Patriotism, Nationalism, Jingoism and Racism in Chess

Edward Winter

(2013, with updates)



Patriotism, nationalism, jingoism and racism in the chess world have generated many literary horrors which might sometimes be comical if they were not so alarming. In a look back to some dark days we show a range of cases where the public record has been mutilated by, in particular, the expurgation of masters’ names for political reasons.

First of all, a case which may be considered little worse than soppy patriotism combined (as patriotism so often is) with factual incomptence. In our feature article on Chess (Basics, Laws and Terms) by B.K. Chaturvedi (Chandigarh, 2001) we commented:

In his 1995 match against Kasparov in New York, Anand won the first decisive game (game 9) but scored only +0 –4 =4 in the remainder of the match. Any respectable author would thus employ a word such as ‘comfortable’ or ‘decisive’ to describe Kasparov’s victory, but not Mr Chaturvedi. He writes on page 3:

‘However, the most renowned Indian chess player to date is Vishwanath [sic] Anand who recently challenged the current World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov and missed the mark with a difference of just four [sic] points.’

And from page 11 of this book (which, we reiterate, was published in 2001):

‘The present title holder is Gary Kasparov. He was challenged by India’s Vishwanath [sic] Anand or “Vishy” in 1995 and despite Vishy’s claiming initial victories [sic – the propagandist’s plural] and forcing Kasparov to draw, he eventually lost. So Kasparov remains the undisputed Chess Champion.’

For all this, of course, Anand himself is blameless, just as it was hardly Nigel Short’s fault that a small number of British ‘chess writers’ elected to slop jingoistic treacle over his shoulders before, during and after his 1993 match with Kasparov.



At the other end of the scale, there have been sombre periods when chess literature has fallen victim to noxious racism. A quiz question: when Emanuel Lasker died in 1941, how did Deutsche Schachblätter cover the event? The answer is given at the end of this article.

The present section begins with a quote from page 10 of the January 1942 BCM (given in Chess: Hitler and Nazi Germany):

‘The “New Order” in Germany is busy on chess literature. The outstanding text-book in the German language is Dufresne’s Lehrbuch des Schachspiels, which has held the field for some 60 years. From 1901 to 1937 it was periodically revised, and brought up to date by J. Mieses, and so remained a thoroughly modern work.

As its popularity could not be gainsaid, it had to be “aryanized”, and a new revision was entrusted to a 100 per cent Aryan master [Max Blümich (1886-1942)].

blumich

Max Blümich

It will hardly be credited that the names of “non-Aryan” players have been omitted from the historical section, including Kolisch, Zukertort, Steinitz, Lasker, Rubinstein, etc. Not only that, all their most brilliant games which adorned earlier editions have been eradicated, although a few of their games were allowed to remain – those they lost! This is on a par with the maintenance of “Aryan” superiority in chess by the simple expedient of excluding non-Aryan competition.

There is only one word for it – lunacy. “Whom the gods wish to destroy …”.’

Some recent C.N. items have discussed the conduct of Kurt Richter during the Nazi regime. For example, C.N. 7875 referred to a position on page 113 of his book Kombinationen (Berlin and Leipzig, 1936):

richter

richter

The game was Tartakower v Colle, San Remo, 2 February 1930, but throughout the book the names of various (though not all) Jewish players were deleted. For instance:

The process was intensified in the second edition of Richter’s book (Berlin, 1940), as shown by position 66 on page 29:

richter

1936 edition

richter

1940 edition

(The details about the Lasker v Thomas game are also wrong. See Chaos in a Miniature.)

In the 1936 edition of Kombinationen ‘Dr Lasker’ was named as the opponent of Bogoljubow (Zurich, 1934, in position 107) and of Torre (Moscow, 1925, in position 237). Four years later, the former world champion’s name was reduced in both cases to ‘L.’.

Expurgations were even retained in the post-War translation Combinaciones en el medio juego (Buenos Aires, 1947):

richter

An example from page 158:

richter

In the 1936 German edition Nimzowitsch had been identified in connection with this position, but there was only ‘N.’ in the 1940 volume.

Later editions of Kombinationen restored the masters’ names. See too C.N.s 7909 and 7923. In the latter item Alan McGowan (Waterloo, Canada) gave a list of the Jewish players whose names were in the games index of the Deutsche Schachblätter during the period 1934-39. (Richter took over the editorship in January 1934.). The numbers dwindled and reached zero in 1939.



Now we turn to Eastern Europe and more recent times. C.N. 6832 reported:

ChessBase has reproduced from The Huffington Post an article entitled ‘A Disappearing Act’ by Lubomir Kavalek. Two paragraphs:

‘In 1975 at the US Open, Navratilova asked for political asylum and became persona non grata at home. Her name disappeared from the press. It was a game the communist establishment liked to play. The censors axed your name and the people learned how to read between the lines.

I met with similar fate after I left Czechoslovakia in 1968. Chess tournaments in which I participated were not reported or appeared without my name. The same year Martina left, a book of chess puzzles by two Czech grandmasters, Vlastimil Hort and Vlastimil Jansa, was published in Prague. The publisher Olympia printed 18,000 copies and when it was done, some censors discovered my name attached to one of the games. They did something unbelievable: they cut out the page with my name, printed a new one without my name and glued it back in the book. They did it page by page, book by book – 18,000 times.’

No further details were given in Kavalek’s article, so in C.N. 6832 we examined the Hort/Jansa book, Zahrajte si šachy s velmistry.

hort jansa

Of the 230 positions discussed, only one lacked the players’ names:

hort jansa

hort jansa

The nimble expurgation becomes clear only on close inspection: the sheet with pages 31-32 is slightly shorter than the others.

Kavalek’s name was given in the English edition, The Best Move (Great Neck, 1980), which was translated from the Czech by Irena Kavalek:

hort jansa

Page 16 of the Russian edition (Moscow, 1976) also included Kavalek’s name:

hort jansa

hort jansa

However, in C.N. 7939 Vitaly A. Komissaruk (Kasan, Russian Federation) added that there were deletions in the Russian edition:

‘The text for position 86 has a venue and a year, but White’s name is omitted (Korchnoi). The venue, year and name of a player were removed from positions 104 (Korchnoi), 135 (Korchnoi) and 203 (Sosonko).’

Our correspondent also mentioned that position 13 (shown below) did not identify the players or give any venue or date:

hort jansa

The game was Hort v Shamkovich, Moscow, 1962, as stated on page 21 of the original Czech edition of Hort and Jansa’s book.

The above, of course, are merely some examples which have been examined in C.N. Other familiar political cases include the treatment of Ludĕk Pachman.



Karel Mokrý (Prostějov, Czech Republic) draws our attention to an article of his which reports that two uncensored copies of the Hort/Jansa book are known to exist.

(10021)




lasker

Finally, the promised answer to the quiz question posed earlier this article, concerning the extent of the coverage in Deutsche Schachblätter of Emanuel Lasker’s death in 1941: there was no obituary or report of any kind.


The above article originally appeared in 2013 at ChessBase.com.



During Emanuel Lasker’s long reign as world champion a number of attempts were made to remove his title by journalistic edict. An example from the 1912 Capablanca-Magazine was reported on page 66 of our book on Capablanca, and C.N. 2470 (see page 357 of A Chess Omnibus) presented a case from the Morning Post in 1919.

Another instance comes from page 162 of the March 1917 Chess Amateur, which, under the heading ‘No world’s chess champion’, quoted the columnist A.J. Neilson:

‘Since August 1914 there is no world’s chess champion, and we are meantime perfectly willing to recognize the brilliant Mr. J.R. Capablanca as “world champion” ex officio, as the master of greatest knowledge, “alive or dead”. It matters very little to the purpose whether he acquired chess at four or 14 years of age; the capacity is there, and we are very certain that he, for one, declines to recognize anything but his own superiority to Lasker. This attitude is quite right.’

In a book review on page 206 of the April 1919 Chess Amateur H.D’O. Bernard used the expression ‘one-time champion of the world’ to describe Lasker.

Apart from the Capablanca-Magazine case (which was based on the failure of the Lasker-Capablanca championship match negotiations) the motivation seems to have been political, i.e. related to Lasker’s pro-German writings about the Great War. Already in 1914 the British press reacted fiercely to Lasker’s words. For example, page 65 of the December 1914 Chess Amateur quoted from the Illustrated London News:

‘A certain Herr Lasker has been airing his views to the Berlin public on the British Navy, apparently because he believes himself worthy to be styled the chess champion. The only claim we know this individual has to the title arises from the fact that the last time he ventured to defend it he escaped defeat by a lucky fluke that gave him a draw. Since then there has been the same difficulty in getting him to fight as Sir J. Jellicoe has experienced with the German Fleet. Otherwise his remarks have about the same value as would those of a beetle concerning a steam roller.’

The Chess Amateur then commented:

‘According to Herr Lasker the movements of the French Army are similar to those of the chess knight. His comments on the final results of the war would do credit to the intelligence and profound judgment of a well-trained parrot.’

Lasker’s articles were published in the Vossische Zeitung from 16 August to 25 October 1914. A French translation appeared in supplements to La Stratégie in January, February and April 1915. For an English version see the feature on pages 104-114 of issue 3 of Lasker & His Contemporaries.

(3272)



A remark by Emanuel Lasker:

‘Down with all nationalism in our old, noble, profound game.’

Source: Hermann Helms’ chess column on page A3 of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 12 June 1924:

lasker

We first quoted the observation by Lasker in C.N. 1530 (see page 264 of Chess Explorations), from page 318 of the August 1924 BCM.

(8918)



Lasker’s absence from London, 1922 was discussed in C.N. 11284.



C.N. 2634 (see page 197 of A Chess Omnibus) quoted from a book catalogue by Dale Brandreth concerning Schachmeister Erich Cohn (Berlin, 1919):

‘Scarce (many copies were destroyed by the Nazis because Cohn was Jewish). This was a little 18-page booklet dedicated to his memory since he was killed in action for Germany on 28 August 1918 after three years’ service.’

cohn

This photograph of Erich Cohn, not of premium quality, comes from page 354 of the ‘Jubiläums-Ausgabe’ of Kagans Neueste Schachnachrichten, 1926:

cohn

Erich Cohn is sometimes confused with Wilhelm Cohn, whose photograph appeared on page 143 of the Barmen, 1905 tournament book:

cohn

(7213)




korchnoi

In a review of Chess is my Life by Victor Korchnoi (London, 1977) on page 16 of The Times, 2 December 1977 Bernard Levin referred to Korchnoi’s departure from the Soviet Union in 1976 and added:

‘A new Soviet book on the 1974 Karpov-Korchnoi championship match had to have all references to Korchnoi deleted, so that he is simply referred to throughout as “the opponent”.’

To which book was Levin referring? Korchnoi’s autobiography does not seem to make such a claim.

Nor do we have any books in Russian exclusively devoted to the 1974 Karpov-Korchnoi match, although all 24 match-games were annotated in Tri matcha Anatoliya Karpova by M. Botvinnik (Moscow, 1975), which also covered Karpov’s matches against Polugayevsky and Spassky. An English translation by Kenneth P. Neat was published under the title Anatoly Karpov His road to the World Championship (Oxford, 1978).

(8279)

No corroboration has been found of Bernard Levin’s assertion that after Korchnoi’s departure from the Soviet Union in 1976 ‘a new Soviet book on the 1974 Karpov-Korchnoi championship match had to have all references to Korchnoi deleted, so that he is simply referred to throughout as “the opponent”’.

More generally, however, the Soviet press’s practice of omitting his name has been mentioned by Korchnoi himself. For instance:

‘Once the Soviet Chess Federation had failed in its attempt to exclude me from the world championship (a service for which I have President of the World Federation Dr Euwe to thank) the press couldn’t cope with having to report my candidates’ matches with Petrosian, Polugayevsky and Spassky. I was never named, and referred to only as “the challenger”, but of course people knew who I was and what the news “Polugayevsky played poorly against the challenger” meant.’

Source: an interview with Korchnoi by Richard Forster in Kingpin, Autumn 2001, pages 15-18 (translation by George Green).

Below is the relevant section of the original interview, published on page 57 of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 23 March 2001:

korchnoi

Can readers submit any particularly egregious examples from Soviet publications of the time?

(8384)

See too C.N. 8389.



From page 49 of the Chess Amateur, November 1907:

‘The “German” Notation. Should the happy time come when chessplayers throughout the world agree to adopt one system of notation, that system will be the one which originated in Germany, and is now used in Prussia, Austria, Italy, Argentine Republic and Holland.’

From page 125 of the Chess Amateur, February 1915:

‘We consider the English method perfectly satisfactory and by far the best that has ever been devised. This method may be termed the “Descriptive”. It is in use throughout the British Empire, the United States of America, Belgium and Argentina, and possibly some other countries. The only rival notation is the German method, which for stupidity and clumsiness would be difficult to beat.’

(10703)



A comment by Wolfgang Heidenfeld in a review of Lehrbuch der Schachtheorie by A. Suetin (East Berlin, 1973) on pages 511-512 of the December 1973 BCM:

‘The famous USSR grandmaster recognizes that nobody can possibly know everything today and has drawn on the collaboration of masters Abramov, Friedstein and Schazkes ...

In general one cannot help gaining the impression that the authors rely far too much on material from the Soviet orbit, neglecting anything played or published elsewhere. At a rough estimate 90% or so of the game references are from the output of “Eastern” players. If this were merely the result of easy accessibility, it might pass muster, but one feels that it is rather a matter of deliberate policy. This is revealed by the system of opening nomenclature.’

Among the examples given by Heidenfeld:

His concluding paragraph:

‘I think it is time for somebody to speak out against the deliberate and systematic falsification of chess history by some Soviet writers. We cannot do anything about what they are doing within their own orbit, but we can certainly try to stop our own young players – without a thorough knowledge of historical contexts and developments – from imbibing such falsehoods. Those who know better can smile at the displays of Soviet chauvinism, but there are tens of thousands who do not know. Their case must not go by default.’

Unusually, the review was followed by a note by the BCM Editor (Brian Reilly):

‘For “Falsehoods”, above, some might read “poisonous rubbish”, others “inaccuracies”. W. Heidenfeld would, we know, go for the former! ... We feel that our young players are not quite as vulnerable as Mr Heidenfeld supposes and that they already know that Popov (USSR) has invented everything, that Smith (Anglo-Sax) is pretty near behind, that Dumont (France) was a wiz[z]ard yet to be surpassed and that every country teaches and relates history in its own very nationalistic way ... One day Great Britain may be strong enough to play the Rest of the World; let us wait and see what “falsehoods” we shall be able to print ...’ [Ellipses in the original.]

(11467)



Under the title ‘Attempts to strip Lasker’, C.N. 3272 (see above) quoted this paragraph by A.J. Neilson in the Falkirk Herald (14 February 1917, page 4) which was reproduced on page 162 of the March 1917 Chess Amateur:

falkirk herald

The frontispiece to the August 1909 BCM:

neilson

Below are further extracts from his Falkirk Herald column:

falkirk herald
falkirk herald
falkirk herald

falkirk herald

falkirk herald

falkirk herald

(11787)



Latest update: 28 August 2020.

To the Chess Notes main page.

To the Archives for other feature articles.



Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.