Friday, March 31, 2017

Learning Chess at Age Four

Jose Raul Capablanca. Credit: www.chessbase.com

The story of Capablanca learning to play chess at age four by watching his father play is well known and well documented. The story is related in Capablanca's own words (originally from an interview in 1916) in Edward Winter's book on the master (p. 1ff).

By sheer chance, I have met today in a conference, a young woman who told me her father, Avraham Bar-El, who later was a young talent in Israeli chess (playing in the IDF championship for example), learned chess in exactly the same way and age.

This may well be true, but surely the similarity between the two makes one ask whether Bar-El's case is genuine, or one of conflating his own history with the Cuban's. We asked his daughter for more details, hopefully TBA soon.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Capablanca's View of his Draw with Czerniak

Credit: Miguel Sanchez', Jose Raul Capablanca: A Chess Biography (McFarland: 2015), p. 453.
We already saw that Capablanca complained to Czerniak in 1939 that his powers are slipping due to his age. Czerniak adds in the same source given in the link (Toldot Ha'Sachmat -- quoted in Ad Ha'Ragli Ha'Acharon, by Afek and Volman, p. 33) that the draw 'annoyed [Capablanca] not a little: 'I can see the headlines: Capablanca is getting old!' he told me."

This certainly agrees with what Capablanca wrote here -- in an article for Critica, Aug. 25th, 1939 -- about this game. Obviously, he felt that he needed to justify his disappointing result in that game. As the olympiad started the day before, this article was published before he got his "revenge" -- a famous victory over Czerniak in the finals, which was widely published (it is given in Sanchez's biography here as 'one of his memorable productions'). Czerniak, in Toldot Ha'Shachmat, adds that Capablanca's combination 'fell on him like a blow on the head'.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Yuri Averbakh's 95th Birthday


A frequent correspondent reminded us that Yuri Averbakh had just celebrated his 95th birthday, making him the oldest living Grandmaster. He also pointed out this interesting interview with Averbakh on YouTube (in Russian). Averbakh's father was Jewish, his mother Russian Orthodox.

Our correspondent adds (note also the YouTube interview):
Averbakh noted that he became a Russian officially since, as a son of a mixed marriage, he could choose his own nationality for official purposes at age 16. He first signed himself up as Jewish, but his mother forced him to go back and change his nationality to Russian: 'What have you done?'
Our correspondent adds also that Taimanov and Korchnoi also told similar stories about their own nationality. Finally, he notes that a report on Averbakh's birthday (link in Russian) includes, inter alia, the reading of a 'Happy Birthday' message to Averbakh from his 111 year old aunt!

From our collection, we add his dedication, in one of his endgame books, to Almog Burstein (link in Hebrew), for their 'joint work in Buenos Aires' - that is, the 1978 olympiad there. This is an interesting example of chess trumping politics, since Averbakh was the chairman of the USSR chess federation during 1973-1978 -- and, in 1976, the USSR boycotted the 1976 Haifa olympiad. In that olympiad, incidentally, Burstein was instrumental in using a computer (the Technion's) for the pairing, for the first time in Olympiad history.



Sunday, January 8, 2017

Chess in Israeli (or Palestinian) Newsreels


A frequent correspondent to this blog notified us that Herut (Feb. 19th, 1962, p. 3), the daily Israeli paper, noted that a weekly newsreel features, inter alia, the Israeli chess championship. Our correspondent asks when was the first time chess was filmed in Israel. The link is to Herut's article reporting on the content of the newsreel.

An internet search found that Yomaney Carmel -- 'Carmel Newsreels' in free translation -- has a large number of its newsreels online. Among them, from August 1953, is part of the Israeli 1953 youth championship (above), including a cameo by Czerniak as a kibitzer.

This is a bit odd since many sources say there was no youth championship in Israel that year, only in 1954, won by Giora Palai (later chess editor of Davar among other things). It could be that this a film of the Tel Aviv qualifying championship, which took place in March 1953 (link, in Hebrew, to a note to that effect in Herut, 18/3/1953, p. 4).

Also -- what is surely the first case of chess filmed in Israel or Palestine -- a newsreel from June/July 1935, featuring among other things a simultaneous display by (I think!) the young Marmorosh, including a close-up of him delivering a "standard" smothered mate:


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Jozsef Hajtun

Jozsef Hajtun. Credit: www.chessbase.com 's players' Encyclopedia.

Readers, even those who are knowledgeable about chess in Israel or the British Mandate of Palestine, may well wonder who is Jozsef Hajtun, who we mentioned in the previous item. 

Our frequent correspondent (also mentioned in the previous item...) adds that he was reported in the Israeli press as participating in the Hungarian championship of 1951 (11th place, 11/21 -- behind, we add, notables such as Barcza, Szabo, Gereben, Benko, and Florian), as well as editing Kol Ha'Am's chess column. 

A search of Chessbase's Players' Encyclopedia finds him participating in six Hungarian championships, usually ending in the middle of the crosstable, but also winning a small tournament, the Gecsei memorial, in Pecs, Hungary, in 1955.

We add that -- as checking the blog for their names shows -- Szabo played in Israel in the 1958 international tournament (coming second after Reshevsky) and Gereben even emigrated to Israel for a while, before moving to Switzerland. 

Kol Ha'Am and Chess

Source: Kol Ha'Am, Sept. 11th, 1950, p. 10

Our new year resolutions are to make contact with an alien civilization and be more proactive. We consider the former to be more realistic, in terms of its chances of success, but we'll start here by giving the latter a shot, too.

On our desk (OK, on our desktop) there are a bunch of interesting items from a frequent correspondent of ours. We thank him, and at long last will publish a selection of them which would be of special interest, we think, to readers of this blog.

The first on the list is the above item. Kol Ha'Am, lit. 'The People's Voice' (קול העם -- also written in English as Kol Ha'am, Kol HaAm, etc.) was the Israeli Communist Party's paper. It too had a chess column, edited by Jozsef Hajtun (Gaige's spelling in Chess Personalia).

It shows the growing interest in chess in the country that even a paper of a very small party had a chess column. This being a communist party organ, the chess reporting was politically influenced -- here, reporting on how the participants in the memorial tournament to Dawid Przepiórka had all publicly signed the Stockholm Appeal, and that a declaration to that effect was read by Bondarevsky at the tournament.

Whatever one thinks of the genuineness or lack thereof of this appeal, it has nothing to do with chess itself -- yet was the first item in the report on the tournament in Kol Ha'Am; then came the description fo the tournament, and finally a single game (Zita - Barcza, 0-1). The writing is indeed, as our correspondent notes, 'in communist style'.