German Grandmaster Hajo Hecht celebrates his 85th birthday

by André Schulz
1/29/2024 – Hans-Joachim Hecht, a Grandmaster since 1973, was a member of the successful German national team in the 1960s and 1970s, became German team champion eight times with his clubs SG Solingen and Bayern Munich and won the European Cup once. Today he celebrates his 85th birthday. Congratulations to him! | Photos: German Chess Federation, Münchener Schachakademie

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If you want to find out more about Hans-Joachim Hecht, read his book "Rochaden", published in 2015.

Hecht reads from his book at the Münchener Schachakademie

He was born on 29 January 1939 in Luckenwalde, south of Berlin. So today he celebrates his 85th birthday.

He may not have been aware of the war as a young child, but he was aware of its end in 1945, with air raids, burning railway stations in the distance and Russian soldiers marching through. After the machines in his father's carpentry workshop were dismantled and taken to the USSR, the family moved to Rangsdorf on the southern outskirts of Berlin.

Hans-Joachim Hecht learned to play chess at the age of ten after watching his parents play. The German Democratic Republic was founded in 1949. Because Hajo Hecht's parents could no longer tolerate the politically coloured education their son received in Rangsdorf, they enrolled him in a school in Lichtenrade, West Berlin. Little Hajo now had to go to Rangsdorf station every day and then travel 20 minutes by S-Bahn to Lichtenrade. At that time, many people who lived in the border zone of the GDR near Berlin still worked in the western part of Berlin.

They were called "Grenzgänger" (border crossers) and received 40 per cent of their wages in West Marks and 60 per cent in East Marks, as Hans-Joachim Hecht reports in his book "Rochaden" (Castling), so called not only because of the move in chess, but also because he castled between East and West. Of course, this shuffling between East and West was not appreciated, and the GDR authorities and border guards came up with a number of harassment schemes.

One day, Hajo Hecht's parents received an order to pay a fine because their son had not completed his compulsory schooling in the GDR. And border crossers were often simply not allowed to continue their journey. To get around this, Hajo lived with a host family in West Berlin during the week and with his parents at weekends. Today, almost 35 years after the collapse of the GDR and reunification, it is hard to imagine the difficult living conditions of those days. 

In August 1961, Hajo Hecht packed his bags and left East Germany for West Berlin. His parents followed in 1967.

Hajo Hecht had already started playing chess at school. He found a chess group in Lichtenrade which was led by an older classmate. In 1952, Hecht visited the Tempelhof chess club for the first time and in the following years began to play his first youth tournaments. As early as 1953 he was invited to play in a youth match. The West Berlin selection also included Klaus Darga, Wolfgang Bialas, Adolf Delander and Harald Lieb. There were matches against East Berlin and Hamburg. Hecht recalls in his book that he played against Claus Langmann from Hamburg, whom he would meet again almost 50 years later at a senior tournament in Dresden.

In 1956, 1957 and 1958, Hecht won the West Berlin Youth Championships and qualified for the West German Youth Championships. As a citizen of the GDR, he was not allowed to travel to West Germany, so he was temporarily given a West Berlin passport. At the 1956 Youth Championships in Traben-Trarbach he stunned his opponents with the Orang-Utan opening and good play, but narrowly missed out on the title. He was one of the favourites at the Berlin Championships in 1957, but lost to 13-year-old Helmut Pfleger right at the start. Hecht finished third. In 1958, however, he won the title at the youth championships in Hitzacker. Hajo Hecht also won the Dähne Cup in 1964 and the German Championships in 1970. 

In 1962, Hecht was called up for the first time for the Chess Olympiad, which took place in Varna, Bulgaria. Together with Wolfgang Unzicker, Lothar Schmid, Klaus Darga, Helmut Pfleger and Robert Hübner, he formed the backbone of the German national team at many international team tournaments until the 1980s. The German team often competed for medals. Hecht took part in ten Chess Olympiads between 1962 and 1986. At the 1985 World Team Championship, he achieved the best result on board five.

Hecht played for SG Solingen in the Bundesliga for a long time and won the German team championship with the team in 1974, 1975, 1980 and 1981. He achieved the same success with the FC Bayern Munich team in 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1990. He also won the European Club Cup with Solingen in 1976.

Hajo Hecht achieved his greatest successes in individual tournaments in Bad Pyrmont in 1970, in Olot in 1971, in Málaga in 1972 and at the International German Championships in Dortmund in 1973.

In 1973 Hans-Joachim Hecht was awarded the title of Grandmaster by FIDE. In 1976 he was awarded the Silver Laurel Leaf of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Hecht ended his professional career in the mid-1970s and took a job with the city of Solingen. However, he continued to play for his clubs in the German Team Championships, for the national team in international team tournaments and, when time allowed, in some individual tournaments.

Lecture at the German Chess Federation

After his retirement he was often seen in individual competitions, including senior tournaments. Hajo Hecht also played in every international senior team tournament until 2012. In 2004 he won the World Senior Team Championship on the Isle of Man, when Germany shared first place with Israel.

Senior Cup Tegernsee

After moving to Fürstenfeldbruck, Hajo Hecht continued to play for Bayern Munich for a while, but was poached by local club TuS Fürstenfeldbruck in 1993. He is also in charge of the young players there.

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