Grandmaster Ludek Pachman dies at 78

3/12/2003 – He was an icon of the times, a great chess player and a political activist, who after the Soviet invasion of his native Czechoslovakia was tortured almost to death in a Prague cellar. After this harrowing experience Ludek Pachman moved to Germany and started a successful career as a chess columnist and author. He was also one of the first GMs to play a game against a computer. Read all about it in our farewell to Ludek Pachman.

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Ludek Pachman, 1924 – 2003

By Frederic Friedel

Ludek Pachman in 1996

The Czech grandmaster Ludek Pachman died on March 6, 2003, in the city of Passau, Germany. He was 78 years old.

Pachman was born on May 11, 1924, in Czechoslovakia. Beween 1945 and 1968 he played very successfully in many international chess tournaments, including Interzonals. In fact in the Sicilian Vespers story we told for Bobby Fischer's 60th birthday Ludek Pachman was one of the players Fischer had to stay ahead of in the final round of the 1958 Portoroz Interzonal to qualify for the Candidates' Tournament.

In an article in the German language chess magazine Karl Pachman describes his first encounter with Fischer: "I met him for the first time in May 1959 in Santiago de Chile [apparently Pachman had not "met" Fischer properly the year before in Portoroz]. On the day before the tournament he asked me to translate for him. He had arrived in Chile accompanied by his mother, and the organiser wanted to know if the two needed separate rooms. Bobby replied: 'You haven't understood, I want you to put up my mother in a room that is at least ten miles away!' Then he wanted to know about the prize money. The organiser asked if he hadn't read the letter of invitation? "I never read letters," said Bobby. The prize money that was named was too low and he threatened to leave. I told him his behavious was not correct, but he simply said ‘I have to get more.’

Ludek Pachman in 1960

We stayed in the same hotel and talked every day, often preparing together for our games. That was unusual, since Bobby refused to analyse with the other players. He was suspicious of them all, fearing they would steal his ideas. But for some reason he considered me an exception. We had a kind of father-son relationship. I understood him and wished him a great future, hoping that he would mature as a human being in the process. But he remained exactly the same. He was completely apolitical. He hated the Russians, but not for political reasons. The last time I met him was at the chess Olympiad 1968 in Lugano. This was just a few weeks after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslavia. I was trying to get FIDE to expel the Soviet Union from the tournament and from the world chess organisation. After a press conference Fischer came to me and thanked me for attacking the Soviets. 'Keep it up, attack the Russians,' he said." Here's the game from the Santiago tournament between the two:

Pachman,L - Fischer,R [D07]
Santiago de Chile (6), 1959

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.d4 d5 4.e3 Nc6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 0-0 7.a3 Bxc3 8.Bxc3 Ne4 9.Qc2 a5 10.b3 b6 11.Bb2 Ba6 12.Bd3 f5 13.Rc1 Rc8 14.0-0 Rf6 15.Rfd1 Rh6 16.Bf1 g5 17.cxd5 g4 18.Bxa6 gxf3 19.gxf3 Qg5+ 20.Kf1 Rxh2 21.fxe4 Rf8 22.e5 f4 23.e4 f3 24.Ke1.

Instead of protecting his knight (24...exd5 25.exd5 Ne7) with good winning chances the impestuous Fischer went after his opponent's king. This was a mistake that Pachman severly punished. 24...Qg1+? 25.Kd2 Qxf2+ 26.Kc3 Qg3 27.Qd3 exd5 28.Rg1 Rg2 29.Rxg2 Qxg2 30.Qf1 dxe4 31.Qxg2+ fxg2 32.Rg1 Rf2 33.Bc4+ Kf8 34.Bd5 Rf3+ 35.Kc4 b5+ 36.Kc5 Ne7 37.Rxg2 Nxd5 38.Kxd5 Rxb3 39.Kxe4 b4 40.axb4 axb4 1-0.

In the year of the invasion of his country Pachman was arrested in Prague, in the middle of the night, and was taken to a torture cellar where he was almost killed. On Christmas Eve 1969 the doctors called his wife to inform her that he would probably not survive the night. He did, and in the early Seventies he emmigrated to West Germany, where he soon became know as an political activist, with strong anti-communist views. His eloquence brought him regular appearances on political talk shows.

Read more details in The Prague Spring, an article that tells the tale about two Czech champions – Ludek Pachman and Lubosh Kavalek. It talks about Pachman's book "Checkmate in Prague: memoirs of Ludek Pachman" (which Amazon is offering for $108.27).

In the first paragraph of Checkmate in Prague Pachman writes: "At an international tournament a journalist once asked me how I came to play chess. I told him that my aunt had taught me, but that hers was a somewhat different game – she put bishops in the place of knights and vice versa. The Estonian grandmaster Paul Keres, who heard the conversation, remarked with his typical dry humour: 'Of course, one needs to bear that in mind when reading your books on chess.'"

During the 1943 Prague tournament, Pachman's first serious event at the age of 18. In Checkmate in Prague he writes:

"After [my win over Foltys], the great Alekhine invited me to his room. He got me to demonstrate my game, made a few comments, praised me, and then showed me his game, explaining several hidden combinations and also accepting praise. Mrs. Alekhine was there with her two cats. I had to hold one for a bit and the wretch scratched me, but it was a marvellous evening, something in the nature of a high-point in my life so far.

Alekhine took to inviting me in every day. We always analysed something and I soon discovered that it was no good disagreeing with him because it made him angry. So I just listened reverently to what he said. He invited me for coffee, too. In the Luxor cafe, it seemed, one could get real coffee under the counter – an expensive luxury for which I had to foot the bill. Alekhine, I discovered, made a point of not paying. Usually there was someone with him, otherwise he simply walked out of the restaurant. The waiters knew him, so they sent the bill to the tournament director. I learnt also from a very annoyed Mr. Kende that by threatening to walk out of the tournament, Alekhine had extracted a 5,000 crown addition to his original 40,000 crown fee. Luckily I was saved by an unexpected patron. He was Mr. Stork, a trader and landowner, who presented me with an enormous salami in recognition of my achievement, plus an invitation to lunch every day at his house. The meals were better than any I have eaten even in peacetime, and by doing without supper I was able to pay for Alekhine's coffee."

Pachman and the computer

I first met Ludek Pachman in 1979. As a rookie science journalist I was making a documentary film on computer chess. It was centered around a match between IM David Levy and the program Chess 4.7 running on a CDC Cyber 176 mainframe computer. As part of the event we staged a simultaneous exhibition for local players against the computer, which was located in Minneapolis, USA. We also invited Ludek Pachman to talk to the audience and play an informal game against Chess 4.7.


In the above historical picture, taken on February 4, 1979, we see Prof. Frieder Schwenkel of the University Hamburg explaining the computer to GM Pachman.


The blitz game, with the author of this article executing the computer moves.


Pachman wins the game against Chess 4.7. The computer operator is the famous Dave Cahlander of Control Data.

After the computer chess film had been aired, and another produced and broadcast, the subject became a favourite topic on German TV talkshows. These were the years when the first commercial chess computers appeared. I was on a number of shows together with Pachman, who was very professional about it. After the first one had been a fairly boring discussion on how computers play chess he said to me: "Listen, we need to be more adversarial." And from then on he always made it a point of interrupting me in the middle of a sentence, putting his hand on my arm and saying "But dear Mr Friedel, that is patently wrong...". We had some nasty arguments – and the audience loved it.

It wasn't difficult to pick a fight with Ludek. In computer chess he would, if a demo board was available, show a series of beautiful positions which a computer could "never understand or solve". They were always positions in which you had to find an "exception", something extremely creative or imaginative. One of his favourites was a chess problem with multiple underpromotions to bishops. I would become (genuinely) agitated and protest that these were exactly the kind of thing computers excel at; it was long-range planning and strategic play in which they were hopelessly inferior to grandmasters. But even when I showed him that some of the board computers had learnt underpromotion and were solving his positions, he stuck to his arguments. They were much too good to be abandoned just because they were no longer completely accurate. As I said: the audience loved it.

The last time I saw Ludek was on May 11th last year (the thumbnail picture on our front page was taken there). He was an honoured guest at the 125th Jubilee celebration of the German Chess Federation. He was frail but cheerful. We discussed doing a video interview, but there were too many other things going on. Now it will never get done. How sad.

Links

Dossier


Active years of Ludek Pachman (total number of games in the database: 1629)


Career highlights

Zlin 1943  
9.5/13
+6
Rank 3
Prague 1945  
6.5/10
+3
Rank 3
Arbon 1946  
5/7
+3
Rank 3
Hilversum zt 1947  
9.5/13
+6
Rank 2
Warsaw 1947  
6/9
+3
Rank 3
Southsea 1949  
8.5/10
+7
Trencianske Teplice 1949  
13.5/19
+8
Rank 3
Venice 1950  
9.5/15
+4
Rank 4
Marianske Lazne zt 1951  
13/16
+10
Rank 1
CSR-ch Prague 1953  
10.5/15
+6
Rank 2
CSR-ch Prague 1954  
12.5/17
+8
Rank 2
CSR-ch m Prague 1954  
3.5/6
+1
Rank 1
Prague zt 1954  
15/19
+11
Rank 1
Hastings 5455 1954  
5.5/9
+2
Rank 4
Mar del Plata 1955  
9.5/15
+4
Rank 4
Dresden 1956  
9/15
+3
Rank 4
Marianske Lazne/Praha 1956  
12/19
+5
Rank 4
Prague m 1956  
2.5/6
-1
Rank 2
Dublin zt 1957  
14.5/17
+12
Rank 1
Gotha 1957  
10.5/15
+6
Rank 2
CSR-ch Bratislava 1959  
12.5/17
+8
Rank 1
Lima 1959  
10.5/13
+8
Rank 2
Santiago 1959  
9/12
+6
Rank 2
Mar del Plata 1959  
10.5/14
+7
Rank 2
Sarajevo 1960  
7.5/11
+4
Rank 2
CSR-ch Kosice 1961  
14/19
+9
Rank 1
Sarajevo 1961  
7.5/11
+4
Rank 2
Graz 1st 1961  
9/11
+7
Rank 1
CSR-ch Prague 1963  
14.5/19
+10
Rank 1
Capablanca mem 1963  
16/21
+11
Rank 4
Kecskemet zt 1964  
9.5/15
+4
Rank 3
Sarajevo 1966  
10/15
+5
Rank 4
CSR-ch Int 1st 1966  
11/17
+5
Rank 3
Solingen 1968  
9/15
+3
Rank 3
Netanya-A 1973  
9.5/15
+4
Rank 3
Eckernfoerde tt 1974  
4/5
+3
Rank 3
FRG-ch int Mannheim 1975  
10.5/15
+6
Rank 2
Barcelona zt 1975  
4.5/7
+2
Rank 3
Reggio Emilia 7576 1975  
6/9
+3
Rank 1
FRG-ch Bad Neuenahr 1978  
8.5/11
+6
Rank 1
Bayern-ch Pang 1983  
8.5/12
+5
Rank 1
Sindelfingen 1984  
8/13
+3
Rank 4

Addendum

Shortly after we had uploaded this article on Ludek Pachman we received an email from Ljubomir Kavalek (left), a compatriot and fellow grandmaster, who writes the chess column for the Washington Post. Lubos will be publishing his Pachman eulogy in the Monday issue of the newspaper, but he kindly sent us his rough notes on Ludek Pachman, which we share with you here.

Ludek Pachman (1924-2003)

The Czech grandmaster, prolific writer, coach, teacher, composer, passed away on March 6, 2003 in Passau, Germany.

Born on May 11, 1924 in a small Czech town Bela pod Bezdezem. Pachman had to walk for his first title to a nearby village Cista (population 900) that had a chess club with 110 members. Pachman became their champion in 1940.

Pachman's first break came in 1943, when he was invited to an international tournament in Prague at the last moment. Alekhine dominated the event, Keres was second. Pachman finished in the middle (9th place among 19 participants). Alekhine paid him a compliment in an article in the "Frankfurter Zeitung" and from the fifth round on invited him every evening to analyze games and opening variations. "I don't have to tell you how a beginner from a village chess club felt at that time," Pachman wrote. It might have triggered Pachman's interest in the openings and in 1950s he became world's leading opening expert, publishing his four-volume "Theory of Modern Chess."

In December 1954, shortly after I learned how the chess pieces move, I called Pachman, the leading Czechoslovak grandmaster at that time, and challenged him to a game of chess, explaining him my plan to defeat him. Of course, Pachman laughed at the proposition of a 11-year old boy, but did not forget about me. Four years later, after I became one of Prague's strongest players, he invited me to analytical sessions with members of the Czechoslovakian Student olympiad team. This was unusual since they were at least five years older, but I was very happy to get the first glance how a professional player works. Only later I learned that Pachman had a similar experience in his youth with Alekhine.

Pachman won the Czechoslovakian championship seven times (the first time in 1946, the last in 1966). He became German champion in 1978. He played in six Interzonal tournaments (first time in Saltsjobaden 1948, last time in Manila 1986). and reprezented Czechoslovakia on chess olympiad (1952-1966). In 1962 he coached in Cuba and in 1967 in Puerto Rico.

By his own count he won 15 international tournaments, but considers sharing second place in Havanna 1963 with M. Tal and E. Geller, behind V. Korchnoi, his best tournament success.

His most productive year seems to be 1959. After winning the Czechoslovakian championship he went on South American tour, winning tournaments in Mar del Plata (togheter with M. Najdorf), Santiago de Chile (with Ivkov) and Lima (again with Ivkov). On this tour he defeated 16-year-old Bobby Fischer twice. In the same year he finished "Modern Chess Strategy," a fine book he thought to be his best. Pachman published some 80 books in five languages.

Politcs always played a major role in Pachman's life and interrupted his chess career several times. He was a passionate speaker and writer whatever cause he defended, pro-communist early in his life or against communism after 1968. It was hard to predict whether Pachman considered you to be his friend or his enemy. He loved to argue and often changed his mind about people.

At the 1964 chess olympiad in Tel-Aviv I played the Steinitz variation of the King's gambit against the Soviet champion Leonid Stein in the last round. Pachman became furious watching my king's march on the board full of pieces and told me: "You have insulted the Soviet school of chess and you will see the consequences after we return to Prague." I didn't know at that time that Pachman pre-arranged draws on the first three boards with the Soviets, guaranteeing them the gold medals. My gambit play threatened to blow the deal.

In 1967 Pachman began to change his beliefs, fully confronting the communist regime after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. In October we went together to the Olympiad in Lugano, where the Soviets threatened to expel South Africa from FIDE. We argued that the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries that invaded Czechoslovakia should be expelled. The Soviets took their proposal back.

In December 1968 Pachman won a tournament in Athens, but after his return to Prague his life took another turn. He was soon imprisoned and even tried to commit suicide. I had a long correspondence with prof. Max Euwe, who tried to help Pachman at that time.

In the night of November 28, 1972, Pachman was allowed to leave Czechoslovakia and arrived in Munich with his wife and their cat. Grasping the idea of freedom the cat soon disappeared into hotel hallways and it took us some time to find him.

I never understood why Pachman would try to steer conflict with people who tried to help him, whether it was prof. Euwe or Egon Evertz, who arranged Pachman's move from Prague to Solingen and helped him to acquire German citizenship.

After his arrival in Germany Pachman was often boycotted by East-bloc countries, but he prevailed and they ended their harassment after Pachman qualified for the 1986 Interzonal in Manila.

After the Velvet revolution in November 1989 Pachman acquired back the Czechoslovakian citizenship, but in 1998, after being disillusioned with the Czech government, he gave it back and settled in Passau.

 


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