Category Archives: 2022

Remembering Comins Mansfield MBE (14-vi-1896 28-iii-1984)

Comins Mansfield MBE in 1976
Comins Mansfield MBE in 1976

BCN remembers Comins Mansfield MBE who passed away on March 28th 1984 in Torbay, Devon.

Comins was the first English born chess grandmaster when in 1972 he was awarded the the title of “International Grandmaster of the FIDE for Chess Composition” three years before the first correspondence GM and four years before the first English born OTB grandmaster.

In the 1976 New Years Honours list Civil Division Comins was awarded the MBE. The citation read simply “For services to Chess”.

Early Years

Comins Mansfield was born on Sunday, June 14th 1896 in Witheridge, North Devon. The birth was registered in the district of South Molton, Devon. His parents were Herbert John (who was a banker) and Julia Emma Mansfield (née Frost). Miss Anne Comins was Herbert’s mother who he memorialised using her name for his only son.

Comins had two sisters Edith K and Margaret M plus a paternal step-sister Harriett C Mansfield.

He was baptised on the 18th July 1896 in Witheridge as an Anglican and the ceremony was performed by JT Benson.

St. John the Baptist Church, Witheridge, Devon courtesy of SIERKSMA'S SEQUENCES
St. John the Baptist Church, Witheridge, Devon courtesy of SIERKSMA’S SEQUENCES

He was admitted to Witheridge School on September 18th 1899 (aged three) and in 1901 Comins continued to live in Witheridge, Devon attending Blundell’s School. The family “left the district” on August 13th 1909.

At the time of the 1911 Census Comins was a boarder at a school in Tiverton, Cheshire. Possibly this was Tarporley High School.

A Career Beckoned

Comins left school in 1914 and did not attend University. He started work at tobacco company W. D. & H. O. Wills (which became part of  Imperial Tobacco in 1901) in Bristol being a prime location for a company which relied on export markets of physical goods.

Interruption by War

According to RH Jones on the Chess Devon web site:

In September 1915 he joined the Royal Artillery, and carried a small travelling set at all times, with which to while away the long hours spent in the trenches. He never lost contact with Chandler during the war, even though the latter was involved in a rather messy British invasion of Iraq, (then Mesopotamia), and the two combined on problems by post, one of which won 1st Prize in the Good Companions magazine in January 1918. Shortly after, he was temporarily blinded by mustard gas, requiring 12 months in hospital.

Gunner Mansfield courtesy of SIERKSMA'S SEQUENCES
Gunner Mansfield courtesy of SIERKSMA’S SEQUENCES

On his release from hospital, the war was over and he re-joined Wills in Bristol and his local chess club, Bristol & Clifton. His skill over the board should not be overlooked – he soon became established in Gloucestershire as a very strong player, winning his club championship for the first time in 1920 and the county championship continuously from 1927 – 34. From his return to Bristol he played for the county regularly, never lower than Bd. 3 and from the time of his first county championship, always on top board. From 1926 to the time of his move to Scotland he was also the Problem Editor of the Bristol Times and Mirror .

According to the National Records Office:

With reference to the medal card of Comins Mansfield we have:

Royal Field Artillery 3024 Gunner
Royal Field Artillery 826184 Gunner

Career Resumption

Comins career with W. D. & H. O. Wills lasted 45 years and in 1934 relocated to Glasgow which halted his composition career until 1936 labelling his problems “Mansfield – Glasgow. His job in Scotland finished in 1950 returning to live in Carshalton Beeches, near Croydon in South London working for a W. D. & H. O. Wills subsidiary.

Marriage

On September 19th 1923 Comins married Marjorie Erica Ward (born 1899) at the Parish Church, St. Paul, Bedminster, Bristol, Gloucestershire. Marjorie died in 2003. Comins and Marjorie had three children, Geoffrey, Hilary and Roderick.

Comins Mansfield
Comins Mansfield

At the time of their marriage Comins was living at 25 Sommerville Road, Bishopston, Bristol, BS7 9AD:

25 Sommerville Road, Bishopston, Bristol, BS7 9AD
25 Sommerville Road, Bishopston, Bristol, BS7 9AD

Chess Beginnings

Comins interest in chess started at the age of nine with his father Herbert who played correspondence chess for Devon but his interest in the world of problems was initiated in 1910 with an article (First Steps In The Classification of Two-Movers by Alain C. White) on problems in British Chess Magazine. In 1914 aged 18 he joined the Bristol and Clifton Chess Club and following World War I he became club champion for the first time in 1920. Also, Comins was Gloucestershire Champion from 1927 – 1934 before he relocated to Glasgow where he won the West of Scotland and Glasgow Championships.  At Cheltenham 1928 not only did he draw in 50 moves with FD Yates but he beat Sir George Thomas in 20 moves!

BCM Obituary

From British Chess Magazine, Volume CIV (104, 1984), Number 5 (May), p. 194 :

“Comins Mansfield (14 v 1896 – 27 iii 1984) was an outstanding figure in chess problems, notably in the field of two-movers. Awarded the IM title for problems in 1959 and the GM title in 1972, he served for eight years as President of the FIDE Permanent Commission for Chess Compositions. In 1976 he was awarded an MBE for his services to chess.

Comins Mansfield courtesy of Chess Scotland
Comins Mansfield courtesy of Chess Scotland

As an OTB (over-the-board) player he won the championship of the Bristol Club and of Gloucestershire. From 1964 to 1978 he contributed the weekly puzzle to the Sunday Telegraph.”

Chessboard Delights Selected from the Sunday Telegraph 1964-1974, Comins Mansfield, Routledge & Kegan Paul/Sunday Telegraph, London , 1976, ISBN 10: 0710082878ISBN 13: 9780710082879
Chessboard Delights Selected from the Sunday Telegraph 1964-1974, Comins Mansfield, Routledge & Kegan Paul/Sunday Telegraph, London , 1976, ISBN 10: 0710082878ISBN 13: 9780710082879

CHESS Obituary by Colin Russ

From CHESS, Volume 48 (1984), Numbers 921-922, page 316 we have this rather modest mention:

“Problem Album

Who was Britain’s first chess grandmaster? His name start with M, but no, the answer is Comins Mansfield, to whom F.I.D.E. awarded its newly created title of grandmaster for Chess Composition in 1972, and who died in March this year aged 87. In tribute to him we recall, two of his masterpieces, separated by over half a century.”

Comins Mansfield
Comins Mansfield

Comins Mansfield
BCF Tourney 1974

White mates in two

and

Comins Mansfield
Good Companions 1918

White mates in two

Interestingly the July 1984 issue of CHESS publishes a letter from Ken Whyld taking issue with the above. Ken wrote:

Who was Britain’s first chess grand master? His name starts with M but no, the answer is not Comins Mansfield (page 316 in CHESS, No. 921-2. No, it isn’t. It is J. Mieses in 1950. The error is repeated on page 328. Why do we, as a nation, have to be so snotty about those who chose to be become naturalised?

From page 328 we have this detailed obituary from Colin AH Russ:

We regret to report the death of Comins Mansfield MBE, peacefully at his home in Torquay on 28 March 1984. During his long life of more than 86 years, Mansfield received every possible honour in the realm of chess problem art.

He was born at Witheridge, North Devon, on 14 June 1896, and at 9 was taught to play chess by his father, a keen correspondence player. One of his earliest efforts won First Prize in 1912 in the Illustrated Western Weekly News.

Other problems of his early period were published in the Folders of the Good Companion Chess Problem Club, of Philadelphia, USA. This brought him into contact with Alain C. White, who also recognised his genius and gave him every encouragement. Some of the problems at this time were composed in the trenches, “somewhere in France”, while Mansfield was serving in the Royal Artillery with the British Army. He was severely gassed in May 1918, and discharged from the Army.

He won the West of Scotland and Glasgow Championships while stationed in that city. He was one of the founder members of
the British Chess Problem Society, and served as its President. In 1947, he started a feature in The Problemist entitled “Selected with Comments” which continued in his hands for 35 years. His weekly column in the Sunday Telegraph, mainly confined to game positions, ran from 1964 to 1978.

 

Mansfield’s other venture into publishing was his “Adventures in Composition” in which he takes the reader step by step through the Process that he went through in composing 20 of his problems.

Adventures in Composition, Comins Mansfield, CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, 1948
Adventures in Composition, Comins Mansfield, CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, 1948

The book was edited by A. C. White and first appeared in the USA in 1942, and was published in Britain by CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, in 1948. it became a classic, and many composers could testify to the help they have received from it.

In “Adventures in Composition“, Mansfield expounded his principles for making good chess problems: originality, economy, and artistic finish. if he found that an idea could not be set without forfeiting one of these principles, then he put it on one side, and turned his attention to something else. Therefore, although one can say that some of his problems are better than others, it is impossible to find one that is bad.

A. C. White made Comins Mansfield the subject of his last book in the Christmas Series: “A Genius of the Two-Mover” in which he gave some 100 of the master’s 300 problems.

A Genius of the Two Mover, C. Mansfield by AC White, The Christmas Series, 1936.
A Genius of the Two Mover, C. Mansfield by AC White, The Christmas Series, 1936.

He wrote: “The key-note of his style lies in his freshness of outlook and in a clarity of vision with which few composers have been gifted.” Brian Harley, the distinguished author and editor of the
famous Observer column for so many years, continued the story with a further 100 of Mansfield’s Problems.

In view of his international reputation, it was only fitting that Mansfield should represent the BCPS at the first meeting
of the FIDE Problem Commission in Piran in 1958, that he should serve as its President from 1963-71, and that in 1972 he should be awarded one of the first grand master titles, honoris causa, in recognition of his contribution to problem chess. He thus became the first Briton to receive this title, before any British chess players had reached any title norms. Four years later he received the recognition of his country, when his name appeared in the Queen’s New Year Honours list as recipient of the MBE, for services to chess.

Source: The Problemist, May 1996. Photo taken March 1996 at the Mansfield Centenary Meeting at Paisley, when Barry Barnes delivered a lecture on Comins Mansfield. Left to right: Geoffrey Mansfield (son of Comins), Robert Gray and Barry Barnes, International Master of Chess Composition.
Source: The Problemist, May 1996. Photo taken March 1996 at the Mansfield Centenary Meeting at Paisley, when Barry Barnes delivered a lecture on Comins Mansfield. Left to right: Geoffrey Mansfield (son of Comins), Robert Gray and Barry Barnes, International Master of Chess Composition.

ln 1975, Gerhard Jensch, editor of the problem column in Schach-Echo, brought out a supplement to “Adventures in Composition”, containing 63 of Mansfield’s later problems, showing how he had reacted to the changing themes and styles of the post second World War period. Barry Barnes, the following year, brought out “Comins Mansfield MBE: Chess Problems of a Grandmaster“, in which he presented 2O0 problems with full solutions and comments, many of them culled from Mansfield’s private notes and correspondence.

Comins Mansfield MBE: Chess Problems of a Grandmaster, BP Barnes, 1976
Comins Mansfield MBE: Chess Problems of a Grandmaster, BP Barnes, 1976

It is appropriate to finish with the comment with which E. L. Umnov concluded his introduction to Barry Barnes’s book in 1976: “Mansfield’s work is a source of pride not only to British chess, but to chess the world over”.
C.A.H.R.

Hooper & Whyld on Mansfield

From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 1984) by Hooper & Whyld :

“English two-mover composer widely regarded in his time as the greatest in this field. During the life of the GOOD COMPANION CHESS PROBLEM CLUB (1913—24) he was one of the pioneers who gave new life to the two-mover. The ideas then introduced have since become traditional, and Mansfield has adhered to them, continuing to gain successes although not always following the latest trend. In 1942 he wrote Adventures in Composition, an excellent guide to the art of composing. In 1957 he was awarded the title of International Judge of Chess Compositions; in 1963 he accepted and held for eight years the presidency of the FIDE Commission for Chess Compositions; in 1972 he was one of the first four to he awarded the title of International Grandmaster for Chess Compositions.

A. C. White, A Genius of the Two-mover (1936) contains 113 problems by Mansfield; B. P. Barnes, Comins Mansfield MBE: Chess Problems of a Grandmaster (1976) contains 200 problems.

101 Chess Puzzles and How to Solve Them, Brian Harley and Comins Mansfield, Sterling Publishing, New York, 1960
101 Chess Puzzles and How to Solve Them, Brian Harley and Comins Mansfield, Sterling Publishing, New York, 1960

Sunnucks on Mansfield

From The Encyclopaedia of Chess by Anne Sunnucks :

“International Grandmaster of the FIDE for Chess Compositions (1972), International Master of the FIDE for Chess Compositions (1959), International Judge of the FIDE for Chess Compositions (1957). President of the Permanent Commission of the FIDE for Chess Compositions from 1963 to 1971. President of the British Chess Problem Society from 1949 to 1951.

Born at Witheridge in North Devon on 14th June 1896. He has composed about 1,000 problems, nearly all of them two-movers, since 1911. He is regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time. His outstanding ability was recognised early when A Genius of the Two-Mover in the A.C. White Christmas series of books was published in 1936. He is the author of Adventures in Composition (1944) and co-author with the late Brian Harley of The Modern Two-Move Problem.

The Modern Two- Move Chess Problem, Brian Harley and Comins Mansfield, Museum Press, London, 1944 & 1958
The Modern Two- Move Chess Problem, Brian Harley and Comins Mansfield, Museum Press, London, 1944 & 1958

From 1926-1932 he was Problem Editor of The Bristol Times and Mirror, and he is at present Problem Editor of The Sunday Telegraph His feature “Selected with Comments” has been a permanent feature of The Problemist. A strong player, Mansfield won the Gloucestershire Championship from 1927 to 1934. He has a recorded win over Sir George Thomas, a late British Champion and International Master.

Mansfield made a life-times career with the tobacco firm of W.D. & H.O. Wills. He is a dedicated family man with three children.

C. Mansfield, 1st Prize, Hampshire Post, 1919

White to play and mate in two moves.

Solution to Two-Mover above : 1. Qf5 !

Harry Golombek on Mansfield

From The Encyclopaedia of Chess by Harry Golombek we have:

Britain’s most distinguished problem compose, output about 859, nearly all two-movers. Very active during the period of the Good Companions, contributing to their folders many classic examples of half-pin, cross-check, and other important themes. Books include Adventures in Composition (1943), a fascinating expose of the composers methods. President of the British Chess Problem Society, 1949-51. President of the FIDE Problem Commission, 1963-71, and Hon. President since 1972. International Judge (1957); international master (1959), grandmaster (1972).

Curiously RH Jones wrote

“At Paignton, Mansfield seemed to know Milner-Barry quite well, but Golombek kept his distance. It is noticeable that Golombek’s Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford 1977) is almost unique of its kind in containing no individual entry for Mansfield; even a long 3½ page article on the history of chess problems, which mentions numerous half forgotten composers, contains no reference to him. This is surely no oversight and must be interpreted as some kind of inexplicable snub.”

We too made initially made the same error and it is true that there in individual entry for CM outside of the Problemists section.  Did RHJ miss the above entry as we initially did?

John Rice on Mansfield

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1984) John Rice writes:

“Comins Mansfield was born at Witheridge, Devon on 14th June 1896. At the age of 18 he joined the Bristol and Clifton Chess Club, and after World War 1 he soon won the club championship and the Gloucester Championship several times. For 14 years until 1978 he conducted the weekly chess features in the Sunday Telegraph.

In 1959 he he became an ‘International Master of the FIDE for Chess Composition’ and in 1972 one of the first four grandmasters. For 7 years he was President of the FIDE’s Permanent Commission for Chess Compositions.

Mansfield is widely regarded as being one of the three greatest composers of chess problems of all time. In 1976 was awarded the MBE for his services to chess.

Mr. Mansfield worked for 45 years in the tobacco firm W.D & H.O. Wills – first in Bristol, then in Glasgow and finally in London. He is now enjoying retirement in Torbay.

Mr. Mansfield writes: It was in 1959 that the FIDE decided to broaden their titles to include artificial positions such as ‘problems’ (the so-called poetry of chess), where mate has to be forced in a specified number of moves. The Master title then came into being, while the ‘Grandmaster’ distinction was withheld until 1972.

Comins Mansfield
Comins Mansfield

I have always felt that life is too short to deal with anything but two-movers. Here is one of my earliest successes (ed: shown here in Desert Island Chess) composed in the trenches in World War 1.”

Desert Island Chess

From The Complete Chess Addict (Faber&Faber, 1987,p.222), Fox & James we have a section entitled Desert Island Chess which includes this problem:

C. Mansfield

First Prize Good Companions, March 1917

Mate in 2

Of it, Alain White, the world connoisseur wrote – ‘This may well be taken as the standard cross-check problem of the twentieth century’.  The key-move 1.Be4 looks senseless, as it sets the black king free and apparently jeopardizes the white one by unpinning the black knight. But it threatens mate by 2.Nxc4 This knight can open fire on the white king in four ways. If 1…Ne5+,2.Rd3 is mate. If 1…Nxd6+, the mate is 2.Bd3. If 1…Nxe3+, Nb5 mates, while 1…Nd2+ is answered by 2.Nc4.

The next position is of a quite different type:

CHESS, 1950, First Prize

White to play and mate in two moves

It illustrates several quiet defences by a single black piece. This has a rather colourless key, 1.Bb2, which threatens mate by 2. Rg4. Moves of the black bishop stop this but give rises to six other mates. If 1…Bg1;2.Nc7. So the bishop must stay on its long diagonal. 1…Bg3 allows 2.Rxh4. If 1…Bf4 (unpinning the R), 2.Re5. If 1…Be5, 2.Rd4. If 1…Bd6, 2.Rc8. If 1…Bb8, 2.Rb6. There are three other subsidiary mates, after 1…Rf8, 2.Rf4. If 1…d1=q,2.Qd1 and finally if 1…Rg2  (or Rg1 or Rg3).

In the 1950s it became fashionable for composers to try to hoodwink solvers by arranging close tries which almost solved the problem. But this trend often militated against the merit and interest of the actual solution.  In  this problem the solver soon discovers that he must set-up a double-threat by 1.g4,g3,f4 or f3, each move cutting off both a black rook and bishop.

Die Schwalbe, 1956, First Prize

White to play and mate in two moves

But which is the right move? 1.g4 threatens mate by 2.Qxe4 and Qd1, but is defeated by 1…Nxf2. Similarly 1.g3 (threatening 2.Qe3 and Bxb3) is met by 1…Nc2. So try 1.f4 (threatening 2.Qxe4 and Bxb3), but this fails to 1…e3. This leaves the key-move 1.f3 which does the trick. There is a fair amount of by-play. 1…Rf4 forces 2.Bxb3.  1…Bf4 forces 2. Qxe4; while after 1.Kd4 and Nc4, the mates are 2. Qxc3 and Bxe4 respectively.

In an ABC of Chess Problems, Section III, Composition and Solving, page 266 onwards,  John Rice discusses in detail the methods of Comin Mansfield and any student of solving and composition would do well to study this chapter.

An ABC of Chess Problems, John Rice, Faber & Faber, London, 1970, SBN 571 08672 1
An ABC of Chess Problems, John Rice, Faber & Faber, London, 1970, SBN 571 08672 1

Other Sources

Here is an excellent biography from Chess Devon by RH Jones

Here is a biography from Keverel Chess by RH Jones

Here is the entry for CM from the BCPS web site

Biography from Chess Scotland by Alan McGowan

Here is the largest collection of his games from Britbase and John Saunders

Here are his games from chessgames.com

Here is his Wikipedia entry

America Salutes Comins Mansfield MBE
America Salutes Comins Mansfield MBE
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Happy Birthday GM Chris Ward (26-iii-1968)

GM Chris Ward
GM Chris Ward

Happy Birthday GM Christopher Geoffrey Ward (26-iii-1968)

Chris was Southern Counties (SCCU) champion for the 2013-14 season.

Here is his Wikipedia entry

GM Chris Ward
GM Chris Ward

From Chessgames.com :

“Grandmaster and British Chess Champion in 1996. He is the author of several chess books, among them Winning With the Sicilian Dragon 2 (2001), Winning with the Dragon (2003) and The Controversial Samisch King’s Indian (2004).”

Chris plays Jiang Chuan Ye at the 1997 England - China match
Chris plays Jiang Chuan Ye at the 1997 England – China match

Here are his games

Chris Ward commentating during the Hastings Congress
Chris Ward commentating during the Hastings Congress

Chris earned his IM title in 1990 and his GM title in 1996. According to Chessbase and Felice his peak rating was 2531 in July 2003 when he was 35.

Chris is President of the English Primary Schools Chess Association (EPSCA), Chris is the Chief Coach of the Kent Junior Chess Association (KJCA). Chris plays for KJCA Kings in the Four Nations Chess League (4NCL).

Chris with the British Championship Trophy from 1996 (Nottingham)
Chris with the British Championship Trophy from 1996 (Nottingham)

“Not sure about best, but 18.Qxf8+ against Summerscale en route to winning the 1996 British Championship will be forever ingrained in my mind. Sorry, Aaron!”
– GM Chris Ward (when asked for his best move)

Source: Chess Monthly 2017 December

GM Chris Ward
GM Chris Ward
Endgame Play
Endgame Play
 The Queen's Gambit Accepted
The Queen’s Gambit Accepted
The Genius of Paul Morphy
The Genius of Paul Morphy
Improve your Opening Play
Improve your Opening Play
Winning With the Sicilian Dragon 2
Winning With the Sicilian Dragon 2
Starting Out: The Nimzo-Indian
Starting Out: The Nimzo-Indian
It's Your Move: Improvers
It’s Your Move: Improvers
Unusual Queen's Gambit Declined
Unusual Queen’s Gambit Declined
Winning with the Dragon
Winning with the Dragon
It's Your Move: Tough Puzzles
It’s Your Move: Tough Puzzles
Starting Out: Rook Endgames
Starting Out: Rook Endgames
The Controversial Samisch King's Indian
The Controversial Samisch King’s Indian
Play the Queen's Gambit
Play the Queen’s Gambit
Starting Out: Chess Tactics and Checkmates
Starting Out: Chess Tactics and Checkmates
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Remembering Percy Blake (6-xii-1873 26-iii-1936)

Percy Francis Blake
Percy Francis Blake

Remembering Percy Francis Blake (6-xii-1873 26-iii-1936)

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

“British problemist, regarded as one of England’s finest composers, Blake produced direct-mate problems in two, three and four moves.”

From his Italian Wikipedia entry :

“Percy Francis Blake ( Manchester , December 6, 1873 – Grappenhall , March 20, 1936 ) was a British chess player and chess composer , among the best English problem players of the period 1900 – 1936 .

He composed over 500 problems, most in two and three moves, of which around 160 were awarded (45 first prizes and 40 second prizes). [1]

He was famous for “quiet” keys and continuations, which made his problems very difficult to solve.

He was also a good player and table. In 1890 he won the Manchester club championship and later several local tournaments. In 1894 he won a beauty prize offered by the Manchester Weekly Times . From 1898 to 1912 he was part of the Lancashire team in many team matches between that county and Yorkshire . In 1911 he won the Lancashire championship. [2]”

and from the rather excellent Yorkshire Chess History we have

The following photograph was kindly supplied by Michael McDowell of the British Chess Problem Society :

Percy Francis Blake
Percy Francis Blake
Percy Francis Blake drawn by Orrett from Manchester Central Library. Known as an example of a "Bristol Board". Supplied by Michael McDowell
Percy Francis Blake drawn by Orrett from Manchester Central Library. Known as an example of a “Bristol Board”. Supplied by Michael McDowell
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Remembering Sir Stuart Milner-Barry KCVO CB OBE (20-ix-1906 25-iii-1995)

Sir (Stuart Milner-Barry by Bassano Ltd., half-plate film negative, 14 June 1973, National Portrait Gallery
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry by Bassano Ltd., half-plate film negative, 14 June 1973, National Portrait Gallery

BCN remembers Sir Stuart Milner-Barry KCVO CB OBE who passed away on Saturday, March 25th, 1995 in Lewisham Hospital, London aged 88. He was laid to rest in the Great Shelford Cemetery, Cambridge Road, Great Shelford, Cambridge CB22 5JJ.

A memorial service was held for him at Westminster Abbey on 15 June 1995.

Great Shelford Cemetery Gravestone of Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry KCVO CB OBE by Geoffrey Gillon
Great Shelford Cemetery Gravestone of Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry KCVO CB OBE by Geoffrey Gillon
Signature of PS Milner-Barry from a Brian Reilly "after dinner" postcard from Margate 1936.
Signature of PS Milner-Barry from a Brian Reilly “after dinner” postcard from Margate 1936.

Philip Stuart Milner-Barry was born on Thursday, September 20th 1906 in Mill Hill in the London Borough of Barnet. Mill Hill falls under the Hendon Parliamentary constituency.

Parents

His parents were Lieutenant-Commander Edward Leopold (1867-1917) and Edith Mary Milner-Barry (born 17th May 1866, died 1949, née Besant). Edward was in the  Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, H.M.S. “Wallington.” Prior to his war service his father was a professor of modern languages at the University of Bangor and Edith was the daughter of Dr. William Henry Besant, a renowned mathematical fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge University.

Stuart was the second born of six children, There was  an older sister Alda Mary (18th August 1893-1938) and four brothers Edward William Besant (?-1911) , Walter Leopold (1904-1982), John O’Brien (4 December 1898 – 28 February 1954) and Patrick James . Many of the Milner-Barry family were laid to rest in the Great Shelford churchyard.

Stuart learned chess at the age of eight and his autobiographical article below goes into more depth.

He was educated at Cheltenham College, and won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he obtained firsts in classics and moral sciences.

On leaving Cambridge in 1927 he went to work at the London Stock Exchange (LSE).

According to the 1928 and 1929 electoral rolls he was living with his mother Edith  and his brothers Walter and John O’Brien at 50 De Freville Avenue, Cambridge CB4 1HT:

50 De Freville Avenue, Cambridge CB4 1HT
50 De Freville Avenue, Cambridge CB4 1HT

In 1931 the family had relocated to 11, Park Terrace, Cambridge which is nearby to Emmanuel College. Now living  with the family was brother Patrick James.

11, Park Terrace, Cambridge, CB1 1JJ
11, Park Terrace, Cambridge, CB1 1JJ
Period map of the area of 11, Park Terrace, Cambridge, CB1 1JJ
Period map of the area of 11, Park Terrace, Cambridge, CB1 1JJ

He discovered that he did not enjoy his LSE work and switched careers to became chess correspondent of The Times in 1938.

At the time (September 29th) of the 1939 register he (aged 33) was living as a journalist in a household of three with his mother Edith who carried out “unpaid domestic duties” and sister Alda who was of “private means”.

Honours

In 1946 Stuart was awarded the OBE from the Civil Division in the  New Years Honours . The citation reads that was “employed in a Department of the Foreign Office”. A modern translation of this was he was engaged in Top Secret work at Bletchley Park alongside Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman and Hugh Alexander and was thus honoured for his war work. More on this later…

After the war he worked in the Treasury, and later in 1966 administered the British honours system where he helped to facilitate the award of honours to other chess players ultimately retiring in 1977.

As well as the OBE he was made Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1962 and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCV0) in 1975.

A conference room was named after him at the Civil Service Club, 13 – 15 Great Scotland Yard, London SW1A 2HJ.

Peter Hennessy* and The Rewarding Career of Sir Stuart Milner-Barry

*Peter Hennessy is a renowned historian and journalist. The following was originally published in The Times in 1977 following  PSMBs retirement.

“Few careers can have been as varied and rewarding as that of Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, who retires today as Ceremonial Officer to the Civil Service Department and custodian of the British honours system.

Into the 48 years since he left Cambridge with a degrees in classics and moral sciences, he has crammed spells as a stockbroker, chess correspondent of  The Times and member of the British chess team, a wartime codebreaker for MI6 and a senior Treasury official before taking over administration of the nations “gongs and bongs ” nearly 11 years ago.

The richness of Sir Stuart’s progression is all the more striking given the difficulty he experienced in finding a job at all after university because of the Wall Street crash in 1929. His first 10 years spanned the slump of the 1930s, when there was little for a stockbroker to do, but fill his days reading The Times.

In 1938 he joined the paper full time as chess correspondent and, along with many of the world’s leading players, he was nearly trapped in Buenos Aires when war broke out the next year (ed. should be month rather than year). Catching the first ship home, he finished up with that brilliant collection of dons, antique dealers, mathematicians and chess players billeted in Nissen huts in the park of Buckinghamshire country house, who broke the code transmitted by the German Enigma machine.

The original Hut 6 building (photographed in 2004). Milner-Barry joined Hut 6 in early 1940, and worked in the section throughout World War II. He became head of Hut 6 in Autumn 1943.
The original Hut 6 building (photographed in 2004). Milner-Barry joined Hut 6 in early 1940, and worked in the section throughout World War II. He became head of Hut 6 in Autumn 1943.

Sir Stuart eventually rose to lead hut six, which broke the most secret messages of the Luftwaffe. Quartered in a comfortable Bletchley public house with another formidable chess player, C. H. O’D. Alexander, and Gordon Welchman, the Cambridge mathematician, he acquired a taste  for rum, the only alcohol in plentiful supply for some reason, and a sense of guilt about enjoying, his stimulating, important job, safe while other men faced the bullets.

He was not tempted to stay on in the arcane world of code-breaking after the war, unlike his friend, the late Hugh Alexander, as he regards such activities in peacetime as akin to reading somebody’s private correspondence, though he recognizes the necessity of such efforts for intelligence work. Instead, he took the reconstruction competition for the administrative class of the Civil Service and entered the Treasury.

While battling with the post-war dollar shortage in Treasury Chambers he “found a wife, carried her off and lived happily ever after”, as he cheerfully puts it. Apart from a spell as establishment officer to the Ministry of Health, he stayed at the Treasury until he reached the normal retiring age of 60 in 1966.

Lord Helsby, then Head of the Home Civil Service, asked him to stay on and take over the smooth machine that underpins the honours system, which had been built up over many years by Sir Robert Knox. Sir Stuart has loved every minute of it.

He looks every inch the part, a tall stately man of immense natural dignity, he is the incarnation of propriety. The stresses to which the honours system has been subjected to in recent years must have caused him great distress but he is far too proper a civil servant to talk about it. His retirement at 70 has nothing to do with the alarums and excursions stimulated by the honours lists associated with Harold Wilson.

“One of my principal jobs has been the protection of the system”, he says. “The pleasures are very great. It’s fascinating in itself. You see so much of the history of people in every walk of like”.

Sir Stuart waxes eloquent about the beauty and uniqueness of the British honours system. He is a confirmed monarchist, so the spontaneity of the jubilee celebrations  provides the perfect backcloth for his departure. He is succeeded by Mr. Richard Sharp, an under-secretary at the Treasury.”

Below is the original article:

Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry OBE
Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry OBE

Marriage to Thelma

In the third quarter of 1947 Stuart married Thelma Tennant Wells in Westminster. A consequence of the “rules of the day” of the marriage was that Thelma had to resign her post in the Treasury immediately.  (Ed: this somewhat antiquated view of life was finally corrected in 1972 when the Civil Service dispensed with this rule).

Lady Thelma was to support Stuart in his chess activities for their married life. She also served as the first UK Director of Women’s Chess and made many lasting friendships in the chess world. She was buried together with Stuart in 2007. Stuart himself was President of the British Chess Federation between 1970 and 1973 as well as being Director of International Chess following his presidency.

Stuart and Thelma had three children, one son and two daughters: Philip O. (born 1953), Jane E (born 1950) and Alda M (born 1958).

Dave Rumens is pleased to accept a cheque for £200 from Lady Thelma Milner-Barry for winning the 1978 Nottingham Congress with 5.5/6. Photograph provided by Nottinghamshire County Council.
Dave Rumens is pleased to accept a cheque for £200 from Lady Thelma Milner-Barry for winning the 1978 Nottingham Congress with 5.5/6. Photograph provided by Nottinghamshire County Council.

Stuart was knighted on January 1st 1975 for his role as the “Ceremonial Officer of  Civil Service Department” between 1966-77. Technically the knighthood is known as a KCVO.

Milner-Barry was Southern Counties (SCCU) champion for the 1960-61 season.

He first competed in the British Championship in 1931 and made regular appearences as late as 1978: a span of 47 years!

In their retirement  years Stuart and Thelma lived at the salubrious location of 43 Blackheath Park, Blackheath, London SE3 9RW.

Autobiography

In June of 1933 at the age of 27 Stuart wrote an autobiographical piece for British Chess Magazine to be found in Volume LIII (53, 1933), Number 6 (June), pp. 241-2 as follows:

Stuart Milner-Barry in 1933 taken from BCM, 1933, June
Stuart Milner-Barry in 1933 taken from BCM, 1933, June

P.S. Milner-Barry

Champion of the City of London Chess Club

I learned chess at the age of eight and played regularly after that with members of my family. My first-class practise (with due respect to my family) began at fourteen, when Mr. Bertram Goulding Brown and  started a series of serious friendly games which has continued ever since, almost without interruption. The vast majority of these games were begun with 1 P-K4, P-K4, and as we both eschewed the Lopez and the Four Knights, we have acquired  a fairly extensive knowledge of the older forms of the King’s side openings – King’s Gambit (all sorts), Vienna, Guioco Piano, Evans’s Gambit, Danish Gambit, Bishop’s Opening, etc. These games have undoubtedly born the most important influence in my development, apart from which the serious friendly game is to me much the most enjoyable form of chess. We each have runs of success, and there has never been much to choose between us.

(An aside : Stuart wrote a extensive obituary of Bertram Goulding Brown which appeared in British Chess Magazine, Volume LXXXV (85, 1965), Number 12(December) pp.344-45 in which he noted:

B. Goulding Brown was my oldest and closest Cambridge friend, I started playing with him in 1920, and we have played ever since, though, alas, not nearly so often since the War as in the 1920s and 1930. Our last games, when he was eighty three, were played about a year ago in the same book-congested upstairs study at Brookside as all the others had been. Both were cut-and-thrust draws: a Kieseritzky Gambit from myself and Two Knights’ (with 4.P-Q4 for White) were typical of the openings we adopted. We were planning another this Autumn, but he died suddenly and peacefully at the end of August, )

I have also been very fortunate in playing a good deal with C.H.O’D. Alexander. Our games have taken the form of a series of short matches (first player to win three games) played with clocks. Alexander was already stronger than me when he came up to Cambridge, and he won the University Championship from me in his first year and my fourth.

CHO'D Alexander plays his old friend PS Milner-Barry
CHO’D Alexander plays his old friend PS Milner-Barry

All three matches have been won by him, the first easily and the last two by the narrowest possible margin; a fourth now in progress looks like coming to an early  and ignominious conclusion (Score 0-2-2). These results have neither surprised nor disappointed me : I would not back any player in England to do better.

(ed. For more detail on PSMBs matches with Hugh we refer to you our article on Hugh).

In 1923 I won the first Boy’s Championship at Hastings, but lost badly the following year (ed. Alexander won).

Boy Chess Champion PS Milner-Barry (Cheltenham College), first boy chess champion of England, receiving the cup from Mrs. AG Ginner, the donor , at the Hastings Chess Club
Boy Chess Champion PS Milner-Barry (Cheltenham College), first boy chess champion of England, receiving the cup from Mrs. AG Ginner, the donor , at the Hastings Chess Club

Since then I have competed twice at Hastings, once tieing with Miss Menchik in the Major Reserve for the first place and once for the last, in the Major. In between I played in the Major Open at Tenby, and came out fifth, with my first important win against Znosko-Borovsky.

Meanwhile I played four years against Oxford, with somewhat chequered results. The first year I won against G. Abrahams, the second and third years, I played K.H. Bancroft and scored a (very fortunate) draw and a win, while finally I permitted Abrahams to fork my King and Queen with a Knight, a performance unhappily repeated by R.L. Mitchell in the following year (his Queen was pinned by a Bishop). Since then the spell has been broken. In 1931 I played in the British Championships at Worcester, and was quite satisfied with my form, though my score of 5 out of 11 was nothing to write home about. In February 1932, I have the great good fortune to fill a vacant place in the Sunday Referee* London International Tournament, an extremely exhausting but very valuable experience which I greatly appreciated.

*The Sunday Referee was a newspaper of the time which was adsorbed into The Sunday Chronicle in 1939.

Full Crosstable for the 1932 Sunday Referee or London International Masters Tournament
Full Crosstable for the 1932 Sunday Referee or London International Masters Tournament

My score of 3.5 out of 11, equal with Sir George Thomas and above W. Winter and V. Buerger, was quite as good as I expected. After this came the Cambridge Tournament, which, though a very delightful little congress, was a fiasco from my point of view. Three of my opponents were unkind enough to show their best form against me, and two other games I spoilt by clock trouble.

I do not expect to play much serious competitive chess in future. I admire sincerely the business man who is ready, after a hard day at the office, to undergo a further four hours of strenuous mental exertion; and who is also prepared to spend his all too brief holidays in the same exhausting pursuit. Moreover, while many players find the atmosphere of match and tournament play a stimulus or an inspiration, it only renders me nervous, and though this does not affect my play it certainly interferes with my enjoyment. As long as I can play my week-end games with B.G.B., and inveigle Alexander from Winchester to add another to his monotonous series of victories, I shall not much mind if I can only occasionally take part in congresses. ”

PS Milner-Barry Cup

In issue #53 (April 1946)  of West London Chess Club’s Gazette we have a news item concerning a newly inaugurated trophy called the PS Milner-Barry Cup:

issue #53 (April 1946)  of West London Chess Club's Gazette
issue #53 (April 1946)  of West London Chess Club’s Gazette

Sergeant on Milner-Barry

Writing in A Century of British Chess (Hutchinson, 1934), PW Sergeant records in Chapter XXI, 1925 to 1934:

The City of London C.C.’s Championship Tournament which ended this (1933) spring deserves special mention; for it introduced an entirely new name on the list of champions, that of P.S. Milner-Barry, formerly of Cheltenham College and of Cambridge University.  Ten years previously he had won the first boys’ championship at Hastings.

Now, he won the City of London Championship with a score of 11 out of 14, followed by the bearers of such noted names as R.P. Michell (10 points), Sir George Thomas (9), and E.G. Sergeant (8.5). It caused some surprise, therefore, when it was found that he was not selected as a British representative at Folkestone.

Golombek on Milner-Barry

Surprisingly and disappointingly there is no direct entry in either Hooper & Whyld or Sunnucks for Sir Stuart but (as you might expect) Harry Golombek OBE does not let us down  in The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977):

“British master whose chess career was limited by his amateur status but whose abilities as a player and original theorist rendered him worthy of the title of international master.

Born at Mill Hill in London, he showed early promise and in 1923 won the British Boys Championship, then held at Hastings.

He studied classics at Cambridge and developed into the strongest player there. At the university he was to meet (ed. three years later) C. H. O’D. Alexander with whom he played much chess.

Though nearly three years younger, Alexander exerted a strong influence over him and both players cherished and revelled in the brilliance of play in open positions.

24th April 1935: J Mieses of Germany in play against PS Milner-Barry during the Premier Tournament of the Kent County Chess Association in the Grand Hotel, Margate. (Photo by F. Sayers/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
24th April 1935: J Mieses of Germany in play against PS Milner-Barry during the Premier Tournament of the Kent County Chess Association in the Grand Hotel, Margate. (Photo by F. Sayers/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

By then along with Alexander and Golombek, he had become recognized as one of the three strongest young players in the country. Whilst not as successful as they were in tournaments as the British championship in which stamina was essential, he was a most formidable club and team match player, as he had already shown in 1933 when he won the championship of the City of London Club ahead of R. P. Mitchell and Sir George Thomas.

Harry Golombek OBE plays Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry OBE
Harry Golombek OBE plays Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry OBE

He played in his first International Team tournament at Stockholm 1937 and was to play in three more such events : in 1939 at Buenos Aires where, on third board, he made the fine score of 4/5 ; in Helsinki 1952; and in Moscow 1956 where, again on third board, he was largely responsible for the team’s fine showing.

Left to right Baruch H Wood, Stuart Milner-Barry, Vera Menchik (playing in the women's world championship (held concurrently with the 1939 Buenos Aires Olympiad) which she won with 17 wins and 2 draws), Sir George Thomas, Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander and Harry Golombek. England withdrew after their preliminary group due to the outbreak of war despite qualifying for the top final. Thanks to Leonard Barden
Left to right Baruch H Wood, Stuart Milner-Barry, Vera Menchik (playing in the women’s world championship (held concurrently with the 1939 Buenos Aires Olympiad) which she won with 17 wins and 2 draws), Sir George Thomas, Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander and Harry Golombek. England withdrew after their preliminary group due to the outbreak of war despite qualifying for the top final. Thanks to Leonard Barden

In 1940 he shared first prize with Dr. List in the strong tournament of semi-international character in London and then, like Alexander and (later) Golombek, helped in the Foreign Office code-breaking activities at Bletchley Park for the duration of the Second World War. Staying in the Civil Service afterwards, he rose to the rank of Under-Secretary in the Treasury and was knighted for his services in 1975.

Sir Stuart Milner-Barry talks about Malik Mir Sultan Khan
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry talks about Malik Mir Sultan Khan

Below is footage (start at 1′ 55″) of Sir Stuart discussing the talent of Malik Mir Sultan Khan:

After the war, too, he had some fine results in the British championship, his best being second place at Hastings in 1953.

Hartston on Milner-Barry

The following article is sourced from November 1995 edition* of Dragon, the Cambridge University Chess Club magazine:

(*Edited by Jonathan Parker)

A sample cover of Dragon, the Cambridge University Chess Club Magazine
A sample cover of Dragon, the Cambridge University Chess Club Magazine

“I first met Sir Stuart Milner-Barry when I was fifteen years old (1962) playing in a tournament in Bognor Regis who played some rustic king’s pawn opening against me, sacrificing a pawn for nothing in particular and then astonished by writing “castles” in full on his scoresheet.  I think he used “kt” for a knight too. I thought I had discovered  a true relic from a bygone age and the more I got to know him I realised the more correct that judgement was.

Milner-Barry was the last of the true gentlemen amateurs and was one of the few people I have ever met who played chess for the sheer love of the game.

A few typical incidents may give a flavour of his unique personality. First and most typical was the way he would resign: with a firm handshake, a smile and a booming whisper of ‘You are far too good for me I’m afraid!’ When I first heard those words I was totally taken aback : What was this, a chessplayer acknowledging that his opponent was better than him? Impossible!

Once, at close of play in a county match against Milner-Barry I had the extra pawn in a difficult queen and pawn ending.  We analysed a little with most variations suggesting I was winning. It was the kind of position you would send for adjudication even if you are convinced it is lost. It avoids having to resign anyway and the adjudicator may always discount the pawns. But, Sir Stuart never thought like that. After ten minutes analysing he extended his hand and congratulated me.

Sir Stuart Milner-Barry in play against Daniel Yanofsky from round 6 of the British Championship in Hastings, 15th August 1953
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry in play against Daniel Yanofsky from round 6 of the British Championship in Hastings, 15th August 1953

Finally there was the splendid incident in Moscow during the (Ed. 6th) European Team Championships in the late 1970s (Ed. 1977) Stuart was then the President of the BCF and took up an invitation of his old friend the British Ambassador to the USSR (Ed. Sir Howard Smith) to visit the event.  Since he was staying at the Embassy he had a KGB tail assigned to him to follow him everywhere. On one of his morning walks Sir Stuart got lost and was not certain which bridge he should be on to get back to the Embassy. So, he turned around and walked back to the not very secret policeman, followed him and asked for directions! For the rest of his stay they walked practically hand-in-hand.

Whilst most of us knew Stuart as an amiable old gent who played for Kent and in the Lloyds Bank Masters who could still play brilliant attacking games in his eighties  most knew little of his distinguished career in real life.

Sir Stuart Milner-Barry
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry

We suspected with some justification  that in his civil service career he was responsible for doling out all those OBEs to chess players  in the 70s and 80s when he was in charge of the honours list.

It was the wartime work at Bletchley Park that was Milner-Barry’s greatest achievement. As everybody knows the allies won the Second World War mainly because of the brilliant code-breaking work of the Cambridge quartet of Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry. Turing and Welchman were mathematical geniuses, Milner-Barry was the supreme administrator and Alexander straddled the gap with great talents in both areas. The group of four were known as “The Wicked Uncles”

The astonishing achievement at Bletchley was not so  much in breaking enemy codes as maintaining complete secrecy of the entire operation for the duration of the war. Only with such people as Milner-Barry and Alexander in charge could such a large operation be run so successfully without anybody knowing about it.

Milner-Barry’s importance in the running at Bletchley may be judged from the fact that he personally delivered the note to Winston Churchill stressing overriding importance of their work asking for more funds.

Compared with that the invention of the Milner-Barry Gambit and the Milner-Barry variation of the Nimzo-Indian are minor achievements.

Sir Stuart was proof that nice guys can be chess players although one cannot help suspecting he would achieved even better results if he had even a slight streak of nastiness about him. He would surely have not let Capablanca off the hook in Margate in 1938 when the attacking player secured a winning position against the ex-champions dragon variation and he would have surely also not let the British Championship slip from his grasp in 1953 when he finished as runner-up  after losing his last two games.

He always performed well when playing in Olympiads (or Team Tournaments as they were known then) for England during the 1930s and 50s. He was, after all, one of the most naturally gifted players this county has produced.  What other Englishman has two opening (or even just one) named after him?

While at Cambridge while he won the University Championship in 1928, losing to Alexander in the following year, Milner-Barry composed some fine problems, a frivolity he never returned to later in his life.

An excellent though infrequent writer on the game, he wrote a fine memoir of C.H.O’D. Alexander in Golombek’s and Hartston’s The Best Games of C.H.O’D. Alexander, Oxford, 1976.”

The Best Games of C.H.O'D. Alexander, Harry Golombek and William Hartston. With A Memoir by Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, Oxford University Press, 1976, ISBN 10: 0192175351 ISBN 13: 9780192175359
The Best Games of C.H.O’D. Alexander, Harry Golombek and William Hartston. With A Memoir by Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, Oxford University Press, 1976, ISBN 10: 0192175351 ISBN 13: 9780192175359

An Obituary from Bernard Cafferty

From British Chess Magazine, Volume CXV (115, 1995), Number 5 (May), pp. 258-59 we have this obituary by Bernard Cafferty:

“Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry KCVO CB  OBE (20 ix 1906 – 25 iii 1995) was the oldest of the British chess masters who came to prominence in the 1930s, He was always thought of in conjunction with his great friends Hugh Alexander and Harry Golombek who both predeceased him. The length of Stuart’s career is amazing  – he was inaugural British Boy Champion in 1923 and was still playing for Kent first team in the Counties Championship  of recent years, thus spanning a period of seven decades! Botvinnik spoke of him to me on my 1994 visit to Moscow.

David Anderton OBE (rhs) congratulates Sir Stuart Milner-Barry OBE for winning the "Board of Honour " game versus Edward Lasker at the 1976 Lloyds Bank Match by Telex, London - New York. From BCM, volume XCVI (96) Number 11 (August), Page 494. The venue was the Bloomsbury Hotel, London. Photo courtesy of Lloyds Bank
David Anderton OBE (rhs) congratulates Sir Stuart Milner-Barry OBE for winning the “Board of Honour ” game versus Edward Lasker at the 1976 Lloyds Bank Match by Telex, London – New York. From BCM, volume XCVI (96) Number 11 (August), Page 494. The venue was the Bloomsbury Hotel, London. Photo courtesy of Lloyds Bank

Yet Stuart, who never gained the IM title, was always the true amateur and genuine English gentleman, whose sense of duty and tradition was very great. It speaks volumes of him that he agonised over whether he should attend the Times Kasparov-Short match of 1993, in a private capacity. He would have liked to watch the play, but as a former British Chess Federation President, 1970-73, he felt it was his duty not to lend any extra recognition to the contest other than that assigned it by the BCF.

Before the war, after graduating from Cambridge in Classics, he took some fine scalps including those of Tartakower and Mieses and should have beaten Capablanca at Margate 1939.

Capablanca and Stuart Milner-Barry at Margate, England, April 15, 1936. AP Photos
Capablanca and Stuart Milner-Barry at Margate, England, April 15, 1936. AP Photos

He worked, rather unhappily, in a stockbroking firm up to 1938 and it is in that capacity that his name appears on the official document that set-up the British Chess Magazine as a limited company in 1937.

During the war he played his part in the Bletchley Park code-breaking undertaking along with Alexander and Golombek, and after the war went into the Civil Service where he had a distinguished career at the Treasury. Then his career was extended as he spent his final working years in the patronage department that sifted recommendations for the honours list.

I recall asking him in 1981 if there was any chance that Brian Reilly could qualify for an award. Stuart’s diplomatic answer was to the effect that he was now retired but would drop a word in the right quarter.

Stuart represented England at the Olympiads or 1936, 1939, 1952 and 1956. At the last of these he played particularly well on fourth board. He was conscious that his old friend Hugh Alexander could not take part in Moscow because of the sensitive nature of his work in the Intelligence Service.

In playing style Milner-Barry, a tall gaunt figure, delighted in an open tactical fight.

He was The Times correspondent 1938-45, resigning the post to let Harry Golombek take over. His best result after the war, apart from the 1956 Moscow Olympiad, was probably his second place in the British Championships of 1953 at Hastings. The abiding impression of his opponents over the years must have been  that here was a player who greatly enjoyed the game, win, lose or draw.

Certainly, that was my idea of him in the tussles we had from the British Championship of 1957 up to county matches in the 1980s.

We shall not see his like again. The England that formed his character is no longer with us.”

Kenworthy on Milner-Barry

Sir Stuart as a student was taught by his lecturer friend Gordon Welchman, later 1940 his Head of Hut.  They were firm friends, a band of brothers, as per the rest of the chess players and mathematicians from the Interwar years at Cambridge University.

His studies were obviously well aligned to be a stockbroker in the City, plus the tedious details of Blotters and Order Management registration.

Obvious exceptions to this University circle was Dr Jacob Bronowski who was given the suspected 5th columnist treatment by authorities in Hull. Obviously, he would have been excellent.

Exception also according to John Hevriel was if you were also from Sidney Sussex, like Staff Sgt. then an RSM  Asa Briggs, who was more Contract Bridge with this all friends crossword addicts team. Asa Briggs felt that Sir Stuart was initially badly rewarded leaving Hut 6 in 1945 for HM Treasury.

Sir Stuart was a noted top cribster, his crosswords, German and thinking from how the Nazi operator would think from his side of the board, obviously helped with Bombe cribs. He always played down his role and abilities in a diplomatic way. He was the facilitator and mentor to many, especially back to Gordon Welchman in his troubled times from 1974 onwards. Sir Stuart was not happy about the proposed book of the Hut 6 Story.

He was the bureaucrat who cared for the welfare of his staff, especially on tedious protract tasks which was the norm. He was into ethics, Quadrivium, logic and rhetoric, philosophy and his knowledge of German poets and Great German thinkers would have been invaluable in solving the Enigma puzzle and how might his opposite number blunder and be sloppy in procedures.

Milner-Barry Variations

Though never at home in close(d) positions, he was an outstanding strategist in the open game and it is significant that his most important contribution to opening theory was the Milner-Barry variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defence which is essentially as attempt to convert a close position into an open one (1.P-Q4, N-KB3; 2.P-QB4, P-K3; 3. N-QB3, B-N5; 4.Q-B2, N-B3).

Hooper & Whyld (1996) note:

“Sometimes called the Zurich or Swiss variation, this is a line in the Nimzo-Indian Defence introduced by Milner-Barry in the Premier Reserves tournament, Hastings 1928-9. This line became more widely known when it was played at Zurich 1934.”

Two famous opening lines are named after him – 4…Nc6 in the Nimzo-Indian (as above), and the gambit in the French Defence: 1.e4 e6;2.d4 d5;3.e5 c5;4.c3 Nc6;5.Nf3 Qb6;6.Bd3 cxd4;7.cxd4 Bd7;8.0-0 Nxd4;

Stuart played this line both in correspondence and over-the-board play. If Black takes the pawn with 10…Qxe5, White gets a fierce attack by 11,Re1 Qd6 (else 12.Nxd5) 12.Nb5.

There is also a sub-variation of the Caro-Kann which is named after Sir Stuart viz:

which is a Blackmar-Diemer style pawn sacrifice.

There is also a Milner-Barry variation in the Falkbeer Counter Gambit to the King’s Gambit thus:

which is an ancient line that he revived at Margate 1937.

and finally, there is a Milner-Barry Variation in the Petroff Defence:

giving a total of five named variations. How many English players have that many?

Problems and Compositions

Stuart developed an interest in problem composition in the 1920s

Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, Problem, Morning Post, 1923
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, Problem, Morning Post, 1923
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, Problem, The Observer, 1925
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, Problem, The Observer, 1925
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, Problem, British Chess Magazine, 1926
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, Problem, British Chess Magazine, 1926

Further examples may be found on the excellent Meson Database maintained by Brian Stephenson

Milner-Barry on The English Chess Explosion

Stuart was a great supporter of the development of British chess. Nothing would have given him more pleasure than to witness  the meteoric advances of English players in the 1970s. Indeed, he wrote the foreword to the English Chess Explosion (Batsford, 1980) by Murray Chandler and Ray Keene:

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

“It gives me great pleasure to have been asked to write a foreword for this book. Nothing has given me more satisfaction than the flowering of British chess talent that has taken place in the past few years.

Between the wars, though we had some splendid players like H. E. Atkins, Sir George Thomas and F. D. Yates, we were a second rate power at chess: in the great Nottingham tournament of 1936, for example, our quartet brought up the rear, and that was where, with occasional shining exceptions, our representatives in international tournaments tended to find themselves. Similarly, after the war in the 1950’s and 1960’s, in spite of Alexander and Penrose, we seldom achieved a really creditable place in the Olympiads.

Alexander who retired early from the arena because of the exacting demands of his profession, must have had rather a depressing time as non-playing captain.

Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry OBE
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry OBE

I myself date the renaissance from the Spring of 1974 when we won a closely contested match against West Germany at Elvetham Hall.
Thereafter we went from strength to strength, with the appearance year by year of highly talented, original and adventurous young men from the Universities – Keene and Hartston, closely followed by Miles, Stean, Nunn, Mestel, Speelman, and a still younger generation of schoolboy prodigies like Nigel Short.

The peak of our performance so far has been the third place (after the USSR and Hungary) last winter in the finals of the European Team Tournament at Skara (compared with our eighth and last place at Moscow in 1977).

Sir Philip Stuart Milner-Barry OBE presents Dr. Jana Hartston with the ? prize
Sir Stuart Milner-Barry OBE presents Dr. Jana Hartston with the ? prize

How did all this come about in the short space of six years? The Spassky-Fischer match of 1972 was a watershed. Since then, and the first time, it has been possible for able young men from universities to consider chess seriously as a full-time profession, or at least as a career to which they devote the major part of their time and interest, Secondly, the fruits were being reaped of the unobtrusive but devoted spadework in junior training pioneered by Barden, Wade and many others. Lastly, no doubt, sheer good fortune smiled upon us in the simultaneous emergence of a group of brilliant enthusiastic and likeable young men, five of them already grandmasters and others likely to become so before long.

It is sad that Alexander, who did so much to uphold the prestige of British chess in the doldrums, did not survive to witness the transformation. I would like to wish the BCF President, David Anderton, and Alexander’s successor as captain, all possible success for the future.”

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

In the March issue of CHESS for 1963, (Volume 28, Number 427, pp.147-155)  William Winter wrote this:

P. S. Milner-Barry is a close friend of Alexander’s and plays like him, though not quite so well. So far the Championship has always eluded him, though he seemed to have it within his grasp at Buxton where he played superb chess for nine rounds and cracked in the last two. I fancy that the physical strain of these long Swiss tournaments
is rather too much for him. Like Alexander he has a most attractive style and one or two of his combinative games will certainly live after him.

Further Material

An obituary from The Independent by Bill Hartston

An article from Spartacus Educational

Here are his games from chess.com

More on his time at Bletchley Park

The papers of Sir Stuart Milner-Barry

Location of his grave

Here is his Wikipedia entry

Signature of Sir Stuart Milner-Barry
Signature of Sir Stuart Milner-Barry

According to Edward Winter in Chess Notes PSMB lived at these addresses :

  • 11 Park Terrace, Cambridge, England (Ranneforths Schachkalender, 1938, page 78).
  • 43 Blackheath Park, Blackheath, London SE3 9RW, England (letter reproduced in C.N. 3809).
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Remembering Dr. Richard Guy (30-ix-1916 09-iii-2020)

Richard Guy
Richard Guy

BCN remembers Richard Guy who passed away in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on Monday, March 9th, 2020 at the splendid age of 103.

Early Life

Richard Kenneth Guy was born on Saturday, 30th September 1916. On this day construction on the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City was completed.

He was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire to William Alexander Charles Guy and  Augusta Adeline Guy (née Tanner). RKGs parents had married in the final quarter of 1915 in Solihull. William was headmaster of Atherstone Elementary School.

Richard Guy
Richard Guy

Growing Up

Richard attended Warwick School excelling in mathematics where he was a boarder and prefect.  In December 1934 He obtained  a County Major Scholarship for Mathematics provided by the Lord Kitchener Memorial Fund gaining his Northern Universities Higher School Certificate in July 1935.

Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser 25 May 1935
Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser 25 May 1935

He went up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University in October 1935 graduating in 1938. Stephen  Hawking was also an alumni of Caius College.

Richard Guy
Richard Guy

The 1939 register records Richard aged 23 living as a lodger in the  Blower household of six  at 436 Buxton Road, Stockport, Cheshire, England. This address has since been converted to residential flats. He was  a teacher of mathematics in a local secondary school.

RAF and the Weather Years

During the second world war Richard saw non-combative service in the Royal Air Force working on forecasting the weather and improving the methodologies.  This work was a critical component of the British war effort.

In the final quarter of 1940 Richard married Nancy Louise Thirian in Bingham, Nottingham. Nancy (in fact, she was known as Louise) was born in Islington in the third quarter of 1918 and passed away in 2010.  They had three children and Michael JT Guy was also a significant mathematician.

According to Wikipedia : “In November 1942, Guy received an emergency commission in the Meteorological Branch of the Royal Air Force, with the rank of flight lieutenant.  He was posted to Reykjavik, and later to Bermuda, as a meteorologist. He tried to get permission for Louise to join him but was refused. While in Iceland, he did some glacier travel, skiing, and mountain climbing, marking the beginning of another long love affair, this one with snow and ice.”

Richard Guy
Richard Guy

Teaching and Research

In August 1951 Richard relocated to Singapore and taught for ten years at The University of Malaya and following that he worked at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. Finally, in 1965, he moved to Calgary and taught  in the Mathematics Department at The University of Calgary.  For fuller details of his extensive mathematical career see the many links at the foot of this article.

RKGs final address in England was 145 Sunderland Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 2PX:

145 Sunderland Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 2PX
145 Sunderland Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 2PX

Chess Playing

Richard’s chess career was active whilst at Warwick School.  He played for the school “eight” in matches against teams such as Birmingham University and King Edward’s School, Birmingham.

Richard Guy
Richard Guy

Richard’s interest turned away from over-the-board play but he did find time to compete in the Major Open of the August 1946 British Championships in Nottingham. Only two game scores are known where he lost to Dr. Fazekas and Gordon Crown: both very strong opponents.

Richard Guy
Richard Guy

Chess Writing and Composing

The December 1947 edition of British Chess Magazine contains RKGs very first Endings column taking over from TR Dawson. The column was introduced thus:

“Mr RK Guy has kindly consented to take over the Endings Section. All communications should now be sent to him at 33 Westwood Park Forest Hill London SE23.” TRD went on to write:

“With this page I reluctantly terminate on health grounds some forty years of work in the Endings field, and my contributions to this corner of the British Chess Magazine. To the many readers of these pages, a Merry Christmas and steadily improving years.”

33 Westwood Park, Forest Hill, London SE23 3QG
33 Westwood Park, Forest Hill, London SE23 3QG

RKG was to edit this column until his final piece in June 1951. RKG wrote in the July 1951 column (now edited by HF Blandford): “My address after August will be University of Malaya, Singapore. I have enjoyed these few years, and am sorry to leave you, although you will be in capable hands. HFB is player and problemist, but his greatest love is for endings, and he has won many international prizes.”

RKG is known for almost 200 endgame studies.

This is  study #53, page 57 from Test Tube Chess by AJ Roycroft:

RK Guy
The Field, 28 xii 1940

win, 3+2

The win is by a white king march from the h-file onto the same file as the pawn, instead of the reverse!

1.Bb4!/i Rh2+;
2.Kg7 Rg2+;
3.Kf7 Rf2+;
4.Ke6 Re2+/ii;
5.Kd5 Re3;
6.Kd4 wins
(i) Why not 1.d8=Q. Because of 1…Rb8; 2.Qxb8 stalemate!
(ii) 4…Rf8 not on because of 5.Bxf8

and this one is study #148, page 106 of the same publication:

RK Guy
British Chess Magazine, x 1943

win, 6+4

1.Sc1+ Kc4;
2.b3+ Kd4;
3.Se2+ Ke4/i;
4.Sg3+ Kd4/ii;
5.Rf4+ Ke5/iii;
6.Re4+ Kd5;
7.Rd4+ Kxd4;
8.Sf5+ Ke5;
9.Sxd6 Kxd6;
10.h4 wins.

(i) 3…Kd3;4.Rd5+ Qd5;5.Sf4+ Ke4;6.Sxd5 Kxd5;7.h4 wins.
(ii) 4…Kd3;5.Rf3+ Kxd2;6.Se4+, or 5…Kd4;6.Sf5+.
(iii) 5…Kd5;6.Rd4+ Kxd4;7.Sf5+.
A lot of checks, but also a lot of play.

For more examples of RKGs work we recommend his AVRES database entry.

In 2020 John Beasley wrote: “Richard did not achieve the same renown in our field as he has in the field of recreational mathematics, but his studies are neat and many are also instructive, a point which he considered important. We have been the richer for his presence.”

Along with Hugh Blandford and John Roycroft, RKG was one of the inventors of the GBR code (Guy–Blandford–Roycroft code), a system of representing the position of chess pieces on a chessboard. Publications such as EG magazine use it to classify endgame types and to index endgame studies.

Richard Kenneth Guy
Richard Kenneth Guy
Winning Ways
Winning Ways
The Unity of Combinatorics, Ezra Brown and RK Guy, American Mathematical Society (30 May 2020)
The Unity of Combinatorics, Ezra Brown and RK Guy, American Mathematical Society (30 May 2020)
Unsolved Problems in Geometry, RK Guy, Springer Verlag, 1994
Unsolved Problems in Geometry, RK Guy, Springer Verlag, 1994

Here is an appreciation from John Beasley

RKGs entry on the AVRES database

RKGs entry on chesscomposers.blogspot.com

An Interview with a mathematician

An obituary from The Calgary Herald

A tribute from The University of Calgary

A tribute from A Periodical

A tribute from the American Mathematical Society

100th birthday tribute from the Mathematical Association of America

RKGs Wikipedia article

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Happy Birthday GM Justin Tan (19-iii-1997)

GM Justin Tan
GM Justin Tan

Birthday of GM Justin Hsien Y Tan (19-iii-1997)

GM Justin Tan
GM Justin Tan

From Chessgames.com :

“Grandmaster (2018).

FM (2013); IM (2015).

Justin Tan is one of Australia’s promising juniors, and is one of two juniors amongst Australia’s top ten players.

International Master Norms

Tan won his first IM norm during the 2013-14 NCL. His 2nd IM norm came at the Caissa GM tournament held in Kecskemet in Hungary in February 2014, and he secured his 3rd IM norm , and the IM title, at the Bunratty Classic 2015 in Ireland on 22 February 2015.

Championships

Tan scored his first positive result against an accredited Master when he drew with WIM Narelle Szuveges in the Noble Park Club Championship in February 2008. Six months later he scored his first win against a master at the Noble Park Grade A Championship when he defeated FM Al-Rashid Abdul Wahab of Iraq. At the age of 12, he competed in the World U16 Championship 2009 that was held in Antalya in Turkey, scoring a solid rating-enhancing 5.5/11. He scored 5.5/9 in the 2011 U14 World Championship, beating the eventual winner FM (and now GM) Kirill Alekseenko in their individual encounter. He first played in the Oceania Zonal 3.6 in 2011 and scored 6.5/9 in the Zonal 3.6 tournament in 2013, earning his FM title under the 50% rule. He placed second to Alastair Cameron in the 2012 Australian U18 Open with 7.5/9 and did well in scoring 6/11 in the 2012 Australian Championship. He was equal second at the Victorian Championship in 2013. In September 2015, he was equal first at the Illinois Open State Chess Championship.

In October and November 2015, Tan contested the World U18 Championship staged in Greece, and placed =4th with 8/11.

Tournaments

<2007-2009> Tan’s first FIDE-rated event was the Arthur Tan Malaysian Open Championship in 2007. His first significant result at the sharp end of the leader board was equal first at the Noble Park Chess Club Open in Melbourne in May 2009.

<2010-2012> In May 2010, he scored his first win against an International Master when he defeated Mirko Rujevic at the City of Melbourne Open. He was equal first at the MCC ANZAC Day Weekender in 2010 alongside Erik O M C Teichmann and Mirko Rujevic, and won the same event in 2012 in Melbourne with 6.5/7. He won the Noble Park Grade A event in 2011, was equal first (second on tiebreak) at the 2011 Noble Park Club Championship, placed fourth in the Noble Park Club Championship 2012, and was equal first at the Noble Park Masters 2012. He finished 2012 by winning the Bob Brooking Round Robin ahead of IMs James Morris and Rujevic.

<2013-2015> 2013 started with equal first at the Noble Park Club Championship. He was equal first at the Canterbury Summer Swiss 2013 held in December 2013 in Melbourne. He chanced his arm at the powerful Isle of Man Masters (2015) held in October 2015, and scored a rating-neutral 4.5/9.

Team Events

6/10 on board 2 at the 2012 World Youth U16 Chess Olympiad, helping the Australia “A” team to 8th place. Tan played board 2 for Oxford 1 in the 2013-14 4NCL, winning his first IM norm during that event.

Rating and Ranking

Tan’s initial rating was 1802 in April 2008. His highest rating and ranking to date is 2446 and Australian #6 in November 2015.”

GM Justin Tan
GM Justin Tan
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Happy Birthday GM Jim Plaskett (18-iii-1960)

GM Harold James Plaskett
GM Harold James Plaskett

Happy Birthday GM Harold James Plaskett born on this day (March 18th) in 1960

GM Harold James Plaskett
GM Harold James Plaskett

Here is his Wikipedia entry

Jim accepts the 1981 Grand Prix shield from ?
Jim accepts the 1981 Grand Prix shield from ?

Here are his games

Jim obtained his FM norm in 1980 according to Gino de Felice.

From Chessgames.com :

“Harold James (Jim) Plaskett was born in Dkeliha, Cyprus. He was awarded the IM title in 1981 and became a GM in 1985. Plaskett’s tournament results include first place at Plovdiv 1984 and a tie for second at Hastings 1984-85. He was British champion in 1990.”

In December of 2021 Camberley Chess Club (ECF Club of the Year for 2021) had Jim as an invited guest to one of their Tuesday evening Zoom calls. Here is a taster of the full video:

Jim with David Anderton OBE at the 1983 Benedictine International (Manchester)
Jim with David Anderton OBE at the 1983 Benedictine International (Manchester)

James Plaskett almost became a millionaire

Trends in the Sicilian Richter Rauzer
Trends in the Sicilian Richter Rauzer
Trends in the Sicilian Sozin
Trends in the Sicilian Sozin
Trends in the Gruenfeld without cd5
Trends in the Gruenfeld without cd5
The English Defence
The English Defence
Playing to Win
Playing to Win
The Sicilian Taimanov
The Sicilian Taimanov
The Sicilian Grand Prix
The Sicilian Grand Prix
Coincidences
Coincidences
 Can You Be a Tactical Chess Genius?
Can You Be a Tactical Chess Genius?
The Scandinavian Defence
The Scandinavian Defence
Starting Out: Attacking Play
Starting Out: Attacking Play
Catastrophe In The Opening
Catastrophe In The Opening
The Queen's Bishop Attack Revealed.
The Queen’s Bishop Attack Revealed.
Bad Show
Bad Show
Bread and the Circus, James Plaskett, Amazon Kindle, ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09N9SJLWG
Bread and the Circus, James Plaskett, Amazon Kindle, ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09N9SJLWG
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Remembering Reginald Bonham MBE MA (31-i-1906 16-iii-1984)

Blind Competitor RW Bonham in play in the British Championship. He is using a Braille set. Courtesy of Michael Clapham from https://chessbookchats.blogspot.com/2020/03/british-championships-felixstowe-1949.html
Blind Competitor RW Bonham in play in the British Championship. He is using a Braille set. Courtesy of Michael Clapham from https://chessbookchats.blogspot.com/2020/03/british-championships-felixstowe-1949.html

BCN remembers Reginald Bonham (known as “Bon”) who passed away, this day, March 16th in 1984 in Worcester, Worcestershire.

In the  1970 New Years Honours, Civil Division he was awarded the MBE for “Services to the blind”. Interestingly, in 1992 his sister Mary also received an MBE for “Services to the blind” This is surely an unusual happening.

Reginald Walter Bonham was born on Wednesday, January 31st 1906 : the same day as the Ecuador–Colombia earthquake which measured 8.8 on the Richter Scale.

He was born in St. Neots, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire.

In the 1911 census aged 5 he lived in the High Street, St. Neots with William R Bonham (father, master butcher, aged 45), Edith Mary Ann Bonham (mother, 38), Howard William Bonham (6), Maurice George Bonham (3) and Ernest Charles Bonham (1). The family had a servant / domestic duties assistant called Elise Annie Goss aged 18. The census did not record any disability for Reginald.

Reg, like others in his family, suffered from deficient eyesight and was therefore unable to attend a “mainstream” school.

From 1922 – 1925 he attended the Royal Worcester College for the Blind (originally Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen) in Whittington Road, Worcester, WR5 2JX. The Headmaster (GC Brown) encouraged his chess and rowing talents and in 1926 he was sent up to St. Catherine’s College, Oxford to read mathematics.

Reginald was a highly competant rower, competing for his college and reaching the trial stage for the Oxford Varsity crew.

In 1934 Reg founded the Braille Chess Magazine.

In the 1939 census he was recorded as living at 4, St. Catherine’s Hill, Worcester, WR5 with his wife, Josephine Bonham (born 24th September 1904). Reginald was listed as being a Mathematics tutor at the Royal Worcester College for the Blind (originally Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen) in Whittington Road, Worcester, WR5 2JX. The college is now named New College Worcester. Their home was around a mile from the College. Josephine was listed as carrying out “unpaid domestic duties”.

He taught a combination of Braille and mathematics and was an amateur thespian and keen bridge player.

RW Bonham and a Braille chess set set-up incorrectly
RW Bonham and a Braille chess set set-up incorrectly

Interestingly RWB in 1939 was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Warden and a St. John Ambulance volunteer for the College.

He was Worcester champion twenty times and four times Midlands champion winning the Birmingham Post Cup twice.

On June 6th 1947 Bonham played in Birmingham in a match between Great Britain and Czechoslovakia playing Ladislav Alster and won this attractive game :

In 1951 he founded the International Braille Chess Association (IBCA) and continued as its President for 23 years. The IBCA affiliated to FIDE in 1964. see http://www.schachkomet.de/ibcachp4.htm for historical detail.

He was Blind World Champion in 1958 and Correspondence Blind World Champion in 1957, 1959, 1961, 1964 (jointly) and 1966.

He was active in postal play, taking part in international events in the decade after the war when few British players ventured “into Europe”. A note in the 1972 BCM (page 216) records the award of the title Correspondence GM of the Blind by the International Braille Chess Association, so his omission from the recent book British Chess seems rather unfortunate.

Among the titles won by Reginald Bonham were British Correspondence Championship, shared in 1947 with J. Cairncross and shared in 1951 with E. Brown) and Midland Champion (1947 and 1950).

Tim Harding kindly adds :

“He had earlier been runner-up in the BCF’s 1938 CC Championship and, most importantly, he won the 1942/43 Championship outright with 9/10, a point and a half ahead of David Hooper. (By then the BCF and BCCA championships had been merged into one event.)
The crosstable is on page 254 of my book Correspondence Chess in Britain and Ireland 1824-1987.”

One of his students was broadcaster Peter White MBE who described Bon in his autobiography See it My Way

See it My Way, Peter White, 1994
See it My Way, Peter White, 1994

From British Chess Magazine, Volume XCII (92, 1972) Number 6 (June), page 216 we have this item in News in Brief :

“At the closing ceremony of the 4th Chess Olympiad for the Blind at Pula, Yugoslavia (April 6-18) the International Braille Chess Association awarded the title of Correspondence Grandmaster of the Blind to R.W. Bonham of Worcester, for having won the Postal Championship more than three times.”

From British Chess Magazine, Volume CIV (104, 1984) Number 5 (May), page 194 we have this obituary :

“We regret to announce the death in March of two early winners of the grandmaster title (the other was Comins Mansfield MBE).

R.W.Bonham (31 i 1906 – 16 iii 1984) died at Worcester, where he had long served as a Master at the Royal Worcester College for the Blind. In the 1950s he took part in the British Championship with success. Many older players will remember him fingering his special board before announcing his move and checking his clock with its markers outside the glass face.

He was also (with Wormald) joint author of those fine little books Chess Questions Answered and More Chess Questions Answered.”

Sadly, RWB did not merit articles in Sunnucks or Golombek’s Encyclopedias or Hooper’s and Whyld’s Oxford Companion or, as mentioned previously, British Chess.

Here is a short biography from Ray Collett and here is his Wikipedia article.

More information here.

The Braille Chess Association used to have an entry in its Hall of Fame.

Chess Questions Answered, RW Bonham & RD Wormald, Jordan & Sons Ltd, London, 1945
Chess Questions Answered, RW Bonham & RD Wormald, Jordan & Sons Ltd, London, 1945
More Chess Questions Answered, RW Bonham & RD Wormald, Jordan & Sons Ltd, London, 1948
More Chess Questions Answered, RW Bonham & RD Wormald, Jordan & Sons Ltd, London, 1948
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Happy 76th Birthday IM Mike Basman (16-iii-1946)

IM Mike Basman at the Berks & Bucks Congress, courtesy of John Upham Photography
IM Mike Basman at the Berks & Bucks Congress, courtesy of John Upham Photography

Happy Birthday IM Michael John Basman (16-iii-1946)

Mike J. Basman on the right as he is to-day; in the centre with the cup he won by taking the London under-14 championship. Left : admiring sister in 1960. From CHESS, August 1973, page 322.
Mike J. Basman on the right as he is to-day; in the centre with the cup he won by taking the London under-14 championship. Left : admiring sister in 1960. From CHESS, August 1973, page 322.

Mike attended The University of Leeds as an undergraduate reading history.

Joel Benjamin plays Mike Basman in round 2 of the 1978 Lloyds Bank Open
Joel Benjamin plays Mike Basman in round 2 of the 1978 Lloyds Bank Open

Here is Mike’s wikipedia entry

Mike and friends during a Lloyds Bank Masters
Mike and friends during a Lloyds Bank Masters

Here are his games

Mike Basman
Mike Basman

An interesting article from chess.com

Confessions of a Crooked Chess Master – Part 1 from Kingpin

Mike plays William Hartston during the play-off for the 1973 British Championship
Mike plays William Hartston during the play-off for the 1973 British Championship

Confessions of a Crooked Chess Master – Part 2

From Chessgames.com :

“Michael John Basman was born in St Pancras, London, England. He was awarded the IM title in 1980 and having dual nationality won the Erevan Championship whilst living there in the early 1970s. He was also a pioneer in the production of audio tapes for chess.

He is noted for his use of unorthodox flank openings, such as 1.g4, 1.h3, 1.e4 g5, etc. He expanded on the work of Henri Grob with his book on the topic of 1.g4, The Killer Grob.

He created the UK Chess Challenge, a tournament for juniors of all standards and ages progressing over four stages.(1)”

MJB won the ECF President’s Award in 2013.

Video Chess Event (See caption below)
Video Chess Event (See caption below)
Video Chess Caption
Video Chess Caption

Mike recently received a “bursary” from FIDE as a tribute towards FIDEs more senior players.

Michael Basman (rear, far left))
Michael Basman (rear, far left))
The Killer Grob
The Killer Grob
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Remembering Gerald Abrahams (15-iv-1907 15-iii-1980)

Gerald Abrahams (15-iv-1907 15-iii-1980). Source : The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match
Gerald Abrahams (15-iv-1907 15-iii-1980). Source : The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match

BCN remembers Gerald Abrahams who passed away in Liverpool on Saturday, March 15th 1980. He was buried in the Allerton Cemetery in the Jewish Springwood plot.

Gerald Abrahams was born in Liverpool on Monday, April 15th 1907.  On this day the Triangle Fraternity was formed at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

His parents were Harry (b. 10th September 1880) and Leah (b. 12th March 1884) Abrahams (née Rabinowitz) who married in West Derby in the third quarter of 1903.

Gerald learnt chess at the age of ten during the first world war. He obtained an Open Scholarship to Wadham College, Oxford in 1925 reading PPE and earning himself an MA in Law in 1928. He became a practising barrister at Law.

From the 1939 register we learnt that Harry was a Drapery manufacturer and Leah carried out “unpaid domestic duties”. Gerald was not an only child: the first born was Winnie (b. 22nd November 1903) who was a Secretary and Clerk Typist and factory assistant. Elsie Abrahams (b. 14th April 1905) helped her mother with “unpaid domestic duties”. Blanche was Gerald’s older sister and she was “General Assistant In Fathers Business Drapery Manufacturer”. Gerald is listed (aged 32) as a Barrister at Law and author. The family resided at 51 Prince Alfred Road, Liverpool, Lancashire (now L15 6TQ) and their original property has been since replaced.

Historical map showing the 1939 residence of Gerald Abrahams
Historical map showing the 1939 residence of Gerald Abrahams

We learn from “Philanthropy, Consensus, and broiges: managing a Jewish Community A history of the Southport Jewish Community
by John Cowell” of an incident in January 1942 that was to cause ripples in the community. The headline was

POLICE RAID DISTURBS CLUB CARD PLAYERS

The full list of people present seems to have been largely or entirely Jewish in religion or ethnicity: it included a famous chess-playing barrister from Liverpool, Gerald Abrahams, representing himself, who had taken a First in P.P.E. at Oxford, and later married Elsie Krengel, who had also been present, and with Leslie Black representing the rest of the defendants, apart from the hosts and Captain Lionel Husdan, who sent a letter to the court.

The full list of those present, charged with “resorting and playing in a common gaming house,” and bound over was as follows:- Mott Alexander, Fannie Finn, Maxwell Glassman, Kate Lippa, Myer Lister, Gertrude Mannheim, Joseph Mannheim, Rita Mannheim, Simon Mannheim, Harry Peters, Sadie Peters, Lily Leah Ross, Harry Sapiro, Benjamin Stone. Those charged with “resorting in a common gaming house” and bound over, were:- Gerald Abrahams, Joseph Appleton Bach, Samuel Myer Barnett, Herbert Solomon Isaacson, Elsie Krengel, Manuel Mannheim, Louis Michaelson, Abraham Ross, Bernard and Elsie Ross.

“Gerald Abrahams, the barrister charged, said he was interested to protect his reputation from being stigmatised by a conviction, and asked Sergeant Laycock about alcohol: the latter replied that none was being consumed. He submitted that the club was not a gaming house, and that draw poker had not been proved other than as a game of skill. Charges were dismissed against Henry, Eva and Marjorie Black, Myer Waldman, and Captain Lionel Husdan, of Ryde, Isle of Wight, all of whom had said that they were merely taking refreshments in the club, and had not played. David Platt said that he had not the slightest idea that they were breaking the law, and Mrs Platt said that it had not been a paying venture.”

The Complete Chess Addict (Faber& Faber, 1987), Fox & James notes: that Gerald Abrahams as authority on bridge cast doubt on assertions that Emanuel Lasker “was good enough to represent Germany”

Gerald’s comparisons of chess and bridge are discussed by Edward Winter in Chess Facts and Fables (McFarland, 2005) page 130 in GAs 1962 book Brains in Bridge:

Brains in Bridge, Gerald Abrahams, Constable and Company, 1962, ISBN ?
Brains in Bridge, Gerald Abrahams, Constable and Company, 1962, ISBN ?

Gerald eventually married Elsie Krengel (born 15th January 1909) in the fourth quarter of 1971 in Liverpool at the age of 64. Elsie had lived in the Southport area for most of her life and her family was associated with the manufacture of handbags.  They had known each other for many years (at least since 1942 as mentioned previously).

Gerald Abrahams
Gerald Abrahams

Leonard Barden modestly recounts :

“At the end of Nottingham 1954  Gerald claimed that Alan Phillips had accepted his draw offer so tieing Gerald for the British championship with some rabbit whose name escapes me.  When Phillips strongly denied having accepted the draw, Gerald collapsed on the floor and had to be aided by his old enemy Dr. Fazekas.”

From The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match (1946) by Klein and Winter:

“G. Abrahams was born in Liverpool in 1907. He learned chess at the age of ten, and showed an early aptitude for tactical complications. He has played with varying success, his best performances being third and fourth with Rossolimo, behind Klein and Najdorf, but head of List at Margate, 1938, and fourth, fifth and sixth with Sir George A. Thomas and König in London, 1946. He has made two valiant bids for the British Championship.

A graduate of Oxford, he is a barrister by profession and has written several books, including some fiction. He has solidified his chess without allowing it to become dry. Indeed, most of his games sparkle with interesting complications.”

Harry Golombek OBE wrote (in The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977)):

“Brilliant British amateur who in the 1930s was playing master-chess. In that period he was the most dangerous attacking player in England.

Gerald Abrahams watching the opening at the Hastings Chess Congress 1947. Also watching is Sir George Thomas who was GAs round one opponent. The Mayor was Alderman W. J. Fellows and he is opposite Sir Edmund McNeill Cooper-Key. Second from left is Percy J. Morren who was the Hasting's Club President
Gerald Abrahams watching the opening at the Hastings Chess Congress 1947. Also watching is Sir George Thomas who was GAs round one opponent. The Mayor was Alderman W. J. Fellows and he is opposite Sir Edmund McNeill Cooper-Key. Second from left is Percy J. Morren who was the Hastings Club President

He was in the prize-list (i.e. in the first four) in the British championship on three occasions 1933, 1946 and 1954. His best international performance was in the Major Open at Nottingham in 1936 where he came =3rd with Opocensky. Another fine result was his score of 1.5-0.5 against the Soviet Grandmaster Ragozin, in the 1946 Anglo-Soviet radio match.

He is the inventor of the Abrahams variation in the Semi-Slav Defence to the Queen’s Gambit: 1.P-Q4, P-Q4;2.P-QB4, P-QB3;3.N-QB3, P-K3;4.N-B3, PXP;5.P-QR4, B-N4;6.P-K3,P-QN4;7.B-Q2, P-QR4; 8.PxP, BxN;9.BxB,PxP;10.P-QN3,B-N2;

This is sometimes known as the Noteboom variation after the Dutch master who played it in the 1930s, but Abrahams was playing it in 1925 long before Noteboom.

He is a witty and prolific writer on many subjects: on law (he is a barrister by profession), philosophy, and chess; he also writes fiction. His main chess works are: The Chess Mind, London 1951 and 1960

The Chess Mind, Gerald Abrahams, The English Universities Press, 1951, ISBN 0 340 19492 8
The Chess Mind, Gerald Abrahams, The English Universities Press, 1951, ISBN 0 340 19492 8

and here is a later cover:

The Chess Mind, Gerald Abrahams, The English Universities Press, 1951, ISBN 0 340 19492 8
The Chess Mind, Gerald Abrahams, The English Universities Press, 1951, ISBN 0 340 19492 8

and Not Only Chess, London 1974.

Not Only Chess, Gerald Abrahams, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1974, ISBN 0 04 794005 0
Not Only Chess, Gerald Abrahams, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1974, ISBN 0 04 794005 0

Edward Winter in Kings, Commoners and Knaves, cites the subtitle of the above book in his page 235 list of chessy words: “A selection of Chessays”.

From Not Only Chess we learn that GAs favourite game was played in 1930 against Edmund Spencer of Liverpool. “Edmund Spencer was a man who is remembered with affection by all players who ever met him, and who is remarkable in that his strength developed in what should have been hid middle life. When he died, lamentably early, in the 1930s, at about 53 he was at his best, and of recognised master status.

This game was played in 1930.”

and for an alternative view of the same game:

GA is amongst a rare breed of game annotators claiming the title of An Immortal for one of his own games. Edward Winter devotes a couple of column inches discussing exactly which year the game was played between 1929 and 1936. Here is the game:

For more of GAs excellent games see the superb article further on by Steve Cunliffe. Also, Not Only Chess in Chapter 28 (“A Score of my Scores”) contains a veritable feast of entertaining games of GAs).

Gerald famously fell out with Anne Sunnucks when he discovered she had omitted him from her 1970 Encyclopaedia of Chess. Despite this the 1976 edition was also devoid of a mention.

From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 1984 & 1996), Hooper & Whyld:

“The English player Gerald Abrahams (1907-80) introduced the move when playing against Dr. Holmes in the Lancastrian County Championship in 1925 (ed: January 31st in fact) . Abrahams played the variation against his countryman William Winter (1898-1955) in 1929 and in the same year Winter played it against Noteboom, after whom it is sometimes named. (Dr, Holmes was the favourite pupil of Amos Burn and a leading ophthalmologist).

Gerald Abrahams
Gerald Abrahams

The precursor, known from a 16th-century manuscript, was published by Salvio in 1604:

1.d4 d5;2.c4 dxc4;3.e4 b5;4.a4 c6;5.axb5 cxb5;6.b3 b4;7.bxc4 a5; 8.Bf4 Nd7;9.Nf3

Writing in 1617, Carrera made his only criticism of Salvio’s analysis in this variation. He suggested 8…Bd7 instead of 8…Nd7, or 9.Qa4 instead of 9.Nf3. Salvio nursed his injured pride for seventeen years and then devoted a chapter of his book to a bitter attack on Carrera. The argument was pointless: all these variations give White a won game.”

GA famously wrote :

Chess is a good mistress, but a bad master

and also

The tactician knows what to do when there is something to do; whereas the strategian knows what to do when there is nothing to do.

and

In chess there is a world of intellectual values

and

Good positions don’t win games, good moves do

and

Why some persons are good at chess, and others bad at it, is more mysterious than anything on chess board.

In the recently (February 25th, 2020) published “Attacking with g2 – g4” by GM Dmitry Kryakvin writes about Abrahams as follows :

“It is believed that the extravagant 5.g2-g4 was first applied at a high level, namely in the British Championship by Gerald Abrahams. Abrahams was a truly versatile person – a composer, lawyer, historian, philosopher, politician (for 40 years a member of the Liberal Party) and the author of several books. Of his legal work, the most famous is the investigation into the murder of Julia Wallace in 1931 in Liverpool, where her husband was the main suspect. As an alibi, William Herbert Wallace claimed he was at a chess club. Dozens of books and films have been devote to the murder of Mrs. Wallace – indeed, this is a script worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie!

Gerald Abrahams by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd), whole-plate film negative, 21 August 1933
by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd), whole-plate film negative, 21 August 1933

Abrahams played various card games with great pleasure and success, but the main passion of the Liverpool resident was chess. Abrahams achieved his greatest success in the championships of Great Britain in 1933 and 1946, when he won bronze medals. The peak of his career was undoubtedly his participation in the USSR-Great Britain radio match (1946) where on the 10th board Abrahams beat Botvinnik’s second and assistant grandmaster Viacheslav Ragozin with a score of 1.5-0.5

Gerald Abrahams had a taste of studying opening theory, and made a distinct contribution to the development of the Noteboom Variation, which is often known as the Abrahams-Noteboom.

Ten years after he introduced the move 5.g2-g4 to the English public (1953), the famous grandmaster Lajos Portisch brought it into the international arena.”

Gerald Abrahams
Gerald Abrahams

Gerald was also a keen studies composer. Here are some examples of his work:

Gerald Abrahams, 1923

1/2-1/2

Solution: 1. Ra3! Ra3 […a1=q;2.Ra1 Ba1;3.d7 Kf7;4.d8=q];2.e8=q a1=q;3.Qd7

and

Gerald Abrahams, 1924

1-0

Here is an interesting article by Tim Harding on the naming of the Abrahams-Noteboom Variation of the Semi-Slav Defence

Here is an article about GA and a blindfold exhibition

Gerald Abrahams contributed to opening theory in the Queen’s Gambit Declined / Semi-Slav Defence with his creation of the Abrahams-Noteboom Defence as discussed in the following video :

Here is a nine page article (Gerald Abrahams – Talent without Discipline) written by Steve Cunliffe that appeared in British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 292-300:

British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 292
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 292
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 293
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 293
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 294
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 294
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 295
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 295
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 296
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 296
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 297
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 297
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 298
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 298
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 299
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 299
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 300
British Chess Magazine, Volume CVIII (1988), Number 7 (July), pp. 300

In the March issue of CHESS for 1963, (Volume 28, Number 427, pp.147-155)  William Winter wrote this:

Colourful Gerald Abrahams

I cannot leave this group of players without reference to G. Abrahams, who, though less successful than the others, is much the most colourful of all both in play and personality. He is a player whom I would
always like to have on my side against the very best opposition, e.g. the Russians’ His unbounded optimism preclude any possibility of that consciousness of inferiority which infects nearly all our players when they come up against the very great and at his best he is capable of beating anyone.

It is true that his worst games are very bad indeed, but that does not matter. A loss is equally a loss after seventeen moves or seventy. I had a good deal to do with his selection for the Anglo-Soviet Radio match of 1946, and he thoroughly justified my confidence with a win and a draw against Ragosin, being the only English player to score
a majority. In the match over the board he failed, and was promptly dropped, a great mistake in my opinion. Abrahams is always capable of beating a grand master, the majority of English players are not.

A man of versatile talent, he is a successful barrister shining particularly on advocacy, an author of novels and essays as well as chess books, and he gave a striking example of his optimism standing as Liberal candidate for Parliament. I wish he had been elected. He would certainly have enlivened the house.

Of his chess books I must say a good word for Teach Yourself Chess. The title of course suggests an impossibility one cannot teach oneself chess, but none the less it is an excellent work of instruction which players of all grades including its author, might study with advantage.

Here is his Wikipedia entry

See his games at Chessgames.com

How to Teach Yourself Chess, Gerald Abrahams, D Van Nostrand Company, Inc, New York, 1950
How to Teach Yourself Chess, Gerald Abrahams, D Van Nostrand Company, Inc, New York, 1950
Technique in Chess, Gerald Abrahams, George Bell & Sons Ltd., 1961,
Technique in Chess, Gerald Abrahams, George Bell & Sons Ltd., 1961,
Test Your Chess, Gerald Abrahams, Constable and co, 1963, ISBN 0 330 24336 5
Test Your Chess, Gerald Abrahams, Constable and co, 1963, ISBN 0 330 24336 5
The Pan Book of Chess, Gerald Abrahams, Pan, 1965, 10: ISBN 0330230735
The Pan Book of Chess, Gerald Abrahams, Pan, 1965, 10: ISBN 0330230735
Teach Yourself Chess, Gerald Abrahams, The English Universities Press Ltd, 1965,
Teach Yourself Chess, Gerald Abrahams, The English Universities Press Ltd, 1965,
Technique in Chess, Gerald Abrahams, Dover, 1973, ISBN ISBN 13: 9780486229539
Technique in Chess, Gerald Abrahams, Dover, 1973, ISBN ISBN 13: 9780486229539
Brilliance in Chess, Gerald Abrahams, Pitman Publishing, 1977, ISBN 10: 0273000349
Brilliance in Chess, Gerald Abrahams, Pitman Publishing, 1977, ISBN 10: 0273000349
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