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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Gerald Abrahams

     The other day I was thumbing through Technique in Chess by Gerald Abrahams; it's one of those books that has been in my library for decades that never got read (we all have them!). 
     Before I go on let me just say that I love Dover chess books and they have a lot of them. Looking through the book I got the impression that it's not a beginners' book, but an intermediate player (whatever that is) that's really interested in studying technique might profit from it. It has lots of examples of themes and as I discussed in the previous post, learning by example is a good method. Abrahams gives examples of such things as B vs. R, B duels, blockades, decoys, distance, Kings cut off, Ns vs, Rs, Ns vs Ps, related squares, the Saavedra method, etc., etc. 
     My impression that idly playing over the examples probably won't profit much, but if one is willing to actually do some thinking about the themes and do some fiddling around trying out different moves to see what works and what doesn't and maybe evening keeping a notebook, then it might be a valuable book.   I probably should also point out that Abrahams uses a lot of endgame examples because, as he states, this is where the functions of pieces can be isolated and examined in more detail. If you are just a casual reader it's not worth the $7.96 for the ebook from Dover. 
     Abrahams was a barrister in England, whose avocation was chess and he published several books on chess as well as law, philosophy, politics and history and geography. His chess books are: Teach Yourself Chess, The Chess Mind, Handbook of Chess, Technique in Chess, Test Your Chess, The Pan Book of Chess, Not Only Chess, and Brilliancies in Chess. He also published Brains in Bridge. Also of interest was The Jewish Mind, published in 1961, in which he gave four possible explanations of why Jews are good at chess. 
1. Jews traditionally strive to produce the pure intellectual. 
2. They love study and learning. 
3. They have perseverance. 
4. They are talented at languages including the language of chess. 

     Abrahams was born in Liverpool in 1907 (he passed away in 1980) and was a very strong amateur who was playing master-level chess by the 1930s. He is credited with the invention of a variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined Semi-Slav Defense, known as the Abrahams-Noteboom variation. 
     His play in international tournaments was limited and most often he played in local events and appeared in lot of British championships. In 1933 he finished third in the British Championship, after Sultan Khan and T.H. Tylor; that was his best result in the championships. 
     In the Anglo-Soviet radio match of 1946 he scored one win and one draw against Ragozin on board 10; he defeated Ragozin using his Abrahams Variation. He was known as a strong blindfold player. Many of his quotes are quite insightful: 

* The tactician knows what to do when there is something to do; whereas the strategian knows what to do when there is nothing to do. 
* Good positions don’t win games, good moves do. 
* Why some persons are good at chess, and others bad at it, is more mysterious than anything on chess board. 

     1946 was a busy year in England. On January 1st the first international flight from London Heathrow Airport to Buenos Aires was launched, in February the American dance craze the Jitterbug became popular and the Royal Opera House re-opened for the first time since the war. 
     In March the government granted India its independence. In May they began playing cricket again and Heathrow Airport opened fully for civilian use. On June 1st the British introduced the curious (to an American) requirement of having to purchase a television license
     Any household watching or recording live television transmissions as they are being broadcast is required to hold a television license. Businesses, hospitals, schools and a range of other organizations are also required to hold television licenses to watch and record live TV broadcasts. A television license is also required to receive video on demand program services provided by the BBC. 
     Regarding the TV licenses, in a conversation with one of my English opponents, he thought we Americans receive free cable TV and was astonished to find out that we pay for it and that my cable bill is $125 a month! 
     On June 8, 1946 London held a big celebration of the defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan with most British allies taking part, including Belgium, Brazil, China, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Luxembourg the Netherlands and the United States. 
     After sunset the main buildings of London were lit by floodlights and crowds thronged the banks of the Thames and Westminster Bridge to watch King George VI and his family proceed down the river in the Royal barge. The festivities ended with a fireworks display over Central London. However, crowds continued to gather in London and surrounded Buckingham Palace even after the Royal family had retired from the festivities. Many festival goers could not return home that night and spent the rest night in public parks and other public areas around London. 
     The celebration wasn't without controversy because of the lack of representation of Polish forces. Poles fought for the British, by 1946 the British government changed its diplomatic recognition from the pro-democracy Poles in exile to the new communist-dominated government in Poland. After complaints a compromise was reached and 25 pilots of the Polish fighter squadrons in the RAF were invited to march with other foreign detachments as part of the parade of the Royal Air Force, but they refused so Poland wasn't represented. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia also refused to take part. 
     British chess organizers were the first to celebrate the victory over the Nazis when they held two chess tournaments in London that came less than a week after the Hastings congress. The newspaper Sunday Chronicle sponsored a Victory Tournament to celebrate the end of the war with attendance of masters from all over the world. 
Tartakower vs Pomar

     Things didn't turn out quite as well as had been hoped when the Soviets showed no interest and Alekhine's participation was protested against by Euwe and the Dutch Chess Federation because of his Nazi sympathies during the war.  Arnold Denker wrote that Reuben Fine, who wasn't even playing, had stuck his nose into it and had pressured tournament officials to exclude Alekhine. 
     In his book The Bobby Fischer I Knew Denker wrote about the difficulty he had getting to London because he simply couldn't book passage. At the last minute the wealthy investment banker Maurice Werthhiem, who had bankrolled a lot of chess in the US during the war, managed to get him aboard the Queen Mary which was making its final voyage as a troop transport. It was a rough trip across the North Atlantic and Denker spent much of his time trying to fight off seasickness. It's been my good fortune to have experienced what the North Atlantic has to offer while making a couple of crossings aboard US Naval vessels...lots of fun!
     When he reached London he hooked up with the other US representative, Herman Steiner, who had arrived on a Pan Am clipper plane. That evening he and Steiner had dinner with Euwe and afterwards the question of Alekhine's war time conduct came up. According to Denker, Euwe believed Alekhine had been drinking heavily during the war and had probably been offered rewards and at the same time been threatened which explained his writing his famous anti-Semitic articles. But, alcoholism, payments, threats and coercion were not considered a valid excuses for penning the articles. 

     Near the end of the Victory tournament Euwe was elected as chairman of a players' committee to take up the question of Alekhine's collaboration with the Nazis. Denker voted in favor of Alekhine's condemnation. Writing in The Bobby Fischer I Knew, Denker said he regretted his decision because as a young player before the war, Alekhine had befriended him, bought him meals, invited him to analyze and be his partner in consultation games and generally treated him like a prince. The lone dissenter among the players was the Jewish Tartakower who took up a collection for the poverty stricken Alekhine who was living in Portugal.
     In the United States there was a brouhaha among the readers of Chess Review as far back as 1942 that was started by a letter to the editor from Hollywood actor J. Edward Bromberg as to whether or not the magazine should continue to publish Alekhine's games. I posted on the controversy HERE
     For the Victory Tournament the players were divided into two groups. Group A was won by Herman Steiner who scored 9-2 even though he lost to runner up Dr. Ossip Bernstein. Bernstein had too many draws and was upset by British Master R.J. Broadbent who finished down in 7th-8th place. Tartakower was third, losing to both Steiner and Bernstein and also sustaining an upset at the hands of 11th place finisher Joe Stone of Great Britain. 

     In the B group Euwe eased to a first place finish with a 9.5-1.5 score. He lost only to Spain's Antonio Medina and was held to a draw by England's Imre Konig. Martin Christoffel of Switzerland finished 3 points back with no draws, but lost to Euwe, Denker and Konig. Denker finished third with 7 points. Abrahams tied for places 4-6 with Sir George Thomas and Konig. 

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