Remembering IM Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander CMG CBE (19-iv-1909 15-ii-1974)

Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander
Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander

We remember Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander CMG CBE who passed away on 15-ii-1974

Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander
Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander

From The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match by E.Klein and W.Winter :

“CHO’D Alexander was born in Cork in 1909 and learned chess at the age of ten. He was educated at King Edward School, Birmingham, where he exhibited early prowess by winning the Birmingham Post Cup. In 1927 he won the British Boy’s Championship. During his student days, from 1928 to 1932, he was a convincing champion of Cambridge University. Subsequently he competed in five British Championships, winning the title in 1938. He also played in several international tournaments, his outstanding performance amongst these being Hastings in 1938, where he shared second and third prizes with Keres, following Reshevsky who won the tournament, and ahead of Fine and Flohr. In 1939, in the England-Holland match, he had the satisfaction of defeating the ex-World Champion, Dr. Euwe, in a sensational games, drawing the return game.

A brilliant mathematician, he took a first at Cambridge and chose a scholastic career, joining a well-known public school (Winchester College). From there, via a short spell in a business appointment (John Lewis), he entered the service of the Foreign Office, where, during the war years, his valuable work earned him the OBE.

He plays imaginative and courageous chess and is never afraid of the wildest complications.”

IM Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander CMG CBE (19-iv-1909 15-ii-1974). Source : The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match
IM Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander CMG CBE (19-iv-1909 15-ii-1974). Source : The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match

From Chessgames.com :

“Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander was born in Cork, Ireland. Awarded the IM title in 1950 at its inception and the IMC title in 1970, he was British Champion in 1938 and 1956.

Left to right Baruch H Wood, Philip Stuart Milner-Barry, Vera Menchik (playing in the women's world championship held concurrently with the Olympiad which she won with 17 wins and 2 draws), Sir George Thomas, Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander and Harry Golombek. England withdrew after their preliminary group due to the outbreak of war despite qualifying for the top final. Thanks to Leonard Barden
Left to right Baruch H Wood, Philip Stuart Milner-Barry, Vera Menchik (playing in the women’s world championship held concurrently with the Olympiad which she won with 17 wins and 2 draws), Sir George Thomas, Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander and Harry Golombek. England withdrew after their preliminary group due to the outbreak of war despite qualifying for the top final. Thanks to Leonard Barden

During the Second World War, he worked at Bletchley Park with Harry Golombek and Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry, deciphering German Enigma codes and later for the Foreign Office. Alexander finished 2nd= at Hastings (1937/38) tied with Paul Keres after Samuel Reshevsky and ahead of Salomon Flohr and Reuben Fine. He held Mikhail Botvinnik to an equal score (+1, -1) in the 1946 Anglo-Soviet Radio Match, and won Hastings (1946/47) while finishing equal first at Hastings (1953/54). He represented England on six Olympiad teams. Alexander was also an author of note. He passed away in Cheltenham in 1974.”

Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander
Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander

Prior to the second world war Alexander was employed by John Spedan Lewis in his Department store in Oxford Street. When he returned from Buenos Aires (“good air”) from the 1939 Olympiad he travelled aboard the RMS Alcantara. Here is the entry in the passenger list for September 19th, 1939 :

Partial passenger manifest for the RMS Alcantara for September 19th, 1939. Alexander is passenger #23.
Partial passenger manifest for the RMS Alcantara for September 19th, 1939. Alexander is passenger #23.

and here is Alexander’s entry in detail. Note that his occupation is described as “Drapery Manager” :

Partial passenger manifest for the RMS Alcantara for September 19th, 1939. Alexander is passenger #23.
Partial passenger manifest for the RMS Alcantara for September 19th, 1939. Alexander is passenger #23.

Hugh sailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina in September 1939 to arrive at Southampton September 19th 1939. The ship was the Alcantara operated by Royal Mail Lines Ltd hence the RMS Alcantara.

According to Wikipedia : “RMS Alcantara was a Royal Mail Lines ocean liner that was built in Belfast in 1926. She served in the Second World War first as an armed merchant cruiser and then a troop ship, was returned to civilian service in 1948 and scrapped in 1958. ”

Ports of the voyage were : Buenos Aires; Montevideo; Santos and Rio de Janeiro and Hugh’s official number was 148151 and he travelled 2nd class. His proposed destination residential address was

316, Rodney House, Dolphin Square, London, SW1

According to Wikipedia : “The proximity of Dolphin Square to the Palace of Westminster and the headquarters of the intelligence agencies MI5 (Thames House) and MI6 (Vauxhall Cross) has attracted many politicians, peers, civil servants and intelligence agency personnel as residents.”

Dolphin Square. London, SW1
Dolphin Square. London, SW1

There was some discussion of Drapery Manager in another place.

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

International Master (1950), International Correspondence Chess Master (1970). Born in Cork, he settled in England as a boy. In spite or because of his intense application at the board his tournament performances were erratic. From about 1937 to the mid 1950s he was regarded as the strongest player in Great Britain, although he won only two (1938, 1956) of the 13 British Chess Federation Championships in which he competed; he played for the BCF in six Olympiads from 1933 to 1958. Holding a senior post at the Foreign Office, he was not permitted to play in countries under Soviet control or influence; but when he did compete abroad he achieved only moderate results. His best tournament achievement was at Hastings 1937-8 when he was second (+4=5) equal with Keres after Reshevsky ahead of Fine and Flohr; but he is better remembered for his tie with Bronstein for first prize at Hastings 1953-4. He won his game against Bronstein in 120 moves after several adjournments, and the outcome became a kind of serial in the press, arousing great national interest in the game. Alexander was the author of several books on chess, notably Alekhine’s Best Games of Chess 1938-1945 (1949) and A Book of Chess (1973).

Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander and Sir Stuart Milner-Barry
Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander and Sir Stuart Milner-Barry

From The Encyclopedia of Chess by Anne Sunnucks :

For many years the chess correspondent of The Sunday Times, The Spectator (pseudonym Philidor) and the Evening News. There was probably no “chess name that was better known to the non-chess-playing element of the British public than that of Hugh Alexander. His victory over Russian Grandmaster David Bronstein at Hastings in 1953, after a struggle which lasted for 120 moves and took 13 hours, made chess front page news in the British press.

David Bronstein vs Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander
David Bronstein vs Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander

Born in Cork on 19th April 1909, Alexander picked up the game at prep school at the age of 8. In 1926 he won the Boy’s Championship, later to be recognised as the British Boy’s Championship, at Hastings. After coming down from Cambridge University, where he won the university championship four times, Alexander taught mathematics at Winchester College from 1932 to 1938. He later joined the Foreign Office.

Caption as per photograph
Caption as per photograph

One of the few British players who might have reached World Championship class if he had chosen to devote sufficient time to the game, Alexander was at his best when he faced a top class opponent.

Kick Langeweg plays Hugh Alexander in the Anglo-Dutch Match of October 7th , 1961. Peter Clarke (right) is playing Johan Teunis Barendregt and Harry Golombek observes
Kick Langeweg plays Hugh Alexander in the Anglo-Dutch Match of October 7th , 1961. Peter Clarke (right) is playing Johan Teunis Barendregt and Harry Golombek observes

During his chess career, he scored victories over two World Champions Botvinnik and Euwe, and he beat a number of other Grandmasters, international tournaments were all at Hastings where he came =2nd in 1938 with Keres, half a point behind Reshevsky and ahead of Fine and Flohr; 1st in 1947 and =1st with Bronstein in 1953. In 1951 tournament he came =5th.

Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander playing Alberic O'Kelly de Galway in a publicity shot before the start of the Hastings Premier., probably Hastings 1953-54, the year Alexander tied first with Bronstein : thanks to Leonard Barden
Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander playing Alberic O’Kelly de Galway in a publicity shot before the start of the Hastings Premier., probably Hastings 1953-54, the year Alexander tied first with Bronstein : thanks to Leonard Barden

His other hobbies included bridge, croquet and philately, He was the Author of Alekhine’s Best Games of Chess 1938-1945 (Bell), Chess (Pitman) and joint author with T.J. Beach of Learn Chess; A New Way for All (Pergamon Press); Fischer v. Spassky: Reykjavik 1972 (Penguin); A Book of Chess (Hutchinson) 1973; The Penguin Book of Chess Positions (Penguin) 1973. He died on 15th February 1974.

Here is an interesting article on his film appearance.

Here is his detailed Wikipedia entry

The British Team at Amsterdam. Left to right : Barden, Clarke, Penrose, Wade, Golombek and Alexander
The British Team at Amsterdam. Left to right : Barden, Clarke, Penrose, Wade, Golombek and Alexander
The Penguin Book of Chess Positions
The Penguin Book of Chess Positions
Fischer v. Spassky : Reykjavik 1972
Fischer v. Spassky : Reykjavik 1972
Alekhine's Best Games of Chess : 1938-45
Alekhine’s Best Games of Chess : 1938-45
The Best Games of C.H.O'D. Alexander
The Best Games of C.H.O’D. Alexander

Golombek and Hartston, The Best Games of C.H.O’D. Alexander (1976).

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