Hort stories: Ludek Pachman (part 1)

by Vlastimil Hort
7/2/2018 – 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. | Photos: Archive Michalek

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What do you think about Ludek Pachman? Even today, I hear this question a lot. In a comment from February 17, 2018, a ChessBase reader, Mr. Anandymous, asked for an article about Pachman:

"Mr. Hort, looking forward to a multi-part report on Pachman."

Yes, Mr. Anandymous. Now, I´ll do it!

The young Ludek Pachman, drawn by Otokar Masek

I am probably the last living chess witness who can authentically report about the deeds of Ludek Pachman. Our paths crossed more than once. Objectivity is an ideal of philosophy and science but I can only try to present the events truthfully from my perspective.

Pachman was an extremely complicated personality. Was there or is there anyone who really knew the active Marxist, who later became a professing Catholic? I find that hard to imagine. Maybe his wife Eugenie. They had a childless but happy marriage and until his death, he was closely attached to her. 

One cannot say that we liked each other much. But we respected each other, at all our chess encounters. Just like his large community of fans I was glad when he finally took fate into his owns hand and renounced the utopian ideas of communism. Once but forever! Our opinions about and our approaches to life and chess were always far apart. As a moderate advocate of a healthy compromise I was and I am for win-win solutions for both sides, but this was not the way of Ludek Pachman. Until the very end he was uncompromising in his views. But we were both emigrants searching for contentment and harmony in their new home.

A star is born…

I heard the following story from Ctibor Kende, a chess journalist and organiser, on an autumnally warm Sunday, September 1959, in Kladno. He still loved the chess scene and its actors as much as during his active years when he had breathed new life into the championships of Bohemia and Moravia (1940) and into two strong events in Prague (1942 and 1943).

He had invited me to his home. We sat in his flat in Kladno-Krocehlavy and I, at that time still a 15-year old schoolboy, perked up my ears and keenly listened to him. His tales opened entirely new dimensions of chess to me.

"Vlastimil, money has always come to me, I have never searched for it. However, I always knew at which door to knock and when to knock to make something happen. In 1943 we played an Easter tournament in the Hotel Palace. It was the cultural event in Prague. I was tournament director, I had organised the tournament. But, oh my god, after the opening ceremony I realized that I was one player short." After this introduction, Kende took a good swig from his bottle of Hennessy.

"In the Palace Hotel, which is still the first address today, I even had an office of my own. Just as today I only drank the best cognac and smoked the most expensive Cuban cigars back then."

Saying that he pointed to the overflowing ashtray that stood on the little table before him.

"Just when I wanted to light my Corona with a Thousand Mark bill (Reichsmark), someone knocked at my office door. Outside it was still ice-cold, just the right weather to sit by the fireside and play chess."

Again Kende took a sip of Cognac, probably to wet his throat or to increase the tension.

"Before me stood a boy whom I did not know, and who was drenched from top to toe, shaking with cold. This boy does not have shoes that are appropriate in this weather, I thought to myself. To see me he obviously walked twenty kilometres on foot from his little village to Prague. I offered him a seat and the remainders of the cookies that were still standing on the cupboard. In no time at all he had everything put away. He offered me to do all kinds of menial work, e.g. putting up the pieces, cleaning the tables and the tournament hall, emptying ashtrays, just to be able to be part of the tournament. Errand boy and gofer, he would not mind anything, he said. All he needed would be a modest place to sleep."

Kende again made a little break and took the next Corona from his precious cigar box. I was literally glued to his lips and on tenterhooks how it might continue.

"On that day, Vlastimil, I was in a very good mood and when I looked at the boy I suddenly had a great idea! 'O.K., young man, you are very lucky because I am one player short in the tournament. We will now play four blitz games and should you against all expectations win this match I will present you as a new great talent to the public tomorrow.' No sooner said than done. I never expected the result — I lost all four games! A star was born"! Who was this player, Vlastimil?"

I gladly share this question with my readers. Did you have a good guess!? Ludek Pachman (1924 – 2003), International Grandmaster, seven times champion of the CSSR, famous publisher, theoretician and politician here for the first time entered the limelight!

Ludek Pachman, 1943


The tournament 1943 in Prague was a stroke of luck for the young Pachman. He managed to beat two of the strongest Czech masters, Opocensky and Foltys. Pachman later wrote:

These victories brought me the appreciation of World Champion Alekhine, and from then on after each round I was almost always invited to his hotel suite to analyse. Unfortunately, the Siamese cat of Madame Alekhine did not like me very much. A few solid scratches were the result. On top of that Alekhine could not bear if someone contradicted him, and apart from suffering from my wounds I could only attentively, almost devoutly, concentrate on listening.

Final standings after 19 rounds

Rg. Title Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Pts.
1 GM Alexander Alekhine   ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 17.0 / 19
2 GM Paul Keres ½   ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 0 1 14.5 / 19
3 IM Miroslav Katetov ½ ½   ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 1 13.0 / 19
4   Jaroslav Sajtar 0 ½ ½   ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 ½ 0 1 0 ½ 1 1 1 12.5 / 19
5 IM Jan Foltys ½ 0 ½ ½   1 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 12.5 / 19
6   Bedrich Thelen 0 ½ ½ 0 0   ½ ½ ½ 1 0 1 1 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 11.0 / 19
7 IM Josef Lokvenc 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½   ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 11.0 / 19
8 GM Friedrich Saemisch 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½   ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 11.0 / 19
9   Karel Urbanec 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½   1 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 11.0 / 19
10 GM Ludek Pachman 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 ½ 0   1 1 1 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 1 9.5 / 19
11 IM Karel Opocensky 0 0 0 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 0   1 ½ ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 1 9.0 / 19
12 IM Jiri Fichtl ½ 0 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0   1 1 0 1 1 1 1 ½ 8.5 / 19
13   Milan Bartosek 0 0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 0   ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 8.5 / 19
14   Oldrich Novotny 0 0 0 1 0 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½   ½ 0 ½ 1 1 1 8.5 / 19
15   Karel Prucha 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 1 1 ½ ½   0 1 0 ½ 1 8.5 / 19
16   Jaromir Florian 0 0 1 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 1 1   0 1 0 1 7.5 / 19
17   Jiri Podgorny 0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ 0 1   0 1 1 6.0 / 19
18   Max Dietze 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 0 0 0 1 0 1   ½ ½ 5.5 / 19
19   Jindrich Kubanek 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 1 0 ½   ½ 3.5 / 19
20   Ruzena Sucha 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 ½ ½   1.5 / 19

Not bad at all! After the tournament, Pachman was immediately welcomed by the chess scene of Prague as an interesting commentator and theoretician. Equipped with new shoes, nothing stood in his path to a remarkable chess career. His other, "red" career, began after the communist putsch in February 1948.

Although I knew him for more than 40 years, his worldview and his philosophy remained great, unsolved mysteries for me. But what had already struck me as a young chess apprentice was his irrepressible urge to find the "only right" move — at any cost. What did he want to convey to the following generation with that? No more chess romanticism, in chess there is no chance — in a systematic preparation and analysis, everything has to be anticipated?

His dogmatic belief in the "only right" move got stronger with age and unfortunately severely affected his chess style.

Fallen from a chair

European Championship in Oberhausen, Germany, 1961 – Hort-Keres. In my memory, my opponent seemed to have jumped right from the page of a fashion magazine. Immaculately shaved, perfumed, and dressed in a fine suit with tie and tie-pin. His German was perfect. With a steady hand, he wrote down the moves in long notation and his best handwriting. He remained a gentleman, even when I was time-trouble, and did not smash the clock like mad.

After my return from Oberhausen, my buddies in Prague greeted me with a mischievous smile. Why? Grandmaster Ludek Pachman had annotated the game in a Czechoslovakian sports magazine and had written"… after Keres' queen sacrifice, the talented Hort fell from his chair…". This sentence spread through the chess scene of Prague. That is how successful chess anecdotes come into being.

But what happened really? Keres sacrificed his queen on move 35. After the 40th move, the game was — as it was usual back then — adjourned. While I was thinking about which move to adjourn, no less than 45 minutes, I was rocking back and forth on my chair, oblivious to time and space. Suddenly I lost my balance and fell on my back. As it later turned out, my 41st move was losing. Keres received the brilliancy prize for this game.


Gligoric and Pachman

Gligoric vs Pachman, Oberhausen 1961

Czech School of Chess

During the Chess Olympiad 1964 in Tel Aviv, I had the chance to get to know Pachman better because we shared a room in the Hilton Hotel. I had the habit to sleep before a game. Pachman, however, was running around the room like a young tiger to better prepare for the game. When he was to play Portisch with White he spent several hours preparing. But shortly before the game when I tried to explain to him that the game was best decided in the middlegame I had the feeling that he had already lost the thread of his preparation. 

Salo Flohr was the real founder and spiritual father of the "Czech School of Chess". At first Flohr strongly copied Capablanca's style of play. His safety-first approach and his excellent technique in particular.

To attack was not on. You rather took a pawn than to sacrifice it. Filip, but Pachman in particular, later put a lot of trust in theory. It seemed as if their openings were geared towards getting sharp positions. Wrong!

Filip and Pachman

Filip, Pachman

One step forward…

In the fourth semester of my studies at the VSE (High School of Economics) in 1964, it seemed to me that a state examination in the field of Marxism-Leninism that was inevitably part of every course of studies, was far out of reach for me. Comrade Rakova, my lecturer, had twice let me fail. I had only a last and final attempt left in September, after the vacations.

The "limping devil", as we called her in secret, had a particularly good nose for possible class enemies. In my case, she was not wrong at all. I had long since put feelers out to the West. I am still ashamed that I did not have the courage to drop out of university myself.

The weather was splendid, I was lying at the swimming pool and enjoyed the bright sun. Scattered around me were lots of study materials, lectures, presentations and, of course, the book by Lenin "One step forward, two steps back". In the evening a promising date was waiting, and therefore Lenin's thoughts were strange, annoying and indifferent to me.

But I could not get a joke I had heard out of my mind. "Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were no scientists!" "Why?". "If they had been they would have used dogs to try their ideas first!"

Vladimir Pachman, the six years older brother of Ludek, was a rather good chess composer and moreover a powerful dean at the faculty for Marxism-Leninism of my university. Back then both brothers were high-ranking party officials and enjoyed the reputation of being faithful and reliable communists. Ludek, my colleague in the national chess team, always threatened the Americans in his articles and even offered to actively and personally support Fidel Castro at the Playa Girón with his "old" gun. The unknowing population feared him because as chairman of the cadre commissions his voice counted. According to him "hammer and sickle" were the best option for our planet earth, at least that's what he wrote in his lead articles in the popular newspapers of the CSSR.

No, Vlastimil, no good connections for you and no protection. Let fate decide for you. With your phenomenal memory, you could also be an excellent waiter and earn your money this way.

Very quickly, the day of the exam came closer. "One step forward, two steps back" turned into a nightmare for me. We, the candidates for relegation, were waiting in the outer office. To shorten the time I had to wait I tried to solve a study by Vladimir Pachman.


I discovered the solution 1.Bb6+ after a few minutes.

"Hort, Hort", my name was called up twice. Should I or should I not? Last doubts came up. But finally, I entered the examination room. Too bad!

Pachman and Fidel Castro

Pachman and Fidel Castro in Cuba


From 1946 to 1966 the seven times Czechoslovakian Champion was one of the world's best players. In December 1959 he reached his best historical rating of 2695. Six times he played in interzonal tournaments, in Portoroz (1958) he even narrowly missed (place 7) the qualification for the candidates tournament. He is also one of the few who have an equal score against Fischer (+2=4-2).


Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer

No other World Champion was more infamous both inside and outside the chess world than Bobby Fischer. On this DVD, a team of experts shows you the winning techniques and strategies employed by the 11th World Champion.

Grandmaster Dorian Rogozenco delves into Fischer’s openings, and retraces the development of his repertoire. What variations did Fischer play, and what sources did he use to arm himself against the best Soviet players? Mihail Marin explains Fischer’s particular style and his special strategic talent in annotated games against Spassky, Taimanov and other greats. Karsten Müller is not just a leading international endgame expert, but also a true Fischer connoisseur.

Fischer-Pachmann, Leipzig 1960


In all the tournaments he played in he is among the prize-winners or at least has a plus-score. And one should not forget his work as a chess teacher at the grammar school in Altensteig. From 1985 – 1989 he taught interested students chess. Even at old age he passionately played chess. In 1999, three years before his death, he played at the World Championship for Seniors in Gladenbach. As one of the most important chess theoreticians he will, similar to Max Euwe, always remain an opening authority.

Continued in Part two...

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.


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