Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wishful Thinking

Tall Tale #1 -- from the original publisher, ca. 1860 (Photo: A.P.)

Tall Tale #2 -- from the reprint edition, 1973. (Photo credit: A. P.)

The above two cuttings are from a book by the Sadna Le'Tikshoret Yisumit [Workshop for Practical Communications] in Israel. It had published, in 1973, a reprint, under the title Shok ha'Shach, two 19th century Hebrew chess pamphlets: Shok ha'Shach [The Game of Chess] by Yosef Yehuda Leib Zosnitz (ca. 1860) and Limudei ha'Iyuni ve'ha'Maasi be'Darchei ha'Schok ha'Nikra Schachspiel [Theoretical and Practical Lessons in Chess] by Zvi Uri Rubinstein (1809).

Let me emphasize that both Zosnitz and Rubinstein are blameless. Both their works are, simply, chess primers -- and make no claim of being anything else. They tell no tall tales and make no incredible promises.


First, the publisher (not Zosnitz himself) in the 1860s took upon himself to add, opposite the title page of Zosnitz's work (see 1st photo), a 'note from the publisher' in which he adds 'some notes about Napoleon and the Turk', where the old story, probably false, about Napoleon playing (and losing) to the chess automaton is once more retold -- in the interest of increasing sales.

Second, the editors of the 1973 edition not only kept the 1860s publisher's PR page, but add, on the first page of their collection (second photo):
This [book] is like a joyous trip in a magical time machine, into the thicket of times immemorial. Chess fans will find in this book cool waters which were dredged up directly and without processing from the ancient wells from which Bobby Fischer also dredged his amazing knowledge, that led him to the heights of the world throne of the chess kingdom.
As an example of the kind of 'ancient knowledge' which helped Fischer reach 'the heights of the world throne of the chess kindgom', below is a translation of a typical page from Rubinstein's work, care of Victor Keats' Chess in Jewish History and Hebrew Literature (Jerusalem: Magnus Press, 1995):

Photo Credit: A. P.

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