Category Archives: Club

Minor Pieces 52: Wilfred Hugh Miller Kirk

Wilfred Hugh Miller Kirk was perhaps Richmond Chess Club’s strongest player between 1925 and 1937, as well as playing an important administrative role in the club.

Wilfred was born in Culmstock, Devon on 18 May 1877, where Teddington novelist, market gardener and chess player RD Blackmore also lived for a time. His family were originally from London,  but his father was working in Devon as a Schools Inspector at the time of his birth. The family later returned to London, where young Wilfred joined the Civil Service on leaving school. He would remain there for his entire working life.

In 1899 he married 20 year old Mabel Ellen Gannaway. Wilfred and Mabel had four children, Talbot (1902), Beatrice (1903), Evelyn (1907) and Ruby (1908).

We hear of him as a chess player for the first time only in 1904, at the age of 27, when he took part in the Second Class B section of the inaugural British Championships at Hastings. He did pretty well for a newcomer to competitive chess, finishing in third place, just half a point behind the joint winners.

The following year he took part in the Kent Open Amateur 2nd Class A tournament, held that year at Crystal Palace, where he shared first place with his old rival WT Dickinson.

Shortly afterwards, leaving his wife and two young children at home, he crossed the channel to Ostend, where a mammoth tournament was taking place. The master event had no less than 36 entrants, with a complex group structure, and, below that, there were two amateur sections which attracted a number of British participants. Wilfred played in the Amateur B section, scoring a very respectable 11/17.

He didn’t take part in another tournament until 1908, when he again played in the Kent congress, that year held in Sevenoaks. This time Wilfred was promoted to the 1st Class Open Section 2. He found 1st class competition a lot tougher than the 2nd class, scoring only 1½/6, The leading scores in this section were Harold Godfrey Cole (5), Kate Belinda Finn and Percy Rawle Gibbs (4½). Miss Finn wasn’t the only (fishy) lady in the section: Mrs Frances Dunn Herring brought up the rear on 1/6.

Although he wasn’t very active in tournament play at the time, he was very much involved in Civil Service chess. He may well have been playing for the Local Government Board before his first tournament, and, when the Civil Service Chess League was founded in 1904 he was appointed to the post of Secretary.

When the British Championships were held in Richmond in 1912 he returned to the fray. This time he was in the 1st Class Amateurs B section, and, from the result, it was clear that he was a lot stronger now than a few years earlier.

The British Chess Magazine (October 1912) remarked that Mr. W. H. M. Kirk (Putney) is a well-known fine player in the Civil Service League, but does not play much otherwise. With work and family commitments, it was understandable that he wouldn’t have had much time for tournament play.

Unfortunately the only game of his from this event that appears to be extant was his only defeat. For all games in this article, click on any move for a pop-up window.

Kirk took part in the Surrey Championship that year, where he finished in first place with a score of 4½/5. This time we do have one of his wins, which his opponent, a dentist usually known as Frank St J Steadman, generously submitted to the British Chess Magazine. It was published in their December 1912 issue.

Wilfred entered the 1st Class Open in the 1913 Kent & Sussex Congress but had to withdraw before the start of the tournament. However, he did play in the Major Open section of the 1913 British Championship, making a respectable showing in a strong tournament.

Here’s a loss against the German born but English resident Georg Schories, a regular Major Open competitor whose nationality precluded his participation in the championship.

In this photograph of the competitors in this section, Kirk is the good looking youngish man (he was now 35) standing second on the left. He doesn’t look very happy, does he? But then they rarely did in those days.

And then World War 1 intervened. The Civil Service Chess League continued in 1915, but then stopped for the duration, only resuming in 1919.

The British Championships were also suspended, again resuming with a Victory Congress at Hastings in August that year. The British title itself wasn’t awarded, the top section being a semi-international event with visiting stars Capablanca and Kostic taking the first two places, well ahead of Sir George Thomas and Yates. The Major Open went to Edward Guthlac Sergeant, and, below that were three parallel First Class sections. Kirk was in the C section, finishing in first place, beating, amongst others, future World Champion Max Euwe. The enforced break had done nothing to dull his chess strength.

Again, his only loss, against Irish champion John James O’Hanlon, is the only one of his games from this event I’ve been able to locate.

In 1919 he also entered the City of London Chess Club Championship: the only time he took part in this prestigious event. He finished in 6th place with 6/11 behind Sir George Thomas, a clear winner on 9½, Michell, Walker, EG Sergeant and Blake, whom he beat in this game: a notable scalp.

Throughout much of his life, Wilfred Kirk seemed to move house every two or three years. He had previously lived in Putney and Wimbledon, but by this time had moved to North London, playing for Hampstead Chess Club and winning the Middlesex Championship in 1920. He had also moved departments in the Civil Service, from the Local Government Board to the Ministry of Health.

Then, in Autumn 1925, he moved to Richmond, living in several addresses in Richmond and Twickenham in the following 12 years or so. He wasted no time in joining Richmond Chess Club, but, in his first match, was only playing on Board 3.

Richmond Herald 28 November 1925

He also entered the Surrey Championship, in 1926 regaining the title he had previously won 14 years earlier.

As an able administrator he was soon appointed secretary of his new club, as reported here, where, on top board, he was successful against our old friend George Archer Hooke.

Richmond Herald 20 November 1926

His addresses at this point included 17 The Barons, St Margarets in 1927 and 27 Richmond Hill in 1928.

In the 1928-29 season Kirk swept the board, winning not just the club championship (you’ll see PGL Fothergill in 3rd place: he only seemed to play in internal competitions rather than club matches), but the handicap tournament (one wonders how the scores were calculated) and the prize for the best percentage score in matches.

Richmond Herald 30 March 1929

That summer he took part in a Living Chess game against Reginald Pryce Michell at Asgill House in Richmond to raise money for the local hospital.

Richmond Herald 22 June 1929

Wilfred was very much involved in charitable endeavours of all sorts, promoting chess at the Star and Garter Home for disabled ex-Servicemen, donating money to a fund for distressed miners, and, later in life. helping at a local home for the blind.

That summer, by then in his 50s,  he unexpectedly received an invitation to take part in the British Championship, held that year in Ramsgate.

Wilfred was a very effective player top level club opposition, but here, against mostly master standard opponents, he was rather out of his depth.

He lost in 19 moves to Gerald Abrahams: a game which attracted some attention at the time. Abrahams, rather typically, played a speculative sacrifice which Kirk should have accepted, but instead declined it and resigned the next move.

Here’s his draw against future Scottish champion and bridge designer William Albert Fairhurst.

In this group photograph, Kirk is standing on the left next to the permanently disheveled William Winter.

That year there was a merger between Richmond and Kew chess clubs, who, however, continued to meet at both venues on different days of the week. Kirk now had a serious rival in Kew star Ronald George Armstrong, about whom more in a future Minor Piece.

Meanwhile, in 1933, Kirk’s service to chess in the Civil Service was marked by a presentation.

A History of Chess in the English Civil Service (Kevin Thurlow)

This 1934 match must have been a surprise result.

Richmond Herald 21 April 1934

Richmond & Kew were a second division team, playing in the Beaumont Cup, while Kingston, who had won the Surrey Trophy two years earlier, were a genuine first division team. Unfortunately, they lost to Battersea in the final of the Alexander Cup.

Armstrong must have been very pleased with his draw against Michell, while Kirk also shared the point with (Richard) Nevil Coles, who later became a celebrated chess author and who beat me in a Richmond v Guildford Surrey Trophy match in 1972.

Richmond Herald 06 April 1935

In the 1934-35 season Kirk won the club championship while Armstrong took the handicap shield: they gave a tandem simul at the end of season prizegiving.

Richmond Herald 10 April 1937

It was the same story in 1937, with Kirk taking the club  championship for the sixth time with a 100% score, and Armstrong again preferring the handicap shield. Wilfred was now entitled to hold the cup in perpetuity, but generously returned it for future years. I wonder what happened to it.

At this point, though, Wilfred Kirk retired from the Civil Service, spending some time travelling round Europe playing chess before moving, like many retired chess players of the time, to Hastings.

However, he competed in the 1938 British Championships in Brighton, now down in the First Class B section, where he shared first place on 7/11, winning this miniature.

He was soon involved in administration again, both at Hastings Chess Club, and with their annual tournament. He also found time to compete in the 1938-39 event, sharing second place in the Premier Reserves C section.

He also threw himself into county chess, here losing to another former Civil Service player Bernard Henry Newman Stronach.

Hastings and St Leonards Observer 15 April 1939

By now the world was at war again, but Hastings managed to arrange their annual tournament that winter, with Kirk taking part in the Premier.

In this game he held the tournament winner Frank Parr to a draw, sacrificing a knight for a perpetual check.

Although it was no longer possible to run formal competitions, Hastings Chess Club remained active during the war, with friendly matches against local rivals Eastbourne and Bexhill.

His opponent in this game, George Edward Anslow, a Gas Company clerk, was a member of both Eastbourne and Hastings Chess Clubs for many years. He beat me in a 1974 friendly match between Hastings and Richmond & Twickenham Chess Clubs.

Frederick William (Fred) Boff, whom he defeated in this game, seems to have been an interesting character both on and off the chessboard.

He was still very active locally as the war finally came to an end, and was involved in the administration of the 1945-46 Hastings Congress as Treasurer and Assistant Secretary. In June that year, still playing regularly in club events, he was taken ill with appendicitis. The operation, sadly, proved unsuccessful.

Hastings and St Leonards Observer 22 June 1946

There’s more information in this pen picture from Kevin Thurlow’s book on chess in the English Civil Service.

A History of Chess in the English Civil Service (Kevin Thurlow)

Wilfred Hugh Miller Kirk, then, was a strong player (2261 at his peak according to EdoChess) and a highly efficient administrator. He seems to have  been well respected at work and was also devoted to various charitable causes.

His family life, though, wasn’t happy.

In the 1901 census we see Wilfred and Mabel, only recently married, and living in Pimlico.

They soon moved south of the river, the births of their first three children being registered in Wandsworth, and the youngest in Balham.

By 1911 the family had split up. Wilfred was living on his own in Streatham, a Second Division Clerk in the Civil Service. Mabel didn’t appear to be around. Talbot, Beatrice and Evelyn (aged 9, 7 and only 4) were boarding at a school in Wimbledon, while 2-year-old Ruby was living with Wilfred’s mother in Battersea.

Then, in 1914, Mabel filed a petition for judicial separation. She was represented by her solicitor, PR Gibbs, who, I’d imagine, was the same Percy Rawle Gibbs who had played Wilfred at Sevenoaks in 1908.

Mabel’s petition, citing eight addresses, mostly in the Wandsworth area, at which they lived during their marriage, listed dates and places, from 1906 onwards, when and where Wilfred had assaulted her, and treated her with coldness and neglect. He had punched her on her body and head, thrown her against the furniture and onto the floor, grabbed her by the collar and dragged her upstairs. Wilfred denied the charges of cruelty, claiming that Mabel had become mentally deranged and assaulted him violently, and he was only acting in self-defence. On other occasions she had become hysterical and behaved in an ill tempered and unreasonable manner, causing him to lose his temper.

It was also revealed that, from late 1910, she had been a patient at St Luke’s Hospital: she was probably still there at the time of the 1911 census.

The separation was granted, with Mabel having custody of the two older children and Wilfred the two younger children. Would a man who had assaulted his wife, even with provocation, be given custody of two young girls today?

Was he a violent and abusive wife beater whose behaviour had driven his wife to the lunatic asylum, or a good man who found it difficult to cope with his wife’s mental health problems? I don’t know: I wasn’t there and it’s far from me to pass judgement.

The ramifications continued for a decade (the papers are available online at ancestry.co.uk).

The 1921 census found Wilfred now living in Islington with Evelyn and Ruby, who were both at school. Mabel and Beatrice, now an art student, were the other side of London, in South Norwood. Meanwhile, Talbot had emigrated to the USA, where he married in 1927 and had two sons, Fred (1928-76) and Jack (1929-67).

His marriage didn’t last and he returned to England. The 1933 Electoral Roll shows Mabel, Talbot and Beatrice sharing a house right by Hampstead Heath.

Then, in 1934, Wilfred sued Mabel for divorce on the grounds of adultery.

Richmond Herald 03 February 1934

Well, I don’t know. In September that year he married Olive Emily Holmes. Was he committing adultery as well? Again, I wasn’t there.

What happened to the rest of his family? Talbot remarried in 1941 in Brentford, at some point moving to Yorkshire, where he died in 2006 at the extraordinary age of 104.

Beatrice never married: by 1939 she was working as a typist in the Ministry of Food, and died in Hastings at the age of 78.

Evelyn married young, in 1926, to a man almost twice her age, George Arthur Tomlinson, who seems to have been a mechanical engineer working at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. They lived with Wilfred for a time after the marriage before moving to North London where two sons, Brian (1928) and Robin (1930) were born. George died in 1944, but Evelyn, like her brother, lived a long life, dying in Bath at the age of 96.

Ruby married in 1939, like Evelyn to a much older man: a divorcee with the impressive name Bernard de Lerisson Cazenove. She had no children and, again like Evelyn, lived into her 90s: she was 91 when she died in Warwickshire.

The report of Wilfred’s cremation leaves some questions unanswered. You might have wondered why the local paper mentioned that he left a son, but failed to note his daughters.

Hastings and St Leonards Observer 22 June 1946

At the cremation, Talbot, Evelyn and Ruby were there, but there was no mention of Beatrice as a chief mourner. Did the paper forget her? Or had they become estranged?

Talbot, Dolly and Sylvia sent flowers, but who were Dolly and Sylvia? There were also flowers from Eric, Brian and Robin. Brian and Robin were his grandsons, but who was Eric? And why wasn’t Evelyn included? Her second marriage, in 1948, would be to Ernest (Vokes), not to Eric. Or was ‘Eric’ a misreading of ‘Evelyn’?

There’s one further family tragedy to report.

Worthing Gazette 26 April 1950

This is Wilfred and Mabel’s grandson Robin taking his own life in 1950, at the age of 19.

Had he inherited mental health problems from his mother? Impossible to tell, of course.

Although Wilfred Hugh Miller Kirk was a formidable club player and respected administrator, it seems that his family life was unsettled (moving house every couple of years) and unhappy. I can only hope that the game of chess brought him some comfort.

 

Sources:

ancestry.co.uk

findmypast.co.uk

British Newspaper Library

Wikipedia

BritBase (John Saunders)

EdoChess (Kirk’s page here)

chessgames.com (Kirk’s page here)

British Chess Magazine 1912

A History of Chess in the English Civil Service (Kevin Thurlow: Conrad Press)

The City of London Chess Club Championship (Roger Leslie Paige: Publish & be Damned)

Hastings & St Leonards Chess Club website (Brian Denman article here)

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Richmond Junior Chess Club 1975-2006: Part 3

By 1986 I’d developed some strong views about education and how they related to chess.

Something else happened as well. I was sitting in my London office one Feburary day wondering how I was ever going to be able to leave a job with no prospects of promotion or doing anything else when the phone rang.

It was my old friend Mike Fox, calling from Birmingham. “This phone call will change your life”, he said. And it did.

He’d been commissioned by Faber & Faber to write a book about chess trivia and invited me to join him as co-author. This would become The Complete Chess Addict (1987) and later The Even More Complete Chess Addict (1993), as well as the Addicts’ Corner column in CHESS which ran for 14 years. I decided that I could make as much money in less time by working freelance, while having time to help Mike with researching and writing the book and having more time to develop RJCC.

In order to improve Richmond Junior Club the first thing I wanted was to be able to find out everything I could about how every member of the club played chess, so that I could provide individual advice to all children and parents.

My view also was that, when teaching younger children and, more generally, less experienced players, everything we did had to happen for a very specific reason. I didn’t want to provide random lessons demonstrating random brilliant games to a random collection of children. Nor did I want to push children into doing too much too soon: using clocks and scoresheets and taking part in external tournaments before they were ready.

What I did (some of this was explained last time) was this:

  • I split the club into two sections: a morning group lasting two hours for primary school children, and an afternoon group lasting three hours for secondary school children, to which stronger primary school players would also be invited.
  • I introduced an internal grading system which was revised every few weeks, including all internal games (excluding blitz) so that I could select teams objectively in order of strength and identify when morning group players were ready to move up to the afternoon group. This included a very crude but reasonably effective measure to avoid grading deflation, based on the principle that, at any point, our members will either be improving or stationary.
  • Although I’d been collecting scoresheets of games played in our tournaments and training days for almost a decade, I now collected all afternoon group games (excluding blitz again) and played through them myself at home. There was no need to collect games played in the morning group as they were played at a lower level and usually decided by the number of pieces left en prise.

Beyond that, I wanted to ensure that our members would be able to try out a wide range of different openings, play games at different time controls, and play different opponents every week.

The primary school age children in our morning group were divided into divisions according to their internal grade. When new members joined we’d do a quick assessment. If they were obviously beginners they’d start in the lowest division. If we already knew about them because they’d played in one of our tournaments we’d already have given them a grade so would be able to put them in the correct division. Otherwise, we’d give them a quick friendly game against a player in a middle division and see how they got on.

I also used the same divisional system in schools for many years to ensure that children played different opponents of a similar strength to themselves every week (until the divisions were changed). This system also catered for the fact that some children played fast and would get through several games in one session while others played slowly and would only play one game. I found this worked much better than a Swiss tournament where everyone played one game a week and children who had finished their games would sometimes interfere with the games still in progress.

Every few weeks, by which time some of the faster and more regular attenders would have played most of the other players in their division, we ran the results through the grading program and restarted the divisions, with the most successful players gaining promotion.

We knew that if we taught children opening principles and then left them to their own devices many games would start with boring Giuoco Pianissimos or Spanish Four Knights, which, because they led to closed positions with few opportunities for pawn breaks, were only superficially good for less experienced players.

So we developed a system which would enable children in this group to experience a range of different openings and position types. Our first rule was that all games in the morning group would start with the moves 1. e4 e5. Over the course of the year (September to July) we’d  work through the major open games, starting with simple Four Knights type positions and gradually moving through to the King’s Gambit and (the favourite of many of our members) the Danish Gambit. We’d give a short introductory talk before the games started and expect players to start the game with the moves displayed on the demonstration board.

Ray Keene’s column in the Times always provided a simple tactical puzzle on Saturdays to encourage readers to compete for a prize, and we’d display this on the demo board so that children could attempt to solve it as they arrived. We’d go through the solution in front of the whole class before introducing them to the opening of the week.

We also wanted to ensure that children were introduced to clocks and scoresheets at the appropriate time in their chess development to prepare them for promotion to the afternoon group. As each of these adds a level of complexity to an already difficult game we wanted to do them one at a time, so players in the second division were asked to play their games on clocks (30 minutes per player per game) and, when they reached the top division they were required to notate their games (down to the last five minutes) as well.

For some of our members, the Morning Group was all they wanted and they’d drop out after a year or two. But others would be ambitious to play competitively and move up to the Afternoon Group, which was designed, in the first instance, for players of round about 1000 to 1500 strength. We assumed that, at that point, they’d move on to bigger and better things, but, as our system developed, we were attracting players up to getting on for 2000 strength.

In order to give our Afternoon Group members the chance to try out a wide range of different openings we developed a system involving games using set openings.

It took a few years for this to be fully implemented, but what we did was to divide all the major openings into ten groups, featuring one group every half term. We built a three-year cycle, with some groups happening every year, some twice in three years and some once in three years.

We also wanted to provide a range of different time limits. For younger players up to about 1500 who tend to play fast there’s no real need for slower games, while we also decided that anything less than 10 minutes per player would lead to too many blunders. So our main termly structure eventually looked like this:

  1. Freestyle 30 minute games (3 games in the 3 hour session)
  2. Coach and play – introductory lesson on the openings to be played over the next few weeks followed by two 45 minute games, consulting the opening books
  3. 10 minute blitz tournament (in groups with promotion/relegation) with opening variation picked out of the ‘hat’)
  4. 30 minute games (3 games in the 3 hour session) using the set openings
  5. Freestyle 10 minute blitz tournament (in groups with promotion/relegation)

Over the year we’d run 12 sessions with 3 30-minute games (at first in groups of 4 (quad tournaments) or 6 (Scheveningen system tournaments) – six freestyle and 6 with set openings. All games would be recorded down to the last five minutes and all scoresheets would be handed it. We used duplicate scoresheets for this purpose so that they all had a copy of their games to take home. I’d then play through all the games again at home, and, once ChessBase became available I’d enter them all into a database.

We’d also run 11 sessions with 10-minute games (as many as they could play in the time available), five freestyle and six with set openings.

We’d run 6 Coach and Play sessions to introduce the openings to be played in the next rapid and blitz sessions.

We also ran one simultaneous display a term. Sometimes we’d use visiting masters, sometimes our own coaches, members of our parent chess club or former RJCC members. We considered these a vital part of our programme for several reasons:

  • They promoted chess as an adult game, not just a game for young children
  • They gave our members the chance to meet and play against titled players
  • They forced our members to slow down and think while the simul giver was going round the room moving on the other boards

Other weeks were filled up with activities such as training games at slower time limits, endgame practice and puzzle solving, while the last week of each term gave our members the chance to enjoy chess variants such as Exchange (Bughouse) and Kriegspiel.

The idea was that each week would have one activity, which would vary from week to week. Very different from the way most junior clubs run, with two activities (lesson and game) a week and the same structure most weeks.

If you want to use our methods, our stationery (now rebranded as Chess Heroes rather than RJCC) is available to download here and here while our opening books (recently updated slightly to include the currently popular London System) can be downloaded here.

Coincidentally, several other important things happened at about this time.

A local primary school, Sheen Mount, appointed a new Headteacher, Jane Lawrence, who was passionate about introducing all her pupils to chess, teaching them the moves and giving them the chance to play competitively at school every day. Many of her pupils joined Richmond Junior Club, and, as you’ll see, two of them, Richard Bates and Tom Hinks-Edwards, went on to become International Masters.

Ray Cannon, whom I vaguely knew from the London chess circuit, brought his young son Richard along to the club. Ray was (and still is) an excellent chess coach and his views on chess teaching were (and still are) very similar to mine, and he soon started to play a vital role in the club, helping with the Afternoon Group as well as spending his Sundays visiting tournaments and passing on the results of our members so that I could incorporate them in our internal grading list.

The other player who played an invaluable part in our successes for many years was Gavin Wall, later an IM, one of our early members who, on returning from University joined our coaching team, working mostly in the Morning Group. Gavin and Ray were both integral to the club for many years: I can’t thank them enough.

Over the next few years we again became very strong, and the system we used in the Afternoon Group undoubtedly played its part.

As it happened, the summer of 1986 witnessed our first ever British Champion when Irfan Nathoo took the national Under 9 title.

Richmond Informer 14 August 1986

Here’s a game from later in the year. To play through this or any other game in this article click on any move and a pop-up window will appear.

With our new system in place we were able to promote the club in the local press, announcing an exciting season ahead.

Middlesex Chronicle 04 September 1986

We were actively looking for sponsorship at this point. We received donations from two local charities at various times, and here we found sponsorship from the Richmond branch of Midland Bank.

Richmond Informer 04 June 1987

We were also competing successfully in team competitions against other London junior clubs. Barnet Knights, of course, are still going strong today.

 

Richmond Informer 13 August 1987

One of our new members was a talented Scottish junior, Jonathan Rowson, who had moved from Aberdeen into the same road as me. He used to come round to my house for a game after school, but sadly for us he didn’t stay in the area very long.

In this game from one of our monthly quad tournaments, he demonstrated his class by outplaying Richard Bates in a pawn ending.

During this period I was doing a lot of private tuition. Jonathan was by no means the only one of our members who would visit my house for lessons, either on a regular or an occasional basis. Judging from both individual and team results it must have had some effect on them.

By 1989 Sheen Mount players were making names for themselves on the national stage. Here are future IM Richard Bates and Tom Davey playing for England’s Primary Schools team in a match against Scotland.

Richmond Informer 16 June 1989

 

Also in June 1989 we were invited to play a match against a visiting team from Arizona. As we had so many strong players by now we split our players into three teams and played a four-way match.

Here’s Richard Cannon’s game against the American board 1.

By the summer of 1989 it was time to move. The church in central Richmond where we met was being redeveloped so we had to find new premises. Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club moved to London Welsh Rugby Club, while Richmond Junior Club found a new home in a large Victorian house in East Twickenham, where we’d meet for more than 15 years.

Richmond Informer 29 September 1989

We also set up a separate group for older children enabling us to enter teams in the Thames Valley League. We played our home matches in Friday evening sessions and scheduled our away matches, as far as possible, during the school holidays.

Jane Lawrence was now running Richmond teams in the English Primary Schools Chess Association inter-area competitions, with players from schools around the Borough taking part. Andrew Bamford, like many of the players in these teams, was a member of Richmond Junior Club.

Richmond Informer 20 April 1990

In this game from our 1990 Under 11 Championship a speculative sacrifice proved successful.

Wanting to provide top level coaching for our strongest players, we appointed GM Daniel King as our club professional in 1990. We were also able to enter a third team in the Thames Valley League.

Richmond Informer 14 September 1990

 

In just a few years since 1986 the club had made tremendous progress, and we were able to bill ourselves, without fear of contradiction, as ‘England’s leading club for young players’. This is Chris A Baker, who hasn’t played competitively for a long time, not to be confused with long-standing Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club member Chris B Baker, who was also a pupil at Hampton School, or indeed IM Chris W Baker.

Middlesex Chronicle 20 June 1991

In this game Tom had the chance to play a Greek Gift sacrifice against an opponent with insufficient experience of the French Defence.

And here’s Chris Baker, beating one of his regular rivals in a club game.

Every summer during this period the parents of our stronger players got together to book accommodation for the British Championships. From 1991 onwards we were rewarded with successes like these:

1991 Richard Bates U14 shared, Luke McShane U9

1992 James Clifford/Luke McShane U14 Andrew Bamford U11

1993 Tom Hinks-Edwards U16 shared

One of our favourite simul givers at the time was Ukrainian IM Petr Marusenko, a regular visit to Hastings (he’s there again this year) who would drop in to visit us after the congress.

In this game James Clifford outplayed him in the ending.

Richard Bates, now at Tiffin School, continued to be successful in 1992, and was rated one of the world’s top players of his age.

Kingston Informer 31 January 1992

 

But by that time we had a new member whose feats would outshine even Richard’s. This was Luke McShane, who, at the age of only 8, took the World Under 10 Championship in 1992.

Newcastle Journal 14 July 1992

Luke scored victories against future stars such as Bacrot, Aronian and Grischuk in this event. He was perhaps fortunate to escape from lost positions in the first two of these games, but here’s his win against the Russian representative.

In January 1993 we were privileged to host a junior team from Kiev (now Kiiv), whose top players were, as you might imagine, very strong. We arranged four events: a simul given by Daniel King, a match against a team from Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club, a match against a Richmond Junior Club team and a match against a junior team representing the Southern Counties Chess Union, which included three RJCC players.

Another of our very strong players, Aleksandar Trifunovic, great nephew of Grandmaster Petar Trifunovic, scored an exciting win on board three of the RJCC v Kiev match. His opponent here is now an American IM.

Richard Bates scored a win and a draw against the top two Kiev players. He drew with Spartak Vysochin, now a grandmaster, in the RJCC match and won this game from the SCCU Juniors match.

As a result of his performance in the World Junior Championship, Luke was given the opportunity to play a game against Garry Kasparov, in London to discuss the arrangements for his forthcoming World Championship match against Nigel Short.

Richmond Informer 05 March 1993

Here’s the game.

In May 1993, buoyed by these successes, we were asked to be involved in the Richmond Chess Initiative, which, in essence, did very much what Chess in Schools & Communities is doing now, but on a local rather than national level.

Richmond Informer 14 May 1993

Children would learn all the right moves, but would they play them in the right order? You’ll find out in the next part of the history of Richmond Junior Chess Club.

 

 

 

 

 

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Richmond Junior Chess Club 1975 – 2006: Part 2

Last time I left you in 1980, when Mike Fox had moved to Birmingham, leaving me in charge of Richmond Junior Club, whose membership included a growing number of very strong and talented young players, inspired by Mike’s teaching and charismatic personality to excel at chess.

I had been the backroom worker to Mike’s front man, but now, reluctantly, I was the front man as well.

My forte was organising rather than teaching, and, wanting to provide experience of serious competitive chess, I ran regular training tournaments for our strongest players.

Here, for instance, is a game from a 1981 training tournament. Aaron Summerscale is now a grandmaster and chess teacher. Nick von Schlippe is now an actor, director and writer, but maintains his interest in chess. Nick was one of a quartet of outstanding players from Colet Court/St Paul’s along with Harry Dixon (now playing chess in South East London), Michael Arundale and Michael Ross.

Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.

To give you some idea of our strength four decades ago, the leading scores in the 1982 Richmond U14 Championship were:
Nick von Schlippe 5/6
Demetrios Agnos (now a GM) 4½/6
Michael Ross 4/6
Philip Hughes 3½/5
Gavin Wall (now an IM and, for many years Richmond London League captain), Ben Beake, Harry Dixon, Sampson Low (currently secretary of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club) 3½/6
Ali Mortazavi (now an IM) 3/5
Mark Josse (now a CM), Rajeev Thacker 3/6
and 6 other players, including Chris Briscoe (now a CM).

Here’s a game from that event for your enjoyment.

The results of our 1983 Under 14 Championship told a fairly similar story.

Scores out of games played (there are either two missing scoresheets or two players took byes in Round 4 and two didn’t play in Round 6) were:

Gavin Wall 6/6
Demetrios Agnos 4½/6
Philip Hughes 4/6
Harry Dixon, Ben Beake, Chris Briscoe 3½/6
Aaron Summerscale 3/5
Michael Ross, James Cavendish, Rajeev Thacker, Mark Josse, Bertie Barlow 3/6
Ali Mortazavi 2½/5
Leslie Faizi 2½/6
Grant Woodhams 2/6
Alan Philips, Chris Bynoe 1/5
Daniel Falush 0/6

At some point I’d acquired a copy of Chess Life and discovered that the members of our small suburban junior chess club were, over the top few boards and applying the conversion factor in use at the time, stronger than the juniors in the whole of the USA.

The significant factor in all this is, for me, not just the strength of the players, but how many are still playing, or at least keeping up with the chess world, and, even more so, how many I’m still in touch with, or have spoken to on social media, almost 40 years on. Talking to them now, they always have very fond memories of their time at Richmond Junior Club.

What we were doing, although I wasn’t aware of it then, was building a lifelong chess community. Producing future GMs and IMs was merely a by-product of the actual purpose.

But it was clear that, as the younger players coming into the club were less strong and less interested than their predecessors, changes had to be made. Perhaps I needed someone who was a much better chess teacher than me and, like Mike Fox, had the charisma to attract strong new members into the club. There was no doubt who the best chess teacher was in my part of the world: Mike Basman. He agreed to help and, for a time in 1983-84 we worked together.

Of course, Mike was, and still is, brilliant, but he’s also a maverick, someone who, like me, prefers to do things in his own way. There were a couple of issues, in particular, where we disagreed.

Mike has always been known for his love of eccentric openings, and he’d sometimes give lessons on these. My view was different: children should, in the first instance, be given a thorough grounding in all the major openings. If they decide later that they want to experiment, that’s fine, but understand the basics first.

My second point was that we were inviting near beginners to training tournaments where clocks and scoresheets were used. My view was, and still is, that children should be able to play a reasonably proficient game without giving away pieces before clocks and scoresheets are used. Clocks and scoresheets add to the game’s already bewildering complexity and, if children are not used to them, they will concentrate too much on remembering to press their clock and working out how to write their moves down and forget about how to play good chess.

This is still one of my big problems with junior chess today: we’re putting children who barely know how the pieces move into tournaments with all the accoutrements of proper grown-up chess: clocks, arbiters, strictly observed silence, touch and move. My view is that this is totally wrong, but, even more so today than 40 years ago, I appear to be in a small minority. Very often, these days, parents are insisting that their children should take part in serious external competitions before they’re ready in terms of both chess and emotional development.

You’ll find out next time how I addressed these two issues over the following years. I had to find my own methods of doing exactly what I wanted. If anyone else wanted to come in with me, that was fine, but I was never going to compromise on doing it someone else’s way rather than mine.

Meanwhile, in April 1984 we were offered the chance of a simul given by Hungarian GM Zoltan Ribli, who at that time was ranked 13th in the world with a rating of 2610. Although we had to pay quite a lot for the privilege, this was too good an offer to turn down. According to the scoresheets that were handed in he scored +13 =4 -2: again, a pretty good performance for a suburban junior chess club! Here’s one of his losses.

At that time, we were constitutionally part of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club, and our accounts were incorporated in theirs. Up to that point we’d made a reasonably healthy profit each year, but in 1983-84 we had only just broken even. At the 1984 AGM the RTCC treasurer wasn’t impressed, thinking we might jeopardise the club’s finances in future, and uttering the immortal words ‘What’s a Ribli Simul?’. (Strangely enough, the other day I chanced upon a record of him playing in a simul some 35 years or so earlier!)

Our turnover was also much larger than that of RTCC so it seemed sensible that we should declare financial independence. I would remain on the committee as the officer responsible for junior chess, providing a link to RJCC. (I still hold that post today, but without the RJCC link.) We already had a parent, Derek Beake, serving as our Treasurer, a role he’d occupy for 22 years, long after his son Ben had given up competitive play.

In 1985 we were again offered the chance of a simul given by a world class player, in this case by local GM John Nunn, who, at the time, was ranked joint 11th in the world (one place behind Ribli) with a rating of 2600. This time we invited a few of our friends from Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club to join us.

Out of 23 games, John scored 14 wins, 6 draws and 3 losses, to RTCC’s Paul Johnstone, a slightly pre-RJCC Richmond Junior (someone suggested the other day I should write something about the pre-RJCC Richmond Juniors, which perhaps I should), to future GM Demetrios Agnos and to the unheralded Leslie Faizi, who had also drawn with Ribli the year before.

Even our lesser lights from that generation could play pretty good chess. Here’s a draw against Alan Phillips, who had beaten Ribli the year before (and who contacted me on Twitter a few years ago).

Yes, many of our stronger players from a few years earlier still kept their association with the club, and with chess in Richmond in general (and some of them still keep that association in the 2020s), although they had now outgrown our Saturday morning sessions. We were also no longer successful in attracting strong players into the club. (I suspect, looking back, they just weren’t around in our area: these things come and go.)

I knew I needed to make changes, and that I had to find my own way of running the club rather than trying to work with anyone else.

I wanted to separate the club in order to differentiate between the players who were able to play a proficient game, and who needed experience playing under more serious conditions using clocks and scoresheets, and those younger and less experienced players who were not yet able to play fluently without making regular oversights.

By now home PCs had become available. I was able to use my (admittedly limited) programming skills to write a grading program in BASIC for my BBC Micro into which I entered all our internal club results. I used a pseudo-BCF system with a crude but reasonably effective iterative process providing anti-deflation factor which would take into account my assumption that our members were either improving or remaining stationary at any point.

This gave me the information to decide, by monitoring all the internal results of all our members, which players should be in which group. The decision was made – and my intuition again turned out to be correct (although it’s not how things work today) – that players of primary school age would move up to the higher group when they reached a grade of 50 (equivalent to 1000 Elo). I’ll write a lot more about this, either here or elsewhere, later.

By the start of the 1986-87 season the club had become something totally different. Two things had also happened which would have an enormous impact on the club’s further development.

You’ll find out what they were, and a lot more besides next time.

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Richmond Junior Chess Club 1975 – 2006: Part 1

Here’s a quiz question for you. What do these chess players have in common?

GM Luke McShane
GM Jonathan Rowson
GM Dmitris Anagnostopolous (formerly Demetrios Agnos)
GM Aaron Summerscale
IM Richard Bates
IM Gavin Wall
IM Ali Mortazavi
IM Tom Hinks-Edwards
IM Andrew Kinsman
IM Yang-Fan Zhou
IM Callum Kilpatrick
WIM Cathy Forbes

Well, you probably guessed the answer from the title of this article, didn’t you? They were all, along with many other strong players, a lot of whom could, had they chosen to do so, have reached at least IM level, members of Richmond Junior Chess Club between 1975 and 2006.

I could add a few more names as well, who were never members but friends of the club who took part in one of more of our semi-closed competitions. For example:

GM David Howell
IM Michael Hennigan
IM Matthew Wadsworth

I think you’ll agree that RJCC was one of the success stories of English junior chess over the past half century.

John Upham has kindly provided me the space to write a history of Richmond Junior Chess Club from its foundation in 1975 up to 2006, when I resigned as club director.

When I’m asked, as I often am, to explain how we were so successful, I can now point them in the direction of this series of articles. No: that’s a lie. I’ve never been asked this question by any junior chess organiser, and when I try to explain anyway, I’m usually cut off in mid-sentence. I wonder why.

People who don’t know me automatically assume from our successes that I’m a brilliant teacher and, when they met me, are disappointed to find out that I’m not: in fact, I’m not really a teacher at all. I have a combination of social, communication and speech disorders which means I’m not very good at standing front of an audience talking or keeping a class of children under control. I’m also not a brilliant chess player, although, by most standards, I’m reasonably competent (about 1900-2000 strength for the past 50 years).

What I did, and do, have is this: I’m an efficient organiser, reliable, conscientious and detail oriented. I take a pragmatic, logical and structured approach to everything I do, rather than being influenced by emotions. Children enjoyed my company, as is often the case with adults whom they perceive as ‘different’ in some way, and I, in turn, enjoyed their company.

You might think I’m not the obvious person to run a junior chess club at all, least of all one as successful as RJCC. But this is a story which might challenge your views about education, about children, about chess, and about how these should interact. You might also think it’s a story about leadership, and how those who appear not to have leadership qualities can, in some instances, be very successful.

What we did at RJCC was very different from any other junior chess club at the time or subsequently. You’ll find out how this developed as the years went by through this series of articles. One example of how we took a very different approach was that, once children had reached the level where notation was worthwhile, we’d collect scoresheets from all our internal competitions to enable us to find out everything we could about how all our members played chess. I have a database of nearly 17000 games played at Richmond Junior Chess Club over a period of almost 30 years, and I’ll use this to illustrate the club’s story.

Anyway, I’ll now take you back half a century, to the summer of 1972. I’d just completed my education and, at the same time, the Fischer – Spassky match was on the front page of all the papers. Suddenly a lot of parents wanted their children to learn chess, and several of my parents’ friends, knowing I played chess, asked if I could teach their children. I’d been bullied throughout my schooldays and couldn’t wait to grow up so that I’d never have to have anything to do with children again, but not wishing to disappoint people by saying no, I reluctantly agreed. Sometimes fate plays strange tricks on you. Much to my surprise, the lessons seemed to go well: my pupils made good progress and the idea of starting a junior chess club occurred to me.

At about this time I met a remarkable man named Mike Fox at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club. We had quite a lot in common: apart from both being passionate about chess, we both enjoyed teaching children, had a shared sense of humour and even a shared birthday, although 17 years apart. In other ways, though we were total opposites: he was tall and sporty, I was short and unsporty, he was an extreme extrovert, I was an extreme introvert, he played aggressive tactical chess, favouring the King’s Gambit (19th Century Fox, we called him) and the Sicilian Dragon, while I played rather dull and cautious chess. He was running a chess club at his son’s school and had had the same idea as me.

We were also getting some younger children coming along to Richmond & Twickenham, even though it was rather late for them. It was also not really suitable as, naturally enough, they wanted to run around and chat rather than play quietly.

We put the three groups together: my pupils, Mike’s pupils and the children from RTCC, booked our club venue, a church hall in Richmond, for Saturday mornings, and, at some point in the autumn of 1975 (the exact date is lost in the mists of time) Richmond Junior Chess Club, at that point part of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club, opened its doors for the first time.

It was just something very informal where children could come along, meet their friends, play some chess and perhaps learn something in the process. And it was also very cheap: children would come along with their 10p, 20p or whatever it was per week, which just paid the venue costs. Of course, Mike and I were unpaid volunteers, just running the club for the love of chess. I rather expected it to be something like Charlie Brown’s baseball team: losing every match but providing a lot of fun. Today we’d call it a social chess club or a community chess club. The tagline on our first flyers was “Hey kids! Meet your mates at Richmond Junior Chess Club!”. It was just somewhere to meet your friends, not a club for budding masters.

We soon started running both internal and open competitions, which became more and more popular, and hosted a visit by a Danish team. On one occasion the saintly Bob Wade looked in and gave a talk on a master game. I remember at the time thinking, although we were both big fans of Bob, that I didn’t see the point of that sort of lesson for young children. (My views are no different today, but now I can justify them by quoting educational theory.) My other abiding memory of Bob, by the way, was a few years later, when he dropped into a London Junior Championship qualifying tournament at nearby Hampton School and unobtrusively helped set up the pieces between rounds: very typical of the man.

There was some coaching built in as well, with Mike giving lessons with his customary humour. The one I remember took place on Saturday 1 April 1978, when he demonstrated to the audience a new opening, which, I seem to recall, involved moving your knight out and back again to avoid creating any weaknesses. This, he explained, was called the Oliphant Opening, named after Francis Oliver Oliphant Leonard. Check out the first letters of his names and the day of the lesson. Mike also, as I do, loved using acronyms as a learning tool: KUFTE (King Up For The Ending) was one of his favourites.

At some point we introduced notation for our older and stronger players in club games as well as tournaments and in 1977 I started keeping them. Being someone with hoarding tendencies, I decided to hold onto them just in case they’d come in useful later. I was very pleased that I did: I started entering RJCC games in ChessBase in 1992 and eventually entered scoresheets of the 4000+ games I’d collected up to this point. Now, when I hear from former members from the early days, they’re in equal parts delighted and embarrassed when I send them pdfs of their games.

It had become clear from very early in the club’s history that something remarkable was happening. Back in 1976-77 future IM Gavin Wall became our first London Junior Champion: these days he plays top board for Richmond and captains our London League team. Another of our very early members was future IM Andrew Kinsman: I knew his late father Ken, who played chess for Wimbledon.

Some of our early members have achieved eminence in fields other than chess. This game features author and psychologist Kevin Dutton (we’re in touch on Twitter) against top lawyer Ian Winter (I gave him some private tuition at the time of this game: his parents were friends of my parents: I’m still indirectly in touch). To put it another way, an expert on psychopaths against one of Harold Shipman’s defence team. Click on any move in any game in this article for a pop-up window.

This exciting game was published in the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club newsletter. I’m in contact with Craig Gawler, who, like several other former members, chose to opt out of the rat-race. His now a guitarist with a love of Flamenco music, living in Barcelona where he runs a junior chess club based on the principles of the original RJCC: a fun club rather than a club putting children under pressure to become prodigies. Just like me, and for exactly the same reasons, he’s unhappy about recent trends in junior chess.

Here’s an early Gavin Wall game: many years later his opponent would bring his daughter along to Richmond Junior Club.

At some point round about late 1979 or early 1980 Mike’s job as the creative director of an advertising agency took him to Birmingham, so I was, rather reluctantly, left alone in charge of what was rapidly becoming a very successful club. Mike and I made an ideal partnership: he was the charismatic frontman, while I was the backroom worker. To put it another way, if you like, I was the Gordon Brown to Mike’s Tony Blair. Being the frontman wasn’t a role in which I was naturally comfortable, but I just had to do my best.

Over the next year or two we attracted a lot of strong new members. One in particular, then using the name Demetrios Agnos, a pupil at a local primary school, impressed with a maturity well beyond that of most of his peers.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I now understand the real purpose of Richmond Junior Chess Club was to build a chess community. In that we undoubtedly succeeded. Producing international players like Gavin Wall and Demetrios Agnos was merely a by-product. When I speak to former members from that period today – and from time to time someone will get in touch via social media – they always tell me how much they enjoyed RJCC and how much they enjoyed spending time with Mike and myself.

One of our earliest members whose games feature in the database was Simon Illsley: he’s just joined Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club for the first time for the 2022-23 season. As a pupil at Hampton (Grammar) School he taught a friend, Andrew Hebron, to play. Andrew is also now a member of RTCC.

This game from a 1980 training tournament. between Sampson Low and Mark Josse, demonstrates again the power and influence of the chess community Mike and I created. Sampson (whose family company has published a few chess books over the centuries) is now Secretary of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club as well as being involved in the organisation of the Thames Valley League. Mark plays for Surbiton, and occasionally for Richmond in the London League. Now retired from a career in the Metropolitan Police, he also coaches at the current Richmond Junior Chess Club.

My next article will cover what happened in Richmond Junior Chess Club in the early 1980s. Come back soon for the next episode in the club’s history.

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Minor Pieces 40: Peter Shenele

Back in 1975 I played in a weekend tournament celebrating the centenary of Kingston Chess Club. I’m still in touch with two of my opponents, Kevin Thurlow and Nick Faulks, today. They both post regularly on the English Chess Forum and I also see Nick at Thames Valley League matches between Richmond and Surbiton.

Kingston are in the early stages of preparing celebrations for their 150th anniversary in 2025, and asked me if I’d seen anything confirming 1875 as the year of their club’s foundation.

Well, there are all sorts of questions concerning, amongst other things, continuity, but I’ll leave that for another time. The Surrey Comet and Croydon Guardian and Surrey County Gazette (which carried a lot of chess news) for those years have been digitised, but searching for ‘chess Kingston’ doesn’t come up with anything. There are some earlier matches in which clubs in the area played competitions including chess along with other indoor games, but nothing obvious concerning 1875. Having said that, the OCR search facility is far from 100% accurate, so I’d have to look through all the papers for that year to check I hadn’t missed anything. The nearest I’ve found so far is this, from 1881.

Croydon Guardian and Surrey County Gazette 01 October 1881

We have three names here. Most important, for my Kingston friends, is that of Mr J Bartlett, President of Kingston-on-Thames chess club. I consulted the 1881 census which lists a number of J Bartletts in Kingston,  but none of them seem to be obviously presidential material.

I suspect the annotator was FC (not JC) Burroughs: Francis Cooper (Frank) Burroughs (1827-1890) was a Surrey county player, a solicitor by profession. He never married and had no relations with the initials JC.

As Mr Burroughs’ initials appear to be incorrect, it’s entirely possible that Mr Bartlett’s initial was also given incorrectly. I haven’t been able to find any other chess playing Bartletts in the area as yet, but I’ll keep looking.

Here’s the game in full. Click on any move for a pop-up board.

Two weeks later, another game was published, with Bartlett again losing with the white pieces against Shenele.

We’re told that Inspector Shenele was playing by correspondence against Kingston, but there’s no indication of how many Kingston players were involved. He played two games against Barrett, but playing black in both cases. I wonder what the format was. Perhaps he played four games, two with each colour, against each of five opponents. Looking at the games, the Kingston President’s play, especially in the first game, doesn’t make a very good impression, considering he would have had plenty of time for each move.

As he was blessed with a highly unusual surname as well as a title, it wasn’t difficult to find out more about Inspector Shenele. If you’ll bear with me for straying away from Kingston, not to mention Richmond and Twickenham, his is an interesting, although sadly rather short, story.

He was born Peter Shenale on 22 March 1843 in the village of Mary Tavy, near Tavistock in Devon, the youngest child of James Shenale and Tamzin Parsons Pellew. Most of his family spelt their name in this way, but Peter preferred Shenele. He also referred to himself as PS Shenele, although I can find no record of a middle name in any official documents. The surname has its origins in Devon and Cornwall. By the 1851 census the family had moved to Gunnislake, the other side of Tavistock and just over the border in Cornwall, where James was working as a copper miner. His wife and three sons were at home: James junior was also a copper miner, while William and Peter were at school. According to Wikipedia: “The village has a history of mining although this industry is no longer active in the area. During the mining boom in Victorian times more than 7000 people were employed in the mines of the Tamar Valley. During this period Gunnislake was held in equal standing amongst the richest mining areas in Europe.” Tin and copper were the main metals mined there.

In 1861 Peter was still living there with his parents, along with a mysterious 14-year-old granddaughter, and now, like his father, mining copper. In 1867, still in the same job, he married Eliza Ann Kellow in nearby Plymouth.

At that point he (or perhaps Eliza) decided that the life of a miner wasn’t for him. If you’re a copper miner and don’t want to be a miner any more, I guess that makes you a copper, and that’s exactly what Peter did. He moved to London and joined the Metropolitan Police. By 1871 he was living in Knightsbridge with Eliza and their 5-year-old son Henry. Another son, Frederick, had died in infancy. A daughter, Ellen, would be born later that year, followed by Emma, who would also die in infancy, and William, by which time the family had moved to Chelsea.

But where did the chess come in? His background seems very different from most of the chess players we’ve encountered in this series. I’m not sure that chess was especially popular among the Devon and Cornwall mining community, but you never know. Perhaps he became interested after seeing a problem in a newspaper or magazine column.

In 1876 his name suddenly started appearing  (as PS Shenele) in the Illustrated London News as a solver of chess problems.

It wasn’t long before he tried his hand at composing as well. You’ll find the problem solutions at the end of this article.

#2 Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 11 November 1876

But at home all was not well. Peter may have been good at solving both crimes and chess problems, but his marriage had hit a problem with only one solution. On 18 April 1879 he filed for divorce, citing his wife’s adultery with a man named Charles J Reed. Perhaps Eliza had had enough of Peter spending so much time at the chess board and had sought satisfaction elsewhere. The courts found in Peter’s favour (in those days it was always considered the woman’s fault): he was awarded a decree nisi on 20 November 1879 and a final decree, along with custody of Ellen and William, on 1 June 1880.

A son, Charles Frederick Shenale, was born in Plymouth, the town where Eliza and Peter had married, on 20 August 1879 and died the following year at the age of 9 months. His parents were listed as Peter and Annie (as Eliza preferred to be called): might one assume that Charles Reed, whose first name he was given, was actually his father, and that his mother had returned to Devon to give birth?

Here’s another problem Peter composed at about this time.

#2 Preston Guardian 1880

Not content with solving and composing problems, Peter took up correspondence chess as well.

In this postal game against Irish astronomer and philosopher William Henry Stanley Monck, he concluded his attack with an attractive queen sacrifice for a smothered mate. It was published in the Illustrated London News on New Years Day 1881.

He had also taken up another unlikely interest: poetry. Also on New Years Day 1881 he wrote to the Croydon Guardian.

Croydon Guardian and Surrey County Gazette 15 January 1881

He also submitted this poem which, in the fashion of the day, is an acrostic. The first letter of each line spells out a message.

By this time he’d been promoted to the rank of Inspector, and had moved out, as you can see above, to Ilford, where, when the 1881 census enumerator called, he was living with young William. Emma wasn’t at home: she might, I suppose, have been away at school. Henry was living in the Devonshire Club in Piccadilly, working as a page boy.

It was about this time, also that he played the correspondence match against Kingston-on-Thames Chess Club. I’ve yet to discover exactly how this came about: quite possibly via his connection with the Croydon Guardian, the main source for Surrey chess news at the time.

Chess and policing weren’t the only things on Peter’s mind in 1881. On 31 January 1882 he married a local girl, Sarah Jane Seabrook, who, it seems, was pregnant with their daughter Ethel Emily, whose birth was registered in the first quarter of that year. This didn’t stop his chess activities: he entered a correspondence tournament run by the Croydon Guardian.

This correspondence game was played in 1893 against Horace Fabian Cheshire. Both players demonstrated knowledge of contemporary Evans Gambit theory, but our hero went wrong shortly after leaving the book. Thanks to Brian Denman for providing this game, which was published in the Southern Weekly News (8 Sep 1883).

But then, in the same year, tragedy struck. A son, named Albert, was born in September, but died 5 days later: the third child he’d lost in infancy. He then caught a cold, which developed into pleurisy. On 10 November 1883, at the age of only 40, Peter Shenele died after a short illness. A local paper back in Cornwall published this tribute.

You can see some parallels, can’t you, with James Money Kyrle Lupton, from a later generation. Both were problem solvers and composers who liked to see their name in print, and both were also police officers in London. But while James, from a privileged background, only became a constable, Peter, a man of relatively humble origins, became an inspector.

As always, I’m sure you want to know what happened next. Eliza Ann (Annie) remarried in 1893, not to Charles Reed, but to a widower named James Trump (no relation to Donald), a plasterer by trade.  Ellen sadly died in 1894. Sarah Jane moved in with her brother Frederick, like their father a publican, and the family later emigrated to New York. It’s not clear what happened to Ethel. There’s a burial record for Ethel Emily Seabrook in Newham, East London in 1898, which might have been her.

Peter’s younger surviving son, William, joined the Royal Navy, then became a clerical officer in the Civil Service, marrying but not apparently having any children, and living on until 1968.

Peter’s oldest son, Henry, emigrated to Australia in 1885. In 1891 he married Alice Huxley, and, in the same year, a son, George Leslie Shenele, was born. But then things started to go wrong. In 1895 a warrant was issued for his arrest.

He did indeed go to New Zealand, to Masterton, near Wellington, where, in April that year, a month before the above announcement, he was put on trial for rape. What exactly happened between Henry James and Belinda the slavey I don’t know. Offering to tune the family organ indeed!

Observer, Volume XI, Issue 853, 4 May 1895

It was later reported that the Grand Jury threw out the bill. As always in those days (and you might think things haven’t changed much) he got away with it. (Thanks to Gerard Killoran for this information)

After that the trail goes cold. What happened to the police inspector’s son, the seemingly mild-mannered, bespectacled piano tuner? I’d imagine he changed his name, but no one seems to know.

George Leslie settled in Campsie, a suburb of Sydney, married, had two children, Ilma and Cyril, but his wife died young. He worked on the railways, eventually becoming an inspector, the same rank, but not the same profession, as his grandfather. Guess what happened to Cyril. He followed (was he aware?) in his great grandfather’s footsteps, becoming a policeman, rising to the rank of (at least) Detective Sergeant.

And that is the story of Peter Shenele, copper miner, police inspector, chess problem solver, composer and correspondence player, who provided a random distraction from my investigations of chess players of Richmond, Twickenham and surrounding areas. I’ll try to find out more about the early history of chess clubs in Kingston: if I come across anything interesting I’ll let you know.

Sources:

ancestry.co.uk

findmypast.co.uk

Wikipedia

MESON chess problem database

Brian Denman/Hastings & St Leonards Chess Club website

Gerard Killoran/Papers Past (New Zealand)

Problem 1 solution:

1. Qg1! threatening Nfd4# or Nh4#.  1… Qg3/Qg2/Qxg1 2. Bd7# 1… exf3/e3 2. Bc2#

Problem 2 solution:

1. Qc6! threatening N mates on g6 as well as two queen mates. 1… Rxc6 2. Nf7# 1… Re6 2. Qxe6#

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Minor Pieces 28: George Edward Wainwright Part 3

This is the third post in my series about George Edward Wainwright, sometime member of Twickenham, Guildford and Surbiton Chess Clubs, and one of the strongest English amateurs of his day.

You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

American Chess Magazine 1898: taken from a public member tree on ancestry.co.uk

We left George in Surbiton in 1911, happily married, with four children and an important job in local government.

That summer he travelled abroad to play chess for the first time. He was playing top board for a team of members and friends of Hastings Chess Club who embarked on a tour of France and Switzerland, scoring 4½/5. I guess he was a friend, rather than a member.

Here’s a game from their match against the Union Amicale des Amateurs de la Régence, where he encountered the Russian diplomat Vassily Soldatenkov. (Click on any move of any game in this article and a Magic Pop-up Chessboard should, with any luck, appear.)

At this point he took a break from tournament chess, not playing in either the 1911 British Championship in Glasgow or the 1911-12 City of London Championship.

He wasn’t inactive, though: in November he took part in a simul at the City of London Club against the up and coming young Cuban Capablanca, where he managed to win his game.

In 1912 he didn’t have far to go for the British Championship, which took place just up the road from him in Richmond – the Castle Assembly Rooms to be precise, down by the river and opposite the Town Hall. Again, he didn’t take part, but was there as a visitor. (I’m considering a future series of Minor Pieces about some of the chessers who descended on Richmond that year.)

Wainwright was back in action in the 1912-13 City of London Championship, but without success. A large entry that year required three qualifying sections, with three qualifiers from each section making the final pool. He was well down the field in his section.

Throughout his life he remained loyal to his home county of Yorkshire: in those days there was no problem representing both Surrey and Yorkshire in county matches.

In this game from a Yorkshire – Middlesex match played in Leicester (a neutral venue) he beat one of his regular London opponents and a future Kingston resident.

Just two days  later he took part in another simul against Capablanca, forsaking his usual tactical style and, after his opponent’s ill-advised queen trade, winning in the manner of – Capablanca.

The following year, he did better in the City of London Championship, this time qualifying for the finals by winning this game against a young Dutch master who had crossed the Channel hoping to make money by beating rich Englishmen.

By now it was 1914 and storm clouds were gathering over Europe. The London League kept going for one more season. Wainwright was representing the Lud Eagle club and won this game featuring a rather unusual sacrificial kingside attack in a match against West London. His opponent, William Henry Regan, was a stamp and coin dealer.

The City of London Championship managed to keep going for the duration, albeit with far fewer entries, giving George Edward Wainwright the opportunity to continue playing his favourite game.

He didn’t play in 1914-15 or 1915-16, but returned to the fray in 1916-17. Understandably rusty, he finished in last place behind Edward Guthlac Sergeant. The following year, fulfilling the prophecy from Matthew 20:16 (The last shall be first), later repeated by Bob Dylan (The loser now will be later to win) he shared first place with Philip Walsingham Sergeant (EG’s second cousin) and Edmund MacDonald, winning the play-off and so taking the title for the second time.

He was unsuccessful in defending his title in 1918-19, finishing in midfield behind the Latvian master Theodor Germann as chess started to wake up again following the end of hostilities.

In 1919 the British Chess Federation celebrated with a Victory Tournament in Hastings, where Capablanca won the top section ahead of Kostic. The Ladies’ Championship was included but the title of British Champion itself wasn’t awarded. While in the country, Capa gave a simul at the City of London Club, and, for a third time, lost against Wainwright.

Meanwhile, there were some important changes in Wainwright’s personal life. There was a major reconstruction of local government in 1919: the Local Government Board was abolished, its powers being transferred to the newly created Ministry of Health. It seems likely that at this point Wainwright, a wealthy gentleman whose children had now grown up, decided to retire. At some point in 1920 he and his wife moved to Alice’s home village of Box, Wiltshire. Box is situated in the beautiful Cotswolds, on the A4 between the city of Bath and the market town of Corsham.

The village’s previous claim to chess fame was as the birthplace of Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), who, when he wasn’t expunging Shakespeare’s rude words, was one of the strongest English players of his day.

The Wainwright family settled in a cottage called Netherby, near the centre of the village, now a Grade 2 listed building. Very charming it looks too.

Source: Google Maps

The Reverend Vere Awdry and his family moved into Lorne House (now a Bed & Breakfast establishment), next to the railway station on the road to Corsham, also in 1920. They’d arrived in the village in 1917, and had lived at two previous addresses there. He and his young son Wilbert used to spend hours watching the steam trains pass by. Many years later, Wilbert, now the Reverend W Awdry, would be inspired by this memory to write the Thomas the Tank Engine books, much loved by generations of young children, including me. George and Vere, as prominent members of the village community, would surely have known each other, and George would have known young Wilbert as well.

By 1920 things were back to normal, and George Edward Wainwright, now retired, was one of those selected for the British Championship in Edinburgh: his first appearance for a decade. His address was given as London and Box in different newspapers, which suggests he’d just moved, or was in the process of moving.

Roland Henry Vaughan Scott was the slightly surprising winner, ahead of the hot favourite Sir George Alan Thomas. Wainwright scored a respectable 4½/11, not bad for a player in his late 50s.

In this game he launched a dangerous kingside attack in typical style, and his opponent wasn’t up to the defensive task. Scottish champion Francis Percival (Percy) Wenman, a former petty thief (of chess books) and later plagiarist, will be well worth a future Minor Piece.

It was now 1921 and time for the census enumerator to pay a visit to the Wainwright residence in Box. George and Alice were there, along with a visitor from Bradford, possibly a family friend, and a general servant.

You’ll find out what happened in the latter stages of his life and chess career next time.

Sources:

ancestry.co.uk

findmypast.co.uk

Wikipedia

Google Maps

edochess.ca

chessgames.com

Britbase

Thanks to Gerard Killoran for information about Wainwright’s simul games against Capablanca.

 

 

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Movers and Takers: A Chess History of Streatham and Brixton 1871-2021

From the Introduction:

Movers and Takers is the 150-year story of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club, and of chess in our neighbourhood.

It begins with two separate clubs in Victorian times – one in north Brixton, the other in Streatham – amid the outburst of enthusiasm for chess in the expanding suburbs. The two clubs amalgamated half way through the story. Movers and Takers charts the cycles of ups and downs, the periods of feast and famine, the championship victories, and the dismal defeats of these clubs over a century and a half up to the present day.

You will meet the characters who made up the club during its long journey. There have been strong players who changed the club’s fortunes before they moved on. And there have been many average ones, who have yet been the lifeblood of the club, devoted to their passion, who sustained it through thick and thin. You will also meet players who, though not members, have passed through our neighbourhood while leaving their footprint on the wider chess landscape. They may grab our attention for that they did off the board as much as on it.

 

Streatham and Brixton Chess Club celebrated its 150th birthday last year, and one of their members, Martin Smith, has written a history of chess in that part of South London, taking the club through the Victorian era, two world wars, the English Chess Explosion and into a global pandemic.

The book was written for The Streatham Society, a local amenity group whose publications include volumes on local history, so its target market is residents and historians as much as chess players. There is, however, a selection of games at the end, roughly one for each decade of the club’s history, featuring a wide range of players, from world champions down to small children.

The current club traces its history to a club in North Brixton, originally named Endeavour, which appears to have been founded in 1871. By 1875 it was already considered one of the strongest suburban clubs, although at the time, in the very early days of chess clubs outside city centres, it was very much weaker than those in central London. It then went into hibernation for a few years before starting up again in 1879 and, within a few years, dropping Endeavour and becoming just Brixton Chess Club.

The club thrived, and was, albeit with some ups and downs recorded here, a powerful force in Surrey chess up to the First World War and on into the 1920s and beyond.

Brixton’s more genteel suburban neighbour, Streatham, acquired its chess club in 1886, but for much of its history it was not as strong as its more northerly counterpart. But by the 1930s, while Brixton’s fortunes were fading, Streatham was flourishing. Both clubs suspended activities during the Second World War, and, once competitive chess resumed, they agreed to merge, becoming the Streatham and Brixton club well known today in Surrey, London and national chess circles.

Martin Smith’s book offers an engrossing whistle-stop tour of 150 years of South London chess history. We meet a lot of famous people who have pushed pawns in this part of our capital, whether as residents, club members or visiting simul givers, from the likes of Staunton and Lasker, through to Harry Golombek in the inter-war years and Ray Keene in the 1960s, and then the likes of Julian Hodgson and Daniel King from the club’s more recent glory days. We also meet a variety of colourful characters such as occultist Aleister Crowley and Broadmoor problemist Walter Stephens, as well as a whole host of devoted administrators and organisers, the often unsung heroes who are the backbone of any successful club.

The Felce dynasty were prominent as organisers in Surrey chess for three generations. Here’s Harold, their strongest player, defending coolly against an unsound sacrifice to score a notable victory against the great Sultan Khan. Click on any more to display the game in a pop-up window.

The author does an excellent job of placing the club within its local community. We learn about the changing role of chess in society through the Victorian era and how this was reflected in the growth of clubs such as Brixton and the development of leagues in London and Surrey. There’s also a lot about the girls and women who played chess in the area: there were a surprising number, from Vera Menchik through to 1960s girl star Linda Bott (seen, below, at the age of 8) and beyond. Junior chess in general, of course, plays a big part in the latter half of the story: we learn about the popularity of chess in local schools, the pioneering books for young children written by Ray Bott and Stanley Morrison, and the sterling work done by Nigel Povah (whose grandfather was a prominent Streatham administrator) in coaching top juniors and introducing them to the club.

I wonder whether Linda’s 20th move in this game was an oversight (it’s very easy to miss backward diagonal moves) or a move displaying precocious tactical awareness. Only she would know.

Works like this are important in explaining the background behind club chess, and, if the subject appeals, this book won’t fail to please. You might see it as complementing my Minor Pieces articles, particularly those involved with Richmond and Twickenham players, and, given that Martin and I have discussed our respective ideas over several pints during the course of his research, you’ll understand where we’re both coming from. It’s very well written and copiously illustrated throughout: the expertly chosen photographs and press cuttings add enormously to the story.

I’m sure it would have been easy (perhaps even easier) for Martin to have written a book two or three times its length, and as a chess player you’d perhaps like to have seen more chess as well, but, given the limitations of writing primarily for a non-chess playing readership, he has done an outstanding job in compressing the story into a relatively short volume. Perhaps he might consider an expanded version for private publication.

I did spot a few minor mistakes: misspelt or incorrect names and incorrect dates, for example, but this won’t spoil your enjoyment of the book. Strongly recommended for anyone with any interest at all in the history of British – and London – chess over the past 150 years.

If you’d like to buy a copy, the book can be ordered by providing a postal address to SFChess@btinternet.com, who will provide a/c details for payment of £12.50 plus £2.50 P&P.

Richard James, Twickenham 14 January 2022

Richard James

  • Published: November 2021
  • Publisher: Local History Publications for The Streatham Society in association with Streatham and Brixton Chess Club.
  • Softcover 116 pages (A4)
  • ISBN 978 1 910722 17 6
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