BCN remembers Reginald Bonham (known as “Bon”) who passed away, this day, March 16th in 1984 in Worcester, Worcestershire.
In the 1970 New Years Honours, Civil Division he was awarded the MBE for “Services to the blind”. Interestingly, in 1992 his sister Mary also received an MBE for “Services to the blind” This is surely an unusual happening.
Reginald Walter Bonham was born on Wednesday, January 31st 1906 : the same day as the Ecuador–Colombia earthquake which measured 8.8 on the Richter Scale.
He was born in St. Neots, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire.
In the 1911 census aged 5 he lived in the High Street, St. Neots with William R Bonham (father, master butcher, aged 45), Edith Mary Ann Bonham (mother, 38), Howard William Bonham (6), Maurice George Bonham (3) and Ernest Charles Bonham (1). The family had a servant / domestic duties assistant called Elise Annie Goss aged 18. The census did not record any disability for Reginald.
Reg, like others in his family, suffered from deficient eyesight and was therefore unable to attend a “mainstream” school.
From 1922 – 1925 he attended the Royal Worcester College for the Blind (originally Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen) in Whittington Road, Worcester, WR5 2JX. The Headmaster (GC Brown) encouraged his chess and rowing talents and in 1926 he was sent up to St. Catherine’s College, Oxford to read mathematics.
Reginald was a highly competant rower, competing for his college and reaching the trial stage for the Oxford Varsity crew.
In 1934 Reg founded the Braille Chess Magazine.
In the 1939 census he was recorded as living at 4, St. Catherine’s Hill, Worcester, WR5 with his wife, Josephine Bonham (born 24th September 1904). Reginald was listed as being a Mathematics tutor at the Royal Worcester College for the Blind (originally Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen) in Whittington Road, Worcester, WR5 2JX. The college is now named New College Worcester. Their home was around a mile from the College. Josephine was listed as carrying out “unpaid domestic duties”.
He taught a combination of Braille and mathematics and was an amateur thespian and keen bridge player.
Interestingly RWB in 1939 was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Warden and a St. John Ambulance volunteer for the College.
He was Worcester champion twenty times and four times Midlands champion winning the Birmingham Post Cup twice.
On June 6th 1947 Bonham played in Birmingham in a match between Great Britain and Czechoslovakia playing Ladislav Alster and won this attractive game :
He was Blind World Champion in 1958 and Correspondence Blind World Champion in 1957, 1959, 1961, 1964 (jointly) and 1966.
He was active in postal play, taking part in international events in the decade after the war when few British players ventured “into Europe”. A note in the 1972 BCM (page 216) records the award of the title Correspondence GM of the Blind by the International Braille Chess Association, so his omission from the recent book British Chess seems rather unfortunate.
Among the titles won by Reginald Bonham were British Correspondence Championship, shared in 1947 with J. Cairncross and shared in 1951 with E. Brown) and Midland Champion (1947 and 1950).
Tim Harding kindly adds :
“He had earlier been runner-up in the BCF’s 1938 CC Championship and, most importantly, he won the 1942/43 Championship outright with 9/10, a point and a half ahead of David Hooper. (By then the BCF and BCCA championships had been merged into one event.)
The crosstable is on page 254 of my book Correspondence Chess in Britain and Ireland 1824-1987.”
One of his students was broadcaster Peter White MBE who described Bon in his autobiography See it My Way
From British Chess Magazine, Volume XCII (92, 1972) Number 6 (June), page 216 we have this item in News in Brief :
“At the closing ceremony of the 4th Chess Olympiad for the Blind at Pula, Yugoslavia (April 6-18) the International Braille Chess Association awarded the title of Correspondence Grandmaster of the Blind to R.W. Bonham of Worcester, for having won the Postal Championship more than three times.”
From British Chess Magazine, Volume CIV (104, 1984) Number 5 (May), page 194 we have this obituary :
“We regret to announce the death in March of two early winners of the grandmaster title (the other was Comins Mansfield MBE).
R.W.Bonham (31 i 1906 – 16 iii 1984) died at Worcester, where he had long served as a Master at the Royal Worcester College for the Blind. In the 1950s he took part in the British Championship with success. Many older players will remember him fingering his special board before announcing his move and checking his clock with its markers outside the glass face.
He was also (with Wormald) joint author of those fine little books Chess Questions Answered and More Chess Questions Answered.”
Sadly, RWB did not merit articles in Sunnucks or Golombek’s Encyclopedias or Hooper’s and Whyld’s Oxford Companion or, as mentioned previously, British Chess.
“Michael John Basman was born in St Pancras, London, England. He was awarded the IM title in 1980 and having dual nationality won the Erevan Championship whilst living there in the early 1970s. He was also a pioneer in the production of audio tapes for chess.
He is noted for his use of unorthodox flank openings, such as 1.g4, 1.h3, 1.e4 g5, etc. He expanded on the work of Henri Grob with his book on the topic of 1.g4, The Killer Grob.
He created the UK Chess Challenge, a tournament for juniors of all standards and ages progressing over four stages.(1)”
BCN remembers Gerald Abrahams who passed away in Liverpool on Saturday, March 15th 1980. He was buried in the Allerton Cemetery in the Jewish Springwood plot.
Gerald Abrahams was born in Liverpool on Monday, April 15th 1907. On this day the Triangle Fraternity was formed at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
His parents were Harry (b. 10th September 1880) and Leah (b. 12th March 1884) Abrahams (née Rabinowitz) who married in West Derby in the third quarter of 1903.
Gerald learnt chess at the age of ten during the first world war. He obtained an Open Scholarship to Wadham College, Oxford in 1925 reading PPE and earning himself an MA in Law in 1928. He became a practising barrister at Law.
From the 1939 register we learnt that Harry was a Drapery manufacturer and Leah carried out “unpaid domestic duties”. Gerald was not an only child: the first born was Winnie (b. 22nd November 1903) who was a Secretary and Clerk Typist and factory assistant. Elsie Abrahams (b. 14th April 1905) helped her mother with “unpaid domestic duties”. Blanche was Gerald’s older sister and she was “General Assistant In Fathers Business Drapery Manufacturer”. Gerald is listed (aged 32) as a Barrister at Law and author. The family resided at 51 Prince Alfred Road, Liverpool, Lancashire (now L15 6TQ) and their original property has been since replaced.
The full list of people present seems to have been largely or entirely Jewish in religion or ethnicity: it included a famous chess-playing barrister from Liverpool, Gerald Abrahams, representing himself, who had taken a First in P.P.E. at Oxford, and later married Elsie Krengel, who had also been present, and with Leslie Black representing the rest of the defendants, apart from the hosts and Captain Lionel Husdan, who sent a letter to the court.
The full list of those present, charged with “resorting and playing in a common gaming house,” and bound over was as follows:- Mott Alexander, Fannie Finn, Maxwell Glassman, Kate Lippa, Myer Lister, Gertrude Mannheim, Joseph Mannheim, Rita Mannheim, Simon Mannheim, Harry Peters, Sadie Peters, Lily Leah Ross, Harry Sapiro, Benjamin Stone. Those charged with “resorting in a common gaming house” and bound over, were:- Gerald Abrahams, Joseph Appleton Bach, Samuel Myer Barnett, Herbert Solomon Isaacson, Elsie Krengel, Manuel Mannheim, Louis Michaelson, Abraham Ross, Bernard and Elsie Ross.
“Gerald Abrahams, the barrister charged, said he was interested to protect his reputation from being stigmatised by a conviction, and asked Sergeant Laycock about alcohol: the latter replied that none was being consumed. He submitted that the club was not a gaming house, and that draw poker had not been proved other than as a game of skill. Charges were dismissed against Henry, Eva and Marjorie Black, Myer Waldman, and Captain Lionel Husdan, of Ryde, Isle of Wight, all of whom had said that they were merely taking refreshments in the club, and had not played. David Platt said that he had not the slightest idea that they were breaking the law, and Mrs Platt said that it had not been a paying venture.”
The Complete Chess Addict (Faber& Faber, 1987), Fox & James notes: that Gerald Abrahams as authority on bridge cast doubt on assertions that Emanuel Lasker “was good enough to represent Germany”
Gerald’s comparisons of chess and bridge are discussed by Edward Winter in Chess Facts and Fables (McFarland, 2005) page 130 in GAs 1962 book Brains in Bridge:
Gerald eventually married Elsie Krengel (born 15th January 1909) in the fourth quarter of 1971 in Liverpool at the age of 64. Elsie had lived in the Southport area for most of her life and her family was associated with the manufacture of handbags. They had known each other for many years (at least since 1942 as mentioned previously).
Leonard Barden modestly recounts :
“At the end of Nottingham 1954 Gerald claimed that Alan Phillips had accepted his draw offer so tieing Gerald for the British championship with some rabbit whose name escapes me. When Phillips strongly denied having accepted the draw, Gerald collapsed on the floor and had to be aided by his old enemy Dr. Fazekas.”
From The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match (1946) by Klein and Winter:
“G. Abrahams was born in Liverpool in 1907. He learned chess at the age of ten, and showed an early aptitude for tactical complications. He has played with varying success, his best performances being third and fourth with Rossolimo, behind Klein and Najdorf, but head of List at Margate, 1938, and fourth, fifth and sixth with Sir George A. Thomas and König in London, 1946. He has made two valiant bids for the British Championship.
A graduate of Oxford, he is a barrister by profession and has written several books, including some fiction. He has solidified his chess without allowing it to become dry. Indeed, most of his games sparkle with interesting complications.”
Harry Golombek OBE wrote (in The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977)):
“Brilliant British amateur who in the 1930s was playing master-chess. In that period he was the most dangerous attacking player in England.
He was in the prize-list (i.e. in the first four) in the British championship on three occasions 1933, 1946 and 1954. His best international performance was in the Major Open at Nottingham in 1936 where he came =3rd with Opocensky. Another fine result was his score of 1.5-0.5 against the Soviet Grandmaster Ragozin, in the 1946 Anglo-Soviet radio match.
He is the inventor of the Abrahams variation in the Semi-Slav Defence to the Queen’s Gambit: 1.P-Q4, P-Q4;2.P-QB4, P-QB3;3.N-QB3, P-K3;4.N-B3, PXP;5.P-QR4, B-N4;6.P-K3,P-QN4;7.B-Q2, P-QR4; 8.PxP, BxN;9.BxB,PxP;10.P-QN3,B-N2;
This is sometimes known as the Noteboom variation after the Dutch master who played it in the 1930s, but Abrahams was playing it in 1925 long before Noteboom.
He is a witty and prolific writer on many subjects: on law (he is a barrister by profession), philosophy, and chess; he also writes fiction. His main chess works are: The Chess Mind, London 1951 and 1960
and here is a later cover:
and Not Only Chess, London 1974.
Edward Winter in Kings, Commoners and Knaves, cites the subtitle of the above book in his page 235 list of chessy words: “A selection of Chessays”.
From Not Only Chess we learn that GAs favourite game was played in 1930 against Edmund Spencer of Liverpool. “Edmund Spencer was a man who is remembered with affection by all players who ever met him, and who is remarkable in that his strength developed in what should have been hid middle life. When he died, lamentably early, in the 1930s, at about 53 he was at his best, and of recognised master status.
This game was played in 1930.”
and for an alternative view of the same game:
GA is amongst a rare breed of game annotators claiming the title of An Immortal for one of his own games. Edward Winter devotes a couple of column inches discussing exactly which year the game was played between 1929 and 1936. Here is the game:
For more of GAs excellent games see the superb article further on by Steve Cunliffe. Also, Not Only Chess in Chapter 28 (“A Score of my Scores”) contains a veritable feast of entertaining games of GAs).
Gerald famously fell out with Anne Sunnucks when he discovered she had omitted him from her 1970 Encyclopaedia of Chess. Despite this the 1976 edition was also devoid of a mention.
From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 1984 & 1996), Hooper & Whyld:
“The English player Gerald Abrahams (1907-80) introduced the move when playing against Dr. Holmes in the Lancastrian County Championship in 1925 (ed: January 31st in fact) . Abrahams played the variation against his countryman William Winter (1898-1955) in 1929 and in the same year Winter played it against Noteboom, after whom it is sometimes named. (Dr, Holmes was the favourite pupil of Amos Burn and a leading ophthalmologist).
The precursor, known from a 16th-century manuscript, was published by Salvio in 1604:
Writing in 1617, Carrera made his only criticism of Salvio’s analysis in this variation. He suggested 8…Bd7 instead of 8…Nd7, or 9.Qa4 instead of 9.Nf3. Salvio nursed his injured pride for seventeen years and then devoted a chapter of his book to a bitter attack on Carrera. The argument was pointless: all these variations give White a won game.”
GA famously wrote :
Chess is a good mistress, but a bad master
The tactician knows what to do when there is something to do; whereas the strategian knows what to do when there is nothing to do.
In chess there is a world of intellectual values
Good positions don’t win games, good moves do
Why some persons are good at chess, and others bad at it, is more mysterious than anything on chess board.
In the recently (February 25th, 2020) published “Attacking with g2 – g4” by GM Dmitry Kryakvin writes about Abrahams as follows :
“It is believed that the extravagant 5.g2-g4 was first applied at a high level, namely in the British Championship by Gerald Abrahams. Abrahams was a truly versatile person – a composer, lawyer, historian, philosopher, politician (for 40 years a member of the Liberal Party) and the author of several books. Of his legal work, the most famous is the investigation into the murder of Julia Wallace in 1931 in Liverpool, where her husband was the main suspect. As an alibi, William Herbert Wallace claimed he was at a chess club. Dozens of books and films have been devote to the murder of Mrs. Wallace – indeed, this is a script worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie!
Abrahams played various card games with great pleasure and success, but the main passion of the Liverpool resident was chess. Abrahams achieved his greatest success in the championships of Great Britain in 1933 and 1946, when he won bronze medals. The peak of his career was undoubtedly his participation in the USSR-Great Britain radio match (1946) where on the 10th board Abrahams beat Botvinnik’s second and assistant grandmaster Viacheslav Ragozin with a score of 1.5-0.5
Gerald Abrahams had a taste of studying opening theory, and made a distinct contribution to the development of the Noteboom Variation, which is often known as the Abrahams-Noteboom.
Ten years after he introduced the move 5.g2-g4 to the English public (1953), the famous grandmaster Lajos Portisch brought it into the international arena.”
Gerald was also a keen studies composer. Here are some examples of his work:
Best wishes to GM Dr. Jonathan Mestel on his birthday
A(ndrew) Jonathan Mestel was born in Cambridge on Wednesday, March 13th 1957. On this day the Presidential Palace in Havana was attacked with the object of killing Fulgencio Batista, the incumbent President.
Jonathan’s parents were Leon and Sylvia Louise Mestel (née Cole) who were married in 1951. Leon was a world-class astronomer and astrophysicist whose PhD supervisor was Fred Hoyle. Jonathan has a brother Ben and sisters Rosie and Leo.
Living in Cambridge he attended Newnham Croft Primary School and at the age six was taught chess by his father Leon. By the age of seven Jonathan was matching his father and not long afterwards he was beating him consistently. East Cheshire Chess Club was his first club and therefore the opportunity to play adults other than his father.
MGS and Beards
The Mestel family moved to Manchester in around 1967 and Jonathan attended Manchester Grammar School along with chess players Emmanuel Rayner and Ian Watson. Famously he grew a substantial beard and moustache and apparently “they (MGS) disapproved of it” resulting in a ban until the beard was removed. Jonathan duly obliged and returned to school but was sent home once more since he had retained the moustache: “They did not mention the moustache!” we are told. A further ban was resolved when the offending item was also removed.
Jonathan obtained a PhD in mathematics from Trinity College, Cambridge and the associated thesis was entitled “Magnetic Levitation of Liquid Metals”.
Jonathan is Professor of Applied Mathematics at Imperial College London. As well as teaching, his research interests include magnetohydrodynamics and biological fluid dynamics.
In the third quarter of 1982 Jonathan married Anna O’Donovan in Cambridge and they soon settled in the central Cambridge area where they remain to this day. They have a son, David.
Jonathan has represented England at bridge joining a group of English players such as Peter Lee and John Cox who also represented their country at bridge. Paul Littlewood, Paul Lamford and Natasha Regan are amongst many others who have combined bridge and chess to a high level . Here is Jonathan’s English Bridge Union page. He remains highly ranked in the bridge world to this day.
I should mention that all my hair fell out for no obvious nor serious reason – neither my bidding nor partner’s dummies are responsible. Few would argue with that last statement.
Serious Chess & Prize Money
His earliest recorded appearance in chess databases is from the Rhyl based British Under-14 championship in 1969 where he beat DA Winter. The eventual winner of that event was Jonathan Speelman. Jonathan M. recounts that he shared 3rd place with two others and that the prize allotted to the three of them was a whopping £2 10s to be divided equally. This amounted to 16s 8p each. Since the entry fee was 15s it meant he had cleared a notable profit of 1s and 8 pence!
The following year all British Championships competitors were sent to Coventry and Jonathan and Jonathan shared the Under-16 title whilst Bob Wade won the main event with 8/11.
1971 was no less successful and Jonathan travelled to the location of England’s Eiffel Tower (Blackpool) returning home with the British Under-18 title. Jonathan mentioned that he should have entered the Under-21 event instead.
First British Championship
Brighton 1972 was Jonathan’s first appearance in the “main event” having broken the record for the youngest qualifier. This record was later broken by Richard Webb and then by Nigel Short. His final score was a creditable 6.5/11 giving him =5th overall aged 15 years and seven months. In 1972 this was an incredible achievement. Regrettably, these days achievements such as this appear to pass unreported.
At Eastbourne 1973 he was =7th with possibly the best hair cut of anyone:
1974 was a breakthrough year internationally as Jonathan won the (unofficial) World Cadet Championship in Pont Sainte Maxence in southern France. The following year IM David Goodman followed up by winning the same title.
Interestingly travel arrangements for the above event were not so smooth as was the crossing of the English Channel. The hovercraft broke down; Jonathan arrived much later than anticipated and unable to find civilised accommodation leading to an Orwellian style “Down and Out in Paris” sleeping arrangement in a Paris gutter.
At Clacton 1974 Jonathan was one of seven who finished on 7/11, the title going to George Botterill after an all-play-all play-off in Wales.
1975 started well with a bronze medal in Tjentiste (former Yugoslavia now Bosnia Herzegovina) for the World Junior Championship (happening at the same as the British in Morecambe preventing a 1975 British Championship appearance).
First IM Norm
1976 brought further success at Portland School, Edgbaston with a first place scoring 8/10 and an IM norm in the Birmingham International tournament:
and here is a sparkling game from the 1976 Robert Silk Fellowship Tournament:
Jonathan followed this at the Portsmouth 1976 British Championships with a splendid outright first place with 9.5/11 , the highest score since Malik Mir Sultan Khan in 1933. Also, nine consecutive wins from the starting gun was most definitely a record!
Leonard Barden assessed Mestel’s performance this in the Guardian:
“Jonathan Mestel’s reaction at Portsmouth to become British Champion at age 19, the youngest ever, and with a record series of nine wins, was characteristically low-key. He declined an interview with BBC’s World at One in favour of a continued sojourn on the beach, declined an invitation to the Chorley Congress (where the inducements for him to play were rumoured to include a chauffeured Rolls-Royce from station to town hall, and where the points might well have enabled him to overhaul the leader in the £1,000 Cutty Sark Grand Prix) in favour of a holiday in France, and even ‘declined’ the chance of a record total in the final round when he gifted a pawn in the opening to Whiteley in simple fashion”
Barden went on to praise Mestel as, along with Miles, one of the two young players ‘with genuine promise of ultimately reaching the world super-class.’
1977 led to the International Master title and in 1982 the Grandmaster title. In reality, the GM title should have been awarded two years earlier from Esberg 1979 but more on this FIDE blunder later.
“I wrote in last years diary that I doubted whether Jonathan would ever change his variability, adding ‘Probably there will always recur this rise to the heights and fall to lower levels.’
To some extent this is still true. But his play in 1977 and 1978 has shown a greater firmness of purpose and revealed more powers of endurance and stamina than I had realised he possessed earlier on. Thus, for instance, in the last round of the European Team Championship finals at Moscow in 1977, playing the black pieces against the West German master Kestler, he was the last to finish and he defeated his opponent after nearly 12 hours play and some 105 moves.
He is one of our players who is nearing the grandmaster title, both in play and, as it were, in figures. At the Lord John Cup Tournament in London, September 1977, he obtained the g.m. norm by coming equal 2nd with Quinteros and Stean below Hort. He did this with a score of 6 when 5.5 would have been sufficient for the norm.
To my mind he is the ideal tournament competitor since he can always be relied upon to delight the onlooker with some fresh and original piece of chess. It is this talent which makes me think there is practically no limit to the heights he may attain as a player.
In the following game, played at the European Team Championships at Moscow 1977, Mestel gives signs of a new and mature sureness of purpose, whilst retaining all his incisive and ambitious qualities.
Beating the Russians
In 1978 Jonathan was part of the English team of Mestel, Speelman Taulbut, Goodman and Jonathan Kinlay that travelled to Mexico and won the World Under-26 Student Team Championships. This was a huge achievement as beating the USSR in a chess team event simply did not happen. It is not clear even that the Russian team were all bona fide students: some looking decidedly unstudent like!
The splendid Aztec calendar trophy you can see Jonathan clutching above was taken back to England and generously donated to Bob Wade who, in turn, wrote in his will that it should be returned to Jonathan. To this day this wonderful trophy proudly lives with Jonathan and Anna in their house in Cambridge.
When is a Norm not a Norm?
From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983), Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson we have this appreciation by George Botterill:
“The tournament at Esbjerg in 1979 was a bitter-sweet experience for Mestel. He won many fine games on the way to sharing first place with the hefty score of 9.5 out of 13.
But the real prize for which he was competing was the final norm that would have completed his qualification for the title of grandmaster. In the last round a draw would have been sufficient, but it was not day for peaceful negotiation since his adversary was also his nearest rival, Vadasz, who needed to win in order to tie for first place.
The nervous strain of having two aims in sight, first place and the coveted norm, told on Mestel who played rather beneath himself to lose. It was some consolation that the following victory over Finland’s leading player was hailed as the best game of the tournament.”
If the previous game gives you the idea that Mestel is especially skilled in the handling of an attacking phalanx of pawns, just take a look at this contribution to England’s bronze-medal result in the 1980 European Team Championship.
It is nice to be able to conclude that since the above was written Mestel’s chess status has changed and the story of his near miss at Esbjerg in 1979 turns out to have a happy ending. His GM title was ratified by the FIDE Congress at Lucerne 1982*.”
*It transpired that the initial norm calculation in 1979 was incorrect and it should have been awarded after all. Better late than never!
Quite a good day!
Jonathan recounts that on St. George’s Day (April 23rd) 1982 he had an important interview in the morning in Cambridge which went very well followed by round eight of the Phillips and Drew Masters at the GLC in London against Lajos Portisch. Here is that game:
So quite a good day all in all!
From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, second edition, 1996) by Hooper & Whyld:
“English player, British Champion 1976, 1983 and 1988, World Under-18 Champion 1974, International] Grandmaster (1982). In the 1976 British Championship he made a record by winning 9 successive games. Mestel’s opportunities for master play are infrequent – he is a lecturer at a University; he scored perhaps his best at London 1977 when he was second ( +4=4—1) equal with Quinteros and Stean after Hort, and he has played several times in the English Olympiad team since 1976. Mestel also an outstanding solver of chess problems, has represented his country in world team solving championships, and was awarded the title of International Solving Master in 1986”
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977), Harry Golombek wrote :
“British Master and British Champion 1976, who was born in Cambridge and packed into the three years 1974-6, in the period of time when he grew from seventeen to nineteen, more chess and more success than most people achieve in a long lifetime.
He first made his presence felt in the international field when he won the cadet championship at Pont Sainte–Maxene in France in 1974. This was an unofficial world under-18 championship and he confirmed this good impression by very nearly winning the British Championship in Clacton in the same year. He figured in a seven-way tie for first place but failed to win the play-off for the title.
The next he gained his first international master norm at the Birmingham international tournament where he finished equal second with Matera (USA) and Miles (England), a point below Matulovic of Yugoslavia whom he beat in their individual game.
He was little disappointing in the World Junior Championship at Tjentiste in Yugoslavia in 1975 in which he came third below the Russian Chekov and the US player Larry Christiansen. It was thought that, talented though he was, Mestel lacked stability and was too variable in his form to achieve the highest honours.
But the next year, 1976, was to show that was quite a false appreciation of his talents and character. First in April he won and international tournament which, if not as strong a the previous Birmingham, was still touch event to win ahead of the Yugoslav Grandmaster Damjanovic.
Then came a most remarkable achievement in the British Championship at Portsmouth where he won his first nine games in succession thereby winning the title and establishing a record for the British Championship with his run of victories.”
Mestel has his own named variation in the Giuoco Piano first played in Mestel-Doyle, Dublin 1975:
Olympiads and Team Events
According to Wikipedia : “Between 1976 and 1988, he was a frequent member of the English Chess Olympiad squad, winning three team medals (two silver and one bronze). In 1984, he earned an individual gold medal for an outstanding (7/9, 78%) performance on his board. Other notable results for English teams occurred in 1978 at the World Student Olympiad in Mexico and at the 1983 European Team Chess Championship in Plovdiv. Both of these events yielded gold-medal winning performances, the latter being exceptional for the highest percentage score (6/7, 85%) on any board. As a player of league chess, he has been a patron of the 4NCL since its earliest days and represented The Gambit ADs in the 2008/9 season.” Jonathan revealed that his most pleasing OTB performance ever was that of Plovdiv.
Solving and Composition
Jonathan has maintained a long time interest in problems and studies, both solving them and composing them. In 1986 he was awarded the International Master title for solving and in 1997 the International Grandmaster title for solving and in the same year he won the World Chess Solving Championship.
He has represented England in the World Team Solving Championships on many occasions winning in 1986, 1990 (shared with USSR), and then a run of 2005, 2006 and 2007.
He has played many times in the Lloyds Bank and (now) Winton Capital sponsored British Solving Championships (quite often located at Eton College, Berkshire). He has won the individual title firstly in 1982-83 and then a further 17 times not to mention many times as runner-up.
Here are a few examples:
Firstly a prize winning study…
J. Mestel 1.p Niekarker Kruujebitter Ty (tt), 2006
[FEN “8/4pP1k/5q1p/4p3/ppQpP3/3K1pp1/2P5/6R1 w – – 0 1”]
BCN remembers GM Jacques Mieses who passed away on February 23rd, 1954 aged 88. He was buried on the 25th of February at the East Ham Jewish Cemetery in Section J, Row 18, Grave 1100. We hope to update his burial record with these details when we are allowed to do so.
Jakob Jacques Mieses was born on Monday, February 27th 1865 in Leipzig in the German state of Saxony. He came to England in 1939 and was recorded in the UK Internees Index for 1939 – 1942 on 25th April 1939 :
At the time of the 1939 register Mieses was recorded as living at 66, Oakley Square, St. Pancras, Camden, London, NW1 and he is listed as a Professional Chess Player.
By the time of Hastings 1945 (27th December) Jacques had relocated to :
On June 7th 1947 he was granted Naturalisation Certificate AZ27326.
In 1950 he was one of the twenty-seven first players to be awarded the Grandmaster title by FIDE. He was therefore the first British National to be awarded the Grandmaster title for OTB play. The next (Tony Miles) would be twenty-six years later.
He has The Mieses Opening named after him :
which never really caught on to any significant degree.
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Robert Hale, 1970 & 1976), Anne Sunnucks :
“International Grandmaster. Born in Leipzig on 27th February 1865, Jacques Mieses was educated at Leipzig University and in Berlin. He came to England as a refugee from Nazi Germany shortly before the 1939-1945 war and eventually became a naturalised British citizen.
The early part of his chess career was devoted mainly to the study of chess theory and to chess problems. It was not until he was 23 that his tournament career really started with a tie for 2nd place at Nuremberg 1888, followed by 3rd at Leipzig 1888.
Over the next 50 years, he played in numerous tournaments with varying degrees of success. His addiction to speculative rather than sound openings and his attempts to combine playing in tournaments with reporting them were possibly responsible for his inconsistent results. Within a few months of one of the greatest performances of his career, when he came lst at Vienna 1907, ahead of Duras, Maróczy, Tartakover, Vidmar, Schlechter and Spielmann,
he came no higher than =16th at Carlsbad. In 1923 he achieved another great success when he came lst at Liverpool, ahead of Maróczy, Thomas and Yates.
While his style of play prevented him from reaching the greatest heights as a tournament player, it was also responsible for the numerous brilliancy prizes which came his way, one of the last being at the 1945 Hastings Congress, when he was 80.
Among the many books which Mieses wrote were The Chess Pilot,
Manual of the End Game
and Instructive Positions from Master Chess.
A very popular player, Mieses had a ready sense of humour. On one occasion, when he was in New York, he was asked by an American who mispronounced his name “Sind sie Mister Meises?”, ” No sir,” he promptly replied “Ich bin Meister Mieses.” On another occasion, when submitting an article in German to a British magazine, he could not resist asking ” Don’t you think my German is very good for an Englishman?”
On his eightieth birthday, a dinner was held in his honour in London and he was presented with a cheque by his numerous chess friends and admirers. The speech he made on this occasion was later quoted in most of his obituaries:
I have been told that a good many people never reach the biblical span of three score years and 10; and those who do-so some most reliable statistics assure us-are most likely to die between 70 and 80. Hence, I dare say, ladies and gentlemen, that I for one have now passed the danger zone and may well go on living for ever.
He lived for nearly nine more years, taking his daily swim in the Serpentine in Hyde Park or some open-air swimming pool, until only a few days before his death. He died in a London nursing home on 23rd February 1954 and was buried in the East London Jewish Cemetery.”
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977) Harry Golombek OBE we have this from Wolfgang Heidenfeld :
“Grandmaster, theorist, problemist, tournament organiser and chess journalist.
Mieses was a spectacular player who won many brilliancy prizes but suffered as many very short defeats. As a a result the German master achieved only one full success in important international tournaments (Vienna 1907), but occupied good places in such events as Breslau 1889 (3rd), Hanover 1902 (4th), Ostend 1907 (=3rd), as well as some smaller events.
In matches he showed a heavy preponderance of losses against the top-notchers, losing to Lasker, Tarrasch, Rubinstein, Marshall, Teichmann (twice) and Spielmann, but he drew with Walbrodt (1894), Janowski (1895) and Caro (1897) and beat Leonhardt, Taubenhaus, and (at the age of 81) Abrahams.
Here is the first game from October 29th 1945 annotated by Mieses from his match with Gerald Abrahams played in Glossop:
In keeping with his sharp style, Mieses preferred such openings as the Vienna Gambit, the Danish Gambit and the Centre Counter-Gambit. Among his lasting achievements are his brilliancy prize games against Janowksi (Paris 1900),
Reggio (Monte Carlo 1903),
Perlis (Ostend 1907)
and Schlechter (Vienna 1908).
Personally a very witty man (and something of a bon vivant) Mieses did not invest his writing with the same sparkle; both as a journalist and author he was rather dry and sober. He edited the eighth edition of the famous Handbuch, several editions of the ‘little Dufresne’, and published several primers as well as a treatise on blindfold play and an anthology Instructive Positions from Master Chess, London, 1938.
One of Mieses’s most important contributions to chess history was the payment of travelling and living expenses during a tournament, which he insisted on when running the famous tournament at San Sebastian 1911 – it was only thenceforth that this procedure became the norm.”
Here is an obituary written by DJ Morgan from British Chess Magazine, Volume LXXIV (74, 1954), Number 4 (April), pp. 107-108 :
Last month we made brief mention of the death, on February 23rd at a London Nursing Home, of the old grandmaster, on the verge of his eighty-ninth birthday. He was the last surviving link with a distant and largely-forgotten era. Mieses entered the international arena in the days of the great Romantics, of Zukertort, Charousek, and Tchigorin. He reached his heyday in the times of Tarrasch, Schlechter, and Maróczy. But he could never assimilate the canons of this Classical School, derived from Steinitz and codified and promulgated by Tarrasch. He preferred the dynamic to the static. He played the Scotch Game in tournaments long after it hat been
discarded by Steinitz and Blackburne; the Danish Gambit and the Vienna became in his hands instruments of great attacking potential. As Black he long favoured the Centre Counter Defence, and with it he brought off a number of thrilling victories in such great tournaments as those of Ostend, 1907, Carlsbad, 1907, Vienna, 1908, and St. Petersburg, 1909.
Jacques Mieses was born on February 27th, 1865, at Leipsic, and was educated at the university there, and in Berlin. In the capital he joined, at seventeen, one of the city’s chess clubs, and soon won the first prize in its annual tournament. Nevertheless, his earlier days were devoted mainly to the theoretical side of the game and to problems of which he was a good composer and a phenomenal solver. His public career really began with a tie for second place at Nuremberg, 1888, with the third prize at Leipsic in the same year, followed by a third, behind Tarrasch and Burn, at Breslau, 1889. His subsequent achievements span the years and are recorded in the literature of the game. He played at the famous Hastings 1895 (and was its sole survivor); fifty years later he played at a Hastings Christmas Congress. His preference for the speculative and the spectacular to the then ultra-modern-prevented him from winning the major prizes of the games. As we look up the record’s we can readily see how unpredictable his performances were. Thus, in 1907, a first at Vienna early in the year was followed later by an equal sixteenth-eighteenth at Carlsbad. But his Brilliancy Prizes were numerous: such endings as those v. Janowski, Paris, 1900; v. Reggio, Monte Carlo, 1903 (quoted, incidentally, as Diagram 52 in Fine’s The Middle Game in Chess, but without giving its source); v. Znosko-Borovsky, Ostend, 1907; and v. Schlechter, Vienna, 1908, will always be the delight of anthologists.
As well as playing incessantly in match and tournament, Mieses wrote copiously on all aspects of the game, analytically as well as in a literary manner, in books as well as in magazines. Three of his little books, The Chess Pilot, Manual of the End-game, and Instructive Positions from Master Chess, have enjoyed a long and wide popularity in English.
Two personal memories come to the writer’s mind. We first met him during the Liverpool congress-of 1923 ((1) Mieses, (2) Maróczy). one morning we took a stroll together up Dale Street, a stroll which developed into a tie-hunting expedition, ending up with a fine selection on his part to take back to a Germany emerging from recent disaster. He left the impression of a courteous and cultured man, precise in speech and with something of the military in his bearing. ln 1939, on hearing of his whereabouts, we called at his lodgings in Camden Town one Sunday morning. We were diffidently greeted by a seriously-crippled Mieses, who had recently, under great difficulties, made his exit from a Germany once more faced with disaster.
But the prim and chivalrous personality soon exerted itself. His many English friends rallied round him in his exile, all culminating in the great tribute paid to him on his eightieth birthday. Mon March 15th, 1945, at the Lud-Eagle Chess Club, a large number of friends and admirers gathered to pay their respects. A cheque, subscribed to by members of the club, was presented to the veteran master. He had, he said in his acknowledgement, sought asylum in England, and he had been shown great kindness and sympathy. The final gift was a last resting-place in the East London (Ed : we now know this to be East Ham) Jewish Cemetery. – DJM.
“Jacques Mieses was born in Leipzig. He won the chess championship of Berlin at the age of 17, and in 1888 he placed joint second at Leipzig and third at Nuremberg.
In 1889 he came third at Breslau (1889). He was, however, rather eclipsed by two great emerging talents – Emanuel Lasker and Siegbert Tarrasch. Mieses was crushed by Lasker in a match – Lasker – Mieses (1889/90) in Leipzig (December 1889 to January 1890). He also performed poorly at 8th DSB Kongress (1893) coming only 7th out of 9 against a field which was relatively weak compared to previous DSB congresses.
1894-95 was a busy period for Mieses. He drew a match with Karl August Walbrodt. (+5, =3,-5) in Berlin (May-June 1894). Mieses then played in the extremely strong 9th DSB Kongress, Leipzig (1894) (3rd-14th September, 1894) coming 10th out of 18. He had then toured Russia giving simultaneous displays, before travelling to Paris to play a match with David Janowski (8th January to 4th February 1895).
Mieses then crossed the English Channel to play a short match against Richard Teichmann in London (16th – 21st February 1895) which he lost by +1 =1 -4. A month later he played this match, Mieses next professional engagement would be (which was his first tournament outside his own country) came at the famous Hastings event of 1895. Although he finished only twentieth (in a field of 22 players), he soon adapted to this level of play and in 1907 he took first prize at the Vienna tournament scoring ten points from thirteen games.
In 1909, Mieses played a short blindfold match with Carl Schlechter, winning it with two wins and one draw. The very next year Schlechter played Emanuel Lasker for the World Championship and drew the match 5-5.
Mieses tried his hand as a tournament organiser in 1911, putting together the San Sebastian event that marked the international debut of future World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca. Mieses was defeated by one of Lasker’s title challengers, Siegbert Tarrasch, in a match in 1916 (+2 -7 =4). In 1938 Mieses resettled in England and took British citizenship. He was awarded the grandmaster title in 1950.”
German-born Jewish player and author from Leipzig, International Grandmaster (1950), International Arbiter
(1951). He never assimilated the positional ideas of Steinitz and Tarrasch; instead he preferred to set up a game with the direct object of attacking the enemy king, a style that brought him many brilliancy prizes but few successes in high-level play. His best result was at Vienna 1907, the first Trebitsch Memorial tournament, when he won first prize ( +9 =2 —2) ahead of Duras, Maróczy and Schlechter. Later in the year he shared third prize with Nimzowitsch after Bernstein and Rubinstein in a 28-round tournament at Ostend. He played 25 matches, mostly short, and won six of them including a defeat of Schlechter in 1909 (+2-1).
Mieses reported chess events, edited chess columns, and wrote several books. In 1921 he published a supplement to the eighth edition of Bilguer’s Handbuch, and he revised several editions of Dufresne’s popular Lehrbuck des Schachspiels, He also organized chess events, including the tournament at San Sebastian in 1911 for which he insisted that competitors were paid for travel and board, a practice that later became normal.
After living in Germany for 73 years he escaped the clutches of the Nazis and sought refuge in England. A prim, courteous, and dignified old gentleman, still upright in bearing, he became widely liked in his adopted country. Asked about his lameness in one leg, caused by a street accident in 1937, he merely answered ‘it was my turn to move,’ Soon after naturalization he became the first British player to be awarded the International Grandmaster title. A generation before him his uncle Samuel Mieses (1841-84) had been a German player of master strength.
In the various publications of Edward Winter there are many and varied references to Mieses. We recommend you consult : Kings, Commoners and Knaves, Chess Facts and Fables and Chess Explorations to read them.
According to Edward Winter in Chess Notes JM lived at the following addresses :
Tauchaerstrasse, Leipzig, Germany (Wiener Schachzeitung, July 1904, page 211).
We remember Hugh Alexander who passed away on Friday, 15-ii-1974. The death was registered in the Borough of Cheltenham. Currently his burial / cremation site is unknown.
The Alexander Family
Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander was born on Monday, April 19th, 1909 in Cork, Munster, Republic of Ireland.
Hugh’s parents were Conel William Long Alexander (1879-1920) and Hilda Barbara Alexander (née Bennett) (1881-1964) who married in Hook Church, Hampshire. His father was a Professor of Civil Engineering from County Donegal and his mother was the daughter of a timber merchant and was from Birmingham.
Hugh’s father moved to Hook in Hampshire. At some point they returned to Cork and then relocated to Birmingham.
In the 1911 Irish census aged two Hugh was recorded as being a Presbyterian. The household consisted of his father, mother and two servants Maud McAuliffe (19) from County Cork and Johanna Hanlon (20) from Cork City all living at 20, Connaught Avenue, Cork.
At the time of the census all members of the household were capable of reading and writing apart from Hugh who was recorded as “cannot read”.
and Hugh’s father signed the Return as follows :
Hugh attended Londonderry College and then went to King Edward’s School, Birmingham.
Hugh married Enid Constance Rose Crichton Neate (1900-1982) in October 1934 and the marriage was registered in the district of Westminster, Middlesex.
“Enid, was an equally striking personality. She was descended from one of the defenders of the Eureka Stockade, the “birthplace of Australian democracy”. She was educated at the Sorbonne, a formidable dialectician, art historian and collector. In her later years she returned to Australia, where she was endlessly hospitable to passing Russian chessplayers, and to itinerant musicians, including my own father.”
Hugh and Enid had a son Michael (19 June 1936 – 1 June 2002) who became the foreign policy secretary to Margaret Thatcher and the UK ambassador to NATO. Here is Michael’s obituary.
Michael married Traute Krohn. Michael and Traute gave Hugh a grandson, Conel Alexander who is a Cosmochemist at the Earth and Planets Laboratory, Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington.
We contacted Conel and he replied more or less instantly as follows:
I don’t have that many anecdotes or photos of my grandfather. My great aunt, his sister, was the family archivist. She had a lot of photos of when they were young in Cork and Birmingham. She did send me some photos before she died, but not the sort that would interest your readers. She lived in Fort Erie, Canada and my grand father used to visit when in North America on ‘business’. I don’t know how much she knew about what he did but she must have had some inkling. Unfortunately, since she died I have lost touch with her family. Amongst the photos she sent me were some of my great grandfather and his Irish relatives. An archivist at Cork University contacted me a few years ago. According to him, my great grandfather has a rugby player and organizer of Irish rugby (as well as an engineering professor), but also opposed to Irish independence which might well have caused trouble for him and his family had he not died when he did.
I was 13 when my grandfather died and wasn’t told how ill he was until almost the end. I would have liked to have know him better, but I assume he was always on the go and my father was a diplomat and we had been living abroad until I was 8 (US, Moscow and Singapore). Even after moving back to London, we would only see him a few times a year as far as I remember. I think he probably realized that he had missed out on some things as he was planning to retire (early I believe) and come to live with us in London, only to learn that he had terminal cancer.
It just so happened that next door to where I work is a rather upscale retirement home. A man called Authur Levinson had retired there with his wife. He was sent to Bletchley when the USA joined the war and had worked with my grandfather. Arthur’s wife had somehow followed him to the UK as a driver. Both had gotten to know my grandfather during the war and then afterwards when Arthur joined the NSA. Somehow Arthur found out I was working next door, and my family used to visit them occasionally. They had an Enigma machine that they used to show my kids, but they were probably too young to understand the significance. Arthur told me that the NSA had tried to recruit my grandfather when they heard he was retiring from GCHQ, but he was adamant that he wanted to retire to spend more time with family and to write.
I was told that, rather surprisingly, he didn’t think that chess was a suitable pastime for a healthy boy. I don’t know if this was the reason, he believed in trial by fire, or he just could not help himself (he was extremely competitive at everything he did), but when we did play chess a few times he used to give me huge advantages and then thrash me! After a few such humiliations, I gave up. I don’t think I would have been very good anyway and my grandfather probably recognized that, so perhaps it was his way of letting me find out early. My father was an olympic fencer, so naturally I tried that too. For a while I was able to ‘bully’ my way to wins, until I came up against people who really knew what they were doing. I abandoned that too.
One other thing I learned about about my grandfather fairly recently is that he taught Freeman Dyson mathematics and chess at Winchester. Freeman contacted me out of the blue having come across my name somehow. Remembering my chess experience, I ventured that he must have been a rather impatient teacher. Not a bit of it, apparently, but then Dyson must have been the ideal student for him.
Working for John Lewis
Prior to the second world war Alexander was officially 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 :
and here is Alexander’s entry in detail. Note that his occupation is described as “Drapery Manager” :
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.”
From British Chess Magazine, Volume XCIV (94, 1974), Number 4 (April), pp. 117-120 by PS Milner-Barry :
“A proper assessment of Hugh Alexander, who died on February 15th 1974 must await a later issue. But I think he might have been pleased to see our last game published, and I give the score of it below, with notes based on our usual analysis immediately after the game. Over the past 45 years, ever since he went to Cambridge, we played whenever opportunity offered serious games with clocks.
Before the war they were played mostly at my mother’s house in Cambridge, and after the war and my own marriage at our house in Blackheath. When he moved to Cheltenham the opportunities became fewer but no year ever passed without two or three such games, usually at Easter or Christmas.
Alexander always used to say, it was certainly true of me, that this was the kind of chess that he enjoyed most. The games were conducted with the utmost vigour, though not without a good deal of propaganda on both sides. I suppose he won in the proportion of about two to one, but the disparity in strength never became one-sided. Nearly all the games opened 1 P-K4, P-K4; he played the Lopez when I allowed him. (I usually played the Petroff or Philidor), and I played a mixture – in the early days the Vienna and latterly mostly the King’s Gambit. On the whole Black did better than White for both of us.
The only concession we made to advancing years was that latterly we contented ourselves with four hour sessions and 36 moves, instead of 40 in 5 hours. We thought we had done enough for honour by then, and the games were usually finished in the time.
Hugh stayed with us the weekend before Christmas, when this game was played. He looked ill, but he was very cheerful and as good company as ever. He loved a good argument, and as my family so too,- the evening meal was its usual lively affair! I am myself a man of peace, and intellectually lazy; so in deference to my feelings the argument was suspended, before it became too hot. I am afraid they all thought I was a spoil-sport. It was as happy a visit as any of us could remember and it is difficult to accept there will not be another.
As for the game, it was not one of our most exciting encounters. But it is quite an interesting one, and shows Hugh playing as
well as ever – certainly much too well for me. But then he usually did.”
Following PSMBs contribution, in the same obituary there was this from Harry Golombek :
C.H.O’D. Alexander and the ‘B.C.M.’ by Harry Golombek
I have written elsewhere about Hugh Alexander both as a person and as a chess-player and I also intend to devote a forthcoming article in ‘The Times‘ on Saturday to an appraisal of his place in British Chess. Here, however, I would like to describe briefly his connection with this magazine over the years and to show how
important his help was to the progress of the ‘BCM‘.
In the years immediately preceding the Second World War, Ash Wheatcroft and I had made a determined effort to maintain and increase the role of the ‘BCM‘, he in a managerial capacity and I as its editor. With the coming of war and the departure of both of us into the army a sort of caretaker regime had to be provided. It worked as well as could have been expected but inevitably there had been a decline both in quality and financially. When peace came, the quality improved since it was possible to get more and better contributions but the financial aspect became almost alarming.
The question arose – was there a need for the magazine and if so how could that need be fulfilled with the fairly limited resources at hand. Some of us thought there was, but the ways and means were not so clear. Of all those who thought like this Alexander was the most effective in his approach to the problems. I know that from his very youth onwards he had been convinced of the importance of the ‘BCM’ to British chess and, being a practical idealist, when the
crisis came he set about dealing with it in the most expeditious way.
In November 1946 he became a director of the B.C.M. and continued in that position till February 1952, by which time the magazine had been set on a solid basis from
which it was unlikely to be shaken. It was his idea that Brian Reilly be asked to act as editor and almost his first act as director was to write a letter to him inviting him to become so. Then, in January 1947, he himself took over the editorship of the games department, an arduous task which he fulfilled with great competence and the utmost conscientiousness until May 1949 when the heavy work of the Civil Service department of which he was head compelled him to hand over the Games Section to me.
Before, however, that he gave up this post he, again in the most practical way possible, rendered the ‘BCM‘ another service. He wrote a book giving a selection of the games from the last period of Alekhine’s life and generously donated half the royalties to the ‘BCM‘ in order to bolster up its slender finances.
Even after he had to give up official connection with the magazine he retained a strong interest in its welfare. So, even though this recognition is belated and posthumous, I thought it was right to afford readers the possibility of joining with me in thanking High Alexander for all that he did in this respect in especial. At any rate, such matters should be on record for the chess historian.
“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.”
An Obituary from Stuart Milner-Barry, Part 2
From British Chess Magazine, Volume XCIV (94, 1974), Number 6 (June), pp. 202-204 by PS Milner-Barry :
With the death of Hugh Alexander at the age of 64, British chess has lost the outstanding figure of the past forty years. His active playing career over some thirty years included two victories in the British championship and regular appearances in all representative teams from l93l-58, except when the nature of his Civil Service
duties prevented him from travelling behind the Iron Curtain. During the whole of the period after the war he was the regular top board for the England team. In the Hastings international congress he twice won the Premier tournament, on the second occasion tying with Bronstein. His victories in this series included two world champions (Euwe and Botvinnik) and numerous others in the Grandmaster class. He was an outstanding example, like H.E.Atkins and Dr. Milan Vidmar, of the amateur who could combine an exacting professional life of great responsibility and distinction with success in competitive international chess at the highest level and with the increasing professionalism of the game and the demands of knowledge and research that it makes upon the masters, this was much more difficult in Hugh’s time than in an earlier age.
It was indeed in the international field that his fame will principally rest. On the British championship scene, although he always did well before the War, and won convincingly at Brighton in 1938 in a strong field, his record did not match his abilities. He never established anything like the superiority over his contemporaries that Atkins in a former age and Penrose in a later achieved. He won the championship again, in 1956, but that was a weak year when the Moscow Olympiad took first claim on the leading British players. It was not that he cared less – like all the great players he hated losing, though he was the most magnanimous of opponents – but that he seemed to require the stimulus of the great occasion, and of a world famous name on the other side of the board, to bring out the best in him.
Alexander was perhaps the only English player of his day whom the Grandmasters would have treated as on a level with themselves. On his day he was liable to beat any of them, and they were well aware of it. In his younger days he was very much the gay cavalier, and a brilliant combinative and attacking player with a touch of genius. Latterly he lost some of this elan, and adapted his style to the responsibilities of the B.C.T. top board. His opponents too, with a healthy respect for his powers, were less inclined to give him opportunities. He was as capable of the dead-bat technique as anybody, and to that extent (to my way of thinking anyway) his games became less interesting, with quick draws making a higher contribution to his top-board results than in earlier years. But none the less he was the anchor-man of the British team until his retirement after the 1958 Olympiad.
It was a great pity he gave up the game over the board at 50. He had years of good chess in him. But I think he felt he had scaled all the peaks he could scale, and that he was finding top-class competitive chess a burden difficult to reconcile with his Civil Service work and the prospect of a gradual and inevitable decline in his powers did not appeal to him. I made many efforts to tempt him back to the arena, but to no avail. I do not think he ever seriously regretted his decision, and in his last years he immensely enjoyed correspondence chess.
In 1964, Alexander became non-playing captain of the B.C.F. team, and held that role continuously until after the Siegen Olympiad in 1970.
It was rather a disappointing period for British chess, and the results, while we were rebuilding a young team, could not – even with Penrose’s outstanding efforts at top board – have been expected to be favourable. But he threw himself wholeheartedly into all the work sponsored by the B.C.F. and the Friends of Chess to find and develop talent in the younger generation, and before he died the fruits of these labours were beginning to appear. He would have been proud indeed to have witnessed our recent triumph in the Anglo-German match.
As a captain he was, of course, immensely liked and respected by his team. My impression was that he took his responsibilities almost too seriously, and agonised too much over his decisions about whom to play and whom to rest. Nevertheless on balance he thoroughly enjoyed the work, and certainly, in spite of his innate modesty, he
was never one to be disturbed by ill-informed or irresponsible criticism, of which he had his share.
I suppose his most famous tournament result was his equal first with Bronstein at the Hastings Christmas Congress of 1953. Coming at a time when we were gloomily resigned to British players bringing up the rear in international tournaments, this created a great sensation.
The game with Bronstein lasted over 100 moves and Alexander won a most difficult Queen and Pawn ending by impeccable technique.
He went on with the Black pieces to massacre Tolush, the other visiting Russian Grandmaster.
Immense interest was created by this event. The popular press carried diagrams of the successive phases of the Bronstein saga. It was reported on the radio. By comparison with the furore created by the Spassky/Fischer match, it was no doubt small beer, but for those days the publicity was tremendous, and Alexander became the
hero of the hour.
It was entirely characteristic of him that this adulation did not go to his head. He kept everything in proportion, and encouraged everybody else to do the same. He said all the right things about Bronstein, but he did not claim, as one tends to do on these emotional occasions, that international sport was a panacea for friendship between the nations. Altogether it seemed to me an impeccable performance both on and off the board.
It is as a player that Hugh would, I think, have best wished to be remembered; and I have left myself little room to say anything about him as a journalist and writer. We are blessed, as readers of the B.C.M. will know, with many good and interesting writers on the game. But Hugh had, I believe, exceptional talents as a journalist. In his columns in the ‘Sunday Times‘, and latterly the ‘Financial Times‘, he set a very high standard. He always had something fresh and original to say, especially, I think, to the intelligent amateur rather than the expert; and he said it in a way that was both disarmingly modest and yet lively and entertaining. The warmth of his personality came out clearly both in his writing and in his public speaking – both were entirely natural and wholly without amour-propre.
His articles gave great pleasure to a wide circle, and many who never met him in the flesh must have felt that they had come to know him as a person. Similarly his book on the Spassky-Fischer match
(like the ‘Book of Chess’, which was written in the last year of his life) is an extremely vivid, as well as scholarly, piece of writing. It is almost impossible to believe that it was completed, within days of the conclusion of the match, by a man apparently under sentence of death throughout its progress.
Now that it has come, the loss of Hugh Alexander to British chess and chessplayers, alike as player, writer, administrator and friend, is immeasurable.
An Obituary from BH Wood
From CHESS, Volume 39 (1974), Nos. 693-94, March, p.162 by BH Wood :
The death of Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander deprived English chess of one of its most vivid characters. Born l9th April 1909, he learnt chess at the age of 8.
From a Londonderry college he went to King Edward’s School, Birmingham, where as a schoolboy he won the Birmingham Post cup, which carries with it the unofficial championship of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Going on to Cambridge, he not only won the University championship four years in succession, but picked up first-class honours. He won the British championship in 1938.
In 1939 I found myself on a boat with him bound for the Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires. He was team captain with Sir George Thomas, P. S. Milner-Barry and H. Golombek : other distinguished members of the team.
War broke out after about six rounds. With typical determination, Alexander jettisoned chess for patriotism, caught a boat home, volunteered for service on disembarking, and within a few weeks had attained the rank of colonel in British Intelligence. He remained attached to Intelligence and the Foreign Office until his retirement a few months ago. As a curious consequence of this commitment, though he settled in to the team captaincy for the British Chess Federation in the biennial chess Olympiads and participated in many chess events abroad, he was never allowed to travel anywhere behind the iron Curtain.
His fame certainly did, however. In the radio match, Britain v USSR in 1946, the most important event in British chess for a decade before and after, he found himself pitted against Mikhail Botvinnik, then at the height of his powers and destined to hold the world championship for 14 years. The first game he lost; the second he won, in superb style. His great adversary was outplayed.
He had some great years at Hastings. A 120 move victory over Bronstein with a queen and pawns endgame stretching over l3 hours through 3 days, earned headlines in the national press unequalled until the Spassky-Fischer furore of 1972, won him first place in 1954 and started him with a chess column in the Sunday Times. He was equal with Bronstein, above O’Kelly, Matanovic, Olafsson, Teschner, Tolush, Tartakover, Wade and Horne.
Hastings illustrated Alexander’s weaknesses as well as his strengths. Twice he won the premier tournament there, only to finish among the tail-enders the year after. Only once more was he to win the British championship; in a rather weak field, entering at the last minute with typical opportunism.
He was a brilliant conversationalist and speaker, a fine bridge player, a master mathematician, an expert on codes, a first-class journalist and writer. Among varied other interests were croquet and philately. He threw himself wholeheartedly into anything he did. His organization, “The Friends of Chess”, provided generous financial support for a wide range of chess events. A few days before his death he was full of plans for the future, including a big History of British Chess. He burnt himself out. The world of chess is a poorer and duller place without him.”
“The great mathematician G. H. Hardy described C. H. O’D. Alexander as the only genuine mathematician he knew who did not become a professional mathematician. Hardy recognised that Alexander’s failure to win a fellowship at the Cambridge Tripos exams was most likely due to his attention being absorbed by chess. Conversely, Alexander’s fellow chess International Master Harry Golombek said of the two-time British Champion “the demands of his profession left him with comparatively little time for [chess] practice and study; otherwise he would certainly have been of true grandmaster class, and possibly even of world stature”. Above both chess and mathematics, Alexander prioritised leading the British Government effort on cryptanalysis.
Alexander was an early recruit to Bletchley Park; he began in Hut 6 working on Army and Luftwaffe Enigma messages before moving in 1941 to Hut 8 to join Alan Turing’s work on the Naval Enigma. Alexander had one of the most agile minds of the new breed of mathematical cryptanalysts; he proved the best at the pen and paper methods of ‘banburismus’ that reduced the computational work of Enigma attacks and his military aptitude test assessed him as suitable for development up to four star general. Although he has not achieved the renown of Good, Turing, Tutte, and Welchman, he was responsible for many breakthroughs. Perhaps the most significant was spearheading the UK-US joint work breaking the Japanese CORAL system used by Naval attaches. More importantly, as a former teacher and head of research at John Lewis, Alexander was much better suited to the organisational and administrative tasks of Hut 8 than the hyper-rational Turing. Alexander gradually assumed more and more of this work. The story goes that one day when Turing arrived late at the Park and the record book asked him to name the head of his section; Turing wrote “Mr Alexander” and with the logic of bureaucracy Alexander was treated as the head of Hut 8 from then onwards. Praise for Alexander’s leadership is a theme common to all those who worked in Hut 8.
After the war, Alexander briefly returned to John Lewis before returning to the new GCHQ and continued to excel as both a cryptanalyst and leader. By 1949 he had been appointed head of the cryptanalysis division. It was a post that he held until his retirement, despite offers of promotion to more senior positions. He used the weight of his position to testify strongly as a character witness on behalf of Alan Turing during Turing’s indecency trial. By 1971, already past the age of retirement by two years, Alexander decided to step down. Both GCHQ and their partners were keen to make continued use of his expertise and offered all manner of consultative work, which he declined. He died in 1974 and although his obituaries rightly spoke in glowing terms of his chess achievements, the impact of his more secret work still cannot be fully revealed.”
Hugh and Correspondence Chess by Tim Harding
“Correspondence chess is only mentioned briefly in the article. CHO’D took up international postal chess in 1963 playing board 3 for the BCCA “Socrates” team in the Eberhardt Wilhelm Cup, a European team event. He annotated his first two games to finish in the November 1964 issue of the BCCA Magazine, Correspondence Chess, one of which is in my history of British CC.
He had in fact taken board 2 for GB against the USA in the 1,000 board match which began in 1935 but was never completed. Alexander’s opponent was Fred Reinfeld (according to Chess Magazine) but I have never seen a result and don’t know if they actually played many moves.
Starting in 1964 Alexander played in a GB-USSR postal match, with a draw and a loss against Yudovich.
In 1965 he started CC Olympiad 6 preliminaries on board 3 in section 1 for GB and scored 3 wins and 5 draws; he was the only player not to lose to M. Ali Farboud of Iran, the country which won the group. (Farboud played on the Iranian team in the 1962 and 1964 FIDE olympiads.) I have only found two of Alexander’s games from this tournament.
Next GB played in the preliminaries (section 3) of the 7th correspondence olympiad (starting 1968) with a much stronger team which won its group. Alexander played board 2 below Adrian Hollis. His score of 6 wins and one draw earned him the ICCF international master title. I have only found three of his games from this event.
In 1972 Alexander started, again on board 2, in the olympiad final but had only completed one or two of his games when he died, and the unfinished games were taken over by Ken Messere who found it hard (since he was given no notes) to work out what Hugh had planned in various complicated middle game positions.
Alexander also played most years for Gloucestershire in the Counties and District correspondence tournament run (then) by the BCF and my book also includes a win against Peter Clarke from that event. It is a pity that more of Alexander’s CC games are not known. I have only 17 plus a few that Messere completed.”
“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.
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.”
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.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);
A Book of Chess (Hutchinson) 1973; The Penguin Book of Chess Positions (Penguin) 1973.
Here are further third party articles of interest :
We remember Sir Jeremy Morse who passed away this day, February 4th, 2016.
Christopher Jeremy Morse was born on Monday, December 10th, 1928 to Francis John (1897 – 1971), who was a brewery director and Kinbarra Morse (née Armfield-Marrow, 1908 – 1980). Jeremy had a sister, Kinbarra Joanna Morse (1931-1960).
Jeremy married Belinda Marianne Mills on September 10th 1955
and they had five children, Clarissa Jane, Richard South, Andrew William, Samuel John and Isobel Esther Joanna the first being born in 1956 and the last in 1967.
From the rear cover of Chess Problems : Tasks and Records (1995) :
Jeremy Morse caught the “puzzle bug” when his parents introduced him to The Times crossword at the age of six. Over the subsequent sixty years he has solved and set crosswords, other word puzzles, mathematical puzzles, bridge problems and chess problems.
In his spare time he pursued a career in banking, which included the chairmanship of Lloyds Bank from 1977 to 1993. Currently he holds a number business directorships, and is also Warden of Winchester College and Chancellor of Bristol University.
He was knighted in 1975.
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess by Anne Sunnucks :
British problem composer. Born on 10th December 1928. Executive Director of the Bank of England. Since 1953 he has composed about 250 problems almost all two-movers. He has specialised in task two-movers, on which he has contributed articles to The Problemist and Problem.
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977), Harry Golombek OBE, John Rice writes:
“British problemist, output consists of two-movers, helpmates and serieshelpmates. Enthusiastic investigator into task problems in all these spheres. International Judge (1975).”
Here is his obituary from The University of Bristol
We focus on the British Chess Scene Past & Present !
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