Monday, July 21, 2008

A Life for Chess

Gunter Müller, a well-know German player of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, was a finalist in the First BDG World Correspondence Tournament. He wrote this article for the May/June 1985 issue of BDG World. Diemer lived for another five years, until October 10, 1990. This article provides a brief overview of Diemer's career. 

The BDG is a controversial and disputed opening, condemned by many, but held by its supporters to be the non plus extra. That it is under discussion at all is largely due to one man: Emil Josef Diemer. Born in 1908, Diemer began to play chess at the age of twelve. In the 1930s he participated in several international tournaments, where his aggressive style created a stir. During this time he discovered for himself the gambit (l. d4 d5 2. e4 dxe4 3. f3) of the American Master Armand Edward Blackmar (1826-1888). (EJD's first games were reprinted in Vol I, No 5, of BDG World.) Diemer's great service is that having recognized the danger of the strong reply 3 ... e5!, he decisively strengthened the White play with the insertion of 3. Nc3, and then 4. f3. Because of this, the designation Blackmar-Diemer Gambit is correct.

The Early Years 
He attempted his form of the gambit next in correspondence tournaments, playing his first such game in 1934 against an opponent named Bernards. In 1936 followed his first game in an international tournament in Bad Podiebrad. His first BDG against Bogoljubov came in 1948 in an Open in Constance, from which the Bogoljubov Defense, an important variation of the BDG developed. Diemer developed into a feared opponent in international tournaments. In 1935/36 and again in 1936/37 he took first place in the Premier Reserve Major Tournament at Hastings.

Success in the 1950s 
After the war years, Diemer won the Baden Cup in 1951 and 1953. In 1952 he was first at the Swiss national tournament in Zurich. Then in 1956 came his most successful year. He won the Premier Reserve tourney at Beverwijk, the Open Championship of Holland in Kampen, and an international tournament at Rapperswil in Switzerland. In addition, he finished second at Thun in the international Swiss Championships, and took the same place at Gent behind Grandmaster O'Kelly. There were more, if not quite so convincing, successes in 1950s, but then during the next decade, Diemer essentially withdrew from chess. Diemer returned to chess in the 1970s, and in 1976 he won the Senior Master tourney at the Baden Chess Congress. Today he still achieves good games, even though he must overcome a great handicap: he is almost blind, and as a game progresses it becomes more and more difficult for him to recognize the pieces. But with his distinguished features and long white beard, he is always the attraction of the tournament hall. He still plays team matches for the Chess Club Umkirch in the Black Forest, and is frequently in open tournaments. There he defrays his expenses through book sales and contributions from his supporters, for he does not stand very well financially since his residence in an old age home at Fußbach in the Black Forest. But his unflagging vitality will not permit his assignment to the scrap heap-again and again, to the joy of his supporters, he breaks out and plays as the Alterspräsident, the oldest player of the tournament.

A Personal Encounter 
Personally, I had the opportunity to sit across the chessboard from EJD at Biel in 1975. The game evolved into a critical variation in the Studier Attack in the BDG, in which I was Black. Naturally, each of us wanted to win at any price. There were chances, but the game finally came to a conclusion that EJD, who plays from the first move on towards mate, certainly did not enjoy-it was a draw.

An Endearing Eccentricity 
There is one side to Diemer which does not please every one of his supporters. He is a highly intelligent and well-studied man with many interests, among which are the prophecies of Nostradamus. On this basis he has more than once predicted the precise end of the world (thank God that it didn't occur), the bombing of Dresden, or the destruction of the Berlin wall. Contrary to many others, I regard this as an endearing eccentricity, and not as an indication that EJD, who once in his life was in a sanitarium, is somehow returned to that period. Howsoever: over the chessplayer Emil Josef Diemer let us hope that we can celebrate for a long time yet. It is only sad that because of his handicap he cannot leave the chess world additional books-this task his students must assume.