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Friday, February 6, 2015

Ludek Pachman

    Ludek Pachman was a strong Grandmaster, chess book author and political activist who, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, was tortured nearly to death by the Soviets in a Prague cellar. After this horrible experience Pachman was allowed to emigrate to West Germany where lived the remainder of his life and resumed his career. Despite his ordeal he was quite successful in that he qualified for the Interzonal in 1976 and won the West German Championship in 1978.
     Pachman (May 11, 1924, Bělá pod Bezdězem, today Czech Republic) won his first championship in 1940, when he became champion of the nearby village of Cista (population 900). In 1943 he was invited to an international tournament in Prague. Alekhine dominated the event and Paul Keres finished second. Pachman finished ninth in the nineteen-player tournament but his play was noticed by Alekhine who paid him a compliment in a newspaper article and invited Pachman to analyze with him in the evenings.
     At one time Pachman was considered one of the world's leading players, winning fifteen international tournaments plus he won the Czechoslovak championship seven times between 1946 and 1966. He became the champion of West Germany in 1978. He played in six Interzonal tournaments from Saltsjöbaden 1948 to Manila 1976 and represented Czechoslovakia in eight consecutive Olympiads from 1952 through 1966, usually playing first board. He had an even lifetime score against Fischer, +2 −2 =4.
     Pachman was politically active throughout his life. At first he was a staunch Communist but later became an equally staunch anti-Communist. He was a passionate speaker and writer about whatever cause he was involved in at the time and those who knew him said he loved to argue and often changed his mind. This sometimes left people not knowing if they were still his friend or not because like Fischer, he was known to sever his relationship with people who had tried to help him.
     He got into trouble with the Soviets because he was an enthusiastic supporter of Alexander Dubcek, head of Czechoslovakia's Communist Party, who had instituted reforms. After the Soviets invaded Prague and Dubcek was ousted Pachman spoke out in support of Dubcek and against the policies of the Soviet-installed government; it resulted in his arrest. He spent several months in prison without being charged, going on a hunger strike at one point to protest his treatment. He was released in 1970, but was rearrested in January 1972. At one point in his incarceration, he attempted suicide by jumping head first from his bed onto the floor, causing permanent injuries to his head and spine. He was released again in the summer of 1972 and in November he was allowed to leave the country and arrived in Munich with only his wife and cat.
     In 1989 Pachman reacquired his Czech citizenship, but by 1998 he had become disillusioned with the Czech government, changed his mind again, renounced his Czech citizenship and settled in Passau, located in Lower Bavaria, Germany. Living in what was then West Germany, he was a political activist with strong anti-communist views and made regular appearances on political talk shows. Tournaments in which Pachman was playing were boycotted by the Soviets and their allies, but when he qualified for the Interzonal in Manila, they had no choice but to end the boycott.
     Pachman also wrote eighty chess books published in five languages. He considered Modern Chess Strategy, published in 1959, to be his best book. His book Checkmate in Prague recounts his treatment at the hands of the Communist.
     Pachman described meeting Bobby Fischer in 1959 in Santiago and the day before the tournament Fischer asked him to be his translator. Fischer was accompanied by his mother and when the organizer asked if they needed separate rooms, Fischer replied that he wanted his mother put up in a room that was “at least ten miles away.” Even in those days Fischer was difficult to deal with. He wanted to know about prize money and when the organizer informed him all that information had been in the letter he had been sent, Fischer replied that he never read letters. When informed about the prizes, he complained that it was too low threatened to leave. Pachman tried to tell Fischer that his behavior was not acceptable, but Fischer didn't care; he wanted more money. Booby was a snot face from the very beginning, I guess. Pachman also had great disdain for chess engines, believing they would never be very good. He died March 6, 2003, in Passau, Germany at the age of 78.
     The following game was given by Pachman in Modern Chess Strategy as an example of how opening files for an attack with Rooks often requires Pawn advances to open up files. He calls this game “a simple example.” Analyzing the game with Stockfish 6 and Houdini 2 showed things weren't so simple because according to both engines, black had a slight advantage until his blunder on move 25. Going over Pachman's variations also revealed some errors in analysis. This situation is not uncommon in annotations written before engines. It's not unusual for authors to miss tactical shots and engines often find lines that are better than the authors' suggestions. In their haste to get the book out they may have missed some things. Also, sometimes they ignore possibly better moves in an effort to illustrate their point. Author's of those Play the (fill in the blank) Gambit and Rack Up Easy Points do it all the time. That does not always detract from the enjoyment or value of the games though. Even if a few warts show up, the old-timers still knew something about how to play chess.

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