Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Lewis Chessmen

Photo: A. P.

On a recent trip to London, I have visited the London museum -- and the Lewis chessmen. It is an extremely impressive set -- as it would be, being made for a king -- and well worth visiting, as is, of course, the London museum itself for many other reasons.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Antisemitism in Chess, Part II

An addition to the story of the Maghami - Shahar game in Corsica, which the Iranian GM (Maghami forfeited rather than play an Israeli, is found in the following chessvibe analysis, which I encourage all to read. It turns out that Maghami played all other Jewish players and even openly declared he had nothing personal against Israeli players (an act of courage on his part), but that he had no choice but not to play. Often, such excuses -- "I have nothing personal against Jews, but..." -- are just antisemitism in a flimsy disguise (much like "I have nothing against blacks, but...", etc.). In Maghami's case, however, knowing the character of the Iranian regime, it is clear he really did have no choice but not to play and really has no personal animus against Jews or even Israelis. This is not an uncommon situation: as Geurt Gijssen notes (quoted in the chessvibe article), usually such restrictions on playing come from the governments involved, not from the players.

Again, there is antisemitism here, but it is (as noted in the chessvibe column) it is usually by the governments, not by the players. It is a no-win situation, both for the players and for FIDE. If FIDE keeps the pairing and forces players to forfeit, they are punished through no fault of their own. If FIDE changes the pairings, one is encouraging such behavior (by the governments, not the players) and undermines FIDE's motto of Gens Una Sumus. My own view is that FIDE should never allow such re-pairings. If a country wishes to boycott another country, it should know it is violating FIDE's motto and that there should be consequences to this action. (Then again, perhaps it actually enhances FIDE's motto, which means in Latin "we are one family". Everybody knows of families where siblings hate each other's guts and won't talk to each other...)

It is true, of course, that not all political boycotts are morally equal. It is one thing for two countries in war to refuse to play each other, as sometimes happens. It is quite another thing to boycott Israel because one refuses to recognize its existence and as part of a plan to wipe it off the face of the Earth, as Iran's government does. However, it should not be FIDE's role to be a moral arbiter and declare which country is good and which country is bad. Quite apart from the very real risk of such "moral" declarations by FIDE bureaucrats becoming just another political tool, the simple fact is that FIDE exists, as Edward Winter pointed out in C. N. 1712, 'to organize chess, not court-martials against those with objectionable opinions'. Certainly boycotting, say, Nazi Germany in 1939 was justifiable; but it would be petty and unmanly for those who did it to demand that, since their boycott is morally right, they should not suffer the forfeit of a chess game as a consequence.

Milu Milescu's 100th Anniversary

Photo credit: IUPUI

Yochanan Afek had kindly informed me of a special composing tourney he is arranging to commemorate Milu Milescu's 100th anniversary.  His announcement follows:

"EG" announces a special composing tourney for human studies to commemorate the 100 anniversary of Milu Milescu (11.11.1911- 6.11.1981) a Rumanian originated Israeli promoter of the art of the endgame study and International judge for chess composition. In Rumania he was for many years the editor-in –chief of the Revista Română de Șah  and later he  ran in leading magazines (such as Europe Echecs , Deutsche Scachzeitung and the Israeli monthly Shahmat)  popular and highly instructive columns regarding the  linkage between chess composition and the realm of over the board chess. In 1962 he published the book Sigmund Herland: Problèmes Choisis  and with Dr. Hans-Hilmar Staudte he wrote the best seller Das 1x1 des Endspiels.

The judge is Amatzia Avni. Book prizes, honourable mentions and commendations will be awarded. No set theme.

Original human studies (not more than three per composer) should be sent (preferably by e-mail) on diagrams with full solutions and postal address before March 31st 2012 to the tourney director:

René Olthof
Achter't Schaapshoofd 7
5211 MC's- Hertogenbosch
The Netherlands

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More about the 1935 Maccabiah -- so much for the "Mystery"...

In a previous post concerning the 1935 Maccabiah, I mentioned that it seems the two players from Luxemburg mentioned there were brothers and that it seems their only point was in the game between themselves. Czerniak's Israel Be'Olympiadot Ha'Sachmat [Israel in the Chess Olympiads] (Tel Aviv: Rotem Press, 1979) notes (p. 7) that, indeed, the two players named Wilberzeitz [ph. spelling] were indeed brothers and did indeed gain their only point in the "family meeting".

But Czerniak mentions nothing about them either staying in Palestine or escaping from the Nazis. This, compared to his noting of similar material about the personal history of other players in his book: he notes, for example, on the same page, that the winner ,of the tournament, Moshe Blass, was not on the Palestinian team for the 1935 Olympiad because he was considered an illegal immigrant by the British authorities in Palestine.)

Either he knew nothing of their fate (Czerniak, like many stronger players, sometimes seems to have had a bit of a "blind spot" toward the fate, or even existence, of that subhuman species, "weak/non-players") or else they simply did not illegally remain in Palestine at all.

So much for my research of the original papers from the period discovering an "unknown scoop"! Ah well, at least, if not new, this story is "old enough to be new" (to quote Napier) -- even "old timers" I have asked in the Israeli chess "scene" had never heard of it. But still, the mystery remains: who were these brothers and what was their fate?

It should be noted that, while two brother being notable chess players is not common, it is not unknown, e.g., the Steiners (Endre and Lajos), or the Laskers (Emmanuel and Berthold). (As usual, Edward Winter has the goods -- see e.g. Chess Notes 4808 or 4515). So, it's certainly possible that the brothers, if not strong players, were indeed the two strongest Jewish players in Luxemburg, there being only about 1000 Jews in the country at the time (according to Wikipedia).

Merely being from a country that is very small, or weak in the chess field, is hardly a sign of fraud or ulterior motives of the players who come to play representing that country; many countries whose chess level is, objectively, terribly low, legitimately take place in the Chess Olympiad and play the world's best players -- even if they are crushed. After all, as Wittgenstein noted in a different context, the weak chess player plays chess no less than the strong one does.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

11.11.11 and Jewish Chess

Photo credit: Shachmat, vol. 20 no. 11-12 (Nov.-Dec. 1981), p. 201.
Yesterday was a once-in-a-century date: 11.11.11. This point is of no particular importance (after all, calendars are arbitrary) but it has a curious Jewish chess connection. As it happens there was an Israeli chess personality born on 11.11.11 -- that is, of course, 11.11.1911. He was Milu Milescu (link in German), the Romanian-Israeli composer.

He was, inter alia, as this post on the forum notes (in Hebrew), an international judge of chess compositions, edited a Romanian and a German chess magazine, and after coming to Israel in the 1960s wrote extensively for Shachmat. The post has other links about his chess exploits, in various languages.

His obituary in Shachmat (from which this picture is taken) notes that, among many other contributions to the magazine, he edited the section "Play and Compositions" (הקרב והקומפוזיציה) from the early 60s until his untimely death in 1981. The section dealt in similar ideas found both in actual games and in composed studies.

Ironically, the difference in time between his sending of his last column to Shachmat and its actual publication made it possible for his obituary to appear in the "Play and Composition" section which he wrote. So we have a section by Milu Milescu noting that Milu Milescu had died. Talk about ghost writing.


I suppose that explains how Moses, who allegedly received the entire Torah (first five books of the OT) on Mt. Sinai and wrote them all down, also wrote (Deut. 34:5) "And Moses died...": publishing backlog, that's how.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Antisemitism in Chess is reporting that an Iranian player, GM Ehsan Gahem Maghamirefused to play the Israeli FM Ehud Shachar, in the 2011 Corsican Circuit tournament. The organizers forfeited him, adding that this is against the spirit of FIDE's motto, gens una sumus, and they would not allow this sort of segregation. I fully support the organizer's decision, and the claim by many who reponded that this is a case of antisemitism. But I am hesitant to say, as many did, that the player in this case is antisemitic. It is easy to imagine what would happen to him, or, worse, his family, if he agreed to play an Israeli player. So his refusal might well have been forced, not due to any hatred towards the Israeli player.

Still, the organizers did the correct thing. They have not accused the Iranian player of antisemitism -- only of unsportmanlike behavior (which, however forced, it was). What's more, the organizers are done the correct thing in not being complicit with the Iranians' desire to not play Israelis. Yes, as Steve Giddins says on his blog, the organizers could have avoided the pairing in advance. But where does this end? Suppose some country refuses to have its players meet Black chess players? Or women? Must they be accommodated, too?

It is true that if possible warring countries are not paired during olympiads. As Moshe Czerniak notes in Israel Be'Olympiadot Ha'Sachmat [Israel in the Chess Olympiads] (Rotem Press: Tel Aviv, 1979, pp. 14-15), after Sept. 1st, 1939, the teams from the now-warring countries were forbidden by their governments to play each other (their matches were formally declared drawn). But in war there is symmetry: neither warring country's team has any willingness to play the other. Here, we have only one side -- the Iranians -- refusing to play.

Ironically, adds Czerniak, the team representing Nazi Germany demanded to play with the Jewish Palestinian team, instead of agreeing to a formal draw, claiming Germany isn't at war with Palestine! The real reason was that Germany and Argentina were competing for first place, and if Argentina were to score a high victory, it might pass Germany. (In the event it was agreed that Palestine's matches with both Germany and Argentina would be declared a formal draw.) Also, he notes, just because a player represents an antisemitic government doesn't mean they themselves support it: all five German players, the winning team in the 1939 Olympiad, asked for asylum in Argentina!