Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Nikolajs Kampars

I wrote this for the August 1983 issue of BDG World. Today I reprint it on the 36th anniversary of Kampars' death. The sketch is by Rob Rittenhouse.

 "The most imaginative player I ever corresponded with; a modest man; a truly great character." Nice words, and as they say, unsolicited -- all describing the man once called "the American Diemer," Nikolajs Kampars. Kampars died on August 5, 1972. This August issue seemed an appropriate time to remember him, his games, and a few of his contributions to the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. I have always regretted that I discovered the BDG too late to have known or corresponded with Kampars.

My information on his life is limited. Originally from Latvia, he evidently came to the United States in the early 1950s after having lived for a time in Austria. There he was acquainted with Alfred Freidl; in fact the two played together in a 1948 tournament which Kampars won. One paragraph in a 1967 letter from Kampars to Freidl tells some about his background, much about his character.

If you should publish my games, dear friend, than refer to me simply as N. Kampars. It is true that I am a lawyer, that I attended the university in Riga, and that I have my diploma. But I have not worked at my profession for thirty years, and what use is an academic title to me when I work in a bakery in the USA? I would also have difficulties with my friends at work if I were to say I am a doctor. Whoever wants to be known in chess circles as professor, architect, lawyer, and so forth--let them have their fun. Not I.

Kampars settled in Milwaukee, and apparently quickly became active in chess there, winning 'the city championship in 1955. In his book, Diemer included the first 16 moves of one of Kampars' games from that event, with the comment, "the first Blackmar Gambit, since A. E. Blackmar, in the USA?" Probably not, but was it Kampars' first here? His opponent, by the way, was also fond of playing the BDG.
N. Kampars - O. M. J. Wehrley, Milwaukee 1955, Vienna Defense.

In February 1962 Kampars began his magazine Blackmar - Diemer Gambit. It originally appeared as a four page insert in the Latvian magazine, Chess World, and concentrated on the BDG (and closely related openings) almost exclusively. With the January 1964 issue, Kampars began to publish independently of Chess World. At the same time he expanded his magazine to include openings other than the BDG, and renamed it Opening Adventures. From then until failing health forced him to discontinue publication with the May 1967 issue, Kampars insured that this modest little magazine was true to its name. There were indeed delightful adventures in its pages: gambits of all sorts and sizes, and still plenty of BDGs, of course.

Although by all accounts a modest man, Kampars nevertheless often published his own games, sometimes annotated by then Senior Master (now Grandmaster) Edmar Mednis.
N. Kampars - J. Blakeslee, Correspondence 1963, Rasa-Studier Gambit

In the next game Black defends well through 20 moves, but then locks himself out of any counterplay.
N. Kampars - C. C. C. Harding, Correspondence 1964/65, Bogoljubov Defense

Kampars did much to popularize the BDG through his writings, but he made other contributions as well. His name lives on in BDG literature in the gambit he originated in the Vienna Defense, one of the sharpest lines in an opening overrun with sharp lines. However, I suspect he might most wish to be remembered for yet another accomplishment: the First BDG World Correspondence Championship. It was his idea -- Anders Tejler has said it was his dream -- and it came to pass in September 1965, when 276 players from 25 countries began play in 40 preliminary sections. Seven years and over 2,000 games later, (now IM) Georg Danner of Austria emerged the winner. Kampars participated in the preliminary and intermediate rounds. Here is one of his games.
M. Peilen - N. Kampars, 1st BDG World, 1968/69 Gunderam Defense

Kampars did not live to see his dream concluded. When he died, almost three years before the final round ended, the tournament was renamed the Nikolajs Kampars Memorial Tourney. It was a fitting memorial to the man Alfred Freidl has rightly called "an enduring champion of the BDG."