I was surprised to hear of the sponsorship deal between FIDE and Establishment Labs. If this is the only sponsor FIDE can find, after the success of The Queen’s Gambit and the increase in the number of women playing chess online, they need to seriously improve their commercial game.
While the money will doubtless be welcome to female professional players, a deal with a company whose main focus is breast enlargement sends all the wrong messages and potentially exposes the promotion of women’s chess to ridicule and could inhibit other potential sponsors.
Few people know the story of Vera Menchik yet it deserves to be told. She was the first women’s world chess champion in 1927 and retained the title undefeated until her untimely death at the age of 38 in 1944 during a rocket attack on London. She is more properly compared with the great male players of her era against whom she scored creditably. The absence of a full biography of Vera in English reflects the peculiar circumstances of her life and death.
Vera was, in modern terminology, a refugee and essentially a stateless person for much of her life. She was born in Moscow in 1906 during the period of the Russian Empire to an expatriate family who was forced to flee when she was 15 following the Russian Revolution having lost their livelihood. As they passed through Europe, her father and mother split up in his homeland Czechoslovakia which had been created out of the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian empire. She arrived in England and took up residence in the seaside town of Hastings. (The fact that Hastings had hosted the world’s longest series of annual chess tournaments since 1895 was a happy coincidence.) Vera never attained British nationality until near the end of her life even though she had been domiciled in England from 1921. She won the first-ever Women’s World Championships held in London in 1927 under a Russian flag; thereafter she nominally represented Czechoslovakia until finally she represented England in 1939 following her marriage to a senior official within the British Chess Federation.
Vera’s grandfather was Arthur Illingworth, a wealthy trader from Lancashire who had set up business in Moscow where his Anglo-Russian daughter Olga married František Menčik. He was a successful estate manager. Vera learned chess from her father and performed well at school. Her younger sister Olga was also a good chess player and the sisters remained close throughout their lives.
Vera was a woman in a man’s world – she had to struggle harder to achieve the kind of recognition which was accorded to men. She appeared like a comet in the sky and it would be many years until other women were able to reach her level. At her first major international tournament at Karlsbad in 1929, she was the only female participant in a tournament of 22 great players. Even as women’s world champion, some of the male players objected to her participation. The Viennese master Albert Becker joked that anybody who lost to her should belong to the Vera Menchik Club. By an irony of history, he became its first member losing to her in the third round. She beat many other grandmasters during her career including the Dutchman Max Euwe in 1930 and 1931 (both at Hastings) who was to become world champion in 1935.
Although she is often portrayed as being Russian or Czech or latterly British, she was a true cosmopolitan. She knew that life could be unstable in any country. She had lived through the Russian Revolution; one parent was left behind in Czechoslovakia; she had moved westwards across Europe and embraced different cultures and languages at formative stages of her life. It is no wonder that she learned also to speak Esperanto which was designated to be the world’s lingua franca before English achieved its dominance. As a leading chess player, she travelled back to Moscow and to Czechoslovakia several times as well as to South America for her final match to retain the women’s world champion title in 1939. She needed to be self-sufficient and was obtained roles as the games editor of a chess magazine as well as being appointed the manager of the National Chess Centre in Oxford Street which was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940.
She survived most of the war and now a widow moved in with her mother and sister to a house in south London. They took the precaution of going down to the cellar during bombing raids. Tragically the house received a direct hit from a flying bomb and the entire family was wiped out. Hardly any of her possessions remained save for one dented trophy. The records at the national chess centre were destroyed as were her personal effects including her chess memorabilia. At least there remains a record of the moves played in her games which serve as testimony to her remarkable career as not only the first women’s world chess champion but also a woman who broke boundaries wherever she went and demonstrated that a woman is capable of standing on her own feet professionally and leading a full and eventful life.
The Bomb Attack
BCN remembers that in the early morning of Tuesday, June 27th, 1944 (i.e. 77 years ago) Vera Menchik, her sister Olga, and their mother were killed in a V-1* flying bomb attack which destroyed their home at 47 Gauden Road in the Clapham area of South London.
(*The V-1 was an early cruise missile with a fairly crude guidance system.)
All three were cremated at the Streatham Park Crematorium on 4 July 1944. Vera was 38 years old.
Vera’s Parents and Sister
Vera Frantsevna Menchik (or Věra Menčíková) was born in Moscow on Friday, 16th February, 1906. Her father was František Menčik, was born in Bystrá nad Jizerou, Bohemia. František and Olga were married on June 23rd 1905 in Moscow and notice of this marriage appeared in British newspapers on July 22nd 1905. Vera’s sister was Olga Rubery (née Menchik) and she was born in Moscow in 1908. Olga Menchik married Clifford Glanville Rubery in 1938. Vera married Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson on October 19th 1937.
Her Maternal Roots
Our interest in unearthing her maternal English heritage / roots has led to the following:
Her mother was Olga (née Illingworth (1885 – 27 vi 1944). Olga’s parents were Arthur Wellington Illingworth and Marie Illingworth (née ?). Arthur was born in October 1852 in the district of Salford, Lancashire, his parents were George Illingworth (1827-1887) and Alice Whewell (1828-1910).
In the 1861 census Arthur is recorded as being of eight years of age and living in the Illingworth household.
In the 1871 census Arthur is recorded as being of eighteen years of age and living in the Illingworth household of nine persons at 5, Lancaster Road, Pendleton, Lancashire. Arthur’s occupation is listed as being a merchants apprentice. In fact, he was a stock and share broker.
Arthur died in Moscow on February 21st 1898. Probate was recorded in London on July 6th, 1900 as follows:
Illingworth Arthur Wellington of Moscow Russia merchant died 21st February 1898 Probate London 6th July to Walter Illingworth stock and share-broker Effects £4713 7s
£4713 7s in 1898 equates roughly to £626,600.00 in 2020 so it would appear that Arthur was considerably successful and almost certainly left money to Olga Illingworth.
What do we conclude from all of this? Quite simply that Vera’s maternal roots were from Salford in Lancashire.
The August 1944 British Chess Magazine (Volume LXIV, Number 8, page 173 onwards) contained this editorial from Julius du Mont:
“British Chess has suffered a grievous and irreparable loss in the death by enemy action of Mrs. R.H.S. Stevenson known through all the world where chess is played as Vera Menchik.
We give elsewhere (below : Ed.) an appreciation of this remarkable woman. Quite apart from her unique gifts as a chess-player-the world may never see her equal again among women players-she had many qualities which endeared her to all who knew her, the greatest among them being here great-hearted generosity.
We sympathise with our contemporary “CHESS” : Vera Menchik was for some years their games editor. Few columns have been conducted with equal skill and efficiency and none, we feel sure, with a greater sense of responsibility.
The news of this remarkable tragedy will be received by the chess world with sorrow and with abhorrence of the wanton and useless robot methods of a robot people.
One shudders at the heritage of hatred which will be theirs, but their greatest punishment will come with their own enlightenment.”
BCM Contemporary Obituary from EGR Cordingley
From page 178 of the same issue we have an obituary written by EGR Cordingley :
“The death by enemy action of Miss Vera Menchik removes not only the greatest woman chess player of all times but a charming personality.
The world will remember her for her chess prowess, for her exceptional skill as a woman player who had beaten in tournament play such gifted players as Euwe, Sultan Khan, Sir George Thomas, Alexander and Yates. In such company, and she played in several of the Hastings International tournaments and other of similar grade, she usually obtained about 33%, though in the Maribor tournament of 1934 she finished third, behind Pirc and Steiner but ahead of Rejfir, Spielmann, Asztalos and Vidmar.
Her game was characterised by solid position-play, with the definite aim of bringing about a favourable end-game and of avoiding wild complications. The ordinary stratagems of the game, small combinations and the like, were of course part of her equipment, but she lacked that imaginative, inventive spirit without which few become really great players.
In recent times, Reshesvky and Flohr (as a professional with a reputation to maintain and a living to earn) have shown that great success can be achieved by reducing the game to pure positional play, the technique being firstly to build up a position devoid of weaknesses, an ‘I can’t lose position,’ and secondly to create and take advantage of the minutest weaknesses in the opponent’s camp, a major weakness may show that imagination is not quite dead within.
This defect in her play was the inevitable reflection of her character: sound common-sense, conscientious to an unusual degree, and persevering, while she had the combative, tenacious nature so desirable and so often found in good chess players; for chess is battle of wits, the fight is what most of use love in chess. Vera was, seldom assertive, a fault not uncommon in chess players. She sat placidly at the chess board, never causing even mild irritation by any of those nervous mannerisms that may always be seen in any chess room, the peripatetic fever being the most prominent. A slight flush would rise when the position grew difficult, or when she was short of time on her clock – and that was recurrent according to the time-limit.
Away from the chessboard show would readily talk of other subjects, and her great interest was in persons, in their actions and behaviour under the strain and stress of the unruly passions; in the moulding of their lives under the inscrutable dictates of chance; in the twists and turns of a mind warped perhaps by a casual incident long ago. Of course, she was a pagan, a thinking one, who had asked and asked and found only the answer that reasoning gave. She judged kindly and never inflicted upon others her own opinions or beliefs: she asked only that these should be heard as one side of any argument, for she enjoyed a dialectic bout.
A delightful side to her character was her simple sense of humour, and I remember so clearly her pleasure – glee would describe it more eloquently – when I gave her the punctuation necessary to make sense of that ludicrous collection of words, ‘Jones where Brown had had had had had had had had had had had the master’s approval’ Anyone who knew her only at the chessboard would have been astonished at the amount of bubbling merriment she discovered of of life’s events.
I shall remember her more for the woman as I knew her over many cups of coffee spread over many, many weeks – complacent, smiling, and kindly; conscientious, loyal, and sincere; as I understand the word, a Christian who would help any deserving person as best she could. E. G. R. C.
and here is the original article as printed:
BCM 1958 Appreciation by Peter Clarke
From British Chess Magazine, Volume LXXVIII (78, 1958), Number 7 (July), page 181 onwards) we have this retrospective from Peter Clarke:
“The night of June 27th,1944, Vera Menchik, World Woman Champion, was killed when an enemy bomb demolished her home in London; with her perished her mother and sister Olga. In these tragic circumstances the chess world lost its greatest woman player, still undefeated and at the height of her powers.
Vera Francevna Menchik was born in Moscow on February 16th, 1906, of an English mother and Czech father. There she spent her childhood, showing a love for literature, music, and, of course, chess, which at the age of nine she was taught by her father. She had a natural bent for the game and when only fourteen shared second and third places a schoolboys (!) tournament. The following year, 1921, the family came to England, where Miss Menchik lived the rest of her life.
As if by some fortunate coincidence, the Menchiks settled in Hastings, though it was not until the spring of 1923 that Vera joined the famous chess club. Her natural shyness and lack of knowledge of English caused this delay. However, they did not handicap her too much
as she herself afterwards wrote: ‘Chess is a quiet game and therefore the best hobby for a person who cannot speak the language.”
She studied the game eagerly, and very soon her talent caught the attention of the Hungarian grandmaster, Géza Maróczy, who was resident at Hastings at that time. Thus there began the most important period in her development as a player; a sound and mature understanding of positional play-and a thorough knowledge of a few special openings and defences: in particular the French Defence. The influence of
the grandmasters ideas was clearly apparent in her style throughout the whole of her career.
Miss Menchik’s rise to fame was meteoric: by 1925 she was undoubtedly the strongest player of her sex in the country, having twice defeated the Champion, E. Price, in short matches; and only two years later she won the first Women’s World Championship in London with the terrific score 10.5-0.5. She was just twenty-one, but already in a different class from any other woman in the world. For seventeen years until her death Vera Menchik reigned supreme in women’s chess, defending her world title successfully no less than seven times (including a match with Sonja Graf at Semmering in 1937, which Miss Menchik won 11.5-4.5. In the seven tournaments for the World Championship she played 83 games; winning 78, drawing 4, and losing 1 only! However, what was more remarkable was that she was accepted into the sphere of men’s chess as a master in her own right, a feat which no woman had done before or has done since. Up to then, women’s chess had been a very poor relation of the masculine game, but here was a woman who was a worthy opponent for the strongest masters.
Flohr wrote of her: ‘Vera Menchik was the first woman in the world who played chess strongly…who played like a man.’ It was as the ambassador extraordinary, so to speak, of the women’s game that Miss Menchik really made her greatest contribution to chess. Wherever she went, at home and abroad, she aroused great interest among her sex; others were eager to follow her, to identify themselves with her. Nowadays women’s chess is well organized, and much of the credit for this must go to Vera Menchik for first bringing it into the light. Among her many personal successes in international tournaments perhaps the greatest was at Ramsgate in 1929: as one of the foreign masters (she was still of Czech nationality) she shared second and third places with Rubinstein, * point behind Capablanca and above, among others, her tutor Maróczy.
Even the greatest masters recognized Miss Menchik’s ability; Alekhine himself, writing on the Carlsbad Tournament of 1929, said: ‘Vera Menchik is without doubt an exceptional phenomenon among women. She possesses great aptitude for the game…The chess
world must help her develop her talent!’
The Vera Menchik Club
An amusing incident occurred at this tournament. There were naturally sceptics among the masters over the lady’s participation. Flohr recalls how one of these, the Viennese master Becker, suggested:
‘Whoever loses to the Woman Champion will be accepted as a member of the Vera Menchik Club which I intend to organize.’
Becker was the first to lose to her, and that evening the masters chided him: “Professor Becker, you did not find it very difficult to join the club. You can be the Chairman.’ And forthwith he was chosen as Chairman for three years. Everyone wished that the new club would soon obtain more members! Indeed, the Vera Menchik Club has many famous names on its lists-Euwe, Reshevsky, Colle, Yates, Sultan Khan, Sir G. A. Thomas, Alexander, to mention a few.
In 1935 Miss Menchik returned to the country of her birth to take part in the great international tournament in Moscow. To be truthful, she had very little success, but she was everywhere treated with respect and sympathy by masters and spectators alike. The Soviet master l. Maiselis, writing in CHESS in 1944.(Shakhmaty za 1944 god), related the following entertaining anecdote from the tournament: One day a group of players and organizers were discussing the chances of Alekhine and Euwe in the forthcoming match. Flohr said: ‘It is quite clear that I will be World Champion.’ We looked at him inquiringly.
‘It’s very simple,” continued Flohr, ‘Euwe wins a match against Alekhine, Vera Menchik beats Euwe (at that time her score against Euwe was +2, =1, -1) and I will somehow beat Miss Menchik.’
We laughed at this good-natured joke, and we laughed all the more the next day when Flohr was unable, despite every effort, to defeat her in a vital game.
ln 1937 Miss Menchik married R. Stevenson, but in chess she continued to use her maiden name, made famous by so many victories. Her husband, a well-known organizer, became, Secretary of the B.C.F: in the following year and remained so until his death in 1943.
Since the days of Vera Menchik women’s chess has taken great strides forward; now there is a special committee of F.I.D.E. to look after its needs.- Only last year the first lnternational Women’s Team Tournament took place ln Emmen, Holland; the new World Champions, the U.S.S.R., became the first holders of the Vera Menchik Cup. So chess goes onwards, but the name of its first Queen will ever be remembered.”
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Robert Hale, 1970 & 1976) by Anne Sunnucks :
“Woman World Champion from 1927 to 1944. Vera Menchik was born in Moscow on 16th February 1906 of an English mother and a Czech father. Her father taught her to play chess when she was 9.
In 192l her family came to England and settled in Hastings (at 13, St. John’s Road, St. Leonards-on-Sea, TN37 6HP) :
Two years later, when she was 17, Vera joined Hastings Chess Club,
where she became a pupil of Geza Maroczy. The first Women’s World Championship was held in 1927. Vera Menchik won with a score of 10.5 out of 11. She defended her title successfully in Hamburg in 1930, in Prague in 1931, in Folkestone in 1933, in Warsaw in 1935, in Stockholm in 1937 and in Buenos Aires in 1939. She played 2 matches against Sonja Graf, her nearest rival, in 1934 when she won +3 -1 and in 1937, in a match for her title when she won +9 -1 =5.
The first woman ever to play in the British Championship and the first to play in a master tournament, Vera Menchik made her debut in master chess at Scarborough 1928 when she scored 50 per cent. The following year she played in Paris and Carlsbad, and it was at Carlsbad that the famous Menchik Club was formed. The invitation to Vera Menchik to compete among such players as Capablanca, Euwe, Tartakower and Nimzowitch was received with amusement by many of the masters. The Viennese master, Becker was particularly scornful, and in the presence of a number of the competitors he suggested that anyone who lost to Vera Menchik should be granted membership of the Menchik Club. He himself became the first member. Other famous players who later joined the club were Euwe, Reshevsky, Sultan Khan, Sir George Thomas, C. H. O’D. Alexander, Colle and Yates.
Her greatest success in international tournaments was at Ramsgate in 1929, when she was =2nd with Rubinstein, half a point behind Capablanca and ahead of Maroczy. In 1934 she was 3rd at Maribor, ahead of Spielmann and Vidmar. In 1942 she won a match against Mieses +4 -l -5. In 1937 Vera Menchik married R. H. S. Stevenson, who later became Hon. Secretary of the British Chess Federation. He died in 1943. She continued to use her maiden name when playing chess. On her marriage she became a British subject.
From 1941 until her death she was Games Editor of CHESS. She also gave chess lessons and managed the National Chess Centre, which opened in 1939 at John Lewis’s in Oxford Street, London and was destroyed by a bomb in 1940.
In 1944 Vera Menchik was a solid positional player, who avoided complications and aimed at achieving a favourable endgame. Her placid temperament was ideal for tournament play. Her main weakness was possibly lack of imagination. Her results have made her the most successful woman player ever.”
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess, (BT Batsford, 1977) by Harry Golombek :
Probably the strongest woman player in the history of the game, Vera Menchik was born in Moscow and, though her father was a Czechoslovak and her mother English, she played for most of her
life under English colours.
In l92l her family came to Hastings in England and there Vera became a pupil of the great Hungarian master, Geza Maroczy. This was to have a dominating influence on her style of play which was solidly classical, logical and technically most well equipped. Such a style enabled her to deal severely not only with her fellow women players but also with contemporary masters and budding masters. Vera did extremely well, for example, against C. H. O’D. Alexander
and P. S. Milner-Barry, but lost repeatedly to H. Golombek who was able to take advantage of her lack of imagination by the use of more modern methods.
Vera was soon predominent in women’s chess. In the first Women’s World Championship tournament, at London in 1927, she won the title with a score of 10.5 out of 11 and retained the championship with great ease at all the subsequent Olympiads (or International Team tournaments as they were then known more correctly) at Hamburg 1930, Prague 1931, Folkestone 1933, Warsaw 1935, Stockholm 1937 and Buenos Aires 1939.
With Sonja Graf, the player who came nearest to her in strength among her female contemporaries, she played two matches and demonstrated her undoubted superiority by beating her in 1934 (+3-l) and again in a match for the title in l937 (+9-l=5).
In 1937 Vera officially became a British citizen by marrying the then Kent and later B.C.F. Secretary, R. H. S. Stevenson (Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson: ed).
(Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson was home news editor of the British Chess Magazine, secretary of the Southern Counties Chess Union and match captain of the Kent County Chess Association).
Oddly enough, Sonja Graf, many years later, also became a Mrs Stevenson by marrying an American of that name some years after the Second World War.
Vera Menchik also played and held her own in men’s tournaments. She did well in the British championship and her best performance in international chess was =2nd with Rubinstein in the Ramsgate Team Practice tournament ahead of her old teacher, Maroczy. She also had an excellent result at Maribor in 1934 where she came 3rd, ahead of Spielmann and Vidmar.
Her husband died in 1943 and Vera herself, together with her younger sister Olga and her mother, was killed by a V1 bomb that descended on the Stevenson home in London in 1944.
This was a sad and premature loss, not only for British but for world chess, since there is no doubt she would have continued to dominate the female scene for many years.
As a person Vera was a delightful companion, jolly and full of fun and understanding. As a player she was not only strong but also absolutely correct and without any prima donna behaviour. Generous in defeat and modest in victory, she set a great example to all her contemporaries.
An example of Vera’s attacking play at its best against her nearest rival, Sonja Graf, is shown by the following game which was played in her 1937 match at Semmering in Austria :
From The Oxford Companion to Chess, (Oxford University Press, 1984) by Hooper and Whyld :
“Woman World Champion from 1927 until her death. Daughter of a Czech father and an English mother, Menchik was born in Moscow, learned chess when she was nine, settled in England around
1921, and took lessons from Maroczy a year or so later. In 1927 FIDE organized both the first Olympiad and the first world championship tournament for women. These events were run concurrently, except in 1928, until the Second World War began, and Menchik won the women’s tournament every time; London 1927 (+10=1); Hamburg 1930 (+6=1 — 1); Prague 1931 (+8);
Folkestone 1933 ( + 14); Warsaw 1935 (+9); Stockholm 1937 (+14); and Buenos Aires 1939 ( + 17=2). She played in her first championship tournament as a Russian, the next five as a Czech,
and the last as a Briton. She also won on two matches against her chief rival, the German-born Sonja Graf (c. 1912-65): Rotterdam, 1934 (+3-1), and Semmering, 1937 (+9=5—2),
In international tournaments which did not exclude men Menchik made little impression; one of her best results was at Maribor 1934 (about category 4) when she took third place alter Pirc and L. Steiner ahead of Spielmann. In 1937 she married the English chess organizer Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson (1878-1943), A chess professional, she gave lessons, lectures, and displays, and was appointed manager of the short-lived National Chess Centre in 1939. In 1942 she defeated Mieses in match play (+4=5-1), She, her younger sister Olga (also a player), and their mother were killed in a bombing raid.
Her style was positional and she had a sound understanding of the endgame. On occasion she defeated in tournament play some of the greatest masters, notably Euwe, Reshevsky, and Sultan Khan. Men she defeated were said to belong to the Menchik club. When world team championships for women (women’s chess Olympiads) were commenced in 1957 the trophy for the winning team was called the Vera Menchik Cup.”
BCM 1994 Appreciation by Bernard Cafferty
From British Chess Magazine, Volume CXIV (114, 1994), Number 8 (August), page 424 onwards) we have this retrospective from Bernard Cafferty:
Fifty yezus ago the chess world was tragically robbed of its most talented female representative of the first half of this century. A Vl rocket (ed: The V1 was not a rocket but a flying bomb) fell on a house in Gauden Road, Clapham, London, that was the residence of Russian-born Vera Menchik, her younger sister and their mother. The trio were sheltering in the cellar, as they usually did during the Nazi air raids on London. The house was completely destroyed. The air-raid shelter in the garden was all that was left.
Vera Menchik was born in Moscow on 16 February 1906, and died on 26 June 1944. The date of death is usually given as 27 June, but Ken Whyld has seen the death certificate and tells us the tragedy occurred before midnight, not after.
The young Vera grew up in a cosmopolitan family in Moscow, where her Czech father and English mother lived in a six-room flat, which they had to share, after 1917, with families from ‘the lower depths’ (the name of a famous play by Gorky which could also be translated as ‘on Skid Row’). In autumn 1921 the family left Soviet Russia and came
to England where they lived in Hastings.
Botvinnik recalls that he visited the Menchik household in Hastings in 1935, where he met Vera’s grandmother. Then, in 1936, he visited the other house in London, after the Nottingham 1936 tournament. At that time the Soviet Embassy arranged a reception in an attempt to counter the awful image of a country deep in the throes of the show trials and widespread repression. However, only Botvinnik, Menchik, Capablanca and Lasker turned up.
Vera Menchik was taught the moves of chess by her father, Franz, when she was nine years old. However, she only took the game seriously from the age of 17, when she joined the Hastings and St Leonards Chess Club, which at that time had its famous extensive sea-front premises near the pier.
According to the 1957 book in Russian by Bykova, on which this account is largely based, Vera only knew Russian when she cam to England, and one of the reasons for her to join the chess club was that a fluent knowledge of English was not necessary for her to be able to benefit from such a silent activity as chess.
The young Vera was fortunate in that the Hungarian grandmaster, Géza Maróczy, had a professional engagement with the Hastings club at this time, and the young lady became his most famous pupil. Her sound style with no fear of long endgames was a mirror of her mentor. She was also helped by Professor JAJ Drewitt, another Hastings club member, in the study of openings, particularly the closed openings.
Vera was initially counted as a Russian and did not enter the British Women’s Championship at the traditional August BCF Congress. However, she made her debut in international chess at a lower section of the 1923-24 Hastings Congress. In 1925 she beat the leading English player Edith Price by a score of +5 =2 -3 in two private matches. She duly took part in the Hastings Congresses, year after year. In the 1926-27 event she scored her first big success by sharing first place with the young Milner-Barry on 6.5(9) in the Premier Reserves.
By 1927, VM was ready to enter the first Women’s World Championship, which was played at the 4th FIDE Congress, alongside the Olympiad in London. She conceded only one draw in her eleven games and so took the title which she was to retain with ease from that day, when she was just 21, till her death 17 years later. In her first title attempt, she
was counted as a Russian, but at the next five (at the Hamburg 1930, Prague 1931,
Folkestone 1933, Warsaw 1935 and Stockholm 1937 Olympiads) she played as a representative of Czechoslovakia. It was only after her marriage to the prominent English organiser R. H. S. Stevenson in 1937 that she was counted as British and played under the Union Flag in her last title defence at Buenos Aires 1939.
Her dominance can be gauged from the fact that she won all eight games at Prague, all 14 at Folkestone, all 9 at Warsaw, all 14 at Stockholm and conceded just two draws in 19 games in 1939. The most serious challenge came in a title match at Semmering-Baden with Sonja Graf, then of Germany. Here too it was largely one-sided: +9 =5 -2.
She made her debut against male masters in an international tournament at Scarborough in 1928, finishing equal 7-8 in a field of 10, but in only the following year, at the Kent Easter Congress, she had one of her best results.
It was decided to run a Scheveningen tournament at Ramsgate with seven foreign masters pitted against seven home representatives. As was only to be expected, Capablanca came top of the ‘external examiners’, yet the next placing was a sensation: Capablanca 5.5(7) followed by Miss Menchik and Rubinstein 5, Koltanowski and Maroczy 4.5, Soultanbeieff 4 and Znosko-Borovsky 3. Sir George Thomas, whom Menchik beat, scored 3 to head the English team of Yates, Winter, Michel, Tylor and E. G. Sergeant.
Naturally enough, after this it was inevitable that foreign invitations should follow. Later in 1929 the young ‘Russian’ took part in a Paris tournament and then in the great Carlsbad tournament, the last of a wonderful series. Her presence here created some scepticism, and on the eve of the first round the Austrian theoretician Becker suggested that a Vera Menchik club be formed, membership of which would be granted only to those who lost to the lady. According to Flohr, there was an expectation that it would be a small select club, but Becker was quickly proved wrong for he became its first member in the third round! His only consolation was that the club proved far more extensive and democratic as the years rolled by. In fact the club came to include grandmasters such as Euwe (who earned a two-fold qualification) Sultan Khan and Reshevsky as well as masters such as Saemisch, Colle, Golombek, Sir George Thomas, Alexander…
However, Miss Menchik could not make much of the universally strong opposition and made only three points out of 20, finishing last, three points behind Sir George Thomas. With further experience she was to have more impressive results, such as her 8th place at London 1932, won by Alekhine, where she came ahead of Milner-Barry, Sir George, Burger and Winter.
A high spot of the 1930s for Vera was her participation in the 1935 Moscow tournament, but her return to her native city was so taken up with social engagements that she was unable to give of her best, and she scored only one and a half points from 19 games though she did take a draw off the winner of second prize, Flohr.
Vera had to eke out a living from teaching chess, adjudications and simultaneous exhibitions. After her return from Buenos Aires she lived in London. She was appointed administrator of the new National Chess Centre at John Lewis’s store in Oxford Street, which, alas, was destroyed by enemy action in 1940.
Her last great success was a match with the veteran GM, Jacques Mieses who was a refugee from anti-Semitic German. Played in 1942, the result was +4 =5 -1.
In 1943 Vera’s husband died. In 1944 she was playing in the championship of the West London Club, a strong event which included Sir George Thomas, PM List, EG Sergeant and Mieses amongst the players. Doubtless she was looking forward to the resumption of International chess activity after the war. It was not to be. We live in an age when the achievements of women players such as Gaprindashvili, Chirburdanidze, Xie Jun and the Polgar sisters have built on the pioneer work of Vera Menchik. Yet the path of the pioneer is always the hardest.
Finally, by all accounts of contemporaries, Vera was a cultured and sympathetic person who never gave cause for offence amongst the many players she met. Had she lived, she would have continued to be a jewel in the crown of British chess, which had to drag itself up from the boot straps after the devastation of war. What a tragic loss.
She was inducted to the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2011. The Women’s Olympiad trophy is known as the Vera Menchik Cup in her honor. The fifth FIDE Vera Menchik Memorial Tournament was held in 2022.
The Caplin Menchik Memorial ran from Saturday 18th to Sunday 26th June 2022 (games started 14:00 BST) at the MindSports Centre, Dalling Road, London W6 0JD. The format was 10-player all-play-all, one game per day, WIM & WGM norm opportunities were made available.
We remember Harry Golombek OBE who passed away on Saturday, January 7th, 1995.
The Amersham Advertiser of Wednesday, 18th January 1995, on page 6, reported, “His funeral was due to be held as 12.30pm (today), at Chilterns Crematorium, Whielden Lane, Amersham.” (Thanks Steve Mann!).
Harry Golombek was born on Wednesday, March 1st, 1911 in Lambeth, London and his parents were Barnet (Berl) Golombek (Golabek) (1878-1943) and Emma Golombek (née Sendak) (1883-1967).
The Polish word Golabek translates to “small dove” in English.
Barnet was a “Dealer of gas fittings” and was 33 when Harry was born and Emma was 26. Both of his parents were born in Zambov which is in the Lomza Gubernia region of the Kingdom of Poland which existed from 1867 – 1917. Their nationalities are both recorded as Russian in the 1911 UK census. we don’t know (as yet) when Barnet and Emma settled in the UK.
Harry had a brother Abraham (born in 1906) and a sister Rosy born in 1908. The family lived in 200b, Railton Road, Herne Hill. Lambeth.
He is a recorded with a service number of 992915 as being a member of The Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1939 and was discharged as having reached the age limit in 1956 aged 45 and one day.
Harry married his long time nurse, Noel Frances Judkins (1941 – 2011) in January 1988 and they had (born in 1992) one son : Oliver Golombek-Judkins BVSc MRCVS who is a successful Somerset based veterinary surgeon. The marriage was recorded in the district of Kensington & Chelsea.
The date of probate was 22 Mar 1995 and the executor of HGs will was David Anderton OBE.
In 1966 Harry became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Civil division awarded in the 1966 Queen’s Birthday (rather than New Years) Honours list.
The citation read simply :
Harry Golombek. For services to Chess : He was the first UK person to be so honoured.
In 1985 Harry was awarded the long overdue (but Honorary) title of Grandmaster by FIDE.
Harry was in 1974-82 a FIDE Zonal President and from 1978-96 he was the FIDE Permanent Fund Administrator.
Sadly, he never received the Presidents Award for Services to Chess from either the BCF or ECF : maybe a posthumous award is long overdue?
Harry Golombek RIP by Bernard Cafferty
Here (from British Chess Magazine, Volume CXV (115), 1995, Number 2 (February), pp.83-85 is this obituary from Bernard Cafferty :
Harry Golombek OBE (1 iii 1911-7 i 1995), British Champion in 1947, 1949 and 1955, was a grandmaster amongst journalists and book writers, and “Mr Chess” for many of the British public in the decades after the war when his Times column was the main source of up-to-date information on the doings of Botvinnik, Bronstein, Smyslov, Keres, Tal and the other top players.
Harry ran a weekly Saturday column along with daily reports during World Championships, British Championships, Hastings, Paignton …when only The Guardian provided a similar service to the chess community up to 1972. I often recall him grumbling at editorial incisions of his column, which, even so, was more extensive and ‘heavy’ than anything we enjoy now. He loved references to music, the theatre and the arts as a parallel to chess. In fact, he was columnist and correspondent with the paper from 1945 till 1985, and columnist of the Observer 1955-1979. His work at The Times came to an end after he suffered a mild stroke, though he struggled on for a time when, in pre-Wapping days, his work was handicapped by ever earlier deadlines.
Harry was the BCF delegate to FIDE for decades after 1948 and played a part in framing the rules. His view was that the Soviet Union, which he visited as arbiter for Botvinnik’s matches in the 1950s and 1960s as well as for the second part of the 1948 World Championship Match-Tournament, did not throw its weight about so much until after 1970 when a sort of cultural offensive in FIDE and elsewhere was undertaken.
Harry played for England at three Olympiads before the war and six after. Educated at a London grammar school, he was the son of immigrant Polish parents who had been repressed by the last Tsar, to whom his father once sent a message of defiance from the safety of England. A favourite reference of his was the London Boys’ Championship of the late 1920s where he first came to prominence.
His first experience of chess journalism came in the period 1938-40 when he was editor of BCM, till being called to army service. Harry worked in the code-breaking department at Bletchley Park during the war; the Official Secrets Act prohibited him from revealing much of what he knew of this fantastic scientific operation where he was associated with such famous names as Alan Turing, Jack Good, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry. A graduate of London University in Modern Languages, Harry had been called up into the Royal Artillery, but his knowledge of languages, particularly German, meant that he was soon transferred to the Intelligence Corps.
Harry was a life-long supporter of Surrey Cricket Club. His family ran a grocery shop near Kennington Oval which he sold after 1945 when he made the decision to become a chess professional’ He was reputed to have one of the finest chess libraries in Britain, which he has left to the BCF to form the nucleus of a national chess library with bequests from Sir Richard Clarke, RJ Broadbent and GH Diggle.
Amongst the many books he wrote, pride of place must be taken by his work on Capablanca’s best games and the one on the 1948 Match-Tournament at the Hague and Moscow as well as a later book on Reti. Who can forget his account of the delay at the Polish border for the train which was taking players and journalists to Moscow from the Hague in 1948? A Polish general, forgetful of recent history, declared that the train could riot proceed since no-one crossed the Polish frontier without the appropriate documentation and security checks (Euwe’s extensive analytical notebooks in Dutch were the stumbling block). It only needed Botvinnik to hear this for him to phone up Moscow and have the Polish authorities overruled by those who enjoyed real power in the post-war world.
Another famous article which comes to mind is Harry’s long account of the 1967 Sousse Interzonal, complete with the J’adoubovich incident, Fischer’s fickleness, and the camel on the beach. This appeared in the BCM, of course, where H. G. was the editor for Overseas News and the Games Department from the late 1940’s until the late ‘sixties. His work here was a cut above most contemporary chess journalism’ since he was so often on the spot at top events and he had access to all of the world’s chess press. As a consequence, he was often the contact man for arranging participation of the world’s leading players at Hastings. From this flowed his work for The Friends of Chess, the body that raised funds and helped gain invitations to foreign events for our up and comings. It was in 1966 that he gained the OBE for services to chess.
Harry had a dry acerbic wit and a fund of stories that made him a welcome after-dinner speaker and lecturer. He seemed to be a life long bachelor, but he married late in life (this corrects an error in the Times obituary of 9 January. In his declining years he spent his last days in a rest home for the elderly in Gerrards Cross where his main contact with the outside world was Gerry Walsh who had often driven him to and from the Hastings Congress in the last couple of decades of his life.
A Grandmaster Amongst Journalists
Harry Golombek, was, without a doubt, one of the finest chess writers ever, and his lengthy stint as Overseas News editor of the BCM results in some classic reports.
As a tribute to Harry’s work we (BCM) have decided to reprint word for word, his extraordinary account of the 1967 Sousse Interzonal. The article that follows is an exact reproduction of his eyewitness report, as it appears in the 1968 BCM Bound Volume, January magazine. This was the tournament that had everything: Bolbochan vanishing, Fischer withdrawing, Larsen winning, and much more.
We are sure that our current readers, young and old, will be as enchanted with the tale as BCM readers were nearly three decades ago.
Further Recollection from Bernard Cafferty
Here (from British Chess Magazine, Volume CXXXII (132), 2011, Number 3 (March), pp.150-154 is an affectionate collection of memories from Bernard Cafferty :
“In recalling four decades of knowing the GOM of 20th century English chess, one has to stress the ‘English’ aspect. The ‘Harry’ part of his name was much more significant than the Polish surname, and, though he was the most cosmopolitan of men, who fitted into any milieu, my abiding memory of him always throws up the quirks that are the sign of an Englishman. I wonder how many of my readers recall the classic English actors Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford, whose main preoccupation in their films was…. getting to know the latest cricket score from Lords or The Oval.
Indeed, Harry was a long-time member of Surrey Cricket Club, and once, when he came back from being an arbiter at an international tournament in Tenerife, his main comment to me was not about the event or the players, but rather that the volcanic rock of the Atlantic island made for brackish water, so that one could not get…. a decent cup of tea!
I first met Harry in the early 1950s when I was a teenage student keen on chess and accordingly spent my meagre pocket money on a day out in Manchester to watch the Counties Final match between Lancashire and the all-conquering Middlesex side of those years. Harry and I were about the only spectators. He was there reporting for The Times. I recall that the top board game was between the veterans William Winter and WA Fairhurst. The game duly appeared in the BCM with Harry’s notes, for he was the long-serving Games Editor of that august publication.
Perhaps I may enter a belated correction to “Who’s Who” here. Some editions stated that he was editor of BCM after the Second World War. Not so. His stint in the editorial chair was 1938-40, after which he was called up, initially being assigned to the Royal Artillery. Perhaps that is a sign of the speciality of the Services – fitting a square peg in a round hole – but he was swiftly transferred to the Intelligence Corps, perhaps at the behest of Hugh Alexander who knew that Harry had studied German at his London grammar school in Camberwell and then at London University.
Clearly, under the conditions of 1940, a linguist was just what was needed to make up the team of mathematicians, cryptographers and such like who were tasked with breaking the secrecy of German coded messages.
I once mentioned the misunderstanding over the “Who’s Who” entry to Brian Reilly. He laughed it off, saying that it was almost certainly the abiding fault of HG – not taking Brian’s repeated advice to fit a new typewriter ribbon!
I could relate to that since Harry’s handwritten game scores, written in pencil and descriptive notation, were very hard to decipher, a real scribble that only the man himself could make sense of. When I asked him why he did not use algebraic notation, he commented that he wrote for so many English-language outlets: The Times, The Times Weekend Supplement, Observer and chess book publishers like Bells and Penguin who knew their audiences of those years were supporters of the Pawn to King’s Knight Three school. In fact, Harry commented, he had made more money out of his Penguin book The Game of Chess than from all his other extensive book authorship and journalism.
and the paperback version :
Moreover, it took him about three whole days to assemble the documents and papers to enable him to fill in his income tax form.
That reminds me that, when he was in his final years, and in an old person’s rest home, he arranged for his extensive library to be transferred in many large tea chests from his house in Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, to the St Leonards address where I had worked for the BCM for the last 12 years and which had recently been vacated as a result of Murray Chandler deciding to transfer BCM operations to London. I had the task, arranged with The Friends of Chess and the BCF, to do a sort-out and preliminary catalogue of his books and magazines which Harry was bequeathing to the BCF to form the nucleus of a National Chess Library. That would be a pleasant enough task, but it was prolonged into many weeks by having to decant the valuable chess material from the tea chests, much of it covered in dust and even spiders’ webs, from the many financial and other papers to do with his financial affairs. It was then that I first learned what a ‘tip sheet’ was, and it was not until stockbroker David Jarrett, BCF Hon Treasurer, came down for a visit that the dross amongst the many papers was separated from the gold and passed to Harry’s executor David Anderton.
Reverting to the cup of tea story, the first time I got to know Harry well was at the British Championship at Leicester in 1960. Many of the participants were lodged in University accommodation near the venue. Every evening, after play had finished, a number of us got together for a chat over a cup of tea in the accommodation unit’s kitchen. There Harry would regale us with stories from his many visits abroad, particularly to Moscow for the world title matches involving Botvinnik. Harry had formed many interesting views on Soviet society. Amongst the stories he told was of the all-pervasive dead hand of the bureaucracy. He was used to filing his reports on the match in English at the Central Post Office. One day, a clerk behind the grille, told him he could not accept it, since the regulations stated that all outgoing material had to be in Russian.
With his logical mind, and not appreciating the discipline and associated bureaucracy which the rulers tried to impose on Soviet society, Harry commented that “Yesterday, I submitted in English and it was accepted”, at which the clerk drew herself up to her full height and stated firmly: “Yesterday was yesterday, today is today”. Harry’s considered views included these: Communism would never be made to work properly in Russia, since the Russians lack the requisite discipline. “They should have tried it on the Germans. They might have made it work”. He once commented that when he went to Germany in the decade or so after the war, he was aware that some of those whom he met had been strong supporters of Nazism: “If they had had their way, they would have turned me into a bar of soap!”. I got a benefit from Harry being in Moscow. I wanted to get a copy of Chigorin’s collected games by Grekov, a very rare item. Harry duly promised to seek one out on his next visit to Moscow and a second-hand copy of this fine book came to me through the post some weeks later. No charge to me, of course.
Harry played a big role in drawing up the Rules of Chess as they applied to post-1945 competitive play. He served on the appropriate FIDE commission for decades and always argued that too precise a codification limited the discretion of the arbiter to apply a common sense solution to a concrete set of circumstances. Alas, that sensible approach has been moved away from in recent times, especially with the introduction of quick-play finishes and associated fine points about time limits.
A final shrewd comment from Harry, based on his Moscow experience: “In 1917, the new Bolshevik regime claimed that they were abolishing all titles, privilege and so on. The result? Forty years later they have the most class-conscious society I have encountered.” One proof of this might be given – the Soviet internal passport system, one point of which required the holder (and for a long time no peasant was allowed such an identity document – who, then, could claim that the Tsar had abolished serfdom in the middle of the 19th century?) to state his/her ethnic origin: Russian, Ukrainian, Kalmyk, Armenian, Jew and so on. The Western mind boggles… ”
We leave the final word in reminiscences of Golombek to his near-neighbour in Chalfont St Giles, Barry Sandercock :
” Harry was a very interesting man to talk to and liked to talk about the early days when he played against some of the great players. He was also very knowledgeable on many subjects, the arts, music etc. I played him when he gave a simul at Gerrards Cross in 1955 (Jan.21st} and managed a draw after 3 hours play. I remember, the local paper once wrote an article about him, calling him an ex-world champion. I got a letter published where I pointed out that he was an ex-British Champion not ex-world champion. I hope he didn’t see that!”
“To finish, a characteristic Golombek game, with his own notes. I (Ed) have selected one of the games from his victorious British Championship playoff match against Broadbent in 1947. It is characteristic of him in many ways. The game features a typically smooth positional build-up, from his beloved English Opening, played with the Nh3 development plan, which was a particular favourite of his. The notes are also very typically Golombek – concentrating in the main on verbal explanations, with relatively few variations, but also characterised by occasionally extreme dogmatism in his assessments, such as the notes to moves 1, 2 and 6, for example. The game and notes were published in the December 1947 issue of The British Chess Magazine.”
From The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match by Klein and Winter :
“Harry Golombek is a Londoner, He was born in 1911, and learned chess when twelve years of age. He is another of those who went through the mill of the British Boys’ Championship, winning it in 1926. He has played in most English international tournaments, and has represented Great Britain in team tournaments. In the London International Tournament, 1946, he came fifth.
A graduate of London University, he served in the Foreign Office during the war, but has since retired to the country (Chalfont St. Giles). His literary activities include 50 Great Games of Modern Chess
Legend, according to James Pratt, has it that HG wrote the book without the aid of a chess set!
and Capablanca’s Hundred Best Games.
He reports chess tournaments for The Times, and edits The Times Weekly chess column.
His chess is perhaps not inspired and lacks the spark of enterprise, but he is a solid player on the whole and is apt to hold the best to a draw.”
Here is HGs entry from Hooper & Whyld (The Oxford Companion to CHESS) :
“English player and author. International Master (1950), International Arbiter (1954), honorary Grandmaster (1985). In 1945 Golombek became chess correspondent of The Times, a position he held until 1989. Also in 1945 he decided to become a professional chess-player.
He won the British Championship three times (1947, 1949, 1955) and was equal first in 1959 but lost the play-off (to Jonathan Penrose) and played in nine Olympiads from 1935 to 1962. An experienced arbiter and a good linguist, supervisor of many important tournaments and matches, he served for 30 years on the FIDE Commission that makes, amends, and arbitrates upon The laws and rules of chess.
His many books include Capablanca’s Hundred Best Games (1947),
The World Chess Championship 1948 (1949),
Réti’s Best Games of Chess (1954),
and A History of Chess (1976).”
Golombek accurate but unforceful
H. Golombek, the Present Chess Correspondent of The Times is in every way a contrast to Alexander. His forte is accurate positional play which brings him many good victories against the ordinary rank and file but rarely yields better than a draw against the very best. The grand master needs more than accuracy to shake his equanimity.
Golombek has a wide theoretical knowledge and seems equally at home in every type of opening, though his preference is for the close variety. He is a fine analyst and has
written a number of very interesting books of which I must make special mention of The World Chess Championship 1948. During a sojourn in hospital I worked my hardest to flnd flaws in the annotations to this work, but quite without success.
He is Games Editor of the British Chess Magazine and has considerably enhanced the reputation of that journal. Very popular abroad, he was asked to officiate as judge at the world championship match in Moscow between Botvinnik and Smyslov. Although as far as settling disputes is concerned the job was, I understand, a sinecure, the appointment was a high honour both to Golombek himself and to the country he represents.
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Robert Hale 1970 & 1976), Anne Sunnucks :
“International Master and International Chess Judge. British Champion in 1947, 1949 and 1955. Captained the British Chess Federation team for many years in Chess Olympiads. In the 1972 Olympiad, captained the BCF women’s team. Chess author and chess correspondent of The Times since 1945 and the Observer since 1955. British Chess Federation to FIDE.
Born in London on 1st March 1911, Golombek learned to play chess at the age of 12 and in 1929 won the London Boy’s Championship. Two years later he became the youngest player to win the Surrey Championships. After graduating in languages at London University, Golombek devoted his full time to chess, apart from the way years, when served in the army and at the Foreign Office, and was awarded the OBE for his services to the game in 1966. He was the editor of the British Chess Magazine from 1938 to 1939 and for many years served as its games editor. He is now its overseas news editor. In his capacity as International Chess Judge, he has acted as judge in World Championship matches since 1954.
He has competed in a number of international tournaments, his best results being 1st at Antwerp 1938, 1st at Leeuwarden 1947, 1st at Baarn 1948 and -4th with Barcza, Foltys and Gliogoric at Venice 1949. in 1951, he represented the British Chess Federation in the Zonal tournament at Bad Pyrmont and came 5th, qualifying for the Interzonal. ”
His publications include : Capablanca’s 100 Best Games of Chess (1947); World Chess Championship 1948 (1949); Pocket Guide to the Chess Openings (1949);
50 Great Games of Modern Chess (1952); Reti’s Best Games of Chess (1954); 22nd USSR Championship (1956);
World Chess Championship 1957 (1957); Modern Opening Chess Strategy (1959);
and a translation of The Art of the Middle Game by P. Keres and A. Kotov.
He enjoys classical music and has been known to be successful on the Stock Exchange.”
A reasonable enquiry might be : “What did Harry write about himself?” Well, according to
The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977)
we have :
“British international master, three times British champion and the first person to figure in that country’s Honours List on account of his services to chess. Golombek was born in London and lived there till the Second World War. Educated as Wilson’s Grammar School and the University of London, he became London Boy Champion in 1929 and London University Champion 1930-3. By this time he was part of a trio of the leading players in England, the other two being Alexander and Milner-Barry. (Ed : It is curious that HG does not mention William Winter : maybe they were not like minded souls?)
His best result in the British championship before the Second World War was -2nd with EG Sergeant, 1/2 a point below Alexander at Brighton 1938. In that year he won first prize in a small international tournament at Antwerp ahead of Koltanowski. In 1938 too he became editor of the British Chess Magazine and occupied this post till he entered the army in 1940.
Before the war he had already played in three International Team Tournaments (or Olympiads as they subsequently became called) at Warsaw 1935, Stockholm 1937 and Buenos Aires 1939.
After the Buenos Aires event he went onto play in an international tournament at Montevideo where he came second to the World Champion, Alexander Alekhine.
In the war he served first in the Royal Artillery, from 1940-1 and then, for the rest of the war, in the Foreign Office at Bletchley Park, employed (like Alexander, Milner-Barry and quite a number of other chess-players) in code breaking.
After the war he made chess and writing about the game his livelihood, becoming Times Chess Correspondent in 1945 and Observer Chess Correspondent in 1955. As a player he had a consistently good record in the British Championship, coming in the prize list on fourteen out of eighteen occasions he competed in the event. He was British Champion at Harrogate 1947, Felixstowe 1949 and Aberystwyth 1955.
Here is HGs win against his old friend PS Milner-Barry from Aberystwyth 1955 :
He represented England in six more Olympiads, Helsinki 1952, Amsterdam 1954, Moscow 1956, Munich 1958, Leipzig 1960 and Varna 1962.
His best individual international results were first prizes at small tournaments in Leeuwarden 1947, Baarn 1948 and Paignton 1950 (above Euwe and Donner); =4th with O’Kelly at Beverwijk 1949, =4th with Barcza, Foltys and Gligoric at Venice 1949, and 5th at the European Zonal tournament at Bad Pyrmont 1951, thereby becoming the first British player to have qualified for the Interzonal. He was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s Birthday List in 1966.
A founding member of the FIDE Commission for the Rules of Chess, he became a FIDE International Judge and as such officiated at six World Championship matches. He was also chief arbiter at a FIDE Candidates tournament, at an Interzonal and two European Team Championship finals, etc. When the FIDE President, Dr Euwe, had to return home from Reykjavik before the 1972 Spassky-Fischer match got started. Golombek represented FIDE in Iceland and did much to ensure that the match took place and that it continued to be played.
Harry gave more than the average number of simultaneous displays in this career. For the photograph below Leonard Barden provided the following caption :
“Harry was invited because it was the 50th anniversary of his victory in the London Boys 1929 a success which he often referred to in his Times column. There were seven 30-board simuls that day, the top three being England Juniors v USSR (Spassky, Vasyukov, Kochiev) where Spassky had the worst simultaneous result of his career. No 4 was by Murray Chandler, Harry was No5 and the others by Whiteley and Rumens. The juniors who played the Russians were personally invited.”
A prolific writer and translator of books on the game, he has had some thirty-five books published on various aspects of chess. Among them are : Capablanca’s Best Games of Chess, London, New York 1947; Reti’s Best Games of Chess, London 1954; New York 1975; The Game of Chess, London 1954; Modern Opening Chess Strategy, London 1959; A History of Chess, London, New York 1976.“
From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983), Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson, we have this rather brief biography :
“Thee times British Champion (Harrogate 1947, Felixstowe 1949, Aberystwyth 1955) and the first person to figure on the Honours List for services to Chess. He has represented England in 9 Olympiads. A FIDE International Judge and Arbiter has has officiated at 6 World Championship matches. He is chess correspondent of The Times and a prolific writer and translator”
Kevin became a FIDE Master in 2006 and his peak rating (according to Felice) was 2360 in July 1993 at the age of 44.
Kevin became a FIDE International Arbiter (IA) in 1998. He was the FIDE Delegate for the Republic of Ireland and was Honorary Chairman and Secretary of the FIDE Chess in Education Commission (EDU) having retired from the roles in the last couple of years. He is also a FIDE Senior Trainer.
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.
and in the Centre Counter or Scandinavian Defence we have the Mieses Variation:
and finally, also in the Centre Counter or Scandinavian Defence we have the Mieses Gambit:
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 focus on the British Chess Scene Past & Present !
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.