Happy Birthday GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE (07-x-1933)

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 eff0ectively 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

Old Wine In New Bottles

Old Wine In New Bottles : Mihail Marin

Old Wine in New Bottles by Mihail Marin
Old Wine in New Bottles by Mihail Marin
GM Mihail Marin
GM Mihail Marin

From Wikipedia :

“Mihail Marin (born 21 April 1965) is a Romanian chess player and writer. He was awarded the title of Grandmaster by FIDE. Marin’s first major success in international chess was in qualifying for the Interzonal in 1987. He has won three Romanian Championships and has played in the Chess Olympiads ten times, winning a bronze individual medal in 1988. For several years he was editor of the magazine Chess Extrapress.”

From the book’s rear cover :

“I may be old-fashioned, but I keep using for my inspiration the treasure of the past. It does not make sense to speculate whether, for instance, Carlsen is stronger than Fischer or Korchnoi, as matches between players separated in time by so many decades are impossible. But this book aims to prove that some of the basic aspects of our game did not change over the generations. The same kind of brilliant ideas and mistakes are played again and again in specific situations.

I actually launch an invitation to examine the games of the classics, featuring ideas thought over only by human brains, and by no means less deep than those used today. We all use computer assistance when preparing or writing, but at the chess board we are all alone with our opponent, so educating our mind to work along the classical values is essential.It is virtually impossible to write a “complete” chess course, as the general themes and examples to each of them are practically inexhaustible. But I hope that after studying the book the reader will feel enriched, technically and aesthetically.

I remember my enthusiasm when receiving my first original copy of the Chess informant in 1987 (number 43) after having annotated some of my games from the Warsaw zonal tournament, ending in my first qualification to the Interzonal. Almost a third of a century has passed since then, but I am looking forward to hold this new book in my hands with no less excitement.”

 

You probably know how it is when your favourite singer releases a Greatest Hits compilation.  As a big fan you have them all already, but there are always a couple of new songs, so, not wanting to miss out, you have to pay for the full album.

It’s been many years since I last read an Informant, but for some time now GM Mihail Marin, one of the best annotators around, has been publishing articles under the title Old Wine in New Bottles, in which he takes a recent game and compares it with games from the past which resemble it in some way. This might be, for example, a similar opening, a similar tactical idea, the same pawn formation, a comparable ending. Sometimes the comparison is very precise, but, on other occasions, rather tenuous.

What we have here is a collection of his articles, with some new ones added to tempt regular readers who will have seen most of the material before, along with some introductory comments.

There are 25 articles, or rather chapters, in total, grouped according to the general theme: Basic Principles, Tactics, Strategy, The Attack, Middlegame Plans of Specific Openings, and, finally, The Individual and Joined Abilities of the Pieces (some, but not all of which, feature endings).

You might assume from this, and you’d be correct, that the translation into English isn’t always idiomatic. There’s also an unacceptably large number of typos.

The publishers have also made some rather strange production decisions.  They’ve chosen a non-standard diagram font with a defective symbol for a black rook on a white square, which makes a rather ugly impression. They’ve also chosen to use a sans-serif font throughout.

This is a handsome hardback, complete with a useful bookmark, which will look good on your bookshelf: it’s a pity that, internally, it doesn’t make such a good impression.

The text is punctuated by a lot of chess art, reproduced in black and white, from the Hereford Chess Club in 1814 up to the present day.  All very attractive, if not especially relevant, but I can’t find any copyright information anywhere.

None of this may bother you, as long as the content is good, and, with reservations, it is.

To give you some idea, let’s take a fairly random chapter. Chapter 4 in the section on Attack deals with sacrificial attacks beginning with the move e5xf6, taking as its starting point this game from the 2017 Sinquefield Cup, where you will observe Vishy’s 22nd move. Marin doesn’t give us the first 21 moves, which presumably appeared elsewhere.

This game brought to mind a brilliant Tal victory from the 1962 Olympiad, where the sacrificial attack started on move 19.

Tal admitted that his 19th move was inspired by a Famous Game which observant readers will have seen before.

It’s, of course, a very well known game, but observant readers will recall encountering it with different annotations in an earlier chapter on positional queen sacrifices to obtain a passed pawn. Here, the annotations are in part based on Lilienthal’s autobiography, which are, along with Hecht’s comments on his loss to Tal, readily found on MegaBase. (It’s always fun to try to identify an author’s sources!)

There are three more games in this chapter, including another Tal brilliancy, but the repetition of the Lilienthal game confirms the impression that it’s really a collection of articles rather than a particularly coherent book.

Not all the annotations are by Marin himself: in many cases they are largely taken from earlier Informants, with occasional authorial interjections. You might not mind this, but I guess you might also feel you’ve been cheated.

Nevertheless, the concept of comparing contemporary games with those from the past is a great idea. If the idea attracts you, or if you’re an admirer of Marin’s books and haven’t seen most of the articles before, you’ll find a lot to interest, inform and stimulate. As the book covers all aspects of the game, there are lessons to be learnt here about both tactics and strategy, about openings and endings.

Although I have significant reservations about various aspects of the book, there is still much of value here, and anything Marin writes is always worth reading.  Recommended,  especially for serious students of the game of, say, 1800+ strength.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 7th October 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardback : 384 pages
  • Publisher: Sahovski Chess (aka Chess Informant or Informator) (December 27, 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8672971043
  • ISBN-13: 978-8672971040
  • Product Mass : 1.7 pounds

Official web site of Sahovski Chess

Old Wine in New Bottles by Mihail Marin
Old Wine in New Bottles by Mihail Marin