Hort stories: Ludek Pachman (part 2)

by Vlastimil Hort
7/5/2018 – Ludek Pachman was an important theoretician, an industrious author, and a controversial personality. In Czechoslovakia he was a staunch communist but after the "Prague Spring" he changed from Saul to Paul or, as some people think, from Saul to Saul. Vlastimil Hort shares memories of Ludek Pachman. (Part 1) | Photos: Archive Michalek

Mega Database 2018 Mega Database 2018

The "Mega" is the database every serious chessplayer needs. The database contains 7.1 million games from 1500 to 2017, in highest quality standard, full of top level analyses and completely classified.


...Continued from part 1

A new Pachman

The Chess Olympiad in Lugano took place in 1968, a short time after the occupation of the CSSR by states of the Warsaw Pact. Although Pachman was not a member of the Olympic team of the CSSR he still protested against the invasion of the Soviet troops whenever he had an opportunity. He took part in our team meetings when we discussed this issue, and he was not satisfied with the result. After long discussions we had decided to play against the USSR but only under protest and with a black ribbon on our jackets. For Pachman though, this was not enough. If he'd had his way we should not at all have played against the "team of occupiers". But we, as a team, had opted for a milder form of protest, not least because some of the Soviet players were on our side and regretted what politics had done.

It should be mentioned that GM Filip was already a well-paid Soviet sympathizer at that time and categorically opposed any form of protest. He faithfully continued his pro-Soviet approach when the Olympiad was over. Later, in the time of Gustáv Husák and his pro-Soviet policies, Filip caused me great personal problems.

Back to Ludek Pachman. Thank God he, who meanwhile had turned into a professing Christian, could emigrate to Western Germany in 1972. Germany became his second home. He was still a good player and in 1976 he made it to the Olympic team of West Germany and played on board two in Haifa. Two years later he even became German Champion in Bad Neuenahr.


Pachman, Moscow 1947

A barber never forgives…

Did Ludek Pachman arrange my engagement with Uncle Wilfried in Porz? No, not at all. Like all other Czechoslovakian athletes I was simply sold and delivered to the West by "Prago-Sport". A deal — Eastern goods against Western currency. Coach and player in the sports centre Wahn, that was my new task and challenge from February 1979 onwards.

When I travelled from Prague to Cologne snow was falling which made for a particularly romantic view when I arrived at the main station. The Cologne Cathedral all in white — my first glance into my new "home". Dr. Paul Tröger, my future team colleague, was waiting for me. "Welcome, my name is Paul, can I call you Vlastimil?" 


A short time later Ludek Pachman, German Champion of 1978, phoned me with a couple of questions. He was very curious, and he tried to convince me to emigrate. I was careful not to tell him that I did not waste a single thought on emigration at that time because my only son Daniel had stayed in Prague. I wanted to wait until he reached legal age and then decide. In my naiveté I believed that the two of us could then, with nothing but a small suitcase, leave communism behind forever. Nothing was further from my mind than to appear in one of Pachman's articles as a new sensational defector.

I had no problems to settle in — everybody supported me and helped me to cope with the everyday tasks. I used the non-chess time to explore my new surroundings, the forests in particular. Everywhere I saw a healthy population of trees — I was enthusiastic!

Then the time came to cut my hair. I asked everyone for their preferences. "If you are looking for a good barber I can make you particularly happy," my new Boss Wilfried said to me. With a mischievous smile he recommended a barbershop that was owned by a Czech. Homelike feelings spread in me — I had not heard or spoken my mother tongue for a long time.

But Figaro Kopecky greeted me with a statement: "Listen, young man, if you are a friend of Pachman you are banned from this house!" Why this hostile greeting?

At first he also adamantly refused to wash my hair not to mention cutting it. Only after I had assured him that Pachman and I were only chess colleagues he was willing to lift the house ban.

Here's the story behind it. He and his wife already wanted to leave the CSSR for the West in 1953. But Pachman, at that time still an important member of the cadre commission, classified the man, who was completely unknown to him, as a class enemy. Result: no signature, no exit.

"This communist, who at that time was still a faithful follower of the system, stole us the 15 best years of our life!" When he said this he looked to his wife who nodded in agreement. Kopecky and his wife could only fulfill their dreams in 1968 during the Prague Spring.

Though he was no chess player Kopecky knew a lot about the wheelings and dealings of both Pachman brothers.

"The older brother, Vladimir, is still a marxist," he announced. "He writes one political script after the next, as if he is churning them out."

I knew that.

"Yes," his wife intervened, "after all, Vladimir has to pay a lot of alimonies."

I did not know that.

Mr. Kopecky stayed my friends in questions of hairstyling. The discussions about Pachman's red past and black present were an entertaining bonus to his excellent haircutting. Thank God, during all his emotional outbursts he always had a steady hand!

Ludek Pachman (right), with Black against Georges Noradounguian

Writing, his everything…

In 1980 we both played in a small, fine tournament in Hamburg, in Heinicke's rowing club Favorite-Hammonia. When the games were over Pachman immediately vanished. I did not take long to find out what he did — he wrote and wrote and wrote.

Hamburg 1980, Favorite-Hammonia

Rg. Title Name Country 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Pts.
1 GM Vlastimil Hort
  ½ ½ 1 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 1 10.5 / 13
2 GM Bojan Kurajica
½   1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 8.5 / 13
3 GM Harry Schussler
½ 0   ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 8.5 / 13
4 GM Lars Karlsson
0 ½ ½   1 0 1 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 8.0 / 13
5 FM Christian Clemens
0 ½ 1 0   ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 8.0 / 13
6 FM Peter Dankert
0 ½ 0 1 ½   ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 7.5 / 13
7 GM Ludek Pachman
½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½   ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 7.0 / 13
8 GM Ivan Nemet
½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½   0 1 0 0 1 1 6.5 / 13
9 IM Jens Ove Fries Nielsen
½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1   ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 6.0 / 13
10 FM Sejer Holm Pedersen
0 0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½   1 1 1 1 6.0 / 13
11 FM Harm Wilhelm Cording
0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 0   ½ ½ ½ 5.5 / 13
12   Hardy Lappoehn
0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 0 1 ½ 0 ½   ½ ½ 4.0 / 13
13 FM Gert Rabeler
0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½   1 3.5 / 13
14 FM Tariel Kordsachia
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0   1.5 / 13

The only game in which I was close to losing was the game against him.


In our small boardinghouse in Hamburg his typewriter rattled all day long. I had to listen to "his music" until the early hours of the morning.

"A long walk around the Alster would be much better for you," I ventured at breakfast.

"I cannot help it, I am addicted to writing", he answered. "Unlike you, I still want to change the world!"

"O.K., Ludek," I started my reply. "Do you know the song by Frankie "I did it my way"?"

He remained silent. Otherwise, we probably would have locked horns. At any rate, our shared breakfast was over before it had really begun. For me the lakeside promenade was waiting, he had a date with his typewriter.

From Saul to Paul

Berlin 1982 — American Chess Summer Tournament. I did quite well in this famous open. After 8 of 9 rounds I had a score of 7½. Thus I needed only a draw to become clear first. As luck would have it, I had to play Pachman in the last round.

"We can agree to a quick draw, then I have time for my political tasks," Ludek proposed.

"No, Ludek, I am sorry, but I do not care whether you are under time pressure. I want to play a normal and fair game!"

He was visibly shocked that I considered his "chess acitvity" as more important than his commitment to the "Konservative Aktion".


What was my opponent thinking? He seemed to be pretty nervous but I could not spare him. During the whole game his suitcase stood next to his chair, packed and ready for travel. After he had lost he took his belongings and left the tournament hall without a word. He rushed to his car and then drove as fast as he could to Bavaria where the politicians had already started their meeting.

Obviously, the prize-giving ceremony took place without him. When the arbiters repeatedly called his name someone from the audience said: "The politician just left." The hall reacted with enthusiastic applause, after all, the participants had come to play chess, not to talk politics.

As I mentioned before during the Chess Olympiad 1964 in Tel Aviv I shared a room with Pachman. I still remember this very well. My defense against the noise of his political activities in support of the reds were thick earplugs and a lot of aspirin. It is true, in the second half of his life Pachman was more of a politician than a chess player - he had changed his conviction from red to black. From Saul to Paul? Late insight? Why not?

"Who ever strives with all his might, that man we can redeem." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, part two.


The "Konservative Aktion" failed in Germany. In Czechia's political scene Pachman could not gain any traction after the wall came down. He became virtually "persona non grata". In Czechia, his home, he had written his name only with one "n" (Pachman), later, in Passau, in West Germany, he added another "n" (Pachmann). As far as I know a biography about the most important chess theoretician of Czechoslovakian chess history is in the works. But I am sure that the author Jan Michalek will spend many sleepless nights about it. 

When did we meet for the last time at the chess board?

At the Donner Memorial in Amsterdam 1994. In our game Ludek fought like a lion. But I was displeased that he offered three draws in a row in our game. But no, on this day I could not defeat him. However, the tournament table is quite funny.

Donner Memorial B

Rg. Title Name Country 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Pts.
1 GM Vassily V Smyslov
  1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 5.5
2 GM Svetozar Gligoric
0   0 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 5.5
3 GM Wolfgang Unzicker
½ 1   ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 5.5
4 GM Dragoljub Velimirovic
½ ½ ½   ½ 0 1 1 0 1 5.0
5 IM Gert Ligterink
½ 0 ½ ½   1 0 1 1 ½ 5.0
6 GM David Ionovich Bronstein
½ ½ ½ 1 0   ½ 0 1 ½ 4.5
7 GM Vlastimil Hort
½ 0 0 0 1 ½   1 ½ 1 4.5
8 GM Hans Ree
½ ½ ½ 0 0 1 0   ½ ½ 3.5
9 GM Ludek Pachman
0 0 ½ 1 0 0 ½ ½   ½ 3.0
10 IM Robert G Hartoch
½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½   3.0

IM Jan Michalek from Pilsen is a very passionate collector of chess literature. At the beginning of the new millenium he played with Ludek on the same team in Passau, but only for a short time. On March 6, 2003, the great chess theoretician died. Jan Michalek accompanied him on his last way and thanks to his good contacts to Pachman's widow Eugenie Michalek could keep Pachman's entire library which contains lots of personal notes.

Ludek Pachman with his wife Eugenie, 1981

"Vlastimil, Pachman's had an incredibly great number of facets, and his library contained a large variety of books," my chess friend Jan Michalek told me.

No less than eighty books were written by Pachman himself. The topics: chess and politics!

But I want to ask a careful question: "Is quantity also quality?"

In his theory-box I like the Queen's Gambit and the Ruy Lopez best. To my mind his books about strategy are better than those about tactics.

Tournament book with signature

"Pachman was an extremely lonely person," Michalek continued. "Like Don Quijote he was fighting against the whole world."

I just shrugged. I had not read or even touched a single one of his political manifestos. Good friends and allies were missing in his life. As far as I know he even had quarrels with his brother, politically and personally.

"Dear Ludek, only the chess pieces are faithful and grateful listeners. Only they move like you want them to and tell them. Maybe the Iron Curtain would have come down a few seconds earlier because of your political commitment — who knows? But planet earth never was and never will be black and white!" Your colleague Vlastimil Hort.

"An extremely lonely man with so many different facets."

I would like to thank Jan Michalek for our discussions and the photos he gave me for this article.

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer



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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register