Friday, March 30, 2012

Chigorin, Winawer, and Antisemitism

Source: Hatzfira, 25.5.1891

Antisemitism in chess -- or in Russia for that matter -- is nothing new, but here is a nice counter-example. Hatzfira (Warsaw) reported on May 25th, 1891, that Mikhail Chigorin has celebrate his victory over Wilhelm Steinitz (in their well-known "telegraph match", which Chigorin won 2-0), in the St. Petersburg Chess Club. (The club's name, by the way, was literally translated into 19th century Hebrew as 'The Committee House for the Community of those who Play in the Game of Chess'...)

The paper notes that Chigorin proposed a toast to his 'master and guide, the well known master' (as Hatzfia describes him) Szymon Winawer, and, what's more, sent a telegram to him, in Warsaw, notifying him of this. The paper reports he thanked Winawer for 'managing him [Chigorin] and supporting him when he first went out to compete in chess at a time of difficulty and trial'. Hatzfira added that this event was also published in another, non-Jewish Warsaw newspaper (whose name is only given in initials by Hatfira), and adds:
That newspaper's editor did not know, or did not want to know, that the man toasted by the St. Petersburg Chess Club is a Jew. As is well known, Jews are not allowed to be members of that club. 
Kudos for Chigorin, who was not a Jew, not only for remembering his Jewish teacher at the moment of his greatest triumph, but also toasting him openly in a "no Jews allowed" chess club.

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