Monday, January 28, 2008

Some Things Never Change

Editors of chess columns used to be (before the internet, at any rate) the "agony aunt" for tyros and novices. This was especially true when, as in Palestine in the beginning of the 20th Century, there were very few--often only one--chess column published.

The first regular chess column published in Palestine was in, of all places, The Palestine News--the weekly of the WWI British Expeditionary Force in Palestine. On July 11th, 1918, driven to distraction by the letters he got, the chess editor felt forced to say:

A. C. Mayhew, you may expect nothing but “teasers” in this column for a long time to come. When I do put up an easy problem, I get enough letters to sink a Dreadnought, and even the fairly stiff ones bring in enough letters to wrap one up in.

To Everyone who thinks a problem can be done with a “checking” move, I am reluctantly obliged to be rude enough to say,—“Don ’t write to T. P. N. about it.”

In reply to S. H. FrancisOxon’s solution of problem No. 14 was acknowledged on 4.7.18, look it up and in future spare the poor Chess Editor who cannot answer letters until they reach him.

Wihenlee, what makes you glad causes the Asst. Editor to ask in sarcastic irony,: “Do you want to turn T. P. N. into a bally Chess Magazine?”

Later, one the first Hebrew-language chess columns was M. M. Marmorosh's in Davar. Here are selections--all from November and December of 1930--from his column:

To Mr. Silman: it is customary (though not an absolute requirement) that the key move to a problem is not a check or a capture.

To Mr. Mendelstein: it is allowed to create another Queen when a Pawn reaches the eight rank, even if the original Queen is still on the board. A player can have extra Queens, Rooks, etc.

To P. Hoffman, Jerusalem: stalemate is a draw; there’s no point contesting this fact.

To our correspondents: stalemate is not a loss but a draw.

Some things never change.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Prime Ministers and Retrograde Analysis

Who said politicians aren't interested in chess? This picture, given to me with the kind permission of Yosef "Tommy" Lapid (himself an Israeli politician), shows David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, playing chess. Judging by his age and the spartan settings, the game was played when he was in retirement, in the Sde Boker kibbutz in the Negev desert.

Update, 17/11/2012: a much higher resolution picture is found on flickr. It turns out that the photo was not taken during his retirement, but when he was (still) PM; and not in Sde Boker, but on and Israeli gunship. It was an official photograph by the Israeli Government Press Office

From what can be seen of the position, it seems Ben Gurion's opponent is doing his best to not beat him. It isn't clear where most of White's kingside pawns have gone, or why most of his pieces are still on their starting squares. Still, at least Ben Gurion hasn't opened the game with the tyro's "standard" 1. Ph2-h4 or 1. Pa2-a4.

From the picture, we can, however, deduce what the opponent's last move was--making this post the first known connection between politics and retrograde analysis. Highlight the next paragraph for the answer.

Solution: White is about to move the c5 pawn. This pawn only has a legal move if Black's previous move was 1. ... Pd7-d5, and White intends to reply 2. Pc5xd6 en passant.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"A Genius Meets a Genius"

This is the title given (by Shaul Hon) to the photograph of the Akiba Rubinstein playing in a simultaneous exhibition with Haim Nachman Biyalik (head in hand), the famous poet, in Tel Aviv, on 24/5/1931. Correction: the game took place on 16/4/31, in Ohel Shem, Tel Aviv, as seen for example in Davar, 19/4/1931, p. 4. 

The photograph belonged to Menachem Mendel Marmorosh, who was the most active chess master and organizer in in Palestine at the time. It was made available to me by the kind permission of his children, Ruth Doral and Mordechai Marom.

Biyalik was well-known as a chess fan; among other things, he--with Marmorosh and others--was on a committee which chose Hebrew words for chess terms. To this day most of their terms are in use.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Six World Champions (and 50+ Grandmasters) in one Notebook

Eliezer Pe'er, the captain of the Israeli team to the 1960 Leipzig chess olympiad, came well prepared: he brought with him an autograph book and asked everyone to sign it. Most agreed.

There are the signatures of six world champions past, present and future: Mikhail Botvinnik, Max Euwe, Robert "Bobby" Fischer, Tigran Petrosian, Vassily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal. Other famous players include Salo Flohr, Svetozar Gligorić, Viktor Korchnoi, Andor Lilienthal and Miguel Najdorf, to name just a few. Above we have the Soviet team's signature. Below, the American and Argentine ones.


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This blog is about my past time--Jewish Chess history. I will add posts and material here as time permits.