Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Raaphy Persitz (1934-2009)

Raaphy Persitz, one of BCM's oldest friends and contributors, has died aged 74. I was sent the sad news by Amatzia Avni, who also kindly appended the following tribute to Raaphy. I am indebted to Amatzia on both counts. The news of Raaphy's death came as a particular shock to me as, only a couple of weeks previously, he had sent me a fax saying how moved he had been by the tribute I had written to Bob Wade in the January issue of BCM. That was typical of his kindness towards me which dated back to when I took my first tottering steps as BCM editor in 1999. We never actually met in person but spoke occasionally on the telephone and exchanged faxes (Raaphy didn't seem to communicate by email). As a long-time reader of the magazine I had enjoyed his 'Student's Corner' column in the magazine, which was initiated by Abe Yanofsky in the early 1950s and which Raaphy inherited in 1958. I was particularly delighted when, in 2004, after I had written about his 1954 feat in winning his Varsity match game and a county match against English no.1 Hugh Alexander on the same day, Raaphy consented to write another 'Student's Corner' column (which appeared in the May 2004 issue of BCM). I never succeeded in getting him to write another one but it was such a pleasure to have him write for the magazine during my spell as editor.

R.I.P. Raphael Joseph Arie (Raaphy) Persitz
Born 26 vii* 1934 (Tel Aviv)
Died 4 ii 2009 (Tel Aviv)

* Gaige's Chess Personalia gives May rather than July for Raaphy's month of birth but all online sources give July - can anyone tell me which is correct?

I shall be writing more on Raaphy in the March issue of BCM. I should be grateful for any reminiscences that others may have of him - please send to me at editor@bcmchess.co.uk or append to this blog entry.

The photo shown above is of the Oxford University team which won the 1953 British Lightning Club Championship - left to right: Raaphy Persitz, John B Sykes, Leonard Barden, OI Galvenius, David M Armstrong. (note: the 2008 ECF Yearbook seems to think that this lightning championship was first contested in 1954, but BCM confirms it first took place in 1953).

What follows is Amatzia Avni's personal tribute to Raaphy...

Ordinary people have a mixture of good qualities and bad ones. After 20 years of friendship with the late Raaphy Persitz I can attest that he was a distinct type: one sided, positive-only; pure gold.

I first met him in 1989. Just wrote my first chess book (in Hebrew) I was searching for someone to write me an introduction. The word was that Persitz was back in town, after long years abroad. Having seen glimpses of his amazing linguistic skills, I contacted him and he agreed immediately. He didn’t know me, hadn’t read a single sentence of the book, yet he didn’t hesitate: “yes, sure, I’ll be glad to”.
That was typical Persitz: always ready to help, unconditionally. The introduction, needless to say, was a sheer delight, a class or two above the rest of the book.

In latter years he gave me a hand several times, polishing my texts and making them more reader-friendly to English speaking readers. Somehow he seemed to know what I wished to express better than I did. His suggestions enabled me to convey my meaning in a clear and precise manner.

Raaphy was modest and reserved. Once I called him and realized that he was upset. “My mother had passed away some weeks ago” – he said. I was puzzled why he didn’t tell me the sad news at the time. “I didn’t want to bother you” – was his reply.

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon Bruce Hayden’s old book “Cabbage heads and chess kings”. One of the book’s articles was headed “Raaphy Persitz – star or comet?”. I learned that in the 1950s Persitz won some bright victories in England against Penrose, Alexander, Milner-Barry and others. Searching in Chessbase I found out that he also did battle with some outstanding international players. Yet in all our meetings and hundreds hours of conversation he never said a thing about that!

Persitz was a master of understatement. I learned that if I wrote “very fine” or “extremely strong”, the ‘very’ and ‘extremely’ would fly out of the window. If I made a firm stand on a certain issue, he would add “probably”’ “apparently”, or “it may be argued that”, because it was indeed only an opinion, not a fact. Over time, following his train of thought made me improve the way I expressed myself and thought about chess.

Persitz’ distinctions in chess, in linguistics and in journalism are evident to anyone who ever read his chess books and articles. He also excelled in economics, but I am unqualified to comment on this.

God bless you, Raaphy. I feel privileged to have known you.

Amatzia Avni