HOW DID I LEARN PLAYING BLIND CHESS

This was my last school year of 1942/43 in the Male Real-Gymnasium in Osijek and by summer of 1943 we would sit for final exams of Great Matura (baccalaureate). With these Matura's exams we would end our secondary education (K12) and to be called into army service soon after. The war (WWII) was in its third year since it started on April 6, 1941 with German's bombardment of Belgrade City. Kingdom of Yugoslavia has been partially occupied with and another state had emerged: the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). Its proclaimed ruler became Dr. Ante Pavelic who was also the leader of Ustasa's regime. The later state in liaison with Nazi Germany had a government and an army fighting mainly against Tito's partisans (later Yugoslav Army).

In fall of 1942 the partisans' activities spread into Slavonia the northern region of Croatia. This fertile region of NDH is located between the rivers Drava at North and Sava at South. The municipality of was the 3rd largest city in Croatia situated along of Drava's right side in Slavonia's eastern province. Partisans were attacking the smaller townships and traffic lines mainly the railways there already. Therefore, the army command in Osijek had ordered that all students of uppermost classes to go on security watches of rails during daylights. The rail watchers had to report one hour before their two hours patrol would start at City's Main station. We'd gather in one of station's waiting rooms where everybody was trying not to think about that what could happen to us outside. Explosives or land mines were the real danger for us walking along rails stepping from one sleeper to the other one. Did you ever walk on sleepers as they are placed at a rather unpleasant distance for a normal pace?


Players are from Osijek Chess Club in 1942.

Several of my colleagues as myself too were members of the local chess club where we have spent many hours training hours playing this interesting game. Chess playing was our favorite past time during those gloomy war days too besides other few ones like visiting cinema or theater. Thus we have learned many game openings, played on internal tournaments often and on few inter schools or city ones. I became quite proficient playing chess and brought my pocket size game box to the station's waiting room. Playing chess even with these small figures did not make any difference to me but this was not so when my turn came to go out on the patrol.

Each patrol unit consisted of two students and one could choose its partner. Of course, my partner was always a chess mate from the club and my class. The patrols were taken out on open flat wagons pulled by a motor driven working machine. We drove out from the station to the further most point where the old patrol was picked up and the new one went walking for one hour onwards and back to its starting point for a too long hour. So each patrolmen pair walked two good hours supposedly watching for any disturbance of gravel under sleepers. Probably it would too late if you did not watch for this accurately anyway. Fortunately nothing happened to anybody of us during all our daylight patrols.


Zvonko is ready for a shift walk along railway line outside of Osijek Station.

Soon it became obvious to us that we cannot proceed playing a started chess game keeping in hand that small game box with figures stuck in board's holes. One had to watch each step from one sleeper to the other one and to look for any possible disturbances of gravel bed. How to balance that small box in one hand, not loosing any of figures and looking at theirs placement on board to be able playing the next stride after all? The solution of our problems was rather simple: PLAYING BLIND CHESS. In time with some practice we have managed playing chess this way but don't ask me how often we'd quarreled about position on board or who was swindling about it. In most cases our game ended in a polemic forgotten as soon we've been back on that flat wagon driving back to the station and warm classroom or home.


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Email Zvonko Springer at : zzspri@aon.at