversant with the moves and rules' of chess. If that makes one an "advanced" beginner, what, pray tell, is a novice?

Naturally, the market for such "advanced" beginners is larger than the one for advanced players -- there are more of them, and they're far less discriminating. So it's easy to pass on to them, as Edward Winter says, dregs pretending to be cream.

It is very easy to write chess books for beginners; it's very hard to write good ones. Reviewers shouldn't pass off every collection of trivial tactics that comes down the pike as 'helpful', but should take a good, hard look at the book's merits and demerits.

Najdorf - Czerniak 1929 Match, Game 2

Najdorf,Miguel - Czerniak,Moshe [B13]

Warsaw Match (Game 2), Oct. 1929

[Annotations: Czerniak]

1 .e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 Nf6 6.Bf4 Bg4 7.Qb3 Qd7 8.Nd2 e6 9.Ngf3 a6

(Probably 9...Bd6! should be played here, and if 10.Bxd6 Qxd6 11.Qxb7 0–0 with a good game.)

10.Ne5 Nxe5 11.dxe5 Ng8! Best! (If 11...Nh5 12.Be3 with the threat of of h3 and g4.) 12.f3 Bh5 13.0–0–0! Rc8 White was intending c3-c4! 14.Kb1 b5 For the same reason. 15.Rhe1 Bc5 16.g4 Bg6 17.Bxg6 hxg6 18.Ne4! a5! (After 18...Ne7 19.Nd6+! Bxd6 20.exd6 and then Qxd5.) 19.Nd6+ Bxd6 20.exd6

Black counts on capturing the weak d6-pawn; whereas White defends until it he can produce a strong, direct attack on the black king, when he gives the d6-pawn away and quickly transferring forces to the kingside achieves the advantage.

20...Nf6! (On 20...Rc4? there would follow nice play 21.Rxd5! Rxf4 22.Rxb5! ...) 21.Be5! Excellently played. The superbly developed bishop conceals a subtle, deeply calculated trap. 21...0–0 (21...Kf8 22.Qa3 a4 23.Bxf6 gxf6 24.Rxd5 exd5 25.Re7 Qd8 26.d7 Rc7 27.Qd6 Kg7) 22.h4! Ne8 23.Qa3 b4! 24.Qxa5!

Best. (After 24.cxb4 Nxd6 25.bxa5 Nc4 26.Qd3 Nxe5 27.Rxe5 Qc7 regains the pawn with an equal game.) 24...bxc3 25.Bxc3 Nxd6 26.h5! gxh5 (Interesting play is given by 26...Nc4!? 27.Qa6? Rc6 (27...Ra8? 28.Qxc4) 28.Qb5 Qc7 threatening 29.-- Na3+) 27.gxh5 Ra8 28.Qb4 Rfb8 29.Qg4 Nf5 30.h6 Qa4? (30...Qa7 was clearly better.) 31.Qxa4 Rxa4 32.Be5! Black threatened ...d4! 32...Rba8

33.hxg7! Rxa2 34.Rh1 Nxg7 (If 34...Ra1+ 35.Kc2 Ne3+ 36.Kb3! Rb8+ 37.Bxb8 Rxd1 38.Rxd1 Nxd1 39.Be5!)

35.Rdg1! The last hope is dashed. (If 35.Rhg1 f6 36.Bxf6 R2a7 with chances for a draw.) 35...Ra1+ (No help now is 35...f6? 36.Bxf6 R2a7 37.b4 Rb7 38.Rh4 Rab8 39.Kc2! winning.) 36.Kc2 Rxg1 37.Rxg1 f6 38.Bxf6 Ra7 39.b4! 1-0

A lively, very interesting battle. White played the game excellently... One of Najdorf's best-played games.

Najdorf-Czerniak 1929 Match, Game 1

Czerniak,Moshe - Najdorf,Miguel [A15]
Warsaw Match (Game 1), Oct. 1929
[Annotations: Czerniak]

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 d6 3.g3 Bf5 4.Bg2 Qc8 Typical of young players... 5.0–0 Bh3 6.d3 e5 7.Nc3 Bxg2 8.Kxg2 Nc6 9.Nd5 Nxd5 10.cxd5 Ne7 11.e4 c6 (Not 11...f5? 12.Ng5) 12.dxc6 Nxc6 13.Be3 Be7 14.Rc1 Qe6 15.a3 0–0 16.Ng1!

The excellently placed knight defends three vulnerable squares - e2, f3 and h3 - and allows the White queen to start a counterattack on the queenside. (Not to be played is 16.d4? exd4 17.Bxd4 Qxe4 18.Re1 Qd5! 19.Rxc6? bxc6 20.Rxe7 c5! and Black wins.) 

16...f5 The opening of the f-file is inevitably favourable for Black. 17.exf5 Rxf5 (Of course not 17...Qxf5 because of 18.Qb3+ and Qxb7; however, probably better is 17...Qd5+ ...) 18.Qa4 White takes advantage of a momentary "lull before the storm" to start a strong counterattack on the queenside. 18...Raf8 (18...a6 gave a more solid game, but Black heads for a clarification of the situation.) 19.Qb5! R5f7 20.f4 exf4 21.Bxf4 g5! 

Black energetically heads for victory. The last move secures the f-file for Black's rooks. However, the excellent g1–knight saves an almost hopeless position.

22.Bd2 (If 22.Bxg5? Nd4 23.Qa5 b6! gains a piece.) 22...a6 23.Qc4! It's still not possible to take on b7, because of Qd5+ ... With the text move White forces his opponent to play ...d6-d5, which takes away that square from the black queen. 23...d5 24.Qb3

24... Nd4? This saves a hopeless situation. (Black overlooked the winning move 24...Bc5!! with the further 25.Rxf7 Qxf7 winning... The text move allows White to completely equalize the game.)

25.Qxb7! Ne2 26.Rce1 (If 26.Rfe1 there follows an effective mate 26...Rf2+ ...) 26...Rxf1 27.Rxf1 (Not 27.Rxe2 Rxg1+) 27...Nxg1! (Much better than 27...Rxf1 after which White would still have chances, e.g. 28.Kxf1 Nxg1 29.Kxg1 ...) 28.Rxf8+ Kxf8! 29.Kxg1 Bc5+ 30.Kh1? (Better is 30.Kf1) 30...Qe2 31.Qc8+ Kg7 32.Qxc5 Qf1+ 33.Qg1 Qf3+ 34.Qg2 Qd1+ 35.Be1! Qxe1+ 36.Qg1 Qe2! ½–½

Najdorf - Czerniak Match, 1929 (Part II) - Introduction

As said before, Yochanan Afek had kindly let me copy Moshe Czerniak's notebook of his games in Poland in the 1920s. The notebook includes a match between Czerniak and Miguel Najdorf, which I mentioned before -- see the previous post on this blog about the Najdorf-Czerniak match.  

Marek Soszynski had kindly agreed to transcribe the games and the annotations into 'Chessbase' format. He, together with Tomasz Lissowski, encouraged me to contact chessbase to see if they might be interested in publishing it. They have just contacted me and said they'll add it to their upcoming mega database 2009, and that I 'need not delay' in publishing it on my blog. Therefore, I am finally doing so. 

Mr. Soszynski notes: 'All the games and the variations [in the chessbase format, which I reproduce in this blog - A. P.] are Czerniak's. I have added practically nothing', although some annotations were omitted as 'flawed or uninteresting', and others (the majority) due to the illegibility of the original manuscript. 'The standard of play was high. All the games, without exception, were interesting - with a rich combinational thread. The second game of the match merits particular attention'. 

The match took place in the Chessplayers' Association, Warsaw, Poland, Oct. 14-28, 1929. (3 games a week). The time control was 20 moves per hour, and the winner was the first to win five games, draws not counting. Najdorf won by the convincing score of +5 -1 =2.

In the following posts I will enter the games one by one. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Steinitz vs. God (again)

Wilhelm Steinitz. Credit: 'Wilhelm Steinitz' entry in .

There is an old story -- or, rather, libel -- that Steinitz (incidentally, a Jew, of course) had once said that he could beat God even if he gave God pawn-and-move odds. Naturally, no exact source is ever given for this alleged saying, and it is merely repeated from one book to another whenever an incident about the alleged insanity of chess players in general, and masters in particular, is needed to spice up the book.

In Alifut Yisrael be'Shachmat 1961/62 ('Israeli Chess Championship 1961/62', Ed. Eliahu Shahaf, "Mofet" press, Tel Aviv, 1962), we find, however, a different version of the story (p. 19):

Wilhelm Steinitz, who was self-confident enough to once say that even God couldn't give him pawn and move...
Naturally this version of the story is unattributed, and it is used to "spice up" an article about opening theory. However, it follows Irving Chernev's The Bright Side of Chess [1948] in suggesting that Steinitz did not claim he could beat God while giving pawn-and-move odds, but merely that God could not beat him if God gave him pawn-and-move odds. (See Edward Winter's article, Steinitz versus God).

There is, naturally, a great difference between the two claims. In Chernev's and Shahaf's version of Steinitz's quip, 'God' is just a metaphor for 'a perfect player', and the claim is pure Steinitz: colorfully put and not suffering from false modesty, but in essence simply the insightful (and perhaps true) claim that the playing strength of the best masters of his time had so improved, that it practically close to perfection. (This happened, presumably, due to the new, scientific understanding of the game's strategy, of which Steinitz was the most important developer.)

One wonders (see also Winter's article) whether Steinitz really made either claim. It is doubtful he ever did. But, if he did, I would bet a significant sum he made the latter claim, and that sensation-seeking writers, making use of Steinitz's real mental illness at the end of his life as an excuse to print "crazy chess player" canards, turned the story on its head and made Steinitz's perfectly reasonable remark into "proof" of megalomania.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lowest-Rated Player to win National Championship?

Zadok Domnitz. Photo Credit: Shachmat [Israeli Chess Association's magazine], Year 2 No. 5 (Dec. 1963), p. 6.

The Israeli chess championship of 1961/62 (officially, of the Hebrew year H'TSKV -- 5,722 -- which began in September 1961) caused a sensation: the three winners (with 9.5/15) included not only IM Yosef Porat (who played in all previous championships, from 1935 on, only once finishing below 3rd place) and Itzchak Aloni (a player in the championships since 1945 -- which he won -- finishing below 3rd only twice), but the 28-year-old Zadok Domnitz. Not only did he not have any FIDE title, he was not even an Israeli Chess Association master -- merely a 'senior candidate master'. The other participants were mostly ICA masters, including two FIDE IMs (Porat and Moshe Czerniak).

Domnitz is probably one of the lowest-rated players to ever win a national championship, at least in countries where chess is popular. His victory caused quite a sensation, although Aloni eventually won the championship on the three-way tie-breaking match (scoring 2 /2). (To avoid a possible misunderstanding, 'low rated' does not imply 'weak'!)

Aloni's Opening Style

Itzchak Aloni, a caricature by Yaakov Zehavi. Credit: Alifut Israel Be'Sachmat 1961/62 [Israel's Chess Championship 1961/62] by Eliahu Shahaf [Editor], et al. "Mofet" Press, Tel Aviv, 1962.

From the book given above (p. 117), in the English-language introduction by Shahaf: 'Granted, he is not the expert as far as openings [sic] theory is concerned... "colour being the only element uniting his pieces after they have left their initial positions", as one [critic] had put it.'

Or, as quite a few of those I interviewed about Aloni put it: 'he felt lost if he came out of the opening with a reasonable position'.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Botvinnik vs. Petrosian... but not THOSE Botvinnik and Petrosian.

From an interview I had with Yochanan Afek in the 'Chess House' (the headquarters of the Israeli Chess Association in Ramat Aviv, Israel): 

[Young man passes us, waves to Afek; Afek exchanged a few polite words.]

Afek: You know who this was?

Me: No. 

Afek: It's Mikhail Botvinnik. No, not that one, of course; it's just his name.

Me: With a name like that, he must be a good player...

Afek: Pretty decent! He's a master who played in some international youth tournaments. By the way, in one of those, he played a young Armenian player with an interesting name...

Me: Armenian? Don't tell me... isn't there a young player called... 

Afek: ...yes, Tigran Petrosian

Petrosian vs. Najdorf (Blitz) Match

Tigran Petrosian image from, "Tigran Petrosian" entry. 

From Zvi bar Shira and Avner bar Nir's report on the 1964 Chess Olympiad in Tel Aviv, Israel (Ma'ariv, Nov 28th, 1964): 

'While the Olympiad was going on in the playing and demonstration halls, Najdorf and Petrosian sat privately to play a match of blitz games. The few spectators heard, after every strong move, comments such as "My name is Najdorf!" or "I'm Petrosian!". During the match the world champion [Petrosian -- A.P.] came "out of his shell" and was seen as a humorous, witty man.'

While such offhand reports shouldn't be taken too seriously as character analysis, this certainly fits with Edward Winter's note (reviewing The Games of Tigran Petrosian) that Petrosian was well liked -- and his chess greatly appreciated -- by his colleagues. He was very far from the dour, humorless 'drawing master' he was supposed to be according to the popular chess press, merely for, in Winter's word, 'not playing like Tal'. 

Is anything else known about these games? (Perhaps one of the spectators recorded the moves?) Unfortunately, even the match's result is unknown, since the very line where the reporters gave it was garbled by the printer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Problemists in the Desert

From the 1950s to the 1960s, the chess column in Al ha'Mishmar ("On the Guard", whose masthead is given above [photo credit: Wikipedia]), the organ of the socialist kibbutzim and moshavim (agricultural communes), dealt almost exclusively with chess studies and problems, demoting over the board games to second place.

I wonder what the reason was? Probably the fact that most of its readers were in small, more or less isolated communities, where finding opponents for over-the-board play was a serious challange, leading -- by default -- to the popularity of problems and studies.

If anybody has more concerete information on the reason, I'd appreciate it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Reshevsky Simul Disaster

This game was one of two games lost in a simultaneous display by Samuel Herman "Sammy" Reshevsky given in Haifa, Israel, on Nov. 24th, 1958, during the first international tournament held in Israel (which he won). The overall result was +31 -2 =6.  Goes to show that even the great suffer from chess blindness! 

White: Samuel Reshevsky. Black: Zalman Margalit. Annotator: A. A. Mendelboim (Davar's chess columnist).

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 c5 5. Nge2 Nc6 6. a3 Qa5 7. Bd2 d5 8. axb4? (Ng3! is necessary) Nxb4 9. Rxa5?? (Qa4+!) Nd3#

The amusing final position deserves a diagram:

Source: Davar, Nov. 17th and Dec. 5th, 1958. 

Walking Stick Speed Chess

Portrait of an ArchDeacon by Ilya Yefimovich Repin, 1877. Image hosted at by permission of the State Trtyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

From the same interview with Eliezer Pe'er as the previous post:

'Victor Winz and other Tel Aviv player would then [in the 1930s and 40s - A.P.] play a lot of speed chess in the Vienna Cafe, in the Nahalat Binyamin neighborhood in Tel Aviv. They had no chess clocks, so they would pay an onlooker a few pennies to hold a walking stick and bang it on the floor every ten seconds, to play ten-second chess.'

Penalty Move

From an interview with Eliezer Pe'er:

'When I learned chess [in the early 20s in Poland] I was taught that one starts with two moves. Also, if one made an illegal move, the penalty was to move with the king.'

Pe'er isn't the only one who mentioned such a penalty move, though he must be one of the last people living who was taught it as a child. This penalty move was often imposed in the 19th century. For instance, Robert Kemp Philips' Inquire Within For Anything You Want To Know Or, Over Three Thousand Seven Hundred Facts Worth Knowing (1859) mentions, inter alia, that:

2360. VI. If the player touch his king, with the intention of moving him, and then finds that he cannot do so without placing the king in check, no penalty can be inflicted on his replacing his king and moving elsewhere. If the player should touch a man which cannot be moved without placing his king in check, he must move his king instead.

This rule was apparently still in force during the first world war, at least in some places. (At the time, no international organization such as FIDE existed to standardize the laws.) Gyula Breyer allegedly(*) used it in a game played in Budapest, 1917, with Johannes Esser (The game score is from chessbase's 2005 "Big Database"; the comments from Eliyahu Fasher's book, Shachmet le'Hana'atcha, p. 184-185):

White: Breyer; Black: Esser. Budapest, 1917. Comments: Fascher.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bd3 Bd6 6. f4 O-O 7. Nf3 dxc4 8. Bb1 b5 9. e4 Be7 10. Ng5 h6 11. h4 g6 12. e5 hxg5 13. hxg5 Nd5

'Breyer, playing White, sacrificed a knight in the opening and upon reaching this position realized the white king has to be on f1. But, fearing that if he will play Kf1 -- clearly an illogical move -- his opponent will become suspicious. So he "mistakenly" touched the a1 rook. He apologized, but his opponent demanded the arbiter apply the law and force Breyer to move his king. After a long argument Breyer "relented" and the game continued:

'14. Kf1 Nxc3 15. bxc3 Bb7 16. Qg4 Kg7 17. Rh7+ Kxh7 18. Qh5+ Kg8 19. Bxg6 fxg6 20. Qxg6+ Kh8 21. Qh6+ Kg8 22. g6

'Now it is clear why the white king has to be on f1 [to prevent 26. ... Bh5+ -- A.P.] Despite being up material, Black cannot avoid defeat. Black tries to return material, but it does not help:

26. ... Rf7 23. gxf7+ Kxf7 24. Qh5+ Kg7 25. f5 exf5 26. Bh6+ Black resigns.'

(*) I say 'allegedly' because Fasher gives no sources for this story, and, as reliable his book is on all matters relating to chess in Israel and Palestine (being one of the most important figures in that field for over 40 years), he sometimes reports as fact tall tales about the old-timers. E.g., he accepts as accurate Zukertort's claims of being a medical doctor and knowing nine languages fluently, the suprious Gibaud-Lazard "shortest master game", etc. What's more, chessbase adds a few more moves (26. ... Kh7 27. Bg5+ Kg8 28. Qg6+ Kh8) before Black's resignation, which do not appear in Fasher's account. If someone can find more reliable evidence for this story, I'd appreaciate it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Four Days of Sheep-Herding

Again from Eliyahu Fasher's book, Shachmet le'Hana'atcha (1980), p. 137-139, with my notes in brackets:

'During the [British] mandate, chess activity [in Palestine] was very limited and centered around the three large cities [Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa]. Chess activity elsewhere was minimal. It should be noted that the problemists were active in the Hityashvut ha'Ovedet [the organization of the small agricultural communes, the kibbutzim] and one of the most original ones was the late Yehuda Weisberg, who fell during the [1948] war of independence in the battle of Sejera. 

Yeduda Weisberg, Fairy Chess Review, 1947. What was Black's last move?

'Above is one of his problems, which we read about in the letter he sent to his friend Yechezkel Hillel, then a shepherd in Phoria in the lower Galillee: '"I am sending you a new problem and ask you to check it and get it published. Its justification is a tough nut to crack and I doubt you'll be able to overcome it..."

'In Hillel's answer we read: "I thought about this problem for four days of sheep-herding before I solved it -- really a great idea!..."

'After this story was published in La'Merchav on May 8th, 1959, I received a letter from Levi Herzog from Ma'abarot  kibbutz with an interesting story. Levi was an active problemist in Hungary, and when he emigrated to Palestine continued with his hobby in the Emek Hefer kibbutz, where he was a shepherd. He continued to send his problems to Hungary, since there was no possible venue for publications in Palestine. Over the years he acquired ties with the editor and continued with them after the state [of Israel] was founded [in 1948]. Once the Hungarian editor asked him to add a few personal biographical details, and [Levi] added, inter alia, that he is a kibbutz member and a shepherd.

'This time the editor's answer was short: "I am very glad to hear that in your Asiatic country shepherds reached such a high level in chess". Levi received no reply to his letters any more.'

Solution (Originally published in Fasher's The Israeli Problemist, 1964. Highlight the hidden text below.)

1. a4 d5 2. Ra3 Qd6 3. Rg3 Kd7 4. c3 Kc6 5. Qc2 Kc5 6. Qf5 Nc6 7. Qxc8 Nf6 8.
Rg6 hxg6 9. Qf5 Rh4 10. Kd1 Rd4 11. Kc2 Rd8 12. Na3 a6 13. Kb1 gxf5 14. Nc2 Kc4
15. h4 Kb3 16. Nf3 Qc5 17. Ng5 Rd6 18. Ne4 Nd8 19. Rh3 Rb6 20. Re3 fxe4 21. Rd3
exd3 22. Ka1 dxc2 23. d3 Ng4 24. Bf4 Ne3 25. Be5 c6 26. Bf6 gxf6 27. fxe3 Bh6
28. exd4 Bf4 29. dxc5 Bb8 30. cxb6 Ba7 31. bxa7 Ne6. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Original Solution

The above diagram (by T. P. Medley, 1950) is given in Eliyahu Fasher's(*) very amusing book, Shachmet le'Hana'atcha [Chess for Your Enjoyment], p. 112 of the 2nd (1980) edition. 

'White to move and mate in one.' 

The solution (printed upside down in the book):

'Anybody who couldn't solve it will get the money he paid for this book refunded.'

(*) Jeremy Gaige's indispensable Chess Personalia: A Biobibliography has 'Eliahu' Fasher instead. Both 'Eliyahu' and 'Eliahu' are reasonable Hebrew-to-English transliteration of the same Hebrew name (that of the prophet known in the KJV of the Bible as Elijah), but I believe the former is more phonetically accurate. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chess and Crime

Adrian Schwartz (extreme right) watching Moshe Czerniak play in the Israeli championship, 1965. Credit: Ad Ha'Ragli Ha'Acharon, by Yochanan Afek and Horacio Volman, p. 71. 

There are two cliches about chess players and crime: one, that they are devious and cunning, and therefore prone to commit complicated crimes nobody can solve. The fictional Sherlock Holmes famously tells Dr. Watson, 'Amberley excelled at chess -- one mark, Watson, of a scheming mind' (in The Adventure of the Retired Colourman). W. H. Wallace, as Edward Winter notes (check 'Chess and the Wallace Murder Case' in Winter's Chess Notes), was viewed with great suspicion for just this reason when his wife was murdered--despite the fact that he was a third-rate player. 

On the other hand, chess players are (for some reason) considered intelligent, so they are sometimes asked (or nominated themselves) to solve real-life murder mysteries. Hence Ray Keene claimed that he had helped solve a murder case using his deductive abilities to make sense of the widely-published clues (a map of some sort, presumably drawn by the perpetrator) in Mycroft Holmes-fashion. Like Sherlock's brother (in, e.g., The Bruce-Partington Plans), he allegedly solved the case sitting in his chair, using no more than his amazing powers of deduction. It should be added that Keene's claims were met with general skepticism. (See Chess Monthly, Nov. 1990, for his account.)

There are, however, exceptions. Sometimes chess players are criminal, and sometimes chess does help solve crimes in interesting ways. The case of Adrian Schwartz illustrates both. Schwartz, a promising young player, was eventually captured and convicted as a serial rapist a few years after this photo was taken. He is in prison to this day. [Update, 2012 -- he was recently released after serving his last sentence of 20 years.] 

Also, as Itzhak bar-Ziv told me, Schwartz, as a young man, went AWOL from the army. The army couldn't locate him for months, but Schwartz saw no reason why being a fugitive should bar him from playing in a tournament he qualified for. [Update, 2012: Avraham Kaldor notes it was an important local tournament, probably the national championship's quarter-final or the Lakser club's championship.] The army put two and two together, and sent two MPs to nab him as he was playing. They almost did: he evaded them at the last moment after (Kaldor says) giving them both an unexpected shove as they held him and escaping. He remained at large for a few more months.

So, for once, chess did actually help solve a crime, or at least (almost) capture a criminal. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fischer and Czerniak

Moshe Cerniak (left) and Robert James "Bobby" Fischer in Natanya, Israel, 1968. From Ad Ha'ragli Ha'acharon, by Yochanan Afek and Horatio Volman, p.  71. 

The late Bobby Fischer was known, at the end of his days, for his paranoid antisemitism, despite the fact that he was -- technically -- Jewish (since he was born to a Jewish mother). It wasn't always that way. In 1968, Fischer had participated in a tournament in Natanya, Israel, where he met all the local players, including Czerniak, as in the photo above.

Many of those I interviewed participated in the event, as players or spectators. Nobody had the least complaint about Fischer's behavior. They all praised him as perfectly correct and fair, both to the players and to the organizers. The one complaint was that he was a loner who did not often participate in post-mortems and, in general, did not mingle with others (he came to play, not to socialize).

But all agreed that this was, of course, his prerogative, and he, at the time preoccupied with achieving the world championship, could hardly be expected to socialize with all those who wished to claim his attention. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Scientific Analysis of Chess + An Original Prize

From a humorous article by Prof. Isaac Bernbloom, at the time (1963) the head of the experimental biology department in the Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, Israel (originally published in Rehovot, the Institute's journal, reprinted in Sa'chmat, Yarchon Israeli le'Sachmat, year 2 no. 4 [Nov. 1963] p. 18:

'Medically, chess is a relaxant, since it prevents the person from working for hours on end. It is also an antidepressant, since it gives the person an excuse not to feel guilty for their laziness. It is a sport: one can sprain one's wrist when trying to castle in a difficult position.

'A chess player needs imagination, so as to find barely credible excuses for his wife as to why he's late for dinner again. He needs to be daring, in order to find the local chess club in a dangerous neighborhood in a strange city as a tourist. He needs agression, in order to keep kibitzing loudly in the club until someone takes pity on the disturbed players and asks him to play. Finally, he needs patience, in order to fight to the bitter end in a lost position, to his opponent's, and the observers', obvious displeasure.

'Finally, a problem which I composed recently:

'White to play and win. Anybody who sends me the correct solution will win an honorary appointment as the local club's annoying kibitzer.'

How do you Like the New Look?

Well, I've been wanting to do this for a long time, but I finally found some time to mess around with blogger and change the way the blog looks. Among other things, I added a poll (at the end) and a slideshow of chess pictures from flikr. I hope it is easier to read this way.

Chess and Eichmann

 Adolf Eichmann in SS Uniform. Credit: The holocaust research project,

From Sa'chmat: Yarchon Israeli le'Shachmat, year 1 no. 2 (July 1962), p. 2:

'The government's legal counselor, Gideon Hausner [also the prosecutor in Adolf Eichmann's trial -- A.P.] said in a press conference that Eichmann, when in prison in Israel, received about 20 chess problems, "all of which, for some reason, ended in stalemate." The mystery was solved by our Argentinean master, Moshe Czerniak: "stalemate" in Spanish is ahogado, meaning "strangled"'.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Czerniak, the World's only Professional Amateur Chess Player

Moshe Czerniak in the Palestinian championship, 1936. Source: Ha'Sachmat, Jan. 1937, p. 28.

In the last post we talked about why Moshe Czerniak seemed so vain to some people. But it was just this that made him so charming to others. Czerniak, to his dying day, was an amateur at heart.

Professional chess players, out of necessity, adopt a severely objective view of their own games. They also conserve their strength by not playing too much with (actual or relative) patzers, except perhaps for pay during simultaneous displays. They usually attempt to keep a draw at hand first--especially as black--and often offer draws when there's still a lot to be done on the board, simply because they judge the position as objectively equal. They play positionally, trying to accumulate small advantages without taking unncessary risks. They play "for the crosstable", giving away draws when it preserves their place in the tournament.

Czerniak would have none of that. He always was sure his attack is brilliant and that he's winning. He would play with anyone at any time. He would always look for a win: his goal was the opponent's king, not "plus over equal" as white and equality as black. He would see a draw offer almost as an insult: not to himself so much, but to chess in general. ('If you are playing for draws--' he told his students, as Moshe Cna'an and Israel Shrentzel told me, '--why do you bother playing chess at all? Don't you like to play chess?') He played tactically, preferring the open, risky games, in search for the beautiful sacrifice and mating attack. He would always try to win, no matter what his place is in the tournament--even when a draw would assure him first place.

In short, Czerniak was an amateur at heart, a man who loved the game for its own sake, especially its exciting attacks and sacrifices, just like a ten-year-old who learned the moves last month. Czerniak kept this innocent love of the game all his life. Unlike the ten-year-old, he knew (of course) how to play for a draw or maximize small positional advantages. But he usually simply refused to do so, preferring the beautiful attack.

Czerniak was that rare type who gained knowledge of chess without losing his innocent love of it.

I am the Greatest!

Source: Ha'Sachmat, Sept. 1936, pp. 6-7. Click to enlarge.

Moshe Czerniak, Israel's "Mr. Chess", caused strong--and opposing--reactions among Israeli players. The majority (esp. the many students of the game he had) saw him not only as a chess legend, but also as a very nice person. Yet, a minority couldn't stand him and considered him a vain, arrogant man.


It was not inaccessibility: he had not a drop of haughtiness in him and was willing to play chess with anyone, anytime. It was not having a cold or aloof personality: he was a natural extrovert, an extremely friendly and charming man who made friends easily (unlike Yosef Porat, whom everybody respected as a perfect gentlemen and had not an enemy in the world, but few were close to.) It was not under-appreciation of his opponents: his writings are full of praise for them, even--perhaps especially--in games played against himself. It was not an attempt to portray himself as unbeatable: he published, as an editor, games he lost, including a loss to Sonja Graf (64 Mishbatzot [64 Squares], No. 5-6 (June-July) 1956, p. 99). For a professional player of Czerniak's generation, admitting in print he lost to a woman--even if she was the strongest, or second strongest (after Vera Menchik) female player in the world--was quite a brave act. What's more, he had no reason to think his readers in Israel would encounter the rather obscure game (Czerniak-Graf, Mar de Plata, 1942) unless he "confessed" it.

The problem was his annotations. Czerniak was quite objective about other people's games. But, as Moshe Cna'an (one of his students) told me, when he annotated his own games, all objectivity went out the window. His own games are full of excalmation marks and long annotations--both for himself and his opponent--while other games, including those by world champions, are given far less attention. Every game of his is a clash of chess titans, in which he defeats his powerful opponent with even more powerful brilliance.

I am exagerrating, but not by much, as checking his numerous published games shows. In the above photograph we see a wholly typical example. In game #3 (Abram Blass - Meir Rauch, 1-0), the winner gets two '!' & one '!!' (marked with a red dot) while the loser only gets one '?'. There are five text annotations. But in game #4 (Moshe Czerniak - Abram Blass, 1-0) the winner gets four '!' and one '!!' (marked with a green dot) and the loser another '!' (no '?'). There are 18 text annotations--one of the reasons the game takes up nearly three times as much space despite only being a few moves longer (40 vs. 31).

Other players--Howard Staunton, Alexander Alekhine, and Jose-Raul Capablanca, to name a few--were also accused (rightly or wrongly) by some of puffing themselves up with self-praise, and, in Stauton's case in particular, of praising their opponents only to make themselves look good. (See Edward Winter's amazing "chess notes", now online at , and search for "anti-Stuanton"). Without claiming these accusations are necessarily true (I tend to agree with Winter's claim that describing the masters of the past as "crazy", "incredibly arrogant", "narcissistic", etc. is simply libel), there is no doubt that Capablanca, Alekhine, and Stuanton did think of themselves as the best players in the world. They were just that in their day, of course, so their views were certainly not "narcissistic" or "delusions of grandeur"; but nevertheless believing this about themselves was bound to be seen by some as bragging.

But Czerniak's case is that his self-praise was not like that at all. As noted above, apart from being personally a very nice man, he never considered himself unbeatable or superior to his opponents (let alone the best player in the world). He simply suffered from the common amateur malady of always thinking he's winning and that his moves are the best on the board. (As Cna'an, Shrenzel, and Yochanan Afek--to name a few of his "boys"--told me.) A natural extrovert, he saw no reason to hide his beliefs in print. Is it his fault, after all, that he plays well?!

Mystery Tournament

An Israel-made chess clock, ca. 1950. Photo Credit: Avital Pilpel, from an e-bay advertisement.

From Yosef Porat, Oman ha'Sachmat ["Yosef Porat, the Chess Master"] by Eliyahu Fasher and Yosef Porat, p. 29:

'A year later [in 1936-A.P.] the first championship of Palestine took place... it is true that, as the editor of La'Merchav's Chess column noted in 1956, he tried to get details about the tournament that took place in "Sheleg ha'Levanon" coffee house in 1929. But despite the fact that some of the contestants were still alive, neither the crosstable nor a single game score were found. Moves weren't written down and no chess clocks were used (they used hand watches)'.

Presumably, 'pressing the clock' meant pulling out the crown of one's watch and pushing in the opponent's. Not convenient in a time scramble! As no moves were recorded, the games were probably played with a "sudden death" time control (game in so many minutes), as there was no way to determine when the time control was reached.

My research found no record of this tournament anywhere except for Fasher's book (and La'Merchav original article). This is because, unfortunately, it took place in a vacuum: after the folding of the (short-lived) Emanuel Lasker chess club magazine in the mid-1920s, and before any chess columns began to appear in the early 1930s.

Can any reader enlighten us about it?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rising from the Dead

A conversation I had recently, with a well-known politician who has chess connections:

Politician: Who else did you say you interviewed?
Me: Look here. [show him a computer screen with files].
Politician: That's from Eliezer Pe'er, I see. Did his widow give you these?
Me: No, he himself--he's 95 but still alive.
Politician: Oh, dear.
Me: Are you sorry he's alive?
Politician: No, but, you see--we've just passed a resolution in the city council to possibly name a street after him, and...
Me: You just assumed he was dead?
Politician: Let me put it this way: it was approved by the same committee who refused to name a street after Raul Wallenberg for decades, since it was theoretically possible he's still alive.

Czerniak about the Great Players

Moshe Czerniak has met--and played--many of the past greats of chess history. A partial list of his views of them is found in his book, Toldot Ha'sachmat ('History of Chess' (1963). Tel Aviv: Mizrachi Press.)

Frank Marshall: 'When the Palestine team played the USA [in the 1935 Chess Olympiad -- A.P.] it was the late David Enoch's turn to play Marshall. He played well and had a considerable advantage (two pawns) and was sure he would win easily. I remember that during the adjournment I warned Enoch to be careful, precisely because he has the advantage, for he is playing the "king of swindlers!" And indeed, what I feared happened... one inaccurate move was enough for Marshall to pull out of his sleeve a counter-combination and draw the lost battle. You should have seen the old man's joy after saving the draw; it was as if he had won.' (p. 53).

Jose Capablanca: 'In 1939, Capablanca admitted to me that "for some reason" he finds it hard to beat even relatively weak opponents (he meant regular masters), and his game isn't as accurate as it used to be. He told me [this is] "because today chess is no longer a struggle of intelligence and talent, but also very hard work, one needs to know a lot of theory." (p. 59).

Savielly Tartakower: 'I knew Dr. Tartakower personally. I came to realize that behind the brilliant and somewhat cynical exterior, there is a man of rare fairness, honesty, and objectivity.' (p. 71).

Mir Sultan Khan: 'In 1931 I had the opportunity to play two games with him as he passed through Strasburg, on his way to the match with Tartakower... I was a young and inexperienced player, and of course was defeated by a giant like him. But when the games ended and we analyzed the games together, he amazed me with the numerous original ideas he considered during the game.' (p. 75).

Alexander Alekhine: 'That year I had the chance to talk with Alekhine about the reserve players [anshey ha'atuda--the context suggests it's a misprint for anshey ha'atid, "up-and-coming players"--A.P.] in world chess. The world champion pointed out four youngsters as greatly talented: Flohr, Kashdan, Nussbaum, and Sultan Khan. Only a select few got praise from Alekhine!' (p. 75).

Miguel Najdorf: 'In [the Lodz championship], that took place in 1929, he already showed his special style. He lost eight games and won only three, and I remember that, when he returned to Warsaw, he told me that there is one opening for White that Black cannot defend against! (He meant the Queen's gambit). The three games he won were chosen as the tournament's three most beautiful games!' (p. 83).

Samuel "Sammy" Reshevsky: 'Reshevsky... does not believe in studying opening theory... does not use seconds to analyze adjourned games... and wastes most of his time in the opening. In the Helsinki Olympiad I had a long talk with him, and when I noted all these weaknesses in his play, he replied: "I think none of that is crucial, not opening novelties, not adjournment help and not even rational time allotment.... one must simply find the mathematically best move at every position in the game, though this is not always possible over the board."' (p. 88)

David Bronstein and Tigran Petrosian: 'In the Belgrade tournament in 1954, I spent many hours with Bronstein and Petrosian, and we analyzed various games. I soon realized the difference in their approach. Bronstein was interested in discovering the way to reach the goal, while he left its execution to Petrosian.' (p. 91).

Vasily Smyslov: 'I have never seen him angry, even when all his plans fail.' (p. 93).

Petrosian and Flohr: 'During the Leipzig Olympiad, in 1960, I asked Petrosian if he had any beautiful games worthy of publications in the Olympiad. Salo Flohr, who say next to him, laughed: "don't you know, Tigran has no beautiful games, he has only good games!"' (p. 99).

Lasker Statue

Photo Credit: Avital Pilpel

This bust of Emanuel Lasker has been watching the action in the Lasker Chess Club in Tel Aviv for the past 50 years or so. It had travelled with the club in its various haunts. The three plaques on the base read, from left to right: 'P. N. Weber' (presumably the sculptor); 'Dr. Emanuel Lasker'; and 'A gift from the club’s president, Mr. Eliezer Rabinowitz'.’

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Playing Conditions

Porat in 1926. Photo Credit: Yosef Porat, Aman ha'Sachmat [Yosef Porat, the Chess Master] by Eliyahu Fasher and Porat.

For those players who complain about how they lost games due to stress, poor playing conditions, being distracted by other concerns, etc. - a lesson from Yosef Porat, in a letter to Shachmat, (May 1983, vol. 22 no. 5, issue 240:155):

"In my hometown of Breslau in lower Silesia there were two large chess clubs: the Anderssen, which had only a few Jewish members, and the Morphy, which most local Jewish players joined and had a few prominent Jewish members among its officials. A few weeks after Hitler came to power the city championship began in the Morphy’s rooms (as is known Hitler originally was the head of a coalition government and only a few weeks later became a dictator [sic] and then the “illegal” attacks against Jews and other increased.) [Porat presumably means the great increase in Hitler’s power after the passing of the so-called “Enabling Act” of March 23, 1933-A.P.]

"The championship began in the middle of March 1933 and lasted about two months. There were a few rounds left when rumors began to circulate that the Nazis might invade the club at any minute (the anti-democratic and anti-Semitic forces then becoming stronger by the day). In all of the later rounds I came to play with a feeling of great mental stress: will the round end peacefully? It is very possible this stress affected my play, in any rate I didn’t win first place as previously but only second place. [after the non-Jewish master Gottlieb Machate, who also led the tournament most of the time—A.P.]

"Indeed, until the end of the championship nothing happened, but a few days later a group of SA men entered the club, expelled the Jews present, dismissed the management, and made the club into a 'National-Socialist chess club'. Some thought the Nazis would have done this sooner if I were leading the tournament!"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Rubinstein Rook Sacrifice

In 1931, Akiba Rubinstein visited Palestine and gave a few simultaneous exhibitions, playing inter alia with the famous poet, Hayim Nachman Biyalik (see "A Genius Meets a Genius" on this blog). In one of his games he played Nussdorf, a nine-year-old boy. The game was published in Menachem Mendel Marmorosh's chess column in Davar on May 8th, 1931. The annotations are Marmorosh's.

Rubinstein, Akiba -- Nussdorf, Elazar (age 9) (source of name: Doar Hayom 20/4/1931, p. 2)
King's Gambit Declined [C30]
Tel Aviv, April 16th (probably) or May 6th (less likely) 1931 (Nussdorf played in both simuls, but this game was probably the first one, due to Doar Hayom's 20/4 praise of his 'extraordinary' play).

1. e4 e5
2. f4 Bc5
3. Nf3 d6
4. Nc3 Nc6
5. Bc4 Nf6
6. d3 Bg4
7. h3 Bxf3
8. Qxf3 Nd4
9. Qg3

"A nice rook scarifice to distract Black."

9. ... Nxc2+
10. Kd1 Nxa1
11. Qxg7 Rf8
12. f4xe5 d5!?

"An very interesting move, whose purpose is to lock out the Bishop."

13. e4xd5 Rg8
14. Qxf6 Qxf6
15. e5xf6 Rxg2
16. Re1+ Kd7
17. Ne4 Bb4
"Better is 17. ... Bb4."

18. Bd2! Bd6
19. Nxd6 Kxd6
20. b4 Rg8
21. Bf4+ Kd7
22. Re7+ Kc8
23. Rxc7+ Kd8
24. Rxf7 Rf2
25. Rg7
Black resigns.

Adds Marmorosh, "the wonder-boy showed great talent in his game and became the big sensation of the simultaneous exhibition."

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Mysterious Dr. Alfred (Aharon) Weiner

In Yosef Porat's and Eliyahu Fasher's book, Yosef Porat, Aman ha'Sachmat ("Yosef Porat, The Chess Master"), appear this photo of Porat's uncle, Dr. Aharon Weiner. Adds Fasher (p. 11, my additions in brackets):

"He [Porat] learned chess at the age of 9 from a relative, his late uncle Dr. Alfred (Aharon) Weiner, a lawyer first in Berlin and later in Jerusalem. This man had an extremely deep understanding of chess, but for certain reasons he didn't play in a single tournament, and limited himself to offhand games with friends. He had one of the largest chess libraries [in Israel], which he donated to the city of Jerusalem.

"For decades Weiner had corresponence with Porat, starting in Berlin in 1925 and ending soon before his [Weiner's] death in 1971. These letters are saved in Porat's house in three thick folders. Some of it is discussin about general matters, but Weiner would usually would get Porat's games and comment on them. Occassionally a certain subject would be discussed for a few letters. These letters greatly influenced Porat: 'Neither once nor twice I realize where I've gone wrong.'"

Porat was an International Master when there were less than 200 IMs in the world. By today's standards he would have been at least a Grandmaster, probably a rather strong one. Mr. Weiner is a unique, or at least very rare, case of a chess enthusiast who hasn't played in a single tournament--and yet has a Grandmaster's understanding of the game.

One of the uneforseen downsides of the chess programs' revolution is that, today, it is hard to tell by someone's analysis how good a player they are. Everybody can use Fritz! Back then, however, when someone gave you grandmaster-level analysis of your games, you could be sure they really knew chess.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Prizes and Poetry

On December 19th, 1930, Menachem Mendel Marmorosh, the editor of Davar's new chess column, announced prizes to those who solve the first 25 problems given in the column.

"The first prize is 10 books of Davar's publishing firm, which are:

1). Safiach ["Addendum"], poems by Rachel (that is, Rachel Bluwstein Sela, a Hebrew poet).
2). Dmuyot Melavot ["Minor Characters"], stories by Menachem Poznansky.
3). Ba'Gilgal ["In the Gilgal"], poems by Avraham Shlonsky.
4). Polzelina, an historical play by Sh. D. Goitin.
5). She'er Yeshuv ["The Settlements"], by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi [an historian, and, later, the second president of Israel]. Articles about the history of Jewish settlement in Palestine. "A map of Palestine is included".
6). Sofey Shvilim ["The Ends of the Roads"], poems by M. Z. Welfivsky.
7). The Collected Works of A. Sh. Liberman, first volume.
8). Anakreon al Kotev Ha'Itzavon, ["Anakreon (a Greek lyrical poet--A.P.) about the Extreme of Sadness"], poems by Uri Zvi Greenberg.
9). Al Gvul Ha'dmama ["On the Edge of Silence"], fiction by Zvi Shatz.
10). Bi'Yemei Masa ["At Times of Trouble"], articles by Moshe Beilinson (about the 1928-1929 anti-Jewish riots in Palestine), "in a beautiful cover".

The total cash value? "1.175 Palestinian Pounds"--roughly $110 U.S. Dollars in today's exchange rate (although such comparisons are necessarily crude.) I wonder if, in the list of prizes for chess competitions, was there ever another competition which offered as prizes neither cash, nor a single chess-related item?

(About unusual prizes, one incident immediately comes to mind: Mikhail Tal, in his wonderful autobiography The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal, writes that in a playoff game to determine the winner of a special prize in a tournament, his opponent insisted before the game that, whatever the result, they would divide the prize. Tal had no objection, but reminded his opponent that the prize in question was a hunting rifle--"and it wasn't even of the double-barrel variety".)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ex Libris

The following bookplate belonged to Edward van Amerongen, the Dutch-Israeli chess player. The Hebrew is a quote from Zecharia 4:6, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit".

Quite a fitting quote for a chess player, especially in the original, where the word used for "spirit"--rua'h--also means "intellect" or "mind". We all feel like that if and when we win. Of course, when we lose, it's not because of the opponent's superior intellectual powers. Then, it's just a freak, momentary lapse from our usual-perfect play the opponent was lucky to exploit.

Photo credit: They, in turn, credit it to Jean Buchet, writing in L'Echiquier de Paris in a series of articles from 1947 to 1953.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Czerniak Quip

Moshe Czerniak in South America, 1940s. Credit: Yochanan Afek.

From Ad Ha'ragli Ha'acharon ("Fighting to the Last Pawn") by Yochanan Afek, Horacio Volman, and Amatzia Avni (Israel: Gambit Press, 2000), p. 38:

"After losing a won game, one of Czerniak's young pupils told him: 'whoever invented this game was a big fool!'. 'I don't know if he was a fool' -- said Czerniak -- 'but he was certainly thoroughly evil.'"

Najdorf-Czerniak Match, +5 -1 =2, October 1929

The book Ad Ha'ragli Ha'acharon ("Fighting to the Last Pawn"), by Yochanan Afek and Horacio Volman (authors), Amatzia Avni (ed.) (Israel: Gambit Press, 2000), says that Moshe Czerniak, when a young man in Poland, kept meticulous notes of his games in a notebook, and played a match against his friend, Miguel Najdorf, in 1929. Afek kindly allowed me to digitally photograph the (one surviving) notebook, from which I got the information in the title of this post (see above photograph).

Only a fragment from one of these eight games (a draw) was published in the book (p. 19), and only two pages from the notebook (p. 65). I do not, however, know if Najdorf, or any of his chess biographers, had ever mentioned this match. Presuming that Najdorf doesn't give the game scores of this match anywhere (a likely assumption, since most players did not keep notes as meticulously as Czerniak did), does anyone out there know Polish and would be interested to translate the games and Czerniak's notes?

It would be, I think, worthwhile to do so even if the games were already well-known, since it is not that common to get a peep at the notes a strong player (Czerniak) made for himself as he was developing in his youth, certainly not when playing an even stronger player (Najdorf) who was also still on the rise. Here, in addition, the games are surely not well-known, if not exactly "lost" (the match was mentioned in Afek and Volman's book, after all.) They do not, for instance, appear in any of the commercial, or online, databases I checked.