Tag Archives: History

Richmond Junior Chess Club 1975 – 2006: Part 1

Here’s a quiz question for you. What do these chess players have in common?

GM Luke McShane
GM Jonathan Rowson
GM Dmitris Anagnostopolous (formerly Demetrios Agnos)
GM Aaron Summerscale
IM Richard Bates
IM Gavin Wall
IM Ali Mortazavi
IM Tom Hinks-Edwards
IM Andrew Kinsman
IM Yang-Fan Zhou
IM Callum Kilpatrick
WIM Cathy Forbes

Well, you probably guessed the answer from the title of this article, didn’t you? They were all, along with many other strong players, a lot of whom could, had they chosen to do so, have reached at least IM level, members of Richmond Junior Chess Club between 1975 and 2006.

I could add a few more names as well, who were never members but friends of the club who took part in one of more of our semi-closed competitions. For example:

GM David Howell
IM Michael Hennigan
IM Matthew Wadsworth

I think you’ll agree that RJCC was one of the success stories of English junior chess over the past half century.

John Upham has kindly provided me the space to write a history of Richmond Junior Chess Club from its foundation in 1975 up to 2006, when I resigned as club director.

When I’m asked, as I often am, to explain how we were so successful, I can now point them in the direction of this series of articles. No: that’s a lie. I’ve never been asked this question by any junior chess organiser, and when I try to explain anyway, I’m usually cut off in mid-sentence. I wonder why.

People who don’t know me automatically assume from our successes that I’m a brilliant teacher and, when they met me, are disappointed to find out that I’m not: in fact, I’m not really a teacher at all. I have a combination of social, communication and speech disorders which means I’m not very good at standing front of an audience talking or keeping a class of children under control. I’m also not a brilliant chess player, although, by most standards, I’m reasonably competent (about 1900-2000 strength for the past 50 years).

What I did, and do, have is this: I’m an efficient organiser, reliable, conscientious and detail oriented. I take a pragmatic, logical and structured approach to everything I do, rather than being influenced by emotions. Children enjoyed my company, as is often the case with adults whom they perceive as ‘different’ in some way, and I, in turn, enjoyed their company.

You might think I’m not the obvious person to run a junior chess club at all, least of all one as successful as RJCC. But this is a story which might challenge your views about education, about children, about chess, and about how these should interact. You might also think it’s a story about leadership, and how those who appear not to have leadership qualities can, in some instances, be very successful.

What we did at RJCC was very different from any other junior chess club at the time or subsequently. You’ll find out how this developed as the years went by through this series of articles. One example of how we took a very different approach was that, once children had reached the level where notation was worthwhile, we’d collect scoresheets from all our internal competitions to enable us to find out everything we could about how all our members played chess. I have a database of nearly 17000 games played at Richmond Junior Chess Club over a period of almost 30 years, and I’ll use this to illustrate the club’s story.

Anyway, I’ll now take you back half a century, to the summer of 1972. I’d just completed my education and, at the same time, the Fischer – Spassky match was on the front page of all the papers. Suddenly a lot of parents wanted their children to learn chess, and several of my parents’ friends, knowing I played chess, asked if I could teach their children. I’d been bullied throughout my schooldays and couldn’t wait to grow up so that I’d never have to have anything to do with children again, but not wishing to disappoint people by saying no, I reluctantly agreed. Sometimes fate plays strange tricks on you. Much to my surprise, the lessons seemed to go well: my pupils made good progress and the idea of starting a junior chess club occurred to me.

At about this time I met a remarkable man named Mike Fox at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club. We had quite a lot in common: apart from both being passionate about chess, we both enjoyed teaching children, had a shared sense of humour and even a shared birthday, although 17 years apart. In other ways, though we were total opposites: he was tall and sporty, I was short and unsporty, he was an extreme extrovert, I was an extreme introvert, he played aggressive tactical chess, favouring the King’s Gambit (19th Century Fox, we called him) and the Sicilian Dragon, while I played rather dull and cautious chess. He was running a chess club at his son’s school and had had the same idea as me.

We were also getting some younger children coming along to Richmond & Twickenham, even though it was rather late for them. It was also not really suitable as, naturally enough, they wanted to run around and chat rather than play quietly.

We put the three groups together: my pupils, Mike’s pupils and the children from RTCC, booked our club venue, a church hall in Richmond, for Saturday mornings, and, at some point in the autumn of 1975 (the exact date is lost in the mists of time) Richmond Junior Chess Club, at that point part of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club, opened its doors for the first time.

It was just something very informal where children could come along, meet their friends, play some chess and perhaps learn something in the process. And it was also very cheap: children would come along with their 10p, 20p or whatever it was per week, which just paid the venue costs. Of course, Mike and I were unpaid volunteers, just running the club for the love of chess. I rather expected it to be something like Charlie Brown’s baseball team: losing every match but providing a lot of fun. Today we’d call it a social chess club or a community chess club. The tagline on our first flyers was “Hey kids! Meet your mates at Richmond Junior Chess Club!”. It was just somewhere to meet your friends, not a club for budding masters.

We soon started running both internal and open competitions, which became more and more popular, and hosted a visit by a Danish team. On one occasion the saintly Bob Wade looked in and gave a talk on a master game. I remember at the time thinking, although we were both big fans of Bob, that I didn’t see the point of that sort of lesson for young children. (My views are no different today, but now I can justify them by quoting educational theory.) My other abiding memory of Bob, by the way, was a few years later, when he dropped into a London Junior Championship qualifying tournament at nearby Hampton School and unobtrusively helped set up the pieces between rounds: very typical of the man.

There was some coaching built in as well, with Mike giving lessons with his customary humour. The one I remember took place on Saturday 1 April 1978, when he demonstrated to the audience a new opening, which, I seem to recall, involved moving your knight out and back again to avoid creating any weaknesses. This, he explained, was called the Oliphant Opening, named after Francis Oliver Oliphant Leonard. Check out the first letters of his names and the day of the lesson. Mike also, as I do, loved using acronyms as a learning tool: KUFTE (King Up For The Ending) was one of his favourites.

At some point we introduced notation for our older and stronger players in club games as well as tournaments and in 1977 I started keeping them. Being someone with hoarding tendencies, I decided to hold onto them just in case they’d come in useful later. I was very pleased that I did: I started entering RJCC games in ChessBase in 1992 and eventually entered scoresheets of the 4000+ games I’d collected up to this point. Now, when I hear from former members from the early days, they’re in equal parts delighted and embarrassed when I send them pdfs of their games.

It had become clear from very early in the club’s history that something remarkable was happening. Back in 1976-77 future IM Gavin Wall became our first London Junior Champion: these days he plays top board for Richmond and captains our London League team. Another of our very early members was future IM Andrew Kinsman: I knew his late father Ken, who played chess for Wimbledon.

Some of our early members have achieved eminence in fields other than chess. This game features author and psychologist Kevin Dutton (we’re in touch on Twitter) against top lawyer Ian Winter (I gave him some private tuition at the time of this game: his parents were friends of my parents: I’m still indirectly in touch). To put it another way, an expert on psychopaths against one of Harold Shipman’s defence team. Click on any move in any game in this article for a pop-up window.

This exciting game was published in the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club newsletter. I’m in contact with Craig Gawler, who, like several other former members, chose to opt out of the rat-race. His now a guitarist with a love of Flamenco music, living in Barcelona where he runs a junior chess club based on the principles of the original RJCC: a fun club rather than a club putting children under pressure to become prodigies. Just like me, and for exactly the same reasons, he’s unhappy about recent trends in junior chess.

Here’s an early Gavin Wall game: many years later his opponent would bring his daughter along to Richmond Junior Club.

At some point round about late 1979 or early 1980 Mike’s job as the creative director of an advertising agency took him to Birmingham, so I was, rather reluctantly, left alone in charge of what was rapidly becoming a very successful club. Mike and I made an ideal partnership: he was the charismatic frontman, while I was the backroom worker. To put it another way, if you like, I was the Gordon Brown to Mike’s Tony Blair. Being the frontman wasn’t a role in which I was naturally comfortable, but I just had to do my best.

Over the next year or two we attracted a lot of strong new members. One in particular, then using the name Demetrios Agnos, a pupil at a local primary school, impressed with a maturity well beyond that of most of his peers.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I now understand the real purpose of Richmond Junior Chess Club was to build a chess community. In that we undoubtedly succeeded. Producing international players like Gavin Wall and Demetrios Agnos was merely a by-product. When I speak to former members from that period today – and from time to time someone will get in touch via social media – they always tell me how much they enjoyed RJCC and how much they enjoyed spending time with Mike and myself.

One of our earliest members whose games feature in the database was Simon Illsley: he’s just joined Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club for the first time for the 2022-23 season. As a pupil at Hampton (Grammar) School he taught a friend, Andrew Hebron, to play. Andrew is also now a member of RTCC.

This game from a 1980 training tournament. between Sampson Low and Mark Josse, demonstrates again the power and influence of the chess community Mike and I created. Sampson (whose family company has published a few chess books over the centuries) is now Secretary of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club as well as being involved in the organisation of the Thames Valley League. Mark plays for Surbiton, and occasionally for Richmond in the London League. Now retired from a career in the Metropolitan Police, he also coaches at the current Richmond Junior Chess Club.

My next article will cover what happened in Richmond Junior Chess Club in the early 1980s. Come back soon for the next episode in the club’s history.

Modern Chess– From Steinitz to the 21st Century

Modern Chess– From Steinitz to the 21st Century, Craig Pritchett, Thinker's Publishing, 15th February 2022, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201436
Modern Chess– From Steinitz to the 21st Century, Craig Pritchett, Thinker’s Publishing, 15th February 2022, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201436

From the publishers’ blurb:

“The revolutionary Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) considered himself to be in the vanguard of an emerging, late-19th century ‘Modern’ school, which embraced a new, essentially scientific vitality in its methods of research, analysis, evaluation, planning, experiment and even belligerent fight. Steinitz, who dominated the chess world in the shadow of a more directly attacking, openly tactical and combinative, so-called ‘romantic’ age, established a much firmer positional basis to chess. A pivotal change! This book follows that story, both before and beyond Steinitz’s early ‘modern’ era, focusing closely on the subtly varied ways in which the world’s greatest players in the last two centuries have thought about and played the game, moving it forward. The author reflects on all sixteen ‘classical’ world champions and others, notably: C-L. M. de la Bourdonnais, Adolf Anderssen, Paul Morphy, Siegbert Tarrasch, Aron Nimzowitsch, Richard Réti, Judit Polgar and the contemporary Artificial Intelligence phenomenon, AlphaZero. Be inspired by this exploration of the ‘modern’ game’s roots and trajectory!”

IM Craig William Pritchett, Courtesy of John Upham Photography
IM Craig William Pritchett, Courtesy of John Upham Photography

Craig Pritchett (b 1949) is a former national champion and international master (1976), who represented Scotland in nine Chess Olympiads (1966-1990), including four times on top board (1974-1980). Gold medal winner on top board for Scotland at the European Seniors (60+) Team Championship in 2011, he continues to compete regularly at Senior and Open events. Chess Correspondent for the Scottish newspaper The Herald (1972-2006) and East Lothian Life (since 2005), he has taught and written widely on chess, specialising latterly on the historical development of chess thought and the fascinatingly wide differences in players’ chess styles. A University of Glasgow graduate in Modern History and Politics and a Chartered Public Finance Accountant, he also worked for many years in UK central government audit. President of his local Dunbar Chess Club, he has also long been associated with three major chess clubs: Edinburgh West, Barbican 4NCL and SK Berlin-Zehlendorf.”

From the author’s introduction:

This book takes the reader on a journey from early 19th century developments in the game up to the present-day. 

And:

Today’s top players still borrow from the best games and ideas of past generations. Do join them!

I wrote this book primarily to explore, confirm and convey my own understanding of this grand sweep of chess history. 

What we’re offered here, then is a brief history of top level chess from 1834 to the present day, looking at both the development of chess ideas and the world championship itself. As you’d expect, the text is illustrated with games, annotated in a refreshingly straightforward fashion, and there are also a few photographs of the book’s heroes. An ambitious project, following in the footsteps of many other authors from Réti onwards. Not the first book of this type I’ve reviewed here either: but I wasn’t particularly impressed with this offering from two years ago.

We start then with Bourdonnais and McDonnell from 1834. Pritchett is impressed with their ‘calculating powers and creative imaginations’, and you will be too.

Most readers will have seen the extraordinary 62nd game before. I decided to ask Stockfish 14 to have a look. The notoriously hard to please engine was also impressed, but had one issue.

Here, Bourdonnais played 25… Qe3+, when 26. Rf2 would have held, according to both Pritchett and Stockfish. Pritchett also mentions that 25… Ba6 27. Qxa6 favours White: Stockfish 14 thinks Black’s winning after 27… e4!. A remarkable position which you might want to look at yourself. Perhaps Craig was using an older engine.

The theme of tactical brilliance continues with Anderssen, and, inevitably, we see the Immortal and Evergreen Games. Of course most readers will have seen them many times before, but there will always be those new to chess history who will relish witnessing them for the first time.

We then move onto Morphy and Steinitz, which is where the story becomes more complex and therefore more interesting. Pritchett is good at outlining Steinitz’s professionalism, opening research and patience at accumulating small advantages.

Pritchett describes this game as an early ‘hypermodern’ masterpiece, created decades before the term itself even existed, of a most insightful and visionary kind. (Click on any move of any game in this review for a pop-up board. I’ve used Stockfish 14 to annotate the games: readers might like to compare them with the author’s annotations in the book.)

This takes us into what, for me, is the strongest part of the book, covering the last few decades of the 19th and the first few decades of the 20th century. It’s excellent that Pritchett includes sections on Tarrasch and the Hypermoderns along with Lasker and the other world champions. Readers of Ray Keene’s masterpiece Aron Nimzowitsch: A Reappraisal will be aware that he wrote insightfully about the feud between these two players who had very different views about how chess should be played.

Almost half a century on, Keene’s contemporary Pritchett, takes a rather different approach, seeking to find a synthesis between the two. He quite rightly praises Tarrasch’s books Dreihundert Schachpartien and Die Moderne Schachpartie, although accepting that he could at times be over-dogmatic.

If you’ve never studied the games of the 1893 Tarrasch – Chigorin match do yourself a favour and have a look. One of the greatest matches in chess history, in my opinion.

Pritchett offers us the 4th game, although his annotations fail to point out Chigorin’s missed wins at moves 29 and 32.

Moving on from Tarrasch, via Lasker, to Nimzowitsch, Pritchett is just as complimentary about My System and Chess Praxis as he is about Tarrasch’s books, telling us that together they offer a wealth of insightful exposition of the new paths that the game was beginning to take in a post-classical era.

The contrasting champions Capablanca and Alekhine then follow, as stylistically different as Tarrasch and Nimzowitsch were in terms of their ideas and both interpreting their teachings in different ways.

Euwe only merits a very short chapter, and, as you might expect, the Pearl of Zandvoort, the Dutch champion’s most famous game, is demonstrated.

Botvinnik then takes us beyond the Second World War and into the latter half of the 20th century, at which point the tone of the book seems to undergo a gradual change.

As FIDE took over the organising the World Championship (with a break between 1993 and 2006) Pritchett’s narrative becomes more a list of world championship matches than a study of the development of ideas. We meet Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian and Spassky, four players with very different styles. Then, of course, Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand and Carlsen.

The book ends with chapters on Judit Polgar, understandable in these days where representation is considered so important, and Alpha Zero, whose games add a totally new dimension to the development of chess ideas.

Pritchett quotes this Petrosian game, along with a 1966 interview from Sovetsky Sport, in which Petrosian, when asked what he valued most in chess, replied with the word Logic. I like only those games where I have played in accordance with the demands of the position … logical “correct” play. Botvinnik and Smyslov might both have agreed, but Tal? Probably not.

A different approach might have been to consider the period from 1948 onwards through looking at openings rather than players. You could discuss, for instance, the increasing popularity and development of dynamic openings such as the Sicilian and King’s Indian Defences in the post-war years, followed by the effects brought about by computer usage from, say, 1990 onwards. You’d be looking at the world champions, but also players such as Bronstein and Larsen who also, like Tarrasch and Nimzowitsch in their day, had an impact on the development of chess.

It strikes me that the history of the world championship and the development of chess ideas are two very different, but obviously interconnected subjects. From my perspective as a student of chess history, this book rather falls between two stools. The first half is written more from the latter perspective and the second half more from the former perspective. Inevitably so, perhaps, given the difficulty of telling a long and complex story within the confines of a relatively slim book.

If you’re knowledgeable about chess history, you’ll be familiar with the stories and have seen most of the games before. But if you’re new to the subject, this book, which will appeal to players of all strengths, would be a good place to start. It’s accessible, well researched and written, with well annotated games and well produced, although with a few typos and errors which might have been picked up at proof stage. Not all the analysis stands up to the scrutiny of Stockfish 14 but for most readers that won’t matter. Recommended for those unfamiliar with the subject matter, but perhaps superfluous for those who will have seen most of it before.

Richard James, Twickenham 31st March 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (15 Feb. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9464201436
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201437
  • Product Dimensions: 17.02 x 2.29 x 23.37 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Modern Chess– From Steinitz to the 21st Century, Craig Pritchett, Thinker's Publishing, 15th February 2022, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201436
Modern Chess– From Steinitz to the 21st Century, Craig Pritchett, Thinker’s Publishing, 15th February 2022, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201436

The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov Volume I: The Early Years 1921-1948

The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov Volume I: The Early Years 1921-1948, Andrey Terekhov, Russell Enterprises, 1 Dec. 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859249
The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov Volume I: The Early Years 1921-1948, Andrey Terekhov, Russell Enterprises, 1 Dec. 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859249

From the publishers blurb:

“Vasily Smyslov, the seventh world champion, had a long and illustrious chess career. He played close to 3,000 tournament games over seven decades, from the time of Lasker and Capablanca to the days of Anand and Carlsen. From 1948 to 1958, Smyslov participated in four world championships, becoming world champion in 1957.

Smyslov continued playing at the highest level for many years and made a stunning comeback in the early 1980s, making it to the finals of the candidates’ cycle. Only the indomitable energy of 20-year-old Garry Kasparov stopped Smyslov from qualifying for another world championship match at the ripe old age of 63!

In this first volume of a multi-volume set, Russian FIDE master Andrey Terekhov traces the development of young Vasily from his formative years and becoming the youngest grandmaster in the Soviet Union to finishing second in the world championship match tournament. With access to rare Soviet-era archival material and invaluable family archives, the author complements his account of Smyslov’s growth into an elite player with dozens of fascinating photographs, many never seen before, as well as 49 deeply annotated games. German grandmaster Karsten Müller’s special look at Smyslov’s endgames rounds out this fascinating first volume.”

 

I’ve always considered  Vasily Smyslov (1921-2010) one of the more underrated world champions. I enjoy the combination of logic and harmony in his games along with his endgame expertise, so I was looking forward to reading this book.

Terekhov suggests in his introduction that Smyslov is arguably the least known of all world chess champions.

Perhaps the primary reason for Smyslov’s relative obscurity was his character. Smyslov was a reserved and deeply private man who did not strive for the spotlight.

And again…

Another factor was Smyslov’s playing style, which was classical and logical, but not necessarily flashy. To make a comparison, both Smyslov and Tal were world champions for only one year, but Tal won millions of fans for his dashing style and remains an iconic figure to this day, whereas Smyslov’s popularity largely waned after the period when he held the championship.

Up to now there have been few books, apart from those written by Smyslov himself, about his games, and they have limitations, partly because they were written in the pre-computer age and partly because they lacked biographical detail.

A few years ago, I decided to write a book that would fill in these blanks. Initially, it was conceived as a traditional best games collection, interspersed with a few biographical details. However, it quickly became apparent that Smyslov’s long chess career cannot be covered in a single volume. I amassed an extensive library of books, tournament bulletins and magazines which cover Smyslov’s chess career from the 1930s onwards. I also kept unearthing new material, including Smyslov’s manuscripts and letters.

What we have here, then, is the first volume of a hugely ambitious project, a combination of biography and best games collection, taking Smyslov’s career from his first competitive games in 1935 through to the 1948 World Championship Match-Tournament. A second volume will take the story up to 1957, when he became world champion, and further volumes will cover the remainder of his career, up to his last tournament games in the 21st century and the endgame studies he composed towards the end of his life.

What you don’t get is Smyslov’s complete games: you’ll need to look elsewhere if you want them.

The book comprises ten chapters, each covering a different part of Smyslov’s career. Each chapter in turn is divided into biography and games.

There are 49 complete games in this volume, all annotated in considerable depth. Terekhov has used an impressive range of sources: Smyslov’s own annotations, Soviet chess magazines and other contemporary sources, later commentators such as Kasparov, and skilfully combined these with computer analysis using today’s most powerful engines. Many annotators make the mistake of going overboard with reams of computer-generated variations, but Terekhov avoids this pitfall. While not everyone wants this sort of detail, the annotations in this book are some of the best I’ve read. A nice touch is that you also get brief biographical notes on his opponents.

The scope of the biographical sections, too, is impressive. There’s a lot of fascinating material from Soviet sources with which most readers will be unfamiliar. You’ll learn a lot from this, not just about Smyslov’s life, but also, in general, about how chess in the Soviet Union was promoted and organised in the 1930s and 1940s. You’ll expect full reports of the tournaments Smyslov played in, along with cross-tables. They’re all there, along with much more chess: many snapshots from games, some endgame  studies, all illustrated with a profusion of photographs, many of which will be new to most readers. There’s plenty there to keep every chess lover happy.

Let’s look at a couple of the snapshots.

Here’s a remarkable position from the game Panov – Smyslov 12th USSR Championship 1940 demonstrating his defensive skills.

Smyslov continued with the extraordinary 19… Nc6!!?.

This desperate move evokes the memories of Spassky’s famous Nb8-c6 in a strategically lost position against Averbakh (Leningrad 1956), but Smyslov came up with the idea 16 years earlier!

20. dxc6 bxc6 21. Ba4 Rcb8 22. Qxa3

At first glance, White is completely winning, as he is a bishop up and Black does not even have a single pawn to show for it. However, even the engine agrees that Black has some initiative in exchange for the piece, although far from full compensation. 

Smyslov eventually won this game after Panov blundered on move 41. If you buy the book you’ll see for yourself what happened.

In the 1941 USSR Absolute Championship, Smyslov found himself a pawn down in a minor piece ending against Lilienthal.

At some point, Smyslov took a brilliant, although practically risky decision to sacrifice both of his pieces for the remaining Black pawns. The game transposed to the following rare endgame, which was studied in great detail by the Russian composer Alexey Troitsky:

This position was evaluated by Troitsky as a draw and modern tablebases confirm this assessment. However, defending this position in practice is no fun, as a single bad move can lead to a forced mate. Smyslov managed to hold it and the game was agreed drawn on the 125th(!) move.

But there’s much more than chess in the biographical sections. The game was so popular in the Soviet Union that Smyslov received fanmail from young female admirers, some of which have survived. Here’s Klara, writing to her hero in 1941. Can you send me a photo of yourself, even if a tiny little one, but with your signature? If you cannot give it to me, please send it to me so I could take a look – I will return it. If you only knew how I want to see you, hear you talk – but alas – these are just dreams which cannot come to life for at least another year…

Most poignantly, we have a letter Smyslov wrote to the mother of his friend Bazya Dzagurov in 1942, asking for news of her son, who had been serving in the war. How are you doing? Do you have anyone left by your side? Is there any information about Bazya? I heard that you have not received letters from him for a long time, but I don’t know anything for certain. Please write to me about your life and let me know something about your son and my friend. Tragically, Dzaghurov had lost his life several months earlier.

Right at the end of the book there are a few bonuses. Chapter 11 introduces us to Smyslov’s wife Nadezhda Andreevna, Appendix A  covers the Smyslov System in the Grünfeld Defence, and Appendix B, contributed by GM Karsten Müller, tells us more about Smyslov’s Endgames.

Here are a couple of short game which you’ll find annotated in the book. Click on any move for a pop-up board.

Although Smyslov’s fame rests mainly on his positional and endgame skills, he could still play aggressively when the opportunity arose, and some of his earlier games featured here are quite complex.

In this game (Moscow Championship 1939) he scored a quick attacking victory against the now centenarian Averbakh.

Here’s a highly thematic game from the 1945 USSR Championship.

I’ve said before that we’re living in a golden age of chess literature. There are several reasons for this, two of which are relevant to this book. Firstly, we have much greater access to archive material than ever before, and, secondly, powerful modern engines ensure accurate analysis. This is an outstanding and important work which should be on the shelves of anyone with any interest at all in chess history. Excellent writing, painstaking research and exemplary annotations, along with first class production values (barring the inevitable one or two typos and errors): the book is an attractive and sturdy hardback which will look good in any library.

Congratulations are due to Andrey Terekhov, and also to Russell Enterprises. Very highly recommended. I can’t wait to read the next volume in the series.

Richard James, Twickenham 3rd March 2022

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 536 pages
  • Publisher: Russell Enterprises (1 December 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:194985924X
  • ISBN-13:978-1949859249
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 2.54 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of Russell Enterprises

The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov Volume I: The Early Years 1921-1948, Andrey Terekhov, Russell Enterprises, 1 Dec. 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859249
The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov Volume I: The Early Years 1921-1948, Andrey Terekhov, Russell Enterprises, 1 Dec. 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859249

Yuri Averbakh: 100 Not Out!

Yuri Averbakh, courtesy of New in Chess
Yuri Averbakh, courtesy of New in Chess

He was born into a world that flowed along very differently from our own. Kaluga was his city, but don’t reach for that atlas, just follow the River Oka setting your clock to a time when, as Trotsky was to write, Lenin, despite the efforts of his medics, was a hopelessly sick man. Averbakh bore some little German and Jewish blood, grew to be a tall and scholarly man (headmasterly?) but played chess under the banner of hammer and sickle.

Yury (Yuri) Lvovich Averbakh was born one hundred years ago today and, as such, is the oldest holder of the International Grandmaster title ever, that chess title formalised after World War II. Already – he got the title of national master in 1943 – he was looking at chess not so much as life substitute, as a Tal or Fischer might have done, but more as a career from which possibilities would spring, in the manner (say) of his contemporary, Smyslov. He played in Soviet Championships 1948-70, winning the title in Kiev in 1954 and tying for first place at Leningrad, 1956.

5th= in the 1952 Interzonal and, a year later, just failed to finish on 50% in the celebrated Candidates of ’53. He drew a training match with Botvinnik himself in 1957. International success was obviously his too. Averbakh became known for his endgame books but he wrote on all aspects of the game, maybe twenty books flowing from his pen. Wade called him ‘prodding organiser’ and there is no doubt he touched so many areas of the game, as author, arbiter, diplomat, much in the manner of Euwe.

Though he was largely retired, here is a game to enjoy from his last playing years:

Happy Birthday Yury!

Movers and Takers: A Chess History of Streatham and Brixton 1871-2021

From the Introduction:

Movers and Takers is the 150-year story of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club, and of chess in our neighbourhood.

It begins with two separate clubs in Victorian times – one in north Brixton, the other in Streatham – amid the outburst of enthusiasm for chess in the expanding suburbs. The two clubs amalgamated half way through the story. Movers and Takers charts the cycles of ups and downs, the periods of feast and famine, the championship victories, and the dismal defeats of these clubs over a century and a half up to the present day.

You will meet the characters who made up the club during its long journey. There have been strong players who changed the club’s fortunes before they moved on. And there have been many average ones, who have yet been the lifeblood of the club, devoted to their passion, who sustained it through thick and thin. You will also meet players who, though not members, have passed through our neighbourhood while leaving their footprint on the wider chess landscape. They may grab our attention for that they did off the board as much as on it.

 

Streatham and Brixton Chess Club celebrated its 150th birthday last year, and one of their members, Martin Smith, has written a history of chess in that part of South London, taking the club through the Victorian era, two world wars, the English Chess Explosion and into a global pandemic.

The book was written for The Streatham Society, a local amenity group whose publications include volumes on local history, so its target market is residents and historians as much as chess players. There is, however, a selection of games at the end, roughly one for each decade of the club’s history, featuring a wide range of players, from world champions down to small children.

The current club traces its history to a club in North Brixton, originally named Endeavour, which appears to have been founded in 1871. By 1875 it was already considered one of the strongest suburban clubs, although at the time, in the very early days of chess clubs outside city centres, it was very much weaker than those in central London. It then went into hibernation for a few years before starting up again in 1879 and, within a few years, dropping Endeavour and becoming just Brixton Chess Club.

The club thrived, and was, albeit with some ups and downs recorded here, a powerful force in Surrey chess up to the First World War and on into the 1920s and beyond.

Brixton’s more genteel suburban neighbour, Streatham, acquired its chess club in 1886, but for much of its history it was not as strong as its more northerly counterpart. But by the 1930s, while Brixton’s fortunes were fading, Streatham was flourishing. Both clubs suspended activities during the Second World War, and, once competitive chess resumed, they agreed to merge, becoming the Streatham and Brixton club well known today in Surrey, London and national chess circles.

Martin Smith’s book offers an engrossing whistle-stop tour of 150 years of South London chess history. We meet a lot of famous people who have pushed pawns in this part of our capital, whether as residents, club members or visiting simul givers, from the likes of Staunton and Lasker, through to Harry Golombek in the inter-war years and Ray Keene in the 1960s, and then the likes of Julian Hodgson and Daniel King from the club’s more recent glory days. We also meet a variety of colourful characters such as occultist Aleister Crowley and Broadmoor problemist Walter Stephens, as well as a whole host of devoted administrators and organisers, the often unsung heroes who are the backbone of any successful club.

The Felce dynasty were prominent as organisers in Surrey chess for three generations. Here’s Harold, their strongest player, defending coolly against an unsound sacrifice to score a notable victory against the great Sultan Khan. Click on any more to display the game in a pop-up window.

The author does an excellent job of placing the club within its local community. We learn about the changing role of chess in society through the Victorian era and how this was reflected in the growth of clubs such as Brixton and the development of leagues in London and Surrey. There’s also a lot about the girls and women who played chess in the area: there were a surprising number, from Vera Menchik through to 1960s girl star Linda Bott (seen, below, at the age of 8) and beyond. Junior chess in general, of course, plays a big part in the latter half of the story: we learn about the popularity of chess in local schools, the pioneering books for young children written by Ray Bott and Stanley Morrison, and the sterling work done by Nigel Povah (whose grandfather was a prominent Streatham administrator) in coaching top juniors and introducing them to the club.

I wonder whether Linda’s 20th move in this game was an oversight (it’s very easy to miss backward diagonal moves) or a move displaying precocious tactical awareness. Only she would know.

Works like this are important in explaining the background behind club chess, and, if the subject appeals, this book won’t fail to please. You might see it as complementing my Minor Pieces articles, particularly those involved with Richmond and Twickenham players, and, given that Martin and I have discussed our respective ideas over several pints during the course of his research, you’ll understand where we’re both coming from. It’s very well written and copiously illustrated throughout: the expertly chosen photographs and press cuttings add enormously to the story.

I’m sure it would have been easy (perhaps even easier) for Martin to have written a book two or three times its length, and as a chess player you’d perhaps like to have seen more chess as well, but, given the limitations of writing primarily for a non-chess playing readership, he has done an outstanding job in compressing the story into a relatively short volume. Perhaps he might consider an expanded version for private publication.

I did spot a few minor mistakes: misspelt or incorrect names and incorrect dates, for example, but this won’t spoil your enjoyment of the book. Strongly recommended for anyone with any interest at all in the history of British – and London – chess over the past 150 years.

If you’d like to buy a copy, the book can be ordered by providing a postal address to SFChess@btinternet.com, who will provide a/c details for payment of £12.50 plus £2.50 P&P.

Richard James, Twickenham 14 January 2022

Richard James

  • Published: November 2021
  • Publisher: Local History Publications for The Streatham Society in association with Streatham and Brixton Chess Club.
  • Softcover 116 pages (A4)
  • ISBN 978 1 910722 17 6

I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer

I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer, Mark Taimanov, Quality Chess, 29th November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831608
I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer, Mark Taimanov, Quality Chess, 29th November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831608

From the publisher:

“In 1971 Robert James Fischer defeated Mark Taimanov by the sensational score of 6-0 in Vancouver, but the match games were far more competitive and tension-filled than the final score would suggest.

Twenty years later Taimanov put pen to paper, reflecting on the experience. Exactly 50 years after the match, this is the first English translation of Taimanov’s original Russian text. Taimanov provides a richly detailed, honest and emotional account of the drama on and off the board. Despite the catastrophic match score, his love for the game of chess is evident throughout.

Taimanov also discusses his early acquaintance with Fischer from 1960, including detailed annotations of both of their pre-1971 games, as well as the personal consequences of the match result. With fascinating additional archive material and analytical contributions from some of the brightest young stars of the American chess scene today, I was a Victim of Bobby Fischer is the ultimate insight into one of the most famous matches in chess history.”

End of blurb…

Isaac Boleslavsky plays Mark Taimanov in round one of the 24th USSR Championship on January 21st 1957. Peace broke out after fifteen moves of a Nimzo-Indian Defence
Isaac Boleslavsky plays Mark Taimanov in round one of the 24th USSR Championship on January 21st 1957. Peace broke out after fifteen moves of a Nimzo-Indian Defence

Quality Chess live up to their name by being one of the few publishers who offer a hardback as well as softback version of all of their titles.

The production values are superb. You could save a few pence and opt for the paperback version but we would definitely treat ourselves with a Christmas / New Year present and savour the hardback. In addition, high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. The weight of this paper gives the book an even better feel to it as the pages are turned.

The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing”. Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to readily maintain their place. Figurine algebraic notation is used and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text.

A small (and insignificant) quibble: the diagrams (except for Chapter 19, Interesting Positions) do not have a “to move” indicator (but they do have coordinates).

Before we take our first look at this book Quality Chess have provided a pdf excerpt.

Over the years there have been numerous books with Taimanov somewhere in the title but almost all are concerned with his famous variation of the Sicilian Defence:

We are aware of two English language books covering Taimanov’s career.  One is Taimanov’s Selected Games published in 1995 by Everyman Chess covering 60(!) games selected and annotated by MT.  The second is Smyslov, Bronstein, Geller, Taimanov and Averbakh: A Chess Multibiography (McFarland, 2021) with 220 Games by Andrew Soltis reviewed here.

This Quality Chess title helps to address this surprising shortfall.

The title is perhaps the first worthy discussion point and we learn the interesting reason for it. Is it clear from the outset just how in regard MT held Fischer when he wrote this manuscript in 1993.

You might think that the events of 1971 had left a bitter taste with MT, and degree of resentment,  especially when we read in Chapter 5 of his post match treatment by the Soviet authorities. The latter even restricted his career in music which was gratuitously cruel. There is no evidence of that here, in fact, quite the opposite. Taimanov stipulated in his will that should the book be published then “I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer” must be its title.

Let us not forget that Taimanov jointly holds (and will always) a record with Efim Geller of twenty-three appearences in the Soviet Championships apart from his many other achievements on the chess board.

Taimanov played Fischer a total of eight times and their first meeting was on June 4th, 1960 in the good air of Buenos Aires.

This game was a monumental battle (drawn after eighty-seven moves) when Fischer was a mere seventeen and MT was a more plausible thirty-four.

Here is the game devoid of any notes simply because you really should treat yourself to the fourteen(!) pages of glorious annotations including 20 diagrams. What a struggle!

Much of the book is taken up with discussion of Fischer’s development and eventually his downfall (but nether MT nor Spike Milligan played any part) and this is particularly apposite on the eve of the Reykjavik match 50th anniversary.

Chapters 6-12 cover each game of the 1971 match (ten games were planned) in Vancouver. Each game is very much worthy of close study and a model of sporting attitude from the loser. It is painful to see how well Taimanov plays compared with the game results. At no point did he “do a Nepo” and collapse into a heap. His emotions and reactions to the match are rather revealing.

Chapter 13(!) discusses the causes of Fischer’s eventual reclusion comparing RJFs fate with players of the past with an update in Chapter 14 on more recent events.

You might predict “That must be the end of the book”. Well, not at all. Part IV contains the substantial Appendices which include additional deeply annotated games of Taimanov and of Fischer, a biography of MT and a fascinating interview of MT from 2016.

Almost last and by no means least we have Chapter 19 which presents a number of key positions from the previously discussed games and the reader is asked a pertinent question about each.

Here is an example (#10):

 

Lutikov – Taimanov, 37th USSR Championships, Moscow

After White’s rook lift on move 25:

“We will look at three positions from this complicated game, all of them very interesting. In the first, Black has a difficult strategic decision to make”

Chapter 20 (titled “Thoughts and Solutions”) takes the Chapter 19 positions and analyses them in detail courtesy of a team of strong players (Shankland, Liang, Xiong and Aagaard) providing their individual opinions of each position. This is really rather innovative and most welcome. Note that these “thoughts”  are not usurped by reams of unwelcome engine analysis.

In summary, this is a significant book quite unlike any other we have read. Beautifully produced it brings you into the mind of a great chessplayer and person who gave his all and was treated appallingly.

We commend to you this book without doubt: you will not be disappointed. One of our favourites of 2021.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 23rd December, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details:

  • Paperback : 248 pages
  • Publisher: Quality Chess UK LLP (29 Nov. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1784831603
  • ISBN-13:978-1784831608
  • Product Dimensions: 17.2 x 1.22 x 24.18 cm

Official web site of Quality Chess

I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer, Mark Taimanov, Quality Chess, 29th November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831608
I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer, Mark Taimanov, Quality Chess, 29th November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831608

Edgard Colle: Caissa’s Wounded Warrior

Edgard Colle: Caissa's Wounded Warrior, Taylor Kingston. Russell Enterprises, 20th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859270
Edgard Colle: Caissa’s Wounded Warrior, Taylor Kingston. Russell Enterprises, 20th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859270

Edgard Colle: Caissa’s Wounded Warrior : Taylor Kingston

From the publisher:

“One of Caissa’s Brightest Stars!

Mention the name “Colle” and many if not most chessplayers think about an opening that is both easy to play as well as one with dynamic potential. Rarely is any thought given to the man himself.

Plug the word “Colle” into your favourite search engine, and, if you are lucky, you might find a reprint of the slim 1936 book by Fred Reinfeld, Colle’s Chess Masterpieces. Books on the Colle System – of which there are many – will be your main search results. However, Belgian master Edgard Colle is much more than a name connected to an opening system. He was one of the most dynamic and active chess players of the 1920s and early 1930s.

Though his international career lasted barely ten years, Colle played in more than 50 tournaments, as well as a dozen matches. Moreover, he played exciting and beautiful chess, full of life, vigour, imagination and creativity. As with such greats as Pillsbury and Charousek, it was a tragedy for the game that his life was cut short, at just age 34.

Author Taylor Kingston has examined hundreds of Colle’s games, in an effort to understand his skills and style, his strengths and weaknesses, and present an informed, balanced picture of him as a player.

Colle emerges as a courageous, audacious, and tenacious fighter, who transcended the limitations his frail body imposed, to battle the giants of his day and topple many of them. 110 of Colle’s best, most interesting, and representative games have been given deep and exacting computer analysis. This often revealed important aspects completely overlooked by earlier annotators, and overturned their analytical verdicts. But the computer’s iron logic is tempered always with a sympathetic understanding that Colle played, in the best sense, a very human kind of chess.

Though not intended as a tutorial on the Colle System, the book of course has many instructive examples of that opening. Additionally, there are several memorial tributes, biographical information about many of Colle’s opponents, his known tournament and match record, and all his available tournament crosstables. We invite the reader to get acquainted with this wounded but valiant warrior, whom Hans Kmoch called a “chess master with the body of a doomed man and the spirit of an immortal hero.” You are invited to explore the fascinating, fighting chess of one of the great tactical masters.”

Taylor Kingston
Taylor Kingston

“Taylor Kingston has been a chess enthusiast since his teens. His historical articles have appeared in many chess journals, including Chess Life, New In Chess, Inside Chess, and Kingpin. He is the editor of the recently released Emanuel Lasker: A Reader. In this book, he combines history and analysis in a new look at one of the early 20th century’s most variable but brightest stars.”

End of blurb

We recently reviewed the author’s first book, Emanuel Lasker: A Reader, A Zeal to Understand which has been well received.

Edgard (not Edgar) Colle’s name is well known to most chess players through his highly popular opening (of two main variants), The Colle System. You might argue that this was the club player’s opening of choice possibly usurped, in recent times, by the unfortunately ubiquitous London System.

However, rather unfairly, Colle himself is almost certainly not as well known as he deserves to be. Players of all levels really ought to take time to study his games with both colours since his attacking style is rather attractive and instructive.

The biographies section of the BCN library somewhat disappointingly only had one other book about Colle and that was the not-so-easy to obtain “Colle Plays The Colle System” by Adam Harvey published by Chess Enterprises in 2002.

Colle Plays The Colle System, Adam Harvey, Chess Enterprises, 2002, ISBN 0-945470-88-6
Colle Plays The Colle System, Adam Harvey, Chess Enterprises, 2002, ISBN 0-945470-88-6

but the above tome spends very little text on the master himself and only covers games with the white pieces and the Colle System.

Taylor Kingston’s book (also available as a Kindle eBook) is divided into two main parts as follows :

  1. Part I: Biographical Basics, Historical Background, Colleague’s Reminiscences and Memorial Tributes
  2. Part II: Annotated Games

and each of these is further sub-divided.

To see the extensive Table of Contents you may Look Inside the Kindle edition.

The book kicks off with a rather insightful Foreword from GM Andrew Soltis suggesting ECs lack of eminence stems from his premature early demise aged 34.

Pages 12 – 28 present biographical material from varied sources, some fairly obscure. We like obscure sources!

Fairly quickly (page 29) we find ourselves at Part II and the Annotated Games and this part, in turn, is divided into eleven sections with the following titles:

  1. Marvellous Miniatures
  2. An abundance of Brilliances
  3. Colle Lucks Out
  4. Follies, Failures, and Might-Have-Been
  5. Colle and the Endgame
  6. Colle and Positional Play
  7. Colle’s Fighting Games
  8. Salvaging the Draw
  9. Colle and Yates
  10. Colle’s Gem
  11. Swan Song

Each game is complete with historical background and context allowing one to learn more of Colle, his opponents and the tournaments they met at. The text is joyfully sprinkled with monochrome photographs of many opponents and potted biographies including that of Englishman George M. Norman (1880 – 1966) with whom we were unfamiliar until this book.

Follies, Failures, and Might-Have-Been” is particularly unusual since the author selects games where our hero goes astray and does not win in crushing fashion but loses himself providing a healthy balance. The opposition here includes players such as Euwe, Capablanca, Nimzovitsch, Vidmar and Tartakower so nothing to be ashamed of.

Colle and the Endgame” was another delightful chapter and perhaps not to be expected. Here is a game (here not annotated by TK but by Fred Reinfeld) from Budapest 1929 between Akiba Rubinstein and EC:

 

You will need to buy the book to appreciate the authors fuller annotations.

From the chapter “Colle’s Gem” we could not resist giving you this game but, again, without TKs superb annotations:

Wonderful stuff indeed but please enjoy the full author annotations.

In summary, this is a delightful book that all in the BCN office wanted to take home. In many ways this volume could of easily been a McFarland publication with a hard cover to be found in a library and all the gravitas that publisher brings. Hats off to Russell Enterprises for landing this one.

If you haven’t realised by now this one of our favourite books of 2021.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire 15th December 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 272 pages
  • Publisher:  Russell Enterprises (20 April 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1949859274
  • ISBN-13: 978-1949859270
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 1.27 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of Russell Enterprises

Edgard Colle: Caissa's Wounded Warrior, Taylor Kingston. Russell Enterprises, 20th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859270
Edgard Colle: Caissa’s Wounded Warrior, Taylor Kingston. Russell Enterprises, 20th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859270

Remembering GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE (07-x-1933 30-xi-2021)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE in the garden of Brian Reilly
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE in the garden of Brian Reilly

BCN remembers GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE who passed away on Tuesday, November 30th, 2021.

In the 1971 New Years Honours List Jonathan was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) The citation read “For services to Chess.”

In 1993 following representations by Bob Wade and Leonard Barden FIDE granted the title of Grandmaster to Jonathan. Here is a detailed discussion of that process. Note that this was not an Honorary title (as received by Jacques Mieses and Harry Golombek).

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983) by Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson : (article by George Botterill)

“Penrose is one of the outstanding figures of British chess. Yet many who meet him may not realize this just because he is one of the quietest and most modest of men. Throughout the late 1950s and the whole of the 1960s he stood head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

His extraordinary dominance is revealed by the fact that he won the British championship no less than ten times (1958-63 and 1966-69, inclusive), a record that nobody is likely to equal in the future.

At his best his play was lucid, positionally correct, energetic and tactically acute. None the less, there is a ‘Penrose problem’: was he a ‘Good Thing’ for British chess? The trouble was that whilst this highly talented player effectively crushed any opposition at home, he showed little initiative in flying the flag abroad. There is a wide-spread and justifiable conviction that only lack of ambition in the sphere of international chess can explain why he did not secure the GM title during his active over-the-board playing career.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for above photograph
Press agency caption for above photograph

It would be unjust, however, to blame Penrose for any of this. The truth is simply that he was not a professional chessplayer, and indeed he flourished in
a period in which chess playing was not a viable profession in Britain. But even if the material awards available had been greater Penrose would almost certainly have chosen to remain an amateur. For he was cast in that special intellectual and ethical tradition of great British amateurs like H. E. Atkins, Sir George Thomas and Hugh Alexander before him.

Travel Chess 2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)
Travel Chess
2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)

His family background indicates early academic inclinations in a cultural atmosphere in which chess was merely a game something at which one excelled through sheer ability, but not to be ranked alongside truly serious work. It is noteworthy that Penrose, unique in this respect amongst British chess masters, has never written at any length about the game. He has had other matters to concentrate on when away from the board, being a lecturer in psychology. (His father, Professor L. S. Penrose, was a distinguished geneticist.)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Being of slight physique and the mildest and most amiable of characters, it is probably also true that Penrose lacked the toughness and ‘killer instinct’ required to reach the very top. Nervous tension finally struck him down in a dramatic way when he collapsed during play in the Siegen Olympiad of 1970. We can take that date as the end of the Penrose era.

Jonathan Penrose Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Jonathan Penrose
Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images))

Since, then though he has not by any means entirely given up, his involvement in the nerve-wracking competitions of over-the-board play has been greatly reduced. instead he has turned to correspondence chess, which is perhaps the ideal medium for his clear strategy and deep and subtle analysis. So Penrose’s career it not over. He has moved to another, less stressful province of the kingdom of chess.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

For the first game, however, we shall turn the clock right back to 1950 and the see the Penrose in the role of youthful giant killer.

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

“British international master and ten times British Champion, Penrose was born in Colchester and came from a chess-playing family.

Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)
Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)

His father and mother (Margaret)  both played chess and his father, Professor Lionel Sharples Penrose, in addition to being a geneticist of world-wide fame, was a strong chess-player and a good endgame composer. Jonathan’s older brother Oliver, was also a fine player.

Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist
Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist

Roger Penrose won the Nobel prize for physics in 2020.

Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate
Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate

Shirley Hodgson (née Penrose) is a high flying geneticist.

Prof. Shirley Hodgson
Prof. Shirley Hodgson

Jonathan learnt chess at the age of four, won the British Boys championship at thirteen and by the time he was fifteen was playing in the British Championship in Felixstowe in 1949.

Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

A little reluctant to participate in international tournaments abroad, he did best in the British Championship which he won a record number of times, once more than HE Atkins. He won the title consecutively from 1958 to 1963 and again from 1966 to 1969.

Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

He also played with great effect in nine Olympiads. Playing on a high board for practically all the time, he showed himself the equal of the best grandmasters and indeed, at the Leipzig Olympiad he distinguished himself by beating Mikhail Tal, thereby becoming the first British player to defeat a reigning World Champion since Blackburne beat Lasker in 1899.

ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951
ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951

Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni
Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni

A deep strategist who could also hold his own tactically, he suffered from the defect of insufficient physical stamina and it was this that was to bring about a decline in his play and in his results. He collapsed during a game at the Ilford Chess Congress, and a year later, at the Siegen Olympiad of 1970, he had a more serious collapse that necessitated his withdrawal from the event after the preliminary groups had been played. The doctors found nothing vitally wrong with him that his physique could not sustain.

He continued to play but his results suffered from a lack of self-confidence and at the Nice Olympiad of 1974 he had a wretched result on board 3, winning only 1 game and losing 6 out of 15.

Darga V Penrose 29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain's Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Darga V Penrose
29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain’s Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Possibly too his profession (a lecturer in psychology) was also absorbing him more and more and too part less and less in international and national chess.

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

Yet, he had already done enough to show that he was the equal of the greatest British players in his command and understanding of the game and he ranks alongside Staunton, Blackburne, Atkins and CHO’D Alexander as a chess figure of world class.”

Here is his Wikipedia entry

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

“The leading English player during the 1960s, International Master (1961), International Correspondence Chess Master (1980), lecturer in psychology. Early in his chess career Penrose decided to remain an amateur and as a consequence played in few international tournaments. He won the British Championship from 1958 to 1963 and from 1966 to 1969, ten times in all (a record); and he played in nine Olympiads from 1952 to 1974, notably scoring + 10=5 on first board at Lugano 1968, a result bettered only by the world champion Petrosyan.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

In the early 1970s Penrose further restricted his chess because the stress of competitive play adversely affected his health.”

The second edition (1996) adds this :

“He turned to correspondence play, was the highest rated postal player in the world 1987-9, and led the British team to victory in the 9th Correspondence Olympiad.”

Here is a discussion about Jonathan on the English Chess Forum

From The Encyclopedia of Chess (Robert Hale, 1970 & 1976) by Anne Sunnucks :

“International Master (1961) and British Champion in 1958 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.

Jonathan Penrose was born in Colchester on 7th October 1933, the son of Professor LS Penrose, the well-known geneticist, who was also a strong player and composer of endgame studies.

The whole Penrose family plays chess and Jonathan learned the game when he was 4. At the age of 12 he joined Hampstead Chess Club and the following year played for Essex for the first time, won his first big tournament, the British Boys’ Championship, and represented England against Ireland in a boy’s match, which was the forerunner of the Glorney Cup competition, which came into being the following year.

By the time he was 17 Penrose was recognised as one of the big hopes of British Chess. Playing in the Hastings Premier Tournament for the first time in `1950 – 1951, he beat the French Champion Nicholas Rossolimo and at Southsea in 1950 he beat two International Grandmasters, Effim Bogoljubov and Savielly Tartakower.

Penrose played for the British Chess Federation in a number of Chess Olympiads since 1952. In 1960, at Leipzig, came one of the best performances of his career, when he beat the reigning World Champion, Mikhail Tal. He became the first British player to beat a reigning World Champion since JH Blackburne beat Emmanuel Lasker in 1899, and the first player to defeat Tal since he won the World Championship earlier that year. Penrose’s score in this Olympiad was only half-a-point short of the score required to qualify for the International Grandmaster title.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

His ninth victory in the British Championships in 1968 equalled the record held by HE Atkins, who has held the title more times than any other player.

Penrose is a lecturer in psychology at Enfield College of Technology and has never been in a position to devote a great deal of time to the game. He is married to a former contender in the British Girls Championship and British Ladies’s Championship, Margaret Wood, daughter of Frank Wood, Hon. Secretary of the Oxfordshire Chess Association.

Again from British Chess : “In updating this report we find striking evidence of Penrose’s prowess as a correspondence player. Playing on board 4 for Britain in the 8th Correspondence Chess Olympiad he was astonishingly severe on the opposition, letting slip just one draw in twelve games! Here is one of the eleven wins that must change the assessment of a sharp Sicilian Variation.”

 

Penrose was awarded the O.B.E. for his services to chess in 1971.”

Penrose was Southern Counties Champion for 1949-50.

In 1983 Jonathan became England’s fifth Correspondence Grandmaster (CGM) following Keith Richardson, Adrian Hollis, Peter Clarke and Simon Webb.

Sadly, there is no existent book on the life and games of Jonathan Penrose : a serious omission in chess literature.

Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Minor Pieces 19: Sydney Meymott

You saw this result in my recent article about the Coward family. There are some other names of interest in this Twickenham team.

On board 5 for Twickenham was Sydney Meymott. Many players, like Arthur and Randulph Coward, only play competitive chess for a few years before moving on to another stage in their lives. There are others for whom chess is a lifelong obsession: the Complete Chess Addicts (now that would make a great book title!), and Sydney was one of those, with a chess career lasting almost half a century.

He came from a distinguished family. His grandfather, John Gilbert Meymott was a prominent lawyer, and his father Charles Meymott a doctor whose other interests included cricket and chess.

Charles played two first class cricket matches for Surrey, but without success. Against the MCC in 1846 he was dismissed without scoring in the first innings and made 4 not out in the second innings. Against Kent the following year he failed to trouble the scorers in either innings. He also failed to take any wickets in either match.

In 1848 he submitted a ‘beautiful study’ to Bell’s Life, as you can see below.

 

Bell’s Life 3 September 1848

A few weeks later the solution was published, failing to provide any moves but just saying that White will win a pawn and the game.

But as you can demonstrate for yourself (or verify using tablebases) this is complete nonsense: the position is drawn with best play.

A celebrated cricketer who composed a beautiful study? I think not.

Earlier in 1848, he’d submitted a mate in 4 to the Illustrated London News, which was at least sound, if not very interesting. You can solve it yourself if you want: the solution is at the end of the article.

Problem 1:

#4 Illustrated London News 12 Feb 1848

In about 1859 Charles, his wife Sarah (née Keene, no relation, as far as I know, to Ray) and their three daughters (a son had died in infancy) emigrated to Australia, where his brother Frederick was a judge. The family must have been well regarded there. If you visit the suburb of Randwick today, not far from Coogee Beach, you’ll find a residential road there named Meymott Street, with Frederick Street running off it.

From there Charles submitted another mate in 4, slightly more sophisticated this time.

Problem 2:

#4 Illustrated London News 26 Nov 1859

The following year, Sarah gave birth to a son, who was given the name of his home city: Sydney.

Charles Meymott had started out in conventional medicine but at some point he had converted to homeopathy. You can find out a bit more here, although some of the links no longer work.

Charles died in 1867 at the age of 54, and his widow and children decided to return to England. I wonder if he’d been able to teach his young son how the pieces moved.

In 1871 Sarah and young Syd were living in Queen Street (now Queen’s Road) Twickenham: perhaps the girls only returned to England later.

By 1881 the oldest girl had married and moved to Scotland, but Sarah and her three youngest children were now at 4 Syon Row, Twickenham, right by the river.

The road is so well known that a rather expensive book has been written about it.

Photo copyright Richard James 2021

It was from there, then that, at some point in 1883 or 1884, the 23-year-old Sydney Meymott joined Twickenham Chess Club.

Here he is again, in a match played in October, now on Board 2 against Brixton. You’ll see George Ryan on top board, with Wallace Britten and the Coward brothers lower down. Young Edward Joseph Line (not Lyne), born in 1862, who had played for Isleworth against Twickenham earlier in the year, was on Board 3, although he was one of only two Twickenham players to lose.

Surrey Comet 11 October 1884

If you’re interested in this part of the world, you might want to check out my good friend Martin Smith’s new book Movers and Takers, a history of chess in Streatham and Brixton. A review will be appearing on British Chess News shortly.

Syd had decided on a career as a bank manager, and his training would have involved working at different branches gaining more experience before managing a larger branch himself. This was perhaps to be his last appearance for Twickenham, but we’ll follow the rest of his life in this article.

Just a couple of weeks later he wrote to the Morning Post:

Morning Post 27 October 1884

Disraeli Road is conveniently situated just round the corner from Putney Station, with its frequent trains to Waterloo. Impressive houses they are too: young Syd was doing well for himself.

The new chess club in Putney rapidly became very successful. Inevitably, they invited Blackburne to give a blindfold simul in February 1886: Meymott was the only player to draw.

In December the same year, Sydney issued a challenge to his old club, with Putney winning by 5 games to 3.

Here’s what happened in the return match in the new year.

Source: Surrey Comet 15 January 1887

He was soon on the move again, leaving the good chess players of Putney to their own devices. Without their leading light the club struggled on for a few years before apparently folding. This time, Syd’s work took him to Honiton, Devon, where again he started a chess club. By now he was writing regularly to the Morning Post, solving their problems and sometimes submitting problems of his own – which were not considered suitable for publication.

In this game he demonstrated his knowledge of Légal’s Mate. (In this and other games in this post, click on any move to obtain a pop-up board and play through the game.)

Source: Morning Post 17 Dec 1888

Here, he was able to show off his attacking skills in the Evans Gambit, giving rook odds to another semi-anonymous opponent.

Source: Western Morning Post 26 Feb 1891

By now it was time for Sydney to move on again, this time back to West London, to Ealing the Queen of the Suburbs, where he’d remain for the next 40 years. He’d eventually become the Manager of the Ealing Broadway branch of the London and South Western Bank.

This time he didn’t need to start up a chess club: there already was – and still is – one there, founded in 1885. As a bank manager, he was soon cajoled, as bank managers usually are, into taking on the role of Honorary Treasurer.

In this game from a local derby against Acton, Black’s handling of the French Defence wasn’t very impressive,  allowing Meymott to set up a Greek Gift sacrifice.

Source: London Evening Standard 25 Nov 1895

Meymott commented: … it may interest some of the younger readers and stimulate them to ‘book’ learning, the game being a forcible example of the utility of ever being alert to the well-known mating positions… Sixteen years later, the young Capablanca played the same sacrifice in the same position. Perhaps he’d read the Evening Standard. Learning and looking out for the well-known mating positions is still excellent advice today.

In May 1896 Sydney made the headlines in the local press for reasons unconnected with either chess or banking. He was one of those stuck for 16 hours on the Great Wheel at Earl’s Court, and was interviewed at length about his experiences by the Middlesex County Times (30 May 1896 if you want to check it out). Fortunately, a lady in his car managed to let down a reel of cotton, so that they were able to receive refreshments, in the shape of stale buns and whisky and soda, from the ground.

A match against Windsor in 1897, where he was described as a ‘bold dashing player’ saw him pitted against an illustrious opponent in Sir Walter Parratt, organist and Master of the Queen’s Musick, and a possible subject of a future Minor Piece.

Windsor and Eton Express 20 February 1897

Life at Ealing chess club continued with a diet of inter-club matches, internal tournaments and simultaneous displays, with Syd often successful in avoiding defeat against the visiting masters.

In 1899, approaching his forties, he married Annie Ellen Nash. They stayed together for the rest of his life, but had no children.

In this 1902 match against Richmond, Ealing scored an emphatic victory helped by the non-appearance of Richmond’s board 2. A future series of Minor Pieces will introduce you to some of the Richmond players from that period in the club’s history.

Middlesex & Surrey Express 09 April 1902

As he settled into comfortable middle age, life continued fairly uneventfully for Sydney and Annie. The 1911 census found them at 18 Uxbridge Road, Ealing, which seems to have been in the town centre, possibly above the bank.

Many clubs closed down during the First World War, but Ealing, with Sydney Meymott still balancing the books, kept going. Electoral rolls from the 1920s record Syd and Annie at 23 Woodville Road, Ealing, and very nice it looks too. A spacious detached house just for the two of them. In 1921, he was in trouble with the law, though, receiving a fine for not having his dog muzzled.

At some point in the 1920s, Sydney would have retired from his job as bank manager, giving him more time for chess, and time to resume submitting games for publication. In his sixties, when many players would be thinking about hanging up their pawns, Syd, always the chess addict, took up tournament chess.

Hastings 1922-23 was what might have been Meymott’s first tournament. Unfortunately he had to retire ill with 1½/6 in First Class B section.

In 1925 he visited Scarborough, playing in the Major A section. He won a few games but didn’t finish among the prizewinners.

In 1926, using his favourite French Defence, he managed to beat Fred Yates in a simul. The complications towards the end are intriguing: do take a look.

Source: Middlesex County Times 23 Jan 1926

That Easter Syd took part in one of the First Class sections of the West of England Championship at Weston-Super-Mare, finishing in midfield.

Later the same year, representing the Rest of Middlesex against Hampstead, he played this game against Ernest Montgomery Jellie. White’s 11th move looked tempting but turned out to be a losing mistake: Jellie’s knight was very shaky on d6 and his position soon wobbled.

Source: Middlesex County Times 16 Oct 1926

At this point it’s worth taking a slight detour to consider Meymott’s opponent. Ernest Montgomery Jellie and his wife Emily, who sadly died young, had three Jellie babies. Their daughter Dorothy married Sidney Stone, and one of their sons, Chris, inherited his grandfather’s love of chess.

I knew Chris very well back in the day, when he was involved with Pinner Junior Chess Club, where his son Andrew was one of their star players.  Chris was an enthusiast rather than a strong player himself,  but Andrew is both. He’s been a 2200 strength player for many years, representing Streatham in the London League as well as his local club, Watford.

You can read much more about the Jellie-Stone connection here (Martin Smith again).

After Christmas 1926, Sydney went down to Hastings where he took second prize in the Major C section with a score of 7/9. Well played, Syd!

On his return, he played this game. This seems to have been in a handicap tournament, where, instead of giving knight odds, the players agreed that Meymott would play blindfold.

Source: Acton Gazette 14 Jan 1927

At Hastings 1927-28 he scored 50% in the First Class B section. Easter 1928 saw him back at the West of England Championships, held that year in Cheltenham, where he galloped to victory in the Class IIB section, scoring 7½/9.

The British Championships in July 1928 took him further west, to Tenby, where he played in the First Class A section, sharing third prize with the aforementioned Ernest Montgomery Jellie on 6½/9, but again beating him in their individual game.

Source: Britbase ( https://www.saund.co.uk/britbase/pgn/192807bcf-viewer.html)

He was back at Hastings 1929-30, where he scored a respectable 5/9 in the First Class B section.

In September 1931 he did what many chess players of that period did: he retired to Hastings, after four decades living and playing chess in Ealing. He was soon playing for his local club.

In a match against Brighton in 1932 his opponent was Kenneth Gunnell, who would much later become, briefly, a rather controversial member of both Richmond and Twickenham Chess Clubs.

That would be one of his last games. On 7 February 1933 Sydney Meymott died at the Warrior House Hotel, St Leonards on Sea.

Writing about Ernest Montgomery Jellie, Martin Smith summed him up beautifully:

But who is he, and why should we be interested? There two reasons that come to mind.

One is that he turns out to be an exemplary specimen of an ordinary decent chesser, the sort often overlooked in histories of the game. He and other enthusiasts like him, then and now, are the body-chessic upon which the chess bug spawns and beneficently multiplies. Stir E.M. Jellie together with the rest and you get the thriving chess culture that we all know: the one that germinates the few blessed enough to rise to the top.

Replace E.M. Jellie with Sydney Meymott, and the same sentiments apply. A good player, but not a great player. For almost half a century a stalwart of club, county, and, later, congress chess. A club treasurer for many years, but in his younger days also a founder and secretary of two clubs.

In these days of chess professionalism, even at primary school level, of obsession with grandmasters, prodigies and champions, we’re at risk of losing the likes of Jellie and Meymott. We should be developing chess culture in order to develop champions, not the other way round. And that celebration of chess culture is one of the reasons why I’m writing these Minor Pieces. My friends at Ealing Chess Club today should certainly raise a glass to Sydney Meymott.

Solutions:

1.

1. Bxg5+ Kg6 2. Bf6+ Kh5 3. Ng3+ Kh6 4. Bg7#

2.

1. Nxd5 gxf3 (1… Rxb5 2. e3+ Kc4 3. Nb6#) (1… Bc3+ 2. Nxc3 Bd5 3. e3+ Kc4 4. Bxd5#) (1… Bxb5 2. e3+ Kc4 3. Nxb6#) 2. e3+ Ke4 (2… Kc4 3. Ndc7+ (3. Nc3+ Bd5 4. Bxd5#) 3… Bd5 4. Bxd5#) 3. c3 Rxb5 (3… Bxd5 4. Bxd5#) 4. Nf6#

 

Genna Remembers

Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192
Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192

From the author’s lengthy introduction:

Half a century ago I left a country, the red color of which dominated a large portion of the world map. One way or another, the fate of almost every single person described in this book is forever linked with that now none-existent empire. Many of them ended up beyond its borders too. Cultures and traditions, and certainly not least of all a Soviet mentality, couldn’t have just left them without a trace. Having been transplanted into a different environment, they had to play the role of themselves apart from certain corrections with regard to the tastes and customs of a new society. Nevertheless, every one of them, both those who left the Soviet Union, and those who stayed behind, were forever linked by one common united phenomenon: they all belonged to the Soviet school of chess.

This school of chess was born in the 20’s, but only began to count its true years starting in 1945, when the representatives of the Soviet Union dominated an American squad in a team match. Led by Mikhail Botvinnik, Soviet Grandmasters conquered and ruled the world, save for a short Fischer period, over the course of that same half century. In chess as well as ballet, or music, the word “Soviet” was actually a synonym for the highest quality interpretation of the discipline.

The Soviet Union provided unheard of conditions for their players, which were the sort of which their colleagues in the West dare not even dream. Grandmasters and even Masters received a regular salary just for their professional qualifications, thereby raising the prestige of a chess player to what were unbelievable heights.

It was a time when any finish in an international tournament, aside from first, was almost considered a failure when it came to Soviet players, and upon their return to Moscow they had to write an official explanation to the Chess Federation or the Sports Committee.

The isolation of the country, separated from the rest of the world by an Iron Curtain, was another reason why, talent and energy often manifested themselves in relatively neutral fields.

Still if with music, cinematography, philosophy, or history, the Soviet people were raised on a strict diet, that contained multiple restrictions, this did not apply to chess. Grandmasters, and Masters, all varied in terms of their upbringing, education, and mentality and were judged solely on their talent and mastery at the end of the day. Maybe that’s why the Soviet school of chess was full of such improbable variety not only in terms of the style of play of its representatives, but also their different personality types.

Built was a gigantic chess pyramid, at the base of which were school championships, which were closely followed by district ones. Later city championships, regions, republics, and finally-the ultimate cherry on top-the national event itself. The Championships of the Soviet Union were in no way inferior to the strongest international tournaments, and collections of the games played there came out as separate publications in the West.

That huge brotherhood of chess contained its very own hierarchy within. Among the millions, and multitudes of parishioners-fans of the game-there were the priests-candidate masters. Highly respected were the cardinals-masters. As for Grandmasters though well…they were true Gods. Every person in the USSR knew their names, and those names sounded with just as much adoration, and admiration as those of the nation’s other darlings-the country’s best hockey players. In those days the coming of the American genius only served to strengthen the interest and attention of society towards chess, never mind the fact that by that point it had already been fully saturated by it.

The presence of tons of spectators at a chess tournament in Moscow as shown in the series “The Queen’s Gambit” is in no way an exaggeration. That there truly was the golden age of chess.

Under the constant eye, and control of the government, chess in the USSR was closely interwoven with politics, much like everything else in that vanished country. Concurrently, the closed, and isolated society in which it was born only served to enable its development, creating its very own type of culture-the giant world of Soviet chess.

I was never indifferent to the past. Today, when there is that much more of it then the future, this feeling has become all the sharper. The faster the twentieth century sprints away from us, and the thicker the grass of forgetting grows, soon enough, and under the verified power of the most powerful engines that world of chess will be gone as well.

It was an intriguing, and colorful world, and I saw it as my duty to not let it disappear into that empty abyss. Genna Sosonko – May 2021

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

“Gennadi Sosonko was born in Troitsk in the Chelyabinsk region and learned to play chess at the age of ten in Leningrad, to which his family returned after the war. He trained in the Pioneers’ Palace, where he was mentored by Vladimir Zak, Vladimir Kirillov, Vasily Byvshev and Alexander Cherepov. Later he was taught by Semyon Furman in the Chigorin Chess Club. Genna emigrated from the USSR in 1972 and settled in the Netherlands. Genna became an international master in 1974 and a grandmaster in1976. He played for the Netherlands from 1974; in eleven Olympiads he had the superb overall score of +28 -4 =64. In the 1990s and 2000s, he was the Dutch team captain. Genna Sosonko is a two-time Dutch champion (1973 and 1978), a two-time winner of the tournament at Wijk aan Zee (1978 and 1981), winner of tournaments in Barcelona and Lugano in 1976, Nijmegen in 1978 and Polanica-Zdrój in 1993, and a prizewinner in Tilburg, New York, Bad Lauterberg, São Paulo, London and Reykjavik. From 1975 to 1982 he was one of the top twenty players in the world, achieving his highest rating of 2595 in January 1981. He has made a significant contribution to opening theory, especially to his favourite Catalan. In 2004 he stopped competing to focus on journalism and literature. He is the author of wonderful memoirs which were published in several languages. In recent years he has often worked as a commentator on tournaments featuring the world’s leading grandmasters, describing their battles in English, Dutch and Russian.”

 

Anyone with an interest in chess culture will be aware that Genna Sosonko has published a number of collections of essays on a variety of chess topics over the years.

More recently, he’s written three books of memoirs concerning Smyslov, Bronstein and Korchnoi, which received mixed reviews here and elsewhere. Now, published for the first time by Thinkers Publishing, Sosonko returns with another essay collection.

A look at the topics covered will give you a pretty good idea as to whether or not this book is for you.

The first five chapters are broadly historical. Chapter 1 is about the history of pre-arranged draws. Chapter 2 takes as its starting point a recent discovery from the KGB archives: a 1950 review by Vasily Panov of a Keres book on open games.

P. Keres couldn’t handle this task. What’s worse is that he used the platform offered for the purposes of unbridled glorification of foreign theoreticians, up to and including Nazi hirelings and those greatest of traitors of the Soviet people, the theoretical efforts of which don’t present any value whatsoever.

And so on, for two pages. Sosonko puts this into historical perspective and tells us a lot more about Panov.

Chapter 3 concerns, in general, the difficulties Soviet players faced in travelling abroad. Chapter 4 is about Sosonko’s experiences seconding Korchnoi in his 1971 Candidates match against Petrosian. In Chapter 5 he recalls buying a collection of Korchnoi’s possessions at an auction because he particularly wanted an unused plane ticket from 1976: unused because Viktor decided to remain in the West rather than return from the Netherlands to the Soviet Union.

The rest of the book is mostly devoted to pen pictures of a variety of players, mostly well known to Sosonko.

Chapter 6 is about Igor Ivanov (1947-2005), a Soviet émigré who defected to Canada and then moved to the United States. Ivanov was an exceptionally talented player whose life was blighted by his addiction to alcohol. There are some great stories here. In 1985 he won the Canadian Closed and Open Championship at the same time. They were taking place in different rooms in the same venue and he’d make a move in one tournament, then run to the other room to make another move. Sosonko clearly liked Ivanov and treats his problems with sympathy here, although you might find his tendency to psychoanalyse his subjects (something he does in all his books) rather annoying.

Sosonko also demonstrates a few of Ivanov’s games, such as this.

Another Soviet émigré, Leonid Shamkovich (1923-2005), is featured in Chapter 7. This is a rather shorter chapter: perhaps Sosonko knew him less well than Ivanov, and we don’t get to see any of his games.

Chapter 8 is very different indeed: Everyone’s Favourite Uncle, Arnfried Pagel. Unlike Sosonko’s other subjects, he wasn’t a strong player, but his story is rather remarkable and one that I was unaware of, so I was very interested to find out more.

Pagel was a German born concrete magnate and rather weak amateur chess player who moved to the Netherlands where he sponsored a very strong chess team, the King’s Club, in the early 1980s, recruiting a lot of grandmasters, many of whom were Soviet émigrés, to play for him. After a few years the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration became suspicious of his financial dealings: Pagel ended up bankrupt and in prison. He later spent seven years in prison in England after one of his shipments there was found to contain drugs.

This is a highly entertaining chapter, and one with some salutary lessons concerning chess sponsorship. You might consider the book worth buying for this alone.

Chapter 9 is the longest – and saddest – chapter of the book. It tells the story of Yakut IM Sergey Nikolaev, who was born in 1961, and was murdered in 2007 by a gang of teenage neo-Nazi thugs because of his Asian appearance. This is a fine tribute to a much-loved man with a complex personality, at the same time both reclusive and searching for recognition. It’s also a savage indictment of racism and bigotry in today’s Russia. Again, you may well think this chapter is worth the price of the book.

And yet, as so often in Sosonko’s works, it would have been enlivened by a few games so that we could see how he played chess as well as learning about him as a person.

Here’s one example of his play.

Chapters 10 and 11 are short chapters about GMs Yuri Razuvaev (1945-2012) and Viktor Kupreichik (1949-2017). We do get to see a few of the latter’s games, such as this.

Chapter 12 is a brief look at Mark Taimanov, which brings us on to the last three chapters, which give the impression they might have been added to sell the book. Their subjects: Karpov, Kasparov and Carlsen.

There’s a lot to admire here. Sosonko, as always, writes beautifully and knows how to manipulate his readers’ emotions. He’s at his best when writing about lesser-known players, and, for me, the highlights are the chapters on Pagel and Nikolaev. The book is well illustrated with many, often poignant, photographs which add to the book enormously. If you’ve read and enjoyed this author’s previous collections of essays you’ll want to add this to your bookshelves.

At the same time, I’d have liked some more games. It seems rather arbitrary that only two of the chapters include examples of their subjects’ play. Apart from adding value to the book, they’d help to flesh out the personalities of the players involved.

A casual reader might, understandably, see it as a rather random collection of articles with no very obvious coherent theme. To appreciate it fully you need to put it within the context of Sosonko’s other writings.

If you’re only looking for books which will improve your rating, this isn’t the book for you, but if you have a genuine interest in chess culture you might want to give it a try, and then move on to the author’s previous essay collections.

There’s a very strange mistake at the start of the book. The games, few as they are, use figurine notation and the publishers decided to print a table of piece letters and their equivalent figurine. However, the letters, rather than the figurines, appear in both columns. There are also a few typos but, by and large, the production values are good.

Not for everyone, then, but if the content appeals, you’ll enjoy this book.

Richard James, Twickenham 12th November 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (5 July 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9464201193
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201192
  • Product Dimensions: 16.99 x 2.21 x 23.6 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192
Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192