Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rubinstein's Simuls in Palestine -- Eyewitness Account

Source: Doar Ha'Yom, 27/4/31, p. 1

Akiba Rubinstein had, as was noted here previously, visited Palestine in April, 1931, and gave various simultaneous exhibitions. This event made quite a splash -- and, again, was on the front page of the papers, in this case Doar Ha'Yom, with his picture. On 26/4 (p. 4) and 27/4 (p. 1) the newspaper reported about a simultaneous exhibition in Jerusalem on 25-26/4 (+34 =3 -3) and Haifa on 22-23/4 (+38 =8 -5) -- the same exhibition reported about more shortly here by Davar -- with the names of the winners and those who drew.

The organizers of the Haifa simul were G. LevinKniazer and Marmorosh; in Jerusalem they were (again) Marmorosh,  Wilson (perhaps the same Wilson who wrote the letter to Doar Ha'Yom in the previous post?) and the lawyer Schmetterling (phonetic spelling), although on 26/4 the total number of players in the Jerusalem simul is reported to be 36, and on 27/4, 40. It is added that the opponents in Jerusalem included two blind players, and a combination of young pioneers in work clothes with religious Jews in traditional clothes.

The 27/4 report notes that both took place from the evening to the early morning without a break. It adds that the Haifa simul was in effect a consultation simul, since "behind every player stood a group of friends who gave him advice", and that sometimes the sets were such that Rubinstein found it difficult to distinguish between a pawn and a piece. It adds that Rubinstein might play a live chess game in Palestine -- which had not occurred.

On 28/4 Doar Ha'Yom added a long eyewitness account (p. 2) of  the Jerusalem simul by K. Silman. Some choice quotes:
Rubinstein does not look at the players. He only cares about the moves. In one moment he sees the entire battle, what to do and what to avoid. But sometimes he sees a serious situation or a deep problem. Then he lights his cigarette and stays a while longer. When he sees an unexpected move his brows rise for a minute and his eyes become slightly red. That is a time of great thinking.
... His opponents had left their work, or leisure, or studies of the Talmud or mathematics, and absorbed themselves in this halacha [lit. "religious teaching" -- A.P.], the chess game. Sometimes their hands are clenched, and sometimes, the thumb moves as it does when the man studies the Talmud, while thinking: "Ay, ay, ay... what does this mean? What does he want to show us with this move? What does it means?" The [Orthodox] Jewish Jerusalemites seem to have forgotten where they are, and think they are in their schul.
The public paid particular attention to Shlomo Hazan and Eliyahu Gomel, two students from the school for the blind, who were moving their hands over the pieces
... It is interesting: Rubinstein puts all his might into the pawns. He leaves the other pieces for later, leaving them behind his pawns. A democratic Jewish measure! ... He seems to be willing to abandon them at every opportunity, but takes care of his pawns. He is even willing to sacrifice his queen... the real power belongs to the pawns.
... Neither once nor twice he exchanged his queen for a mere knight, so as to fortify the position of another pawn. At the end of one game, the master has four pawns to his opponent's three on an otherwise empty board. He allowed his opponent to queen a pawn; but the master, at the same time, had attacked the king and mated it: one, two, three forced moves, and it is mate.
... Who lost? Who lost? A player who always plays in the "Vienna" cafe in Jerusalem, a man who always brags of his chess power... and also that man... and him -- he is completely lost...
... Mate, mate mate! The master was mated! And everybody knows the letters [in Hebrew of course -- A.P.] of "mate" [מט, "mat"] are an acronym of מזל טוב [mazal tov]: "congratulations"!
This rather colorful account seems to imply that Rubinstein "gave value for the money" in terms of sacrifices and attacking play. Unfortunately, no game scores were given.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Where Rubinstein Learned Chess -- Updated

My colleague Moshe Roytman, remarking on this post, noted that it is based on a much longer and detailed letter to the editors of Doar Ha'Yom from 20/2/1923 (p. 4), by Mr. Wilson, who was an eyewitness to the events in Bialystok, ca. 1900. As one can see by comparing the two, the 1931 article seems to be a recollection of the 1924 one, with minor changes, i.e., the name of the cafe owner in Bialystok changing between the two versions, from Troisky to Stein.

Source: Doar Ha'Yom, 20/2/1923,  p. 4 (click for larger image)


About Rubinstein's Personality (A letter to the editors).
To the editors of "Doar Hayom".
Dear Sirs! 
On 31/1/1923 the Emmanuel Lasker chess club published an article about Rubinstein. I wish to shed some light on some of Rubinstein's biography, which seem like a legend according to that article. To Mrs. Troisky's [ph. spelling] cafe, in Wishilkover St., Bialystok, where our chess club was at the time, a swarthy, sickly young man began to come in 1900. This was Rubinstein, about 18, coming in to drink yogurt to help his health. 
He would sit for hours, looking at the game, but not participating. One evening he came to me to help him learn the rules of the game, and I obliged. After the first games I recognized he has an exceptional talent. When he asked me to come to my house (Vishinsky house on Neulet [ph. sp.] street -- Rubinstein will surely remember these names) I gladly agreed. 
Ever since he stole from me Saturday mornings, since he would come to my house at sunrise to play. After three months I could not win a single game from him. He would play with me blindfold, without looking at the board, and always win. He played a few times with Kna'al [ph. spelling], our top player, and after defeating him consistently, Kna'al stopped playing him. He apparently was ashamed to be defeated by a youth.  At the time there was in Bialystok the (Russian) chief railway engineer, who played with Steinitz in his day, and who would have their games published in the press. He, too, was defeated by the the Jewish youth. Also, the head of the city's business school was probably quite ashamed to be defeated by the swarthy youth, and in our club there was great joy, that such a talent was discovered among us. 
We must admit, that even then we expected great things from Akiba Rubinstein. But he surpassed our wildest expectations. Greetings to you, the winner!
The chess historian, Mr. Tomasz Lissowski, informs me that the railway engineer mentioned was probably Ing. G. G. Bartoszkiewicz. Wilson's letter was itself a reply to an article in Doar Ha'Yom from 31/1/1923, about the Vienna tournament at the time, which gave a pen portrait of various contestants, and that week chose Rubinstein:

Soruce: Doar Ha'Yom, 31/1/1923. Click for larger image.


The Chess Department 
(Managed by the chess club "Immanuel Lasker")
A review of the Vienna tournament
C). Rubinstein
Akiba Rubinstein was born in 1882 in Stawiski (Lodz Lomza -- an alert reader's correction county, Russian Poland). He came to Lodz as a young yeshiva student, and started visiting the well-known chess cafe, where Salwe ruled supreme. Rubinstein would choose opponents among the rook players, and even among them he was one of the weakest. This way he continued his visits for a long time, playing with much passion but without improving noticeably.
One time, he was absent from the cafe for a few weeks. When he returned, he went directly to Salwe and asked him for a match. Something happened that nobody imagined: Rubinstein won, and from that time was one of the two strongest players in the club (Reti, from his book Modern Ideas in Chess). 
Now, the story about Rubinstein being absent from the Lodz club for a few months, and then coming back and beating Salwe would seem to suggest that he went back to Bialystok and got better there, plotting his "revenge". However, other evidence seems to contradict this. 

For one thing, if Rubinstein came back from Lodz to Bialystok after having played chess there, if badly, it would make no sense for him to ask Wilson to "help him learn the rules of the game", although perhaps Wilson was speaking metaphorically. What's more, a detailed note from Mr. Tomasz Lissowski, relying on many other sources, informs me Rubinstein probably moved to Bialystok ca. 1900, did not participate in many games due to lack of funds, but got better, defeating Bartoskiewicz (one of the best players in the city), and then moving to Lodz. 

But in that case, it is not clear why he would be considered a "weak rook player" upon arrival at Lodz, as Reti (or at least Doar Ha'Yom's quote) says. So a mystery remains, and clearly neither story could be 100% true -- it might well be that Rubinstein's alleged weakness upon moving to Lodz is an exagerration. But at least now we have more information on Rubinstein's early career. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Chess in the Israeli Press -- Summing Up

Anand-Gelfand live, in the Israeli sports channel. Credit: see below.

Gelfand - Anand on ynet, Israel's major news site. Credit: see below.

Due to Boris Gelfand's battle for the world championship, the Israeli press looked at chess -- for once -- with a different eye. Not being a television fan, I didn't know that the Israeli sports channel actually transmitted the game live and that for seven hours Gelfand - Anand was the top story in, Israel's most popular news web site. (Credit: Ha'ayin Hasvhi'it [The Seventh Eye, a media blog and magazine], "When Gelfand Scratched his Head" [Hebrew], by Shlomo Mann for the photos above).

Mann's article is quite interesting (if a bit cynical). He notes that the media's lack of interest in chess isn't, necessarily, due to bias, but due to the fact that it is not a television-friendly medium. The real movement in chess is in the invisible thoughts inside the players' heads, which doesn't make for must-see TV, and to non-players the commentaries are "advanced gibberish" in any case.

Mann ends his column with the same idea that I have reached in my Jerusalem Post article the other day: the hope for chess' popularity is on the Internet. While this seems blindingly obvious, we both apparently agree not enough was done in this respect in Israel. His suggestion is that if one of the main media outlets in Israel would be willing to give chess a professional web page column on their web sites, things might look different.

Then again, there is a downside to all the publicity. In Ma'ariv this week, Gelfand is on the front page of the weekend edition, and the interview with him, over seven pages, shows as usual his intelligence and strength of character. Excellent publicity for chess -- but, the problem is, he is photographed on the cover with an Israeli actress which decided to "come out" as a lesbian this week, in time for the yearly "pride march" of the homosexual community in Tel Aviv.

This sort of cheap sensationalism makes one wonder whether chess should be all that popular. Certainly Gelfand himself, in the interview and elsewhere, sees popularity as greatly overrated.

Friday, June 1, 2012

How Rubinstein Learned Chess

It is often said that Akiba Rubinstein learned chess relatively late. The following account claims he was a "late blooming" wonderkind, describing how he learned chess at the age of about 15. Source: Doar Hayom, April 14th, 1931.

My translation: 
In Bialystok there was then Mrs. Stein's coffeehouse, where games were recorded (sic) and played.  One day a youth came in to drink yogurt, and watched the games. After a while he went to one of the players (the constructor Wilson, now in Tel Aviv) and asked him to show him how the pieces moves. He heard, wrote it down, and went away. After a month he came back and started playing his teachers like an experienced player, and within three months he beat the best players in the town.
Is there any other source to this story? 

Final Note About the Gelfand-Anand Match

Putin meeting with the players after the match. Image: Reuters. Israel Hayom, 1/6/2012, p. 21

Well, it's over, and Gelfand lost the match in the play-off to Anand. It is always a problem to decide whether such quick-finish play-offs mean anything, chess-wise. Still, perhaps they are the best of a bad lot: the possibility of an interminable championship until one of the players collapses from exhaustion means even less, chess-wise speaking, and is much more costly and less interesting to the spectators.

Nevertheless, he did far better than most people expected. To the Israeli press' credit, for once there was significant interest in chess, including daily coverage in most newspapers, daily caricatures about the match in most newspapers, and so on. Ronen Dorfman went to Russia as a special correspondent for the daily Israel Hayom, for example. Above is a photo from today's edition of Dorfman's column, where he interviews Gelfand about his ideas of making chess popular, with Putin greeting both players after the match. Let us hope this leads to some higher popularity for the game -- and chess in general -- in Israel.

Hans Frank and Chess (and the Black-Square-in-Right-Corner Mafia)

Credit: Ullstein Photo, from The Trials of the Germans, by Eugene Davidson, p. XXXV in the photo section.

In Chess Notes #5533 and the article Hans Frank and Chess, the indefatigable Edward Winter gives this photograph of Hans Frank in 1940, playing chess as governor of Poland, but in a much lower quality photo, presumably taken from a contemporary magazine. He notes that Olimpiu Urcan referred him to a web site which has that photo in a higher resolution. The web site in question seems to have been taken offline, so I am submitting here a higher-quality photograph of Frank playing chess.

And, yes, in the book where I found the photograph, the picture is -- as is so often -- reversed (unless one is to believe Hans Frank was both left-handed and set up the board incorrectly). Interestingly, in a different picture given by Winter in the same article, taken in 1941, Alekhine and Frank seem to be using the same chess set he uses here.