Thursday, October 4, 2012

Answer to Quiz: Chess and Zionism

A Zionist postcard, with Herzel in the center, ca. 1900. from  The Jerusalem Connection.

The notation is reversed. Doar Hayom uses a notation where the files are signified from left to right -- the h-file is the Aleph (א, first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) file, the g-file the Beyt file (ב, the second letter), and so on. In particular it means the kings are on the d (ד, Daleth, the fourth letter) file and the queens on the e (ה,  Hey, the fifth letter) file. Thus the game notation is "mirror imaged" from the usual current Hebrew notation, where the a-file is signified with an א, the b-file with a ב, etc.

The game given in the previous post actually started 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. e4 (the Scotch gambit), etc. By the way, the term used for the queen -- the Hebrew letter ג, for גבירה (Gvira, Dame, as in the French) was later replace by מה, for מלכה (Malca, Queen, as in English).

Why the weird notation? The reason is Zionism. The Lasker chess club members which ran the Doar Ha'Yom chess column were ardent Zionists, and they wanted to revive Hebrew in all fields -- including chess. This meant, inter alia, translating all chess notation. Since the "gentile" chess notation in the European languages goes from left to right, this was ruled out. Instead, a "Jewish" chess notation -- from right to left, as in Hebrew -- was instituted.

This notation did not last long, as it made comparing or translating games from foreign sources unnecessarily difficult and even more prone to error than  chess notation usually is. In every move the translator had to remember to "translate" the first English letter into the eight Hebrew letter, the second into the seventh, etc., and vise-versa. By the 1930s at the latest the notation reversed back to what it is to this day, namely, the a-file is the Aleph file, the b-file the Beyt file, etc.

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