Minor Pieces 20: George Courtenay Vialls and Thomas George Gardiner

You’ve seen this before:

You’ll notice Twickenham fielded two military men in this match.

We need to find out more about them.

The rank of Lieutenant-General is the third highest in the British Army behind only General and Field Marshal: an officer in charge of a complete battlefield corps.

George Courtenay (Courtney in some records) Vialls is our man. He must have been pretty good at manoeuvring the toy soldiers of the chessboard as well as real soldiers in real life battles.

In this match he was on top board, ahead of the more than useful Wallace Britten, but this might, I suppose, have been due to seniority of rank rather than chess ability.

Morning Post 7 March 1887

There are a couple of other interesting names in the Twickenham team here, to whom we’ll return in subsequent articles.

However, he was good enough to score a vital win for St George’s Club against Oxford University two years earlier.

Morning Post 26 March 1885

You’ll note the two other high ranking army officers in the St George’s team, as well as two significant chess names on Oxford’s top boards (who may well be the subject of future Minor Pieces).

Vialls must have been a prominent member of St George’s Club as he was on the organising committee for the great London Tournament of 1883.

An obituary, from 1893, provides some useful information.

Surrey Comet 18 November 1893

 

We learn that he was an intimate friend (no, not in that sense, but read on for some more intimate friends) of George Edward Norwood Ryan, and that he was a former President of Twickenham Chess Club.

Source: Twickenham Museum website

Going back to the beginning, George Courtenay Vialls was the son of the Reverend Thomas Vialls, a wealthy and rather controversial clergyman. In 1822, prosecuted his gardener for stealing two slices of beef, which in fact his aunt had given him for lunch. He was himself up before the law two years later, accused of whipping his sister-in-law. Thomas had inherited Radnor House, by the river in Twickenham, from an uncle in 1812, and it was there, in 1824 that George was born.

He joined the army in 1843, serving in the 95th Regiment of Foot, and the 1851 census found him living in Portsmouth with his wife and infant daughter, awaiting his next assignment. That came in 1854 when his regiment embarked for Turkey and the Crimean War. At the Battle of Inkerman in November he was severely wounded and his commanding officer, Major John Champion, was killed in action. The regiment suffered further losses due to cold and disease. It was remarked that “there may be few of the 95th left but those few are as hard as nails”.

In 1856 they returned home, but were soon off again, at first to South Africa, but they were quickly rerouted to India to help suppress what was then called the Indian Mutiny, but we now prefer to call the Indian Rebellion.

Looking back from a 21st century perspective (as it happens I’ve just been reading this book), you’ll probably come to the conclusion that this was far from our country’s finest hour, but at the same time you might want to admire the courage of those on both sides of the conflict, and note that Vialls was five times mentioned in despatches.

In 1877 he seems to have been living briefly in Manchester, where he started his involvement in chess, taking part in club matches and losing a game to Blackburne in a blindfold simul.

The obituary above tells us that he moved to Teddington in 1877 (he was in Manchester in December that year so perhaps it was 1878), but the 1881 census found him and his wife staying with his wife’s sister’s family on a farm in Edenbridge, Kent. Perhaps they were just on holiday.

Source: Twickenham Museum website.

By 1891 they were in Teddington House, right in the town centre. It was roughly behind the bus stop where the office block is here, and if you spin round you’ll see the scaffolding surrounding Christchurch, in whose church hall Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club met for some time until a few years ago.

Before we move on, a coincidence for you. At about the same time the chess players of Northampton included a Thomas H Vials or Vialls, who was also the Secretary of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, as well as a Walter E Britten, neither of whom appear to have been related to their Twickenham namesakes.

Our other military chesser from Twickenham, Colonel Thomas George Gardiner, was slightly less distinguished as both an army officer and a chess player, playing on a lower board in a few club matches in the early 1880s. As you’ll see, he came from an interesting family with some unexpected connection.

Source: Google Maps

If you know Twickenham at all you’ll recognise this scene. The River Thames is behind you. Just out of shot on the left is Sion Row, where Sydney Meymott lived for a short time. On the right, just past Ferry Road, you can see the White Swan.

On the left of the photograph is Aubrey House, and the smaller house to its right with the pineapples on the gateposts is The Anchorage, also known in the past as Sion Terrace. As it happens I used to visit this house once a week in the mid 2000s to teach one of my private chess pupils.

The houses are discussed in this book, which I also referred you to in the Meymott post. At some point both Aubrey House and The Anchorage came into the possession of the Gardiner family: Thomas George Gardiner senior and his family were there in 1861 after he’d retired from work with the East India Company. The younger Thomas George had been born in Ham, just the other side of the river, in 1830 and chose an Army career, joining the Buffs (East Kent Regiment). He married in Richmond in 1857 and in 1861 was living in Twickenham with his wife and her mother’s family, described as a Major in the Army on half pay.

Source: Twickenham Museum website

He apparently bought Savile House, out towards Twickenham Green, in 1870, but the family weren’t there in 1871. Perhaps he was serving abroad: his wife, ‘the wife of a colonel’, was still with her family, in Cross Deep Lodge,  just a short walk from Twickenham Riverside. By 1881 he had retired, and the family were indeed living in Savile House. The building is long demolished: Savile Road marks the spot.

He sold the house in 1889, and the 1891 census unexpectedly found him in Streatham. Perhaps he joined one of the local chess clubs in the area. His wife died in 1896, and by 1901 he’d moved back to his father’s old residence, Aubrey House, along with a widowed daughter. He died in 1910: here’s his obituary from the Army & Navy Gazette.

Army and Navy Gazette 31 December 1910

The 1911 census records his daughter still in Aubrey House, along with three servants.

It’s worth taking a look at his mother, Mary Frances Grant (1803-1844), who was one of the Grants of Rothiemurchus, whose family, entirely coincidentally, are now the Earls of Dysart, the Tollemache family having died out. The Tollemache family owned Ham House until its acquisition by the National Trust in 1948, and a very short walk from Aubrey House will take you to Orleans Gardens, from where you can see Ham House across the river.

 

IMG_7718.JPG
Photograph copyright Richard James

One of Mary’s brothers, William, married Sarah Elizabeth Siddons, whose grandmother was the celebrated actress Sarah Siddons. Another brother, John Peter Grant, married Henrietta Isabella Philippa Chichele Plowden. One of their daughters, Jane, married Richard Strachey: their famous offspring included the biographer and Bloomsbury Group member Lytton Strachey.  One of their sons, the oddly named Bartle Grant, married Ethel Isabel McNeil. Their son was the artist and Bloomsbury Group member Duncan Grant. Duncan and his cousin Lytton had intimate friendships with very many people, including each other, and also including the economist John Maynard Keynes.   His father, John Neville Keynes played chess for Cambridge against Oxford between 1873 and 1878, the last four times on top board. Strachey and Keynes also had relationships with WW1 and WW2 codebreaker Dilly Knox, who, until his death in 1943, worked closely with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park. His other colleagues there included leading chess players such as Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry.

So there you have it. George Courtenay Vialls and Thomas George Gardiner: two Twickenham men with distinguished military careers, both from very privileged and well-connected backgrounds. The Twickenham aristocracy, you might think, with their large riverside houses. Two men who, after decades commanding troops in real wars, spent their retirement commanding wooden soldiers on a chequered board.

We’re beginning to see a pattern within the membership of Twickenham Chess Club in the 1880s.

Who will we discover next? Join me soon for more Minor Pieces.

Sources:

ancestry.co.uk

findmypast.co.uk

Wikipedia

Google Maps

Twickenham Museum website

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Chess Scribe: A Fifty Year Anthology

Chess Scribe: A Fifty Year Anthology, David LeMoir, Amazon Publishing, 10th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1527291188
Chess Scribe: A Fifty Year Anthology, David LeMoir, Amazon Publishing, 10th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1527291188

From the publisher’s blurb:

“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.”

David LeMoir
David LeMoir

Before going further you might wish to Look Inside.

 

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.

 Richard James, Twickenham 3rd December 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

You may purchase this book from here

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: David LeMoir Publishing (10 April 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1527291189
  • ISBN-13:978-1527291188
  • Product Dimensions: 17.78 x 1.57 x 25.4 cm

Official web site of Amazon Publishing

Chess Scribe: A Fifty Year Anthology, David LeMoir, Amazon Publishing, 10th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1527291188
Chess Scribe: A Fifty Year Anthology, David LeMoir, Amazon Publishing, 10th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1527291188
 Save as PDF

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

We send best wishes to GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE on his birthday, this day (October 7th) in 1933.

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
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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#

 

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The Exchange French Comes to Life: Fresh Strategies to Play for a Win

The Exchange French Comes to Life: Fresh Strategies to Play for a Win, Alex Fishbein, 27th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859294
The Exchange French Comes to Life: Fresh Strategies to Play for a Win, Alex Fishbein, 27th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859294
From the publisher:

“The Vibrant Exchange French – No Longer Your Dull Draw! In the first book ever exclusively devoted to the Exchange French Variation, American grandmaster Alex Fishbein recognizes that the Exchange French is an opening for a player who likes active piece play, fights for the initiative, excels in positions with possibilities on both sides of the board, and finds strategic and tactical nuances that arise out of almost nothing. And if you play the French as Black, then this book will help you deal with White’s 3.exd5.

Authors of French Defence books from the black perspective have recognized for a while that there is no draw here at all and have proposed lines where Black can create interesting play. Indeed, both sides can create complications. The author shows that playing “boring” moves is actually risky with both White and Black.

The Exchange French is a vibrant opening, just like any other, and yet there has been very little literature showing how to play it from the white side. That void is filled with this book. “While the main point of this book is to build a White repertoire, any player of the Black side of the French will benefit by reading it. A good number of the sample games end well for Black, whereas in the games in which White gains the upper hand, Fishbein is careful to note improvements for the second player. I have been playing and writing about the French Defense, including this variation, for many years, but I came across a lot that I hadn’t known in nearly every sub-variation.”

“Alex Fishbein is an American grandmaster. He has been competitive in each of his four U.S. Championship appearances, including in 2004 when he won the Bent Larsen prize for the most uncompromising chess. 2018, the year Alex turned 50, was perhaps his most successful year in chess so far. That year, Alex won the first Senior Tournament of Champions, modelled after the Denker tournament of which he was also the inaugural winner 33 years earlier. He also tied for second in the US Open and finished in the top 10 in the USCF Grand Prix for the first time.”

GM Alex Fishbein and his wife by David Llada on October 29th 2016
GM Alex Fishbein and his wife by David Llada on October 29th 2016

As a player of the Exchange French from the white side, I was interested to see what fresh ideas this book contains, especially given the paucity of books specifically covering this opening.

The first important point to note is that this book does not cover the entirety of the Exchange French opening, nor is that its intent. It provides a repertoire for white based on playing 4.Nf3. Currently I employ the Exchange French with 4.Bd3, so this was a good opportunity to revisit the latest 4.Nf3 theory to determine if I should incorporate it into my repertoire or learn new ideas relevant to other lines as well.

The book is well structured and easy to follow, in particular the focus early in the book (chapter 2) on the difference between the standard Isolated Queen Pawn position and the IQP position
arising from many lines of the Exchange French is excellent. This chapter is probably the most important and valuable for any player of the Exchange French, regardless of which specific line one plays, and warrants thorough study. The book covers, in detail, all reasonable plans that black could employ against 4.Nf3 and briefly discusses a
variety of rarer moves.

In particular there are up to date ideas against the Uhlmann Gambit with 6.c5 and then Be3 (see diagram)

and a new suggestion in the 5…c5 variation involving an exchange sacrifice (Rxe7 in the diagram position) that shows the Exchange French is not at all dull!

However, two chapters (9 and 10) appear to be inconsistent with the intent of the book, as they do not fit with the 4.Nf3 repertoire.

Overall, an enjoyable and informative book that achieves its aim of providing white with an Exchange French repertoire based on 4.Nf3. Will I be changing from 4.Bd3 to 4.Nf3, maybe, but
that is for my future opponents to find out.

Peter Tart
Peter Tart

Peter Tart, Farnborough, Hampshire, 26th November 2021

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 240 pages
  • Publisher:Russell Enterprises (27 April 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1949859290
  • ISBN-13:978-1949859294
  • Product Dimensions: ‎15.24 x 1.27 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of Russell Enterprises

The Exchange French Comes to Life: Fresh Strategies to Play for a Win, Alex Fishbein, 27th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859294
The Exchange French Comes to Life: Fresh Strategies to Play for a Win, Alex Fishbein, 27th April 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859294
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Minor Pieces 18: Arthur Sabin and Randulph Lewis Coward

Working Mens’ Clubs in Twickenham and surrounding areas had been meeting each other for friendly competitions since the early 1870s. These would typically involve some combination of activities such as chess, draughts, whist, cribbage, dominoes and bagatelle.

Twickenham Chess Club, for its first few years, seemed to content itself with internal handicap tournaments along with the occasional simultaneous display. It wasn’t until January 1883 that they played their first match against another club. This was against Isleworth Reading Room Chess Club (there has been no chess club in Isleworth for many decades) and resulted in a victory for Twickenham 9 points to 3. Hurrah!

The following month, Twickenham visited Isleworth for a return encounter over 9 boards, with each player having two games against the same opponent. Here’s what happened.

Middlesex Independent 21 February 1883

 

You’ll notice George Edward Norwood Ryan and Wallace Britten on the top two boards. Some of the initials are, as was common in those days, incorrect.

Buoyed by their success, in March they entertained Kingston Chess Club. The Surrey Comet reported that the Twickenham players were most successful, beating their opponents all along the line.

It seems that the Twickenham Chess Club had rapidly established itself as one of the stronger suburban clubs, and that the top boards must have been pretty useful players. As yet I haven’t been able to find any of their games.

It wasn’t until 1884 that we have a record of another match, again versus the Isleworth Reading Room Chess Club.

Middlesex Independent 05 March 1884

 

There are several interesting names here, but you’ll spot two Cowards in the team. Following his successes the previous year, A Coward had been promoted to second board. The two Brittens turned out not to be related to each other, or to their musical namesake. What about the two Cowards?

First of all, the weaker Coward’s middle initial is incorrect. They were in fact brothers: Arthur Sabin Coward and Randulph Lewis Coward.

In the 1881 census the family were at 4 Amyand Park Road, Twickenham, right by the station. Arthur was 24 and Randulph 20, both were working as clerks, and they were living with their widowed mother, an annuitant (pensioner), five younger sisters and a servant.

Their late father, James Coward, a victim of tuberculosis the previous year, had been an organist and composer (spoiler alert: not the only organist and composer we’ll encounter in this series)

It’s well worth looking at all his children.

  1. James Munro Coward was, like his father, an organist and composer, but his musical career was marred by heavy drinking.
  2. Walter Coward, a singer, became a gentleman-in-ordinary at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace and librarian of the Chapel Royal’s music.
  3. Arthur Sabin Coward – we’ll return to him later.
  4. Gordon Leslie Coward is something of a mystery. He joined the army, reaching the rank of Sergeant, but then turned up in New Zealand in 1888, being sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for passing a forged cheque. His lawyer described him as ‘a man of good connections’ who had ‘unfortunately given way to drink’. The probation officer’s report was not favourable. After that, we don’t know. There was a death recorded in Wellington in 1894 of a Gordon Leslie Card, who may or may not have been the same person.
  5. Randulph Lewis Coward – again we’ll return to him later.
  6. Hilda Janet Coward followed her father into music, being the possesor of a ‘well-trained voice of extraordinary compass’.  Jenny Lind had been known as the Swedish Nightingale (there used to be a pub in Hampton Hill named after her): Hilda was known as the Teddington Nightingale. It seems she stopped performing very suddenly in 1892, and, apart from attending the wedding of her sister Ida three years later, disappeared from view. A few years later she moved to Italy because of a throat infection and died there in 1907.
  7. Eleanor Jane Charlotte Frances Coward married twice, the first time to Walter’s brother-in-law, had three children and lived a long life.
  8. Myrrha Coward married a civil servant and lived in Teddington.
  9. Percy Oswald Coward was a singer: like his big brother Walter a male alto more than half a century before the great Alfred Deller repopularised a voice type which had been neglected since the early 18th century. He moved to Canada, and then, deserting his pianist wife and daughter, to Australia, where he died in 1933.
  10. Ida Beatrice Coward ran a hotel in Kensington after being widowed at an early age.
  11. Harold Edgar Coward died in infancy.

A few days after this Isleworth match, the results of the season’s handicap tournament were in.

Confirmation, then, that Arthur Coward was, along with Wallace Britten and George Ryan, one of the strongest members of Twickenham Chess Club.

With Artie and his brother Randy still young men in their twenties, a great chess future might have been predicted for them. Alas, this was not the case, although they did continue playing for another year or two.

Life, in the shape of family, work and other interests, I suppose, gets in the way.

Let’s visit Teddington and find out.

If you take a stroll along Teddington High Street heading in the direction of the river, you’ll come across two churches. Immediately in front of you, a left turn into Manor Road will take you to Twickenham, while turning right into Broom Road will take you to Kingston. Straight ahead is Ferry Road (another spoiler alert: you’ll be meeting some residents in another Minor Piece), leading to the footbridges across the Thames.

On your left is the quaint 16th century church of St Mary, and on your right a massive edifice which opened its doors in 1889.

Enter Francis Leith Boyd. Boyd, born in Canada, became Vicar of Teddington in 1884 at the age of 28. He was a man of considerable ambition and grandiose ideas, and also famed for his hellfire sermons. St Mary’s wasn’t big enough for him, so he commissioned architect William Niven (grandfather of David) to design a much larger building across the road. It was dedicated to St Alban, but known informally as the Cathedral of the Thames Valley. The money ran out before it was completed: the nave is shorter than intended and the planned 200 foot tower was never built.

Teddington’s new vicar also enjoyed music, and the combination of music and theatricality must have been very appealing to the musical and theatric Coward family. At some point in the late 1880s they moved from Twickenham to Coleshill Road, Teddington, close to  Bushy House, where the National Physical Laboratory would be established in 1900, and threw themselves into musical life at the new church of St Alban’s. Artie and Randy were both very much part of this, and, I suppose, now had no time to pursue their chess careers. The family could even provide a full vocal quartet, with Hilda singing soprano, Walter, later replaced by Percy, singing alto,  Arthur singing tenor and Randulph singing bass. They performed everything from the sublime to the ridiculous: Bach’s St John Passion, Spohr’s now forgotten oratorio The Last Judgement, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and the popular songs and parlour ballads of the day.

Posted on Facebook by David Allaway

Here they are in Twickenham Town Hall, where they would also have played chess, in 1894, with big brother James conducting. (Mr William Poupart is also interesting: he and his family were prominent market gardeners in Twickenham, but none of them, as far as I know, played chess.)

In 1967 the parishioners of Teddington moved back across the road to St Mary’s and St Alban’s soon fell into disrepair. A campaign spearheaded by local Labour Councillor Jean Brown (in the days when this part of the world had Labour Councillors) fought successfully to save the building for community use. It’s still owned by the Church of England but known as the Landmark Arts Centre. If you visit there now you’ll see a plaque commemorating Jean Rosina Brown in the foyer, and there are some information boards at the back which include press cuttings about the Coward family’s involvement with the church. Some 90 years or so ago, Jean and my mother were best friends at school, so, in her memory, I often attend concerts there.

One of the orchestras playing there regularly is the Thames Philharmonia, whose Chair (and one of their clarinettists) Mike Adams is a former member of Guildford Chess Club. It was good to talk to him during the interval of their most recent concert.

Returning to the Teddington Cowards, in the last few months of 1890 there was both happy and sad news for Arthur.

On 8 October he married Violet Agnes Veitch at St Alban’s Church. Randulph was there as a witness, and, of course, Francis Leith Boyd was on hand to perform the ceremony. At this point he was still, at the age of 34, just a clerk working for a music publisher in London.

Violet came from a prominent Scottish family and may or may not have been related to the endgame study composer and player Walter Veitch (1923-2004), who had a Scottish father and was at one time a member of Richmond (& Twickenham) Chess Club.

A couple of months later, his mother, Janet, died, and when the census enumerator called round the following year he found Randulph, a clerk in the Civil Service there together with his sisters Hilda, Myrrha and Ida. Arthur and Violet had bought their own place in Waldegrave Road, not very far away, and were living there with a domestic servant. Later the same year, their first child was born, a son named Russell Arthur Blackmore Coward. His third name was in honour of his godfather Richard Doddridge Blackmore, a successful novelist (Lorna Doone) and unsuccessful market gardener, who lived nearby. Blackmore was also a more than competent chess player and one can imagine that he and Arthur must have spent many evenings together over the board.

Young Russell showed promising musical talent, but tragedy would strike his family and he died at the age of only 6 in 1898.

The following year another son was born, and it wasn’t long before he made the local papers.

Middlesex & Surrey Express 16 February 1901

Yes, Arthur Sabin Coward was we’d now call an anti-vaxxer, with  a ‘conscientious objection to vaccination’, whatever that might mean. You might have thought that, having lost his first son, he might be only too keen to protect young Noël’s health.

And, yes, you read it correctly – or almost correctly (his middle name was Peirce, not Pierce). The Teddington Cowards were not only related to each other, but also to the great playwright, songwriter, singer and much else, the Master himself, Sir Noël Coward. Arthur was his father and Randulph his uncle.

Of course what you all really want to know is whether Noël inherited his father’s interest in chess. He’s not mentioned in The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict, but Goldenhurst, his Kent residence, had a games room with a chess table. The pieces were always set up ready for play. So perhaps he did. I’d like to think so.

Source: Google Maps

The 1901 census found the family still in Waldegrave Road, and Arthur still in the same job. If you visit now, you’ll find a blue plaque on the wall (see photo above), and if you walk down the road towards Teddington, you’ll be able to meet Sampson Low, the current Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club secretary, who lives not too many doors away in the same road. Randulph, 40, still a bachelor and a clerk in the War Office, was boarding with a family named Russell (perhaps friends of the Cowards) very near St Alban’s Church.

Arthur and his family soon moved to Teddington, first to Sutton, where their third son, Eric was born, and then to a mansion flat near Battersea Park, which is where the 1911 census found him. He’d finally been promoted – to a piano salesman, a role in which he was apparently not very successful. Noël would always be embarrassed  by his father’s lack of success and ambition, which may well have been caused in part by an over fondness for alcohol, a trait he shared with several of his siblings.

Randulph was a lot more successful. He finally married in 1905 and by 1911 he was a 1st class assistant accountant at the War Office,  living in some luxury in St George’s Square, Pimlico. In 1920, he’d be awarded the MBE for his War Office work during the First World War.

So there you have it: one of the first Twickenham Chess Club’s leading lights was Noël Coward’s father.

Who will we discover next? Join me soon for some more 1880s Twickenham chess players.

Acknowledgements and sources:

Wikipedia

ancestry.co.uk

findmypast.co.uk

Philip Hoare’s biography is available, in part, online here.

Various online postings by local historians.

Twickenham Museum article here.

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Game of the Gods

Game of the Gods, Paolo Maurensig, World Editions, 14th January 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1912987146
Game of the Gods, Paolo Maurensig, World Editions, 14th January 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1912987146

From the publisher’s blurb:

In 1930s British India, a humble servant learns the art of chaturanga, the ancient Eastern ancestor of chess. His natural talent soon catches the attention of the maharaja, who introduces him to the Western version of the game. Brought to England as the prince’s pawn, Malik becomes a chess legend, winning the world championship and humiliating the British colonialists. His skills as a refined strategist eventually drag him into a strange game of warfare with far-reaching consequences. Inspired by the unlikely true story of chess master Malik Mir Sultan Khan, Game of the Gods is a fascinating tale of karma and destiny, by the author of the multimillion-copy bestseller The Lüneburg Variation.

“Paolo Maurensig was born in Gorizo, and lives in Udine, Italy. A bestselling author, he debuted in 1993 with The Lüneburg Variation, translated into over twenty languages. His novels include Canone Inverso, The Guardian of Dreams, and The Archangel of Chess. For his novel Theory of Shadows, he won the Bagutta Prize. A Devil Comes to Town, previously published by World Editions, is a brilliant, satirical novella about literary publishing. Game of the Gods is his latest novel and was awarded the prestigious Premio Scanno 2019 Literary Award.”

Before going further you might wish to Look Inside.

 

I must start with a sad postscript to the blurb on the back cover: Paolo Maurensig died on 29 May 2021 at the age of 78. The game of chess provided the background to several of his novels, including this, his last published work.

The book opens in 1965: a Washington Post journalist is in the Punjab, reporting on the conflict between India and Pakistan. He had been a chess enthusiast as a boy, and had heard that his childhood hero, Sultan Khan was living in the area. They meet up and Sultan Khan narrates his life story, which takes up most of the book.

In real life, as we know, after a meteoric chess career, Sultan Khan returned to his homeland in 1933 and lived out the rest of his life quietly in what would later become Pakistan. Maurensig chooses to give his character a very different life after chess.

Here, he continues travelling with Sir Umar Hayat Khan for several years, and then is asked to take over the running of a stately home which is bombed during the war. He later finds himself in New York where he becomes a taxi driver, meeting a wealthy dowager who leaves him a fortune, causing an international scandal.

A fascinating, if improbable, story. If you want to find out how it all came about you’ll have to read the book.

Maurensig was a much respected novelist, and, as you’d expect, the  book is well written and well translated.

From the chess perspective, one or two things are jarring. The continuous reference to Sir George Thomas and Frederick Yates as England’s two leading players at the time: yes, they were, but (a particular bugbear of mine) Yates was Fred, not Frederick, and would have been referred to simply as Yates. There’s also a bit about how his opponents did their best to distract him, which, to the best of my knowledge, never happened.

I suspect this novel will appeal more to non-players, who won’t be bothered by this, rather than players with some historical knowledge.

And yet, I have a major problem.

Exhibit A: here, Sultan Khan’s granddaughter, Dr Atiyab Sultan, criticises Daniel King’s otherwise excellent book, in part because of the words ‘Indian servant’. You might or might not agree with this, but here, on the back cover, the semi-fictional Sultan Khan is described as a ‘lowly servant’ and a ‘humble servant’. Author’s licence, perhaps, but in real life he certainly wasn’t ‘lowly’.

Exhibit B: here we have Nona Gaprindashvili suing Netflix for defamation and misrepresentation, in part for being described in The Queen’s Gambit as Russian rather than Georgian, but also because it was claimed she had, at that point, never played against men. You might or might not consider that she has a good case.

The real Sultan Khan was a proud Muslim, but the ‘Sultan Khan’ in this book appears to be portrayed as a Hindu. The concept of Karma, which is important in Hinduism and a number of other Indian religions, plays a significant part in the book (‘a fascinating tale of karma and destiny’, according to the back cover) but plays no part at all in Islam. Hindu deities are frequently invoked in our hero’s narration. He describes how his opponents would eat ham sandwiches, ‘perhaps imagining that I was Muslim and that the smell of pork would disturb my concentration’.

In a sense the title gives it away: Game of the Gods. Hinduism has many deities, but Islam is a monotheistic religion.

It seems to me grossly insensitive to change the religion of a historical figure in this way without any explanation, especially given the centuries-long religious tensions in the Punjab.

You might also want to question, given the continued use of monkey chants among football fans, whether it’s appropriate to use an illustration of two monkeys playing chess on the cover of a book about a brown skinned chess player.

I have no doubt that neither the author nor the publisher intended any offence, but in today’s climate we’re expected to be sensitive to the feelings of others.

In some respects this is an excellent novel, but it left me feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps it would have been better to have tweaked the story, avoiding references to any real chess players, with the protagonist coming from a Hindu background.

If you don’t have any knowledge of the subjects involved, you’ll probably enjoy this novel, but if you have any connection you may be frustrated and perhaps even offended. Caveat Emptor.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 23rd November 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 148 pages
  • Publisher: World Editions (14 Jan. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1912987147
  • ISBN-13:978-1912987146
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 2.5 x 13.1 cm

Official web site of World Editions

Game of the Gods, Paolo Maurensig, World Editions, 14th January 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1912987146
Game of the Gods, Paolo Maurensig, World Editions, 14th January 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1912987146
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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
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Memorable Games of British Chess

Memorable Games of British Chess, Neil Hickman, Amazon Publishing, 3rd September 2019, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1794053564
Memorable Games of British Chess, Neil Hickman, Amazon Publishing, 3rd September 2019, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1794053564

From the back cover:

A collection of the classic games of British chess, including one or two which, though truly memorable, are by no means masterpieces; with a few more included by way of a little light relief. We shouldn’t be serious all the time, even at the chess board.

Neil is a retired county court judge who, after living in Bedford for over 40 years and playing for Bedford (and on Bedfordshire on occasions when they got desperate), now lives near Norwich and plays for Wymondham chess club.

Before going further please take this opportunity to Look Inside.

Despite being published in 2019 BCN was recently offered a copy of Memorable Games of British Chess and was unable to resist the chance to review this self-published Amazon book from Neil Hickman, a friend of Jim Plaskett.

The book is a paperback and of a size making it physically easy to read. Unlike some Amazon published efforts the paper is of decent quality (not yellowing) and the printing is clear. The diagrams are frequent and excellent of a decent size. Each diagram has a [Position after 24.0-0] type caption.

Many of you will be familiar with

British Chess Masters, Past and Present, Fred Reinfeld, George Bell and Sons Ltd., London, 1947.
British Chess Masters, Past and Present, Fred Reinfeld, George Bell and Sons Ltd., London, 1947.

and

 

A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces, Fred Reinfeld, George Bell and Sons Ltd., 1950
A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces, Fred Reinfeld, George Bell and Sons Ltd., 1950

and

British Chess, Pergamon Press, 1983. Editors : GS Botterill, DNL Levy, JM Rice and MJ Richardson, ISBN 0 08 024134 4
British Chess, Pergamon Press, 1983. Editors : GS Botterill, DNL Levy, JM Rice and MJ Richardson, ISBN 0 08 024134 4

and especially

The English Chess Explosion (from Miles to Short), Murray Chandler & Ray Keene, Batsford, 1981, ISBN 0 7134 4009 0
The English Chess Explosion (from Miles to Short), Murray Chandler & Ray Keene, Batsford, 1981, ISBN 0 7134 4009 0

which highlight successes by British chess players.

The authors book presents ninety OTB and correspondence games (which is a nice touch) covering the period 1788(!) to 2016 and selecting just this number must have been challenging to say the very least. Confidence in the book is derived early from a truly excellent List of Sources demonstrating an academic and studious attitude to the job in hand.

Each game is prefaced by background information on the game, venue, circumstances and details of the players all of which is most welcome. The book started well since the first game Bowdler-Conway, London, 1788 was unknown to myself. Instantly memorable however since Thomas Bowdler caused the creation of the verb “Bowdlerise” and the game was one of the very first recorded double rook sacrifices that is also discussed in the charming

Take My Rooks, Seirawan and Minev, International Chess Enterprises, 1991, 1-879479-01-X
Take My Rooks, Seirawan and Minev, International Chess Enterprises, 1991, 1-879479-01-X

To give you some idea of the annotations here we have game 66, Ligterink-Miles, Wijk aan Zee, 1984:

A wonderful finish to be sure.

and secondly we have Game 58 played in Luton in 1976 between Viktor Korchnoi and Peter Montgomery:

also delightful in its own modest way.

The other 88 games all have their own significance including games of historical significance covering many of the greats with detailed articles on this review web site.

The author clearly has done his homework and a nice touch is the listing for each game of where in the literature it had been previously annotated. The notes are chatty and friendly and not spoilt by reams of dull engine analysis. It was delightful to find mentions of British players who rarely get a mention such as Edward Jackson, Thomas Lawrence, Francis William Viney of the General Post Office, Herbert Francis Gook of HM Customs, Harold Saunders and Kenneth Charlesworth to name but a few.

Of course, the old favourites are given the treatment including Alekhine-Yates, Capablanca-Thomas, Bronstein-Alexander, Penrose-Tal etc plus our modern heroes such as Michael Adams, Luke McShane, Gawain Jones, David Howell, Julian Hodgson, Nigel Short and John Nunn.

I particularly like the annotations which include those from other notable authors and sources and in summary, this is a charming book that would make an excellent coffee table book for any chess enthusiast and you won’t be disappointed.

Please add it to your Christmas list!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 11th November, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

You can buy the book on Amazon via here

  • Publisher: ‎ Independently published (3 September 2019)
  • Language: English
  • Paperback: 271 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1794053565
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1794053564
  • Dimensions: 17.78 x 1.83 x 25.4 cm
Memorable Games of British Chess, Neil Hickman, Amazon Publishing, 3rd September 2019, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1794053564
Memorable Games of British Chess, Neil Hickman, Amazon Publishing, 3rd September 2019, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1794053564
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The Modernized Philidor Defense

The Modernized Philidor Defense, Sergio Trigo Urquijo, Thinker's Press, September 20th, 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201208
The Modernized Philidor Defense, Sergio Trigo Urquijo, Thinker’s Press, September 20th, 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201208

From the publisher:

“Pawns are the soul of chess.” We have all heard this phrase more than once in our chess life and we owe it to the great French player François-André Danican, so-called Philidor, considered one of the best chess players of the 18th century.

It’s not surprising that with this way of thinking, he revolutionized chess, which until then was almost all about direct attacks on the king. With this, he also changed the way of understanding and playing openings, in which he introduced a new concept for the time – that the pawns should be ahead of the pieces.

Bearing this in mind, the defense he created can be much better understood, in which all these rules are fulfilled and the importance of the pawn structure is maximal.”

Sergio Trigo Urquijo
Sergio Trigo Urquijo

“Sergio Trigo Urquijo was born in the Basque Country (Spain) in 1989. He learned to play chess at age of six. As a junior he won local many championships from u-12 to u-18. He performed successfully as a player and captain of the Sestao Chess Club winning the national team Championship in 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2018, including 9 times Basque Team Champion.

He won the silver medal in the Portugal Club Cup in 2015 and has played in the European Club Cup in 2014. He is known as being a second of several grandmasters during many important evens.”

End of blurb.

As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. We were hoping that the excellent glossy paper of previous titles would be used for this one but never mind.

Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text and each diagram has a “to move” indicator and a “position after: x move” type caption.

There is no Index or Index of Variations but, despite that, content navigation is relatively straightforward as the Table of Contents is clear enough.

This is the author’s first chess book and he is an active player of the Modern Philidor with the black pieces and has a healthy score of 70.6% with it.

Here is the detailed Table of Contents:

Table of Contents : The Modernized Philidor Defense
Table of Contents : The Modernized Philidor Defense

and here is an excerpt in pdf format.

It is strange to think that the “Modern Philidor” has more or less stepped into the main stream of defences to 1.e4 from a time of relative obscurity. This 2021 tome from Sergio Trigo Urquijo is the latest on 1…d6 since around 2016. One of the first questions I wanted to answer was “Does this work cover the off-shoot Lion Defence?” The characteristic of the Lion variant is that Black plays an early h6,g5 and re-routes the d7 knight to f8 and then g6 and maybe f4. This book does not cover this variant.

The critical lines appear in chapters 15, 14, 12 and 10 since I don’t regard the queenless middlegames as particularly critical, they are simply at least equal for Black.

The core start position is

and Chapter 15 examines the tabiya

emphasizing that a4 is almost always going to happen these days compared with 7.Re1 (chapter 14) of previous times.

Somewhat surprisingly the author recommends the capture 7…exd4 rather than more expected and popular 7…c6 in order to activate the d7 knight. He suggests using the c6 square for a knight rather than the usual gradual queenside pawn push from Black. Interesting. From either White recapture the author provides a great deal of detailed analysis suggesting that the move seven capture is a sensible alternative to 7…c6.

Various seventh move alternatives are discussed in Chapter 13 of which 7.dxe5 might be the most popular.

A significant chapter is 12 covering the various important sacrifices on f7. Again, new analysis is introduced demonstrating that Black emerges with better chances after any of the f7 tries. This gives me an excuse to include:

which is probably one of the most well-known and entertaining games in this line.

Chapter 10 considers Alexi Shirov’s attempt to blow Black off the board with one of his signature g4 ideas:

Any player of the Modern Philidor must take this line seriously and the author provides a great deal of fresh ideas and analysis of how to combat 5.g4.

At lower levels the early exchange of queens following 4.dxe5 has to be respected despite its rare appearance at the elite level and at 59 pages Chapter 8 is the largest chapter.

Curiously, after the easily most popular 6.Bg5 the author eschews the common wisdom to play 6…Be6 (which scores best for Black and is easily the most popular) and recommends the curious 6…Nbd7 allowing 7.Bc4

I find it odd that the author does not discuss the reasons for recommending 6…Nbd7 over 6…Be6. 6.Bg5 then gets a mere seven pages of treatment in little detail. I have to say that I am not convinced and that this section deserves more work.

Moving on to the runner-up in the popularity stakes, 6.Bc4, there is greater depth and here 6…Be6 is selected rather than the increasingly popular 6…Ke8 of Zurab Azmaiparashvili which is entirely playable and the choice of the elite players.

Remaining chapters cover such important ideas for White as 4.Nge2, 3.f3 so that nothing important is left out.

In summary this work is a comprehensive repertoire book for Black for those players  wishing to employ the trendy Modern Philidor (but not the Lion variant).

I very much like the treatment of 7.a4 and 7. Re1 with new ideas for Black avoiding the conventional slow …c6 and queenside expansion strategy using active piece play as an alternative. The 5.g4 treatment is detailed as is the sacrifices on f7 chapter.

I’m slightly less convinced of the queenless middlegame ideas and it seems to me that the the author is attempting to be novel for the sake of it: this might not be the way forward.

However, the title of the book includes “Modernized” and therefore the book “does what it says on the tin” and cannot be criticised for that reason. As a player of 1…d6 I would definitely buy and enjoy this book.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 10th November, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 410 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (20 September 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201207
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201208
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 2 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Modernized Philidor Defense, Sergio Trigo Urquijo, Thinker's Press, September 20th, 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201208
The Modernized Philidor Defense, Sergio Trigo Urquijo, Thinker’s Press, September 20th, 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201208
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