Remembering Karel Treybal

by Vlastimil Hort
1/26/2018 – Karel Treybal was a strong Czech player but an amateur and a judge by profession. However, he could beat players such as Alexander Alekhine or Geza Marozy. In 1941 the Gestapo charged Treybal with illegal possession of firearms and executed him. Vlastimil Hort remembers a Czech patriot and a "chess gentleman". | Photo source: Jan Michalek

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"Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei - vitabit Libitinam ..."
("I will not die completely. A lot of me will escape death...")

Horatius Flaccus: Carmina Liber III,30,6

Who was Karel Treybal?

Curriculum Vitae:

Karel Treybal was born in the village Kotopecky, west of Prague, in 1885. After getting his "Abitur" he started to study at the Karls University in Prague in 1903. During World War I he fought as lieutenant in the 30. marching company in Galicia and was wounded twice (1914 and 1915).

Karel Treybal (Source: Jan Michalek)

From Russian captivity he went to the Czech Legion, which was to hold the passage of the important railway line Moscow-Vladivostok. As a soldier he saw the whole of Siberia and obtained the rank of captain, and in 1920 he returned to his home country on the "President Grant" that went from Vladivostok to Suez.

The "President Grant" (Source: Jan Michalek)

The certified lawyer (he got his degree in 1921) first worked for the newly founded state of Czechoslovakia in Slovakia but later he became the highest judge in the province of Velvary. He was fully committed to his profession and worked with passion and diligence. Work and family (two children) were most important to him, only then followed his hobby chess. He was a great patriot.

Karel Treybal with his wife and his two children (Source: Jan Michalek)

Chess career

When Treybal was 13 years old his older brother Frantisek (1882-1947) taught him to play chess. At the high school in Prague Treybal met and befriended the study composer and chess publicist Ladislav Prokes and they entered the famous chess club  "Dobrusky" at the same time, in 1903. They were keen to play in all club championships and it became apparent that Oldrich Duras, the best Czech player of that time, would soon have a serious rival.

At the XV. Congress of the German Chess Federation in Nürnberg 1906 Karel Treybal won the preliminary group with 7.0/9 but in the finals he played below his abilities. Two years later, in Prague 1908, everything went smoothly.

The top group:
1. Treybal 8½
2. Abonyi, Chalupetzky 7½
4. Taussig 7 etc.

Table, Prague 1908 (Source: Jan Michalek)

The participants of the tournament in Prague 1908 (Source: Jan Michalek)

A new International Master and a serious rival of O. Duras had established himself.

The future lawyer was soon known as "Chess Gentleman". He often willingly accepted draws in games in which he was clearly better or even winning. Karel Treybal was an amateur who loved chess much and when he gave lectures and simuls he always gave them for free. His concern was always for his colleagues who had to live from chess.

Best tournaments

Karlsbad 1923

Rg. Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Pts.
1 Efim Bogoljubow   ½ 0 ½ 0 1 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 0 ½ 1 1 1 1 11.5 / 17
2 Geza Maroczy ½   0 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 1 11.5 / 17
3 Alexander Alekhine 1 1   1 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 ½ 1 0 1 11.5 / 17
4 Ernst Gruenfeld ½ 0 0   ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 10.5 / 17
5 Richard Reti 1 ½ ½ ½   ½ ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1 1 0 ½ 1 0 0 10.5 / 17
6 Karel Treybal 0 ½ 1 0 ½   1 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 10.0 / 17
7 Aron Nimzowitsch 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0   1 ½ 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 0 10.0 / 17
8 Frederick Dewhurst Yates ½ 0 1 ½ 0 1 0   ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 9.5 / 17
9 Richard Teichmann ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½   ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 9.0 / 17
10 Saviely Tartakower 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½   ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 8.5 / 17
11 Siegbert Tarrasch 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 1 ½   0 1 1 ½ 1 0 1 8.0 / 17
12 Akiba Rubinstein 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1   0 0 1 1 1 ½ 7.5 / 17
13 Jacob Bernstein 1 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 1 ½ ½ 0 1   ½ 0 1 0 1 7.0 / 17
14 Heinrich Wolf ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 0 1 ½   0 ½ 1 0 6.5 / 17
15 Friedrich Saemisch 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 1   0 0 1 6.0 / 17
16 George Alan Thomas 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 1 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 1   1 1 5.5 / 17
17 Rudolf Spielmann 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 0   0 5.0 / 17
18 Oscar Chajes 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 ½ 0 0 0 ½ 0 1 0 0 1   5.0 / 17

At the tournament in Karlsbad 1923 Karel Treybal managed to beat the eventual tournament winner Alexander Alekhine after the future World Champion overpressed.

 

In a rook ending against Ossip Bernstein which can only be fully understood today with the help of chess engines Karel Treybal demonstrated his fine understanding of chess and his profound endgame knowledge.

 

The participants of the tournament in Karlsbad 1929 (Source: Jan Michalek)

Karlsbad 1929

Rg. Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Pts
1 Aron Nimzowitsch   1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 15.0 / 21
2 Rudolf Spielmann 0   1 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 1 14.5 / 21
3 Jose Raul Capablanca ½ 0   ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 ½ 1 14.5 / 21
4 Akiba Rubinstein ½ 1 ½   ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 13.5 / 21
5 Max Euwe 0 ½ ½ ½   0 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 12.0 / 21
6 Albert Becker ½ ½ 0 ½ 1   1 1 0 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 0 12.0 / 21
7 Milan Sr Vidmar 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 0   ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 1 1 1 1 12.0 / 21
8 Efim Bogoljubow 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½   ½ ½ ½ 0 1 0 1 1 1 0 ½ 1 1 1 11.5 / 21
9 Ernst Gruenfeld ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ ½   ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 11.0 / 21
10 Esteban Canal ½ 1 ½ 0 0 1 ½ ½ ½   1 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 0 1 0 ½ 1 1 10.5 / 21
11 Hermanis Matisons 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0   1 1 1 0 1 1 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 10.5 / 21
12 Saviely Tartakower 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 0   ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 10.0 / 21
13 Edgard Colle ½ 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 1 1 0 ½   1 1 ½ 1 0 ½ 0 1 1 10.0 / 21
14 Geza Maroczy ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 0 1 0 ½ 0   0 0 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 10.0 / 21
15 Karel Treybal ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 1   ½ ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 10.0 / 21
16 Friedrich Saemisch 0 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 ½   ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 0 9.5 / 21
17 Frederick Dewhurst Yates 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 0 1 0 ½ 0 0 ½ ½   1 ½ ½ 1 1 9.5 / 21
18 Paul F Johner 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 1 1 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 0   ½ 0 ½ 1 9.0 / 21
19 Frank James Marshall ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½   1 1 1 9.0 / 21
20 Karl Gilg 0 0 0 1 ½ 0 0 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 0 0 ½ ½ 1 0   ½ ½ 8.0 / 21
21 George Alan Thomas ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 0 ½   1 6.0 / 21
22 Vera Menchik 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 ½ 0   3.0 / 21

The following inspired win against Geza Maroczy was played six years later.

 

Hromadka against two Treybals

Karel Hromadka played a number of games against both Treybals, his namesake Karel, and Karel's older brother Frantisek. 21 games all in all. Eleven games were played in a match between Karel Hromadka and Frantisek Treybal. Result +5 -2 =4 for Frantisek Treybal. Seven games have survived in which the two Karels play each other, and here Karel Hromadka has s slight plus (2:1 wins).

Incredible, but in 1919 six members of the Czech Legion played an unfinished double-round-robin tournament in Tomsk. Karel Hromadka played all his games and scored eight points. Karel Treybal finished with 6½ / 8 but won twice against Karel Hromadka.

Karel Treybal played in four Olympiads for Czechoslovakia. In 1928 in The Hague (which was still played as individual tournament) 9½ /15, 1930 in Hamburg, 6.0 / 13, 1933 Folkstone, 7½ / 13, 1935 in Warszaw, 9 ½/ 15).

Chess Olympiad 1935, Karel Treybal stands in the middle behind Salo Flohr (Source: Jan Michalek)

The following two examples show that Homo ludens always makes mistakes:

 

 

 

But you cannot sit on two chairs at the same time. In the 1930s Karel Treybal lived a very hectic life. He played in many tournaments and after his chess adventures in Prague he had to catch the last night train or the first morning train at all costs. He was, after all, a respected and distinguished judge. But the chess gentleman could not imagine that the Kautsky Memorial in Prague 1940-41 would be his last tournament. Opocensky won, Treybal shared second place with Katetov:

1. Opocensky 10½/15
2.-3. Treybal, Katetov 10
4..-6.- Kottnauer, Zita, Hromadka 9
7.-9. Louma, Thelen, Votocek 7½
10.-11. Bartosek, Pokorny 6½
etc.

In deference to a great Czech I would like to show the last game Karel Treybal ever played:

 

On May 31, 1941, the Gestapo arrested Karel Treybal in his office in Velvary. The charge: illegal possession of firearms. Die Anklage: Unerlaubter Wafffenbesitz. Someone must have denounced him. Whether Treybal was really active in the resistance movement is very questionably. Was it a secretary? On October 2, 1941, the great patriot was sentenced to death in Prague and executed on the same day. His corpse was not given over to the family. The German occupiers continued to ramp and rage in Bohemia... Today, many clubs still bear Treybal's name.

The headstone of the Treybal family. Karel Treybal is named but what happened to his corpse is unknown. (Source: Jan Michalek)

In the 1970s Bobby Fischer surprisingly asked me for something. He liked to have a copy of the book Dr. Karel Treybal by Ladislav Prokes. I immediately sent the book to the USA. But why did he want to have it? Does anyone have a plausible explanation for this strange request?

The book by Ladislav Prokes about Karel Treybal. The diagram shows a position from his game against Alekhine

Life goes on. I am very happy that the great-grandson of Karel Treybal, Jindrich Treybal, continues the family tradition. Yes, he also plays chess. And what he thinks about the German occupiers should be obvious.

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

Links




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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Inspirus18 Inspirus18 1/29/2018 08:58
Very interesting article, GM Hort!
B. Fischer was very keen on chess literature, he probably just wanted to know more about the player who has beaten lots of great names, like Al. Alekhine!
Jan Boot Jan Boot 1/28/2018 11:15
A good article of chess history,I like that very much ,greetings.
SambalOelek SambalOelek 1/26/2018 08:27
Very nice article ...sounds like a real hero .... not the hero with a lot of money but a real hero with a heart on the right place!
crazycheck crazycheck 1/26/2018 12:14
Thank you Hort for having provided us with personal, professional and chess amateur profiles of Treybal. His sons first and grandchildren after should be very proud of him!
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