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Monday, March 18, 2013

Dr. Joseph Platz

      Joseph Platz (11 April 1905, Cologne, Germany – 30 December 1981, Manchester, Connecticut, USA) was a German-American master. Platz won the championship of Cologne in 1926, the championship of the Rhine at Karlsruhe 1928, and the championship of Hannover in 1931. He also tied for 4th–6th at Cologne 1924, and tied for 4th–5th at Duisburg 1929 (DSB Congress, Hauptturnier A). Platz moved to the United States because of Nazi policy in Germany in the 1930s.
      He played a few training games with his friend, Emanuel Lasker, in New York in 1939–40. In the 1940s, he won the Bronx Championship six times. In 1948, he played in the U.S. Championship, placing 14th (won by Hermann Steiner). Between 1954 and 1972, he won the Western Massachusetts & Connecticut Valley Open Championship 14 times. He won the Connecticut Championship three times. He tied for the New England Championship four times. He was a USCF Master Emeritus and a medical doctor. 
      Platz learned the game of chess at the age of thirteen and for over a year he devoted himself to the intensive study of the games of the games of Lasker, Anderson, Morphy, Steinitz and Tarrash. With a firm foundation in fundamentals, his progress was such that at age 16 years he had the reputation of being one of the best chess players in Cologne.
      Dr. Platz's first major tournament was an invitation tournament sponsored by the thirty cub Cologne Chess League where a record of seven wins with no losses and no draws gave him first place honors. To further prove that this win was not a one-shot victory, Platz won the Cologne Chess Club Championship seven times in a row.
      In high school, he devoted the same intensity to his studies that he devoted to his chess games and graduated before he was eighteen with the intention of entering medical school. The early death of his father and the insecure position of the family's economic situation in post—war Germany caused a change in plans and he worked as a bookkeeper for a banking firm from 1923 to 1926. An important milestone in Dr. Platz's life was the re-marriage of his mother to an understanding man whose urging convinced Platz that twenty-one years was not too old to start to study medicine. With the final realization of a once thought to be a dream Joseph Platz entered Medical School with such enthusiasm that he he passed his first examination in only one and one half years instead of the usual two years.
      Chess-wise, 1926 could be considered a successful year for him. He won the City of Cologne Championship with a score of 11½-½ and when the Viennese Master Rudolf Spielmann, one of the greatest attacking player of all times, en route from winning the International Tournament in Austria, visited Cologne, a five game match was arranged and his opponent was to be Joseph Platz. The results of the match proved that from this match ,on Joe Platz was no ordinary chess player. To put it in his own words, "What chance did I, an amateur chess player, have against the famous master? To everyone's surprise, including my own, I won two games, drew two and only lost one and won the match with a 3-2 score.”
      In 1928, after a two year absence from serious chess due to medical studies and examinations, Platz entered and won the tournament for the Championship of the Rhine. The Rhine area was what is now Western Germany. At the German Chess Congress at Duesburg in 1929, from a 48-player field of invitational players, he went undefeated in the preliminaries and took fourth place in the finals.
      In 1931, having passed the State Medical Board examinations in Cologne, Dr. Platz served his internship in Hannover, Germany where he played a six-game match with H. Matthai, Lower Saxony Champion, winning three, drawing two and losing one.
      1932 was spent as resident in surgery at the Hospital of the Black Forest, city of Offenburg where the busy schedule of work left little time for chess and the Doctor had time for only one chess tournament. The Championship of Southwest Germany in Freiburg where his record of three wins, three draws, without a loss won second prize.
      When Hitler came to power in 1933, Dr. Platz left Germany and came to the United States where, after a year's internship at Fordham Hospital in New York City, he passed all of the State Medical Board exams and went into General Practice in the Bronx.
      In 1934, with all the uncertainty contingent with emigrating to a new country, learning a new language, setting up a medical practice, and having to adopt a new way of life, Dr. Platz answered the call of his first love, competitive chess and joined the Manhattan Chess Club where he took part in many tournaments finishing most with a plus score. As a member of the Manhattan Chess Team in the Metropolitan Chess League, he went undefeated for seven years and won Best Game Prize four times thereby setting a record unequaled by any other player, masters included. Among his opponents were some of the best players in the United States and topping the list were two United States Champions. – Arnold Denker and Arthur Bisguier.
      In 1940 Dr. Platz was married to Ester Semenoff of Providence, R.I.  During his stay in New York, Dr. Platz was also a member of the Bronx Chess Club, winning six of their tourneys without a loss.
      In 1948 he qualified for the finals in the U.S. Chess Championship. When the United States Chess Federation published the first rating list in 1950, based solely on results in tournament play, Dr. Platz was ranked as Master.
      The years 1939-40 proved to be the richest and most rewarding period of his life as well as his chess career; he was under the tutelage of the former Champion of The World Dr. Emanuel Lasker; their relationship of friend as well as teacher and scholar left cherished memories in his mind that lasted a lifetime. Platz’ description of Lasker on the chessboard was, he was a strict disciplinarian who tolerated no foolishness whatsoever from his students in a chess game. A foolish move or a bad judgment blunder would invariably bring a severe tongue lashing, many times leaving some of his students in tears. This discipline was to stand Platz in good stead later when he had to use it in high-level tournament play.
      After several hundred games Platz had improved enough that on several occasions he played Lasker to a draw and in one game he beat him. In his chess career Dr. Platz has beaten World Champions Lasker, Dr. Euwe and Bobby Fischer and had a draw against Capablanca.
      In 1952 Dr. Platz, with a desire to live in a smaller and quieter community, moved his family to Manchester Connecticut. Building up a new practice turned out to be a full time job leaving very little time for anything else much less chess. With the lack of time and the heavy workload Dr. Platz decided to retire from active chess and just watch form the sidelines. The retirement only lasted two years and in 1954 he was back in the swing.
       Dr. Platz's record for 1954 to 1972: 33 tournaments won - 3 matches won - 3 brilliancy prizes. Dr. Platz won the Bronx Chess Championship 6 times. In 1948 he participated in the US Championship and finished 14th. Between 1954 and 1972, he won the Western Massachusetts and Connecticut Valley Open Championship 14 times. Platz also won the Connecticut Championship three times. He tied for the New England Championship four times.
      He was a USCF Master Emeritus. There is a popular memorial tournament held in his honor each year.
      In 1978 Platz wrote Chess memoirs: The chess career of a physician and Lasker pupil.  I do not have this book, but do have a pgn file of all the games contained in it. For some reason Platz included quite a few miniature games where his opponents made real howlers…one move blunders. Perhaps there was a story behind them.
      In the game below he defeats Irving Chernev who got into trouble when he brought his Q out too early and neglected to castle.


  1. Wow. I'm glad someone remember him. At a garage sale, there was this old book that has bad cover. The font was not good, but it was readable. What attracted me was the author said he was a student of Lasker. When I read that, I gotta have it. It costs me only $1.00. A very good book.

    You did a good thing by letting folks know that aside from the lunatics and crazies, there are actually folks out there who are scholars, gentlemen, and students of the game.

  2. Great post. I studied with the good doctor for a year and probably gained about 200 rating points during that time, enough to catapult me to expert level. His win against Fischer was in a simul and Dr.Platz said that it was revenge for Fischer having omitted Lasker from his list of 10 best players of all time. I have his book if you need additional info (email address on my profile). - Mark

  3. The New Britain Chess Club, where he gave a simultaneous chess exhibition in 1979, will honor Dr. Platz later this year (2018). I believe that Dr. Platz was an officer of the Hartford Chess Club.