Like most people I've been a lot of different things in my life. I was a Catholic for two days when the local church needed somebody to conduct a charity auction. They couldn't allow a non-Catholic to do the job so they declared me an honorary member for the weekend.
And for a couple of years I was a Hungarian; but more of that later.
The Maroczy Chess Club was a Hungarian club operating from several locations in or near the Sydney CBD. In the 1960s they were at Newtown, an inner suburb, before moving to premises in George Street, near Central Railway Station. When the building was demolished to make way for a more modern structure they sought and gained support from the Phoenician Club, near Sydney Town Hall. When the Phoenician Club relocated to Broadway, a couple of kilometres to the south, Maroczys went with them. As far as I can tell it was from this location that they finally disbanded.
The members were an interesting group. Many of them had escaped Hungary during the 1956 Uprising. My old friend, Steve Kaiser, himself led a group of people out through the marshes and into Austria.
That was the year the Olympic Games were held in Melbourne and when the Hungarian team raised the revolutionary flag their Soviet conquerors replaced it with their own version, which was soon defaced by angry competitors. This set the scene for one of the most famous, and most brutal, water polo matches in history. It was reported in newspapers across the world under the headline, "Blood in the Pool". Hungary were victorious and went on to win the gold medal.
Sydney's Maroczy Chess Club took it's name from Geza Maroczy (1870-1951) who, in his heyday, was one of the world's strongest chess players. So marked was his contribution to the game that his name lives on in an opening variation, the Maroczy Bind (pawns on c4 and e4), in the Sicilian Defence. In more recent years other great Hungarian players have been prominent on the world stage, especially Lajos Portisch who visited Australia in 1971 and Peter Leko who has this week qualified for the final round of the World Championship to be played in Mexico in 2008.
And let's not forget the amazing Polgar sisters: Judit, Susan and Sophie—the most extraordinary chess family on the planet. Judit is the strongest woman of all time, having been rated among the top ten men and who barely failed to win a place in Mexico. Susan (formerly Zsuzsa) for years dominated women's chess. Sophia is the lesser of the three, perhaps not through lack of ability but rather a diversity of interests. The Polgars broke Soviet domination of women's chess and won the gold for Hungary at the 1988 Chess Olympiad.
Maroczy Chess Club Members
Rear: Unidentified, Lajos Szucs, Unidentified, Eric Maizer, Unidentified, Peter Lipthay.
Front: Jozsef Endroedi, Gyula (Joe) Hommonay (club captain), Zoltan Bodolai, Ildoko Lipthay,
Sandor Lipthay, Geza Loja, Unidentified.
I joined Maroczys in 1971 as a raw beginner and was immediately made to feel comfortable. Steve Kaiser even sat down with pencil and paper and showed me how to pronounce Hungarian (Magyar) names so that it would be easier for me to speak to people. It helped a lot.
The atmosphere at the club was old-world and well-mannered, and there was a feeling of family about the place. Modern chess clubs can certainly be friendly places, and most probably welcome their new members, but there was a charm about Maroczys that we don't see any more. I'm grateful to more than a few men who spent time honing my skills.
Some of the women-folk came but didn't play chess. For them it was a social evening chatting to friends. Tea or coffee and biscuits were provided, but were usually taken at the board.
In 1968 Maroczys visited Melbourne to play a match against the Budapest Chess Club. The following year Melbourne visited Sydney for a return match. Most of the photographs on this web page came from those matches.
Maroczy vs Budapest, October 1968
Maroczy and Budapest club pennants
They are held by Mrs Bogdan and Ildoko Lipthay
Laszlo Bogdan and Dr Geza Gallo with the competition trophy.
The Score Card: Maroczy 17 Budapest 11
The first round was played in the morning, the second after lunch.
The return match was played in Sydney in 1969 and again Maroczy won, this time by 18-12.
|Maroczy vs Budapest – Sydney, 1969|
|Kun||Gunther, E||1-0||Gunther, E||Kun||0-1|
Round 2: Sydney Dinner
Joe Endroedy, in whose Grade Match team I was to play, is at the top left next to Mrs. Bogdan.
The picture at right shows the 1969 trophy in the shape of a large knight held by Dr. Geza Gallo (Budapest) and Dr Zoltan Bodolai (Maroczy). Come to think of it, that's a horse being held by two doctors, and neither one a vet! I wonder if that makes them a pair-o-dox?
Different countries have different names for the chess pieces, but at least everybody agrees on how they move. In English-speaking countries we have a knight, to the Germans he is der springer which seems very appropriate; but to the Hungarians he is a hussar. To me that brings up images of cavalry charges and feats of derring do. It's a romantic image, but didn't help much when I tried to decipher the hand-written score sheets and found that the pieces had different names, and so, different notation. You can find them listed HERE.
There were many talented members but, unfortunately, some found their qualifications were not recognised in Australia. Steve Kaiser had a degree in forestry but in Sydney was forced to work in a menial public service job. It's where he and I met and he became my chess mentor. Steve won the City of Sydney minor tournament about 1970. A different rating system was used in those days, but it was equivalent to the Under 1600 tournaments we have today. And unlike today those tournaments were hotly contested. Bobby Fischer was making headlines in newspapers across the world as he carved his way through the opposition en route to the World Title in 1972 and chess was booming in Australia so the fields were big and the competition strong. Steve returned to Hungary for a visit after his retirement and, unfortunately, died there. Perhaps he'd have preferred it that way.
Geza Loja was a professional photographer and captained the A-team in the New South Wales Interclub Grade Match competition. He took most of the photographs at the club and probably took most of those shown on this page. Since he appears in a couple of them it's likely that Laszlo Bogdan took those since he is notably absent. Loja (it's pronounced Lawyer) was a fighter pilot in the Hungarian Air Force during World War II. During the 1970s an Australian aviation magazine ran a story about him being shot down in a dogfight. Not only was his plane damaged and Loja badly wounded, but still he managed to land before losing consciousness. It was hard to imagine this gentle, thoughtful person being involved in the brutalality of war.
I knew I was starting to get the hang of the game the first time I won against Dr Zoltan Bodelai. I trapped his queen and he looked across the board in silence for a moment then said in his delightful accent, "You are despicable!" I loved it. Bodelai was another who was under-employed in Australia. He had a PhD (in history, I think) from Budapest University but worked here as a high school teacher. He wrote a number of books about his beloved Hungary including The Timeless Nation.
At the start of this story I said I had been a Hungarian for a couple of years. It happened like this:
Joe Endroedy invited me to play in his B-Reserve team (probably equivalent to today's Under 1400s) and I played very badly. It was to be expected; I was a beginner. I appreciated Joe taking me on.
By 1972 I was getting better and that year Parramatta won the western division, St. George won the south, and Maroczys won the east. That meant a three way play off to see who would be the champions. At the end of this stage Parramatta had been eliminated but we had the same points as St. George so another play off was needed.
In the final match the score was 2-2 with only my game remaining. (There were five players to a team away back then.) I was playing a guy named Col Burnes who is still a member at St. George. Col had beaten me at our four previous encounters.
As play went on it was obvious that he was going to win this one too. To make it worse, all the other players were clustered around the board and would view my humiliation; so I tried a swindle. (In chess, a swindle is an unsound combination. It usually involves some kind of sacrifice. If your opponent accepts the offered material there is a sting in the tail that can turn a game around.) I pushed a pawn, allowing Col to capture a piece, but he couldn't get his defenders back in time to stop the pawn queening, and the game was mine.
There was much celebration, we drank lots of Tokaji and I was declared a blood brother. Next day at work Steve Kaiser gave me a copy of the "Selected Games of Mikhail Tal" by the Hungarian chess master, Jozsef Hajtun to commemorate the victory.
Today there are few members of the Maroczy Chess Club still playing. Many have passed on, others have not been playing tournaments but may be playing socially or on the Internet. The only three former members who are still regular tournament players are Ian Dickson of Newcastle, Karl Art of Sydney, and myself.
I am indebted to Lajos Szucs (aka John Stevenson) for the photographs and much of the
This story only touches the fringes of Maroczys and its members. Although I was made welcome, much of the conversation was, naturally, in Hungarian; so I didn't get to know many people as well as I would have liked.
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