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Monday, October 21, 2019

Karel Opocensky

Opocensky and Bronstein in 1954
     There was a story in an old Chess Review that the game Karel Opocensky lost to Capablanca at the Buenos Aires Team Tournament in 1939 was his favorite. The reason: after Capablanca won by accident he told Opocensky, “You outplayed me from the start and you would have beaten any other player in the world.” 
     If THIS game was the one referred to, I’m not seeing it, nor did Stockfish. Apparently Capa was being gracious. Or, perhaps since this game was played in the Final A section, they met in a preliminary section. 
     George Koltanowski recalled that in his first international tournament at Merano in 1924, he was up a Pawn but forced a draw by repetition against Opocensky who was furious. Opocensky thought that Kolty was morally obligated to play for a win and proceeded to call him “everything but a gentleman” and lecture him at length on ethics and integrity in chess play. I have to wonder why, if Opocensky felt that strongly about Koltanowski’s actions, why didn’t he just resign? The next time they met in a tournament in England more than ten years later and Koltanowski won, Opocensky told him, “You should have won that game in Merano, too.”
     Opocensky felt he was insulted by Nimzovich at Marienbad 1935, when, while Nimzovixh was considering his next move, Opocensky went for a walk. When he returned, instead of sitting down he leaned over his chair to study the position and as he did so he was swaying back and forth. Nimzovich snapped, “Go away or stop swaying your silly stomach over the board and give a man a chance to think.” Opocensky left, but they never spoke to each other again. 
     That anecdote reminded me of the time I was playing a many time state champion and was doing quite well coming out of the opening. As he held his head in his hands pondering his next move, I, too, was thinking hard and in the process was rocking back and forth. Suddenly the champ looked up and yelled, “G-- d--- it, quit rocking!” then buried his head back in his hands. Everybody was looking at us and it was a little embarrassing. I quit rocking and went on to lose. 
     Karel Opocensky (February 7, 1892 - November 16, 1975) was an IM who had the distinction of being the first Czech chess professional. 
     His father was a well-known building tycoon in Prague and decided that Karl, the middle and most gifted of the even children, should take over the family business, but he preferred chess instead. His father was furious with the decision and gave him an ultimatum, the family business or chess. Opocensky chose chess and said he never regretted his choice. 
     He won the Czech championship four times (1927, 1928, 1938 and 1944) and played for Czechoslovakia four times in the Chess Olympiads with a +30 – 11 =14 record. 
    When World War II broke out, Opocensky, Jan Foltys, and Frantisek Zita were playing for the Bohemia (the westernmost and largest region of the Czech lands in the present-day Czech Republic) and Moravia (a region in the Czech Republic forming its eastern part) team in the Olympiad in Argentina. They chose to return home while their teammates Jiri Pelikan and Karel Skalicka decided to remain in Argentina. 
     During the war Opocensky remained quite active and achieved moderate success. After the war, he played in several international and Czech tournaments, again with modest success. In 1951 and 1954, he was the chief arbiter for the World Championship matches in Moscow and in the 10th Olympiad at Helsinki 1952 and in the second Candidates Tournament at Zurich 1953. 
     Opocensky was also an opening theoretician with two variations named after him: in the Gruenfeld and the Sicilian. Czech GM Vlastimil Hort knew him personally and attested to the fact that it was Opocensky who once showed another variation in the Sicilian to Miguel Najdorf who was so successful with it that the variation came to be called the Najdorf Sicilian. 
     In 1910, while still in grammar school, he played the first tournament at the Cafe Louvre in Prague. The Cafe is still in existence today...for starters their Braised Beef with Creamy Sauce, Cranberry Target and Bread Dumplings for less that $10 looks pretty good. 
     Opocensky scratched out a living by writing chess articles, reporting on tournaments, annotating games and giving lessons. When WW I broke out he was playing in Mannheim, not in the Meisterturnier, but in the Hauptturnier A group where he was in 11th place (out of 17) with a +2 -3 =6 score. When the tournament broke up, Opocensky, a staunch Communist to the end, returned home and was upset to find that his oldest brother Jan had started a political career as a right wing politician. 
     In spite of his political leanings, which didn’t change much even after Russia invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 to halt reforms that were taking place, Opocensky was well liked and respected by all the great players who knew him.
     He was known for a style that was surprising and trappy and when he stood worse, patient defense was not his preference; he preferred a quick counterattack with tactical chances. 

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