The French Chess Federation turns 100

by ChessBase
3/26/2021 – Last weekend, renowned chess personalities and historians held an online conference on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the French Chess Federation. Over two days, lectures shed light on the history of chess in France. Co-organisers Herbert Bastian and Frank Hoffmeister sent a report.

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Celebrating the centenary of the FFE

By Herbert Bastian and Frank Hoffmeister

The great tradition of chess in France is still present in the collective consciousness of the chess community! This explains why almost 200 people worldwide registered for the first chess history online conference, and why consistently at least 80 people — male and female — followed each of the lectures online. There were participants from numerous countries, such as South Africa, Argentina, USA, Canada, Iceland, Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic plus almost all of Western Europe.

Originally, a meeting was planned to take place in Paris to bring together the leading chess historians.

Such anniversary meeting was prevented by the Covid-19 crisis, but there was a positive side to the cancellation. Since the conference was held online, many more chess friends were able to participate completely free of charge! Moreover, the spectators did not just watch the lectures — they exchanged ideas and generated enthusiasm via the chat function, and they did so for more than eight hours! It was a laudable anniversary celebration.

French Chess Federation

The speakers

The presidents of FIDE (Arkady Dvorkovich), the European Chess Union (Zurab Azmaiparachvili) and the two federations involved in the organization (Yves Marek and Ulrich Krause) opened the conference with beautiful speeches. In ten lectures (five in French, four in English, one in Spanish), the speakers went over almost 500 years of French chess history and its relevance in Europe. Starting with the first manuscripts from the 15th century (Göttingen, Paris, MS Allemand) and the 18th century (Chapais), they moved on to the great Philidor and his reception in England and Russia. New insights into the legendary Deschapelles as well as the foreign chess professionals in the Café de la Régence of the 19th century (Kieseritzky, Harrwitz, Rosenthal, Taubenhaus) followed.

Le Café de la Régence

Le Café de la Régence

In addition, French chess historians traced with precision the developments that led to the creation of the Federation on 19 March 1921, and how the young federation functioned in its first 25 years. The final part was a penetrating study on former world champion Alexander Alekhine, who, as is well known, took French nationality and played on first board for France in several Olympiads.

Playing chess in the salon — Alexander Alekhine looks on

A more detailed summary can be read on Jean-Olivier Leconte’s blog, where a video recording of the conference is also publicly available:

Where do we go from here? We are pleased that not only the leaders of the federations supported the conference, but also other top-class personalities took part. For example, the presidents of Chess Collectors International (Michael Wiltshire, former president Dr. Thomas Thomsen) as well as the Presidents of national federations within this organization (e.g. Patrice Plain for France) and the president of the Chess History & Literature Society (Bob van de Velde). Moreover, the German Chess Federation and the Lasker Society supported the event. The participation of such luminaries as Tim Harding, Richard Forster, Fabrizio Zavatarelli, Elke Rehder, André Schulz, Harry Schaack and Alexander Kostyev was also remarkable, but there were certainly even more “grandmasters of chess culture” involved.

At the end of the conference, Prof. Dr. Robert von Weizsäcker, correspondence chess grandmaster and honorary president of the German Chess Federation, evoked the importance of maintaining the cultural tradition of chess. One can only agree with this sentiment — chess offers more than the hunt for ratings and high scores. And this has been the case for centuries, not just since the transition to a sport, which has never been addressed — if you look at old chess magazines from the fifties, you will see that labelling chess as a sport was by no means uncontroversial. The approaching anniversary of the German Chess Federation offers an opportunity to take a critical look at this, as the Federation will be 150 years old in the not too distant future.

Let’s use the fine example of our neighbouring federation and cultivate a lively scientific exchange with the network of European chess historians, as it happened on March 20!

Facing the World Champions

During his career, Vlastimil Hort, who himself belongs to the same generation as Bobby Fischer, met no less than eight world champions over the board. In the early 60s he crossed swords with Mihail Tal, and at the end of the eighties he was sitting over the board from Garry Kasparov. Between the two there were meetings with chess legends Botvinnik, Petrosian, Smyslov, Spassky, Fischer and Karpov.


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