Old Times

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     The style of journalistic writing from over a half century ago is somewhat different than that of today, in some ways perhaps a bit harder to read but in other ways more enjoyable. Looking through old "Time" magazines is also enjoyable and occasionally articles with a chess theme jump out and grab your attention.
     Below are a few of such articles that I happened upon.  Since each one stands alone, readers who wish can look at the ones that catch their own eyes.

Time 12/7/1925

In Moscow.

     Evenings in Russia are long— how better to pass them than by a game of chess in front of the fire? A Paris restaurant, chequered with the light and shade of tablecloths and parquetry, is a background that fittingly salutes a pair of men in dinner-clothes seated on each side of a black and white board; in California patios, in drawing-rooms overlooking the Grand Canal of Venice, in the smoking-car of the Florida Sunbeam, and on the glass verandas of the hotels that front the long sea-promenade at Ostend, the game is played.
     It is never the rage; when professionals perform in public, the occasion involves little or no ticket speculation; even devotees speak of "a quiet corner for chess." But when, three weeks ago, 21 experts from Austria, Germany, Cuba, Mexico, the U. S., England, Poland, Russia and Czechoslovakia gathered in the Metropolis Hotel in Moscow for a formal dinner before their tournament, the Soviet Government took official notice, and great daily newspapers of the U. S. published editorials pontifying upon their activities in general and focusing the reader's gaze upon one man in particular.
     Chess champions are rarely swashbucklers. They call their ties "cravats" and tie them neatly but docilely; they wear their hats on the middle of their hard round heads. Among the gentlemen at Moscow is the imperturbable veteran, Dr. Emanuel Lasker, who slightly resembles his late fellow-countryman, Dr. Immanuel Kant. The years have failed to shake his prestige; he looks on tempests and is never shaken. The shrewd American, Marshall, did well in the first rounds of the tournament; the great Russian, Bogoljubow, lived up to expectations; a young man named Torre rose like a red ascending star out of Mexico; but these the press passed over with a glance to direct its attention at José R. Capablanca, Champion of the World.
     Señor Capablanca was born in Cuba in 1888 with the strategies of knights and pawns apparently engraved by dry point upon his infant brain. He lisped in gambits; at a period when most children are teething, he was teaching his father the Ruy Lopez, and while still a child he became primus of the Habana Chess Club. Only the insistence of a medical man induced him, at the age of eight, to take a holiday and go to school. He went through college, where he interested himself in science, history, art, music, sport. Then he began to play chess again, and the story of his life is the graph of a series of brilliant moves from the little square of one country to the little square of another. After winning 99 tournament games, he wrote a book, My Chess Career, which contains many remarkable statements, such as the following:
     "I was not yet five years old when . . . my father took me to the Habana Chess Club, where the strongest players found it impossible to give me a queen. About that time the Russian Master, Taubenhaus, visited Habana, and he declared it beyond him to give me such odds. Later, in Paris, in 1911, Mr. Taubenhaus would often say, 'I am the only living master who has given Mr. Capablanca a queen.' . . .
     "Before going any further I will narrate an incident which proves that my good sense was not impaired by my surprising victory over Marshall. Soon after the match some of my new admirers talked to me about arranging a match with Dr. Lasker for the championship of the world, and I told them that I would not consider it for the simple reason that he was a much better player and I had to improve a great deal before I contemplated such a thing. ...
     "As one by one I mowed them down without the loss of a single game, my superiority became apparent. . . ."
     Such blithe vainglory as this might be fatuous if it were not the utterance of a man who is, in his field, an indisputable genius. But recently he made one statement as pompous as Louis XIV's "L'etat? C'est moi"; as foolish as Theodore Roosevelt's "A third term? I will not take a third term." Capablanca said: 'The game of chess? It is too simple."
     Last week the game took its revenge. The champion had suggested making it more difficult by enlarging the board, adding new pieces, but the hackneyed pastime in the form that it has kept unchanged for centuries, proved at last too much for his mighty brain. He was beaten by two "unknown" Russians, Genewsky and Werlinsky, and he played to a draw with Dr. Lasker, with Romanowsky, with Gruenfeld. In fact, he seemed impotent to beat anyone. To be sure, his championship was not at stake; no one can supplant him until he is challenged and beaten in a series of games, even as he beat Dr. Lasker. "But," said critics, "a champion who cannot even win from second-raters ought to be very moderate in his conversation."
     Still, in Riga, Buenos Aires, Lodz, Berlin and Manhattan, the ancient game goes on; kings make their stands, their swart or pallid queens beside them, and with minds that fence like searchlights on a night sky, chess-players wage their wars.

Time   1/4/1926

Capablanca Explains.

     After several embarrassing hours explaining the deficiencies in his passport, José R. Capablanca came ashore last week from the Leviathan. The hours had been made even more harassing by the persistence of news-writers. Since the Moscow chess tournament  the market for chess news has developed rapidly. In particular the persistent writers wanted to know "Why?" Why had Capablanca—born with chess strategy "engraved by dry point upon his infant brain"—been defeated by two Russian "unknowns"? He who had declared "Chess—it is too simple" —why had he been driven to a draw by Lasker and two others? Why had he finished third in the tourney ? At first the master made no explanation, but gradually—as the passport became more wearisome— the persistence of the press took its irritating effect and drew forth remarks. The master reported that at the beginning of the tournament the lighting was bad, the chairs too low, the pieces too big for the squares, the ventilation abominable. The hall of play, onetime restaurant of the Hotel Metropole, could seat 1,000; each day 1,200 or 1,500 pushed in.

Time   3/14/1927

     The traditionally quiet atmosphere of international chess had been disturbed. One M. L. Lederer had accused Dr. Emanuel Lasker, German chess master, onetime world's champion, of employing unfair tactics for the purpose of impairing his opponents' powers to cerebrate. Specifically, Mr. Lederer had charged Dr. Lasker with 1) smoking cigars of semi-lethal composition during his matches, 2) exhaling fumes of same at strategic intervals and with unnecessary force,* 3) shouting superfluous orders at attendants, 4) being a nuisance intentionally.
     Last week Dr. Lasker's reply, posted from Trondjhem, Norway, was published in the New York Times. With Teutonic thoroughness he denied Mr. Lederer's accusations, excoriated his critic generally.
     "If," wrote the doctor, in effect, "my cigars are terrible and I blow the smoke in my opponent's face, why do my opponents never object at the time of blowing? Furthermore, if my cigars were of inferior quality, they would destroy the subtle, inimitable fabric of my own game. Those who have seen me play and watched the smoke curve will bear witness that it curves away from rather than toward my opponent." He went on:
     "Mr. Lederer describes me as being a man of exceedingly bad manners who screams for the attendant and orders him to do this or that. I may be pardoned for mentioning that I have servants . . . who have been with me for a long time. And therefore it may be inferred that I treat them and others with consideration."
     Following this categorical denial, Dr. Lasker struck back with a sensational countercharge. He asserted that on his last appearance in this country evil hands had tampered with the chess-clock, a two-faced affair intended for impartial allotment of thinking-time to the combatants. The clock, wrote Dr. Lasker, used in his match with José Capablanca, present world's champion, had unquestionably been "jimmied." Capablanca had received therefrom long, comfortable contemplation-periods; he (Lasker) had been rushed into illadvised, catastrophical decisions. What kind of etiquette had this been? Dr. Lasker's answer was published while six international mentalities were vying in the annual chess masters' tournament in Manhattan. José Capablanca, was in the lead as was his custom, until he tied with Aron Nimzowitch of Copenhagen.
      Walter J. Travis, onetime champion golfer, was in the habit of smoking long, slender, virulent stogies during his matches. The ventilation of these stogies, it was said, became especially active on the putting green. It was darkly hinted that the stogies lent Mr. Travis strength while temporarily discomfiting his rival.

Time   8/12/1929

Queen's Gambit.

     In the year 1347 King Charles of Bohemia, while hunting through a rocky, gorge-like valley, discovered that in the streams of the district flowed waters with remarkable medicinal properties. Since that period many a health seeker, and also many a fashionable tourist, has come to Karlovy Vary—better known as Carlsbad. Last week, however, Carlsbad became the centre of intellectual as well as medicinal activity, for to the famed spa came 22 chess Masters and Grand Masters* to play in the fourth annual Carlsbad International Tournament. They came not seeking health—for, contrary to popular impression, chess players are more often large and brawny than thin and puny—but experience, reputation and $15,000 in cash prizes. With the single exception of World's Champion Dr. Alexandre Alekhine, all the international Masters were entered. Dr. Alekhine was a spectator; did not play because next month he has a world's championship match with E. D. Bogoljubow and did not wish to exert himself too strenuously. Challenger Bogoljubow, however, had no such inhibition.
     There was no outstanding favorite in the tournament, which will not be ended until Aug. 28. Safest prediction perhaps was that the favorite opening would be the Queen's Gambit, which seemed likely to be adopted in 60%, perhaps 70%, of the games. Chess Masters have a tendency to play not to lose rather than to play to win, and the queen's side opening leads to intricate but not explosive posi tional play. A favorite amateur opening which begins with both players moving their king's pawns two squares ahead also seemed unlikely to be important, as even when the player with White opens with the king's pawn move, the Black player has become increasingly wary about countering with the same reply. So most of the games will probably start on the queen's side of the board, and there will be a great many drawn games. Possibly Bogoljubow, who has an enterprising style that overwhelms weak players, will finish ahead of Capablanca, who plays cautiously against everyone and thus, though hardly ever beaten, draws against opponents whom Bugoljubow is likely to beat.
     Among the 22 entrants the following have a special claim to interest:
     Ewifimij Dimitriewitsch Bogoljubow, Russian, was educated for the priesthood, but at 19 expressed a preference for chess and other worldly pleasures. Large, thickset, handsome, he looks much more like the popular conception of an operatic tenor than of a chess player. Bogoljubow is best Russian player, although the Soviet government, disapproving of some capitalistically sponsored tournament which he entered, officially deprived him of his title, and at the same time equally officially gave him a pawn-and-move handicap against any other Russian player.
     Jose R. Capablanca, onetime world champion, is perhaps most logical of players. He never takes chances, is better at match play than in tournament. He holds a somewhat honorary position in the Cuban diplomatic corps, and is an expert at bridge. His well grounded confidence has frequently been mistaken for conceit.
     Frank James Marshall, U. S. champion, is a large man with a red face and a hooked nose. He plays a dashing, "romantic" game; seldom draws but often loses. Marshall's style is fascinating to the onlooker, but usually does not finish him high up among first class players. He invented what is known as the Cambridge Springs variation in the Queen's Gambit. Marshall is also a bridge expert with a fondness for No Trump bids.
     Aron Nimzowitsch, son of a Danish department store keeper, is one of the comparatively few players with a "system." He has figured out what might be termed the ideal game, and, within the limits of practical competition, he plays it.
     Akiba Rubinstein weighs something over 200 pounds and since Mrs. Rubinstein is of equal girth they together make particularly erroneous the prevailing impression of anemic chess players. Rubin stein is a super-veteran.
     Miss Vera Menchik of Russia is a resident of England but listed as a Russian entrant. She was born in Czechoslovakia, raised in Moscow, has lived in Hastings for the last five years. She was a chess pupil of Geza Maroczy, brilliant Hungarian Master, who is also playing in the Carlsbad tournament. Miss Menchik has been acknowledged best woman player since 1927. She played in an English-Russian tournament in England this spring and finished in a tie for second place. Miss Menchik lost her first two games in the Carlsbad tournament. It is safe to say that whatever victories she wins will be well earned, as chess professionals are notable for their complete lack of anything approaching an amateur sporting spirit and are not likely to let chivalry interfere with art.

         * A Master is a player who has won the championship of his country;
            a Grand Master one who has beaten others in international competition.
         † Scoring is by points. A win counts 1; a draw ½ a loss 0. Each player plays
            each competitor once, drawing; for the White or Black pieces.

Time   Feb1932


     First Camelot tournament in Manhattan, sponsored by expert Camelotist Anne Morgan, was played last week at the clubhouse of the American Women's Association, refereed by onetime Chess Champion Jose Capablanca, won by a Miss Elizabeth Wray. Named, for no particular reason, after King Arthur's hometown, Camelot was invented three years ago by George Swinnerton Parker, head of Parker Bros. of Salem, Mass., who manufacture more games than anyone else in the U.S. Camelot is played with pieces resembling pawn chessmen on an irregularly checkered board. It comes in "editions" of which Parker Bros. say they have sold 2,000,000.

Time    3/15/1943

Kolty the Yogi.

     The world's blindfold chess champion is 39-year-old, Belgian-born Georges Koltanowski, a Manhattan diamond cutter. Last week in an exhibition match at the Manhattan Chess Club Koltanowski played six unblindfolded club members simultaneously, won four games, drew two.
     Koltanowski was not actually blindfolded. He simply turned his back on his opponents' boards, was told their moves, made his own orally.
     Georges Koltanowski has been recognized as the world's blindfold champion since 1934 when he played 34 opponents at a time without losing a game. The match lasted 13½ hours with time out only for meals. A feat he considers even more difficult was a series of exhibitions he undertook in Switzerland seven years ago. He played ten-game matches in 26 different cities on 26 consecutive days. In each contest he won more than a majority of the games.
     In inner U.S. chess circles Koltanowski is known as "Kolty the Yogi." This dates back to an exhibition in Richmond, Va., when a socialite female kibitzer insisted, over his protests, that he must be a yogi to possess such powers of concentration. "I suppose I have an auditory memory," explains Koltanowski. "It is as though I have a gramophone record in the back of my head. I record the moves on it. If I forget, I play the record over."
     Before the current U.S. diamond boom afforded him a job at his old trade, Koltanowski taught chess to children in Milwaukee's public playgrounds. "Chess," he says, "is important in elementary schooling. Youngsters are usually not yet ready for team play, are more interested in expressing themselves. Chess gives them an outlet. It also teaches children to think first and think for themselves." In teaching, Koltanowski makes his pupils move the first chessman they touch, even if the move is a mistake. With Koltanowski opposite, many players have learned by their mistakes.

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