RIP Chess Connoisseur Lothar Schmid
Lothar Schmid (The Telegraph/Obit)
Lothar Schmid, who has died aged 85, was a German chess Grandmaster and a bibliophile said to possess the world’s most extensive private library of literature about the game.
Schmid earned his living helping his brothers to run the family’s publishing house, and as a player never reached the pinnacle; but his collection of books ran to many thousands of volumes, and included some great rarities.
He owned, for example, one of only 10 surviving copies of the first printed book about chess, Luis Lucena’s Repetition of Love and the Art of Playing Chess (Repetición de Amores y Arte de Ajedrez), published in Salamanca in 1497.
He also possessed all eight editions of Questo libro e da imparare giocare a scachi, published in Rome in 1512 by the Portuguese apothecary Pedro Damiano (1470-1544). The first bestselling chess manual of the modern game (it ran to eight editions in 50 years), it offered advice on how to play and introduced readers to the “smothered mate” (in which checkmate is delivered by a knight when the opposing king is unable to move because he is completely hemmed in by his own pieces). Damiano suggested that chess was invented by Xerxes the Great, King of Persia from 519 to 465 BC.
In 1562 the book was translated into English by James Rowbothum under the title The Pleasaunt and Wittie Playe of the Cheasts Renewed with Instructions Both to Learne It Easely, and to Play It Well.
Chess, Rowbothum declared, would help statesmen to understand “the graue and waightye affaires of Princes” and provide recreation for the mind; players would develop “a certaine studye, pollicie, wit, forcast, memorie, with other properties, to make men circumspect not onelye in playing this game, but also comparing it to a publick gouernement, or more properly a battel”.
Schmid was also well-known as the chief arbiter at several world championship matches, including the notorious clash at Reykjavik in 1972 between the American Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, from the Soviet Union — an event which turned into a microcosm of the Cold War.
Fischer (who would eventually emerge the winner by 12½-8½) raged that the light was too bright; that he was being put off by the spectators and television cameras; even that the noses on the knights were too long. Meanwhile, the Soviets claimed that Fischer was being aided by experts communicating with him via a minute radio transmitter, and at one point they sent a sample of Spassky’s orange juice to Moscow to be tested for poison.
It is said that the match would have been even more stormy had it not been for Schmid’s skilful diplomatic interventions.
After Spassky had won the first game, Fischer refused to contest the second, and Schmid declared that Spassky had won by a forfeit. Fischer then threatened to walk out of the match altogether.
After the American had relented, Schmid still had his work cut out to get both players to the board. “I felt there was only one chance to get them together,” he later recalled. “They were two grown-up boys, and I was the older one. I took them both and pressed them by the shoulders down into their chairs and I said: 'Play chess now!’”
Schmid was again the arbiter when Fischer and Spassky played their so-called “Revenge Match” in Sveti Stefan in 1992. He also oversaw the world championship matches between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in the Philippines in 1978, and between Karpov and Garry Kasparov in 1986 in London and Leningrad.
Lothar Maximilian Lorenz Schmid was born on May 10 1928 at Radebeul, near Dresden. His family co-owned the Karl May Press, which published the adventure novels of the German author Karl May (1842-1912), many of which were set in the American Wild West.
Aged 15, Lothar won the Dresden chess championship, and in 1948 he tied for fourth place in the German national championship in Essen; the following year he came third. In 1951 he achieved International Master status, and he became a Grandmaster in 1959.
Schmid played for West Germany at 11 Chess Olympiads, winning four individual silver medals (1950, 1952, 1968 and 1970) and two team bronze medals (1950 and 1964).
But his finest achievement as a player was probably in the tournament at Bamberg, in Bavaria, in 1968, when he shared second place with the reigning world champion Tigran Petrosian behind the Estonian Paul Keres.
He was also a top-class correspondence player, winning the first German Correspondence Championship (1950–52) and the first Eduard Dyckhoff Memorial (1954–56). In the World Correspondence Championship of 1956–59 he finished equal second .
Lothar Schmid, born May 10 1928, died May 18 2013
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