[Home]History of Schieferdecker, Johann Jakob

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(1928–2003)

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Born: near Frankfurt am Main. Moved to Bremen in the early 1950s and lived there for the rest of his life.

Perhaps the finest German player in history, Schieferdecker always somehow managed to under-achieve when it came to the actual World Championships. A player of immense talent and ability, with a sense of adventure uncommon among the German school of strategy, he won twelve Grandmaster titles (a good number, though far fewer than his talent should have demanded): was incredibly consistent in reaching the later rounds of those tournaments he did not win – hence his popular epithet of 'The Perennial Semi-Finalist': was unbeaten in his home German Open for seven years up to 1963, and scored more than a few individual victories over all the top tournament players even in other championships: and, by 1960, he had reached number 2 in the world, and inherited the top rank when Trellis made her first retirement from competitive play the following year, after losing to him in the final of the Eastbourne tournament (his third tournament victory of the year, which left him just one point behind her in the overall rankings: it was believed, at the time, that he had finally cracked the art of winning major tournaments.)

However, one title eluded him, then and forever afterwards: the IMCS World Mornington Crescent Championships. Indeed, despite his ranking, he was never to even reach the final of that tournament, although he reached no less than fourteen consecutive semi-finals. In the early fifties, he lost time and again to Trellis or Ruttsborough: to Cripplehead in 1957, to Crumblethorpe in 1958 (perhaps the most surprising defeat of all), then Trellis again in 1959 and 1960: then in 1961 in Trellis's absence, it was his own countryman Heinzer – ranked in the low seventies at the time – who defeated him, also toppling him from his brief stay at the top of the world rankings: a rank which he was never to regain.

For the next few years, he found yet more unlikely people to lose to in the semis, up to and including Jimmy Carver (more famous as one of the CAMREC 'intransigents') in 1965: before the run of semis was finally ended the following year in the quarters, in a match containing the current longest ever single Dollis Hill in world championship play, and the greatest number in a match. The opponent, needless to say, was Ruttsborough, who published the results as 101 Uses For A Dollis Hill Loop (one of his most serious theoretical publications) immediately after the championships – and neglected to attribute credit for any of the named 101 uses: Schieferdecker was in fact responsible for more than a third.

He is believed to have been the main reason for the fact that the German team never won a title: his individual sense of adventure, such an asset in singles play, always ended up pulling him out of position in team play. The 1961 World Team Championships were their nadir: containing him (as world number two), Maier (world number four) and Heinzer (now the newly crowned world champion, having won the final and broken into the top twenty), the team was humiliatingly trounced by Bolivia in the first round, with Schieferdecker perceived as largely to blame.

Schieferdecker was to retire comparatively early, in 1972, and live on his winnings. Despite requests, he refused several opportunities to take roles in coaching or research, stating that he had retired from all of the game. Neither of his two children, nor any of his grandchildren, were ever to show any interest in MC: his token collection was sold off, half to the Frankfurt-am-Main club where he had learned as a child, and half to the local club in Bremen, where he was to live until his death in 2003. He was survived by his widow, both his children, all his grandchildren and an elderly tomcat (whose parentage is not entirely certain, other than the fact that it was a direct descendant of his family's original pet from the days of his childhood.)

[JLE]


Categories: A to Z, Famous Players

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