Not Only Chess

Aug 7, 2007, 12:00 AM |
3 | Fun & Trivia

In 1974 Gerald Abrahams wrote an interesting book called Not Only Chess. He called it a selection of Chessays. Here are some interesting items from his book.

On page 15 Abrahams conjectured that Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Karl Marx (1818-1883) were very bad chess players. Sartre did use chess as an analogy in his paper called The Search for Method.

Some sources claim that Karl Marx was quite a strong chess player. He loved to play all night chess games with friends.

On page 27 Abrahams tells of the story that Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961) was obsessed with the feeling of a fly walking on his scalp during a chess tournament at San Sebastian, Spain in February, 1911. At the end of the tournament Jacques Mieses took Rubinstein to a leading psycho-neurologist in Munich. The doctor told Rubinstein that he was mad, but what did that matter. Rubinstein was a chess master. Abrahams says that Rubinstein won at San Sebastian. Actually, Capablanca won the 1911 event. This was Capablanca's first international chess tournament, which he won. Rubinstein took 2nd place. Another tournament was held in 1912 in San Sebastian, and that is what Rubinstein won. In fact, he won 5 tournaments in that year. Rubinstein never ate in public or shook hands for fear of germs. He once tried to kill Richard Reti in the middle of the night, believing him to be making strange noises to deprive him of sleep. The fly incident was used by Aron Nimzovich in 1917 to get out of military service. Nimzovich complained about a fly on his head to avoid Army service in Russia.

On page 28, Abrahams said that Emanual Lasker attributed hypnotic powers to Tarrasch, and requested that the two play in separate rooms. This would have been their 1908 world championship match in which Lasker won with 8 wins, 5 draws, and 3 losses. The event was played in Dusseldorf and Munich.

On page 29, Abrahams discusses Dr. Ernest Jones (1879-1958) and his psychoanalysis of chess. Jones wrote an article, called, "The Problem of Paul Morphy" and published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis in January, 1931. Dr. Jones describes Morphy's chess as a product of a mind whose energies were harmoniously sublimated. Morphy's breakdown (paranoia) came after a feeling of guilt aroused frm the subconscious when men made him aware of hostility. Jones said that Morphy gave up chess because of the hostility Staunton showed when Staunton refused to play Morphy. However, before Morphy went to Europe he had already decided to give up serious play when he returned home. Jones said that chess play was a substitute for the art of war.

On page 41, Abrahams mentions that the Cuban government gave Capablanca the title: Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary General from the Government of Cuba to the World at large. This would have been in September, 1913 when he obtained a post in the Cuban Foreign Office.

On page 42, Abrahams tells the story about an English settler sending a small boy with a message to the British Commander General Rahl that George Washington was about to cross the Delaware River. The general was so immersed in a Christmas chess game, that he put the note in his pocket unopened. There it was found when he lay mortally wounded in the subsequent battle (shot while on his horse). Actually, Rahl was a Colonel, not a general. Col Gottlieb (Johann) Rahl had 1,500 Germans (Hessians) in Trenton, New Jersey. Washington tried to crossed the Delaware in 3 places on Christmas Day in 1776. The only crossing near Trenton took 10 hours with 2,400 men. They crossed 9 miles away from Trenton and marched in sleet and rain at night. Washington attacked Trenton in broad daylight on December 26, 1776 around 8 am. Rahl, the commander, and 40 men were killed and a thousand men surrendered. The Americans had 4 wounded and 5 frozen to death. The battle took less than one hour. The note and the chess playing (some say it was card playing) may not have happened.  This story appeared in 1897 in American Chess Magazine, page 160, and repeated in Lasker's Chess Magazine in 1907.  By the way, if Rahl had won the battle, he would have killed George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton.  All took part in the raid in Trenton.

On page 47, Abrahams stated that Capablanca never in his life got in time trouble. However, in the notes to the 1936 Nottingham chess tournament, Capablanca lost his game to Flohr, not on time, but admitted making bad moves in time trouble. He said that his 37th move against Flohr (37...Qc8?) was a mistake made due to time trouble. He should have played 37...Rd7.

On page 113, Abrahams says the very first chess effort on the part of a computer occurred in 1949 when Dr. Prinz programmed a Ferranti digital machine to solve a two-move chess problem. The programmer was Dr. Dietrich Prinz, who wrote the original chess playing program for the Manchester Ferranti computer in November, 1951. Prinz was a researcher at Manchester University programming the Mark I and Mark II computers. His program would examine every possible move until a solution was found. The program was considerably slower than a human player.

On page 146, Abrahams discusses his assessment of Emanuel Lasker. He mentions that he wrote a book on philosophy called "Kampf" (struggle). This book was written in 1907 and published in New York.

On page 149, Abrahams discusses Sultan Khan (Mir Malik Sultan Khan) (1905-1966). He says he came to England in 1929 and left in 1934. He actually left in 1933. He won the British Championship in 1929, 1932, and 1933. He was a servant to Sir (Colonel) Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana. Sultan Khan was illiterate. He could not read or write. Sir Umar was a maharaja who was a friend of King George V.

On page 158, Abrahams mentions that Miss Price was a British Ladies Champion in her 70s. Miss Edith Price was born in 1872 and died in 1956. She won the British Ladies Championship in 1922, 1923, 1924, 1928, and 1948 (age 76). British women had their first chess championship in 1904 (won by Kate Finn).

On page 226, Abrahams states that in January 1950 there were 11 grandmasters. In 1950 FIDE awarded 27 players the first official Grandmaster title. They were Bernstein, Boleslavsky, Bondarevsky, Botvinnik, Bronstein, Duras, Euwe, Fine, Flohr, Grunfeld, Keres, Kostic, Kotiv, Levenfish, Lilienthal, Maroczy, Mieses, Najdorf, Ragozin, Reshevsky, Rubinstein, Samisch, Smyslov, Stahlberg, Szabo, Tartakower, and Vidmar.
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