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Music lovers are tantalised and even tormented by the tragedy of the early deaths of some of the greatest composers. Mozart, who died at 35, is the most cited example. There are others: Schubert gone at 31, Purcell at 36; and who can listen to Pergolesi's Stabat Mater without reflecting that the composer of this sublime depiction of a mother's grief was himself dead at the age of 26?

We who also love chess are similarly affected by the premature deaths of some of the greatest artists of the 64 squares, even without the particular poignancy of works actually unfinished, such as Mozart's Requiem K626, or Schubert's Eighth Symphony. Chess being a competitive sport, there is the different frisson that comes from wondering if the player in question might have gone on to become world champion.

That is what Hungarians sometimes say about Rudolf Charousek, who died in Budapest from tuberculosis at the age of 27. Charousek learnt the game at the remarkably late age of 14, which makes the fact that he was beating some of the leading masters of the day before his 20th birthday all the more astounding. He defeated the world champion Emanuel Lasker in the great Nuremberg tournament of 1896, and although the young Hungarian finished in 12th place, Lasker is said to have remarked: "I shall have to play a championship match with this man some day." 

It was not to be; and there were two reasons why perhaps Charousek, who died in 1900, could never have become world champion, even had he lived longer. By all accounts he was not just physically frail, but also of a nervous disposition: anyone who wants to win a match for the world chess championship must be psychologically robust; the strain of such events is colossal.

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