All posts by Richard James

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level: FM Alex Dunne

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214
How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214

From the publisher:

Surprise yourself and reach higher! This book is based on real amateur games and shows you how an average club player can proceed through the ranks and reach Candidate Master level. Its a hard struggle, nothing comes for free and your path will be strewn with setbacks and disappointments. Just like in real life.

Alex Dunne guides you in the more than 50 games that you will be playing and offers lots of practical, straightforward and effective advice. Slowly but surely, you will improve in all phases of the game: the opening, the middlegame and the endgame. Dunne explains when and how to activate your pieces and how to recognize and punish the errors your opponents are bound to make. At the end of the book, having absorbed these lessons, your experience, technique and confidence will have improved in such a way that your first win against a master will not come as a big surprise.

Alex Dunne is an American FIDE Master, ICCF Correspondence Chess Master and author of more than a dozen chess books. He lives in Sayre, Pennsylvania. This is a revised, improved and extended edition of the 1985 classic.

FM Alex Dunne
FM Alex Dunne

 

I’ve always thought that one of the best ways to improve your chess, especially if you don’t have the time or inclination for serious study, is to do two things:

  1. Look at the games of players rated 200-300 points higher than you. Work out what they do better than you, and what you need to do to reach their level. They’re not that much stronger than you so you can think to yourself “Yes, I could do that”.
  2. Look at the games of players of your own strength (best of all, your own games). Look at typical mistakes and work out how you could avoid those mistakes and take your chess up to the next level.

That’s exactly what this book aims to do. However, it was originally published in 1985. It was a best seller in its day, but does it really stand up to the test of time? Was it really worth updating and re-publishing?

Let’s get the title out of the way first. It’s rather misleading: FIDE considers Candidate Masters to be players rated 2200+, whereas this book uses the term to mean USCF Experts: players in the 2000-2199 range. The target market, according to the introduction, is USCF Grade A players: rated 1800-1999, although, as standards are higher now than 35 years ago, I’d put it lower than that.

As Dunne says in his introduction:

It is the design of this book to reveal the difference in play to the 1800 player to enable him to become a Candidate Master.

And again:

This book, then, differs from others in that the games contained within are mostly games between 1800+ players and Candidate Masters. These games were mainly selected from 1982 US tournaments with some more modern games included.

So what you get is 50 games, mostly between 1800-1999 rated players and 2000-2199 rated players, and mostly played in 1982. There are two later games, new to this edition, featuring stronger players.

It’s not the only book featuring amateur games. Reinfeld’s 1943 book Chess for Amateurs may have been the first. Older readers will also recall the Euwe and Meiden books, while, more recently, there have been books by the likes of Jeremy Silman and Dan Heisman. You might see Chernev’s Logical Chess Move by Move, although it features games by stronger players, as a book written with a similar purpose in mind.

The games are, as you’d expect, not of especially high quality. I’d also speculate that 1800 or 2000 rated players today are rather stronger than they were 40 years or so ago. Perhaps, because they’ll be more comprehensible to average club players, you’ll find them more instructive than those played by Magnus and his chums. You won’t encounter any brilliant sacrifices or spectacular attacks here, and not much in the way of complicated tactics either: just typical games that you or I might play in tournaments or league matches, where, in most cases, the stronger player displays greater knowledge or skill than his weaker opponent. You’ll even find one or two short draws here, though it’s debatable whether they add anything to the party.

You sit alongside the Candidate Master (or, more accurately, Expert), guessing, if you choose, his (or perhaps her: the players are not identified by name) moves, and are occasionally asked questions which are answered at the end of the chapter.

We’re assured that The analysis has been checked with modern computer engines for accuracy and that Also, a more modern view of some of the openings has been used, but there’s still a dated feel to many of the annotations. I’m not sure without checking how much has actually been changed since the original 1985 edition.

Here’s the first game.

Like many of the games here, it seems on the surface that the CM didn’t do anything especially difficult. The last move was pretty, but at that point everything reasonable would have won. At the same time, Mr 1907 didn’t make any very obvious mistakes. It was more a question of not understanding what was happening at the critical point in the game. I should add that I don’t play the Sicilian Najdorf with either colour: much too hard for me, as it was for poor Mr 1907.

I asked my shiny new Stockfish 14 to take a look.

Dunne asks us how important Black’s unusual 6th move (rather than the usual 6… e6) is. Stockfish tells me e6 is equal, but Qc7, amongst other moves, is slightly better for White. Dunne doesn’t say anything very helpful: I’d have thought the point was that White is always going to play Bb3 anyway, while Black may not want to play an early Qc7.

On move 9, Dunne rightly says that 9. O-O is slightly inferior because of tactics on the g1-a7 diagonal, but without mentioning any alternatives. It makes sense to me (and to my fishy friend) to play Be3 before castling. He gives a line starting 9… Nxd4 10. Qxd4 d5 11. Kh1?!, but the engine prefers White here after 11. Be3, thinking that Black would be better to play the immediate 9… d5, threatening to take on e4. It’s still only equal, though.

The critical part of the game is between moves 10 and 13. 10… Na5, to trade off the dangerous bishop, or 10… Be7, to castle the king into safety, are the two moves almost always chosen here, and both of them are absolutely fine and equal. On move 12 Black chose the wrong recapture: Bxc6, not leaving the queen exposed was better. The last chance to stay in the game was to play 13… Be7. The tactical point he may have missed is that 13… b4 14. a5 gives the white bishop access to a4.

Although Black played what looked like natural moves between moves 10 and 13, his position went from equal to totally lost. At one level he lost because he failed to develop his king-side and castle his king into safety. I suppose you could also say he chose a complicated opening variation without having enough understanding and played a few casual moves when more concrete decisions were required, but, without access to 21st century technology it’s understandable that Dunne didn’t mention this explicitly.

Dunne has some interesting views on opening choices: you might or might not agree. In game 16 Mr CM is congratulated on meeting 1. Nf3 with the relatively unusual 1… b6 to get his opponent out of the books, even though he unexpectedly loses the game. But in game 25 Mr 1816 is roundly castigated for choosing the Trompowsky. This is bad strategy on the 1800 player’s part. The weaker player with white has a better chance of gaining a good position by playing book lines.

In other words, weaker players should play book lines while stronger players should try to get weaker players out of the book by playing less usual variations. I can see why he thinks this way, but it might not suit everyone. It might not suit you.

I was interested in the double rook ending in this game.

Mr 1863, playing black, had rather the better of the opening and has now reached this double rook ending where he has the superior pawn formation.

Let’s pick up the story after White’s 29th move.

Dunne rightly and instructively points out that if the rooks were off the board Black would win the pawn ending. He therefore proposes that, instead of 29… g6, suggesting he doesn’t understand the ending, he continues with 29… Rxd1 30. Rxd1 a5! 31. c4 Ra8 32. Rc1 Ke6, when he will have made further progress towards the win. Stockfish has several problems with this: 32. c5, to prevent b5, is equal, 32… b5 would indeed give Black winning chances, and again after 32… Ke6, 33. c5 would be equal.

The game continued:

29… g6 30. Ke3 Ke6 31. h4 h5 32. Ra1 a6

This move passes without comment, but Stockfish prefers to give up the pawn and double rooks on the d-file: something like 32… Rd7 33. Rxa7 Red8, with adequate counterplay.

An instructive moment, I think, demonstrating the important principle that, in rook endings, the initiative is often worth a pawn. No mention in the annotations, though.

Moving on:

33. Ra5! f6? (Poor endgame play – Black allows his pawns to become weakened.) Yes, quite possibly. Dunne’s improvement, Re7, is probably better, but Black missed a tactical defence next move.

34. f5+ Kf7

Here Black could have equalised with 34… gxf5 35. Rxf5 Rd5!, so White should have maintained his advantage by playing 34. c4! to prevent this possibility.

By solid play White has overcome his inferiority of eight moves ago and now owns an advantage. Thus is the advantage frittered away because of the 1800 player’s lack of endgame technique (read: understanding).

White was actually equal (although his position may have been harder to play) 8 moves ago, and the point about Mr 1863’s lack of endgame technique is well made, but there are also analytical errors which can easily be picked up by modern computer engines.

There are other more minor issues as well. You might want to consider, for example, how White’s inaccurate 52nd move gave Black a defensive chance.

One reason for the difference between 1800 and 2100 players is indeed that Mr 2100 is more likely, in a general way, to understand what’s going on in the position, which is what this book is all about. Another reason, though, is that Mr 1800 is more likely to miss tactical points than Mr 2100. The annotations in this book focus more on positional rather than tactical ideas. You might think that, at this level, understanding ideas is more important than getting tactics right: if so, the analytical errors might not concern you too much.

You may well disagree but I found the annotations in general both frustrating and outdated. Frustrating because of Dunne’s tendency to ask questions without providing answers and criticise moves without suggesting improvements. Outdated because of the tactical oversights mentioned above, but also because readers are constantly exhorted to read My System and Basic Chess Endings, rather than more modern, and, at least in the case of My System, more relevant and approachable books. Occasional references to ChessBase have been added but, apart from that there’s little indication that the book is intended for 21st century readers rather than those in the pre-computer age.

The world’s a very different place now. I couldn’t have imagined, half a lifetime ago, that I’d be sitting here with a database of almost 8.5 million games and a free engine which plays far better than any human.  We know a lot more now about teaching and learning processes as well.

It’s a great idea for a book, and was pretty good in its day. There’s certainly a lot of excellent general advice and encouragement within the annotations. But, in my opinion, it’s well past its best-before date. I’m afraid it’s only a qualified recommendation then.

Having said that, players of average club standard, say 1400-1800 strength, will certainly learn a lot from it, and, if they like the style and concept (there’s a sample chapter on the publisher’s website), they won’t be too disappointed.

I’d love to see more books written for average players based on amateur games, but I’d prefer to see something with more recent games, more accurate tactical analysis and more interaction between author and reader.

New in Chess have an enviable reputation for publishing excellent books, not to mention an excellent magazine. I’m not convinced that re-publishing outdated books will do much to enhance that reputation.

Richard James, Twickenham 9th July 2021

Book Details:

  • Softback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (7 Dec. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919210
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919214
  • Dimensions: ‎ 15.24 x 1.78 x 22.2 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214
How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214

The Queen’s Gambit – Accepted!

The Queen’s Gambit – Accepted!: Jonathan Arnott & Rosie Irwin

The Queen’s Gambit – Accepted!, Jonathan Arnott & Rosie Irwin, Steel City Press (17 May 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047245
The Queen’s Gambit – Accepted!, Jonathan Arnott & Rosie Irwin, Steel City Press (17 May 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047245

From the publisher:

The game of chess has hundreds of child-friendly books, but what about the adult beginner inspired by The Queen’s Gambit Netflix series? Rosie Irwin is the perfect example: just like the title character, she’s had her own struggles with mental health and trauma. She accepted the challenge, and chess has developed the confidence. Coached by Jonathan Arnott – a former teacher, politician and chess Candidate Master – it’s been a steep learning curve. In January 2021, Rosie knew nothing about chess but the rules of the game. She’s now playing matches against opponents with 40+ years of experience.

This book is a must for any aspiring player. To go from reading Dostoyevsky to Dvoretsky would be a total culture shock. Whilst claiming to be neither, the authors’ conversational style offers a rare insight into the thought processes needed to move from beginner to tournament player. It is a ‘gateway’ book with stories and anecdotes mixed with chess learning, helping the reader to get to know Rosie whilst joining her on her chess journey. The title of this book (The Queen’s Gambit – Accepted!) illustrates Rosie’s acceptance of the challenge and the chess terminology that any gambit can be ‘accepted’. Don’t expect a dry chess book full of diagrams and notation without any story.

Rosie Irwin never considered playing chess until she saw The Queen’s Gambit and was inspired to take up the game, identifying with the lead character’s emotional struggles. Within a couple of months, she had learned enough from Jonathan to compete in league matches against experienced opponents.

Rosie Irwin
Rosie Irwin

Jonathan Arnott has decades of teaching and chess coaching experience. He has captained the Yorkshire county side, represented White Rose in the European Club Cup (the ‘Champions League’ of chess) and captained Chessable White Rose to victory in the inaugural online Four Nations Chess League.

Jonathan Arnott
Jonathan Arnott

A story I remember, a very long time ago now, concerned a young boy who was passionate about butterflies and moths. He saw a title in a bookshop which sounded like just what he wanted, but when he took it home he was disappointed with the contents. The book was called Instructions for Young Mothers.

Likewise, if you buy this book because you’re eager to find out what to play after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4, you’ll also be disappointed. You have to spot the dash, and perhaps also the exclamation mark.

This is a book for adult beginners, targeting in particular those who perhaps learnt the moves in childhood and developed an interest after watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. It works on two levels. At one level it provides a lot of helpful advice for beginners, but at another level it tells Rosie’s story about how chess can help those who are struggling with some aspect of their lives.

At the start of the book, Rosie introduces herself.

Beth Harmon is messed up. So was I. I still am, in fact…

I’ve suffered some serious trauma and depression. I’ve battled with self-harm and all kinds of issues, just like Beth…

I have Aspergers. I can sometimes panic in social situations. Too many people, too much crowding, can be a problem. On 64 squares, nothing else matters. 

While spending time with her parents she happened to watch The Queen’s Gambit, got hooked on the game and contacted Jonathan, a chess playing friend, asking for help.

After an introduction offering 10 things you need to know before reading the book, we start at the end.

This is a very good place to start as well. There’s so much Rosie can learn from this position. In general, when you can and can’t win with king and pawn against king. The opposition. And, when you promote successfully, how to mate with king and queen against king.

Jonathan is clearly an excellent teacher. He understands that learning to do simple things well is more important than trying to do complicated things badly. His teaching style involves using Socratic questioning to lead Rosie to the correct answers, and to improve her play.

The next chapter takes a different approach: Impostor Syndrome. The feeling that you’re not good enough, that you don’t deserve what you’ve got. Although the chapter itself is, more generally, about lack of self-confidence, and Impostor Syndrome is only one of many reasons for lacking self-confidence.

Rosie, like many players at this level, loses a quick game against the Fried Liver Attack, which dents her self-confidence and exacerbates her already present anxiety. Jonathan invites her to play online against some junior beginners he’s also coaching, but she feels unable to do so.

Here’s Jonathan:

When you’re coaching chess, you never teach opening theory to beginners. The last thing you want is for a beginner to learn a few moves parrot-fashion without having the slightest clue what they mean. 

I agree with him, but, as he explains, there are exceptions, and this is one.

There’s no reason for a beginner who doesn’t know the position to play anything other than 5… Nxd5 here, but experienced players will be aware it’s a poor move. So Jonathan shows Rosie 5… b5, an excellent move at this level. Beginners are very unlikely to find 6. Bf1, the only move to pose Black any problems.

The book continues with a mixture of instructive tips from Jonathan, extracts from Rosie’s games, and psychological insights.

In this position Rosie has built up an impressive attack and now found the splendid 17… Ng4!, when capturing either piece leads to immediate mate so White had to give up material with Rf2. Jonathan adds that 1… Bxg3!! 18. hxg3 Qxg3+ 19. Kh1 and now the same idea, 19… Ng4, was even stronger. Some instructive attacking ideas there, I think.

Here’s Rosie, explaining how the chess pieces might help with her depression:

Take all the pieces off the board. Look at each one in turn and gain a deeper understanding of each of them. My family? The King.  My friendships? The Rook. My faith? The Bishop. My love life? The Knight. And many many pawns: my crafts, my hobbies…each of them contribute to the ‘position’ of my life.

And me, you ask? Well, obviously, I must be the Queen…

I suppose readers of a certain age might be reminded of this, but, coincidentally, I had occasion to write something similar about how I saw the pieces only the other day. It’s all about the power of chess to enable you to tell stories which can help explain and improve your life.

Here’s another snapshot from one of Rosie’s games.

She’d learnt about sacrifices on f7 and thought this position looked like an ideal opportunity.

The game continued 6. Bxf7+? Kxf7 7. Ng5+ Kf6?? 8. Qf3+ Nf5, when 9. Nd5 would have been a pretty checkmate. She missed that, but still won a couple of moves later. Jonathan correctly pointed out that if Black had preferred 7… Ke8 she’d have had very little for the sacrificed piece.

This sort of thing happens over and over again at this level. I remember, about 45 years ago, teaching Légal’s Mate at Richmond Junior Club. I knew that one of my pupils had a school match coming up that week and, next Saturday I asked him how he got on. “Mr James!”, he exclaimed. “You made me lose!” It transpired he’d tried the same thing in a slightly different position where there was no mate, so he just lost his queen. An important lesson for him, and for me as well. Rosie was fortunate to get away with her unsound sacrifice here.

It’s great that books are now being published which consider the psychological aspects of chess. Instruction in any skill-based discipline should include generic skills, of which these are a part, as well as domain-specific knowledge and skills.

The important subject of confidence – which, if you like, is one aspect of mindset – is covered in several places. We learn, as you’ve already seen, about the dangers of lacking self-confidence, and, later on, about over-confidence.

Rosie makes good progress, but then things become too easy, she starts playing too quickly on autopilot, and, by now playing stronger opponents, she made mistakes and lost game after game.

She describes this as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, but my understanding of D-K is something slightly different: overestimating your ability at the start rather than becoming over-confident as you improve.

While I’m no expert myself, just an interested layman, I’m not sure this book always uses the right terminology.

(On a slightly different point, because of recent allegations concerning Hans Asperger’s supposed Nazi sympathies – see here, for example – many people prefer not to use his name as it might cause offence. Perhaps Jonathan and Rosie are both unaware of this.)

Although it’s not a complete course for adult beginners (you’ll have to look elsewhere for that), it still contains a lot of chess wisdom. This book is to be welcomed for several reasons. It will be a great purchase – or a great present – for anyone who has been inspired to take up chess by watching The Queen’s Gambit, especially those who can empathise with Rosie in some way. If you’re a female who wants to play like Beth Harmon, if you’re struggling, or have struggled in the past, with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, or if you’re on the autism spectrum, I’m sure you’ll find much of value here, for its psychological as well as its chess insights. Players above the beginner level may also find it helpful in many ways, as will anyone involved in coaching adult beginners.

For several decades now, the chess world has been unhealthily obsessed with young children, prodigies and champions. My view is that chess, in general, is much more suited to older children and adults, and, equally, that older children and adults are more suited to competitive chess than younger children.

Perhaps the world will come to its senses and we’ll see more books written for older beginners, novices and improvers. Perhaps we’ll also see a greater understanding that everyone, from beginners to grandmasters, can benefit from chess in all sorts of ways. Perhaps we’ll also realise that chess can be attractive to girls and women, not just to boys and men.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 22nd June 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softback : 224 (softback)  pages
  • Publisher:  Steel City Press (17 May 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1913047245
  • ISBN-13:978-1913047245

Official web site of Steel City Press

The Queen’s Gambit – Accepted!, Jonathan Arnott & Rosie Irwin, Steel City Press (17 May 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047245
The Queen’s Gambit – Accepted!, Jonathan Arnott & Rosie Irwin, Steel City Press (17 May 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047245

Minor Pieces 4: The Marriott Family

It’s midnight on 28 June 1816. a group of saboteurs breaks into Heathcoat and Boden’s lace mill in Loughborough, Leicestershire, determined to smash their machinery.  John Heathcoat must have had advance warning: he’s ensured there are plenty of workers on hand to repel the invaders. Fights break out, gunshots are heard, and one of the watchmen, John Asher, is hit, blood pouring from a slug in back of his head. Asher’s companions are forced to the ground at gunpoint, and the saboteurs destroy all 55 of the lace making machines, steal some lace and make their escape.

These men are Luddites, taking their name from the perhaps mythical Ned Ludd. Campaigning against poor working conditions and grinding poverty they see no option but to use violence to pursue their aims.

The leader of the insurrection, James Towle, from Basford, near Nottingham, is identified and quickly arrested. Although he himself did not fire the shot that hit John Asher, he is convicted, sentenced to death and publicly hanged in Leicester on 20 November. The following year, six more members of Towle’s gang, including his younger brother William, are also hanged, and another two transported to Australia.

The last moments of James Towle, :who was executed at Leicester, Nov. 20, 1816 REPOSITORY: Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University

Were they heroes or villains? Terrorists or martyrs? You decide. There are always people on the wrong side of history. The Industrial Revolution brought destitution to many, but there were others who saw an opportunity to join the burgeoning middle classes, perhaps by starting up their own shop or factory. This is the story of one of them.

Time moves on. The clock ticks. The calendar pages are turned over.

It’s now 19 October 1818. James and William’s cousin Catherine, also in Basford, marries Richard Green. In 1820 Catherine gives birth to a daughter, who is named Sarah.

We spin forward to 1844, when Sarah marries Thomas Marriott, from nearby Bulwell. He is most likely the Thomas Marriott baptised there on 9 March 1817, whose parents are listed as Joseph, a Framework Knitter, and his wife Mary.

One thing we know about Thomas is that he’s a keen chess player, whose sons will also learn how to play. I’m not sure how common chess was amongst the framework knitting community at the time: perhaps Thomas saw a knowledge of the Royal Game as a way into the middle classes.

Here’s a game played by one of his sons, a devotee of gambit play. ‘Septimus Placid’ was probably top Nottingham player Sigismund Hamel.

By 1851 he’s already doing well. We pick him up in the census, where, remaining in the local lace-making industry, he’s left his humble origins behind. He’s a lace maker and tea dealer, trying out another line of business on the side, it seems. Sarah is there with him, along with their three sons, Edwin, Thomas and Henry, and he’s sufficiently well off to be able to employ a servant.

In 1861 he’s a lace manufacturer, suggesting perhaps a slightly higher status than a lace maker, which is what Edwin is doing. Sadly, Thomas junior had died in 1855, but the family is now completed by Henry, John, Sarah, another Thomas, Frederick and Arthur. John, Sarah and Arthur were all given the middle name Towle in honour, as was the fashion at the time, of their grandmother Catherine. (The census record has been transcribed as Maniott: thanks to Jon D’Souza-Eva for discovering this, which had eluded other historians, and pointing it out to us.) I wonder whether Thomas knew about his wife’s nefarious relatives, and, if so, what he thought of them.

The 1871 census (name transcribed incorrectly as Marrett) tells us Thomas is now employing 4 men and 5 boys. Edwin and John have left home, but Sarah and the other children are still there. No doubt chess is often played.

Here’s another game, played by Arthur at Simpson’s Divan, which we visited in an earlier Minor Piece, against George Alcock MacDonnell, one of the top English (but Irish born) players of the day.

Thomas’s business continues to prosper: by 1881 he’s employing 34 males and 4 females. I hope he treated his workers better than John Heathcoat and John Boden did. Sarah and their two youngest sons, Frederick and Arthur, are at home with him.

Let’s stop to look at what happened to his children. We know that his six sons who survived childhood all played chess, and we have playing records for most of them.

Thomas’s youngest son, Arthur Towle Marriott, was the strongest and also the shortest lived. He’s the subject of a recent book recounting his gloomy fate and romantic chess. EdoChess awards him a peak rating of 2376, and, had he lived, he could have been a world class player.

Here’s one of his last and most brilliant games: he was living in Bournemouth at the time, hoping the sea air would improve his health.

Two of Arthur’s brothers were also pretty decent players, taking high boards for Nottingham in matches against other Midlands towns. The oldest brother, Edwin, had a peak rating of 2275 and draws to his credit against Teddington resident and future British Championship contender George Edward Wainwright and, in his final recorded game, against the young Henry Ernest Atkins. Away from the chessboard he followed in his father’s footsteps as a lace manufacturer, possibly taking over his business interests when he retired.

Thomas Walter Marriott was of similar strength to Edwin, with a peak rating of 2244: again, by the standards of his day, a formidable player. Thomas Walter was, like many chess players, an accountant, and, also like many chess players, never married. At least up to 1911 he chose to live in boarding houses, even though he had inherited property after his father’s death.

John Towle Marriott’s life took a different course. He chose to train as a minister of religion, specifically the Unitarian movement, who believed in the unity of God, rather than the Trinity accepted by most Christians.  He settled near Salford, marrying the daughter of a celebrated reporter and antiquary, but died of typhoid fever in 1890. He didn’t seem to play club chess, but returned to Nottingham in 1886 to take part in the 3rd class tournament of the Counties Chess Association, which he won with 6½/9, a performance rated by EdoChess as 1780.

John Towle Marriott

Sarah Towle Marriott may well have played her brothers at home, but chess was, back in those days, considered an almost exclusively male activity. You might think we haven’t made much progress in that respect in the past century and a half. Her first husband, who died young, was a colliery agent who had business interests in London – the 1881 census found the family in Fulham, which, as far as I know, has never had very many coal mines. Their son Harry Marriott Burton was interesting: he was an artist who travelled the world – Canada, South Africa – painting wherever he went, ending his life in Queensland at the great age of 96. His paintings are now quite collectible.

Mount Sir Donald, Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia Harry Marriott Burton (1882–1979) Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

Thomas Marriott’s other two sons are mysterious, as you’ll find out.

The 1891 census finds him, now a retired widower, living with his daughter Sarah, herself widowed, and her two surviving children.

By 1901, now aged 84, he’s living with an otherwise unknown Francis Marriott, who appears to be his full time carer. My guess, as there’s no other Francis around, and because the age is right, this is really Frederick: either the enumerator made a mistake or he’s using a false name for some reason. He’s there with his wife Lizzie, from Derbyshire, and an 11-year-old daughter, Ethel, who, unexpectedly, was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. The last we heard of Frederick was in the 1881 census (he appears to have taken part in a consultation game the same year), and I haven’t been able to find any further sighting of Frederick or Francis in England, Canada or anywhere else. It’s all a mystery.

Thomas’s other son, Henry, is also elusive. He’s living at home in 1871, working as a clerk in a coal office, but then disappears from view.

Thomas lives on until 8 September 1906, dying in the Coppice Asylum, a private institution in Nottingham. I would guess that he was suffering from some kind of dementia in the last few years of his life.

His will makes interesting reading. He seems to have been fairly wealthy, owning several properties, which are shared between Sarah (who also received his personal effects), Thomas Walter and Frederick, with specific instructions that nothing should go to either Edwin or Henry. Perhaps Edwin, having inherited the family business, was well catered for anyway. Perhaps, though, there was a falling out with both Edwin and Henry. Perhaps he chose to reward Sarah and Frederick, who had both been caring for him in his old age, and Thomas Walter, who had been involved with the legal side of the will. Perhaps he had no idea wither or not Henry was still alive. The inheritance for Frederick seems to suggest again that he and Francis were one and the same person, but who knows?

Finally, let’s return to Edwin. He had nine children, several of whom are also remarkably difficult to track down. This is very unusual for the time: one is tempted to ask questions about the family dynamics. My particular interest is with the oldest of them, Arthur James, who married Frances Keywood, the possessor of a relatively unusual surname. (There used to be a lace manufacturing company in Nottingham called Cooper & Keywood.)

The Keywoods were one of several families in Nottingham who intermarried a lot, but Frances must have been related in some way to Doris Keywood, who married Louis James there in 1915. His great grandfather Thomas James (whom you’ll meet again another time) was also my 3x great grandfather. Wheels within wheels. There are always stories. There are always connections. And this is the story of how I’m connected to Arthur Towle Marriott and his chess-playing brothers. It’s also the story of how the game of chess has always been shaped by societal shifts: as we move now from the industrial to the post-industrial (and post-pandemic) age chess will change again. By learning lessons from history we can be proactive in deciding how chess should be promoted and organised in future.

Spurious Games

Spurious Games: David Jenkins

Spurious Games, David Jenkins, Matador, July 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1838593520
Spurious Games, David Jenkins, Matador, July 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1838593520

From the publisher:

When a local chess player is discovered dead, Detective Inspector John Logos of Cornwall s St Borstal Constabulary is called in to investigate what turns out to be a serial killer running amok in the sedate world of Cornish chess. The detectives quickly find themselves as pawns in the game of an arrogant mastermind calling himself The Turk who taunts them with chess-related clues. Baffled, they call in Caradoc Pritchard, an eccentric Welsh Professor, and together they must work against the clock to predict the killer’s next move.

David Jenkins
David Jenkins

While working at the University of the South Pacific, David played chess for Fiji as Board 4 in the 1994 Moscow Chess Olympiad, a memorable experience but one distinctly above his pay grade (think Eddy the Eagle). While in Fiji he also ran an experimental theatre group Stage Fright Aah!.

He was until 2016 captain of the Cornwall county chess team, hanging on to his place despite the ravages of old age. He is currently the President of the Cornwall Chess Association and teaches chess at Calstock Community Primary School. He has made a modest contribution to chess journalism, including the publication of a weekly chess cartoon, a brief selection of which can be found elsewhere on these web pages.

David has held chairs at a number of universities including Warwick and the University of the South Pacific. He is widely published in the field of qualitative evaluation, writing in a style of ‘curriculum criticism’ that offer readers a surrogate experience of educational programs, rendering them accessible to outside judgements.

In 2011, the American Evaluation Association awarded David’s study of a cross-European youth training initiative, A Tale Unfolded, the ‘Outstanding Evaluation of the Year’. The official citation noted that his report ‘deploys such literary devices as narrative vignettes, irony, metaphor and wit, seeing humour as a legitimate way of addressing ambivalences. The report pulls no punches, but does so with considerable grace and wit,’

Spurious Games is David’s first novel.

 

From the back cover:

“An extended riff on the theme of authenticity, Spurious Games is cast as a detective novel in which the St Borstal police, with outside help from a Welsh professor of plagiarism struggle to apprehend a serial killer calling himself ‘the Turk’, wo is running amok in the eccentric cloistered world of Cornish chess and taunting the detectives with chess-related clues.

“In a style that is wry, playful and allusive, the novel ranges widely across pop culture, magic shows and fortune telling, cyber espionage, pro-sex feminism, doppelgangers, the inanities of New Age spirituality , and whether the game of chess constitutes a mental health hazard.”

 

‘It seems his entire world for the last couple of years has revolved around his chess’, added Polgooth, ‘like a koala chewing legal highs in a eucalyptus tree’.

At the start of this novel, an overweight antisocial chess addict named Richard prematurely meets his maker as the result of eating a Poisoned Pawn from a chocolate chess set.

I was starting to get worried, but, at least to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never met David Jenkins, the author of this chess novel.

I’m not quite sure how I found myself as the chief fiction reviewer of British Chess News, but perhaps I’m the only member of their panel who ever reads fiction. Many chess players, I suspect, don’t, and that’s their loss.

So what we have here is a comic novel, a spoof on detective fiction if you like, set in the world of Cornish chess. Several of the characters have names redolent of prominent Cornish chess personalities. A serial killer is on the loose, and his victims are all chess players. The incompetent detectives working on the case receive mysterious emails from ‘The Turk’ offering chess-related clues.

The whole book is often hilariously funny. There’s a Chris Farlowe tribute band who posted online covers of their favourite 60s rock star, and were at one point known as the Farlowepian YouTubes. You’ll also meet a research fellow in Game Theory called Bernadette Madoff – and much more in the same vein. A knowledge of both popular and high culture (the Gospel of St John and the poetry of TS Eliot, for example ) will come in useful.

After four Cornish chess players meet untimely deaths the novel reaches its climax at the ICA, where a modern day replica of the Mechanical Turk is on display. Will the killer be unmasked before another victim (and GM Daniel King should be very careful) is checkmated? Chess journalist Stephen Moss has a walk-on part here, and other well known chessers (Andrew Greet, Michael Adams, Jack Rudd, Matthew Sadler) are mentioned en passant throughout the book.

I found the book very enjoyable and often extremely funny, even though we chess players don’t come out of it very well. Our Cornish colleagues, it seems, are either grossly overweight or unhealthily underweight, are unsociable loners, are often unable to drive a car, and are prone to believe in conspiracy theories such as the Nibiru Cataclysm and hang onto every word of David Icke. Not very different, then, from chess players in my part of the world. If you look in the mirror you might not like what you see.

The back cover quotes award-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies, who found echoes of Nabokov, Umberto Eco and Spike Milligan. Yes, I can see all of that, but for me it was as if the shades of Agatha Christie (The ABC Murders, a clear inspiration, is namechecked on several occasions), PG Wodehouse and Robertson Davies had collaborated on a novel about Cornish chess players.

The ‘whodunit’ part didn’t really work as, for me, the culprit was obvious from the start, but I rather suspect that was the whole point. The chess, as you’d expect from the President of the Cornish Chess Association, is mostly accurate, although the Fried Liver Attack is, rather strangely, described as an unsound tactical opening, and the participants play online on ICC at a time when most of the chess world had migrated elsewhere. The book does contain scenes of an adult nature, so it would be best not to leave it within sight of the likes of Cornish chess prodigy Barnaby Bude.

Apart from that, highly recommended for all chess players, even though you might not like the way you and your pawn-pushing brethren are presented. Although it’s extremely amusing, with laughs guaranteed on every page, there is also a serious undercurrent touching on a wide variety of issues both on and off the board. Well produced too, and, unusually for a work of fiction, beautifully illustrated. If you play chess and enjoy fiction, or even if you don’t, I’d urge you to give it a try. I’m sure the Netflix dramatisation won’t be far away.

Richard James, Twickenham 10th June 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softback : 324 (softback)  pages
  • Publisher:  Matador (28 July 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1838593527
  • ISBN-13:978-1838593520

Official web site of Troubador / Matador

Spurious Games, David Jenkins, Matador, July 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1838593520
Spurious Games, David Jenkins, Matador, July 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1838593520

Minor Pieces 3: Septimus Swyer

Between 31 August and 9 November 1888, five prostitutes were brutally murdered in Whitechapel, in London’s East End. Their killer was never caught, and is known to us now as Jack the Ripper. Several later murders in the same area might have been committed by the same person.

What you all want to know is this: did Jack the Ripper play chess?

Hundreds of possible suspects have been mentioned over the years: almost everyone, it seems, who was in the right place at the right time, and even some who almost certainly weren’t.

Several of these suspects have chess connections.

First on our list is the artist Walter Sickert. From The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict: ‘According to a well-argued book by Stephen Knight, Jack the Ripper … was in fact the painter Walter Sickert as part of a three-man team. One of the things we know about Sickert was that he was a keen chess-player’.

Sadly, this source is notoriously unreliable. I searched the newspaper archives for any connection between Sickert and chess. All I could find was a critic’s view of a portrait of political activist and atheist Charles Bradlaugh: ‘But the clever artist should have placed a chessboard on the table over which the intellectual face of Mr. B. is bending. He habitually plays chess, I am given to understand, with members of the high aristocracy, and recently checkmated a Bishop.’ This must surely refer to Bradlaugh, who was known to be a chess player, rather than Sickert, although history doesn’t record whether the famous atheist used a bishop to checkmate the Bishop. Perhaps Mike Fox had read a biography of Sickert which provided more information, but I can find no evidence of the artist being particularly interested in chess.

More recently, the crime novelist Patricia Cornwell took up the theory of Sickert being Jack, but I don’t think the evidence stands up.

Number two on our list is none other than Lewis Carroll. We know, of course, that he was a chess enthusiast: you can read more here. I’ve known the compiler of this information, Roger Scowen, on and off for many years: we recently exchanged emails and hope to meet up soon for a few games once it’s safe to do so. But was Carroll Jack the Ripper? To me, it seems like a totally ridiculous suggestion.

Moving swiftly on, let’s visit the Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability in Teddington – and if you’ve never been there you really ought to. Some of the inmates there at Normansfield were identified by John Langdon Down as having a specific genetic condition which is now known as Down Syndrome. Others, like James Henry Pullen, might now be diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Facilities were also available for members of wealthy families with mental health conditions, one of whom, who features, with a mention of his chess prowess, in a display in the museum, was Reginald Treherne Bassett Saunderson. Saunderson certainly didn’t have an intellectual disability, but today he’d probably be diagnosed as schizophrenic. His story is told here.

In this game he was winning most of the way through against a strong opponent, but eventually came off second best.

Saunderson was certainly a pretty good chess player, and certainly killed a lady of, reputedly, ‘ill-fame’, but, born in 1873, he was much too young to have been the original Jack the Ripper.

Let’s try again. Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s dad, was certainly a chess player, and certainly an opponent of Steinitz. By all accounts he was a pretty unpleasant and unpopular man, but, although he sometimes appears in lists of possible suspects, there’s absolutely no evidence that he had anything at all to do with the Whitechapel Murders.

Lord Randolph Churchill

Finally, meet S Swyer. He played Steinitz in the second round of a handicap tournament at the City of London Chess Club in 1871-72: among the other participants was J Swyer, a first round loser. Tim Harding (Steinitz in London) suggests that the two Swyers were probably brothers, but doesn’t provide any further information. Swyer is an uncommon surname so it’s not too difficult to find out more.

The Swyer family came from near Shaftesbury, in Dorset. Walter Swyer and Sarah Lush (Buckland) Swyer had a daughter, Sarah, followed by seven sons. Walter and Robert, John and George, James and William, and, as was the custom in educated families at the time, their seventh son was named Septimus. Let’s get J Swyer out of the way first. John was a bank manager who spent most of his life in Dorset. James was a chemist and druggist, living in Bethnal Green in London’s East End at the time of the 1871 census, so it must have been him, rather than John, who played chess at the City of London Chess Club.

James Swyer

S Swyer, then, was Septimus. In 1871 he was a General Practitioner, living in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, not very far from his brother Jim. As well as being a GP he specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology.

Both Swyers were placed in Class IV (of V) at the City of London Club, so when Steinitz was paired against Septimus he took the white pieces in both games, but had to play without his queen’s knight.

This game suggests that Septimus was a reasonably competent player, but handicapped by a lack of opening knowledge.

It was much the same story the second time around, but here the game was truncated when Swyer, in a difficult position, hung a rook.

Dr Septimus Swyer

Swyer was a colourful character whose life was not short on controversy. In 1861 a cat, allegedly belonging to his neighbour, broke into his shop and shattered all his medicines, including a bottle of Godfrey’s Cordial, but the narcotic had no effect on the feline intruder. He sued for damages, but his neighbour claimed it was a different moggy and the case was thrown out.

His first wife died in 1874 and he remarried in 1880. It was stated his second wife’s husband was still alive (it seems he lived until 1912) and she was tried for bigamy, but acquitted.

In 1888 he was still in the same area, but in 1891, shortly after the last possible Ripper murder, he suddenly emigrated to the USA. He certainly had financial problems, but who knows?

Dr Septimus Swyer was in the right place at the right time, had the required medical knowledge, and left the country in a hurry. Only circumstantial evidence. Was he Jack the Ripper? Unlikely, I would have thought, but at least, unlike our other four chess-playing (or perhaps not in the case of Sickert) suspects, a possibility. I guess we’ll never know.

 

Sources:

There’s a lot more about Swyer as a Ripper suspect (but do bear in mind the proviso at the top of the first post) at:
Dr Septimus Swyer + proviso – Casebook: Jack the Ripper Forums

A lot more again here from a direct descendant (one of his sons emigrated to Australia) at:
Septimus Swyer (hibeach.net)

Photographs of James and Septimus Swyers taken from family trees at:
Genealogy, Family Trees and Family History Records online – Ancestry®

Photograph of Lord Randolph Churchill from Wikipedia.

The Gloomy Fate and Romantic Chess of Arthur Towle Marriott

The Gloomy Fate and Romantic Chess of Arthur Towle Marriott : Fabrizio Zavatarelli

The Gloomy Fate and Romantic Chess of Arthur Towle Marriott, Fabrizio Zavatarelli, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN 978-8071890164
The Gloomy Fate and Romantic Chess of Arthur Towle Marriott, Fabrizio Zavatarelli, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN 978-8071890164

From the publisher:

Biography of prominent Nottingham chess-player (1859-1884). Biography contents 156 annotated games with comments mostly from contemporary sources. A. T. Marriott played chess with many contemporary chess players of this time, e.g. Blackburne, Freeborough, MacDonnell, Thorold, etc.

I won’t quote the publisher’s introduction, as it’s the same as you’ll find in this book.

This is the first volume in a different series, though, featuring the careers of forgotten chess players. In this case the author is Fabrizio Zavatarelli, an Italian chess historian, who has written a book on Kolisch and co-authored one on Neumann, Hirschfeld and Suhle, both published by McFarland. An author, then, with a proven track record as an excellent writer and researcher in this field. A helpful feature of the book is a rating system for games: one star: of some interest, two stars: worthy of an anthology, and three stars (there are none in this book): a masterpiece.

Arthur who? You may well ask. I hadn’t heard of him until I saw the advance publicity for this book. Arthur Towle Marriott, it turns out, was the youngest and strongest member of a chess playing family. We have 156 games, with contemporary annotations, along with a few problems, and we follow him as he travels the country, playing chess wherever and whenever he can.

Marriott was born in Nottingham on 25 November 1859, the youngest son of Thomas and Sarah. There is information about his family now available online which Zavatarelli was either unable to find or which wasn’t available when he was researching the book. A footnote suggests that Sarah’s maiden name was probably Lacey: it wasn’t: she was Sarah Green. He also states that no mention of the family can be found in the 1861 and 1871 census records: in fact the 1871 record has now been found, but not, as yet, the 1861 record. You can find out more information about the chess playing Marriotts here.

His earliest games, mostly played by correspondence, date from 1876, about the time of his 17th birthday. But a few months later he was playing, and winning, in a match between Nottingham against Leicester. As an example of Marriott’s play at this time, here’s a casual game played at his chess club.

From this game you can tell that he was a highly talented tactician with a love, which would last the rest of his life, of rather dubious gambits.

Marriott played in the 2nd Class Tournament at Grantham over the following New Year, outclassing the opposition to win with a 100% score. In August 1878 he travelled to Hull for a series of games against Edward Freeborough, later to find fame as the co-author of Chess Openings Ancient and Modern. Two months later, Blackburne was in town for a simul, and, underestimating his young opponent, was mated in only 17 moves.

We follow Marriott’s career and travels over the next few years, visiting London, for example, to take on the chess automaton ‘Mephisto’, possibly operated by Gunsberg at the time. But at some point, possibly early 1881, he contracted tuberculosis. Undeterred, he continued playing chess between bouts of his illness.

Everyone loves a good king hunt, so take a look at this.

Curiously, the moves up to 15. Be3 were duplicated in a 21st century game (Haller – Torretta Wasselonne Open 2009), but White ended up repeating moves in a winning position.

The Danish Gambit was one of Marriott’s favourite openings, as was the Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit, which he also played with colours reversed: yes – the currently fashionable (in some circles) Stafford Gambit.

It’s very clear from the games in this book that Arthur Towle Marriott was a player with an outstanding tactical imagination: deadly against opponents who failed to develop their pieces in the opening. Not everything stands up to computer analysis, but he was more interested in playing a beautiful game than winning prosaically.

Playing in a tournament against master standard opposition, though, is another matter entirely. Would he be able to raise his game and become a world class player like Blackburne, or would he remain just a tricky tactician like Bird?

A tournament in Birmingham in August 1883 gave him the chance to find out by taking on some of the country’s leading amateurs under serious match play conditions.

In the first round he faced Nelson Fedden, and this time forsook his beloved gambits for a more cautious start.

This game suggested that he could make the grade, but, had he been in full health he would no doubt have concluded more quickly and efficiently rather than missing some simple mates. He lost to Thorold, the eventual winner, in the second round, and then, playing poorly, to Ranken. At that point he was forced to withdraw from the tournament on health grounds. In November he travelled down to Bournemouth, hoping the sea air would improve his health, and, of course, played a lot of chess while he was there. He returned home in early 1884, but his condition was worsening and he spent some time in the TB Sanatorium at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. It was all to no avail, though, and that dreadful disease claimed his life on the night of 21-22 November, just a few days before his 25th birthday.

Here’s a problem: White to play and mate in 3 moves (Nottingham Guardian 1884). You’ll find the solution at the end of this review.

Arthur Towle Marriott is one of the great might-have-beens of English chess history. He was a highly creative and imaginative attacking player who was very much at home in the 19th century world of romantic gambit play. A real chess enthusiast, he played wherever he went: casual games, club matches or tournaments, simultaneous displays, odds games, blindfold games, they all came alike to him. You’ll even find a game of four-handed chess here. He was very popular as well: everyone who knew him soon became fond of him, and you’ll also find a few lovely anecdotes within these pages. But he was strong enough to beat the likes of Blackburne and Gunsberg in one-to-one games. EdoChess gives him a peak rating of 2376 in 1881, placing him 66th in the world. It’s quite possible that, had he lived, he’d have reached grandmaster level.

What you get is everything currently known about Marriott’s life and chess. What you don’t get is external contextualisation: there’s a lot more to be told about his family background, some of which I’ll endeavour to do at a future date in my Minor Pieces series. There’s much that could be written about some of his opponents, who also have their stories. You also don’t get computer-assisted analysis: he played some highly complex games, and, inevitably, many of the annotations fail to meet with Stockfish’s approval. Finally, you don’t get professional production values. The publisher uses a different – and less suitable – diagram font than in the Mackenzie book: it’s not always easy to distinguish between some of the white and black pieces.

One of my particular interests is in the history of chess in Leicester (a city with which I have various personal connections), and Marriott played in several matches between his and my father’s home towns. If you’re interested in chess at this time and place you’ll be sure to want this book. If you have a general interest in 19th century chess history, if you love the romantic 19th century style of play, where gambits are offered and accepted, and where pieces are sacrificed for speculative attacks, you won’t be disappointed by the specimens here. If you just want to find out about an unjustly forgotten figure in chess history, one who, in some ways, typified the spirit of his age, again, go right ahead and buy it.

 

Problem solution: 1. Ng3 d4 2. Nh3 Ke3 3. Rc3#. The two knights withdraw to set up a pin mate. Not profound, but rather charming, I think.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 27th May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softback : 160 pages
  • Publisher: Publishing House Moravian Chess (1 Jan. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:8071890162
  • ISBN-13:978-8071890164

Official web site of Moravian Chess

The Gloomy Fate and Romantic Chess of Arthur Towle Marriott, Fabrizio Zavatarelli, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN 978-8071890164
The Gloomy Fate and Romantic Chess of Arthur Towle Marriott, Fabrizio Zavatarelli, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN 978-8071890164

Minor Pieces 2: Alexander Sich

It’s Monday 28 August 1871. Join me at Simpson’s Divan in the Strand, where, after a satisfying lunch of roast beef, accompanied by a bottle of their finest claret, followed by a glass of brandy and a Havana cigar, we adjourn to the chess room to watch the great Wilhelm Steinitz in action.

He introduces us to his friend Mr Sich, who is, he informs us, a wine merchant. The two gentlemen are engaged in an exciting battle. At one point Herr Steinitz is a rook ahead but his king seems to be in trouble. He manages to survive and win the game, but could Mr Sich have done better?

I reach into my pocket. “Look, Herr Steinitz! I’m a time traveller from 150 years into the future. I can press a few buttons on this small machine and talk to anyone in the world. I can press a few more buttons, enter the moves of the game you just played and show you both where you went wrong.”

“You might have been impressed by Ajeeb, but my machine is a million times better. You see, Mr Sich, you might have played your rook to queen one on move 28, announcing check to Herr Steinitz’s king. You were still winning, though, but on move 32, if you’d played your queen to queen’s knight five you could then have exchanged everything off on queen seven and advanced your king’s bishop’s pawn to the end of the board. Two moves later, you could still have drawn by exchanging rooks, but instead you left your own king defenceless.”

But now it’s time to bid our farewells and leave: we have a journey to make. Our destination is Hammersmith. We’re excited by the prospect of travelling on the Underground Railway, so head for Charing Cross Station. Just eight weeks earlier, following a banquet attended by Mr Gladstone two days previously, the District Railway started running trains round part of what would become the Inner Circle. In a few years time we’ll be able to take the train directly to Hammersmith, and the line will later be extended to exotic destinations such as Richmond and Ealing. 90 years later a schoolboy playing his friends on the train between Ravenscourt Park and Richmond will develop a lifelong chess obsession, but that’s another story for another time.

For now, we must take the underground train as far as Paddington, and change onto the Hammersmith and City Railway. When we reach our destination we spot a pub called the George just round the corner: it was rebuilt in 1911 and is now part of the Belushi’s chain. We could stop for a drink there, or in several other pubs nearby, but instead we’ll take a stroll down King Street.

After half a mile or so we’ll pass what is now Hammersmith Town Hall, which we visited in our last journey, and notice, in 2021, that it’s being redeveloped. If we look across the street we’ll see Dalling Road, and the building which, we hope, will soon be the site of a new Mind Sports Centre.

Then we pass another pub. This was the Hampshire Hog, but is now just the Hampshire, serving Indian cuisine as well as beers, wines and spirits. Mine’s a pint of London Pride: what are you having?

Why have I brought you here? Because this pub, like the George and many others in the area, was owned by the Sich family. The brewery was purchased by one John Sich in 1790 and later run by his sons, John junior and Henry.  The two brothers both had numerous children, many of whom were involved in the family business.

But let’s stop there. News has just come in that Herr Steinitz and Mr A Sich played again two days after the game we witnessed. Again, Herr Steinitz survived a totally lost position to win, in an encounter which was even more exciting that their previous game, with a lot of bamboozling tactics. Probably worth a separate article, I think.

You’ll notice that Mr S missed a simple mate in 5 on move 38 before blundering away first the win and then the draw. Still impressive, though, that he could achieve winning positions in level play against the world’s strongest active player.

What else do we know about him? He was very active in the St James’s Club from 1860 onwards, where he was a second category player, receiving odds from Loewenthal and Valentine Green, but conceding odds to weaker players. We’ll meet at least one of his opponents, EE Humphreys, in a later article. He played published games on level terms against Steinitz in 1871, as we’ve seen, and against Loewenthal in 1873 and 1874, before disappearing from the chess scene. Tim Harding comments that his forename is unknown, but perhaps we can find out. Let’s continue our walk.

Back in the 1960s, when such things were allowed, the Hampshire Hog was the place where teachers from nearby Latymer Upper School would take their pupils for a drink. We’re now going to head away from King Street towards the river. Not so easy to cross the Great West Road, but we could perhaps cheat (as I’m an alumnus they might let me in) by following in the distinguished footsteps of the likes of GM Michael Stean and IM David Goodman, taking the school’s Secret Subway to the dining hall and the Prep department, and then out onto Upper Mall.

We’re now at the start of the notorious Round the River Run (or, in my case, walk) which takes you along the river, over Barnes Railway Bridge, along the towpath on the other side, across Hammersmith Bridge and back to where you started. We won’t do that now, not least because Hammersmith Bridge is currently closed for repairs, but will take a gentle walk by the river in the direction of Chiswick.

Passing the Old Ship, we’ll stop off at the Black Lion. Thanks for offering: I’ll have another pint of Pride. It would be rude not to, given how close we are to where it’s brewed. Above one of the corner tables is a portrait of local resident AP Herbert, whose wife was regularly seen at the Hammersmith Town Hall chess tournaments.

While we’re here, news comes in that Herr Steinitz and Mr A Sich have played another game.

I’m not sure what 7. Ng5 was all about: my pupils get their knuckles rapped if they play moves like that. Steinitz chose to go for the attack rather than regain the exchange on move 26, but Sich missed a draw on move 34.

It’s time to continue our walk, passing Fuller’s (London Pride) Brewery and soon reaching St Nicholas’s Church. Turning up Church Street towards the busy Hogarth Roundabout, a stark contrast to the bucolic views of the Thames, you’ll see a tower on your right with the words LAMB BREWERY. This was the name of the Sich family concern: little other than the tower remains.

But we still haven’t identified A Sich. Let’s return to John and Henry. John had a son named Alexander who was born in 1837, while, two years later, Henry’s son Arthur John was born. So we have two gentlemen named A Sich who were of the right age. As he was active from 1860 onwards, the older cousin seems more likely. A better reason is that, in the days when people were referred to by their full initials and surnames, the chess player was always ‘A. Sich’, never ‘A.J. Sich’. We also know from Steinitz  that he was a wine merchant. As it happens, 1871 was a census year, so let’s travel back 150 years again and join the enumerator.

Here, in Church Street, where we’re standing now, is Arthur John, a brewer, with his wife and children. And just round the corner, in Sunbury House, The Mall, Chiswick, is Alexander, a wine merchant, with his wife (who just happened to be Arthur’s sister Helen: nothing like keeping it in the family) and children. This seems confirmation that it was Alex, not Artie, who played chess against Steinitz. We know quite a lot more about them as well. Al was very much concerned with municipal affairs throughout his life, while Art was involved with the army volunteers. Unlike his cousin, he seemed to prefer real soldiers to wooden soldiers.

Time for a final drink, I think. While we’re at the Hogarth Roundabout we could choose the George & Devonshire, which has probably always been a Fuller’s pub, but, to continue the theme of our pub crawl, we might prefer to walk up towards Turnham Green to visit another former Sich pub, the Lamb (formerly the Barley Mow, but its name was changed to that of the original brewery).

While we’re there, there’s another game to look at. Steinitz is White again and plays the King’s Gambit. Again, Sich is doing well at one point, but misdefends, allowing a neat sacrificial finish.

We could, I suppose, visit the Watermans Arms in Brentford, which comes with a recommendation from food critic and West London Chess Club secretary Andy Hayler. Close by is the Watermans Arts Centre, which in turn is across the road from the rather wonderful Musical Museum and a short walk from the London Museum of Water and Steam, which itself is just across the railway line from the new Brentford Stadium. Will they be seeing Premiership football there next season, I wonder?

We could also travel further west to the Bell in Hounslow. Back in the 1980s or thereabouts Hounslow Chess Club met nearby, and the Bell was often the venue for our post mortems after we played them in the Thames Valley League. There are plenty of other former Sich pubs still around as well: see the link below.

Before I leave you, there’s one further reference connecting Alexander Sich to the game of chess.

In 1903 the Chiswick Library Committee, of which Alex was a member, decided to allow their committee room to be used as a games room. Chess, draughts and dominoes were provided so that the local louts could avoid trouble by playing some nice quiet games.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned. The boys resorted to games of their own: ‘coddam’, noisy larking, horse-play and pitching cinders. The good citizens of Chiswick were not at all happy, and, after a few weeks, the club was closed down. Alexander Sich said that he did not regret that they had made the experiment. It could hardly have been more different from the pre-lockdown chess group at Whitton Library. There’s a moral there somewhere,  but I’m not sure what it is. (Coddam, since you asked, is ‘an old game, usually with three players on each side, based around guessing which of the players’ hands is hiding a coin or button.’)

Meanwhile, the Sich Brewery hit problems during the First World War and was sold off in 1920. Their neighbour, Fuller’s, however, survives and thrives to this day.

This is the second of a series of articles about Steinitz’s English amateur opponents. The next instalment will be coming shortly.

Sources:

The chess games of A Sich

The Lamb Brewery | Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society (brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk)

Metropolitan Railway – Wikipedia

Genealogy, Family Trees and Family History Records online – Ancestry®

Dashboard | findmypast.co.uk

 

Chess for Educators : How to Organize and Promote a Meaningful Chess Teaching Program

Chess for Educators : Karel van Delft

Chess for Educators, Karel van Delft, New in Chess, March 2021, ISBN: 9789056919429
Chess for Educators, Karel van Delft, New in Chess, March 2021, ISBN: 9789056919429

From the book’s rear cover :

“Chess has the rare quality that children love it despite the fact that it is good for them. Playing chess is just like life: you have to make plans, take decisions, be creative, deal with challenges, handle disappointments, interact with others and evaluate your actions.

Psychologist and chess teacher Karel van Delft has spent a large part of his life studying the benefits of chess in education. In this guide he provides access to the underlying scientific research and presents the didactical methods of how to effectively apply these findings in practice.

Van Delft has created a dependable toolkit for teachers and scholastic chess organizers. What can teachers do to improve their instruction? How (un)important is talent? How do you support a special needs group? How do you deal with parents? And with school authorities? What are the best selling points of a chess program? Boys and girls, does it make a difference? How do ‘chess in schools’ programs fare in different countries?

This is not a book on chess rules, with lots of moves and diagrams, but it points the way to where good technical chess improvement content can be found. Van Delft offers a wealth of practical advice on how to launch and present a chess program and how to apply the most effective didactics in order for kids to build critical life skills through learning chess.”

Karel van Delft
Karel van Delft

“Karel van Delft is a Dutch chess teacher and chess organizer. He holds a Master’s degree in Psychology of the University of Amsterdam and has lectured and published widely on the subject of the benefits of chess in education.”

 

Chess education is an important subject which has been much discussed over the past decade or more, but, up to now, it hasn’t been the topic of many books, at least in the English language.

Karel van Delft is ideally qualified to write this book. He’s been teaching chess very successfully at all levels for many years and will be known to many of us who have attended the London Chess Conference. His son, Merijn, is an IM whose recent book was favourably reviewed on this site. He generously mentions me twice within these pages.

For whom is the book written? Although there’s very little chess and very few diagrams, there’s an assumption that readers know something about the game and are either already chess teachers, or are interested in teaching chess to young children. For the most part, we’re looking, then, at chess in primary schools, or for children of primary school age.

A couple of quotes from the Introduction:

Chess is a playground for the brain. Children enjoy playing it, and it poses fascinating challenges to their brain. But the game also widens their horizon.

And:

Chess can contribute to the cognitive, social, emotional and meta-cognitive development of children. For children with special needs and other groups, chess can also be a means for empowerment. It helps them to develop self-respect, and to get a grip on themselves and their environment. 

In other words, especially for children, chess has many benefits. What are these exactly, and how can chess have a positive effect on the education of children? That is what we examine in this book. We will discuss didactics and teaching methods, the organization of school clubs, scientific research on the benefits of chess education, and chess as a means of emancipation within the scope of school chess and special needs groups. 

Chapter 1 is a very brief tour round School Chess Worldwide, with, as you’d expect, a mention for Chess in Schools and Communities.

Chapter 2 is an important look at Didactics in School Chess. Van Delft recommends that lessons should combine instruction and playing, and take place within groups of children at the same level, with, ideally, a maximum of 12 children in each group. If, however, chess is on the curriculum, the classes will be larger and not all children will be motivated.

Chapter 3 is perhaps more controversial: Pre-School Chess, which, by its definition, applies to chess at home rather than at school. We hear about grandmasters – the Polgar sisters and others – who started chess very young. Various ways of encouraging children from the age of 2 upwards to take an interest in chess are suggested, for instance getting them to watch chess videos or a chess engine playing itself. You may well have reservations about whether 2-year-olds should be encouraged to use screens in this way, or, indeed, to use screens at all.

The next few chapters provide checklists for organising school chess clubs and youth tournaments, and, critically, the role of parents is also discussed. The School Chess Club chapter is very revealing: it’s certainly completely different from most school chess clubs I’ve seen, which involve a visiting tutor coming in to teach 20-30 children of different ages and playing strengths, with minimal support from the school. If you showed this to most primary schools here in the UK they’d be horrified: the teachers are under far too much pressure elsewhere to deal with anything like this. On the other hand it’s perfect for anyone wanting to start a professionally run junior chess club within their community.

Chapter 7 is worthwhile for all readers, looking at Fernando Moreno’s work in teaching life skills through chess.

Chapter 8, again, is invaluable, talking about chess, intelligence and teaching highly gifted children. Here, van Delft differentiates between ‘top down teaching’, which is favoured by schools in the Netherlands, and ‘bottom up teaching’, of which the Steps Method is, at least in part, an example. There’s a lot of food for thought for all chess teachers here.

The following chapters look at how to encourage specific categories of chess player: those with visual or hearing impairments, with autism or dyslexia, girls and women, and then, in a catch-all chapter, those with ADHD, Down Syndrome, long-term illnesses or handicaps, and depression. All of this is of vital importance, and should be considered by anyone involved in chess education or administration.

We’re now onto Chapter 15, Class Management, especially useful for those, like me, who struggle in this area. The author provides several pages of helpful advice for chess tutors who may not be trained teachers.

Chapters 16 to 20 cover various aspects of chess instruction, most notably a description of research into the possible academic benefits, with descriptions of the methodology and results of various studies around the world along with constructive criticisms of current research and suggestions for future studies. As you would expect, he uses the work of Fernand Gobet and his colleagues here, but reaches a rather different conclusion.

Gobet is, broadly speaking, critical of the movement to promote chess on the curriculum for it’s perceived academic benefits: “In my view, chess is a great game providing much excitement, enjoyment and beauty on its own. There is no need to justify its practice by alluding to external benefits.”. (The Psychology of Chess Routledge 2019) I agree with Gobet here, but I’m not sure that van Delft would share my views. If you want to make chess more popular by promoting it in schools, though, you’ll probably need to convince them of the potential academic advantages.

Finally, we have Chapter 21, the best part of 120 pages, devoted to an Alphabet of Methods and Teaching Tips for Chess Education. There are dozens of ideas here, some just of one sentence, others taking several pages. No one will want to use all these ideas, but all readers will find something to enhance and enliven their chess tuition.

You may have gathered that this book doesn’t really provide a coherent narrative, but that is of little importance, and I know from personal experience how difficult it is to write on this subject in a logical and structured way.

You should be aware that this book is written from a Dutch perspective. Although you might think our two countries are culturally similar, in fact there are many differences. If you’re interested in this sort of thing you might start by reading this book. Dutch schools are very different from British schools. The Dutch, in general have (and have had since Euwe became World Champion in 1935) a rather more positive view of chess than we do. Dutch chess clubs are also much more suitable for children than our clubs with their evening meetings in less than adequate venues. So things that work in the Netherlands might not work in the UK or elsewhere. If you’re writing for a UK audience you might also want to provide links to, for example, the Delancey UK Chess Challenge and the English Primary Schools Chess Association as well as the ECF.

There are also a few translation problems, although the meaning is usually clear. Page 75, for example, uses the word ‘retardedness’, in relation to autism, which many teachers, parents and advocates here in the UK would consider both inappropriate and offensive. I appreciate that the economics of chess publishing make it impractical, but in an ideal world the book would have been checked through by a native English speaker with appropriate subject knowledge.

There are also many involved in various aspects of childhood who are concerned about the increasing professionalisation of children’s leisure activities and the ‘schoolification’ of childhood, as well as about young children’s screen time. Of course it’s all about striking the right balance, and that balance will vary a lot from one child to another. I’d have liked to see these issues and others discussed. Is it, in general, a good idea to encourage schools to put chess on the curriculum instead of, say, music or PE? Accentuating the positive is all very well, but you can’t always eliminate the negative.

Nevertheless, this book is essential reading for everyone interested in chess education, whether in practice or only in theory.  Both established chess teachers and those just setting out will find great ideas to inspire them on every page. Karel van Delft is one of the world’s leading experts on the subject, so the book is an ocean of wisdom. You won’t find everything equally useful, and you might not agree with everything, but then no critical reader will agree with everything in any book on education, no matter what the subject. I wouldn’t say that I disagree with him at all, but that I bring a very different perspective, in part from living in a different country and in part from being a very different person.

The most important aspect of the book for me, on a very personal level, is the understanding that chess has potential social as well as cognitive benefits for a very wide range of young- and not so young – people. We hear a lot about chess ‘making kids smarter’ but not so much about chess ‘making kids happier’, by which I mean genuine long-term benefits rather than short-term fun playing with your friends.

There is certainly a need for more books on the subject of why, how, when, where and by whom chess should be taught, offering a multiplicity of views and perspectives. I hope Karel’s book meets with the success it deserves: you could start by buying a copy yourself.

Richard James, Twickenham 21st May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 272 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (1 Mar 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919423
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919429
  • Product Dimensions: 7.25 x 1.88 x 23.57 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

Chess for Educators, Karel van Delft, New in Chess, March 2021, ISBN: 9789056919429
Chess for Educators, Karel van Delft, New in Chess, March 2021, ISBN: 9789056919429

Minor Pieces 1: Samuel Walter Earnshaw (i)

Six months or so ago I had the opportunity to review Tim Harding’s excellent book Steinitz in London.

Whenever I see a game of chess I want to know more about the players, so did a bit of research into a few names that caught my eye. I threatened to write more about them at some point in the future. My first subject is Samuel Walter Earnshaw.

Tim gives two games played in Autumn 1866 between Earnshaw, a member of Birmingham Chess Club, and Steinitz. There’s another game further on in the book played at an unspecified date.

 

If you know anything at all about 19th century English chess history you’ll be aware of the number of clergymen who played. This seems to have been a specifically British – or even English – phenomenon.

Father Sam wasn’t one of the strongest of the Fighting Reverends, but he turns out to be rather interesting. He was born in Cambridge in 1833, the oldest child of Samuel and Ann (Wall) Earnshaw. Samuel senior (1805-88), originally from Sheffield, was a clergyman, but also a mathematician and physicist, still remembered today for Earnshaw’s Theorem. This is apparently something to do with magnetism, but I didn’t understand a word of the explanation. If you want to find out more I suggest you contact Dr John Upham, who studied this sort of thing for his doctorate.


And here, from an online family tree, he is. The tree also includes photographs of some of Samuel Walter’s brothers, but I haven’t yet been able to locate an image of the man himself.

He had a large family, and several of his sons emigrated to America, but his oldest son stayed in England, following in his father’s footsteps to Cambridge, and then into the church.

Samuel Walter held his first curacy in Bromley-by-Bow, in East London, from where, in 1858, he didn’t have far to go to watch Morphy in action. It was probably there that he first met Samuel Boden, who was to become a lifelong friend. (You might want to describe him as Boden’s Mate.) His next post was in Birmingham, from where he moved a short distance to the small village of Nether Whitacre, twelve miles or so from the city centre. By 1865, now in his early 30s, he was active in the Birmingham chess scene, and his games were being reported in local and national publications. But he also  had to make time for his clerical duties. We can pick him up in the Nether Whitacre registers, which record baptisms, marriages and burials in the parish. Here he is, for example, at about the time he played Steinitz in 1866, officiating at three baptisms.

The following August, though, he was to be involved in a tragic incident. The Coventry Standard of 16 August 1867 reported:

Nothing sinister should be taken from this. These days we’d be suspicious of a vicar being ‘much attached’ to ‘fine youths’ and taking them for a swim in the river, but relationships between adults and children were very different in those times.

It’s understandable, though, that Samuel might have felt the need to move on. After a brief curacy in Wales his career, quite typically for the time, changed direction, and he took on the post of Headmaster of Archbishop Holgate Grammar School, Hemsworth, Yorkshire, not all that far from his family roots. In 1888 the school would move to Barnsley, where it would educate the likes of Michael Parkinson, while the new Hemsworth Grammar School would count Geoff Boycott amongst its most famous alumni.

His new job seems to have left him little time for chess, and we don’t hear from him again until 1877, when he appears to be a member of chess clubs in both Sheffield and Leeds.

By this time he may have come to the end of his time at Archbishop Holgate, and he shortly took on a new post as Rector of Ellough, in Suffolk. Here, the work was less demanding and he was also rather nearer London, so he was able to travel down to the capital’s chess haunts where he was once again able to indulge his passion by taking on the great players of the time. He was also very happy to submit his losses for publication, so there are quite a few games available in newspaper columns, which might be the subject of another article.

The next decade saw him continuing what must have been a relatively quiet life, bringing up his children, tending to the needs of his parishioners, and, once every seven weeks, at least up to 1884, visiting London for a few games of chess.

He died at the relatively early age of 54 in 1887. Perhaps he’d been unwell for some time as there’s no chess reference to be found for the last three years of his life.

An obituary, presumably written by another of the Fighting Reverends, George Alcock MacDonnell, appeared in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.

“He preferred being wrong with the books to being right with the innovators.”: yes, we all know players like this! It sounds like he was a solid and knowledgeable player, but perhaps lacking either the inspiration or the opportunity to reach master standard. A true and enthusiastic lover of chess, though, amiable, good-hearted and right-principled. A devotee of Caïssa could hardly hope for a better obituary.

The reference to Boden’s board and men is rather odd: I suspect there’s a mistake and it was actually Sam B who presented his set to Sam E before his death, not the other way round. I wonder what happened to the set: does anyone know? Perhaps it was handed down to one of his children.

That’s the end – at least for the time being – of Samuel Walter Earnshaw’s story. It’s not the end of my story, though.

Let me take you back to the church of St Giles, Nether Whitacre, on 30 December 1866. The foundation dates back to Norman times, but by then it may have been in a state of disrepair, as it would be rebuilt in 1870, not long after Samuel Earnshaw’s departure.

It’s the Sunday after Christmas, so the congregation will still be celebrating the birth of Christ  as well as looking forward to the new year ahead. There, we see the Houghton family (they pronounced it Howton rather than Horton, I believe). They’re a bunch of, frankly, rather undistinguished farm labourers, like most of the parishioners, but they’re dressed up in their finery today for the baptism of baby William. We really want to talk to his Aunt Jane, though, a sister of Will’s father George. She’s ten years old and proud to be wearing her Sunday best. Shall we reveal what her future holds?

Jane will marry a man named Charles Woolley, a blacksmith from Berkswell, some ten miles to the south of Nether Whitacre. She will present him with four strong and healthy sons, but their two youngest children will sadly die in infancy.

Their oldest son, Thomas, will become a farmer: he and his wife Kate will have to wait 15 years, though, for their only daughter to be born. After Janet’s birth, her mother will be confined in the county Lunatic Asylum, perhaps suffering from what would now be called post-natal depression. Tom, needing help with the farm and the new baby, employs a housekeeper, a middle-aged widow named Florence Smith. One thing leads to another, and, by the time Kate returns home, Flo is expecting Tom’s child. It’s now 1921, and Betty will be brought up by two of Flo’s many sisters, moving to another part of the country to escape from the scandal which had made headlines in the local press. Betty will never be told the identity of her father. History doesn’t record whether or not Jane met, or even knew about, her granddaughter.

In time, Betty will marry, and her elder son will take up chess. He’ll develop an interest in chess history, and, in 2020, will be asked to review a book called Steinitz in London, where he will come across the name of Samuel Walter Earnshaw.

We’ll now travel back in time half a century, to Easter 1971, where, at Hammersmith Town Hall, he will encounter chess journalist and former international Leonard Barden, who, himself, fifty years on and now in his nineties, still writes excellent chess columns.

We’ll now go back to 1948-49, where a young Leonard Barden finished second in the Premier Reserves Major Section in the annual Hastings Congress. Among his opponents was the veteran German master Jacques Mieses. You’ll see that the game was drawn, but the moves were never published and Leonard didn’t keep his scoresheet, so I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with the crosstable.

Let’s turn the clock back again, more than half a century this time, but we’re still in Hastings, for the great 1895 tournament. A young Mieses is there too, along with the former, and first official, World Champion Wilhelm (or William if you prefer) Steinitz.

Their game was also a draw, although my fishy friend tells me Steinitz had a clear advantage at a couple of points. Mieses did well to hold on and share the point.

And, with the Steinitz – Earnshaw games you saw at the start of the article, we complete the circle. I played Barden, who played Mieses, who played Steinitz, who played the Reverend Samuel Walter Earnshaw, who knew my great grandmother, the scion of a family of humble agricultural labourers.

Sources:

Online family trees and newspaper articles from www.ancestry.co.uk and www.findmypast.co.uk (both £)

Samuel Earnshaw (yale.edu)

Yorkshire Chess History (mannchess.org.uk)

St Giles’, Nether Whitacre – ourparishwls

 

George Henry Mackenzie: Third US Chess Champion, 1870

George Henry Mackenzie: Third US Chess Champion, 1870

George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188
George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188

From the publisher:

Definitive biography of the strongest American chess player, which cover the year 1870. Author worked out all available American (and other) chess sources for this year (The Turf, Field, and Farm, Sunday Mercury, New York Albion, New York Clipper, all New York dailies, British chess columns and European chess magazines, etc.) and collected in total 56 games played by Mackenzie in this year, almost of them are fully annotated. Author described in detail all chess tournaments and matches played by Mackenzie in 1870, including description of his all chess activities and New York chess life. 167pp. Indexes of players and openings.

Vlastimil Fiala is a professor of Political Science and distinguished academic and the main driving force behind the publishing house, Moravian Chess based in Olomouc in the Czech Republic. Fiala’s second love is chess history which he treats as a science. His publication portfolio is impressive : the web site of Moravian Chess provides a listing.

Vlastimil Fiala
Vlastimil Fiala

 

Professor Fiala’s Moravian Chess publishing house have been bringing out a lot of valuable material for more than two decades now.

This volume, dated 2019 but seemingly only recently published, is the first of a new series.

The Foreword provides some explanation:

The lives of famous chess players (Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine etc.) have by now been covered in dozens of publications of varying quality. Writing an exhaustive biography of professional chess players whose careers span multiple decades is a highly demanding task. When authors have attempted to do so, books containing a 700-900 A4 pages result (for instance several titles from MacFarland publishing house about A.A. Alekhine, A. Burn etc.), and these biographies moreover turn out to be less exhaustive than they first appear. Many details of their chess career are side-lined, or ignored entirely (e.g. chess exhibitions, consultation games, correspondence play, study composition, journalistic activities etc.). Their careers are usually not even contextualized into the wider, colourful canvas of chess events taking place in the same historical period. 

You might think he’s being a bit hard on McFarland there, and not just for spelling their name incorrectly.

After considering all the options, I decided on an unconventional solution: the creation of the “Great Chess Players” series, which features biographies of prominent chess players centred on brief periods of time, usually a single year. In the years to come I want to focus on increasingly details (hopefully definitive) accounts of the careers of the following world chess champions: Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, José Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, and George Henry Mackenzie.

Well, it’s debatable whether or not you’d consider Morphy a world chess champion, even though he was undoubtedly the best player in the world for a few brief years, but Mackenzie?

Let’s not be too critical, though. Fiala seems to be a one man band working in what is (at best) his second language and performs a vital service for chess historians with both reprints and original research.

He takes a completist approach to history: publishing everything written about his subject in the year in question, as well as every published game. It’s by no means the only approach to writing chess history, or, indeed, any sort of history. Contextualisation, as Fiala says, is important, but completism is not the only way to contextualise.

As the prequels have not yet been published, some background information on Mackenzie might be in order.

George Henry Mackenzie was born in Scotland in 1837 and learnt chess in his teens. Originally destined for a business career, he instead decided to join the army, seeing service in South Africa and India. He then crossed the Atlantic to fight for the North in the American Civil War, reaching the rank of Captain but ending up in prison for impressment and desertion. On his release in 1865 he exchanged the battlefield for the chequered board, settling in New York to make a living as a chess professional, playing games against all-comers, organising clubs and tournaments, and writing newspaper columns. It soon became clear that, apart from Morphy, he was the strongest player in his adopted country, but, as we meet him for the first time seeing in the New Year at the Europa Chess Rooms, there had been little opportunity for him to take on top level opposition.

Morphy’s brief career had led to an increase in the popularity of chess, and New York was generally regarded as the home of most of the country’s strongest players. As we follow Mackenzie round the city’s chess clubs we learn a lot about how chess was played and organised at the time. Our hero was at the heart of everything going on, as player, journalist and organiser, and we can observe how chess was developing into the competitive activity we know today.

We have in total 56 games played by Mackenzie, with annotations taken from contemporary newspapers. No attempt has been made to update them with engine analysis: you might or might not approve. Given their nature, it’s not really a problem for me. Many of them are either odds games or consultation games: both of these were very popular at the time. Over the next decade or two they would gradually die out, to be replaced by a programme of tournament and match chess.

Here, for example, is Mackenzie giving odds of pawn and two moves to Augustus Zerega. These were common odds at the time: the odds giver takes the black pieces, plays without his f-pawn and allows his opponent to play the first two moves.

The highlight of early 1870 was the Brooklyn Chess Club championship, which included, apart from Mackenzie, a young James Mason, as well as names such as Eugene Delmar and Frederick Perrin, who might be familiar to those interested in chess history. It was run as an incomplete double-round all-play-all tournament with about 26 participants. You could choose who you played and when you played them. Mackenzie finished with 31 wins and 2 losses, just ahead of  F Eugene Brenzinger. Eight of his games have survived, and are given here.

In May Mackenzie played a match against Perrin, comprising four games on equal terms and four where Mackenzie gave odds of pawn and move (he played black and started without his f-pawn). Perrin held his opponent to a draw on level terms in the first game, but that was all he was able to score. Five of the games have survived.

The chess year continued with a mix of offhand, odds and consultation games, enlivened by a visit from two of Chicago’s leading players. In August the Brooklyn club decided to play a consultation game to find out whether a queen could beat eight pawns. Yes, it could.

But the most significant event of the summer months was an inter-club match between the Café International in New York (Mackenzie was its chess manager) and the Brooklyn Chess Club. Up to that point competitions between clubs had usually been consultation matches, but this was what we’d now consider a Scheveningen System tournament, but with some irregularities. Six rounds were due to be played, with six players on each side, and with each player facing a different opponent in each round. In fact, only five rounds were played as, by that time, the Café International had opened up an unassailable lead, and, in the fifth round there were only five players on each side.

Not everyone was available for each round so, in the end, eight players on each side took part.

A controversy arose as early as the second round, when the Café International fielded a ringer in the shape of Mackenzie’s Bostonian friend Preston Ware. Frederick Perrin was unimpressed. “Although happy at all times to meet so agreeable and accomplished a chess-player as Mr. Ware, we regretted that the Brooklyn players allowed this substitution. To allow substitutes when New York possesses such an array of chess-players, and the Brooklyn Chess Club comparatively so few, must be very prejudicial to the success of the latter, and to admit one of the very best players of Boston into their ranks looks very much like a practical joke on the Brooklynites.”

Just the sort of dispute that has plagued club chess competitions ever since. We’ve all been there.

Only one of Mackenzie’s games from this event is available:

Autumn 1870 witnessed another competition between the Café International and Brooklyn Chess Club: this time a series of 12 consultation games, with the New Yorkers running out narrow winners. Mackenzie was on the wrong side of two of the games. The results and games in the book don’t quite tally, though. It looks like the results of the 5th and11th games are the wrong way round.

But much of Mackenzie’s work in the last months of 1870 was administrative: setting up a chess congress for the following year.

There, at the end of 1870, we leave Mackenzie, at least for this volume. It’s not clear at the moment when the sequel will be published, but, of course, you’ll want to know what happened next.

The 1871 American Congress eventually took place in Cleveland the following December, with Mackenzie winning comfortably. He continued his rabbit-bashing career in New York until 1878, when, at the age of 41, he was invited to his first major international tournament, in Paris. He performed respectably, sharing 4th place with Bird, behind Zukertort, Winawer and Blackburne. His next major event was Vienna 1882, and, for the rest of the decade, he was a regular visitor to the top table. He scored his best result at the age of 50, winning at Frankfurt in 1887. His last tournament was Manchester 1890, but by then he was suffering from tuberculosis, and he died the following year.

He was clearly one of the world’s strongest players for the last 25 years or so of his life, but, living the wrong side of the Atlantic, he had, for many years, to content himself with acting the flat-track bully, along with his involvement in other aspects of chess.

An important, but not very well documented historical figure, then, who led an interesting life. It’s good to know that John Hilbert is working on a full biography for McFarland. I’m certainly eager to find out more about his military career.

If you’re interested in chess history you’ll find this well worth reading to give you an idea of how chess was played and organised a century and a half ago. From a personal perspective – and you might well disagree – I’d have preferred less detail on administrative issues, tournament regulations, committee meetings and so on, and more background information.

How did Mackenzie’s life work financially? Was he well off or struggling to make a living? How did he get paid? We all know about the Blackburne Shilling Gambit, so I guess many of his opponents were paying for the privilege of playing him. I suppose this information isn’t readily available, though.

Who were his opponents? What sort of person was attracted to the New York chess clubs at that time? Augustus Zerega, for instance, was seriously wealthy, having made a fortune as a shipping magnate. Eugene Brenzinger, by contrast, was a German-born baker, renowned for his delicious cakes. Napoleon Marache, born in France, most famous for losing a Famous Game to Morphy, was a problemist, editor and writer.

Perhaps there are lessons we can learn as well. There’s much talk, at least in chess clubs in my part of the world, about doing more to promote social chess. Perhaps we might consider reviving activities such as odds games and consultation matches in order to bring our clubs’ first team players together with their lower rated clubmates.

The production is serviceable, but, understandably, not up to the quality you’d expect from McFarland, for example. The project of which this is the first part, is extremely ambitious: perhaps too much so, but we’ll have to wait and see. I wish Professor Fiala every success in adding to his already extensive contribution to chess history. If you’d like to support him you know what to do.

Richard James, Twickenham 9th May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softback : 168 pages
  • Publisher: Publishing House Moravian Chess; 1870th edition (1 Jan. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:8071890189
  • ISBN-13:978-8071890188

Official web site of Moravian Chess

George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188
George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188