Side-Stepping Mainline Theory : Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins
From the book’s rear cover :
“Spend more study time on what’s really decisive in your games!
The average chess player spends too much time on studying opening theory. In his day, World Chess Champion Emanuel Lasker argued that improving amateurs should spend about 5% of their study time on openings. These days club players are probably closer to 80%, often focusing on opening lines that are popular among grandmasters.
Club players shouldn’t slavishly copy the choices of grandmasters. GMs need to squeeze every drop of advantage from the opening and therefore play highly complex lines that require large amounts of memorization. The main objective for club players should be to emerge from the opening with a reasonable position, from which you can simply play chess and pit your own tactical and positional understanding against that of your opponent.
Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins recommend the Old Indian-Hanham Philidor set-up as a basis for both Black and White. They provide ideas and strategies that can be learned in the shortest possible time, require the bare minimum of maintenance and updating, and lead to rock-solid positions that you will know how to handle. By adopting a similar set-up for both colours, with similar plans and techniques, you will further reduce study time.
Side-stepping Mainline Theory will help you to focus on what is really decisive in the vast majority of non-grandmaster games: tactics, positional understanding and endgame technique.
Gerard Welling is an International Master and an experienced chess trainer from the Netherlands. He has contributed to NIC Yearbook and Kaissiber, the freethinker’s magazine on non-mainline chess openings.
Steve Giddins is a FIDE Master from England, and a highly experienced chess writer and journalist. He compiled and edited The New In Chess Book of Chess Improvement, the bestselling anthology of master classes from New In Chess magazine.”
The authors have divided up the content into six chapters as follows:
The keys to successful opening play
The Old Indian against 1.d4
The Old Indian against Flank Openings
The Philidor against 1.e4
The System as White
Tables of the main variations
So, what we have here is somewhat unusual : this is a complete repertoire book for the same player of both the Black and White pieces using essentially the same structure. Precedents have been previously set using similar approaches with a combination of the Pirc and King’s Indian Defences combined with the King’s Indian Attack or reversed King’s Indian Defence but, nonetheless, this is an unusual and welcome approach to building a repertoire.
So the structure for Black is essentially :
which could be so-called Modern Philidor when white plays 1.e4 and The Old Indian when White defers e4
and the structure for White is :
which is essentially a Reversed Modern Philidor / Old Indian or more correctly An Inverted Hanham.
All of these structures are sound, resilient and reward manoeuvring play where the better play will win. More importantly a player familiar with these structures will enjoy understanding of the plans and ideas is likely to enjoy a considerable advantage on the clock. This is particularly true for the first player based on the rarity of the Inverted Hanham.
The authors have organised their material very logically showing the reader firstly the way to play for Black against almost anything and only then (when the structures are familiar) do they demonstrate the way for the first player. I’m sure players will be more comfortable playing these lines for Black since it might seem somewhat unnatural to play 1.e4 and then play slowly after that.
The authors use a standard model to explain these systems : they take 92 high quality games and analyse each one in detail. Combined with this is a clear description of the themes and ideas contained within the Black and White structures. This is very much an ideas based opening book rather than based on rote memorisation. One of the issues analysing these lines is that they are very transpositional compared to say the sequential and forcing lines of the Sicilian Dragon or Slav Defence. Chapter six helps enormously the reader to navigate their way through the transpositions especially for the Inverted Hanham.
Here is a game from Istvan Csom, an expert on this system :
As with every recent New in Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is (mostly !) 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.
In summary, Welling and Giddins have produced an out-of-the-ordinary book which fills a gap in the market : complete opening book not based on rote memorisation. The middlegame starts very early in these lines and the ideas for White are particularly intriguing. if you adopt these suggestions then your middlegame play will benefit hugely. This is probably not a book for hackers or those who have no patience : highly recommended !
FIDE Master Graham Burgess needs no introduction to readers of English language chess books ! Minnesota, USA based, Graham has authored more than twenty five books and edited at least 250 and is editorial director of Gambit Publications Ltd. In 1994 Graham set a world record for marathon blitz playing and has been champion of the Danish region of Funen !
Readers may remember “101 Chess Opening Surprises” published in 1998, also by Gambit Publications, was well received and added to GKBs reputation for originality, accuracy and encyclopedic knowledge of openings.
Chess Opening Traps for Kids is the ninth in a series of “for Kids” books and is robustly (!) hardbound in a convenient size such that weights are not need to keep it propped open (unlike some A5 paperbacks) meaning studying with this book is more convenient than with many books. The layout and printing is clear (as you would expect with Gambit) with numerous diagrams. In essence, players under 18 (for whom this book is intended) will find it easy to dip in out of and it can be used without a board (although BCN would always recommend following each game on a “proper” board).
As you would expect with Gambit, the notation is English short form algebraic using figurines for pieces. Each diagram has coordinates and a “whose move it is indicator” (thank-you Gambit !); welcome for the intended junior readership.
This book follows on from the highly regarded (2018) Chess Opening Traps for Kids from the same author and reviewed here
The author divides the material into 11 chapters titled as follows :
Hunting the King
Development and the Centre
Does Bxh7+ Work?
This is not a book about openings per se. It focuses more on tactics and traps and tactical ideas that happen very early in many games. It is not organised on a per opening variation basis and neither is there an index of openings. If that is what you want then this is not the right book for you.
However, this is much, much more than a book about openings…
Chapters 2 – 9 each kick-off with an introduction to the chapter’s theme followed by (in some cases) 60 example test positions where the theme can be exploited by an accurate move sequence : the student is invited to work-out this sequence. The chapter ends with detailed solutions to each test position.
Chapter 10 are exercises using any of the themes in the previous chapters but randomised and without any clue as to what the theme is. In general these are more challenging and serve as a test of what should have been learnt so far !
Chapter 11 contains 40 test positions some according to theme and rest without a clue. Following the solutions the student is invited to assess their strength at these exercises using a simple score table.
Here is an example from Chapter 3, Double Attack :
White has just played 6c4?? Why was that a blunder ?
See the foot of this review for the solution should you need to.
For further insight you may use the “Look Inside” feature from Amazon here. Of course there are many worthy book retailers to be your supplier !
In summary, this is an excellent book with much original material presented in a clear and friendly way and therefore to be recommended. It is an ideal follow-up to Chess Opening Traps for Kids and we would advise studying Chess Opening Traps for Kids first and then move on to this workbook.
One negative comment we would make concerns the cover. “Never judge a book by its cover” we are told and you might look at this book cover and think it was suitable for say primary aged children. I would say not but I would suggest it suitable from secondary aged children. I would say strong juniors from 12 upwards would read this book and enjoy it.
We would like to see an index of openings from which the theme examples were obtained.
The title and cover might, perhaps, put off the adult club player market. However, the content is totally suitable for adult club players upto say 180 ECF or 2000 Elo.
John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, March 30th 2020
Book Details :
Hardcover : 128 pages
Publisher: Gambit Publications Ltd. (15th November 2019)
Solution to Example#5
The problem is similar to the Cambridge Springs Trap : 6…dxc4! wins a piece. After 7 Bxc4 Qa5+ the queen check picks up the loose bishop. This has even cropped up at super grandmaster level. The other key point is that White can’t unload his bishop with 7 Bxf6 because 7…cxd3 leaves two white pieces attacked.
Born in London, Peter obtained his FM title in 1984. He has been a regular member of the very strong Wood Green team. His peak rating (according to Chessbase) was 2384 aged 59 in March 2018. He currently plays for Barbican in the Four Nations Chess League (4NCL).
BCN remembers Comins Mansfield MBE who passed away on March 28th 1984 in Torbay, Devon.
Comins was the first English born chess grandmaster when in 1972 he was awarded the the title of “International Grandmaster of the FIDE for Chess Composition” three years before the first correspondence GM and four years before the first English born OTB grandmaster.
In the 1976 New Years Honours list Civil Division Comins was awarded the MBE. The citation read simply “For services to Chess”.
Comins Mansfield was born on Sunday, June 14th 1896 in Witheridge, North Devon. The birth was registered in the district of South Molton, Devon. His parents were Herbert John (who was a banker) and Julia Emma Mansfield (née Frost). Miss Anne Comins was Herbert’s mother who he memorialised using her name for his only son.
Comins had two sisters Edith K and Margaret M plus a paternal step-sister Harriett C Mansfield.
He was baptised on the 18th July 1896 in Witheridge as an Anglican and the ceremony was performed by JT Benson.
He was admitted to Witheridge School on September 18th 1899 (aged three) and in 1901 Comins continued to live in Witheridge, Devon attending Blundell’s School. The family “left the district” on August 13th 1909.
At the time of the 1911 Census Comins was a boarder at a school in Tiverton, Cheshire. Possibly this was Tarporley High School.
A Career Beckoned
Comins left school in 1914 and did not attend University. He started work at tobacco company W. D. & H. O. Wills (which became part of Imperial Tobacco in 1901) in Bristol being a prime location for a company which relied on export markets of physical goods.
Interruption by War
According to RH Jones on the Chess Devon web site:
In September 1915 he joined the Royal Artillery, and carried a small travelling set at all times, with which to while away the long hours spent in the trenches. He never lost contact with Chandler during the war, even though the latter was involved in a rather messy British invasion of Iraq, (then Mesopotamia), and the two combined on problems by post, one of which won 1st Prize in the Good Companions magazine in January 1918. Shortly after, he was temporarily blinded by mustard gas, requiring 12 months in hospital.
On his release from hospital, the war was over and he re-joined Wills in Bristol and his local chess club, Bristol & Clifton. His skill over the board should not be overlooked – he soon became established in Gloucestershire as a very strong player, winning his club championship for the first time in 1920 and the county championship continuously from 1927 – 34. From his return to Bristol he played for the county regularly, never lower than Bd. 3 and from the time of his first county championship, always on top board. From 1926 to the time of his move to Scotland he was also the Problem Editor of the Bristol Times and Mirror .
According to the National Records Office:
With reference to the medal card of Comins Mansfield we have:
Royal Field Artillery
Royal Field Artillery
Comins career with W. D. & H. O. Wills lasted 45 years and in 1934 relocated to Glasgow which halted his composition career until 1936 labelling his problems “Mansfield – Glasgow. His job in Scotland finished in 1950 returning to live in Carshalton Beeches, near Croydon in South London working for a W. D. & H. O. Wills subsidiary.
On September 19th 1923 Comins married Marjorie Erica Ward (born 1899) at the Parish Church, St. Paul, Bedminster, Bristol, Gloucestershire. Marjorie died in 2003. Comins and Marjorie had three children, Geoffrey, Hilary and Roderick.
At the time of their marriage Comins was living at 25 Sommerville Road, Bishopston, Bristol, BS7 9AD:
Comins interest in chess started at the age of nine with his father Herbert who played correspondence chess for Devon but his interest in the world of problems was initiated in 1910 with an article (First Steps In The Classification of Two-Movers by Alain C. White) on problems in British Chess Magazine. In 1914 aged 18 he joined the Bristol and Clifton Chess Club and following World War I he became club champion for the first time in 1920. Also, Comins was Gloucestershire Champion from 1927 – 1934 before he relocated to Glasgow where he won the West of Scotland and Glasgow Championships. At Cheltenham 1928 not only did he draw in 50 moves with FD Yates but he beat Sir George Thomas in 20 moves!
From British Chess Magazine, Volume CIV (104, 1984), Number 5 (May), p. 194 :
“Comins Mansfield (14 v 1896 – 27 iii 1984) was an outstanding figure in chess problems, notably in the field of two-movers. Awarded the IM title for problems in 1959 and the GM title in 1972, he served for eight years as President of the FIDE Permanent Commission for Chess Compositions. In 1976 he was awarded an MBE for his services to chess.
As an OTB (over-the-board) player he won the championship of the Bristol Club and of Gloucestershire. From 1964 to 1978 he contributed the weekly puzzle to the Sunday Telegraph.”
CHESS Obituary by Colin Russ
From CHESS, Volume 48 (1984), Numbers 921-922, page 316 we have this rather modest mention:
Who was Britain’s first chess grandmaster? His name start with M, but no, the answer is Comins Mansfield, to whom F.I.D.E. awarded its newly created title of grandmaster for Chess Composition in 1972, and who died in March this year aged 87. In tribute to him we recall, two of his masterpieces, separated by over half a century.”
Comins Mansfield BCF Tourney 1974
White mates in two
Comins Mansfield Good Companions 1918
White mates in two
Interestingly the July 1984 issue of CHESS publishes a letter from Ken Whyld taking issue with the above. Ken wrote:
Who was Britain’s first chess grand master? His name starts with M but no, the answer is not Comins Mansfield (page 316 in CHESS, No. 921-2. No, it isn’t. It is J. Mieses in 1950. The error is repeated on page 328. Why do we, as a nation, have to be so snotty about those who chose to be become naturalised?
From page 328 we have this detailed obituary from Colin AH Russ:
We regret to report the death of Comins Mansfield MBE, peacefully at his home in Torquay on 28 March 1984. During his long life of more than 86 years, Mansfield received every possible honour in the realm of chess problem art.
He was born at Witheridge, North Devon, on 14 June 1896, and at 9 was taught to play chess by his father, a keen correspondence player. One of his earliest efforts won First Prize in 1912 in the Illustrated Western Weekly News.
Other problems of his early period were published in the Folders of the Good Companion Chess Problem Club, of Philadelphia, USA. This brought him into contact with Alain C. White, who also recognised his genius and gave him every encouragement. Some of the problems at this time were composed in the trenches, “somewhere in France”, while Mansfield was serving in the Royal Artillery with the British Army. He was severely gassed in May 1918, and discharged from the Army.
He won the West of Scotland and Glasgow Championships while stationed in that city. He was one of the founder members of
the British Chess Problem Society, and served as its President. In 1947, he started a feature in The Problemist entitled “Selected with Comments” which continued in his hands for 35 years. His weekly column in the Sunday Telegraph, mainly confined to game positions, ran from 1964 to 1978.
Mansfield’s other venture into publishing was his “Adventures in Composition” in which he takes the reader step by step through the Process that he went through in composing 20 of his problems.
The book was edited by A. C. White and first appeared in the USA in 1942, and was published in Britain by CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, in 1948. it became a classic, and many composers could testify to the help they have received from it.
In “Adventures in Composition“, Mansfield expounded his principles for making good chess problems: originality, economy, and artistic finish. if he found that an idea could not be set without forfeiting one of these principles, then he put it on one side, and turned his attention to something else. Therefore, although one can say that some of his problems are better than others, it is impossible to find one that is bad.
A. C. White made Comins Mansfield the subject of his last book in the Christmas Series: “A Genius of the Two-Mover” in which he gave some 100 of the master’s 300 problems.
He wrote: “The key-note of his style lies in his freshness of outlook and in a clarity of vision with which few composers have been gifted.” Brian Harley, the distinguished author and editor of the
famous Observer column for so many years, continued the story with a further 100 of Mansfield’s Problems.
In view of his international reputation, it was only fitting that Mansfield should represent the BCPS at the first meeting
of the FIDE Problem Commission in Piran in 1958, that he should serve as its President from 1963-71, and that in 1972 he should be awarded one of the first grand master titles, honoris causa, in recognition of his contribution to problem chess. He thus became the first Briton to receive this title, before any British chess players had reached any title norms. Four years later he received the recognition of his country, when his name appeared in the Queen’s New Year Honours list as recipient of the MBE, for services to chess.
ln 1975, Gerhard Jensch, editor of the problem column in Schach-Echo, brought out a supplement to “Adventures in Composition”, containing 63 of Mansfield’s later problems, showing how he had reacted to the changing themes and styles of the post second World War period. Barry Barnes, the following year, brought out “Comins Mansfield MBE: Chess Problems of a Grandmaster“, in which he presented 2O0 problems with full solutions and comments, many of them culled from Mansfield’s private notes and correspondence.
It is appropriate to finish with the comment with which E. L. Umnov concluded his introduction to Barry Barnes’s book in 1976: “Mansfield’s work is a source of pride not only to British chess, but to chess the world over”.
Hooper & Whyld on Mansfield
From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 1984) by Hooper & Whyld :
“English two-mover composer widely regarded in his time as the greatest in this field. During the life of the GOOD COMPANION CHESS PROBLEM CLUB (1913—24) he was one of the pioneers who gave new life to the two-mover. The ideas then introduced have since become traditional, and Mansfield has adhered to them, continuing to gain successes although not always following the latest trend. In 1942 he wrote Adventures in Composition, an excellent guide to the art of composing. In 1957 he was awarded the title of International Judge of Chess Compositions; in 1963 he accepted and held for eight years the presidency of the FIDE Commission for Chess Compositions; in 1972 he was one of the first four to he awarded the title of International Grandmaster for Chess Compositions.
A. C. White, A Genius of the Two-mover (1936) contains 113 problems by Mansfield; B. P. Barnes, Comins Mansfield MBE: Chess Problems of a Grandmaster (1976) contains 200 problems. “
Sunnucks on Mansfield
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess by Anne Sunnucks :
“International Grandmaster of the FIDE for Chess Compositions (1972), International Master of the FIDE for Chess Compositions (1959), International Judge of the FIDE for Chess Compositions (1957). President of the Permanent Commission of the FIDE for Chess Compositions from 1963 to 1971. President of the British Chess Problem Society from 1949 to 1951.
Born at Witheridge in North Devon on 14th June 1896. He has composed about 1,000 problems, nearly all of them two-movers, since 1911. He is regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time. His outstanding ability was recognised early when A Genius of the Two-Mover in the A.C. White Christmas series of books was published in 1936. He is the author of Adventures in Composition (1944) and co-author with the late Brian Harley of The Modern Two-Move Problem.
From 1926-1932 he was Problem Editor of The Bristol Times and Mirror, and he is at present Problem Editor of The Sunday Telegraph His feature “Selected with Comments” has been a permanent feature of The Problemist. A strong player, Mansfield won the Gloucestershire Championship from 1927 to 1934. He has a recorded win over Sir George Thomas, a late British Champion and International Master.
Mansfield made a life-times career with the tobacco firm of W.D. & H.O. Wills. He is a dedicated family man with three children.
C. Mansfield, 1st Prize, Hampshire Post, 1919
White to play and mate in two moves.“
Solution to Two-Mover above : 1. Qf5 !
Harry Golombek on Mansfield
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess by Harry Golombek we have:
Britain’s most distinguished problem compose, output about 859, nearly all two-movers. Very active during the period of the Good Companions, contributing to their folders many classic examples of half-pin, cross-check, and other important themes. Books include Adventures in Composition (1943), a fascinating expose of the composers methods. President of the British Chess Problem Society, 1949-51. President of the FIDE Problem Commission, 1963-71, and Hon. President since 1972. International Judge (1957); international master (1959), grandmaster (1972).
Curiously RH Jones wrote
“At Paignton, Mansfield seemed to know Milner-Barry quite well, but Golombek kept his distance. It is noticeable that Golombek’s Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford 1977) is almost unique of its kind in containing no individual entry for Mansfield; even a long 3½ page article on the history of chess problems, which mentions numerous half forgotten composers, contains no reference to him. This is surely no oversight and must be interpreted as some kind of inexplicable snub.”
We too made initially made the same error and it is true that there in individual entry for CM outside of the Problemists section. Did RHJ miss the above entry as we initially did?
John Rice on Mansfield
From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1984) John Rice writes:
“Comins Mansfield was born at Witheridge, Devon on 14th June 1896. At the age of 18 he joined the Bristol and Clifton Chess Club, and after World War 1 he soon won the club championship and the Gloucester Championship several times. For 14 years until 1978 he conducted the weekly chess features in the Sunday Telegraph.
In 1959 he he became an ‘International Master of the FIDE for Chess Composition’ and in 1972 one of the first four grandmasters. For 7 years he was President of the FIDE’s Permanent Commission for Chess Compositions.
Mansfield is widely regarded as being one of the three greatest composers of chess problems of all time. In 1976 was awarded the MBE for his services to chess.
Mr. Mansfield worked for 45 years in the tobacco firm W.D & H.O. Wills – first in Bristol, then in Glasgow and finally in London. He is now enjoying retirement in Torbay.
Mr. Mansfield writes: It was in 1959 that the FIDE decided to broaden their titles to include artificial positions such as ‘problems’ (the so-called poetry of chess), where mate has to be forced in a specified number of moves. The Master title then came into being, while the ‘Grandmaster’ distinction was withheld until 1972.
I have always felt that life is too short to deal with anything but two-movers. Here is one of my earliest successes (ed: shown here in Desert Island Chess) composed in the trenches in World War 1.”
Desert Island Chess
From The Complete Chess Addict (Faber&Faber, 1987,p.222), Fox & James we have a section entitled Desert Island Chess which includes this problem:
First Prize Good Companions, March 1917
Mate in 2
Of it, Alain White, the world connoisseur wrote – ‘This may well be taken as the standard cross-check problem of the twentieth century’. The key-move 1.Be4 looks senseless, as it sets the black king free and apparently jeopardizes the white one by unpinning the black knight. But it threatens mate by 2.Nxc4 This knight can open fire on the white king in four ways. If 1…Ne5+,2.Rd3 is mate. If 1…Nxd6+, the mate is 2.Bd3. If 1…Nxe3+, Nb5 mates, while 1…Nd2+ is answered by 2.Nc4.
The next position is of a quite different type:
CHESS, 1950, First Prize
White to play and mate in two moves
It illustrates several quiet defences by a single black piece. This has a rather colourless key, 1.Bb2, which threatens mate by 2. Rg4. Moves of the black bishop stop this but give rises to six other mates. If 1…Bg1;2.Nc7. So the bishop must stay on its long diagonal. 1…Bg3 allows 2.Rxh4. If 1…Bf4 (unpinning the R), 2.Re5. If 1…Be5, 2.Rd4. If 1…Bd6, 2.Rc8. If 1…Bb8, 2.Rb6. There are three other subsidiary mates, after 1…Rf8, 2.Rf4. If 1…d1=q,2.Qd1 and finally if 1…Rg2 (or Rg1 or Rg3).
In the 1950s it became fashionable for composers to try to hoodwink solvers by arranging close tries which almost solved the problem. But this trend often militated against the merit and interest of the actual solution. In this problem the solver soon discovers that he must set-up a double-threat by 1.g4,g3,f4 or f3, each move cutting off both a black rook and bishop.
Die Schwalbe, 1956, First Prize
White to play and mate in two moves
But which is the right move? 1.g4 threatens mate by 2.Qxe4 and Qd1, but is defeated by 1…Nxf2. Similarly 1.g3 (threatening 2.Qe3 and Bxb3) is met by 1…Nc2. So try 1.f4 (threatening 2.Qxe4 and Bxb3), but this fails to 1…e3. This leaves the key-move 1.f3 which does the trick. There is a fair amount of by-play. 1…Rf4 forces 2.Bxb3. 1…Bf4 forces 2. Qxe4; while after 1.Kd4 and Nc4, the mates are 2. Qxc3 and Bxe4 respectively.
In an ABC of Chess Problems, Section III, Composition and Solving, page 266 onwards, John Rice discusses in detail the methods of Comin Mansfield and any student of solving and composition would do well to study this chapter.
Here is an excellent biography from Chess Devon by RH Jones
Here is a biography from Keverel Chess by RH Jones
“Grandmaster and British Chess Champion in 1996. He is the author of several chess books, among them Winning With the Sicilian Dragon 2 (2001), Winning with the Dragon (2003) and The Controversial Samisch King’s Indian (2004).”
Chris earned his IM title in 1990 and his GM title in 1996. According to Chessbase and Felice his peak rating was 2531 in July 2003 when he was 35.
Chris is President of the English Primary Schools Chess Association (EPSCA), Chris is the Chief Coach of the Kent Junior Chess Association (KJCA). Chris plays for KJCA Kings in the Four Nations Chess League (4NCL).
“Not sure about best, but 18.Qxf8+ against Summerscale en route to winning the 1996 British Championship will be forever ingrained in my mind. Sorry, Aaron!”
– GM Chris Ward (when asked for his best move)
Remembering Percy Francis Blake (6-xii-1873 26-iii-1936)
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977), Harry Golombek OBE, John Rice writes:
“British problemist, regarded as one of England’s finest composers, Blake produced direct-mate problems in two, three and four moves.”
From his Italian Wikipedia entry :
“Percy Francis Blake ( Manchester , December 6, 1873 – Grappenhall , March 20, 1936 ) was a British chess player and chess composer , among the best English problem players of the period 1900 – 1936 .
He composed over 500 problems, most in two and three moves, of which around 160 were awarded (45 first prizes and 40 second prizes). 
He was famous for “quiet” keys and continuations, which made his problems very difficult to solve.
He was also a good player and table. In 1890 he won the Manchester club championship and later several local tournaments. In 1894 he won a beauty prize offered by the Manchester Weekly Times . From 1898 to 1912 he was part of the Lancashire team in many team matches between that county and Yorkshire . In 1911 he won the Lancashire championship. ”
and from the rather excellent Yorkshire Chess History we have
The following photograph was kindly supplied by Michael McDowell of the British Chess Problem Society :
James Mason in America : The Early Chess Career, 1867-1878 : Joost van Winsen
Journalist Joost van Winsen lives in the Netherlands. He has previously written about American chess history of the Nineteenth century, and has contributed articles to ChessCafe.com and ChessArcheology.com.
James Mason was one of the mystery men of chess. We don’t even know for certain what his real name was. We know he was born in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1849, his family emigrated to the United States in 1861, and, somewhere round about the end of 1867, he turned up playing chess in New York.
Over the next decade he established himself as one of the strongest players in his adopted country before moving to England, where he died in 1905. His best result was at Vienna 1882, where he finished 3rd behind Steinitz and Zukertort in a field including most of the world’s strongest players, but, at least in part because of a fondness for drink, he never quite fulfilled his promise. In the 1890s he wrote several books, notably The Principles of Chess and The Art of Chess.
This book, a paperback reprint of a 2011 hardback, covers Mason’s early career.
The first four chapters provide a chronological account of Mason’s life in chess, enhanced with contemporary pen and ink drawings of many of his opponents and acquaintances. We then have a chapter about his writings and another about his style of play.
The second part of the book gives details of his match and tournament results, and, by the third part, we reach his games, about 200 of them (some sort of game numbering system would have been helpful). While Mason’s later style could sometimes be turgid, in his American years he favoured gambit play with the white pieces. Although the standard of play was, by today’s standards, not very high, there’s still plenty of entertainment value. His regular opponents included the British master Henry Bird, who was living in the United States at the time, along with many of the leading New York players of that era.
Van Winsen took the, perhaps controversial, decision only to use contemporary annotations rather than incorporate modern computer analysis. As he explained, “The author preferred the antique human judgment to the modern ‘truth’ of computer software.” The opening assessments make amusing reading. In 1873, for example, Orestes P Brownson considered 3. Nc3 in the French Defence a mistake, recommending 3. exd5 instead. In 1876, Zukertort, quoting Max Lange, criticized the Winawer variation of the French, preferring 3… Nf3 (sic: a rare notation error) because White is better after 3… Bb4 4. exd5.
How strong was Mason at this time? Jeff Sonas and Rod Edwards disagree by about 200 points: Sonas has him at 2700 strength and one of the best in the world, while Edwards has him some way down the list at 2500 strength. My money’s on Edwards, who includes casual as well as formal games in his calculations. Buy the book, play through the games yourself and see what you think.
The book then concludes with some appendices covering a variety of topics, a list of sources and six indexes.
As is to be expected with books from this publisher, James Mason in America is well researched, well written, well illustrated and well produced. I might have preferred it if the games and tournament results were included in the narrative rather than in separate chapters, but you may well disagree.
This book probably won’t improve your rating, but if you’re at all interested in 19th century American chess history, and, like me, you missed the original hardback edition, you’ll want to add this to your collection.
I’d certainly be interested in a book covering the rest of Mason’s life and career: James Mason in England?
Here’s a game to whet your appetite.
James Mason – Frederick Perrin New York (casual game) June 1873
BCN remembers Sir Stuart Milner-Barry KCVO CB OBE who passed away on Saturday, March 25th, 1995 in Lewisham Hospital, London aged 88. He was laid to rest in the Great Shelford Cemetery, Cambridge Road, Great Shelford, Cambridge CB22 5JJ.
A memorial service was held for him at Westminster Abbey on 15 June 1995.
Philip Stuart Milner-Barry was born on Thursday, September 20th 1906 in Mill Hill in the London Borough of Barnet. Mill Hill falls under the Hendon Parliamentary constituency.
His parents were Lieutenant-Commander Edward Leopold (1867-1917) and Edith Mary Milner-Barry (born 17th May 1866, died 1949, née Besant). Edward was in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, H.M.S. “Wallington.” Prior to his war service his father was a professor of modern languages at the University of Bangor and Edith was the daughter of Dr. William Henry Besant, a renowned mathematical fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge University.
Stuart was the second born of six children, There was an older sister Alda Mary (18th August 1893-1938) and four brothers Edward William Besant (?-1911) , Walter Leopold (1904-1982), John O’Brien (4 December 1898 – 28 February 1954) and Patrick James . Many of the Milner-Barry family were laid to rest in the Great Shelford churchyard.
Stuart learned chess at the age of eight and his autobiographical article below goes into more depth.
He was educated at Cheltenham College, and won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he obtained firsts in classics and moral sciences.
On leaving Cambridge in 1927 he went to work at the London Stock Exchange (LSE).
According to the 1928 and 1929 electoral rolls he was living with his mother Edith and his brothers Walter and John O’Brien at 50 De Freville Avenue, Cambridge CB4 1HT:
In 1931 the family had relocated to 11, Park Terrace, Cambridge which is nearby to Emmanuel College. Now living with the family was brother Patrick James.
He discovered that he did not enjoy his LSE work and switched careers to became chess correspondent of The Times in 1938.
At the time (September 29th) of the 1939 register he (aged 33) was living as a journalist in a household of three with his mother Edith who carried out “unpaid domestic duties” and sister Alda who was of “private means”.
In 1946 Stuart was awarded the OBE from the Civil Division in the New Years Honours . The citation reads that was “employed in a Department of the Foreign Office”. A modern translation of this was he was engaged in Top Secret work at Bletchley Park alongside Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman and Hugh Alexander and was thus honoured for his war work. More on this later…
After the war he worked in the Treasury, and later in 1966 administered the British honours system where he helped to facilitate the award of honours to other chess players ultimately retiring in 1977.
As well as the OBE he was made Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1962 and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCV0) in 1975.
A conference room was named after him at the Civil Service Club, 13 – 15 Great Scotland Yard, London SW1A 2HJ.
Peter Hennessy* and The Rewarding Career of Sir Stuart Milner-Barry
*Peter Hennessy is a renowned historian and journalist. The following was originally published in The Times in 1977 following PSMBs retirement.
“Few careers can have been as varied and rewarding as that of Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, who retires today as Ceremonial Officer to the Civil Service Department and custodian of the British honours system.
Into the 48 years since he left Cambridge with a degrees in classics and moral sciences, he has crammed spells as a stockbroker, chess correspondent of The Times and member of the British chess team, a wartime codebreaker for MI6 and a senior Treasury official before taking over administration of the nations “gongs and bongs ” nearly 11 years ago.
The richness of Sir Stuart’s progression is all the more striking given the difficulty he experienced in finding a job at all after university because of the Wall Street crash in 1929. His first 10 years spanned the slump of the 1930s, when there was little for a stockbroker to do, but fill his days reading The Times.
In 1938 he joined the paper full time as chess correspondent and, along with many of the world’s leading players, he was nearly trapped in Buenos Aires when war broke out the next year (ed. should be month rather than year). Catching the first ship home, he finished up with that brilliant collection of dons, antique dealers, mathematicians and chess players billeted in Nissen huts in the park of Buckinghamshire country house, who broke the code transmitted by the German Enigma machine.
Sir Stuart eventually rose to lead hut six, which broke the most secret messages of the Luftwaffe. Quartered in a comfortable Bletchley public house with another formidable chess player, C. H. O’D. Alexander, and Gordon Welchman, the Cambridge mathematician, he acquired a taste for rum, the only alcohol in plentiful supply for some reason, and a sense of guilt about enjoying, his stimulating, important job, safe while other men faced the bullets.
He was not tempted to stay on in the arcane world of code-breaking after the war, unlike his friend, the late Hugh Alexander, as he regards such activities in peacetime as akin to reading somebody’s private correspondence, though he recognizes the necessity of such efforts for intelligence work. Instead, he took the reconstruction competition for the administrative class of the Civil Service and entered the Treasury.
While battling with the post-war dollar shortage in Treasury Chambers he “found a wife, carried her off and lived happily ever after”, as he cheerfully puts it. Apart from a spell as establishment officer to the Ministry of Health, he stayed at the Treasury until he reached the normal retiring age of 60 in 1966.
Lord Helsby, then Head of the Home Civil Service, asked him to stay on and take over the smooth machine that underpins the honours system, which had been built up over many years by Sir Robert Knox. Sir Stuart has loved every minute of it.
He looks every inch the part, a tall stately man of immense natural dignity, he is the incarnation of propriety. The stresses to which the honours system has been subjected to in recent years must have caused him great distress but he is far too proper a civil servant to talk about it. His retirement at 70 has nothing to do with the alarums and excursions stimulated by the honours lists associated with Harold Wilson.
“One of my principal jobs has been the protection of the system”, he says. “The pleasures are very great. It’s fascinating in itself. You see so much of the history of people in every walk of like”.
Sir Stuart waxes eloquent about the beauty and uniqueness of the British honours system. He is a confirmed monarchist, so the spontaneity of the jubilee celebrations provides the perfect backcloth for his departure. He is succeeded by Mr. Richard Sharp, an under-secretary at the Treasury.”
Below is the original article:
Marriage to Thelma
In the third quarter of 1947 Stuart married Thelma Tennant Wells in Westminster. A consequence of the “rules of the day” of the marriage was that Thelma had to resign her post in the Treasury immediately. (Ed: this somewhat antiquated view of life was finally corrected in 1972 when the Civil Service dispensed with this rule).
Lady Thelma was to support Stuart in his chess activities for their married life. She also served as the first UK Director of Women’s Chess and made many lasting friendships in the chess world. She was buried together with Stuart in 2007. Stuart himself was President of the British Chess Federation between 1970 and 1973 as well as being Director of International Chess following his presidency.
Stuart and Thelma had three children, one son and two daughters: Philip O. (born 1953), Jane E (born 1950) and Alda M (born 1958).
Stuart was knighted on January 1st 1975 for his role as the “Ceremonial Officer of Civil Service Department” between 1966-77. Technically the knighthood is known as a KCVO.
He first competed in the British Championship in 1931 and made regular appearences as late as 1978: a span of 47 years!
In their retirement years Stuart and Thelma lived at the salubrious location of 43 Blackheath Park, Blackheath, London SE3 9RW.
In June of 1933 at the age of 27 Stuart wrote an autobiographical piece for British Chess Magazine to be found in Volume LIII (53, 1933), Number 6 (June), pp. 241-2 as follows:
Champion of the City of London Chess Club
I learned chess at the age of eight and played regularly after that with members of my family. My first-class practise (with due respect to my family) began at fourteen, when Mr. Bertram Goulding Brown and started a series of serious friendly games which has continued ever since, almost without interruption. The vast majority of these games were begun with 1 P-K4, P-K4, and as we both eschewed the Lopez and the Four Knights, we have acquired a fairly extensive knowledge of the older forms of the King’s side openings – King’s Gambit (all sorts), Vienna, Guioco Piano, Evans’s Gambit, Danish Gambit, Bishop’s Opening, etc. These games have undoubtedly born the most important influence in my development, apart from which the serious friendly game is to me much the most enjoyable form of chess. We each have runs of success, and there has never been much to choose between us.
(An aside : Stuart wrote a extensive obituary of Bertram Goulding Brown which appeared in British Chess Magazine, Volume LXXXV (85, 1965), Number 12(December) pp.344-45 in which he noted:
B. Goulding Brown was my oldest and closest Cambridge friend, I started playing with him in 1920, and we have played ever since, though, alas, not nearly so often since the War as in the 1920s and 1930. Our last games, when he was eighty three, were played about a year ago in the same book-congested upstairs study at Brookside as all the others had been. Both were cut-and-thrust draws: a Kieseritzky Gambit from myself and Two Knights’ (with 4.P-Q4 for White) were typical of the openings we adopted. We were planning another this Autumn, but he died suddenly and peacefully at the end of August, )
I have also been very fortunate in playing a good deal with C.H.O’D. Alexander. Our games have taken the form of a series of short matches (first player to win three games) played with clocks. Alexander was already stronger than me when he came up to Cambridge, and he won the University Championship from me in his first year and my fourth.
All three matches have been won by him, the first easily and the last two by the narrowest possible margin; a fourth now in progress looks like coming to an early and ignominious conclusion (Score 0-2-2). These results have neither surprised nor disappointed me : I would not back any player in England to do better.
In 1923 I won the first Boy’s Championship at Hastings, but lost badly the following year (ed. Alexander won).
Since then I have competed twice at Hastings, once tieing with Miss Menchik in the Major Reserve for the first place and once for the last, in the Major. In between I played in the Major Open at Tenby, and came out fifth, with my first important win against Znosko-Borovsky.
Meanwhile I played four years against Oxford, with somewhat chequered results. The first year I won against G. Abrahams, the second and third years, I played K.H. Bancroft and scored a (very fortunate) draw and a win, while finally I permitted Abrahams to fork my King and Queen with a Knight, a performance unhappily repeated by R.L. Mitchell in the following year (his Queen was pinned by a Bishop). Since then the spell has been broken. In 1931 I played in the British Championships at Worcester, and was quite satisfied with my form, though my score of 5 out of 11 was nothing to write home about. In February 1932, I have the great good fortune to fill a vacant place in the Sunday Referee* London International Tournament, an extremely exhausting but very valuable experience which I greatly appreciated.
*TheSunday Referee was a newspaper of the time which was adsorbed into The Sunday Chronicle in 1939.
My score of 3.5 out of 11, equal with Sir George Thomas and above W. Winter and V. Buerger, was quite as good as I expected. After this came the Cambridge Tournament, which, though a very delightful little congress, was a fiasco from my point of view. Three of my opponents were unkind enough to show their best form against me, and two other games I spoilt by clock trouble.
I do not expect to play much serious competitive chess in future. I admire sincerely the business man who is ready, after a hard day at the office, to undergo a further four hours of strenuous mental exertion; and who is also prepared to spend his all too brief holidays in the same exhausting pursuit. Moreover, while many players find the atmosphere of match and tournament play a stimulus or an inspiration, it only renders me nervous, and though this does not affect my play it certainly interferes with my enjoyment. As long as I can play my week-end games with B.G.B., and inveigle Alexander from Winchester to add another to his monotonous series of victories, I shall not much mind if I can only occasionally take part in congresses. ”
PS Milner-Barry Cup
In issue #53 (April 1946) of West London Chess Club’s Gazette we have a news item concerning a newly inaugurated trophy called the PS Milner-Barry Cup:
Sergeant on Milner-Barry
Writing in A Century of British Chess (Hutchinson, 1934), PW Sergeant records in Chapter XXI, 1925 to 1934:
The City of London C.C.’s Championship Tournament which ended this (1933) spring deserves special mention; for it introduced an entirely new name on the list of champions, that of P.S. Milner-Barry, formerly of Cheltenham College and of Cambridge University. Ten years previously he had won the first boys’ championship at Hastings.
Now, he won the City of London Championship with a score of 11 out of 14, followed by the bearers of such noted names as R.P. Michell (10 points), Sir George Thomas (9), and E.G. Sergeant (8.5). It caused some surprise, therefore, when it was found that he was not selected as a British representative at Folkestone.
Golombek on Milner-Barry
Surprisingly and disappointingly there is no direct entry in either Hooper & Whyld or Sunnucks for Sir Stuart but (as you might expect) Harry Golombek OBE does not let us down in The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977):
“British master whose chess career was limited by his amateur status but whose abilities as a player and original theorist rendered him worthy of the title of international master.
Born at Mill Hill in London, he showed early promise and in 1923 won the British Boys Championship, then held at Hastings.
He studied classics at Cambridge and developed into the strongest player there. At the university he was to meet (ed. three years later) C. H. O’D. Alexander with whom he played much chess.
Though nearly three years younger, Alexander exerted a strong influence over him and both players cherished and revelled in the brilliance of play in open positions.
By then along with Alexander and Golombek, he had become recognized as one of the three strongest young players in the country. Whilst not as successful as they were in tournaments as the British championship in which stamina was essential, he was a most formidable club and team match player, as he had already shown in 1933 when he won the championship of the City of London Club ahead of R. P. Mitchell and Sir George Thomas.
He played in his first International Team tournament at Stockholm 1937 and was to play in three more such events : in 1939 at Buenos Aires where, on third board, he made the fine score of 4/5 ; in Helsinki 1952; and in Moscow 1956 where, again on third board, he was largely responsible for the team’s fine showing.
In 1940 he shared first prize with Dr. List in the strong tournament of semi-international character in London and then, like Alexander and (later) Golombek, helped in the Foreign Office code-breaking activities at Bletchley Park for the duration of the Second World War. Staying in the Civil Service afterwards, he rose to the rank of Under-Secretary in the Treasury and was knighted for his services in 1975.
“I first met Sir Stuart Milner-Barry when I was fifteen years old (1962) playing in a tournament in Bognor Regis who played some rustic king’s pawn opening against me, sacrificing a pawn for nothing in particular and then astonished by writing “castles” in full on his scoresheet. I think he used “kt” for a knight too. I thought I had discovered a true relic from a bygone age and the more I got to know him I realised the more correct that judgement was.
Milner-Barry was the last of the true gentlemen amateurs and was one of the few people I have ever met who played chess for the sheer love of the game.
A few typical incidents may give a flavour of his unique personality. First and most typical was the way he would resign: with a firm handshake, a smile and a booming whisper of ‘You are far too good for me I’m afraid!’ When I first heard those words I was totally taken aback : What was this, a chessplayer acknowledging that his opponent was better than him? Impossible!
Once, at close of play in a county match against Milner-Barry I had the extra pawn in a difficult queen and pawn ending. We analysed a little with most variations suggesting I was winning. It was the kind of position you would send for adjudication even if you are convinced it is lost. It avoids having to resign anyway and the adjudicator may always discount the pawns. But, Sir Stuart never thought like that. After ten minutes analysing he extended his hand and congratulated me.
Finally there was the splendid incident in Moscow during the (Ed. 6th) European Team Championships in the late 1970s (Ed. 1977) Stuart was then the President of the BCF and took up an invitation of his old friend the British Ambassador to the USSR (Ed. Sir Howard Smith) to visit the event. Since he was staying at the Embassy he had a KGB tail assigned to him to follow him everywhere. On one of his morning walks Sir Stuart got lost and was not certain which bridge he should be on to get back to the Embassy. So, he turned around and walked back to the not very secret policeman, followed him and asked for directions! For the rest of his stay they walked practically hand-in-hand.
Whilst most of us knew Stuart as an amiable old gent who played for Kent and in the Lloyds Bank Masters who could still play brilliant attacking games in his eighties most knew little of his distinguished career in real life.
We suspected with some justification that in his civil service career he was responsible for doling out all those OBEs to chess players in the 70s and 80s when he was in charge of the honours list.
It was the wartime work at Bletchley Park that was Milner-Barry’s greatest achievement. As everybody knows the allies won the Second World War mainly because of the brilliant code-breaking work of the Cambridge quartet of Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry. Turing and Welchman were mathematical geniuses, Milner-Barry was the supreme administrator and Alexander straddled the gap with great talents in both areas. The group of four were known as “The Wicked Uncles”
The astonishing achievement at Bletchley was not so much in breaking enemy codes as maintaining complete secrecy of the entire operation for the duration of the war. Only with such people as Milner-Barry and Alexander in charge could such a large operation be run so successfully without anybody knowing about it.
Milner-Barry’s importance in the running at Bletchley may be judged from the fact that he personally delivered the note to Winston Churchill stressing overriding importance of their work asking for more funds.
Compared with that the invention of the Milner-Barry Gambit and the Milner-Barry variation of the Nimzo-Indian are minor achievements.
Sir Stuart was proof that nice guys can be chess players although one cannot help suspecting he would achieved even better results if he had even a slight streak of nastiness about him. He would surely have not let Capablanca off the hook in Margate in 1938 when the attacking player secured a winning position against the ex-champions dragon variation and he would have surely also not let the British Championship slip from his grasp in 1953 when he finished as runner-up after losing his last two games.
He always performed well when playing in Olympiads (or Team Tournaments as they were known then) for England during the 1930s and 50s. He was, after all, one of the most naturally gifted players this county has produced. What other Englishman has two opening (or even just one) named after him?
While at Cambridge while he won the University Championship in 1928, losing to Alexander in the following year, Milner-Barry composed some fine problems, a frivolity he never returned to later in his life.
An excellent though infrequent writer on the game, he wrote a fine memoir of C.H.O’D. Alexander in Golombek’s and Hartston’s The Best Games of C.H.O’D. Alexander, Oxford, 1976.”
An Obituary from Bernard Cafferty
From British Chess Magazine, Volume CXV (115, 1995), Number 5 (May), pp. 258-59 we have this obituary by Bernard Cafferty:
“Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry KCVO CB OBE (20 ix 1906 – 25 iii 1995) was the oldest of the British chess masters who came to prominence in the 1930s, He was always thought of in conjunction with his great friends Hugh Alexander and Harry Golombek who both predeceased him. The length of Stuart’s career is amazing – he was inaugural British Boy Champion in 1923 and was still playing for Kent first team in the Counties Championship of recent years, thus spanning a period of seven decades! Botvinnik spoke of him to me on my 1994 visit to Moscow.
Yet Stuart, who never gained the IM title, was always the true amateur and genuine English gentleman, whose sense of duty and tradition was very great. It speaks volumes of him that he agonised over whether he should attend the Times Kasparov-Short match of 1993, in a private capacity. He would have liked to watch the play, but as a former British Chess Federation President, 1970-73, he felt it was his duty not to lend any extra recognition to the contest other than that assigned it by the BCF.
Before the war, after graduating from Cambridge in Classics, he took some fine scalps including those of Tartakower and Mieses and should have beaten Capablanca at Margate 1939.
He worked, rather unhappily, in a stockbroking firm up to 1938 and it is in that capacity that his name appears on the official document that set-up the British Chess Magazine as a limited company in 1937.
During the war he played his part in the Bletchley Park code-breaking undertaking along with Alexander and Golombek, and after the war went into the Civil Service where he had a distinguished career at the Treasury. Then his career was extended as he spent his final working years in the patronage department that sifted recommendations for the honours list.
I recall asking him in 1981 if there was any chance that Brian Reilly could qualify for an award. Stuart’s diplomatic answer was to the effect that he was now retired but would drop a word in the right quarter.
Stuart represented England at the Olympiads or 1936, 1939, 1952 and 1956. At the last of these he played particularly well on fourth board. He was conscious that his old friend Hugh Alexander could not take part in Moscow because of the sensitive nature of his work in the Intelligence Service.
In playing style Milner-Barry, a tall gaunt figure, delighted in an open tactical fight.
He was The Times correspondent 1938-45, resigning the post to let Harry Golombek take over. His best result after the war, apart from the 1956 Moscow Olympiad, was probably his second place in the British Championships of 1953 at Hastings. The abiding impression of his opponents over the years must have been that here was a player who greatly enjoyed the game, win, lose or draw.
Certainly, that was my idea of him in the tussles we had from the British Championship of 1957 up to county matches in the 1980s.
We shall not see his like again. The England that formed his character is no longer with us.”
Kenworthy on Milner-Barry
Sir Stuart as a student was taught by his lecturer friend Gordon Welchman, later 1940 his Head of Hut. They were firm friends, a band of brothers, as per the rest of the chess players and mathematicians from the Interwar years at Cambridge University.
His studies were obviously well aligned to be a stockbroker in the City, plus the tedious details of Blotters and Order Management registration.
Obvious exceptions to this University circle was Dr Jacob Bronowski who was given the suspected 5th columnist treatment by authorities in Hull. Obviously, he would have been excellent.
Exception also according to John Hevriel was if you were also from Sidney Sussex, like Staff Sgt. then an RSM Asa Briggs, who was more Contract Bridge with this all friends crossword addicts team. Asa Briggs felt that Sir Stuart was initially badly rewarded leaving Hut 6 in 1945 for HM Treasury.
Sir Stuart was a noted top cribster, his crosswords, German and thinking from how the Nazi operator would think from his side of the board, obviously helped with Bombe cribs. He always played down his role and abilities in a diplomatic way. He was the facilitator and mentor to many, especially back to Gordon Welchman in his troubled times from 1974 onwards. Sir Stuart was not happy about the proposed book of the Hut 6 Story.
He was the bureaucrat who cared for the welfare of his staff, especially on tedious protract tasks which was the norm. He was into ethics, Quadrivium, logic and rhetoric, philosophy and his knowledge of German poets and Great German thinkers would have been invaluable in solving the Enigma puzzle and how might his opposite number blunder and be sloppy in procedures.
Though never at home in close(d) positions, he was an outstanding strategist in the open game and it is significant that his most important contribution to opening theory was the Milner-Barry variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defence which is essentially as attempt to convert a close position into an open one (1.P-Q4, N-KB3; 2.P-QB4, P-K3; 3. N-QB3, B-N5; 4.Q-B2, N-B3).
Hooper & Whyld (1996) note:
“Sometimes called the Zurich or Swiss variation, this is a line in the Nimzo-Indian Defence introduced by Milner-Barry in the Premier Reserves tournament, Hastings 1928-9. This line became more widely known when it was played at Zurich 1934.”
Two famous opening lines are named after him – 4…Nc6 in the Nimzo-Indian (as above), and the gambit in the French Defence: 1.e4 e6;2.d4 d5;3.e5 c5;4.c3 Nc6;5.Nf3 Qb6;6.Bd3 cxd4;7.cxd4 Bd7;8.0-0 Nxd4;
Stuart played this line both in correspondence and over-the-board play. If Black takes the pawn with 10…Qxe5, White gets a fierce attack by 11,Re1 Qd6 (else 12.Nxd5) 12.Nb5.
There is also a sub-variation of the Caro-Kann which is named after Sir Stuart viz:
which is a Blackmar-Diemer style pawn sacrifice.
There is also a Milner-Barry variation in the Falkbeer Counter Gambit to the King’s Gambit thus:
which is an ancient line that he revived at Margate 1937.
and finally, there is a Milner-Barry Variation in the Petroff Defence:
giving a total of five named variations. How many English players have that many?
Problems and Compositions
Stuart developed an interest in problem composition in the 1920s
Further examples may be found on the excellent Meson Database maintained by Brian Stephenson
Milner-Barry on The English Chess Explosion
Stuart was a great supporter of the development of British chess. Nothing would have given him more pleasure than to witness the meteoric advances of English players in the 1970s. Indeed, he wrote the foreword to the English Chess Explosion (Batsford, 1980) by Murray Chandler and Ray Keene:
“It gives me great pleasure to have been asked to write a foreword for this book. Nothing has given me more satisfaction than the flowering of British chess talent that has taken place in the past few years.
Between the wars, though we had some splendid players like H. E. Atkins, Sir George Thomas and F. D. Yates, we were a second rate power at chess: in the great Nottingham tournament of 1936, for example, our quartet brought up the rear, and that was where, with occasional shining exceptions, our representatives in international tournaments tended to find themselves. Similarly, after the war in the 1950’s and 1960’s, in spite of Alexander and Penrose, we seldom achieved a really creditable place in the Olympiads.
Alexander who retired early from the arena because of the exacting demands of his profession, must have had rather a depressing time as non-playing captain.
I myself date the renaissance from the Spring of 1974 when we won a closely contested match against West Germany at Elvetham Hall.
Thereafter we went from strength to strength, with the appearance year by year of highly talented, original and adventurous young men from the Universities – Keene and Hartston, closely followed by Miles, Stean, Nunn, Mestel, Speelman, and a still younger generation of schoolboy prodigies like Nigel Short.
The peak of our performance so far has been the third place (after the USSR and Hungary) last winter in the finals of the European Team Tournament at Skara (compared with our eighth and last place at Moscow in 1977).
How did all this come about in the short space of six years? The Spassky-Fischer match of 1972 was a watershed. Since then, and the first time, it has been possible for able young men from universities to consider chess seriously as a full-time profession, or at least as a career to which they devote the major part of their time and interest, Secondly, the fruits were being reaped of the unobtrusive but devoted spadework in junior training pioneered by Barden, Wade and many others. Lastly, no doubt, sheer good fortune smiled upon us in the simultaneous emergence of a group of brilliant enthusiastic and likeable young men, five of them already grandmasters and others likely to become so before long.
It is sad that Alexander, who did so much to uphold the prestige of British chess in the doldrums, did not survive to witness the transformation. I would like to wish the BCF President, David Anderton, and Alexander’s successor as captain, all possible success for the future.”
In the March issue of CHESS for 1963, (Volume 28, Number 427, pp.147-155) William Winter wrote this:
P. S. Milner-Barry is a close friend of Alexander’s and plays like him, though not quite so well. So far the Championship has always eluded him, though he seemed to have it within his grasp at Buxton where he played superb chess for nine rounds and cracked in the last two. I fancy that the physical strain of these long Swiss tournaments
is rather too much for him. Like Alexander he has a most attractive style and one or two of his combinative games will certainly live after him.
A brief biography, formerly displayed in the ‘Hall of Fame’ in Bletchley Park mansion. Stuart Milner-Barry had achieved fame as a champion chess player when he came to Bletchley Park early in 1940. He led the ‘cribsters’ team in Hut 6 from its opening in January 1940, becoming head of the Hut in March 1944. The work of Milner-Barry and his team lay at the heart of the triumph over the German Luftwaffe & Army Enigma codes. After the war he had an outstanding career in the civil service. Philip Stuart Milner-Barry was born on 20 September 1906 in London; He went to Cheltenham College and on to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he achieved a first in both the classical and moral sciences triposes. He became a not-notably enthusiastic stock broker, though it was chess that filled his life. He had been boy chess champion of England in 1923, playing for England before and after the war. He was chess
correspondent of the Times from 1938 and throughout the war. It was Gordon Welchman, a friend from their days at Trinity together, who persuading Milner-Barry to join Bletchley Park.
He arrived in January 1940 joining the newly created Hut 6, and was encouraged by Welchman to study the decrypts that were beginning to emerge from the Zygalski sheets being operated by John Jeffreys. Welchman wanted Milner-Barry to develop an intimate knowledge of the German cipher clerks and radio operators. When the Germans dropped the use of the repeated indicator, as they did on 1 May 1940, Hut 6 would have to rely on its knowledge of the traffic to find suitable cribs to enable the Bombes to operate, and in the meanwhile to make use of the careless procedural habits of some of the German operators.
Milner-Barry had noted that the cipher clerks tended to use addresses and signatures that were both long and stereotyped, providing a fruitful source for cribs. A crib had to be a phrase of about 13 characters long that was very likely to be found in certain easily identified messages, but also had to have linguistic features that provided good ‘closed loops’ for the bombe menus. The use of ‘kisses’, cribs derived from suitable decrypted messages from other keys, often provided the first break into a new key. Milner-Barry organised a team of wizards, as Welchman called his cribsters, who eventually were able to provide good keys for Hut 6 to be able to break into most of the Luftwaffe keys and then some of the Army keys. Milner-Barry became recognised as Gordon Welchman’s deputy, and when Welchman left in March 1943, to become responsible for mechanisation projects, it was Milner-Barry who became Head of Hut 6. Milner-Barry signed the Turing letter in October 1941 and it was he who took the letter directly to Downing Street. It drew Churchill’s attention the extreme shortage of support personnel in the Enigma huts. His powers of smooth administration now became clear as Hut 6 grew, reaching over 550 in total, one of the largest teams in Bletchley Park.
Milner-Barry was a quiet, undemonstrative, highly effective leader who believed in delegation and was always to be seen sporting a very large pipe. His reports show that he was totally unflappable, in the midst of the problems for Hut 6 created by the tightening of German cipher security in 1944, which they largely overcame. Stuart Milner-Barry was recruited to Whitehall in June 1945. He rose rapidly, becoming the ceremonial officer in the Civil Service Department. He received an OBE in 1946, a CB in 1962, and a knighthood in 1975. He married Thelma Wells in 1947 and they had three children. He died in Lewisham on 25 March 1995. He had repeated his visit to Downing Street in October 1991, with a letter signed by 10,000, asking for Bletchley Park to be preserved as a monument to the great war-time work.
During the 2021 – 2022 4NCL season Peter played for The Sharks 1 and scored 7.5/9 making his first GM norm and then followed that up in the 2022 – 2023 4NCL season scoring 9/11 securing his second GM norm in twelve months. Hopefully the third and final norm will be soon coming!
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