Ossip Bernstein

By Bill Wall


Ossip Samilovitch Bernstein was born on September 20, 1882, in Gitomir (Zhitomir), a small town in the Ukraine.† Ossip Bernstein came from a rich family of Jewish heritage.

 He took up chess in 1901 at the age of 19, while studying law in Germany.† In matches, he defeated the German master Carl Carls (1880-19580 in Hanover, Germany, and the Polish master Szymon Winawer (1838-1919) in Warsaw.

 He almost earned the Master title in his first tournament.† He finished 2nd in the Hauptturnier A section of the 13th German Chess Federation at Hanover in 1902, behind Walter John.

 In 1902, he earned his Master title from his second tournament.† He won the first tournament of the General Chess Federation of Berlin in 1902.

 In 1902-03, he took 1st place at the Jubilee Tournament of the Berlin Chess Association.

 In 1903, he came second after Chigorin in the 3rd All-Russia championship at Kiev.

 In 1903-04, he tied for 2nd-3rd with Spielmann in the Berlin City Championship, behind Caro.

 He was a prize winner at Coburg in 1904.† He tied for 4th-5th.

 He was a prize winner at Barmen in 1905.† He tied for 4th-5th.

 He took 4th-6th at Ostend, Belgium in 1906.† Schlechter won the event.

 He tied for 1st with Schlechter in the International Masters Tournament of Stockholm in 1906.

 In 1906, Bernstein obtained a doctorate in law at Heidelberg University.† He then established a law practice in Moscow and became a financial lawyer.

 In 1907, he tied for first with Rubinstein at Ostend.† 29 masters participated.

 In 1907, he married a lady named Wilma and they had two sons.† They were married for 54 years.

 In 1909, he played in the Chigorin Memorial at St. Petersburg and took 5th place.†† Lasker and Rubinstein tied for 1st.

 In February-March, 1911, he played in San Sebastian and tied for 8th-9th.† Capablanca won the event.

 In March, 1911, he won the Moscow championship.

 In 1912, he took 2nd at Wilno (now Vilnius), behind Rubinstein.

 In 1914, he played at St. Petersburg.† He tied for 6th-7th.† Capablanca won the event.

 In 1917, he lost his fortune in the Russian revolution.† In 1917, he was arrested in Rostov, but released because of his chess reputation.† They later moved to Kiev, then to Odessa.†

 In 1918, in Odessa, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Cheka (Bolshevik secret police).†† Bernsteinís crime was his role as legal advisor to bankers.† There was no court trial.† A minor official had a firing squad line up Bernstein and a number of other prisoners against a wall to be shot.† A superior official appeared and asked to see the list of prisonersí names.† Discovering Ossip Bernstein on the list, he asked Bernstein if he was the famous chess master.† Bernstein said yes.† The official then made Bernstein play him a game of chess to prove it.† When Bernstein won, the official released Bernstein.

 In 1919, the British government sent several ships to Odessa to help some of those escape who were in special danger of being killed.† The Bernsteins were permitted to board one of the ships.† The ship sailed to Serbia where Bernstein left and went to Belgrade.† He then went to Vienna and to Oslo, Norway.

 In 1920, he settled in Paris where he became a financial lawyer.† One of his first duties was to go to New York to take care of some financial matters for some clients.† His chess reputation helped him get a visa right away and he made the trip to New York.†† Once on New York, the law firm he visited refused to turn over any documents to an unknown like Bernstein.† However, a member of the Manhattan Chess Club that was also well known in the banking circles vouched for Bernstein, and he was able to complete his transaction.† In 1920, he became a French citizen.

On June 6, 1926, Bernstein played a 53-board simul at the ďFou du RoiĒ Chess Club in Paris.† He won 37, drew 15, and lost one (to F. Guittet).

 In 1929-30, he lost his fortune again during the financial crash.

 In 1932, after an absence of 18 years, he took up chess again.† He played at Bern in 1932.

In 1933, he drew a training match with Alekhine (+1 =2 -1) in Zurich.

 In 1934, he played at Zurich.

 In 1940, he lost his fortune again when Paris fell.

In April 1941, Bernstein was sent by police into forced residence at La Clotat, near Marseille as part of a campaign to clear out Jews in Marseille. (source: New York Times, Apr 22, 1941, p. 9)

 In 1941, he fled to Spain.† When he reached the Pyrenees, he and his family had to walk over mountain roads at night, hiding in caves during the daylight hours to avoid the Germans.† After two exhausting nights, he reached Spain.† However, Bernstein had a heart attack and was unconscious.† The Spanish frontier guards arrested the family and placed them in separate prisons.† Through the intervention of some influential friends in Spain, his family was released and was allowed to stay in Spain.

 After World War II, he returned to Paris in 1945.† Their Paris home was completely robbed by the Germans.† They did find their son again who had been a prisoner of war in Germany for 5 years.

 In 1946, Ossipís son was an interpreter for the United Nations.† He was able to speak almost every language in Europe.

 In 1946, he played at Groningen at the age of 64.† He took 15th place out of 20.

 In 1946, he took 2nd in London.

 In 1948, he drew a game against Fine at a cable match between Paris and New York.

 In 1949, he won at the Mandrake Club in London.

 In 1950, he was awarded the International Grandmaster title.

 When President Eisenhower went to Europe to meet Khruschev, Bernsteinís son was selected to accompany him as interpreter.

 In 1954, he played Board 1 for France in the Amsterdam Chess Olympiad.† He was 72.† His score was 5 wins, 5 draws, and 5 losses.

 In 1954, he played at Montevideo and won a brilliancy prize for his game against Najdorf.† Bernstein took 2nd place, behind Letelier.

 In 1956, at the age of 74, he played in a small tournament at Ostend.†† He played there 50 years earlier.† He took 5th place.

 In 1956, he went to Moscow with the intention of playing for France in the Olympiad.† But he fell ill before he could play a game.

 In 1961, he played in the IBM tournament in Amsterdam,

 In 1961, he retired to St. Arroman, a small town in the Pyrenees.

 He died in his sleep on November 30, 1962 in a sanatorium (not a psychiatric hospital) in the French Pyrenees.


O. Bernstein - Unknown, Berlin 1903

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Bg4 3.c4 e6 4.Ne5 Bf5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Qb3 b6? (6...Nc6) 7.e4 Bxe4 8.Bb5+ Ke7 9.Bc6 (and 10.Bxa8)† 1-0