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Remembering Ludek Pachman

Remembering Ludek Pachman

May 11, 2008, 6:47 AM 1
Luděk Pachman (German: Ludek Pachman, May 11, 1924, Bělá pod Bezdězem, today Czech Republic – March 6, 2003, Passau, Germany) was a Czechoslovak-German chess grandmaster, chess writer, and political activist. In 1972, after being tortured almost to death and imprisoned by the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, he was allowed to immigrate to West Germany. He lived the remainder of his life there, and resumed his chess career with considerable success, including winning the West German Championship in 1978 and playing in the Interzonal in 1976.

Pachman's first chess championship came in 1940, when he became champion of the nearby village of Cista (population 900). The first big break in his chess career came in 1943, when he was invited to an international tournament in Prague. World champion Alekhine dominated the event, with Keres taking second place. Pachman finished ninth in the nineteen-player tournament. Alekhine paid him a compliment in an article in the "Frankfurter Zeitung" and from the fifth round on invited him every evening to analyze games and opening variations. "I don't have to tell you how a beginner from a village chess club felt at that time," Pachman wrote.

Pachman went on to become one of the world's leading players. He won 15 international tournaments, but considered sharing second place in Havana 1963 with Tal and Geller, behind Korchnoi, his best tournament success. Pachman 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 between Saltsjobaden 1948 and Manila 1986. He represented Czechoslovakia in Chess Olympiads between 1952 and 1966.

The most successful year of his career was 1959. After winning the Czechoslovakian championship he went on a South American tour, winning tournaments in Mar del Plata (tied with Najdorf), Santiago (tied with Ivkov) and Lima (again tied with Ivkov). On this tour he beat the 16-year-old Bobby Fischer twice, which enraged the young grandmaster. Pachman has an even lifetime score against Fischer, +2−2=4.

Pachman was politically active his whole life, first as a Communist and later as a staunch anti-Communist. In December 1968, he won a tournament in Athens. Upon his return to Prague, the authorities arrested him and took him to a torture cellar, where they tortured him for months. He attempted suicide. On Christmas Eve 1969 the doctors called his wife and told her that he probably would not survive the night. He did, and in 1972 was finally allowed to emigrate to West Germany. He soon became known as a strongly anti-Communist political activist. His eloquence made him a regular guest on political talk shows.

Pachman was also a prolific author, publishing eighty books in five languages. In the 1950s, he became the world's leading opening expert with the publication of his four-volume opus, Theory of Modern Chess. Pachman considered Modern Chess Strategy, published in 1959, to be his best book. His book Checkmate in Prague recounts his brutal treatment at the hands of the Communist authorities.

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