IN MEMORY OF WOLGANG UNZICKER (1925 - 2006)
In the autumn 2003 I attended a symposium on chess history. A small exhibition hall of the Berlin Art Museum visibly livened up, when a shortish aged man briskly stepped in. Hie appearance looked familiar to me. “Hallo, Winfgang! Guten Tag, Herr Unzicker!” the voices rang out. Yes, it was Wolfgang Unzicker, a legendary grandmaster, the best German player for many years, author of a number of books, including a comprehensive work on chess history, written together with Jacob Silbermann.
First of all Unzicker approached Russian historians Yury Averbakh and Isaac Linder, and greeted them heartly. “I found out that Yura and Isaac will come, and decided to come – there are so few of us left”, he explained to the crowd. After another break Unzicker returned to the conference hall a bit late and took a vacant seat near me. Of course, he did not fail to greet a stranger. We started talking, and our talk continued with short breaks until the end of the symposium. Having found out where am I from, the grandmaster switched to Russian. He spoke with a slight Baltic accent, using rare and archaic words. It turned out that in the 50s Unzicker had studied Russian seriously, and even had spent a few months in Moscow. I could not hide my admiration when he recited Lermontov’s “Sail”. We talked about Silesia and Ukraine, Boell and Erenburg, Wagner and Skriabin...
Unzicker visited Berlin for personal matters and of course could not attend all sessions of the symposium. He asked me about the time of my speech and said: “I’ll try”. And indeed he found the time to listen to my speech, despite his busy schedule, and greeted me afterwards.
It was a rare pleasure to talk with such a well-educated, titled and at the same time very unassuming person. His achievements were outstanding: having got a legal education and a doctoral degree, Unzicker was a court chairman in Munich for many years, and in passing won 7 German championships and more than 10 significant international competitions. It was not by a chance he was often called the world’s strongest amateur. Of course, one could not even think about any govermnent support to chess players in a post-war Germany.
In August 2005, a tournament was organized to celebrate the 80th birthday of the grandmaster. Korchnoi, Spassky and Karpov arrived to play in the tournament. Unzicker’s reputation was flawless all over the chess world. I have never read anything critical about him, even in GDR press.
Last autumn there was another meeting of chess historians in Berlin. The first man I saw in a large hall of Lasker Society was... Unzicker. I congratulated him with the jubilee, and we exchanged a couple of meaningless phrases. “No wonder, - I though, - the old man did not recognize me. Alas.” However, “the old man” approached me shortly, smiled and addressed in Russian: “Excurse me! I found your business card, now we can continue our talk. Could you tell me the difference between words derzhava and oplot?”
On April 20, 2006 Wolfgang Unzicker died of a heart attack.
It happened so that I shook hands with Wolfgang Unzicker in 1960. I think it was in November. Among other pupils of chess section of the Pioneers Palace, I was sent to the Chigorin Club for the opening ceremony of the international tournament Baltic Sea is a sea of friendship. Each one of us received an album of city sightseeings with a seedings number to be handed to the players. I’ve got the number two. Maybe it also played its role: Wolfgang Unzicker performed very well, scored 8/11 and finished second behind Mark Taimanov. Since that time I have always covered Unzicker’s play, and I was glad that outstanding grandmasters attended his 80-year jubilee last year. It is so great that his jubilee was successful, and it is so sad that, following Ratmir Kholmov, another representative of a brilliant generation of chess players has passed away...