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