By Ian Rogers
In the same week that the chess world lost a great in Viktor Korchnoi, the world’s weakest Grandmaster Herman Suradiradja (cover and top) also passed away, aged 69.
Suradiradja had been suffering from ill health for many years yet remained a keen player and continued to compete – “Chess kept him alive,” said Percasi (Indonesian Chess Association) official Kristianus Liem.
Suradiradja’s story is a sad one; of a person who loved the game was so desperate to succeed at chess that he was willing to corruptly obtain both the International Master and Grandmaster title. Yet he then discovered that respect at home for becoming Indonesia’s first Grandmaster was counter-balanced by disrespect and even ridicule home and abroad, given the contrast between his title and his decidedly modest world ranking.
Suradjiradja, born in Sukabumi, 80 kms south of Jakarta, in 1947, was a modestly talented young player, who first represented Indonesia at an Olympiad as a teenager in Havana 1966. (Suradiradja, second reserve, played only sporadically and was probably brought along mostly for the experience.)
Suradiradja’s progress was patchy, but an upset win of the Indonesian Championship in 1975 in Medan gave Suradiradja the idea that chess might be his calling.
In August of that year, Suradiradja and two others secured International Master norms at the first Asian Masters tournament in Singapore, achievements that were almost certainly decided before the tournament began. (A player at the second Asian Masters tournament in Jakarta, where as many as four IM norms were secured, related that he was presented with an almost complete crosstable at the start of the event. Refusal to cooperate resulted in 3am phone calls and a sleep-interrupted nightmare tournament.)
Soon afterwards Suradiradja headed to Europe where his father, a diplomat in Bulgaria, arranged for him to stay at the Indonesian Consulate in Belgrade and compete in Yugoslavia.
Despite the warm relations between Indonesia and Yugoslavia thanks to their leading roles in the non-aligned movement, the Yugoslav tournament organisers were not inclined to do any favours for their Indonesian visitor and a venture into Czechoslovakia saw a disastrous performance.
However in July 1976 Suradiradja found a tournament in Lublin, Poland, where taking the Asian Masters example and turbo-charging it, International Master norms were being organised for 40% of the field.
In those days two norms in long tournaments were enough to earn a title so Suradiradja found himself as a new International Master, admittedly one of the lowest rated in the world.
However Suradiradja wanted more and he moved to Bulgaria to reside with his father at the Indonesian Embassy in Sofia. Suradiradja began to take chess lessons with a Grandmaster coach, explaining to his well paid tutor that success was crucially important; not only for himself and his father, but also for Indonesia, who could not accept that the Philippines had a Grandmaster (Torre) and they did not.
Unfortunately his trainer soon concluded – and results confirmed – that no matter how much he enjoyed the game, chess was not Suradiradja’s special subject; if Suradiradja was to become a GM, he was going to have to buy the title.
So in November 1977 a tournament was organised in Primorsko specially for Suradiradja. Even with two players not cooperating and beating him, Suradiradja was still gifted enough points to win the tournament and secure his first Grandmaster norm.
It took almost a year before Suradiradja could arrange his final step to the GM title, paying a fee which effectively sponsored an entire tournament in Plovdiv.
Unfortunately the tournament had only two Grandmasters instead of the required three, but special dispensation from the world body FIDE solved that problem. Despite being the second lowest rated player in the field, Suradiradja tied for first place with his former coach Evgeny Ermenkov (pictured below) and claimed the final result he needed to become Indonesia’s first Grandmaster.
At the lavish closing ceremony, sponsored by the winner of course, Suradiradja was approached by a Bulgarian GM Georgy Tringov who said, “I have some very important advice, but it will cost you $1,000 to receive it.” Suradiradja thought and then accepted the offer.
Tringov (pictured below) then said, “You have invested plenty of money to become a GM and it looks like you have done it…..but not yet. You will become a GM only when FIDE awards you the title. So, my advice is this; do not play a single game of chess – any place, not even a blitz game – before FIDE awards you the title!”
(When news of Suradiradja’s achievement began circling the chess world, the Tringov story became enhanced and distorted, with the version I heard having Tringov demand the keys to a new car to be at the board before he would agree not to beat Suradiradja in their final round game. This appears to be pure fiction.)
Suradiradja took Tringov’s advice and was anointed a GM by FIDE, after which he began competing widely. As Indonesia’s only Grandmaster he was offered board one at the Buenos Aires Olympiad in 1978 but struggled and after a modest result in Malta 1980, despite his title Suradiradja was not considered for Olympiad selection again.
Soon afterwards, FIDE changed the title regulations to make becoming a Grandmaster significantly more difficult. Amongst other smaller changes, the performance level required for a GM norm was raised from 2550 to 2600 as the dozen players who had earned the title in the previous year were viewed as evidence that the title was too easy to achieve.
Suradiradja participated in Australia’s first Grandmaster tournament, in Brisbane 1979 and, although he finished second last, was the only player to beat the tournament winner Anatoly Lein.
Opening: French Defence
Notes plagiarised – word for word! – from those by Raymond Keene in the tournament book.
46.e8Q+ Bxe8 47.Qxe8+ Kg5 48.Qxa4 Rh2+ 49.Kg3 Rxb2 50.Qf4+ Kg6 51.Qd6+ Kh5 52.Qe7 Rb1 53.Qh7+ Kg5 54.Qg7+ Kh5 55.Kf4 Rf1+ 56.Ke5 b5 57.Qg2 Rc1 58.Qh3+ 1-0
The Australian performance was typical of Suradiradja; capable of playing a good game on occasion but more often muddling along. By 1986 his rating had fallen below 2300 and it never passed that modest barrier again.
Suradiradja no doubt realised that he was being invited to tournaments, especially in Singapore, in order to be beaten up by GM norm aspirants but he never stopped trying, competing as best he could.
By 2013 Suradiradja’s health was failing. After losing his first four games in the Jakarta Open, he admitted that an injection regime was leaving his head fuzzy, though he managed to win a game on his 66th birthday.
Three years later, on June 5, Suradiradja died. In a respectful obituary on the FIDE web site, Bong Bunawan wrote, “Unfortunately after he got his GM title he couldn’t manage to support the demands of his title with decent performance.” This was Suradiradja’s life curse; he was someone whose career, title and passion for the game obliged him to play chess, an activity at which he was not very good.