Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Maccabiah and the first Palestinian Chess Championship: 1932?

A ticket for the Levant Fair, 1932. Photo credit: Alma7's blog on

Okay, I am cheating. There was no chess in the first (1932) Maccabiah held in Tel Aviv. There was, however, a whole lot of chess activity in the concurrently-held Levant Fair [Yarid ha'Mizrach] , also held in Tel Aviv at the same time, and opened by the same personality -- Tel Aviv's mayor, Meir Dizengoff.

There was a chess building in the exhibition. Moshe Marmorosh, the editor of Davar's chess column, promised on 31/3/32 that, after the opening on April 9th, we shall see the following:
The fair's exhibition's management began to build a building for chess in the exhibition. Every mail brings with it letters from masters in other countries asking about details and wishing to take part. The Champions Hans Kmoch from Vienna and Louis Steiner from Budapest wish to take part, giving blind simuls against 15 opponents, and do not ask for payment, but only expenses.
There will be a special competition under the sponsorship of mayor Meir Dizengoff for the Palestinian championship. Ten of the best players in the country will participate. For this tournament special chess clocks were installed, with a special buzzer that informs the player when he must move (not moving on time allows the opponent to demand a draw). 
There are arrangements made for blitz games (without time for thought) and simultaneous exhibitions.
The tournament did in fact take place -- sort of. On April 10th, Davar reported:
The Palestinian Champion
Is the title to be contested in the first national championship, which opened yesterday in the chess building in the Levant Fair. The tournament was opened by Meir Dizengoff ... the players are: from Tel Aviv: Marmorosh, Sambeski [ph. spelling], Dobkin, Weisbohr [ph.], Nevtigel [ph.], Levonski Abraham; from Haifa - Kniazer; from Jerusalem -- Fussni [ph.], Pappo. The tenth contestant has not yet been chosen. 

Our frequent coresspondent Moshe Roytman notes that I have significantly mistranslated the names above. As he notes in this link, from Davar 10.4.1932, it is clear that the correct names are Weissbord (ph.), not Weisbohr, Nachtigel (not Nevtigel), and Polani (not "Fussni"). My error! The mistakes are due to the similarity in the appearance of certain words in Hebrew, or the same letter having two different sounds. 

After this, however, Davar, and Marmorosh, had been silent, saying nothing more about chess in the fair, or the championship, or about Kmoch or Steiner, so far as I can tell. No games from the tournament had -- to my knowledge -- ever appeared in any publication (does any reader know otherwise?) What's more, the first recognized "Palestinian Champion" is Moshe Czerniak, in 1936.

Presumably, the tournament fell through and was not finished; the fact that four of the players -- those spelled phonetically -- are unknown (at least to me) even in the small world of Palestinian chess publications of the time, and that a tenth player is "yet to be chosen", makes one suspect as much.

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