Friday, October 10, 2008

E. J. Diemer, RIP

Today is the eighteenth anniversary of Diemer's death. After receiving the news of his passing I wrote this tribute, which surveys commentary in German newspapers and chess magazines. It originally appeared in the January 1991 issue of BDG World.

The notice in Schach Echo was brief. On a page with other "short reports from all the world" a single paragraph announced that "on 10 October [1990] the well-known Baden chess theoretician and tournament player, Emil Josef Diemer, died in south Baden Fußbach at the age of 82. ... born on 15 May 1908 in Bad Radolfzell ... work best known to many gambit friends... contributed authoritatively through his exploration of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit."

Should we have expected more from a "serious" chess magazine? Probably not. But notices in other German chess magazines were more generous. In a two-page article in Schach Woche Gerald Schendel printed two of Diemer's games, acknowledging his service to chess and that "the legacy of EJD endures in his Blackmar-Diemer Gambit."

Schach Magazin 64 reprinted the combination from his game with Kotek that appears in the Encyclopedia of Middlegames - Combinations "In Emil Josef Diemer one of the last 'chess originals' left us. In chess generally and in gambit play especially, to which he dedicated his entire life, his ardent, shining life was fulfilled."

In a long article in Europa-Rochade, Jürgen Gegner wrote, "In Master Diemer German chess loses one of its most significant personalities... We mourn a man who understood like no other how, with his own enthusiasm, to win youth to chess, to 'his' chess, where beauty and combination counted for more than dry positional play."

And in his chess column in the general circulation magazine, Stern, Manfred Mädler printed one of Diemer's games and observed that "With his Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, Emil Josef Diemer built his own monument in his own lifetime."

We have reviewed Diemer's tournament successes in previous issues and won't repeat that here. Readers may wish to revisit Gunter Müller's A Life for Chess and my The Beginning of His Best Year in Volume III, Number 3. In this issue we include an article by Diemer himself, featuring victories over a number of strong players, several of whom were, or later became, international masters.

As Mädler observed, Diemer simply loved chess too much to do anything else. He became a professional player as a young man, and struggled his entire life on a minimal existence scraped together from his writings, lectures, exhibitions and the charity of friends and supporters.

For perhaps the last quarter-century of his life, he lived in an altersheim, what we would probably call a nursing home, in the village of Fußbach. He often held court in a small gasthaus across the street from the home.

In the late 1970s I had the pleasure of spending several afternoons over a chessboard with him there, in the gasthaus Rebstock. One could not be long in his presence without sensing the strength of his personality and his unbridled optimism and passion for chess.

Diemer's eccentric preoccupation with interpreting the past and foretelling the future is well known. Thus it seems fitting that he and the chessplayer with whom his name will be forever linked, Blackmar, were born in the same month, May, and died in the same month, October. I'm sure he would have derived some special significance from that.

In the last decade of his life the old master's eyesight deteriorated so badly that he was unable to carry on the voluminous correspondence to which he was so accustomed. Although he still played on the top board for his chess club Umkirch, he had to do so with his nose on the chessboard - literally - to be able to see the pieces. A German player once said that "as soon as his eyesight has vanished and he can no longer play chess, he will die. He cannot live without chess."

In truth, he will live. After many of today's grandmasters and technicians are long forgotten, after Schach Echo is no more than crumbling yellowed paper in dusty and unattended archives, Emil Josef Diemer's name will endure in his beloved gambit, and his romantic, heroic spirit will abide in the hearts of all chessplayers who play the game vom ersten Zug an auf Matt!