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Bernstein, Ossip

Ossip Samoilovich Bernstein (1882-1962) was a Ukrainian-born chess player born in a wealthy Jewish family.  

He was born on September 20, 1882 in Zhitomir, Russian Empire (now Ukraine).

In 1901, he took up chess at the age of 19, while studying law.  His first match was against Winawer at Warsaw in 1901.

In July 1902, at the age of 19, he was one of Pillsbury's blindfold opponents during an exhibition held in Hannover, Germany.  Pillsbury played 21 simultaneous blindfold games, a new world record (Pillsbury won only 3 games, lost 7, and drew 11 in over 11 hours of play).

In 1902, he took 2nd place in his first tournament, behind Walter John, at Hannover in the 13th DSB (German Chess Federation)  Congress, Hauptturnier A.

Later in 1902, Bernstein won his second tournament in Germany, earning the German Master title after winning at the General Chess Federation of Berlin in 1902.

In 1902-03, he took 1st place at the Jubilee Tournament of the Berlin Chess Federation.

In 1903, he took 2nd (behind Mikhail Chigorin) in the third All-Russian Masters' Tournament, held in Kiev.

In 1903-04, he tied for 2nd-3rd with Rudolf Spielmann in the Berlin city Championship, behind Caro.

He took 4th-5th at Coburg 1904.

In 1905, Bernstein became a member of the Berlin Chess Club and was a student at Berlin University.

He took 4th-5th place with Schlecther at Barmen, Germany in August, 1905 (behind Janowski, Maroczy, and Marshall).

Chessmetrics has Bernstein's highest rating as 2688 and ranked #9 in the world from April 1904 to March 1906.  His best individual performance rating was 2716 in Ostend 1907.

He took 4th-6th at Ostend, Belgium in 1906.  Karl Schlechter won that event.

In 1906, he tied with Schlechter for 1st at Stockholm.

At the end of 1906, Bernstein graduated from the legal facility of Berlin and later earned a Doctorate in law at Heidelberg University (Edward Lasker wrote that Bernstein received his Degree of Doctor of Law in Moscow in 1906).  He became a successful financial lawyer after returning to Moscow.

In 1907, he tied for 1st place with Akiba Rubinstein at Ostend.   29 masters participated in the event.  Bernstein was also giving large simultaneous exibitions during this time.

In 1907, Bernstein married a lady named Wilma.  They were married for 54 years and had two sons.

In 1909, he played in the Chigorin Memorial at St. Petersburg and took 5th place.  Emanuel Lasker and Rubinstein tied for 1st place.

In March 1911, he took first place in the Moscow championship. 

In 1911, Bernstein was opposed to some new guy named Capablanca playing in the International Tournament at San Sebastian, saying that he was too inexperienced to play with the masters and had not won a major tournament like all the other participants.  However, Capablanca did play, he beat Bernstein in the first round, and won the tournament.

In 1912, he took 2nd at Wilno (now Vilnius), behind Rubinstein.

In 1914, he took 6th-7th at St. Petersburg.  Capablanca took 1st place.

In 1917, he lost his fortune during the Bolshevik Revolution.  He was arrested in Rostov, but released because of his chess reputation.  He later moved to Kiev, then to Odessa.

In 1918 Ossip Bernstein was arrested and imprisoned in Odessa by the Cheka (Bolsheviks' secret police).   His crime was being a legal advisor to bankers.   He was later ordered shot by a firing squad.  There was no court trial.  As the firing squad lined up Bernstein and other prisoners against a wall to be shot, a superior officer asked to see the list of prisoners' names.  Discovering the name of Ossip Bernstein, he asked whether he was the famous chess master.  Not satisfied with Bernstein's affirmative reply, he made him play a game with him.  If Bernstein lost or drew, he would be shot.  Bernstein won in short order and was released. 

In 1919, the British government sent several ships to Odessa to help some escape who were in special danger of being killed.  The Bernstein family escaped on a British ship that sailed for Serbia.  There, the Bernsteins went to Belgrade, then to Vienna, then to Oslo, Norway.

In 1920, he settled in Paris (rue Emile Augier 9) and resumed his profession as a jurist, bank clerk, financial lawyer and finance businessman.  One of his first duties was to go to New York to take care of some financial matters for some clients.  His chess reputation helped him get a visa right away, and he traveled to New York.  Once in New York, the law firm he visited refused to give an documents to an unknown Bernstein.  However, a member of the Manhattan Chess Club and banker vouched for Bernstein, who was then able to complete his transaction.

In 1930, he lost his fortune again during the financial crash of 1929-30. 

In 1932, he started playing chess again after an absence of 18 years.   He played at Berne 1932.

In 1933, he drew a training match with world champion Alexander Alekhine. winning 1, drawing 2, and losing 1.

In 1934, he played at Zurich.

In 1940, he lost his fortune again after the fall of Paris by the Nazis.  In the summer of 1940, he fled to Spain after the capitulation of France.  When he reached the Pyrenees, he and his family  had to walk over mountain roads at night to avoid the Germans.  After two exhasting nights of walking, he reached Spain, but had a heart attack and was unconscious.  The Spanish frontier guards arrested the family and placed them in separate prisons.  Through the intervention of some influential friends, the family was released from prison and allowed to remain in Spain. 

Bernstein returned to Paris in 1945, where he had been a French citizen since 1920.  His Paris home was completely robbed by the Germans.  One of his sons had been a prisoner of war in Germany for 5 years.

In November, 1945, Bersntein wrote an anti-Alekhine letter to CHESS magazine, saying about Alekhine, "I refrain from giving further disgusting details about his behviour.  It could be added the he adopted the Nazi salute "Heil Hitler" with outstretched arm."

In 1946, Bernstein's son was an interpreter for the United Nations.  He was able to speak almost every European language.  Later, he became President Eisenhower's official interpreter.  He was the official interpreter between Eisenhower and Kruschev when they met.

In 1946, Ossip played at Groningen at the age of 64, the oldest player in the tournament.  He took 15th place out of 20 (defeating Lundin and Kotov).

In 1946, he took 2nd at London 1946.

In 1948, he drew a game against Reuben Fine in a cable match between Paris and New York.

In 1949, he won at the Mandrake Club in London.

He was awarded the  Grandmaster title in 1950 at the age of 68.

In 1952, he became an International Arbiter.

In 1954, he played 1st board and was captain of the  French team in the 11th Chess Olympiad held in Amsterdam.  He won 5, drew 5, and lost 5 games.  He was 72 years old.  It was his only chess olympiad that he participated in.

In 1954, he played at Montevideo and won a brilliancy prize for his game against Miguel Najdorf.  Bernstein tied for 2nd with Najdorf, behind Letelier.

At age 74, he was still playing in international tournaments.  In 1956, he played in a small tournament in Ostend and took 5th place.  He had played there 50 years earlier.

In 1956, he went to Moscow with the intention of playing for France in the Chess Olympiad.  However, he became ill and was unable to play.

In 1961, he played in an IBM tournament in Amsterdam.  He was 79 and had been playing in chess events for 60 years.

He died in his sleep in a sanitorium on November 30, 1962 in St. Arroman in the French Pyrenees.  He was 80 years old.

BW

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