If you know me at all you’ll be aware that I’ve been involved with junior chess since 1972. If you’ve spoken to me on the subject you’ll also be aware that my views on why, how, where, when, to whom and by whom chess should be taught are very different from those propounded by most junior chess teachers and organisers in the UK.
In particular, I have doubts about the value of much of what currently happens in primary school chess, which has always appeared to me to provide short-term fun at the expense of genuine long-term benefit.
I was commissioned by education publishers Crown House to write a book for schoolteachers putting forward my suggestions as to how schools might take a different approach to chess.
My views in brief (and in general) about how junior chess in the UK should be run:
Promote simple strategy games (minichess) in primary schools – this is discussed in my book
Establish a network of local community based junior chess clubs with links to primary schools
Establish a network of regional professionally run junior clubs for more ambitious children
Promote chess in secondary schools, especially those in the public sector, and establish links with local chess clubs
The book has now been published: you can find out more on the publisher’s website here.
Here’s what GM Peter Wells has to say about the book:
When I began to read Chess for Schools, I was aware of two salient facts: that Richard James has tremendous experience teaching chess to children – in a classroom setting and as founder of the famously successful Richmond Junior Chess Club; and that he has been a consistent critic of much current chess teaching practice – particularly in primary schools, where he believes the teaching of chess is frequently pitched at an unrealistic level in relation to the cognitive development of the pupils. I was consequently well-prepared for a text that might ruffle some feathers.
I was not disappointed. There are undeniably passages in the book which will make uncomfortable reading for some chess teachers and parents. Yet far from the feeling that Richard James is gratuitously courting controversy, I came to regard his unwillingness to pull punches with many in his target audience as a mark of the book’s uncommon integrity. His views are the product not only of great experience but also of a persistent quest to improve the outcomes for his pupils, both those with lofty chess ambitions and those who will enjoy a variety of relationships with the game. He has read widely and thought deeply, and the result is a coherent, very readable and well-structured argument which he makes with obvious passion.
Here’s former Head Teacher Tim Bartlett, taking a teacher’s perspective:
This brilliant book is a three-layered cake. It is so well structured that you do not need to read it from end to end and you do not need ever to have touched a chess piece to find it worthwhile. The one key message for teachers is: if you can teach children, you can teach chess. That is, just as there comes a point when pupils will benefit from a specialist geographer, swimming instructor or mathematician, so it is with chess. The first layer sets the scene. It is easy to read, covers the history of chess and its place in education, what chess is – and, crucially, what it is not. The second layer is an impressively brief and comprehensive survey of the place of chess in the curriculum, and it’s not where you think it might be. This layer will make you think about curriculum development in broad terms as well as in relation to chess. It will make you think about the role of parents and parenting in children’s schooling. The book is properly, academically, referenced. The final layer is a manual of chess resources. The book stands alone as a good read without this section. My main revelation was just how many different games you can play with a chess set – it’s as if I had only ever learnt to play snap with a pack of cards.
If you’re sympathetic towards my views and would like to speak further, do feel free to get in touch. I’m always happy to discuss my ideas with anyone involved in any aspect of junior chess.
“In reviews of the author’s books, Grandmaster Matthew Sadler wrote in New In Chess about David LeMoir’s writing “… always either entertaining or instructive”, and Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson (in the English Chess Federation’s Newsletter) wrote “I like LeMoir’s writing style a lot!”.
David LeMoir has written three popular and highly acclaimed chess books: How to Be Lucky In Chess, which showed how to use psychology to lure your opponent into error; How To Become A Deadly Chess Tactician, a worldwide hit which helped thousands of players to see spotting and analysing tactics as their friends, not things to be feared or shied away from; and Essential Chess Sacrifices, which made learning each of the fifteen most common piece sacrifices as easy and effective as learning a chess opening variation.
He has also become one of the UK’s most popular chess feature writers, his work having appeared in a number of national and regional magazines. Much of his work helps his readers to understand tactics and combinations in new ways, making it easier for them to spot such opportunities in their own games. This book brings together all of his articles for national magazines, a selection of articles from regional magazines plus an excerpt from each of his three previous books. Interspersed throughout are comments by the author on the trials, tribulations and motivations of the chess author. Prepare to be instructed and entertained!
Praise for Chess Scribe: “He is one of those rare talents with the necessary skill to help his readers better understand their craft… Compelling reading … Because his writing is often very funny, LeMoir’s ideas tend to stick in the memory” – Ben Graff in CHESS Magazine. “Now… a new audience can read his witty, clever and instructional articles… a glorious collection of chess articles that will keep you entertained and help to improve your rating” – IM Gary Lane in the English Chess Federation’s Newsletter.”
Christmas 1964. In Twickenham 14-year-old Richard receives a year’s subscription to British Chess Magazine. And in Bristol, 14-year-old David receives a year’s subscription to CHESS.
We both got hooked on reading about chess, and in time both became chess writers ourselves. While I was attracted to DJ Morgan’s Quotes and Queries column, David LeMoir was attracted to brilliant attacks and sacrifices. So, while I wrote about chess trivia, David wrote about tactics.
While we have a lot in common, the main difference between us is that he’s always been a much better player than me.
This, he tells us, was his lockdown project. A collection of his chess writings over half a century. You’ll find extracts from his three books, articles from CHESS and British Chess Magazine (some of you will have read some of these before) along with articles from local publications, most notably En Passant, a magazine from Norfolk, where David has lived since 1997, all interspersed with snippets of chess autobiography.
The articles cover a wide range of topics: David’s own games, tactical and sacrificial ideas, match and tournament reports, pen-pictures of other Norfolk players and much else. There’s plenty of variety here.
What you won’t get is a lot of opening theory: David often prefers less orthodox openings. You won’t get a lot of endings either: the games David demonstrates, whether his own or played by others, are usually decided in the middle game.
You will get a lot of open, attacking play with clear and informative explanations, which will inspire you to improve your tactical skills. Rapid development and open lines are often the order of the day. Bear in mind, though, that many of the articles were written in the pre-engine age, or when engines were much weaker than they are now. The author has, sensibly, I think, chosen not to rewrite his articles to reflect this.
David must be particularly fond of this early effort, which appears several times in different guises. (Click on a move on any game in this review and a board will magically appear enabling you to play through the game.)
I particularly enjoyed this game from a Norfolk club match. White outmanoeuvred his opponent, who then, with admirable imagination and presence of mind decided to sacrifice two pieces, leading to unfathomable (at least to humans) complications.
White’s choice of 31. fxe5 lost, but David LeMoir analyses three alternatives, Nxg4, Qf1 and Nb2, all of which he claims, correctly, lead to a draw. My spoilsport computer tells me White had a clear win with 31. Rd1, and that the improbable 31. Ke2 would also have given White some advantage. A fascinating position – and just the sort of chess David likes. There are important lessons here as well about randomising the position when you’re in trouble and not being scared of complications.
Two of the sections that appealed to me most concerned the author’s Norfolk chess friends Owen Hindle and Mike Read.
Hindle is almost forgotten now, but for a short period in the mid sixties he was one of England’s strongest players before chess took a back seat to married life.
This game will be of interest to two of my online friends.
Mike Read overcame serious health problems to become a Senior International Master of correspondence chess. It’s well worth studying his games: you can find out more by visiting his website.
While we’re exact contemporaries, David and I have never met, although we may well have been in the same room at the same time on various occasions in the 1970s. I might possibly have witnessed this game from a Thames Valley League match against a Richmond & Twickenham team (possibly, given his opponent, Richmond B).
The same story as in so many games in this book: a sacrifice for open lines and rapid development. This book will teach you a lot about attacking chess.
One of David’s favourite openings is the Latvian Gambit: it’s amusing to learn that, paradoxically, it’s often a good way to score a quick draw as opponents will choose a safe and dull continuation to avoid theory. Again, perhaps a lesson there, although I’m not sure whether the lesson is ‘playing sharp but dubious openings can often pay off’ or ‘make sure you’re aware of the refutation of any sharp but dubious opening your opponent might play’.
Finally, a game which was both David’s best game and worst nightmare.
There’s a lot to enjoy, and a lot to inspire you in this book. David LeMoir is an excellent writer who values clarity of expression, and the tension and excitement of club and tournament chess really come across well. It’s a collection of articles rather than a coherent book so there’s a certain amount of repetition, and production values are not quite at the level you’d expect from a professional publishing house. There are some notation and spelling errors (he’s Graeme, not Graham Buckley, and it’s Middlesbrough, not Middlesborough, for example, but this is to be expected and won’t spoil your pleasure.
As David explains, self-publishing using Amazon is a free and easy way to get into print, although you may not sell many copies.
Books of this nature should, I think, be supported. If you buy it you won’t be disappointed.
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.
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.
#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.
#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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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