My three passions with five expressions
So there were a few passions that I indulged in my life. These were called playing, playing and what was the third? Yes, playing. So more specifically, I always played a game and played it to excess. Then I was gripped by a passion that made me forget everything else. That was already the case in early childhood.
I was hardly interested in school either, at least not during the phases when I was playing a game with such intensity. Only it was always just one. And the excess was that I didn’t just want to play it all the time. I also wanted to play it well, better, perfectly. Understand everything or even improve it. Introduce new, better rules. Or just study it, that also happened.
At the same time, the games were usually supposed to be as realistic as possible, as challenging as possible, as fair as possible and as logical as possible.
And what did that look like in practice? Now I’ll just tell you which games and how I played them. Do you have the patience? Thank you. So here are the games:
The first thing I remember is memory. Anyway, they say that little children are always better at it. So I can’t imagine anything about any successes. Nevertheless, for as long as I played it intensively, I was always looking for “victims”. I always built up and asked everyone who came by to play a round with me. And, as I was told much later, it was not advisable to compete against me if you needed a sense of achievement.
Just as I was on the hunt for records in every other game or whatever there was, so it was with puzzling. What did it look like? Quite simple: Every time I started a puzzle game, the clock was switched on. And when I had finished, it was off. One of the consequences was that I did a single puzzle up to 100 times. The record simply had to be improved. And there was always the possibility of getting something more out of it. The only opponent I found in the process was myself, by the way. But it was enough. Records, records, records, that was my world.
My uncle Klaus added a little spice to this quality. When he saw that I had put together a puzzle virtually by heart in seconds or minutes, he would say, “Yes, that’s easy. Now turn all the pieces around and put it together. Then it’s only right.”
And that’s how I acquired another characteristic: Always the most difficult tasks possible, that was an additional attraction.
I continued to “play” the game for a long time later. When I was 15 or 16, I did 2000-piece puzzles and 3000-piece puzzles. The biggest one was a 4000-piece puzzle. It’s still fun, you have a wonderful occupation, only two things are missing: the record hunt and quality control. Am I better than myself (records!) or am I better or faster than others.
3) The perfect car race
For example, we had a car racing track as children. Sure, who didn’t have that? Then it wasn’t enough for me to just set up the track and race off or something. It was made into a game, sure. And then how was it played? A race, one driver against another driver, that just didn’t work. One of them always got kicked out, or if you drove skilfully you could even kick the other one out in the bends. So that was unsuitable as a real competition, I found.
One of my permanent characteristics was that I always wanted to set records in everything. This meant that I was armed with a tape measure and stopwatch practically all the time. So whether it was holding my breath or running, long jump or driving a car, juggling a ball or high jumping. Everything was stopped or measured. And compared. Dirk has a new record in…
So according to this, the same thing was used for the car racetrack. 10 laps, everyone drove on the same track. Of course, you only had a chance of setting a record if you didn’t get kicked out. Better: Such an attempt was stopped immediately. So you could perfectly determine a winner. And all my friends, including my brothers, took part. And who had the record?
4) Formula 1
So that’s another one of those chapters. If there’s any point at all here, it’s just to show you that you can really play any game excessively. So we had this car racing track. Friends, brothers were not always available. So you had to find an alternative form of play even if there wasn’t one. I found one as follows:
The car track was built or had already been built. We had lots of Viking car models. The fastest, sportiest ones were chosen. A ruler I needed was 30 cm long. A cube has 6 sides. 30/6 = 5, so each eye represented 5cm of driving distance. The cars were set up at the start. For each car or driver, the dice was rolled one after the other. Depending on the number of eyes, the car was allowed to advance the corresponding number of centimetres. It was easier to defend the lead when you were in the lead. Because one always had the shortest driving path. A car in the back had to at least give way to the car in the front to overtake. Depending on the finish, each driver or car was awarded the corresponding number of points, just like in Formula 1. I even constructed race tracks that were then repeated every season. The race tracks were recorded in a way that could be reconstructed.
In any case, all this was as true to reality as possible. There were all the real starters of the Formula 1 season (how on earth did I replace Jim Clark when he died in an accident in 1968?). There were the true-to-the-original point scores, depending on the placing in the race. And there were starting positions according to current overall ranking. And whoever was in front had an advantage, just like in reality. And you could play everything all by yourself. That was my ambition anyway. Because that annoying game partner search, and then they always wanted to play completely differently from me.
5) Tipp Kick and football
Yes, Tipp Kick. What boy didn’t play that? But how we played it and how I perfected it more and more is perhaps worth a short section.
At a very early age, I “inherited” a typewriter from my grandmother (the inverted commas only because she was still alive). My father had played games himself with a certain or similar meticulousness. And he also had old football newspapers and old printouts of himself as a child. So I could see how he had done it. Well, that was one of the prerequisites for the “game”.
In principle, another characteristic has also accompanied me throughout my life (since then?): The fascination for tables. In 1966, my passion for football awoke. I can document the initial lack of understanding for tables as follows: The 1965/66 season was coming to an end. On the penultimate match day, Borussia Dortmund played Munich 1860, and I watched the sports programme with my father (for the first time). He talked about the decision for the German championship. The winner would be German champion. I, who shortly before had watched the European Cup final Borussia Dortmund – FC Liverpool with Dortmund’s sensational victory in extra time thanks to a 40-metre goal by “Stan” Libuda, conjectured after this explanation: “So it’s the final for the German championship.” My father contradicted. “No, not the final. But the winner is still the German champion.”
Well, I was used to my father being right. So I had to be satisfied with that answer. And what happened? Munich 60 won 2-0. And they celebrated the German championship title. Ouch, Papi. But a final.
Well, I also followed the 1966 World Cup with passion. Uwe Seeler wasn’t the only one who cried after the final whistle. And you can also get the Bild newspaper in Sweden, where we were on holiday that summer. And the cover photo: “The ball wasn’t in.” Plus the legendary linesman, my mortal enemy, Tofiq Bahramov. What a cheat! And the 4:2 shouldn’t have counted at all, because there were already spectators on the pitch. However, at this point I was not yet thinking: “How would the game have ended if the goal hadn’t counted? The chances would only have been 50% in normal circumstances. So you can’t say that Germany was cheated out of the title, if anything then only half the title. But that really doesn’t belong here.
In any case, the new Bundesliga season began in 1966/67, and I still remember very well how I, at the age of 7, already had a little (memory) proof that the thesis my parents later told me was quite justified: “Dirk needs someone who goes to bed late at night and someone who gets up early in the morning.” So on Sundays, as I did after the first match day, I got up with the paperboy and took the Berliner Morgenpost upstairs. I was so excited to see the standings.
Well, my expectations were probably a bit exaggerated. The table after the first match day really didn’t give too much away. But it was also unfair. That was soon clear to me. Frankly, I had an excellent teacher, my father. At that time, the table was still formed according to the goal “ratio”, i.e. according to the quotient. And 1:0, i.e. 1/0, is infinite, much greater than 3:1 or 3/1 = 3. Obviously, however, a 3:1 was better than a 1:0?
So I had to trust in time until everything became a bit more exciting and “fairer”. But even then, even on later match days, it didn’t make sense to me that a team with, for example, 5:1 goals was ahead of a team with 14:5 goals, with equal points, of course. But the rules were changed a few years later.
In any case, Munich 60, and I was probably looking for identification points, had lost 0:2 and was therefore last.
But I soon “adopted” Bayern Munich. At the time, that was by no means as shameful as it is today, sorry to all Bayern fans. Bayern had just been promoted (1965/66) and sensationally finished in 3rd place.
What does that have to do with a typewriter? Well, a table every week is totally boring. Can’t you do it every day…? You can, it’s easy. My father picked out the game plan for me, completely. He put in fresh paper. Then he started typing in the games: “Matchday 1 —-
1.FC Kaiserslautern – Karlsruher SC
- FC Cologne – 1860 Munich
Hamburger SV – Hannover 96″
And so on. Then he took the “11s out” cards. Shuffled well, and off they went. Each team gets 3 cards per half, each red card is a goal, a quarter of all cards were red. And – you had a result. So on we go, through all the games. Then the table. “From now on you can go on alone.”
And I did. But how. Distressed, I “sacrificed” a few hours at night to sleep. Did I forget about school? All right, if you must “So it is a resolution that man must learn something. That this was done with care, was the teacher Lämpel there.” (Wilhelm Busch). And I did learn something. Even today, blindfolded, I can type all the Bundesliga teams on a typewriter!
But there were also weekends and holidays. Well, I don’t want to exaggerate. I just got carried away. Anyway, I’ve played through x seasons. And little by little I improved this game. But what does improved mean here? Nevertheless, something promising was on the horizon. I introduced a home advantage. I started to take table position into account. Whoever was on top was allowed to draw more cards, whoever was at the bottom less (than 3 per half).
And then one day my father built a Tipp-Kick table. So he painted a tabletop. There was a device at the back so that you could slide in two goals made of plywood. There were beautiful, real goal nets attached to the goals: Apple-lined nets. So the ball really went into the net when you scored. So what could be more obvious than playing the Bundesliga with Tipp-Kick?
The (initial) system of play went like this: from the 18 teams, you could take turns choosing. Of course, my father was happy to let me go first, as long as he was allowed to pick Hertha BSC as his number 1. He was allowed. Although I was also a Hertha fan, of course, at that age? Then it came down to every game who had which team. Sure, if his number 3 played against his number 6, I had his 6. Whether I then played with the same commitment as for my number 1 or 2 I can’t say. But a lot of the fun of the game also consisted mainly of building tables. Real ones, if possible.
So quite a few complete seasons were played through. And I gradually came up with a number of small improvements to get closer and closer to reality. There also had to be a home advantage in Tipp-Kick, that was clear. Now the Tipp-Kick “ball” has corners and edges. It has a triangular surface and a square surface on which it can lie. Red or yellow. In any case, you were only allowed to shoot at the goal when the ball was over the centre line. So if you crossed the halfway line and your own colour was shown, the away team, for example, was not allowed to shoot at the goal if the ball was on a triangular area. This gave the home team a permanent but realistic advantage.
Then there were table positions. The table was divided into thirds. And per third you were in, there were perks or disadvantages. So if a team from the top third had a home game against a team from the bottom third, i.e. there was the greatest possible “superiority”, then the home team was even allowed to play the ball if the ball was on the triangular side of the opponent’s colour. That is, the weak team was only allowed to play if the ball was square on its own colour. Nevertheless, it could happen that the team got a draw or even a victory. Very unlikely, but possible, as in reality.
In addition, it was noticed that too many goals were scored for a certain length of game, and too few for another. Especially in Tipp-Kick, when a longer time is agreed upon, the results are too often 5:2 or 4:3. And when they are too short, these results never happen. Remedy? I have, created. A dice before each game, depending on the number of dice the half-time length, between 1 and 3 minutes. Now there was sometimes a 0:0 and sometimes a 6:2, just like in reality.
Piet Klocke once wrote and sang the song: “That’s fate. Everything is predetermined.” Do you know what I mean? Play, play, play…
In fact, as a very young boy, I tried out the doubling system on our home roulette (more of this “system” later). In doing so, the results were quite impressive, in my memory. It worked. And I occasionally managed to accumulate a small fortune, depending on my perseverance. In my memory, however, I was well aware that it would not work in the long run. Wise adults had their fingers in the pie again: “If you want to bet, you also want to cheat.” Or: “This is a dangerous vice.” Or something like that. Or was it genuine, self-acquired wisdom? My (older) brothers may have contributed.
My football career has really been less than spectacular. At the age of 7 I wanted to become a goalkeeper (of course, German champion 1860 and “bin i Radi bin i König” given to me by the legendary goalkeeper of the 60s, Petar Radenkovic). And you didn’t even need to be able to read for that, the pictures of his saves were enough. Well, I ended my goalkeeping career very soon: You can only see such saves on TV and the ball hitting the body, even the head, in an awkward place can hurt a lot. This “wimp” mentality was still (decisively?) in my way later on in football.
Nevertheless, I joined Hertha Zehlendorf. That was the club with the best youth work. But it was a long journey. And I soon had to make the journey alone. With a small sign in my breast pocket, ’68 to Dahlem-Dorf, then underground to Onkel-Toms-Hütte, and the rest I had to walk. Not very pleasant, especially in winter, all in the dark. I got the 60 Pfennig fare, no more and no less.
In any case, my eagerness to train was somewhat limited. And when we played two games with too few and much smaller players and lost 0:18 and 0:13, the enthusiasm was gone. So no more Zehlendorf. When I was 9, classmates took me to Brandenburg 92, which was much better. I was already bigger and better, knew a few and was soon in the 1st team.
In the older age group of the D-youth, we even managed to win the league once. We were among the best 8 teams in Berlin. Then there were group games with 4 teams. We finished last in our group with 3:9 points. But still.
In C, the club merged with Lichterfelde 12 and from then on we were called Brandenburg Lichterfelde, BraLi for short. But only the best players made it into the 1st C. I was a younger player, physically a bit smaller and less strong. I was sorted out. The 2nd C was the older year of the weaker ones, the 3rd C the younger year. I played in the 3rd team. That was difficult to reconcile with my self-esteem. Because I really played football all the time, all the time, all the time. Every day. And if exhausted, you know what.
But that season was still, according to my father, the best and most successful of my career. I had a regular place secured. I was respected in the team, one of the best I may say. My coach always said to me, an old GDRer, but good and committed, the man, Mr Petrich: “You’re the pike in the carp pond.” That was good. And I also scored goals. Regularly, as a midfielder.
My greatest successes were a) ball juggling and b) indoor football. Ball juggling was made for me. The advantage of this game was that you could do it alone. So I took my ball, went to the dog park where we always played, nobody there, so I juggled. Also at home in the garden. The best thing about it was that you could set records. And that’s where my ambition always took hold. In my memory, however, I never broke the 1000 mark. When I read in the Football Week that a boy had made it over 22,000 times, using his feet, knees and head in turn, I realised that Tucholsky was really right with his short story “There is no new snow. One can always go on trying, researching, striving, studying. But everywhere there has already been someone. Tucholsky’s intention, however, was to motivate one to keep trying. That didn’t work for me.
But I set my absolute record much later, in midsummer 1996, during my comeback attempt with the seniors from SC Ruhleben, at the small bathing meadow in Kladow. And those were really difficult conditions. Not only did you constantly have to dribble between towels and playing children, but the surface was anything but even and the course went up and down. The conditions were made for me: nice and hard. I walked completely around the entire bathing meadow four times, dribbled or whatever you call it then. Yes, it seemed easier to me not to stand in one spot but to walk forward, always small steps, alternating left and right. After 1463 times it was over. Not enough for the Guinness Book, but still.
The second thing was the indoor tournaments. There I was able to conceal my biggest(?) deficiency: My basic speed was far too low. And we actually had a few good players in the 7th grade. Then there was the school tournament several times, for all classes up to grade 10. And the clear favourite and always the clear winner was always grade 10c. They were all real footballers. And when we played with the 7th against the 10th, we managed to get the whole hall behind us. And when, shortly before the end, I managed to equalise the score at 3:3, when I was able to get through against three opponents on the dribble, they literally exploded. Thoughts that these physically much more robust players would not attack such a small player like me so hard, I pushed aside in the rush at the time.
But it actually earned me a place in the school team. With all the big players, as the very smallest. And I was even allowed to play as a substitute in the 1973 Steglitz championship final. We lost 0:1, the scorer for the Beethoven School was a certain Wolfgang Sidka. He had just signed his first professional contract with Hertha BSC. That’s how close I once came to real fame… Sidka was born in 1954, I was born in 1959.
Then, in the B-youth, other friends brought me to SSC Südwest. I could play 1st team there. Well, the club was also closer, in Steglitz, my home district. So another change. I soon found out why I could play 1st team there: We were last in our division, lost almost all our games. Then a lout came along who couldn’t play football at all but was big and fast and took my regular place at right wing away from me.
B-youth, I was 14, 1973, I had already discovered chess in 1972, when Bobby Fischer played the legendary match against Boris Spasski and won, in football only frustration, so instead of lacing up my boots I hung them on the famous nail…
One of the most beautiful, realistic and sophisticated games, but which practically nobody knows, is Subbuteo. It is a combination of billiards and football. A good technique is required and also a certain understanding of tactics. In addition, all the elements of football are perfectly reproduced. But let’s take it one step at a time:
I remember very well the first time I saw it. I was in hospital (again). This time I had subordinated the law of gravity to the (boy’s) law of “impressing girls”. So, in boundless hubris, I balanced on the railing that was supposed to draw a boundary line between school and the street, with my schoolbag on my back. The legs, for their part, intuitively decided to go in the direction of the school side, but the entire body was not quite put in the know in time by these plans: it oriented itself in the direction of the street side. My feeling was somewhat comparable to the one I had when Phillip Marlow, in a similar overconfidence, took on the recognisably stronger Henry Eichelberger (“Danger is my business”). When Henry Eichelberger suddenly lost his calm and patience and apparently gave Mr Marlow a blow, Mr Marlow recalled: “I bent down, grabbed the room with both hands, whirled it around in a circle and when it really had momentum, I gave it another spin and hit it against the back of my head with the floor.
A few months earlier I had already had the (painful) experience that the bare feet are not suitable for cushioning the entire body weight if, as in this case, it is a jump from a (record) height of 4.20 metres, even if the ground is a sandbox. After all, I had a complete autograph collection of all my classmates for about 4 weeks; namely on the plaster.
Well, since that moment before school, I know that even the nose is not necessarily the most suitable body part to catch or cushion one’s own weight, especially when the point of impact turns out to be a gutter, or more precisely the edge of it. The following minutes are somehow relatively dark in my memory. There was blood, bustle, blue lights and sirens everywhere.
The first visitor who came in must have had some problems identifying the name on my bed and the sight of me. But when I greeted the person (who do you think it was? Also dull), he realised that it must be me after all. Wolgang Fierek once said, when he got a bit angry with his interlocutor in one of the wonderful old Klaus Lemke films, that he threatened him with a beating in the form: “… that your own mother only recognises you by your voice.”
My visitor probably tried to playfully hide his slight irritation. Somehow he (gradually I’m sure it was actually my mother), so she, following a protective instinct, wanted to fight my urge to see myself in the mirror, unsuccessfully. I stuck my head up and…. there must be someone in the way. Hey, move aside there, yes, you, you there, with the disfigured grimace. But he didn’t move. Well, you get the idea, something dawned on me, and this is no pun.
Anyway, little by little, everyone got used to my condition. I had my roof damage before anyway, so I don’t know of any other permanent damage. I was also lucky in that I broke my nose again a while later, in the other direction, and since then it’s been back the way it was before, or more precisely, just as crooked as before.
So, what do this silly impertinence and subbuteo have to do with each other? I was in hospital, the year was already advanced. There, too, I got my beloved football week at bedside and read everything, as usual. Something must be responsible for the fact that at some point you get the title of “walking football encyclopaedia”. So it was through this form of meticulousness that I inevitably came across the advertisement in this current issue of Football Week. The (English) legends Gordon Banks and Bobby Moore, who had so ignominiously snatched the World Cup title from us four years earlier (don’t worry, my nationalism isn’t too strong; we are just in 1970; revenge for Wembley 66 had been provided by a supposedly slightly arrogant English coach Sir Alf Ramsey, the later proverbial German luck and the back of Uwe Seeler’s head in extra time at the World Cup in Mexico; I was satisfied for the moment; and later, as an adolescent and even to this day, I no longer have any preference for German football and its national team, even professionally) played this game against each other. It looked so beautiful. Everything was set up perfectly, you could see the pitch and the goals, everyone had 11 playing pieces: Subbuteo!
And I was gripped by a burning desire: I simply must have this game. Christmas was just around the corner, an ad in the newspaper, nothing easier than that. In the eternal best list of Christmas wishes at number 1, please, please a Subbuteo game.
The weeks were never longer until the time finally came. The tension was almost unbearable. And if there was ever a Christmas in childhood that I remember badly, it was this one: Nix Subbuteo, the game wasn’t there That must be a trick. Where is it hidden? But it wasn’t there, in fact it wasn’t. I was stunned. It couldn’t be true. My parents tried hard to make me understand that not every wish….
Father Christmas understood. He probably also knew that he was about to lose a serious admirer and faithful believer. He put it under my tree the following year in the spirit of making amends. It was difficult to remember to eat it on Christmas Eve anyway. But on Christmas 1971, it wasn’t just the food that I neglected. The night’s rest and the sleep supposedly so urgently needed for children also had to take a back seat. I finally, finally had… this game after all.
Much later, it became clear to me why this game has not triumphed around the world: You have to set it up very, very well. If you just put it on a carpet, it’s hardly fun to play. The figures fall down all the time. The goal slips. You can’t get a clean shot either. And the basic equipment, playing field, ball, two goals, two teams, doesn’t include a table. And you can’t even set it up properly on a tabletop. The playing field, a felt cloth, just like in billiards, slips. The only thing that helps is a plywood board. It has to be fixed there. Plastic goals are also unsuitable. It is difficult to fix them. It took me months to set it up reasonably, with my father’s help, of course.
But then even a plywood board, if too thin, was sloping, the ball still rolled out of bounds when a “controlled” pass was made. And then there was the biggest problem: finding a playing partner. If I had one on one afternoon, I had another the next afternoon, if at all. If not, I had to play alone. And what was the consequence? I quickly became unbeatable. Now this encouraged this ability a bit, that I wanted to keep my playing partners in line and not necessarily declassify them. So every now and then a given away point, even a defeat, then maybe the friend would stay.
In 1973, already after discovering chess, I finally looked for reasonable playing partners. And there were some! There was a club in Berlin, Hertha 72, but Peter Kielmann, the chairman and organiser, lived in Kreuzberg. And the other members also mostly lived in the area. A rather long journey and a somewhat different environment, I was happy to put up with that. Finally, there were real Subbuteo records. Straight, through thicker wood, metal goals that stood firm, a rail that prevented the ball from constantly falling off the table. So, in short, it was really fun.
However, Peter Kielmann immediately took over Hertha BSC in the Bundesliga season that I had started, of course. And he was far better than me, of course. I still had Bayern as number 1 at that time. So he rolled up the field from behind, won every game with Hertha. Ok, so this time the fun of the game had to be reduced to subbuteo and building tables. And learning. After all, I also played against the other members. And I overtook them bit by bit, was better.
Then there was even a tournament, the North German Championship. And the media even took notice of the game. There was a preliminary report on TV, on ZDF, in the Umschau. I drove a record to the studio together with Peter Kielmann. We set it up. The broadcast began. Peter did the interview while I played against Berlin’s number 2, Reiner Knoll, in the background. Just as the camera panned over, I scored the opening goal to make it 1:0. What a pity!
I still played the tournament the following day. And fourth place was a success for such a young player like me, no question.
The Subbuteo Bundesliga was also founded that year. I even got a place in the team. I was invited and (unfortunately almost reluctantly) accepted. My game was lost 1:3, the frustration outweighed anyway. That was the end of my Subbuteo career (for now). Besides, I had long since chosen another game, which I thought suited me even better, namely the…
So the football season ended anything but successfully. It was the spring of 1974. I had long since learned chess and read books, and I had joined the chess club the year before. Fischer played against Spassky in the late summer of 1972, where I first became fascinated by chess. Nevertheless, football (still) took precedence.
However, my entry into chess was anything but successful.
As soon as I started, there was a small, lower-class tournament. I had a recognisable talent, even for myself. However, this did not consist exclusively of occasionally being imaginative and also finding good, really unusual moves. It consisted above all in the ability to spoil even the clearest winning positions. You can find my thoughts on this topic and the always perceived bad luck of players in the chapter “The Meaning of Luck and Bad Luck”. These thoughts have their justification. So I am obliged not to attribute this part of my special talent to luck or bad luck, but to look for logical explanations. And I have found them. There are four in all! And for all of them I belong(ed) on the couch. Luckily I have the virtual paper here and at least that seems infinitely patient. What about you?
The first reason: “He just wants to play” So I’m like a puppy. I just want to play. If the opponent gives up, God forbid, then the game is over. What am I supposed to do then? Then I don’t have a playing partner any more. That is indeed a (possibly somewhat difficult) reason to understand. Sometimes you look for moves that don’t immediately force your opponent to give up. Such things are usually taken over by the subconscious (I deliberately don’t get into this term distinction “the unconscious”).
Another reason is that my behaviour at the board often invites or even forces the opponent to continue playing. This both has a psychological cause, also on the opponent’s side. One is this: If an opponent is hopelessly losing and I am thinking hard, that is the behaviour at the board that I meant, then the opponent almost inevitably starts thinking too. The (often unconscious) thoughts are then something like: “Hm, if he thinks for so long here, then he might still see difficulties. What kind of difficulties could they be?” And instead of resigning himself to the standard behaviour and inevitable loss, he may be looking for the unexpected rescue possibilities that I’m kind of looking for too. He even starts to develop a little joy in the position. So instead of saying to himself, “I can’t and won’t see this cruel position any more, I give up,” he befriends it. And that leads directly to the second psychological effect.
He is somehow also forced to continue playing in a different way. He even begins to see the numerous profit opportunities for me and is expectant to see which path I will now choose. Moreover, some people even consider it rude to suddenly give up when the opponent has just concocted such a wonderful, brilliant way to win. You have to let them show you, don’t you? Maybe you’ll end up in the chess newspaper.
That reminds me of a little anecdote by former world champion Alexander Alekhine. He had also invented a dream combination. But his opponent, while executing the brilliant combination, suddenly made a capital blunder and simply left the queen standing. According to legend, Alekhine then almost went for his throat with the words: “You are ruining my game!
But a large part of it is simply my arrogance. I simply cannot fight this phenomenon. I am so vastly superior in my imagination that I can only acknowledge my opponent’s ridiculous efforts with a smile. And often enough, this simply takes its revenge. I overlook moves, rescue possibilities, even small traps that the opponent sets in last desperation. Because I no longer look.
If I still need proof of my arrogance, I can illustrate it with the following small but typical “thought dump” during one of my chess games: “I don’t want the opponent to give up when he is at a material disadvantage. So in this clearly won position, instead of possible raids, I have to devote more of my attention to his king. Possibly I can even make a sacrifice and thereby persuade him to give up in the further course.”
Such considerations are absolutely not uncommon with me. And perhaps you can guess that they are less effective than other considerations. Before I mislead you even further and possibly refer you in combination to Freud and an American grandmaster named Reuben Fine, who later took up Freud’s ideas and at least tried to establish a connection between chess players and the Oedipus complex, I would rather return to the narrative part.
So I was playing one of the last games of the football season on a Sunday morning. We were playing, meaninglessly, 2-2, even against my old club, BraLi. Everything was close together, chess club and the football pitches. So after the game I went to the chess club. There was a team match there. Somehow I seemed welcome. It was the 8th team, the lowest team, that was playing there. But they seemed to be convinced that I could help them. And they begged me to play the team matches for them.
At first I felt flattered. Besides, I seemed to enjoy playing chess myself. So, without further ado, I decided to give in to their urging and pleading and to accept to play for the team. The logical consequence of this was that I could no longer attend the Sunday football matches regularly. And since my motto was always: all or nothing, the choice was easy: only chess, no more football. The dream of becoming a (football) professional was over. New dreams were needed.
The chess season was as good as over. I played one more game, a draw, but was scheduled and placed in the 8th (lowest) team for the next season. During the following season, our youth coach asked me to help out in his team, the 5th. I was delighted, thrilled, excited. Three teams and two classes higher! I even found a great combination, just had difficulties executing the moves. My hand didn’t want to play the way I wanted, especially: it was shaking. My opponent had to give up shortly afterwards.
From then on, I was always allowed to play for the 5th team. Also in the following season. I achieved the best result there. The next season, I was already entered in the 3rd team. I immediately won the first four games.
Then I had a somewhat wild time in parallel. I no longer tried to impress girls with balance acts or jump height records, but with nights in a row that I didn’t sleep at all. This amounted to a record of three nights. However, I have to admit that on one of the nights I fell asleep on the table in a pub for an hour and after the third night and a walk home from the chess club in the city centre (no underground at night, no money for taxi) I also rested on my bed in full gear for an hour.
The fact that I approached Sigrid, whom I adore, on my way to school, not entirely by chance and without any serious prior knowledge of girls, to find out whether that was the right way to approach a girl, does not belong here. Incidentally, if you add up the years that have passed correctly, you will find that we are currently in 1976. It was the beginning of the year, and exactly 10.1. I was therefore just 16. Of course, I couldn’t land with Sigrid with this absolute beginner’s fad. Nevertheless, I even managed to get through the school day halfway. The fact that I dozed off in music class was just about acceptable, in descriptive geometry I couldn’t manage straight lines and the last lesson, geography, I spent very dimly. But my eyes stayed open.
At home, I fell asleep on a chair for about an hour and a half. Then I went to bed and slept until 7 pm. When I woke up, I went to the kitchen. My mother had left me a note. I had to play tomorrow. And I had to play in the 2nd team! Possibly even against Ludwig Rellstab. Rellstab was practically a legend for me. An international champion. He once represented Germany at a chess Olympiad. Sensational!
You know me well by now, there was no chance of a night’s “rest”. I wandered around for a few more hours, tried to calm down with a few beers (don’t say anything now!) and put myself back in the mood for sleep. Afterwards, I visited my brother and his girlfriend and asked for a place to stay for the night. Finally, at 1 o’clock, I was actually able to fall asleep again.
But only until 8 o’clock. Well, at least. Off to the team match. I was in the second team. No Rellstab there, so what. A Dr. Hegeler.
It may sound quite unbelievable again. Do you know how the match ended? It’s played on 8 boards and one point is awarded per board. So the match ended 1:7. Authentic. And how was the one point for our party made up? Guess! I won. As the only one.
Well, that meant I had a regular place in the second division. I also achieved the best result there. But the team was still relegated. But into the first team? That was not yet conceivable. Or was it?
The next season I continued in the second team. In the first team, however, there was a board that was not permanently occupied. There were four candidates of equal merit, I was not one of them. Experienced players who could still point to earlier successes and a junior player who was two years older than me. And each of them got to play once in the first four matches. All four lost. What now? What about Pauli? All right, let’s give him a try.
We played against the rival club from Berlin, SC Kreuzberg. With a grandmaster on board 1! Ludek Pachmann, emigrated Czech. I played on board 8, of course, but still. I achieved a draw in this game. I even had an advantage, but Bundesliga is Bundesliga. My opponent defended skilfully and held a draw. Nevertheless, I had not lost. So I was allowed to play again. Another draw, also the second. I must have been a regular player, right? But there were only seven games in the Bundesliga at that time, so the last round was coming up.
Well, now I have to interject a little story. With absolutely accurate and flawless arithmetic, one must realise that we are currently in the year 1977. My life, even outside my supposed chess career, was anything but orderly. With Katja, whom I had met through Sigrid as a friend and with whom I was dating, it somehow didn’t work out. I had moved out of my parents’ house. That doesn’t sound so unusual. But if you take into account that in my case my parents consisted of my father and mother as individuals – in other words, they had been divorced since 1973, hence the allusion to Oedipus – then it is unusual in that the phrase “moved out of my parents’ house” is correct. I practically lived with both of them. Always according to taste. And who allowed what or not. For example, staying out late.
Furthermore, it can be concluded from my year of birth that I had reached the age of 18, which was required at that time to become an adult. However, the process of “growing up” that is commonly associated with this age is still going on today. So let alone was I in the slightest approximation of it at 18. Nevertheless, I lived alone. A small room, a shower next door, even cooking facilities. But how do you heat, please? At least I knew places where there was heating, even for the night. E.g. pubs. The e. stands for “single”. The heating was relevant because my 18th birthday was in the middle of winter. And that was the day I moved out.
School was struggling to act as an attention-getter anyway, especially at that time. A sense of duty was not exactly a quality to be associated with me either. I had also just tragically missed the club championship in the last round, and I can even tell you the exact date: it was on 26.1.1977. I know it because it was my birthday on 27.1 and I had the fervent wish to become club champion while I was still 17.
At least I still used my football skills to take the “football” course at least in PE. The goal: to at least achieve the 15 points there. And then came 10 March. The accumulated lack of sleep may also have played its part, in any case we played football as part of this course. I swept unstoppably through the opposing ranks, as Maradonna would only copy much later. Only one defender left. Helmut Letz. He was really an excellent defender. He hit nothing but the ball. He even stopped it. I stepped on the ball and … I don’t remember much more.
I can only reconstruct that my arms couldn’t pick up enough speed to reach the ground before my lower jaw. I had already tried the nose as a catching organ, but the jaw was just as unsuitable. There was blood everywhere and lots of teeth in my mouth. Blood, also from the ears. I didn’t have much consciousness left to speculate about a fractured skull. But much later, the doctors nevertheless gave the all-clear: just the jawbone, which, once moved out of position, had bored through the ear canal, so nothing more dramatic.
The course was closed after the accident and laid out with a reasonable surface before reopening. So I had served as a “test object” in that respect, which had to test the suitability of asphalt surfaces as a football pitch surface. They failed.
But I have been an ardent admirer of medicine and all doctors, and not just since that time. They patched me up again and again. The jawbone had to be pulled out of the ear canal again. That’s not a problem, is it? Later, wires were fixed in the mouth. You know how it is. “You only need to wear the wires for six weeks, too. I’ll give you a pair of scissors. If you ever throw up, you can cut the wires yourself.” See, so simple. And eating? After all, there was a tiny opening. Through it I could even slurp up such exquisite food as banana milk or porridge. And I can tell you: it even tastes good for two days. After that, the general feeling is constantly between nausea and hunger.
I only threw up once in the whole six weeks. I had the scissors ready. Then it was just a matter of going to the hospital every night and pulling the broken wires out of the gums, putting new wires in through the gums, “that’s what we do here every day”. Just little things.
But all that now for an 18-year-old who was just trying to live and cope on his own? As I just said, it was anything but orderly.
It was a very long lead-up to my third Bundesliga match. And all this served only one purpose: to prove the validity of the saying traced back to the grandmaster Blackburn (1861-1916) in the previous century: “I have been playing chess for 50 years. But I have never won against a healthy one.” So, too, my opponent on this day. The only peculiarity is always: “With me it’s really true…”. I lost. My opponent explained afterwards: “It’s not so easy to milk an ox.
Nevertheless, I remained a regular player, also for the next season and many more, but more about that later…
So much, then, for my back story of playing from childhood to youth. As you could tell, my father also had quite a long childhood. It seems to be repeating itself with me….