"I love the game" - An interview with Jaroslav Svoboda, chess fan and sponsor

by Johannes Fischer
3/9/2024 – Jaroslav Svoboda, the owner of Czech Inn Hotels and operator of the Hotel Don Giovanni, the venue of the Prague Chess Festival, is a passionate chess fan. In a short interview he reveals that he learnt to play chess rather late in life, talks about his friendship to Vlastimil Hort and explains why Bobby Fischer is not an ideal role model. | Photo: The Hotel Don Giovanni

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Dear Jaroslav Svoboda, you are an entrepreneur, businessman and owner of the Czech Inn Hotels chain. The Hotel Don Giovanni, the venue of the Prague Chess Festival, is part of this chain and you help to make the festival possible. You are also a chess player yourself – when and how did you learn to play?

My case is rather unusual – I learnt to play when I was already 36 years old. Okay, before that I knew the basic rules, but did not play. But one day I received an email from Vaclav Klaus Junior, the son of the former Czech President Vaclav Klaus. Vaclav Klaus Junior was the President of a chess club in Prague and complained about a restaurant that was part of one of our hotels. I contacted him, fixed the problem, and visited the club to watch the games. I was fascinated and started to play myself.

Jaroslav Svoboda

You became hooked?

Yes! I love the game! And I started to play in tournaments. I got to know Vlastimil, who at that time often came to Prague and we often went to tournaments together – we went to Zürich, Biel, Dortmund, and other places. It was fun! I have particularly fond memories of Dortmund. We met a number of top players, e.g. Vladimir Kramnik and I liked the atmosphere.

I also regularly used to play chess with Vlastimil in the Café Louvre, in the center of Prague. It used to be a café where writers like Kafka and Max Brod met. When Albert Einstein was teaching at Prague University he was also a regular guest. And the café was a meeting point for chess players.

When I played Vlastimil at the café, German tourists often recognised him and asked for an autograph. He is very popular in Germany.

Did you ever regret not having learnt the game earlier?

No – life was fine before I learnt to play chess, life is fine after. I love the game, and I am happy with my rating of about 1700.

Do you have a favourite player?

I like David Navara. He is Czech, plays for Novy Bor and has a special humour. I like the way he analyses – his hands flying around while he shows one line after the other.

David Navara | Photo: Petr Vrabec

Can you tell us a bit more about your career as a hotel owner?

Well, when I was 29, I rented my first hotel, in Harrachov, 18 rooms, a 3-Star-hotel. Now I rent or own or operate 26 hotels that altogether have 3.000 rooms, 8.000 beds and 1.000 employees.

I went through all stages of the hotel business: I worked as a cook, as a waiter, as a receptionist, as a hotel manager. I started to work in service when I was 14. I was born in Brno, which is a big industrial area, but I did not want to work in industry and focused on service. When I was 29, I decided it was time to get my own hotel.

Do you think that chess helps in life and in business or do you think it is just a game that you play for leisure?

Yes and no. Chess helps to develop strategic thinking, but life is different. Life is full of surprises and unexpected things happen all the time – planning in advance is almost impossible.

You own the Hotel Giovanni, the venue of the Prague Chess Festival. What does the Festival mean for you, why do you support it?

It’s great, and I love to support the tournament! I am usually pretty busy, but during the tournament I try to follow the games live at least half an hour per day. I like that the tournament grows year after year and it’s an event that helps the hotel – it is a special event with a good atmosphere. In general, I support chess. All Czech Inn hotels have a chess board and in our hotels you can play chess anytime.

I think, it is good to support chess. It is a useful game that helps you to think. That is also why I support the Vlastimil Hort Foundation. Vlastimil had the idea to initiate this foundation that has the aim to teach young people chess and to help them get better. The Foundation has organised a number of events and tournaments, and one of the players it supported is Thai Dhai Van Nguyen, who plays in the Masters this year.

The Czech Inn hotels also support other sports, but for me chess is something special.

Legend has it that Bobby Fischer once was given a hotel room with a nice view, but then complained and wanted a room without a view because the good view would distract him from chess – now, Prague is a beautiful city, but is it a good city to play chess?

Well, Fischer was special and is not a good role model for life. But Prague is indeed a beautiful city with a lot of attractions. In fact, I think, Prague is the most beautiful city in the world. For instance, did you know that just opposite the Don Giovanni, in the new Jewish cemetery, is the grave of Kafka? You feel Kafka in Prague, in the whole city. Reading Kafka is interesting – it is fun and trains the brain.

David Cerny's Kafka statue in the centre of Prague | Photo: Claudia Mätzold

Moreover, Prague is a very nice place to visit. It is a clean and safe city, and it has a lot of tourist attractions - Prague was lucky: it was not destroyed during World War II. The beer and the food is very good and it is not expensive. And Prague is pretty easy to reach, it is in the center of Europe.

To conclude, one final question: What are your dreams and goals in regard to the festival?

I would like the festival to grow and to get better year after year. Our goal is to always improve, to make things better.

Thank you very much for your time!


Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".