The Observer - Professor George Steiner

What do chess and deep-sea diving have in common? Er, your move…

"The eminence of Jews in this somewhat mad miracle has long been noted, in admiration, irony or an uneasy mixture of both. From Wilhelm Steinitz and Emanuel Lasker to Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov (originally named Weinstein), a major proportion of world champions has been either Jewish or of Jewish descent. The childlike prowess of Samuel Reshevsky, the 'lyric beauty', quite indefinable in paraphrase, of games of Akiba Rubinstein, remain talismanic. The violence of tactics and personal confrontation which characterised the duels between Alekhine and his largely Jewish opponents, between the profoundly Soviet Karpov and Kasparov has in it more than a touch of gentile against Jew (Alekhine ended, wretchedly, in the Nazi cause)."

"Volume One, Chess, Jews and History, sets out to inform its readers about the history and literature of the royal game. In this often esoteric chronicle, the part played by Jews in translating and commentating Arabic texts on chess is dealt with on an unprecedented scale. But a more hidden quarry waits in the thickets. Are there possible references to chess in the Talmud? The standard view is that the assemblage of the Talmud clearly predates the arrival of chess among the Jewish settlements in Mesopotamia and Persia during the sixth century."

"Presenting material in Hebrew, Aramaic and Pahlavi, much of it accessible hitherto only to the specialist, Mr Keats ponders the issue. Often, his comments would have set Joyce to dreaming: 'Kohut, we recall, understood guryata kitanyata (in Ketuboth) to mean dog-shaped trictrac pieces. He argues that Hananel must be using 'little dogs' in this same sense, i.e. that Hananel either assumes iskandrée to mean the game of trictrac (nard) or else that chess too is played with pieces in the shape of dogs' heads.' "

"The books present a mad feast of learning, sumptuously illustrated May the winter evenings before us be long and silent. May all Keats' rooks reach the seventh rank. Mine rarely do."

"Chess, Jews and History. Dr Victor Keats M.Phil Ph.D. produced a wonderfully illustrated book on chess pieces through the ages. Now as part of an M.Phil Degree, he has written a substantial three-volume work on Chess and its Origins. Now a wider public can study the relevant texts." British Chess Magazine

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