Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Joy of Books

Sometimes, I post things on this blog that are of a general chess nature, not having anything in particular to do with Jews and/or Israel/Palestine, though they do have to do with chess, and usually, with chess history. This post is such a case.

Today, everybody just "knows" nobody needs chess books any more, and all that matters are databases -- especially so as to keep up-to-date with the latest opening novelties. But let us consider what Amos Burn had to offer us -- way back in 1901.

Burn was, in his peak (ca. 1890) almost as strong, based on his international tournament record, as Steinitz was at the time, while remaining an amateur. He was also British Amateur Champion, won many strong national tournaments, etc. He was also a longtime editor of chess columns. In the Liverpool Weekly Mercury, 17 Aug. 1901, he offered a correspondence game between the Liverpool Chess Club (where he was one of the consultants) and the Edinburgh Chess Club.

The game reached the following position:

Burn notes that, after the last move, 53. Bf4!, the Liverpool CC announced mate in 45. The Edinburgh CC, in reply, accepted their analysis and resigned the game!

Why? Burn explains in his long column (I am paraphrasing):

  1. First, in general, White, due to his advanced passed pawn, should wins once he forces the exchange of bishops.
  2. But things are not that simple. If Black's king were on f7, Black could accept the exchange of bishops since then he could keep the king on d8 or e8, ready to move to d7 the moment the White's king moved to e5 (e5 and d7 are corresponding squares), putting White in a drawing zugzwang. As it is, after the forced 53. ... Bxf4 54. Kxf4, if Black plays 54. ... Kd7? 55. Ke5! and it is Black who is in a losing zugzwang.
  3. So 54. ... Kd6 is forced, and White then wins by moving his king to the queen side and queening a pawn there, as Black is too late to stop him after he takes the f-pawn. 
  4. But why is the win so long? Isn't an outside (and far-advanced) passed pawn usually quickly decisive? Because, Burn's analysis makes clear, nevertheless Black can take the f-pawn (which is relatively close to the d-file) and just manage to queen as White queens, leaving the two sides with an interesting an complicated queen's ending!
So we get:

55. Ke4 Ke6 56. Kd4 c5+ ('If 56. ... Kd6 57 c5+ wins' -- Burn.) 57. Kc3 Kd7 58. Kb3 Kd6 59. Ka4 Ke6 60. Kd7 61. f7 (at the right time) Ke7 62. Kc6 Kxf7 63. Kb7 b5 64. cxb5 c4 (nothing else reaches a queen's ending at all) 65. b6 c3 66. bxa7 c2 67. a8=Q c1=Q.  

Analysis Diagram

Now, adds Burn, this queen's ending is (due to the extra advanced pawn) won for White. But it isn't simple! He notes: 'It would have been an almost endless task to... arrive at the solution by mere plodding analysis'. Instead he offers the following strategic analysis (I shortened it) of various winning plans.
  1. Speaking generally, the a-pawn cannot be queened unless Black's king is on the second rank, otherwise the white king will be trapped in the corner.
  2. If White's king first captures Black' pawn, he can then (both his pawns defended by the queen) take refuge in a8, advance the pawn to a7, and with his queen at b7 advance the g-pawn, threatening mate or exchange of queens. Then Black's queen must capture the g-pawn, and white checks at c8 or moves his king to b8, queening the a-pawn.
  3. Alternatively, if the black king moves to h7 (the second rank) the a pawn can queen.
  4. Or else, in many cases, the a-pawn can be abandoned, so long as the king is close enough to the g-pawn to queen it. 
  5. In all these cases White must avoid perpetual check, and to do this the black pawn must be made liable to capture by the White king. 
So, we have, in one column:
  1. A game where a bishop's ending turns from a drawn to a lost pawn's ending due to one tempo; 
  2. a pawn's ending that turns into a complex queen's ending; 
  3. a deep analysis of the ending's various winning plans and pitfalls; 
  4. all that leading to an announcement of mate in 45 from the original bishops' ending.
Oh, and not to mention, the complete game itself.

But amateurs think that they will get more out of chess by checking their constantly-updated database for opening novelties they will never play and won't know how to exploit if they did play.

They must be joking.

(Source of Burn's column: Richard Forster's superb Amos Burn: A Chess Biography, pp. 498-499).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tourist-Trap Chess

Photo: A.P.
Photo: A.P.
Here we have something slightly different. Jerusalem's old city is full of little bazaars where Arab shopkeepers sell various knickknacks to passing tourists. Apparently "authentic" oriental chess sets are very popular.

Needless to say the actual Arab version of chess -- shatranj -- would not have queens. Instead, it would have a vazir, literally "counselor", roughly equivalent to "prime minister", or the shah's chief adviser. It certainly won't have any bishops!  What we really have here are simply Staunton-design cheap wooden sets.

From the "Chess for Yuppies" File

What's wrong with this picture? (Photo: A. P.)
 Chess is seen, sometimes, as not so much a game but a status symbol -- something that intelligent and/or successful and/or rich people engage in to show their superior mind. Many people own a chess set without knowing how to play -- simply as a mark of culture.

The above (found in one of those god-awful "gifts for men" store, with overpriced made-in-China "exclusive" junk) is the result. Oy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mieses in Palestine -- Part II

In spring 1936, Jacques Mieses visited Palestine. He gave a few exhibitions. His results were:

Tel Aviv, May 2, 1936: +21 -4 =10. Among the winners was Shlomo Smiltiner (b. 1915) -- who, by the 1960s, was part of the Israeli chess world's "old guard", and who is still, as of this writing, alive and playing chess. There were about 50 spectators, and the game took 4.5 hours. It was arranged at the Clerks' Club.

Jerusalem, May 5, 1936: 2 Consultation games (=2). 1st board: Mohilever, M. Weitz, spelling corrected 10/2/2014; presumably the same Weitz who was the chess patron of the club -- see here for more details. Burnstein, and Not. 2nd board: Kelter, Y. Weitz, and Lukowitz (all spellings except Mohilever's phonetic). At the Menorah Club.

Jerusalem, May 7, 1936: At the Menorah Club. Blindfold simul against five opponents (+3 =2). Drew against Torczyner (a famous linguistics professor, Shaul Hon's mentor) and Silberberg. 'His performance amazed all the spectators'.

Jerusalem, May 9, 1936: Simultaneous display against 24 (+17 -3 =4). Mohilever drew again. At the Menorah Club.

Haifa, May 14, 1936:  At the Werner Cafe. Details missing.

Haifa, May 19, 1936: Planned "against 30 players" a the Teltsch House. Details missing.

Edited to add: a contributor notes the simul was eventually against 17 (+15 -1 =1). Source: Davar, May 15th, 1936. 

Below is the second consultation game (vs. Kelter, Y. Witz, and Lukowitz). Mieses is Black. Annotations by Moshe Marmorosh.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 e5?! 

An unusual move in this opening and the White consultants manage to refute it.

4. cxd5 cxd5 5. dxe5 d4 6. Ne4 Qa5+ 7. Nd2! Qxe5

Better was 7. ... Nc6 8. f4 Nh6 with the idea of 9. ... Nf5.

8. Ngf3 Qd5 9. Nb3 

Black now loses the isolated d-pawn.

9. ... Nf6 10. Nfxd4 Nc6 11. e3 Ne4 

The threat is 12. .... Bb4+.

12. Nxc6 Qxd1+ 13. Kxd1 bxc6 14. Ke1 Bb4+ 15. Bd2 Nxd2 16. Nxd2 Bb7 

17. a3 Be7 18. Bd3 0-0-0 19. Ke2 g6 20. b4 Rd7 21. Rhd1 Bf6 22. Rab1 Rhd8 23. Ne4 Be7 24. Bc4 f5 25. Be6 

Apparently Black should lose due to 26. Rxd7 and 27. Rd1, but...

25. ... Ba6+ 26. Ke1 fxe4 27. Rxd7 Rxd7 28. Rd1 Bd3 29. f3!

Threatening to win the Bishop after 30. fxe4, but the old master finds a way out. 

29. ... c5!

The only saving move!

30. bxc5

30. fxe4 c4!

30. ... Bb5 31. Bxd7+ Bxd7 32. Rd5 Kc7

Better was 32. ... fxe3

33. Re5 Bf8 Rxe4 Bxc5 35. Rc4 Kd6 36. Rc3 a5 37. Kd2 a4 38. Rd3+ Kc6 39. Kc2 Be6 40. g4 Bc4 41. Rc3 Kb5 42. f4 Bd5

Draw agreed (0.5-0.5).

Sources: Davar's chess column (ed. Moshe Marmorosh), 7.5.36 and 14.5.36. Apparently there were no reports of Mieses' results at Haifa, or the games were canceled.

An Amusing Position

From the Tel Aviv championship of 1947. Source: Shaul Hon's chess column, Davar, Feb. 7th, 1947.

White: Yehuda Greungard Black: Yosef Dobkin.
(Annotations: Shaul Hon)
 French Defense

1.  e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 dxe4 6. Qg4 Nf6 7. Qxg7 Rg8 8. Qh6 c5 9. Ne2 Nc6 10. dxc5 

Very good! Destroys Black's pressure in the center.

10. ... Rg6 11. Qe3 Qa5 12. Bd2 e5

13. ... Ng4 immediately is better, then Qxc5.

13. Ng3 Ng4

Black cannot protect his pawns, but better is 13. ... h5 14. Nxe4 Ng4 with attacking chances.

14. Qxe4 Qxc5 15. Qe2 f5 16. f3 Nf6 17. Qg2 Qd5

Better is 17. ... Qe7 immediately.

18. Rd1 Qg8 19. Bd3 e4 20. fxe4 fxe4 21. Nxe4 Nxe4 22. Bxe4 Re6 23. Qf3

If 23. Qh3, 23. ... Qg4 wins a piece.

Ne5 24. Qe2 Qg4 25. Rf1 Qh4+ 26. g3 Qe7 27. Be3

A rare case: the entire e-file is occupied!

27. ... Bd7

If 27. ... Nf4?!, then 28. Qb5+ Bd7 29. Rxd7!! Qxd7 30. Rf8+ and wins.

28. Bf5 Rc6 29. Bxd7+

29. Qh5+! wins instantly.

29. ... Nxd7 30. Bg5 Qxe2+ 31. Kxe2

White successfully repulsed Black's attacks and remains two pawns to the good.

31. ... Rxc3 32. Kd2 Rc5 33. Re1+ Ne5 34. Rf5 Black resigns (1-0).

Friday, August 13, 2010

It isn't all Brilliancies, you Know

In the 1976 Haifa Olympiad there were many very interesting games between strong players. But, as Shlomo Kandelshein (author) and Yedael Stepak (analyst) note in their very good book, The Haifa 1976 Chess Olympiad, the level of the "rabbits", the players from countries with no chess tradition, left much to be desired.

They give (p. 34) the following game, played in the second round between Brain G. Campbell (British Virgin Islands) and Maurice Kennefick (Ireland). Stepak's annotations are justifiably derisory.

Campell, B. G. -- Kennefick, M.
Haifa Olympiad, 2nd rd., 26/10/1976
Annotations: Yedael Stepak.

About the level of the countries which were ranked near the bottom in the Olympaid we can learn from the following amusing game. Does the first player deserve an Israeli 5th rank [American "D" level player- A.P.]?

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3

why not 3. ... Bg5 ?

3. ... g6 4. Bf4 Bg7 5. Nb5??

A tyro's move.   

 5. ... Na6 6. Qd2?? Ne4 7. Qe3 c6 8. Nc3 Qa5 9. 0-0-0 Nb4 10. a3?

Allows a piquant finish.

10. ... Nxc3 11. Bd6

Pretty good relative to White's level, but even this is too late.

11. ... Nba2+ 12. Kd2 Ne4+ 13. Qd3 Qb5+ 14. c4 Qxc4#

Today, due to computers and improved training, such games -- even among weak contestants and teams -- are rarely seen in the Olympiad.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Lost Chess Art of David Friedmann

 Title page of Köpfe berühmter Schachmeister by David Friedmann. (c) 1999 Miriam Friedman Morris. Collection located in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the Hague.

David Friedmann (1893-1980) was a Jewish artist and Holocaust survivor. He was born in Maehrisch Ostrau in the Austria-Hungary Empire (The town is known today as Ostrava, in the Czech Republic.)

In 1911, he moved to Berlin to study art. During WWI, he served with distinction as a battle artist in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He returned to Berlin and resumed painting late impressionist landscapes, still lifes, and nudes, and exhibiting at the Berliner Secession and numerous galleries through Germany and Czechoslovakia.

In 1924, his acclaim as a portraitist led to an additional career as a freelance press artist for various Berlin newspapers and magazines. He sketched many luminaries from all walks of life, from scientists such as Albert Einstein to barn-storming pilots such as the WWI ace (and, ironically, later Luftwaffe high-ranking officer) Ernst Udet (1). He was most at home in the artistic world, sketching numerous portraits of opera singers, musicians, actors, and chess players (3). He also portrayed politicians, sports legends, and industrialists.

As his daughter, Miriam Friedman Morris, says:
He learned that an International Chess Master Tourney would take place from July 1-18, 1923, in his home town and place of birth. He met Dr. Emanuel Lasker, the former would chess champion. He explained about his specialty of producing lithographs and intrigued him with the idea of portraying the players in the tournament. (My father was a master in lithographs and copper etchings, having studied this technique with Hermann Struck in 1913 in Berlin). (1)
The result was 50 numbered portfolios composed of 14 lithograph portraits (one for each player): Das Schachmeister Turnier in Maehrisch Ostrau, Juli 1923. Remarkably, after having been lost a second time,  portfolio no. 4 surfaced again in the Ostrava Museum. At some point the artist omitted Pokorny and Hromadka, and changed the title to Köpfe berühmter Schachmeister. This portfolio of 12 to 14 lithograph portraits is composed of most of the players of the 1923 tournament and now included Ossip Bernstein and/or Richard Teichmann (images from the portfolio linked to above, (c) 1999 Miriam Friedman Morris, hosted by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek - national library of the Netherlands). Emanuel Lasker himself owned portfolio no. 27; the Bibliotheek's portfolio is no. 28. (2)

After the Nazis' rise to power, his prewar career ended. In 1938, he fled with his young family to Prague, only to be deported in 1941 to the Lodz ghetto, and then in 1944 to Auschwitz and other camps. The Gestapo looted his oeuvre in 1941 in Berlin and again in Prague under the auspices of the Deutsches Reich. All through his incarceration, he continuing to draw and paint (scroll down on the web page linked to 1941ff.) (3)

It takes only a short glance at David Friedmann's art, as can be seen in the links provided as well as the illustration in the articles quoted, that he was a major artist, a great talent. To this day, Ms. Friedman Morris is looking for art by her father which was lost in the war. A detailed list is here. Another is here (in German and English).

Ms. Friedman Morris told me that while still in Berlin, her father gave or sold his art to Jewish friends or clients fleeing the Nazi regime to Eretz Israel. Due to his interest in chess, it is possible that some of his portraits of chess masters, and, who knows, perhaps other, unknown chess art, had been saved by chess players now in Israel. In fact, his art could be found anywhere in the world. If you, dear reader, know of such art, Ms. Friedman Morris and I would be very glad to hear about it.

Note in particular that David Friedmann varied his signature, signing sometimes Dav. Friedmann (as above), sometimes D. Friedmann, and sometimes just Friedmann (1). Scroll below in this link of his lost art for examples of his varied signature.

David Friedmann also lived and painted in Israel (1949-1954) and the United States, where he became an American citizen in 1960. He changed the spelling of his surname to Friedman.


(1) Friedman Morris, Miriam, “David Friedmann’s Artwork for Berlin’s Newspapers”, Chess Life, U.S. Chess Federation. Vol. 51, No. 9. September 1996. pp. 40-41.

(2)  Friedman Morris, Miriam, “David Friedmann’s Portraits of Famous Chess Masters”, The CCI-USA News, Chess Collectors International, Vol. 4, No. 1. May 1997. 

(3) "David Friedman: Timeline -- Artist as Witness." (c) 1989-2010 Miriam Friedman Morris. At the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.