Saturday, June 29, 2019

Reti's Cancelled visit

Source: Ha'aretz 20/12/1923 page number missing
In 1923, there was much excitement in Palestinian chess circles due to the expected Jan. 1924 visit of 'Ha'Koach Vienna', and especially of the Jewish star of the team, Richard Reti.As Ha'aretz notes, the plan included for him to play a 60-man simul and a blindfold 15-game one. Many people - 'Jews and non-Jews' - are asking the Lasker club in Jerusalem to register as players. The paper adds these include 'high government officials' (of the British Mandate of Palestine's government).

Eearliest (?) Live Chess Display in Palestine?

Source: Ha'aretz, 21/3/1924. , p. 3.See also below/
A frequent corespondent had brought to our attention the following note in Ha'aretz, March 21st, 1924. It shows the first live chess game in Palestine took place, not in April 1924, as previously stated in this blog, but about a month earlier, on March 20th, in Tel Aviv, as part of the Purim celebrations in Tel Aviv. The report adds that the live chess show was seen by 'about 10,000 spectators' - among them 'a few thousand Arabs, who came from Jaffa and the nearby villages, and filled the streets'. 

This, if accurate, is significant considering, first, the entire population of Tel Aviv at the time was only a little more than 20,000 (according to Dalia Manor's article, 'Art the the City', in Azaryahu & Troen (eds.).  Tel Aviv: the First Century : Visions, Designs, Actualities) and Jaffa at the time was about 30,000 (according to Wikipedia's Hebrew-language page. This means that about 1 of 5 of the population came out to see the game! 

It is also an early example of chess being used for joint Jewish-Arab entertainment, if, in this case, the occasion was actually "Jewish" (Purim). 

A Winz Simultaneous Display

Source: Ha'artez, 12/12/1926 (page?) , see also below
A frequent correspondent notes that Victor Winz had played a simultaneous display on Dec. 12th, 1926. The literal translation from the Hebrew notes that the game, at 19:30 in the Zionist Club on Rothschild avenue in Tel Aviv. It is called a 'one-time' game (i.e., Winz playing many at once) against 25 opponents. It also notes that Winz will then play 'with his eyes closed' (i.e., a blindfold game) against the 'most strong player' among the 25.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Rare Photos

Source: See Below
Dan Ha'Dani (דן הדני) is a retired news photographer who had documented, in his IPPA news photo agency (IPPA stands for 'Israeli Press and Photo Agency', active 1965-2000) had donated his collection of over 1,000,000 photographs and other items to the National Library of Israel. 

A quick search of 'דן הדני שחמט' (Dan Hadani chess) finds 411 results of various Israeli players from various times, mostly the 60s and 70s, while checking in particular for the ID # of 'אולימפיאדת השחמט סרט' ('chess Olympiad reel') finds numerous photos, in particular, of the Haifa chess Olympiad of 1976, with many interesting photographs, such as the above one. 

The links are in (mostly) in Hebrew, but the navigation is standard and the photos need no particular explanation. 


Source: O. Henry, Cabbages and Kings, p. 19 of the 1920 Doubleday & Page (NY) edition. 
References to the game of chess in general are very common in literature -- often using terms like 'check', 'checkmate' or 'stalemate' to illustrate dramatic points in the plot, reference to chess problems is not common. So it is interesting to note in O. Henry's (William Sydney Porter, 1862-1910) early novel, Cabbages and Kings

The fact that Henry uses the exact terminology found at the time in most chess columns seems to show that he was, at least, acquainted with chess. A quick online search found various e-book publishers offering collections of O. Henry's works (since they're in the public domain). At least two have the same biography of O. Henry -- claiming he could 'hold his own against the best players of [his] town' (Greensboro, North Carolina) as a teenager. 

This is likely, but these e-books are obviously hack works. As they both have the exact same biography, it is very likely this biography is itself cut-and-pasted a previous (and naturally uncredited) biographer's work. I would therefore not consider their say-so as reliable evidence, without first finding the original work.

Incidentally, since copying and incompetence usually go hand in hand (as Edward Winter notes), it is not surprising a brief overview of these e-books finds howlers. One  book claims in the biography O. Henry was born in 1802. This is surely the plagiarist's -- or his scanner's -- mistake, not that of the original biographer. The other claims that Cabbages and Kings is a 'collection of short stories'.  That one of the publishers finds it necessary to praise itself for its 'High-Quality eBook Formatting' (capitals are sic) is also a big warning sign. 

Who do these "ePublishers" think they are -- Ray Keene

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Grau "Saves the Day"

Source: Shaul Hon's Shachmat, April 1946, p. 14
As is well known, in the 1939 the second world war broke out in the middle of the Olympiad. Matches between enemy countries were declared drawn (2:2) without play. But so was the match between Argentina and Palestine. Why? 

Yosef Porat gives his reminisces of how this came about in Shaul Hon's chess magazine (which, we believe, lasted only one issue). The magazine was generously given to us by Ami Barav, Israel Barav's son. 

Says Porat (my translation): 

Our team was not invited to the negotiations [in which the matches between warring countries were decided as drawn] for reasons we didn't understand. It was clear to us in advance we shall not play against the Germans. A few days before the round when we were supposed to meet we notified the organizers and received a reply that we would be treated similarly. 

The next day we were surprised by a second letter: the organizers notified us that the German team objected with the claim that Palestine, as a Mandate, is not in a state of war with Germany, so they see no reason to cancel the match! An absurd situation arose -- the representatives of the Nazis' land demanded to play with the those of Jewish Palestine! 

We all agreed we will not play with them no matter what, and informed the management that we will not come to play against them. It was a crucial situation; if we were scheduled to play with the Germans, they will get 4 points without a fight, which would give them first place! 

The Argentine team complained about the harm we do to [their chances for first place]. We offered to them to not appear in our match with them, but other teams then objected that would hurt their chances. The press had a field day... 

...[E]ventually [Roberto] Grau, the head of the Argentine team, found a solution by chance: he noted that since, by sheer chance, we had a 2:2 result against all other teams with chances for a prize that we have already met. So if we agree to a 2:2 draw with both Germany and Argentina, no country with a chance for a prize would either gain or lose by our hand.... even the Germans found no way to object to this. 

First Specially-Composed Soviet Problem in a Palestinian Newspaper

Source: Al Ha'Mishmar, 19/6/1947, p. 3
A frequent correspondent notes that this problem, by Alexander Baturin (Gaige's spelling in Chess Personalia -- some sources prefer 'Alexandr') is special. As the editor, Eliyahu Feigin, notes, it is the first Soviet problem especially composed for Al Ha'Mishmar. He adds he would be glad to continue the cooperation with this 'chess Eldorado'. 

We add that, to our knowledge, it is also the first Soviet problem that was ever specifically composed for any Israeli or Palestinian chess column or magazine, although there were problems by international composers specifically composed for Palestinian chess journals already in the 1920s. 

About the Lasker Club

Souce: ynet
In a new feature (for subscribers only, alas), ynet, the web site of Israel's most common paper, Yediot Aharonot, just published an article about the Lasker club in Tel Aviv. Titled: 'The Most Romantic Club in Israel', It notes:

With black coffee, biscuits, and peculiar humor, the Lasker club gives its members a refuge from the daily grind for 83 years, for a camaraderie of chess. They survive financial difficulties and even shady gamblers, who tries to take over the club - only don't ask them to play backgammon.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hayim Segel's Private Olympiad

Source Ha'Tzophe, 4/12/1964, p. 6 of the weekend supplement
A frequent correspondent sends us the story of the "private olympiad" of Hayim Segel (sitting on the right in the photo) a 28-year-old amateur player, who - in the 1964 Tel Aviv olympiad -- somehow managed to get the greats of the chess world to play many friendly games with him. These included Efim Geller (sitting on the left), Boris Spassky (whom he beat 2:1), and many others. 

The whole thing started, according to the report, when Segel - waiting, with others, for Reshevsky whose plane was late -- passed the time playing Darga. He beat him in two blitz games, raising the interest of Unziker. Unziker beat him 3:1 in a blitz match, but praised his play. He thus got to play - apart from those mention above -- also Kotov, Boleslavsky, Gligoric, Ivkov, Najdorf, and many others. He often drew or won, including (in the case of Spassky) in "regular" friendly games (i.e., without clocks). Reshevsky - an orthodox Jew -- was also his guest for a shabbath. 

When asked why he doesn't, in fact, play on the Israeli team - his reply was that, as a yeshiva students studying for the rabbinate, he has no time to play. 

The same correspondent adds that, later in his career, Segel was jailed for "white collar" offences when he served as a senior rabbi in the Israeli rabbinate. He was considered by the other prisoners as an expert in three things: religious law, investment advice, and chess. The paper says, with unnecessary understatement, that the man who bear Spassky 2:1 in a friendly match was "one of the best players" in the prison. 

Source: Ma'ariv, 25/2/1977, p. 56 of the weekend supplement

It is surely Segel who is described, unnamed, as the 'yeshiva student' who 'challanged' the best players in the world to a game in the 1964 olympiad, in a book of essays by a Jewish author whose title I undfortunately forgot (can any reader add the details?). That book gives a partial explanation of Spassky's performance: after starting with 1.a3, which is playable (the Anderssen opening), Spassky continued 2.h3, which 'showed he had something else than chess on his mind' (quoting from memory). Spassky was surprised that his opponent was too strong for what is, in effect, two-move odds. 

Some Things Never Change

Source: Al Ha'Mishmar, 5/2/1948, p. 3
Square brackers are our additions.

Reply to Correspondence:[To] Israel Schaechter [ph. spelling], Cyprus:
There is no limit on the number of pieces that may be promoted, and it is therefore legal to have two queens, three knights, etc.; by the way, the colloquial Hebrew term [for 'pawn'] is hayal [soldier] or ragli [foot soldier], and not ikar [farmer, i.e., the German term Bauer]. 

We note that the fact that a Jew with such a name was writing from Cyprus means he probably was a refugee caught by the British when trying to enter the mandate of Palestine illegally, or else perhaps one of the representatives from the Yishuv or other organizations that were allowed to join them to help take care of their needs. 


Source: Al Ha'Mishmar, 22/1/1948, p/ 3 

In the above column, then edited by Eliyahu FeiginAl Ha'Mishmar's chess columns noted the death of Avraham Feldklein in battle near Gan Yavneh in the Israeli War of Independence (1948). We have already commented on this note, but here we add the two problems in his memory: by Yosef Goldschmidt (using Gaige's spelling Yosef rather than Feigin's German-based Josef) and B. Hendel

The solutions were published on Feb. 12th (p. 3) of the same paper. No. 201: to avoid the "cook" 1.Nh6 the authors adds a black pawn on h7. Key: 1.Rxh7. No: 202: 1.Qf6 Nf7 2.Qd6+ Nxd6 3.Rc8+ Nxc8 4.Rh7! with four varieties of mate. 

Obituaries and Congratulations

Source: Sachmat, Vol. 17 no. 2 (#183)
A frequent correspondent of ours notes the obituary of  Ya'akov Gavish, the late Haderah (Is.) chess player and organizer, not only in his city but in the Ha'Poel sports organization and correspondence chess. The writer of the editorial, Zalman Gurevich, was the treasurer of the ICF in the 50s and 60s, after Dr. Menachem Oren resigned. 

The curious historical part of the obituary is that Gavish was the manager of the local Ha'Poalim bank in Hadera, and that without his contributions and those of others in financial circles, the ICF could never afford to send teams to the Olympiads in the 50s and 60s. The entire ICF's budget at the time, notes Gurevich, was based on voluntary contributions from well-wishers. 

In addition, the page has a congratulatory message for Roman Dzindzichashvili for his victory in the 1977/1978 international tournament in Hastings (ahead of ex-world champion Petrosian and many other top players). Understandably, the same issue has him on the cover, stating 'Roman Dzindzichaschvili -- I came, I saw, I conquered', the latter statement also in the original Latin.