Remembering Joseph Blackburne (10-xii-1841 01-ix-1924)
The following (excerpts of) information were obtained via ancestry.co.uk :
Joseph Henry Blackburne was born on Friday, December 10th, 1841 in Chorlton, Manchester. His father was Joseph Blackburn (aged 23) and his mother was Ann Pritchard (aged 24). He had eight sons and five daughters.
His brother Frederick Pritchard Blackburn died on 11 October 1847 in Lancashire, Lancashire, when Joseph Henry was 5 years old.
His sister Clara was born on 4 November 1847 in Street, Lancashire, when Joseph Henry was 5 years old.
His half-sister Clara was born in 1848 in Manchester, Lancashire, when Joseph Henry was 7 years old.
His mother Ann passed away on 26 November 1857 in Manchester, Lancashire, at the age of 40.
His half-brother William Thomas was born on 17 June 1865 when Joseph Henry was 23 years old.
Joseph Henry Blackburne married Eleanor Driscoll on 10 December 1865 when he was 24 years old.
Joseph Henry Blackburne married Beatrice Lapham on 3 October 1876 when he was 34 years old.
His wife Beatrice passed away in January 1880 in St Olave Southwark, London, at the age of 26. They had been married 3 years.
Joseph Henry Blackburne married Mary Jane FOX in St Olave Southwark, London, on 16 December 1880 when he was 39 years old.
Joseph Henry Blackburne lived in Everton, Lancashire, in 1891.
According to Edward Winter in Chess Notes JHB lived at the following addresses :
16 Lucey Road, London SE, England (The Chess Amateur, October 1924, page 32 (address in 1879) and the 1881 British census (C.N. 4756)*).
116 Barkworth Road, Camberwell, London, England (1891 British census (C.N. 4756)*).
7 Whitbread Road, Lewisham, London, England (1901 British census (C.N. 4756)*).
45 Sandrock Road, Lewisham, London SE, England (Ranneforths Schach-Kalender, 1915, page 56, and Hastings Chess Club address list, 1922*).
According to chessgames.com :
“Joseph Henry Blackburne was born in Chorlton, Manchester. He came to be known as “The Black Death”. He enjoyed a great deal of success giving blindfold and simultaneous exhibitions. Tournament highlights include first place with Wilhelm Steinitz at Vienna 1873, first at London 1876, and first at Berlin 1881 ahead of Johannes Zukertort. In matchplay he lost twice to Steinitz and once to Emanuel Lasker. He fared a little better with Zukertort (Blackburne – Zukertort (1881)) and Isidor Gunsberg, by splitting a pair of matches, and defeating Francis Joseph Lee, ( Blackburne – Lee (1890) ). One of the last successes of his career was at the age of 72, when he tied for first place with Fred Dewhirst Yates at the 1914 British Championship.
In his later years, a subscription by British chess players provided an annuity of £100 (approx £4,000 in 2015 value), and a gift of £250 on his 80th birthday.”
In 1923 he suffered a stroke, and the next year he died of a heart attack.”
From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 1984) by Hooper and Whyld :
“For more than 20 years one of the first six players in the world and for even longer the leading English born player. Draughts was the most popular indoor game in his home town, Manchester; he learned this game as a child and became expert in his youth.
He was about 18 when, inspired by Morphy’s exploits, he learned the moves of chess. In July 1861 he lost all live games of a match against the Manchester chess club champion Edward Pindar, but he improved so rapidly that he defeated Pindar three months later (-1-5=2—1), and in 1862 he became champion of the club ahead of Pindar and
Horwitz. Instructed by Horwitz, Blackburne became one of the leading endgame players of his time; and wishing to emulate the feats of L. Paulsen, who visited the club in November 1861, he developed exceptional skill at blindfold chess. He spent most of the 1860s developing his chess and toying with various occupations. After winning
the British championship, 1868-9, ahead of de vere, he became a full-time professional player.
Blackburne achieved excellent results in many tournaments: Baden-Baden 1870, third equal with Neumann after Anderssen and Steinitz; London 1872, second (+5-2) after Steinitz ahead of Zukertort; Vienna 1873, second to Steinitz after a play-off; Paris 1878, third after Winawer and Zukertort: Wiesbaden 1880, first equal with Englisch and Schwarz; Berlin 1881, first (+13=2 — 1), three points ahead of Zukertort, the second prize winner (Blackburne’s greatest achievement); London 1883, third after Zukertort and Steinitz; Hamburg 1885, second equal with Englisch, Mason, Tarrasch, and Weiss half a point after Gunsberg; Frankfurt 1887, second equal with Weiss after Mackenzie; Manchester 1890, second after Tarrasch; Belfast 1892, first equal with Mason; London 1892, second ( + 6-2) after Lasker; London 1893, first ( + 2=3). He was in the British team in 11 of the Anglo-American cable matches, meeting Pillsbury on first board six times (+2-3 — 1), and he continued to play internationally until he was 72, long enough to meet the pioneer of the hypermodern movement Nimzowitsch, whom he defeated at St Petersburg 1914.
Blackburne had remarkable combinative powers and is remembered for his swingeing king’s side attacks, often well prepared but occasionally consisting of an ingenious swindle that would deceive even the greatest all his contemporaries. The tournament book of Vienna 1873 refers to him as ‘der schrwarze Tod [Black death] der Schachspieler’, a nickname that became popular. His unflappable temperament also earned him the soubriquet “the man with the iron nerves’. Even so, neither his temperament nor his style was suited to set matches, in which he was rarely successful against world-class players. He had other chess talents: a problem composer, he was also a fast solver, allegedly capable of outpacing the great Sam Loyd. Blackburne earned his livelihood by means of simultaneous displays, for this purpose touring Britain twice-yearly, with a few breaks, for more than 50 years.
Before this time such displays were solemn affairs; Lowenthal, who would appear in formal dress and play for several hours in silence, was shocked when Blackburne turned up in ordinary clothes, chatting and making jokes as he played, and refreshing him self with whisky, (Blackburne confessed, however, that when fully absorbed in a game he never noticed whether he was drinking water instead,) Once, walking round the boards, he drained his opponent’s glass, saying when rebuked He left it en prise and I took it en passant’ He played his blindfold displays quickly, and with little sign of the stress that besets most blindfold players. Probably the leading blindfold expert of his time, he challenged Zukertort, a close rival in this field, to a match of ten games, played simultaneously, both players blindfold; but Zukertort declined. Many who knew and liked Blackburne subscribed to a fund which sustained him in his last years.
P. A. Graham, Mr Blackburne’s Games at Chess (1899) contains 407 games annotated by Blackburne and 28 three-movers composed by him.
A reprint, styled Blackburne*s Chess Games (1979), has a new introduction and two more games.
Here follows a reproduction of an article from British Chess Magazine, Volume LXXX1 (1961), Number 12 (December), page 340-342 written by RN Coles entitled “Early Days of a Great Master” :
Many juniors and beginners will know the Blackburne Shilling Gambit (or Kostić Gambit) in some circles known as the ‘Oh My God’ :
There are variations named after Blackburne as follows :
The Blackburne Attack in the Four Knights is
and the Blackburne Variation of the Dutch defence is
and a popular line in the Queen’s Gambit
are attributed to Blackburne in the literature.
According to The Encyclopedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977) by Harry Golombek :
“British grandmaster and highly successful tournament player who was one of the most prominent masters of the nineteenth century. He did not learn to play chess until the age of nineteen, but his natural gifts soon brought him into the front rank of British players, and in 1868 he abandoned his business interests and adopted chess as a profession.
Blackburne’s international tournament career spans an impressive fifty-two years from London 1862 to St. Petersburg 1914 – a total of 53 events in which he played 814 games, scoring over 62%. Although he rarely won international events, he generally finished in the top half of the table and his fierce competitive spirit coupled with his great combinative ability earned the pleasant nickname of ‘the Black Death’.
His most notable successes were =1st with Steinitz at Vienna 1873 (Blackburne lost the play-off match), 1st at Berlin 1881 ahead of Paulsen, Schallopp, Chigorin, Winawer and Zukertort, and 2nd to Tarrasch at Manchester 1890.
Blackburne won the BCA Championship in 1868 and for many years was ranked as Britain’s foremost player. In 1914 – at the age of 72 – he shared first place at the BCF congress in Chester.
In match play his success was mixed. He defeated Bird in 1888 (+4-1) and Gunsberg in 1881 (+7-4=3) but lost a second match to Gunsberg in 1886 (+2-5=6). He lost to Lasker (+0-6=4) in 1892 and was defeated heavily twice by Steinitz : in 1862/3 (+1-7=2) and in 1876 (+0-7=0), the latter of these matches being for the World Championship.
Blackburne excelled at blindfold play and in simultaneous exhibitions, which provided a major portion of his income. He died in Lewisham, a much respected veteran of eighty-three.”
BCN wishes a happy birthday to Peter Markland born on Friday, April 13th, 1951
From the rear cover of “Sicilian:…e5 :
“P.R. Markland is a British Master, and a member of many English international teams, including those at the 1972 and 1974 Olympiads, and is also a British correspondence international”
Peter first qualified to the British Championship in 1967 (Oxford) and obtained an IM and GM norm at Hastings 1971.
In 1984 he became a Grandmaster for correspondence chess (GMC).
Peter became a banker and lives in Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP13.
From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983) we have this contribution from Peter himself:
“1951 seems to have been a vintage year for chessplayers and although I cannot claim to count myself in the company of Andersson, Karpov, Ribli and Sax we do all share the same year of birth.
Although I learned the moves at the age of 5, I only took any real interest in the game at 13 when I began to play schools chess. Compared with such as Nigel Short I was a very late starter!
I was educated at Bolton School and played for Bolton and Lancashire in my early years. This was fortunate in that all three of these teams enjoyed great success in the late 1960s. In all three teams I played along side Martyn Corden who was to precede my rise to international level himself by playing in the Siegen Olympiad team in 1970. In 1967, I qualified for the British Championship at my first attempt and I was pleased to score 5/11. The following year the school team won The Sunday Times tournament playing without Martyn Corden in the finals.
Up to this time I had concentrated chiefly on junior teams and had won the NCCU junior titles. Over Christmas and New Year of both 1966-7 and 1967-8 I travelled down to play at the Devon Junior Congress at Plymouth but in 1968 I decided to try my luck at Hastings. This proved to be one of the turning points of my career.
I was placed in the Challengers Reserves for 1968-9 and after the first round loss (to the eventual winner) my play gained momentum and I qualified for the Challengers the following year. The intervening year passed quietly with a trip to Ireland in the Glorney Cup. I went up to Balliol College, Oxford in October 1969.
The Hastings Challengers tournament 1969-70 began when I met the same opponent as in the previous year in the first round. This time I managed to come out on top. By the time the last round came, I had played most of the leaders and had 6/8 including two pleasing wins with my favourite defence at the time – the Sicilian Pelikan variation.
In the last round I was paired against de Veauce who had a reputation as a good strategist and whom I hoped to unsettle tactically. I had white and my plan failed. He outplayed me in the opening and middlegame and I sacrificed my isolated centre pawn to activate my pieces.
So I then had to wait had to wait to see the other results before I could confirm a somewhat lucky place in the Premier.
In 1970 I had the opportunity to travel with the student team to the Olympiad in Haifa. My score of 5.5/7 was reasonably pleasing but the standard of opposition was far from good.
At the end of the year came the Hastings Premier – a tournament which I can only describe as the highlight of my career. I began nervously and lost a nondescript game to Uhlmann in the first round. My confidence grew with two comfortable draws with Portisch (the eventual winner) and Keene. In round four I met the surprise leader, Mestrovic (who had 3/3) and perhaps partly due to the fact that this game was played on 1st January I won convincingly in 18 moves.
The next four rounds brought an uneventful draw with Wade and three exciting encounters with Byrne, Krogius and Gligoric all of which after several reversals of fortune ended in draws.
In the last round I was to play Hort who needed to to win to gain a share of first prize. He played a horribly passive opening and by move 14 I was already well on top. To try to compensate he snatched a queenside pawn and gave me the chance to play the type of move one can only dream about!
This victory meant an equal second on 5/9 with Gligoric, Hort, Krogius and Uhlmann and both a GM and IM norm.
As a result of this I became a regular member of the England side. During 1971 my results were erratic, possibly caused by too much play. I was pleased with my 3.5 score in my first Clare Benedict, although I lost my first game for England due to nervousness and I was first equal with George Botterill in the Slater Young Masters at Hastings (again). Here I declined a last round draw offer, blundered almost next move and lost to an up-and-coming junior by the name of Michael Stean! On the debit side my performances in the British Championship, The Oxford International Congress and the Robert Silk tournament left room for improvement.
Whilst playing with Bolton in the National Club Championship, we had never won the competition although we had reached the semi-finals many times. This year, 1971, playing for Oxford University, we won the tournament beating our old rivals Cambridge University in the final on board count.
The Hastings tournament of 1971-72 saw me firmly entrenched near the bottom. It is very difficult in this type of international tournament when one becomes marked as an out-of-form player. All the other players make extra efforts to beat you and this drains your strength further.
My main problem at Hastings was a lack of defence to 1.e4. I lost five games against this move. In the last round I had a very interesting struggle against Karpov who needed to win this game to tie first with Korchnoi who had beaten him in the previous round, but the strength of 1.e4 proved too much.
The summer of 1972 saw the advent of my University finals and thus I played very little for the first six months of the year – even I had to decline an invitation to the Teeside GM event. Later in the year I played in the student Olympiad in Graz and then in the Olympiad is Skopje.
In the preliminaries we had drawn Yugoslavia and Switzerland, who were the only other teams likely to qualify for the ‘A’ final. We missed qualification narrowly and I think that every team member had one poor result in the qualifying rounds – mine being a scraped draw against a Syrian team.
We won the ‘B’ final by beating the Israeli team in the last round and I felt pleased by my score of 11.5/16 with no losses. Indeed, in my last round game with Balshan I was quite rightly instructed to agree a draw in a winning position to secure the team’s first place.
I feel that this tournament from my point of view aptly demonstrates the difference in title norms in the early 1970s and today. I played five players who had no Elo ratings and only four titled players. Hence an IM norm would not have been available under any circumstances. The main reason for the lack of Elo ratings in 1972 was that the new system had only just been introduced and for many players this was their first Elo-rated tournament. In the last Elo list, all but one of the sixteen players are rated, there are now four GMs and five IMs amongst my opponents and the norm figures would be 10.5/16 and 12.5/16 for IM and GM respectively.
Here is my best game from the Olympiad. It is indicative of an early combination prevailing through into a winning ending.
In 1973 I was once more plagued by too many invitations and played indifferently throughput the year. The only bright spots were my score of 3/7 on boards 3 and 4 of the European Team Finals and second place in the Woolacombe International.
1974 was once again an Olympiad year. The England team won the Clare Benedict for the first time in Menorca and I was able to contribute 5/6 winning both a board prize and the best score prize. I was drafted into the Olympiad team as a late replacement and although we qualified easily enough for the ‘A’ finals this was in no way due to my efforts as I had a 50% score in the preliminaries.
We had qualified for the ‘A’ final with one round to spare and our last group match against the USE (from which the score was to be carried forward) began the final matches. It had been decided, as a tactical measure and in our view of our differing styles, that I should take black whenever we had this colour on the fourth board, so that Whiteley and Stean could utilize a greater proportion of whites. This worked to a limited extent and indeed, Stean obtained an IM Norm. Also, as it worked out I played in matches against seven of the top eight teams (being rested against Yugoslavia) and only three teams below us. In the end, I was pleased with my +3 =1 -4 with black in the finals to give overall a 50& score.
During 1973 and 1974 I was co-author of two books in the Batsford opening series, both with Tim Harding on Sicilian Defence variations.
I also wrote a best game collection of Karpov which was by far the most interesting of the three books to write.
At about this time, I decided to embark upon a career in banking and to abandon that of a professional chessplayer. Since then I have concentrated on correspondence chess.
Having received master certificate, I entered a European and World tournament in both of which I finished first. The second of these two results qualified me for the world Championship Semi-finals. But first attempt in the eleventh championship ended in failure to qualify.
As a result of an invitation received by the BPCF I played in the Eino Heilimo Memorial Grandmaster event. I have , however, qualified as a postal IM by scoring the required seven points and had an outside chance of trying for first place at one stage.
BCN remembers Sir Stuart Milner-Barry KCVO CB OBE who passed away on Saturday, March 25th, 1995 in Lewisham Hospital, London aged 88. He was laid to rest in the Great Shelford Cemetery, Cambridge Road, Great Shelford, Cambridge CB22 5JJ.
A memorial service was held for him at Westminster Abbey on 15 June 1995.
Philip Stuart Milner-Barry was born on Thursday, September 20th 1906 in Mill Hill in the London Borough of Barnet. Mill Hill falls under the Hendon Parliamentary constituency.
His parents were Lieutenant-Commander Edward Leopold (1867-1917) and Edith Mary Milner-Barry (born 17th May 1866, died 1949, née Besant). Edward was in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, H.M.S. “Wallington.” Prior to his war service his father was a professor of modern languages at the University of Bangor and Edith was the daughter of Dr. William Henry Besant, a renowned mathematical fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge University.
Stuart was the second born of six children, There was an older sister Alda Mary (18th August 1893-1938) and four brothers Edward William Besant (?-1911) , Walter Leopold (1904-1982), John O’Brien (4 December 1898 – 28 February 1954) and Patrick James . Many of the Milner-Barry family were laid to rest in the Great Shelford churchyard.
Stuart learned chess at the age of eight and his autobiographical article below goes into more depth.
He was educated at Cheltenham College, and won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he obtained firsts in classics and moral sciences.
On leaving Cambridge in 1927 he went to work at the London Stock Exchange (LSE).
According to the 1928 and 1929 electoral rolls he was living with his mother Edith and his brothers Walter and John O’Brien at 50 De Freville Avenue, Cambridge CB4 1HT:
In 1931 the family had relocated to 11, Park Terrace, Cambridge which is nearby to Emmanuel College. Now living with the family was brother Patrick James.
He discovered that he did not enjoy his LSE work and switched careers to became chess correspondent of The Times in 1938.
At the time (September 29th) of the 1939 register he (aged 33) was living as a journalist in a household of three with his mother Edith who carried out “unpaid domestic duties” and sister Alda who was of “private means”.
In 1946 Stuart was awarded the OBE from the Civil Division in the New Years Honours . The citation reads that was “employed in a Department of the Foreign Office”. A modern translation of this was he was engaged in Top Secret work at Bletchley Park alongside Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman and Hugh Alexander and was thus honoured for his war work. More on this later…
After the war he worked in the Treasury, and later in 1966 administered the British honours system where he helped to facilitate the award of honours to other chess players ultimately retiring in 1977.
As well as the OBE he was made Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1962 and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCV0) in 1975.
A conference room was named after him at the Civil Service Club, 13 – 15 Great Scotland Yard, London SW1A 2HJ.
Peter Hennessy* and The Rewarding Career of Sir Stuart Milner-Barry
*Peter Hennessy is a renowned historian and journalist. The following was originally published in The Times in 1977 following PSMBs retirement.
“Few careers can have been as varied and rewarding as that of Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, who retires today as Ceremonial Officer to the Civil Service Department and custodian of the British honours system.
Into the 48 years since he left Cambridge with a degrees in classics and moral sciences, he has crammed spells as a stockbroker, chess correspondent of The Times and member of the British chess team, a wartime codebreaker for MI6 and a senior Treasury official before taking over administration of the nations “gongs and bongs ” nearly 11 years ago.
The richness of Sir Stuart’s progression is all the more striking given the difficulty he experienced in finding a job at all after university because of the Wall Street crash in 1929. His first 10 years spanned the slump of the 1930s, when there was little for a stockbroker to do, but fill his days reading The Times.
In 1938 he joined the paper full time as chess correspondent and, along with many of the world’s leading players, he was nearly trapped in Buenos Aires when war broke out the next year (ed. should be month rather than year). Catching the first ship home, he finished up with that brilliant collection of dons, antique dealers, mathematicians and chess players billeted in Nissen huts in the park of Buckinghamshire country house, who broke the code transmitted by the German Enigma machine.
Sir Stuart eventually rose to lead hut six, which broke the most secret messages of the Luftwaffe. Quartered in a comfortable Bletchley public house with another formidable chess player, C. H. O’D. Alexander, and Gordon Welchman, the Cambridge mathematician, he acquired a taste for rum, the only alcohol in plentiful supply for some reason, and a sense of guilt about enjoying, his stimulating, important job, safe while other men faced the bullets.
He was not tempted to stay on in the arcane world of code-breaking after the war, unlike his friend, the late Hugh Alexander, as he regards such activities in peacetime as akin to reading somebody’s private correspondence, though he recognizes the necessity of such efforts for intelligence work. Instead, he took the reconstruction competition for the administrative class of the Civil Service and entered the Treasury.
While battling with the post-war dollar shortage in Treasury Chambers he “found a wife, carried her off and lived happily ever after”, as he cheerfully puts it. Apart from a spell as establishment officer to the Ministry of Health, he stayed at the Treasury until he reached the normal retiring age of 60 in 1966.
Lord Helsby, then Head of the Home Civil Service, asked him to stay on and take over the smooth machine that underpins the honours system, which had been built up over many years by Sir Robert Knox. Sir Stuart has loved every minute of it.
He looks every inch the part, a tall stately man of immense natural dignity, he is the incarnation of propriety. The stresses to which the honours system has been subjected to in recent years must have caused him great distress but he is far too proper a civil servant to talk about it. His retirement at 70 has nothing to do with the alarums and excursions stimulated by the honours lists associated with Harold Wilson.
“One of my principal jobs has been the protection of the system”, he says. “The pleasures are very great. It’s fascinating in itself. You see so much of the history of people in every walk of like”.
Sir Stuart waxes eloquent about the beauty and uniqueness of the British honours system. He is a confirmed monarchist, so the spontaneity of the jubilee celebrations provides the perfect backcloth for his departure. He is succeeded by Mr. Richard Sharp, an under-secretary at the Treasury.”
Below is the original article:
Marriage to Thelma
In the third quarter of 1947 Stuart married Thelma Tennant Wells in Westminster. A consequence of the “rules of the day” of the marriage was that Thelma had to resign her post in the Treasury immediately. (Ed: this somewhat antiquated view of life was finally corrected in 1972 when the Civil Service dispensed with this rule).
Lady Thelma was to support Stuart in his chess activities for their married life. She also served as the first UK Director of Women’s Chess and made many lasting friendships in the chess world. She was buried together with Stuart in 2007. Stuart himself was President of the British Chess Federation between 1970 and 1973 as well as being Director of International Chess following his presidency.
Stuart and Thelma had three children, one son and two daughters: Philip O. (born 1953), Jane E (born 1950) and Alda M (born 1958).
Stuart was knighted on January 1st 1975 for his role as the “Ceremonial Officer of Civil Service Department” between 1966-77. Technically the knighthood is known as a KCVO.
He first competed in the British Championship in 1931 and made regular appearences as late as 1978: a span of 47 years!
In their retirement years Stuart and Thelma lived at the salubrious location of 43 Blackheath Park, Blackheath, London SE3 9RW.
In June of 1933 at the age of 27 Stuart wrote an autobiographical piece for British Chess Magazine to be found in Volume LIII (53, 1933), Number 6 (June), pp. 241-2 as follows:
Champion of the City of London Chess Club
I learned chess at the age of eight and played regularly after that with members of my family. My first-class practise (with due respect to my family) began at fourteen, when Mr. Bertram Goulding Brown and started a series of serious friendly games which has continued ever since, almost without interruption. The vast majority of these games were begun with 1 P-K4, P-K4, and as we both eschewed the Lopez and the Four Knights, we have acquired a fairly extensive knowledge of the older forms of the King’s side openings – King’s Gambit (all sorts), Vienna, Guioco Piano, Evans’s Gambit, Danish Gambit, Bishop’s Opening, etc. These games have undoubtedly born the most important influence in my development, apart from which the serious friendly game is to me much the most enjoyable form of chess. We each have runs of success, and there has never been much to choose between us.
(An aside : Stuart wrote a extensive obituary of Bertram Goulding Brown which appeared in British Chess Magazine, Volume LXXXV (85, 1965), Number 12(December) pp.344-45 in which he noted:
B. Goulding Brown was my oldest and closest Cambridge friend, I started playing with him in 1920, and we have played ever since, though, alas, not nearly so often since the War as in the 1920s and 1930. Our last games, when he was eighty three, were played about a year ago in the same book-congested upstairs study at Brookside as all the others had been. Both were cut-and-thrust draws: a Kieseritzky Gambit from myself and Two Knights’ (with 4.P-Q4 for White) were typical of the openings we adopted. We were planning another this Autumn, but he died suddenly and peacefully at the end of August, )
I have also been very fortunate in playing a good deal with C.H.O’D. Alexander. Our games have taken the form of a series of short matches (first player to win three games) played with clocks. Alexander was already stronger than me when he came up to Cambridge, and he won the University Championship from me in his first year and my fourth.
All three matches have been won by him, the first easily and the last two by the narrowest possible margin; a fourth now in progress looks like coming to an early and ignominious conclusion (Score 0-2-2). These results have neither surprised nor disappointed me : I would not back any player in England to do better.
In 1923 I won the first Boy’s Championship at Hastings, but lost badly the following year (ed. Alexander won).
Since then I have competed twice at Hastings, once tieing with Miss Menchik in the Major Reserve for the first place and once for the last, in the Major. In between I played in the Major Open at Tenby, and came out fifth, with my first important win against Znosko-Borovsky.
Meanwhile I played four years against Oxford, with somewhat chequered results. The first year I won against G. Abrahams, the second and third years, I played K.H. Bancroft and scored a (very fortunate) draw and a win, while finally I permitted Abrahams to fork my King and Queen with a Knight, a performance unhappily repeated by R.L. Mitchell in the following year (his Queen was pinned by a Bishop). Since then the spell has been broken. In 1931 I played in the British Championships at Worcester, and was quite satisfied with my form, though my score of 5 out of 11 was nothing to write home about. In February 1932, I have the great good fortune to fill a vacant place in the Sunday Referee* London International Tournament, an extremely exhausting but very valuable experience which I greatly appreciated.
*TheSunday Referee was a newspaper of the time which was adsorbed into The Sunday Chronicle in 1939.
My score of 3.5 out of 11, equal with Sir George Thomas and above W. Winter and V. Buerger, was quite as good as I expected. After this came the Cambridge Tournament, which, though a very delightful little congress, was a fiasco from my point of view. Three of my opponents were unkind enough to show their best form against me, and two other games I spoilt by clock trouble.
I do not expect to play much serious competitive chess in future. I admire sincerely the business man who is ready, after a hard day at the office, to undergo a further four hours of strenuous mental exertion; and who is also prepared to spend his all too brief holidays in the same exhausting pursuit. Moreover, while many players find the atmosphere of match and tournament play a stimulus or an inspiration, it only renders me nervous, and though this does not affect my play it certainly interferes with my enjoyment. As long as I can play my week-end games with B.G.B., and inveigle Alexander from Winchester to add another to his monotonous series of victories, I shall not much mind if I can only occasionally take part in congresses. ”
PS Milner-Barry Cup
In issue #53 (April 1946) of West London Chess Club’s Gazette we have a news item concerning a newly inaugurated trophy called the PS Milner-Barry Cup:
Sergeant on Milner-Barry
Writing in A Century of British Chess (Hutchinson, 1934), PW Sergeant records in Chapter XXI, 1925 to 1934:
The City of London C.C.’s Championship Tournament which ended this (1933) spring deserves special mention; for it introduced an entirely new name on the list of champions, that of P.S. Milner-Barry, formerly of Cheltenham College and of Cambridge University. Ten years previously he had won the first boys’ championship at Hastings.
Now, he won the City of London Championship with a score of 11 out of 14, followed by the bearers of such noted names as R.P. Michell (10 points), Sir George Thomas (9), and E.G. Sergeant (8.5). It caused some surprise, therefore, when it was found that he was not selected as a British representative at Folkestone.
Golombek on Milner-Barry
Surprisingly and disappointingly there is no direct entry in either Hooper & Whyld or Sunnucks for Sir Stuart but (as you might expect) Harry Golombek OBE does not let us down in The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977):
“British master whose chess career was limited by his amateur status but whose abilities as a player and original theorist rendered him worthy of the title of international master.
Born at Mill Hill in London, he showed early promise and in 1923 won the British Boys Championship, then held at Hastings.
He studied classics at Cambridge and developed into the strongest player there. At the university he was to meet (ed. three years later) C. H. O’D. Alexander with whom he played much chess.
Though nearly three years younger, Alexander exerted a strong influence over him and both players cherished and revelled in the brilliance of play in open positions.
By then along with Alexander and Golombek, he had become recognized as one of the three strongest young players in the country. Whilst not as successful as they were in tournaments as the British championship in which stamina was essential, he was a most formidable club and team match player, as he had already shown in 1933 when he won the championship of the City of London Club ahead of R. P. Mitchell and Sir George Thomas.
He played in his first International Team tournament at Stockholm 1937 and was to play in three more such events : in 1939 at Buenos Aires where, on third board, he made the fine score of 4/5 ; in Helsinki 1952; and in Moscow 1956 where, again on third board, he was largely responsible for the team’s fine showing.
In 1940 he shared first prize with Dr. List in the strong tournament of semi-international character in London and then, like Alexander and (later) Golombek, helped in the Foreign Office code-breaking activities at Bletchley Park for the duration of the Second World War. Staying in the Civil Service afterwards, he rose to the rank of Under-Secretary in the Treasury and was knighted for his services in 1975.
“I first met Sir Stuart Milner-Barry when I was fifteen years old (1962) playing in a tournament in Bognor Regis who played some rustic king’s pawn opening against me, sacrificing a pawn for nothing in particular and then astonished by writing “castles” in full on his scoresheet. I think he used “kt” for a knight too. I thought I had discovered a true relic from a bygone age and the more I got to know him I realised the more correct that judgement was.
Milner-Barry was the last of the true gentlemen amateurs and was one of the few people I have ever met who played chess for the sheer love of the game.
A few typical incidents may give a flavour of his unique personality. First and most typical was the way he would resign: with a firm handshake, a smile and a booming whisper of ‘You are far too good for me I’m afraid!’ When I first heard those words I was totally taken aback : What was this, a chessplayer acknowledging that his opponent was better than him? Impossible!
Once, at close of play in a county match against Milner-Barry I had the extra pawn in a difficult queen and pawn ending. We analysed a little with most variations suggesting I was winning. It was the kind of position you would send for adjudication even if you are convinced it is lost. It avoids having to resign anyway and the adjudicator may always discount the pawns. But, Sir Stuart never thought like that. After ten minutes analysing he extended his hand and congratulated me.
Finally there was the splendid incident in Moscow during the (Ed. 6th) European Team Championships in the late 1970s (Ed. 1977) Stuart was then the President of the BCF and took up an invitation of his old friend the British Ambassador to the USSR (Ed. Sir Howard Smith) to visit the event. Since he was staying at the Embassy he had a KGB tail assigned to him to follow him everywhere. On one of his morning walks Sir Stuart got lost and was not certain which bridge he should be on to get back to the Embassy. So, he turned around and walked back to the not very secret policeman, followed him and asked for directions! For the rest of his stay they walked practically hand-in-hand.
Whilst most of us knew Stuart as an amiable old gent who played for Kent and in the Lloyds Bank Masters who could still play brilliant attacking games in his eighties most knew little of his distinguished career in real life.
We suspected with some justification that in his civil service career he was responsible for doling out all those OBEs to chess players in the 70s and 80s when he was in charge of the honours list.
It was the wartime work at Bletchley Park that was Milner-Barry’s greatest achievement. As everybody knows the allies won the Second World War mainly because of the brilliant code-breaking work of the Cambridge quartet of Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry. Turing and Welchman were mathematical geniuses, Milner-Barry was the supreme administrator and Alexander straddled the gap with great talents in both areas. The group of four were known as “The Wicked Uncles”
The astonishing achievement at Bletchley was not so much in breaking enemy codes as maintaining complete secrecy of the entire operation for the duration of the war. Only with such people as Milner-Barry and Alexander in charge could such a large operation be run so successfully without anybody knowing about it.
Milner-Barry’s importance in the running at Bletchley may be judged from the fact that he personally delivered the note to Winston Churchill stressing overriding importance of their work asking for more funds.
Compared with that the invention of the Milner-Barry Gambit and the Milner-Barry variation of the Nimzo-Indian are minor achievements.
Sir Stuart was proof that nice guys can be chess players although one cannot help suspecting he would achieved even better results if he had even a slight streak of nastiness about him. He would surely have not let Capablanca off the hook in Margate in 1938 when the attacking player secured a winning position against the ex-champions dragon variation and he would have surely also not let the British Championship slip from his grasp in 1953 when he finished as runner-up after losing his last two games.
He always performed well when playing in Olympiads (or Team Tournaments as they were known then) for England during the 1930s and 50s. He was, after all, one of the most naturally gifted players this county has produced. What other Englishman has two opening (or even just one) named after him?
While at Cambridge while he won the University Championship in 1928, losing to Alexander in the following year, Milner-Barry composed some fine problems, a frivolity he never returned to later in his life.
An excellent though infrequent writer on the game, he wrote a fine memoir of C.H.O’D. Alexander in Golombek’s and Hartston’s The Best Games of C.H.O’D. Alexander, Oxford, 1976.”
An Obituary from Bernard Cafferty
From British Chess Magazine, Volume CXV (115, 1995), Number 5 (May), pp. 258-59 we have this obituary by Bernard Cafferty:
“Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry KCVO CB OBE (20 ix 1906 – 25 iii 1995) was the oldest of the British chess masters who came to prominence in the 1930s, He was always thought of in conjunction with his great friends Hugh Alexander and Harry Golombek who both predeceased him. The length of Stuart’s career is amazing – he was inaugural British Boy Champion in 1923 and was still playing for Kent first team in the Counties Championship of recent years, thus spanning a period of seven decades! Botvinnik spoke of him to me on my 1994 visit to Moscow.
Yet Stuart, who never gained the IM title, was always the true amateur and genuine English gentleman, whose sense of duty and tradition was very great. It speaks volumes of him that he agonised over whether he should attend the Times Kasparov-Short match of 1993, in a private capacity. He would have liked to watch the play, but as a former British Chess Federation President, 1970-73, he felt it was his duty not to lend any extra recognition to the contest other than that assigned it by the BCF.
Before the war, after graduating from Cambridge in Classics, he took some fine scalps including those of Tartakower and Mieses and should have beaten Capablanca at Margate 1939.
He worked, rather unhappily, in a stockbroking firm up to 1938 and it is in that capacity that his name appears on the official document that set-up the British Chess Magazine as a limited company in 1937.
During the war he played his part in the Bletchley Park code-breaking undertaking along with Alexander and Golombek, and after the war went into the Civil Service where he had a distinguished career at the Treasury. Then his career was extended as he spent his final working years in the patronage department that sifted recommendations for the honours list.
I recall asking him in 1981 if there was any chance that Brian Reilly could qualify for an award. Stuart’s diplomatic answer was to the effect that he was now retired but would drop a word in the right quarter.
Stuart represented England at the Olympiads or 1936, 1939, 1952 and 1956. At the last of these he played particularly well on fourth board. He was conscious that his old friend Hugh Alexander could not take part in Moscow because of the sensitive nature of his work in the Intelligence Service.
In playing style Milner-Barry, a tall gaunt figure, delighted in an open tactical fight.
He was The Times correspondent 1938-45, resigning the post to let Harry Golombek take over. His best result after the war, apart from the 1956 Moscow Olympiad, was probably his second place in the British Championships of 1953 at Hastings. The abiding impression of his opponents over the years must have been that here was a player who greatly enjoyed the game, win, lose or draw.
Certainly, that was my idea of him in the tussles we had from the British Championship of 1957 up to county matches in the 1980s.
We shall not see his like again. The England that formed his character is no longer with us.”
Kenworthy on Milner-Barry
Sir Stuart as a student was taught by his lecturer friend Gordon Welchman, later 1940 his Head of Hut. They were firm friends, a band of brothers, as per the rest of the chess players and mathematicians from the Interwar years at Cambridge University.
His studies were obviously well aligned to be a stockbroker in the City, plus the tedious details of Blotters and Order Management registration.
Obvious exceptions to this University circle was Dr Jacob Bronowski who was given the suspected 5th columnist treatment by authorities in Hull. Obviously, he would have been excellent.
Exception also according to John Hevriel was if you were also from Sidney Sussex, like Staff Sgt. then an RSM Asa Briggs, who was more Contract Bridge with this all friends crossword addicts team. Asa Briggs felt that Sir Stuart was initially badly rewarded leaving Hut 6 in 1945 for HM Treasury.
Sir Stuart was a noted top cribster, his crosswords, German and thinking from how the Nazi operator would think from his side of the board, obviously helped with Bombe cribs. He always played down his role and abilities in a diplomatic way. He was the facilitator and mentor to many, especially back to Gordon Welchman in his troubled times from 1974 onwards. Sir Stuart was not happy about the proposed book of the Hut 6 Story.
He was the bureaucrat who cared for the welfare of his staff, especially on tedious protract tasks which was the norm. He was into ethics, Quadrivium, logic and rhetoric, philosophy and his knowledge of German poets and Great German thinkers would have been invaluable in solving the Enigma puzzle and how might his opposite number blunder and be sloppy in procedures.
Though never at home in close(d) positions, he was an outstanding strategist in the open game and it is significant that his most important contribution to opening theory was the Milner-Barry variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defence which is essentially as attempt to convert a close position into an open one (1.P-Q4, N-KB3; 2.P-QB4, P-K3; 3. N-QB3, B-N5; 4.Q-B2, N-B3).
Hooper & Whyld (1996) note:
“Sometimes called the Zurich or Swiss variation, this is a line in the Nimzo-Indian Defence introduced by Milner-Barry in the Premier Reserves tournament, Hastings 1928-9. This line became more widely known when it was played at Zurich 1934.”
Two famous opening lines are named after him – 4…Nc6 in the Nimzo-Indian (as above), and the gambit in the French Defence: 1.e4 e6;2.d4 d5;3.e5 c5;4.c3 Nc6;5.Nf3 Qb6;6.Bd3 cxd4;7.cxd4 Bd7;8.0-0 Nxd4;
Stuart played this line both in correspondence and over-the-board play. If Black takes the pawn with 10…Qxe5, White gets a fierce attack by 11,Re1 Qd6 (else 12.Nxd5) 12.Nb5.
There is also a sub-variation of the Caro-Kann which is named after Sir Stuart viz:
which is a Blackmar-Diemer style pawn sacrifice.
There is also a Milner-Barry variation in the Falkbeer Counter Gambit to the King’s Gambit thus:
which is an ancient line that he revived at Margate 1937.
and finally, there is a Milner-Barry Variation in the Petroff Defence:
giving a total of five named variations. How many English players have that many?
Problems and Compositions
Stuart developed an interest in problem composition in the 1920s
Further examples may be found on the excellent Meson Database maintained by Brian Stephenson
Milner-Barry on The English Chess Explosion
Stuart was a great supporter of the development of British chess. Nothing would have given him more pleasure than to witness the meteoric advances of English players in the 1970s. Indeed, he wrote the foreword to the English Chess Explosion (Batsford, 1980) by Murray Chandler and Ray Keene:
“It gives me great pleasure to have been asked to write a foreword for this book. Nothing has given me more satisfaction than the flowering of British chess talent that has taken place in the past few years.
Between the wars, though we had some splendid players like H. E. Atkins, Sir George Thomas and F. D. Yates, we were a second rate power at chess: in the great Nottingham tournament of 1936, for example, our quartet brought up the rear, and that was where, with occasional shining exceptions, our representatives in international tournaments tended to find themselves. Similarly, after the war in the 1950’s and 1960’s, in spite of Alexander and Penrose, we seldom achieved a really creditable place in the Olympiads.
Alexander who retired early from the arena because of the exacting demands of his profession, must have had rather a depressing time as non-playing captain.
I myself date the renaissance from the Spring of 1974 when we won a closely contested match against West Germany at Elvetham Hall.
Thereafter we went from strength to strength, with the appearance year by year of highly talented, original and adventurous young men from the Universities – Keene and Hartston, closely followed by Miles, Stean, Nunn, Mestel, Speelman, and a still younger generation of schoolboy prodigies like Nigel Short.
The peak of our performance so far has been the third place (after the USSR and Hungary) last winter in the finals of the European Team Tournament at Skara (compared with our eighth and last place at Moscow in 1977).
How did all this come about in the short space of six years? The Spassky-Fischer match of 1972 was a watershed. Since then, and the first time, it has been possible for able young men from universities to consider chess seriously as a full-time profession, or at least as a career to which they devote the major part of their time and interest, Secondly, the fruits were being reaped of the unobtrusive but devoted spadework in junior training pioneered by Barden, Wade and many others. Lastly, no doubt, sheer good fortune smiled upon us in the simultaneous emergence of a group of brilliant enthusiastic and likeable young men, five of them already grandmasters and others likely to become so before long.
It is sad that Alexander, who did so much to uphold the prestige of British chess in the doldrums, did not survive to witness the transformation. I would like to wish the BCF President, David Anderton, and Alexander’s successor as captain, all possible success for the future.”
We remember Hugh Alexander who passed away on Friday, 15-ii-1974. The death was registered in the Borough of Cheltenham. Currently his burial / cremation site is unknown.
The Alexander Family
Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander was born on Monday, April 19th, 1909 in Cork, Munster, Republic of Ireland.
Hugh’s parents were Conel William Long Alexander (1879-1920) and Hilda Barbara Alexander (née Bennett) (1881-1964) who married in Hook Church, Hampshire. His father was a Professor of Civil Engineering from County Donegal and his mother was the daughter of a timber merchant and was from Birmingham.
Hugh’s father moved to Hook in Hampshire. At some point they returned to Cork and then relocated to Birmingham.
In the 1911 Irish census aged two Hugh was recorded as being a Presbyterian. The household consisted of his father, mother and two servants Maud McAuliffe (19) from County Cork and Johanna Hanlon (20) from Cork City all living at 20, Connaught Avenue, Cork.
At the time of the census all members of the household were capable of reading and writing apart from Hugh who was recorded as “cannot read”.
and Hugh’s father signed the Return as follows :
Hugh attended Londonderry College and then went to King Edward’s School, Birmingham.
Hugh married Enid Constance Rose Crichton Neate (1900-1982) in October 1934 and the marriage was registered in the district of Westminster, Middlesex.
“Enid, was an equally striking personality. She was descended from one of the defenders of the Eureka Stockade, the “birthplace of Australian democracy”. She was educated at the Sorbonne, a formidable dialectician, art historian and collector. In her later years she returned to Australia, where she was endlessly hospitable to passing Russian chessplayers, and to itinerant musicians, including my own father.”
Hugh and Enid had a son Michael (19 June 1936 – 1 June 2002) who became the foreign policy secretary to Margaret Thatcher and the UK ambassador to NATO. Here is Michael’s obituary.
Michael married Traute Krohn. Michael and Traute gave Hugh a grandson, Conel Alexander who is a Cosmochemist at the Earth and Planets Laboratory, Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington.
We contacted Conel and he replied more or less instantly as follows:
I don’t have that many anecdotes or photos of my grandfather. My great aunt, his sister, was the family archivist. She had a lot of photos of when they were young in Cork and Birmingham. She did send me some photos before she died, but not the sort that would interest your readers. She lived in Fort Erie, Canada and my grand father used to visit when in North America on ‘business’. I don’t know how much she knew about what he did but she must have had some inkling. Unfortunately, since she died I have lost touch with her family. Amongst the photos she sent me were some of my great grandfather and his Irish relatives. An archivist at Cork University contacted me a few years ago. According to him, my great grandfather has a rugby player and organizer of Irish rugby (as well as an engineering professor), but also opposed to Irish independence which might well have caused trouble for him and his family had he not died when he did.
I was 13 when my grandfather died and wasn’t told how ill he was until almost the end. I would have liked to have know him better, but I assume he was always on the go and my father was a diplomat and we had been living abroad until I was 8 (US, Moscow and Singapore). Even after moving back to London, we would only see him a few times a year as far as I remember. I think he probably realized that he had missed out on some things as he was planning to retire (early I believe) and come to live with us in London, only to learn that he had terminal cancer.
It just so happened that next door to where I work is a rather upscale retirement home. A man called Authur Levinson had retired there with his wife. He was sent to Bletchley when the USA joined the war and had worked with my grandfather. Arthur’s wife had somehow followed him to the UK as a driver. Both had gotten to know my grandfather during the war and then afterwards when Arthur joined the NSA. Somehow Arthur found out I was working next door, and my family used to visit them occasionally. They had an Enigma machine that they used to show my kids, but they were probably too young to understand the significance. Arthur told me that the NSA had tried to recruit my grandfather when they heard he was retiring from GCHQ, but he was adamant that he wanted to retire to spend more time with family and to write.
I was told that, rather surprisingly, he didn’t think that chess was a suitable pastime for a healthy boy. I don’t know if this was the reason, he believed in trial by fire, or he just could not help himself (he was extremely competitive at everything he did), but when we did play chess a few times he used to give me huge advantages and then thrash me! After a few such humiliations, I gave up. I don’t think I would have been very good anyway and my grandfather probably recognized that, so perhaps it was his way of letting me find out early. My father was an olympic fencer, so naturally I tried that too. For a while I was able to ‘bully’ my way to wins, until I came up against people who really knew what they were doing. I abandoned that too.
One other thing I learned about about my grandfather fairly recently is that he taught Freeman Dyson mathematics and chess at Winchester. Freeman contacted me out of the blue having come across my name somehow. Remembering my chess experience, I ventured that he must have been a rather impatient teacher. Not a bit of it, apparently, but then Dyson must have been the ideal student for him.
Working for John Lewis
Prior to the second world war Alexander was officially employed by John Spedan Lewis in his Department store in Oxford Street. When he returned from Buenos Aires (“good air”) from the 1939 Olympiad he travelled aboard the RMS Alcantara. Here is the entry in the passenger list for September 19th, 1939 :
and here is Alexander’s entry in detail. Note that his occupation is described as “Drapery Manager” :
Hugh sailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina in September 1939 to arrive at Southampton September 19th 1939. The ship was the Alcantara operated by Royal Mail Lines Ltd hence the RMS Alcantara.
According to Wikipedia : “RMS Alcantara was a Royal Mail Lines ocean liner that was built in Belfast in 1926. She served in the Second World War first as an armed merchant cruiser and then a troop ship, was returned to civilian service in 1948 and scrapped in 1958.
Ports of the voyage were : Buenos Aires; Montevideo; Santos and Rio de Janeiro and Hugh’s official number was 148151 and he travelled 2nd class. His proposed destination residential address was
316, Rodney House, Dolphin Square, London, SW1
According to Wikipedia : “The proximity of Dolphin Square to the Palace of Westminster and the headquarters of the intelligence agencies MI5 (Thames House) and MI6 (Vauxhall Cross) has attracted many politicians, peers, civil servants and intelligence agency personnel as residents.”
From British Chess Magazine, Volume XCIV (94, 1974), Number 4 (April), pp. 117-120 by PS Milner-Barry :
“A proper assessment of Hugh Alexander, who died on February 15th 1974 must await a later issue. But I think he might have been pleased to see our last game published, and I give the score of it below, with notes based on our usual analysis immediately after the game. Over the past 45 years, ever since he went to Cambridge, we played whenever opportunity offered serious games with clocks.
Before the war they were played mostly at my mother’s house in Cambridge, and after the war and my own marriage at our house in Blackheath. When he moved to Cheltenham the opportunities became fewer but no year ever passed without two or three such games, usually at Easter or Christmas.
Alexander always used to say, it was certainly true of me, that this was the kind of chess that he enjoyed most. The games were conducted with the utmost vigour, though not without a good deal of propaganda on both sides. I suppose he won in the proportion of about two to one, but the disparity in strength never became one-sided. Nearly all the games opened 1 P-K4, P-K4; he played the Lopez when I allowed him. (I usually played the Petroff or Philidor), and I played a mixture – in the early days the Vienna and latterly mostly the King’s Gambit. On the whole Black did better than White for both of us.
The only concession we made to advancing years was that latterly we contented ourselves with four hour sessions and 36 moves, instead of 40 in 5 hours. We thought we had done enough for honour by then, and the games were usually finished in the time.
Hugh stayed with us the weekend before Christmas, when this game was played. He looked ill, but he was very cheerful and as good company as ever. He loved a good argument, and as my family so too,- the evening meal was its usual lively affair! I am myself a man of peace, and intellectually lazy; so in deference to my feelings the argument was suspended, before it became too hot. I am afraid they all thought I was a spoil-sport. It was as happy a visit as any of us could remember and it is difficult to accept there will not be another.
As for the game, it was not one of our most exciting encounters. But it is quite an interesting one, and shows Hugh playing as
well as ever – certainly much too well for me. But then he usually did.”
Following PSMBs contribution, in the same obituary there was this from Harry Golombek :
C.H.O’D. Alexander and the ‘B.C.M.’ by Harry Golombek
I have written elsewhere about Hugh Alexander both as a person and as a chess-player and I also intend to devote a forthcoming article in ‘The Times‘ on Saturday to an appraisal of his place in British Chess. Here, however, I would like to describe briefly his connection with this magazine over the years and to show how
important his help was to the progress of the ‘BCM‘.
In the years immediately preceding the Second World War, Ash Wheatcroft and I had made a determined effort to maintain and increase the role of the ‘BCM‘, he in a managerial capacity and I as its editor. With the coming of war and the departure of both of us into the army a sort of caretaker regime had to be provided. It worked as well as could have been expected but inevitably there had been a decline both in quality and financially. When peace came, the quality improved since it was possible to get more and better contributions but the financial aspect became almost alarming.
The question arose – was there a need for the magazine and if so how could that need be fulfilled with the fairly limited resources at hand. Some of us thought there was, but the ways and means were not so clear. Of all those who thought like this Alexander was the most effective in his approach to the problems. I know that from his very youth onwards he had been convinced of the importance of the ‘BCM’ to British chess and, being a practical idealist, when the
crisis came he set about dealing with it in the most expeditious way.
In November 1946 he became a director of the B.C.M. and continued in that position till February 1952, by which time the magazine had been set on a solid basis from
which it was unlikely to be shaken. It was his idea that Brian Reilly be asked to act as editor and almost his first act as director was to write a letter to him inviting him to become so. Then, in January 1947, he himself took over the editorship of the games department, an arduous task which he fulfilled with great competence and the utmost conscientiousness until May 1949 when the heavy work of the Civil Service department of which he was head compelled him to hand over the Games Section to me.
Before, however, that he gave up this post he, again in the most practical way possible, rendered the ‘BCM‘ another service. He wrote a book giving a selection of the games from the last period of Alekhine’s life and generously donated half the royalties to the ‘BCM‘ in order to bolster up its slender finances.
Even after he had to give up official connection with the magazine he retained a strong interest in its welfare. So, even though this recognition is belated and posthumous, I thought it was right to afford readers the possibility of joining with me in thanking High Alexander for all that he did in this respect in especial. At any rate, such matters should be on record for the chess historian.
“CHO’D Alexander was born in Cork in 1909 and learned chess at the age of ten. He was educated at King Edward School, Birmingham, where he exhibited early prowess by winning the Birmingham Post Cup. In 1927 he won the British Boy’s Championship. During his student days, from 1928 to 1932, he was a convincing champion of Cambridge University. Subsequently he competed in five British Championships, winning the title in 1938. He also played in several international tournaments, his outstanding performance amongst these being Hastings in 1938, where he shared second and third prizes with Keres, following Reshevsky who won the tournament, and ahead of Fine and Flohr. In 1939, in the England-Holland match, he had the satisfaction of defeating the ex-World Champion, Dr. Euwe, in a sensational games, drawing the return game.
A brilliant mathematician, he took a first at Cambridge and chose a scholastic career, joining a well-known public school (Winchester College). From there, via a short spell in a business appointment (John Lewis), he entered the service of the Foreign Office, where, during the war years, his valuable work earned him the OBE.
He plays imaginative and courageous chess and is never afraid of the wildest complications.”
An Obituary from Stuart Milner-Barry, Part 2
From British Chess Magazine, Volume XCIV (94, 1974), Number 6 (June), pp. 202-204 by PS Milner-Barry :
With the death of Hugh Alexander at the age of 64, British chess has lost the outstanding figure of the past forty years. His active playing career over some thirty years included two victories in the British championship and regular appearances in all representative teams from l93l-58, except when the nature of his Civil Service
duties prevented him from travelling behind the Iron Curtain. During the whole of the period after the war he was the regular top board for the England team. In the Hastings international congress he twice won the Premier tournament, on the second occasion tying with Bronstein. His victories in this series included two world champions (Euwe and Botvinnik) and numerous others in the Grandmaster class. He was an outstanding example, like H.E.Atkins and Dr. Milan Vidmar, of the amateur who could combine an exacting professional life of great responsibility and distinction with success in competitive international chess at the highest level and with the increasing professionalism of the game and the demands of knowledge and research that it makes upon the masters, this was much more difficult in Hugh’s time than in an earlier age.
It was indeed in the international field that his fame will principally rest. On the British championship scene, although he always did well before the War, and won convincingly at Brighton in 1938 in a strong field, his record did not match his abilities. He never established anything like the superiority over his contemporaries that Atkins in a former age and Penrose in a later achieved. He won the championship again, in 1956, but that was a weak year when the Moscow Olympiad took first claim on the leading British players. It was not that he cared less – like all the great players he hated losing, though he was the most magnanimous of opponents – but that he seemed to require the stimulus of the great occasion, and of a world famous name on the other side of the board, to bring out the best in him.
Alexander was perhaps the only English player of his day whom the Grandmasters would have treated as on a level with themselves. On his day he was liable to beat any of them, and they were well aware of it. In his younger days he was very much the gay cavalier, and a brilliant combinative and attacking player with a touch of genius. Latterly he lost some of this elan, and adapted his style to the responsibilities of the B.C.T. top board. His opponents too, with a healthy respect for his powers, were less inclined to give him opportunities. He was as capable of the dead-bat technique as anybody, and to that extent (to my way of thinking anyway) his games became less interesting, with quick draws making a higher contribution to his top-board results than in earlier years. But none the less he was the anchor-man of the British team until his retirement after the 1958 Olympiad.
It was a great pity he gave up the game over the board at 50. He had years of good chess in him. But I think he felt he had scaled all the peaks he could scale, and that he was finding top-class competitive chess a burden difficult to reconcile with his Civil Service work and the prospect of a gradual and inevitable decline in his powers did not appeal to him. I made many efforts to tempt him back to the arena, but to no avail. I do not think he ever seriously regretted his decision, and in his last years he immensely enjoyed correspondence chess.
In 1964, Alexander became non-playing captain of the B.C.F. team, and held that role continuously until after the Siegen Olympiad in 1970.
It was rather a disappointing period for British chess, and the results, while we were rebuilding a young team, could not – even with Penrose’s outstanding efforts at top board – have been expected to be favourable. But he threw himself wholeheartedly into all the work sponsored by the B.C.F. and the Friends of Chess to find and develop talent in the younger generation, and before he died the fruits of these labours were beginning to appear. He would have been proud indeed to have witnessed our recent triumph in the Anglo-German match.
As a captain he was, of course, immensely liked and respected by his team. My impression was that he took his responsibilities almost too seriously, and agonised too much over his decisions about whom to play and whom to rest. Nevertheless on balance he thoroughly enjoyed the work, and certainly, in spite of his innate modesty, he
was never one to be disturbed by ill-informed or irresponsible criticism, of which he had his share.
I suppose his most famous tournament result was his equal first with Bronstein at the Hastings Christmas Congress of 1953. Coming at a time when we were gloomily resigned to British players bringing up the rear in international tournaments, this created a great sensation.
The game with Bronstein lasted over 100 moves and Alexander won a most difficult Queen and Pawn ending by impeccable technique.
He went on with the Black pieces to massacre Tolush, the other visiting Russian Grandmaster.
Immense interest was created by this event. The popular press carried diagrams of the successive phases of the Bronstein saga. It was reported on the radio. By comparison with the furore created by the Spassky/Fischer match, it was no doubt small beer, but for those days the publicity was tremendous, and Alexander became the
hero of the hour.
It was entirely characteristic of him that this adulation did not go to his head. He kept everything in proportion, and encouraged everybody else to do the same. He said all the right things about Bronstein, but he did not claim, as one tends to do on these emotional occasions, that international sport was a panacea for friendship between the nations. Altogether it seemed to me an impeccable performance both on and off the board.
It is as a player that Hugh would, I think, have best wished to be remembered; and I have left myself little room to say anything about him as a journalist and writer. We are blessed, as readers of the B.C.M. will know, with many good and interesting writers on the game. But Hugh had, I believe, exceptional talents as a journalist. In his columns in the ‘Sunday Times‘, and latterly the ‘Financial Times‘, he set a very high standard. He always had something fresh and original to say, especially, I think, to the intelligent amateur rather than the expert; and he said it in a way that was both disarmingly modest and yet lively and entertaining. The warmth of his personality came out clearly both in his writing and in his public speaking – both were entirely natural and wholly without amour-propre.
His articles gave great pleasure to a wide circle, and many who never met him in the flesh must have felt that they had come to know him as a person. Similarly his book on the Spassky-Fischer match
(like the ‘Book of Chess’, which was written in the last year of his life) is an extremely vivid, as well as scholarly, piece of writing. It is almost impossible to believe that it was completed, within days of the conclusion of the match, by a man apparently under sentence of death throughout its progress.
Now that it has come, the loss of Hugh Alexander to British chess and chessplayers, alike as player, writer, administrator and friend, is immeasurable.
An Obituary from BH Wood
From CHESS, Volume 39 (1974), Nos. 693-94, March, p.162 by BH Wood :
The death of Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander deprived English chess of one of its most vivid characters. Born l9th April 1909, he learnt chess at the age of 8.
From a Londonderry college he went to King Edward’s School, Birmingham, where as a schoolboy he won the Birmingham Post cup, which carries with it the unofficial championship of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Going on to Cambridge, he not only won the University championship four years in succession, but picked up first-class honours. He won the British championship in 1938.
In 1939 I found myself on a boat with him bound for the Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires. He was team captain with Sir George Thomas, P. S. Milner-Barry and H. Golombek : other distinguished members of the team.
War broke out after about six rounds. With typical determination, Alexander jettisoned chess for patriotism, caught a boat home, volunteered for service on disembarking, and within a few weeks had attained the rank of colonel in British Intelligence. He remained attached to Intelligence and the Foreign Office until his retirement a few months ago. As a curious consequence of this commitment, though he settled in to the team captaincy for the British Chess Federation in the biennial chess Olympiads and participated in many chess events abroad, he was never allowed to travel anywhere behind the iron Curtain.
His fame certainly did, however. In the radio match, Britain v USSR in 1946, the most important event in British chess for a decade before and after, he found himself pitted against Mikhail Botvinnik, then at the height of his powers and destined to hold the world championship for 14 years. The first game he lost; the second he won, in superb style. His great adversary was outplayed.
He had some great years at Hastings. A 120 move victory over Bronstein with a queen and pawns endgame stretching over l3 hours through 3 days, earned headlines in the national press unequalled until the Spassky-Fischer furore of 1972, won him first place in 1954 and started him with a chess column in the Sunday Times. He was equal with Bronstein, above O’Kelly, Matanovic, Olafsson, Teschner, Tolush, Tartakover, Wade and Horne.
Hastings illustrated Alexander’s weaknesses as well as his strengths. Twice he won the premier tournament there, only to finish among the tail-enders the year after. Only once more was he to win the British championship; in a rather weak field, entering at the last minute with typical opportunism.
He was a brilliant conversationalist and speaker, a fine bridge player, a master mathematician, an expert on codes, a first-class journalist and writer. Among varied other interests were croquet and philately. He threw himself wholeheartedly into anything he did. His organization, “The Friends of Chess”, provided generous financial support for a wide range of chess events. A few days before his death he was full of plans for the future, including a big History of British Chess. He burnt himself out. The world of chess is a poorer and duller place without him.”
“The great mathematician G. H. Hardy described C. H. O’D. Alexander as the only genuine mathematician he knew who did not become a professional mathematician. Hardy recognised that Alexander’s failure to win a fellowship at the Cambridge Tripos exams was most likely due to his attention being absorbed by chess. Conversely, Alexander’s fellow chess International Master Harry Golombek said of the two-time British Champion “the demands of his profession left him with comparatively little time for [chess] practice and study; otherwise he would certainly have been of true grandmaster class, and possibly even of world stature”. Above both chess and mathematics, Alexander prioritised leading the British Government effort on cryptanalysis.
Alexander was an early recruit to Bletchley Park; he began in Hut 6 working on Army and Luftwaffe Enigma messages before moving in 1941 to Hut 8 to join Alan Turing’s work on the Naval Enigma. Alexander had one of the most agile minds of the new breed of mathematical cryptanalysts; he proved the best at the pen and paper methods of ‘banburismus’ that reduced the computational work of Enigma attacks and his military aptitude test assessed him as suitable for development up to four star general. Although he has not achieved the renown of Good, Turing, Tutte, and Welchman, he was responsible for many breakthroughs. Perhaps the most significant was spearheading the UK-US joint work breaking the Japanese CORAL system used by Naval attaches. More importantly, as a former teacher and head of research at John Lewis, Alexander was much better suited to the organisational and administrative tasks of Hut 8 than the hyper-rational Turing. Alexander gradually assumed more and more of this work. The story goes that one day when Turing arrived late at the Park and the record book asked him to name the head of his section; Turing wrote “Mr Alexander” and with the logic of bureaucracy Alexander was treated as the head of Hut 8 from then onwards. Praise for Alexander’s leadership is a theme common to all those who worked in Hut 8.
After the war, Alexander briefly returned to John Lewis before returning to the new GCHQ and continued to excel as both a cryptanalyst and leader. By 1949 he had been appointed head of the cryptanalysis division. It was a post that he held until his retirement, despite offers of promotion to more senior positions. He used the weight of his position to testify strongly as a character witness on behalf of Alan Turing during Turing’s indecency trial. By 1971, already past the age of retirement by two years, Alexander decided to step down. Both GCHQ and their partners were keen to make continued use of his expertise and offered all manner of consultative work, which he declined. He died in 1974 and although his obituaries rightly spoke in glowing terms of his chess achievements, the impact of his more secret work still cannot be fully revealed.”
Hugh and Correspondence Chess by Tim Harding
“Correspondence chess is only mentioned briefly in the article. CHO’D took up international postal chess in 1963 playing board 3 for the BCCA “Socrates” team in the Eberhardt Wilhelm Cup, a European team event. He annotated his first two games to finish in the November 1964 issue of the BCCA Magazine, Correspondence Chess, one of which is in my history of British CC.
He had in fact taken board 2 for GB against the USA in the 1,000 board match which began in 1935 but was never completed. Alexander’s opponent was Fred Reinfeld (according to Chess Magazine) but I have never seen a result and don’t know if they actually played many moves.
Starting in 1964 Alexander played in a GB-USSR postal match, with a draw and a loss against Yudovich.
In 1965 he started CC Olympiad 6 preliminaries on board 3 in section 1 for GB and scored 3 wins and 5 draws; he was the only player not to lose to M. Ali Farboud of Iran, the country which won the group. (Farboud played on the Iranian team in the 1962 and 1964 FIDE olympiads.) I have only found two of Alexander’s games from this tournament.
Next GB played in the preliminaries (section 3) of the 7th correspondence olympiad (starting 1968) with a much stronger team which won its group. Alexander played board 2 below Adrian Hollis. His score of 6 wins and one draw earned him the ICCF international master title. I have only found three of his games from this event.
In 1972 Alexander started, again on board 2, in the olympiad final but had only completed one or two of his games when he died, and the unfinished games were taken over by Ken Messere who found it hard (since he was given no notes) to work out what Hugh had planned in various complicated middle game positions.
Alexander also played most years for Gloucestershire in the Counties and District correspondence tournament run (then) by the BCF and my book also includes a win against Peter Clarke from that event. It is a pity that more of Alexander’s CC games are not known. I have only 17 plus a few that Messere completed.”
“Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander was born in Cork, Ireland. Awarded the IM title in 1950 at its inception and the IMC title in 1970, he was British Champion in 1938 and 1956.
During the Second World War, he worked at Bletchley Park with Harry Golombek and Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry, deciphering German Enigma codes and later for the Foreign Office. Alexander finished 2nd= at Hastings (1937/38) tied with Paul Keres after Samuel Reshevsky and ahead of Salomon Flohr and Reuben Fine. He held Mikhail Botvinnik to an equal score (+1, -1) in the 1946 Anglo-Soviet Radio Match, and won Hastings (1946/47) while finishing equal first at Hastings (1953/54). He represented England on six Olympiad teams. Alexander was also an author of note. He passed away in Cheltenham in 1974.”
From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :
International Master (1950), International Correspondence Chess Master (1970). Born in Cork, he settled in England as a boy. In spite or because of his intense application at the board his tournament performances were erratic. From about 1937 to the mid 1950s he was regarded as the strongest player in Great Britain, although he won only two (1938, 1956) of the 13 British Chess Federation Championships in which he competed; he played for the BCF in six Olympiads from 1933 to 1958. Holding a senior post at the Foreign Office, he was not permitted to play in countries under Soviet control or influence; but when he did compete abroad he achieved only moderate results. His best tournament achievement was at Hastings 1937-8 when he was second (+4=5) equal with Keres after Reshevsky ahead of Fine and Flohr; but he is better remembered for his tie with Bronstein for first prize at Hastings 1953-4. He won his game against Bronstein in 120 moves after several adjournments, and the outcome became a kind of serial in the press, arousing great national interest in the game. Alexander was the author of several books on chess, notably Alekhine’s Best Games of Chess 1938-1945 (1949) and A Book of Chess (1973).
For many years the chess correspondent of The Sunday Times, The Spectator (pseudonym Philidor) and the Evening News. There was probably no “chess name that was better known to the non-chess-playing element of the British public than that of Hugh Alexander. His victory over Russian Grandmaster David Bronstein at Hastings in 1953, after a struggle which lasted for 120 moves and took 13 hours, made chess front page news in the British press.
Born in Cork on 19th April 1909, Alexander picked up the game at prep school at the age of 8. In 1926 he won the Boy’s Championship, later to be recognised as the British Boy’s Championship, at Hastings. After coming down from Cambridge University, where he won the university championship four times, Alexander taught mathematics at Winchester College from 1932 to 1938. He later joined the Foreign Office.
One of the few British players who might have reached World Championship class if he had chosen to devote sufficient time to the game, Alexander was at his best when he faced a top class opponent.
During his chess career, he scored victories over two World Champions Botvinnik and Euwe, and he beat a number of other Grandmasters, international tournaments were all at Hastings where he came =2nd in 1938 with Keres, half a point behind Reshevsky and ahead of Fine and Flohr; 1st in 1947 and =1st with Bronstein in 1953. In 1951 tournament he came =5th.His other hobbies included bridge, croquet and philately, He was the Author of Alekhine’s Best Games of Chess 1938-1945 (Bell), Chess (Pitman) and joint author with T.J. Beach of Learn Chess; A New Way for All (Pergamon Press);
A Book of Chess (Hutchinson) 1973; The Penguin Book of Chess Positions (Penguin) 1973.
Here are further third party articles of interest :
“Glenn Curtis Flear was born in Leicester, England. He was awarded the IM title in 1983 and GM title in 1987. While still an IM, he shocked the chess world by winning the GLC Chess Challenge (1986) ahead of a field that included Short, Chandler, Nunn, Portisch, Polugaevsky, Spassky and Larsen. He married Christine Flear during that tournament. He represented England at the Dubai Olympiad in 1986.”
This was written about Glenn prior to the 1979 Spassky vs the BCF Junior Squad simultaneous display : “Surrey University and Leicester.
Rating 208. Twice British men’s championship finalist. Captain England juniors, 1977. Former Leicestershire men’s champion.”
Round 5 of the Caplin Hastings International Chess Congress featured the board 10 clash between one of England’s stronger Grandmasters, Danny Gormally (2508) and FM Harry Grieve (2299).
Harry is studying mathematics at St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge having previously been a pupil and member of the very strong chess team of Royal Grammar School, Guildford. He started his league chess with Fleet & Farnborough Chess Club (same as Simon Williams !) and then transferred his allegiance to the very strong Farnham chess club playing top board in many matches.
Harry has the possibility of making an International Master norm at the Hastings Masters and a win with the black pieces versus Danny Gormally will certainly help !
Here is their game :
Following this game Harry needs 2.5/4 to obtain his first IM norm : Good luck !
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