Josef Tarnawski 1927-2021

By Andrew Robinson

Josef, or Joe as we always knew him at the chess club, had a lifetime love of chess and a long association with The Gap Chess Club.

Joe has recently received some exposure in the media covering his chess exploits and successes. These included his famous win against the Soviet grandmaster Alexander Kotov, (the Moscow City chess champion) who toured Australia in 1963.

Joe was the Queensland State Champion at lightning chess at least four times. Joe won this tournament in 1959, and then 3 times consecutively between 1971 and 1973, which secured him the perpetual trophy awarded to the winner, a trophy reunited with Joe on his 90th birthday.

Joe was a founding member of The Gap Chess Club in the late 1960s, and was a member of the club when it won the Brisbane champion interclub competition (the Singer Cup) twice, in 1971 and 1974.

When I first came across Joe in the early 1990s, Joe had recently returned to The Gap Chess Club after a break. Despite already being past 65 years old, when most of us are slowing down, Joe was as sharp as ever, and seemed virtually unbeatable, particularly at speed chess. It was rare for him to make a blunder, but when he did, he'd always surprise me by graciously resigning, rather than playing on to the bitter end. He was always modest about his chess ability, and I recall him saying that anyone in the club was capable of beating anyone else on their day.

At the chess club, Joe wasn't really interested in joining discussions on politics or history, or talking about his business interests; and he'd always say he just liked to come and play chess. We knew Joe came from Romania, but nothing about his earlier life in Europe. But one time, I was at The Gap Shopping Centre with my toddler daughter, and I saw Joe and we started talking about chess, and this distracted both of us from what was going on around us, as is characteristic of many chess players. Then I suddenly noticed my daughter rolling around on the dirty floor, and I was aghast. But Joe said 'Don't worry about that. After the war, in Czechoslovakia I saw the kids doing that all the time. And they were just fine!' So, I found out Joe was in Czechoslovakia at one time. And he also provided me with some good down-to-earth advice. Joe lived a magnificent life outside of chess as he did when playing the game, and we can only half guess at his many experiences.

I think Joe was at his finest over the chess board not playing tournament chess, but playing socially. Joe was known as quite a character and would often amuse us with a running commentary in his inimitable English, while we played friendly social games of chess. One time he complained about the standard of catering at the chess club: 'You boys. . . (because he always called us 'you boys') You boys should get some decent biscuits.' Then the next week, ever generous, he came with some extremely expensive biscuits that cost about $5 each. Unfortunately, unsustainable to the meagre chess club budget!

Joe was a wonderful person to have around, a joy to all who knew him. He will be greatly missed by his family, members of the Brisbane chess community, and The Gap Chess Club.