Friday, June 21, 2019

Hayim Segel's Private Olympiad

Source Ha'Tzophe, 4/12/1964, p. 6 of the weekend supplement
A frequent correspondent sends us the story of the "private olympiad" of Hayim Segel (sitting on the right in the photo) a 28-year-old amateur player, who - in the 1964 Tel Aviv olympiad -- somehow managed to get the greats of the chess world to play many friendly games with him. These included Efim Geller (sitting on the left), Boris Spassky (whom he beat 2:1), and many others. 

The whole thing started, according to the report, when Segel - waiting, with others, for Reshevsky whose plane was late -- passed the time playing Darga. He beat him in two blitz games, raising the interest of Unziker. Unziker beat him 3:1 in a blitz match, but praised his play. He thus got to play - apart from those mention above -- also Kotov, Boleslavsky, Gligoric, Ivkov, Najdorf, and many others. He often drew or won, including (in the case of Spassky) in "regular" friendly games (i.e., without clocks). Reshevsky - an orthodox Jew -- was also his guest for a shabbath. 

When asked why he doesn't, in fact, play on the Israeli team - his reply was that, as a yeshiva students studying for the rabbinate, he has no time to play. 

The same correspondent adds that, later in his career, Segel was jailed for "white collar" offences when he served as a senior rabbi in the Israeli rabbinate. He was considered by the other prisoners as an expert in three things: religious law, investment advice, and chess. The paper says, with unnecessary understatement, that the man who bear Spassky 2:1 in a friendly match was "one of the best players" in the prison. 

Source: Ma'ariv, 25/2/1977, p. 56 of the weekend supplement

It is surely Segel who is described, unnamed, as the 'yeshiva student' who 'challanged' the best players in the world to a game in the 1964 olympiad, in a book of essays by a Jewish author whose title I undfortunately forgot (can any reader add the details?). That book gives a partial explanation of Spassky's performance: after starting with 1.a3, which is playable (the Anderssen opening), Spassky continued 2.h3, which 'showed he had something else than chess on his mind' (quoting from memory). Spassky was surprised that his opponent was too strong for what is, in effect, two-move odds. 

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