The Curious Case of Bruno Buchholz and a Nearly Trackless Path

Sunday, September 24th, 2017 | by Yamil Duba | History

Compiling information about Bruno Buchholz’s life is not an easy task. Surprisingly enough the man who survived history by developing a famous (the most?) tie-break system for chess hasn’t got a story of his own.

Despite this lack of data about his life it’s still possible to draw some conclusions based on a couple of rare documents available online. Let’s do the man some minimal justice.

Mr Bruno Buchholz was born in the old German city of Magdeburg —founded by Charlemagne in 805— on the Elbe River. No source indicates his date of birth while some suggest he probably died circa 1958.

Near fifty kilometers away from Magdeburg you find the small village of Ströbeck, whose —now endangered— connection to chess goes back an entire millennium. Please, allow me this short note.

In 1011 Bishop Arnulf of Halberstadt imprisoned Gunzelin of Kuckenburg, Margrave of Meissen. Legend goes that Gunzelin, maybe killed by boredom, crafted a chess set and ended teaching chess to his guards, thus creating a tradition among locals. Our man could well be product of that lore.

Indeed, as we’ll see Mr Bruno Buchholz was not only a passionate chess player but also a person compromised with the politics surrounding the game, and eventually a chess writer as well.

On July 1927 the German Chess Federation celebrated its 25th Congress in Magdeburg. After much digging I came across the official chronicle of that meeting published by W. Frhrn. von Holzhausen. In it German readers can learn that besides being the Secretary Buchholz was also the Tournament Director.

Five years ahead he would co-write a book with the President of that Congress, Dr. Fritz Kiok. That work was published on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Saale Chess Federation. In it Buchholz complains about the lack of tournament reports on the congresses.

Seems like our character was also fond of poetry. A singular example of his inspiration is available at the end of the aforementioned chronicle. Google’s translation is beautiful enough to say that the German version must be sweet.

Bruno Buchholz

Not insane to infer that our man could have been a physician. In 1929 a guy named Bruno Buchholz published in Germany a thesis ‘On the Iodine content of Human Organs’ (Über den Jodgehalt menschlicher Organe) in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (Vol. 63). As you see this is only a guess and I have no way to probe it was actually him.

Hooper & Whyld (1992) have suggested the famous Buchholz System was used for the first time in the Bitterfeld 1932 tournament, just about a hundred kilometers away from Magdeburg. These authors claimed that Bruno Buchholz competed in that event, of which I was able to find just one game. But what a game! For the truly historians, an account of the Bitterfeld tournament is available at Ranneforths Schachkalender (1933).

In conclusion, clearly Bruno Buchholz isn’t the most famous character in planet chess. Nevertheless, it was a bit strange for me not to find a single article on the web about his life. This is both a humble recognition and a step ahead for more research. For the time being don’t miss the Magdeburg Open 2017.

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