Remembering GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE (07-x-1933 30-xi-2021)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE in the garden of Brian Reilly
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE in the garden of Brian Reilly

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

In the 1971 New Years Honours List Jonathan was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) The citation read “For services to Chess.”

In 1993 following representations by Bob Wade and Leonard Barden FIDE granted the title of Grandmaster to Jonathan. Here is a detailed discussion of that process. Note that this was not an Honorary title (as received by Jacques Mieses and Harry Golombek).

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983) by Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson : (article by George Botterill)

“Penrose is one of the outstanding figures of British chess. Yet many who meet him may not realize this just because he is one of the quietest and most modest of men. Throughout the late 1950s and the whole of the 1960s he stood head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

His extraordinary dominance is revealed by the fact that he won the British championship no less than ten times (1958-63 and 1966-69, inclusive), a record that nobody is likely to equal in the future.

At his best his play was lucid, positionally correct, energetic and tactically acute. None the less, there is a ‘Penrose problem’: was he a ‘Good Thing’ for British chess? The trouble was that whilst this highly talented player effectively crushed any opposition at home, he showed little initiative in flying the flag abroad. There is a wide-spread and justifiable conviction that only lack of ambition in the sphere of international chess can explain why he did not secure the GM title during his active over-the-board playing career.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for above photograph
Press agency caption for above photograph

It would be unjust, however, to blame Penrose for any of this. The truth is simply that he was not a professional chessplayer, and indeed he flourished in
a period in which chess playing was not a viable profession in Britain. But even if the material awards available had been greater Penrose would almost certainly have chosen to remain an amateur. For he was cast in that special intellectual and ethical tradition of great British amateurs like H. E. Atkins, Sir George Thomas and Hugh Alexander before him.

Travel Chess 2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)
Travel Chess
2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)

His family background indicates early academic inclinations in a cultural atmosphere in which chess was merely a game something at which one excelled through sheer ability, but not to be ranked alongside truly serious work. It is noteworthy that Penrose, unique in this respect amongst British chess masters, has never written at any length about the game. He has had other matters to concentrate on when away from the board, being a lecturer in psychology. (His father, Professor L. S. Penrose, was a distinguished geneticist.)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Being of slight physique and the mildest and most amiable of characters, it is probably also true that Penrose lacked the toughness and ‘killer instinct’ required to reach the very top. Nervous tension finally struck him down in a dramatic way when he collapsed during play in the Siegen Olympiad of 1970. We can take that date as the end of the Penrose era.

Jonathan Penrose Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Jonathan Penrose
Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images))

Since, then though he has not by any means entirely given up, his involvement in the nerve-wracking competitions of over-the-board play has been greatly reduced. instead he has turned to correspondence chess, which is perhaps the ideal medium for his clear strategy and deep and subtle analysis. So Penrose’s career it not over. He has moved to another, less stressful province of the kingdom of chess.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

For the first game, however, we shall turn the clock right back to 1950 and the see the Penrose in the role of youthful giant killer.

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

“British international master and ten times British Champion, Penrose was born in Colchester and came from a chess-playing family.

Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)
Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)

His father and mother (Margaret)  both played chess and his father, Professor Lionel Sharples Penrose, in addition to being a geneticist of world-wide fame, was a strong chess-player and a good endgame composer. Jonathan’s older brother Oliver, was also a fine player.

Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist
Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist

Roger Penrose won the Nobel prize for physics in 2020.

Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate
Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate

Shirley Hodgson (née Penrose) is a high flying geneticist.

Prof. Shirley Hodgson
Prof. Shirley Hodgson

Jonathan learnt chess at the age of four, won the British Boys championship at thirteen and by the time he was fifteen was playing in the British Championship in Felixstowe in 1949.

Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

A little reluctant to participate in international tournaments abroad, he did best in the British Championship which he won a record number of times, once more than HE Atkins. He won the title consecutively from 1958 to 1963 and again from 1966 to 1969.

Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

He also played with great effect in nine Olympiads. Playing on a high board for practically all the time, he showed himself the equal of the best grandmasters and indeed, at the Leipzig Olympiad he distinguished himself by beating Mikhail Tal, thereby becoming the first British player to defeat a reigning World Champion since Blackburne beat Lasker in 1899.

ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951
ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951

Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni
Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni

A deep strategist who could also hold his own tactically, he suffered from the defect of insufficient physical stamina and it was this that was to bring about a decline in his play and in his results. He collapsed during a game at the Ilford Chess Congress, and a year later, at the Siegen Olympiad of 1970, he had a more serious collapse that necessitated his withdrawal from the event after the preliminary groups had been played. The doctors found nothing vitally wrong with him that his physique could not sustain.

He continued to play but his results suffered from a lack of self-confidence and at the Nice Olympiad of 1974 he had a wretched result on board 3, winning only 1 game and losing 6 out of 15.

Darga V Penrose 29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain's Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Darga V Penrose
29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain’s Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Possibly too his profession (a lecturer in psychology) was also absorbing him more and more and too part less and less in international and national chess.

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

Yet, he had already done enough to show that he was the equal of the greatest British players in his command and understanding of the game and he ranks alongside Staunton, Blackburne, Atkins and CHO’D Alexander as a chess figure of world class.”

Here is his Wikipedia entry

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

“The leading English player during the 1960s, International Master (1961), International Correspondence Chess Master (1980), lecturer in psychology. Early in his chess career Penrose decided to remain an amateur and as a consequence played in few international tournaments. He won the British Championship from 1958 to 1963 and from 1966 to 1969, ten times in all (a record); and he played in nine Olympiads from 1952 to 1974, notably scoring + 10=5 on first board at Lugano 1968, a result bettered only by the world champion Petrosyan.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

In the early 1970s Penrose further restricted his chess because the stress of competitive play adversely affected his health.”

The second edition (1996) adds this :

“He turned to correspondence play, was the highest rated postal player in the world 1987-9, and led the British team to victory in the 9th Correspondence Olympiad.”

Here is a discussion about Jonathan on the English Chess Forum

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

“International Master (1961) and British Champion in 1958 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.

Jonathan Penrose was born in Colchester on 7th October 1933, the son of Professor LS Penrose, the well-known geneticist, who was also a strong player and composer of endgame studies.

The whole Penrose family plays chess and Jonathan learned the game when he was 4. At the age of 12 he joined Hampstead Chess Club and the following year played for Essex for the first time, won his first big tournament, the British Boys’ Championship, and represented England against Ireland in a boy’s match, which was the forerunner of the Glorney Cup competition, which came into being the following year.

By the time he was 17 Penrose was recognised as one of the big hopes of British Chess. Playing in the Hastings Premier Tournament for the first time in `1950 – 1951, he beat the French Champion Nicholas Rossolimo and at Southsea in 1950 he beat two International Grandmasters, Effim Bogoljubov and Savielly Tartakower.

Penrose played for the British Chess Federation in a number of Chess Olympiads since 1952. In 1960, at Leipzig, came one of the best performances of his career, when he beat the reigning World Champion, Mikhail Tal. He became the first British player to beat a reigning World Champion since JH Blackburne beat Emmanuel Lasker in 1899, and the first player to defeat Tal since he won the World Championship earlier that year. Penrose’s score in this Olympiad was only half-a-point short of the score required to qualify for the International Grandmaster title.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

His ninth victory in the British Championships in 1968 equalled the record held by HE Atkins, who has held the title more times than any other player.

Penrose is a lecturer in psychology at Enfield College of Technology and has never been in a position to devote a great deal of time to the game. He is married to a former contender in the British Girls Championship and British Ladies’s Championship, Margaret Wood, daughter of Frank Wood, Hon. Secretary of the Oxfordshire Chess Association.

Again from British Chess : “In updating this report we find striking evidence of Penrose’s prowess as a correspondence player. Playing on board 4 for Britain in the 8th Correspondence Chess Olympiad he was astonishingly severe on the opposition, letting slip just one draw in twelve games! Here is one of the eleven wins that must change the assessment of a sharp Sicilian Variation.”

 

Penrose was awarded the O.B.E. for his services to chess in 1971.”

Penrose was Southern Counties Champion for 1949-50.

In 1983 Jonathan became England’s fifth Correspondence Grandmaster (CGM) following Keith Richardson, Adrian Hollis, Peter Clarke and Simon Webb.

Sadly, there is no existent book on the life and games of Jonathan Penrose : a serious omission in chess literature.

Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Minor Pieces 19: Sydney Meymott

You saw this result in my recent article about the Coward family. There are some other names of interest in this Twickenham team.

On board 5 for Twickenham was Sydney Meymott. Many players, like Arthur and Randulph Coward, only play competitive chess for a few years before moving on to another stage in their lives. There are others for whom chess is a lifelong obsession: the Complete Chess Addicts (now that would make a great book title!), and Sydney was one of those, with a chess career lasting almost half a century.

He came from a distinguished family. His grandfather, John Gilbert Meymott was a prominent lawyer, and his father Charles Meymott a doctor whose other interests included cricket and chess.

Charles played two first class cricket matches for Surrey, but without success. Against the MCC in 1846 he was dismissed without scoring in the first innings and made 4 not out in the second innings. Against Kent the following year he failed to trouble the scorers in either innings. He also failed to take any wickets in either match.

In 1848 he submitted a ‘beautiful study’ to Bell’s Life, as you can see below.

 

Bell’s Life 3 September 1848

A few weeks later the solution was published, failing to provide any moves but just saying that White will win a pawn and the game.

But as you can demonstrate for yourself (or verify using tablebases) this is complete nonsense: the position is drawn with best play.

A celebrated cricketer who composed a beautiful study? I think not.

Earlier in 1848, he’d submitted a mate in 4 to the Illustrated London News, which was at least sound, if not very interesting. You can solve it yourself if you want: the solution is at the end of the article.

Problem 1:

#4 Illustrated London News 12 Feb 1848

In about 1859 Charles, his wife Sarah (née Keene, no relation, as far as I know, to Ray) and their three daughters (a son had died in infancy) emigrated to Australia, where his brother Frederick was a judge. The family must have been well regarded there. If you visit the suburb of Randwick today, not far from Coogee Beach, you’ll find a residential road there named Meymott Street, with Frederick Street running off it.

From there Charles submitted another mate in 4, slightly more sophisticated this time.

Problem 2:

#4 Illustrated London News 26 Nov 1859

The following year, Sarah gave birth to a son, who was given the name of his home city: Sydney.

Charles Meymott had started out in conventional medicine but at some point he had converted to homeopathy. You can find out a bit more here, although some of the links no longer work.

Charles died in 1867 at the age of 54, and his widow and children decided to return to England. I wonder if he’d been able to teach his young son how the pieces moved.

In 1871 Sarah and young Syd were living in Queen Street (now Queen’s Road) Twickenham: perhaps the girls only returned to England later.

By 1881 the oldest girl had married and moved to Scotland, but Sarah and her three youngest children were now at 4 Syon Row, Twickenham, right by the river.

The road is so well known that a rather expensive book has been written about it.

Photo copyright Richard James 2021

It was from there, then that, at some point in 1883 or 1884, the 23-year-old Sydney Meymott joined Twickenham Chess Club.

Here he is again, in a match played in October, now on Board 2 against Brixton. You’ll see George Ryan on top board, with Wallace Britten and the Coward brothers lower down. Young Edward Joseph Line (not Lyne), born in 1862, who had played for Isleworth against Twickenham earlier in the year, was on Board 3, although he was one of only two Twickenham players to lose.

Surrey Comet 11 October 1884

If you’re interested in this part of the world, you might want to check out my good friend Martin Smith’s new book Movers and Takers, a history of chess in Streatham and Brixton. A review will be appearing on British Chess News shortly.

Syd had decided on a career as a bank manager, and his training would have involved working at different branches gaining more experience before managing a larger branch himself. This was perhaps to be his last appearance for Twickenham, but we’ll follow the rest of his life in this article.

Just a couple of weeks later he wrote to the Morning Post:

Morning Post 27 October 1884

Disraeli Road is conveniently situated just round the corner from Putney Station, with its frequent trains to Waterloo. Impressive houses they are too: young Syd was doing well for himself.

The new chess club in Putney rapidly became very successful. Inevitably, they invited Blackburne to give a blindfold simul in February 1886: Meymott was the only player to draw.

In December the same year, Sydney issued a challenge to his old club, with Putney winning by 5 games to 3.

Here’s what happened in the return match in the new year.

Source: Surrey Comet 15 January 1887

He was soon on the move again, leaving the good chess players of Putney to their own devices. Without their leading light the club struggled on for a few years before apparently folding. This time, Syd’s work took him to Honiton, Devon, where again he started a chess club. By now he was writing regularly to the Morning Post, solving their problems and sometimes submitting problems of his own – which were not considered suitable for publication.

In this game he demonstrated his knowledge of Légal’s Mate. (In this and other games in this post, click on any move to obtain a pop-up board and play through the game.)

Source: Morning Post 17 Dec 1888

Here, he was able to show off his attacking skills in the Evans Gambit, giving rook odds to another semi-anonymous opponent.

Source: Western Morning Post 26 Feb 1891

By now it was time for Sydney to move on again, this time back to West London, to Ealing the Queen of the Suburbs, where he’d remain for the next 40 years. He’d eventually become the Manager of the Ealing Broadway branch of the London and South Western Bank.

This time he didn’t need to start up a chess club: there already was – and still is – one there, founded in 1885. As a bank manager, he was soon cajoled, as bank managers usually are, into taking on the role of Honorary Treasurer.

In this game from a local derby against Acton, Black’s handling of the French Defence wasn’t very impressive,  allowing Meymott to set up a Greek Gift sacrifice.

Source: London Evening Standard 25 Nov 1895

Meymott commented: … it may interest some of the younger readers and stimulate them to ‘book’ learning, the game being a forcible example of the utility of ever being alert to the well-known mating positions… Sixteen years later, the young Capablanca played the same sacrifice in the same position. Perhaps he’d read the Evening Standard. Learning and looking out for the well-known mating positions is still excellent advice today.

In May 1896 Sydney made the headlines in the local press for reasons unconnected with either chess or banking. He was one of those stuck for 16 hours on the Great Wheel at Earl’s Court, and was interviewed at length about his experiences by the Middlesex County Times (30 May 1896 if you want to check it out). Fortunately, a lady in his car managed to let down a reel of cotton, so that they were able to receive refreshments, in the shape of stale buns and whisky and soda, from the ground.

A match against Windsor in 1897, where he was described as a ‘bold dashing player’ saw him pitted against an illustrious opponent in Sir Walter Parratt, organist and Master of the Queen’s Musick, and a possible subject of a future Minor Piece.

Windsor and Eton Express 20 February 1897

Life at Ealing chess club continued with a diet of inter-club matches, internal tournaments and simultaneous displays, with Syd often successful in avoiding defeat against the visiting masters.

In 1899, approaching his forties, he married Annie Ellen Nash. They stayed together for the rest of his life, but had no children.

In this 1902 match against Richmond, Ealing scored an emphatic victory helped by the non-appearance of Richmond’s board 2. A future series of Minor Pieces will introduce you to some of the Richmond players from that period in the club’s history.

Middlesex & Surrey Express 09 April 1902

As he settled into comfortable middle age, life continued fairly uneventfully for Sydney and Annie. The 1911 census found them at 18 Uxbridge Road, Ealing, which seems to have been in the town centre, possibly above the bank.

Many clubs closed down during the First World War, but Ealing, with Sydney Meymott still balancing the books, kept going. Electoral rolls from the 1920s record Syd and Annie at 23 Woodville Road, Ealing, and very nice it looks too. A spacious detached house just for the two of them. In 1921, he was in trouble with the law, though, receiving a fine for not having his dog muzzled.

At some point in the 1920s, Sydney would have retired from his job as bank manager, giving him more time for chess, and time to resume submitting games for publication. In his sixties, when many players would be thinking about hanging up their pawns, Syd, always the chess addict, took up tournament chess.

Hastings 1922-23 was what might have been Meymott’s first tournament. Unfortunately he had to retire ill with 1½/6 in First Class B section.

In 1925 he visited Scarborough, playing in the Major A section. He won a few games but didn’t finish among the prizewinners.

In 1926, using his favourite French Defence, he managed to beat Fred Yates in a simul. The complications towards the end are intriguing: do take a look.

Source: Middlesex County Times 23 Jan 1926

That Easter Syd took part in one of the First Class sections of the West of England Championship at Weston-Super-Mare, finishing in midfield.

Later the same year, representing the Rest of Middlesex against Hampstead, he played this game against Ernest Montgomery Jellie. White’s 11th move looked tempting but turned out to be a losing mistake: Jellie’s knight was very shaky on d6 and his position soon wobbled.

Source: Middlesex County Times 16 Oct 1926

At this point it’s worth taking a slight detour to consider Meymott’s opponent. Ernest Montgomery Jellie and his wife Emily, who sadly died young, had three Jellie babies. Their daughter Dorothy married Sidney Stone, and one of their sons, Chris, inherited his grandfather’s love of chess.

I knew Chris very well back in the day, when he was involved with Pinner Junior Chess Club, where his son Andrew was one of their star players.  Chris was an enthusiast rather than a strong player himself,  but Andrew is both. He’s been a 2200 strength player for many years, representing Streatham in the London League as well as his local club, Watford.

You can read much more about the Jellie-Stone connection here (Martin Smith again).

After Christmas 1926, Sydney went down to Hastings where he took second prize in the Major C section with a score of 7/9. Well played, Syd!

On his return, he played this game. This seems to have been in a handicap tournament, where, instead of giving knight odds, the players agreed that Meymott would play blindfold.

Source: Acton Gazette 14 Jan 1927

At Hastings 1927-28 he scored 50% in the First Class B section. Easter 1928 saw him back at the West of England Championships, held that year in Cheltenham, where he galloped to victory in the Class IIB section, scoring 7½/9.

The British Championships in July 1928 took him further west, to Tenby, where he played in the First Class A section, sharing third prize with the aforementioned Ernest Montgomery Jellie on 6½/9, but again beating him in their individual game.

Source: Britbase ( https://www.saund.co.uk/britbase/pgn/192807bcf-viewer.html)

He was back at Hastings 1929-30, where he scored a respectable 5/9 in the First Class B section.

In September 1931 he did what many chess players of that period did: he retired to Hastings, after four decades living and playing chess in Ealing. He was soon playing for his local club.

In a match against Brighton in 1932 his opponent was Kenneth Gunnell, who would much later become, briefly, a rather controversial member of both Richmond and Twickenham Chess Clubs.

That would be one of his last games. On 7 February 1933 Sydney Meymott died at the Warrior House Hotel, St Leonards on Sea.

Writing about Ernest Montgomery Jellie, Martin Smith summed him up beautifully:

But who is he, and why should we be interested? There two reasons that come to mind.

One is that he turns out to be an exemplary specimen of an ordinary decent chesser, the sort often overlooked in histories of the game. He and other enthusiasts like him, then and now, are the body-chessic upon which the chess bug spawns and beneficently multiplies. Stir E.M. Jellie together with the rest and you get the thriving chess culture that we all know: the one that germinates the few blessed enough to rise to the top.

Replace E.M. Jellie with Sydney Meymott, and the same sentiments apply. A good player, but not a great player. For almost half a century a stalwart of club, county, and, later, congress chess. A club treasurer for many years, but in his younger days also a founder and secretary of two clubs.

In these days of chess professionalism, even at primary school level, of obsession with grandmasters, prodigies and champions, we’re at risk of losing the likes of Jellie and Meymott. We should be developing chess culture in order to develop champions, not the other way round. And that celebration of chess culture is one of the reasons why I’m writing these Minor Pieces. My friends at Ealing Chess Club today should certainly raise a glass to Sydney Meymott.

Solutions:

1.

1. Bxg5+ Kg6 2. Bf6+ Kh5 3. Ng3+ Kh6 4. Bg7#

2.

1. Nxd5 gxf3 (1… Rxb5 2. e3+ Kc4 3. Nb6#) (1… Bc3+ 2. Nxc3 Bd5 3. e3+ Kc4 4. Bxd5#) (1… Bxb5 2. e3+ Kc4 3. Nxb6#) 2. e3+ Ke4 (2… Kc4 3. Ndc7+ (3. Nc3+ Bd5 4. Bxd5#) 3… Bd5 4. Bxd5#) 3. c3 Rxb5 (3… Bxd5 4. Bxd5#) 4. Nf6#

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Tart
Peter Tart

Peter Tart, Farnborough, Hampshire, 26th November 2021

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Russell Enterprises

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

Minor Pieces 18: Arthur Sabin and Randulph Lewis Coward

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

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

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

Middlesex Independent 21 February 1883

 

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

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

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

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

Middlesex Independent 05 March 1884

 

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

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

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

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

It’s well worth looking at all his children.

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s visit Teddington and find out.

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

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

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

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

Posted on Facebook by David Allaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middlesex & Surrey Express 16 February 1901

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

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

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

Source: Google Maps

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements and sources:

Wikipedia

ancestry.co.uk

findmypast.co.uk

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

Various online postings by local historians.

Twickenham Museum article here.

Game of the Gods

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

From the publisher’s blurb:

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

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

Before going further you might wish to Look Inside.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, I have a major problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Richard James, Twickenham 23rd November 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

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

Official web site of World Editions

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

Genna Remembers

Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192
Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192

From the author’s lengthy introduction:

Half a century ago I left a country, the red color of which dominated a large portion of the world map. One way or another, the fate of almost every single person described in this book is forever linked with that now none-existent empire. Many of them ended up beyond its borders too. Cultures and traditions, and certainly not least of all a Soviet mentality, couldn’t have just left them without a trace. Having been transplanted into a different environment, they had to play the role of themselves apart from certain corrections with regard to the tastes and customs of a new society. Nevertheless, every one of them, both those who left the Soviet Union, and those who stayed behind, were forever linked by one common united phenomenon: they all belonged to the Soviet school of chess.

This school of chess was born in the 20’s, but only began to count its true years starting in 1945, when the representatives of the Soviet Union dominated an American squad in a team match. Led by Mikhail Botvinnik, Soviet Grandmasters conquered and ruled the world, save for a short Fischer period, over the course of that same half century. In chess as well as ballet, or music, the word “Soviet” was actually a synonym for the highest quality interpretation of the discipline.

The Soviet Union provided unheard of conditions for their players, which were the sort of which their colleagues in the West dare not even dream. Grandmasters and even Masters received a regular salary just for their professional qualifications, thereby raising the prestige of a chess player to what were unbelievable heights.

It was a time when any finish in an international tournament, aside from first, was almost considered a failure when it came to Soviet players, and upon their return to Moscow they had to write an official explanation to the Chess Federation or the Sports Committee.

The isolation of the country, separated from the rest of the world by an Iron Curtain, was another reason why, talent and energy often manifested themselves in relatively neutral fields.

Still if with music, cinematography, philosophy, or history, the Soviet people were raised on a strict diet, that contained multiple restrictions, this did not apply to chess. Grandmasters, and Masters, all varied in terms of their upbringing, education, and mentality and were judged solely on their talent and mastery at the end of the day. Maybe that’s why the Soviet school of chess was full of such improbable variety not only in terms of the style of play of its representatives, but also their different personality types.

Built was a gigantic chess pyramid, at the base of which were school championships, which were closely followed by district ones. Later city championships, regions, republics, and finally-the ultimate cherry on top-the national event itself. The Championships of the Soviet Union were in no way inferior to the strongest international tournaments, and collections of the games played there came out as separate publications in the West.

That huge brotherhood of chess contained its very own hierarchy within. Among the millions, and multitudes of parishioners-fans of the game-there were the priests-candidate masters. Highly respected were the cardinals-masters. As for Grandmasters though well…they were true Gods. Every person in the USSR knew their names, and those names sounded with just as much adoration, and admiration as those of the nation’s other darlings-the country’s best hockey players. In those days the coming of the American genius only served to strengthen the interest and attention of society towards chess, never mind the fact that by that point it had already been fully saturated by it.

The presence of tons of spectators at a chess tournament in Moscow as shown in the series “The Queen’s Gambit” is in no way an exaggeration. That there truly was the golden age of chess.

Under the constant eye, and control of the government, chess in the USSR was closely interwoven with politics, much like everything else in that vanished country. Concurrently, the closed, and isolated society in which it was born only served to enable its development, creating its very own type of culture-the giant world of Soviet chess.

I was never indifferent to the past. Today, when there is that much more of it then the future, this feeling has become all the sharper. The faster the twentieth century sprints away from us, and the thicker the grass of forgetting grows, soon enough, and under the verified power of the most powerful engines that world of chess will be gone as well.

It was an intriguing, and colorful world, and I saw it as my duty to not let it disappear into that empty abyss. Genna Sosonko – May 2021

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

“Gennadi Sosonko was born in Troitsk in the Chelyabinsk region and learned to play chess at the age of ten in Leningrad, to which his family returned after the war. He trained in the Pioneers’ Palace, where he was mentored by Vladimir Zak, Vladimir Kirillov, Vasily Byvshev and Alexander Cherepov. Later he was taught by Semyon Furman in the Chigorin Chess Club. Genna emigrated from the USSR in 1972 and settled in the Netherlands. Genna became an international master in 1974 and a grandmaster in1976. He played for the Netherlands from 1974; in eleven Olympiads he had the superb overall score of +28 -4 =64. In the 1990s and 2000s, he was the Dutch team captain. Genna Sosonko is a two-time Dutch champion (1973 and 1978), a two-time winner of the tournament at Wijk aan Zee (1978 and 1981), winner of tournaments in Barcelona and Lugano in 1976, Nijmegen in 1978 and Polanica-Zdrój in 1993, and a prizewinner in Tilburg, New York, Bad Lauterberg, São Paulo, London and Reykjavik. From 1975 to 1982 he was one of the top twenty players in the world, achieving his highest rating of 2595 in January 1981. He has made a significant contribution to opening theory, especially to his favourite Catalan. In 2004 he stopped competing to focus on journalism and literature. He is the author of wonderful memoirs which were published in several languages. In recent years he has often worked as a commentator on tournaments featuring the world’s leading grandmasters, describing their battles in English, Dutch and Russian.”

 

Anyone with an interest in chess culture will be aware that Genna Sosonko has published a number of collections of essays on a variety of chess topics over the years.

More recently, he’s written three books of memoirs concerning Smyslov, Bronstein and Korchnoi, which received mixed reviews here and elsewhere. Now, published for the first time by Thinkers Publishing, Sosonko returns with another essay collection.

A look at the topics covered will give you a pretty good idea as to whether or not this book is for you.

The first five chapters are broadly historical. Chapter 1 is about the history of pre-arranged draws. Chapter 2 takes as its starting point a recent discovery from the KGB archives: a 1950 review by Vasily Panov of a Keres book on open games.

P. Keres couldn’t handle this task. What’s worse is that he used the platform offered for the purposes of unbridled glorification of foreign theoreticians, up to and including Nazi hirelings and those greatest of traitors of the Soviet people, the theoretical efforts of which don’t present any value whatsoever.

And so on, for two pages. Sosonko puts this into historical perspective and tells us a lot more about Panov.

Chapter 3 concerns, in general, the difficulties Soviet players faced in travelling abroad. Chapter 4 is about Sosonko’s experiences seconding Korchnoi in his 1971 Candidates match against Petrosian. In Chapter 5 he recalls buying a collection of Korchnoi’s possessions at an auction because he particularly wanted an unused plane ticket from 1976: unused because Viktor decided to remain in the West rather than return from the Netherlands to the Soviet Union.

The rest of the book is mostly devoted to pen pictures of a variety of players, mostly well known to Sosonko.

Chapter 6 is about Igor Ivanov (1947-2005), a Soviet émigré who defected to Canada and then moved to the United States. Ivanov was an exceptionally talented player whose life was blighted by his addiction to alcohol. There are some great stories here. In 1985 he won the Canadian Closed and Open Championship at the same time. They were taking place in different rooms in the same venue and he’d make a move in one tournament, then run to the other room to make another move. Sosonko clearly liked Ivanov and treats his problems with sympathy here, although you might find his tendency to psychoanalyse his subjects (something he does in all his books) rather annoying.

Sosonko also demonstrates a few of Ivanov’s games, such as this.

Another Soviet émigré, Leonid Shamkovich (1923-2005), is featured in Chapter 7. This is a rather shorter chapter: perhaps Sosonko knew him less well than Ivanov, and we don’t get to see any of his games.

Chapter 8 is very different indeed: Everyone’s Favourite Uncle, Arnfried Pagel. Unlike Sosonko’s other subjects, he wasn’t a strong player, but his story is rather remarkable and one that I was unaware of, so I was very interested to find out more.

Pagel was a German born concrete magnate and rather weak amateur chess player who moved to the Netherlands where he sponsored a very strong chess team, the King’s Club, in the early 1980s, recruiting a lot of grandmasters, many of whom were Soviet émigrés, to play for him. After a few years the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration became suspicious of his financial dealings: Pagel ended up bankrupt and in prison. He later spent seven years in prison in England after one of his shipments there was found to contain drugs.

This is a highly entertaining chapter, and one with some salutary lessons concerning chess sponsorship. You might consider the book worth buying for this alone.

Chapter 9 is the longest – and saddest – chapter of the book. It tells the story of Yakut IM Sergey Nikolaev, who was born in 1961, and was murdered in 2007 by a gang of teenage neo-Nazi thugs because of his Asian appearance. This is a fine tribute to a much-loved man with a complex personality, at the same time both reclusive and searching for recognition. It’s also a savage indictment of racism and bigotry in today’s Russia. Again, you may well think this chapter is worth the price of the book.

And yet, as so often in Sosonko’s works, it would have been enlivened by a few games so that we could see how he played chess as well as learning about him as a person.

Here’s one example of his play.

Chapters 10 and 11 are short chapters about GMs Yuri Razuvaev (1945-2012) and Viktor Kupreichik (1949-2017). We do get to see a few of the latter’s games, such as this.

Chapter 12 is a brief look at Mark Taimanov, which brings us on to the last three chapters, which give the impression they might have been added to sell the book. Their subjects: Karpov, Kasparov and Carlsen.

There’s a lot to admire here. Sosonko, as always, writes beautifully and knows how to manipulate his readers’ emotions. He’s at his best when writing about lesser-known players, and, for me, the highlights are the chapters on Pagel and Nikolaev. The book is well illustrated with many, often poignant, photographs which add to the book enormously. If you’ve read and enjoyed this author’s previous collections of essays you’ll want to add this to your bookshelves.

At the same time, I’d have liked some more games. It seems rather arbitrary that only two of the chapters include examples of their subjects’ play. Apart from adding value to the book, they’d help to flesh out the personalities of the players involved.

A casual reader might, understandably, see it as a rather random collection of articles with no very obvious coherent theme. To appreciate it fully you need to put it within the context of Sosonko’s other writings.

If you’re only looking for books which will improve your rating, this isn’t the book for you, but if you have a genuine interest in chess culture you might want to give it a try, and then move on to the author’s previous essay collections.

There’s a very strange mistake at the start of the book. The games, few as they are, use figurine notation and the publishers decided to print a table of piece letters and their equivalent figurine. However, the letters, rather than the figurines, appear in both columns. There are also a few typos but, by and large, the production values are good.

Not for everyone, then, but if the content appeals, you’ll enjoy this book.

Richard James, Twickenham 12th November 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (5 July 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9464201193
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201192
  • Product Dimensions: 16.99 x 2.21 x 23.6 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192
Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192

Memorable Games of British Chess

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

From the back cover:

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

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

Before going further please take this opportunity to Look Inside.

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

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

Many of you will be familiar with

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

and

 

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

and

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

and especially

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

which highlight successes by British chess players.

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

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

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

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

A wonderful finish to be sure.

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

also delightful in its own modest way.

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

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

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

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

Please add it to your Christmas list!

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

John Upham
John Upham

You can buy the book on Amazon via here

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

The Modernized Philidor Defense

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

Sergio Trigo Urquijo
Sergio Trigo Urquijo

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

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

End of blurb.

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

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

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

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

Here is the detailed Table of Contents:

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

and here is an excerpt in pdf format.

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

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

The core start position is

and Chapter 15 examines the tabiya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

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

Minor Pieces 17: Wallace and Bashley Britten

On 8 April 1882, Edward Griffith Brewer posted an advertisement in the Surrey Comet. The great Joseph Henry Blackburne was going to give a blindfold simultaneous display at Twickenham Chess Club.

The following week, they published a report:

As local papers usually did, and still do, they got it wrong, quite apart from calling a simul a tournament. George Edward Norwood Ryan wrote in to complain.

This event even reached the pages of Volume 2 of the British Chess Magazine.

A later report followed.

We now know the names of some of the strongest members of the first Twickenham Chess Club.

You will note Mr. B. Britten and Mr. W. Britten were the last to finish. Sharing a relatively unusual surname, surely they must have been related. Perhaps they were also related to Benjamin Britten.

It’s time to have a look.

Here they are, next to each other in the 1882 London Overseer Returns, in effect an electoral roll.

Bashley and Wallace. Wallace and Bashley. Even better than Wallace and Gromit. Don’t you think everyone should call their son Bashley?

The splendidly named Bashley didn’t live in Twickenham very long. He was born in 1825 in Milton, Hampshire. He seems to have moved to Twickenham in about 1880, having previously lived in Redhill.  The 1881 census found him in Twickenham with his wife Susanna, along with a cook and a housemaid, and claiming to be a Gentleman.

But he’d previously been an engineer and inventor. He was best known for Britten’s Projectile, which involved applying a coating of lead to projectiles fired from cannons, and was much used in the American Civil War. I’m not sure that his namesake Benjamin, a lifelong pacifist, would have approved. If you, on the other hand, would like to know more, you could always read his book.

This was not his only invention. Here is an improved printing telegraph, and he also took out a patent for using blast furnace slag to manufacture glass.

A few months after the Blackburne blindfold simul, Bashley went on holiday to the Scottish Highlands. On 12 August, while visiting the port of Ullapool, he died suddenly at the age of 57.

Source: findagrave.com

He must have been very fond of the area: if you visit there today you can find his memorial. The inscription reads: In memory of/BASHLEY BRITTEN/aged 57 years/of Twickenham, Middlesex/died at Ullapool/Augt 12th 1882.

Sadly, Bashley wasn’t able to enjoy the delights of playing chess in Twickenham very long. His namesake Wallace, however, was around rather longer.

First of all, I can find no relationship at all between Bashley and Wallace, nor to the Northampton player W E Britten, who played in the same team as William Harris and against teams including members of the Marriott family. Nor, as far as I can tell, were any of them related to Edward Benjamin Britten.

There is another connection, though, between Bashy and Wally. Bashy’s only daughter, Ada, married Algernon Frampton, who worked on the Stock Exchange, as did Wallace Britten.

We can pick him up on the 1881 census: he’s 32 years old, a clerk to a stock & share jobber, living with his wife Emily and his sister-in-law, together with a servant and a boarder. Further searching reveals that they had had two children, born in Islington in 1872 and 1874, who had both died in infancy.

Source: Google Maps

By 1891 they’d moved to Rozel, 5 Strawberry Hill Road, then and now one of the most desirable streets in Twickenham. They now had a one-year-old son, Wallace Ernest, and two of his wife’s sisters were living there along with two servants. Wally was by now a Member of the Stock Exchange, so must have been doing pretty well for himself. He was still involved with Twickenham Chess Club at the time, but the last reference I can find for him is the following year. Perhaps increasing demands of work, or the desire to spend time with Wally Junior, made it harder for him to pursue his favourite game.

He’d remain at the same address for the rest of his long life. He died on 16 March 1938, and is buried in Teddington Cemetery. According to his probate record, he left £5,328 13s 5d to his son Wallace Ernest Britten, Colonel HM Army and his nephew Julius Campbell Combe, Authorised Stockbrokers Clerk. Wally Junior would eventually become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers, and be awarded the OBE: his son Robert Wallace Tudor Britten would also have a distinguished military career. Again, Benjamin would not have been happy.

Wallace Britten, apart from being a pretty useful club chess player, was a man who seems to have led a successful life, but one marked also by the sadness of losing his first two children. But where did he come from? He married in early 1872, but if we consult the 1871 census we might ask “Where’s Wally?”.

I eventually managed to track him down in Islington, working as a clerk and lodging with the large family of a builder named Julius Combe, a name you might recognize. His name appears to be Walter rather than Wallace, and his age seems to be 30 rather than 23. It was one of Julius’s daughters, Emily, he married the following year. I can’t as yet find him in 1861: it’s quite likely he was away at school: school pupils were often only listed by their initials in census returns. If I look for Walter, rather than Wallace, though, he’s there in 1851.

His parents, it seems, were Edwin Josiah Britten and Selina Pedder, and there he is, aged 3, living in Bloomsbury with his parents, big brothers Edwin and Alfred, and baby sister Laura. (Edwin Junior had been baptised at St Clement Danes Church by William Webb Ellis, who allegedly invented rugby by picking up a football and running with it.) Edwin senior was a Fancy Leather Worker employing two persons. Another daughter, Rachel, would be born the following year, but in October 1852 his father was admitted to the lunatic asylum at Colney Hatch, where he died in 1855. By 1861, Selina had taken over her late husband’s business as well as bringing up her children, but Wallace/Walter wasn’t there.

How did this scion of a lower middle class family end up on the Stock Exchange, playing chess and living in a substantial house in a Thames-side suburb? The answer is that we don’t know. He certainly wasn’t lacking in either ambition or ability.

Source: findagrave.com

His grave looks like it needs a bit of attention, but at least he has one, unlike Florence Smith, who died three years before him and lies in an unmarked grave. Her sisters and children never visited, but her grandson pauses in remembrance every time he passes by. Next time you find yourself playing chess in Twickenham, spare a thought for the Britten boys, Wallace and Bashley, two of the leading players in the early years of the first Twickenham Chess Club.

Street Smart Chess

Street Smart Chess, Axel Smith, Quality Chess, 29 November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831219
Street Smart Chess, Axel Smith, Quality Chess, 29 November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831219

From the publisher:

“Street Smart Chess is an expert guide to scoring more points at the chessboard. When does it pay off to play hard for a win? Or safe for a draw? And how do you adapt your playing style accordingly?

GM Axel Smith answers these questions, and more, by using a world-class player as a model for each chapter. Learn how Magnus Carlsen grinds out wins from level positions; how David Navara beats lower-rated opponents, and how Baskaran Adhiban beats higher-rated ones! Or serve-and-volley in the opening like Peter Heine Nielsen.

Playing well is a good start in chess, but you also need to be Street Smart.”

Axel Smith, courtesy of David Smerdon
Axel Smith, courtesy of David Smerdon

“Axel Smith is the award-winning author of The Woodpecker Method, Pump Up Your Rating and e3 Poison, which were all enthusiastically received by readers and reviewers. Using the Woodpecker as part of his training, as an adult he improved from a rating of 2100 to becoming a Grandmaster.”

End of blurb…

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)

 

There have been a number of books over the years where the author either asks his friends to contribute or interviews them. The advantage is that you get to look at chess from the perspective of different players with different styles. The disadvantage is that the chapters may vary in quality, in interest or in relevance.

In this book we have eight chapters, all featuring a different player. At the end of each chapter there are a couple of quiz questions using positions from the author’s games but relating to the previous content. Seven of the players were interviewed by the author. The eighth, Magnus Carlsen, wasn’t, but I guess there was no real need.

In his Preface, Axel Smith divides his chapters into two, suggesting how you should play against lower-rated and higher-rated opponents. Unless your name is Magnus Carlsen you’ll often find yourself encountering higher rated players, and unless you’re a complete beginner you’ll likewise often meet lower rated players, so we should all find this useful.

Learning to beat lower-rated opponents the way David Navara does, to play positionally like Ulf Andersson, to turn water into wine like Magnus Carlsen and to get rich positions from the opening like his second Laurent Fressinet – that will certainly broaden your playing style. All those chapters are useful when playing against lower-rated opponents.

When playing against higher-rated opponents you can have a serve & volley repertoire like Peter Heine Nielsen, go for the kill like Baskaran Adhiban, play safe like Aryan Tari, or even for the draw like Bu Xiangzhi.

Is it worthwhile to imitate the style of the world’s best even though we don’t reach the same level? I think I have used the metaphor before, but I don’t remember where, so I will do so again: junior and amateur soccer teams play 4-4-2 (or any other established set-up) not only to prepare for a senior career, but also because it gives the best results.

We copy the professional players’ openings, so why not copy their attitude?

Well, yes, but chess is not football. Do we copy the professional players’ openings? Should we do so? Does it make sense for an amateur with a job, a family and other interests to play the same openings as grandmasters? Does it make sense for amateurs to play the same openings as grandmasters rated 1000, or even 500 points higher than them?  In my view, it doesn’t, and my criticism of many of the instructional books I’m asked to review is that many authors, especially those of a younger generation, teach from the perspective of a grandmaster, not of an amateur.

Having said that, there’s much, in general, to be said in favour of amateurs learning to copy the attitude, the mindset of grandmasters. It’s here that this book might come in useful.

Let’s take a look inside and see what we find.

Our first chess hero is GM Baskaran Adhiban, a creative attacker who specialises in beating higher rated opponents? What can we learn from his games?

Here, first, is Axel Smith again, quoting another of our heroes:

Playing safe against stronger opponents prolongs the game, but normally decreases the probability of obtaining points. Magnus Carlsen is one of many who recommend an aggressive attitude against stronger opponents. To Chess24 he said: “There’s this thing called ‘sudden death aversion’, that I think affects a lot of people. You make decisions that give you a lesser chance of winning overall, but decisions that at least extend the game or the match, because you feel like, ‘as long as I’m in it I have a chance, and losing it right now because I did something risky would be very unpleasant.’ I very much understand that, but you’re not always going to maximize your chances this way. The strategy that’s almost always correct is: if you’re down, complicate; if you’re winning, simplify! If you believe that you’re weaker you should always try and complicate as much as possible.”

Some of you will recall that the late Simon Webb offered very similar advice in his wonderful Chess for Tigers.

The first game we see is this one: admittedly his opponent had only a slightly higher rating.

Throughout the book, our heroes’ advice is summarised using helpful bullet or numbered points. Here’s Adhiban’s advice on how to play the ideal attacking game.

  1. Strive for a pawn structure where it’s possible to throw pawns at the opponent’s king at a later stage.
  2. Invite all the pieces to the party – advice valuable for a beginner as well as for a super-GM.
  3. Remove the defenders – sometimes by sacrificing, but exchanges can do the job as well.
  4. Calculate well when it’s time to finish it off.

I found this chapter enjoyable and inspirational, with Adhiban demonstrating some great attacking play.

This might be very helpful for a player like me who always struggles against higher rated opponents. These, though, are games in which a highly rated GM beats slightly higher rated opponents. Not what you’d consider upset victories. Not, as Simon Webb would have put it, tigers beating heffalumps.

But some of our other heroes propose a very different way of tackling a higher rated opponent.

The first four chapters of this book deal with the subject of winning, while the last two chapters are about opening preparation. Chapters 5 and 6 take on something close to my heart: avoiding defeat.

If we jump forward to Chapter 5 we’ll find the games of Bu Xiangzhi being used to explain how to draw against a higher rated opponent.

Well, I guess sometimes you’d be happy with a draw against a higher rated opponent. If you’re like me you’ll always be happy with a draw. Yes, it’s rather contradictory, but I guess that’s one of the points of the book.

Here’s how to play with White:

  • Play normal moves, develop all your pieces to good squares and get your king to safety.
  • Allow exchanges, but don’t spend time or damage your pawn structure to exchange pieces.

Sounds to me like good advice, whoever you’re playing.

If you’re Black:

  • Have a good opening repertoire that you know well, preferably with symmetrical pawn structures.
  • Play the move you think is best, even if you are not sure – there are no margins for passive moves, so you can’t be afraid with Black.
  • Avoid time trouble.

Again, sounds pretty sensible: the controversial bit is whether you should play for symmetrical pawn structures.

I guess it’s a matter of temperament, personality and style, but this isn’t really discussed in the book.

Bu, who became a GM in 1999 at the age of 13 (at the time the youngest ever) might be considered a player who didn’t quite fulfil his promise. Perhaps he was too eager to play for draws against higher rated opponents.

As well as getting results against higher rated opponents, whether by going for the win like Adhiban or playing safe for the draw like Bu, we also need to know how to beat lower rated opponents.

Returning to Chapter 2, our hero here is David Navara. You may not be surprised to discover that this is the longest chapter in the book.

Navara plays a lot in national leagues where he’s often faced with significantly lower rated opponents, and usually racks up a large plus score.

Here’s the first game he demonstrates for us, against an opponent rated about 150 points below him. In the book it’s annotated, like the other games in this chapter, with Navara’s customary attention to detail.

The lessons we can learn from this game:

  • Choose an unbalanced opening.
  • Avoid long theoretical variations.
  • Play moves that highlight the drawback of the opponent’s previous move.
  • Be careful and use your time when you get some chances.
  • However, when the opponent is in time trouble, it might be a good idea to calculate several moves in advance to be able to play them quickly.

Another excellent chapter, I think, which will be of interest to most players of club standard and above.

Magnus Carlsen, the hero of Chapter 3, has spent many years playing lower-rated opponents. Here, we look at some examples of how he plays on and on in seemingly drawn positions, waiting for his opponent to crack. Unlike the other subjects of this book, he wasn’t interviewed, but has written a lot elsewhere.

Here’s what he said to New in Chess in 2014.

My thought process is basically that I will be able to agree a draw in such positions when I am 40 or 50, but that right now I should try and find every little chance of winning. And as long as there is no risk and a two percent chance of winning, I think it’s worth the two hours of extra effort.

One of the examples of Carlsen turning water into wine you’ll find here is this ending against Nakamura.

Another useful and inspirational chapter, although those of us well past 40 or 50 will be only to happy to agree a draw and spend the next two hours in the pub rather than playing on with a 2% chance of victory. At my level, anyway, there’s rather more than a 2% chance that I’ll blunder and lose.

Chapter 4 features young Norwegian GM Aryan Tari. The chapter was originally going to be about playing for two results, but once Axel Smith got talking to him it changed to a chapter about forcing yourself to play for a win, even if your mindset wants the opposite.

Yes, I know the feeling.

This is one of the shorter chapters in the book, and is in part about how he’s trying to deal with being over-cautious. His advice for someone who wants to increase his courage is to study the games of Richard Rapport. Come to think of it, Rapport might have been a better subject for a chapter of this book.

I got the impression that Tari is a young player who is still developing and has not yet matured enough to make a really meaningful contribution to a book of this nature.

We do, however, get a chapter about playing for two results elsewhere. This is Chapter 6, featuring the games of the legendary Ulf Andersson, who has been the sole subject of a few other recent books.

To play like Andersson you must avoid playing anti-positional moves.

  • Don’t weaken your pawn structure.
  • Don’t lose coordination: no knights on the rim and no bishops without a future – unless the reward is clear enough.
  • Keep the king safe.

So in Chapters 3-6, then, we have, broadly speaking, four technicians, although there are differences between them. While Andersson avoids anti-positional moves, Carlsen is happy to make moves which might make his opponent uncomfortable. Bu prefers to play safe, especially with the black pieces, while Tari is trying to force himself to take risks and become less cautious.

Chapters 7 and 8 look at the subject of opening preparation.

Laurent Fressinet is the subject of Chapter 7, where we learn about his approach to preparing with Black. He recommends playing different openings to keep your opponents guessing, avoiding main line theory and also avoiding symmetrical pawn structures. This is exactly the opposite of Bu’s approach: meeting e4 with e5 and d4 with d5, heading for symmetry to increase your chances of drawing with a higher rated opponent.

You pay your money and you make your choice.

Finally, in Chapter 8, Peter Heine Nielsen recommends a ‘serve & volley’ approach to preparing with White, using heavy theoretical lines which you’ve studied in depth.

This is fine if you have the time and the study skills, but it’s not really appropriate for many of us. If you’re young and ambitious to reach master standard you’ll find this chapter helpful. But if you have a limited amount of time for chess, and if you’re mostly playing in league or weekend chess where you don’t usually know in advance who you’ll be playing, it’s not really relevant.

My feelings about this book are mixed, then: perhaps only to be expected from a book of this nature where each chapter features a different player. From my perspective as a club player I enjoyed the first three chapters (Adhiban, Navara and Carlsen) but found less of interest in the remainder of the book.

If you’re, say 2200+, or perhaps 1800+ and ambitious to reach that level, you’ll probably find this book very helpful. If you’re a club player hoping for a stimulating read that will perhaps gain you a few rating points, you’ll certainly find much to interest, educate and entertain you, although you might not find all the chapters equally valuable.

I should add that, as always from Quality Chess, the production values are excellent and put other publishers to shame.

Richard James, Twickenham 4th November 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 248 pages
  • Publisher: Quality Chess UK LLP (17 Mar 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1784831212
  • ISBN-13:978-1784831219
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 2 x 24 cm

Official web site of Quality Chess

Street Smart Chess, Axel Smith, Quality Chess, 29 November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831219
Street Smart Chess, Axel Smith, Quality Chess, 29 November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831219