Saturday, December 31, 2022

Happy New (Gregorian) Year!


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. 

Made in Israel

We have already noted on this blog the first radio match in Israel, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A frequent correspondent points out a "behind the scenes" look in Eliahu Shahaf's chess column (Al Ha'mishmar, 4 January 1952, p. 4) under the headline "Tel-Aviv - Jerusalem on Phone and on the Radio" (above). 

Shahaf's column noted, among other things, that:

1. The Chief organizer in Jerusalem was Moshe Czerniak.
2. A few minutes before the broadcast it turned out the Tel Aviv room engaged for the event lacks the needed electrical arrangements, so a hurried rush to another improvised room.
3. The selected team from Tel Aviv's "Lasker" club was late; replacement players were hurriedly arranged; but then the original team arrived in the last moment - "to the disappointment of the replacement team." 

It is also noted that the "Kol Israel" (Israeli radio) broadcaster was Eliahu Carmel, and that the Israeli diplomat Yochanan Maroz introduced the Tel Aviv team. 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Chess Talk

My colleague, Shahar Gindi, and I gave a talk in Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies about our research, as noted here. Here are some photos from the talk. 

The Lewis Chess Set and More

In London and Oxford, we visited the British and Ashmolean museums. Below are photos of the famous Lewis chess set (ca. 1200) and another chess set from ca. 1500; note the shape of the rooks. 

Simpson's on the Strand

 In London recently, we have visited this famous chess haunt. Here are some pictures. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

What did Keniazer do for a Living?


Kniazer at play. Source: see link below

We have often noted in this blog the Palestinian / Israeli player Kniazer. We note two points: first, our spelling was off, and Keniazer is the correct spelling. We will be changing the spelling in the blog to match over time. Second, it seems little of his personal life is known. His exact dates were not easy to find (the link has them and the source of the picture above). Our colleague, Shahar Gindi, asked us recently - what did he do for a living? Certainly, he was not a professional player, but it is not clear from any biographical source what his profession was. It is not mentioned, in particular, in his obituary (of which we summarized here), nor in his book with Raafi Persitz, for example. Can any reader solve this mystery? 

At long last...


Above: the lecture    

At long last, Shahar Gindi and I are giving our lecture in the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies about the research we have done for the book in progress. the lecture is at 17:00 in the Clarendon Institute, Oxford University. 

Fine as an Historian


(Above: Fine in 1961, credit: Wikipedia)

Reuben Fine is well known, or notorious, for inaccuracy in his published chess history. For details, see for instance, Edward Winter's essay on Fine's writing. But what about other writings? Is Fine more accurate in his psychological work? 

Possibly not. Fine's movement from chess to psychology was described by Gilbert Cant as a loss for chess and a draw at best for psychology, as noted for example by Winter here. Certainly, we concur with Winter that Fine's The Psychology of the Chess Player is "inexpressibly awful." 

By chance, we happen to be reading Freud Without Hindsight: Reviews of his Work (1893-1939) by Norman Kiell (Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1988). Fine's History of Psychoanalysis is occasionally mentioned. The impression one gets is that the book is superficial. It either simply takes Freud's word (in, e.g., letters for Fleiss) as accurate without further verification, or relies on previously published secondary accounts which Kiell says, he "perpetuated." 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

A Triple Party

The previous post does not, however, mean that the "Reti" club ignored the young players. Here is one example: a frequent correspondent notes that Ha'tzophe reports (June 19, 1959, p. 6) on "a triple party" in the "Reti" club, whose secretary at the time was Eliezer Pe'er

These were the sending of the Israeli Students Organization's team to a Budapest tournament (the 6th World Student Team Chess championship); the prize ceremony of the 1959 Tel Aviv championship (won by Persitz), and presenting the "Reti cup" to the winner of the "Reti" club championship, Meir Rauch

But while "Reti" knew well to honor young players and their achievement in the Reti club, the actual players in the "Reti" club tended to be old-timers, like Rauch. This was not, of course, 100% so: some young players played for the club at the time, in particular Raafi Persitz, as can be seen, e.g., in Ma'ariv's report of league play on 10 June 1960, p. 12. (This too was pointed out to us by a frequent correspondent.)

In that report, it is noted that "Reti" and "Lasker" are fighting for the league championship, which was often the case in those years. "Lasker," in the early years of the state, was by far the strongest club in the country, even as chess activity began to flourish again. So when some of its top players left to form "Reti" in the mid-1950s, for the next period these two clubs were at the top. 



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. 

Chess Snapshot, 1942

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.) 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Three Games with Smiltiner, Three Draws


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. 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Menace of Sexism in Chess


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):

He supports the third explanation, after mentioning, inter alia, that he came to that conclusion after the following stint in prison (p. 1):

William Hartston comes in for special abuse throughout the pamphlet, as in the following "proof" of the conspiracy:

Whether the author is serious or is spoofing those are overly sensitive to "sexist" slights where there are none, is not clear to me. Presumably this is an instance of Poe's law, according to which it is always impossible to tell parody from serious claims, at least on the internet. 

Reb Alter Ego


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" ... 

Monday, August 29, 2022


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, CapablancaAlekhine, Botvinnik, Tal, and many others. 

Yosef Retter, 1934-2022

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. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

Ben Gurion and Chess

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."

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Chess and Class War


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'mashkifAl 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. 

More Chess Art - Book Covers


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. 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Tel Aviv Founded - by Chess

A frequent correspondent notifies us that it was over a game of chess that Tel Aviv was founded. In Ha'olam, April 19th, 1929, p. 8, a witness, Kadish Yehuda Silman, describes the scene which occurred 30 years previously, ca. 1900. 

In Meir Dizengoff's house, in a gloomy, rainy day, the house of "almost the only intellectual [in Palestine] in those days," a small group of were sitting and complaining about the bad situation of the Jews in Palestine when playing chess. They were wondering what to do to improve the Jews' situation - and in particular, how Jews can own their own homes instead of renting from Arabs -  as "one was moving the knight, the other the rook, and a third keeps saying 'check!'." 

Suddenly, they all decided, as sprits rose, "what ears once heard in the time of Nehamaih: let us rise up and build!". And thus, the decision to fund Tel Aviv was made. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Czerniak's Notebook


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.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Israeli Chess Championship, 1955, on Film

In 1955, "Carmel" newsreels - in the pre-TV era - was a major source of news to the public. Here, starting at about 2:15, we see the players in general, Oren, Czerniak, Porat, and Keniazer, among others. The credit is to Israel's Archive Site.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Yuri Averbach, 1922-2022

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. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Chess and Sailors

We often noted the way chess was seen as patriotic in Palestine and Israel. Here is another example: As a frequent correspondent notes, Davar, on February 4th, 1949, p. 22, notes both the editor, Shaul Hon, will be giving a lecture about the king's gambit on the radio - and that Dov Wolfinger had been "invited by the sailors in Haifa to join them in the establish of a  new soldiers' club" and also gave a simultaneous display (+11 -1).

From the language used - Wolfinger being invited to the soldiers' club's establishment and "used the opportunity" to give a simultaneous display - it seems Wolfinger was invited there for unrelated reasons, and used the opportunity to do his bit to help soldiers and sailors with the impromptu display.

Long-Suffering Chess Wife

A frequent correspondent noted an interview with Miriam Aloni, Itzhak Aloni's wife, in Ha'boker, 2nd Nov. 1964, p. 4. In poor Israel of that time, among other problems, the article notes: "a bad apartment in an abandoned Jaffa house, rather low wages (Aloni is a clerk in Tel Aviv's municipal government)... the husband had a chance to get packages from the USA. He asked for a chess clock." 

Does she help her husband? Play chess with him? "Isn't one chess player in the family enough?... I help him draw diagrams for publication, but most of my help is - not bothering him."  

Monday, May 2, 2022

A Woman Expert - Jerusalem, 1920s

The above image, brought to our attention by a frequent correspondent, is found here (link in Hebrew). It is of Aaron Abraham Kabak (1880-1944), one of the group of Odessa-based Jewish writers, and his wife Sarah Feiga Kabak, nee Czernovitch. They emigrated to Palestine in 1911 and settled in Jerusalem. 

His wife, notes their nephew Yaakov Zur, was rather frustrated of being a housewife, and declared that, if she were only a man, she would be better in everything than men. In his recollections of Jerusalem, published in Ma'ariv (Oct. 6th, 1961, p. 6), also provided by our frequent correspondent. 

Zur adds that she was also an expert chess players, a game in which "she would beat all comers - to show that in this, too, she is superior to men. And indeed she had special talent for this game, and was one of the few women who reached expert level in it. One year she was one of the Jerusalem champions [sic]."

Saturday, April 23, 2022

A Caricature for a Single Move


The above cartoon, by "Meir," from Davar, 30 April 1951, p. 24, is unusual. It comes to illustrated, not chess in general, nor even a particular player or game, but a specific move - 21. c6! - by Ernst Fischer in his 2nd round victory against Oren in the 1951 Israeli championship. 

The game is: 

Fischer, Ernst - Oren, Menachem

Gruenfeld Defense [D96]

Israeli Championship, 1951, rd. 2.
Source: see above

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. Nc3 d5 5. g3 O-O 6. Qb3 dxc4 7. Qxc4 Be6 8.Qa4 c5 9. dxc5 Nbd7 10. Be3 Nd5 11. Nxd5 Bxd5 12. Rd1 Bc6 13. Qa3 Qc7 14. Bg2 Ne5 15. Bf4 Rfc8 16. Bxe5 Bxe5 17. O-O Bf6 18. Rd2 e6 19. Qe3 Bd5 20. Rc1 b6 

21. c6 Bxc6 22. Nd4 Bxd4 23. Qxd4 Qb7 24. Rxc6 Rxc6 25. Rc2 Rac8 26. Qe4 Rxc2 27. Qxb7 Rc1+ 28. Bf1 Rd8 29. Qxa7 Rdd1 30. Qxb6 Rxf1+ 31. Kg2 Rfd1 32. a4 Rd2 33. a5 Rb1 34. b4 Rdb2 35. a6 Rxb4 36. Qd8+ Kg7 37. a7 1-0

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Saved by Chess


And from Nazi propaganda - to those who used chess to save themselves from the Nazis. From Herbet Halsegger comes this photo and story from the New York Aufbau, 6th August 1948, p. 32, about Eric Hassberg
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.
This reminds one of Ephraim Kishon, who was also saved by being the chess coach of a concentration camp guard. 

Chess and Nazi Propaganda


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. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Ezra Glass, from China to Israel


A frequent correspondent asks us how reliable are the stories of Ezra Glass being in Shanghai an d becoming the local chess champion there during the second world war. Another correspondent, Herbert Halsegger, supplied us with the following cutting, from the Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, March 17th, 1949, p. A-6. 

In it we learn the Glass was travelling to Israel from China, with a group of another 191 Jewish DPs ("Displaced Persons," i.e., refugees) from China, en route to Israel. The article notes Glass taught them to play chess during the long journey. It is noted he was champion of Austria "and of the far east" before the war. 

Chess in Schools


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! 

Chess Problemist Rescued

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.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Stalin and Chess II

Joseph Stalin, 1937 propaganda photo. Credit: wikipdeia.

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.)


Czerniak in Hoogoven, 1966


Herbert Halsegger notifies us of this very nice photographs of Czerniak, playing in Hoogoven, 1966. The photo is available on the Wikimedia Commons web site.