Henry Camilleri
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Henry Camilleri

Duncan Vella, vice-president of the Malta Chess Federation, writes:

Henry Camilleri, known to the chess community as Harry, will always be synonymous with chess in Malta. He was Malta’s most successful player and held a number of records that are probably unbreakable nowadays.

My first ever competitive chess game was against Harry in July 1985. At that time he was one of Malta’s leading players and already a 13-time Malta champion.

I remember my father asking Harry to take it easy against a young 13-year-old newcomer, but Harry’s reply was clear: “I respect all players and will play in my usual style.”

Indeed, he played his usual strong opening, and after beating me explained where I could have improved. He spent time giving me tips on how to better my game.

This gentlemanly and friendly attitude defined Harry as a person. He loved the game of chess unconditionally. I once asked him how come he had never got involved in the committee with his experience. “I am only interested in playing the game,” he replied. “I don’t like politics. Being in any committee would create uncomfortable situations that could keep me away from the board. But I want to play.”

And play he did – from his first tournament win as junior champion in 1950 to November last year, when he took part in his last tournament.

Harry won his first championship in 1965 and went on to win a record of 18 titles. He holds the record for most consecutive victories from 1965 to 1972. His last championship win was in 2005 at the venerable age of 72. A really impressive achievement, especially when one considers that Harry never used computers for chess preparation.

In an age when his opponents had computer databases with millions of chess games they could analyse and study at a click of a button, Harry remained old-school, using books and handwritten analysis on notebooks to prepare for his games. This shows his fantastic ability.

Harry is the only Maltese titled player to hold an international master title in correspondence chess. He used to have dozens of chess games going on simultaneously against players all around the world.

He represented Malta in 13 chess olympiads from 1960 to 2002 and in a number of Interzonal tournaments, playing against top grandmasters abroad.

Harry’s passing is surely a great loss for both the local chess community and many players abroad. His gentle and friendly demeanour and love of chess will be sorely missed.

RIP, dear friend Harry.

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