Without Rik Lith all chess cafes are empty

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
In the first week of February we received the sad news that Rik Lith (1954?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú2007) had passed away. Rik was one of the icons of the Amsterdam chess scene and one of the regular visitors of the (also 'late') chess cafe Gambit. A bit more than two years ago the circle of friends around Gambit lost two of their brightest diamonds: regular customer Micha Leuw and Gambit owner Menashe Goldberg. Sunday, February 4th, 2007 Rik Lith joined them, whose health had been on the decline in recent years and who only reached the age of 52. On Friday, February 9th, he was buried at the Zorgvlied cemetery in Amsterdam. Chess player and politician Roel van Duijn allowed ChessVibes to publish his funeral oration and together with Tony Lith he collected three of Rik's games, including a draw against former World Champion Max Euwe.

Rik was a chess miracle. When I entered the chess cafe Gambit he was there. We didn't need to make an appointment. He'd finish his blitz games with his opponent, ask for a piece of paper and a pencil and we'd play for hours, till I was dead tired. And when I left, he'd cheerfully start another session, with another player. Chess seemd to make him more fit than anything else. Whenever I couldn't stop myself from accidently dropping by the next morning, only one human being would be present inside the deep room and that was him. I once walked by at half passed one in the afternoon on the Bloemgracht, half an hour after the cafe opened, and Yvon said from behind the bar: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìRik can be here any minute. Today he's late.?¢‚Ǩ?

Rik in one of his characteristic postures.

I had the honour to be his exclusive opponent and I played a life long blitz match with him. It started in chess cafe Het Hok, between the card players. We're talking was the early seventies, when Rik was a talented young star. A handsome boy, who would execute his moves so fast. In these blitz games he seldomly used more than half of his clock time. We never played a game with a normal rate of play. After we played blitz in the afternoon, he would go to the club at night, to Ca?ɬØssa, to happily play his true match. After he had consumed a bread roll with a beer next to the chess board in the chess cafe.

Who of us chess players knew Rik? Yes, every chess player knew him. And he knew us all. Every time Gambit's front door would open and somebody entered, he could count on a friendly greeting by Rik. But who, besides Tony, truly knew him? I sometimes cautiously asked him about his occupations or his relationships with women. But it just seemed to distract him from the true fighting area of life: the one on the 64 squares.

Rik was the knight of coffee house chess. The chess machine of Menashe, who used to call him that way. Or, when I entered Gambit, Menashe would say: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThere's our chess doctor's new patient.?¢‚Ǩ?

It is said that in the early years a chess machine did exist, the chess playing Turk. This chess machine performed at market places. A puppet with a turban moved the pieces and beat any opponent. This is how Menashe wanted to present Rik as a chess machine, as an attraction to his caf?ɬ©. But the difference was that unlike with the Turk, this chess machine did show a glimpse of the man that hided inside the machine: a vulnerable, introvert boy. With a dream we all know: he wanted to beat everybody and he kept on practicing for this till the very end.

During the Dutch national holiday Queen's Day, people could 'Play against the Bear' at Gambit. Rick was the only true bear!

Whenever I seeped away at night, after a defeat in a series of counter blitz games, he would send along with me this advise: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI demand of thy a severe discipline!?¢‚Ǩ? I never cared losing against Rik or even losing money to him. He always gave me the joy for being able to contribute to the maintenance of a romantic, playing monument. Because who in Amsterdam was, disguised as a chess machine, full time homo ludens? Rik Lith.

Rik was a great chess prodigy. He surely won more than half of the approximately two thousand blitz games we played against each other in a period of 35 years. Naturally, he knew all the lines in the Van Duijn Gambit, which he would combat with a tantalizingly positional style.

Only during the last few years he started to loose more and more. Not because he sometimes played poker or other games, but because he had to fight an opponent within himself simultaneously, a fight that asked for more and more energy. After Menashe died and Gambit closed down, I only saw Rik a few times. He would play in cafe De Twee Klaveren. Not anymore in the middle of the chess heat that had hesitatingly moved to De Laurierboom, and the flame of true coffee house chess seemed to be burning somewhat less. Now I understand this was a sign of his coming death, because the chess doctor couldn't do without the chess flame.

Dear Rik, we chess players miss you. Without you, all Amsterdam chess cafes are empty and no piece is moving.


Here are three games by Rik. Two with comments by Rik himself and one annotated by his opponent, former world champion Max Euwe.

>> open the games in a new window

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