Gerald Abrahams

By Bill Wall


Gerald Abrahams was born in Liverpool, England on April 15, 1907.  He was an English chess master, author of several chess books, and British lawyer (Barrister-at-Law).  He was a brilliant, but sometimes erratic, chess player, with a historical peak rating of 2590.


He is best known for the Abrahams Defense of the Semi-Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 e6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.e3 b5 6.a4 Bb4 7.Bd2 a5 8.axb5 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 cxb5 10.b3 Bb7).  He first played this variation as Black against Allcock in 1925 in a university game for Oxford vs. London.  The opening is also known as the Abrahams-Noteboom Variation, or the Noteboom Variation, named after the Dutch player Daniel Noteboom (1910-1932).  Abrahams later used this variation to defeat V. Ragozin in the USSR-Britain radio match of 1946. Abrahams later played his variation against Gligoric (1923-2012) at Hastings 1951/2 but lost.  Daniel Noteboom later played this variation at the Hamburg Chess Olympiad in 1930 and won.


Abrahams is quoted as saying, “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.” Other quotes of his are “Chess is a good mistress but a bad master,” and “In chess there is a world of intellectual values,” and “Good positions don’t win games, good moves do.” He also wrote “Why some persons are good at chess, and others bad at it, is more mysterious than anything on chess board.”


Abrahams started playing chess in 1921 at the age of 14. In the early 1920s, he was composing chess problems.


In 1923, at the age of 16, he took 9th place in the Major Tournament section of the Northern Counties Chess Union in Liverpool.


On September 29, 1923, Abrahams was the last surviving player against Alekhine at a 31-board simultaneous display in Liverpool.  Abrahams finally resigned and Alekhine swept all the pieces aside brusquely and stalked away.  In later years, Abrahams asked Alekhine to be kinder to boys when playing them chess.  Alekhine then remembered playing Abrahams as a youth, including the endgame.


Abrahams played for Oxford in the Oxford vs. Cambridge University matches of 1926, 1927, and 1928.


In 1929, he took 9th place in the 22nd British Chess Federation Championship (BCF), held in Ramsgate.  Mir Sultan Khan won that event.


By the 1930s, Abrahams was the most attacking player in England according to Harry Golombek (1911-1995).


In 1930, he took 6th place in the 23rd Kent County Chess Championship, held in Canterbury, England.


In 1931-32, he took 8th place in the 12th Hastings Christmas Tournament Premier Reserves.  The Premier section was won by Salo Flohr (1908-1983).


In 1932-33, he took 8th place in the 13th Hastings Christmas Tournament Premier Reserves.  The Premier section was won by S. Flohr.


In 1933, he took 3rd place in the 26th BCF Championship, held in Hastings.  The event was won by Mir Sultan Khan (1905-1966).


In 1933-34, Abrahams was in Belfast as a lecturer in law at Queen’s University.


In 1934, he won on board 1 against W. Minnis in a match between Queen’s University and the Church of Ireland Young Men’s Society (CIYMS).


In 1934, he took 9th-11th place in the 27th BCF Championship, held in Chester, England.  The event was won by George Alan Thomas.


In 1934, he played four strong chess players blindfolded in Belfast, Ireland, winning two and drawing two.


In 1934-35, he took 14th-15th place in the 45th City of London Chess Club Championship.  The event was won by George Alan Thomas.


In 1935, he took 6th-8th place in the 28th BCF Championship, held in Yarmouth.  The event was won by William Winter.


In 1936, he tied for 3rd place at the Nottingham Major Open.  During that period, Abrahams assisted Alekhine’s fourth wife, Grace, in getting her visa renewed.  Grace was an American-born widow of a British tea-planter in Ceylon.


Abrahams later wrote, “Alekhine asked me to oblige [getting his wife a visa], and I gladly did so. He said, “If I can ever do anything for you, please ask me.” I replied, “You can do something for me.” He raised an interrogative eyebrow. I said, “Be more considerate to small boys.” The frozen blue eyes stared at me for some seconds. “Yes”, he said, I remember, Liverpool 1923. You had pawns, bishop and knight against my pawns and two knights.  You should have drawn that game.”’

In 1938, he wrote Law Affecting Police and Public.

In 1939, he wrote Law Relating to Hire Purchase.

In 1940, he wrote Ugly Angel.

In 1941, he wrote Retribution.

In 1943, he wrote Day of Reckoning. He also wrote World Turns Left in July, 1943.

In 1945, he wrote Conscience Makes Heroes.

In 1946, Heinrich Fraenkel (Assiac) organized a New Statesman competition to find a suitable translation of Zugswang. Abrahams won the competition for the word movebound.

In 1946, he won one game and drew one game against the Russian master Viacheslav Ragozin (1908-1962) on board 10.  Ragozin was later awarded the grandmaster title in 1950.


In 1947, he played David Bronstein in London in the England-USSR match, but lost both games.


In 1948 he played at Bad Gastein, Austria, and won the brilliancy prize for his game with S. Toth in which Toth, as Black, played a French Defense. Abrahams wrote, “The Bad Gastein organizers promised me a Brilliancy Prize for this; but all I got was a free copy of the Tournament book.”


In 1951, he wrote The Chess Mind. The book has plenty of theorizing, chess stories, advice, and over 250 positions. It was reprinted by Penguin Books in 1960.   Also in 1951, he wrote Lunatics and Lawyers.


In 1951, he took 9th-12th place in the 38th BCF championship, held in Swansea, England.  Ernest Klein won the event.


In 1951-52, he took 8th-10th place in the premier section at the Hastings 27th Christmas tournament.  Gligoric won the event.


In 1952, he took 11th-13th place in the 39th BCF championship, held in Chester, England.  The event was won by Robert Wade.


In 1953, he took 8th-14th place in the 40th BCF championship, held in Hastings.  Daniel Yanofsky won the event.


In 1954, he wrote The Legal Mind. In this book, Abrahams commented about a case in which chess player William Herbert Wallace may have killed his wife Julia Wallace in Liverpool in 1931. His alibi was that he was at a chess club in Liverpool when the crime was committed. He also commented about Wallace as a chess player, writing, “The murder of his wife apart, I think Wallace ought to be hanged for being such as bad chessplayer.”


In August 1954, he finished tied for 3rd place in the 41st British Championship, held in Nottingham, England.  He blamed his loss in the last round on rushed meals. (source: Lubbock Morning Avalanche, Nov 17, 1954, p. 21).  A win would have given him 1st place and a draw would have given him a tie for 1st place. Leonard Barden and Alan Phillips tied for 1st-2nd place.

In 1955, he wrote Chess.

In 1955, he took 24th-27th place in the 42nd BCF championship, held in Aberystwyth, Wales.  The event was won by Harry Golombek.

In 1956, he wrote La Mediocrazia Contemporanea.

In 1956, he took 9th-14th place in the 43rd BCF championship, held in Blackpool, England.  The event was won by C. H. O’D Alexander.

In 1957, he took 10th-16th place in the 44th BCF championship, held in Plymouth, England.  The event was won by Stefan, Fazekas.

In 1958, he wrote The Law for Writers and Journalists.

In 1960, he took 8th-10th place in the 47th BCF championship, held in Leicester, England.  The event was won by Jonathan Penrose.

In 1961, he wrote Technique in Chess. It is a guide to general concepts of chess technique and the methods for using technique to plan ahead. Abraham analyzes 200 examples and problems from actual play. In 1973, a Dover edition was published.

In 1961, he wrote The Jewish Mind. Abrahams gave four possible explanations why Jews were 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.

In 1962, he wrote Brains in Bridge.

In 1962, he took 9th-17th place at Bognor Regis, England.  The event was won by N. Karaklajic.

In 1962, he took 11th-16th place at the 49th BCF championship, held in Whitby, England.  The event was won by Jonathan Penrose.

In 1963, he wrote Test Your Chess.

In 1963, he took 13th-18th place in the 50th BCF championship, held in Bath, England.  The event was won by Jonathan Penrose.

In 1964, he wrote Police Questioning: The Judges’ Rules.

In 1964, he took 26th-27th place in the 51st BCF championship, held in Whitby, England.  The event was won by Michael Haygarth.

In 1964, he took 10th-11th place in Jerusalem.  The event was won by Bruno Parma.

In 1965, he wrote Pan Book of Chess.

In 1965, he wrote Handbook of Chess for Beginners and Practiced Players.

In 1966, he wrote Let’s Look at Israel.

In 1967, Abrahams gave a lecture to the meeting of The Chess Endgame Study Circle at the 1967-68 Hastings International Chess Congress. His title of the lecture was “Chess Endings – Didactic and Epicurean.” An edited version of his lecture appeared in the March 1969 issue (issue # 15) of EG magazine.

In 1968, he wrote Trade Unions and the Law.

In 1969-70, he took 20th place at the 45th Hastings Christmas tournament, Challengers section.  This was his last major tournament.

In 1971, he wrote Morality and the Law.

Abrahams died on March 15, 1980 at the age of 72 years and 11 months.


He was the author of:

Teach Yourself Chess (1948)

Chess (1955)

The Chess Mind (1951 and 1960) (along with The Legal Mind in 1954 and The Jewish Mind in 1961)

The Handbook of Chess (1960 and 1965)

‘Psychiatry, Lunacy, and Chess’ article that appeared in the Oct 27, 1960 issue of The Listener

Technique in Chess (1961 and 1973)

Test Your Chess (1963)

Handbook of Chess for Beginners and Practiced Players (1965)

The Pan Book of Chess (1966)

Not Only Chess (1974)

Brilliancies in Chess (1977)


He also wrote a book on bridge called Brains in Bridge (1962).


In 1974 Gerald Abrahams wrote an interesting book called Not Only Chess. He called it a selection of Chessays. Here are some interesting items from his book.

On page 15 Abrahams conjectured that Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Karl Marx (1818-1883) were very bad chess players. Sartre did use chess as an analogy in his paper called The Search for Method.  Some sources claim that Karl Marx was quite a strong chess player. He loved to play all night chess games with friends.

On page 27 Abrahams tells of the story that Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961) was obsessed with the feeling of a fly walking on his scalp during a chess tournament at San Sebastian, Spain in February, 1911. At the end of the tournament Jacques Mieses took Rubinstein to a leading psycho-neurologist in Munich. The doctor told Rubinstein that he was mad, but what did that matter. Rubinstein was a chess master. Abrahams says that Rubinstein won at San Sebastian. Actually, Capablanca won the 1911 event. This was Capablanca's first international chess tournament, which he won. Rubinstein took 2nd place. Another tournament was held in 1912 in San Sebastian, and that is what Rubinstein won. In fact, he won 5 tournaments in that year. Rubinstein never ate in public or shook hands for fear of germs. He once tried to kill Richard Reti in the middle of the night, believing him to be making strange noises to deprive him of sleep. The fly incident was used by Aron Nimzovich in 1917 to get out of military service. Nimzowitsch complained about a fly on his head to avoid Army service in Russia.

On page 28, Abrahams said that Emanual Lasker attributed hypnotic powers to Tarrasch, and requested that the two play in separate rooms. This would have been their 1908 world championship match in which Lasker won with 8 wins, 5 draws, and 3 losses. The event was played in Dusseldorf and Munich.

On page 29, Abrahams discusses Dr. Ernest Jones (1879-1958) and his psychoanalysis of chess. Jones wrote an article, called, "The Problem of Paul Morphy" and published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis in January, 1931. Dr. Jones describes Morphy's chess as a product of a mind whose energies were harmoniously sublimated. Morphy's breakdown (paranoia) came after a feeling of guilt aroused frm the subconscious when men made him aware of hostility. Jones said that Morphy gave up chess because of the hostility Staunton showed when Staunton refused to play Morphy. However, before Morphy went to Europe he had already decided to give up serious play when he returned home. Jones said that chess play was a substitute for the art of war.

On page 41, Abrahams mentions that the Cuban government gave Capablanca the title: Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary General from the Government of Cuba to the World at large. This would have been in September, 1913 when he obtained a post in the Cuban Foreign Office.

On page 42, Abrahams tells the story about an English settler sending a small boy with a message to the British Commander General Rahl that George Washington was about to cross the Delaware River. The general was so immersed in a Christmas chess game, that he put the note in his pocket unopened. There it was found when he lay mortally wounded in the subsequent battle. Actually, Rahl was a Colonel, not a general. Col Gottlieb Rahl had 1,500 Germans (Hessians) in Trenton, New Jersey. Washington tried to crossed the Delaware in 3 places on Christmas Day in 1776. The only crossing near Trenton took 10 hours with 2,400 men. They crossed 9 miles away from Trenton and marched in sleet and rain at night. Washington attacked Trenton in broad daylight on December 26, 1776 around 8 am. Rahl, the commander, and 40 men were killed and a thousand men surrendered. The Americans had 4 wounded and 5 frozen to death. The battle took less than one hour. The note and the chess playing may not have happened.

On page 45, Abrahams wrote, “Games of chess are won by good moves, not by good positions.”

On page 47, Abrahams stated that Capablanca never in his life got in time trouble. However, in the notes to the 1936 Nottingham chess tournament, Capablanca lost his game to Flohr, not on time, but admitted making bad moves in time trouble. He said that his 37th move against Flohr (37...Qc8?) was a mistake made due to time trouble. He should have played 37...Rd7.

On page 49, Abrahams wrote, “Good moves win; good positions don’t win.”

On page 113, Abrahams says the very first chess effort on the part of a computer occurred in 1949 when Dr. Prinz programmed a Ferranti digital machine to solve a two-move chess problem. The programmer was Dr. Dietrich Prinz, who wrote the original chess playing program for the Manchester Ferranti computer in November, 1951. Prinz was a researcher at Manchester University programming the Mark I and Mark II computers. His program would examine every possible move until a solution was found. The program was considerably slower than a human player.

On page 146, Abrahams discusses his assessment of Emanuel Lasker. He mentions that he wrote a book on philosophy called "Kampf" (struggle). This book was written in 1907 and published in New York.

On page 149, Abrahams discusses Sultan Khan (Mir Malik Sultan Khan) (1905-1966). He says he came to England in 1929 and left in 1934. He actually left in 1933. He won the British Championship in 1929, 1932, and 1933. He was a servant to Sir (Colonel) Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana. Sultan Khan was illiterate. He could not read or write. Sir Umar was a maharaja who was a friend of King George V.

On page 158, Abrahams mentions that Miss Price was a British Ladies Champion in her 70s. Miss Edith Price was born in 1872 and died in 1956. She won the British Ladies Championship in 1922, 1923, 1924, 1928, and 1948 (age 76). British women had their first chess championship in 1904 (won by Kate Finn).

On page 226, Abrahams states that in January 1950 there were 11 grandmasters. In 1950 FIDE awarded 27 players the first official Grandmaster title. They were Bernstein, Boleslavsky, Bondarevsky, Botvinnik, Bronstein, Duras, Euwe, Fine, Flohr, Grunfeld, Keres, Kostic, Kotiv, Levenfish, Lilienthal, Maroczy, Mieses, Najdorf, Ragozin, Reshevsky, Rubinstein, Samisch, Smyslov, Stahlberg, Szabo, Tartakower, and Vidmar.

NN – Abrahams, England 1929
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 Bb4 5.Bd3 e5 6.dxe5 dxe4 7.Bxc4 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Qxd1 9.Kxd1 Be6 10.Rb1 Na6 11.Rxb7 O-O-O! 0-1

Euwe – Abrahams, Bournemouth 1939

1.d4 b5 2.e4 Bb7 3.f3 a6 4.c4 bxc4 5.Bxc4 e6 6.Nc3 d5 7.Qb3 Nc6? (7…dxc4) 8.exd5 Nxd4 9.Qxb7 Rb8 10.Qxa6 Ra8 11.Bb5+ Ke7 12.d6+ cxd6 13.Bg5+ Nf6 14.Qb7+  1-0