Pok's Go Space

How it Happened that Manfred Wimmer Slept on a Gym Mat

A Kind of Obituary

When I met Manfred Wimmer for the first time he was dressed in a suit. This may not sound particularly remarkable but later I never saw him in a suit again. Only in retrospect it occurred to me that he may not have possessed anything else but a suit after many years living in Japan. When he showed up for the first time in the Vienna Go Club in his suit, he had the air of a strict, cold, and arrogant man. Later, when he had accustomed again to our club in Vienna, he had the air of a shabby, cold, and arrogant man. He was not a very likable character.

Manfred Wimmer was born 1944 in Austria's most southern part, Carinthia. In the 60ies he advanced to the by far strongest player in the country and even became European Champion three times: 1969, 70 und 74. He started studying Mathematics, but abandoned it in the early seventies in order to study Go in Japan. In fact he became probably the first Western player to achieve pro-status there. In 1985 he returned to Austria, worked as a tourist guide and spent most of his leisure time playing Go. He died in 1995 from a kidney desease. Reportedly he was married in Japan and left another wife and children in Madagascar.

Certainly, the high light of Manfred Wimmer's Go career was his appointment to professional two dan in November 1978, only eight months after he was awarded a shodan diploma from Kansai Kiin, the Go-organization of Western Japan (see Go World 12, 1979.) Yet, the circumstances how he achieved this feat are still somewhat dubious. When he came back, he was clearly weaker than the then leading European top players, as for instance his compatriot Helmut Hasibeder and even I myself was able to win one out of three games against him. According to his own version, his development of the so-called "Wimmer-joseki" played a role in his promotion. Another factor could be that the Kansai Kiin was eager to present the first Western pro-player among its own ranks, since at the same time James Kervin from the United States was equally on the verge of becoming a prossional -- at the Nihon Kiin in Tokyo.

Wimmer himself told us many stories about his life in Japan but there are reasons to treat his statements with caution. He was not an outright honest person to begin with, but what is more, his professional career ended in a desaster. Nobody but himself seems to know what happened exactly, but he was certainly involved in a kind of sex-scandal. According to his own version he simply wanted to shoot some porn pictures and sell them on the black market to earn some extra money. The fact that he was found guilty of rape was due to a trick played on him by the Yakuza. In order to knock him off what they considered their business, the Yakuza send him a girl who introduced herself as a prostitute but accused him to have raped her at the trial. In any event he was found guilty and had to quit not only his membership at the Kansai Kiin, but also his stay in Japan. Even if we accept his version as true, his activities do not present him in a particularly favourable light.

Wimmer himself did little to change this impression. He boasted not only with sex-stories from Japan but also from Madagaskar where he used to spent the summers in his last years. In both countries he seemed to have been married, by the way. For a more detailed report on the nature of these stories you may refer to an obituary of Manfred Wimmer by Sam Sloane Yet, in Austria I never saw Wimmer in female company. My personal impression was that given the choice to play Go or to pursuit sexual adventures he would opt for the former -- at least in Vienna. Even in Madagascar, where he probably went primarily for sex tourism, he could not bear living without Go and instigated a go community there by teaching local chess players. In the meantime I have encountered some of his pupils at world amateur championships, where they represent Madagaskar as one of only three African nations with a national Go association. In this respect at least, Wimmer's notorious libido led to some positive results as well.

Socially, Wimmer was not particularly well acquainted with anybody of us Vienna players, but as we spent much time together in the club we got somehow familiar with him. I myself had a very peculiar experience in this respect. In 1988 several Austrian players including Wimmer and myself participated at the European Championship in Hamburg. While I spent my nights in a gym hall for almost no budget -- as befitting a flat broke student -- most of the other players lodged in the near-by "Kolping Haus", still of modest standards. To get a free breakfast I used to sneak in the Kolping breakfast room where I met with Wimmer and the others. One morning, Wimmer appeared there still in his pyjamas -- only to be told by the waitor that this was against the house rules (incidentally, Kolping Haus is a Christian institution). Wimmer refused to dress properly, however, which urged the Kolping Haus manager to intervene and tell Wimmer the same. After a furious exchange of quarrels Wimmer was finally thrown out and was forced to spent his nights in the gym hall as well. Since we both did not bring proper sleeping bags, we shared a huge gym mat with a few other young players. The following nights I slept really bad since the mat was so elastic, that each time one of us turned around the others were shaken simultanously. Wimmer, however, was quite undisturbed as I guessed from his constant snoring. He seemed in fact content with having had his own will even at the cost of a warm bed and a daily breakfast. Sometimes I think that his expulsion from Japan evoked similar feelings with him.

When Wimmer died, I spent myself some time in Japan. Therefore I know the circumstances only from hear say. Reportedly he died in the Go Club with a Go stone in his hand. The immediate reason for his early dead was a stroke, but all in all his life style was desperately unhealthy, as with many other players. He smoked excessively and tended to push health threats aside, as for instance his kidney malfunction, which caused high blood pressure. I doubt that he had closer friends either in or outside the Go community who grieved after his death, but it cannot be denied that he left a gap. Like his character, his Go-style was not really neat and proper. He loved to lure his opponents into tricky hamete variants which he studied most intensively. But he would also indulge in analysing these moves and share his knowledge with other players. Nobody has yet shown up in Vienna who would abandon himself in Go with the same passion as Manfred Wimmer. Like many others present day players I myself cannot but appreciate him as one of my most valuable Go teachers. And last but not least, we should not completely forget that in the early seventies the strongest Western Go player was probably the Austrian Manfred Wimmer.

Finally, Wimmer achieved to raise some international attention again one year before he died, at the European Champion Ship 1994 in Maastricht. At that time he was the only player to beat the final winner, Guo Juan. Wimmer ranked third after Shen Guangji and was therefore -- in his eyes -- the best European player and thus European Champion again. The hook was that Guo Juan had just obtained Dutch Citizenship and therefore she was declared Champion. Wimmer being Wimmer protested against this decision, to no avail of course. In any event, it became clear that his former professional rank did indeed have some meaning.

Pok, Dezember 2003

translation into English: October 2004