Saturday, November 18, 2017

Chess and Marie de France's 'Eliduc'

Marie de France (fl. 1160-1215). Credit: Wikipedia.

Chess had often, as the previous post noted, been used in literature. One of the early mentions of chess -- the old game, of course -- in European literature is in Marie de France's Eliduc, a poem about love and betrayal between the hero, Eliduc, his wife Gildeleuc, and his lover, Guilliadon.

The lai (medieval poem about love) includes a short reference to a king who lives in England (where Eliduc arrives) playing chess with his court. According to Eve M. Whittaker (no relation, of course, of the infamous Norman Tweed Whittaker), however, the entire poem is a chess metaphor -- and not only that, but one that connects the philosophical lessons the game teaches in Muslim works to a new Christian outlook,

Her thesis (see previous link) is titled 'Marie de France's Eliduc: The Play of Adventure', published in Medieval Encounters: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Cultures in Confluence and Dialogue 6 (2000), 3-57. The existence of this work was brought to my attention by a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous.

For Eve Whittaker, in Muslim works where the game is a metaphor, it is seen as a metaphor on the correct philosophical way to live, but de France adds a new Christian message, where the game teaches one to reach eternal salvation. Interestingly, she thinks that the poem does not merely mix these two views, but that different parts of the poem are allegories of different parts of the game.

The first part of the poem is an analogy of the opening and middle game -- and that they use chess (as it was played in Europe at the time) to teach lessons about love and life (as in Muslim works). But the later part of the poem is an allegory of the end game -- and teaches how to reach salvation.

I am not sure what to think of Whittaker's conclusions, but it cannot be denied that she does a decent research job acquainting herself with both the rules of the game at the time. Her source is, naturally, Murray, no doubt the single best source for chess at the period.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

An Obscure Chess Article

Source: See Below

In the previous post, we mentioned 'The Toys' (הצעצועים - Ha'Tza'a'tzu'im) as an article mentioned in Marmorosh's chess column. Thanks to the Israeli National Library's online archive, the source was found. It is by Yehoshua Reichenzahn (phonetic translation from the Yiddish  יהושע רייצעםזאהן) and is found in the yearbook Knesset Israel, 2nd year (1887), columns 47-64 (each page has two columns) of the 'Useful Section' (Ha'Helek Ha'Shimushi, החלק השימושי) -- the sixth and last part of the yearbook, following the fifth part, the obituaries (p. 1340 on the online scanned version in the link).

The article starts with a very loose translation of chess terms from other languages into Hebrew, relying often on the sound of the word and not its meaning. While some translations make sense (e.g., 'horse' for the knight), he translates the German Bauer (lit. "farmer", i.e., the pawn) as Bor (בור) -- citing the source, the Avoth tractate, where the word (as in modern Hebrew) means 'a hole in the ground', esp. one for keeping water. He also translates Rook as Rach from another Talmudic tractate (Bava Batra) where the word, again as in modern Hebrew, means 'soft' or 'young'.

The main part of the article is a poem, Tachsisey Milchama (תכסיסי מלחמה, 'Strategy') of a battle between the Indian and Persian kings, who are doing battle against each other supported by a mercenary battalion of 'Germans' (the White pieces) or 'Africans' (the Black pieces), respectively. After each move by either side there is a four-line quatrain describing the move, its purpose, what it threatens, etc., ending with White checkmating the Persian king on, in modern notation, the 25th move (the 45th half-move). In this, the poem reminds one of Jacob Eichenbaum's Ha'Krav (הקרב, 'The Battle') (Odessa, 1839 -- see Keats' Chess in Jewish History and Hebrew Literature, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1995, pp. 232ff).

Apart from this, the article has chess problems ('The German [White] wins in one move', for example) and another game, this time between Zechariah, a Jewish merchant, and 'The Master', a gentile nobleman. who meet in a tavern. The game is given, as well as the conversation between the two. Zechariah, of course, wins, but The Master declares that he cheated and has his servants beat him. In a combination of remorse and shame, The Master ambushes Zechariah in the field as he leaves town, kills him, then shoots himself!

The article seems very obscure. It is not mentioned in Keats, nor have I found it anywhere else except for its mention in the introduction before the start of Marmorosh's first chess column (see previous post). As this introduction refers to Marmorosh in the third person as the 'player who will edit the column', it was probably not written by Marmorosh himself. One wonders who was the scholar who wrote the introduction, mentioning this obscure source as well as others.

Marmorosh's Very First Column

Source: Davar, Nov. 7th 1930, p. 5 (same w/following item in this post)

Moshe Marmorosh's very first column, in Davar, Nov. 7th 1930, starts with a general introduction by the editors. As so often in Israeli (or Palestinian) press, it starts with the famous 'Song of Chess' poem, and adds a brief history of the game among the Jews.

This time the introduction, probably written by the editor and not by Marmorosh himself, is rather good, with a detailed note both of important chess-related items written by Jews, both famous (like 'Song of chess') and rather obscure ones, like the article 'The Toys', article by Yehoshua Reichensahn (ph. translation -- the original Yiddish, see the next post, is רייצעםזאהן), in "SF"R's [Saul Pinchas Rabbinowicz - link in German, last name also spelled Rabinowitz] Knesst Israel", a Zionist yearbook edited by Rabbinowicz in 1885-1888 in Warsaw. The unsigned introduction was probably (see also the next post in the blog) not written by Marmorosh himself, as it refers to him in the third person.

We have already mentioned in this blog the first game published in it -- the famous 1907 Rubinstein win vs. Rotlewi. Here is the first problem, by L. Holzer:

'Chess' is spelled שחמת -- this was before the common spelling today, שחמט, became the standard ca. 1940. It is also interesting to note that, as usual for Hebrew chess works at the time, the pieces were given Hebrew names and initials (e.g. King = מלך [Melech] = מ, the initial letter, Hebrew being written from right to left), but the board's files used Latin letters.

Monday, October 9, 2017

More Chess Signatures

Source: ebay (click on image for larger picture)

The above is the program of the Israeli 1957 chess championship. The seller wants $350 for it, which seems a rather high price. But at least it does have the signature of most (not all) of the participants, including, e.g., on the right page of the last image, Czerniak (top right), Porat (top left), Itzchak Aloni (bottom right), and Dyner (bottom left).

Still, we are beginning to see here some challenges to the "old guard", e.g., Yair Kraidman (top right, second image), Rudy Blumfeld (to left, second image) and others. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Foy's Third Castling -- and Heidenfeld's Second

Bernard Foy's Third Castling, Hebrew edition (trans. Ruth Shapira), by Lars Gustafsson. Am Oved, 1989,
We had already noted this book and its unusual title, but I was not aware that a Hebrew edition existed. We add that Tim Krabbe found that there is at least one serious game, Heidenfeld - Kerins (Dublin, 1973) where there were in fact three castlings -- Heidenfeld castling twice, 10.O-O and 33.O-O-O.


Not chess related: there is at least one more 'Foy' in literature: 'Death of a Foy' by Isaac Asimov. It is a feghoot -- a joke short story ending in a pun. In this case, the alien Foy's "dramatic last words" are an (awful) pun on the popular song 'Give my Regards to Broadway'.

The Israeli science fiction magazine Fantasia 2000 reprinted this story in the 1980s, -- translated into Hebrew, so the pun was lost in translation, not that many of the magazines' readers would have heard of 'Give my Regards to Broadway' in any case. I recall reading the story as a teenager and scratching my head -- wondering what made Asimov write such a pointless story.

Keeping the Shabbath

'Sammy Reshevsky -- Three Meals and Dessert'. Ma'ariv, Nov. 9th, 1964, p. 4.
Moshe Roytman notifies us of an unsigned collection of short items from Ma'ariv on the date above, some of them related to the chess Olympiad then taking place in Tel Aviv. It has the following caricature of Reshevsky, by the Ma'ariv caricaturist "Ze'ev" [Ya'akov Farkash, 1928-2002]. 

Farkash was one of the four members of the affectionately called "Hungarian Mafia", a team of four staff members of Ma'ariv who had been in the paper for decades, from the 50s to the 90s. They include himself, the caricaturist "Dosh" (Kariel Gardosh), the journalist Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, and satirist Efraim Kishon. Of them, as we have noted in this blog before, Lapid was inter alia the head of the Israeli Chess Federation, Kishon saved his life during the war by playing chess, and Dosh illustrated covers for chess books; we now add a chess connection for Ze'ev. 

The story is that in the 1964 Olympiad in Tel Aviv, the Saturday round started at 5:30 instead of 4:00, to avoid desecrating the Shabbath (from sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday), but Reshevsky got special permission to start half an hour later than that. It is well known that Reshevsky would not play on the Shabbath and was usually given the option of starting to play after it ended when he played in tournaments. But here all the rounds began later for just this reason. So why would he need an extra half hour? 

The reason given -- how seriously, it is hard to tell -- is that Reshevsky, being a religious Jew, also observed the religious tradition (though not an absolute requirement) of having three holiday meals on the Shabbath, which means he would only be available, not just after the Shabbath had ended at 5:30, but only after he finished his third Shabbath meal. Perhaps; we note, however, that as the Shabbath ended during the time of the Olympiad only a few minutes before 5:30, and religious Jews are not allowed to drive or travel by car, carry money, etc., during the Shabbath, it is likely that it would take Reshevsky a few more minutes to get to the tournament hall from his hotel than a person who does not follow these rules in any case.

The article adds that he played against Ya'akov Mashian  (ne Hushang Mashian) as stated in Gaige's Chess Personalia) and 'of course' won quickly 'as a dessert'. Mashian, a Jew, was playing first board for Iran. He later emigrated to Israel and became an active player there. 

We add that the same issue of Reshevsky and the Shabbath -- including his interesting explanation as to why he does not play on the Shabbath, when playing chess is not in fact (by most authorities) forbidden on the Shabbath, as well as a somewhat similar illustration by Buchwald -- when he came to the 1958 tournament in Israel, as noted here

Czerniak, Havana 1966

Source: Ma'ariv, Oct. 24th, 1966, p. 13
Moshe Roytman notified us of a long article in Ma'ariv about the 1966 chess Olympiad. In it we find an interesting pen-portrait of Moshe Czerniak, by the paper's chess correspondent, Shaul Hon, describing him in the meeting place in Madrid, Spain, where the Middle Eastern, African, and Western European teams were housed before being flown to Havana:
[Czerniak] knows personally almost all the teams' members. On each he has a funny anecdote or story to tell. You pull his sleeve -- and dozens of stories fall out, like ripe pears... He became the [Israeli] team's unofficial translator, knowing no less than seven languages, Spanish included... without him the restaurant menus would not be more intelligible to us than if they were written in Chinese. 
But not only we make use of him -- the South African team seized him like a valuable prize, since without his help they would have to mumble and point their fingers, and the Spaniards would not understand anything they want... twelve teams are now in Madrid, including Morocco [i.e., an Arab state -- the point is that it did not boycott the olympiad due to Israel's presence]. 
Hon adds that the Israeli team is made of the "old timers": Smiltiner, Aloni, Porat and Czerniak himself; the two "youths" are Kagan and Kraidman. Indeed, this was the "last hurrah" of the old guard. In 1968 only Czerniak and Porat played, and -- in 1974 -- Czerniak, on the third board.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Shlomo Seider -- Update

Credit: see below

We have already mentioned Shlomo Seider in this blog in previous posts, and we noted that there is a memorial site for him. The site in question had been taken offline, but Yochanan Afek pointed out to us it was replace by a Facebook memorial page. The page is in Hebrew, but there are many photos, including of family, personal effects, etc. It links inter alia to the Wikipedia page about him, and a lot more).

In particular, the memorial page has, not only problems and notes by him, but also interesting articles by him. In particular he argues in one article that, since chess composition is first of all an art and only secondarily chess, one should not be dogmatic about not allowing illegal positions (which cannot be reached from the array), or even positions that have no solution, so long as the thematic beauty of the idea is great.

The site, in particular, has numerous of his "original paintings" -- that is, the problems he sent to problem tournaments. Here is one, which won an honorable mention (as the Hebrew on it shows), which uses seven grasshoppers (the "upside down queens"):

More "In Memorium"

Credit: Ha'aretz weekend supplement, June 9th, 2017

As Yochanan Afek reminded us, when Hillel Aloni passed away, Ha'aretz chess editor, Israel Shrenzel (ph. English spelling) had written extensively about him, including a photo (above). The paper notes that Aloni was not only a talented composer -- the father of the Israeli endgame studies -- but also promoted and trained many younger composers, such as Afek himself, Amaztia Avni, Yehuda Hoch, Ofer Komai, and others. Afek adds the AVRES site has a memorial page as well with many studies.

He added one of Aloni's early compositions, from 1959 (annotations by Shrenzel):

White to move and draw
Solution: 1.Bf5+! Kxf5 2.Nh4+! (not 2.Nxe2 fxe2 3. Nh4+ Kxh5 4.Kxa2 e1=N!) Kxe5 3.Nxf3+ Kf4 4.Nxe2+ Kf3 5.Nd4+ Ke3 6.Nc2+ Kd2 7.Na1! (insufficient is 7.Kb2 c3+ 8.Kb3 Kb1 -+) Kc3 8.Kxa2 b4 9.Nb3! cxb3 10.Ka1 (10.Kb1 loses to 10...b2 11.ka2 b1=Q+ 12.Kxb1 Kb3) b2+ 11.Kb1 Drawn.