An interesting discourse on the “Peculiarities of Jewish Chess Players” was delivered recently by Dr. Emanuel Lasker, chess master and philosopher, in the course of a lecture at the High School for the Science of Judaism.
Dr. Lasker, who was the world chess champion from 1894 to 1921, after an abridged outline of the history of the game of chess, whose origin he refers to 1000 to 2000 B.C., gave a general psychology of the game which he connoted as the ancient emblem of war and combat.
He distinguishes seven periods in the perfection of the player: First, the primitive period, in which the player has only the desire to capture chess men; in the second period, the desire for ruses and traps prevails; in the third the joy of attack; in the fourth of artful defense; in the fifth of sagacious development powers; in the sixth of thoughtful combination; and in the last period, success in the building up and consolidating “position” is the chief aim. Chess has conquered all peoples and professions. The Sephardic Jews might have adopted it in Spain, but they did not distinguish themselves in it. Only at the beginning of the 19th century, the Ashkenazic Jews did begin to devote themselves to the game.
Externally seen, the peculiarities of the Jewish players lie mainly in a special tement, and abundance of expression, a peculiarity of all Mediterranean peoples which is being lost with growing assimilation in northern and western Europe. When playing, all Jewish players show a special strength in the art of defense, by which they have tremendously developed the refinement of the game all over the world. Lasker explains this ability by the century-old history of suffering and oppression of the Ashkenazic Jews in Europe.
The art of the defense in the game is well developed among all oppressed groups, while among peoples which are accustomed to rule, as the English, Dutch, American, the art of attack is supreme. But the strongest peculiarity of the Jews, and only found among them, is the mental and spiritual form of the game. They cultivate besides the defense combination and idealistic construction which often do not take realities into account. They exploit chess as a disputation and create a parallel to the Jewish joke which flares up by the force of the play of ideas. Lasker refers this peculiarity to the absorption of the Jews in the Talmud, and to their exercise in Talmudic reasoning. The joy of the play of ideas and the neglect of reality may explain the love of the Jewish players’ systematism, and their