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Modern Ideas in Chess by Richard Rèti

20. Carl Schlechter

Vienna, the old art city, was always the city of those who were unrecognised or of those whose recognition came too late. That is ingrained in the spirit of everything that goes to make up Vienna and Viennese Art. For that art is wanting in the grand pathos and tragic gesture. It is not blatant; on the contrary it is hidden. It does not impose itself: it has rather to be approached; it must be sought out. Vienna has an old chess tradition , because chess is particularly the game of the unappreciated, who seek in play that success which life has denied them.

Steinitz sprang from the chess school of Vienna, but to become the world champion he went abroad and divested himself of what was Viennese in him. The most noted representative of the Viennese in chess was Schlechter. He showed himself quite equal to Lasker the World Champion, but he was too Viennese to wrest the title of World’s Champion. The majority of people imagine a chess master as being a townsman who passes his life in an atmosphere of smoke and play in cafés and clubs: a neurasthenic individual, whose nerves and brains are continually working at tension: a one-sided person who has given up his whole soul to chess.

Schlechter was the exact antithesis of that conception. He held himself aloof from club and café, so far as his vocation permitted. He lived for preference in the country, where he filled in his leisure with art and science. All his heart and soul went out to nature, and it is just that reflex of his love of nature that lends to his games their particular charm. His games stand out through their breadth of scheme - just as in the forest the trunks of trees and their branches stretch themselves out on all sides wherever there are open spaces: thus did Schlechter develop his forces; forcibly and, like Nature as it were, objectless. No hidden places and traps were there, but only sound development. With him was no undue haste and no pinning himself down to one idea, but one harmonious evolution. And indeed combinations by Schlechter are not artificially-reared roses which amaze everyone with their beauty and which, to the true nature lover, soon savour of excess; nay, they are rather the humble and hidden forest flowers that have to be looked for and the love of which increases with their gathering. Thus one loses one’s self in Schlechter’s games in which are reflected, side by side with the immensity and simplicity of nature, the airiness of Viennese art and music.

By the time we shall have grown weary of the blatant combinations of the old masters and the over subtle positional plans of the new ones, we shall still delight immersing ourselves in Schlechter’s games, in which, side by side with the greatness and simplicity of nature, the grace and airiness of Viennese music are often reflected.