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There is a vital figure in every world chess championship, yet his name is usually as obscure as the players are famous. This is the referee, whose job it is to ensure that the clash is conducted according to all the rules, and if there is a dispute, to bring the warring sides to an agreement.

Never were those skills of diplomacy more essential than when Bobby Fischer was mounting his challenge for the world title; and the chess world was fortunate that Lothar Schmid was around to carry out that task. The German died in May at the age of 85; we should mark his passing — because he was in his own way a remarkable man.

Schmid was extremely wealthy by inheritance: his father passed on to him the ownership of Karl May Verlag, a publisher of cowboy and Indian books which captivated generations of Germans. Lothar combined the running of this firm with great success as an amateur chessplayer. He became a grandmaster and, although his business career limited his play, he turned out for West Germany in no fewer than 11 chess Olympiads, where he won four individual silver medals.

But perhaps his greatest pleasure was combining his financial firepower with his interest in the ancient game: Schmid became the owner of the world's largest private collection of chess books, among them one of only a handful of surviving copies of the first printed chess volume, Discourse on Love and the Art of Chess with 150 Endings, published in 1497.

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