The Chess player

I first met Karl-Heinz when he was about 8 or possibly 9 years old and I was an organiser of junior chess tournaments. At that time I could see that he was just a little ahead of others in his age group, but what struck me most about him was his eagerness to improve, his strict adherence to the simple rules laid down by the anonymous teacher who had taken him in an afterschool chess activity group, and above all his relaxed attitude towards his games.

Karl-Heinz was the apple of his mother’s eye; his father, who was a very moderate chess player himself, I think, was slightly in awe of his son’s talent, but they were very supportive of him taking up chess as they fondly believed that it would help him in the development of his brain and they may well have been right as he was indeed a pretty bright kid..

I was told that he was named after his maternal grandfather Karl-Heinz Froehlich who had been a well known engineer in his native Germany, a very strong chess player there, and had played competitive chess after migrating to Australia, although never quite to the standard he had achieved as a young man.

Karl-Heinz junior just kept on getting better and better as he moved through the age groups in junior championships and his composure and honesty was a pleasure to watch.

Then there was disaster.

On an ill supervised school excursion, in a rock climbing activity one of his friends slipped and fell taking several of his companions with him. The boy was very badly injured but the ones that fell with him including Karl-Heinz were also injured and taken to hospital.

The students, the teachers and particularly the hospitalised victims were severely traumatised and all were given extensive counselling. However rehabilitation was a slow process and it was some considerable time before he returned to the club and I saw him play once more.

Observing him as he played I sensed though there was something missing, he did not seem to have the laid-back approach to his games he once had. When I queried him what was wrong he confided in me that since the accident he heard voices in his head and that there was one particular voice that sounded a bit like his first teacher, that kept on telling him what to do when playing chess.

At first the voice had made the simple commands his first teacher had given him when he started out.

Like; don’t touch the pieces until you are ready to move, or don’t talk to your opponent and the voice’s favourite advice: Don’t resign; no-one has ever won a game by resigning.

​Karl-Heinz had not been all that fussed about these messages but lately the voice had been telling him which move to make or which move to avoid making, and that was the annoying bit, as the voice was a lousy player and the moves suggested were always inferior to the ones Karl-Heinz had planned or was analysing.

One night after a game and in the analysis room he told his opponent, a much older player, about the inner voice that had bothered him during the game. The opponent having just been annihilated across the board saw the opportunity to get some of his own back and complained to the arbiter that Karl-Heinz had been getting outside advice. Not in the more usual way of getting computer messages on his i-phone but by a voice in his head.

The arbiter ruled against the complainant but as the loss had hurt deeply an appeal was lodged with the Association and a

disputes committee appointed.

After 3 months of deliberations the committee came down with the bizarre ruling that Karl –Heinz had indeed been receiving outside help and the most likely explanation had been that the voice was the voice of God.

I had always known that the chess community had a fair sprinkling of religious cranks but how the association got 3 of them together on the same committee was beyond me.

But there it was.

I suggested to Karl-Heinz that he appeal on the grounds that the voice was an inferior chess player and therefore it could not possibly have been the voice of the Almighty, but having his integrity thus doubted Karl-Heinz decided that he no longer wanted to play and retired at the ridiculously early age of 14.

I found out later that the condition poor kid was suffering from is called auditory hallucination and can be brought on by trauma after serious accidents. The condition is well-known and can be cured over time.

It was years later when I met Karl-Heinz again; he had graduated from Melbourne University with first class honours and was planning to become an engineer like his grandfather. Fortunately his special field was not the design and construction of armoured war machines as granddad’s had been, but the development of super conductors that might one day be used in the construction of a maglev train that would connect Australia’s seaboard cities. He seemed glad to see me and we talked for awhile about chess and the past. He also told me the voice in his head no longer spoke to him and he assumed that that was because the concept of superconductivity was beyond the understanding of the voice and so it now left him in peace, He said he was content with his life, still close to his parents, but having had his integrity put into doubt as it had been when he was a boy he would never return to chess


The Danish gambit

I met Bruce during my involvement with the local chess club where he was a longstanding, active, and somewhat boisterous fellow member, not a great chess player but certainly an enthusiastic one. He was always keen to discuss his theories and his openings with anyone who would listen and even with anyone who would not. Amongst his failings as an over-the-board player was his short attention span, his impatience, and his wild imagination. His short attention span made him lose concentration, his impatience left him prone to starting ill-considered attacks, and his wild imagination made him often overlook the holes in his creations. Despite his over-the-board failings Bruce was a very good correspondence player due no doubt because it allowed him to walk away when he lost concentration and to touch the pieces to see what the board might look like down the track. As many correspondence players do, he had over the years built up a knowledge base of openings and particularly of his favourite the Danish gambit and the related Morra gambit. These openings suited his short attention span as most games where these gambits are used, rarely last far beyond the opening.

As every chess player knows the Danish goes as follows: 1 e4-e5, 2 d4-exd4, 3 c3-dxc3, etc. and anything might happen.

This year as every year Bruce entered the club championship and this year as every year he was confident and hopeful that the title would be his, as it had been once before in the heady far off days of the nineteen-eighties.

As I was the arbiter for this tournament I posted the draw for the first round I could see Bruce was pleased as he found himself well placed just above the bottom half in the swiss draw and an easy opponent in round 1.With this boost to his confidence he found himself on full points after 3 rounds and drawn for round 4 with the white pieces against Lionel the tournament

top seed a young FIDE master with a sound technique and a good temperament. As arbiter I had a wonderful opportunity to watch the game.

When clock start was called Lionel shook hands and started the clock. Bruce almost without thinking played e4 and sat back smiling. After his opponent’s answer of e5 he played d4 to which Lionel responded at once with exd4. So there it was; I saw Bruce reflecting, would he or would he not, and after some time not thinking of anything in particular and with shaking hands he slowly pushed the pawn to c3 Lionel responded immediately with dxc3 having decided before the game that with his superior technique he would be able to counteract anything Bruce might offer as a gambit. Bruce responded with Bc4, Lionel took the b pawn and Bruce recaptured with Bxb2.

So there it was the classic Danish gambit played as far back as the early eighteen hundreds by some of the greatest players of that era.

The game continued: 6. Nf3 Qxg2 7. Rg1 Bb4 8. Ke2 Qh3 9. Bf7 Kd8 Lionel realising he could not capture the bishop as it would lose the queen, knew now that he was in trouble, in deep trouble and that Bruce would only need to find the correct continuation. Bruce also realised this was critical and searched his mind’s database at some length and in the end that was where he found it Bird v Lasker 1892. 10. Bxg7 Ne7 11. Ng5 Qh4 12. Ne6++

Lionel always a gracious loser shook hands and congratulated Bruce on a fine win and listened politely to the analysis that went on [and on] into the night, Lionel being finally rescued when his parents came to collect him at the end of the session.

In round 5 Bruce had the black pieces and somewhat over-confident he tried to play the Danish with the black pieces, his opponent did not accept the second pawn and ran out a comfortable winner. Two more losses in the last 4 rounds saw Bruce back in his usual spot in a tie for 5th at the end of the tournament. Perhaps a little disappointed, but thinking of his fine win where he had made no mistakes and defeated a player rated some 700 points above him, made him content with his result realising once again that that was the way he had been put together.