On Carl Schlechter . . .

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      Sheenagh Pugh is an award winning poet and novelist from Wales. She also teaches creative writing at the University of Glamorgan.

      Some of her published poetry books include:

Prisoners of Transience
Selected Poems
Folk Music
Earth studies, and other voyages
Sing for the Taxman
Id's Hospit
Beware Falling Tortoises
What a place to grow flowers : poems
The Beautiful Lie
The Movement of Bodies
Long-Haul Travellers
Later Selected Poems

Ms. Pugh had given me permission to use the following poem she penned -

Karl Schlechter, 1874-1918

I want to stroll with Karl Schlechter
in nineteen-hundred, down a street of stone

the sun's turned to honey. From some window
a piano's playing slow, and Karl's sad eyes

kindle a little. I ask about his chess,
why he always offers a draw,

and he shrugs. White pigeons gurr
on the sills. "I hate that look in men's eyes

when they lose." I love him. We buy cherries
from a stall, morellos, dark, half-bitter,

and feed them to each other. I kiss him,
tasting them in his mouth. I want to tell him

"Karl, you die starving, at forty-four,
and you could be world champion. Play to win."

But then he wouldn't be who he is,
and I wouldn't come all the way

from the next century to hold hands
with the drawing master, watching

the light slant, hearing pigeons hush,
one by one, into sleep. Gentleman; gentle man.





     Carl Schlechter was a humble man - a gentleman and a gentle man. While some people weren't fond of his chess style (in fact, Lasker once referred to Schlechter as 'the man without style'.), it seemed apparent from all my reading that he was well liked both as a person and as an opponent. According to Nathan Divinsky (Professor of Mathematics at the University of British Columbia and a noted chess historian), "...much of this peaceableness, was due to Schlechter's unusually amiable character..he was modest, amiable, extremely friendly...Schlecter was liked by all who knew him." According to Warren Goldman ("Carl Schlechter!: Life & Times of the Austrian Chess Wizard" ), "He happily broke a lance against younger rivals in smaller chess tournaments." He lived in the country and loved nature. As one person explained: he was not looking for the extraordinary but was content with a simple life. Another element of his personality was either an inability to ask others for help, or the disinclination to intrude on others good graces. Schlechter seemed unable to ask for favors and didn't covet that which belonged to others. To the best of my understanding, and it's far from clear, Schlechter possibly caught pneumonia or some wasting away disease while in Berlin at the end of WWI. Some say he died of starvation, but it was also pointed out that he had won some prize money in a tournament on his way home which would likely rule out starvation. Whichever way it was, he mostly withdrew into himself and, without seeking any outside help, died in Budapest, Hungary on December 27, 1918.


     Schlechter wrote a chess column for Allgemeine Sportzeitung in the late 1880's.
      Around 1900 he wrote one for Wiener Hausfrauen-Zeitung.
      He edited the eighth edition of the Handbuch des Schachspiels
      [published in 11 parts between 1912 and 1916, begun in 1839 by Bilguer, continued
       after his death by Von der Lasa who edited 4 editions -in 1852, 1858, 1864 and 1874.
      Constantin Schwede edited the 6th in 1880, while in 1891 Emil Schallopp edited the 7th edition.
      It is most commonly called "Der Bilguer" and shorter editions are called "Der kleine Bilguer."]

      During his life Schlechter had a positive score against the Steinitz, Janowski, Tschigorin, Vidmar, Nimzovitch and Alekhine.

     The height of Schlechter's chess career was his match for the World Championship title with Emanuel Lasker. Lasker, a brilliant scientist and chess player, had been the World Champion for 16 years at this time and seemed indestructible. The first four games were drawn. Game 5, Lasker faltered and Schlechter drove home the point. Games 6 through 9 were drawn. Going into Game 10, Schlechter led by a full point. In order to be the chess champion of the world, all he had to do was what he did better than anyone else - draw the final game!
Inexplicably, Schlechter decided to go for a win - and lost.

Some notable quotes on Carl Schlechter:

Schlechter was the one competitor who accepted all things and all arrangements with equanimity amounting almost to indifference. Everything was right for him and nothing amiss, and this man, who apparently paid such little regard to his interests, was the winner of the first prize. Schlechter also showed us the generous side of his nature by declining to compete for any of the brilliancy prizes, for which he undoubtedly would have had the best chance. "I have won enough", he said. "Let others get something too." – Isidor Gunsberg

He carries out operations, apparently not concerted, on different parts of the board, so that one has the impression that a game with no clear preconceived objective is in progress. And it is only at the end that one perceives for the first time the connection of things seemingly disconnected, with the result that the game is rounded off into one great homogenous whole. – Richard Reti

Vienna has an old chess tradition, because chess is particularly the game of the underappreciated, who seek in play that success which life has denied them ... The most noted representative of the Viennese in chess was Schlechter ... His games stand out through their breadth of scheme - just as in the forest the trunks of trees and their branches stretch themselves out on all sides wherever there are open spaces: thus did Schlechter develop his forces; forcibly and, like Nature as it were, objectless. – Richard Reti

If the two players meant to solve the problem how to exchange as many pieces as possible in the shortest number of moves they certainly could not have played better. It is time that such games, if games they can be called, should no longer make their appearance in tournaments. In this case the onus lies with [Schlechter], who during the first part of the Tournament tried to force a draw whenever he possibly could.
Richard Teichmann

The World Championship… It wasn't that he didn't value the title, but the burdens associated with that rank in the chess hierarchy filled him with trepidation. Not only because of the hungry challengers he would have to face, foremost among them the dreaded Lasker, but also because his obligations towards patrons, organizers, and other masters - towards every chess enthusiast in the world in a sense - would be overwhelmingly great. The World Champion was an example to thousands. He was simultaneously revered and hunted. His opinion counted. Every word he wrote, perused with care. In every tournament, he was the measure of all things. His victories were taken for granted; his defeats were humiliations. The World Champion had to prove himself again and again. – Thomas Glavinic (on Schlechter's lack of desire to win the title)