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The most valuable chess guestbook ever

by Sneha Tiwari - 17/08/2023

Frederic Friedel founded ChessBase in 1985. For the last 38 years, he has been having chess guests at his house. Kasparov, Anand, Kramnik, Gelfand, Leko, Svidler, Polgar - absolutely every chess legend has been to his place. The house has been welcoming to just about every chess player, and even in the present generation, we have had Nihal Sarin, Gukesh, Savitha, and many other Indian talents who have been to the Friedel House in Hamburg. One thing has been constant - each and every guest has had to fill out the guest book, and this has led to a beautiful compilation of heartfelt messages from the greatest minds in the world of chess at different phases of their chess careers! IM Sagar Shah was at Frederic's place in Hamburg, and they had a nice trip down memory lane.

Frederic Friedel's treasure trove

It is said that an average person, over the course of his lifetime, meets 80,000 people. So many people, so many stories, and a lifetime of memories. But how can you capture those memories in words? How to make sure that a glimpse at the memory and all of the feelings come rushing down? One way is to of course have pictures. However, Frederic Friedel and his wife Ingrid have managed to do it in a different way. Frederic Friedel is the co-founder of ChessBase and lives in Hamburg. He co-founded the company 38 years ago, along with Matthias Wullenweber, and over the years, he has had many eminent chess personalities stay at his home. Frederic is a warm host and ensures that his guests have a wonderful time at his place. In return he asks all of them to do a small task when leaving - fill in the guest book with some words about their experience of stay. The first entry in the book dates back to 1981, and it continues to this day. The book has entries from many famous personalities and spans generations. The book is almost filled now.

Frederic Friedel, co-founder of ChessBase, not only maintained the ChessBase newspage, which became the most popular place for chess players to get their dose of news, but also served as editor of Computer-Schach & Spiele, the largest computer chess magazine in the world from 1983 until 2004, before it transitioned to an online format

The First Entries

When you first open the book, you will see that the very first entry was made by Ken Thompson in 1981. Ken, a name not infamous in the world of Computer science, was the inventor of UNIX and C. Ken, along with Joe Condon, invented Belle, which was a chess computer at Bell Labs. While Joe worked on the hardware parts, Ken was responsible for the software of the machine. With a USCF rating of 2250, it was the first machine to attain master-level play in 1983. It won the 1980 World Computer Chess Championship as well as the ACM North American Computer Chess Championship five times. It was the first chess-specific hardware-winning system.

Ken Thompson with Garry Kasparov in deep discussion regarding work

The words that can be seen etched into the guestbook by Ken are, "Frederic and Ingrid, you must come to New Jersey and let Bonnie and I repay your hospitality." The words alone are enough to give an idea of how homely Frederic and his wife make people feel when they come to stay with them. The pages of the book are just as old as its history, but they hold memories from people who were significant in Frederic’s life. From his professor to Garry Kasparov and Anand, the book holds the writings of many people.

Old days when the computer was still a new thing in the world of Chess

Nigel Short, the famous English chess grandmaster who is now 58 years old, and famously challenged Kasparov for the World Championship match in 1983, first wrote in the guest at the mere age of 16.

Nigel Short playing blindfolded chess with Frederic

John Nunn, an English Chess Grandmaster, three-time world champion, writer, and mathematician, was one of the regulars in the book

One of the first entries of John Nunn in 1984

On June 2, 1985, Garry Kasparov made his first entry in the book. Frederic recalls the incident as, "Garry had come with members of the most popular news outlet in all of Europe - Der Spiegel. While leaving, I asked Garry to fill out the guest book. While everyone at Spiegel urged Garry to leave as there was little time on hand, the former World Champion sat down and thought for 15 minutes about what to write and finally wrote his message in Russian!"

Frederic working with Garry in the starting days of ChessBase

The first message by Garry Kasparov in the guest book!

One can find all sorts of comments, including a funny one by Nigel’s brother, Jonathan, "I think I am allergic to going home after such a nice time!", with a sad Snoopy drawn beneath it.

Cuteness runs in the family: In the photo- Martin, Jonathan, and Nigel Short

Many years later when Jonathon had grown up and was already expecting a child, he drew this one in the book. This goes to show the longevity of the relationship built between the Friedel and Short family.

Richard Charlie Stanley, a British-born Finnish filmmaker, also stayed at Frederic’s place when he came to make a film on Kasparov. Richard drew a picture of himself before and after shooting the project, and it shows how hectic the whole process was for him. Richard’s entries stand out from the rest of them, as they are always very illustrative.

The intense glare of a director: Richard Charlie Stanley

The next few entries are from ChessBase co-founder Matthias Wüllenweber, who came frequently to stay with Frederic, while they were working together on ChessBase. Very sooon, he moved to Hamburg, so he could be close to the team while working.

A photo straight out of an old movie: Matthias Wüllenweber in conversation with Garry

Matthias' message in 1985....

...and then in 1986

At the age of 19, in 1988, comes Anand, and his first entry reads, "Thank you very much, Ingrid and Fred, (Happy Fred?)...." Frederic remembers - Anand was too polite to call me by my name. So he would call me as Sir. But I forced him to call me by my name and hence the "Happy Fred!"


Young Vishy Anand working in Frederic's home

The very first but not the last entry made by Anand - 25th of April 1988

Although that was Anand’s first entry in the book, it will not be his last. Frederic told us that he counted, and Anand made his entry into the book a total of 36 times! He was a part of the Friedel family.

Frederic Friedel tells us all about how he met this 18-year-old Vishy who went on to become the 5-time World Champion!

It was not just Vishy who visited the Friedel home. When he got married, he also got his wife Aruna to meet Frederic, Ingrid and the kids. This is Aruna's first message in the book:

Aruna signed off the message with the words Nandri, which means thank you in Tamil 

Several years later when the Microsense Kramnik Gelfand training camp took place in Chennai, Aruna met Frederic and Martin who were visiting from Hamburg

A beautiful picture of young Akhil Anand meeting Vishy's greatest chess rivals and friends Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand in 2020!

Frederic meeting his good friends Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand in Chennai in 2020

Vladimir Kramnik’s entry from September 4th, 1996, is something that is interesting and funny at the same time. "I am having a very good time here; even the extremely poor play of Fritz 4 against me cannot spoil it. The place is great; if I would live in such a place, I would soon become a world champion."

Kramnik message in 1996!

Four years later, this young lad did go on to become the World Champion!

Frederic was the man responsible for connecting Vladimir Kramnik to the Indian youngsters when they had the Microsense Kramnik camp in Chens Sur Leman in 2019 in France. 

The impact that this book has on people can be imagined when Frederic tells us that he recently sent Boris Gelfand a scan of his first entry, which he made in 1990. "I recently sent him a scan of this, and he was so moved. He said, OMG, these are memories!"

Boris Gelfand's entry in 1990

The book also has entries from the best female chess players of all time, Susan, Sofia, and Judit Polgar (along with their mother, Klara Polgar).

The legendary Polgar Sisters: Susan, Judith, and Sofia

This was before the time when the Polgar sisters took the chess world by storm with their powerful play

Valery Salov, a Russian Chess grandmaster who was ranked third in 1995, came to stay at Frederic’s and wrote one of the most poetic lines possible. "I am really lost in the desert of despair, looking for words to express my feeling of gratitude. I am not eloquent enough." Later in 1991, when Valery Salov came back, he was well prepared with a poem. Well, what can one expect from a world-class grandmaster?

One of the strongest players of his time on the board, and a poet at heart: Valery Salov

The first visit where Valery didn't find the write words to express his feelings

The well prepared lines!

The last entry before Frederic moved house to Dohren was Anand, and their first guest in the new house was also Anand.

Vishy Anand studying chess in the garden with Tommy

The last entry in Hollenstedt and also the first entry in Dohren was by Anand

From keeping wonderful relations with Anand's parents (his mother Susheela in the above picture), to...

...holding the hand of little Akhil (Anand and Aruna's son) at the Crocodile park in Chennai, Frederic has always been a close friend

Peter Leko, the Hungarian chess player, former World Championship finalist and famous commentator, would most likely win the award for the most beautiful handwriting in the whole book. "Peter Leko, you can always find him through his meticulous, beautiful handwriting," says Frederic.

A strong chess player and one of the best chess commentators we have - Peter Leko

That's the wonderful handwriting of Peter Leko! Below it is (did you notice?) Peter Svidler!

Peter Leko's German skills were not so bad!

Frederic recalls, once I had such strong players in the house at the same time that I could easily organize a super tournament with Vishy, Kramnik, Leko, Svidler and co.

 

Almira Skripchenko was one of Frederic’s favourite guests. "She was one of our favourite people because, you know, others would say, Can I have a coffee maybe? And Almira would come out with a pot and say, Frederic should I use this for coffee. She was a perfectly natural person in the house; she became part of the family immediately."

The ever-so-graceful Almira Skripchenko

Giving a tough fight to Peter Leko for the best handwriting in the book is Almira Skripchenko

Harika Dronavalli was one more person who impressed Frederic the most. He picked her up from Wijk aan Zee and recalls having a delicious dinner cooked by her.

Harika captured in the action of being the amazing cook she is. This picture was taken in Frederic's kitchen.

Entry by one of the best women chess players India has ever seen: Harika

Sagar Shah, Tania Sachdev, Amruta Mokal, Frederic Friedel and Anju Sachdev (Tania's mother)

Tania's message in the book inviting Frederic and his family to Delhi

ChessBase India's Amruta and Sagar have come to Frederic’s house about five times now, and they recall the first time they did it in 2014. "Frederic came to pick us up at the Hamburg railway station and when we sat in the car, he began to narrate a poem in Gujarati "Aa ek pool che (this is a bridge), Pool paase naanu gaam che, (Near the bridge is a small village). Sagar was so stunned hearing a German speaking flawless Gujarat that he nearly had tears in his eyes!

 

Vishy, Polgars, Leko, Kramnik, Gelfand have all grown up now, but the tradition of young talented chess players visiting the Friedel house still continues!

Nihal Sarin in Hamburg with Frederic

Message by Nihal Sarin and Srinath in the guest book

Gukesh, Savitha, Siddharth Jagadeesh and Rajinikanth (Gukesh's father) at the Hamburg bus station

Message from Savitha and Gukesh

During Corona, the book entry came to an end, and after two-three years of having no guests, the first guest that made a visit to Frederic’s house was Leon Mendonca and his father Lyndon. Leon visited again after a year, followed by Gukesh. The book is almost finished with a few pages and many more entries to go, and therefore Frederic is very particular that all the new guests must write small paragraphs!

Leon is one of Frederic's best friends in the chess world right now!
Leon Mendonca playing one of Frederic's favourite tunes Ave Maria on the violin

The last few entries in the book

What has been the mindset of the Friedel family that they were able to have so many different guests from so many different countries and cultures? "Well, I have to be very thankful to Ingrid for putting up with this. It wasn’t just chess; there were a lot of scientists and interesting personalities. We had a nice house, you know, and we spent quite some time and money building it. It was a rather large house, and we had enough space so people would just come and stay. We enjoyed it, and it enhanced our lives. I have met so many wonderful people outside and inside of chess, and that has been an unforgettable experience."

Little joys of life: Frederic is an amazing chef. His favourite cuisine? - Of course vegetarian South Indian food!

People came with many intentions to Frederic's home, but the talks hardly ever revolved around chess. It was always about building a personal bond, conversations and exchange of ideas! Frederic, Ingrid and the entire Friedel family would give their time and energy and this way of hosting the guests enhanced their own life in return!

A few more entries!

Kasparov's message in English in December 1985

An early entry by Kasparov's wife in 1990

Sofia Polgar great enjoyed the Pizzas, food and music at the Friedel house!

Kateryna Lagno, visited in 2003. She is currently one of the strongest players in the world of chess.

Ken Thompson's daughter Maya Thompson has kept the family tradition alive!
Frederic discussing his treasure book with Sagar
How Kasparov helped in the founding of ChessBase 
Knowing the chess greats Part I 
Frederic Friedel on meeting Tal, Spassky and Fischer!

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