Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Bastards -- or are they?

Excerpts from Doar Ha'Yom, Sept. 23rd, 1931, p. 3. 
As was noted on this blog before, Akiba Rubinstein visited Palestine in the spring of 1931 and gave many simuls. His visit was a huge "push" to the chess life in Palestine -- especially to the Rubinstein club, in Tel Aviv, which officially invited him. You'd think that, this being the case, he would be treated generously. Well, not so quickly.

Above is an excerpt from a letter to Doar Ha'Yom by a man who was with Rubinstein on the ship from Haifa to Trieste (the full article can be found here), on which Rubinstein travelled as he left Palestine on May 25th, 1931. The reader signed himself "one of the passengers" for reasons that will presently become clear.

As Rubinstein told the letter's author aboard the ship, he should have received 120 [presumably Palestinian] pounds. He received 50 for expenses, and when he left Palestine he had little left, except for a third-class ticket to Trieste given to him by the club, because they had "not collected all the money yet"; and that therefore a club representative should meet him in Trieste and pay him the remainder, so he can reach his home in Antwerp. But what if they won't? He asked. "Then things will be very bad" -- replied Rubinstein -- "but it is hard to believe the club will cheat me. It's an official club with a seal and everything."

The author immediately made a collection among the ship's passengers, and they gave Rubinstein the six pounds raised so he could reach Antwerp. A letter from Rubinstein's wife to "one of her relatives in Palestine", dated June 2nd, which the letter's author "happened to see", says inter alia that nobody from the club met him in Trieste, and if it weren't for the fact that he was lent those six pounds, he would have been stranded in Trieste. The money had not yet arrived. "How can our brothers in Palestine do this to us?", complains Rubinstein's wife. "I am utterly disappointed. Do all you can to wire us the money".

The bastards.

Or are they?

First of all, how come the man -- who admitted he did not know Rubinstein personally before -- happen to see a personal letter from Rubinstein's wife? This letter raises quite a few questions apart from that: e.g. why a man who signs himself as merely "one of the passengers", give details (that he met Rubinstein and the club representatives in Tel Aviv's train station as they went to say their good-byes to him, that they asked him to keep Rubinstein company during the trip, that he saw the letter from Rubinstein's wife, etc.) that would quickly identify him. Also, for an historian, the letter reveals that Rubinstein's in-laws were in Palestine at the time. What else is known about his wife's family in Palestine?

What is more, the man responsible bringing Rubinstein to Palestine was probably Moshe "Mendel" Marmorosh, who was the main organizer of chess events in Tel Aviv at the time. He was known as a man of impeccable integrity. It is very unlikely that he, or anyone else in the club, would deliberately set out to defraud Rubinstein.

I suspect they told Rubinstein the simple truth: yes, they promised to pay him 120 pounds, to be collected as playing fees from those who played in the simuls, as well as club funds; they did indeed pay him over 50 pounds (a large amount of money at the time for a Palestinian chess club); but those who promised them money to help pay for the visit, or perhaps those who "forgot" to pay the simul fee, had left them without funds, and thus in an embarrassing situation, being unable to pay Rubinstein what they promised.

Naturally, this is speculation on my part. What is clear is that the whole incident requires further research.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

In Memorium: Svetozar Gligoric, 1923-2012

The recent death of Svetozar Gligoric, one of the strongest players of the 20th century (he played for his country, Yugoslavia, in 15 Olympiads, with great success) is universally regretted, Gligoric being known not only as a strong player, but also as a gentleman and a decent, friendly person.

For example, he remained friendly with Robert "Bobby" Fischer for decades -- no easy task -- and recorded his first popular music album at the age of 88 (I haven't checked, but it's probably some sort of record). He was also known as a chess teacher for generations of younger players.

This being the case, I am sure Gligoric would not have minded for me to commemorate his death with a game he lost -- because he lost it in an amusing manner, showing all us patzers that, contrary to what we might think, awful one-move blunders occur on all levels of play. What's more, the move he missed -- a queen sacrifice -- is pretty in itself.

The Jewish connection? He blundered against the Israeli chess master, Yosef Porat.

Perhaps the most famous example of high-level blunders is Fischer's 29. ... Bxh2? in the first game of the world championship against Boris Spassky, 1972. Fischer, however, surely saw the reply 30. g3 traps the bishop. His real error was more excusable error of calculation: he mistakenly believed that he could extricate it. In the Gligoric-Poratt game, on the other hand, the error is a real "oops!" one-move slip.

Gligoric-Porat, Amsterdam Interzonal, 1964.  Position after 18. ... Rad8.

Porat played well and has some advantage, although the game should probably be a draw. Gligoric, perhaps wishing to "make a draw" by exchanging queens, played 19. Qf5?? --- only to resign immediately after Porat's pretty 19. ... Qg2! (20. Rxg2 Re1#; 20. Rd1 Rxd1+ 21. Kxd1 Qf1+ 22. Kd2 Qxc4-+).

It happens to them, too.

Chess and Art: Samuel Bak, still Going Strong

Credit: Pucker Gallery
We have mentioned the holocaust survivor and artist Samuel Bak several times in this blog. Bak is still very active, and we'd like to inform the readers that he has a whole new chess-themed exhibition in the Pucker Gallery, Boston, titled "Your Move".

The exhibition opens in October, and interested readers (if any...) in the area might well wish to purchase some of his art. Those who are not in the area and/or cannot afford to buy the original art, might console themselves with Lawrence A. Langer's study of chess in Bak's art, a large-format, well-produced  "coffee table" book (in the good sense of the word), The Game Continues. It is available on amazon and elsewhere.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chess for Gefilte Fish

Gefilte Fish. Credit (public domain photo): 

One would hardly expect a Jewish chess history blog to be complete without a link of chess history to that most Jewish of all foods -- gefilte fish. How could there possibly be a connection? It is rather more dramatic than one would imagine.

Simcha and Shula Moretsky  were married for many years until Simcha passed away recently. They were the parents of a good friend of ours. Among their possessions was an old, beautiful chess set -- by its looks, ca. 1920s or earlier. Where did they get it? Shula sent her the following mail, which he forwarded to me for publication. I translated it and (very) slightly edited it.
After the first bombing of Warsaw in 1939... Simcha, his sister, and his mother had managed to smuggle themselves to the USSR by crossing the Bug river, and lived in a while in Brest-Litovsk. The refused a Soviet citizenship and were therefore expelled at the end of 1940 -- on rafts -- to Komi, USSR, not far from the capital, Syktyvkar. 
That city was a place where Stalin and Trotsky exiled political prisoners since 1927 [sic -- a reader notes this is slightly inaccurate. Trostsky lost power by then, and the town was probably used as an exile place already in Tzarist times.] So apart from "anti-socials"  there was in the city also an intellectual elite... most of the labor camp's workers did work on the Syktyvkar river, cutting trees and sailing them down the river. Where there's a river, there are fish! ... he and his sister remembered their mother making gefilte fish and would barter it for needed items. It is possible they got the set from one of her customers then -- sometime between 1941 and 1943.
His father got ill with tuberculosis and his mother with kidney disease. As incredible as this sounds, they both got released from the work camp [in 1943] for medical reasons [! - A. P.] and moved to Voronezh, where they both worked for the railway administration, as it was an important railway center.
The city is on both sides of the Voronezh river, and, when she was not hospitalized or in treatment, his mother would get fish and make gefilte fish. People didn't have money to pay, as there was a terrible shortage of everything, so they bartered. One client taught him to play the violin. It is possible another taught him chess and left his set with them as payment. ... at any rate the set is in our family's possession at the very latest from the beginning of 1944. 
The set is still in their possession. From its looks it is from pre-revolutionary Russia, and probably a treasured possession of the chess teacher or worker who traded it for gefilte fish. I will post a photo of it as soon as I can.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Long Distance (Chess and Stamps, part VIII)

Image credit: A. P.

In pre-interent days, the post was of course the way to get chess news. We have sometimes discussed in this blog Chess in Israel magazine, which was published in the 1990s by the Israeli Chess Players' Association (a competing body to the Israeli Chess Federation), edited by Efraim Carmel and Nigel Davies.

Carmel's widow had shown me, inter alia, the following postcard -- a request for subscription from, of all places, Cuba. How, in those pre-internet days, the man who requested the subscription even heard of the new magazine, is beyond me.