Lothar Schmid: Chess grandmaster who became a respected referee

He forced both Fischer and Spassky down by the shoulders and told them, 'Play chess now!'

Lothar Schmid was one of Germany's most revered grandmasters and the winner of many medals at Olympiads and team championships. He was the arbiter of three of the most contentious World Chess Championship matches ever played, including the volatile 1972 contest between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. He was also one of the world's leading collectors of chess books, with a collection of over 50,000.

Lothar Maximilian Lorenz Schmid was born in Radebeul near Dresden in 1928. His interest in books was possibly sparked by his family's ownership of the large publishing firm Karl May Verlag, which he helped run with his brothers and whose management passed to him when his father died. Although this took him away from chess, it gave him the financial means to amass his collection.

Although chess was in his blood and he enjoyed much success he never quite reached its summit. He won the Dresden Championship at 13 and in 1943 took second place in Vienna in the German Junior Championship. In September 1948 he was joint fourth at the senior German Chess Championship in Essen.

In 1968 in an event in his home town of Bamberg he was in joint second place with Tigran Petrosian, the reigning world champion, behind Paul Keres, an outcome described by the Oxford Companion to Chess as his greatest achievement at the board. In 1970 he won a tournament in Mar del Plata and in 1980 he won the fifth edition of the BBC series The Master Game, ahead of Viktor Korchnoi and Vlastimil Hort. He was one of the first players to be awarded the title of International Master in 1951 by Fide, chess's world governing body; he achieved grandmaster status in 1959.

Schmid played for West Germany at 11 Chess Olympiads, winning four individual silver medals (1950, 1952, 1968 and 1970) and two team bronze medals (1950 and 1964). He played for the German team at 12 Clare Benedict Cups (1957-73), winning nine gold, one silver and two bronze medals. He also won the first German Correspondence Championship (1950-52), the first Eduard Dyckhoff Memorial (1954-56) and came second in the second World Correspondence Championship (1956-59).

In 1975 Fide awarded him International Arbiter status and he went on to be chief arbiter in some of chess's most infamous matches. The first was at the World Championship in Reykjavik in 1972, when Fischer v Spassky had become something of a microcosm of the Cold War, then at its height. It was suggested that without Schmid's skilful and diplomatic interventions, the match might have ended prematurely.

Its start was delayed by a week because Fischer was unhappy with the prize money. A private sponsor doubled the fund to $250,000 and the match began in front of television cameras and a large audience. Fischer finally emerged triumphant but allegations of “unsporting behaviour” were rife, with the Soviets claiming that Fischer was being aided by experts communicating with him via a tiny transmitter; they even sent a sample of Spassky's drink to Moscow to be tested for poison. Fischer, meanwhile, bemoaned the bright lights, the spectators and the cameras.

Spassky won the first game, and Fischer refused to contest the second, which Schmid awarded to Spassky. With the match in jeopardy Fischer insisted the third game be moved to a small room, with only a closed-circuit television feed to the audience and no camera operator in the room. Spassky agreed, but when Fischer arrived he began making further demands. Spassky announced his departure.

“I felt there was only one chance to get them together,” Schmid later recalled. “They were two grown-up boys, and I was the older one. I took them both and pressed them by the shoulders down into their chairs and I said: 'Play chess now!'” They did so, and the game was won by Fischer, who went on to become world champion. Schmid was again the arbiter when the duo played their so-called 1992 “Revenge Match” in Sveti Stefan.

The 1978 World Championship between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in the Philippines was another difficult affair. Karpov had become world champion after Fischer refused to defend his title in 1975 while Korchnoi, one of the Soviet Union's leading players, had defected to the Netherlands two years earlier and was deemed a traitor by the Soviet authorities, with his wife and son prevented from leaving the country. To make matters worse, the players despised one other.

The match descended into farce beset by accusations and poor behaviour. Korchnoi accused one member of Karpov's entourage of trying to hypnotise him; he threatened to punch him unless he was moved farther back in the audience. To placate Korchnoi, Schmid was given the authority to ban spectators if they became disruptive. With the players refusing to talk to eachother draws had to be offered through Schmid or one of his deputies. Schmid was also arbiter of another of the grudge matches between Karpov and his compatriot Gary Kasparov in London-Leningrad (1986), which Kasparov won to retain his world title.

Schmid's collection of books was revered by cognoscenti for its quality and quantity. It included one of only 10 existing copies of the first printed chess book, by Luis Lucena, Discourse on Love and the Art of Chess with 150 Endings.

Lothar Maximilian Lorenz Schmid, chess grandmaster, publisher and book collector: born Dresden 10 May 1928; died Bamberg, Germany 18 May 2013.

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