Nimzowitsch the ‘Crown Prince’

Edward Winter


nimzowitsch

Aron Nimzowitsch


On page 2 of The World Chess Championship 1948 (London, 1949) Harry Golombek stated, in a discussion of possible challengers for the world title in the 1920s, that Nimzowitsch ‘does not seem to have been really serious in his claims, and confined his pretensions to having visiting cards printed on which appeared his name and the title “Crown Prince of the Chess World”’.

This may seem questionable, and we wonder, in particular, whether the well-known ‘visiting-card’ story is true. Has anybody seen one? And when did Nimzowitsch give himself the title ‘Crown Prince’? The only contemporary reference we can offer is a second/third-hand one, i.e. the BCM’s report on the Frankfurt, 1930 tournament (November 1930 issue, page 403):

‘In the last six rounds [Nimzowitsch] made a clean score. E.S. Tinsley, in The Times, says that he now chooses to call himself “the Crown Prince of the chess world”.’

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Claes Løfgren (Randers, Denmark) draws attention to what Poul Hage (the four-time Danish champion and a frequent visitor to Nimzowitsch’s home) wrote in an article entitled ‘Memories of Grandmaster Nimzowitsch’ in Skakbladet, March 1978, page 53:

‘I slutningen af 20’erne vakte det opmærksomhed, at den succesrige mester skulle have ladet trykke et visitkort med titlen:

“A. Nimzowitsch
Kandidat til verdensmesterskabet i skak.”

Det er påfaldende, at det her i Danmark aldrig er lykkedes noget menneske at se dette famøse kort, ja, det har end ikke været muligt at opspore nogen, som blot har kendt en eller anden, som ved selvsyn har kunnet bekræfte dets eksistens.’

Our correspondent has provided the following English translation:

‘In the late twenties it attracted attention that the successful master allegedly had visiting cards printed with the text:

“A. Nimzowitsch
World chess championship candidate.”

It is remarkable that no-one here in Denmark has ever managed to see this notorious card. It has not even been possible to track down anybody who has just known somebody who, having seen it with his own eyes, was able to confirm its existence.’

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Following press reports that Nimzowitsch had issued a world championship challenge, Capablanca wrote to him from New York on 21 September 1926 that he had received no direct word and giving him until the end of the year to post a forfeit for a match, failing which he would take up Alekhine’s challenge. (See pages 193-194 of our book on the Cuban.)

From Per Skjoldager (Fredericia, Denmark):

‘Nimzowitsch, for his part, was very proud of being recognized as a challenger for the world championship and when he returned from Germany he wrote the following in the Danish chess magazine Skakbladet (January 1927, page 3):

“En særlig glæde var det for mig, at pressen overalt betragtede mig som kandidat til verdensmesterskabet.’ (“It was particularly pleasing that the press regarded me everywhere as candidate for the world championship.”)

On page 48 of his (1966) book Verdens bedste skak Jens Enevoldsen (who appears to have known Nimzowitsch better than Hage did) wrote:

“Det er kendt at Nimzowitsch udfordrede Capablanca til en match om verdensmesterskabet og også fik et høfligt svar fra ham, men ingen andre end Nimzowitsch tog det alvorligt. Trods sin storhed var han ikke manden. Men resten af sit liv medførte Nimzowitsch et visitkort hvorpå der stod: Kandidat til verdensmesterskabet i skak.” (“It is known that Nimzowitsch challenged Capablanca to a world championship title match and also received a polite answer from him, but nobody except Nimzowitsch took it seriously. Despite his greatness, he was not the man. But for the rest of his life Nimzowitsch carried a business card on which was printed World chess championship candidate.”)

Enevoldsen repeated this on page 103 in a slightly different wording.

On page 67 of his (1969) book Træk af Kampklubbens historie E. Verner Nielsen (who also knew Nimzowitsch well) wrote:

“Niemzowitsch var lidt forfængelig; på hans visitkort kunne man således nede i det ene hjørne læse: Skakverdensmesterskabsaspirant.” (“Niemzowitsch was a little vain; on his business card could be read in one of the corners: World chess championship candidate.”)

I have never seen Nimzowitsch use the title “Crown Prince”, but it seems likely that others have done so. At least his good friend and admirer Hemmer-Hansen wrote the following under the heading “Crown Prince of the Chess World” in Jyllands-Posten on 8 October 1933:

“Nimzowitsch regnes nu for skakverdenens ‘kronprins’, og man venter med spænding kampen mellem ham og Aljechin om verdensmesterskabet.” (“Nimzowitsch is now regarded as the ‘Crown Prince’ of the chess world, and we anxiously await the battle for the world championship between him and Alekhine.”)

It therefore seems that a) the business card dates from 1926, when Nimzowitsch challenged Capablanca, b) the “Crown Prince” title originated at the beginning of the 1930s, and c) it would be wrong to use the title “Crown Prince” in conjunction with the anecdote about the business card.’

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Peter Treffert (Lorsch, Germany) points out that the visiting-card matter was mentioned in one of the Alekhine Nazi articles, it being asserted that the cards bore the wording ‘Arnold Niemzowitsch, World Chess Championship Candidate’. The article added the curious explanation that ‘Arnold sounds more attractive than Aron even to Jewish ears’. Source: Deutsche Zeitung in den Niederlanden, 2 April 1941:

Mr Treffert wonders whether Alekhine ever saw the visiting card and what explanation can be offered concerning the alleged change of forename from Aron to Arnold.

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From Per Skjoldager:

‘Hans Kmoch wrote the following in ‘Grandmasters I Have Known’:

“When civil war broke out in Russia around 1917, Nimzowitsch was trapped in the Baltic war zone between the rightists and leftists. He escaped forced service in one of the armies by complaining so insistently about a fly on his head that they finally left the ‘madman’ alone. The ‘madman’ sneaked out and made his way to Berlin, where he presented himself as Arnold Nimzowitsch. He used the name Arnold possibly as a precaution against anti-Semitism, though he soon reverted to his real first name. After some years of wandering, he finally settled in Copenhagen, Denmark.”

It should be noted that Tartakower also used the name Arnold Nimzowitsch in Die Hypermoderne Schachpartie (in the index, on page 517 ). That book was published in 1925, which suggests that Nimzowitsch’s (possible) use of the name Arnold was not related to his quest for the crown, contrary to the suggestion in the article by Alekhine. Nimzowitsch challenged Capablanca in 1926.’

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We note the following early occurrence of the visiting-card story, on page 296 of CHESS, 14 April 1936:

‘Did you know that Nimzowitsch for some time had printed on his visiting cards:

“A. Nimzowitsch,
Candidate for the World Championship of Chess.”

“Do you do that for fear you might forget?”, a friend once asked him ironically.

“I do it for fear the chess world might forget”, replied the genial and, alas, all too soon dead master.’

Whether there is truth in any of that remains to be discovered.

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From pages 179-180 of The 100 Best Chess Games of the 20th Century, Ranked by Andrew Soltis (Jefferson, 2000):

‘Aron Nimzovich had an ego problem. After Carlsbad, 1929 he added a sign to his apartment door that read: CANDIDATE FOR THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. “So you won’t forget?”, he was asked. “So that the chess world doesn’t forget”, he replied.’

No source was offered.

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