Heidenfeld and the 1958 Irish Championship

There’s one simple way for an Irish chess website to increase its traffic: start a debate on the eligibility to play in the Irish Championship, more specifically should it be an open or closed tournament (and if it’s a closed tournament, just how closed it should be.)

The return to a closed format in 2013 (after the series of open championships that was first sparked off by the ICU executive in 2004) has not been without its controversies. In the previous post Breaking news from 1906 Sean pointed out that this is not just a recent debate. In the comments to the post he referred to a championship roughly half-way between 1906 and 2004, when the Irish (Closed) Championship suddenly went a little bit open. That was Belfast in 1958, won by the German-born Wolfgang Heidenfeld, who was South African champion in 1957 and 1959 and played for South Africa in the Munich Olympiad in 1958.

Heidenfeld reported on the 1958 Championship in the British Chess Magazine (September 1958, pages 225-7) and this is what he had to say about the “Irishness” (or perhaps I should say the relative lack of it) of this particular closed championship.

The Belfast tournament was dominated by three “foreigners”: our General Editor, B. Reilly, who has been in the Irish team since 1935 without ever having played in any Irish tournament; Dr. V. Maher, twice Irish Champion in the past, who has recently been living in Berlin; and the writer, who transferred to Dublin from South Africa in November last. Without the foreign invasion the field would have been dismal in the extreme, with all the strongest Southern players (Mulcahy, O’Sullivan, Walsh, Murphy, Canton and Ryan) conspicuous by their absence.

Almost exactly a year before these words were published, the imminent arrival of Heidenfeld on the Irish chess scene had been announced by J.J. Walsh in his Irish Times chess column for 5th September 1957:

There are many indications that the chess season which starts during the next few weeks will rank as one of the most important and varied in the history of the game in Ireland.

The chief interest will undoubtedly centre around the South African master, W. Heidenfeld, who recently announced his intention of  settling in this country. Heidenfeld will be recalled by Irish chess players as having played in Dublin during May 1956. His presence here should indeed stimulate interest in domestic competitions; our leading players cannot fail to benefit greatly from playing against this experienced master.

In his 24th October column Walsh updated his readers:

During the week I had a pleasant meeting with Wolfgang Heidenfeld, the South African chess master, who has just arrived in Ireland … he has now decided to settle permanently in Dublin.

I was very pleased to learn that he intends to take a very active interest in our local chess affairs…

As we shall see below. Heidenfeld did throw himself wholeheartedly into the Irish chess scene, but it still seems surprising that he would become eligible, presumably qualified by residence, for a closed championship so soon after arriving.

Despite his avowed intention to settle permanently in Dublin, Heidenfeld was to leave these shores before 1958 was out. Here’s J.J. Walsh again on this development (Irish Times, 22nd December 1958).

It is always very sad to lose a friend, and the departure of W. Heidenfeld to Frankfurt will be regretted by many Irish players.

Since coming to Dublin from South Africa just over a year ago, Heidenfeld has been enthusiastically associated with all our local chess activities. His great experience and ability gained him many successes here despite being a constantly “marked man.” At Belfast last July he won the Irish championship without losing a game, and he secured the brilliancy prize in that tourney for his win over B. Reilly. Heidenfeld had previously won the Derry Feis tournament with a superb 7 wins from seven games.

The South African master, as he was invariably labelled, never refused any invitation to give a simultaneous display or deliver an instructive talk and, apart from aiding several Dublin clubs, he also helped chess players at Maynooth, Adare, Kilfinane and Limerick.

Walsh went on to chronicle Heidenfeld’s significant contribution to Dublin Chess Club’s win in the 1957-58 Armstrong Cup, winning every game at the top board, and ended by wishing him happiness in his new surroundings. If that was the end of Heidenfeld’s connection with Irish chess, his win in 1958 might now seem very curious indeed. However there was another twist in this tale.

Although now resident in Germany, Heidenfeld did not lose touch with Ireland completely. He acted as adjudicator for the Irish Times “Game of the Year” competition (which he had himself won during his short sojourn for one of his wins in the Armstrong Cup.) While corresponding with Walsh in Spring 1962 he expressed his delight with the warm reception he had received from Dublin chess players during a recent three-day visit to Ireland. In his 31st May 1962 column Walsh made this announcement, echoing his earlier one of September 1957:

It is now possible to confirm [Heidenfeld’s] intention of settling here permanently as he has made definite arrangements to arrive in Dublin about mid-September, just in time for the start of the new competitive season.

This time Heidenfeld remained for an extended period, winning five more Irish Championship titles, the first of these in Cork, again less than a year after arriving in Dublin, before finally returning to the land of his birth in the 1970s.

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