Saturday, June 23, 2012

Where Rubinstein Learned Chess -- Updated

My colleague Moshe Roytman, remarking on this post, noted that it is based on a much longer and detailed letter to the editors of Doar Ha'Yom from 20/2/1923 (p. 4), by Mr. Wilson, who was an eyewitness to the events in Bialystok, ca. 1900. As one can see by comparing the two, the 1931 article seems to be a recollection of the 1924 one, with minor changes, i.e., the name of the cafe owner in Bialystok changing between the two versions, from Troisky to Stein.

Source: Doar Ha'Yom, 20/2/1923,  p. 4 (click for larger image)


About Rubinstein's Personality (A letter to the editors).
To the editors of "Doar Hayom".
Dear Sirs! 
On 31/1/1923 the Emmanuel Lasker chess club published an article about Rubinstein. I wish to shed some light on some of Rubinstein's biography, which seem like a legend according to that article. To Mrs. Troisky's [ph. spelling] cafe, in Wishilkover St., Bialystok, where our chess club was at the time, a swarthy, sickly young man began to come in 1900. This was Rubinstein, about 18, coming in to drink yogurt to help his health. 
He would sit for hours, looking at the game, but not participating. One evening he came to me to help him learn the rules of the game, and I obliged. After the first games I recognized he has an exceptional talent. When he asked me to come to my house (Vishinsky house on Neulet [ph. sp.] street -- Rubinstein will surely remember these names) I gladly agreed. 
Ever since he stole from me Saturday mornings, since he would come to my house at sunrise to play. After three months I could not win a single game from him. He would play with me blindfold, without looking at the board, and always win. He played a few times with Kna'al [ph. spelling], our top player, and after defeating him consistently, Kna'al stopped playing him. He apparently was ashamed to be defeated by a youth.  At the time there was in Bialystok the (Russian) chief railway engineer, who played with Steinitz in his day, and who would have their games published in the press. He, too, was defeated by the the Jewish youth. Also, the head of the city's business school was probably quite ashamed to be defeated by the swarthy youth, and in our club there was great joy, that such a talent was discovered among us. 
We must admit, that even then we expected great things from Akiba Rubinstein. But he surpassed our wildest expectations. Greetings to you, the winner!
The chess historian, Mr. Tomasz Lissowski, informs me that the railway engineer mentioned was probably Ing. G. G. Bartoszkiewicz. Wilson's letter was itself a reply to an article in Doar Ha'Yom from 31/1/1923, about the Vienna tournament at the time, which gave a pen portrait of various contestants, and that week chose Rubinstein:

Soruce: Doar Ha'Yom, 31/1/1923. Click for larger image.


The Chess Department 
(Managed by the chess club "Immanuel Lasker")
A review of the Vienna tournament
C). Rubinstein
Akiba Rubinstein was born in 1882 in Stawiski (Lodz Lomza -- an alert reader's correction county, Russian Poland). He came to Lodz as a young yeshiva student, and started visiting the well-known chess cafe, where Salwe ruled supreme. Rubinstein would choose opponents among the rook players, and even among them he was one of the weakest. This way he continued his visits for a long time, playing with much passion but without improving noticeably.
One time, he was absent from the cafe for a few weeks. When he returned, he went directly to Salwe and asked him for a match. Something happened that nobody imagined: Rubinstein won, and from that time was one of the two strongest players in the club (Reti, from his book Modern Ideas in Chess). 
Now, the story about Rubinstein being absent from the Lodz club for a few months, and then coming back and beating Salwe would seem to suggest that he went back to Bialystok and got better there, plotting his "revenge". However, other evidence seems to contradict this. 

For one thing, if Rubinstein came back from Lodz to Bialystok after having played chess there, if badly, it would make no sense for him to ask Wilson to "help him learn the rules of the game", although perhaps Wilson was speaking metaphorically. What's more, a detailed note from Mr. Tomasz Lissowski, relying on many other sources, informs me Rubinstein probably moved to Bialystok ca. 1900, did not participate in many games due to lack of funds, but got better, defeating Bartoskiewicz (one of the best players in the city), and then moving to Lodz. 

But in that case, it is not clear why he would be considered a "weak rook player" upon arrival at Lodz, as Reti (or at least Doar Ha'Yom's quote) says. So a mystery remains, and clearly neither story could be 100% true -- it might well be that Rubinstein's alleged weakness upon moving to Lodz is an exagerration. But at least now we have more information on Rubinstein's early career. 

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