Category Archives: History

Remembering Charles Masson Fox (09-XI-1866, 11-X-1935)

Charles Masson Fox
Charles Masson Fox

From Wikipedia :

Charles Masson Fox (9 November 1866 – 11 October 1935) was a Cornish businessman who achieved international prominence in the world of chess problems and a place in the gay history of Edwardian England.

Masson Fox was born into a Quaker family (although he was not related to the Quakers’ founder George Fox) and was a cousin of the fraudulent sinologist Sir Edmund Backhouse, 2nd Baronet. Living throughout his life in the Cornish seaside town of Falmouth, Fox in the early decades of his life was a senior partner of his family’s timber firm, Fox Stanton & Company, and was also on the Board of Messrs G C Fox & Company, a long-established firm of shipping agents.

C.M.Fox’s gravestone at Budock Quaker Burial Ground
Fox is described by chess historian Thomas Rayner Dawson (1889–1951) as “a friendly man, kind, mellow, lovable, bringing peace and comfort and serene joy with him”. He was also a discreet but active homosexual. In 1909 he visited Venice with his friend James Cockerton, meeting the writer Frederick Rolfe and becoming the reluctant recipient of Rolfe’s famous Venice Letters, in which the gay subculture of Venice is vividly described.

In 1912–13 Fox was blackmailed by a woman who accused him of seducing her 16-year-old son. Eventually Fox reported the matter to the police and the woman was sent to prison for five years and her son for one year, with hard labour.[1] However, Fox was profoundly affected by the publicity surrounding the case, which was reported in detail in the local press. The predictable result of his courageous action was the destruction of his reputation, and the compromise of his business and social life in Falmouth.

Although he continued to live in Cornwall, the focus of his social life shifted to London, and in the last two decades of his life, Fox became prominent in the world of chess. He was elected President of the Cornwall Chess Association, played a prominent part in the development of the British Chess Problem Society, and is still renowned as one of the greatest ever exponents of fairy chess (chess problems with variations in the rules).

Charles Masson Fox
Charles Masson Fox

Happy Birthday Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

We send best wishes to Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE on his birthday, this day (October 7th) in 1933.

From Wikipedia :

Jonathan Penrose, OBE (born 7 October 1933, in Colchester) is an English chess Grandmaster and International Correspondence Chess Grandmaster (1983) who won the British Chess Championship ten times between 1958 and 1969. He is the son of Lionel Penrose, a world-famous professor of genetics, the grandson of the physiologist John Beresford Leathes, and brother of Roger Penrose and Oliver Penrose. He is a psychologist and university lecturer by profession, with a PhD.

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

Learning the game at age four, he was a member of Hampstead Chess Club at twelve and British Boys (Under 18) Champion at just fourteen years of age. Chess was played by the entire Penrose family. His father was a composer of endgame studies and a strong player, as was his older brother Oliver.

By the age of seventeen, he was already acknowledged as a top prospect for British chess. Playing Hastings for the first time in 1950/51, he beat the French champion Nicolas Rossolimo and at Southsea in 1950, defeated both Efim Bogoljubov and Savielly Tartakower. In 1952/1953 he shared the first place at Hastings with Harry Golombek, Antonio Medina García and Daniel Yanofsky.

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

Penrose earned the International Master title in 1961 and was the leading British player for several years in the 1960s and early 1970s, surpassing the achievement of Henry Ernest Atkins by winning the British Championship a record number of times. He was widely considered to be of grandmaster strength, but did not achieve the grandmaster title during his active playing career, despite some notable victories. This was mainly due to his choosing to remain amateur and placing his lecturing as a first priority. In effect, it meant that he played few international tournaments and frequently turned down invitations to prestigious tournaments such as Hastings. In 1993 he was awarded the grandmaster title by FIDE.[1][2]

He competed in eight Chess Olympiads between 1952 and 1962, then at the Olympiads of 1968 and 1970, frequently posting excellent scores, including +9−1=7 in 1962 (Varna), and +10−0=5 in 1968 (Lugano). On both of these occasions, he won an individual silver medal on first board; in 1968, his score was bettered only by the World Champion, Tigran Petrosian.

Penrose-Tal, Leipzig (1960): final position
At the Leipzig 1960 Olympiad, he defeated then-World Champion Mikhail Tal with the white pieces in a Modern Benoni:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Bd3 Bg7 8.Nge2 O-O 9.O-O a6 10.a4 Qc7 11.h3 Nbd7 12.f4 Re8 13.Ng3 c4 14.Bc2 Nc5 15.Qf3 Nfd7 16.Be3 b5 17.axb5 Rb8 18.Qf2 axb5 19.e5 dxe5 20.f5 Bb7 21.Rad1 Ba8 22.Nce4 Na4 23.Bxa4 bxa4 24.fxg6 fxg6 25.Qf7+ Kh8 26.Nc5 Qa7 27.Qxd7 Qxd7 28.Nxd7 Rxb2 29.Nb6 Rb3 30.Nxc4 Rd8 31.d6 Rc3 32.Rc1 Rxc1 33.Rxc1 Bd5 34.Nb6 Bb3 35.Ne4 h6 36.d7 Bf8 37.Rc8 Be7 38.Bc5 Bh4 39.g3 1–0. [3]

This victory made Penrose the first British player to beat a reigning world champion since Joseph Henry Blackburne defeated Emanuel Lasker in 1899.[4]

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

Penrose suffered from nerves, and he collapsed at the 1970 Olympiad in the midst of a tense game. Consequently, he moved on to correspondence chess, where he was successful, earning the International Master (IMC) title in 1980 and the grandmaster (GMC) title in 1983. He led his country to victory in the 9th Correspondence Olympiad (1982 – 1987).[5]

Jonathan Penrose was awarded the OBE in 1971.

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

Best Wishes Richard Kenneth Guy

Richard Kenneth Guy
Richard Kenneth Guy

We send best wishes to Richard Kenneth Guy on his 102nd birthday, this day (September 30th) in 1916

From Wikipedia :

Richard Kenneth Guy (born 30 September 1916) is a British mathematician and professor emeritus in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Calgary.[1] He is known for his work in number theory, geometry, recreational mathematics, combinatorics, and graph theory.[2][3] He is best known for co-authorship (with John Conway and Elwyn Berlekamp) of Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays and authorship of Unsolved Problems in Number Theory.[4] He has also published over 300 papers.[5] Guy proposed the partially tongue-in-cheek “Strong Law of Small Numbers,” which says there are not enough small integers available for the many tasks assigned to them – thus explaining many coincidences and patterns found among numerous cultures.[6] For this paper he received the MAA Lester R. Ford Award.[7]

From 1947 to 1951 Guy was the endings editor for the British Chess Magazine.[40] He is known for almost 200 endgame studies. Along with Hugh Blandford and John Roycroft, he is one of the inventors of the GBR code (Guy–Blandford–Roycroft code), a system of representing the position of chess pieces on a chessboard. Publications such as EG magazine use it to classify endgame types and to index endgame studies.[41]

Richard Kenneth Guy
Richard Kenneth Guy

Remembering Eileen Betsy Tranmer (05-V-1910, 26-IX-1983)

WIM Eileen Betsy Tranmer
WIM Eileen Betsy Tranmer

We remember WIM Eileen Betsy Tranmer who passed away on September 26th, 1983.

From Wikipedia :

Eileen Betsy Tranmer (5 May 1910 – 26 September 1983) was an English musician and chess player who held the title of Woman International Master (WIM, 1950). She was a four-time winner of the British Women’s Chess Championship (1947, 1949, 1953, 1961).

From the end of the 1940s to the start of the 1960s, she was one of England’s leading women chess players. Eileen Betsy Tranmer four times won the British Women’s Chess Championships: 1947, 1949, 1953 and 1961[1]. In 1950, Eileen Betsy Tranmer participated at Women’s World Chess Championship in Moscow where shared 5th-7th place[2]. In 1952, she participated at Women’s World Chess Championship Candidates Tournament in Moscow and ranked 7th place[3]. In 1950, she was awarded the FIDE International Women Master (WIM) title.

On 20 June 1946 Tranmer played (and lost) a “radio chess” match against the Russian woman chess player Valentina Byelova. Tranmer was one of two women who were part of a twelve-member British team who played in a four-day radio chess tournament. The British team played their moves in London while the Soviet team played their moves in Moscow.[4][5]

Eileen Betsy Tranmer played for England in the Women’s Chess Olympiad:[6]

In 1957, at second board in the 1st Chess Olympiad (women) in Emmen (+3, =8, -3).
In addition to participating in chess tournaments, Eileen Betsy Tranmer also was prominent clarinettist. In March 1940, she gave concerts with Scottish Orchestra. From 1950 she working with Sadler’s Wells Orchestra along with another British clarinetist, Thea King[7].

WIM Eileen Betsy Tranmer & WIM Rowena Mary Bruce
WIM Eileen Betsy Tranmer & WIM Rowena Mary Bruce

Remembering Alexander McDonnell (1798, 14 IX 1835)

We do not have an image of this player
We do not have an image of this player

We remember Alexander McDonnell who died aged 37 on September 14th, 1835

From Wikipedia :

Alexander McDonnell (1798–1835) was an Irish chess master, who contested a series of six matches with the world’s leading player Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais in the summer of 1834.

In 1825 he became a pupil of William Lewis, who was then the leading player in Britain. But soon McDonnell had become so good that Lewis, fearing for his reputation, simply refused to play him anymore.

Around 1825–1826, McDonnell played Captain Evans, while the latter was on shore leave in London. McDonnell was beaten with what is now regarded in chess circles as the creation of the Evans Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4).[3]

La Bourdonnais matches
Main article: La Bourdonnais – McDonnell chess matches
At that time the world’s strongest player was the French aristocrat Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais. Between June and October 1834 La Bourdonnais and McDonnell played a series of six matches, a total of eighty-five games, at the Westminster Chess Club in London. McDonnell won the second match, while La Bourdonnais won first, third, fourth and fifth. The sixth match was unfinished.

In the first game of the third match, McDonnell successfully introduced a new variation in the King’s Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 g4 5.Nc3) known today as the McDonnell Gambit.

We are not convinced that the photograph above is of AM. We received this reply from Tim Harding :

I don’t recall ever seeing ANY image that was definitely of him, but I have referred your enquiry to James O’Fee in Belfast who is probably the only person who might know of one.

It doesn’t help that he had in Belfast an almost exact contemporary of the same name (who came to work in Dublin and long outlived the chess player) and there is some issue about which one was the son of a doctor and which the son of a merchant. So even if you found an image online it’s more likely to be of the wrong man.

Unless I am wrong there was never any image of Alexander McDonnell in a chess context.
The main chance would perhaps be in connection with his lobbying for the Demerara planters.

Best wishes
Tim

William Lewis (09-X-1787 – 22-VIII-1870)

William Lewis
William Lewis

We note the passing today (August 22nd) in 1870 of William Lewis of the Lewis Counter Gambit.

The Lewis Counter Gambit
The Lewis Counter Gambit

From Wikipedia :

William Lewis (1787–1870) was an English chess player and author, nowadays best known for the Lewis Countergambit and for being the first player ever to be described as a Grandmaster of the game.[1]

Born in Birmingham, William Lewis moved as a young man to London where he worked for a merchant for a short period. He became a student of chess player Jacob Sarratt, but in later years he showed himself to be rather ungrateful towards his teacher.[1] Although he considered Sarratt’s Treatise on the Game of Chess (1808)[2] a “poorly written book”, in 1822 Lewis published a second edition of it three years after Sarratt’s death in direct competition with Sarratt’s own superior revision published posthumously in 1821 by Sarratt’s poverty-stricken widow. In 1843, many players contributed to a fund to help the old widow, but Lewis’ name is not on the list of subscribers.[1]

Around 1819 Lewis was the hidden player inside the Turk (a famous automaton), meeting all-comers successfully. He suggested to Johann Maelzel that Peter Unger Williams, a fellow ex-student of Sarratt, should be the next person to operate inside the machine. When P. U. Williams played a game against the Turk, Lewis recognised the old friend from his style of play (the operator could not see his opponents) and convinced Maelzel to reveal to Williams the secret of the Turk. Later, P. U. Williams himself took Lewis’ place inside the machine.[3]

Lewis visited Paris along with Scottish player John Cochrane in 1821, where they played with Alexandre Deschapelles, receiving the advantage of pawn and move. He won the short match (+1 =2).[4]

Lewis’ career as an author began at this time, and included translations of the works of Greco and Carrera, published in 1819[5] and 1822[6] respectively.

He was the leading English player in the correspondence match between London and Edinburgh in 1824, won by the Scots (+2 = 2 -1). Later, he published a book on the match with analysis of the games.[7] In the period of 1834–36 he was also part of the Committee of the Westminster Chess Club, who played and lost (−2) the match by correspondence with the Paris Chess Club. The other players were his students McDonnell and Walker, while the French line up included Boncourt, Alexandre, St. Amant and Chamouillet.[8] When De La Bourdonnais visited England in 1825, Lewis played about 70 games with the French master. Seven of these games probably represented a match that Lewis lost (+2 -5).[9]

Lewis enjoyed a considerable reputation as a chess player in his time. A correspondent writing to the weekly magazine Bell’s Life in 1838 called him “our past grandmaster”, the first known use of the term in chess.[1] Starting from 1825 he preserved his reputation by the same means that Deschapelles used in France, by refusing to play anyone on even terms. In the same year Lewis founded a Chess Club where he gave lessons to, amongst others, Walker and McDonnell. He was declared bankrupt in 1827 due to bad investments on a patent for the construction of pianos and his chess club was forced to close. The next three years were quite difficult until in 1830 he got a job that assured him of solid financial security for the rest of his life. Thanks to this job, he could focus on writing his two major works: Series of Progressive Lessons (1831) and Second Series of Progressive Lessons (1832). The first series of the Lessons were more elementary in character, and designed for the use of beginners; the second series, on the other hand, went deeply into all the known openings. Here, for the first time we find the Evans Gambit, which is named after its inventor, Capt. Evans.[10]

The works of Lewis (together with his teacher Sarratt) were oriented towards the rethinking of the strictly Philidorian principles of play in favour of the Modenese school of Del Rio, Lolli and Ponziani.[11] When he realised that he could not give an advantage to the new generation of British players, Lewis withdrew gradually from active play[1] (in the same way that Deschapelles did after his defeat against De La Bourdonnais).

After his retirement he wrote other chess treatises, but his isolation prevented him from assimilating the positional ideas of the new generation of chess-players. For this reason, Hooper and Whyld in their Oxford Chess Companion describe the last voluminous work of Lewis, A Treatise on Chess (1844),[12] as already “out of date when published”.

Chess Board Companion by William Lewis
Chess Board Companion by William Lewis
Chess for Beginners
Chess for Beginners

Ken Whyld Remembered

Ken Whyld
Ken Whyld

BCN remembers much loved Ken Whyld who passed away on July 11th 2003 in Lincolnshire.

From Wikipedia :

Kenneth Whyld (6 March 1926 – 11 July 2003) was a British chess author and researcher, best known as the co-author (with David Hooper) of The Oxford Companion to Chess, a single-volume chess reference work in English.

Whyld was a strong amateur chess player, taking part in the British Chess Championship in 1956 and winning the county championship of Nottinghamshire. He subsequently made his living in information technology while writing books on chess and researching its history.

As well as The Oxford Companion to Chess, Whyld was the author of other reference works such as Chess: The Records (1986), an adjunct to the Guinness Book of Records and the comprehensive The Collected Games of Emanuel Lasker (1998). He also researched more esoteric subjects, resulting in works such as Alekhine Nazi Articles (2002) on articles in favour of the Nazi Party supposedly written by world chess champion Alexander Alekhine, and the bibliographies Fake Automata in Chess (1994) and Chess Columns: A List (2002).

From 1978 until his death in 2003, Whyld wrote the “Quotes and Queries” column in the British Chess Magazine.

Shortly after Whyld’s death, the Ken Whyld Association was established with the aim of compiling a comprehensive chess bibliography in database form and promoting chess history.

Whyld’s library was later sold to the Musée Suisse du Jeu, located on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland (as reported in number 152 of EG).

The Oxford Companion to Chess
The Oxford Companion to Chess