Remembering Dr. James Aitken (27-x-1908 03-xii-1983)

James Macrae Aitken
James Macrae Aitken
Signature of JM Aitken from a Brian Reilly "after dinner" postcard from Hastings Christmas Congress, 1945-1946
Signature of JM Aitken from a Brian Reilly “after dinner” postcard from Hastings Christmas Congress, 1945-1946

We remember Dr. James Aitken who passed away on Saturday, December 3rd, 1983.

James Macrae Aitken was born on Tuesday, October 28th 1908 in Calderbank, Lanarkshire, Scotland. His parents were David Aitken and Mary Ann Parlane Baird.

His very early history is best recorded here at the wonderful Chess Scotland web site.

He attended Balliol College, Oxford.

Luckily for all of us Scottish chess enthusiast Geoff Chandler is transcribing JMAs games from the players personal scorebooks. We hope to see these games appearing in Britbase and other locations in the near future.

From The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match by Klein and Winter :

“JM Aitken was born in 1908 in Scotland, and learned chess at the age of eight. He played several times in the Scottish Championship, and won it in 1935. In the Stockholm international team tournament, 1937, he played for Scotland. His best performance in international chess was at Hastings, 1945, when he scored 6 points and did best among the British contingent.

James Aitken Enschede Zonal 1963
James Aitken Enschede Zonal 1963

He is a graduate of both Oxford and Edinburgh, and a Ph.D. At the beginning of the war he joined the Foreign Office. ”

The Aitken Variation is a line recommended in the British Chess Magazine of 1937 of the Giuocco Piano as follows :

From British Chess Magazine, Volume CIV (104, 1984), Number 1 (January), page 65 :

“Dr. James Macrae Aiken (27 October 1908 – 3 December 1983) died at his home in Cheltenham on the Saturday morning when he was due to turn out in a county match that afternoon. Sh he was active to the end, since he played in the veterans’ competition in both at the Southport BCF Congress and at the Guernsey tournament in October.

Ten times Scottish Champion, the worthy doctor represented Scotland at Olympiads both pre- and post-war. At the 1937 Stockholm Olympiad he beat Ståhlberg, while later on he also had the grandmaster scalps of Bogoljubow and Tartakower to his credit.

He retired from his work at the Foreign Office some ten years ago, and continued playing in West Country chess, always taking a high board for Gloucestershire. At the BCM we have a particular cause to remember him with gratitude since he was both a book reviewer and occasional annotator for two decades, and a life-long subscriber.

As a person he was always friendly and objective in his judgements both of chess positions and personalities. Your editor recalls many interesting conversations with him at BCF Congresses. The loss is greatest, of course. for Scottish Chess.

Perhaps we may close on a lighter note, since the following anecdote reminds one that Dr Aitken also turned out for Great Britain in matches just after the war. At an early FIDE Congress after the war the first official FIDE list of masters and grandmasters was being drawn up. The BCF made application for recognising the mastership of HE Atkins. The Soviet delegate, Kotov, objected since he thought he heard the name of Aitken, whom he knew had lost both games to Bondaresvky on board eight of the 1946 GB-USSR Radio Match. It was gently pointed out that the application concerned a player who had come ahead of no less than Chigorin at Hannover 1902. End of objection!

James Macrae Aitken in 1965 by "Mac"
James Macrae Aitken in 1965 by “Mac”

We take this game from the Bournemouth tournament played on the eve of the Second World War.

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

“Talented Scottish amateur who won the Scottish championship ten times, Dr. Aitken’s chief international activity was representing Scotland in the Olympiads.

At Stockholm 1937 he scored 32.4% on top board but he had the distinction of beating the Swedish grandmaster Ståhlberg. At Munich 1958 he scored 67.6% on 2nd board; at Tel Aviv 1964, 28.1% on 2nd board; at Skopje 1972, 38.9% on 6th board.”

Both Sunnucks and Hooper & Whyld are silent on Aitken.

From Wikipedia :

“James Macrae Aitken (27 October 1908 – 3 December 1983) was a Scottish chess player.[1][2] Aitken was born in Calderbank, Lanarkshire, Scotland. In 1938 he received a PhD from Edinburgh University on the topic of ‘The Trial of George Buchanan Before the Lisbon Inquisition’.[3]

Aitken learned chess from his father at age 10.[4] He was Scottish champion in 1935, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961 and 1965, the latter jointly with PM Jamieson.[1] He was also London Champion in 1950.[1] In 1959 he had his best result in the British Championship, finishing tied for seventh place.[4] Aitken represented Scotland in four Chess Olympiads. He played top board at Stockholm 1937, scoring only 32.4% but he did defeat Swedish GM Gideon Ståhlberg[4][5] and draw with American GM Samuel Reshevsky.[4] He played second board at Munich 1958 and Tel Aviv 1964, scoring 67.6% and 28.1% respectively. Aitken played sixth board at Skopje 1972, scoring 38.9%.”

Aitken was Southern Counties (SCCU) Champion for the 1948-49 season

“Aitken represented Great Britain in matches against the USSR and Yugoslavia.[4] In the 1946 radio match between the United Kingdom and the USSR he lost his match with Igor Bondarevsky on board 8.[6] Aitken defeated GM Savielly Tartakower at Southsea 1949[4][7] and GM Efim Bogoljubow at Bad Pyrmont 1951.[4][8]

During World War II, Aitken worked in Hut 6 at Bletchley Park on solving German Enigma machines.[9] On 2 December 1944 Bletchley Park played a 12-board team match against the Oxford University Chess Club. Bletchley Park won the match 8–4 with C.H.O’D. Alexander, Harry Golombek, and Aitken on the top three boards.[10] Aitken wrote many book reviews for the British Chess Magazine.[11] Aside from chess his hobbies included golf, philately, bridge, and watching cricket.[4] He died in Cheltenham in 1983, aged 75.[2]”

Another biography may be found here at the wonderful Chess Scotland

Dr. James Aitken (27-x-1908 03-xii-1983)
Dr. James Aitken (27-x-1908 03-xii-1983)

Remembering Dr. A(lfred) Christopher Reeves (19-ii-1939 03-xii-2012)

Dr. Christopher Reeves, courtesy of British Chess, page 235. Photographer unknown
Dr. Christopher Reeves, courtesy of British Chess, page 235. Photographer unknown

BCN remembers Dr. A(lfred) Christopher Reeves who passed away on Monday, December 3rd, 2012 in St. Agnes, Cornwall. His probate record (#4073868) is dated December 3rd, 2012 being recorded in the Bristol registry.

Alfred Christopher Reeves was born in Wharfedale, Yorkshire on Sunday, February 19th, 1939. His mother’s name was Tomlin.

Alfred detested his first name to the extent that he asked people to call him Christopher and, when asked, told them that the A was for Arthur. For this reason much of the chess literature uses Arthur whereas public records use Alfred.

In British Chess Magazine, Volume 133 (2013), Number 1 (January), page 2 we have this obituary from James Pratt:

“Alfred Christopher Reeves (Leeds, 19 ii 1939 – St Agnes?, 3 xii 2012). Chris Reeves was a FIDE Master of Composition. He toyed with entering the priesthood but became a child psychotherapist. He started composing (“…my solace and diversion …”) in 1960, largely specialising in the orthodox two move field. Though not a prolific composer, his work was known worldwide.
He was Sub-Editor of The Problemist

From the The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977), Harry Golombek OBE, John Rice writes:

“British problemist, output consists of skilfully constructed two-movers in the modern style.”

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

“Problem composer. Since 1960 he has composed about 70 modern-style two movers, and is considered to be one of the most talented British composers. His originality and technique enable him to build into tangible form what would be no more than a passing idea for most composers. He has edited the problem section of Correspondence Chess, and he controlled BCF tourneys and International Team matches.”

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983) Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson we have this:

“I was born on February 19th, 1939, the second son of a doctor who practised in a busy Yorkshire coal-mining town. As a youngster I acquired a taste for chess problems as soon as I learnt the moves of the game.

I owe my initiation to the admirable column which DM Davey used to run in the weekly review The Tablet and to the enterprise of one of the masters of the boarding school to which I was sent when still quite young. Davey’s column catered for novice chess problemists like myself by conducting graded solving tournaments with modest handicaps.

These tournaments ran conveniently the length of the school term, just long enough to sustain a young person’s enthusiasm, The teacher in question used to put the week’s problem up on the school noticeboard and dozens of small schoolboys participated as a result. The Tablet column was not only a boon for beginners like me. It had a very discriminating band of solvers who were given ample space to express their views on each week’s problems. This had the additional effect of making it a popular forum for budding composers who need the stimulus and encouragement of audience response in what is, after all, a very solitary sort of pastime.

My fascination with chess problems soon diverted my energies away from the game itself. I was eight when I began solving. Another 13 years elapsed before I seriously tried my hand at composing. My immediate inspiration was the example of the then young trio of British composers, Barry Barnes, Michael Lipton and John Rice. Their latest work incorporating, try-play, and often exploiting complex patterns of relationships between mates, was regarded as unacceptably, ultramodern, in some quarters but found ready appreciation with the solvers of Davey’s column.

Other sorts of problems I had enjoyed; these I wanted to emulate. The powerful attraction their work had on me has made me chary ever since of the strictures of self-appointed guardians of chess problem ‘taste’, who suggest that the modern two-mover cannot hold the same interest for the solver as the more traditional type. It certainly did not have a negative effect on me.

Problem I was one of my earliest compositions, in fact the first to gain any sort of award. At the time I was a theological student destined for the priesthood. I recall having felt some scruples about indulging in the frivolous pastime of chess problem composition not that it prevented me from becoming thoroughly addicted!

I have found that a bad conscience makes a good chess problem, and the greatest spur for composition is the feeling that one should really be busy doing something else. The problem shows a duel between the white queen and the black knight on d5, each of whose eight possible moves feature as a unique defence against one of the white queen tries. Solvers have often found the key to this problem’ quite elusive.

Problem I

The Tablet, 30th June, 1962

3rd Honorary Mention BCPS Ring Tournament

White to play and mate in 2


Key! Qb3!

The 1960s were my golden period of problem composition. They were my solace and diversion as I passed by way of theological studies through an Oxford degree to the foothills of a different career from the one I had originally envisaged, not the ‘cure of souls’ but the management and treatment of emotionally disturbed children and their families. By the end of the decade I was
already engaged in working as a Child Psychotherapist. Since then I have found that human problems have tended to displace my former involvement with problems of the chess pieces. Whereas
between 1960 and 1970 I composed seventy problems, in the subsequent decade I could manage only a dozen more. The reason for this slowing down in production, however, has not only been the demands of personal, family and professional life.

As a composer I have concentrated almost exclusively on the orthodox two-move field, one which if not yet exhausted nevertheless presents a major challenge to the composer to find something new to say or some new way of saying it. It is no accident (though I admit to a slight feeling of regret) of heterodox problems has expanded enormously in the past few years.

Of my eighty or so problems, fifty have been honoured in tournaments, ten with First prizes, ten with other prizes and the rest with Honourable Mentions and Commendations. My ambition is to
reach a respectable century of compositions, though I being to wonder whether I shall ever make the mark. I would also like to reach the FIDE Master norm for problem composition. I have
had twenty of my problems included in the triennial FIDE Albums so far, a few of them joint compositions. Here again, however, my productivity (or lack of it) may eventually tell against me.

Still, the problemist must always keep the business of honours in perspective. Composing problems is an essentially private business. Your opponent is the power of the pieces, not a fellow sitting opposite Vou. Unlike the chess player, one can keep one’s defeats to oneself when one puts the pieces away after a fruitless evening pondering over a board, so it seems only fair that
one’s successes likewise should be modestly recorded.

By a coincidence two of the three problems which I have selected to round off this brief note about myself and my compositions are ones which got no recognition from the tournament judge
at the time, although I count them amongst my best works.

I have chosen a trio of problems all roughly on the same theme, namely, the four possible moves of the pawn from its starting square. In chess problem parlance this is called the BP4M* theme when applied to the Black pawn, and the Albino theme when applied to the White pawn.

II and III show two ways in which four mates can be provided to meet each of the BP4M moves, only to be changed in the next phase of play. In II, the change is between mates set before the key and those operative after it; in III, the change is more radical, involving the transfer of the WR from one position to another, thereby creating two separate but related (or ‘twin’) problems. Incidentally, a good way to begin to get a taste of what composing involves is to take a problem like III and try to express the theme in full (here the changed BP4M) without resorting to the twinning device.

My last example, IV, shows a duel between white and black pawns, with the four Albino tries being met by the four possible BP4M defences.

(* BP4M is BCNs replacement for a word starting with p now considered by some as offensive.).

Whilst the player may rejoice in a victory soundly accomplished I can think of few pleasures to compare with the satisfaction which comes from accomplishing the sort of task which IV entails, especially when one is fairly sure that it has not been successfully achieved before. For me, at all events, this is what two-mover chess problem composition is all about: its is the ‘art if the all-but-impossible’!”

Problem II

Die Schwalbe August, 1965

White to play and mate in 2

1…dxc6+ 2. Bxc6
1…d6 2.Nd5
1…d5 2.Qb4
1…dxe6 2.Bc8

Key 1.Qxe5! (2.exd7)

1…dxc6 2.Nxc6
1…d6 2.Qf6
1…d5 2.Qc7
1…dxe6 2.Qxe6
1…Rd5+ 2.Nd5

Problem III

1st Prize

Problemist Twin Tournament 1966-67

White to play and mate in 2

Problem IV

Probleemblad, May, 1965

White to play and mate in 2

Here is a collection of his compositions from the super Meson Database

Clearly Chris was a hugely popular figure in the problem world. Here is a collection of tributes from the BCPS.