Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - May 2018

Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

Hans H. Cohn 1923-2018

Hans Cohn died at the age of 94: with his passing the blind world has lost a remarkable man and a tireless campaigner.

Hans was born in Germany on 6th May 1923. He was brought to England in the late 1930s and educated at Worcester College for the Blind. After leaving college he trained as a physiotherapist and, eventually, set up in private practice from his home in Willesden, north west London.

Hans was a man with many interests and talents. He was a keen cross country skier, and he was also an accomplished pianist with a deep knowledge and appreciation of classical music. For a number of years he was a guide dog owner.

Although he suffered from severe hearing loss and was totally blind, he did not allow this to hinder his travels to many parts of the world in pursuit of his extensive activities in support of education, social equality and career opportunities for visually impaired people. Hans was awarded an MBE for this work. Also, in 2011, the National Federation of the Blind presented Hans with the prestigious “Grimshaw” award, in recognition of his lifetime success as a blind person with severe hearing loss.

Hans joined the Braille Chess Association in the 1940s. He was soon heavily involved, taking on the roles of assistant secretary and postal tournament organiser. In those days moves in BCA postal events were transmitted in Braille. Upon the retirement of Victor Nelson, who was then secretary of the BCA, Hans became secretary and soon added the post of treasurer to his growing responsibilities. He maintained these posts until he left the BCA committee in 1980 after more than 30 years of service.

In addition to his administrative abilities, Hans was also a force for development and innovation. He set up a service of chess readings from the press onto tapes which, at its peak, was being circulated to more than 40 members. He also set up the BCA tape library, later to be known as the audio library, with volunteers reading chess books and shorter articles onto tape, which were available on loan to members. His contribution to chess material in Braille was considerable. This included arranging for volunteers to transcribe chess books into Braille, and a number of titles that he, himself, translated into English from German and Russian. He also produced some Braille pamphlets including 'The ABC of Chess' and 'Braille Chess Code', and for a number of years he was editor of the Braille Chess Magazine published by the RNIB.

Hans organised the first BCA over the board British Championships and, in 1968, he was the main organiser and main fund raiser for the International Braille Chess Association’s Olympiad held at Weymouth.

His active involvement in the development of the International Braille Chess Association (IBCA) included spells as secretary, vice president and president.

In all of this work, Hans' wife, Stefi, was his constant companion, faithful supporter and, very often, his assistant. It was Stefi who did the book keeping for Hans the treasurer, who wrote the letters for Hans the fundraiser and who, for many years, recorded chess columns from the press, and much more, onto tape. Hans and Stefi were both elected honorary members of the BCA in recognition of the enormous contribution that they made.

Hans’ chess playing career spanned many years, playing in the London league and mainstream congresses throughout the country. He played in many events for visually impaired players at home and abroad. He may well have been unique in that, on different occasions, he played for three different teams in IBCA Olympiads, England, Switzerland and a composite IBCA Executive team when it was necessary to even the numbers when a nation had withdrawn at short notice. He also played a great deal of postal chess including winning the IBCA Postal World Championship.

Hans Cohn died on 21st January 2018.

Here are some examples of his play:

The first game is taken from the IBCA Olympiad held in Germany in 1961

White Cohn, Hans, England

Black Sakic, Milutin, Yugoslavia

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 d6 4. Nc3 g6 5. e4 Bg7 6. f4 o-o 7. Nf3 Na6 8. Bd3 Nb4 9. Bb1 Na6 10. o-o Nc7

11. e5 Nd7 12. Re1 a6 13. Bd3 Rb8 14. a4 a5 15. h3 dxe5 16. fxe5 e6 17. d6 Ne8 18. Bf4 f6 19. exf6 Bxf6

20. Qd2 e5 21. Bh6 Bg7 22. Bxg7 Kxg7 23. Nb5 Qf6 24. Be4 Ra8 25. Rad1 Ra6 26. Re3 Qf4 27. Re2 Qg3

28. Qg5 Qxg5 29. Nxg5 Rf6 30. Red2 Kh6 31. h4 Kg7 32. Bf3 h6 33. Nh3 Rf7 34. Bg4 Nef6 35. Be6 Rf8

36. Nf2 Re8 37. Bxd7 Bxd7 38. Nc7 Rb6 39. Nxe8+ 1-0

The second game is taken from the IBCA Olympiad 1972 held in Yugoslavia

White Miettinen, Keijo, Finland

Black Cohn, Hans, Switzerland

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Bc4 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Nc3 Qa5 8. nxc6 dxc6 9. o-o o-o 10. f3 Rd8

11. Qe1 b5 12. Bb3 Qc7 13. Qf2 Nd7 14. a3 e6 15. f4 Nf6 16. h3 Bd7 17. Rad1 Bf8 18. g4 c5 19. e5 Ne8

20. Ne4 c4 21. Ba2 Bc6 22. Rxd8 Qxd8 23. Ng5 Ng7 24. Bxa7 Rxa7 25. Ne4 Bxe4 26. Qxa7 Qd5 27. Qb8 Qd4+

28. Rf2 Bd5 29. c3 Qe4 30. Kf1 Qh1+ 31. Ke2 Qxh3 32. Qxb5 Qxg4+ 33. Kf1 Qd1++ 0-1