When I discovered chess at the age of 13, I was immediately addicted to the game. It was also 1972, the year in which the legendary match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spasski took place. I immediately got myself chess books and studied them all attentively. Then I gradually ran out of playing partners and in early 1973, just 14 years old, I joined a chess club.
Of course, there were players of all classes, including players far superior to me. But I didn’t let myself be discouraged and continued to study diligently. Since my football career, which had been planned until then, was not too successful anyway, I devoted myself completely to chess.
I managed a fairly rapid rise from the lowest division to the highest division within 4 years. At the age of 18, I made my debut in the Bundesliga and became club champion at the same time.
I still have fond memories of a tournament I played at the beginning of my career. I was allowed to start as an “unseeded” player. There was an extra prize fund for the unseeded, although all participants played in the same field. I skipped school on Saturday to be able to play. And I actually won the (shared) 1st prize among the unseeded. And that was 125 DM! Far more than I got in pocket money at that time, which was still around 20 DM.
I went on to play many more tournaments and was able to regularly supplement my pocket money. I was still dreaming of a great career. I went to the first international open tournaments to compete with top players. Once I even went to deliver newspapers for 4 weeks to earn my travel expenses.
There were certainly a few prizes here and there that I won. But mostly the costs were higher. The best tournaments were of course the ones where you were invited. And for young people and talented players, there was of course funding, via the German Chess Federation. Unfortunately, my relationship with the German Chess Federation was never particularly good. I didn’t let myself be bent so easily and always spoke my mind. That gave me a bad image. The invitations didn’t come.
Nevertheless, I was able to play the German Youth Team Championship several times, for Berlin, and the German Youth Individual Championship twice. There I reached a 4th and an 8th place. The nicest invitation I received was to the Junior Team World Championship 1981 in Graz. I had already booked an Interrail ticket with my girlfriend, but had to break off the tour after about 2 weeks to travel to Graz.
There I had the first opportunity to see top players from all over the world. Jussupow was there, Kasparov also played. In the last round we even had to play against Russia. But I had to sit out, Kasparov was also “spared” and we still lost clearly, Russia was the superior winner, what else.
A short time later I got another invitation to a tournament in Krosno, Poland. This was not exactly a dream, because in 1981 Russian troops had just invaded there. Poland was in dire poverty. I took plenty of my own provisions. When we walked from the tournament hall to the hotel late at night, we often saw queues of people in front of shops. Bread or butter was supposed to come there early in the morning…
I played very well, but gave away a lot of points, so that in the end I was only 4th and missed the standard for the international championship title by half a point. The chess federation had its confirmation. I was not good enough. No more invitations. Only once was I supposed to go to a tournament in Romania. That was only a diversionary tournament, there were much better, more interesting ones. I was sent a ticket and an itinerary, but out of anger at the DSB, I let everything lapse. The end of my chess career.
Still, there were a few stories worth remembering, including my first encounters with betting.
A month later, I went to the tournament in San Bernardino with C.. It was a really familiar tournament. Only one game every day, all participants knew each other (after a few days), we made daily trips together in the beautiful countryside.
But C. and I also offered odds for the daily games. How we determined the odds is still a mystery to me today. But all the participants joined in and bet on our odds. We also did it with a combination compulsion. So four games had to be combined.
In the evening after the round came the settlement. Every now and then, of course, we had to pay out small amounts, but the bottom line was a tidy profit of about 160 SFR. Only on the last day did we almost have to pay out a large bet. But a game that was actually already a draw (and we would have had to pay) was still decided. We would have lost the entire profit of the week and even made a small loss. Whether our odds were right or how good they were at all will never be verified…
In my chess career I have certainly tried again and again to play blitz games for money. But you soon realise that the amounts you can earn are too small. After a while, the opponents simply see that you’re better and either play only very small games or not at all for money.
The only experiences I had with it that were very positive were those in which I pretended. By acting insecurely and moving the pieces unsteadily, I occasionally managed to give the impression of being a complete amateur. Nevertheless, at that time I sometimes had some money in my pocket, so that one could also justifiably claim to want to play for “money”.
The opponents were then often only halfway advanced amateurs. Of course, this was only possible when I came to a new place where no one knew me yet. Then I either waited until the opponent’s greed for money got through and he asked whether I also wanted to play for stakes, or alternatively I asked myself on occasion whether money was also being played for here. My appearance at the board was then suitable to make the opponents become reckless and actually get involved in games for higher amounts.
I was able to adapt the quality of the moves to the level of the opponent and often won by a very narrow and lucky margin. Nevertheless, my guilty conscience remains within bounds: Everyone who plays for money also wants my money. And who knows, maybe I’ve come across a Kasparov in disguise? However, I might have noticed that after one or two games, but still.
The highest games I played then were for 100 DM. But considering that the winner was already fairly certain, it was quite respectable. If you wanted to perfect the system, you would have had to intersperse losing games much more skilfully and frequently. But it was at a time when my main business was backgammon and blackjack, chess was at best only a sideline.
A funny story with pretending in a completely different way happened in 1983, at a small chess tournament in Rottweil. I had never been in the area let alone just there. We had registered 4 players from Freiburg (my place of residence was Freiburg in 1983, as I will tell in connection with backgammon). One was not there. That was Wolfgang Ludwig. When we arrived, the organisers asked who had not turned up, as there were only three of us. My answer was: “Dirk Paulsen didn’t come”. So from then on and for the duration of the tournament, I was Wolfgang Ludwig. I also took over his (forgive me, Wolfgang) halfway modest assessment of playing strength in the form of his Elo number.
Now I don’t know whether the opponents were surprised about the quality of my moves (probably not) or the organiser about the start-finish victory of an average player, but in any case I was the superior winner in the end. I only remember that I was called for the award ceremony when Mr Ludwig, but left the stage without the trophy I was entitled to. The tournament director called after me, repeatedly: “Mr Ludwig, your trophy.” But I didn’t respond, having probably momentarily forgotten my identity. Some of the tournament participants then nudged me as I walked past and drew my attention to the fact. I hurried back to the stage and got my trophy…. unnoticed?
The world chess champions
Another funny incident from my chess career happened in 1981 when I was on my way back from the tournament in Krosno, Poland. I had to fly via Warsaw and had a two-hour layover at the airport. I strolled through the airport, having already read “Das Boot” by Lothar Günter Buchheim for the second time, and looked around. A few weeks before, I had been at the Junior Team World Championship in Graz and had seen Kasparov there, even attended an analysis by him. He demonstrated his fantastic winning ideas from his game against the Brazilian Jaime Sunye-Neto.
Anyway, at the airport I suddenly saw — Kasparov. He had his eyes closed, but he was not asleep. I went up to him, quite undaunted, and asked him if he still knew me. He said yes, in English, of course. We started talking. I asked him if I could show him one of my games, he had so temptingly set up a chessboard next to him. He agreed, but only “blindly”, without seeing the board.
I told him the moves and the possible variations. However, this game was so complicated that it was not so easy to see through even for Kasparaov (it was my game against the International Master Andrzej Adamski played shortly before). While we were analysing the game, a couple of other gentlemen came by and started chatting with Kasparov about who I was, in Russian of course.
I could only understand “studentic olympiad” or something like that, but I looked at the two gentlemen more closely. And who did I recognise? First of all, the super grandmaster Alexander Belyavsky. But next to him was another chess legend: Former world champion Tigran Petrosian. The three were on their way to the grandmaster tournament in Tilburg. But what a meeting!
You have to know that any self-respecting chess player had to be a Kasparov fan at that time. In my case, however, the background was a bit special: the chess world was amazed by his first major tournament success in 1979. He won by a clear margin in front of several grandmasters, and that at the age of 16! But I didn’t just marvel, I replayed all the games I could get from him. One more beautiful, more exhilarating, more fascinating than the other. I still remember well how during my studies I often met my then good friend and chess colleague Ralf Lau, soon to become a grandmaster himself, from time to time at the university (he was a failed lawyer). He asked what I was doing lately. My answer: “Replaying Kasparov games.” That was my interpretation of the term “study”.
So, in conclusion, I was allowed to ask Kasparov whether he was already aiming for the World Championship in the following cycle. He answered in the affirmative, of course. The cycle was completed in 1983. And who became world champion that year? Yes, my friend. And “my friend” is you in that case.