Minor Pieces 12: George Edward Norwood Ryan

The chess players of Richmond and Twickenham had more than two decade to wait before another club arose in their area.

A chess club in Twickenham opened its doors for the first time, probably in Autumn 1880. This is the first of a series of articles looking at some of their members between 1881 and 1906.

I should point out here that there will probably be a lot more information available online once the Richmond & Twickenham Times is digitised. I’m not the only local historian who’s been waiting years for this. But we still have quite a lot of information about who their members were and what they did, both at the board and in the rest of their lives. A pretty interesting bunch they were as well, with some even more interesting relations.

The early 1880s were times of great change in the English chess world. Over the next couple of decades chess clubs would be transformed from somewhere for gentlemen to play their friends over a glass of brandy and a fine cigar to something resembling the evening chess clubs we know today, competing in leagues against other clubs in the vicinity. One early sign of change was the foundation of the British Chess Magazine in 1881.

It’s in the first volume that we find the first readily available mention of the new Twickenham Chess Club.

We have a report of a simultaneous display by Isidor Gunzberg (sic), an up and coming London-based Hungarian, who, within a few years, would be considered one of the world’s strongest players.

It was quite impressive, I guess, for a new club to welcome such an illustrious guest.

Simultaneous displays were very popular at the time, and so were handicap tournaments, in which stronger players would give a material handicap to their weaker clubmates.

We read that Mr Ryan, who would be a significant figure in the story of Twickenham Chess Club, won the handicap tournament and was also the last to finish against Gunsberg.

We need to find out more about him.

When I’m travelling by bus to the Roebuck, I usually take the 481 to Princes Road, Teddington, from where it’s a 10 minute walk, passing, if I choose, the residence of GM Daniel King, to reach the current Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club.

Source: Google Maps

As I turn into Princes Road I pass this rather impressive residence at No. 1: it was previously known as Fulwell House.

Let’s knock on the door and see who’s at home.

We’re going to meet George Edward Norwood Ryan and his family.

George was an Irishman, born on 29 July 1825 (a day earlier and he’d have been a century and a quarter older than me) in the delightfully named village of Golden, County Tipperary, half way between Tipperary itself and the town of Cashel. The Ryans are still there now: if you visit Golden today you’ll find Eamonn Ryan Family Butcher and Conor Ryan Car Detailing. Are Eamonn and Conor related to George? Or to each other? Who knows? George was the son of Francis John Ryan, an army officer, but he would choose a different career.

His father died when he was very young, and, at some point, he moved to London where, in 1855, he married Mary Anne Wilkes. They would have a large family, seven sons, two of whom died in infancy, and five daughters.

He’s elusive in the 1851 and 1861 censuses, but in 1871 he’s living in Belgravia with his family and three servants, employed as a ‘précis writer’. Within the next year or two he moves out of the smoke to leafy Teddington, to the house pictured above.

The 1881 census tells us he’s ‘engaged on parliamentary blue books’, which are reports of proceedings in parliament, so presumably he’s writing précis of parliamentary debates for these books. A skilled job, and one which must have paid very well. And, when not engaged in his parliamentary work, he’s playing chess at the new Twickenham Chess Club.

Ryan would continue his active involvement until at least 1896, by which time two of his sons, E Ryan (probably Ernest Keating Woods Ryan rather than Edward Francis Maxwell Ryan, who had married and moved out of the immediate area) and George Norwood Ryan, were also playing. George junior would later cross the river to Kingston and change his allegiance to Surbiton Chess Club in the first decade of the 20th century. George Edward Norwood Ryan would eventually die at the age of 90, after a long and successful life, leaving effects to the value of £4224 14s.

George junior and Ernest are both of some interest. No, sadly Ernie didn’t become a milkman, and nor did Edward, under the name two-ton Ted from Teddington, drive a baker’s van. Instead, Ernest was an accountant and company secretary, who married and had two daughters. His younger daughter, Honor, married James de la Mare, a nephew of Walter, and the oldest of their three sons, another James, would marry Diana Street-Porter, sister-in-law of Janet.

Talking of Walter de la Mare, his house in Twickenham, South End House, at the end of the rather lovely Montpelier Row, is currently on the market. It’s yours for a trifling £10.5 million. Me, I think I’ll have two of them. Across the road at the other end of Montpelier Row, you’ll find, appropriately enough, the site of North End House, the home of Henry George Bohn.

George Norwood Ryan has a sadder story to tell. His marriage to Isabella Anderson would produce three sons, Lionel, Warwick and Edward, and one daughter.

Here’s Warwick:

Warwick John Norwood was the second son of George Norwood Ryan (Merchant’s Shipping Clerk) and Isabel Ryan (nee Anderson).

He became a 2nd Lieutenant 19 Dec 1914 having been a private in Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. He went to Gallipoli in October 1915 with the Dorset Yeomanry (Queens Own) and following this he continued service in the Middle East in the Imperial Camel Corps. He was reported Killed in Action 5 Sep 1916.

Source: Herts at War – a community led project to commemorate the diverse experiences of Hertfordshire during the First World War.

And here’s Edward, who lost his life just three weeks before the end of the war:

Date of Birth: –/–/1896 — Place Of Birth: Kingston-Upon-Thames — Father: George Norwood Ryan — Mother: Isabella Ryan — Siblings: Leonel Ryan, Warwick John Norwood Ryan, Isabel Ryan — Date of Death: 22/10/1918 — Cemetery: Harlebeke New British Cemetery — Rank: Captain — Service Type: Army — Battalion, sub-unit or ship: 12th Battalion — Regiment/Unit: East Surrey Regiment — Service Record: Won the Military Cross — Census Years: 1901, 1911

Source: People | Surrey in the Great War:

The citation for his award of the Military Cross:

T./iCapt. Edward St. John Norwood Ryan,
12th Bn., E. iSurr. R.
During operations on 14th October, 1918, north of Menin, he showed great gallantry and fine leadership whilst commanding a
company. He led his men forward to the final objective through a dense fog, maintaining perfect direction and touch throughout, and consolidating the position. His company captured several strong points, many prisoners, and a quantity of war material.

Source: data.pdf (thegazette.co.uk)

It’s often assumed that the upper class officers kept themselves safe while leading their lower class troops to their death. In fact:

Very large numbers of British officers were killed. Over 200 generals were killed, wounded or taken prisoner; this could only have happened in the front line. Between 1914-18, around 12% of the ordinary soldiers were killed. The figure for officers was around 17%.

Source: The National Archives Learning Curve | The Great War | Lions led by donkeys? | Officers & men | Background

Their older brother, Lionel, survived the war, and, like his father, became a ship broker. His employment with Canadian Pacific took him to Hong Kong.

He was interned by the Japanese after the fall of Hong Kong and was the 111th person to die in the Stanley Internment Camp. He died on February 27th 1945 and is buried in the Stanley Cemetery.

Source: Lionel Ernest Norwood Ryan | Christ Church, Oxford University

So George Norwood Ryan, chess player from Twickenham and Surbiton clubs, lost his two younger sons in World War 1 and his oldest son as a result of World War 2. He lived on until 1959, reaching the age of 94. His daughter also lived a long life, but, like all five of her aunts, never married. I know from personal experience that they weren’t the only unmarried sisters in Teddington.

The two Georges, father and son, were fortunate to have fought their wars over the chequered board rather than the bloody battlefield. As the Ryan family knew only too well, real wars are bad, but pretend wars are good.

We’ll be meeting George Edward Norwood Ryan again as we continue our exploration of Twickenham Chess Club in future articles.

The Secret Ingredient: To Winning at Chess

The Secret Ingredient: To Winning at Chess, Jan Markos & David Navara, Quality Chess, 7th Feb 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831424
The Secret Ingredient: To Winning at Chess, Jan Markos & David Navara, Quality Chess, 7th Feb 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831424

From the publisher:

The Secret Ingredient is a grandmaster guide to maximizing your chess results, focusing on key elements of practical play which have received little to no attention in previous chess literature.

How exactly can we best make use of computers? What’s the ideal, step-by-step way to prepare against a specific opponent? How can we optimize our time management at the board? And what’s the one key skill that separates the best players from those who have yet to reach their full potential? GM Jan Markos sheds light on these topics and many more, helped by the world-class insights of his good friend GM David Navara.”

“Jan Markos is a Slovakian grandmaster and trainer. His previous book, Under the Surface, was the English Chess Federation’s 2018 Book of the Year.

David Navara is a ten-time Czech Champion and a world-class grandmaster. He is noted for combining fighting spirit with outstanding sportsmanship.”

End of blurb…

GM David Navara
GM David Navara

Quality Chess live up to their name by being one of the few publishers who offer a hardback as well as softback version of all of their titles.

The production values are superb with a “McFarland-like” feel. Of course, you could save a few pence and go for the paperback version but we would definitely treat ourselves with an early Christmas present and savour the hardback. In addition, high quality paper is used and the printing is clear: excellent glossy paper has been used. The weight of this paper gives the book an even better feel to it!

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 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. (JEU)

GM Jan Markos
GM Jan Markos

From the introduction, written by Jan Markos:

This is above all a practical book. My goal is simple: I want to help you avoid as many disastrous defeats … as possible. I’ll show you what a real fight on the chessboard is all about. And I would like you to learn how to hold your ground in this fight. I’ll tell you how to cope with stress, how to use your time efficiently and how to make well-reasoned decisions. I’ll show you how to prepare for every individual opponent and how to play endgames in 30-second rhythm.

In short, this book wants to teach you how to win at chess.

I haven’t read Jan Markos’s previous award-winning book, so was interested to receive this. Most of the book is written by Markos, with contributions by David Navara, providing further examples, agreeing with, or, on occasion, disagreeing with his colleague, are printed using a sans serif font, helpfully allowing the reader to differentiate between the two authorial voices.

Diving into Chapter 1, looking at what grandmaster chess is really like, I was immediately taken by Markos’s comments on tactics:

In real chess, the width of your calculation is usually much more important than its depth.

Indeed so, and this is precisely the limitation of most tactics books, not to mention online tactics training.

This is Markos – Tomashevsky (Plovdiv 2008).

Markos takes up the story:

I knew I had to stop the advance of the black d-pawn, but I considered just one way to prevent d5-d4. I included only 22. Qa1 into my calculation, perhaps because I liked the potential threat of checkmate on g7. In fact, 22. Qa1 is only one of three good moves available to White in this position: the other two being 22. Ne2 and 22. Qb4.

He demonstrated the long variation he calculated, which is what happened in the game, but adds:

If I had focused more on the width of my calculation, I might have noticed that Black could have met 22. Qa1 with a much stronger reply: 22… Rc3!

Reviving the threat of …d5-d4 in a much better setting, To escape a downright losing position, White has to find the non-trivial:

23. Rc1! d4 24. Rxc3! dxe3+ 25. Kg1 (even the exotic 25. Ke1!? is playable) 25… exf3 26. gxf3

reaching a position where Black has sufficient compensation for the sacrificed material, but nothing more.

He adds:

Good calculation doesn’t look like a way through a tunnel and isn’t meant to get you as far as possible in one direction. It resembles more a path through an unknown forest; you have to consider all the detours and paths you encounter, one step at a time.

In endings, though, things are very different. With fewer pieces on the board, you can – and have to  calculate much further ahead.

I found Chapter 2, about the limits of computer evaluation, particularly interesting. We learn that there are several types of equal position: eternal balance, where anything sensible for either player draws, stable balance, where strong players will have no problem drawing with either colour, and fragile balance, where it’s difficult for one or both players to find the correct moves to maintain equality. Likewise, there are different types of advantage, again to do with how easy it is to find the best continuation.

Navara demonstrates a spectacular example.

Black is objectively winning, yet I believe that in 90 per cent of practical games, White players would win.

If, on the other hand, you presented it to grandmasters or international masters with a hint “Black to move wins”, the situation would be quite different. I would estimate that half of the players, or even more, would discover the correct continuation.

This is Ni Hua – Le Quang Liem (Ho Chi Minh City 2012).

The game concluded 29… h5? 30. Qxh5 Ba3+ 31. Kxb3 and Black resigned.

Engines prefer to continue 29… Ba3+! 30. Kxb3 a1N+!! 31. Rxa1 Qb6+!! 32. Bxb6 Nd4+! 33. Kc3 Rxc4+! 34. Kxc4 Rc8+ 35. Bc7 Rxc7#.

In Chapter 3, Markos asks a question.

But is there a single, defining skill that any mature chess player should master?

Well, Jan, is there?

If you ask me, yes there is – and it’s the art of defence. The ability to defend themselves is that separates mature players from the youngsters in the chess world. There’s a certain logic behind it; defence is the most demanding part of the game – requiring not only chess skills, but also strength of character from an individual. You need to be both patient and able to take a risk. You need to devote a lot of energy to every single move and never take an immediate reward for granted.

Here’s Markos in 2018 playing black against Viktor Gazik, who, a few months later, would become World Junior Champion.

White’s position is quite uncomfortable, as Black can build up an attack along the g- and h-files in an instant. Yet, objectively speaking, it’s only slightly worse. To defend successfully, White only needs to exchange off the bishop on f2, which will enable him to cover g2 with his rook along the second rank. If Gazik had realized this, he would have played 25. Qd3, and after the possible continuation 25… Rg8 26.  Bd4 Qg6 27. Rc2, I would have had only a slight superiority. 

But Gazik panicked, playing the active but misguided 25. c5?, losing a few moves later.

An instructive moment, I think, because White has to trade off what looks like his opponent’s bad bishop. Yes, defence is difficult.

Chapter 4 concerns the important topic of time management.

Save your time for when you need it, advises Markos. The more important the decision you have to make, the more time you should spend making it. With small decisions, decide quickly; for bigger decisions, allow time to think them over.

Chapter 5 features a subject close to my heart: the draw. When should you offer a draw? When should you accept or decline your opponent’s offer?

There’s a lot of psychology involved here, and chess psychology is the subject of Chapter 6.

In the game Roiz – Holzke (Rijeka 2010) White missed the chance to win a piece: 21. Nd3! Qxb3 22. Nc5 Qb2 23. Rab1.

Roiz simply regarded this position as strategic, and from this point of view the pawn on b3 was untouchable. I’m quite sure that a player such as Shirov or Tal would have won the knight, even in a blitz game.

Seek and you will find. Its opposite is equally valid: if you don’t seek, you won’t find. It’s no coincidence that the best chess players are usually (at least behind the chessboard) optimists. Their optimism and confidence help them to find solutions and fight even in situations where other players would long have lost hope.

Chapters 7 and 8 are perhaps of less relevance to average club players. If you play most of your over the board chess in league matches and weekend congresses you’ll have little opportunity to prepare in depth for specific opponents.

Giving a few examples, Chapter 7 explains how to research your next opponent’s games, looking at their style, strengths and weaknesses. Chapter 8 takes this further, looking at how you can choose a specific opening variation that will make your opponent uncomfortable.

Then we have a quiz with ten (hard) questions, in which you can compare your answers with those of David Navara.

The book concludes with a chapter summarising the lessons to be learnt from the book.

Jan Markos is an excellent writer, who uses metaphors to draw you into his world. Each chapter starts a long way from chess, discussing anything from Aesop’s Fables, via Andy Warhol, to initiation rites in Vanuatu, and concludes with Markos asking his co-author three questions about the topic in question.

The examples themselves are, I think, pitched at a pretty high level: I’d say 2200+. As a player of about 2000 strength, I usually learn more from simpler positions taken from games played at lower levels, but, yes, I understand that looking at grandmaster play is the point of the book. The content, also, is, for the most part more suitable for higher rated players, although, in the first six chapters, there’s a lot of general advice which any serious player will find useful.

If you’re a strong, ambitious player aiming towards IM or GM level I’m sure you’ll find this book invaluable. But lower rated players will also find much to enjoy, from Markos’s engaging style of writing to a host of fascinating positions taken from grandmaster play, and pick up some helpful tips for general improvement along the way. Best of all, you also get a genuine understanding of what grandmaster chess is all about, taking you beyond the familiar brilliancies and sacrifices into the minds and brains of elite players.

The book is beautifully produced: the standard of translation, editing and proofreading by Quality Chess seems to me to be a class above that of many other chess publishers. Although there are a few insignificant translational infelicities, I’ve yet to find any typos: most unusual for a chess book.

Highly recommended, then, for anyone hoping to reach master strength, but also with a lot to interest club and tournament players . I can see why Markos’s previous book was so successful. If the content appeals, you won’t be disappointed.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 3rd October 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 224 pages
  • Publisher: Quality Chess UK LLP (7 Feb. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1784831425
  • ISBN-13:978-1784831424
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 2 x 24 cm

Official web site of Quality Chess

The Secret Ingredient: To Winning at Chess, Jan Markos & David Navara, Quality Chess, 7th Feb 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831424
The Secret Ingredient: To Winning at Chess, Jan Markos & David Navara, Quality Chess, 7th Feb 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831424