Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year Resolutions + New Year Presents

Credit: Samuel Bartolo's web site. 

What is it about the new year that makes people make all these resolutions – which they never keep anyway? Or give presents to each other? Whatever it is, let us make a couple of them:

1). On the “resolution” side, I resolve to finally finish my planned work on the history of chess in Israel and Palestine, of which this blog is only part. Oh, and to make some improvements to my OTB play…

2). On the “presents” side, I can say that there is reason to believe that this blog will become significantly more popular, especially among certain populations who should be interested in the history of chess in Israel or Palestine, but, until now, have probably been unaware of its existence.

I am not at liberty to disclose any more details right now, but all will be made clear, I hope, within a few weeks.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blass - Czerniak, 1935 Maccabiah

Moshe Blass was the first unofficial champion of Palestine, winning the 1935 Maccabiah tournament, as we have seen elsewhere in this blog. (The first official champion was Czerniak, in 1936).

This time -- a game where he defeated Czerniak in a nice kingside attack from that tournament (April, 1935). While the game is not up to modern standards, it's nice to see how Blass exploits Czerniak's mistakes. It was, by the way, Czerniak's one "off" tournament in Palestine in the 1930s, between winning the 1934 Jerusalem championship and the 1936 Palestine championship. (Source: Haaretz's chess column, ed. Moshe Marmorosh, April 12th, 1935.)

Again: the whole purpose of this blog is to tell people things they are not likely to otherwise know. Blass had already been a player in the Olympiad (representing Poland) in 1928. But his 1928 games are easier to find, as opposed to the obscure Maccabiah seven years later.

Blass, Moshe – Czerniak, Moshe [D30]
2nd Maccabiah, Tel Aviv, April 1935
[Analysis: Deep Fritz 8 (30s)]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bd3 Be7 6.0–0 Nbd7 7.b3 0–0 8.Nbd2 Re8 9.Bb2 Bd6 10.Ne5 c5 11.f4 b6 12.Rf3 Bb7 13.Rg3 Nf8 14.cxd5 exd5 15.Ndf3 [Fritz prefers 15.Ng4 immediately] h6!? 16.dxc5 Bxc5 17.Nd4 Bxd4 18.Bxd4 Ne6 19.Bb2

19… d4 [19...Kf8!?] 20.Ng4 [Now White is winning -- Fritz] Ne4 [‘??’ – Fritz.] 21.Nxh6+ Kf8 22.Bxe4 Bxe4 23.Ba3+ Nc5 24.exd4 gxh6 25.dxc5 Qe7 26.Qd4 1–0

Black's 19th and 20th move are typical "Czerniak moves": possibly objectively bad, even losing, but Czerniak as usual does everything to gain counterplay and activity. Didn't work this time.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Death at the Board

Image credit: Bergman's The Seventh Seal
There are many stories of chess players dying at  the board, but not too many confirmed instances. Raphael (who asked his last name be withheld) had emailed me that his grandfather, the Jewish player Benno Puder, had died playing chess. From his email (my translation): 
My grandfather, Benno Puder, was a chess enthusiast and player. My mother believes he was the senior champion of Switzerland, but I have found no formal proof. Here is a link to a tournament in his memory [a junior blitz tournament -- A. P.] in Basel. 
In Passover 1995 family and friends, as usual, rented an hotel in the French Alps for the holiday. That year it was in Aix Le Bains. One day my grandfather played with a grandchild -- not actually a grandchild, but the grandson of a couple he saved during the [second world] war and smuggled from France to Switzerland, and since then the family histories are intertwined. After he hasn't moved for a while, Samuel said, "grandpa -- your turn!", and then noticed his head is slumped on the board..."
I emailed the Swiss Chess Federation to see if they know anything about Puder's senior championship, and will also check Jeremy Gaige's indispensable sources when I get home. But if any reader knows anything I would be grateful. I add that the in passim note in Raphael's email about how Puder saved people from near-certain death, risking his own life, during WWII tells us more about the man than his chess career does!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Karff, Marmorosh, and the two Menchiks

Menchik - Graf, Stockholm 1937. Source: Davar 5.9.1937
Moshe Roytman notifies me that I was wrong to say the Palestinian chess establishment ignored Karff's participation in Stockholm 1937. On 20.8.1937 Marmorosh, in his Davar chess column, reports she had won two games (one over the Austrian women's champion, Salome Reischer); and on 27.8.1937 that she finished the tournament in fifth place (sic -- actually joint 6-7th; Marmorosh forgot Milda Lauberte of Latvia who was joint 3rd).

In the the next column, on 5.9.1937,  Marmorosh once again returns to the tournament -- this time presents a brilliancy by Vera Menchik in her victory over Sonja Graf. Menchik sacrificed a rook and a queen to win instantly. in a game that is, for some reason, not found in the "standard" online or computer databases. Correction: a chess friend from Munich noted the game was played in Semmering (and not in the Stockholm tournament, as I wrote). This is my, not Marmorosh's, mistake: Marmorosh himself notes explicitly that the game was played in Semmeing, which I have overlooked. What's more Indeed, the game is indeed found in databases, for example in That said, I still think Edward Winter's quote below is justified...

Yet more reason to look at, as Edward Winter says, the "treasures found in old magazines". Can you find the win?

The tournament is notable for two other (at least) points: first, Vera Menchik's clean score (+14 =0 -0) which, despite the relatively weak opposition, is quite an achievement in a serious tournament. Second, Menchik's sister Olga Menchik also took part, doing quite respectfully -- 6.5 / 14.

Solution to Menchik's combination (Marmorosh's punctuation and annotations; highlight to view):

1). Rd7! Qxd7 (1. Qxh5? Qxh2+! followed by Bxg5)
2). Qxh5!! gxh5
3). Bh7# (1-0)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The first Israeli(?) World Chess Championship Candidate

Photo from: edochess., not Boris Gelfand. Rather, Mona Ray Karff, known as the queen of American chess in the 1940s and 50s (winning the US women's chess championship seven times, inter alia), and, perhaps even more, as Edward Lasker's long-time partner. What is the relationship to chess in Israel and Palestine? Born in Basserabia, she and her family fled to Palestine after the revolution. In 1937, she took a very respectable joint 6th place in the women's world championship which took place in Stockholm, representing Palestine. From there she moved, apparently, directly to the USA. The next time a Palestinian, or Israeli, player of either sex took part in the world chess championship, it was in the 21st century.

It is surprising that she was, to the best of my knowledge, not mentioned in either contemporary or in later accounts about Israeli or Palestinian chess history she was -- see post from June 7th, 2014 on this blog -- despite the fact that at the time any sort of achievement in the international scene of someone representing Palestine was usually shouted from the rooftops (such as, for instance, the participation of the Palestinian team in the 1935 Olympics). Perhaps she had no connections with the Israeli/Palestinian chess "scene", seeing Palestine as a mere stop on the road to the USA.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday, Ms. Piatigorsky!

Photo credit:
Ms. Jacqueline Piatigorsky, of the Rothschild family, had turned 100 on Nov. 6th this year. She is best known to most chess players as the co-sponsor of the Piatigorsky cup tournaments and the Fischer - Reshevsky aborted match. It is easy to think she and her husband, Gregor Piatigorsky, the famous cellist (both Jews, of course), were just "dabblers" -- rich patrons who threw money at strong players for their own amusement.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ms. Piatigorsky is not only a life-long chess enthusiast, but she was one of the strongest women players  in the USA (highest-rated female player in California and 2nd-highest in the USA in the 1960s, according to Wikipedia) and represented the USA in the 1957 Women's Chess Olympiad, scoring a very respectable 7.5/11 and winning a bronze medal on the 2nd board.

Here, from, is a cute game she won (with quite a lot of help from her opponent, Willa Owens, women chess champion of Ohio), in the 1951 USA women's chess championship in New York (annotations by Owens, who explains how "the roof caved in":)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 Nc6 5.exd5 Nxd4?? 6.Nxd4 cxd4 7.Bb5+! Bd7 8.dxe6 Bxb5?? 9.Qh5! Qf6 10.Qxb5+ ("Boing!" -- Owens) 1-0 

Chess in the Warsaw Ghetto

Mark Szapiro, pre-WWII. Photo credit: Yakov Zusmanovich.

My Chess Life by Szapiro [Polish]. Photo credit: Yakov Zusmanovich.
O thou whose cynic sneers express,
The censure of our favorite chess,
Know that its skill is Science' self,
Its play distraction from distress... 

-- Abdullah ibn al-Mu'tazz, 861-908, trans. Daniel W. Fiske (Morhpy's friend and a chess player in his own right).

If there was ever a place where chess was needed to "distract from distress", it surely was the Warsaw ghetto. The Polish-Swedish player Marek Szapiro (1917-2002) was one of those who survived the ghetto. Yakov Zusmanovich, who specializes in collecting chess biographies, kindly informs me of Szapiro's book, My Chess Life (Penelopa publishing, Poland, 2005, ed.: Tomasz Lissowski). The book contains, among other things, over 100 games -- including some played in the ghetto.

Here is one such game -- from p. 59 of the book, with the author's punctuations and diagrams but without the rather deep annotations that are found in the book.

Szapiro,J. - Szapiro,Marek
Warsaw Ghetto, 10.1942
[Annotations: Marek Szapiro]
Source: M. Szapiro’s My Chess Life
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5 3.exf5? Nc6 4.Bc4!? d5 5.Bb5 Bxf5 6.Nxe5 Qf6 7.d4 0–0–0!? 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Ba6+ Kd7 10.Be3 Qg6 11.Bd3 Bb4+ 12.Nc3 Ne7 13.0–0 Rhf8 14.Ne2 Bd6 15.Ng3 Rde8 16.Nxf5 Nxf5 17.Bxf5+ Rxf5 18.Qd3

 18... Re4! 19.g3 Rf3 20.Kg2 Rg4! 21.Rae1 h5! 22.Qe2 h4! 23.h3 Rgxg3+!

 ...and White resigned (0–1).