The Chess Memory Palace

Blurb from the publisher, Amazon:

Chess players spend hours and hours trying to memorize openings, but even Grandmasters forget their preparation.

Meanwhile, memory competitors routinely memorize thousands of facts and random digits, using special techniques that anyone can learn.

This book explains how to use these memory techniques for chess.

  • Teaches advanced memory techniques from scratch.
  • Contains full worked examples in the Ruy Lopez Exchange and Schliemann Gambit.
  • Ideal for tournament players who want to recall their opening repertoire perfectly.

CONTENTS:
Introduction
1. Picture Notation
2. Essential Memory Techniques
3. Memory Palace Architecture
4. Example Palace: The Schliemann Transit Line
5. Example Palace: The Spanish Exchange Airport
6. Bonus: Memorising Endgames
7. Miscellanea
Notes
Appendix: Picture Words for all 64 Squares

About the Author:

Author of The Chess Memory Palace (2022) and A Curious Letter from Nebuchadnezzar (2021)

 

I don’t know about you, but I like to know something about the author before I read a book. John Holden seems remarkably coy. It’s clear from the book that he’s a memory expert,  but what are his chess credentials?

He tells us in the book that he lives in London, which is a start. His website is johnden.org, and there’s a chess.com user named John Holden whose username is NEDNHOJ (johnden reversed) with a blitz rating round about 900.

There was also a Kent junior on the grading list between 2007 and 2013, when he’d reached 160 (about 1900), who played a few rapidplay tournaments last year, giving him a 1755 rating. Are these the same person? You’d expect someone of that strength to have a higher chess.com rating than 900, especially if he’d put his memory training to good effect.

Is the author, then, either, both or neither?

If you’ve read anything about memory training in the past you’ll be aware of the Memory Palace technique which top competitive memory people use to learn the digits of pi or memorise the order of a shuffled deck of cards.

Here’s the start of the introduction. I have a few questions.

Modern chess requires its players to memorise more and more. “That’s probably the number one thing,” said top grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, “For becoming a really strong grandmaster today you have to have a really good memory because there’s so much to memorise.”

Yes, if you want to become a really strong grandmaster like Nakamura you need a really good memory. But to what extent is this necessary if you’re a 900 online rapid player like NEDNHOJ or a 1755 rapid player like Kent’s John Holden? From my own experience, playing at that level is probably not about that sort of memory at all, and learning openings in that way might even confuse you.

Most of this effort goes on the opening moves, because you have to survive the opening to demonstrate your middlegame and endgame prowess. Although chess players have a good memory for moves, even elite players can struggle to remember their preparation at the board. And it is a constant source of frustration for all of us to spend so much time rehearsing openings.

There are some (teachers as well as players) who recommend that club level players should concentrate on opening study, while others prefer the 20-40-40 rule: 20% of your time on openings, 40% on middlegames and 40% on endings. Some even think that 20% is too high: you’re better off just playing simple openings leading to playable middlegames. One of the examples here is playing White against the Ruy Lopez Schliemann (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5). How often are you going to reach this variation?

Meanwhile, a new sport of competitive memory has sprung up, which reaches new heights every year. The record for most numbers memorised in five minutes stands at over 540. In 15 minutes, 1300. A man from India has recited 70,000 digits of pi.

How is this possible? Is it a special photographic memory? Actually no, it’s the disciplined application of memory techniques – and the techniques are surprisingly simple! They tap into our brains’ natural ability to remember places, images and stories. We can all remember our route to work, and we can all understand a story, even when it’s told to us quite fast. The trick is to convert non-memorable information, like a number, into memorable images.

‘… our brains’ natural ability to remember places, images and stories’. You brain might well work like that but not everyone’s does. You might want to look at conditions such as aphantasia (the inability to form mental pictures) which would make techniques like this difficult, or perhaps impossible.

It’s like everything else: some people are very good at this sort of thing, others fairly average and others again will find it very difficult.

Here’s how it works.

We have eight consonant sounds representing the numbers 1 to 8. Therefore, each square can be associated with a word including the sound representing the file (a-h becomes 1-8) followed by the sound representing the rank (1-8). If more than one piece can move to the same square we deal with this through the number of consonants in the word. If more than one piece can move to the same square you use words with different numbers of syllables to determine which piece you should move.

You might possibly recognise this as a position from one of the main lines of the Schliemann.

Just out of interest, looking at some lichess stats (filtered on games with an average rating of 1400+:

  1. e4 e5 (35% in this position)
  2. Nf3 Nc6 (64% in this position)
  3. Bb5 f5 (2% in this position)
  4. Nc3 fxe4 (54% in this position)
  5. Nxe4 d5 (46% in this position: the other main line, Nf6 is slightly more popular)
  6. Nxe5 dxe4 (95% in this position)
  7. Nxg6 Qg5 (62% in this position)
  8. Qe2 Nf6 (93% in this position)
  9. f4 Qxf4 (73% in this position)

Realistically, even if you play the Lopez at every opportunity you won’t get the Schliemann very often, and, even then, many of your opponents will choose alternatives at moves 4 or 5. If you’re just a club standard player I’d advise you to play something sensible like 4. d3 instead and get on with the rest of your life.

Anyway, let’s continue. Your opponent has gone down this line and you have to dig into your memory to remember what happens next.

Black’s last move was Qxf4: your word for f4 is ‘shark’ (f/6 is represented by ch/j/tch/sh, d/4 is represented by r, so you choose a monosyllabic word including these two sounds.)

It’s a sharp variation and you want to remember what to do next so you look into your Memory Palace. There you find a shark biting a jester; a match catching fire and burning a lion’s nose, making the lion roar; and a frog chewing gum. The jester gives you lol (laugh out loud, your word for e5), telling you that you now play 10. Ne5+. Well, hang on a minute. Stockfish slightly prefers Nxa7+, and d4 is by far the most popular choice on lichess, but Ne5+ is also fine, so we’ll let it pass. Then we have the match, indicating c6, so we expect our opponent to evade the check by playing 10… c6 – the only good move. Now the lion’s roar tells us to play 11. d4, again clearly best. Then the frog chewing gum gives you 11… Qh4+ 12. g3. It’s still a complicated position so you may need to extend your story a bit.

(If you’re interested in this variation, I’d add that, although 9. f4 is usually played, Stockfish flags 9. Nxa7+ as a significant improvement.)

You see how it works, then, and if you want to play this variation with either colour it’s a sharp line which you need to know well, so, in this case, memory is important.

You should by now have some idea of whether or not this technique will work for you (if you have a strong visual memory it may well do, but if you don’t, it won’t), and whether or not you’re prepared to spend the time to develop your memory in this way and apply it to improving your chess.

The second and third chapters, if you’re still undecided, explain more about memory techniques. The author has helpfully made the first three chapters available for free here.

The next two chapters provide worked examples. Chapter 4 returns to the variation of the Schliemann we looked at earlier, looking at it in more detail, including other variations that Black might choose. John Holden sees this as resembling a train journey: he’s very familiar with the journey on the London Underground from Waterloo to West Ham,

Chapter 5 takes a very different variation of the Lopez: the exchange variation, which is considered from Black’s perspective.

We’re most likely to reach this position, where White usually retreats the knight to either b3 or e2. In either case, Black will trade queens.

This time, Holden’s setting is an airport, where Ne2 is a journey through security to a connecting flight, while Nb3 takes you through immigration to leave the airport.

Again, I have a question. Yes, I can understand you need to memorise the moves in a tactical variation like the Schliemann line discussed earlier, but in this quiet line with an early queen exchange, understanding positional ideas might be more helpful.

Chapter 6 is a bonus chapter explaining how you can use the Memory Palace idea to learn theoretical endings such as KQ v KR. Chapter 7 is a miscellany, answering some of the questions you may have and tying up some loose ends. Holden mentions other learning techniques such as flashcards and spaced repetition, which I’m aware other improvers have used with success.

I notice that this book has been one of the best selling chess books on Amazon since its publication. The book is well written, well produced and well researched, and is being strongly promoted by its author, including sending a review copy to British Chess News. I’m all in favour of supporting authors who are self-publishing on Amazon if their books have something worthwhile to say (and I hope you’ll support my Chess Heroes books as well). John Holden is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject of memory training and, if you’re interested, you’ll want to read this book. However, I remain to be convinced that his chess knowledge is sufficient to make a good case for his methods.

You might have read other chess self-help books in which authors explain the methods they used to improve their rating. If the author had been able to relate how he had improved his rating as a result of using these techniques I might have been impressed, but, as far as I can tell, his rating appears to be modest and perhaps lower than when he was a junior.

Perhaps at some point I’ll write more about the place of memory in chess and how different peoples’ memory works in different ways. I know I’m not alone in thinking very much in words rather than pictures: I have a good memory for words, facts and connections but very little visual imagination and a relatively poor memory for images (which is why I can’t play blindfold chess). For this reason the method outlined here wouldn’t work for me. But, if your brain works in a different way to mine, it might be just the book to help you improve your opening knowledge and endgame techniques. I’d certainly be very interested to hear from anyone who has made a dramatic rating gain by using the Memory Palace method. But until I’ve seen some evidence I’ll remain sceptical.

Richard James, Twickenham 17th October 2023

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 206 pages
  • Publisher:  Amazon (15 July 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13:979-8370251146
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 1.19 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of Amazon Purchase location

The Chess Memory Palace, John Holden, Amazon, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8370251146
The Chess Memory Palace, John Holden, Amazon, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8370251146
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Minor Pieces 64: Alfred Lenton (2)

Last time we left Alfred Lenton in 1939, at the outbreak of World War 2. Although Alfred didn’t serve in the war, there were fewer opportunities for him to play chess.

The county championship continued to take place, with Lenton retaining his title in 1940, and there was also a wartime county chess league, along with county matches against their Nottinghamshire neighbours.

In 1941 he was unexpectedly defeated by Philip Collier, who went to to claim his second county title, just as his father had done before him. In 1942 Elsie and Alfred welcomed their only son, Philip, into the world. (There were a lot of chess playing Phil(l)ips in Leicester at the time: Collier, Wallis, Rimmington and others.) He didn’t take part in the county championship that year, only resuming his chess career in 1945. In 1946 he was appointed President of the Leicestershire Chess Club, serving the required two year term.

He had intended to play in the 1946 British Championships in Nottingham, but had to pull out at fairly short notice: whether due to work or family commitments is unclear. But he was still playing successfully in the county championship, claiming his fifth and sixth titles in 1947 and 1948.

In June 1947 a Czechoslovakian team visited England to play two matches, against an England team in London, followed by an encounter with a Midlands team in Birmingham. Alfred resumed his international career here where he was matched against Jaromir Florian (not the Hungarian Tibor as incorrectly given in MegaBase and other sources). Thanks to Christopher Kreuzer and others on the English Chess Forum for researching and confirming this.

Two interesting games ensued, with our hero scoring a win and a draw. Click on any move in any game in this article for a pop-up window.

By August that year he felt ready to commit himself to the British Championships, held that year in Harrogate.

He was selected to play in what was called the Premier Tournament, the section immediately below the championship itself, also a strong competition with some international interest. Lenton, not for the first time, started slowly, but recovered to finish on 5/11.

Tournament report  and further details here.

Here are two of his wins.

You’ll see that, by this time, although still throwing in the occasional hypermodern opening from pre-war days, he was usually playing in much more classical fashion.

Every year around this time he’d give a simultaneous display against fellow members of the NALGO (Local Government Officers) Chess Club. Here he is pictured in 1949, alongside the big news of a pigeon being arrested in Coalville. Strange things often happen in Leicestershire.

Leicester Evening Mail 04 May 1949

In 1951 Leicestershire Chess Club reached the final of the National Club Championship, going down 4-2 against the London club Lud-Eagle. Alfred drew his game on board 4, pictured here.

The Illustrated Leicester Chronicle 06 October 1951

In 1954 Lenton won the county championship again, playing enough chess to make the BCF Grading List in Category 3a (209-216) which you can see here, although he dropped out the following year.

Round about this time he decided on a change of career, giving up his job in local government to establish an antiquarian bookshop in the city centre, which, at various times sold all sorts of other things: model railways, stamps, gramophone records for example. This enterprise afforded him less time for chess, especially county matches as Saturday was his busiest day.

In 1960, as you may recall, the Leicestershire Chess Club celebrated its centenary. As part of the celebrations a tournament was organised in January the following year.

They invited one of the world’s strongest players, Svetozar Gligoric, and one of the country’s strongest players, Leonard Barden, both of whom had just competed at Hastings, to take on the four most recent county champions.

As well as Alfred Lenton, champion in 1954, they were Polish player Wladyslaw Tabakiernik (1915-1997, known as Tabby, champion in 1952 and 1953), Philip Norman Wallis (1906-1973, champion in 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1959), and Peter Darrell Sanderson (1934-2013, champion in 1957 and 1960).

The Birmingham Post & Birmingham Gazette 11 January 1961

Here’s the final table.

Tournament report here.

It soon became clear that Alfred was very rusty. Young star Sanderson beat him with a fine combination in the first round.

In Round 2, Wallis, playing black, had a winning attack by move 14. In Round 3, against Barden, he was again lost by move 14, losing two pawns to an obvious tactic.

Against the great Gligoric he started well enough, but a tactical oversight led, after a series of exchanges, to a position where his opponent could play a temporary knight sacrifice to end up two pawns ahead. Disheartened, he resigned rather than waiting to be shown.

In his final game he gained a clear advantage against Tabakiernik, but decided to play safe by offering a draw.

He was in better form in this county match game played a couple of months later against one of England’s most promising young players.

Leicester 1961 was to be his last major tournament, but Alfred continued playing locally with success. He was interviewed by the local paper following his triumph in the 1969 county championship.

Leicester Mercury 14 June 1969

Sadly we have very few games available from the last 40(!) years of his chess career. Here’s a game he lost against an opponent he’d beaten on top board of a county match two years earlier.

In the 1970s, buoyed by a strong local organisation, Leicester was at the forefront of the English Chess Explosion, with several teenage stars coming to the fore. Here, a young Mark Hebden, a pupil, as Lenton had been many years earlier, at Alderman Newton’s School, was being compared to Alfred.

Leicester Mercury 13 September 1975

There, you’ll see another future GM, Glenn Flear, a pupil at Beauchamp Oadby School, which had originally been Kibworth Grammar School in the village from which the Lentons came. Elsewhere, Flear’s ‘smooth positional style’ was compared to that of Lenton. Other contemporaries were future IM Geoff Lawton, Shaun Finlayson and Alan Richardson.

The 1980s seems to have been a quiet decade for Alfred Lenton as a chess player, but life in his shop was, on occasion, rather more eventful.

Leicester Daily Mercury 11 March 1986

In 1988 he made the front page of the papers for foiling a train robbery.

Leicester Mercury 06 December 1988

Later in life he became active again, playing for his local club, Thurnby: we have a draw from a match between Thurnby 2 and Market Harborough.

Jonathan Calder blogged about this game here: many thanks to him for looking out the scoresheet for me. There’s another story concerning an informal game played in his shop here.

Shabir Okhai has sent me a game he played against Lenton in 1999, when he was 14 years old. You’ll see Alfred, just as he had done, more than 60 years earlier, chose a hypermodern opening, and, after missing some winning chances, exceeded the time limit in a position which offered chances to both sides.

Alfred Lenton (always Alf to his friends) died on 5 November 2004 at the age of 93. You’ll see from the ECF ratings site that he was active almost to the end. I guess not many players who had previously been about 2300 strength eventually plummeted to about 1600, but then not many of them continued playing into their tenth decade. The game above suggests that he had problems with time management at the end of his long career.

I met Alfred a couple of times myself, at Sandys Dickinson’s second hand bookshop in London, while looking for material for The Complete Chess Addict, but don’t have any particularly strong memories of him. I wasn’t certain then that the P Lenton I’d played in Leicester was his son, and had no idea of our family connection.

The shop is still there, or at least is was last time Google Maps passed by. I presume Philip still runs it.

Here it is, dwarfed by a hairdressers and a branch of Subway on either side. You can see a photograph (is that Philip behind the counter?) here.

There you have the long life of Alfred Lenton, a life devoted to chess, as an international player, as a journalist, and as a lover of chess books. Perhaps an unconventional life, but, I’d say, a life worth lived.

While I still have your attention, I’d like to introduce, very briefly, another long lived Leicester player.

The Leicester Mail 20 March 1929

Here’s one of Alfred’s earliest games, and there, on the board above him, is our man, Arthur Clement Bannister.

Arthur, born on 18 February 1891, was twenty years older than Alfred, but the two men would have known each other well for half a century.

If Alfred was a Minor Piece in chess, Arthur was a mere pawn, but pawns, according to Philidor, are the soul of chess. You’ll meet men like Arthur in almost any chess club. An average, or perhaps below average club player who turns out regularly, plays on a low board in county matches and takes in the occasional tournament (Bannister played in the Short 3rd Class section at Margate in 1938 and the 2nd Class Section A in the 1952 British Championships).

Daily Telegraph 18 February 1982

You’ll see from his death notice, that, even at the age of 90, he was ‘a prominent member of the Leicester Chess Club’. I’d put it to you that it’s the likes of Arthur Clement Bannister who are the real soul of chess.

Arthur, who never married, had a hearing impairment, which might, perhaps, be two reasons why chess meant so much to him. In a 1950 match against Coventry he was paired against a blind player, but the captains agreed that they should swap opponents with the adjacent board.

Arthur’s father, James, was born in the town of Earl Shilton, ten miles to the west of Leicester. I wrote more about his family – and their connection to my family – here.

So, back there on adjacent boards in 1929, and friends for half a century or more,  were my mother’s kinsman Arthur and my father’s kinsman Alfred, both of whom lived into their nineties. I can see something of myself in both of them. Not so much a golden chain: perhaps a golden helix.

One final thought, though. I’d put it to you that one reason why so many strong young players came from Leicester in the 1970s was the strength of their club and county chess scene. There was a thriving local league, featuring formidable players like Alfred Lenton as well as enthusiasts like Arthur Clement Bannister. There were organisers of many years’ experience, and journalists such as Don Gould and Dick Chapman who tirelessly promoted the game in local newspapers over several decades. You might meet more of them in future Minor Pieces, but for now it’s time to take the train back to St Pancras and return to London.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
BritBase (John Saunders)
John Saunders also for providing me with his Lenton file
ChessBase/Stockfish 16
English Chess Forum/Christopher Kreuzer and others
chessgames.com
chess.com
EdoChess (Rod Edwards)
Google Maps
Chess in Leicester 1860-1960 (Don Gould)
Jonathan Calder
Shabir Okhai

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Minor Pieces 63: Alfred Lenton (1)

Last time you met, amongst other chess playing Leicester Ladies, Elsie Margaret Reid, a British Ladies’ Championship contender, and witnessed her marriage to Alfred Lenton.

It’s now time to meet her husband.

Perhaps you’ve see Michael Wood’s 2010 documentary series Story of England. If you have, you’ll be aware that it tells its story from the perspective of Kibworth, seen as being a typical village in the middle of the country. In fact it’s two villages in one, owned by different families in the Middle Ages. Kibworth Harcourt is north of the railway line, and, the more significant part, Kibworth Beauchamp (just as Belvoir is pronounced Beaver, Beauchamp is pronounced Beecham), where the shops are, is south of the railway line. There used to be a school there too: a Grammar School founded in about 1359, but in 1964 it migrated to the Leicester suburb of Oadby. You’ll meet one of the new school’s most distinguished former pupils next time.

The Lenton family had been prominent in the village for centuries, perhaps arriving there from the area of Nottingham bearing that name. There’s a brief mention in one of the Story of England episodes, but they don’t seem to have educated their children at the Grammar School.

Join us now on 28 December 1744, when, between the Christmas celebrations and the dawn of the new year, the community welcomed the arrival of Robert Lenton, who was baptised that day. We know his father’s name was Richard, but it’s not entirely clear whether this was Richard the son of Robert, born in 1710, or Richard the son of Richard, born in 1719. I suspect they were cousins, but there’s no way of telling for certain from the extant parish registers. There are reasons to believe – and hope – that it was the older Richard who was Robert’s father.

Robert was a butcher by trade: a significant member of the local community. His youngest son, William, was born in 1787. He married a girl from Bedworth, Warwickshire, in 1811. Maybe he had moved there to seek work, or perhaps she was in service in Leicestershire. They soon returned, settling in Smeeton Westerby, a small village just south of Kibworth Beauchamp.

The first census as we know them today was taken in 1841, and we can pick William up there in both the 1841 and 1851 censuses, where his occupation is given as FWK – Framework Knitter. This was a very common occupation in the East Midlands at the time: William and his family would have been working at home using mechanical knitting machines. By 1851 his oldest son, also named William, had moved into Leicester, but was still working as a framework knitter. In 1853 he married a widow, adopting her children and presenting her with two more sons, William and Thomas.

His younger son, Thomas, very typically for his place and time, spent his working life in the footwear industry, involved in various aspects of making shoes. So here we see a very common pattern of men and their families moving out of villages and into cities where there was plenty of factory work available. His oldest son, another Thomas, also sought factory work, but rather than on the manufacturing side, he worked as a warehouseman for the clothing company Hart & Levy. Sir Israel Hart, one of the company’s founders, was Mayor of Leicester 1884-6 and 1893-94 and President of Leicestershire Chess Club. between 1894 and 1896.

In 1910 this Thomas married Ethel Wood, born in 1888. Ethel was perhaps slightly higher up the social scale: her father, John, was a School Attendance Officer, although his background was also very much working class. Here he is, on the right. John and his wife Sarah had five daughters (Ethel was the fourth), the oldest of whom married into a branch of the Gimson family, followed by a son.

In the 1911 census Thomas and Ethel, not yet able to afford their own house, were living with Thomas’s widowed father and two brothers. He was described as working in the tailoring industry.

On 1 November that year, their first son, Alfred, was born, followed in 1914 by another son, whom they named Philip.

In this family photograph, taken in about 1917, you can see the proud parents with their two boys.

Tom, Alfred, Philip and Ethel Lenton (c.1917)

By 1921 the family were living at 27 Halkin Street, north of the city centre (the door of this very typical two up two down Victorian terraced house is open to welcome us in). I would have passed the end of the road regularly in my first year at what was then the Leicester Regional College of Technology, when I was living in digs in Thurmaston. Ethel’s mother had died a few months earlier, and her father was now living with them.

By now Ethel was expecting a third child, and another son, named Clifford was born later that year.

Alfred, a bright, bookish and perhaps rather quiet boy, won a place at Alderman Newton’s Grammar School, where he was a contemporary of the historian Sir John Plumb and a few years below novelist CP Snow, a member of Leicestershire Chess Club during the 1923-24 season.

This was a time when chess was becoming popular amongst teenage boys, and it was when he was 15 that young Alfred learnt the moves.  The earliest appearance I can find is in December 1928, at the age of 17, losing his game on bottom board for the Victoria Road Institute (I’d encounter his son playing chess for Leicester Victoria more than four decades later.)

At the Victoria Road Institute, Alfred received some instruction from their top player, building contractor Herbert William Lea, soon making rapid progress. By early 1930 he’d come to the attention of the county selectors, and was one of the promising young players they tried out in a match against Birmingham.

The Leicester Mail 10 February 1930

By 1931 Lenton was playing on top board for Victoria Road, taking a high board in the county team and participating in the county championship. Here was a talented and ambitious young man who was clearly going places.

If you’re an ambitious chess player, one of the places you’ll go to is Hastings, and, at the end of that year, he travelled down to the south coast where he was placed in the Major B section.

Leicester Mercury 30 December 1931

Here’s what happened.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

This was a whole new experience for him, and it’s not surprising that he found the going tough. In this game his hesitant opening play soon got him into trouble when he was paired against a creative tactician who unleashed a cascade of sacrifices. (Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.)

Alfred learnt from this experience that he needed to take the game more seriously: in an interview many years later he explained that, at this point, he was studying chess for three hours a day.

The following year he returned again – and seems to have brought a friend along with him – as you might remember from last time.

Leicester Daily Mercury 05 January 1933

He did indeed maintain his lead to the end of the tournament, as you can see here. Perhaps the opposition was slightly weaker than the previous year, perhaps his hours of study were paying off, or perhaps it was Elsie’s presence that was responsible for his success.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

(As far as I can tell, C(ecil?) H(unter?) Reid, Peter Reid, whom he played the previous year, and Elsie Margaret Reid were totally unrelated.)

In 1933 the British Championship was held separately from the remainder of the congress, which took place in Folkestone at the same time as the Chess Olympiad.

Alfred was one of a number of promising young players in the Premier Reserves, the second section down: you’ll meet some of them in future Minor Pieces. His 50% score was a good result in such a strong field.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

This game demonstrates that he’d been working on his openings since his first tournament appearance, and concludes with a neat tactic.

The following month the Leicester Evening Mail had some important news.

Leicester Evening Mail 15 July 1933

Alfred had got himself a column in a local paper. Each week there would be the latest chess news, a game, which could be of local, national, international or historical interest, along with a puzzle for solving. He was a young man who enjoyed both reading and writing.

Here’s a powerful win against the stronger of the Passant brothers, slightly marred by his 17th move, giving his opponent a tactical opportunity which went begging.

By now established as his county’s second strongest player behind Victor Hextall Lovell, he returned to Hastings after Christmas, where he scored an excellent third place with only one defeat, well ahead of his Leicester Victoria clubmate Watts and former Leicestershire player Storr-Best.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

In this game he missed a win against his Dutch opponent.

The 1934 British Championships took place in Chester, when Alfred was places in the Major Open Reserves, in effect the third division, while his future wife Elsie (were they engaged at this point?) played in the British Ladies’ Championship.

Lenton was essentially a positional player, but here he unleased a very different weapon when Black against 1. d4 – the dangerous and, at the time, fashionable Fajarowicz variation of the Budapest Defence.  It proved rather successful against his clergyman opponent (you can read about him here) in this game, where his opponent miscalculated a tactical sequence, overlooking a queen sacrifice.

His opponent in this game, another talented young Midlands player, will need no introduction.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

You’ll see that he was extremely successful in this event, sharing first place. Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

He was rather less successful at Hastings that winter, as you’ll see below.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

On the home front, though, he was more successful.

Leicester Mercury 22 April 1935

Don Gould, in Chess in Leicestershire 1860-1960, sums him up at this stage of his career:

The new champion had left Alderman Newton’s School only six years previously. He was a fine all-round player, with a particularly good grasp of positional play. Unlike Lovell, he had been entering for national tournaments, and profiting by the better practice obtained thereat. Later on he twice won the Midland Counties Individual Championship, and finished in a tie for second place in the British Championship. At that time, he favoured the Reti Opening and the Buda-Pest Defence. Lenton for some years ran a chess column in the local press. 

This result (he’d repeat his success the following year) established him as the strongest player in Leicestershire, and, in the 1935 British Championships, held in Great Yarmouth, he was selected for the championship itself.

In this game Lenton displayed his endgame skill after his opponent missed an opportunity on move 17.

Endgame skill, along with hypermodern openings, were the key to his successes at this time of his life. His opponent here was unable to cope with the opening.

Admittedly it wasn’t the strongest renewal of the British, but this was still an outstanding performance, which would have been even better but for a moment of tactical carelessness in the last round.

At this level you can’t afford to give your opponent an opportunity like that.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

Now top board for his county, and with a new job as a local government officer (he’d transferred his chess allegiance from VIctoria to NALGO) he returned to Hastings over the Christmas holidays. There were so many entries for the Premier Reserves that the organisers decided to run two sections of equal strength, with Alfred in the B section.

He used his favourite variation of the Caro-Kann in this game, grabbing a hot pawn early on (sometimes you can get away with Qxb2) and surviving to dominate the enemy rook in the ending.

You’ll see from the tournament table this was another great success for the Leicester man. It’s perhaps significant that, while all three of his losses were published, the only win I’ve been able to find was the game above.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

1936 was the year of the famous Nottingham tournament, which took place in August. The British Championship itself took place separately, in Bournemouth in June.

Again, many of the top players were missing, and Sir George Thomas, who would probably have been considered the most likely winner, was out of form. Would Alfred improve on his shared third place the previous year?

Here, he was outplayed in the opening, but his Birmingham opponent miscalculated the tactics, leaving him two pawns ahead in the ending.

He only needed 11 moves to defeat his Ipswich opponent in this game. White’s catastrophic error would be a good candidate for a Spot the Blunder question in the next Chess Heroes: Tactics book.

As you’ll see above, he equalled his previous year’s score, which, this time round, was good enough for a share of second place. There were a lot of talented players in their mid 20s around at the time, and Lenton seemed at this point to be as good as any of them.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

Meanwhile, Alfred had reached the final of the Forrest Cup, the Midland Counties Individual Championship, where he faced future MP Julius Silverman. A rather fortuitous win brought him the title.

Nottingham in August was only a short journey. The Major Open was split into two equal sections, both in themselves fairly strong international tournaments.

This time his performance was slightly disappointing. The three games I’ve been able to find include two losses and this game, where he did well to survive and share the point.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

After the tournament, Alekhine visited Leicester to give a simultaneous display, winning 33 games, drawing 5 and losing 2, one of which was to Lenton.

Alfred’s marriage to Elsie Margaret Reid was registered in the fourth quarter of 1936. They both decided to give Hastings a miss that year.

His favourite Réti Opening wasn’t always successful against stronger opposition, but it could be devastating against lesser lights, as shown in this game from a county match.

In May that year, Alfred made his international début in the inaugural Anglo-Dutch match, scoring a win and a draw (he was losing in the final position) against Klaas Bergsma. He also won the Forrest Cup for the second time.

Then it was on to Blackpool for the British Championship. Would he improve on his performances in the two previous years?

It was soon clear that the answer would be no. Something was clearly wrong in the first week, when he lost his first five games. Was he unwell? Who knows? But he fought back well to score 4½ points from his last six games, including wins against two venerable opponents.

Winning this game against a man  who must have been one of his heroes, 9 times British Champion and Leicester’s finest ever player, now in the twilight of his career. A powerful pin on the e-file proved decisive.

Against the tournament runner-up he demonstrated his knowledge of Réti’s hypermodern ideas: note the queen on a1. His position wasn’t objectively good, but it seemed to leave Sir George confused.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

Two games from this period demonstrate again how lethal his queen’s bishop could be in his favourite double fianchetto set-up. You might want to see them as a diptych: both being decided by a Bxg7 sacrifice.

In 1937 Leicestershire reached the final of the English Counties Championship.

We have two photos and a report.

Leicestershire team 1937 (MCCU Champions & BCF Finalists) Back: Spencer, Watts, Solloway, Bumpus, P Collier, Thompson, Rowley, Chapman, Lawrence, Copson Middle: Rimmington, Lovell, Lenton, Ellison, James Front: Busby, Gould

 

Leicester Mercury 13 December 1937
Source: Leicester Mercury 13 December 1937

Now into 1938, Alfred won the Forrest Cup for the third time, his final game producing another sacrificial finish.

He again scored 1½/2 in the 1938 Anglo-Dutch match, this time paired against Chris Vlagsma. His opponent was doing well here before ill-advisedly opening the f-file.

Then it was down to Brighton for the 1938 British Championship, which proved to be another disappointment.

The low point was a loss in only 9 moves against Tylor.

In the very next round, though, switching from his usual Réti, he won in 13 moves when Frank Parr got his queen trapped. This time capturing his opponent’s b-pawn with his queen wasn’t a good idea.

It’s not clear what had happened to his chess here. I suspect that, with the twin demands of his job and married life, he was no longer putting in the three hours study every day.

Here, from Battersea Chess Club’s obituary of Parr, is a photograph, with Lenton on the right considering his move.

The 1938 British Championships at Brighton. L to R: Golombek; Frank Parr (tieless) ; C. H. O’D. Alexander; Sir George Thomas (partly hidden), Milner-Barry; E. G. Sergeant & A. Lenton.

And here, as you see, he finished in a share of 10th-11th place, quite a comedown from his results of 2 and 3 years earlier.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

In spite of this result, he was selected for the 1939 Anglo-Dutch match, where he was up against Carel Fontein, drawing one game and losing the other.

How strong was he during this period? EdoChess gives his rating peaking at 2250 in 1936, so, although he finished high up in the British on two occasions, he was only, by today’s standards, a strong club player. A player with considerable ability, both tactical and positional, but also with some weaknesses.

Storm clouds were gathering over Europe, war was declared on 1 September 1939, Lenton’s chess column was wound down, perhaps anticipating a paper shortage. A register was taken on 29 September listing all residents, for the purpose of producing identity cards and ration books.

Alfred and Elsie were recorded two miles east of the city centre, at 65 Copdale Road, Leicester (on the left here), living next door to his parents and brothers at number 63 (with the blue van up the drive: looks like it might have been rebuilt). The family had moved up in the world since 1921.

While Elsie is knitting socks with her circular machine, Alfred is a Gas Department Securities Clerk, working for the local government office.

At this point it’s almost time to break off our story, just noting that our hero had won his third county championship, receiving the trophy in October. “A worthy champion, who will be British Champion one day”, said the county President Robert Pruden on presenting the trophy. You’ll find out how accurate that prediction was in our next Minor Piece, when we look at what happened next in Alfred’s life.

But first, let’s return to Kibworth Beauchamp, where our story began. We met Robert Lenton, born in 1744, who might have been the son of Richard born in 1710.  He had a brother named Mark (a very popular name in this family) who moved to the nearby village of Thorpe Langton. We travel down the generations, another Mark, Henry, and his daughter Ann, baptised on 27 July 1794. On 2 December 1816 Ann married Thomas James, from the small village of Slawston, a few miles further east. We travel down the generations again, another Thomas, who moved back to Thorpe Langton, John, Tom Harry, and to the youngest of his 18 children, Howard, who was my father.

Which makes Alfred possibly my 6th cousin twice removed, or if Robert’s father was the other Richard, my 7th cousin twice removed (I think).

Another golden chain. Even though I didn’t inherit his talent, I’m delighted to be a kinsman of someone who finished =2nd and =3rd in two British Championships.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
BritBase (John Saunders)
John Saunders also for providing me with his Lenton file
ChessBase/Stockfish 16
chessgames.com
EdoChess (Rod Edwards)
Google Maps
Wikipedia
Chess in Leicester 1860-1960 (Don Gould)
Battersea Chess Club website
shropshirechess.org

 

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Zlotnik’s Treasure Trove: Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs (1600-2200 Elo)

From the publisher:

“Boris Zlotnik is an extraordinary trainer and coach. He was the director of a legendary chess school in Moscow before he emigrated to Spain in 1993. Ten years later, the super talent Fabiano Caruana moved to Madrid with his entire family to live near his trainer Zlotnik.

As a former coach of U.S. Champion Caruana, Zlotnik knows how top players work on their chess improvement. And his experience with club players allows him to translate that understanding into practical lessons for amateurs about highly original subjects like creativity or ‘putting up resistance’ – topics seldom touched on in other chess manuals.

Zlotnik covers a wide variety of topics and uses a wealth of material. Readers will love this new book, as they did his first book, Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual. ‘A brilliant, important and extraordinarily instructive book’, said Florian Jacobs, the book reviewer for the Max Euwe Center in Amsterdam. ‘This is how probing, rich and motivating studying chess can be.'”

The publisher have provided sample pages

 

A slightly strange title, and perhaps a contradictory subtitle. I’m not sure that Zlotnik is exactly a household name, and therefore one that would sell more copies by its appearance on the cover. Dvoretsky’s books certainly sold by virtue of having his name in the title, but will Zlotnik do the same? If you thought more chess trainers should be household names, I wouldn’t disagree with you.

Treasure Trove? Buried treasure. According to Wiki:

The term is also often used metaphorically. Collections of articles published as a book are often titled Treasure Trove, as in A Treasure Trove of Science. This was especially fashionable for titles of children’s books in the early- and mid-20th century.

So perhaps that’s  what we have here: a collection of articles about chess training. A lucky dip. A grab bag. But given Zlotnik’s reputation one that will undoubtedly be worth reading.

But then Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs sounds like something rather more formal and structured. Kudos to the publishers, though, for highlighting the target market (1600-2200 Elo). Regular readers of my reviews will know that I’m frequently critical of publishers who claim books are suitable for much wider target markets and much lower rated players than they really are.

I was also wondering whether anyone would buy a book promising ‘unenjoyable’ or ‘boring’ chess training. But never mind: let’s look inside.

In his preface, Zlotnik describes the book’s contents. He appreciates that most amateur chess players have other demands on their time: there are books available for ambitious young players prepared to devote several hours a day to improving their chess, but this isn’t one of them.

He concludes like this:

I share the following opinion with the sixth World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik: ‘It is not possible to teach someone to play chess well, but this is something that can be achieved through ones own efforts.’ This book is a book of reflections on chess, rather than an attempt to teach how to play well, and its aim is to demonstrate the richness and at the same time the difficulty of chess and the possible ways to get better at this game.

I also agree with Botvinnik. Many parents seem to think that if their children spend an hour a week with a strong player they’ll learn by osmosis, and that the stronger the player the more they’ll learn. You, I’m sure, will realise that this is nonsense. But that’s something for another time and place.

In Chapter 1,  Zlotnik talks about the difference between amateurs and professionals, about the nature of chess talent, and about chess itself. An interesting read, but you won’t find any chess training there.

Chapter 2 is Factors which determine success in chess. We look at the different thought processes required for tactical and positional play. What they have in common is calculation: in tactical play you calculate forced variations while in positional play you calculate unforced variations.

In this position (Groningen 2013) IM Sergio Estremera Panos (2365) miscalculated against Jasel Lopez (2179). Rb7! would have won, but instead he blundered with Qe5?, when Ng7 gave the lower rated player a winning attack.

Chapter 3 provides advice on Training in tactical play.  Like many chess coaches today, Zlotnik is very keen on training visualisation skills through blindfold play and other exercises. He also looks at Kotov’s views on tactical training outlined in Think Like a Grandmaster.

Here’s Zlotnik with another recommendation:

It is beyond doubt that chess problems and studies, by their very nature, present us with many more possibilities of encountering something original and are useful for us in training our combinative vision.  … I think that a good criterion is to assess the ability to solve ‘mate in two’ problems, although exceptionally some of them are difficult even for GMs. Among especially creative puzzle composers, Samuel Loyd stands out, well-known above all for his mathematical puzzles.  

Again, solving compositions of this nature is something now recommended by most leading chess coaches.

If you’re a tactical star (and that’s a big hint) you’ll be able to solve this mate in two composed by Sam Loyd in 1891.

Zlotnik also recommends, again following in Kotov’s footsteps, playing through a complex game, stopping at interesting points to analyse the position, and then comparing your analysis with that of the annotator or your computer. He then offers you Kramnik – Topalov (Skopje 2015), with ten questions for you to answer.

After training in tactical play, we have, naturally enough, Training in positional play in Chapter 4. Inevitably, given the nature of the subject, the advice here is of a rather more nebulous nature.

Something I don’t recall seeing before is this:

… usually you should attack your opponent’s most advanced piece or pawn, and if you cannot do so directly, then you should attack its base of support. Curiously, and in my experience, this very simple piece of advice is valid in many cases.

The next two chapters are what makes this book unusual. Chapter 5 tackles Creativity in chess.  Zlotnik shows us some endgame studies, along with some games by Nezhmetdinov and the less well-known Konstantin Chernyshov. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

The exercises at the end of the chapter include some Proof Game puzzles, which are always fun. I used one of them here.

Chapter 6 then tells us how to put up Maximum resistance in practical situations.

If you’re in the target market for this book you’ll reach a bad position at some point in about half your games, so you might think this is an important subject which should be discussed more than it is. In 1967 Zlotnik asked Bronstein about the difference between masters and non-masters. He was surprised by the reply: a master knows how to fight against another human being!

In this extract, a dangerous tactician turns the tables on her strong opponent in a time scramble.

We then have 20 pages, plus two pages of exercises, on Studying the opening.

In this game the amateur playing white, unlike his opponent, was aware of a sharp tactical variation, but Black’s superior practical skill soon told.

Zlotnik concludes the chapter:

The main advice I can give to an amateur player is to seek a balance between specific knowledge of opening lines and typical ideas. Also, whatever the opening being studied, it is useful to  have as a model an active high-level player who is an expert in the variation/opening we plan to play. From their games we can receive specific answers to any questions we might have and also learn a number of typical methods for this variation in the middlegame and perhaps also in the endgame.

Finally, the book wouldn’t be complete without Zlotnik’s ideas on Studying the endgame, which take up 18 pages along with three pages of exercises. As an example of what an amateur needs to know he devotes seven pages to some theory in the important ending of rook and pawn against rook.

His conclusion:

The endgame is a difficult science and it requires the investment of a great deal of work to master this aspect of the game.

This is a rather unusual coaching book, then, and I’m not sure whether either the title or subtitle does it justice. ‘Reflections of a Chess Coach” might give the prospective purchaser a better idea of what to expect. If you’re in the target market, an amateur rated between about 1600 and 2000 with a limited amount of time to spend on the game, it might be just what you’re looking for to help you put on another 100 points or so. But, while the examples and exercises have been chosen with exemplary care, this relatively slim volume will serve more as a guide to the sort of work you should be doing to make that improvement rather than something which will, in itself, bring it about.

For anyone with any interest at all in chess coaching, whether as an instructor or as a student, the opinions of one of the world’s most experienced and distinguished chess teachers will undoubtedly be both fascinating and inspiring. The book is produced to this publisher’s customary high standards and, if you’ve enjoyed the examples demonstrated in this review, it deserves a warm recommendation.

Richard James, Twickenham 19th September 2023

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 Mar. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257894
  • ISBN-13:978-9493257894
  • Product Dimensions: 17.25 x 1.6 x 22.91 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

You can read some sample pages here.

Zlotnik's Treasure Trove: Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs (1600-2200 Elo) , Boris Zlotnik, New In Chess (31 Mar. 2023), ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9493257894
Zlotnik’s Treasure Trove: Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs (1600-2200 Elo) , Boris Zlotnik, New In Chess (31 Mar. 2023), ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9493257894
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Minor Pieces 62: Elsie Margaret Reid

We’ve met, briefly, one or two lady chess players in Leicester, and, while we’re still in the home of the 2023 British Championships, it’s time to look at the subject in more detail.

Our story starts in 1912, when, at the Leicestershire Chess Club’s annual social evening, an informal tournament took place between four ladies.

The winner was Mrs Shardlow, ahead of Mrs Collier followed by the Misses N Wilkinson and M Chappin.

Mrs Collier was Eliza Mary (née Webb), the wife of Edward Heath Collier, one of the county’s leading players, and the mother of Philip Edward Collier. The Collier family played a vital role in Leicestershire chess over almost a century: you may well meet them again in a future Minor Piece.

Mrs Shardlow was born Emily Preston in Lancashire in 1877: her husband, works manager Howard William Shardlow, also a chess player, had been born in Lincolnshire in 1878. They didn’t stay very long in Leicestershire before moving on.

Here’s a delightful photograph of Emily, standing on the right, with her sister Edith on the left, and their mother Ellen seated in front of them.

Edith and Emily Preston, with their mother Ellen seated.

We also have a correspondence game played by her husband, which, for some reason, was published in a local newspaper in New Zealand. Howard’s 13th move fatally opened up the position, allowing his opponent, an accountant from South Manchester, a fairly easy tactic to score a swift victory. (Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.)

Then we have the Misses Wilkinson and Chappin. Muriel Cicely Chappin was the daughter of Frederick Chappin, whom you met here. Born in 1896, she was only 16 at the time, and must have come along with her father for some casual games. I’m guessing Miss Wilkinson was Nelly Wilkinson, also born in 1896, the daughter of a pork pie and sausage manufacturer (nearby Melton Mowbray has always been famous for its pork pies): the two girls lived a short walk away from each other, and, I’d imagine, were schoolfriends.

The Illustrated Leicester Chronicle 24 November 1928

Here’s Muriel, pictured at her wedding 16 years later: her bridegroom, Frederick Archibald Sowter, was a textile salesman.

It was decided to hold a more formal ladies’ tournament during the 1912-13 season. There were three entries, each playing two games against the other competitors.

In a close finish, Emily Shardlow scored 2½/4, Lucy Storr-Best 2/4, and Agnes Champ 1½/4. Lucy was the wife of (Robert) Lloyd Storr-Best, from another celebrated chess family. Again, they didn’t stay long in Leicestershire, later turning up in London, and then in Sussex. You may perhaps find out more about them in a future Minor Piece.

The social evening in 1913 included a pick-up match in which Emily, Eliza and Agnes all took part, the first two winning their games. Muriel and her friend Nelly were paired together, making an amicable draw. You’ll note that Mr Collier selected his wife for his team, but not his son.

The Leicester Chronicle and Leicestershire Mercury 04 October 1913

The Ladies’ Championship took place again in the 1913-14 season. I haven’t found out how many took part, but, as you might have read here, if you were paying attention, Miss Champ, living up to her name, moved from last place to first.

Agnes Champ: interesting name. If you reverse it you get CHAMP AGNES, which is perhaps what she drank to celebrate her success in the tournament. (A century or so later, another Agnes Champ made sporting news. A French racehorse of that name – male rather than female – had an unusually long but rather unsuccessful career, running no less than 93 times, but only winning on three occasions, all at Deauville, in 2012, 2014 and 2015.)

The chess playing Agnes Champ also had a rather long (25 years or so) but not very successful chess career, spanning the same three counties as the Storr-Bests.

Agnes was born in Chelmsford, Essex in 1859, the daughter of a wine merchant (you might wonder whether that was why he called his daughter ChampAgnes) , so she was well into her fifties when she started her chess career. Her brother John was a doctor who moved to Tasmania, and her sister Jessie married a doctor and settled in Leicester. The 1911 census found Agnes staying in a boarding house in Bournemouth, a lady of private means, but shortly afterwards she moved to Leicester, living with Jessie and her husband. In 1912 she joined the Leicestershire Chess Club. She was still living with her sister in the 1921 census, but described as a ‘visitor’.

It looks like she remained in Leicester throughout the 1920s, but by 1932 she was living in a boarding house in the Notting Hill area of London. It was there that she resumed her chess career, joining the Imperial Chess Club, and here playing in a friendly match against the confusingly similarly named Empire Social Chess Club.

Source: Kensington News and West London Times 07 April 1933

You’ll notice a few things here. Firstly, that there were eight ladies out of twenty on each side, an impressive 40%. One of Agnes’s teammates was Alice Elizabeth Hooke (see here and here). She just missed by one board her old Leicester opponent Lucy Storr-Best (at least I presume it was her). Her opponent, Claire Amez Droz, was very interesting: a violinist and future London Ladies’ Chess Champion, who would later be involved with West London Chess Club. Mrs James was almost certainly not related to me.

The Falkirk Herald and Scottish Midlands Journal 14 February 1934

There’s much to be written about these two clubs and their members, and there was clearly a considerable crossover in membership. Here, in 1934, she was taking part in the Empire’s Women’s (interesting choice of word: Ladies was usually used at the time) Championship, alongside several of the country’s top female players.

By the time of the 1939 Electoral Roll, Agnes was living in a different boarding house in the same part of London: among those next door was Leonard Messel, who may or may not have given his name to a magnolia.

Very soon afterwards, it seems she retired, like all good chess players at the time, to Hastings, where, at the age of 80, she made her debut in open competition, taking part in the Third Class section of the 1939-40 Hastings Congress, scoring a very respectable 5 points out of 9 games.

But this would be her swansong: her death was recorded, again in Hastings, in the first quarter of 1940.

It would appear that the Leicestershire Ladies Champion didn’t survive the First World War, and it was some time before we’d encounter another female player.

Leicester Mercury 02 December 1931

Here is Miss KE Hirst, selected to play for the league leaders in the first division of the league.

Kate Eleanor Hirst was born in 1896, the youngest child of a Baptist Minister. Kate and her immediately older sister Ethel stayed at home their whole lives, Ethel caring for her widowed mother, and Kate doing secretarial work for her brother Thomas, who ran a hosiery business.

She was a club member for more than three decades, but played rarely in club matches. In 1936 she shared second place in the third division (of four) of the county championship. She also enjoyed a few chess holidays in Margate. In 1936 she scored 2/5 in the Second Class Short Tourney A, where one of her opponents, scoring 1/5, was former Leicester chess lady Lucy Storr-Best. In 1938 she’d been promoted to the Short First Class C section, where she shared second prize on 3/5. One of her fellow competitors in both these events was Marjorie Strachey, sister of Lytton.

In the 1940s she was recorded as playing correspondence chess for her county, and competing in the second division (of three) in the county championship. Kate, it seems, was a player of average club standard, but one who preferred the more social atmosphere of internal competitions to matches against other clubs.

She was still recorded as a member in Don Gould’s Chess in Leicester 1860-1960, but, sadly, her membership didn’t last very much longer.

Leicester Evening Mail 10 August 1962

The 1932-33 Hastings Tournament provided some local interest with the emergence of another Leicester Lady Player: Miss Elsie Reid.

Leicester Daily Mercury 05 January 1933

Elsie finished in 4th place, as you see: a highly commendable result for such an inexperienced player.

Elsie Margaret Reid was born in Leicester on 20 May 1909, so she was 23 years old at this point. Her father had been born Frederick Neale in East Leake, near Loughborough, in the fourth quarter of 1876, but when his mother married a widower and framework knitter named Isaac Reid, he took on his stepfather’s surname.

By 1901, Frederick had joined the Royal Marines, and, on returning to civilian life, he married Clara Elizabeth Guillain in Leicester in 1908. The 1911 census found them living about 1½ miles east of the city centre, with Frederick working as an engineer’s driller. Another daughter, named Clara Elizabeth after her mother, was born in 1912. On the outbreak of war, Frederick rejoined the Royal Marines, serving in the Light Infantry division. Tragically, he lost his life on 21 May 1915, perhaps in the Gallipoli campaign. He was buried at sea, but his heroism is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

Clara, then, was left a widow with two young daughters, and, as it happened, her family were around to help out.

Her background was rather more exotic than that of her husband. Her paternal grandfather had been born in France, but, at some point in the mid 19th century, moved to London where he seems to have been working for the French government, perhaps in some sort of diplomatic role. His son, Adolphe, became a chef and confectioner, and, in the mid 1890s, moved with his family to Leicester. One wonders if he had any business connections with Victor Hextall Lovall.

After her husband’s death, Clara had to find a job to make ends meet. The 1921 census records her as a despatch clerk working for Gimson’s shoe machinery company. You might recall the Gimson family from Sydney’s association with chess at Desford Approved School. His father was also, briefly, a member of Leicestershire Chess Club. The two girls were at school, while Clara’s mother was there to carry out home duties, and one of her brothers, another Adolphe, who worked as a shoe clicker, was also living there.

How, one wonders, did Elsie learn chess? Perhaps the Guillain family were players. From 1935 onwards, one of the solvers in Alfred Lenton’s chess column was M Guillain. The only M Guillain around at the time was Elsie’s cousin Margaret, born in Leicester in 1920. Was Margaret a teenage chess problem devotee? I’d like to think she was.

Returning to Elsie’s chess career, she was also playing for Leicester Victoria, alongside Alfred Lenton, in the top division of the league. In this match she lost to reformed juvenile delinquent Phillip Rimmington.

Leicester Evening Mail 20 December 1933

The following year she was back at Hastings, having  been promoted from the Third Class to the First Class.

It looks from the results as if she was rather overmatched here, and would have been much better off in one of the Second Class sections.

That summer, she was selected to play in the British Ladies’ Championship in Chester. The appearance of a young woman from a working class background must have come as something of a shock to the other players, mostly ladies of a certain age and class. (Not so much of a shock, though, as that provided by Miss Fatima, who had won the title the previous year, also taking part in 1931.

You’ll see she performed very well, with a score of +1. Alfred was clearly impressed.

Leicester Evening Mail 22 August 1934

Here’s the game extract, in which Elsie shows exemplary endgame technique, trading off queens to win the pawn ending. Always good to see!

Back at Hastings for the third time that December, she was again placed in one of the First Class sections, meeting several of the same opponents as the previous year, and again rather out off her depth.

The 1935 British Championships took place in Great Yarmouth. Elsie was rather less successful this time round, only scoring 3½ points.

Thanks to Brian Denman for contributing her loss to the tournament winner, whom you’ll meet in a future Minor Piece.

In 1936, Elsie Reid was otherwise engaged, in more ways than one. Her marriage to Alfred Lenton was registered in Leicester in the 4th quarter of 1936.

Now a married woman, she returned to action in Blackpool the following year, this time recording a 50% score.

That was to be her last tournament appearance, although she continued to play club and county chess up to 1939.

The 1939 Register records Alfred and Elsie living next door to Alfred’s parents and brothers at 65 Copdale Road Leicester. Her occupation is given as Hosiery Terrot Machinist. A Terrot Machine, since you asked, is a circular knitting machine made by a company of that name in Germany. They’re still making them now, although they had some financial problems earlier this year.

Although she had long since given up competitive play, she maintained her interest in the game for the rest of her life.

In the mid 1970s, Leicester was a hotbed of junior chess. The local papers were full of the exploits of teenage stars such as Mark Hebden, Glenn Flear and Geoffrey Lawton, not to mention a certain Keith Arkell from nearby Warwickshire. I wonder what happened to them. Elsie Lenton was still following the game, and was mentioned here in 1975.

Leicester Daily Mercury 23 December 1975

Edwin Breckon Chapman (Dick to his friends) (1906-2001) had been involved in local chess journalism since the 1930s, and was clearly still keeping in touch with Elsie.

Unfortunately, the snippet and game above are the only examples I’ve been able to find of Elsie’s play. Her husband published quite a lot of local games in his column, but none of hers.

Alfred and Elsie’s only child, a son named Philip, was born in 1942. His parents naturally taught him chess, and, as it happens, I played him twice during my time running a Leicester Polytechnic team in the Leicestershire League, when he was representing his parents’ old club. I had no idea at that time he was Alfred’s son.

Anyone familiar with my play won’t be surprised by the results. The first one was undoubtedly drawn in the final position.

In this game, though, I appear to have been winning in the final position. I don’t recall whether we agreed a draw or whether the game was adjudicated.

Elsie Margaret Lenton died in the third quarter of 1991, at the age of 82. Alfred outlived her by 13 years. There will be a lot more to write about him in future Minor Pieces. Don’t you dare miss them!

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
BritBase (John Saunders)
chessgames.com
Brian Denman
Streatham & Brixton Chess Club Blog (Martin Smith)

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Major investment to transform future of English chess announced

Major investment to transform future of English chess announced

  • Package of measures worth almost £1 million will inspire the next generation of chess players, bringing chess to a wider audience, whilst supporting the development of elite players.
  • Plans will see 100 new chess tables installed in public spaces, and grants for schools in disadvantaged areas to get more primary school children playing chess
  • Investment in the English Chess Federation will ensure players receive world-leading training and development opportunities, and help make England a chess heavyweight
  • Plans form part of Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer’s mission to give young people “someone to talk to, something to do and somewhere to go” outside of school

Chess will receive a major boost, thanks to a package of measures announced today.

The package will support primary school children attending schools in disadvantaged areas across England to learn and play chess, improve the visibility and availability of chess in communities, as well as fund elite playing as part of a combined package worth almost £1 million.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will invest £500,000 in the English Chess Federation (ECF) over two years, in order to develop the next generation of world-class talent. Funds will support expert coaching, training camps and cutting-edge computer analysis for international events to assist current grandmasters and up-and-coming players.

Investment into the ECF will include funding for junior training camps and one-to-one coaching with England internationals, prioritising access for young chess players to take part in an educational, productive activity that helps develop critical thinking skills. A portion of the money will be dedicated to support visually impaired and deaf players to compete in their own elite level competitions.

This investment comes following a speech at the Onward think tank in July, where Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer set out her commitment to ensure that young people have “someone to talk to, something to do and somewhere to go” outside of school.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said:

“Chess is a brilliant way for young people to develop skills such as patience and critical thinking. It is something constructive on which to spend their time and feel part of. It inspires creativity and sparks the competitive spirit.

“We want to give more young people the opportunity to find the thing that they love and realise their potential. So this package is focused on getting more young people playing chess and supporting them to develop their talent.

“We’re also equipping our elite chess players with expert coaching to help them dominate at the highest levels of the global game and restore England’s reputation among the best in the world.”

English Chess Federation Director of International Chess Malcolm Pein:

“The unprecedented grant funding will be transformational for English chess, helping to train more grandmasters and beginning the process of regaining England’s former status as a force in international chess.

“The funds will enable us to support a training programme and pipeline for our growing pool of young talent as well as assist our elite players, seniors, visually impaired and deaf players to compete for top honours in their respective international competitions. The funding will also enable the ECF to revitalise the chess tournament circuit here at home.”

Alongside the support committed to elite players, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) will provide £250,000 to 85 Local Authorities throughout England to install 100 new chess tables in public parks and outdoor green spaces, to allow more people to play, connect, tackle loneliness, and develop problem solving skills.

Local authorities which are currently receiving the Levelling Up Parks Fund (LUPF) and have been identified as communities most in need of improved quality green space will determine where to locate the chess tables.

In addition, the Government has set out plans to encourage more primary school children, particularly girls, to learn to play the game. The Department for Education will award grants of up to £2,000 to at least 100 schools in disadvantaged areas across England, subject to interest.

The grants will enable them to purchase chess sets, provide access to weekly online chess tutorials, and set up online learning platforms and curriculum planning materials for teachers. This will give even more young people access to a productive, enriching activity, helping them build relationships and develop key skills that can be used beyond the game.

Children’s Minister Claire Coutinho said:

“Chess is for everyone, regardless of background. I’m thrilled that more primary school children will learn how to play, boosting their concentration, problem-solving and wellbeing in the process.

“From providing in-person tuition to helping pupils enter competitive tournaments, this funding will support schools to spark a passion for chess in children across the country.”

Learning to play chess is already a skill that young people aged 14-24 can choose to pick up while working towards their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE). Since 2021, 8,000 young people have pursued chess as part of the Skills section of their DofE.

Harriet Hunt, International Master and former World Girls’ Champion said:

“My own journey into international chess was inspired by the world-leading England players and teams at that time. I am delighted that this government funding will enable the next generation of English talents to reach their potential and compete successfully at the highest level internationally’.

David Howell, Grandmaster and UK No.1:

“Chess has been my life and, as a professional player, the news of support from the government is music to my ears. Hopefully this will inspire the next generation of chess players, as well as bringing the joys of the game that I love to an even wider audience.”

Jitendra Singh, father of UK’s No.1 chess prodigy Shreyas Royal said:

“I was struggling to support my son with the required chess tournaments and coaching instrumental to his development at such a young and crucial age.

“With this grant from the government we will be able to help more kids flourish at the game through the hard-working organisations of the English Chess Federation and chess in Schools and Communities. I believe that it is also a very beneficial hobby and would love to see more people getting into the game from this monumental announcement.”

Notes to Editors

  • The chess table locations will be determined by Local Authorities who rate highly on the Index of Multiple Deprivation and have limited access to green space. The Index of Multiple Deprivation is a dataset used within the UK that looks at a number of measures of deprivation including income, employment, health, crime and access to housing.
  • DLUHC is also committed to working with the devolved governments to consider how best to support the installation of outdoor chess boards in Scotland and Wales.
  • Schools with higher proportions of pupils on free school meals will be eligible for grant funding.
  • As part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE), young people can choose their own activity for the skills section. Chess is already one skill they can learn or improve their game. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department of Education (DfE) are providing over £7 million between 2022 and 2025 for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) charity to support more secondary schools and community settings to deliver the DofE, giving young people the opportunity to develop new skills and discover new interests and passions, such as chess.
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
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Irrational Chess

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover:

“The vast majority of chess games witness familiar strategies and well known tactical motifs. These are the games that you will find in the anthologies and opening repertoires. Sometimes however, games appear that seem to have been played on a different planet.

Conventional strategies go out of the window. Familiar tactical themes are nowhere to be seen. Chaos has broken out. The pieces appear to be in open rebellion and are steadfastly refusing to do the natural jobs that they were designed for.

Having to navigate a path in such a game can be a nightmare. Do you rely purely on calculation? Is it better to trust your instincts? Can you assess the position using “normal” criteria?

In order to answer these questions, prolific chess author and coach Cyrus Lakdawala has assembled a collection of brilliantly unconventional and irrational games. The positions in these games appear almost random. Kings have gone walkabout, pieces are on bizarre squares, huge pawn rollers are sweeping all before them.

Irrational chess is like nothing you’ve seen before. As well as being highly instructive this is a hugely entertaining book.

Do not adjust your set. It’s chess, Jim, but not as we know it.”

and about the author:

Cyrus Lakdawala is an International Master, a former National Open and American Open Champion, and a six-time State Champion. He has been teaching chess for over 30 years, and coaches some of the top junior players in the U.S.

As with every recent Everyman Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. Each diagram is clear as is the instructional text. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text.

 

Here we have another title from the ever prolific keyboard of Cyrus Lakdawala. Irrational Chess seems like a good match for this author’s sometimes irrational writing style.

But my first question is: what makes a game irrational? If you watch two beginners playing, their moves will mostly be irrational because they have little or no idea what they’re doing. We’re really talking about games between strong players where no one really knows what’s going on. Games where pieces end up on unlikely squares, where there are unusual material imbalances, where one player has decided to take a risk, or to confuse his or her opponent.

As  Mikhail Tal, the Patron Saint of Irrational Chess said, “You must take your opponent into a deep, dark forest where 2+2=5 and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.”

That, for the most part, is what you’ll find here. We all enjoy playing through and studying games of this nature. Some of us enjoy playing games like this ourselves as well.

In his rather rambling introduction, Lakdawala tells us how to identify positions of disorder/irrationality.

He offers 12 pointers, for example:

1. A lack of continuity, in that one thing doesn’t necessarily logically lead to what we expected. In this book we try to decode the “without words” positions, which cannot be accessed logically/verbally broken town and explained easily. In such positions the logical mind tends to transform atavistically into a kind of animal consciousness, where nothing is fixed and we are engulfed in a deep realization of terrifying impermanence, where all which matters is our survival.

2. You are lost in the woods and hungry. Then you come upon a patch of unfamiliar berries and mushrooms which could be edible or could be poisonous. The question is: are you going to risk eating them? This book examines the mechanics of risk. Go too far and you overextend; play too safely with too strong a self-preservatory instinct and you may suppress opportunity.

and…

10. While the Sesame Street Muppets taught us that learning can be fun, in this book we look at games so irrationally complex that it is actually difficult to learn from many of them. Nonetheless, in a position’s confusion, just because we lose our faculty of sight, doesn’t also mean we also lose our power of reason. The idea behind this book is: any position, no matter how complex, can still be broken down (at least to some degree!) into points of data, from which we hope to come up with the correct idea. So before most of the examples, I try my best to “explain” that which is often unexplainable. In such positions when we think: “I have a strong intuition on the matter”, it won’t be code for “I’m taking a wild guess!”

If you’re at all familiar with this author’s work you won’t be surprised by all this chattering about Muppets and mushrooms. Cyrus has a devoted fanbase who will lap this up, but it’s not to everyone’s taste.

Reading on, what we have here is eight chapters: four relatively long chapters, covering Attack, Defence and Counterattack, The Dynamic Element (I’m not sure how exactly this differs from Attack, but never mind) and Exploiting Imbalances, followed by four shorter chapters, on Irrational Endings, Opening Shockers, Crazy Draws and Promotion Races. We have 89 games or extracts, copiously illustrated with many diagrams.

Cyrus, quite rightly, is a devotee of active learning, sprinkling his annotations, as he always does, with exercises (Planning, Combination Alert or Critical Decision). You might like to cover up the page and try to solve them before reading on. The author is a highly experienced annotator who knows his market well. He’s always thorough, but without going over the top with long computer generated variations, and makes ample use of the latest engines to ensure accuracy. Once you get past the verbiage, he does an excellent job of explaining complex ideas and tactics in a way that is understandable to his readership.

You’ll find most of the greats featured within the 400 pages, from Morphy and earlier through to Carlsen and AlphaZero. You might consider the likes of Capablanca, Euwe and Smyslov to be supremely rational players, but they’re there as well. Tal, unsurprisingly, features on several occasions, but there’s no sign of Alekhine.

If you’re knowledgeable about chess history and literature you’ll encounter a lot of old friends, but they will always be new to some readers. There were quite a few games that were new to me – and I much enjoyed discovering them for the first time.

I wouldn’t dispute the irrationality of most of them, but there were one or two, especially in the first chapter, which you might consider were just very well played attacking games. How would you judge this much anthologised game? (Click on any move for a pop-up window.)

On the other hand, there’s no argument about the irrationality of games like this, described by Lakdawala as one of the most crazy, head-spinning games in the book.

My heart is thudding, as if watching a Quentin Tarantino movie while on the treadmill is how Lakdawala introduces the following encounter.

A small historical point – the game Van der Loo – Hesseling (Game 75 here) is known to be a fake, with White’s name usually given as Van de Loo, but the author is apparently unaware of this.

Irrational Chess is produced to this publisher’s customary high standards: well laid out with many large diagrams.  This book will appeal to players of all standards, and will undoubtedly bring a lot of pleasure to a lot of readers, demonstrating, to anyone who might doubt it, the excitement and richness of chess. Lakdawala’s obvious enthusiasm and love of chess shine through everything he writes, but his eccentricities will always divide the critics.

If you’re easily offended you should perhaps steer clear. If you’re on the religious right you’ll find some of the words blasphemous, while elements of the woke left will consider other words to be mental health slurs.

Then you read something like this:

Black’s position pulls him down, like our demanding, emotional, high-maintenance college ex-girlfriend.

Or this:

If Fischer’s pawns are an athlete’s body, then his rook represents the love handles.

Sexist? Inappropriate? It’s your decision. A sensitivity reader would have a field day with his/her red pen. You might think, and I might well agree with you, that a lot of people these days are over-sensitive, but we are where we are. The author’s many devoted admirers don’t seem to have a problem.

If you’re a Lakdawala fan, and there are many around, or if his writing style appeals to you, you’ll really enjoy this book, and the often extraordinary and thrilling games featured within. The games are certainly a lot of fun, especially if you haven’t seen them before. If you find Cyrus’s writing fun as well, there’s no reason to hesitate.

Richard James, Twickenham 28th August 2023

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher:  Everyman Chess (20 Feb. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781946485
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781946480
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 2.29 x 23.52 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

Irrational Chess, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess (20 Feb. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946480
Irrational Chess, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess (20 Feb. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946480
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Minor Pieces 61: Victor Hextall Lovell

As the British Championships are taking place in Leicester as I write this, it seems appropriate to stay in my father’s home city a while longer and meet one of its finest ever players. Unless you’re in the habit of perusing old newspapers and magazines from a hundred years or so ago, you probably haven’t heard of him. Yet, for about 20 years he was almost invincible in local competitions and more than held his own on top board in county matches when facing some of the country’s strongest players.

Because he chose not to take part in events such as the British Championships or Hastings he never became a household name. Had he done so, he would certainly have performed well at Major Open level, and perhaps gained the experience to reach championship standard.

His name was Victor Hextall Lovell, and his birth was registered in the first quarter of 1889. He was probably born on 31 January that year, although there are some inconsistencies in public records. His father, Walter, ran a wholesale confectionery business and was also involved in civic affairs, becoming a local councillor representing the Conservative Party, an Alderman, and, in 1918, Mayor of Leicester.

Victor was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys, following in the footsteps of Henry Ernest Atkins. A few decades later, Richard and David Attenborough would also be educated there. It seems that, on leaving school, he joined his father’s business and, at the same time, started playing chess in the county league.

The earliest game I have for him is an odds game against Atkins, who was no doubt something of a mentor to young Victor. The master was successful on this occasion, despite giving his pupil the odds of a rook. To play through this or any other game in this article, click on any move for a pop-up window.

It soon became clear that here was a young man of great promise and, by 1910, he was already playing on Board 7 for the county team, winning, in this game, against piano dealer Frederick William Forrest, who miscalculated badly on move 17. (Did he have any connection with the Forrest Cup, since about 1934 the Midland Counties Individual Championship?)

In 1914 Victor Lovell won the county championship for the first time. How appropriate that Victor should be victorious while Miss Champ became Ladies’ Champion. He was also appointed to the role of Hon Secretary, a post he would hold for a quarter of a century.

But then war broke out, although club and county chess continued into the Spring of 1915, when Victor retained his title. Lovell did his bit for the war, serving as a corporal in the 298th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery, but was still able to attend the county’s 1916 AGM where he was re-elected as the Hon. Secretary. He saw active service in Ypres in 1917, but he was also ‘attached for a while to the staff of some great man with whom he played innumerable Allgaier Gambits (Gould).

It was not until January 1920 that county matches resumed, with Lovell, now clearly Leicestershire’s leading player, on top board. In 1921 he picked up where he left off, winning the first post-WW1 edition of the county championship. The following year he was unexpectedly beaten by Edward Heath Collier, but resumed his winning ways in 1923. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be any scores of his games available for this period, when he was approaching his peak. Local newspapers had got out of the habit of publishing games, and he didn’t compete in external events.

Apart from taking part regularly in club and county matches, Lovell also visited other clubs in the county, and later also schools, to give simultaneous displays.

There was, for many years, some confusion in Leicestershire chess because the main club in the city, calling itself Leicestershire, was responsible for running the county teams and championship as well as competing in the local league. In 1923 they decided not to enter the league, but to concentrate on running internal competitions. VIctor Lovell decided to join the Vaughan College team. Vaughan College, which would later become part of Leicester University, was a Working Men’s College, providing further education for men from what would then have been considered working class backgrounds. The idea of self-improvement for those involved in manual labour was a big thing at the time in many industrial towns and cities, especially so in Leicester. This was my father’s background, but that’s a story for another time and place.

Victor’s chess life continued in very much the same way throughout the 1920s. Here, you can see a caricature from 1927.

Leicester Daily Mercury 10 December 1937

In 1930 he won a game in only 14 moves against Warwickshire’s Arthur John Mackenzie, who had been one of the country’s strongest players in his day, but was now rather past his best.

Later the same month he was playing in, rather than giving a simul, against his old mentor Henry Atkins. This time he came out on top.

Victor Lovell, apart from being the county’s leading player, was always eager to support youngsters. Aside from vising schools to give simultaneous displays, he also coached the young YMCA player George Percy White before he played in the 1933 British Boys Championship.

Leicester Daily Mercury 20 April 1933

George, who had been born on 13 February 1916, did indeed give a good account of himself, finishing in 4th place out of 12 in the Championship section, Alfred Down retaining his title. Most of the other competitors were Grammar School boys, but George was from a working class background: his father was a warehouseman at British United Shoe Machinery, one of Leicester’s largest employers. British United themselves fielded strong teams in the Leicestershire League, but he preferred to play for the YMCA. He was also, I believe, the great-grandnephew of my 3rd cousin 3x removed’s husband. The last chess record I can find for him is selection for a county match in 1938. In 1939 he was working as a dye turner and fitter in shoe machinery, like his father, I suppose, for British United. He married in 1941 and had two children, dying in Leicester in 1985.

There was now a new star on the Leicester chess horizon by the name of Alfred Lenton. Not only was he a fast improving player, he was also a young man with a passion for both reading and writing. In 1933 he started a weekly column in the Leicester Evening Mail in which he often published games from local as well as national and international events. You’ll be able to read a lot more about young Alf in future Minor Pieces.

From here until the column terminated due to WW2 we have a number of Victor Lovell’s games available.

He was ruthless against weaker opponents who failed to calculate accurately, as here against the aforementioned Donald Gould.

In a club match against Hinckley he scored another crushing victory against an opponent who didn’t know the opening well enough (11. d4 was correct). Henry Richmond Fisher was a Medical Officer of Health: one of his brothers was Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1945 to 1961.

At about this time, Lovell, clearly a man ahead of his time, was playing the currently popular London System in some of his games.

In this game he gained revenge for a defeat against the same opponent, also with the London System, the previous year.

The 1934 Leicestershire Championship proved to be a close-run affair, coming down to their individual encounter in the last round. This time it was the older man who prevailed.

Gould takes up the story.

Lightning chess was becoming more popular, and here we have a game from a speed tournament later in 1934. Arthur Ernest Passant had an older brother, Norman Edward Passant, who also played. He really should have reversed his forenames to become EN Passant. The family later moved to Worthing, where, in 1939, Norman was a bank clerk and Arthur a commercial artist.

But by 1935, Victor Lovell’s health started to fail: he had a weak heart. His results became more erratic and his run of twelve consecutive victories in the county championship came to an end at the hands of Lenton.

On a good day, though, he was still able to play powerful chess, in this game using Bird’s Opening (he was also partial to Bird’s Defence to the Ruy Lopez). ‘Rimmington, short and tough, looked like, and was, a rugger forward according to Gould. He was also a cricketer.

Rimmington’s father was a well-known leather dealer who had  had numerous brushes with the law concerning motoring offences. His sons were also no angels. Take a look at this.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 19 August 1919

Yes, it seems that Phillip, the younger of the two naughty  boys, had spent perhaps eight years in Desford Industrial School, as it was then, a decade or so before the boys we met last time. Unlike them, he became a strong player, a regular in the county side up to 1939, and still playing occasionally after WW2. He was also a respected administrator at the Leicester YMCA Chess Club. I wonder if he learnt his chess at Desford. (His brother William was in trouble again in 1934, fined for stealing a Dance Trumpet valued at £19.)

Lenton won the county championship in both 1935 and 1936, but Lovell was still active in many areas of chess. In this photograph he’s taking on a group of boys at the YMCA, where chess seems to have been very popular.

Leicester Evening Mail 03 January 1936

Alfred Lenton didn’t defend his title in 1937, leaving the way clear for Lovell to take his 15th and final title.

Lovell features in two group photographs from this period. This is the 1937 county team, with Victor Lovell second from the left in the middle row. Infant jewel thief Phillip Rimmington is on his left and Alfred Lenton on his right.

This was taken at a 1936 lightning tournament: Lovell is seated on the far right.

In an article on local chess history in the Leicester Mercury, Donald (styled as Donn) Gould had some amusing anecdotes to relate, one of which referring to a game you saw earlier in this article.

Leicester Daily Mercury 10 December 1937

By the time we reach the late 1930s we come across players I knew three decades or more later, as witnessed in this county championship semi-final against Surrey.

Leicester Evening Mail 12 October 1938

Surrey fielded Harry Golombek, a Major Piece who deserves a full biography, on top board. Then there are the two Alexanders, unrelated both to each other and to CHO’D Alexander, both of whom may become subjects of future Minor Pieces. Felce was from a famous family of chess players and administrators. Cordingley became a publisher of chess books. Wernick’s name lives on in a trophy competed for in Surrey. Tregaskis has already featured here.  Coles became a respected author and historian – and also  beat me in the Surrey Trophy. From a personal perspective, the most significant name is that of Jack Redon, losing here to the unfortunately initialled Vincent Dwelly Pavord. Again, you’ll find out more in a future Minor Piece. I’m not, as far as I know, related to either James, but I do have a distant family connection with one of the other participants. Watch this space.

In 1939 Leicestershire scored a big win against Worcestershire in the final of the Midland Counties Championship. The games on boards 1, 2 and 16 were published: Board 2 (perhaps I’ll publish it in a future Minor Piece) was adjudicated a draw, but Stockfish tells me Lenton, a pawn up in a bishops of opposite colour ending, was unfairly done out of half a point.

There are again some interesting names on both sides.

Staffordshire Advertiser 11 March 1939

You’ll notice that Henry Atkins was back playing for his home county on top board. Leicestershire’s Board 7, Alfred Oakley Thompson, was a brother of the eccentric John Crittenden Thompson, author of this rare booklet (there should be a copy somewhere in the Chess Palace). You’ll also spot two Minor Pieces, Horsey and Bishop, in their team: they’d later be joined, on a higher board, by AA Castle.

Victor Lovell’s opponent has already featured in an earlier Minor Piece.  Worcestershire also fielded the blind player Reginald Walter Bonham on Board 2, and his friend and teaching colleague at Worcester College for the Blind, Robert Douglas Wormald, on Board 4. Of particular interest to me was their Board 20, Keith Southan (not Southam), who later moved to Twickenham, teaching Classics at Tiffin School in Kingston. I knew him well at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club between the mid 1960s (when he kindly gave me lifts to away matches) and the mid 1970s.

Here’s a game from 1939 between Gould and Lovell, from a match between former pupils of Leicester’s two most prominent Grammar Schools at the time. Gould, like Lenton, was a former pupil of Alderman Newton’s Grammar School, while Lovell, like Atkins, was a former pupil of Wyggeston Boys’ Grammar School. Lenton and Atkins split the point on top board, Charles Hornsby, whom I beat in the Leicestershire League thirty years later, lost on board 7 or the Old Wyggestonians, who, nevertheless, beat the Old Newtonians 4½-3½.

The 1939 Register finds Victor at 42 Dovedale Road Leicester, along with a housekeeper. If he’d travelled a mile and a half or so to the west he’d have encountered my father and his family in Sheridan Street. I’d like to think they passed each other somewhere along the way.

I’ll leave it to Donald Gould to relate Victor Lovell’s rather sad endgame.

The Leicester Evening Mail published this obituary.

Leicester Evening Mail 23 April 1940

And there you have the all too short life of Victor Hextall Lovell, a legendary figure in Leicester chess. At his best, round about 1930, he must have been round about 2250 strength by current standards and they still make a good impression today. He was solid and consistent, with a sharp tactical eye: perhaps it’s to be regretted that he chose not to test himself outside his county. Lenton was of the opinion that he had the talent to become one of the country’s strongest players. Instead, never marrying, he chose to devote his life, outside his family confectionery business, to supporting and promoting chess in his native county.

One final thing. In 1960, his scrapbooks and scoresheets were, along with a lot of other documents of historic interest, in the possession of the Leicestershire Chess Club. I wonder what happened to them. Perhaps they’re now in the ECF Library at De Montfort University. I’ll try to find out, but, if you have any information, do get in touch.

Sources:

Chess in Leicester 1860-1960 Centenary History of the Leicestershire Chess Club (Donald Gould): thanks to Ivor Smith, whose copy I now have, and to Ray Cannon for telling Ivor I would be interested and delivering it to me.

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
chessgames.com

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Minor Pieces 60: Eric Harold Patrick (2)

Last time I looked at chess in Desford Approved School in the 1930s, introducing you to the two men behind the project: school superintendent Cecil Lane and local politician Sydney Gimson.

Unlike most at the time, they took a ‘nurture’ rather than a ‘nature’ view of behaviour, believing that the boys in their care had had a difficult start in life, and, if they were treated well, the vast majority of them would go on to lead good lives. Indeed, Gimson claimed on several occasions that almost all their former students kept out of trouble on leaving Desford.

They would have understood the words of Phil Ochs in his song There But For Fortune three decades later:

I’ll show you a young man with so many reasons whyThere but for fortune go you or I

Chess played an important part in life at Desford, and was greatly valued within the school. It’s fashionable these days to promote chess in schools for its perceived extrinsic benefits, both cognitive and social, and there is also much great work being done promoting chess in prisons throughout the world. Lane and Gimson, you might think, were 90 years or so ahead of their time.

You can see how it might work, can’t you? At one level chess, along with similar games, is an exercise in decision making. If you want to make good decisions, in chess or in life, you have to control your impulses, consider your options, think about the effect of your choice on other people, and work out what might happen next.

If you make good decisions when you’re playing chess you’ll win your games. If not, you’ll lose your games. If you make poor decisions in life you might end up in Approved School or in prison.

The régime in Desford was, as you saw in my previous article, very enlightened for its time, and, in some respects, enlightened even by today’s standards. The chess reports usually only gave the initials of the players, but in some cases we can find their first names from elsewhere, especially for those boys who reached the finals of the school’s annual boxing championship.

If they have distinctive names it’s possible, through sources such as censuses, electoral rolls, birth,  marriage and death records and newspaper archives, to find out more about their circumstances and their lives after Desford.

Take, for example, Victor Bernard Duffin, who played in the senior section of the 1933-34 Leicestershire Boys’ Championships.

Victor was the younger of two brothers from a seemingly respectable family from Biggleswade, born in 1917. Their father was a market gardener and seed merchant who hit financial problems and was declared bankrupt in 1920. On leaving Desford, Victor got a job as an assistant school caretaker in Leicester, but he was one of those who didn’t keep out of trouble.

Leicester Evening Mail 15 May 1935

In 1939 he married in Portsmouth, suggesting a possible Naval connection, with a daughter and a son being born there in 1942 and 1948. There’s also a record of an Army Cadet named Victor Bernard Duffin becoming a 2nd Lieutenant in the Artillery in 1945. Would he have been too old to have been a cadet?

After the war he became the landlord of a pub near Peterborough, remarrying in 1957. Although he was respected within his trade, becoming secretary of the Licensed Victuallers Association (I’d guess the local branch) he had further brushes with the law. He was fined for a parking offence in 1961, and, rather unluckily, for driving a car without insurance in 1956. (His team were returning from a dominoes match and he took over the wheel when his teammate felt unwell. Unused to the controls, he was stopped for driving unsteadily. He wasn’t insured for driving his friend’s vehicle: he was fined for driving without the correct insurance, and she was fined for allowing her car to be driven by an uninsured driver.) On another occasion in 1956 he was on the other side, when a customer in his pub paid for his drinks with a Bank of Funland fiver bought from a joke shop.

Victor died in 1983 at the age of 66. His brother Clifford also married twice, on both occasions to women named Doris. His second marriage took place in Market Harborough: Doris Mabel Plant was my 4th cousin once removed!

Another player we can identify from the same tournament is James Ralph Ramft. The Ramft family were originally from Germany but had been living in south east London for some time. There’s no obvious birth record for James, but this article seems to provide a clue.

Kentish Independent 08 April 1921

It seems that he was born in 1919, so he was probably one of the two other illegitimate children mentioned here.

We pick him up in Desford at the end of 1928, taking part in the boxing tournament, so he’d been there some time. It’s possible he was taken in because his parents were unable to care for him rather than because of any criminal offence.

He made the papers through one of his chess games: two pieces down against the eventual winner, Keith Dear, he gave up his rook for a pretty stalemate.

It appears he returned to London, marrying a German girl in Woolwich in 1952 and moving to North London, marrying a second time in 1959, and, sadly,  dying a few months later at the age of only 41.

What, then, of our titular hero, Eric Harold Patrick? Last time we witnessed him winning the junior section of the Leicestershire Boys Championship in three consecutive years, and then moving on to represent the YMCA in the county league. You’d imagine a bright young man with a successful future ahead.

Unfortunately, this seems not to have been the case. There’s no sign of him in the 1939 Register, and we don’t pick him up again until 1948 when he marries Gladys Green in Northumberland. A son, named Terence after one of his uncles, is born in 1953 (he died, apparently single, in 2006). Nothing further is available until a death record in 1984. Here’s his probate entry.

St Mary’s Hospital Stannington was a mental hospital. You can find a two-part documentary on YouTube here and here.

How long had he been there? Was he there when he married Gladys in 1948? I can’t find any indication that he served in WW2 so he could well have been there most of his life. Were incipient mental health problems responsible for whatever had caused his admission to Desford? What a sad story.

He wasn’t the only Eric playing chess at Desford. There was also Eric Schadendorf.

Leicester Daily Mercury 03 January 1935

A small boy with a long name: I wonder what they would have made of Thirumurugan Thiruchelvam.

Eric, born in 1920, came from what was clearly a troubled family from South London, not very far from the Ramfts. His father, Hugo, was German, but may have been born in Belgium, and may also have had Polish connections. His mother, Pauline, was Polish. Hugo and Pauline went on to have another son, Leo, in 1928, but he died in 1929. Hugo himself died the following year at the age of only 29. Later the same year Pauline remarried: a daughter was born in 1936.

Given these circumstances it’s hardly surprising that young Eric got into trouble. Did his time at Desford help him mend his ways? Did his chess ability (he finished 3rd in the 1934-35 tournament) encourage him to think before he acted? Apparently not.

After his liberation, etc. he married Helena Wilfort, presumably a cousin, in 1940, but was soon in trouble again.

Lewisham Borough News 16 September 1941

Stanley Wilfort was Eric’s uncle – his mother’s brother. The ASC was the Army Service Corps where he was working as a driver. His marriage, not unexpectedly, didn’t last.

At some point he decided to change his name from Schadendorf to Adams, the name of his stepfather, but this didn’t keep him out of trouble.

Lewisham Borough News 04 July 1950

It seems like he finally managed to resolve his problems, settling down with another woman in North London where they brought up a son and a daughter. He died in Islington in 1984 at the age of 63. I can only hope he found some happiness later in life.

After Eric Patrick, the strongest Desford chess player seems to have been Richard Kelsey.

Leicester Evening Mail 06 July 1937

I’m pretty sure he was Richard Albert Kelsey, another Londoner, born in 1923 in Shoreditch, the fifth of seven children, if you believe the official records, of James William and Margaret Kelsey. His father served in the Royal Navy from 1909 to 1921 so wasn’t around much. The 1922 Electoral Roll includes no less than 11 electors in their house in Hoxton. By 1926 there were 12 electors there, including Margaret, but not James. One of them was Richard Albert Langley: it seems a reasonable bet that he was young Richard’s real father, not least because Margaret had already had another Albert. So this was a fairly large and dysfunctional family existing in very cramped conditions.

As far as I can tell, he returned to London on leaving Desford. We have a marriage in Hackney in 1944, another possible marriage in nearby Stepney in 1955 (no children from either marriage), and a death record in 1967 at the age of only 44.

Alan Wann, born in 1921, was a local boy from a working-class Leicester family who represented Desford in both the junior tournament and the league in the 1935-36 season. His later life wasn’t blameless. In 1947 he and his father were fined for stealing mushrooms from a field. In 1948 he was cited in the divorce courts when he was having an affair with a married woman. She was granted a decree nisi, later marrying Alan and having a large family. In 1958 he was fined for failing to pay his National Insurance contribution. He died in 1994: a relatively long life by the standards of the other Desford chess players.

Norman Reginald Bass (1925-1997) was only 11 when he first played in the county junior championships. He competed the following year as well, and was still in Desford at the time of the 1939 Register and taking part in the boxing in January 1940 before returning to York. Like so many of the Desford chess players he married twice, fathering six daughters.

D Bursey, who played in the 1936-37 championship, must have been Dennis Roy Bursey, born 1922 in Enfield, North London. His background was very different to that of most of the other Desford boys. His father had earlier served in the Navy, on at least one of the same ships as James William Kelsey, but by the time Dennis was born he seems to have been some sort of travelling salesman with family connections to both Canada and Australia. Returning to London after his time in the Approved School, it looks like he married three times, in 1944, 1974 and finally in 1985, shortly before his death the following year. It’s disturbing to notice how many of these boys married more than once, in times when divorce was a lot less common than it is today.

There can be few who had a less propitious start in life than Hubert Michael Cookland, as he later came to be known, but that didn’t stop him playing chess successfully at Desford.

The circumstances of his birth sound like an episode of Long Lost Family.

Liverpool Echo 04 November 1924

Given that sort of background it was perhaps unsurprising that he got into trouble, and also impressive that, in 1938, he was a good enough chess player to share third place in the younger section of the Leicestershire Junior Chess Championships, won, you might recall, by Miss Betty Ferrar. He was also a boxer, competing in the featherweight class at his school boxing championships the following year.

On release from Desford, Hubert took a job on a poultry farm, but, by the end of 1941, was again in trouble with the law. With the help of an accomplice, another former Desford boy, he took to stealing his employer’s hens and selling them to a chap he met in the pub. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment, and it was recommended that he should join the Navy on his release.

From Tracy Wilkins’ family tree on ancestry.co.uk

This is what he did, enlisting in the Merchant Navy, serving on the Arctic convoys in 1944. On leaving the Merchant Navy he returned to York, where he’d been brought up, taking a job as a driver, marrying in 1946, and bringing up two sons and a daughter.  He later started working in the building trade, eventually becoming a building contracts manager. Hubert was in trouble again in 1957, for driving the wrong way down a one-way street, causing an accident in which a cyclist sustained serious injuries.

In spite of a difficult upbringing, Hubert Cookland seems to have made good in the end. Some of his story has been told by his granddaughter on an online family tree. He died in 1997 at the age of 75. I’d like to think he maintained his interest in chess, perhaps teaching his children and grandchildren.

Another Desford competitor in the 1938 tournament was Bernard Hugh Tedman, also born in 1924. Bernard, who came from South London, was another boy with a difficult family background. His father Bert, who had spent time in the workhouse as a boy, seems to have had at least six relationships as well as many different jobs. In 1919, after war service in the Royal Garrison Artillery, he was sent down for bigamy, the judge being Llewellyn Atherley-Jones, who was also a pretty strong chess player. Bernard may or may not have been the youngest of his many children.

There’s not very much more to be said: like Eric Patrick, Bernard developed mental health problems, dying at the age of 50 (his death record incorrectly gives his year of birth as 1927) in Warlingham Park Hospital, which, coincidentally or not, was where his father had been working at the time of the 1921 census. The above link demonstrates that draughts was popular there: maybe Bernard played. It took several years for his next of kin to be contacted for probate purposes.

One of Desford’s Leicestershire League players was C Mandley, more likely to by Cyril Ernest (born 1923) than his slightly older brother Charles Albert (born 1922). They were the second and third children of a large family from Northampton.

Cyril seemed to get into minor trouble at various times of his life. By 1939, he would have left Desford, but was now in another Approved School in Norfolk. After the war he settled down, fathering two daughters (I can’t find a marriage record, though). In 1947 he was fined for speeding, and in 1951 he was found guilty of stealing some scrap metal.

Reading some of these stories, you wonder whether Sydney Gimson’s frequent claim of a 90% success rate stood up. You might also have increased sympathy with his view that boys should have continued to stay at Desford until 16 rather than 15: that extra year, he thought, was all-important and he may well have been right. Although some of the Desford chess players eventually made good, we see a frequent pattern of re-offending, marital problems and mental health issues, and several premature deaths. While I’m all in favour of treating young people with kindness, perhaps today we might take a more nuanced approach.

If I travelled down the road to Feltham Young Offenders’ Centre, for example (it was Feltham Borstal when my father was an instructor there back in 1950, so we’re talking about more serious offenders) I’m sure I’d find young men from difficult family backgrounds, just as Cecil Lane and Sydney Gimson did at Desford. But I’d also find young men who might be diagnosed with learning difficulties or with conditions such as ADHD. I’d find young men who had problems with drink and drugs. Everyone is different and needs a different type of support. I’ve been thinking for years I should contact them to ask if they had any interest in chess.

But I have two more Desford stories to tell.

This report of the 1936 boxing tournament gives you some idea of how popular this annual event was in Leicester life at the time.

Leicester Evening Mail 06 January 1936

Look in particular at the cruiserweight result. Charles Elliman and Frederick Holbrooke. Charlie and Fred to their friends. Big boys for their age as well.

They were both chess players as well as boxers. While Charles was, at least on this occasion, the better boxer, Frederick was probably the better chess player. At the same time of year both boys were playing in the junior section of the Leicestershire Boys Championship. Frederick reached the final play-off before losing to Eric Patrick, while Charles was eliminated at an earlier stage.

 

They were teammates as well as rivals over the chessboard: they were both successful, as was Richard Kelsey, in this match. (Misspellings were very common in this context – misreading handwriting I guess.)

Leicester Daily Mercury 19 February 1936

Both boys also excelled at other sports. In the schools athletics championship that summer term, Frederick was second in the long jump while Charles was second in the 440 yards. In the schools swimming competition the previous September, Charles and Frederick had finished 2nd and 3rd behind Alan Wann in the Junior Speed Race, helping Desford to win the Ansell Trophy (any relation to Sydney Ansell Gimson?) for the third year in succession.

To find out who Frederick Henderson Robert Holbrooke was, let me take you to St Michael’s Church, Pimlico, in the year 1921. His name sounds rather posh, doesn’t it? And St Michael’s Church, in Belgravia, near Victoria Station, is one of London’s most exclusive areas.

Here’s a marriage certificate.

We can identify Nellie Gertrude Skipper, who came from Norfolk. However, I can find no birth record or previous marriage for Frederick George Holbrooke, nor any farmer named Robert Holbrooke.

42 Chester Terrace is presumably 42 Chester Square, immediately opposite the church, which, in 1921, was a boarding house, although there was only one boarder there in that year’s census.

It seems highly likely to me that Frederick George Holbrooke was not his real name. Perhaps, given his son’s name, he was really Henderson. Who knows? Nellie, already the mother of an illegitimate son, returned to Norfolk where Frederick junior was born a few months – or perhaps even weeks – later. Frederick senior disappeared from view until the first quarter of 1963, when his death was recorded in North East Surrey: he was buried in Merton.

Over the next two decades Nellie had several other relationships and several other children, so here, again, was a boy from a highly dysfunctional family. Again, it’s of interest that someone from that background could become a good chess player.

He would probably have left Desford in Summer 1936, and two years later he enlisted in the Royal Artillery, serving as a gunner. The following year, my father would also enlist in the Royal Artillery, seeing service in North Africa, Italy and Germany. Frederick, unlike my father, was unlucky. Killed in action in Tunisia on 3 March 1943, the reports said. He is remembered on the Medjez-el-Bab Memorial in Tunisia, and also on the War Memorial in the Norfolk village of Marsham.

Finally, we have Frederick’s friend, Charles Elleman. Charles was from Birmingham, the 6th of 15 children. The 1921 census records their mother at home with 5 children (Charles would arrive later that year) while their father was in Warwick serving with the  Warwickshire Yeomanry Defence Force. In 1933, one of his older brothers was sent to prison after a series of thefts, his father also receiving a custodial sentence for receiving stolen goods. It would have been about this time that Charles was admitted to Desford Approved School.

Although he wasn’t one of their strongest chess players, he took part in competitions and, in the 1936 prizegiving, won the Victor Ludorum trophy for his sporting successes. He also won the prize for the most public spirited boy in the school. Here he is, on the left, being chaired by his fellow pupils.

Leicester Daily Mercury 07 July 1936

At this point Charles, like Frederick, would have left Desford to seek employment. The 1939 Register found him working as a waiter at the Grosvenor Hotel in Heysham, Morecambe. But, like the public spirited young man he was, he chose to serve his country when war was declared. It wasn’t the Army or the Navy for him, but the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

He returned to Birmingham in 1942 to marry Lillian Florence Hands, in a break from his job as a wireless operator in 138 Squadron Bomber Command. On 27 November 1944 his Stirling IV was shot down off the coast of Denmark, returning from dropping supplies to the Danish Resistance. Pilot Officer Charles Elleman died as he had lived his life in Desford Approved School, a true hero. A son, Thomas C Elleman, was born in the 4th quarter of 1944: whether before or after his father’s death I don’t know: he married Betty J Astle in Bristol in 1967. There’s an Australian biochemist with a lot of patents to his name called Thomas Charles Elleman: his wife is Betty Jean, so I think this is our man. His father would have been very proud of him, and he must also be very proud of his father.

Charles’s life is commemorated on Panel 211 of the Runnymede Memorial.

https://www.specialforcesroh.com/index.php?threads/elleman-charles.13803/

Two friends, then, opponents in the boxing ring and on the sports field, both opponents and teammates over the chessboard. Two friends who both lost their lives serving their country and the free world.

In the words of AE Housman:

They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man,
The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.

These lines of Lord Dunsany also come to mind (British Chess Magazine April 1943).

One art they say is of no use;
The mellow evenings spent at chess,
The thrill, the triumph, and the truce
To every care, are valueless.

And yet, if all whose hopes were set
On harming man played chess instead,
We should have cities standing yet
Which now are dust upon the dead.

Let’s drink a toast, then, to Desford war heroes Frederick Holbrooke and Charles Elleman. To poor Eric Patrick and Bernard Tedman, who ended their lives in mental hospitals. To Victor Duffin and Hubert Cookland, who, after difficult starts, found success and happiness, leaving behind fond memories for their children and grandchildren. To all the other Desford chess players as well. And let’s not forget the two men who made it possible, Cecil Lane and Sydney Gimson.

For those of us involved in junior chess administration, are there lessons we can learn here about the true purpose of chess at secondary school age? Apart from their strongest player, Eric Patrick, who continued for another year, none of them seemed to play any more competitive chess (although Victor was a competitive dominoes player). But perhaps that’s not really the point. Perhaps it brought some happiness to young people who had had a troubled start in life, and you shouldn’t expect any more than that.

If you were hoping to see some chess moves in this article, I can only apologise. I’ll introduce you to some Leicester chess players with longer careers in future Minor Pieces.

Acknowledgements and sources:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
YouTube
Bethlem Museum of the Mind website
Special Forces Roll of Honour website

Other sources linked to or mentioned above

 

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Minor Pieces 59: Eric Harold Patrick (1)

For a few years in the mid 1930s a remarkable story was playing out in Leicestershire chess. The boys from Desford Approved School, who had been sent there from all over the country having fallen foul of the law, were taking part in the Under 16 section of the county chess championship, dominating the event, winning game after game against their law-abiding contemporaries, and even beating adult teams in the county league.

I wanted to find out more about the lives of some of the Desford boys (the titular Eric was their star player), and about the men who chose to promote chess as an activity for these boys from troubled backgrounds. This article looks mainly at the latter: a future article will consider the former.

First, a bit of history. The Leicester Industrial School for Boys, Desford opened in January 1881. Boys were sent there for all sorts of reasons: some had been in trouble, some were destitute and wandering the streets, some were living in brothels, some were sent there by their parents because they were out of control at home. While there they would be subject to strict discipline as well as learning a trade to help them find employment on their release.

One such boy, beyond his father’s control, was Tom Harry James, who was there from January 1904, when he was 12 years old, until October 1907. His father was expected to pay his expenses, but seemed reluctant to do so.

Leicester Chronicle 22 October 1904

The young miscreant would live a long and colourful life, dying in Yakima, Washington in 1980, but that’s a story for another time and place. How do I know this? Tom Harry James was one of my father’s half brothers. Tom Harry senior and his first wife had twelve children, and after she died he remarried, producing another six children. My father, Howard James, the youngest of them, was born in 1919.

It was now January 1917, and time for a new chairman to be appointed to Desford Industrial School. The man elected was Sydney Ansell Gimson (it’s pronounced Jimson), a local councillor representing the Liberal Party and a member of a prominent Leicester family.

In 1842, Josiah Gimson and his brother Benjamin started an engineering firm in Leicester. Josiah was a man of progressive views: a supporter of Robert Owen‘s socialist ideas and a secularist, founding the Leicester Secular Society, which is still active today. Sydney, born in 1860, was the oldest son of Josiah’s second marriage, and, although he was also sympathetic towards his mother’s unitarian views, played an important role in the Secular Society. At first, he was anti-union, however, being more interested in the concept of the individual, but seems to have changed his opinion later in life. He worked for some time in the family business,  but, not needing the money, retired early in order to devote the remainder of his life to public service.

Here’s Sydney, photographed in 1904.

From The Who’s Who of Radical Leicester (Ned Newitt)

You can read more about both Josiah and Sydney in Ned Newitt’s Who’s Who of Radical Leicester here, and about the family business here (Wiki) and here (Story of Leicester).

Some of his brothers were also of interest. His older half-brother, Josiah Mentor Gimson, also worked for his father. One of JM Gimson’s sons, Christopher, played first class cricket for Cambridge University in 1908, and again for Leicestershire in 1921 when on extended leave from the Indian Civil Service. His 1975 obituary in Wisden described him as ‘an attacking batsman and a fine outfield’. Another of his sons, David, was the first chairman of the Leicestershire Contract Bridge Association on its formation in 1946. A competition for a trophy bearing his name was competed for at least up to 2019.

The most important member of the family, though, was Sydney’s younger brother Ernest William Gimson. Ernest met William Morris at the Secular Society, and soon joined forces with him, working as a furniture designer and architect, being very much involved in the Arts and Crafts movement. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you’ll find a lot more of interest via your favourite search engine. If you’ve got £50 to spare you could also buy this book.

The Leicester Secular Society has a feature on the Gimson family here. You might want to follow some of their other links and look around other pages of their website.

Meanwhile, back at Desford Industrial School it was now 1921. There was a vacancy for a new Superintendent. Sydney wanted someone who shared his progressive views on education: the right man for the job was 31 year old Cecil John Wagstaff Lane, the son of a farmer and innkeeper from Melton Mowbray, who was already working there as the Chief Assistant. The 1921 census found him settled in with his wife Dora and daughter Joan, along with other staff members and more than 200 boys from all over the country. As well as boys from Leicester, many of them were from other parts of the Midlands, London and Yorkshire, especially Hull. By now they would have been sent there by magistrates who would decide to which institution the young offenders up before them should be sent.

Sydney was very much in the ‘nurture’ camp, believing that most of the young offenders were victims of family circumstances, and, if they were treated well, would grow up to lead useful lives and become law-abiding members of society. He found an ally in Cecil Lane, and, despite the 30 year gap in their ages, the two men became firm friends. Cecil introduced a less punitive regime, running Desford along the lines of an English Public School. There were four houses: Red, White, Blue and Green, each with a house master who acted as a surrogate father to the boys. Much emphasis was placed on sport, with regular visits from top class players and competitions against other schools in the area. The most popular sport there was boxing: the school’s annual boxing competition, held over the New Year period, became a big local event, attended enthusiastically by the great and good of Leicester society.

Looking at the newspaper sports columns in the inter-war years it’s notable how popular boxing was, and also how often the professionals fought.

If boxing was the Desford boys’ favourite sport, the other sport which played a very big part in their lives was, perhaps unexpectedly, chess. Cecil Lane and Sydney Gimson don’t appear to have been competitive players themselves, but it’s clear they both enjoyed the game and had the foresight to realise how much it could benefit the boys in their care.

You might think they missed a trick by failing to invent chessboxing, but that’s something we’ll leave aside for now.

By 1925 word was going round that chess was becoming popular within the school.

Leicester Daily Mercury 16 December 1925
Leicester Daily Mercury 18 December 1925

Gimson and Lane might not have been club players (and here’s Sydney losing to one of his pupils), but they knew someone who was. Councillor Frederick Chappin, a member of the Conservative Party, was a political opponent of Sydney Gimson, but a friend who not only shared his interest but had been a competitive player in the county league going right back to the 1880s, on at least one occasion playing on board 2 behind none other than the great Henry Ernest Atkins.

By 1927 the boys needed more demanding opposition and county champion Victor Hextall Lovell, Leicester’s strongest player at the time (you’ll meet him in a future Minor Piece) was invited to give a simultaneous display. Lovell’s father was a former Mayor of Leicester and, like Frederick Chappin, a Conservative Councillor.

Leicester Daily Mercury 10 February 1927

Lovell returned during the 1929-30 Christmas holidays, and was emphatic that the standard of play had improved since his previous visit.

Desford School celebrated its jubilee in 1931, and this article outlines some of the changes Lane had made since his appointment as Superintendent.

Leicester Evening Mail 24 February 1931

The 1933 Children and Young Persons Act renamed Industrial Schools as Approved Schools, so Desford was now Desford Approved School. However, the school always preferred to be referred to locally simply as Desford School or Desford Boys’ School to avoid stigmatising the pupils. At this point children could remain there until the age of 16.

As you saw last time, Leicester was a pioneer in junior chess, amongst many other things. In January the first county boys’ championship took place in two sections, which appeared to be Under 18 and Under 16. The Desford boys were keen to take part, six entering in the senior and six in the junior section. Other schools represented were Wyggeston, for many years Leicester’s leading academic secondary school, Alderman Newton, also classified as a ‘Public School’ at the time, City Boys and Moat Road.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to identify all the Desford chess players as only initials and surname were given in the local press. In some cases the boys also took part in the annual boxing tournament, where the press gave their full names. Although the Leicestershire Records Office holds admission records, they are not able to release them due to data protection legislation, and, as we’ve seen, the boys might have come from anywhere in the country. Having an unusual surname was of course helpful.

As you’ll see, the Desford boys were pretty successful in their first competitive outing.

Leicester Daily Mercury 08 January 1934

On a sad note, the winner of the senior section, Keith Dear, died four years later at the age of just 20.

There, winning the junior section and representing Desford (Approved) School, was Eric Harold Patrick, whose life we can reconstruct, although we don’t know why he was there.

He had been born on 23 August 1921 in Cannock, Staffordshire, the oldest of five children of Harold and Lily Patrick, who had married that January when they were both only 19. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Leicester, Lily’s home town. At the time of his success, then, he was only 12 years old, competing against boys who were a year or two older than him, and attending the city’s most prestigious secondary schools.

When Sydney Gimson came to present his annual report to the education committee a few months later, young Eric’s chess success was the item which elicited the most interest.

Leicester Evening Mail 24 April 1934

Gimson also revealed that he had played two games against Eric, both players winning one game.

There was another administrative change. From now on, boys had to leave Desford at 15 rather than 16. Sydney wasn’t impressed, as he told the school prizegiving. For some reason this was reported in the Women’s column of the local paper.

Leicester Evening Mail 03 July 1934

You’ll see that the school only awarded four prizes – and the fewer prizes you award, the more they’ll be valued. The most public spirited boy, the boy who was best at sports, the captain of the winning house – and the best chess player. A demonstration, I think, of the respect in which chess was held at Desford at the time.

By the end of the year it was time for the 1935 edition of the county junior championship. As boys now left Desford at 15 they were only represented in the junior section.

The local newspapers’ sports correspondents were invited along to have a look.

Leicester Daily Mercury 01 January 1935
Leicester Daily Mercury 02 January 1935
Leicester Chronicle 05 January 1935

There was also a photographer present.

Leicester Daily Mercury 01 January 1935

One paper even sent along their cartoonist: Eric Patrick was one of his subjects.

Leicester Daily Mercury 02 January 1935

The results of the junior section were remarkable. All five of the preliminary sections were won by Desford boys, Eric Patrick retaining his title with a 100% score. Don’t forget that these were young offenders from difficult family backgrounds winning game after game against boys from top academic schools.

Needless to say, Eric again won the school chess prize as well. At the prizegiving, Cecil Lane blamed poor housing and large families on the boys’ problems.

Leicester Daily Mercury 02 July 1935

Later that year, the school entered a team into the third division of the Leicestershire Chess League, where they were playing against adult club teams as well as other school teams.

By December they were in second place, having won two and drawn one of their first three matches.

Leicester Daily Mercury 05 December 1935

As the New Year approached, the county boys’ championships came round again. As in the previous year, seven Desford boys took part in the junior section, with Eric Patrick aiming for his third successive title. This time they didn’t have it all their own way, with only two of their players, including Eric, making the final four. He even lost a game in the final pool before regaining the Silver Rook.

Again, we have a photograph.

Leicester Daily Mercury 31 December 1935

Leicester Daily Mercury 22 April 1936

The school team continued to do well in the league. In these two matches they beat the early league leaders (Alfred Urban Busby was a more than useful player, beating Alekhine in a 1936 simul and, in 1989, a year before his death, losing a postal game to Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club’s Michael Franklin), with the aid of two defaults, but lost to the second team from the Cripples Guild.

Here are the final league tables, with King Richard’s Road defaulting two matches. If their two opponents were awarded 6-0 victories, that would leave Desford Boys sharing second place.

Leicester Evening Mail 20 May 1936

Eric Patrick was now 15, and would have left Desford School that summer to make his way in the world. He continued playing chess, now representing YMCA in the league, and taking part in the senior section of the junior championships at the end of the year.

There was also a change in the Leicestershire League: they decided to run a separate schools division rather than allowing them to play against the adult clubs. For whatever reason, I don’t know, and, again for whatever reason, Desford didn’t enter the league for the 1936-37 season.

In the 1936-37 boys’ championships, Eric Patrick reached the final pool of the senior section but didn’t quite manage to win the title. The best Desford player in the junior section was Richard Kelsey, who finished in second place.

But the school would soon be hit by tragedy.

Cecil Lane’s wife Dora had died in April 1936. He needed some domestic help and his friend Sydney knew just the right person. Sydney had two sons, Basil and Humphrey. Basil was married to Alice Muriel Goodman: whose relation Nora would be ideal for the job.

Nora soon became rather more than a housekeeper, and, in September 1937, she and Cecil became man and wife.

Leicester Daily Mercury 09 September 1937

As Mr RT Goodman had died more than a year before Nora was born, I suspect that the older lady in the photograph may have been her grandmother, not her mother, and that Nora was actually the illegitimate daughter of Alice’s sister Winifred. Was she aware?

And was Cecil aware that his brother Roderick died in hospital on the same day?

Anyway, the newly wed couple headed off to Scotland for their honeymoon. While there, Cecil was taken ill At first he seemed to be recovering, but then he took a turn for the worse, and, only 11 days after their marriage, Nora was left a widow.

Leicester Daily Mercury 21 September 1937

Desford were still well represented in the younger section of the 1937-38 edition of the county junior championship (now no longer ‘Boys’ following the entry of Betty and Joan Ferrar, whom you met last time), with Hubert Cookland reaching the final pool and Norman Bass just missing out after a play-off.

There was more sad news on 4 November 1938, with the death of Sydney Ansell Gimson at the age of 78. The Leicester Mercury described him as a ‘Noted Leicester Rationalist and Public Man’.

Leicester Daily Mercury 05 November 1938

You can also read an online biography here.

That, sadly, seems to have been the end of competitive chess at Desford Approved School. They appear not to have been represented in the 1938-39 county junior championships. Cecil and Sydney’s successors, I presume, didn’t share their interest in chess. Then, of course, war intervened. Some of the boys and young men who had been engaged in friendly combat over the chessboard, or, at least in the case of the Desford pupils, in the boxing ring, would soon be drawn into a very different fight: the fight against Fascism.

Join me again soon to find out what happened to Eric Harold Patrick and his chess playing friends after they left Desford.

But first, perhaps you’ll join me in drinking a toast to Cecil John Wagstaff Lane and Sydney Ansell Gimson, two men who, for their time, or even for our time, held enlightened and progressive views on education, and believed, as I do, that chess can have enormous social benefits for children of secondary school age.

I’d like to end on a personal note. Of all the people I’ve written about in these Minor Pieces, I think Sydney is the one I’d most like to have met. He seems to have been a man who shared my own opinions, interests and values in almost every respect. My political and religious views are, considering the 90 year gap in our ages, very similar to his. I also share his interests in the environment and in education, particularly in how schools should go about helping disadvantaged children, and in how chess can be used for that purpose. Sydney Ansell Gimson, you are one of my heroes.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Wikipedia
Who’s Who of Radical Leicester (Ned Newitt)
William Morris Society website
Leicester Secular Society website
Story of Leicester website
University of Leicester website

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