Free falling with Wolfgang Uhlmann

by Vlastimil Hort
9/1/2020 – Vlastimil Hort and Wolfgang Uhlmann played together in many tournaments and shared numerous experiences. In memory of the world-class grandmaster who sadly passed away last week, Vlastimil Hort recalls a memorable episode of their lives.

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A deep drop

In 1978, I was already over thirty, and an international chess tournament lured me to Nikšić - a beautifully located town in Montenegro. I was especially looking forward to seeing old, illustrious chess colleagues again.

The arrival was well organized. At the airport in Tivat, a delegation was waiting for us, and we climbed into the cars, which were exclusive for socialist times. It was a long Mercedes convoy, which set off in the direction of Nikšić. Uhlmann and I were sitting alone in the back of the last car, with a Serbo-Croatian chauffeur at the wheel. 

Wolfgang UhlmannThe road to our destination led us high up into a mountainous and winding landscape. It was still an adventure at that time, because the roads were neither developed nor secured.

Once unlucky — always unlucky? The convoy was already out of sight when a truck on the opposite side made a risky overtaking manoeuvre. Oh dear, oh dear, both Uhlmann and I trembled with fear in the back seats. Then everything happened in a matter of seconds. The chauffeur reacted courageously and, in order to escape the collision, tore the wheel around in a flash. But the road was too narrow, the precipice too close. We did some somersaults and landed deep down in the canyon — on the roof of the car.

Totally fogged I asked Wolfgang in Serbo-Croatian: “Kako si, Wolfgang?”

Obviously nothing had happened to me. All limbs were still in good condition after a short test. Next to me an all-clear response, because Wolfgang had understood what it was all about even without understanding the language. Finally, the chauffeur also gave me a sign of life: “We are lucky guys!” We all agreed that the fall could have easily ended differently. In silence, everyone sent their thanks to heaven or somewhere else. Now we only had to climb out of the car.

The chauffeurs of the last two cars probably noticed at some point that our car was missing. They turned around and welcomed us with a loud and happy hello at the top of the street. Afterwards, our Mercedes, which had survived the free fall just as unscathed as we had, with only a few small scratches, was pulled out of the canyon. What a wonder, it was even still roadworthy. So we drove to the next village, where our chess colleagues from the other cars were eagerly awaiting us in a small bistro. They were also very happy to see us alive again. Time to toast with coffee and slivovitz to the happily survived adventure. Afterwards we felt newborn.

Click to enlarge

Was it a coincidence, providence or luck that Wolfgang and I almost ended up next to each other in the final standings table at this tournament with a strong international line-up? It was a hard-fought tournament, with players no mercy. I drew my game with Wolfgang — but what did it matter if we were still alive!

For many years Wolfgang and I could still laugh heartily about the free fall, in which Caissa, the chess goddess, protected us. But no protection lasts forever and the ravages of time gnaw at us all.

We had numerous shared experiences and a good time. Dear Wolfgang, I thank you for that!

[Photo: Dutch National Archive] 


Vlastimil Hort was born January 12, 1944, in Kladno, Czechoslovakia. In the 1970s he was one of the world's best players and a World Championship candidate. In 1979 he moved to West Germany where he still lives. Hort is an excellent blindfold player, a prolific author and a popular chess commentator.
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Tchitcherine Tchitcherine 9/3/2020 01:28
So sad to learn of the passing of GM Uhlmann. Clearly, his contribution to the game, and to theory, perhaps especially French Defence opening theory, was very significant.

He'll be missed.

Many thanks to GM Hort for this article, which is excellent, and typical, therefore.
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 9/2/2020 05:18
tragi-comic and moving....
SoDesuKa SoDesuKa 9/2/2020 06:05
Classic Hort, and classic Chess News. What I have been coming here all these years now to read and look at and enjoy. "Not all things, only things done well and good." Well and good, Vlastimil. Well and good, Chess Base News. We have a mountainous highway (CA2) here above Los Angeles, the "Angeles Crest", where the outcome of such all too frequent accidents is rarely so fortunate. And such a classic opening to a piece of writing! Especially when it is about a dear friend just departed. I can think of no better way to honor the loss than by a story such as this, drawn out of life and shared experiences. Experiences of the most lasting and penetrating variety, where one's survival hangs in the balance. How better to remember or be remembered than that?
anandymous anandymous 9/1/2020 11:59
Another excellent quick, humorous story. Always a pleasure to read about the older days.
soimulPatriei soimulPatriei 9/1/2020 08:09
Well written article. Indeed, the time gnaw at us all. RIP Wolfgang Uhlmann!