John Malek

Mike March has ask that I share some words he’s written about his friend and club member Jaromir (John) Malek, who passed away recently. Here’s his words, which are a great tribute to the man.

Sadly, my good friend, neighbour, scholar and fellow member of Oxford City Chess Club, Jaromir Malek has passed on, aged 79. Better known in Oxford chess circles as ‘John’, Jaromir joined our club from Cowley Workers, for whom he played for many years.

I first got to know him when my wife and I became friends with him and his wife after moving to Oxford and the Sandhills estate in the 1980s. He was a Czechoslovak-born internationally renowned Egyptologist whose lectures were in demand across the western world as well as being a great popularizer of his subject. We have signed copies of a number of his books sitting proudly on our shelves at home.

Oftentimes, before the pandemic, Jaromir and I would take a chess set, board and clock and ensconce ourselves in Caffe Nero in Headington playing 10-minute rapid chess over copious cups of coffee. But sometimes, after four or five games, when I wanted to play more, he would decline, saying he had to study his classical Arabic grammar. So I would leave him there, immersed in his well-thumbed tome, to pursue his studies. Lenin, I believe it was, who described chess as too serious to be a game, but not serious enough to be an art or a science. I think Jaromir must have felt the same for, despite displaying some considerable flair in the way he played, he devoted very little time to studying the game. That is not to say he didn’t enjoy playing, he most certainly did, including in his varied opening repertoire both the English and the Evans’ Gambit as well as the combative Marshall counterattack to the Lopez and the tricky Budapest Defence. But scholarship was undoubtedly what he loved the most. As well as Arabic, he also knew English, of course, as well as Czech, his native tongue, Russian, German, French, Spanish and Portuguese to varying degrees and would task himself with reading the great foreign classics in the original.

He was an unusually gifted person as well as being very kind and generous and I shall miss him. But the memories of our hectic, exciting coffee-house battles over the chessboard shall remain with me always.


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