Monday, July 9, 2012

Early Mentions of Chess in the Hebrew Press: Lasker - Steinitz 1894

Credit: see below.

In what is an early mention of chess in the Jewish press, on 6/6/1894 (new style -- the paper's cover uses the old style and Hebrew dates), Ha'Zefira (Warsaw) mentions (p. 2) the Lasker-Steinitz match. In the usual dramatic language of the time, the paper notes:
About the game of chess it is proverbially said that it is too serious for a game and too much of a game for a serious occupation. Be that as it may it is remarkable that many of the masters in this wise occupation are Jews, which is evidence that this game agrees with our national talent. It is now much spoken about in the chess world about the latest war between Steinitz and Lasker. Steinitz has been considered until now an unbeatable hero on the chess board, an incomparable old hero. But this Goliath was defeated by the little David, Lasker, about 26 years old, who battled with him in a match and beat him. They are both Jews, and Lasker is a relative of the late political leader [Eduard] Lasker, and is also known for his engineering [perhaps "scientific" or "technical" is a better translation in context -- A.P.] What does chess have to do with Jews? Intelligence, hard work, study -- these are the qualities which the Jews have always excelled in. The history of the Jews and their war with their enemies are very similar to chess, and the Jews are the player which no opposing peace can beat. 
Obviously the love of non-playing writer's penchant for cliches about Jews and chess, or chess and war, had not changed much in the last 120 or so years; nor does the writer bother to give any details apart from the mere fact that Lasker won, or shows any awareness that Lasker's young age was a significant advantage, not a disadvantage, in his match against Steinitz. (Tarrasch allegedly quipped, "the old Steinitz is no longer the Steinitz of old".) It is also curious that Lasker is assumed to be known, if at all, as a cousin of a German politician.


While Tarrasch's pun would work equally well in German, presumably the original language, does anybody have an exact -- original -- quote? Tarrasch is the chess world's Mark Twain, a man which any witty remark could safely be attributed to without any need for verification.

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