Lothar NikolaiczukDestined to be a Chessmaster

Lothar Nikolaiczuk:
Destined to be a Chessmaster

Lothar Nikolaiczuk was born in 1954, the son of a Ukrainian father and German mother. He was brought up in Bochum, one of the many nondescript unattractive cities in the industrial center of Germany. What gave Lothar the chess bug in his youth was rather unique. Instead of seeing people play, he found a book on chess in a big wooden box containing the book collection of a friend’s deceased grandfather. Dozens of titles with fanciful pictures competed for his attention, but he was irresistibly attracted to the only one with just a small title on colorless cover, Knaurs Schachbuch. Although he couldn?t understand the chess diagrams with columns of letters and numbers, he immediately felt that they belonged in his life – as if something had come back that had been there before. Nowadays he is considered one of the world’s most prolific chess writers, completing just one month ago his 25th book on chess.

Did you have an unusual childhood?

It was overshadowed by long and severe illnesses. As a result I have never kicked a football in my life but very early began to read a lot and think even more.

When did you start learning chess?

Aged 15 and thus ten years too late to become a top player. Musicians have to start early to build up certain muscles, joints, sensibilities, so they become used to extreme challenges. For chess players, it?s the ?think-contraption.? Another obstacle was the lack of support from my environment. For a clan of coalminers, a kid who wants to become a chess player was thought to be doomed to end up in a madhouse.

What got you interested in chess?

From a book I found about chess – not for beginners but for advanced players – I eventually taught myself to understand the game. The approach I used was characteristic of my whole career – no help from a teacher but learning from scratch like any autodidact. When I went to a small chessclub two years later and applied what I learned, it turned out to be so effective that after only one year I became the club champion. Five years later I qualified for the German championship tournament where I placed fifth.

Have you done much international travel?

Moving from one tournament to the other in western Europe didn’t really qualify as travelling because I hardly saw anything apart from the chess arenas. But in 1989 an assignment to write an encyclopedia of chess strategy gave me the means to leave the western civilization, where I had never felt at home. I lived in Morocco, Kenya and Ghana for 15 years before moving to Bali in 2005.

How many languages do you speak?

I first studied to become an interpretor and translator in English, French and Russian. Later on I made it a rule to always learn the language of my chosen adopted country, so that now my linguistic repertoire consists of seven foreign languages.

Does a professional chess player only make money by playing?

Not necessarily. I’ve done a lot of teaching, chess journalism and show exhibitions like simultaneously playing against 50 opponents or blindfolded against ten. And of course writing books.

What’s your best general chess advice?

I’ll give you two examples which can also be applied to life: Wishful thinking is the first step towards disaster and to repair a mistake you first have to acknowledge that you’ve made a mistake.

What are some key “bad” behaviors that keep players stuck at one level?

Lack of objectivity, of self-criticsm. If you become strong and confident enough to understand how weak you sometimes play, then you have half mastered the game.

What is the most memorable game you’ve ever played?

In 1986 I qualified for a grandmaster tournament where one of my opponents was Vassily Smyslov, a world champion at the time I was born. I outplayed him, but somehow couldn?t find a way to win. My advantage vanished, I tortured myself with self reproaches, lost my concentration and in the end lost the game. Afterwards Smyslov admitted that at one point he was just about to stretch out his hand to resign, but that my hand moved quicker to make a weak move instead of the winning one which was so simple that any of my students would have found it within seconds. For consolation the chess legend gave me a wonderful compliment, “You play highly cultivated chess.“

What’s the state of chess in Indonesia?

I don?t know about the other islands, but in Bali chess is somehow tainted by the fact that stronger players mostly want to play for money. I once won a considerable amount from a very talented young man. When the bout ended, I gave him his money back and explained that I would gladly play him again without any betting. He never contacted me again.

If any young person would like to pursue chess in a serious manner, what would be your advice?

If you?re not ready to end up living from hand to mouth like Lothar Nikolaiczuk, then don’t even think about it. No, on a more serious note, if you consider brain surgery or astrophysics to be difficult, then you had better just play chess as an entertaining hobby.

What do you do when not working on your chess books?

I love literature and have just published my first novel, soon to be followed by a collection of short stories. I also enjoy chitchatting with locals, listening to classical music and taking walks on the beach.

How may you be contacted?


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Copyright © 2015 Bill Dalton
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