CHESS

CHESS
The Jewish contribution to chess on an appreciable scale dates from the middle of the 19th century. There is no basis for the claim that Jews invented chess, or that King Solomon played the game, as is related in the Midrash (Ginzberg, Legends 4, 172–3). Nor was chess known to Jews in the talmudic period, which ended before the game could have reached them from Persia. This view is generally maintained despite rashi 's identification of nardeshir with chess, in his comment on Ketubbot 61b. All that can be inferred from Rashi's rendering of nardeshir, a game probably played with dice, as ishkukei, is that the commentator was familiar with some word cognate to the French échecs. Ishkukei is the same name used by judah halevi when he refers in his book Kuzari to the game as an intellectual exercise (pt. 5:20, "6th Principle"). moritz steinschneider suggests in his Schach bei den Juden (1873) that Jews first became acquainted with chess in the tenth century. He mentions a tenth century convert, Ali of Taberi-stan, who recommended the game for its therapeutic value, and Moses Sefardi (11th century), baptized as petrus alfonsi , who in his writings described chess as a knightly virtue. In the tenth century, Arabs introduced the game, which they called shatranj into Europe via Spain, and by the eleventh century it was widely played by Jews in that country and in Provence. The Persian-Arabic nomenclature for the pieces was known to at least one member of a famous Spanish family, Bonsenior Ibn Yaḥya, whose description of the game is preserved by Leone modena (Ma'adannei Melekh, 16th century; with French translation as Délices Royales, 1864). It seems that abraham ibn ezra (12th century) knew the game. An excellent verse description of the game attributed to him has been preserved by Leone Modena (translated into English by Nina Davis in her Songs of Exile, 1901). The metrical and verbal skill of the original suggests Ibn Ezra as author but the main difficulty about ascribing it to him is the reference to the double pawn move. The reference may, however, be an interpolation, and Steinschneider doubts the ascription to Ibn Ezra. The invention of printing crystallized the rules of chess and helped to terminate the evolutionary stage of the game. Nevertheless local varieties survived in the East and in Europe into the 19th century. A study of the Persian-Arabic names of the pieces used by Ibn Yaḥya, and retained in modern terminology, provides a key to the development of the terms for chessmen in various countries and languages. -Names of the Chess Pieces The names of the chess pieces vary in different languages. KING The name of the principal piece of the game varied only locally, according to the ruler's title. ROOK CASTLE Called Ruḥe even in Ibn Yaḥya's time, was the piece with the furthest ranging maneuverability on the board. Its history is preserved in the English name "rook," a corruption of ruḥ which in Italian became rocca and in French roche. Both of these words mean "rock," and from this developed the concept of a fortress or tower, i.e., "castle" in English, and ẓeri'aḥ in Hebrew. BISHOP In Ibn Yaḥya's time, this piece was called in Persian pil ("elephant") and in Arabic alfil. Alfil was preserved in the Spanish and corrupted into Italian alfiere and thence into the French le four, and the German Laeufer. The German name, which means "runner," gave modern Hebrew its name for this piece, raẓ. QUEEN This piece was originally called shegall (a Persian word), meaning a consort or mistress. Its English name and its modern Hebrew name, malkah, came from this. KNIGHT The knight was always a horseman, for which the Hebrew name is parash. PAWN The pawn, a foot soldier, used to be called ḥayyal in Hebrew, but is known now as ragli. -Chess Playing among Jews There were diverse views among Jewish scholars as to whether the playing of chess should be encouraged. maimonides , in his commentary on the Mishnah (Sanh. 3:3), expresses disapproval of chess when it is played for money and couples it with nard ("backgammon"), which is played with dice. The halakhah disapproved of chess as time-wasting, an attitude   paralleled in Byzantine and Canon law. When the game first began to become respectable, it was a pastime for invalids and women. In fact, Israel Abrahams suggests (Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (1896), ch. 22) that it developed as a woman's game. But there was no unanimity on this subject in this period. kalonymus condemned the game, while menahem ben solomon meiri and the Sefer Ḥasidim in casual references seem to express approval. Similar dissension existed among Christian authorities. Men as different as peter damiani and Jan Hus condemned it. On the other hand, many popes played it. There is a legend of a Jewish father who recognized a pope as his son by a move that the latter played. Gradually, however, opposition to the game abated, both among Jews and Christians. Thus, when games were generally condemned by the rabbis of Cremona, after the plague of 1575, chess was excluded from the indictment. Similarly, in an opinion given by the rabbi of Ancona in 1718, chess was sharply distinguished from gambling games and time-wasting games. The later authorities, with the exception of elijah de vidas and Elijah ha-Kohen of Smyrna (Shevet Musar, 1712), all seem to approve of chess. Modern rabbinic opinion, expressed in lampronti 's Paḥad Yiẓḥak, abraham abele gombiner 's Magen Avraham, and by moses isserles , holds that chess is a proper pastime for the Jew, as long as it is not played for money. On this principle, chess may be played on the Sabbath. It should not be inferred from this that there is any extant valid rabbinic authority against professional chess, although Maimonides' views remain influential. Therefore, it has always been possible for an intellectual and pious Jew to learn Torah and play chess. Indeed, players as great as akiva rubinstein , aaron nimzovitch , and members of the Chajes family have emerged from yeshivot. In fairness it should be added that professional chess involves a mental effort that leaves little energy for scholarship. moses mendelssohn unwittingly anticipated chess as a vocation when he said: "For a game it is too serious, and for a serious occupation, it is too much of a game" ("Fuer Spiel ist es zu viel Ernst, fuer Ernst zu viel Spiel"). It is believed that Mendelssohn's friendship with lessing originated in their games of chess. The governments of the U.S.S.R. and similar authoritarian societies encourage players such as the engineer mikhail botvinnik and the musician Mark Taimanov, who can more properly be described as professionals or players by vocation than as amateurs. Thus it is not surprising that averages as well as standards, in the modern game, have been raised. In the Marxian formula, quality emerges from quantity, and this applies to Jewish as well as to other Soviet chess players. The growth of European interest in chess, whether as game, art, or science, seems to have traveled from the Iberian Peninsula to Siberia. It was in the 19th century that a Jewish name appeared in French chess: Aron Alexandre (1766–1850). Little is known about his play, but his writings survive (Encyclopédie des Echecs, 1837). By the middle of the century, Jewish names began to emerge frequently as chess was established in the salons of Paris, which were frequented by German and Russian Jews, and in London and Berlin. The Jewish masters of this period included Johann Jakob Loewenthal, a Hungarian refugee settled in London; David Harrwitz (1823–1884), in Paris; Bernardt Horwitz (1807–1885), one of the Berlin Pleiades settled in Paris; and Ignaz Kolisch (later Baron von Kolisch) a Viennese merchant banker and a Rothschild protégé. A number of writers emerged from this group. They include S. Alapin (1856–1923) and Ernest Karl Falkbeer (1819–1885), who invented counter-gambits; Leopold Hoffer (1842–1913), whose books are still read; and Shimon Abramovich Winawer (1838–1920), a Polish Jew, whose variation of the French defense was successfully revived by Alekhine and Botvinnik. Another prizewinner was Samuel Rosenthal (1837–1902). Greatest was Wilhelm (William) Steinitz , who was world champion from 1866 to 1894. Steinitz' writings constitute a major contribution to chess theory. His theories were accepted as basic by such great theoreticians as emanuel lasker , siegbert tarrasch , savielly grigorievich tartakover , and Nimzovitch. Steinitz also distinguished himself at blindfold chess. In the 20th century two Jewish players, george koltanowski and Mikhail (Miguel) Najdorf , established a remarkable record by playing more than 50 blindfold chess games simultaneously. As the 19th century advanced, more Jews appeared in the top rank of tournament and match play: Isidor Gunsberg, Max Weiss (1857–1927), Erich Cohn (1884–1918), Berthold Englisch (1851–1897), Rudolf Charousek, david markelovich janowski , and Jacques Mieses (1865–1954). All were prizewinners in the big international events. The outstanding figure was Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch, a preeminent tournament player, who won seven great events. His status as a theoretician was such that he was acclaimed "Praeceptor Germanorum." Above them all towered emanuel lasker , a mathematical philosopher as well as a chess giant. If Steinitz is the chess player's theorist, Lasker is the chess player's chess player. His doctrine was the importance of effort; Kampf ("Struggle," 1907), is the title of one of his books. His immense talent was most clearly revealed in the matches in which he defended his world championship title for 28 years. In 1921 he finally lost the title to the Cuban player, Capablanca. The number of Jewish players continued to grow in the 20th century. In the early years there were the Austrian Carl Schlechter (1874–1918) a drawing-master, the German Jacques Mieses, the Serbian Boris Kostić (1887–1963), and Edward Lasker (1885–1981) of Berlin and the U.S. – a friend and fellow student of Emanuel Lasker. Then came the émigré Russians, or Russian Poles, Ossip Bernstein (1882–1962), Savielly Tartakover, and Akiva Rubinstein, a genius who might have risen to world championship but for the exigencies of World War I. Great players between the World Wars are Rudolf Spielmann (1883–1942), Richard Réti , Julius Breyer, Aaron Nimzovitch, and salo flohr of Czechoslovakia, a child prodigy and a refugee from a Russian pogrom. In the 1930s there emerged in the U.S., among others, Isaac Kasdan (1905–?), samuel reshevsky , who began his chess career as an eight-year-old in Poland, and reuben fine , a Capablanca-type player who retired from the   game to study psychology. Several of the names mentioned above are important in chess theory. Tarrasch perfected the statement of the Steinitzian logic. Rubinstein nearly perfected it in play. Breyer, Tartakover, Nimzovitch, and Alekhine are responsible for restating and refining the theory. Tartakover's Hypermoderne Schachpartie (1924) and Nimzovitch's Mein System (1925), though a collection of clever ideas, are source books for the theory of the fluid center, the fianchetto, blockade theory, and other technical aspects of development. Meanwhile Soviet Russian Jews were becoming prominent: Ilya Kan (1909– ), Grigori Yakelovich Levenfish (Loewenfisch; 1889–1961), Mikhail Iudovich (1911– ), and Abraham (1878–1943) and Ilya Rabinovich (1891–1942) of Moscow and Leningrad. Eventually, in the mid-1930s, Mikhail Botvinnik of the U.S.S.R. drew a match with Flohr, and shared a first prize with Capablanca in 1936. In the later 1930s, the teams of the Slav countries and of the Russian émigrés in France and Belgium were almost entirely composed of Jewish players. New names included: Paulin Frydman (1905– ) of Warsaw; Andre Amolodovich Lilienthal (1911–?) and Lázló Szabo (1919– ) of Hungary; Arthur Dunkelblum (1906–?) of Belgium; Vladimir Vuković (1898–?) of Yugoslavia; Salo Landau (1903–1943) in Holland; and J. Zuckerman (1903–1940) in France. Some of these fell victim to the war and the Holocaust. A few survived because they were taking part in a tournament in Buenos Aires when World War II broke out. The absence of Jews from many East European teams in postwar Olympiads was a reminder of the Jewish tragedy. The only exceptions are the Hungarian survivors, Szabo, E. Gereben (1907–?), and Lilienthal. The last-named took refuge from the Nazis in his native U.S.S.R. Nevertheless, the Yugoslav and Czechoslovak teams are believed to contain many players of Jewish origin. At the Tel Aviv chess Olympiad in 1964, many Jews, Samuel Schweber among the best of them, appeared on a number of South American teams. Western Europe is no longer dominated by Jewish players, as it was before World War II. Germany, Scandivania, Spain, and Italy have never had many Jewish chessmasters. Some of the European masters escaped to Israel, and chess was developed there by players such as Joseph Porath (1909–?), Menahem Oren (1901–1962), moshe czerniak , Aryeh Mohelever (1904–?), Joseph Aloni (1905–?), Rafi Persitz (1934– ), and others who fostered a high standard. British Jewish players include Gerald Abrahams (1907–1980), known for the "Abrahams Defense" and as the author of The Chess Mind (1951), Technique in Chess (1961), and other books on chess; Victor Buerger (1903–?), born in Latvia; Harry Golombek (1911– 1994), three times British champion, chess correspondent of the Times, official of the Fédération Internationale des Echecs and editor of some well-known collections of games; David Joseph (1896–?), famous in the end game field; and the very strong part-Jewish player, Victor Wahltuch (1875–1960). The British championship has been won by Ernest Klein (1910–?), originally from Vienna, Dr. Stephan Faze-kas (1898–1967), who came from Czechoslovakia, and Daniel Abraham Yanofsky (1925– ), a brilliant Canadian amateur who won against Botvinnik. The ex-Russian master, O. List (1887–1964), also played for Britain. In the first official contests between the U.S.S.R. and the western world after World War II, the radio matches of 1946, the United Kingdom team had five Jewish players, the Soviet team five out of a total of ten players and the United States seven. In general, after World War II, Jews came to dominate the American chess scene. They include the veteran Edward Lasker, Israel Horowitz (1907–1973), Abraham Kupchik (1892–?), Arthur Bisguier (1929–?), Fred Reinfeld (1910–1964), Arnold Denker (1914–?), Imre Konig (1901–?), who came from Yugoslavia; Herman Steiner (1905–1955), one of several Hungarian players of the same name; Reshevsky, Fine, and in the 1960s, Robert "Bobby" Fischer. Canada was dominated by Daniel Abraham Yanofsky and Australia by Lajos Steiner (1903–?) and Gerald Koshnitzki. Outstanding players in South Africa were Kurt Dreyer, David Friedgood, and Wolfgang Heidenfeld, who later moved to Ireland. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest phenomena in modern chess was the rise of Brooklyn-born Bobby Fischer, who was only 13 when he began to rank as a leading player. Until 1968 circumstances prevented him from challenging the world champion, though some of his international performances were great. His contemporaries were the Latvian mikhail tal and David Bronstein from Moscow, who drew a match for the world championship. Julio Kaplan (1951– ) of Latin America emerged as one of the leading juveniles of the late 1960s. Jewish world champions include first Steinitz, who held the title for 25 years, until it was wrested from him by Emanuel Lasker, who held it from 1894 to 1921. Even during the periods when the title was held by non-Jews, most of the finalists were Jews including Rubinstein, perhaps the greatest end-game player who ever lived, Nimzovitch, and Flohr. In 1948 Botvinnik, a Soviet Jew, won the title from some of the strongest players in the world, including Reshevsky, and held it intermittently for nearly 20 years. His challengers were in turn Bronstein, who drew the series of matches; Vassily Vassilyevich Smyslov (1921– ), a Russian reputed to be partly Jewish, who won the title and lost the return match; Tal, who also won the title and lost the return, largely through ill-health; and finally Petrosian, an Armenian non-Jew, who defeated Botvinnik in 1967. In 1969, Petrosian was defeated by Boris Spassky, son of a Jewish mother, who emerged as the new star of the chess world. In the zonal tournaments in which today the challengers for the championship reveal their potential – and in the great Soviet tournaments – Jews are placed high. Among them are Leonid Stein (1934–1973), Yefim Petrovich Geller (1925– ), the musician Mark Taimanov (1926– ), and Viktor Lvovich Korchnoy (1931– ). Jews are also prominent in the realm of end-game composition. Some of the best work on end-play is by Reuben Fine and the Soviet player Levenfish. Other important names in this field are Réti, Frederic Lazard (1883–1949), Vladimir Bron (1909– ), Abraham Gurvitch (1894–1933), David Joseph, and Grochin. In general, the Jewish contribution to theory has been immense. Steinitz, and after   him Lasker and Tarrasch, taught the chess world the basic strategy of the game, and established chess as a science. Rubinstein may be said to have demonstrated this science in his beautiful play. To Réti, Nimzovitch, and Tartakover the world owes the refinement of strategic theories. As far as the literature of chess is concerned, masterpieces on opening technique have been produced by Russian Jews, including Yuri Lvovich Auerbach (1922– ). The year 1972 was of great importance in the history of chess. For the first time in 36 years, with the victory of Robert (Bobby) Fischer over Boris Spassky, the World Championship passed out of Russian hands and, for the first time in 160 years (i.e., since Paul Morphy), the chess world was dominated by an American. In addition, the match was more spectacular, and the superiority of the victor more pronounced than is usual in World Championships, and aroused unprecedented interest in the game among the general public. Fischer qualified as one of the challengers by winning the Palma Interzonal Tournament in 1970 (15 wins and 7 draws out of 23 games). Thereafter, he won three qualifying matches, against Taimanov (6–0), Larsen (6–0) and former title holder Petrosian (6½–1½). The final against Spassky took place at Reykjavik and ran from July 11 to September 1, 1972. Fischer commenced by losing a game. Next, he forfeited a game by failing to appear (a rare occurrence in championship matches). Thereafter, he began to gain the upper hand, winning the match by 12½–8½ (7 wins, 11 draws, and 3 losses, including one by default). However, Fischer lost the World Championship in 1975 when he refused to play the challenger Vassily Karpov. Karpov gained the right to challenge by defeating Viktor Korchnoy in the final qualifying round by a score of 12½–11½. Ten years later, in 1985, gary kasparov (Jewish father), at the age of 22, became the youngest player ever to win the World Championship, taking it from Karpov 13–11. The "Kasparov era" ended in 2000, when he was defeated by Vladimir Kramnik 8½–6½. In 2005 Kasparov, called by many the greatest player of all time, announced his retirement from competitive play. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: H.J.R. Murray, History of Chess, 3 vols. (1913, repr. 1962), index; H.A. Davidson, Short History of Chess (1949), index; M. Steinschneider, Schach bei den Juden (1873); I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (1896, rev. ed. 1932), ch. 22. (Gerald Abrahams)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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