Once a year, I too am allowed a fun post - happy new year to all! (Image from here.) I promise to myself, among other things, to update this blog more regularly.
A frequent correspondent points out to us the following note about the "Lasker" (top) and "Reti" (bottom) tournaments in winter 1960 (the source is Ha'boker, 30 March 1960, p. 3.) The interesting point is that in Lasker's "training tournament," the leader is Stepak, then a soldier, who just drew Pilshchik, another young player. Another soldier, Bernstein, is also mentioned.
On the other hand, Reti's "winter tournament" is still old guard: the winners were Wolfinger and Gruengard, both of whom were already active in the 1940s and earlier.
The chess situation in Palestine in the 1940s, due to the war, was not too active. As the note above shows, on Davar of April 21, 1942, p. 6 (we thank a frequent contributor for pointing it out) we have, in Passover, only a "Lasker" club championship, a simultaneous game by Marmorosh, and an announcement by by the "Central Workers' Chess Club" in Tel Aviv to convene a meeting with youth and other workers' organizations to discuss how to improve chess among the youth. One curiosity is that the first winner in Marmorosh's simul, Makachi Toledano (ph. spelling), 16 years old, won a chess set, "the gift of Mr. Barlevi" (ph. spelling). The latter was a seller publishes of educational toys, books, etc., and also published Marmorosh's own primer in the 1940s. (P.S. for some reason "justifying" the text doesn't seem to be working.)
Israel Rabinovich-Barav (above, picture from his memorial page) had often been featured in this blog. His son, Ami Barav, had constantly provided us with much information about his life and games. Lately, he provided us with three games played in the "Reti" club championships in the 1950s. The club, created by some players who left the "Lasker" club during that time, had many of Israel's strongest players.
The new games (nos. 31-33 in the games section of the memorial page) are all draws, but not the less interesting for all that. They show Barav's usual tactical, attacking style.
This post has nothing to do with Jews in particular, but I hope it's still interesting.
Perhaps the oddest publication I know of about chess is this odd pamphlet, published by Alexander Baron (certainly not the well-known writer of the same name). The booklet is obviously intended tongue-in-cheek, but whether it is intended fully as a joke is not clear to me. It considers three possibilities (pp. 3-4):
A frequent correspondent pointed out that Doar Ha'yom's infrequent chess column was in the back pages, next to the "small talk" column. Here is one example, from May 24th, 1929, p. 5. It is a study by H.(erman) Mattison ("White goes and makes a remis", with Black's forces on the bottom). The odd thing is that the "small talk" column is by "Reb Alter Ego" ...
I was notified by a colleague that GM Evgeny Postny added to his social a media a photo he took of Emanuel Lasker's grave. It is reproduce above.
It should be noted that the graves of many chess masters are found in the somewhat morbid but fascinating web site, "Find a Grave." These include among many others the graves of Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Tal, and many others.
The Israeli Chess Federation notifies on its web page (in Hebrew) that Yosef Retter, an international master of chess composition, had died on August 20th. The article has a very good photo of him and a very nice two-mover, a field in which he specialized.
Above, we have a note from La'merchav (5 Devember 1960, p. 4) about what is probably Retter's first international appearance. It notes, under the headline "Israeli Problemists' Achievements - in a National Conference," that the 1958-1958 FIDE album, which has 800 problems of the best composers in the world, includes 24 problems by Israeli composers, include eight by Retter. We thank a frequent correspondent for notify us of this article.
A frequent correspondent notified us of a funny exchange between David Ben-Gurion and Shaul Hon found in Ben Gurion's archives. In 1955, Hon (letter above) asked Ben Gurion to write an introduction to his book, Chess Openings, describing it (technically inaccurately) as "the first chess book in Hebrew." Naturally Hon emphasizes the importance of chess as the "Jewish game," the importance of the book to Zionism under the "for the first time in 2000 years" principle, and flatters Ben Gurion by saying he (Ben Gurion) is known as a chess player.
Ben Gurion politely refused, noting that while he supports the publication of the book as a worthy goal and would be glad to read it, he is "unjustly suspected" by Hon of having any chess abilities or achievements.
Incidentally, Ben Gurion repeats the same refusal to write an introduction later, in 1966, this this time to a request by Eliahu Shahaf. Again, he supports the publication of the book and even adds that Gat, one of the best Israeli players and a member of his kibbutz, told him about it, but that he doesn't have the chess skills to write an introduction for a chess book.
The letter is of interest since Ben Gurion gives some details of chess career (or rather lack thereof), noting that he played as a youth (in Russia) but "was never good at the game." Once in Palestine, he hardly played at all, except for a short time in Sejera, against "Meir Rodberg who was a good player."
A frequent correspondent points out to us that in Ha'mashkif had criticism of chess on the second page on the second page of its 13 June 1945 issue. The revisionist newspaper -- its title means "The Observer" -- was that of those in favor of a maximalist Jewish state, as the map on their masthead shows (top image). As such, it was a minority to the general moderate socialist Zionist leadership of the Jews in Palestine at the time.
The criticism, under the title "Chess and... Class War" (lower image), is not so much of chess itself but of its coverage in the socialist Al Ha'mishmar (then still just Mishmar). The article notes that the reporting in Al Ha'mishmar keeps inserting socialism into the chess column, by, for example, noting that the winner of the Palestinian championship was the "modest worker" Itzhak Aloni, which implies the existence of immodest workers of the despised upper classes. Or, complains Ha'mashkif, Al Ha'mishmar's reports about another tournament (a 32-player elimination tournament in "Lasker"; see e.g. Davar, 11 February 1945, p. 3), said they are glad "comrade Aharon Susna," a plumber by profession, won, thus proving the rise of the working class.
What really got Ha'mashkif's goat was the short story reported by Al Ha'mishmar about Susna. In his youth, a revisionist Zionist came to Susna's town in Poland and wanted to make Jews there join the revisionists. Susna, a good socialist, played chess with him and won - which was reported by Al Ha'mishmar as a victory, not in a chess game, but of the forces of progress.
It seems Ha'maskhif is over-egging the pudding. Calling someone "comrade" (haver) instead of "Mr." was indeed common in socialist papers at the time, but was just a polite figure of speech. Similarly, Aloni being described as a "modest" worker merely indicates he held a junior, as opposed to a senior, position at work. Finally, it is hard to believe Al Ha'mishmar seriously implied the game Susna won against a revisionist in Poland is truly a case of class war. It seems more of a humorous way to frame the story, or rooting for the home team.
In the following book, a Hebrew translation of Jose Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon is illustrated by cubist painting by Jacques Villon. It is hardly surprising Villon, the older brother of Marcel Duchamp, was interested in both chess and art.
Mr. Tomer Kaufman had brought to our attention Moshe Czerniak's notebook from the 1930s, which he owns. With his permission, we present here an example: Czerniak's summary of the 1935 Olympiad. The games and commentary are in Polish, and he has in the notebook games from a variety of events in the 1930s, mostly Palestinian events but also, as noted, the Olympiad.
The legendary grandmaster, Yuri Averbakh, had recently died in Moscow, at the age of 100. We note here the post we made on his 95th birthday, and add above, again, from our collection a book signed by him to Almog Burstein. We also note Chessbase's obituary and Edward Winter's feature article about him.
At 10th of November 1938, some Nazis came in his house in Vienna, as he played chess with his brother. The leader of the Nazi-gang was also a chessplayer - a bad one - he wanted tob e part of the game. Eric let him win of course: Eric Hassberg and his brother were the only Jewish boys from the whole area, not to go to (concentration) camp.
Our frequent contributor, Herbert Halsegger, just notified us that looking for "Schach" in the Bundesarchiv gives many interesting pictures, among whom we also have Nazi propaganda posters, such as the one above.
There had been many efforts to promote chess in schools in Israel. Shaul Hon, the editor of Davar's chess column in the 1940s, had occasionally promoted such efforts. Here is one such example, from Davar's 9 December 1949, p. 17 of the weekend supplement. We than Moshe Roytman for bringing this example to our attention.
A teacher in a Hedera school accepted the parents' requests in a class meeting and agreed to give a chess lesson to all the pupils in the class. For now, the class is one hour a month during school time. It caused much excitement and interest among the pupils.
Not exactly a mass movement, but it's a start!
Even at the height of the second world war, some Jewish players were rescued. In the following note, by the Aufbau (an German and English language Jewish weekly from New York) reports on New Year's day, 1943 (p. 24) that the "famous chess problemist Otto Gross," formerly from the Chess Club Anderssen, Frankfurt, is in New York, and promised his "lively participation" in chess activities. We thank Mr. Herbert Halsegger for bringing this report to our attention.
A previous post noted that Stalin was reputed to be a strong chess player, and doubted this is accurate. A correspondent notes Stalin did play chess. He notes the evidence is in Stephen Kotkin's biography of Stalin:
[Kotkin] is an outstanding scholar who specializes in Stalin. You can find an [English] translation in the first volume of his Stalin trilogy of a letter written by Yakov Sverdlov on 12th March 1914, in which Sverdlov, who had an elephantine memory, boasted of beating the future despot...
Our correspondent found the Russian text here, and provides the English translation, in p. 154 of (one of) the English editions of Kotkin's Stalin trilogy:
My friend [Stalin] and I differ in many ways," Sverdlov wrote in a letter postmarked for Paris on March 12th, 1914. "He is a very lively person and despite his forty years has preserved the ability to react vivaciously to the most varied phenomena. In many cases, he poses fresh questions where for me there are none any more. In that sense he is fresher than me. Do not think that I put him above myself. No, I'm superior [krupnee], and he himself realizes this... We wagered and played a game of chess, I checkmated him, then we parted late at night. In the morning, we met again, and so it is every day, we are our only two in Kureika.
The incident occurred, notes our correspondent, when Stalin and Sverdlov were exiled together to the very small village of Kureika before the first world war. He adds that Sverdlov is a partial source, as he quickly fell out with Stalin, but nevertheless there are two reasons to believe Stalin was indeed a weak player.
First, if Stalin were any good, good players among the bolshevists, e.g., Ilyin-Zhenevsky or Krylenko would have noticed. Second, Sverdlov boast that he checkmated Stalin (as opposed to have won) is typical of beginners, suggesting Sverdlov himself was a weak player, and yet he beat Stalin.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia's entry about Joseph Stalin.)