Ludek Pachman (1924-2004)submitted by John Henderson
Ludek Pachman, one of post-war Czechoslovakia’s strongest and yet controversial grandmasters, who gained worldwide recognition as an unlikely political activist during the Soviet invasion of his homeland in 1968, died in March in the German city of Passau at age 78.
Born on May 11, 1924 in the small Czech town of Bela pod Bezdezem, Pachman went on to become one of the leading players of his generation. He honed his chess skills in Prague during World War II under the expert tutelage of World Champion Alexander Alekhine, going on to become a seven-time Czech champion and a prolific chess author and journalist.
Despite being a devout communist from his youth, Pachman became a cause célčbre of Alexander Dubcek’s ill-fated Prague Spring, when he suddenly turned into a fierce critic of the communist regime. During this turbulent period in Czech history, he was thrust into the limelight by editing an underground edition of Rudé právo, the formerly communist newspaper, following the Soviet invasion. Previously his only title was that of chess correspondent.
He was imprisoned several times, describing this in graphic detail in his 1975 (Faber and Faber) biography, Checkmate in Prague. He drew international attention to his plight by intentionally jumping head first from his prison bed, causing permanent head and spinal injuries. He was released from prison due to health reasons in late 1970, only to find himself deprived of his livelihood by apparatchiks who had taken control of the Czech Chess Federation. Rather than being a thorn in their side as a political martyr, the authorities allowed Pachman to emigrate to the west in 1972, and he eventually settled in West Germany after being turned down by Holland, his first choice.
In Germany, he soon became known as a political activist with strong anti-communist views who would make frequent appearances on political television shows. Later the same year of his release to the west, he returned once again to the chess arena with an invitation from Britain to compete in the Islington Open.
There in the media spotlight, in the opening round he faced one of England’s
top juniors, Jonathan Speelman.