Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Credit: We[heart]

Well, another year, another 62 posts... I hope you are enjoying this blog and learning something about chess in the area! I hope to finally, finally, FINALLY finish the book my co-author and I are writing on the subject...

As for the image, I couldn't resist. Incidentally -- jokes aside, the problem of making the pawn "change" its "sex" to become a "female" chess queen upon promotion was a bit of a problem. The objection wasn't so much to the "sex change" but to allowing the promotion to an extra queen: the suspicion was that the king, in this case, would be committing bigamy.

At least that is what Davidson says in his Short History of Chess according to Wikipedia. Not having Davidson's book handy, I am not sure how well researched this issue is, and how much of it may be a chess fable. The problem did not exist in the Arabic game, where the equivalent piece is a vizier, a royal advisor, who is male -- and of whom the Shah (king) could have as many as he wishes.

Actually, in English, an non-gendered language, 'pawn' isn't male or female (unless one considers it "male" due to being part of the group of "chessmen" -- but "chessmen" include the queen...). Thus Lewis Carroll had no problem making Alice a pawn in Through the Looking Glass, so her eventual promotion to a queen was natural.

But the equivalent word for 'pawn' in French, German, Arabic, Hebrew, etc. is both grammatically masculine, and also means -- depending on the language -- a foot-soldier, peasant, farmer, etc.; i.e., a man of the lowest and most numerous rank in either the army, or society at large.

Solution -- Shlomo Seider

Credit: see yesterday's post, "Shlomo Seider"

The detailed solution to the three-mover from yesterday, from the same source as the problem itself, i.e, the article about Seider in Shachmat Be'Yisrael 

There is a possibility for a Novotny theme on c5, which suggests itself upon a cursory examination of the position. But immediate attempts fail:

1. Ndc5+? RxN
1. Nec5+? BxN
[While, in this position, 1. Rc5 threatens nothing -- A. P.]

The Key is 1. Be1!, adding protection to b4 and threatening 2. Bb3+ BxB 3. axB#

All defenses allow the Novotny theme on c5:

1. ... e6 (clears the 7th rank) 2. Ndc5+!
2. ... Bxc5 3. Nc3#
2. ... Rxc5 3. Qa7#

1. ... d2 (clears the b1-h7 diagonal) 2. Nec5+!
2. ... Bxc5 Qxc2#
2. ... Rxc5 Nb6#

And finally,

1. ... Rxg8 (gives up the possibility of Rxh7) 2. Rc5!
2. ... Bxc5 3. Nc3#
2. ... Rxc5 3. Nb6#

Tumurbator - Oren, 0:1

64 Mishbatzot [64 Squares], 7-9/1956, p. 125

Looking at old magazines is always instructive. 64 Mishbatzot had published the following nice combination from the 1954 Olympiad, a game between Tumurbator (Mongolia), White, and Oren, Black. The annotator is (presumably) the editor of 64 Mishbatzot, Czerniak. White had just played...
18. Ng5? With this move, attacking h7 and e6, White attempted to gain a positional advantage, and was shocked by 18. ... Bf5! and the loss of an exchange is inevitable (19. Bxf5 Rd1+ 20. Kh2  Bxg5). Oren's opponent gets confused and loses immediately: 19. Bb3? Nxb3 20. axb3 Rd1+ 21. Kh2 Bxg5 22. Rxa6 Be7 0-1 
Nice work by Oren. Why did White bother with 22. Rxa6 before resigning? Presumably White was hoping for 22. ... Bxc1?? 23. Ra8+ or 22. ... Rxc1?? 23. Ra8+.  Hardly likely to work against a player of Oren's calibre, of course, but 'good players hate to resign without setting one final trap' -- HowellEssential Chess Endings.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Graves of Chess Masters -- Shlomo Seider

Source: Shlomo Seider's memorial site

Edward Winter has given us information about the graves of chess masters, including problemists like Grimshaw. Above is the grave of Shlomo Seider. The headstone says 'Shaul Shlomo, son of Shmuel Seider', since (as his biography on the Hebrew-language memorial site explains), he became known as 'Shaul' to his family and friends since his childhood, though this was never his "official" name.

The headstone uses the "official" Hebrew term for an IM of Chess Compositions -- Aman Benleumi Le'Yetzira Shachmatit -- which literally means, justifiably perhaps, something like 'International master in chess creation'...

Shlomo Seider

Source: Shachmat Be'Yisrael Vol. 2 no. 4, p. 63
Shlomo Seider (1933-1991) was an Israeli problemist. He won numerous prizes. Above, a mate in three, illustrating the Novotny theme, which won first prize in The Problemist (UK) in 1974, according to the article from which this diagram is taken: Le'Zichro shel Aman - Shlomo Seider [To the Memory of a Master -- Sholo Seider], pp. 62-64 in the source given above (unsigned).

The article has a few more of his interesting problems. It turns out that there is a Hebrew-language memorial site which, however, has much "pure" chess material which requires no knowledge of Hebrew: i.e. the catalogue of his problems (623 all told, divided by type) and both Hebrew and English articles about composing. He was an International Judge for Chess Compositions and an International Master for Chess Compositions, as the official document, scanned on his memorial site, shows.

How a Chess Club was not Opened in... Heichal Shlomo

Source: Herut, 9/9/1960, p. 8

Moshe Roytman also adds, in his tour of the right-wing newspapers of the time, a note posted on Noah Zevuloni's web site [in Hebrew] -- covering the latter's 50 years in journalism, web site maintained by his son, Eli Zevuloni.

In this case the article is about the possibility of opening a chess club -- or rather, the advertisements published in Ha'Tzophe on 22/8/1960 that the Religious-National party, the Mafdal, which owned Heichal Shlomo, will open a chess club in the place, including a lecture by Landau, a simul by Yaakov Kortzag [ph. spelling], etc. 

Zevuloni reports that, while the decision to open the club was legitimately done in a meeting by Heichal Shlomo's management, the CEO of Heichal Shlomo (absent, presumably, from that particular meeting), who was also the minister of the interior at the time, Chaim Shapira (not to be confused with the Tel Aviv University professor of the same name), decided for political reasons explained in detail in the article to "defer" the opening of the club until "after the [Jewish] holidays" -- i.e., to some indefinite time after Rosh Ha'Sahana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. 

As very often is the case in Israel, 'after the holidays' served as a euphemism for 'never', the equivalent of the English expression 'to the Greek calends'. Another point raised in the article by Zevuloni is that the management of Heichal Shlomo was asked why they intended to call the club after Reshevsky, instead of the late Rabbi Citron from Petach Tikvah, mentioned before in this blog, who was also a member of the Mizrahi (the Mafdal's predecessor) and also a chess master. Zevuloni adds, incredulously, that the reply was that the management never heard of Citron... 

That Reshevsky was a world-famous chess player and Citron a local amateur master was, apparently, irrelevant to those who complained to Heichal Shlomo's management for preferring Reshevsky to Citron in naming the suggested club. This was typical of sports in general in Israel at the time; e.g., sports clubs were divided based on political affiliation, and so on.  

It should be noted that at the time Herut was the newspaper of the Herut party, then the most far-right nationalist party in the country. The Mafdal (and before that the Mizrahi) was the right-wing religious Zionist party, significantly to the right of the ruling secular-left Zionist parties, but not as extreme as Herut

Jews vs. Germans, 1954

Source: Ha'Tzophe, 20/9/1954, p. 2

Moshe Roytman notes that in Ha'Tzophe (The Observer), in 1954, there was a strong denunciation of Israel playing in the chess Olympiad with West Germany. 'Who allowed Israeli representatives to played chess against the representative of the Amalekite nation?' Asks the unsigned editorial. 'If it was done without permission, what action will be taken against those who dishonor Israel's honor by playing with Germans? Revently someone was prosecuted of playing cards with the exterminators [the Nazis - A. P.] during the holocaust. Perhaps we should prosecute those who represented Israel in chess?'

The editorial's extreme suggestion was not adopted. This is not surprising, not only because of its extremism (the players had not committed any crime, of course, and thus could not be prosecuted in court), but also because Ha'Tzophe was the newspaper of the religious party, the Mizrachi, and was in opposition at the time (in 1957, the Mizrachi and Ha'Poel Ha'Mizrachi parties united to form the Mafdal, and since then Ha'Tzophe until its closure was the Mafdal's mouthpiece). 

But the worry about playing against Germans was ever present. Y. Y. Kniazer, who was a member of the 1954 team to the chess olympiad, noted in his diary that 'there were unpleasant moments. We didn't shake hands with the [West] Germans before the match, despite them circling around us and trying to be friends.' (Ha'Derech Le'Nitzachon Be'Sachmat [The Way to Victory in Chess], by Raafi Persitz, Tel Aviv: Torat Ha'Sachmat, 1959, p. 95).

To avoid a misunderstanding, nobody, neither Kniazer, nor even the editor of Ha'Tzophe, is claiming any of the players on the West German team were Nazis (they weren't). At the time, it was the very fact that Jews will officially meet with Germans -- any Germans -- socially that was, not surprisingly, seen as almost an act of treason, emotionally speaking.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Politics and Chess -- an Expert's Opinion

In today's morning show on Israeli television, Ze'ev Elkin, an Israeli politician and chess fan, is quoted as telling Natan Sharansky, who is also both:
Politics is like chess -- only your opponent can rotate the board and switch sides at will; steal your pieces if he feels like it; and take the chessboard, beat you over the head with it, rearrange it, and continue playing as if nothing had happened.
Can't say I disagree.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

From Zvi Bar-Shira's Reporting on the 1964 Olympiad.

Credit: Ma'ariv, 12/11/1964, p. 3ff. See also below. 

On 12/11/1964, Ma'ariv's reporters Zvi Bar Shira (who had given me the right to photograph the newspaper articles in his collection) and Avner Bar-Nir reported a sensation: for the second time ever, an Israeli (or, for that matter, pre-state Palestinian) player had drawn (and as black, too!) with a reigning world champion.

In previous Olympiads the Israeli (or Palestinian) players had managed many "upsets", and Porat had drawn with Botvinnik in the Amsterdam, 1954, while Czerniak drew with Capablanca in the 1939 Olympiad and with Botvinnik in the 1956 one (as a commentor reminds me). But this is the first time any of the "youngsters" -- not of the group that came to Palestine in the 1930s or 40s --had managed the same.

The photo shows Zadok Dominitz (the caption mistakenly claims it is Kreidman) shaking Petrosian's hand after the draw; the headline, in large letters, notes: 'DOMINITZ - PETROSIAN: DRAW!'.

Politicians and Chess

Image Credit: Chessimo
We have often noted (see the "Political Leaders and Chess" label) that David Ben Gurion was a chess fan, despite being a weak player. The 'Chessimo' blog linked to above adds a whole slew of other politicians who were related to chess, although without sources.

One of the many newspaper articles linked to in the thread mentioned here (found by Moshe Roytman) notes that Ben Gurion gave his support to the 1964 Olympiad in a letter reported in Davar on Jan. 31st, 1963, p. 3 (link in Hebrew) in which he adds inter alia that he himself is a chess fan, and while he had to 'cease from chess activity' in recent years, it 'does not harm his love of the game'.    

Israeli-Made TV Broadcasts... before there was Television in Israel

Image Credit: Davar, Nov. 16th, 1964, p. 13

From the thread mentioned here, we have an image of one of the first uses of television in Israel -- let alone an Israeli-made TV. Eight such televisions were in the viewing room and showed what is happening in the playing area.

This can be seen as (in effect) a 'trial run' for Israeli television: it was not actually broadcast, but a Closed-Circuit TV. Israeli TV did not actually begin broadcasts until 1966.

What is a Combination?

Image credit: A. P.
Edward Winter had written a chessbase article about what is a combination, and also has on his web site ( a somewhat different article which concentrates more on early (as opposed to famous) definitions and uses of the term.

Winter, fair as always, does not lay down the law about what a combination is, or is not, but looks for what famous players, or early sources, or readers think a combination is. Most definitions, however, seem to concentrate either on (a) sacrifice of material; (b) forcing continuations to reach a winning (or drawing) position; and (c) the use of more than one piece. (c) would imply that every time someone wins a pawn by putting more pressure on it than the opponent can rebuff it is a combination, while (a)  and (b) would mean, for example, that exchanging a rook for a knight in order to simplify into a winning pawn ending is a combination. Of course, all of the above are good, even winning, moves (or plans) -- but are they really "combinations"?

I believe Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld had the best definition I've seen. In their view, it is not the power of pieces that is combined, but that of the tactical motifs (pins, skewer, overloading the defender, exploiting a weak back rank, etc.).

Indeed, the more such motifs are combined together, one after another, the deeper and more shocking and absurd the combination's moves seems at first glance -- and the more we understand and enjoy it once we analyze its motifs. In their words (from the book above, the 1988 reissue of the 1949 original by Faber & Faber):

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pilpel -- Roytman, 1964 Olympiad, 0:1

Image credit: . Relevance below...
Well, I have been planning to post many comments about the 1964 chess Olympiad, but -- as John Lennon said -- 'Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans'. Moshe Roytman beat me to it, and had already collected, in the following thread in the chess-il web site, a collection of contemporary newspaper reports from Israel about the Olympiad, which started in Nov. 1964.

Still, my contribution here would be to translate and expose to the non-Hebrew speaking public what the Hebrew papers noted by Roytman say. Starting at the beginning is the criticism of the radio broadcast (Israel did not yet have television) of the opening ceremony (Ma'ariv, Nov. 9th, p. 11, 1964). which notes that for some reason the ceremony decided to accompany the national anthem on an accordion --a bit like deciding to open an Olympiad in the USA with the Star Spangled Banner played on an harmonica. Go figure.

50 Years Ago: Geller Simul, 1964

Image Credit: Wikipedia
We have noted before on this blog that, when visiting the country in 1964 for the Olympiad, the players of the Soviet team gave simultaneous displays in the country. An interesting point is that one of the group -- Efim (or Yefim) Geller, who was not one of the six players on the team, but was present (as team captain), also gave such displays.

Our frequent correspondent Moshe Roytman notes that Davar published, on Nov. 19th 1964, p. 7, a short notice that Geller would play the next day (Friday, Nov. 20th) a 40-board display against the pupils of the Ort Yad Singalovski high school in Tel Aviv.

Occupation: Master of Chess

Credit: Jonathan Schick (see below)
Jonathan Schick, who is researching Akiba Rubinstein's life, had found (and kindly shares) the following 'List or Manifest of Alien Passengers' for the S. S. Berengaria, sailing from Cherbourg to New York, arriving there on Feb. 1st, 1928. The list includes (click on the picture for larger image), on lines 15 and 16, Akiba Rubinstein and his wife, Enia Rubinstein.

The list includes, inter alia, her place of birth, and the fact that both declared that they read German and Russian -- presumably, in addition to Polish and Yiddish (as well as Hebrew, at least in Akiba's case, as noted before on this blog), which they didn't declare to the immigration official, perhaps because Russian and German were more "international" languages. Knowing many languages was very common among Europeans of their generation, as even the list of passengers here shows.

Of particular interest is the 'occupation' line, which puts down Enia as a Housewife and Akiba as a 'master of chess'. Quite accurate.

Chess Lapel Pins

Credit: Moshe Slav's collection
Above is a collection of lapel pins of the world champions from Steinitz (top left) to Kasparov (bottom right), if I am not mistaken. Tal and Capablanca are a bit hard to recognize, at least for me (though the names appear on the pins themselves). Like stamps, lapel pins are an entire world (my late grandfather, for instance, had a whole collection of them), made to signify membership in just about any organization or to commemorate just about any event. Connection to Judaism? Well, Steinitz, Lasker, Botvinnik, etc. ...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Storrs vs. Citron -- and more about the Jerusalem 'International Chess Club'

Storrs (right) platying Rabbi Citron. Credit: Rafi Kfir's 'Love of Jerusalem' web site [in Hebrew].
We have already noted that Ronald Storrs, who was Jerusalem's military governor after the first world war (as well as the civil administrator from 1920 to 1926, as Kfir's web site notes), was an avid chess player.

Our frequent correspondent Moshe Roytman notes this photo of him, in play with Rabbi Israel Abba Citron (1881-1927), Petah Tikva's rabbi (link in Hebrew), presumably in the 1920s.

Storr's memoirs are available online and contain many references to chess. His father taught him and his other children chess because once this 'king of games and game of kings' is learnt, one will never 'waste time or money on cards' (p. 9). Indeed the memoirs make clear -- quite apart from the above photograph -- that he never stopped playing the game.

Concerning the Jerusalem International Chess Club, which he founded, he notes: 'I founded a chess club "with a Christian (myself) President, Jewish Treasurer, Latin Catholic Secretary, and Moslem [sic] Members of Committee"' (p. 332). He adds on the same page that in the first tournament held, 'the first four prizes were won by Jews, and the fifth by the Military Governor [i.e., himself -- A. P.]'.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Review

Credit: SlavChess Inc. 
In this new book, Israel Gelfer and Boris Spassky -- with the help (as acknowledged in the introduction) of Ram Soffer -- look at the top games of top players and analyze them from scratch. For the book's purposes, 'top player' means those players (whether world champions themselves, like Kasparov, or not, like Keres) who have won serious games against at least 7 world champions -- although not necessarily when they were reigning champions. The book is available online here, or you can go to SlavChess's web site noted above.

In effect this book takes Tim Krabbe's article 'Regicide' (found, e.g., in Heroic Tales: The Best of 1996-2001, Ed. Taylor Kingston, pp. 306-310) about those who beat the world champions and expands it. While Krabbe considers only serious wins against reigning world champions, the authors here are willing to consider games won against world champions before or after they became champions: e.g., Keres beating Capablanca in 1938 and Smyslov in 1939.

The book includes (p. 295-296) the list of the 20 players, from Keres to Kasparov, who have beaten seven or more world champions from Capablanca to Anand. They choose 11 of those.

Keres, BotvinnikPetrosianGellerKorchnoiBeliavsky, Smyslov, Reshevsky, LarsenKarpov, and Kasparov are in the book. The authors re-analyze some of their victories against the world champions (they also add, but do not count for the purpose of the table, two games won by Beliavsky and Korchnoi againt Carlsen). There is a total of 86 mostly deeply-annotated games.

The games themselves (all being serious tournament games) are, inevitably, well known -- and it is to the authors' credit that they do not pretend to have made some huge historical discovery, but modestly suggest that these good games deserve a re-analysis. What's more, they do not claim that the person who beat the most world champions is therefore the strongest player in the world. Kasparov (unsurprisingly) is at the top, but he himself is quoted (p. 9) noting that the list is unfair to the old champions since it includes wins against those who became world champions under the FIDE "knockout" system.

One could add, as Edward Winter noted in his review of Keene and Divinsky's Warriors of the Mind (in Chess Explorations, 1996, pp. 227-230), that another reason for the unfairness of the list is that the moderns, such as Kasparov, often beat "old timer" world champions who were a generation or more older (e.g., in this book, Kasparov - Smyslov, 1-0, 1984). Unlike Keene and Divinsky, however, this book has three advantages that negate such criticism.

1). First, and as noted above, the authors here do not claim that their selection somehow determines who was the "best player ever".

2). Second, limiting the selection to those who beat the most world champions, the premise of the book makes historical sense: it is interesting to see who beat the most of the "chess immortals" at any time, even before and after they were champions. For example, I was a bit surprised to realize that Beliavsky made the list. He is of course a very strong player, but did you know he beat a total of nine world champions -- every single one (except Botvinnik) from Smyslov to Anand (not counting FIDE "knockout" ones)?

3). Third, and most important, Beliavsky's case is typical of the book. Not only do we get games where he beat the "old timers" when they were old timers (a win against Smyslov in 1983 or Spassky in 1990), but also him beating young rising stars (Kramnik in 1993) or the two K's when they were at, or near, the top of their game (Karpov in 1986 and Kasparov in 1983).

This mix between games where the 'regicider' beat the best when they were at their best, and games where he beat a rising future champion or an old veteran, is also the case for mort other players in the book. Of particular interest is that in many cases, the 'regiciders' not only beat the world champions when the world champions were at their best, or close to it, but when they (the 'regiciders') were older, e.g., Larsen defeating Karpov in 1980.

Finally, there are some interesting historical anecdotes. Spassky (who, incidentally, clearly did quite a bit of work for the book, not merely lend his name to the project) notes (p. 7) that his years as world chess champion were the worst and most stressful of his career, bearing 'enormous responsibility' against the 'scalp hunters' and receiving no support. Keres replied with deep silence when Spassky told him he was lucky never to become world champion...

There are also many photographs, most well known (to those in the field) but some more obscure and interesting, though their sources could have been added -- as well as, while we're at it, a bibliography, which is inexplicably missing.

A spot check didn't find any typos, though an odd blunder was found: Short appears on p. 296 as having beaten 9, and on p. 301 as having beaten 6, world champions; clearly the second list didn't consider the FIDE "knockout" ones (i.e., on p. 296 it is noted that Short beat Ponomariov and on p. 301 Ponomariov isn't counted), but this means the second list was not, in fact, made following the 'same system' of counting the champions as the first, as the book says.

Note: there is a strange "bug" in blogger which "breaks" Larsen's name and forces a paragraph break above, for some reason.

Edited to add: Edward Winter just wrote a short review where he, inter alia, calls Spassky's prose in the book  'turgid'  (C. N. 8921) and the book 'humdrum'. I am not so sure: I agree that the quote by Spassky given by Winter, a rather bland note (p. 7) on why do this book at all, is not high prose, but to repeat, I think that it is clear that Spassky contributed significantly to the book, not just wrote a polite introduction. As for the book being 'humdrum',I think the review above addresses the point: the authors make no particular claim to originality in finding new games, but merely that the concept of collecting these particular games -- i.e., a collection, not of games some player(s) won but the games some player(s) (in this case, world champions) lost -- is legitimate.

The only book I know of which was similar was Reshevsky's Great Chess Upsets, though they may be others.Thinking it over, perhaps the reason the format is unpopular is that when you collect serious games great players lost, the games are almost inevitably well known top-tier games. The reader might thus be disappointed of the lack of new games. This may be an argument against such collections in general; but it is not, however, the authors' fault (in either book's case) that world champions simply do not lose serious games to second-tier opponents or play (let alone lose) such games in secret (with some rare exceptions). 

I do, however, note Winter also complains the photographs in the book lack sources (he adds that some of them were taken from Chess Notes). This, like the absolute lack of any bibliography, is a significant flaw that cheapens the book.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

0-0-0-0-0, 0-0-0, or Illegal?

White moves; Black mates. 
We have already noted that Tim Krabbe and Max Pam discovered that, according to the rules of castling in force at the time, a white king can castle with a promoted rook on e8 (under certain conditions).

Raymond Smullyan, in The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes (pp. 76-79 of the 2012 Dover edition; originally published 1980) notes that in the 19th century and later -- indeed, until FIDE changed (or perhaps clarified) the rules of promotion relatively recently-- it was de jure legal to promote to a piece of the opponent's color. This would allow a promotion of White's a7 pawn to a Black rook on a8. Smullyan wonders: is castling possible in that case?

Whether one intuitively thinks it should, or should not, depends on how one views the pieces, notes Smullyan. Is 'queen's rook which has not moved from its original square' meant to apply only to rook on the board at the beginning of the game, or to include a piece created by promotion?

I suspect most players would take an inclusive view here, arguing that castling should be legal -- under the principle that, as all other laws of chess apply equally to promoted pieces, the same should hold for castling. This view, incidentally, is implict in Krabbe's and Pam's argument for the legality of 'extra long' castling.

Should it be Legal? 

Smullyan thinks most players would consider this castling perfectly legal due to the fact that most players have a "Platonist" view of chess -- that the physical pieces are not what makes a 'chess piece', but the way they move or are treated by the rules.

While true, I think the explanation is simpler. In most games (as opposed to sports), the tokens used to designate the pieces do not matter, and what makes a piece a piece is what it can or cannot do according to the laws of the game. One can play Whist, say, with blank pieces of paper as long as one remembers which card is which, or for that matter, it's perfectly possible to play chess (or most other games) sans voir and without any physical tokens.

In this respect all physical game tokens are mere manifestation of the "ideal" pieces, and the game itself is merely (and not necessarily, at that) represented by the movement of physical objects. If this is Platonism -- or, more seriously, a clever way to illustrate Platonism, by analogy, to philosophical novices -- so be it. But there is nothing in this that determines whether the laws of the game should treat a promoted piece, for example, differently than a "regular" piece. Or for that matter allow (say) the h-pawn to move differently than the a-pawn. This question has nothing to do with what physical object represents either piece in a particular game.

The reason most chess players, I suspect, would consider castling legal in this case has nothing to do with Platonism, but with simplicity and harmony. Most players see it as an aesthetic virtue that the laws of the game of chess do not treat promoted pieces any differently than regular pieces. One of the later changes to the laws of chess, in the 18th and 19th century, was the disappearances of special requirements of rules for promotion. It is no longer required the promoted piece be one that was already taken, or one found on the file on which it promotes in the array. A promoted piece need no longer "rest" motionless for a turn.

These and similar laws (or local variations of them) became obsolete since streamlining promotion in this way simplified the laws of the game while enriching the possibilities and depth in endgame play: more from less. So unless there is a very good reason for it, most players would agree that the promoted rook should be treated equally with the original one in the case of castling as well as in other cases.

Is it Legal? 
Whatever one thinks about whether castling should be legal in this case, the letter of the law about castling makes no distinction between promoted and non-promoted pieces, so it seems that it is legal, or at least was until it was formally made illegal to promote a piece to the opposite color. The promoted rook is on (Black's) first rank (which, incidentally, was the official change made to the rules of castling in the 1970s, to prevent '0-0-0-0' cases...), neither the king (we assume) nor the rook have moved, it is Black's turn, and neither e8, d8, or c8 are attacked by any of White's pieces.


So it seems that the following moves meet the stipulation:

1. a8=Black R?!?  Castles QS#

It seems that yet another type of castling not imagined by the official laws of the game is, or at least used to be, possible. Perhaps it should be designated 0-0-0-0-0 (to distinguish it from Krabbe's 0-0-0-0 as well as from regular castling); after all, unlike 0-0-0 or 0-0, such castling could occur even after both original rooks moved, or, for that matter, if they were taken.

0-0-0-0-0 or 0-0-0? 

To be sure, one may with equal plausibility argue this is simply an unusual case of queen side castling, 0-0-0, which doesn't need a special notation any more than any other move with any other promoted piece does. Perhaps most chess players would argue just this for the same reason that they would consider such castling legal in the first place: if the same rules apply to promoted pieces, surely the same notation should as well?

However, this is a purely linguistic matter, which does not affect the legality of the new castling, nor the fact that it is a very unusual kind of castling not foreseen by the laws, but merely what name it should be given.

P. S,

Yes, there is of course a "cook" to this "problem" (1. a8 = Black Q), as well as a "side variation" to the original solution (1. a8 = Black R  Rd8#) but that is hardly its point...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rubinstein in Lviv

Details: see below.

Our correspondent and chess historian Tomasz Lissowski had forwarded to us the following photo and (below) a transcript of an article, both from the Polish magazine Chwila of March 7th, 1931. The magazine was published in Lviv (to use the current Ukranian spelling), then in Poland. Chwila, adds Mr. Lissowski, was a Jewish-owned, Polish-language magazine read by the Jewish-Polish intelligentsia in Lviv at the time. 

The article and photo were found in Chwila by Mr. Jan Jaremko, who in turn forwarded it to Mr. Lissowski. They concern a simultaneous display given by Akiba Rubinstein in Lviv on March 5th, 1931, in the 'Literary and Artistic Casino' -- today, adds Mr. Jaremko, the reading room of the regional scientific library.

The result was +8 =15 -8 (!). The report was, as can be seen below, written by the chess master Henryk Friedman. It mentions that about 300 people attended as players or spectators, and also names  some of Rubinstein's opponents. Unfortunately no game scores were given. Mr. Lissowski adds that in the first line on the left one can see Edward Gerstenfeld, another of the many Jewish-Polish players -- like Friedman himself -- who later perished in the holocaust.

We thank both Jaremko and Lissowski heartily for their research and permission to publish it on this blog!

Yeshayahu Blaustein Obituary

Source: Ha'Problemai [The Problemist], Oct. 1973, p. 14 

We have previously mentioned Yeshayahu "Shaiy" Blaustein in this blog, including one of his problems. This time, a problem which -- as the photo above notes -- will 'undoubtebly live on as one of the classics of the 20th century'. I am not so sure about that, but it is a very nice problem.

The Hebrew text in the obituary adds more biographical material, much of which can be found in the link given here, and mentioning he was also an architect and an artist (as well as a talented amateur photographer).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chess and Stamps -- Ashdod 2006

Credit: from the collection of Moshe Slav.
Here are two segments of a envelope (limited to 1000 units) that was produced by the Israeli postal office to celebrate the 3rd International Chess Festival in Ashdod, 2006.

If one wonders about why so many strong tournaments happen to take places in Be'er Sheva (see previous post), Ashdod, and other cities in southern Israel, the explanation is interesting. Those cities, where rent and cost of living is relatively low, became the home to many Jewish emigrants from the former USSR in the 1990s, which led to a huge increase in chess quality, as Ha'aretz [link in Hebrew] explains. In fact, Be'er Sheva in 2005 had the highest concentration of chess grandmasters relative to the population in the world

True, such statistics are not particularly meaningful, since the addition or subtraction of a single GM changes the ranking, GMs being (despite their "inflation" in recent years) quite rare, and the "highest proportion" having more to do with the city's small population than the large number of grandmasters. There are many more grandmasters in total in, say, New York, to say nothing of Moscow or St. Petersburg... 

Still, it does mean something -- eight grandmasters (in 2005) in a town of about 200,000 is quite impressive, especially as it is, in this case, indicative of a high level of chess activity on all levels, as an article in chessbase web site about the Be'er Sheva Chess Club notes. The same article, incidentally, noted that currently Be'er Sheva had been passed by Reykjavik -- another small city with a well-known chess history, of course, as anybody who has heard of Fischer or Spassky knows... 

Chess and Stamps -- World Team Championship Collection

Credit: Moshe Slav's collection

On the subject of chess and stamps, two quick items -- an envelope and a stamp sheet -- celebrating the 2005 6th World Team Chess Championship which took place in Be'ev Sheva.

The WTTC should not be confused, incidentally, with the chess Olympiads, the other important international team chess events. For an explanation of the differences, see the excellent web site about the WTTC, inter alia

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Czerniak's Books

Moshe Czerniak's Ha'Pticha Ha'Spharadit, Cerech Aleph [The Ruy Lopez, Vol. 1], (Tel Aviv: Mofet, 1976), cover and inside front page.
How many books exactly did Czerniak write? By 1976, his book about the Ruy Lopez has 16 previous titles, as the title flap show. Adding this book, and his book about Israel in the Chess Olmypiad (1979), this would make 18 titles.

Checking the 1979 book, incidentally, it transpires that there was no "Vol 2" of the Ruy Lopez book printed since 1976 to 1979 (and, I believe, ever). I chose to give this earlier book in the post due to the elegant cover art (I didn't find the artist's name in the book).

The list shows great versatility. He published books for almost 40 years (1941 to 1979). As the list shows, the originals appeared in three countries (Chile, Argentina, Israel); in three languages (Spanish, Hebrew, and English); and included primers, chess history books, tournament and match books, biographies (a book about Botvinnik's best games), a book about chess endings, and two opening books.

Czerniak reminds me much of Irving Chernev. Both wrote all kinds of chess books, from primers to game collections. Both were confident of their views, openly disagreeing with leading authorites' analysis, when he thought they could prove it was mistaken. Both were honest and hard working: they may have written some mediocre books, but never meretricious ones. All of Czerniak's and Chernev's books shows a lot of work, and most contain a lot of original material in analysis or history.

Why Did Abram Blass Change his Name to Moshe Blass? -- ADDITION 8/10/2014: He didn't, but...

Moshe Blass (right) receiving the Reshevsky club cup from the president, Moshe Liber, in 1971, the last prize he won. Source: Shachmat Vol. 10 no. 4 (April 1971), p. 101. 
Gaige's Chess Personalia (at least, my reprint of the 1987 edition) notes, next to the Palestinian / Israeli master Moshe Blass, a "mystery" player known as Abram Blass, with no birth or death date, and the source being a Polish magazine from 1929. Internet sources such as Wikipedia or Olimpbase also mention 'Abram Blass'.

The wikipedia entry mentions him winning the 1935 Maccabiah championship. As this blog had previously noted, contemporary sources make clear that the person who won this championship was Moshe Blass, as he is always known in Hebrew-language sources from the 1930s on. E.g., Shaul Hon's Ptichot Be'Sachmat [Chess Openings] (Shach; Tel Aviv, 3rd Edition, 1964) mentions him as 'M. Blass' many times in tournament results from that period (including the 1935 Maccabiah victory, p. 85). Blass' obituary, by Moshe Czerniak, from which the photograph above ('The Last Prize') is taken, also names him 'Moshe' and mentions his 1935 Maccabiah victory and, inter alia, him winning the 1928 Warsaw championship -- which Wikipedia credits to 'Abram Blass'.

Clearly, Abram Blass and Moshe Blass were simply the same person -- and, probably, based on where he was known by which name, he changed his name from 'Abram' to 'Moshe' when arriving in Palestine in the 1930s.

Why? It is not clear.

One possibility suggests itself. He was -- as Czerniak notes (see exact biographical details in this post from our blog) -- an illegal immigrant to Palestine, then under British rule, and the last thing he wanted was to be recognized and deported to Poland. Still less could he voluntarily visit Poland and return to Palestine, which is (notes Czerniak in the same link just given) why he didn't play for the Palestinian team in the 1936 Warsaw Olympiad. So perhaps he changed his name to avoid detection by the authorities.

Still, changing one's name from 'Abram' to 'Moshe' while keeping one's surname is not much of a disguise. He may have changed his name merely to signify he was starting a new chapter in his life (as many did at the time, including chess players -- Foerder becoming Porat, etc., etc.). Why 'Moshe' then? Perhaps, like many European Jews, he may well have had a first and a middle name, i.e., Abram Moshe Blass or Moshe Abram Blass, and simply used only one of them in his youth in Poland and decided to switch to the other in Palestine.

Addition, 8/10/2014: It turns out, as Uri Blass, the grandson of Blass' brother Simcha Blass, notifies us, that Moshe Blass did not, in fact, change his name. His full name always was Moshe Aba (אבא) Blass. Uri Blass confirms, however, that 'Abram' Blass is in fact the same person as Moshe Blass. 

This, on second thought, was the most reasonable interpretation from the start: disguise was not likely, as noted above, and most those who changed their name upon arrival in Palestine (or later, Israel) changed it from a foreign-sounding to a Hebrew name, not from one Hebrew name to another. 

But solving this issue presents us with another one: why 'Abram' Blass, as many sources call him in the 1920s, when he played in Poland? Why not 'Moshe' or 'Aba' Blass? A simple mistake? A corruption of 'Aba' (a relatively rare name) to 'Abram' (a more common one) by non-Hebrew speaking reporters? Some other explanation? 

P. S.

It should be noted, for completeness' sake, that the biographical data in the obituary is quoted by Czerniak from Ha'aretz, 12.3.1971, before adding Blass' photograph, two games, etc. The obituary does not explicitly state if Czerniak also wrote the Ha'aretz obituary or merely agrees with it -- the former is likely, as it is written in Czerniak's style and he was Ha'aretz's chess editor at the time. But this is a minor issue.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

More about Politicians and Chess

Both Pictures: credit Moshe Slav and Slav Inc. 
The current Israeli PM, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, is a chess fan, or, at least, has a chess set at home and was photographed playing chess, in particular with his father; see 'political leaders and chess' in this blog. In the above official Israel Chess Federation photograph, he is posing (apparently in the Prime Minister's office), next to a special chess set: the 'Jewish chess' set made by Slav Inc.

as the details in the photo below shows, it is set where the Christian symbols of the traditional Staunton set (a cross on top of the king, a bishop's mitre for the bishop) are replaced by Jewish ones -- i.e., the king is crowned with a star of David, the queen with a menorah, the knight becomes a lion (an old symbol of Judea), and the rook has the ten commandments on it. The open hand on the bishop and pawn seems to be a hamsa, a stylized amulet against the evil eye, which is technically not of Jewish origins but very common in Jewish folk art, especially among oriental Jews.

(One can click on the pictures for a larger version).

An enlarged section of the second picture above.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Itzchak Aloni, 5/4/1905 - 2/6/1985

Itzchak Aloni by Ross, 1964. Source: Ha'Lochem: Izhak (sic) Aloni (The Winner: Itzchak Aloni), by Shlomo Kandelshine, p. 116. 

It seems odd, but no widely-available database or web page seems to have Itzhak Aloni's exact date of death. Nor does Jeremy Gaige's Chess Personalia, still the most reliable and complete source -- which gives his exact date of birth and birth name (Izak Schaechter) -- has a death date except for "1985". (Note 13/9/2014: a reader notes that the correct Polish-language spelling of the name, which would be the language the birth certificate was written in, would be 'Izaak'). 

The date is given by Shlomo Kandelshine in the same book noted above, on p. 35. Aloni died on June 2nd, 1985, and was buried in Holon, Israel. Perhaps the lack of an exact date of death is due to the fact that the only sources giving it are in Hebrew.

Ironically, Shachmat, the Israeli Chess Federation's journal, had to announce his passing in the August 1985 issue -- right after celebrating his 80th birthday with a career retrospective in the previous two issues.

As said before, for consistency's sake I use Gaige's "Itzchak", but notes he was born "Izak". Kandelshine prefers "Izhak" in the English title of his book. All of these are simply variants of יצחק (Isaac). Think of Victor Korchnoi, Viktor Korchnoj, etc. for Ви́ктор Корчно́й.

Incidentally, Schaechter is a Yiddish name which means "kosher butcher". Aloni changed his name to 'Aloni' -- literally, '[like an] oak tree' -- when he was in a kibbutz in Palestine in 1943 (Kandelshine, p. 14). Changing one's foreign-sounding name to a Hebrew one was quite common among immigrants to Palestine and, later, Israel, until the 1960s. Porat, Oren, Aloni and many other chess players of those generations did so.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thank God for Sources!

Well, blogger is for some reason messing up with my blog's layout and not showing most of the pictures. I was very annoyed at this -- but I learned something about sources.

I always give exact sources for my material. This is annoying, boring, and what not. But what is the result? Well, for starters, it means that when a screw-up like this happens, the blog LOOKS much less nice, yes, but all the information on it is still there. Apart from a few "quiz photographs" posts I deliberately gave without sources, all other posts are simply about historical material that I found. So if worse comes to worst, the information is still found, or easily retrieved, by looking at the picture's source.

Update -- solved -- see previous post. 

Down for Repairs -- and Background Change...

Sorry about the blog's disappearing pictures -- I seem to have a problem with the syncing between the Picasa Album and the blog. Hope it will be fixed soon...

Update: (Aug. 30th, 2014): the problem appear solved; I also -- finally -- found the way to change the background to a more chess-like image.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Success Books and Chess


Chess had often been associated with logic, intelligence, and so on -- in the popular mind; reliable scientific proof strong chess players are more intelligent than non-players is hard to come by, though there is (for instance) some evidence they have, when it comes to chess positions, very good memories.

Such memories certainly helps those who play many blindfold games, for example (how exactly simultaneous blindfold players "see" the boards is an area researched quite a bit by psychologists today).  But, as Edward Winter in particular did much to point out, this hardly that the sans voir feats of, for instance, Pillsbury, were due to some general, magical super-intelligence (linked, in the popular mind, to madness).

Winter correctly insists that all such feats be shown to actually have occurred in contemporary sources and not invented or embellished by "once"-type historians. This is done not to diminish Pillsbury's or other players' reputation, but to enhance it: he believes, correctly, their reputation should be based on their actual chess achievements, not on such public displays which may, or may not, have occurred.

But -- intelligence in general aside -- does playing chess well give one skills to succeed in life, from memory to persistence? Some chess players have written books about success: two Jewish ones are Kasparov (if he is considered Jewish, since his father was), and Susan Polgar, whose book is supposed to come out soon. Do such books do any good?

I am conflicted about this. Usually, books about success are, in the words of Andrew Oldenquist, 'books for losers, for mice who would be supermen' (in his book The Non-Suicidal Society), who think there is a gimmick that will make others give them money, sex, or prestige -- without having the character, ability, or hard work that makes them deserving of it. Or, as G. K. Chesterton put it in The Fallacy of Success,  books about success tend to be written by those who cannot even succeed in writing books.

(Certainly this is true of a well-known chess writer, who wrote one of those 'how to succeed in life using chess' books -- without being strong enough a player to have a single game by him found in the Chessbase 9 database).

And yet, in these two particular cases, one thing is certain: both Kasparov and Polgar are huge chess successes. If anyone has a justification to write 'success and chess'  books,  they do.

Kasparov's book indeed is far better than the usual run of dire 'success' books. He doesn't give quick-and-easy gimmicks, but points out certain character traits and habits which he developed that made him succeed in chess.  He argues, reasonably, that they can be developed, by practice (as he did), and that they are traits that can help to succeed in life in general.

The book is not a masterpiece, nor claims to be; it is not clear to what degree its advice can be carried out in practice; but it is not worthless. It is interesting and useful -- if only due to what it shows us about Kasparov's life and views.

Polgar's book is not out yet. Naturally, I cannot say anything about its content. Presumably she, too, knows about success enough to not give us trite advice -- but to show us, from her experience and life, how she succeeded and what she deemed important for success. Let us hope the book will be useful and interesting as well.

(31/8/2014: post slightly edited per commentor's note).

Mona Karff Carticature

Credits: see below.

Mona Karff had been mentioned in this blog often before. In Chess Notes no. 8756, Edward Winter adds a caricature of her, and of various other players of the Stockholm Olympiad, which were given to Chess Review by Karff herself (the full details are in Winter's post). Above is her caricature -- a small selection of the complete set of caricatures.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Source: 64 Mishbatzot, no. 4., p. 69 (May 1956)
Who says strong players don't enjoy being kibitzers? Here are Keres (middle) and Alekhine looking with great interest at a game in the 1939 Olympiad. The picture is from an article about Israel (actually, then, the British Mandate of Palestine) in the Chess Olmypiads. Later made into a book, it was originally a series of articles by Czerniak in his magazine.

Meran 1924 and 1926

Credit: see below.

Miriam Morris, the daugher of the artist David Friedmann, notifies us that Luce D'Ambrosio's book about Meran 1924 and 1926 uses (with her permission, of course) some of her father's art. The book was praised by Edward Winter in C.N. 8657 as 'deeply researched and luxuriously produced', which -- coming from Winter -- is high praise indeed.

In particular, Morris notifies us that the back cover has her father's portrait of Gruenfeld (top) and Colle, the latter found by D'Ambrosio, she not having been aware of its existence before.

Note 13/9/2014: Thanks to commentators who informed my the picture at the top is, of course, Gruenfeld and not Bogolyjubov. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Chess Caricatures

Credit: See Below
In Chess Notes no. 8721 (scroll down required) the unlikely claim that this caricature of Fischer was in fact "by himself" was discussed by Edward Winter. Unsurprisingly, as Winter notes in Chess Notes no.8724 (scroll down required), it turns out that it was not by Fischer, but by the late Berislav Petric, as his daughter, Marina Petric, notes in her very interesting web site. Like father, like daughter: he clearly passed on his artistic talent to her.

Following the link Winter gives, I add that except this particular image, there are many other wonderful caricatures there. I add many of them are well known to chess "old timers" from various publications, but rarely given credit when originally published in them, at least to my admittedly vague recollection. Her web site is well worth a visit, including the non-chess content.

P. S.

In order not to violate copyright, I am only giving here the same image Mr. Winter used, which is one of many found on her web page. I believe this is "fair use" in this context.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Computer Problems / Birthday Announcements

Picture credit here.

Due to computer crash that temporarily doesn't allow me to access my files (I have backup but the computer itself is on the fritz) - oh, and this "war in the promised land" (again) thingy going on - I will only be posting quick notes in the next week or two. One such quick note is from Moshe Roytman, who reminds us that Luba Kristol is 70. She was one of Israel's top female players when she was active, winning two world correspondence championships (for women). Happy birthday!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Untimely Death Notices

Photo Credit: Quotespedia

Edward Winter notes in his article Chess and Untimely Death Notices that 'a surprising number of publications had misguidedly shovelled into the grave various chess figures who were, to a greater or lesser degree, still alive.' The (currently) last item on that list (also found in C. N. 8682) concerns Sammy Greenberg, whom Marmorosh had mistakenly killed off, as we had noticed while reviewing Marmorosh's chess columns from the 1930s. Full details found at the links provided. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Uri Avner, 1941-2014

Uri Avner. Credit: wfcc.

We are sad to report that the Israeli player and composer, Uri Avner, had passed away this Thursday. A brief biography of his problemistic achievements is found here. The same site also has a notice of his passing.

He was a strong OTB player (e.g., IDF champion 1961, member of the Israeli Students' Olympiad team a few times, etc.), with a FIDE rating of about 2250. But he was best known for his problemistic achievements, having left competitive chess for problem composing ca. 1970.

There, he made Israel a powerhouse in the field (organizing three PCCC congresses in Israel for example), and reached the very top of the organization -- the head of the FIDE Permanent Commission for Chess Compositions. He was also a GM for chess composition.

There is a lengthy, and very good, obituary in Hebrew here  by Ram Soffer, from which the above summary is taken. It is at the Israeli Chess Federation's web site. 

There is also one of his last -- and very entertaining -- lectures online, at this link, and one can see a few of his games here.

On a personal note, Avner, a psychologist by training, had a very acid and funny sense of humor. Three examples from my personal experience:

(After he got off the phone with a certain chess organizer who was, and still is, very good as an organizer, but only a mediocre player): "Ever since he broke 1750 in the rating list, he demands the honor such an achievement entails."

(Discussing with me whom to invite to an ICF meeting): "The only two people I know who would draw a crowd are myself and Adrian Schwartz ... [a chess playing serial rapist who just got paroled - A. P.]"

(About his composing style): "I compose anti-Merediths. That's the number of pieces left off the board when I'm done."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mona Karff -- Update

Source: Davar, 27/5/1938, p. 4

We have previously posted that Mona May Karff had been the first Palestinian World Chess Champion. Originally we noted that there was no notice of her achievements in the Jewish press, perhaps because she saw Palestine as a "stepping stone" to the USA and never was a "real" zionist.

It turns out this is not quite true: as noted above, when she won the USA women's championship (9.5/10!) this was noted in the Jewish press, which notes her play was praised, and her photo given, 'in all the American papers' (presumably, this last claim was not intended literally).

What is interesting is that the Palestinian part of her career and life is emphasized and all else is not. Her success in the 'Stockholm Olympiad' (actually the women's world championship held concurrently with the Olympiad) is mentioned, presumably because she represented Palestine (that time the Palestinian team did not participate), and spends considerable space on the Palestinian part of her biography.

For example, her birthplace (Bessarabia) isn't mentioned, but only that 'She emigrated to Palestine with her parents when very young'. It is also mention that 'after learning Hebrew [she] joined the Kfar Giladi kibbutz.' She is also describe in the first sentence of the article as being 'from Tel Aviv', and only in the very last as now being 'a resident of Boston'.

It is not wise to hang too much on the wording of a newspaper paragraph, but it is typical, in our view, of the explicitly zionist bent of the newspaper reporting in Palestine at the time, in particular Marmorosh's column.

Books and Magazines

Above we see two ways in which Marmorosh's chess column in Davar became a de facto clearing house for all matters concerning chess in Palestine. In the mid to late 30s, apparently a drip of foreign chess publications began to reach Palestine, and Marmorosh was the go-between. In both the above, typical, extracts from his column from the late 30s, we see this.

The first -- brought to our attention by our correspondent Moshe Roytman -- is from April 15th, 1938. It advertises two books (Championship Chess by P. J. Sergeant and Max Euwe by Hans Kmoch), and adds (the last paragraph) that 'large publishers now often send their books to the chess department's management [i.e., Marmorosh himself -- A. P.] for it to advertise. Some publishers noted their willingness to give a discount to those who order from Palestine'. This surely make economic sense -- publishers giving discounts to enter a new market, once they discovered it exists.

We note that the same occurred with magazines. The bottom selection, from Nov. 26th, 1937, notes that one can buy copies of the British magazine Chess at the 'newspaper kiosk next to Davar, and that those who wish to buy a subscription to 'immediatelly contact the chess department's management'.