Chess brings people together, for a lifetime

by André Schulz
1/26/2024 – From the 1960s to the 1980s, Klaus Darga and Hajo Hecht, together with Wolfgang Unzicker, Lothar Schmid, Robert Hübner and Helmut Pfleger, formed the backbone of the German national team. Hajo Hecht and Klaus Darga will soon be celebrating their 85th and 90th birthdays, respectively. Helmut Pfleger recalled their long-standing friendship in his latest column for "Die Zeit", one of the most influential and renowned weekly magazines in Germany. | Photo: Karin Darga

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In his latest Zeit column, Helmut Pfleger honours the achievements of his friends Klaus Darga and Hajo Hecht. For decades, Helmut Pfleger played in a number of tournaments with Klaus Darga and Hajo Hecht for the national team, which also included the now deceased Wolfgang Unzicker and Lothar Schmid as well as Robert Hübner. All six grandmasters had professions outside of chess. Unzicker was a judge, Lothar Schmidt a Karl May publisher, Helmut Pfleger a doctor, Hajo Hecht and Klaus Darga computer experts and Robert Hübner worked as a classical philologist at university.

Although they were actually amateurs, the German grandmasters were nevertheless among the world’s best, often competing for medals in team tournaments and even collecting a few tournament victories. 

Wolfgang Unzicker and Lothar Schmid took part in the first post-war Olympiad in 1950 and won bronze with the team. Unzicker was honoured with the individual gold medal on the top board. Klaus Darga played his first Chess Olympiad in Amsterdam 1954. Hajo Hecht joined him in Varna 1962, Helmut Pfleger in Tel Aviv 1964, where he immediately won individual gold on board 4, while Wolfgang Unzicker grabbed bronze on board 1. The team won the bronze medal. Robert Hübner played his first Chess Olympiad in Lugano 1968.

Wolfgang Unzicker played in twelve Chess Olympiads between 1950 and 1982; Lothar Schmid in eleven between 1950 and 1974; Robert Hübner achieved the same number of participations as Schimd between 1968 and 2000; Klaus Darga took part in ten events between 1954 and 1978; Hajo Hecht also took part in ten Chess Olympiads between 1962 and 1986; and Helmut Pfleger played in seven Chess Olympiads between 1964 and 1982.

The German representatives also played successfully in European Team Championships and in the popular national tournaments of the Claire Benedict Cup.

Hajo Hecht and Klaus Darga, originally from Berlin but now residing in southern Germany, will soon be celebrating their birthdays. Hajo Hecht, who incidentally ran the endgame column in ChessBase magazine for several years in the early days of the company, will be 85 on 29 January. And Klaus Darga, who was still active as national coach for the German Chess Federation after the end of his playing career, will celebrate his 90th birthday on 24 February.

Helmut Pfleger, Hajo Hecht and Klaus Darga still see each other regularly and not only talk about old times, but also play blitz. This photo was taken at one such meeting. Helmut Pfleger shared more anecdotes in his column for Zeit.

Helmut Pfleger presented the following position and asked: “What combinatorial move did Hajo, with white, play to beat the Romanian Theodor Ghițescu at the 1971 IBM Master Tournament in Amsterdam?”

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.