An interview with Andrzej Filipowicz, a Polish chess polymath

by Uvencio Blanco
5/13/2023 – Andrzej Filipowicz is one of the most interesting chess personalities in the world. He has been a chess player, arbiter, organizer, editor and writer, as well as a civil engineer specializing in steel structures. Endowed with a strong personality, clear intelligence, well-defined convictions and a curious sense of humour, he is turning 85 today, on 13 May 2023. Uvencio Blanco conducted a lengthy interview with the Polish chess polymath.

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A true chess enthusiast

Andrzej Filipowicz is one of the most interesting chess personalities of the last six decades. He has been a chess player, arbiter, organizer, editor and writer, as well as a civil engineer specializing in steel structures, an area in which he has taught for more than 25 years.

I had the opportunity and honour to meet him some 30 years ago, and have always seen how active he is in his role as a leader and organizer at the highest level, always committed to Polish chess and its tradition.

Endowed with a strong personality, clear intelligence, well-defined convictions and a curious sense of humour, he is a good friend and someone to be trusted. Today, 13 May, is a special day in Andrzej’s life, because he is turning 85 years old. A perfect day to enjoy French songs performed by Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour and old-style Polish songs. And, why not, to accompany the music with French champagne, which he likes so much. To him, our congratulations and those of our ChessBase readers. Cheers, maestro!

Uvencio Blanco Hernández: Dear Mr. Filipowicz, you have stated that your hobbies include Polish history and the history of Polish chess, so let’s start by talking about these subjects. Isaac Asimov once said, “It is not only the living who are killed in war”. You were born in Warsaw and as a child you experienced the invasion of Hitler’s troops. What do you remember about that time?

Andrzej Filipowicz: I was born in Warsaw (1938). The next year, the war started with the German occupation (1939-1945), the worst period in my life. The Germans killed over six million Polish citizens and destroyed many Polish towns and villages. The Polish nation was trying to fight and the Warsaw Uprising broke out (August 1 - October 3, 1944).

I was over six years old then. After 63 days of fighting, when the uprising collapsed, more than two hundred thousand people were killed, sometimes even forty thousand daily in one part of Warsaw. Difficult to believe! During this period of time, a bomb destroyed the house I lived, but fortunately I, together with my grandmother and younger brother, stayed underground in another building.

All habitants of the Polish Capital were forced to leave Warsaw on 2-3 October 1944 and fortunately, together with my grandmother, we were lucky to be transported with the help of relatives to the small village about 100 km from Warsaw, close to Piotrków-Trybunalski. We lived not far from the city when we saw the end of the war in a nearby village. When the Germans came, we had to hide in the forest. We were coming back, they were coming back too, so we had to come back to the forest, but I don’t remember much from this period. Only about one hundred Polish people (we called them “Robinsons”) stayed in Warsaw (October 1944-January 1995) in cellars and attics. They saw how Germans started to rob all the houses (taking everything) in Warsaw and later saw how a special German squad destroyed house after house.

Andrzej FilipowiczBeing in an environment where freedom and life were hijacked by the invading army, how did your parents, Zygmunt and Aniela, ensure that the Filipowiczs survived?

On the day the uprising broke out, my parents were in another district of the city and could not contact me and my brother. In October 1944, they were taken to the Camp, but fortunately three months later they found us in the village (in January 1945) when Soviet soldiers came to empty Warsaw. That is when the Russian Occupation started and lasted until 1989 (the worst period was from 1945 until 1953, when Stalin passed away).

My parents returned to the completely destroyed Warsaw (more, let’s say, than today’s Aleppo in Syria) in February 1945 to find they had no place to live. When they finally managed to find a place in May 1945, they returned to the village to take me, my brother and our grandmother to Warsaw! In September, I went back to school. That’s how it started...

For centuries, Poland has been a nation beset by wars; they accelerate historical processes. We have the perception that the Polish people are very united and supportive of others — for example, durent the current support for Ukraine. What do you think about this?

Poland is a big country and has very clever people. Together with Lithuania, we had a great territory from the Baltic sea to the Black sea in the 16th to 18th Centuries.

Unfortunately, for many past centuries, our country has been attacked by Germany and Russia (Soviet Union). So, we know quite well what the war means, how important it is to have a very strong army, and we support Ukraine, of course.

In chess, Poland has become a world power — its results at the Olympiads and major tournaments bear this out. In your opinion, who have been your best representatives at the chessboard?

Before the Second World War, Poland was one of three chess powers: USA, Hungary and Poland. We won the Olympic gold medal in Hamburg 1930, silver medals in Prague 1931 and Buenos Aires 1939, and three bronze medals. I was proud to play and made two draws with the member of our gold-winning team, Kazimierz Makarczyk.

Later on, when I was the vice-President of the Polish Chess Federation, I had the honour to give in Buenos Aires (1978) a medal commemorating 50 years of successes to Paulin Frydman, also a member of the gold-winning team.

However, the best Polish player in history was Akiba Rubinstein. Most of the Polish top chess players were killed by Germans during the war or were forced to live out of the country. So, in 1945, we started chess from the beginning.

What memories do you have of your early chess-playing years?

At the beginning of my childhood I had the opportunity to play in team competitions, visit many Polish towns, meet all Polish top chess players (then Bogan Sliwa and Kazimierz Plater were the strongest ones) and see their level of play as I tried to improve.

During my time as a student, I played on the first or second board of Poland in the World Team Student Championship and I met and played against many world top players, including Boris Spassky (later my good friend), Fridrik Olafsson, Ghitescu, Gheorghiu, Radulov, Cirić, Zinn, Hort, Tringov, Malich, Bilek, Zuckerman, Lombardy, Tabbane etc. I had the possibility to see many different countries and understand many languages to speak with all their chess representatives.

At 21 years of age, I took part in the first final of the Polish Chess Championship. Later on, I took a part in 18 finals of the Polish Championships.

As a player, you were part of the Olympic team on several occasions. Tell us about these experiences.

I had the great pleasure of following 26 Olympiads (in the years 1960-2018). I played for the Polish team 6 times (1960-1972), 10 times I was the captain of the Polish team, once the manager and many times visitor or guest. I met, spoke and analyse games with 13 out of 17 World Champions, from Botvinnik to Ding Liren. It was very interesting!

The most important match I took part in was the match Poland – Soviet Union (2-2), in the final of the Tel-Aviv Olympiad in 1964. We signed four draws after very long fights: Botvinnik - Sliwa, Bednarski – Petrosjan, Keres – Filipowicz and Balcerowski – Spassky.

Who are the most important figures in the chess world with whom you shared the chessboard?

I had the pleasure of playing against three world champions: Spassky (I lost), Smyslov (I lost) and Tal (draw). I won games against Hort, Kavalek, Uhlmann, Tolush and all the top Polish players, and I made draws against Keres, Matanović, Gheorghiu, Olafsson, Torre, Flohr, etc.

Being in an environment of high chess culture, how did you manage to share your passion for the game with your employers?

I was always very busy. At the Warsaw University of Technology (Politechnika Warszawska), working in the Department of Steel Structures, I tried to perform all the activities required by the University professors — i.e. lectures, participation in the faculty council, meetings with the rector of the University of Technology — and in return I was given the opportunity to play in tournaments.

Why did you later decide to arbitrate and organize tournaments?

When I was elected as vice-President of the Polish Chess Federation (my duty was all sport matters of the Polish chess players), I had the opportunity to meet many top players during Olympiads and FIDE Congresses, so it was easy for me to invite good players to Poland and arrange strong tournaments in Polanica Zdroj (A. Rubinstein’s Memorial) with participation of Korchnoi, Topalov, Hort, Czerniak, Flohr, Mascarinas, De Firmian, Uhlmann, Ribli, Sax, Gulko, Velimirovic, Sosonko, Torre, Huebner, Gelfand, Smejkal, Vasiukov, Karpov, etc.

I was the organizer and the chief arbiter at the same time. I got to know chess very well, including tournament rules, during my years as player and captain, so I had no problem becoming an International Arbiter. I ran 17 Arbiter’s Seminars in five Asian countries and in six European countries

Andrzej Filipowicz

You have also had the opportunity to work with some of the most important FIDE arbiters and tournament organizers. Can you name some of the most relevant in their fields?

The most famous FIDE arbiters I worked with were Geurt Gijssen, Ashot Vardapetyan, Panagiotis Nikolopoulos. As for the organizers, I respect very much Alexander Bakh from Russia, Juergen Grastat and Stefan Koth from Germany, and Patrick Gonneau from France.

As a delegate of the Polish Chess Federation, you participated in numerous Congresses and Olympiads. Can you identify some of the most difficult decisions taken by these assemblies?

I had the pleasure of participating in 37 FIDE Congresses (1977-2018). During my first FIDE Congress (Lucerne 1977) I was surprised that delegates said not one word regarding chess. They discussed the political problem of South Africa and the participation of a few European players in their tournaments. During the FIDE Congress in Curitiba (Brasil) in 1993, I was against the decision of cancelling the ratings of Kasparov and Short after they played the World Championship match outside of FIDE. But it was not a reason to cancel their ratings. I told all the delegates that it was an illegal decision.

FIDE has recognized you as an Honourable Dignitary and Honorary President of the Technical Commission, as well as a member of the FIDE Board of Directors, President of the Qualification Commission and current Member of the Historical Committee. What has it meant to you to have the opportunity to work with these expert groups?

Currently, I am a member of the FIDE Historical Committee. I was nominated for the Honorary Member of FIDE in Torino 2008. It was a great day for me because I was the third Polish representative after the very famous Dawid Przepiórka, member of the Polish gold-winning team and a very active delegate in FIDE (1927-1935), and the famous GM Mieczyslaw (Miguel) Najdorf (Poland, later Argentina).

For me, it was always a great honour and pleasure to work and cooperate with delegates of all continents and know the problems in their countries. I discussed many times with delegates from Africa, Asia, America, Australia and, of course, Europe. I have enjoyed solving the problems of the Qualification and Technical Commission and proposing new solutions.

Among the many high-level tournaments you have refereed over the last 40 years, what do you consider to have been the most satisfying achievements as an arbiter or organizer?

The most interesting from the arbiter position were the matches Kasparow – Kramnik in London 2000 and Carlsen – Anand in Sochi 2014, as well as many Rapid and Blitz World Championships and also Senior and Junior Championships in different countries. I had the great pleasure of being the Chief Arbiter in the Africa Championship in Cairo 2001.

From the point of a view of an organizer, I have been proud to work with the Polish team in the World Junior Championship (1996) and later in the World Senior Championship (2000). I also worked in the FIDE Executive Council and the FIDE Congress which took place in Poland, in Kraków 2011.

What is the current status of chess in Poland? Is it seen as a sport and does it have official recognition and support?

At the moment, chess in Poland is respected as one of the sports supported by our government. I wish to mention Minister Lukasz Schreiber (former u-10 Polish champion and a top Polish junior player many years ago) and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

From your knowledge and experience, which FIDE presidents have done the best job for chess?

I had the pleasure of meeting and cooperating with all FIDE Presidents except Aleksander Rueb. I think Florencio Campomanes did a lot for chess, especially in the period 1982-1995 but also later on.

Your university education led you to a degree in Civil Engineering, with a specialization in steel structures. Tell us about your work experience in this field.

I have worked for over 25 years at the Warsaw University of Technology (Politechnika Warszawska) and I wrote a few books and many articles regarding steel structures, but I chose chess.

Most experts consider that there are four megatrends: ICTs, biotechnology, nanotechnology and cognitive sciences. In your opinion, and being a person close to academia and technological practice, what links could we establish with some of them?

I do not think I am an expert in the mentioned matters, so I would better not to comment it.

What is your opinion on the impact that Artificial Intelligence has had on chess in recent decades, and what do you see for the future?

The development of computers has changed the chess world, but I doubt that is good for chess. The tradition of fifteen centuries is being destroyed. People are trying to find solutions using computers and Artificial Intelligence instead of developing their own minds.

My life currently is not as active as it was a few years ago. However, I have continued to arbitrate chess with two small annual tournaments for three years. From 1986 until today, I am also editor-in-chief of the Polish chess magazine Szachy, which later became Szachista and finally became the current Magazyn Szachista.

Andrzej Filipowicz

Who is the most intelligent chess character you have dealt with in your prolific life? Any particular anecdotes?

I have met many interesting people in all these chess years, and it is very difficult to say, but I remember very well many discussions I had with Boris Spassky regarding the history of our two countries and, of course, also many chess problems.

As for the anecdotes, I really like the philosophy of the following anecdote: In a Polish city before the War, a master plays for stakes with a very weak player without the queen, but rarely wins. So seeing the tiredness of the rival, who only looks at his pieces, the master decides to keep the queen on the board. After a few moves, the opponent suddenly says, ‘Master, you didn’t remove the queen’. The master replied, ’I removed it’. ‘That’s where you got it from?’. ‘I promoted the pawn’. ‘But you have eight pawns. So please remove one!’.

Another one has to do with an arbiter’s experience. The arbiter was invited to referee a women’s tournament in the late 1940s. Around that time, they used rules from amateur chess. The level of the games was also not the highest. The arbiter suddenly saw that on one of the boards the king was under check by two knights.... As an experienced arbiter, he immediately left the room and went to the buffet. He calmly drank his coffee and returned to the hall. He saw that the mentioned game had finished and the lady attacking the opposite king with two knights had won the duel. He went to this board, explained that ‘someone’ told him that on this board Black’s king was checked by two knights. He began to ask both players why such a situation arose. The lady playing white explained: ‘Dear Mr. Arbiter, when I checked with one knight, my opponent sarcastically smiled and played the bishop, placing it quite decisively. The retort to such a dictum was to check the king with the second knight, but again there was no reaction, so I decided to capture the pawns on the queenside and ... I won’.

You have mentioned that you are uncomfortable cooperating with people who are not dedicated to their work or to sporting results. If you had to choose a partner for a chess events company, who would you prefer: Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Donald Trump? Why?

The question is too difficult for me!

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Since childhood, I have always liked books about great personalities, starting with Alexander Dumas, Karl May and the Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz; The Three Musketeers, Winnetou, Old Shatterhand, Wołodyjowski, Kmicic, etc.; and other books about famous people, including scientists and chess players. This has never changed, so recently I have been reading The Orangutan’s Gambit, which includes stories about Polish chess players, some of which I have never met.

I like to watch broadcasting of many different sports, especially tennis, football. Of course, I am a fan of Polish teams and Polish representatives.

We are in a world where uncertainty, limits to freedom and climate change have taken over. In these conditions, what message would you give to the new generations of chess players?

Unfortunately, I do not see the proper solution to the mentioned problems. I am convinced that chess players cannot change the basic rules and have to keep the tradition of our favourite game and play over-the-board games to see their opponents instead of the screen of the computer. Tradition is the future of chess!

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Born in Venezuela, Uvencio Blanco Hernández is a FIDE International Arbiter and Organizer. He is part of the Chess in Education Commission of the International Chess Federation.