Category Archives: Richard James

Minor Pieces 8: Cliff Bridle

John Upham recently chanced upon a 1947 game in which an otherwise unknown English player, C Bridle, defeated former World Championship challenger Bogoljubov in a 1947 tournament in Flensburg, Germany.

I’d come across the game myself many years ago, in Fred Reinfeld’s 1950 anthology A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces, and wondered about C Bridle, a name I hadn’t encountered elsewhere. At some point, perhaps from a magazine article somewhere, I’d seen his first name given as Cliff. A few years ago, now with access to online genealogy records and newspaper archives, I decided to do some research.

We all know who Efim Bogoljubov (1889-1952) was, though. He’s in so many inter-war tournament photographs: the corpulent, beer-swilling figure in the front row, genial and self-confident. “When I’m white I win because I’m white”, he said, “when I’m black I win because I’m Bogoljubov.” It’s easy to forget that, throughout the 1920s and early 1930s he was one of the world’s strongest players, although no match for the mighty Alekhine in two world championship matches. Even in the final years of his career, after World War 2, he was still a formidable opponent. So how come he lost to an otherwise unknown adversary?

It’s well worth looking at the game. I also asked my silicon chum Stockfish 14 to comment on Reinfeld’s annotations. Needless to say, he(?) wasn’t impressed. Stocky v Freddy: let battle commence.

1. d4 e6
2. c4 f5

Stocky, who, sadly for me as a long standing devotee of that opening, doesn’t think much of the Dutch Defence, would aware this a ?!.

3. Nf3 Nf6
4. g3 b6?!

A ? from Freddy, another ?! from Stocky.

5. Bg2 Bb7
6. O-O Be7
7. Nc3

Stocky suggests that White can, and should, play the immediate d5 here: 7. d5! exd5 8. Nd4 g6 9. cxd5 Bxd5 (9… Nxd5 10. Bh6) 10. Bxd5 Nxd5 11. Nxf5)

7… Ne4
8. d5 Nxc3
9. bxc3

Freddy correctly opines that Black has chosen a bad opening, but adds that the fianchetto of the queen’s bishop is generally avoid because of the possibility of d5. A strange comment, as the Queen’s Indian Defence is, and was back in 1950, perfectly respectable. The idea of d5 in this sort of position would, I think, have been considered fairly advanced knowledge at the time. I guess the ever optimistic Bogo was gambling on his inexperienced opponent not knowing this. If White just plays developing moves, it’s very easy for Black to play move like Ne4, g5, g4, Qh4 and get an automatic attack.

9… O-O
10. Nd4

Threatening d6 as well as dxe6.

10… Qc8?

Freddy and Stocky agree that this deserves a question mark. Freddy suggests that Black should play 10… e5 when White should retreat his knight with advantage because of the poorly placed bishop on b7. Stocky continues this with 11. Nb3 d6 12. c5 (a thematic tactic: 12… bxc5 13. Nxc5 dxc5 14. Qb3 regaining the piece) 12… a5 13. c6 Bc8 with only a slight advantage for White. He also thinks Black could consider the pawn sacrifice 10… Bd6 11. dxe6 Bxg2 12. Kxg2 Qe7 13. exd7 Nxd7 with some compensation.

11. e4 c5
12. Ne2 Bf6
13. Qd3 Na6
14. exf5 exf5

15. g4!?

Freddy gives this a shriek mark: ‘instinctive and strong’. Stocky is not so convinced, meeting it with 15… Nb4! to drive the queen away. White might then consider the exchange sacrifice 16. cxb4!? Bxa1 17. Bf4 Bb2 18. Rb1 Bf6 19. g5 Be7 20. Ng3 d6. He thinks White could have maintained a winning advantage by playing a move like Bf4 or h4 rather than trying to force the issue.

15… fxg4
16. Be4 g6
17. Ng3!?

Freddy claims 17. Bxg6 is premature. Again, Stocky begs to differ, analysing 17. Bxg6! hxg6 18. Qxg6+ Bg7 19. Bh6 Rf7 20. Ng3 Qf8 21. Nh5 Rf6 22. Qxg7+ Qxg7 23. Bxg7 Rf3 24. Rae1 Rh3 25. Re5 Rxh5 26. Rxh5 Kxg7 27. f3 with a winning advantage because Black’s queen side pieces are still out of play)

17… Kg7?

No comment from Freddy, but a question mark from Stocky, who thinks Qe8 was Black’s only defence.

18. Bf4 Nc7
19. Rae1 Ne8

20. Nh5+!!

Double shriek mark from Freddy. This time Stocky agrees. Stocky is happy with Freddy’s analysis of 20… gxh5 21. Bh6+!!, but points out that the more prosaic 21. Bxh7! is equally good. Some variations:

20… gxh5 21. Bxh7 (21. Bh6+ Kxh6 22. Bxh7 Kg5 (22… Kg7 23. Qg6+ Kh8 24. Bg8) (22… Rg8 23. Bxg8 Nd6 24. Qh7+ Kg5 25. h4+ Kxh4 26. Kg2 Kg5 27. f4+ gxf3+ 28. Kxf3 Qxg8 29. Rg1+ Kh4 30. Rh1+ Kg5 31. Rxh5#) 23. f4+ gxf3 24. Qg6+ Kh4 (24… Kf4 25. Qg3#) 25. Qg3#) 21… Kh8 22. Qg6 d6 23. Qxh5 Qc7 24. Bf5+ Kg8 25. Bh6 Ng7 26. Qg6

20… Kf7
21. Nxf6 Nxf6
22. Bd6 Re8
23. f4?

Stocky tells me this throws away most of White’s advantage: he should be opening the position rather than closing it, so 23. f3 was called for, when Black has nothing better than g3 in reply.

23… Nxe4
24. Rxe4 Rxe4
25. Qxe4 Qe8
26. Qd3 Qg8?

Moving the queen off the critical e-file. 26… Kg8 was the most tenacious defence, but Freddy didn’t notice.

27. f5 g5

28. f6?!

Pushing the passed pawn too soon, giving the black queen access to g6. White has two winning ideas here, according to Stocky. He wants to capture on g4 before Black has time to start counterplay with h5. Perhaps the simpler option is:

28. Qe4! Qe8 (28… Re8 29. Qxg4 and Black’s kingside will soon collapse) 29. Be5 Rd8 (now the e-file is sealed White can continue in similar fashion to the game) 30. f6 Qg8 31. Bd6 Re8 32. Qe7+ Rxe7 33. fxe7+ Kg6 34. Rf8 and wins.

The second path to victory is:

28. Qg3! h5 (28… Ba6 29. Qxg4 Re8 30. Qh5+ Kf6 31. h4 Bxc4 32. Qh6+ Kf7 33. hxg5) when White has the spectacularly beautiful 29. Be7!! with elements of both interference (on the e-file) and clearance (on the diagonal). Play might continue 29… Kxe7 (29… Re8 30. Qd6 Rxe7 31. f6 Re3 32. Qxd7+ Kg6 33. f7 Qf8 34. Qf5+ Kh6 35. Qf6+ Kh7 36. Qxg5 Rf3 37. Qxh5+ Qh6 38. Qxh6+ Kxh6 39. Rxf3 gxf3 40. f8=Q+) 30. Qc7 Ba6 (30… Qf7 31. f6+ Kf8 32. Rf5 Re8 33. Qd6+ Kg8 34. Rxg5+ Kh8 35. Rg7 Qf8 36. Qf4) (30… Bc8 31. Re1+ Kf7 32. Qd6 Qg7 33. Re7+ Kf8 34. Rxg7+ Kxg7 35. Qe7+ Kh6 36. Qf7 h4 37. Qg6#) 31. Re1+ Kf8 32. Qd6+ Kg7 33. Re7+

28… Qg6??

A Bogo booboo, missing Cliff’s 30th move. Instead, he could have equalised by occupying the e-file first. After 28… Re8, with Qg6 to follow, everything, according to Stocky, is about equal. (28… Re8 29. Qf5 (29. Be7 Qg6 30. Qg3) 29… Bc8 30. Qxg4 Qg6)

But Freddy was asleep and let both players’ 28th moves pass without comment.

29. Qe3 Re8
30. Qe7+! Rxe7
31. fxe7+ Kg7
32. Be5+ Kh6
33. Rf6 1-0

‘A very attractive game’, according to Freddy. An interesting but inaccurate game according to Stocky. You might, I suppose, see it as a classic example of bishops of opposite colours favouring the attacker in the middlegame, and note that Black’s queenside pieces were offside.

You should also look at some of the tactics, especially 29. Be7!! in the note to White’s 28th move.

It’s still mightily impressive for an unknown amateur to beat a top grandmaster with a brilliant queen sacrifice.

Congratulations, Cliff!

But who was Mr Bridle, anyway, and what was he doing in Flensburg? Perhaps he was just enjoying a summer holiday. It seems that Cliff spent most of his life in the shadows. Let’s have a look and see what we can find out.

Clifford Bridle was born in Weymouth, Dorset on 11 February 1914. His father was George Bridle, originally from Wareham, who had divorced his first wife in 1910 and married Susan Jane Smith in 1912. Cliff had an older sister, Greta, and two younger brothers, Jack and Victor, as well as a half sister, Sarah Bessie. The 1911 census reveals that George was a house decorator. Not the sort of comfortable upper middle-class background you’d expect from a strong chess player, but the world was changing. Before World War 1, chess had been, at least at higher levels, very much associated with the comfortably off, but in the inter-war years the game was broadening its demographics, and players from working class backgrounds could sometimes be found playing at higher levels.

We pick Cliff up for the first time as a chess player in 1932, where he was playing correspondence chess for his home county. He also started playing over the board, and, in April 1933, the Western Morning News pointed out that he’d won every game he played for Dorset, while lamenting the lack of an inter-club competition in his county. There was an individual county championship, though, and Cliff, one of the young ones, reached the final, where he lost to Swanage schoolmaster Bennett William Wood. The Western Gazette (23 June 1933) reported that “Mr. Bridle, who is only 18 years of age, is to be congratulated on the excellent fight he made for the championship. Congratulations again, Cliff. In those days the county champion got to play top board the following season, so Cliff didn’t quite make Number One.

He continued to play county chess, usually on about board 9 or 10, throughout the 1930s. The 1939 Register found him, a bachelor boy, living with his mother and brothers at 13 Milton Road, Weymouth. He was following in his father’s footsteps, working, like his brother Jack, as a house decorator and glazier, while young Victor seemed to be moving up in the world, having found clerical work with an estate agent. Cliff’s date of birth is given incorrectly as 11 July 1914. And then the trail goes dead, until 1947, when he turned up in Flensburg.

Here’s Wikipedia on Flensburg:

Flensburg is an independent town in the north of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Flensburg is the centre of the region of Southern Schleswig. After Kiel and Lübeck, it is the third largest town in Schleswig-Holstein.

In May 1945, Flensburg was the seat of the last government of Nazi Germany, the so-called Flensburg government led by Karl Dönitz, which was in power from 1 May, the announcement of Hitler’s death, for one week, until German armies surrendered and the town was occupied by Allied troops. The regime was effectively dissolved on 23 May when the British Army arrested Dönitz and his ministers – the dissolution was formalized by the Berlin Declaration which was progmulated on 5 June.

The nearest larger towns are Kiel (86 kilometres (53 miles) south) and Odense in Denmark (92 km (57 mi) northeast). Flensburg’s city centre lies about 7 km (4 mi) from the Danish border.

The 3rd Royal Tank Regiment was based there on behalf of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) between 1945 and 1948, and CHESS, reporting the tournament, described Bridle as being of the BAOR. I can find nothing in online Forces records, so perhaps he was working for them in a civilian capacity. Maybe they needed a glazier to replace the broken windows. Not a summer holiday for Cliff, then.

The tournament was led by three prominent masters, while locally based players finished lower down. The final scores, according to BCM, were: Bogoljubov, 8.5; Enevoldsen (Copenhagen) and F. Sämisch 8; Nürnberg (Augsburg), 7; Sepp (Estonia), 5.5; H. Gomoluch (Flensburg), 5; Clausen (Denmark), 4; P. Gomoluch (Flensburg), 3.5; C. Bridle (England) and Kornbeck (Denmark), 2.5; Borgaa (Denmark), 0.5.

Cliff Bridle was 33 at the time, no longer a young one, so hardly, at least by today’s standards, the ‘youthful unknown’ described by Reinfeld. His win against Bogo attracted some attention and was published by ME Goldstein in the Chess Review, Sydney. This was in turn picked up by the Hastings and St Leonards Observer, who copied it on 28 August 1948.

Did he take up tournament chess on returning to England? Seemingly not very much. However, he ended up not all that far from my part of the world.

In 1954, the BCF published its second national grading list, and there, in category 4b, which would later become 185-192, or about 2100 in today’s money, is C Bridle of Wimbledon. So he must have been playing some competitive chess in the early 1950s. No sign of him in 1955, though.

In 1964 he suddenly appeared on the electoral roll, living, apparently on his own, at 147 Worple Road, Wimbledon, a road I know very well. It runs parallel with the railway line between Raynes Park and Wimbledon, therefore taking me to Wimbledon Chess Club for Thames Valley League matches. Was he still a bachelor boy? Perhaps not, in 1965, the last year for which London electoral rolls are currently available online, he’s been joined by Karen Bridle. Who was Karen? His wife? His daughter? Karen, originally a Danish name, only became popular in the English speaking world in the 1940s. I can’t find a marriage record for Cliff or a birth record for Karen, so, as we know he spent time in Flensburg, near the Danish-German border, perhaps he married there. I found an online tree with a Karen Bridle from Wimbledon, born in 1925, who married John Anthony Williams, who died at sea in 1970. The same person? No idea.

There’s one further record. The Middlesex County Times, which often reported Ealing Chess Club’s results, is available online. In 1968 Cliff Bridle was playing on board 3 for Wimbledon against Ealing in a Thames Valley League match (he won with the white pieces against E (Francis Edwin) Weninger), so he was still occasionally active into his mid 50s.

At some point he returned to his native Dorset, dying there in February 2001 at the age of 87.

Here, again, is the game on which his fame rests.

Update (27 Aug 21)

Thanks to everyone for their interest in this article.

Particular thanks to Jon D’Souza-Eva, who has discovered that Cliff Bridle’s wife seems to have been Katharina Cäcilia Martha Lauer, born 2 January 1927, died 6 April 1989: her address was given as Flat 1, Steeple Court, 36, St Marys Road, SW19, just round the corner from the All England Lawn Tennis Club. I presume she was born in Germany and married Cliff somewhere in the Flensburg area round about 1947. They later divorced and in 1970 she married John Anthony Williams, also a divorcee, who had been born in Ludlow in 1921. Sadly, John died on 6 August 1972: his probate record shows his address was also Steeple Court. (An online tree incorrectly gives his death year as 1970, not 1972, and claims he had died at sea, off the coast of Somerset, while working.)

Particular thanks also to Brian Denman, who has contributed another Cliff Bridle game.

Source: Sussex Daily News (21 Apr 1955), which gives neither the date nor the occasion.

In this game, Cliff is hardly recognisable as the same player who beat Bogo, is he? A pretty poor effort. Black could even have won a pawn with the Stock Tactic 5… Nxd5 with Bg7 to follow if White captures either way. I guess we all have bad days.

Bruce Hayden, or, if you prefer, Hendry Ellenband, was himself an interesting character, who, because of his local connections, might be worth a future Minor Piece.

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Minor Pieces 7: Martin Luther Lewis

Martin Luther. Interesting choice of Christian names. What do you know about Martin Luther?

Here’s Wikipedia to help you:

Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a German professor of theology, priest, author, composer, Augustinian monk, and a seminal figure in the Reformation. Luther was ordained to the priesthood in 1507. He came to reject several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church; in particular, he disputed the view on indulgences. Luther proposed an academic discussion of the practice and efficacy of indulgences in his Ninety-five Theses of 1517. His refusal to renounce all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor.

Luther taught that salvation and, consequently, eternal life are not earned by good deeds but are received only as the free gift of God’s grace through the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority and office of the pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge, and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptized Christians to be a holy priesthood. Those who identify with these, and all of Luther’s wider teachings, are called Lutherans, though Luther insisted on Christian or Evangelical as the only acceptable names for individuals who professed Christ.

His translation of the Bible into the German vernacular (instead of Latin) made it more accessible to the laity, an event that had a tremendous impact on both the church and German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation,[6] and influenced the writing of an English translation, the Tyndale Bible.[7] His hymns influenced the development of singing in Protestant churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora, a former nun, set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant clergy to marry.

His translation of the Bible into the German vernacular (instead of Latin) made it more accessible to the laity, an event that had a tremendous impact on both the church and German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the Tyndale Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in Protestant churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora, a former nun, set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant clergy to marry.

Yes, Martin Luther was one of the most important figures in European history: he had an enormous impact on the development of Christianity, leading, for example to the foundation of the Church of England, which enabled Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon, marry Anne Boleyn and dissolve the monasteries.

He also had an enormous impact on the development of Western music. Out went complex polyphony sung in Latin, to be replaced by simple hymn tunes sung in the vernacular, which in turn would underpin the sacred music of one of my heroes, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Over the years, admirers of Martin Luther have sometimes chosen those names for their sons.

Take, for example, American Baptist preacher Michael King. While on a trip to Germany for the annual meeting of the World Baptist Alliance in 1934, where they issued a resolution condemning antisemitism, he was inspired by what he learned about Martin  Luther to change both his Christian name, and that of his eldest son from Michael to Martin Luther. It was ironic that the original Martin Luther himself expressed violently antisemitic views in his later works.

An earlier Baptist minister on the other side of the Atlantic also named his son Martin Luther. Here’s his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

LEWIS, WILLIAM GARRETT (1821–1885), baptist minister, eldest son of William Garrett Lewis, was born at Margate 5 Aug. 1821. His father, who was in business at Margate, moved to Chatham, where he was ordained and became minister of the Zion Chapel in 1824; he was the author of ‘Original Hymns and Poems on Spiritual Subjects,’ London, 1827. The son was educated at Gillingham, Margate, and Uxbridge, and from 1837 to 1840 was articled to Dr. Gray, a Brixton schoolmaster. In 1840 he obtained a clerkship in the post office, went to live at Hackney, and became an active baptist. Being chosen a minister, he worked from September 1847 at the chapel in Silver Street, Kensington Gravel Pits. On 6 April 1853 the new chapel built by his congregation in Leding Road, Westbourne Grove, was opened, and there he continued to preach with great success till the end of 1880. On 3 Jan. 1881 his congregation presented him with four hundred guineas, and he removed to the chapel in Dagnal Street, St. Albans. Lewis was one of the founders of the London Baptist Association, of which he was secretary from 1865 to 1869 and president in 1870. For nearly twenty years he was editor of the ‘Baptist Magazine.’ He died 16 Jan. 1885 at his house in Victoria Street, St. Albans, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. He married, in December 1847, the youngest daughter of Daniel Katterns of the East India Company. His wife predeceased him, leaving a son and a daughter. Lewis was an excellent preacher and lecturer, and a man of great piety. His chief works were: 1. ‘The Religion of Rome examined,’ London, 1851, 16mo. 2. ‘Westbourne Grove Sermons,’ London, 1872. 3. ‘The Trades and Occupations of the Bible,’ London, 1875; a translation (with alterations) of this work appeared in Welsh, London, 1876.

The church he founded in Notting Hill is still active today. If you’re really interested, you can buy a book of his sermons here.

But it’s his son, Martin Luther Lewis, who interests us in this, the third and final article about Arthur Towle Marriott’s Leicester chess opponents.

Our Martin Luther was born in Kensington in 1851 and read Classics at Downing College, Cambridge. He then chose to go into teaching rather than following his father into the ministry, and obtained a post teaching Classics at Bradford Grammar School.

We first encounter him as a chess player in 1877 and 1878, taking part in a blindfold simul given, inevitably, by Joseph Henry Blackburne. The game was unfinished and Blackburne consented to a draw ‘owing to the pieces being very evenly balanced, and it being necessary to exchange off the pieces and play it out as a pawn game, which would have been very protracted’, according to the Bradford Daily Telegraph (30 Nov 1877). During the same period he played in matches against other clubs, gradually moving up the board order until he found himself on top board.

In 1880, Martin Luther Lewis was on the move. The Leicester Journal (12 Nov 1880) reported: ‘The Rev. Edward Atkins, B.Sc., has been appointed to the second mastership of Wyggeston Boys’ School, vacant by the promotion of Mr. G. H. Nelson, M.A., to the headmastership of the Canterbury Middle School. Mr. M.L. Lewis, M.A., LL.M., late scholar of Downing College Cambridge, Classical Master in the Bradford Grammar School, and Mr. Alfred Barker, B.A., of the University of London, one of the Masters in the City of London School, Cowper-Street, have been appointed to Assistant Masterships in the School.’. At about the same time the school launched a new chess club: Lewis was no doubt involved in this venture.

Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys was the most prestigious boys’ school in Leicester at the time. Its many distinguished alumni include the Attenborough brothers (the Attenborough Building at Orleans Park School in Twickenham host tournaments run by Richmond Junior Chess Club), former RJCC parent Simon Hoggart, and author, publisher and chess player James Essinger.

The 1881 census found Lewis boarding with a widow, Ann Woodruffe (Hyde) Burrows, whose teenage son Edward was, I would imagine, a Wyggeston pupil.

He soon joined Leicester Chess Club and it wasn’t very long before he graduated to top board, playing regularly for them against other clubs in the Midlands between 1882 and 1888. His first over the board encounter with Arthur Towle Marriott came on Friday 31st March 1882. The match was not a success, according to the Leicester Chronicle of 8 April. Unfortunately, the Leicester players had to return too early to allow of any satisfactory conclusion being arrived at, the only games concluded at the time the contest was finished being those between Messrs. T. Marriott and A.F. Atkins, and Mr. H.R. Hatherley and Rev. J.C. Elgood. Of those, each team had one win to their credit. The other games were not far enough advanced to allow of adjudication. a fact which, after nearly three hours’ play, shows they were very stubbornly contested. No chess clocks in those days, of course. (Note that AF Atkins was no relation to the aforementioned Edward.)

The two clubs met again on Thursday 26 October in Leicester, with Lewis and Marriott now in opposition on top board. According to the Nottingham Evening Post on 28 October: Play commenced at seven o’clock at the New Town Hall, and was continued until 10.30, when unfinished games were adjudicated by Messrs. A. Marriott and M.L. Lewis (their own game being among that number). The result was an easy victory for the Nottingham team, who won nine games, lost two and six were drawn. One of the draws was indeed their own encounter.

They met again in Nottingham on 23 February 1883, the result of their top board game, and also the match, being a draw. At round about the same time, in the first quarter of 1883, Martin Luther Lewis married his landlady.

His results over his years of activity between 1877 and 1888 suggest that Lewis was one of the strongest players in the country outside London. Usually playing on top board, it seems he lost very few games. The comparatively high proportion of draws, along with the lack of published games, suggest that he was a solid and cautious player. EdoChess gives him a highest rating of 2250. However, he preferred to concentrate on his teaching and pastoral work rather than seek chess fame further afield. He was, apart from teaching Classics at Wyggeston, involved in preaching, teaching in Sunday Schools, and with the Leicester YMCA, where he started a chess club, drawing with William John Withers in a match against Granby.

Martin and Ann, who was thirteen years his senior, continued to live together for the rest of their lives. His stepson Edward himself went on to study theology, was appointed to a curacy in Bath, but sadly died at the age of only 33.

Although Martin Luther Lewis’s chess career was relatively short and uneventful, he played a highly influential role in the story of English chess. You’ll remember Edward Atkins, who joined Wyggeston at the same time as him. A very interesting man was Edward. His father, Timothy, was a humble framework knitter from Hinckley, but, like Thomas Marriott senior, was ambitious to improve himself. Even up to his mid 50s he was still knitting stockings, but later opened a shop, and, later still, became a hosiery manufacturer. He was clearly ambitious for his children, as well. Edward, in spite of his modest origins, had a highly successful career in the Church of England as well as teaching, becoming a Canon and continuing to officiate at the Church of St Nicholas, Leicester, into his nineties. His science lessons led to the formation of Leicester College of Technology, which would very much later (while I was there) become the City of Leicester Polytechnic, and is now, as De Montfort University, the home of the ECF Library.

The two men must have been good friends, and when Edward’s young son Henry Ernest Atkins showed an interest in chess, Martin was on hand to provide both tuition and encouragement. Perhaps he also influenced his pupil’s style of play. Atkins  junior, of course, became one of England’s strongest ever players. Certainly a Major Piece, not a Minor Piece. You can read much more about him in excellent articles here and here.

Martin Luther Lewis died on 23 October 1919, just 15 months after his wife.

Here’s an appreciation from ‘one who knew him’ from the Leicester Daily Post of 27 October.

Three weeks earlier, on 6 October, about a mile a half away, Tom Harry James had welcomed his 18th and last child into the world. But that’s another story.

This, then, was the life of Martin Luther Lewis, classics teacher, preacher and strong chess player.

It’s a well-known trope, isn’t it? You’ll probably be familiar with the 1939 movie Goodbye Mr Chips, based on James Hilton’s 1934 novella. You may also know the Terence Rattigan play The Browning Version. Hilton’s Mr Chips and Rattigan’s Crocker-Harris were both, like Lewis, classics teachers. Perhaps we might consider him to have been cut from the same cloth as these two fictional counterparts.

 

 

 

 

His sister Ruth never married, becoming a hospital matron in Chipping Barnet, and then working for the YWCA in Exeter. She later moved to Leicester, perhaps to care for her older brother in his final illness, and is buried with him in Welford Road Cemetery.

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Minor Pieces 6: William John Withers

Continuing my series about Arthur Towle Marriott’s Leicester opponents, we reach W Withers, almost certainly William. Apologies to those of you who’ve been eagerly awaiting this article, but I’ve been busy on other projects. You’ll find out more later.

Great song, and I hope you all have a lovely day, but this wasn’t William Harrison Withers Jr.

W Withers, sometimes WJ Withers (or were they two different people?),  first appeared in Leicester chess records in 1874, when he was elected Club Secretary, and continued his involvement, representing Leicester, and the smaller club, Granby, in matches against other Midlands towns and cities, until 1900. But who was he?

Withers is a surprisingly common name in the East Midlands. One of James Towle’s fellow Luddites bore the name William Withers, but his family were from Nottingham rather than Leicester and seem not to have been related to the chess player.

There were several gentlemen named William Withers in Leicester at the time. We can assume, because, as a young man he was the club secretary, that he came from an educated background. The only W Withers who fits the bill is William John Withers, who lived most of his life in Leicester, although his birth was registered in the St Pancras district of London in the second quarter of 1853, and who died in the Harrow/Hendon area on 23 December 1934.

William’s father, George Henry Withers, was the son of John Withers, born in the chess town of Hastings. John had a varied career. Originally a lace maker, he joined the police, rising to the rank of inspector. He then went to work on the railways, first as a station master, and then as a railroad contractor, before becoming a commission agent, and, finally, a clerk at a coal wharf. Was there any job he couldn’t turn his hand to? In between times, he found time to father eight children: seven sons and a daughter. Not for the first time in Minor Pieces, his seventh son was named Septimus.

George Henry Withers was John’s eldest son. Born in about 1830, he followed his father into the railways, a very common occupation at the time. When he married Mary Ann Caunt in 1849, he was a railway clerk, living in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, famous for its pork pies. He was described as being ‘of full age’: it’s not certain that this was true. By the 1851 census he was a station master living in Orston, Nottinghamshire.

This was presumably Elton Station, now called Elton and Orston, half way between those two villages, which had only opened to passenger traffic the previous year. In 2019/20, it was the second least used station in the country.

He didn’t stay there long. By 1853, when our man William was born, he was in the St Pancras area of London, perhaps working at one of the London railway termini: St Pancras itself, Kings Cross next door, or nearby Euston.

Just a few months later he’d moved again. Sadly, the death of his oldest child, Albert, was recorded in Grantham, and he was buried in the nearby village of Great Gonerby, whose inhabitants are known as ‘Clockpelters’, from their habit of trying to strike the face of the church clock with stones or snowballs.

We pick him up again in 1857, when, now working as a bailiff, he was appointed a Freeman of the City of Leicester. Later census records see him working as a commission agent, an accountant, a bookkeeper and a gardener. Like his father, a many of many skills and occupations.

It’s more than time to find out more about William John Withers. His first job was as a clerk in a coal office, and when he married in 1873, he was still in the same job.  His wife, Annie Clarke, was the daughter of a house painter, the same occupation that was followed by my grandfather Tom Harry James. Their first child, Horace, was born the following year, when William was also elected to the post of Secretary of Leicester Chess Club. It seems that he didn’t stay in that post long, though.

On 29 October 1880, he represented Leicester in a match against a visiting team from Nottingham Chess Club, where he faced Minor Pieces hero Arthur Towle Marriott.

The Leicester Chronicle (6 November 1880) reported what sounds like a convivial affair. Half way through, they all stopped playing to witness a presentation to Mr Sharland, the Leicester Club Secretary, who, in less than five years, had increased the club membership from 18 to 61. Various speeches were made before the gentlemen of Leicester and Nottingham resumed their games.

It seems that only one game was played on top board, while the other boards played two games each. Arthur Towle Marriott, the only Nottingham player to win both his games, seems to have been playing on too low a board.

Here’s his game with White.

The game followed well known (at the time) Evans Gambit theory for some way. Black’s 7th move is brave: 7… Nge7 and 7… d6 are most often played, but the engines like 7… Nf6 8. e5 d5. 10… b5 was also a bold choice: again 10… Nge7 would have been more circumspect. Marriott had stronger, but difficult, options on move 13, but his choice proved successful when the Leicester man blundered horribly in reply.

Three weeks later the Leicester chessers visited Nottingham for the return match, this time with a much weaker team. Mr Bingham’s restaurant provided an excellent supper, with speeches and toasts, before play started. Arthur Marriott, after his success in the earlier match, had been promoted to board 3, and again found himself facing William Withers.

The Nottingham Journal (27 November 1880) reported on an overwhelming victory for the home team. 11½-2½ was very different from the earlier 5-8 defeat.

These matches appear to have been social events rather than the competitive inter-club matches with which we’re all familiar. Although there was considerable interest in the result, the eating and drinking seemed just as important. Perhaps that’s how club matches should be.

Again, we have the game where Marriott played White against Withers.

This time, Withers chose to avoid the Evans Gambit, but playing 3… Nf6 without knowing the theory isn’t a good idea. Even then, it was known that 5… Nxd5 wasn’t best, giving White a choice of two strong options, 6. d4 and that primary school favourite, 6. Nxf7, the Fried Liver Attack.

Engines now confirm that 8… Ne7 in the Fried Liver is losing, but 8… Nb4 might just keep Black in the game. Marriott missed a couple of better moves, but Withers panicked on move 13, losing even more quickly and horribly than three weeks earlier.

By today’s standards, the chess of William John Withers makes a poor impression: a player with a patchy knowledge of opening theory along with tactical vulnerability.

Note that A F Atkins, who played for Leicester in these matches, was Arthur Frederick Atkins, originally from Coventry, and no relation to the great Henry Ernest Atkins, about whom more next time.

By now William had a new job: the 1881 census told us he was a bookseller in Loseby Lane, Leicester, only a few yards away from where a later and stronger Leicester chess player would, several decades later, also run a bookshop. You may well meet him in a future article. He was also just a short walk from what is now De Montfort University, the new home of the English Chess Federation library and also, as it happens, my alma mater.

An announcement in the Leicester Journal (5 January 1884) suggests that his bookselling business hit a problem.

It was time for him to turn over a new leaf. By 1891 he was an antiques dealer, having moved just round the corner to Silver Street, and doing well enough to employ a servant. The 1901 and 1911 censuses told the same story: in the latter year he styled himself a ‘dealer in genuine antiques’.

At some point after that, perhaps after the death of his father in 1913, he moved to London. The 1921 census, due for release next January, will reveal more.

We can pick William up again in 1932, when he made his last will and testament, granting generous bequests to his children and grandchildren. Still working as an antique dealer, his address was given as 48 George Street, Manchester Square, WC1, only a few minutes’ stroll from 44 Baker Street, where, had he been able to travel through time, he’d have been able to stock up on the latest chess books.

His antique dealing had clearly been very successful. He died in 1934, and probate records reveal that he left effects to the value of £15,240 17s  9d, which, depending on how you calculate it, amounts to anywhere between one and seven million pounds in today’s money.

So there you have it. While his chess playing didn’t impress, he played an important role in chess life in Leicester. Away from the board, in both business and family life, he seems to have done very well for himself. Well played, William John Withers!

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The Unstoppable American: Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik

The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788
The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788

From the publisher:

“Initially things looked gloomy for Bobby Fischer. Because he had refused to participate in the 1969 US Championship, he had missed his chance to qualify for the 1970 Interzonal Tournament in Palma de Mallorca. Only when another American, Pal Benko, withdrew in his favour, and after the officials were willing to bend the rules, could Bobby enter the contest and begin his phenomenal run that would end with the Match of the Century in Reykjavik against World Champion Boris Spassky.

Fischer started out by sweeping the field at the 23-round Palma Interzonal to qualify for the next stage of the cycle. In the Candidates Matches he first faced Mark Taimanov, in Vancouver. Fischer trounced the Soviet ace, effectively ending Taimanov’s career. Then, a few months later in Denver, he was up against Bent Larsen, the Great Dane. Fischer annihilated him, too. The surreal score in those two matches, twice 6-0, flabbergasted chess fans all over the world. In the ensuing Candidates Final in Buenos Aires, Fischer also made short shrift of former World Champion Tigran Petrosian, beating the hyper-solid “Armenian Tiger” 6½-2½.

Altogether, Fischer had scored an incredible 36 points from 43 games against many of the world’s best players, including a streak of 19 consecutive wins. Bobby Fischer had become not just a national hero in the US, but a household name with pop-star status all over the world. Jan Timman chronicles the full story of Fischer’s sensational run and takes a fresh look at the games. The annotations are in the author’s trademark lucid style, that happy mix of colourful background information and sharp, crystal-clear explanations.”

GM Jan Timman
GM Jan Timman

Where does history start? I’ve always thought history is what happened before you were born. For those of us, like Jan Timman and myself, who learnt our chess in the 1960s, perhaps chess history is what happened before World War 2. The events of the late forties were full of names familiar to us from tournaments of our time.

This book covers Bobby Fischer’s career in the years 1970 and 1971. More like current affairs than history for our generation. We all remember it well: we were around at the time and some of us will be familiar with many of the games. But, for younger readers, Fischer’s games from half a century ago will be ancient history. If we turn the clock back another five decades we reach 1921 and the Lasker – Capablanca World Championship match. Now that really does feel like ancient history, even to me.

Fifty years on, it seems like a good time to revisit the games with the aid of today’s powerful engines and greater knowledge. Jan Timman is ideally qualified to do just that.

Readers of Timman’s other recent books will know what to expect: clear annotations based on explanations rather than variations, along with entertaining anecdotes and background colour to put the games into context.

We have all 43 games (44 if you include a win by default) from the 1970 Interzonal and 1971 candidates matches, along with a selection of 19 games from earlier in 1970.

After withdrawing from the 1967 Interzonal, Fischer played in two relatively minor tournaments the following year, and, in 1969, played only one serious game, in a New York league match. The chess world was uncertain whether or not he’d ever play again, let alone fulfil what appeared to be his destiny and become world champion. Exciting, but also worrying times.

After an 18 month absence, Bobby agreed to take part in the 1970 match between the USSR and the Rest of the World, even ceding top board to Larsen. Chapter 1 takes us from this event, via Rovinj/Zagreb, the Herceg Novi blitz and Buenos Aires, to the Siegen Olympiad.

In round 7 of Rovinj-Zagreb, Fischer was black against one of the tournament’s lesser lights, the Romanian master Ghitescu.

Timman informs us: It has never been brought up before, but Fischer was demonstrably lost in this game, after having taken too much risk.

Here’s the critical position with Ghitescu to play his 23rd move. Where would you move your rook?

The exchange sacrifice 23. Rf4! would have been very strong. Black cannot accept the sacrifice, because he would have been strategically losing. Also after 23… Rg8 24. Re4 Rae8 25. Rf1, White is winning.

I may be wrong but I would have thought Rf4 would be automatic for master strength players today. Wouldn’t it also have been automatic for, say, Petrosian, back in 1970?

Instead, the game continued 23. Rd3 Rad8 24. Ng3 (24. b3 would have maintained the advantage) 24… Ba6, when Fischer took control of the game, eventually bringing home the full point. If he’d lost that game, perhaps chess history would have been very different.

Here’s the complete game.

The strategic insights Timman brings to positions like this are, for me, what makes this book so instructive. Here’s another example: Gligoric – Fischer from Siegen, with Gligoric to make his 39th move.

It’s not dissimilar to the previous example, and indeed both positions arose from King’s Indian Defences. Here, a white knight is fighting against a dark-squared bishop outside the pawn chain.

White could have obtained a winning position with 39. Nb1!. The strategic plan is simple: White is going to bring his knight to c4 and install his king on g4. Black has nothing to offer in exchange; his doubled c-pawn will be blocked, and his pieces are barely able to display any activity.

Again, the complete game:

Chapter 2 covers the 1970 Interzonal at Palma, Mallorca. You won’t find very many brilliant miniatures in this book, but Fischer’s win against Rubinetti is an exception.

Chapters 3-5 offer Fischer’s 6-0 shutouts against Taimanov and Larsen, and the final match against former champion Tigran Petrosian.

This position interested me. Any well-read player from my generation will recognise this as coming from the 7th Fischer – Petrosian game, where Bobby played 22. Nxd7+, a move garlanded with various numbers of exclamation marks by many commentators both at the time and later.

Here’s what Timman has to say.

The praise with which this move has been showered is unbelievable. Byrne commented: ‘This exchange, which wins the game, was completely overlooked by the press room group of grandmaster analysis. Najdorf, in fact, criticized it(!), suggesting the incomparably weaker 22. a4.’

Kasparov, too, was full of praise. ‘A brilliant decision, masterfully transforming one advantage into another (…) Petrosian was obviously hoping for the “obvious” 22. a4 Bc6 23. Rc1 Nd7 24. Nxd7+ Bxd7 with possibilities of a defence.

In Chess Informant 12, Petrosian himself and Suetin give two ‘!’s to the text move.

True, not all commentators were so pronounced in their praise. Spassky and Polugaevsky limited themselves to the conclusion that White exchanged one advantage for another and didn’t give an ‘!’ to the move.

However, the general drift was that Fischer had done something highly instructive, adding a new facet to strategic thinking in chess. I was very impressed at the time, but I also had doubts. There were no computers yet, and young players looked to the great players on the world stage as their examples. So, Fischer must have understood it better than I did.

Yet, I am almost certain that in this position, or a similar one, I would have opted for Najdorf’s move. And almost half a century after the event, it turned out that the Argentinian had simply been right!

Timman goes on to demonstrate that, indeed, 22. a4 is clearly winning, whereas Fischer’s 22. Nxd7+ Rxd7 23. Rc1 would have given Petrosian defensive chances if he’d chosen 23… d4 rather than the passive Rd6.

See for yourself:

What comes across from this book is the remorseless power and logic of Fischer’s play in this period, as well as his determination to play for a win in every game. Short draws were never on his agenda.

In the past, there was a tendency to annotate by result or reputation, and this seems to have been what happened here. These days, we can all switch on Stockfish and annotate by computer, while neglecting the human, the practical element.

Timman’s annotations, both here and in his previous books, strike me as getting the balance just about right. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather have verbal explanations than long engine-generated variations.

Older readers will enjoy reliving memories of the golden days of the Fischer era, while younger readers will learn a lot of chess history. Players of all levels will benefit from the annotations, which, because of their lucidity, are accessible to anyone from, say, 1500 upwards.

The many anecdotes add much to the book, although serious historians might feel frustrated that they’re not always sourced. There are also several pages of photographs: while their quality, as they’re printed on matt paper, isn’t perfect, they’re still more than welcome.

There are a few typos and mistakes regarding match scores and tournament crosstables which more careful proofing might have picked up, and the English, in one or two places (you may have noticed this from the extracts I quoted), might have been more idiomatic. Slightly annoying, perhaps,  but this won’t really impede your enjoyment of the book.

In spite of these slight reservations, this is an excellent book which is warmly recommended for players of all strengths. Next year will see the 50th anniversary of Fischer – Spassky. Might we hope that Timman will cover this match in a future volume?

One last thought: I wrote at the beginning of this review about how people of different ages have different perspectives of history. If Capablanca and Alekhine had been granted long lives, they would have lived to see these games. What would they have made of them? What would they have made of Bobby Fischer?

Richard James, Twickenham 10th August 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: New In chess (17 May 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919784
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919788
  • Product Dimensions: ‎ 17.27 x 2.54 x 23.62 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788
The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788
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How to Study Chess on Your Own

How to Study Chess on Your Own, Davorin Kuljasevic, New in Chess, June 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919313
How to Study Chess on Your Own, Davorin Kuljasevic, New in Chess, June 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919313

From the publisher:

“Every chess player wants to improve, but many, if not most, lack the tools or the discipline to study in a structured and effective way. With so much material on offer, the eternal question is: “”How can I study chess without wasting my time and energy?””

Davorin Kuljasevic provides the full and ultimate answer, as he presents a structured study approach that has long-term improvement value. He explains how to study and what to study, offers specific advice for the various stages of the game and points out how to integrate all elements in an actionable study plan. How do you optimize your learning process? How do you develop good study habits and get rid of useless ones? What study resources are appropriate for players of different levels? Many self-improvement guides are essentially little more than a collection of exercises.

Davorin Kuljasevic reflects on learning techniques and priorities in a fundamental way. And although this is not an exercise book, it is full of instructive examples looked at from unusual angles. To provide a solid self-study framework, Kuljasevic categorizes lots of important aspects of chess study in a guide that is rich in illustrative tables, figures and bullet points. Anyone, from casual player to chess professional, will take away a multitude of original learning methods and valuable practical improvement ideas.”

“Davorin Kuljasevic is an International Grandmaster born in Croatia. He graduated from Texas Tech University and played in USCL 2007 and 2008 for Dallas Destiny, the team that became US champion in both these years. He is an experienced coach and a winner of many tournaments.”

GM Davorin Kuljasevic
GM Davorin Kuljasevic

‘Study’ is the operative word here.

When I was learning chess in the 1960s and playing fairly seriously in the 1970s, chess wasn’t something you studied unless you were a top grandmaster. I’d play in club matches and tournaments. I’d read books and magazines because I enjoyed reading them, and, if I learnt something as well then so much the better. It wasn’t anything resembling serious study as you might study a subject at university. In those days, of course, you didn’t have a lot of opportunity to do much else.

In those days we couldn’t have imagined having a multi-million game database and a computer program capable of playing far better than any human on our desk, or being able to play a game at any time against opponents from anywhere in the world.

It’s not surprising, then, that ambitious players at any level are, if they have the time, keen to raise their rating by studying chess seriously.

We also know a lot more than we did, even 20 or 30 years ago, about the teaching and learning processes: lessons that can be applied to chess just as they can to other domains.

In the past, chess books told you what you should learn. Now, we’re seeing books, like this one, that teach you HOW you should learn. There’s a big difference.

Let’s start, controversially, at the end.

Chapter 9: Get organized – create a study plan

The author advises us to create a weekly timetable. Table 9.1 is based on the assumption that you’re at school in the morning, when you can spend 3 hours every afternoon and 2 hours every evening studying chess.

In my part of the world, if you’re an older teen you’re probably going to be at school in the afternoon as well as the morning, and have three hours of homework to do when you get home. Not to mention family commitments, other interests, hanging out with friends, eating, sleeping… I wonder how many chess players actually have time to study 4-5 hours a day, or even 1-2 hours a day, on a regular basis. On the other hand, 12-year-old Abhi Mishra, who has just become the youngest ever Grandmaster, spends at least 12 hours a day studying chess.

Returning to the Preface, the author anticipates your question: who will benefit the most from this book? “In my view, it would be self-motivated players of any level and age who are serious and disciplined about their chess study and have enough time to put the methods from the book into practice.”

If you fall into this category, read on. Even if you don’t: if you only have an hour or two a week to study, rather than 4-5 hours a day, you might still learn a lot.

What we have is 9 chapters looking at different aspects of studying chess, each concluding with a helpful list of bullet points. It’s not just a book of technical advise on how to study, though.  There’s a lot of chess in there as well, mostly taken from games you probably won’t have seen before. The first eight chapters have, as is the case with many books from this publisher, some exercises for you to solve, based on the most interesting positions from the chapter. The tactics and middle-game chapters also have questions for you to answer: do they tally with the author’s solutions given in Chapter 10?

In Chapter 1, the author asks “Do you study with the right mindset?”. Now, he doesn’t mean mindset in this sense, although that will come in useful. Instead, he suggests that mastering chess requires both time and intelligent study. There’s no substitute for study time. He quotes the example of English GM Jonathan Hawkins, only an average club player at 18, but through hard work, much of which involved with studying endings, became a GM by the age of 31.

A proper chess study mindset means, in Alekhine’s words, ‘a higher goal than a one-moment satisfaction’. Four typical mistakes are: lack of objectivity, shallow study approach, short-run outlook and playing too much. Kuljasevic talks about the correct balance between playing and studying. He quotes Botvinnik as saying that chess cannot be taught, only learned, which he interprets as meaning that everyone learns in a different way, and that it’s you, rather than your coach, who will make yourself a stronger player.

Kuljasevic was shocked to read a well known GM’s coaching advert: “I have produced numerous top-level players”. “Excuse me, but chess players are not ‘produced’! Every chess player’s learning process is their unique experience that cannot be replicated on someone else.”

These days there are many study methods available, and Chapter 2 provides a guide to fifteen you might consider, and giving them all scores out of 5 for practical relevance, study intensity and long-term learning potential. The three methods which score a maximum of three fives are Deep Analysis, Simulation (pretending to play a real game by guessing the next move) and Sparring (playing a pre-arranged game or match with a training partner for a specific reason).

As an example of what is meant by Deep Analysis, this is Aronian – Anand (Zurich 2014) with Black to play. Anand played 58… Ke7 here, but Re1+ would have been a more stubborn defence. Kuljasevic wanted to prove that White can always win positions of this type, and here spends seven pages doing just that.

Of course such an approach won’t suit everyone, but this chapter will help all readers determine the most useful methods for them. The point is not so much the relevance or otherwise of this particular ending, but the process itself used to analyse it.

Chapter 3 is about identifying your study priorities. At this point the author divides his readership into five categories:

  1. Intermediate player (1500-1800 Elo)
  2. Advanced player (1800-2100 Elo)
  3. Improving youngster (1900-2200 Elo)
  4. Master-level player (2100-2400 Elo)
  5. Strong titled player (2400+ Elo)

He suggests that, in general, you should spend 10% of your time on openings, 25% on tactics 25% on endgames, 20% on middlegames and 20% on general improvement. What proportion of your study time do you spend on openings? I thought so!

He then makes suggestions about how readers in each category might prioritise their studies.

If you’re an intermediate player you should concentrate on improving your tactical and endgame skills, while choosing a simple opening repertoire. Once you reach 1800 strength you can start working on more strategically complex openings. Club standard players should spend a large proportion of their time studying endings (Jonathan Hawkins would agree, as would Keith Arkell) and players of all levels would benefit from solving endgame studies on a regular basis.

Chapter 4 is about choosing the right resources for your study plan. Here we have a list of online resources: chess websites, the categories for which they are suitable, and, in each cases, the specific study opportunities they offer. Then we look at the best websites for each of the study methods from Chapter 2. An extensive list of recommended books for each of the five categories of player from Chapter 3 follows, arranged by subject matter. The books include classics by authors such as Alekhine, Spielmann and Chernev as well as more recent books. GM Grivas is quoted: “Reading the autobiographical games collections of great past players is like taking lessons with some of the greatest players in history”.  Unlike Kuljasevic, I’m not convinced that Chernev’s Logical Chess, excellent though it is for novices, is suitable for anyone much over 1800, though. There’s also some very useful advice on the best way to use ChessBase and other database software.

Chapters 5 to 8 each focus on one specific aspect of chess: openings, tactics, endings and middlegames.

Chapter 5 tells you how to study your openings deeply. The author starts with a warning: “I have met many people, and I’m sure you have, too, who have fallen into the trap of spending too much time studying openings. If they were to study other aspects of the game as zealously as openings, I am sure that they would be more complete, creative, and, most likely, stronger chess players. Young players and their coaches should especially keep this in mind.” He quotes, with approval, Portisch’s opinion: “Your only task in the opening is to reach a playable middle game”, and advises simplicity and economy when deciding on your openings. The study material in this chapter, then, is more suited for master level players and above.

This, for example, is an example of a ‘static tabiya’: you may well recognise it as coming from the Breyer Variation of the Ruy Lopez.

“This is one of the most well-known opening tabiyas, not only in the Ruy Lopez, but in chess in general. Over 1000 tournament games have been played from this position, from the club to the super-GM level. There is something appealing about this static type of structure for both sides as it contains a lot of potential for creative strategic play. I would like to present my brief analysis of a fairly rare idea: 17. Be3!?”

17. Bg5 is usually played here, meeting 17… h6 with Be3, happy to spend a move weakening the black king’s defences. Be3 has a different attacking plan in mind: Nf3-h2-g4-h6+ and possibly also Qf3. This is discussed over 3½ pages: I think you have to be a very stong player with a lot of study time available to go into this sort of detail, though.

Chapter 6 advises you to ‘Dynamize’ your tactical training. We’re all used to solving puzzles where we play combinations to win material or checkmate the enemy king. We could do more than that, though, by studying dynamic positions, complicated, double-edged tactical positions and positional sacrifices. We can also improve our tactical imagination by solving endgame studies and problems.

At the end of this chapter we get the chance to take a tactics test: “20 exercises consisting of tactical puzzles, positions for analysis, endgame studies, and problems for the development of dynamics and imagination”.

It’s Black’s move in this tactical puzzle. Your challenge is to solve it blindfold.

This is taken from Xie Jun – Galliamova (Women’s World Championship 1999). Black played 30… Qc7 here and eventually lost. She should have preferred 30… Qc8! (Nd2+ also wins) 31. Rc1 Qg4!, an attractive geometric motif winning either rook or queen.

Here, by contrast, is an endgame study, composed by FK Amelung in 1907. It’s White to play and win. Again, you’re challenged to solve it without moving the pieces.

The solution is 1. Rd8+ Ke1 2. Re8+ Kd2 3. Nc3! c1Q+ 4. Nb1+ Kd1 5. Rd8+ Ke1 6. Rf8! and wins.

There’s a lot more to tactics training than sac, sac, mate!

Studying endings can seem rather dull, so it’s good to know that Chapter 7 tells you how to make your endgame study more enjoyable.  Kuljasevic advises that, instead of reading books from beginning to end you look at practical examples, including your own games, and, (yes, again) endgame studies. He agrees with Capablanca that “Study of chess should commence with the third and final phase of a chess game, the endgame”.

Chapter 8 is all about strategy: how to systemize your middlegame knowledge. This is the hardest aspect of chess to study. The author looks at studying the pawn structures that might arise from your opening repertoire in a systematic way, and then goes on to discuss piece exchanges: understanding when exchanges might be favourable or unfavourable rather than just seeing them as a way to simplify towards an ending.

The chapter concludes with a short quiz on this subject. Here’s the first question: would you advise White to trade rooks, to give Black the option of trading, or to move his rook away?

This was Mamedyarov – Carlsen Baku 2008

White correctly moved his rook away, playing 25. Rf1, and later won after a Carlsen blunder. The coming kingside attack will be much stronger with the rook on the board, and Black can do nothing on the c-file.

Chapter 9, as we’ve seen, looks at how you might devise your own study plan – on the assumption that you have several hours a day to study, and Chapter 10 provides solutions to the quiz questions.

So, what to make of all this? I found it an extremely impressive book on an increasingly important aspect of chess: ‘how to learn’ as opposed to ‘what to learn’. Davorin Kuljasevic has clearly put an enormous amount of thought and hard work into writing it. If you’re within the target market – you want to improve your chess and have a lot of time available for that purpose – I’d give this book a very strong recommendation.

Even if you only have a few hours (or even less) a week, rather than a few hours a day to set aside for chess study, you’re sure to find much invaluable advice about how to make the most of your time.

There’s a lot of great – and highly instructive – chess in the book as well, so you might enjoy it for that alone. Much of it, though, I felt, was aimed more at the higher end of the rating scale. It would also be good to read a book on how to study chess written more for average players with limited study time.

Kuljasevic’s previous book (there’s an excellent review here) was shortlisted for FIDE’s 2020 Book of the Year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book was similarly honoured. He’s clearly an exceptional writer as well as an exceptional coach.

Richard James, Twickenham 22nd July 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (1 May 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919318
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919313
  • Product Dimensions: ‎ 17.27 x 2.54 x 23.62 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

How to Study Chess on Your Own, Davorin Kuljasevic, New in Chess, June 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919313
How to Study Chess on Your Own, Davorin Kuljasevic, New in Chess, June 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919313
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Minor Pieces 5: Francis Ptacek

Continuing from my last article about Arthur Towle Marriott, I promised a series of articles on his Leicester opponents.

This is an interesting period in chess history, witnessing the start of inter-club competitions as we used to know them before Covid-19.

The two matches between Leicester and Nottingham in January and February 1877 seem to have been Leicester’s first matches against another club. Nottingham, however, had previous form: the earliest match I can find was against Derby in 1872. Train services from Nottingham to Derby started in 1839, with trains to Leicester available the following year, but by now rail transport had become more frequent and more affordable. It was the 3.35 servicethat took the Nottingham chess players to Leicester on 25 January 1877.

The following week the Leicester Journal reported:

An interesting event in connection with this club, took place on Thursday week, in the Mayor’s Parlour of the old Town Hall, kindly lent for the occasion by the Mayor, W. Winterton Esq., when the majority of the members assembled to welcome six gentlemen of the Nottingham Chess Club, who arrived by the 3.35 train, to spend, by invitation, a few hours in friendly contest at Chess. The high reputation of the Nottingham Club, caused considerable interest to be felt in the visit, and it was thought that the home players would have but little chance of maintaining a creditable stand. When, therefore, at the close of the contest, it was found that Nottingham had won the match by only one in their favour, considerable gratification was experienced at so favourable a result. The following gentlemen represented the Nottingham Club: S. Hamel Esq., President, Messrs. Stevenson, Marriott, Glendenning, Brown, and Kirk, while Rev. W. L. Newham, Mr W. Stanyon (president), Dr. Nuttall, Herr Ptacek, Messrs. Atkins and Withers did battle for Leicester, winning eight games to their opponent’s nine. The play of the Nottingham gentlemen was much admired for the skill and ingenuity evinced, and, as a consequence of their visit to Leicester, it may be safely asserted that the impetus given to the study of this most intellectual of games among the members of the Home Club, will not soon pass away. The return match we are given to understand will be played at Nottingham on Tuesday next, February 6th, at the Club Room, Long-row. In connection with the Leicester Chess Club we are pleased to learn that its members during the present session have almost doubled, and that new life and energy seem to pervade all its movements.

Chess matches in those days were always described as ‘interesting’ (see also below). Or if not ‘interesting’, then ‘pleasant’.

(Note that the Mr Atkins active at that time was seemingly not related to the great Henry Ernest Atkins, about whom more later.)

It’s not clear from this report whether Nottingham’s Mr Marriott was Arthur or one of his brothers. Zavatarelli assumes it was Arthur: it’s possible that other reports not available online will confirm this.

The week after next, a Leicester team took the train north. Here’s the report from the Nottinghamshire Guardian:

On Tuesday evening a most interesting and spirited match at chess took place between the clubs of Nottingham and Leicester, at the rooms of the former, which are at Mr. Bingham’s restaurant, Long-row. Seven members of the Leicester club took part in the game against eight of Nottingham. About nine o’clock in the evening the members of both clubs adjourned, and sat down to supper, when Mr. Hamel, president of the Nottingham society, occupied the chair. After the usual loyal toasts had been honoured, that of “Continued success and prosperity to the Nottingham Chess Club” was proposed by the chairman and enthusiastically drunk. In the course of his remarks, the chairman referred in very feeling terms to the death of Mr. Thomas Hill, one of the oldest and most respected members of the club, and whose lost he (the chairman) was sure, must be deeply regretted and mourned by all. The president next referred to the Cambridge match, which had resulted so successfully, and to the honour of Nottingham – (hear, hear) – they having won both games, and having declared in one game a mate in ten moves, a point which the Cambridge University could not see. (Applause.) Dr. Worth, the vice-president, after alluding to his thirty years’ connection with the club, proposed, in a complimentary manner, the “Health of the Visitors”, which was responded to by the Rev.  Mr. Newham, of Leicester, and Mr. Thompson, the celebrated problem composer of Derby, in very cordial terms. The health of the respected president (Mr. Hamel) having been proposed and drunk with due honours, the members left the supper table, and again proceeded with their games, which were carried on until a late hour. The following is a list of the players – Leicester, Messrs. Ptacek, Withers, Atkins, Latchmore, Stanyon, Nuttall, and the Rev. – Newham. Nottingham: Messrs. E. Marriott, T. Marriott, A. Marriott, Roe, Alderman W. G. Ward, Hugh Browne, T. A. Stevenson, and Mellors. At midnight, the contest was concluded, when it was announced that Nottingham had won six games, lost five, and drawn one. The match resulted in favour of Nottingham by one game.

We only have the names here, but, fortunately the Leicester Chronicle provided more details:

Leicester Chronicle 10 February 1877

Here, we’re told that Arthur Towle Marriott played on board 4 against Herr Ptacek, winning both his games.

Nottingham’s chess star Sigismund Hamel was present, but, for some reason, didn’t play in the match. However, he annotated (rather inaccurately, according to Stockfish 14) Arthur’s two games for the Nottingham Daily Express (not available online).

In the first game, Arthur’s opponent put up little resistance. This is why I often recommend the Ruy Lopez to novices. If Black isn’t familiar with the opening he can end up in a lost position very quickly. This is just the sort of game I like to use when introducing my pupils to this opening.

But who was Herr Ptacek? What was someone with such an exotic name doing in Leicester?

It’s a very good question, with a very interesting answer.

I really need to introduce you to Robert Ralph Noel.

R R Noel (1802-1883) was born in Kirkby Mallory (as in Mallory Park race circuit), the son of a clergyman. He was very well connected: knowing, either directly or indirectly, almost everyone who was anyone in 19th century England: George Eliot, Charles Darwin, Lord Byron (Ada Lovelace, a distant relation, lived in Kirkby Mallory as a young girl). He married a German Baroness whose family had an estate in Bohemia, which gave him connections to the likes of Goethe right across Europe. He wrote a book on phrenology, which you can, if you so desire (but I wouldn’t bother if I were you), read today.

However, his day job involved running the Leicestershire Militia (the volunteer forces), and, like all forces in those days, they needed a good military band, with a good bandmaster to lead it. For much of the 19th century England was known as ‘the land without music’, so when a musician was required it was tempting to look abroad. Mrs Noel had heard good things about a young man from Prague called Franz Ptacek (he’d often be known as Francis in England), and, in 1854, he was engaged to run a military band in Leicester. It seems he was very successful and popular, but, after 12 years or so, following some sort of dispute, he felt obliged to resign his position.

He then set up a new orchestra and concert society, and resumed giving concerts in Leicester. He was also a composer, pianist and organist seemingly much in demand. Light classical music concerts (think the Strauss family: waltzes, polkas, marches, that sort of thing) were a very popular entertainment at the time. He was more ambitious than this, though, writing an opera and programming two of Handel’s great oratorios: Saul and Samson.

It’s time for some music. Ptacek was particularly renowned for his interpretation of the famous Dead March from Saul. I’d have liked to offer you the Leicester Militia playing this in 1860, but instead you’ll have to do with the next best thing: the Band of the Coldstream Guards recorded in 1910.

Band of the Coldstream Guards play Handel’s Funeral March – YouTube

He also found time to indulge in his (and our) favourite hobby: chess. He was selected to represent his adopted city in what was perhaps their first competitive match, where he met our hero, Arthur Towle Marriott.

His play in the first game wasn’t at all impressive, but he conducted his troops rather better in the return game. Perhaps the supper provided by Bingham’s Restaurant had some effect. His Scotch Gambit led to a winning position, only for him to throw away the win with one careless mistake.

Chess matches in those days served a social rather than a competitive purpose. The result, while eagerly anticipated, didn’t really matter that much. It was more an excuse for players from neighbouring towns or cities to meet for some enjoyable games, with a supper in between. Over the next decade or so there would be many changes, as you’ll see in future Minor Pieces.

A few years later, though, something went wrong. For a second time he lost his orchestra and had to resort to teaching the pianoforte, taking private pupils as well as acting as a peripatetic teacher at Miss Lomas’s school.

At Christmas 1885, Ptacek travelled to Chatham to spend the holiday period with his friend Rudolf Sawerthal, another Czech born military musician. He was just about to return to Leicester when he suffered a fatal heart attack, at the age of only 52.

The Leicester Chronicle published a lengthy obituary:

It is with feelings of sincere regret that we announce the death of Herr Ptacek, which took place at Chatham on Thursday morning. The death of this eminent local musician was totally unexpected, and the intelligence of his sudden decease was received with great surprise amongst his intimate friends. About ten days ago Herr Ptacek proceeded to Chatham on a visit to Herr Sawerthal, the accomplished master of the band of the Royal Engineers, whose performance in the Floral Hall during Christmas week gave such exceptional satisfaction to everyone who heard them. He contemplated returning to Leicester on Thursday morning, and had made every preparation for his departure, when he was suddenly seized with pain at the heart. A medical man was immediately summoned, but before he could arrive Herr Ptacek had expired. A telegram was shortly afterwards despatched to Mr. J. Herbert Marshall, of the Rutland-Street music depot, one of the deceased’s most intimate friends, and that gentleman communicated the sad intelligence to his friends in Leicester, all of whom heard the occurrence with much regret. To many the name Herr Ptacek will be unknown, but his name will not be forgotten by those ardent lovers of music who twenty years ago were charmed with the brilliant company of artistes he gathered around him. The deceased came to Leicester a comparative stranger, but his abilities soon won favourable recognition, and he speedily became possessed of a merited reputation for musical accomplishments, which was not confined to the limits of the borough. In 1855 Herr Ptacek was introduced to Leicester by Major and Mrs Noel, who were convinced of his sterling worth as an organiser and conductor. He left Prague, where he had been brought up under cultivating influences, and took charge of the militia band, which was in want of complete and thorough organisation. So well did Herr Ptacek succeed at his appointed task that before long the band was selected to play before the Queen at Aldershot, and the fine playing of the men under his control elicited warm expressions of Royal approval. The band subsequently played several times before a distinguished company at Belvoir Castle. Some disagreement ultimately took place between him and the officers of the regiment, in consequence of which – in order to maintain his self-respect – he felt it necessary to resign. The resignation was accepted, and he renounced the position of bandmaster, amid many expressions of regret. His efforts to improve the musical taste of the town were not, however, forgotten. On December 16, 1867, he was presented by Mr. T. T. Paget, M.P., at a largely-attended meeting of influential inhabitants, with a purse containing 150 guineas, as some acknowledgement of the efforts he had put forth for twelve years to cultivate musical taste and provide for the public enjoyment. The purse was worked by Mrs Noel, and, in accepting the gift, Herr Ptacek made a humorous and appropriate speech. Some time after his severance of the connection with the militia band, Herr Ptacek organised a band of his own, which he trained to an exceptional point of perfection, and also became the conductor of the New Orpheus Society, a  musical association partly, if not completely, antagonistic to the then Philharmonic Society. His charge of that society was marked by masterful activity, his abilities in controlling the resources of an orchestra being strikingly exhibited. Under the auspices of this society, Samson and Saul were given before large audiences in the chief hall of the town, and the magnificent way in which the “Dead March” was rendered has not yet faded from the recollection of those who heard it. Herr Ptacek also for about 14 years filled the position of organist at St. George’s Church, where his cultivated playing was greatly appreciated. He excelled more as a pianist than as an organist, although his skill in playing the more ponderous instrument was of no mean order. Upon his retirement from active musical life he was again the recipient of a testimonial subscribed for by his admiring friends. He lived in comparative retirement, and his name has not been connected with musical efforts in the town for many years past, although we believe he continued to take pupils who  wished to e instructed in the mysteries of the pianoforte. From the commencement of his labours in Leicester his energies had been invariably directed towards the education of the inhabitants, and in this respect he has probably never been excelled, although it would be idle to say he has not been equalled. He was uniformly courteous, and his geniality endeared him to all who came in contact with him. His life was arduous and self-sacrificing, and the news of his death will not fall to awaken feelings of sorrow. He was about 52 years of age. We understand that instructions have been given to have the deceased interred in the Leicester Cemetery.

His memorial unfortunately misspells both his names, making him Frances rather than Francis (‘i’ for ‘im, ‘e’ for ‘er, as my mother taught me).

The inscription reads, in part:

An accomplished musician he was endeared to his many pupils and to all who knew him, not more by his varied attainments than by his honesty and frankness and by the warmth of his attainments. Those who now sorrow over his grave may well say he came among us as a stranger and he departed leaving many warm and devoted friends.

This site provides more information: his date of birth is given as 1831, but this may be wrong: other records suggest it was 2 December 1832. It’s also incorrect in stating that his wife was Czech.

Further information, including from a source about Masonic Music and Musicians in Leicestershire and Rutland, can be found here.

As far as I can tell, none of his music has survived, but I did find a polka written by his friend Rudolf Sawerthal, arranged for accordion:

Polka Arlequín – YouTube

There you have it: Arthur Towle Marriott’s opponent Francis Ptacek leads us on a tour of chess and musical life in Leicester in the 1870s and 1880s. Who will we discover next? You’ll find out here soon enough.

And, by the way, if you’re interested in the sociology of chess in the English Midlands in the 19th century, you can read Rob Ensor’s 2016 Masters Thesis on Nottingham chess here. My thanks to Rob for making this available, and also to John Swain for bringing it to my attention.

 

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How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level: FM Alex Dunne

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214
How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214

From the publisher:

Surprise yourself and reach higher! This book is based on real amateur games and shows you how an average club player can proceed through the ranks and reach Candidate Master level. Its a hard struggle, nothing comes for free and your path will be strewn with setbacks and disappointments. Just like in real life.

Alex Dunne guides you in the more than 50 games that you will be playing and offers lots of practical, straightforward and effective advice. Slowly but surely, you will improve in all phases of the game: the opening, the middlegame and the endgame. Dunne explains when and how to activate your pieces and how to recognize and punish the errors your opponents are bound to make. At the end of the book, having absorbed these lessons, your experience, technique and confidence will have improved in such a way that your first win against a master will not come as a big surprise.

Alex Dunne is an American FIDE Master, ICCF Correspondence Chess Master and author of more than a dozen chess books. He lives in Sayre, Pennsylvania. This is a revised, improved and extended edition of the 1985 classic.

FM Alex Dunne
FM Alex Dunne

 

I’ve always thought that one of the best ways to improve your chess, especially if you don’t have the time or inclination for serious study, is to do two things:

  1. Look at the games of players rated 200-300 points higher than you. Work out what they do better than you, and what you need to do to reach their level. They’re not that much stronger than you so you can think to yourself “Yes, I could do that”.
  2. Look at the games of players of your own strength (best of all, your own games). Look at typical mistakes and work out how you could avoid those mistakes and take your chess up to the next level.

That’s exactly what this book aims to do. However, it was originally published in 1985. It was a best seller in its day, but does it really stand up to the test of time? Was it really worth updating and re-publishing?

Let’s get the title out of the way first. It’s rather misleading: FIDE considers Candidate Masters to be players rated 2200+, whereas this book uses the term to mean USCF Experts: players in the 2000-2199 range. The target market, according to the introduction, is USCF Grade A players: rated 1800-1999, although, as standards are higher now than 35 years ago, I’d put it lower than that.

As Dunne says in his introduction:

It is the design of this book to reveal the difference in play to the 1800 player to enable him to become a Candidate Master.

And again:

This book, then, differs from others in that the games contained within are mostly games between 1800+ players and Candidate Masters. These games were mainly selected from 1982 US tournaments with some more modern games included.

So what you get is 50 games, mostly between 1800-1999 rated players and 2000-2199 rated players, and mostly played in 1982. There are two later games, new to this edition, featuring stronger players.

It’s not the only book featuring amateur games. Reinfeld’s 1943 book Chess for Amateurs may have been the first. Older readers will also recall the Euwe and Meiden books, while, more recently, there have been books by the likes of Jeremy Silman and Dan Heisman. You might see Chernev’s Logical Chess Move by Move, although it features games by stronger players, as a book written with a similar purpose in mind.

The games are, as you’d expect, not of especially high quality. I’d also speculate that 1800 or 2000 rated players today are rather stronger than they were 40 years or so ago. Perhaps, because they’ll be more comprehensible to average club players, you’ll find them more instructive than those played by Magnus and his chums. You won’t encounter any brilliant sacrifices or spectacular attacks here, and not much in the way of complicated tactics either: just typical games that you or I might play in tournaments or league matches, where, in most cases, the stronger player displays greater knowledge or skill than his weaker opponent. You’ll even find one or two short draws here, though it’s debatable whether they add anything to the party.

You sit alongside the Candidate Master (or, more accurately, Expert), guessing, if you choose, his (or perhaps her: the players are not identified by name) moves, and are occasionally asked questions which are answered at the end of the chapter.

We’re assured that The analysis has been checked with modern computer engines for accuracy and that Also, a more modern view of some of the openings has been used, but there’s still a dated feel to many of the annotations. I’m not sure without checking how much has actually been changed since the original 1985 edition.

Here’s the first game.

Like many of the games here, it seems on the surface that the CM didn’t do anything especially difficult. The last move was pretty, but at that point everything reasonable would have won. At the same time, Mr 1907 didn’t make any very obvious mistakes. It was more a question of not understanding what was happening at the critical point in the game. I should add that I don’t play the Sicilian Najdorf with either colour: much too hard for me, as it was for poor Mr 1907.

I asked my shiny new Stockfish 14 to take a look.

Dunne asks us how important Black’s unusual 6th move (rather than the usual 6… e6) is. Stockfish tells me e6 is equal, but Qc7, amongst other moves, is slightly better for White. Dunne doesn’t say anything very helpful: I’d have thought the point was that White is always going to play Bb3 anyway, while Black may not want to play an early Qc7.

On move 9, Dunne rightly says that 9. O-O is slightly inferior because of tactics on the g1-a7 diagonal, but without mentioning any alternatives. It makes sense to me (and to my fishy friend) to play Be3 before castling. He gives a line starting 9… Nxd4 10. Qxd4 d5 11. Kh1?!, but the engine prefers White here after 11. Be3, thinking that Black would be better to play the immediate 9… d5, threatening to take on e4. It’s still only equal, though.

The critical part of the game is between moves 10 and 13. 10… Na5, to trade off the dangerous bishop, or 10… Be7, to castle the king into safety, are the two moves almost always chosen here, and both of them are absolutely fine and equal. On move 12 Black chose the wrong recapture: Bxc6, not leaving the queen exposed was better. The last chance to stay in the game was to play 13… Be7. The tactical point he may have missed is that 13… b4 14. a5 gives the white bishop access to a4.

Although Black played what looked like natural moves between moves 10 and 13, his position went from equal to totally lost. At one level he lost because he failed to develop his king-side and castle his king into safety. I suppose you could also say he chose a complicated opening variation without having enough understanding and played a few casual moves when more concrete decisions were required, but, without access to 21st century technology it’s understandable that Dunne didn’t mention this explicitly.

Dunne has some interesting views on opening choices: you might or might not agree. In game 16 Mr CM is congratulated on meeting 1. Nf3 with the relatively unusual 1… b6 to get his opponent out of the books, even though he unexpectedly loses the game. But in game 25 Mr 1816 is roundly castigated for choosing the Trompowsky. This is bad strategy on the 1800 player’s part. The weaker player with white has a better chance of gaining a good position by playing book lines.

In other words, weaker players should play book lines while stronger players should try to get weaker players out of the book by playing less usual variations. I can see why he thinks this way, but it might not suit everyone. It might not suit you.

I was interested in the double rook ending in this game.

Mr 1863, playing black, had rather the better of the opening and has now reached this double rook ending where he has the superior pawn formation.

Let’s pick up the story after White’s 29th move.

Dunne rightly and instructively points out that if the rooks were off the board Black would win the pawn ending. He therefore proposes that, instead of 29… g6, suggesting he doesn’t understand the ending, he continues with 29… Rxd1 30. Rxd1 a5! 31. c4 Ra8 32. Rc1 Ke6, when he will have made further progress towards the win. Stockfish has several problems with this: 32. c5, to prevent b5, is equal, 32… b5 would indeed give Black winning chances, and again after 32… Ke6, 33. c5 would be equal.

The game continued:

29… g6 30. Ke3 Ke6 31. h4 h5 32. Ra1 a6

This move passes without comment, but Stockfish prefers to give up the pawn and double rooks on the d-file: something like 32… Rd7 33. Rxa7 Red8, with adequate counterplay.

An instructive moment, I think, demonstrating the important principle that, in rook endings, the initiative is often worth a pawn. No mention in the annotations, though.

Moving on:

33. Ra5! f6? (Poor endgame play – Black allows his pawns to become weakened.) Yes, quite possibly. Dunne’s improvement, Re7, is probably better, but Black missed a tactical defence next move.

34. f5+ Kf7

Here Black could have equalised with 34… gxf5 35. Rxf5 Rd5!, so White should have maintained his advantage by playing 34. c4! to prevent this possibility.

By solid play White has overcome his inferiority of eight moves ago and now owns an advantage. Thus is the advantage frittered away because of the 1800 player’s lack of endgame technique (read: understanding).

White was actually equal (although his position may have been harder to play) 8 moves ago, and the point about Mr 1863’s lack of endgame technique is well made, but there are also analytical errors which can easily be picked up by modern computer engines.

There are other more minor issues as well. You might want to consider, for example, how White’s inaccurate 52nd move gave Black a defensive chance.

One reason for the difference between 1800 and 2100 players is indeed that Mr 2100 is more likely, in a general way, to understand what’s going on in the position, which is what this book is all about. Another reason, though, is that Mr 1800 is more likely to miss tactical points than Mr 2100. The annotations in this book focus more on positional rather than tactical ideas. You might think that, at this level, understanding ideas is more important than getting tactics right: if so, the analytical errors might not concern you too much.

You may well disagree but I found the annotations in general both frustrating and outdated. Frustrating because of Dunne’s tendency to ask questions without providing answers and criticise moves without suggesting improvements. Outdated because of the tactical oversights mentioned above, but also because readers are constantly exhorted to read My System and Basic Chess Endings, rather than more modern, and, at least in the case of My System, more relevant and approachable books. Occasional references to ChessBase have been added but, apart from that there’s little indication that the book is intended for 21st century readers rather than those in the pre-computer age.

The world’s a very different place now. I couldn’t have imagined, half a lifetime ago, that I’d be sitting here with a database of almost 8.5 million games and a free engine which plays far better than any human.  We know a lot more now about teaching and learning processes as well.

It’s a great idea for a book, and was pretty good in its day. There’s certainly a lot of excellent general advice and encouragement within the annotations. But, in my opinion, it’s well past its best-before date. I’m afraid it’s only a qualified recommendation then.

Having said that, players of average club standard, say 1400-1800 strength, will certainly learn a lot from it, and, if they like the style and concept (there’s a sample chapter on the publisher’s website), they won’t be too disappointed.

I’d love to see more books written for average players based on amateur games, but I’d prefer to see something with more recent games, more accurate tactical analysis and more interaction between author and reader.

New in Chess have an enviable reputation for publishing excellent books, not to mention an excellent magazine. I’m not convinced that re-publishing outdated books will do much to enhance that reputation.

Richard James, Twickenham 9th July 2021

Book Details:

  • Softback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (7 Dec. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919210
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919214
  • Dimensions: ‎ 15.24 x 1.78 x 22.2 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214
How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214
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Minor Pieces 4: The Marriott Family

It’s midnight on 28 June 1816. a group of saboteurs breaks into Heathcoat and Boden’s lace mill in Loughborough, Leicestershire, determined to smash their machinery.  John Heathcoat must have had advance warning: he’s ensured there are plenty of workers on hand to repel the invaders. Fights break out, gunshots are heard, and one of the watchmen, John Asher, is hit, blood pouring from a slug in back of his head. Asher’s companions are forced to the ground at gunpoint, and the saboteurs destroy all 55 of the lace making machines, steal some lace and make their escape.

These men are Luddites, taking their name from the perhaps mythical Ned Ludd. Campaigning against poor working conditions and grinding poverty they see no option but to use violence to pursue their aims.

The leader of the insurrection, James Towle, from Basford, near Nottingham, is identified and quickly arrested. Although he himself did not fire the shot that hit John Asher, he is convicted, sentenced to death and publicly hanged in Leicester on 20 November. The following year, six more members of Towle’s gang, including his younger brother William, are also hanged, and another two transported to Australia.

The last moments of James Towle, :who was executed at Leicester, Nov. 20, 1816 REPOSITORY: Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University

Were they heroes or villains? Terrorists or martyrs? You decide. There are always people on the wrong side of history. The Industrial Revolution brought destitution to many, but there were others who saw an opportunity to join the burgeoning middle classes, perhaps by starting up their own shop or factory. This is the story of one of them.

Time moves on. The clock ticks. The calendar pages are turned over.

It’s now 19 October 1818. James and William’s cousin Catherine, also in Basford, marries Richard Green. In 1820 Catherine gives birth to a daughter, who is named Sarah.

We spin forward to 1844, when Sarah marries Thomas Marriott, from nearby Bulwell. He is most likely the Thomas Marriott baptised there on 9 March 1817, whose parents are listed as Joseph, a Framework Knitter, and his wife Mary.

One thing we know about Thomas is that he’s a keen chess player, whose sons will also learn how to play. I’m not sure how common chess was amongst the framework knitting community at the time: perhaps Thomas saw a knowledge of the Royal Game as a way into the middle classes.

Here’s a game played by one of his sons, a devotee of gambit play. ‘Septimus Placid’ was probably top Nottingham player Sigismund Hamel.

By 1851 he’s already doing well. We pick him up in the census, where, remaining in the local lace-making industry, he’s left his humble origins behind. He’s a lace maker and tea dealer, trying out another line of business on the side, it seems. Sarah is there with him, along with their three sons, Edwin, Thomas and Henry, and he’s sufficiently well off to be able to employ a servant.

In 1861 he’s a lace manufacturer, suggesting perhaps a slightly higher status than a lace maker, which is what Edwin is doing. Sadly, Thomas junior had died in 1855, but the family is now completed by Henry, John, Sarah, another Thomas, Frederick and Arthur. John, Sarah and Arthur were all given the middle name Towle in honour, as was the fashion at the time, of their grandmother Catherine. (The census record has been transcribed as Maniott: thanks to Jon D’Souza-Eva for discovering this, which had eluded other historians, and pointing it out to us.) I wonder whether Thomas knew about his wife’s nefarious relatives, and, if so, what he thought of them.

The 1871 census (name transcribed incorrectly as Marrett) tells us Thomas is now employing 4 men and 5 boys. Edwin and John have left home, but Sarah and the other children are still there. No doubt chess is often played.

Here’s another game, played by Arthur at Simpson’s Divan, which we visited in an earlier Minor Piece, against George Alcock MacDonnell, one of the top English (but Irish born) players of the day.

Thomas’s business continues to prosper: by 1881 he’s employing 34 males and 4 females. I hope he treated his workers better than John Heathcoat and John Boden did. Sarah and their two youngest sons, Frederick and Arthur, are at home with him.

Let’s stop to look at what happened to his children. We know that his six sons who survived childhood all played chess, and we have playing records for most of them.

Thomas’s youngest son, Arthur Towle Marriott, was the strongest and also the shortest lived. He’s the subject of a recent book recounting his gloomy fate and romantic chess. EdoChess awards him a peak rating of 2376, and, had he lived, he could have been a world class player.

Here’s one of his last and most brilliant games: he was living in Bournemouth at the time, hoping the sea air would improve his health.

Two of Arthur’s brothers were also pretty decent players, taking high boards for Nottingham in matches against other Midlands towns. The oldest brother, Edwin, had a peak rating of 2275 and draws to his credit against Teddington resident and future British Championship contender George Edward Wainwright and, in his final recorded game, against the young Henry Ernest Atkins. Away from the chessboard he followed in his father’s footsteps as a lace manufacturer, possibly taking over his business interests when he retired.

Thomas Walter Marriott was of similar strength to Edwin, with a peak rating of 2244: again, by the standards of his day, a formidable player. Thomas Walter was, like many chess players, an accountant, and, also like many chess players, never married. At least up to 1911 he chose to live in boarding houses, even though he had inherited property after his father’s death.

John Towle Marriott’s life took a different course. He chose to train as a minister of religion, specifically the Unitarian movement, who believed in the unity of God, rather than the Trinity accepted by most Christians.  He settled near Salford, marrying the daughter of a celebrated reporter and antiquary, but died of typhoid fever in 1890. He didn’t seem to play club chess, but returned to Nottingham in 1886 to take part in the 3rd class tournament of the Counties Chess Association, which he won with 6½/9, a performance rated by EdoChess as 1780.

John Towle Marriott

Sarah Towle Marriott may well have played her brothers at home, but chess was, back in those days, considered an almost exclusively male activity. You might think we haven’t made much progress in that respect in the past century and a half. Her first husband, who died young, was a colliery agent who had business interests in London – the 1881 census found the family in Fulham, which, as far as I know, has never had very many coal mines. Their son Harry Marriott Burton was interesting: he was an artist who travelled the world – Canada, South Africa – painting wherever he went, ending his life in Queensland at the great age of 96. His paintings are now quite collectible.

Mount Sir Donald, Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia Harry Marriott Burton (1882–1979) Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

Thomas Marriott’s other two sons are mysterious, as you’ll find out.

The 1891 census finds him, now a retired widower, living with his daughter Sarah, herself widowed, and her two surviving children.

By 1901, now aged 84, he’s living with an otherwise unknown Francis Marriott, who appears to be his full time carer. My guess, as there’s no other Francis around, and because the age is right, this is really Frederick: either the enumerator made a mistake or he’s using a false name for some reason. He’s there with his wife Lizzie, from Derbyshire, and an 11-year-old daughter, Ethel, who, unexpectedly, was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. The last we heard of Frederick was in the 1881 census (he appears to have taken part in a consultation game the same year), and I haven’t been able to find any further sighting of Frederick or Francis in England, Canada or anywhere else. It’s all a mystery.

Thomas’s other son, Henry, is also elusive. He’s living at home in 1871, working as a clerk in a coal office, but then disappears from view.

Thomas lives on until 8 September 1906, dying in the Coppice Asylum, a private institution in Nottingham. I would guess that he was suffering from some kind of dementia in the last few years of his life.

His will makes interesting reading. He seems to have been fairly wealthy, owning several properties, which are shared between Sarah (who also received his personal effects), Thomas Walter and Frederick, with specific instructions that nothing should go to either Edwin or Henry. Perhaps Edwin, having inherited the family business, was well catered for anyway. Perhaps, though, there was a falling out with both Edwin and Henry. Perhaps he chose to reward Sarah and Frederick, who had both been caring for him in his old age, and Thomas Walter, who had been involved with the legal side of the will. Perhaps he had no idea wither or not Henry was still alive. The inheritance for Frederick seems to suggest again that he and Francis were one and the same person, but who knows?

Finally, let’s return to Edwin. He had nine children, several of whom are also remarkably difficult to track down. This is very unusual for the time: one is tempted to ask questions about the family dynamics. My particular interest is with the oldest of them, Arthur James, who married Frances Keywood, the possessor of a relatively unusual surname. (There used to be a lace manufacturing company in Nottingham called Cooper & Keywood.)

The Keywoods were one of several families in Nottingham who intermarried a lot, but Frances must have been related in some way to Doris Keywood, who married Louis James there in 1915. His great grandfather Thomas James (whom you’ll meet again another time) was also my 3x great grandfather. Wheels within wheels. There are always stories. There are always connections. And this is the story of how I’m connected to Arthur Towle Marriott and his chess-playing brothers. It’s also the story of how the game of chess has always been shaped by societal shifts: as we move now from the industrial to the post-industrial (and post-pandemic) age chess will change again. By learning lessons from history we can be proactive in deciding how chess should be promoted and organised in future.

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Minor Pieces 3: Septimus Swyer

Between 31 August and 9 November 1888, five prostitutes were brutally murdered in Whitechapel, in London’s East End. Their killer was never caught, and is known to us now as Jack the Ripper. Several later murders in the same area might have been committed by the same person.

What you all want to know is this: did Jack the Ripper play chess?

Hundreds of possible suspects have been mentioned over the years: almost everyone, it seems, who was in the right place at the right time, and even some who almost certainly weren’t.

Several of these suspects have chess connections.

First on our list is the artist Walter Sickert. From The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict: ‘According to a well-argued book by Stephen Knight, Jack the Ripper … was in fact the painter Walter Sickert as part of a three-man team. One of the things we know about Sickert was that he was a keen chess-player’.

Sadly, this source is notoriously unreliable. I searched the newspaper archives for any connection between Sickert and chess. All I could find was a critic’s view of a portrait of political activist and atheist Charles Bradlaugh: ‘But the clever artist should have placed a chessboard on the table over which the intellectual face of Mr. B. is bending. He habitually plays chess, I am given to understand, with members of the high aristocracy, and recently checkmated a Bishop.’ This must surely refer to Bradlaugh, who was known to be a chess player, rather than Sickert, although history doesn’t record whether the famous atheist used a bishop to checkmate the Bishop. Perhaps Mike Fox had read a biography of Sickert which provided more information, but I can find no evidence of the artist being particularly interested in chess.

More recently, the crime novelist Patricia Cornwell took up the theory of Sickert being Jack, but I don’t think the evidence stands up.

Number two on our list is none other than Lewis Carroll. We know, of course, that he was a chess enthusiast: you can read more here. I’ve known the compiler of this information, Roger Scowen, on and off for many years: we recently exchanged emails and hope to meet up soon for a few games once it’s safe to do so. But was Carroll Jack the Ripper? To me, it seems like a totally ridiculous suggestion.

Moving swiftly on, let’s visit the Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability in Teddington – and if you’ve never been there you really ought to. Some of the inmates there at Normansfield were identified by John Langdon Down as having a specific genetic condition which is now known as Down Syndrome. Others, like James Henry Pullen, might now be diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Facilities were also available for members of wealthy families with mental health conditions, one of whom, who features, with a mention of his chess prowess, in a display in the museum, was Reginald Treherne Bassett Saunderson. Saunderson certainly didn’t have an intellectual disability, but today he’d probably be diagnosed as schizophrenic. His story is told here.

In this game he was winning most of the way through against a strong opponent, but eventually came off second best.

Saunderson was certainly a pretty good chess player, and certainly killed a lady of, reputedly, ‘ill-fame’, but, born in 1873, he was much too young to have been the original Jack the Ripper.

Let’s try again. Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s dad, was certainly a chess player, and certainly an opponent of Steinitz. By all accounts he was a pretty unpleasant and unpopular man, but, although he sometimes appears in lists of possible suspects, there’s absolutely no evidence that he had anything at all to do with the Whitechapel Murders.

Lord Randolph Churchill

Finally, meet S Swyer. He played Steinitz in the second round of a handicap tournament at the City of London Chess Club in 1871-72: among the other participants was J Swyer, a first round loser. Tim Harding (Steinitz in London) suggests that the two Swyers were probably brothers, but doesn’t provide any further information. Swyer is an uncommon surname so it’s not too difficult to find out more.

The Swyer family came from near Shaftesbury, in Dorset. Walter Swyer and Sarah Lush (Buckland) Swyer had a daughter, Sarah, followed by seven sons. Walter and Robert, John and George, James and William, and, as was the custom in educated families at the time, their seventh son was named Septimus. Let’s get J Swyer out of the way first. John was a bank manager who spent most of his life in Dorset. James was a chemist and druggist, living in Bethnal Green in London’s East End at the time of the 1871 census, so it must have been him, rather than John, who played chess at the City of London Chess Club.

James Swyer

S Swyer, then, was Septimus. In 1871 he was a General Practitioner, living in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, not very far from his brother Jim. As well as being a GP he specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology.

Both Swyers were placed in Class IV (of V) at the City of London Club, so when Steinitz was paired against Septimus he took the white pieces in both games, but had to play without his queen’s knight.

This game suggests that Septimus was a reasonably competent player, but handicapped by a lack of opening knowledge.

It was much the same story the second time around, but here the game was truncated when Swyer, in a difficult position, hung a rook.

Dr Septimus Swyer

Swyer was a colourful character whose life was not short on controversy. In 1861 a cat, allegedly belonging to his neighbour, broke into his shop and shattered all his medicines, including a bottle of Godfrey’s Cordial, but the narcotic had no effect on the feline intruder. He sued for damages, but his neighbour claimed it was a different moggy and the case was thrown out.

His first wife died in 1874 and he remarried in 1880. It was stated his second wife’s husband was still alive (it seems he lived until 1912) and she was tried for bigamy, but acquitted.

In 1888 he was still in the same area, but in 1891, shortly after the last possible Ripper murder, he suddenly emigrated to the USA. He certainly had financial problems, but who knows?

Dr Septimus Swyer was in the right place at the right time, had the required medical knowledge, and left the country in a hurry. Only circumstantial evidence. Was he Jack the Ripper? Unlikely, I would have thought, but at least, unlike our other four chess-playing (or perhaps not in the case of Sickert) suspects, a possibility. I guess we’ll never know.

 

Sources:

There’s a lot more about Swyer as a Ripper suspect (but do bear in mind the proviso at the top of the first post) at:
Dr Septimus Swyer + proviso – Casebook: Jack the Ripper Forums

A lot more again here from a direct descendant (one of his sons emigrated to Australia) at:
Septimus Swyer (hibeach.net)

Photographs of James and Septimus Swyers taken from family trees at:
Genealogy, Family Trees and Family History Records online – Ancestry®

Photograph of Lord Randolph Churchill from Wikipedia.

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Minor Pieces 2: Alexander Sich

It’s Monday 28 August 1871. Join me at Simpson’s Divan in the Strand, where, after a satisfying lunch of roast beef, accompanied by a bottle of their finest claret, followed by a glass of brandy and a Havana cigar, we adjourn to the chess room to watch the great Wilhelm Steinitz in action.

He introduces us to his friend Mr Sich, who is, he informs us, a wine merchant. The two gentlemen are engaged in an exciting battle. At one point Herr Steinitz is a rook ahead but his king seems to be in trouble. He manages to survive and win the game, but could Mr Sich have done better?

I reach into my pocket. “Look, Herr Steinitz! I’m a time traveller from 150 years into the future. I can press a few buttons on this small machine and talk to anyone in the world. I can press a few more buttons, enter the moves of the game you just played and show you both where you went wrong.”

“You might have been impressed by Ajeeb, but my machine is a million times better. You see, Mr Sich, you might have played your rook to queen one on move 28, announcing check to Herr Steinitz’s king. You were still winning, though, but on move 32, if you’d played your queen to queen’s knight five you could then have exchanged everything off on queen seven and advanced your king’s bishop’s pawn to the end of the board. Two moves later, you could still have drawn by exchanging rooks, but instead you left your own king defenceless.”

But now it’s time to bid our farewells and leave: we have a journey to make. Our destination is Hammersmith. We’re excited by the prospect of travelling on the Underground Railway, so head for Charing Cross Station. Just eight weeks earlier, following a banquet attended by Mr Gladstone two days previously, the District Railway started running trains round part of what would become the Inner Circle. In a few years time we’ll be able to take the train directly to Hammersmith, and the line will later be extended to exotic destinations such as Richmond and Ealing. 90 years later a schoolboy playing his friends on the train between Ravenscourt Park and Richmond will develop a lifelong chess obsession, but that’s another story for another time.

For now, we must take the underground train as far as Paddington, and change onto the Hammersmith and City Railway. When we reach our destination we spot a pub called the George just round the corner: it was rebuilt in 1911 and is now part of the Belushi’s chain. We could stop for a drink there, or in several other pubs nearby, but instead we’ll take a stroll down King Street.

After half a mile or so we’ll pass what is now Hammersmith Town Hall, which we visited in our last journey, and notice, in 2021, that it’s being redeveloped. If we look across the street we’ll see Dalling Road, and the building which, we hope, will soon be the site of a new Mind Sports Centre.

Then we pass another pub. This was the Hampshire Hog, but is now just the Hampshire, serving Indian cuisine as well as beers, wines and spirits. Mine’s a pint of London Pride: what are you having?

Why have I brought you here? Because this pub, like the George and many others in the area, was owned by the Sich family. The brewery was purchased by one John Sich in 1790 and later run by his sons, John junior and Henry.  The two brothers both had numerous children, many of whom were involved in the family business.

But let’s stop there. News has just come in that Herr Steinitz and Mr A Sich played again two days after the game we witnessed. Again, Herr Steinitz survived a totally lost position to win, in an encounter which was even more exciting that their previous game, with a lot of bamboozling tactics. Probably worth a separate article, I think.

You’ll notice that Mr S missed a simple mate in 5 on move 38 before blundering away first the win and then the draw. Still impressive, though, that he could achieve winning positions in level play against the world’s strongest active player.

What else do we know about him? He was very active in the St James’s Club from 1860 onwards, where he was a second category player, receiving odds from Loewenthal and Valentine Green, but conceding odds to weaker players. We’ll meet at least one of his opponents, EE Humphreys, in a later article. He played published games on level terms against Steinitz in 1871, as we’ve seen, and against Loewenthal in 1873 and 1874, before disappearing from the chess scene. Tim Harding comments that his forename is unknown, but perhaps we can find out. Let’s continue our walk.

Back in the 1960s, when such things were allowed, the Hampshire Hog was the place where teachers from nearby Latymer Upper School would take their pupils for a drink. We’re now going to head away from King Street towards the river. Not so easy to cross the Great West Road, but we could perhaps cheat (as I’m an alumnus they might let me in) by following in the distinguished footsteps of the likes of GM Michael Stean and IM David Goodman, taking the school’s Secret Subway to the dining hall and the Prep department, and then out onto Upper Mall.

We’re now at the start of the notorious Round the River Run (or, in my case, walk) which takes you along the river, over Barnes Railway Bridge, along the towpath on the other side, across Hammersmith Bridge and back to where you started. We won’t do that now, not least because Hammersmith Bridge is currently closed for repairs, but will take a gentle walk by the river in the direction of Chiswick.

Passing the Old Ship, we’ll stop off at the Black Lion. Thanks for offering: I’ll have another pint of Pride. It would be rude not to, given how close we are to where it’s brewed. Above one of the corner tables is a portrait of local resident AP Herbert, whose wife was regularly seen at the Hammersmith Town Hall chess tournaments.

While we’re here, news comes in that Herr Steinitz and Mr A Sich have played another game.

I’m not sure what 7. Ng5 was all about: my pupils get their knuckles rapped if they play moves like that. Steinitz chose to go for the attack rather than regain the exchange on move 26, but Sich missed a draw on move 34.

It’s time to continue our walk, passing Fuller’s (London Pride) Brewery and soon reaching St Nicholas’s Church. Turning up Church Street towards the busy Hogarth Roundabout, a stark contrast to the bucolic views of the Thames, you’ll see a tower on your right with the words LAMB BREWERY. This was the name of the Sich family concern: little other than the tower remains.

But we still haven’t identified A Sich. Let’s return to John and Henry. John had a son named Alexander who was born in 1837, while, two years later, Henry’s son Arthur John was born. So we have two gentlemen named A Sich who were of the right age. As he was active from 1860 onwards, the older cousin seems more likely. A better reason is that, in the days when people were referred to by their full initials and surnames, the chess player was always ‘A. Sich’, never ‘A.J. Sich’. We also know from Steinitz  that he was a wine merchant. As it happens, 1871 was a census year, so let’s travel back 150 years again and join the enumerator.

Here, in Church Street, where we’re standing now, is Arthur John, a brewer, with his wife and children. And just round the corner, in Sunbury House, The Mall, Chiswick, is Alexander, a wine merchant, with his wife (who just happened to be Arthur’s sister Helen: nothing like keeping it in the family) and children. This seems confirmation that it was Alex, not Artie, who played chess against Steinitz. We know quite a lot more about them as well. Al was very much concerned with municipal affairs throughout his life, while Art was involved with the army volunteers. Unlike his cousin, he seemed to prefer real soldiers to wooden soldiers.

Time for a final drink, I think. While we’re at the Hogarth Roundabout we could choose the George & Devonshire, which has probably always been a Fuller’s pub, but, to continue the theme of our pub crawl, we might prefer to walk up towards Turnham Green to visit another former Sich pub, the Lamb (formerly the Barley Mow, but its name was changed to that of the original brewery).

While we’re there, there’s another game to look at. Steinitz is White again and plays the King’s Gambit. Again, Sich is doing well at one point, but misdefends, allowing a neat sacrificial finish.

We could, I suppose, visit the Watermans Arms in Brentford, which comes with a recommendation from food critic and West London Chess Club secretary Andy Hayler. Close by is the Watermans Arts Centre, which in turn is across the road from the rather wonderful Musical Museum and a short walk from the London Museum of Water and Steam, which itself is just across the railway line from the new Brentford Stadium. Will they be seeing Premiership football there next season, I wonder?

We could also travel further west to the Bell in Hounslow. Back in the 1980s or thereabouts Hounslow Chess Club met nearby, and the Bell was often the venue for our post mortems after we played them in the Thames Valley League. There are plenty of other former Sich pubs still around as well: see the link below.

Before I leave you, there’s one further reference connecting Alexander Sich to the game of chess.

In 1903 the Chiswick Library Committee, of which Alex was a member, decided to allow their committee room to be used as a games room. Chess, draughts and dominoes were provided so that the local louts could avoid trouble by playing some nice quiet games.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned. The boys resorted to games of their own: ‘coddam’, noisy larking, horse-play and pitching cinders. The good citizens of Chiswick were not at all happy, and, after a few weeks, the club was closed down. Alexander Sich said that he did not regret that they had made the experiment. It could hardly have been more different from the pre-lockdown chess group at Whitton Library. There’s a moral there somewhere,  but I’m not sure what it is. (Coddam, since you asked, is ‘an old game, usually with three players on each side, based around guessing which of the players’ hands is hiding a coin or button.’)

Meanwhile, the Sich Brewery hit problems during the First World War and was sold off in 1920. Their neighbour, Fuller’s, however, survives and thrives to this day.

This is the second of a series of articles about Steinitz’s English amateur opponents. The next instalment will be coming shortly.

Sources:

The chess games of A Sich

The Lamb Brewery | Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society (brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk)

Metropolitan Railway – Wikipedia

Genealogy, Family Trees and Family History Records online – Ancestry®

Dashboard | findmypast.co.uk

 

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