Ludwig Engels. A Tribute to a Forgotten Chessmaster.

Ludwig Engels. A Tribute to a Forgotten Chessmaster.

Feb 10, 2018, 2:33 AM |

When I first got onto the internet a few years ago, the very first chessplayer that I used it to research was Ludwig Engels. 'Who'?, I hear you ask - 'another second rate dug up by Simaginfan!' Perhaps, but I found him a fascinating story, and one worth digging into.

Recently - 2016 - another researcher found him interesting enough to write a book about him. This one.


The author presented some of his work in  the magazine Kaissiber, issue 25. With my gratitude to Hans for providing me with that article, which complemented my own research greatly, I shall begin.

Many, many years ago, I managed to get my hands on a strange little book by Kubel, about the Tournament held in Dresden in 1936. It is a strange volume indeed! The text is entirely hand written, and it contains bits of the Nazi propaganda relevant to the time the tournament was played as background( the book was published in 1985) A real curiosity! I bought it because I was researching Keres at the time, and wanted to see why the tournament was the great disaster of his early career. So that was how I discovered Ludwig Engels. A lucky break for me!! Having discovered him, I managed to get hold of another obscure book - on the Bad Nauheim Tournament of 1935, and realised what a great player he could have become. But he never did.

Back in the days when I was  a snooker player, we had a saying we would use, when taking some sucker's money off them-amidst protestations of how unlucky they had been. 'Only Just Counts - Very Nearly Doesn't'. Engels very nearly joined the ranks of the many great players of his era. Had he been the number one player in Austro-Germany - as it was at the time - instead of number two, perhaps he, not Eliskases would have been invited to the Semmering Tournament of 1937, and from there received more invitations to important events. If only, perhaps, very nearly. If WW11 hadn't cut short so many careers. If only. Perhaps.

As I have spent so many hours on him, and he is virtually forgotten, I will vary from my usual practice, and give a fullish biography and career details, plus a number of games. Hopefully, you will understand my fascination with him - if not, then there is plenty of wonderful chess to enjoy.


Ludwig Engels. 11/12/1905 - 10/1/1967.

Before we get into the Biography, I will briefly look at the questio of how strong he actually was. Here is the Chessmetrics listing for March 1941, which, strangely, is the statistical peak of his career.

nullHe actually ranks a little higher in the World before that, but this is his Chessmetrics ratings peak.

Top 20 in the World, sounds O.K. but not not greatness by any stretch of the imagination. It is , however, a launch pad to higher things. I will make a comparison to put that into context. In mid 1970s, Robert Hubner, another German player, was rated 2630 on the same site, and in that year he qualified for the World Championship Candidates event - a knock-out event at the time. Pre ratings inflations, 2600 meant you were a World Class Grandmaster.

Engels was never awarded the G.M title by F.I.D.E. It has been speculated that anti-German politics may be a reason - I think he just got overlooked. 

His career record, as given in Brasilbase.




Ludwig Engels was born in Dusseldorf on December 11th, 1905. As one of a pair of twins, he was part of a family of 5 children.

When he was 6 years old, in 1911, his mother died, and it appears that he spent some, if not all, of the rest of his childhood living with his Grandparents.

Around 1921 - at the age of 16 - he joined one of ther most important chess clubs in Germany - The Dusseldorfer Schachverein ( Now known as Dusseldorfer Schachverein 1854 )

It is clear that he was a  huge talent, and he developed very quickly. The club records have him as being the Club Champion as early as 1923 - he was to win it again in 1931 - no mean acheivement, considering his lack of experience, and the strength of the club.

In 1926 the great Richard Reti stayed in Dusseldorf, and Engels, along with others including van Nuss, is said to have trained with him.

He made his first steps onto the national stage was at the DSB Kongress of 1929, in Hauptturnier 'B'. 

I have discussed the Hauppturnier system elsewhere.

The Congress was held in Duisburg, and was the first 'Nearly' of Engels career.

A page from Wiener Schachzeitung.


As only one player could be awarded the D.S.B Mastter title, there was to be a 3-way playoff. Engels' clubmate and friend van Nuss generously stood down to allow Engels and Ludwig Rodl to play a straight match for the title. The match took place at the start of 1930, and an unrecognisable Engels was well beaten. In fairness to his opponent, Rodl was a very talented player in his own right - one forme to research at a later date.

As a curiousity, inbetween times Engels played on top board for the Rheiner Schachvereins in a match against Holland, against a certain Max Euwe. ( All results information can be found in the above table.)

In 1930 he shared first place with Weissgerber in the D.S.V Hauppturnier, but I have no details of that event.

The best of his early known games that I have been able to find is the following - also given in the kaissiber article. His opponent, 21 years old at the time, is a story typical of the surreal World of the time for many of the players mentioned here -  and in my Junge article. He was classed as jewish - a 'Halbjude'. He managed to escape Nazi Germany to France, to start a new life in Paris. When the Nazis invaded and occupied Paris in 1940, he commiited suicide. Another of the forgotten. 


In the period 1933-1934, engels went on a 45 day tour of Germany, giving simultaneous and blindfold exhibitions, playing around 1300 games - around 30 per day.

In the 1935 German Championships, he came 5th, and was awarded the strange title 'Deutscher Kampfmeister'.

The table from


Around this time Germany began to prepare itself for the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. Along side that event was to be the Chess Olympiad. The story of the event is now well documented, and can easily be found on the internet, and various book sources. One of the prepatory events for the German players was held in Bad Nuheim in 1935. This was to be Engels' introduction to international chess, at the age of 30. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a rare booklet on the event, published by Jack Spence in the U.S.A. Bogolubov - by that time resident in Germany- was the big name, and duly won. For Engels it was a second 'Nearly'. In the last round his nerves failed him, and he lost to Andersen - one of the tail-enders - and so missed out on at least a share of first place.


Having beaten his 3 main rivals, Engels was the star of the event, but his nerve failed him. A recurrent theme. He also produced the game of the tournament - his win against Kurt Richter.

Richter himself was generous enough to include it in his own 'Best Games' book. I was intending to include richter's notes to the game. Sadly I have managed to mislay the book - and with it all of my early research on Engels, scribbled on bits of paper and inserted on the page of that game. (Much of the reseach is from the relevent volumes of Wiener Schachzeitung) If the book ever turns up amidst my chaos, I will add it to this post.

Erich Eliskases was the big stumbling block of Engels' career at this time. Eventually he ended up in South America, along with many from the 1939 Olympiad. He represented 3 countries at different times - Austria, Germany and Argentina. Alekhine considered him a serious candidate for a World Title match at one time it appears, although how much that was influenced by the politics of the time, I couldn't say! He was , however, a player of serious quality.


Engels followed up this result with four consecutive  first prizes in national events, beforee he came to the biggest test of his career.

Dresden 1936 was another preparation event for the Olympiad. This time two stellar names were to take part. Alexander Alekhine, and the fastest rising star of them all, Paul Keres. 

The relevant tables from Kubel's book tell much of the story.


In the last round Engels faced the tounament tail-ender, Henrik Grob, who had lost all of his games up to that point. A win would have guarrenteed him at least a share of first prize - Engels got the advantage, but failed to convert it to a win, while Alekhine won his last roud game to finish in clear first.

Alekhine's view of the event has been quoted in many sources.


Again, 'Nearly'. Again it seems that his nerves faied him at the decisive moment. Indeed, Georg Keiniger was to later refer to Engel's extreme nervousness at the board.

Sadly this was to be the highlight of Engels' career in individual events.

The participants.


As Alekhine remarked, there is no dobut that Engels was the star of the event. The games mentioned by him are given here.

Kubbel's book gives two cartoons to accompany the Alekhine game.



This result saw Engels on board 3 in the German Olympiad team.


A photo of Engels at the event from Dusseldorferschach.

The story of the event can be found here  amongst others, and there are a number of pictures on Winter's chesshistory pages. Engels score is as in the above table. 

 I believe that after the Olympiad, Engels spent some time in Iceland working for the Icelandic Chess Federation as a trainer and coach. Whilst he was there he took part in two small tournaments, taking first prize in both, before returning to Germany. 



As you can see from the results table, 1938 was a busy year for Engels, with a number of events taking place in Germany.

Bad Oenhausen was a strong event. Eliskases was at the top of his game, whilst, unusaully, Engels struggled against his rivals.

Table from


He did play some fine chess though.




The next event for Engels was to be the 1939 Olympiad. The story of the event can be found in various places. Once the German team - augmented by the two Austrians, Eliskases and Becker-  had been selected, there seems to have been some debate over the boaard order. Eliskases was, rightfully, to be on board one. It was decided to put Michel on second board, because he had the reputation for being very solid and difficult to beat, while the more aggressive Engels was to be on board three to try to score wins against the slightly weaker opposition. The plan worked out very nicely!
nullThere are photographs of all the teams at the event. The German team.
Chess-wise, Engels enjoyed himself, racking up an 87.5% score - the best of any player in the event.
To put it into context, I will give the best percentages from the preceeding events.
1927. Sir George Thomas. 80%.  Bd.3
1928. Kashdan.                 86.7% Bd.1
1930. Rubinstein.              88.2% Bd.1
(Alekhine 9/9 against selected opponents)
1931. Several                    75%
1933. Opocensky.             88.5% Bd.4
1936. Szabo.                     86.5% Bd.5
1937. Kashdan.                 87.5% Bd.3
Engels' opponent in the following game is mentioned in my post on Junge.
With the outbreak of W.W.11, a number of players, including the German team, remained in South America.
As you can see, most took up residency in Argentina. The only two who were able to continue their chess careers with any measure of sucess were Najdorf and Eliskases.
Initially Engels stayed in Argentina too. In 1941 he took part in two strong events - Mar del Plata and Montevideo.
After that he went to Brasil to take part in an event  played partly in Sao Paulo, which was to become his new home. There were certain restrictions on the movements of German nationals in place at the time - I don't know if this was a contributary factor. There was, however, a small German community there at the time, and the kaissiber article says that he was helped by Paulo Guimaraes, Marcio Elisio de Freitas and Lourenco Cordioli who were active in Sao Paulo chess circles at the time. Through them he became a coach at 'Clube de Xadrez sao Paulo 1902'. As a supplimentary income he edited a chess column in 'O Estado de Sao Paulo', and as a member of various chess teams, most notably E.C.Corinians Paulista. There is a photograph of the team, which also includes Cordioli.
During the following years he took part in a few more or less strong tournaments, notably Sao Paulo 1948, alongside O'Kelly, Eliskases and Rossetto, but it was clear that his career as an international player was over. In that regard it is very strange that, despite the fact that he appears to have completely severed his ties with Germany, he never took up Brasilian citizenship - which may have opened the way for him to compete more often.
The remainder of his life does not seem to have been particularly ideal, as can easily be understood. Always a nervous individual, he is said to have suffered greatly from the normal effects of a life in exile - loneliness, depression, and an overuse of tobacco and alchohol which may have contributed to the stroke which ended his life in January 1967. 
There is a photograph of his friend Cordioli at his grave here.
From 'O Estado de Sao Paulo'.
Annoyingly i have been unable to find my Wiena Schachzeitung research material, The following are a few of the internet pages I have used in working on this article.
WirrE, ALBERTo: ,,Ludwig Engels
bleibt uns unvergessen", in: DSBL7967,5.76tr
I shall finsh with a few games and images from Engels' time in Brasil.
nullRio 1954.
That game won Engels a brilliancy prize.