Aleksander Zisel (Sasha) Macht was born on 18 October 1892 in Kaunas, Lithuania. He was the third of four children of Leya (maiden name Hirshzon) and Feivel (Shraga) Macht.
Aleksander Macht was champion of the first independent republic of Lithuania in 1923–24, 1926–28, and again in 1931–32. This is more than any other Lithuanian chess player in the history of independent Lithuania. Macht twice played for Lithuania in chess olympiads: in 1930, on board 1 in the 3rd Chess Olympiad in Hamburg, and in 1935, on board 2 in the 6th Chess Olympiad in Warsaw.
As a child, Macht was in a Jewish religious school (Heder), and later he continued his studies at Yeshiva - a Jewish religious educational institution. Studying at Yeshiva he learned to play chess. When he was 15 years old, Aleksander became excited by the ideas of the Haskalah movement, and sought to acquire secular education. He began to learn mathematics and foreign languages on his own. Within a short time, he learned Russian, English, German and French, and was able to perfectly communicate in these languages. In addition, to acquire the Russian secondary school certificate, he was forced to learn the Latin language. At the age of 17, he was able to independently prepare for the exam for the certificate of secondary education, and to pass it successfully. To continue his education, Aleksander moved to Belgium, where he studied economics at the University of Liege. During a vacation in Kaunas, he met and married Emma (Ester-Annet Katz). After the wedding, he and Esther lived in Liege, where she studied at a Montessori school of education. After graduation, both returned to Kaunas. With the start of World War I, the tsarist regime forced Lithuanian Jews to retreat to the depths of Russia. The young Macht family ended up in Jekaterinslav City, Ukraine, where their four children were born. After the restoration of an independent Lithuanian state, the Jewish community was granted broad autonomy rights, and various Jewish organizations were created. In 1921, the Macht family returned to Lithuania, and Aleksander was employed as a clerk in the Jewish Central Bank, which had just opened. In 1932, he was Director of this bank, which already had 85 Lithuanian branches. (1)
Chess players in Kaunas used to gather in coffee-houses, usually in Perkauskas café. There were plenty of chess lovers, but all of them were Naturspielers – not knowing theory, and not having wide chess knowledge. In 1919, when Aleksander still was a gymnasium student, he began to learn from the one theory book in Russian - Jean Dufresne 's Guide to learning chess. The tiny book at that time seemed a miracle. After he learned it by heart, his knowledge of chess (which today would be familiar to every beginner) was considered prodigious. (2) In August 1921, the Kaunas City chess union was founded, and the tournaments were held in the rented room of the Officers Club. In February 1922, the Kaunas City championship ("1st category" tournament) started in the new location of the club, on 14 Maironis Street. The winner was Lieutenant Gustaitis (24/26), and 2nd was Captain Rimša (the 1921 champion). Macht withdrew from the tournament without finishing all the games, and was 6th with 14 points. (3) At the end of 1922, the Kaunas chess union found another place for the club. Macht was among the 11 players invited to participate in its "1st category" tournament. This was considered as the city championship, and started on 20 January 1923. He then became Kaunas city champion, and unofficial Lithuanian champion. (3, 4)
After a long time of inactivity, the chess club again found a new location in the "Šachovo" motel on Ukmerge highway, and on 23 November 1924, the Kaunas city championship started. Macht won for the second time, and kept his title of unofficial Lithuanian champion. (3, 5) The next Kaunas city championship was held in January-February 1926, and Macht won again. On 10 April 1926, Klaipeda held the first Kaunas vs Klaipeda match (9.5 : 8.5). On board 1: Macht - Simon Gordon +0 =2 -0. (3) From 1927 on, Macht started participating in friendly matches and in the correspondence chess tournaments organized by the Wiener Schach-Zeitung. He scored wins against experienced and strong correspondence players such as Sandor Takacs, Arthur Hermann Privonitz, Matthaeus Seibold and Victor Ivanovich Soultanbeieff. (6) Macht did not play in the 1927 Kaunas championship, but as the 1926 champion he was entitled to play a match with its winner. It was won by Marcos Luckis, who became the challenger for the Lithuanian Champion title. But Luckis did not get his chance to play the match with Macht. Macht chose instead to play against the Klaipeda champion, Simon Gordon. The Kaunas and Klaipeda chess clubs organized a match between those two in Kaunas in 1928. Macht won and thus defended the title of Lithuanian champion. (7) In the first friendly match between Lithuanian and Latvian teams, in Riga on 28-29 December 1929, Latvia won 10 : 4.
On board 1: Hermanis Mattison - Macht +1 =1 -0. (8) In 1930, the championship of Lithuania was held in Kaunas (Kowno). Macht and Isakas Vistaneckis shared 1st place. (9)
The Lithuanian Chess Federation was established in 1929 and joined the World Chess Federation (FIDE) in 1930. In July 1930, the German Chess Federation organized the 3rd Tourney of Nations - the Chess Olympiad in Hamburg, and the Lithuanian Chess Federation decided to take part only a few days before it began. (10) Three young players went to Hamburg on Saturday 12 July: Vistaneckis, Matafia Scheinberg and Leonardas Abramavicius. The Congress was supposed to start at 9 am on Sunday 13 July, but because the Lithuanian team could arrive only in the afternoon, the start of the Congress was postponed until 3 pm. Macht had to postpone his trip because of illness. (11) Lithuania first played five matches with three players, until Macht joined them in Round 6 (Lithuania vs Romania 3 : 1). One more young player, Zelik Kolodnas, joined the team in Round 11. Macht played 12 games on board 1, and scored +4 –4 =4. (12)
In 1931 the Lithuanian championship was held in the Kaunas Chess Union hall (20 January - 8 February). In the 8-player double round robin, Macht won with 11.5/14, ahead of Vistaneckis (9/14) and Abramavicius (8.5/14). (13) On 22-27 May, the first Baltic Chess Championship was held in Klaipėda, Lithuania. The 8-player single round robin was won by Vistaneckis (4.5/7). Macht was 7th with 2.5/7. (14) On 31 December 1931 - 1 January 1932, the 2nd friendly match between Latvia and Lithuania (Riga - Kaunas) (7 : 5) was held in Kaunas. On board 1: Fricis Apsenieks - Macht +1 =1 -0. (15) Until 1931, Macht was the strongest player in Lithuania and did not have opponents that could endanger his supremacy. In June 1931, Vladas Mikenas moved from Estonia, were he was born, to Lithuania. Mikenas took part in the 3rd championship of Lithuania that started in 1931 and ended in 1932 (in Kaunas). It consisted of two parts: a double round robin tournament (25 October 1931 - November 29, 1931), and a match between its winner and the reigning champion. Macht won the tournament with 9.5/11, ahead of Mikenas (9/11) and Vistaneckis (6/11). The match Macht - Mikenas (+6 -4 =3) was held in Kaunas 14 February - 6 May 1932. (16) In 1932, Macht was head of the Lithuanian Chess Federation, and represented Lithuania in FIDE. (17) On 31 December 1932 and 1 January 1933, the third Latvia - Lithuania (Riga - Kaunas) New Year match was held in Riga. For the first time the match ended with a Kaunas victory (6.5 : 5.5). On board 1: Macht - Apšenieks +1 =0 -1. (18) From 27 November to 20 December 1932, the contenders tournament for the Lithuanian championship was held in Kaunas. The double round robin (8 participants, all from Kaunas) began in late fall, so the match for the championship title had to be postponed until the next year. The contenders tournament was won by Mikenas, collecting 12.5 points out of 14. From 10 March - 18 April 1933, Mikėnas played the match in Kaunas with Macht. Mikenas won the champion title (+6 =1 -3). (19) The 1934 Lithuanians championship contenders tournament was held in Kaunas from 3 January to 13 February. The winner was Paul Vaitonis with 6.5/10. Macht was 2nd with 6/10, and Vistaneckis with the same score was 3rd. (20) During his Baltic trip in March-April 1934, Rudolf Spielmann visited Kaunas, and on the 2nd and on 6th April, he played a mini match with Macht (+1 -0 -1). (21) The 4th match Lithuania - Latvia took place in Kaunas on 3-4 March 1934. This time Lithuania won with 10.5 : 7.5. On board 3: Macht - Movsa Feigin +0 =2 -0. (22)
After Poland occupied Vilnius in 1920, Lithuania was officially in a state of war with Poland. The sides had broken diplomatic relations. The 6th Olympiad was scheduled to be held in Warsaw, the capital of the Republic of Poland, on 16-31 August 1935. On 14 August at 4 pm, the Lithuanian team learned that it would have to leave Kaunas and go to Warsaw the same day at 7 pm. The team went by car to the demarcation line that separated Lituanian Kaunas from the Wilno (Vilnius) region. From there they had to march about 5 km on foot with suitcases in the hands toward Zaviai (today Lazdėnai) train station. The next morning the team continued by train to Wilno and then to Warsaw. It was a difficult adventure for 43 years old Macht, but beside playing chess he had another task to conclude in Warsaw - to collect information about emigration to Palestine. (23) On the Lithuanian team, Mikenas played on board 1, and Macht on board 2 (+2 =5 -7). (24)
In the summer of 1932, the eldest son Israel (Izia) drowned in the Nemunas river. Esther suffered from depression, and the family was in crisis. The youngest children, the twins Yaacov and Rivka, decided to leave for Palestine and help set up a kibbutz. In 1934, they joined the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. Aleksander exercised the invitation to participate in the second Makabiada, and went to Palestine in 1935, also to examine the living conditions in the promised land. On his visit to the offices of the Palestinian Eretz Israel Industrialists Association in Tel Aviv, he was offered to set up a new bank - the Industrial Bank, which would be a new public finances entity. Macht was impressed by what he saw during his visit, and was tempted by the offer proposed to him. After his return to Kaunas, he began to prepare for relocation, and started an intensive self-study of the Hebrew language. On 11 January 1936, he and his wife Esther and the youngest daughter Riva arrived in Palestine. Perhaps there was also another reason to move to Eretz Israel: that as a good chess player, he predicted what might happen in Europe and what the fate of the Jews in Lithuania would be. (1)
The Macht family settled in Tel Aviv, and he quickly became one of the city's most famous persons. He founded the Bank of Industry on Montefiori street, and directed it until 1963. He was also active in social and cultural activities, with participation in the development of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the National Opera, and the Habima theater. He was the organizer of chamber music evenings in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and an organizer for the Association of Lithuanian immigrants. After immigration to Palestine, he did not play in international chess tournaments, but he was an active member of the Israel Chess Federation. (25)
The 1st Palestine (Eretz Israel) championship was held from 30 September - 10 October 1936 in the Lasker chess club, Tel Aviv. Macht was one of the favorites, but finished only 7th with 4.5/10 (+2 = 5 -3). The title went to Moshe Czerniak (8.5/10). (26) In 1938, Macht was the winner of the Lasker chess club championship. (27) In April 1938, the Inter city championship of Eretz Israel (Palestine) was held in Tel Aviv. Four teams, each with eight players, participated. Tel Aviv and Haifa shared 1st place with 16 points. Jerusalem was 3rd with 13.5 points, and the Sharon settlements team, that included players from Hedera, Hertzlia, Nathania and Petah Tikva, was 4th with 2.5 points. Macht played on board 1 for Tel Aviv. (28) The 1938 Tel Aviv championship finished in the middle of June. Macht and Avraham Labounsky got 6.5/10 points, and shared 3rd place. The Tel Aviv champion was Victor Winz (8.5/10), and 2nd was Heinz Yosef Foerder (= Yosef Porat) (7.5/11 ). (29) In December 1939, Macht gave a simultaneous exhibition against 25 players in the famous Lasker chess club of Tel Aviv, and achieved a great result (+23 =1 -1). (30) In 1945, at the Eretz Israel (Palestine) championship, Macht was the chairman of the Judges committee. (31) In 1955, at the Israel chess championship, Macht was the Chief Arbiter. (32) In 1959, he became Prezident of Israel Chess Federation. At this time, he was still a director of the Industrial Bank. (33)
After becoming a pensioner in 1963 at the age of 71, Macht was a habitué of Café Ditza near the old Cameri Theatre (Tel Aviv). This was a favorite place for elderly artists to play chess and read newspapers in Russian and German. (25)
1) "Pažadėtoji žemė - Lietuva, Lietuvos žydai valstybės kūrime 1918-1940 m." ("The Promised Land - Lithuania, Lithuanian Jews in state building 1918-1940"), by V. Kavaliauskas. Vilnius 2013, pp. 74, 78.
2) "Šachmatų vadovėlis" ("Chess notebook"), by V. Mikėnas. Kaunas 1933, p. 200.
3) Article by the Lithuanian sports historian Algimantas Bertasius: "Žinios apie šachmatus Lietuvos periodikoje" ("Chess information from Lithuanian periodicals"), at http://www.butnoriuschess.lt/1921-2....
4) The Lithuanian newspaper "Lietuvos žinios", 3 December 1922, p. 3, 5 January 1923, p. 2, and 1 May 1923, p. 4.
5) "Lietuvos žinios" , 29 November 1924, p. 3.
6) The Latvian newspaper in Russian language "Сегодня", 7 October 1927, Nr. 226, p. 6, Wiener Schach-Zeitung, December 1927, Nr. 23/24, pp. 357-358, Wiener Schach-Zeitung, January 1931, Nr. 2, pp. 26-27, and the Lithuanian newspaper "Lietuvos Aidas", 11 March 1933, Nr. 57 (1729), p. 14.
7) "Сегодня" ("Today"), 7 June 1928, p. 6, and the Lithuanian newspapers "Lietuvis", 21 March 1927, p. 3, "Lietuvos žinios", 30 March 1927, p. 3 and "Lietuvos žinios", 2 June 1927, p. 3.
8) The Latvian newspaper "Jaunakas zinas", 30 December 1929, p. 10, and the Latvian newspaper "Latvis", 31 December 1929, p. 2.
9) "Wiener Schach-Zeitung", 1930/08, April, p. 124.
10) "Lietuvos Aidas", 8 July 1930, p. 6.
11) "Lietuvos Aidas", 24 July 1930, p. 5, and "Žydai Lietuvos šachmatų istorijoje" ("Jews in Lithuania chess history"), by Eugenijus Paleckis, Boris Rositsan. Vilnius 2015, p. 88.
12) "Chess Olympiads 1927-1968", by Arpad Vajda. Dover Publications, New York, p. 51, and http://www.olimpbase.org/1930/1930l...
13) "Lietuvos Aidas", 10 February 1931, p. 6, and the article "Kas atstovaus Lietuvą Prahos šachmatų turnyre" ("Who will represent Lithuania in the Prague Chess Olympiad") in the Lithuanian magazine "Mūsų Sportas", 2 March 1931, Nr. 2, p. 4.
14) The Estonian newspaper "Esmaspaew" ("Monday"), 8 June 1931, page 8 (article of Vladas Mikenas: "keeruline tulemus Balti meistriturniir" ("complicated result of the Baltic masters tournament")), and the Latvian newspaper "Jaunākās Ziņas", 27 May 1931, p. 6.
15) The Latvian magazine "Latvijas Šacha Vestnesis", 1932, Nr. 1, pp. 11-12, and "Lietuvos Aidas", 5 January 1932, p. 9.
16) Articles of Vladas Mikėnas: "Machtas turnyro nugalėtojas" in "Lietuvos Aidas", 1 December 1931, p. 7 and "Machtas lieka Lietuvos čempionu" in "Lietuvos Aidas", 7 May 1932, p. 9.
17) "Tidskrift för Schack", March 1932, Nr. 03, p. 39.
18) "Lietuvos Aidas", 7 January 1933, p. 10, and the Latvian newspaper „Latvijas kareivis", 5 January 1933, p. 3.
19) Article of Vladas Mikėnas: "Lietuvos šachmatų meisteris" ("Lithuanian chess championship") in "Lietuvos Aidas", 20 April 1933, p. 5, "35 metai prie šachmatų lentos" ("35 years at the chessboard"), by Mikenas. State political and scientific literature publishing house, Vilnius 1961, p. 50, and http://www.chess.lt/lithuania/lit/h...
20) Wikipedia article: 1934 m. Lietuvos šachmatų čempionatas
21) "Wiener Schach-Zeitung", May/June 1934, Nr. 10/11, pp. 163-165, and
"Wiener Schach-Zeitung", November 1934, Nr. 21, p. 330.
22) The Latvian magazine "Krusta-mikla.Šahs.Bridžs", 17 March 1934, pp. 170-171, and "Wiener Schach-Zeitung", March 1934/06, p. 92.
23) "35 metai prie šachmatų lentos" (35 years at the chessboard), by Mikenas. State political and scientific literature publishing house, Vilnius 1961, pp. 86-87, and letter sent by Paul Vaitonis published in the Lithuanian newspaper "Rytas", 22 August 1935, p. 2.
24) "Chess Olympiads 1927-1968", by Arpad Vajda. Dover Publications, New York, p. 73, and https://www.olimpbase.org/1935/1935...
25) Memories of Mira Asculay, granddaugther of A. Z. Macht.
26) The Israeli newspaper "דָּבָר" ("Davar" - Word), 10 October 1936, evening edition, p. 1, and "Wiener Schach-Zeitung", October 1936, Nr. 19-20, p. 314.
27) The article "50 years in chess" in the Israeli newspaper "דָּבָר" ("Davar" - Word), 18 June 1959, p. 8.
28) „The Palestine Post", 29 April 1938, p. 11.
29) "דָּבָר" ("Davar" - Word), 17 June 1938, p. 3.
30) "דָּבָר"("Davar" - Word), 31 December 1939, p. 4.
31) „The Palestine Post", 7 March 1945, p. 2.
32) "דָּבָר" ("Davar" - Word), 25 November 1955, p. 9.
33) "דָּבָר" ("Davar" - Word), 19 June 1959, p. 8.
We thank Mira Asculay, granddaughter of Aleksander Macht, for private communications concerning her grandfather.