Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chess Dreams

The position at the start of the most famous chess dream, Thought the Looking Glass.

Chess players often dream about chess positions or tournaments, but sometimes they take a weird turn.

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, is a strong player. He told me the other day he is thinking of taking a break from chess for a while. He had a dream where he went on a bicycle trip with Vassily Ivanchuk. They were solving geography puzzles.

Even Freud wouldn't have been able to make to make heads or tails of that one.


The diagram above got me thinking. For some reason this has not been mentioned anywhere (to my knowledge), but Alice being the d-pawn -- that is, on the same column as the queen -- as well on (eventually) queening on d8, is significant.

It seems to be an emphasis by Lewis Carroll of her fate of being "born to the purple". In certain times and places, a pawn could only promote to the piece found in the array (the starting position) on the file on which it started, or else on the file on which it was promoted.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Math and Chess -- and Euwe Mystery

Occasionally, I used this blog for something that is not, strictly speaking, related to Jewish chess history. This time we make a foray into mathematics and chess, in the person of Dr. Euwe, who was, as is well known, not Jewish -- but a mathematician as well as the world champion 1935-1937. He was also a good friend of Israel and of Jews, as this blog (among many other places) shows.

In Martin Gardner's The Magical Numbers of Dr. Matrix (New York: Dorset, 1985), a collection of essays on recreational mathematical subjects, the following appears (p. 242-3, bracketed comments mine):
Max Euwe, a former world chess champion, was among the first to recognize that the Thue sequence [a sequence of 0s and 1s discovered by the mathematician Thue in 1912] provides a method of playing an infinitely long game of chess. The so-called German rule for preventing such games declares a game drawn if a player plays any finite sequence of moves three times in succession in the same position. Two players need only create a position in which each can move either of two pieces back and forth, regardless of how the other player moves his two pieces. If each now plays his two pieces in a Thue sequence, neither will ever repeat a pattern of moves three times consecutively.
On the internet I found the following:

In 1929 [Euwe] published a mathematics paper in which he constructed [sic] an infinite sequence of 0's and 1's with no three identical consecutive sub-sequences of any length. He then used this to show that, under the rules of chess that then were in force, an infinite game of chess was possible. It had always been the intention of the rules that this should not be possible, but the rule that a game is a draw if the same sequence of moves occurs three times in succession was not, as Euwe showed, sufficient. (http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Biographies/Euwe.html)
This implies that the so-called 'three-fold repetition' rule was in 1929 written in the 'same sequence of moves occurs three times in succession' language, and that the 50-move rule is ignored. The reason is that if the threefold repetition (as today) no longer has to be in succession, but  merely having to occur, or else the 50-move rule applies, both trivially make chess a finite game, the first because there is a limited number of captures and/or pawn moves, the second because there is a limited number of legal (or for that matter illegal) chess positions that can be repeated.

But don't the 50-move rule and the "modern" (i.e., not in succession) threefold repetition rule go back, at least, to the beginning of the 20th century? Surely Euwe of all people would not make a mistake about the rules of the game in a published work! Can any reader resolve the inconsistency? Perhaps the original paper would clarify matters. 


Sorry about the crazy character breaks. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Benoni Defense + Opening Names

Image credit: hairulovchessmaniac [sic]

Just a quick note -- a few years ago Edward Winter kindly published an email from me in Chess Notes 4435 about the origin of the name 'Benoni' in Hebrew chess literature.

To add a bit to the issue of opening names in Hebrew, it should be noted that -- not surpirsingly, considering so many of the "original" Palestinian players came from eastern Europe -- the names of openings in Hebrew usually use the "eastern" convention of naming the openings after locations, unlike the "western" one of naming them after people. So in Hebew we have:

The Spanish opening instead of the Ruy Lopez
The Italian opening instead of the Giucco Piano
The Volga gambit instead of the Benko gambit
The Yugoslav opening instead of the Pirc opening
The Latvian gambit for the Greco counter gambit
The Russian opening (sometimes) instead of the Petrov defense

Of course some openings have no equivalent geographical name, and remain named after people (Alekhine's defense, Bird's opening) in Hebrew as well.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chess in the 1935 Maccabiah -- two "Mystery Players"?

Credit: wikipedia 
The 1935 Maccabiah's chess tournament was, in fact, finished, giving the winner -- Moshe Blass -- the first prize. Davar reported on the tournament on 4/4 and 12/4/35. Perhaps surprisingly, no other paper from Palestine seems have noticed the Maccabiah's chess contest, despite many papers (e.g., the Palestine Post) devoting a lot of space to detailed examination of all other events in the Maccabiah. This report combines both sources.

Blass got 7.5 points (out of 10, since there were 11 participants altogehter). After him came David Enoch and Yosef Porat (then Foerder) with 7 pts., Yosef Dobkin and Esra Glass (Jeremy Gaige's spelling from Chess Personalia: a Biobibliography) 6.5, Victor Winz, Moshe Czerniak, and Sigmund Beutum (Gaige's spelling) with 5, and Weil (no first name given) with 4.5.

From the 4/4 and 12/4 reports all that can be concluded about the crosstable is that in the first round (colors not given; first player might have been Black) were:

Beutum - A. Wilberseitz 1-0
Blass - Enoch 1-0
Glass - Czerniak 1-0
Dobkin - Weil 1-0
Porat - Winz 1-0

Also, we are told on 12/4 that in the last round Blass defeated Glass, 'his most dangerous opponent': both had 6.5 points after nine rounds, in that case, and the game decided the winner. We are also told Czerniak 'lost many games where he had the advantage' and that Winz was the only player to defeat Blass.

The Jewish writer, Akim Lewit, from the Weiner Schach-Zeitung, came to cover the tournament; perhaps more information about it can be found in that periodical. 

It is interesting that there were two players, presumably brothers -- Aryeh and Yaakov Zilbershats (preferred English spelling of Yaakov's grandson, Boaz Zilbershats, from the original Polish name Zylberszac) from the Luxemburg team. Their participation is noted on 4/4, but their scores are not given on 12/4. If the scores of the other participants are correct, it is easy to show that they lost all their games to all the other players: In a round robin tournament of 10 rounds (11 players), there are 55 points (11*10 / 2) to be divided among all the players. All the other players together gained 54 points. Which leaves the brothers a single, solitary point between them -- which is the absolute minimum they could have gotten, since they had to play one game between themselves!

As there is no mention of them as chess players anywhere else to my knowledge, perhaps these "players" -- a modern version of were in fact amateurs who, fearing Hitler's growing power, used the Maccabiah as a "cover" to gain entry to Palestine. With their scores, it is not surprising Davar and others kept silent about them, and their defeat could only be detected "between the lines"; but perhaps Davar was trying to save them from a fate far worse than mere embarrassment, as Hitler's plans towards the Jews and towards Europe in general, though nobody could have yet imagined the nadir they will eventually reach, were already very ominous.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Maccabiah and the first Palestinian Chess Championship: 1932?

A ticket for the Levant Fair, 1932. Photo credit: Alma7's blog on www.tapuz.co.il

Okay, I am cheating. There was no chess in the first (1932) Maccabiah held in Tel Aviv. There was, however, a whole lot of chess activity in the concurrently-held Levant Fair [Yarid ha'Mizrach] , also held in Tel Aviv at the same time, and opened by the same personality -- Tel Aviv's mayor, Meir Dizengoff.

There was a chess building in the exhibition. Moshe Marmorosh, the editor of Davar's chess column, promised on 31/3/32 that, after the opening on April 9th, we shall see the following:
The fair's exhibition's management began to build a building for chess in the exhibition. Every mail brings with it letters from masters in other countries asking about details and wishing to take part. The Champions Hans Kmoch from Vienna and Louis Steiner from Budapest wish to take part, giving blind simuls against 15 opponents, and do not ask for payment, but only expenses.
There will be a special competition under the sponsorship of mayor Meir Dizengoff for the Palestinian championship. Ten of the best players in the country will participate. For this tournament special chess clocks were installed, with a special buzzer that informs the player when he must move (not moving on time allows the opponent to demand a draw). 
There are arrangements made for blitz games (without time for thought) and simultaneous exhibitions.
The tournament did in fact take place -- sort of. On April 10th, Davar reported:
The Palestinian Champion
Is the title to be contested in the first national championship, which opened yesterday in the chess building in the Levant Fair. The tournament was opened by Meir Dizengoff ... the players are: from Tel Aviv: Marmorosh, Sambeski [ph. spelling], Dobkin, Weisbohr [ph.], Nevtigel [ph.], Levonski Abraham; from Haifa - Kniazer; from Jerusalem -- Fussni [ph.], Pappo. The tenth contestant has not yet been chosen. 

Our frequent coresspondent Moshe Roytman notes that I have significantly mistranslated the names above. As he notes in this link, from Davar 10.4.1932, it is clear that the correct names are Weissbord (ph.), not Weisbohr, Nachtigel (not Nevtigel), and Polani (not "Fussni"). My error! The mistakes are due to the similarity in the appearance of certain words in Hebrew, or the same letter having two different sounds. 

After this, however, Davar, and Marmorosh, had been silent, saying nothing more about chess in the fair, or the championship, or about Kmoch or Steiner, so far as I can tell. No games from the tournament had -- to my knowledge -- ever appeared in any publication (does any reader know otherwise?) What's more, the first recognized "Palestinian Champion" is Moshe Czerniak, in 1936.

Presumably, the tournament fell through and was not finished; the fact that four of the players -- those spelled phonetically -- are unknown (at least to me) even in the small world of Palestinian chess publications of the time, and that a tenth player is "yet to be chosen", makes one suspect as much.