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Remembering Jim Slater (13-iii-1929 18-xi-2015)

James Derrick Slater (13-iii-1929, 18-xi-2015)
James Derrick Slater (13-iii-1929, 18-xi-2015)

BCN remembers Jim Slater (13-iii-1929 18-xi-2015)

James Derrick Slater was born on Wednesday, March 13th, 1929. On the same day “Leon Trotsky gave his first interview to the foreign press in his apartment in Turkey, saying he was writing a book tracing the history of his opposition to Joseph Stalin and expressing a desire to go to Germany because he preferred the care of German physicians.”

He was born in Heswall, Cheshire (Wirral, Merseyside was the registration district) to Hubert Slater and Jessica Alexandra Barton.

He arrived (aged 31) in Southampton on board the Pretoria Castle as a first class passenger whilst resident in 16, Stafford Terrace, Kensington and his occupation was given as Company Director.

He died on 18th November 2015 in Cranleigh, Surrey aged 86. He had four children one of which is Mark Slater.

James Slater, Chairman Slater Walker Securities plcDirector, British Leyland. (Photo by Photoshot/Getty Images)
James Slater, Chairman Slater Walker Securities plcDirector, British Leyland. (Photo by Photoshot/Getty Images)

Jim wrote his chess autobiography as follows :

(This text was retrieved using the Wayback machine via https://web.archive.org/web/20110909053137/http://www.jimslater.org.uk/views/chess/)

“As a boy Jim Slater enjoyed playing Monopoly and draughts but his main indoor hobby was chess. He stopped playing chess after leaving school as he found it took too much time and concentration while studying for accountancy.

It was not until a colleague asked Jim to teach him to improve his game in the late 1960s that his interest in chess was rekindled. For a short while Jim joined a London chess club (Richard James reveals that this is West London Chess Club as mentioned in their internal magazine) but found he preferred correspondence chess which he could play much more conveniently when he returned home in the evening. Jim did quite well in his correspondence club, going up a few grades, until he reached a level at which it became hard work.

Jim had maintained a link with Leonard Barden, who was a British Champion and a chess correspondent. With his help Jim began subsidising the annual Hastings Tournament with a view to expanding it so that leading players would have a chance to qualify as international masters. Other countries would not invite British players to play in their tournaments until they became international masters so they were in an impossible situation. The small amount of help Jim was able to give to Hastings was arranged in a very low-key way and attracted very little publicity. The World Chess Championship would prove to be a very different proposition.

British accountant, investor and business writer Jim Slater (1929 - 2015) signing documents at a desk, UK, 11th May 1965. (Photo by Reg Burkett/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
British accountant, investor and business writer Jim Slater (1929 – 2015) signing documents at a desk, UK, 11th May 1965. (Photo by Reg Burkett/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

For the previous two decades the Russians had dominated world chess and then the West produced two exceptional players – Bobby Fischer of the USA and Bent Larsen of Denmark. In particular, Fischer had fantastic potential but he was handicapped by being extremely temperamental.

In the final rounds of the World Chess Championship the players were playing the best of ten games. In the quarter finals Fischer won six games to nil. In the semi-final Fischer was paired with Larsen and also beat him six games to nil. This had never happened before in world chess, and for the first time it looked as if the Russians were going to get a run for their money.

Personalities, Crime, pic: 3rd December 1976, Financier Jim Slater arriving at London's Mansion House Police Court to face fraud charges involving more than 4,000,000 (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Personalities, Crime, pic: 3rd December 1976, Financier Jim Slater arriving at London’s Mansion House Police Court to face fraud charges involving more than 4,000,000 (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

In the last qualifier Fischer came up against Petrosian, a brilliant defensive player. Fischer won the first game but lost the second. The next three games were drawn. It was said by some that Fischer had a bad cold and everyone wondered if he could regain his earlier momentum. After this relapse he won the next four games. This made Fischer challenger to Spassky. Spassky too was a brilliant attacking player and had been a chess genius since early childhood, so it promised to be an exceptional match.

While preparations were being made for the World Championship in Iceland, Fischer started to complain about the prize money which he thought should be doubled.
‘I was driving into London early one Monday morning in mid-July feeling disappointed that after all this build-up Fischer might not be taking on Spassky, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could easily afford the extra prize money personally. As well as providing me with a fascinating spectacle for the next few weeks it would give chess players throughout the world enormous pleasure for the match to proceed.’

Jim Slater

From The Complete Chess Addict (Faber&Faber, 1987) , Mike Fox & Richard James:

“Jim Slater, the financier and children’s author, was a strong schoolboy player. He gave up chess for finance. This turned out a very good thing for chess, since he was able to tempt Bobby Fischer (with a £50,000 increase in stake-money) into playing Boris Spassky for the world title in 1972. Here’s what the young Slater was capable of:”

Bobby Fischer Goes to War, Faber&Faber, 2004
Bobby Fischer Goes to War, Faber&Faber, 2004

From Bobby Fischer Goes to War , David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Faber & Faber,  2004 we have a fuller account as follows :

“Driving to work in London early on Monday morning, 3 July, Jim Slater was upset by a radio report on the challenger’s non-appearance in Reykjavik. Slater was a businessman who had set up his own company, Slater Walker Securities, in 1964, when he was in his mid-thirties. His partner, Peter Walker, had left the business to become a Conservative member of parliament and a government minister under Edward Heath and,later, Margaret Thatcher. At the time of the Fischer-Spassky match, the company reportedly had a controlling interest in 250 companies around the world. Supremely confident, decisive, ruthless in business, Slater had by then amassed a fortune of, in his own words,’£6 million and rising’. A gambler by nature, the one big luxury he allowed himself was to play bridge for thousands of pounds with stronger opponents.

He was also a chess fan and supporter of the game, subsidizing the annual Hastings tournament. In the years following Fischer-Spassky, he would, alongside the former British champion and journalist Leonard Barden (who provided the vision and organization), transform the state of British chess by channelling funds into junior competition. Now he decided that he could easily afford the money to send Fischer to Reykjavik – or expose the American as a coward. He would double the prize, putting an additional £50,000 ($125,000) into the pot. Arriving at his office that Monday morning, he passed on his offer through Barden, who then spoke to Marshall, giving the US attorney some background details about this championship angel. Marshall then talked to Fischer. Slater says he also telephoned his friend David Frost, who in turn rang his friend Henry Kissinger’ Kissinger then contacted Fischer. What motivated Slater?’As well as providing me with a fascinating spectacle for the next few weeks, I could give chess players throughout the world enormous pleasure’

Slater’s offer made headlines in London’s Evening Standard and his house was soon swarming with reporters. When he returned from work, he told his astonished wife,’I had a good idea on the way to the office.’The good idea was couched in challenging terms: ‘If he isn’t afraid of Spassky, then I have removed the element of money’

Here is the famous headline from the July 3rd, 1972, London edition of the Evening Standard retrieved from Edward  Wintershttps://chesshistory.com/winter/extra/spasskyfischer.html

London Edition of the Evening Standard, July 3rd, 1972. Retrieved from https://chesshistory.com/winter/extra/spasskyfischer.html
London Edition of the Evening Standard, July 3rd, 1972. Retrieved from https://chesshistory.com/winter/extra/spasskyfischer.html

It is not altogether clear how the British offer finally persuaded Fischer. Paul Marshall certainly had a hand, initially pushing it as the answer to all Fischer’s financial demands.’But he wouldn’t accept it; he says.’His experiences with people promising things had taught him not to believe them, particularly with money. And he wanted proof. And he said no.’Marshall tried to change his mind. Phoning Barden, the attorney took his place in the gallery of callers that saved the match.’I said if I were them I would rephrase the offer. Slater should say he didn’t think his money was at risk, because Fischer was just making excuses. He should say that deep down Fischer was frightened. I said Bobby might be piqued by that challenge – and he was. I knew Bobby was very very competitive and combative and would not like to be thought of as a chicken.’ Slater denies this version of events. He maintains it was always his idea to express his offer as a taunt. He never spoke to Fischer and never received a word of gratitude from him.’Fischer is known to be rude, graceless, possibly insane,’he says.’I didn’t do it to be thanked. I did it because it would be good for chess.'”

The match between Fischer and Spassky was a most exciting one and fully up to everyone’s expectations. Fischer won the match.

A few months later, in an endeavour to help our young players, Jim Slater offered on behalf of The Slater Foundation to give a prize of £5,000 (about £75,000 in today’s money) to the first British grand master and £2,500 to the next four. Over the next few years Great Britain went from having no grand masters to twenty and became one of the strongest teams of young chess players in the world.”

Here is an obituary written by Stewart Reuben

and here is an obituary from Liberal England

Here is an item from the Slater Foundation

and here is his entry from chessgames.com which lists one game from 1947 : “James Derrick Slater, better known as Jim Slater, was an English accountant, investor and business writer. Slater became a well-known chess patron in the 1970s, when he stepped in to double the prize fund of the Fischer-Spassky world championship match at a time when Fischer was threatening not to play, thereby enabling the match to go forward. Afterwards he provided significant financial backing for the development of young British players, many of whom later contributed to Britain becoming one of the world’s strongest chess countries in the 1980s.”

From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 1984) by Hooper and Whyld :

“British chess patron, financier, children’s author, Slater achieved wide fame in the chess world on the occasion of the Spassky-Fischer world championship match of 1972. Fischer showed reluctance to play and apparently decided to do so when Slater added £50,000 to the prize fund. Slater has also made contributions to many other chess causes and in 1973 set-up the Slater Foundation, a charitable trust which, among other activities, pays for the coaching of young players and provides help for their families if needed. Leonard Barden advises the trust on chess matters. In the 1970s, partly owing to this patronage, junior players in Britain became as strong as those in any other country.”

From The Encyclopedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977) by Harry Golombek:

“An English financier, a great patron and benefactor of chess, both on a national and world level. Passionately devoted to chess from schooldays. He said that on leaving school he hesitated between the alternatives of become a chess master and of going into business, opting for the latter on the grounds that he was not sure of his chess-playing prowess.

It is perhaps a fortunate thing for chess that he did not become a chess-master, since he offer of a £50,000 increase to the stake at the match at Reykjavik in Iceland in 1972 may well have swayed Fischer into consenting to play. He established a Slater Foundation Fund which helps young English players to go and play abroad.”

Here is his Wikipedia entry

Here is a small item from Dennis Monokroussos

The Zulu Principle, Jim Slater
The Zulu Principle, Jim Slater
Investment Made Easy, Jim Slater
Investment Made Easy, Jim Slater
Return to Go, Jim Slater
Return to Go, Jim Slater
The Tricky Troggle, James and Christopher Slater
The Tricky Troggle, James and Christopher Slater
The Great Gulper, James and Christopher Slater
The Great Gulper, James and Christopher Slater

The School Seedbed of Britain’s Chess Success

The following article was originally published on November 7th 1980 in Education magazine. The author was George Low. George may be found on LinkedIn. Education magazine was a weekly publication that started in 1903 and in 1997 was absorbed into Education Journal.

The article was reproduced in 1981 in The English Chess Explosion by Murray Chandler and Ray Keene :

Education, 7th November 1980

The school seedbed of Britain’s chess success

George Low explains why our youngsters are doing so well

“Britain’s international chess team, with an average age of under 30, is now the most formidable and talented in the world. At this month’s tournament in Malta they will be breathing down the necks of the Russians for the championship and have a high chance of coming away with a medal.

Behind the national team there is an even more promising junior squad, who have won the European championships two years’ running. Among the up and coming youngsters who are beginning to give the Russians cause for anxiety are two potential world champions – Tony Miles, now a Grandmaster and serious contender for the world championship, and Nigel Short, who at 15 is already the youngest international master ever.

The remarkable upsurge of standards and interest is a phenomenon of some educational significance. The schools have been the seedbed. The nurturing of young talent (often from the age of six or even younger) has been a tangible proof of the dedication of teachers to supervision and support outside school
hours, and there are few extra-curricular activities more time-consuming than chess.

A class of girls listens to their teacher Lucy Anness give a lesson on the game of chess at a school in Bromley, Kent, England, in 1948. Miss Anness, head of the school, believes this is the only girls' school in Britain at this time that teaches chess as part of the curriculum. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
A class of girls listens to their teacher Lucy Anness give a lesson on the game of chess at a school in Bromley, Kent, England, in 1948. Miss Anness, head of the school, believes this is the only girls’ school in Britain at this time that teaches chess as part of the curriculum. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

But alongside the school clubs a network of small informal clubs have sprung up and a series of tournaments for all ages and groups. City financier Jim Slater and Lloyds Bank can take the main credit for financial sponsorship of the junior squad, and newspapers like The Sunday Times and The Evening Standard have stimulated a great deal of competitive zeal through their school and individual tournaments.

Like many educational developments in this country, the chess phenomenon has completely by-passed the Department of Education and Science, who have turned down all approaches for financial and even moral support. Officials are wont to plead that there is no mention of chess in the 1944 Education Act or its successors, This is, of course, true, but the Department, nevertheless, manages to make all sorts of direct and indirect contributions to musical and sporting activities. When set beside the intense involvement of many other nations in the development of chess the official attitude appears all the more
uninspiring.

How then has Britain managed to bound up the international league table from no. 26 to among the top three nations of the world? Mr. Leonard Barden, manager of the junior squad, traces the resurgence of interest to media coverage of the Spassky-Fischer duel eight years ago and its sequel between Korchnoi and Karpov five years later.

In about 1972-3, he recalls, the selectors started casting their nets much wider than the Home Counties grammar schools where the recruiting ground had
traditionally been. He and his colleagues looked through the results of a lot more tournaments all over the country. Those who had real talent were encouraged to go in for the National Junior Squad championships and to enter adult tournaments. They were also given the opportunity to play against Grandmaster in ‘simuls’ (simultaneous games involving 20 or 30 boards). Mr. Barden now has 500 young players on his books in whom he takes an active interest, following their tournament games and writing to suggest alternative strategies in their games. Beneath these there is a pool of 2000 to 3000 children who play in tournaments and are graded players whom the selectors have their eye on.

Julian and Nigel Short play Korchnoi in a simul. Leonard Barden observes.
Julian and Nigel Short play Korchnoi in a simul. Leonard Barden observes.

Nigel Short was an early find when he won the Merseyside championship under nines. By the age of 9.5 he was developing very rapidly under special tuition and was entering simuls with Grandmasters. He was one of the children who Leonard Barden put into his training schedule and persuaded him to aim for the highest league. ‘Between the ages of nine and fourteen they can develop very rapidly and are ready to play with adults. After that they fall foul of the English exam system and that slows them down having to memorise all that largely irrelevant mass of information,’Mr. Barden says.

There is no risk of force-feeding the children in his squad, he says, they are all naturally bright and do not suffer from the competition within their age group. They are as group a perfectly normal lot. He believes that besides the technical help promising youngsters can be given such as being introduced to chess magazines, motivation is all-important. The Department of Education should do more to foster chess, he thinks, achievement in chess and success in academic subjects.

Mr. Michael Sinclair, who runs the chess club at Hampton School and organises many school tournaments, see numerous educational and personal benefits from children playing chess in schools. The older boys (Ed: this was 1980!) can help the younger ones to develop their game and they in turn learn a lot from competing with adults in congresses.

The game teaches children to concentrate for long periods of time, to observe correct etiquette and to accept adjudication decisions (Ed: I suspect this means arbiting decisions!). It also gives them an understanding of a symbolic language that can be a useful grounding in such subjects as algebra or even computer programming. in later studies. Given its undoubted educational contribution, it is surprising that few books have been written on teaching chess in schools.”

The English Chess Explosion
The English Chess Explosion