In Memoriam: IM Rob Hartoch

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Rob HartochInternational Master Rob Hartoch (62) passed away Thursday morning in St. Lucas Hospital in Amsterdam. He suffered severe liver damage. He will be deeply missed in the Dutch chess scene. In Memoriam by Karel van Delft.

Rob Hartoch was a very gifted player, a great talent. He achieved his biggest success in 1965 when he finished second (behind Bojan Kurajica) at the World Championship Under 20 in Barcelona. Rob was often telling stories about that tournament. "I was there together with an old man, who wasn't a very good chess player, but he was nice company. He just let me do my thing, and for me that was perfect."

At the end of his career, when his rating was dropping more and more, Rob became less interesting as a player for chess organizers and clubs. But in my opinion this is a misconception. Such a player, with so much experience and who always enjoyed being around with other people, has a lot to offer to the chess world.

I met Rob years ago in Dieren, where he always participated in the Dutch Open. A casual conversation at the bar soon led to regular contact. Rob often visited Apeldoorn. For a few years he played in the first team of Schaakstad Apeldoorn and he was part of the team that promoted to the highest league in the year 2000. He gave commentary to the games at several editions of the Apeldoorn Championship Weekender. At two of them he was joined by GM Daniel Stellwagen and it was clear that Rob especially enjoyed those sessions. We have video footage of it.

Rob was one of the trainers at the annual event Youth Meets Masters. He was responsible for the youngest group. At the end of a long day, youngsters like (now GM) Sipke Ernst or (now IM) Lucien van Beek would be exhausted, but Rob was clearly in his element. The kids loved him. He explained something, then used his famous phrase "first try out the position yourself" and walked away to smoke a cigarette. By the time the pieces would be lying scattered on the floor, he was still in control. "Three points for the one who picks up the pieces."

Analysing with GM Daniel Stellwagen, IM Yochanan Afek, IM Merijn van Delft, GM Sipke<br /> Ernst and GM Friso Nijboer during the Aventus tournament.

Analysing with GM Daniel Stellwagen, IM Yochanan Afek, IM Merijn van Delft, GM Sipke Ernst and GM Friso Nijboer during the Aventus tournament

It's possible that Rob played a role in the termination of GM Jan Werle's short-lived professional chess career. In the year when he was playing fulltime, Jan was was also one of the trainers at Youth Meets Masters. After the workshops the trainers and organizers would head to the Indonesian restaurant, and during dinner Jan was sitting between IMs Manuel Bosboom and Rob Hartoch. Rob was telling all kinds of great stories about his chess career and some minor details, like a poor income every now and then, and the fact that insurance wasn't part of a chess player's vocabulary either. Manuel added something about Buddha, and Jan, well, he got more and more quiet. It was a nice and instructive moment in the first year of Werle's professional chess career.

Rob couldn't attend the last edition of Youth Meets Masters. He excused himself for having to cancel his participation, due to health problems. On December 24, 2008 Rob wrote in an email:

"It won't surprise you that I've been struggling with my health since this summer. I've been in hospital from December 9th to 20th. They haven't yet found a solution for my ailments and I feel as horrible as I did before I went to hospital. This means that to my regret I cannot join Youth Meets Masters 2009. Taking your organisational talent into account, I don't think it will be a problem to find a replacement. Merry Christmas and a Happy 2009!"

Rob had a good relationship with GM Daniel Stellwagen. Rob obtained trainer's diploma C. For his courses he had to coach a young player during a tournament, supervised by a sports psychologist hired by the Dutch Chess Federation. The (female) psychologist didn't know the rules. Rob didn't like studying systematically, and he really disliked his assessment. Frantic, he called me. "I don't understand these texts, and Karel van der Weide doesn't either." I tried to calm him down by stating that I didn't understand them either. "Yes, but you aren't the one who is being assessed by this lady!" was Rob's reaction. He did have a solution, though. "What if I come to Apeldoorn about two weeks before the start of the tournament, together with Daniel, and we look at it together with you? This is what happened and I remember we had a very nice afternoon.

Youth Meets Masters

Youth Meets Masters

Until about a few years ago Rob was still ambitious. He was still thinking about becoming a grandmaster one day. Naturally with his talent he should have thought of that earlier. Yes, he had beaten the great Paul Keres, but talent is not enough…

There were more stories. Rob had been a football referee for 25 years. He often followed the match from the middle of the field. A nice, central position, let's call it centralization. He said he had never dealt someone a yellow card. "You can solve things with talking too, you know." And he hated the inevitable paper work that goes along with cards, so that problem was also solved.

During the last few years of his career, Rob drew almost all of his games. This was connected with a fear of losing, but also with a bad condition. Rob was a diabetes patient.

In his best years, Rob was a really strong player, as IM Alexander Kabatianski explained to us about ten years ago. With the three of us we were in the car, driving back all the way from Sas van Gent. Alexander told Rob that when he was living in the Ukraine he often replayed Rob's games.

Jonathan Rowson, Merijn van Delft, Yochanan Afek, Erik Knoppert, Alexander Kabatianski, John Sloots, Freddie van der Elburg, Lucien van Beek, Marc Jonker en Jan Gustafsson, team captain Karel van Delft, Jacques Kuiper and Lex Cornelisse

Schaakclub Apeldoorn promoted to the Meesterklasse on Saturday, May 13, with team members Jonathan Rowson, Merijn van Delft, Yochanan Afek, Erik Knoppert, Alexander Kabatianski, John Sloots, Freddie van der Elburg, Lucien van Beek, Marc Jonker and Jan Gustafsson, and captains Karel van Delft, Jacques Kuiper and Lex Cornelisse

Rob not only drew with mediocre players, but he also held his own against very strong grandmasters. In one of the matches between Schaakstad Apeldoorn and Rotterdam, a historical encounter between Kortchnoi and Dvoretsky being played on first board. The two had never played each other before. On board two, Rob faced Lembit Oll. After some change of move order Rob just cemented the position and for Oll there was nothing left to do but offer a draw about twelve moves later. It might have been Oll's last game. Two weeks later he stepped out of a window.

IM Yochanan Afek and I visited Rob on May 4th in the hospital. His skin was yellow and he had lost a lot of weight. Although he was very tired, he liked it to have people around. He was still very much interested in the latest developments in the chess world.

After that visit, his wife Hetty kept on updating us about his condition.

The last few weeks Rob suffered from pain. Morfine soothed this a bit. A liver transplantation was not an option, he told us. It was clear that he was to suffer for many more weeks, but he didn't have to go through this.

Rob, the time we had together with you was just great. Rest in peace.

Hetty, all the best. You have to live without a marvellous man.

Karel van Delft, Secretary, Apeldoorn Chess Foundation

Rob Hartoch will be cremated Tuesday, June 2nd at 14:45 at the Nieuwe Oosterbegraafplaats, Kruislaan 126, Amsterdam.

Update July 1, 2009: Hebert P?©rez Garc??a sent us a small in memoriam video of Hartoch playing at Corus 2007. The WMV file (a bit over 4MB) can be viewed / downloaded here.
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