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Erik Larsson

by Lahrs Grahn



Erik Larsson (1915-2009)


The history of modern day international correspondence chess is to a great extent connected with Erik Larsson.

It all began in the 1920s, in the tiny village of Asmundtorp in the south of Sweden, when Erik’s father taught his schoolboy son the basic rules of chess. Erik and chess did not exactly catch on like a house on fire, at least not straight away. He was much more into football, tennis and table tennis, and did not score any great wins at the chessboard.

However, in the spring of 1931 he had a glimpse of the highest echelons of chess when Yefim Bogoljubov came to the nearby town of Landskrona (Erik was born there in 1915) for a simultaneous exhibition. Bogoljubov was one of the world’s leading players at the time; he had lost a match against Alexander Alekhine for the World Championship only two years previously.

Erik grabbed the opportunity to play the World Championship contender. In a Four Knights’ Game Erik weakened his kingside by accepting a doubled pawn, something that Bogoljubov punished mercilessly with a mating attack. The adventure was over in a mere 22 moves, but most likely it contributed to Erik’s growing fascination with chess

The following year he therefore decided to get a subscription for a chess magazine. Choosing between Tidskrift för Schack and Schackvärlden (“Chess World”), he went for the latter.

Very few national correspondence chess federations existed at the time, and the organisation of correspondence chess events was very much down to chess periodicals and weeklies.

In 1932, Erik took part in one of Schackvärlden’s Nordic CC events. Finishing in 2nd place made him realise that his forte lay in this field rather than in over-the-board chess. This was to spell the beginning of a life-long love affair.

Between 1934 and 1965 Erik lived in Stockholm. Erik refers to this part of his life as his “middle game”. Being on his own in the capital, chess brought him great pleasure. Apart from over-the-board chess, he played lower-division amateur league football. However, the greater part of his spare time was devoted to international CC tournaments.

In conjunction with the Chess Olympiad in Stockholm 1937, an IFSB congress was convened. This is a memorable year, both for Erik Larsson and the international CC community.

Showing me the group photograph from the congress, Erik recalls: “I’m standing immediately behind Istvan Abonyi, President, and Hans-Werner von Massow, General Secretary of the IFSB, proud and happy to have been elected head of the World Tournament Office of the international federation at the early age of 22, despite having no international tournament directing experience.

My qualifications for the job consisted of having played in various tournaments of Schackvärlden, the IFSB and the BCCA for five years, and a knowledge of German, English, French, Esperanto and the Nordic languages. I know now that I made a good impression on the 24-year-old General Secretary. We spent many happy hours in the idyllic atmosphere of Stockholm.”

At the time, the young von Massow had already been involved in the Fernschach magazine for nine years, i.e. for as long as the IFSB had been in existence. As time went by a deep friendship developed between him and Erik. Erik was considering changing his surname, but von Massow was the one who dissuaded him: “Warum denn? Erik Larsson, das klinget so schön.” (“But why? Erik Larsson’s got such a nice ring to it”). Together they came up with ICCF’s motto, Amici Sumus.

At the 1937 Congress, a proposal was put up for discussion, to arrange a first individual World correspondence chess championship. Alexander Alekhine had given the motion his approval, which, in all likelihood, ensured its success. Since France did not take part in the Olympiad, Alekhine was unable to attend the congress in person. The congress passed a resolution to stage a World Championship tournament, but the war intervened.

The international correspondence chess community went into hibernation during the Second World War. At the end of the war, Erik Larsson was the only old IFSB official prepared to set about the task of reviving international correspondence chess. He founded the ICCA and appointed a presidium. As President of the new organisation Erik wanted to engage the services of Robert Robinson of the BCCA, but he was occupied with the research project which was to render him the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1947. The post was instead offered to and accepted by the editor of Chess, B.H. Wood.

Erik was able to pass on the experience gained by the IFSB between 1929 and 1939. During the war he had functioned as an official with the SKS and the SSKK in Sweden. Among other things he staged a team tournament between the Swedish administrative provinces (these are roughly equivalent in function to British counties). Each team consisted of six players and this format was to serve as a model for the World Team Championship, the first tournament organised by the ICCA. Erik also issued a stencilled newsletter, Monthly Resumé, which in 1947 turned into a more extensive periodical by the name of Mail Chess, a development opposed by B.H. Wood and half the presidium. Mail Chess was published until 1951, the last few years by the Yugoslav Chess Federation.

Erik Larsson was the chief architect behind the development of the ICCF tournament system. When he retired from his post as ICCF Tournament Director in 1987, he had been active in this field for 50 years, almost without interruption. He was a keen advocate of new ideas and his pioneering spirit never waned. Furthermore, and in contrast to many officials and organisers, he has remained an active CC player all his life.

Naturally, Erik has many fond memories from his six decades as a CC enthusiast. One memorable instance occurred when Miss Yoko of Japan entered a Thematic tournament. Erik said his pioneer heart started beating faster, not only because she was a woman, but also because she came from a country where correspondence chess was something of a rarity. After having exchanged several beautiful picture postcards and small gifts, she then participated in several tournaments.

Somehow they lost touch with each other, but a few years later, when Erik received the start list for a Thematic tournament he himself was participating in, he noticed Miss Yoko’s name on the list. Their interrupted correspondence was resumed, and now she was able to tell him about the joy that correspondence chess had brought her:

“I feel so lucky and glory to play with you in the ICCF. I nearly jumped through the ceiling when I found your name in the start list, because it has for many years been my dream to play with you. I shall always try to be worthy of your great kindness to enter me in so many sections. The correspondence chess is my only hobby. Now that I have many good chess friends through you and ICCF I am completely overjoyed. Especially I love the ICCF Cup because we can play with all kinds of players regardless of their ability”.

We are all greatly indebted to Erik Larsson for the important part he played in the development of international correspondence chess, into a sport knowing no boundaries and being a tremendous source of joy.

3x games


Erik Larsson 1915 – 2009

by Nol van ’t Riet

On Saturday the 14th of February the last of the grand old men, although he was rather small, who were present at the foundation of ICCF in 1951, died in Sweden: Erik Jakob Larsson. His age was 93.

Many of us learned the game from our father. And Erik too, although his father thought that at the beginning of the game two pawn were allowed to go forward. But the game could not engage him so much. He preferred soccer, tennis and table tennis. But in Landskrona (where he was born on the 20th of May 1915) he participated in 1931 in a simultaneous display given by Bogoljubov. He lost the game in 22 moves, but this was the start of his fascination for the game of chess. He subscribed on the magazine Schackvärlden and then he discovered that you also could play correspondence chess. At that time chess magazines often organized their own tournaments.

In 1934 Erik moved to Stockholm where he has worked for a big Swedish export company, before he – later-on – returned to the neighbourhood of Landskrona. And there, in Stockholm, during the OTB Olympiad of 1937, a Congress was held of the IFSB, the predecessor of ICCF, founded in 1928. Also present in Stockholm was Aljechin, who approved the plan to come to a seperated World Championship for correspondence chess players. It was also on this congress that Erik (22 years old!) was appointed as the leader of the World Tournament Office. Actually he held this position until 1987, when his successor Ragnar Wikman from Finland was elected at the ICCF Congress in Bloemendaal.

For fifty years Erik has been working on the growth and the development of international correspondence chess. The highlights were the World Championships and the Olympiads. But he also loved the promotional tournaments. They are very special as in those tournaments the stronger and the less stronger players can play internationally. There is no other sport where this is possible. Erik also was a convinced Esperantist. Together with the other grand old man of international correspondence chess, his friend Hans-Werner von Massow, who died in 1988, Erik belonged to the idealists who tried to use our game for the purpose of achieving more understanding between the people and the nations.

After the Second World War IFSB no longer existed. Erik then founded ICCA, which did not last for long due to quarrels and financial problems. This period ended in 1951 when ICCF was founded in London. In the meantime Erik had succeeded in the implementation of the numerical notation of the moves. ICCF got the structure which we still have nowadays: members are the national federations, each with one vote.

I met Erik for the first time at the 1980 ICCF Congress in Linz (Austria) where I was appointed as chairman of the Working Party Rating System. A job which “kept me from the street” until 1987. I immediately “fell in love” with Erik. Always friendly, always in good humour, working on his only goal: reform the world into a club of friends: Amici Sumus. The last Congress he visited was 1991 Järvenpää.

Erik was always accompanied by his wife Svea. She always had a kind of a poetry album with her in which all Congress visitors constantly had to write something. For me one of the highlights were the moments when we were having the opening and/or the closing banquets and Erik asked me to fill his glass of wine one more time, and one more time, and one more time. His doctor had instructed not to drink more than one glass a day. It was my task at those moments to pay attention that Svea should not catch him. But it never became a problem as Svea was much too busy with her poetry album. In the meantime Erik and I made a lot of fun. Because that’s what he also could be: funny and naughty.

Erik kept playing correspondence chess until he died. At that moment he only played one game as his daughter Birgit wrote me, a game with his great-grandchild of ten years old. His last international tournament has been postal group 2 of the Open H. J. Mostert Memorial. When he started this tournament he asked me as tournament director to consider him a bit as on his age always something could happen. Unfortunately I had to answer him that in such cases I only could apply the rules. Of course Erik could respect and appreciate that point of view.

Founding ICCA in 1946 Erik wrote: “once again in this century a terrible war has come to its end. Our hope is that shall have an ever lasting peace.” May Erik rest in that peace.


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