Category Archives: Biographies

Minor Pieces 20: George Courtenay Vialls and Thomas George Gardiner

You’ve seen this before:

You’ll notice Twickenham fielded two military men in this match.

We need to find out more about them.

The rank of Lieutenant-General is the third highest in the British Army behind only General and Field Marshal: an officer in charge of a complete battlefield corps.

George Courtenay (Courtney in some records) Vialls is our man. He must have been pretty good at manoeuvring the toy soldiers of the chessboard as well as real soldiers in real life battles.

In this match he was on top board, ahead of the more than useful Wallace Britten, but this might, I suppose, have been due to seniority of rank rather than chess ability.

Morning Post 7 March 1887

There are a couple of other interesting names in the Twickenham team here, to whom we’ll return in subsequent articles.

However, he was good enough to score a vital win for St George’s Club against Oxford University two years earlier.

Morning Post 26 March 1885

You’ll note the two other high ranking army officers in the St George’s team, as well as two significant chess names on Oxford’s top boards (who may well be the subject of future Minor Pieces).

Vialls must have been a prominent member of St George’s Club as he was on the organising committee for the great London Tournament of 1883.

An obituary, from 1893, provides some useful information.

Surrey Comet 18 November 1893

 

We learn that he was an intimate friend (no, not in that sense, but read on for some more intimate friends) of George Edward Norwood Ryan, and that he was a former President of Twickenham Chess Club.

Source: Twickenham Museum website

Going back to the beginning, George Courtenay Vialls was the son of the Reverend Thomas Vialls, a wealthy and rather controversial clergyman. In 1822, prosecuted his gardener for stealing two slices of beef, which in fact his aunt had given him for lunch. He was himself up before the law two years later, accused of whipping his sister-in-law. Thomas had inherited Radnor House, by the river in Twickenham, from an uncle in 1812, and it was there, in 1824 that George was born.

He joined the army in 1843, serving in the 95th Regiment of Foot, and the 1851 census found him living in Portsmouth with his wife and infant daughter, awaiting his next assignment. That came in 1854 when his regiment embarked for Turkey and the Crimean War. At the Battle of Inkerman in November he was severely wounded and his commanding officer, Major John Champion, was killed in action. The regiment suffered further losses due to cold and disease. It was remarked that “there may be few of the 95th left but those few are as hard as nails”.

In 1856 they returned home, but were soon off again, at first to South Africa, but they were quickly rerouted to India to help suppress what was then called the Indian Mutiny, but we now prefer to call the Indian Rebellion.

Looking back from a 21st century perspective (as it happens I’ve just been reading this book), you’ll probably come to the conclusion that this was far from our country’s finest hour, but at the same time you might want to admire the courage of those on both sides of the conflict, and note that Vialls was five times mentioned in despatches.

In 1877 he seems to have been living briefly in Manchester, where he started his involvement in chess, taking part in club matches and losing a game to Blackburne in a blindfold simul.

The obituary above tells us that he moved to Teddington in 1877 (he was in Manchester in December that year so perhaps it was 1878), but the 1881 census found him and his wife staying with his wife’s sister’s family on a farm in Edenbridge, Kent. Perhaps they were just on holiday.

Source: Twickenham Museum website.

By 1891 they were in Teddington House, right in the town centre. It was roughly behind the bus stop where the office block is here, and if you spin round you’ll see the scaffolding surrounding Christchurch, in whose church hall Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club met for some time until a few years ago.

Before we move on, a coincidence for you. At about the same time the chess players of Northampton included a Thomas H Vials or Vialls, who was also the Secretary of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, as well as a Walter E Britten, neither of whom appear to have been related to their Twickenham namesakes.

Our other military chesser from Twickenham, Colonel Thomas George Gardiner, was slightly less distinguished as both an army officer and a chess player, playing on a lower board in a few club matches in the early 1880s. As you’ll see, he came from an interesting family with some unexpected connection.

Source: Google Maps

If you know Twickenham at all you’ll recognise this scene. The River Thames is behind you. Just out of shot on the left is Sion Row, where Sydney Meymott lived for a short time. On the right, just past Ferry Road, you can see the White Swan.

On the left of the photograph is Aubrey House, and the smaller house to its right with the pineapples on the gateposts is The Anchorage, also known in the past as Sion Terrace. As it happens I used to visit this house once a week in the mid 2000s to teach one of my private chess pupils.

The houses are discussed in this book, which I also referred you to in the Meymott post. At some point both Aubrey House and The Anchorage came into the possession of the Gardiner family: Thomas George Gardiner senior and his family were there in 1861 after he’d retired from work with the East India Company. The younger Thomas George had been born in Ham, just the other side of the river, in 1830 and chose an Army career, joining the Buffs (East Kent Regiment). He married in Richmond in 1857 and in 1861 was living in Twickenham with his wife and her mother’s family, described as a Major in the Army on half pay.

Source: Twickenham Museum website

He apparently bought Savile House, out towards Twickenham Green, in 1870, but the family weren’t there in 1871. Perhaps he was serving abroad: his wife, ‘the wife of a colonel’, was still with her family, in Cross Deep Lodge,  just a short walk from Twickenham Riverside. By 1881 he had retired, and the family were indeed living in Savile House. The building is long demolished: Savile Road marks the spot.

He sold the house in 1889, and the 1891 census unexpectedly found him in Streatham. Perhaps he joined one of the local chess clubs in the area. His wife died in 1896, and by 1901 he’d moved back to his father’s old residence, Aubrey House, along with a widowed daughter. He died in 1910: here’s his obituary from the Army & Navy Gazette.

Army and Navy Gazette 31 December 1910

The 1911 census records his daughter still in Aubrey House, along with three servants.

It’s worth taking a look at his mother, Mary Frances Grant (1803-1844), who was one of the Grants of Rothiemurchus, whose family, entirely coincidentally, are now the Earls of Dysart, the Tollemache family having died out. The Tollemache family owned Ham House until its acquisition by the National Trust in 1948, and a very short walk from Aubrey House will take you to Orleans Gardens, from where you can see Ham House across the river.

 

IMG_7718.JPG
Photograph copyright Richard James

One of Mary’s brothers, William, married Sarah Elizabeth Siddons, whose grandmother was the celebrated actress Sarah Siddons. Another brother, John Peter Grant, married Henrietta Isabella Philippa Chichele Plowden. One of their daughters, Jane, married Richard Strachey: their famous offspring included the biographer and Bloomsbury Group member Lytton Strachey.  One of their sons, the oddly named Bartle Grant, married Ethel Isabel McNeil. Their son was the artist and Bloomsbury Group member Duncan Grant. Duncan and his cousin Lytton had intimate friendships with very many people, including each other, and also including the economist John Maynard Keynes.   His father, John Neville Keynes played chess for Cambridge against Oxford between 1873 and 1878, the last four times on top board. Strachey and Keynes also had relationships with WW1 and WW2 codebreaker Dilly Knox, who, until his death in 1943, worked closely with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park. His other colleagues there included leading chess players such as Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry.

So there you have it. George Courtenay Vialls and Thomas George Gardiner: two Twickenham men with distinguished military careers, both from very privileged and well-connected backgrounds. The Twickenham aristocracy, you might think, with their large riverside houses. Two men who, after decades commanding troops in real wars, spent their retirement commanding wooden soldiers on a chequered board.

We’re beginning to see a pattern within the membership of Twickenham Chess Club in the 1880s.

Who will we discover next? Join me soon for more Minor Pieces.

Sources:

ancestry.co.uk

findmypast.co.uk

Wikipedia

Google Maps

Twickenham Museum website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Penrose won the Nobel prize for physics in 2020.

Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate
Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate

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

Prof. Shirley Hodgson
Prof. Shirley Hodgson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

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

Here is his Wikipedia entry

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

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

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

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

The second edition (1996) adds this :

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

Here is a discussion about Jonathan on the English Chess Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Penrose was Southern Counties Champion for 1949-50.

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

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

Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
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Minor Pieces 19: Sydney Meymott

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bell’s Life 3 September 1848

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

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

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

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

Problem 1:

#4 Illustrated London News 12 Feb 1848

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

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

Problem 2:

#4 Illustrated London News 26 Nov 1859

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo copyright Richard James 2021

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

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

Surrey Comet 11 October 1884

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

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

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

Morning Post 27 October 1884

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

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

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

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

Source: Surrey Comet 15 January 1887

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

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

Source: Morning Post 17 Dec 1888

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

Source: Western Morning Post 26 Feb 1891

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

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

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

Source: London Evening Standard 25 Nov 1895

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

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

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

Windsor and Eton Express 20 February 1897

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

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

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

Middlesex & Surrey Express 09 April 1902

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Middlesex County Times 23 Jan 1926

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

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

Source: Middlesex County Times 16 Oct 1926

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Acton Gazette 14 Jan 1927

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solutions:

1.

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

2.

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

 

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Minor Pieces 18: Arthur Sabin and Randulph Lewis Coward

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

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

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

Middlesex Independent 21 February 1883

 

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

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

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

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

Middlesex Independent 05 March 1884

 

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

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

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

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

It’s well worth looking at all his children.

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s visit Teddington and find out.

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

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

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

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

Posted on Facebook by David Allaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middlesex & Surrey Express 16 February 1901

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

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

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

Source: Google Maps

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements and sources:

Wikipedia

ancestry.co.uk

findmypast.co.uk

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

Various online postings by local historians.

Twickenham Museum article here.

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Genna Remembers

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

From the author’s lengthy introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s one example of his play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham 12th November 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192
Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192
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Minor Pieces 17: Wallace and Bashley Britten

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

The following week, they published a report:

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

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

A later report followed.

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

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

It’s time to have a look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: findagrave.com

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Google Maps

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: findagrave.com

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

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Minor Pieces 16: Nicholas Demetrio

Last time I wrote about Oliver Harcourt Labone. Further research has revealed more information about his mother and both his (probable) biological and step-fathers, along with further coincidences. No chess, this time, I’m afraid, but some great stories.

Let’s start with Richard Austwick Westbrook. He was a solicitor, born in 1815: his father, also Richard, would, on at least two occasions, hit financial problems. He married in 1841 and had four children, but his wife died in 1852.

At that point he employed Anne Topley, the daughter of a canal agent from Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire, as a governess for his children, bought another house and instructed her to bring up the children there while also running it as a boarding house. At some point, Richard and Anne started an affair. On 20 May 1854, an Arthur Westbrook, son of Richard Austwick and ‘Annette’ was baptised at St Mary’s Paddington, but there’s no matching birth record and no further evidence of him. On 18 May 1855 they married clandestinely at St Paul’s Hammersmith, and two sons were born: Rowland Martin in 1857 and Oliver Harcourt in 1858.

At some point things started to go wrong. Richard moved into lodgings with Janette Cathrey while Anne took an interest in one of the lodgers in her boarding house: a Greek merchant named Nicholas Demetrio who had moved there in 1857. It’s possible, I suppose, that Nicholas rather than Richard was Oliver’s biological father.

The Demetrio family, it seems, had been running dodgy businesses for years. The company was started by Nicholas’s father and seemed to involve his brother Antonio, perhaps another brother, Gregory, and possibly another brother as well. They apparently had branches in Trieste and Cairo as well as London and Liverpool. Looking at passenger lists of ships coming into England, there are various Demetrios there, including a Demetrio Antonio Demetrio, who might have been either Antonio or their father, claiming various nationalities including Italian and Austrian. It’s quite possible, as we’ll see, that they were using various pseudonyms as well, perhaps including Labone.

In August 1859, however, Demetrius Antonio di Demetrio was declared bankrupt, ‘having carried on business as a merchant, in the Greek trade, under the title of Messrs. A. di Demetrio and Sons. It’s not at all clear to me exactly how many Demetrios there were.

Meanwhile, Nicholas encouraged Richard to move up to Liverpool to start a company there which would bear his name, but would actually be run by the Demetrios. While he was away, ‘intimacy took place’ between Nicholas and Anne, and in 1860 a son, Clement Leslie, was born, with the birth record giving false surnames for both parents.

And then, at the end of March 1860 there was an extraordinary court case held just down the road from me in Kingston. If you have access to online newspaper sites I’d encourage you to look up Whitmore and others, Assignees, v. Lloyd. The reports make hilarious reading. Basically, the Demetrios’ creditors were trying, unsuccessfully as it would turn out, to get their money back. It was claimed that Antonio and his brother Nicholas were setting up bogus companies in various names such as Lebous (not all that far from Labone), Dalgo (not all that far from Clement’s birth surname Dalba) and Lambe. Likewise, the company Richard Westbrook was setting up in Liverpool was equally fraudulent. Anne Westbrook was involved in all this, as was a friend of hers named Mary Anne Bridget Martin, both of whom gave evidence in the case. I can find nobody of that name in that area in the 1861 census or anywhere else, so she might also have been a fraud. We’ll meet her again later.

Neither Antonio nor Nicholas was present at the hearing: both had apparently disappeared without trace. Of course we now know that Nicholas was, by 1861, living in Glasgow under the name Labone.

Moving swiftly forward, we reach June 1861, when the divorce courts heard the case Westbrook v Westbrook and Demetrio. Richard was suing Anne for divorce because of her adultery with Nicholas. He, it was believed, had left the country (yes, he was in Scotland) and did not appear. As always in those days the court decided it was the woman’s fault and granted Richard a decree nisi. Nicholas’s name appears in court reports as ‘Nicolas Antonio di Demetrio’ which prompts the question of whether Nicholas and Antonio were the same person.

About this time Anne must have moved up to Glasgow with Rowland, Oliver and Clement to join Nicholas, where they lived as husband and wife. Anne was now calling herself Annie Mary Labone, and giving her maiden name as Copley rather than Topley. Nicholas set up business as a Professor of Languages, teaching French, German and Italian, and in 1862 their daughter, Flora, was born. Again, things didn’t work out: in November 1863 he was declared bankrupt, and worse was to come when their baby son Gregory, named after one of his possible brothers, was born prematurely and died after only 36 hours.

We find the family in the 1871 Scottish census, by which time Nicholas had joined Glasgow Chess Club and, apart from playing on a high board, was very much involved in the club’s administration. But at some point fairly soon afterwards they split up and, separately, moved down to the Liverpool and Manchester areas. At some point he might have resumed his chess career: a player named Demetrio represented Manchester against Liverpool in 1881 and 1883.

Annie now came up with a new idea to make money: for thirty years she would send begging letters to newspapers and magazines asking for charity for her elderly and infirm friend, Miss Mary Ann Bridget Martin – the friend from the 1861 court case – and selling various quack remedies. In 1879 she was running a seminary for young ladies in Birkenhead. A professor of languages at the school, one Charles M Grabmann, was accused of assaulting an elderly cook who had refused to make pea soup, but the case, predictably, was dismissed. I can’t find anything else about Grabmann, whoever he was. Perhaps yet another fraud. In 1882 she was declared bankrupt, described as a widow and former schoolmistress.

But she wasn’t a widow at all: Nicholas was still alive and well. He was living in Barrow-in-Furness, where, also in 1882, he married a teenage girl named Ellen or Helen Bowkett. (In those days Ellen and Helen were interchangeable, which reminds me of another Minor Piece I intend to write at some point.) He’d also changed his name again, to Demet, a shortened version of his real surname. Shortly after the marriage they moved to Manchester. According to the birth records they had four sons between 1885 and 1891, followed  by a daughter in 1897. The 1891 census lists an older son, Broderick, born in about 1883 but there’s no birth or any other record for him. He claims to be aged 53 (he was certainly several years older), a Professor of Languages and born in Versailles (who knows?). He was still there and still in the same occupation in 1901, but by 1911 he wasn’t at home. Helen was there, claiming to be married rather than widowed, and telling us they’d had six children, all of whom were still alive, but there’s no sign of Nicholas and no death record has yet been found. Anne, meanwhile, had died in Liverpool in 1899.

Returning to London and the year 1861, just a few weeks after the divorce, Richard, during an argument at the kitchen table following a visit to the opera, threw a table knife at Janette Cathrey, ‘an extremely portly woman’ with ‘a protruding belly’, who may or may not have been his mistress, hitting her in the abdomen and causing a fatal injury. A first trial found him guilty of manslaughter, but a second trial cleared him. Just a year later he married again, to Emma Louise Shipman, who was more than twenty years his junior. Richard and Emma had two sons, Henry and Alexander.

In 1881, Henry was a law student: it must have been intended that he would follow in his father’s footsteps, but he would eventually choose several very different careers. By 1891 he’d moved to, guess where?, Leicester, where he and Alexander were running a pub. Alexander had married and had three young children. In 1901 Henry was still in Leicester, but now working as a printer’s clerk. He’d married a widow with two young children, but Alexander and his family are nowhere to be found. Perhaps they were abroad.

By 1911 Alexander and his family were in Brixton. He was now working as a Variety Agent, with his son helping him and his two daughters employed as dancers. They were doing well enough to afford two domestic servants. Henry was still in Leicester, and in the same business as his brother. He was described as a Music Hall Manager, and was living with his wife, his step-daughter and his widowed mother.

If you check his address, he was just half a mile, or thereabouts, away from Oliver Harcourt Labone, his presumed (assuming Richard was indeed his father) half-brother. Quite a coincidence. I presume neither of them had any idea. If either of them had walked a mile or so to the south, they could have visited the Victorian terraces of Sheridan Street, the home of Tom Harry James. He was a house painter living with the five youngest surviving children of his first wife (there were 12 in total). He’d just remarried and would go on to have another six children, the youngest of whom, Howard, was my father.

And there’s more. Henry Westbrook’s first wife died in 1913, and in 1920 he married another widow, Matilda Manger, who had been born Matilda Cort in Market Harborough. Now Cort has always been a common surname in the Leicester and Market Harborough areas, and there are many in my family tree. One particularly interesting branch, related to me by marriage, for example, goes back to Benjamin Cort who was born in nearby Great Bowden in 1644. Now Matilda was the daughter of Charles Cort, who was in turn the son of Robert. At the moment I can’t take this back any further as there were several Robert Corts born in Market Harborough at about the same time. But it’s reasonable to assume that Matilda was from the same family as the Corts who married into my family at various points. So perhaps I can claim a connection, via a couple of marriages or so, to Henry Westbrook, and therefore also to Oliver Harcourt Labone.

It’s quite a story, isn’t it? All three of them, Richard, Anne and Nicholas, seemed to be crooks, fraudsters, con artists, liars and more, and all regularly in financial trouble. You really couldn’t make it up. It’s hardly surprising that Oliver had so many problems in his life.

Nicholas, for all his faults, was clearly a highly intelligent and well educated man, fluent in several languages and also a reasonably proficient chess player. Perhaps it required the skills of a chess player to set up the elaborate fraud upon which his first business was based. Anne seemed to have a knack of falling for unsuitable men. Richard was, among other things, a violent, if unintentional, killer.

You’ll meet my grandfather’s family again another time, but for now it really is time to return to Twickenham, and perhaps some more chess.

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Minor Pieces 15: Oliver Harcourt Labone

There are a few chess players who, while not being outstanding exponents themselves, achieved immortality through a flash of inspiration. Saavedra is one example, and another is the subject of this article: Oliver Harcourt Labone.

Liverpool Weekly Courier 11 December 1886

You might have seen something like this before, either this position or a similar position published by Lasker ten years later. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you the answer. (Spoiler: it involves an underpromotion.)

Problemist Steven Dowd posted this on the BCN Facebook page, asking for more information about Labone.

There’s a lot to tell about a man who lived an eventful life, so do come along for the ride. It’s a rather extraordinary story.

Let’s take you back to the Central Criminal Court on 20 August 1861. A solicitor named Richard Austwick Westbrook was accused of manslaughter. He was a divorcee boarding with a lady named Jane Janette Cathrey, whose husband was had emigrated to Australia: both Richard and Jane, who were probably having an affair, had a reputation for being hot-headed and violent. During an argument Richard threw a knife across the table, hitting Jane in the abdomen and causing her death. A hearing in a magistrates’ court earlier in the month had found him guilty of manslaughter, but now the prosecution offered no evidence, believing it was an accident, and Richard walked free. Sounds like a combination of toxic masculinity and male privilege to me. Perhaps it affected his business, though, as he was declared bankrupt two years later.

Richard Austwick Westbrook had been born in Reading in 1815. In 1841 he married Hannah Grant Stiles. They had four children, but she died in 1852, and in 1855 he married Anne Topley at St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith. In 1857, a son, Rowland Martin Westbrook, was born, followed in 1858 by Oliver Harcourt Westbrook. It seems they split up shortly after Ollie’s birth and he went to live with Jane Cathrey. His petition for divorce was granted in 1860,  naming a man called Demetrio as co-respondent. In 1862 he married a third time and had two more children.

Meanwhile, there was a Clement Leslie Dalba born in Brentford in 1860 (mother’s maiden name Mesina). There’s no other record of him, or of anyone else in the area with any of those names, so my best guess is he was the Clement Claude Leslie Labone we’ll meet later. The name Demetrio, along with Dalba and Mesina, suggests an Italian connection, so I suspect he was the son of Nicholas Demetrio and Anne Topley, and his birth had been registered using false names.

At some point in late 1860 or early 1861, Nick, Anne and the three boys moved to Glasgow, happy to escape Richard’s hot temper, and, to avoid detection, changed their name to Labone. Rowland’s middle name was also changed, from Martin to MacDonald: you can’t get much more Scottish than that. She also seems to have changed her maiden name from Topley to Copley, and sometimes added Mary in front of Anne.

In the 1861 Scottish census he’s Nicholas Labone, aged 28, living in a boarding house in Glasgow, but described as a Landed Proprietor. In 1862, a daughter, Flora Adelina, was born to Nick and Anne. Nick set up in  business as a Professor of Languages, teaching French, German and Italian, but, just like Richard, ran into financial problems and, in 1863, was declared bankrupt. In 1865, a son, Gregory, was born, but sadly died the same year.  In 1866 Nick’s publishers were trying desperately to unload 155 copies of his book A French Verbary.

In 1871 Ollie is away at school, but we find Nick, a Professor of Languages, living with his wife Annie M Labone, and two other sons, Rowland M (15) and Leslie C (12). Flora doesn’t seem to be around.  Flora would later marry and have a family. Rowland died in his 40s, never apparently marrying or having a job, which suggests some sort of health problem. All I can find out about him is that in 1876 he was looking for a job as a lay evangelist. We’ll return to Clem/Les later.

Nicholas Labone/Demetrio, when he wasn’t teaching languages and writing books, was, it turns out, a chess player. He was very much involved with the Glasgow Chess Club in the early 1870s, both as a player and an administrator. He must have taught the game to Ollie and Clem. Nick and Anne’s marriage doesn’t seem to last. They both move down to Lancashire. Nick, now known as Nicholas Demetrio again, remarried in Barrow-in-Furness in 1882. There’s also a Demetrio who played in chess matches between Manchester and Liverpool in the early 1880s, who, I assume, was Nick. According to a rate book from 1890, he was still in Manchester, living in poverty. In 1891, Annie, claiming to be a widow born in Derby, was living with Rowland in Liverpool.

For the moment, though, we need to follow Ollie. We next pick him up in 1879, now living in Liverpool, where a public notice informs us that he’s no longer working for John Gibbs & Son, Ironfounders and Export Agents. At some point after Nick’s death the family seems to have moved from Glasgow to Liverpool. By 1881, he’s in Manchester, where he married Emily Etchells, the daughter of a Methodist preacher, and at the time of the census the young couple have just set up home together in Salford. Ollie is now described as a Commercial Traveller.

In 1883 he first makes his mark in the chess world, submitting a problem to the Illustrated London News. In 1884 he’s playing for Manchester, and, the following year in Stourbridge, Worcestershire. Over the next few years he’s active in Birmingham and Liverpool, along with half-brother Clem. In 1886 the position that would send his name around the world was published: quite an achievement for the young man.

Here’s a game from 1886.

And Problem 1, a mate in 3 from The Field 1 Jan 1887:

(Solutions to problems are at the end of the article)

Two games from 1888:

I can find no adult male with a name anything like L E Whitby anywhere near Liverpool in 1888 or anywhere else any other time, yet he is often mentioned in chess columns. Can anyone help?

The 1891 census tells us that, now a commission agent, he’s moved to Wolverhampton, along with Emily and their children Walter, Leonard and Marie. Another son, Oliver Martyn, had died at the age of only 4 months the previous year.

Birmingham Daily Post 23 June 1893

But in 1893 the family’s world was turned upside down. Ollie was up before the law, accused of embezzlement from his business partner, one Enoch Howard, found guilty and sentenced to a month’s hard labour. Naughty Ollie!

Undaunted, though, the following year he took up a new hobby: giving simultaneous displays against weaker clubs. Over the next 20 years or so he travelled the country, possibly connected with his job as a travelling salesman in machine oils, giving simuls wherever he went and gaining a national reputation as an expert simul giver. In 1894 it was Northampton, in 1896 it was Norwich.

He spent much of 1896 playing a match for the Staffordshire Championship with the Reverend John H Robison of Walsall, which he won easily, winning 10 games and drawing 2. In 1898 he faced a more formidable opponent for the county title: Charles William Draycott. Ollie only managed one draw from the first three games, but eventually scored 10 wins and 3 draws to his opponent’s 7 wins.

Here’s the final game of the match:

Against Lasker (it’s not clear at the moment whether this was a casual game or a simul, and exactly where it took place), he played an unambitious opening and a passive middlegame.

In 1901, still a commission agent, but working on his own account, he was living at Ivy Side, Rookery Road, Handsworth, West Bromwich with Emily, Len and Marie, Walt having left home. He was playing a lot of chess, but not playing Happy Families. There were clearly domestic problems of some sort, and, just a few months later, Emily and Marie set sail for New Zealand, as far away as possible from poor Ollie. Marie, would die a few years later, but Walt and Len would later join her with their families. She later married again, perhaps to a younger man she met on board ship, but there’s no evidence that she and Ollie were divorced.

Meanwhile, Ollie had found himself another woman, in fact another Emily, Emily Yates. (Every one was an Emily, ‘e wouldn’t ‘ave a Lily or a Pam.) She had been born in 1877 in Heywood, Lancashire, so perhaps they’d met on one of his visits to Manchester or Liverpool. Perhaps Emily Mark 1 had had enough of his constant travelling, or of his chess addiction. Or perhaps it’s just one of the oldest stories around: a middle-aged man is attracted to a younger woman. A son, Cyril, was born in Norwich in 1903, and another son, Douglas, in Leicester in 1905.

Here’s Problem 2: Mate in 3 from the Illustrated London News 15 Dec 1906.

A game from this period:

Yes, we seem to have found ourselves back in Leicester again, and, of course, Ollie soon threw himself into the chess life of the city, playing in matches and giving simuls, but also visiting Liverpool in 1909 to take part in a blindfold simul against Blackburne. In 1911 they’re in New Bridge Street, not very far from what was then Filbert Street but is now the King Power Stadium. He’s a Commercial Traveller in Oils, while Emily Yates is a Housekeeper. (This was a common euphemism in census returns, but sometimes employers did have affairs with their housekeepers. Ten years later, for example, South Warwickshire farmer Thomas Woolley had an affair with his housekeeper while his wife was in the lunatic asylum. Pretty despicable, you might think, but if he hadn’t done so, you wouldn’t be reading this article today.)

Here’s the Blackburne game, which doesn’t make a very good impression. He misplayed the opening and never stood a chance. You get the impression he was a strong attacking player, but when facing top level opposition he curled up into a ball and defended weakly. As it happens, one of his relations was a much better defender.

A game from his time in Leicester:

It wasn’t long before he was on the move again. By 1913 he was in Blackpool, where his sons would be baptised the following year.

Problem 3, another mate in 3, was published in the Illustrated London News on 9 October 1915.

While his family settled down by the Lancashire coast, he was back on the road, spending some time in Devon and Cornwall, and, of course, giving simuls. He was back in Exeter in 1918, where he played Plymouth champion Thomas Taylor.

In February 1920 he was writing to the Illustrated London News from Belfast, and, a few moths later, he was in Barrow-in-Furness.

Problem 4, mate in 3 Illustrated London News 17 Sep 1921:

At that point it seems he settled down in Blackpool, now running an advertising agency of sorts. In 1925 he was still submitting problems and games for publication in the Illustrated London News.

Problem 5, mate in 3 Illustrated London News 9 May 1925

Perhaps he just had time to see this game in print before, beset by financial problems, he decided to take his own life.

Lancashire Evening Post 30 November 1925

His son Cyril would also have an unhappy life, and by 1939 was in a mental hospital, described as a pianist. He died in 1947 at the age of 43.

So that was the sad end of Oliver Harcourt Labone, chess addict, player, problemist and simul giver, indefatigable writer to chess columnists. He must have been a troubled man throughout his life. Did his passion for chess help him through his darkest days, or was it one of the causes of his problems, not leaving him enough time for his work and family? It seems like several members of his family were beset by mental health probems, so my guess would be the former.

Oliver Harcourt (Westbrook) Labone, this was your life.

But it’s not the end of our story. Let’s return to Ollie’s probable half-brother Clement Claude Leslie/Clement Leslie/Leslie Clement, who, as we’ve seen, was also a chess player, but at a lower level. He had a much less eventful life, in spite of job changes. He was a schoolmaster in 1891, a book-keeper in 1901 and a mercantile clerk (which might, I suppose, involve book-keeping) in 1911. He was active as a club player between 1885 and 1894, annotating a consultation game in 1891. After that, I suppose, family life and work took over. He remained in Liverpool all his life, living in West Derby in 1891 and 1901, and in Everton in 1911. If you were following football in the 1960s the names Labone and Everton will be inextricably linked. Any connection?

Clem married Fanny Price and had four children, the oldest of whom, born in 1887, was also named Clement Claude Leslie Labone, and, by 1939, had become a Dining Room Proprietor. He married Edith Birch and had three sons, the middle one of whom was named Arthur Leslie Labone. Arthur, in 1939 a Lead Merchant’s Travelling Agent (sounding not unlike great uncle Ollie) married an Irish girl named Bridget (Patricia) Rice. Their son was indeed Brian Leslie Labone (1940-2006), the Everton and England footballer, who, unlike his great great uncle, excelled at defending. He wasn’t the only footballer in the family: his uncle Harold played as a centre forward for Aston Villa.

There’s more yet. When I posted about the connection between Ollie and Brian on Twitter, my good friend John Foley replied that he was also related to Brian Labone (verified by DNA), whose mother’s maiden name was Foley. So Brian Labone, assuming Clem senior and Ollie were indeed blood relations, was related to chess players on both sides of his family.

It’s a small world, as you’ll find out when we return to Twickenham for future Minor Pieces.

 

Solutions to problems:

Problem 1:

1. Qh4 Kc5 (1… Ng3 2. d4 c5 3. Qd8#) (1… Kxe5 2. d4+ Kd6 3. Qd8#) ( 1… d4 2. Nxc6 d3 (2… e5 3. Qe7#) (2… Kc5 3. Qxd4#) 3. Qd4#) 2. Qb4+ Kxb4 3. d4#

Problem 2:

1. Nd6 Kxd6 (1… Bxc7 2. Qe3+ Kxd6 3. Qe5#) (1… Kd4 2. Qf2+ Kc3 3.
Qb2#) (1… Kb6 2. Qa5+ Kxa5 3. Nc4#) 2. Qa5 Bxc7 (2… c5 3. Qb6#) 3. Qe5#

Problem 3:

1. Nb5 (1. Rhe6 Bd7) 1… Kxe4 (1… Bxb5 2. Rhe6 Bc6 3. R4e5#) (1…
Rxb5 2. Rhe6 Rb1 3. R4e5#) (1… Bxc2 2. Rhe6 Bxe4 3. Nc7#) (1… Bb3 2. Rhe6 Bxc2 3. R4e5#) (1… axb5 2. Rhe6 b4 3. R4e5#) 2. Re6+ Kf3 3. Nd4# 1-0

Problem 4:

1. Rh6 Bc6 (1… b5 2. c8=Q b4 (2… Nc6 3. Qg8#) 3. Qc4#) (1… Nc6 2.
c8=Q Ne5 (2… Nd4 3. Qc4#) (2… b5 3. Qg8#) 3. Rd4#) (1… Rc5 2. Rd4+ Ke5 (2… Kc6 3. c8=R#) 3. Nf7#) (1… Rb5 2. Rd4+ Kc5 3. Ne4#) (1… Bb5 2. Rd4+ Kc5 3. Ne4#) 2. c8=N Bxb7 3. Ne7# 1-0

Problem 5:

1. Qh5 {Threats: 2. Ne5 and 3. Qf3#, 2. Ne3+ dxe3 3. Nb6#} Kxc4 (1…
Bxc4 2. Nf6+ gxf6 (2… Kc6 3. Qf3+) 3. Qf3#) (1… Ke4 2. Ne5 g2 (2… Kf4 3. Qg4#) 3. Qf3#) (1… g2 2. Ne3+ (2. Rc5+ Ke4 3. Nf2#) 2… dxe3 3. Nb6#) (1… e5 2. Qf7+ (2. Nxe5 g2 3. Qf3#) 2… Ke4 3. Nc5#) 2. Ne5+ Kb5 (2… Kb3 3. Qd1#) (2… Kd5 3. Qf3#) 3. Qe8# 1-0

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Minor Pieces 14: Dr Abraham Emanuel Learner

We’re going to leave Twickenham for a bit, but don’t worry. We’ll be back there soon.

I’ve received a couple of requests for information on other players, both of whom (and they had a few things in common) seemed suitable for a Minor Pieces post.

I received an email the other day from my friend Ken Norman, who had come across some games from a Dr A Learner, who was active in Sussex chess in the 1960s, in an old copy of CHESS and, perhaps intrigued by the name, wondered if I could provide any more information. He also contacted Brian Denman, who knows almost all there is to know about Sussex chess history. Brian provided Ken with a games file which he was happy for Ken to share with me.

He seems to have been an interesting man who led an interesting life.

He was Dr Abraham Emanuel Learner, although he didn’t very often use his middle name and seems to have been known to his family and friends as Bill. He was born in London on 13 December 1904 and died in Eastbourne, Sussex on 16 February 1983. Some records spell the family name ‘Lerner’.

We can pick the family up in the 1911 census. His father, Arnold, was described as an ‘incandescent and clothing dealer’, born in Russian Poland, as was his mother, Deby, a dressmaker. Arnold and Deby married in the East London Synagogue in Mile End, right at the heart of the Jewish community, on 15 October 1904, only two months before Abraham was born. Another son, Mark, arrived in 1906. Soon afterwards they left London for Gateshead, in the north east of England, where they welcomed two daughters, Goldie and Sophie. It seems that all four siblings married outside the Jewish faith, and all of them emigrated to Australia, although Abraham, or Bill as we should perhaps call him, later returned to his home country.

Bill studied chemistry at Birmingham University, eventually earning a doctorate. During his post-graduate or perhaps post-doctoral work between 1927 and 1928 he wrote three papers on the structure of fructose and inulin along with Norman Haworth, who would win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1937, and, in two cases also with Edmund Hirst. I tried reading the papers but failed to get beyond the first paragraphs. If you want more information I’d suggest you contact my BCN colleague Dr John Upham, who knows all about this sort of thing.

Western Daily Press 21 January 1929

We first pick him up as a chess player in 1929. Here he is, playing on bottom board in a match between Birmingham and Bristol & Clifton, who fielded the great problemist Comins Mansfield on top board.

His loss against another doctor doesn’t appear in Brian’s games collection.

At about the same time he took part in a blindfold simul against George Koltanowski, winning with an attractive rook sacrifice. Kolty resigned, ‘seeing’ that a zigzag manoeuvre by the black queen would lead to a swift checkmate.

In 1933 Bill Learner married Elsie Harris in Birmingham. They would have just one son, named Arnold after his grandfather, who would predecease him.

During the 1930s Dr Learner continued to play for Birmingham, and for Worcestershire in county matches. In 1934, playing for his county against Oxfordshire, he was paired against another future Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Professor Robert Robinson, but lost that game. (Other chess playing, Nobel Prize winning chemists include Frederick Soddy and John Cornforth – might be worth a Minor Pieces series at some point.)

In this spectacular win Dr Learner played a dangerous gambit, offered a passive bishop sacrifice and finally gave up his queen for an Arabian Mate. But Black had a chance to turn the tables. After 17. Rae1? (the immediate Rf3 was winning) Qxc2, the second player has a winning advantage. A game well worth your time analysing, I think.

We can see from these examples that Bill Learner was a sharp tactician.

Staffordshire Advertiser 23 November 1935

By 1935 he was on top  board for Worcestershire. A county match against Warwickshire saw him up against another interesting opponent, future MP Julius Silverman. The result of this game was a draw. You’ll see a number of interesting names in both teams.

In a match against Leicestershire, his Stonewall Dutch scored a rather fortunate victory against Alfred Lenton (from whom you’ll hear a lot in future Minor Pieces) when his opponent, who shared 3rd place in the 1935 British Championship and 2nd place the following year, blundered in a winning position.

In 1937 Learner found himself on the wrong side of the law, being fined 10s for a speeding offence. I guess that’s what happens if you’re A Learner, driver. His address was given as Elmdon Avenue, Marston Green, Birmingham, very near Birmingham Airport.

Bill Learner won the Birmingham Post Cup in 1938, but when given the chance to prove himself at a higher level, in an international tournament organised by Ritson Morry the following year, he finished in last place. A dangerous attacking player, then, but perhaps not quite able (or ready) to compete against masters. By now, as you’ve probably worked out, World War 2 was about to break out, and that put his chess activities on hold.

The 1939 Register saw him at the same address, although Elmdon Avenue has become Elmdon Lane. (It appears to be Elmdon Road now.) He is a Managing Director, possibly of a paint factory. (The second line is not fully legible but we know, from his mother’s probate record, that he was a paint manufacturer. I guess the chemistry background would have come in useful.) Elsie and Arnold aren’t there: they’re up in the village of Ponteland, north west of Newcastle, staying with his sister Goldie and her family. Presumably they considered it safer there than in Birmingham. Bill had shown his love of the area by naming his house Ponteland.

He turned out for a club match in 1940, but then nothing until 1945, when chess resumed after the war, and he resumed where he left off, playing for Birmingham and Worcestershire.

Staffordshire Advertiser 29 December 1945

Here he is providing brief annotations for a win against an opponent I assume to be the problemist Herbert W Grant.

Then, at some point he emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, where he took part in the 1948-49 championship. He finished 13th out of 14 on 4½ points (Cecil Purdy was the winner) but did manage to defeat Maurice Goldstein, who blundered into a mate when he could have traded off into a winning ending.

By 1952 he was Vice-President of Melbourne Chess Club and wrote a long (but not especially interesting) article about the delights of his favourite game.

The Age (Melbourne) 9 Feb 1952

What was he doing in Melbourne when he wasn’t playing chess? In the 1949 and 1954 electoral rolls he was a manufacturer, in 1958 and 1963 a director. Was he still manufacturing paint? Perhaps he was working with his brother: Mark owned a large textile importing warehouse right in the city centre.

He continued to be active in Melbourne chess until 1963, when he decided to return to England for his retirement, settling on the south coast and soon getting involved in Sussex chess. Playing at Bognor Regis in 1964 he came up against a man who would, the following year, become Yugoslav champion and an International Master. Here’s what happened.

A pretty effective demolition of a strong opponent, I’d say.

Dr Learner had a habit of winning extremely short games. Here are two examples.

 

He continued playing chess until at least 1970 before deciding to hang up his pawns. The last game we have available is a draw against Brian Denman from a match between Hastings and Brighton. His 1970 grade was 191, down from 195 in 1969 and 201 in 1968, with his clubs given as Hastings and Eastbourne.

Source: Google Maps

His address at his death (just three months after his wife) was given as High Bank, Borough Lane, Eastbourne, and his probate record tells us his estate was worth £102,858. He’d done pretty well for himself, in business as well as in chess.

Dr Abraham Learner was a strong county player, a dangerous tactician who, on a good day, could beat master standard opponents.

His career of more than four decades can, like Caesar’s Gaul, be divided into three parts: in Birmingham from the late 1920s to the late 1940s, in Melbourne until the early 1960s and finally in Sussex.

Players like him are the backbone of club and county chess.

My thanks to Ken for his interest in Dr Learner and to Brian for providing the game scores. If there are any other British chess players you’d like me to investigate do get in touch.

Other sources consulted:

www.ancestry.co.uk

www.findmypast.co.uk

www.newspapers.com

BritBase

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Miguel Najdorf – ‘El Viejo’ – Life, Games and Stories

Miguel Najdorf - 'El Viejo' - Life, Games and Stories, Zenon Ocampos, Thinker's Publishing, 2 September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201130
Miguel Najdorf – ‘El Viejo’ – Life, Games and Stories, Zenon Ocampos, Thinker’s Publishing, 2 September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201130

From the author’s introduction:

I was lucky enough to play against six world champions and several top players in my modest chess career, but the greatest player I feel privileged to have known, to have spent time with him, was Miguel Najdorf, “El Viejo”.

This is a chess book, with 275 commented games, it covers all his chess career, but it has also many stories. Najdorf was the most important Argentinean chess player, and he was an exceptional person. Oscar Panno said that Najdorf reminded him of Don Quixote, in the part of the book where he tells Sancho Panza, “Wherever I am, that is where the head of the table is going to be”. He successfully overcame the most terrible setbacks, as few are capable of doing. Writing about Miguel Najdorf is one of my greatest pleasures as a chess journalist and writer!

Zenon Franco Ocampos, April 2021.”

GM Zenon Franco
GM Zenon Franco

“Zenon Franco Ocampos was born in Asuncion, Paraguay, May 12, 1956. From there he moved to Buenos Aires until 1990. Since 1990 he has lived in Spain. Zenon authored 28 chess books which have been published in six languages. In addition to his books, he has served as a chess columnist for the Paraguayan newspapers ‘Hoy’ and ‘ABC Color’ for 17 years. He has written a chess column for magazines from Argentina, Italy, and Spain. Zenon is most respected Grandmaster and FIDE Senior Trainer. He has participated in 11 chess Olympiads and will now captain the Paraguay team during the Moscow Olympiad 2021. His greatest achievements winning gold medals at the Olympiads of Luzern, 1982 and Novi Sad, 1990. His most successful students were GM F. Vallejo Pons and IM David Martinez Martin, Spanish editor of Chess24.com.”

Miguel Najdorf
Miguel Najdorf

If you hear the name Najdorf, what immediately comes to mind? The Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defence, I’d guess.

Something like this, perhaps, although it transposes into a Scheveningen.

It wasn’t Najdorf who originated the idea, though. He’d been playing it since the mid 1930s, perhaps having been shown it by the Czech master Karel Opocensky

In this important game, from the last round of the 1948 Interzonal, he was playing black against Dr Petar Trifunovic, who was considered almost unbeatable with the white pieces, but who needed a win to have any chance of qualifying for the Candidates Tournament.

Here’s Najdorf on his choice of 5th move:

In those days the line had scarcely been investigated and I emphasise that Dr Trifunovic was famous for his theoretical knowledge.

And after the game:

I was pleased with this game against Trifunovic, because it was a battle of ideas and plans to bring about a balanced game.

His attempt to attack is not successful and with an extremely audacious manoeuvre he exposes his queen, granting me a very tiny chance. Maybe he didn’t foresee the consequences. What is certain is that, from that moment on, Black takes control and forces and forces, until resignation.

But there was a lot more to Najdorf than his variation. He was a colourful personality who had a long and eventful life, and a chess career lasting 70 years: from 1926 to 1996, playing everyone from Capablanca, Alekhine and Rubinstein through to Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov. Jeff Sonas (Chessmetrics) puts him in the world top 10 for the decade or so after World War 2, and at number 2, with a highest rating of 2797, for most of the period between 1946 and 1949.

If you’re from my generation you may know quite a lot already, but younger readers may not.

Here’s your opportunity to put that right: Zenon Franco Ocampos and Thinkers Publishing offer you 720 pages on the life and games of El Viejo (the old man, as he was often known, especially by himself), with 275 annotated games and extracts, along with much historical information and a wealth of hilarious anecdotes.

We start with an unfinished book written by Najdorf himself, with thirteen annotated games, before moving onto an account of his early life.

Najdorf was born in 1910 in Warsaw, named Moishe Mendel, although the Polish version, Mieczyslaw, was also used, but when he settled in Argentina, he became Miguel. He learnt the moves at the relatively late age of 14 from a friend’s father, but his parents were unhappy with his chess obsession.

He soon gained a reputation as a highly talented but erratic player, capable of producing brilliancies such as the much anthologised ‘Polish  Immortal’ against Gluksberg, where he sacrificed all his minor pieces, but Najdorf himself preferred this game (the date, venue and name of his opponent are all uncertain).

Najdorf was playing for Poland in the 1939 Buenos Aires Olympiad when World War 2 broke out, and, like a number of other European Masters, decided to stay there.

This was a decision that saved his life: his wife, daughter, parents and four brothers were all murdered in the Holocaust. You won’t read a lot about this here, though. As Franco points out, this is a games collection rather than a biography, and he directs you to Najdorf’s daughter Liliana’s book for further information.

Further chapters look at the war years, when he settled in Argentina, the decade or so after the war when he was a world championship candidate, the years up to 1982 when he was still competing regularly at the top level, and the last phase of his career, up to his death in 1997.

You might be disappointed if you’re expecting a lot of Sicilian Najdorfs. There aren’t very many – and he didn’t play it all that often. A large proportion of the games have Najdorf playing White, where he usually opened 1. d4, so you’ll get a lot of queen’s pawn games. Before the war he often adopted a Colle-Zukertort set-up, but later preferred more critical variations. He was particularly impressive playing positions with an isolated queen’s pawn: study of these games will be beneficial if you enjoy this pawn formation yourself.

This position is from Najdorf – Kotov (Mar del Plata 1957), where our hero chose 21. Bd1!

An unusual move, very imaginative, which brings White a quick victory. This is strong, but not the most forceful.

Many years later, Igor Zaitsev indicated that the strongest move was 21. Bc2!!, with a potential fork on f7 after Rxc2.

After 21. Bd1 Qa5, Najdorf won quickly, but after 21… Rc7, Franco points out the computer move 22. a5, freeing a4 for the bishop.

Here’s the complete game.

Najdorf was also renowned for his prowess on both sides of the King’s Indian Defence.

This game, the first brilliancy prize winner at the 1953 Candidates’ Tournament, is of considerable historical importance, played at a time when players like Bronstein and Najdorf were developing the King’s Indian Defence into a dangerous counter-attacking weapon.

Franco sensibly combines Bronstein’s and Najdorf’s annotations from their tournament books.

If you have a particular interest in the King’s Indian Defence, either as a player or from a historical perspective, you’ll enjoy a lot of the games here.

So what you get in this book is a lot of great chess, many of the games annotated by Franco, but others with annotations from a variety of sources, including, in many cases, Najdorf himself. He also adds modern engine improvements where appropriate. As you’d expect from such an experienced author, the notes are pitched at just the right level: approachable for anyone from 1500 to 2500 strength.

Then you have the anecdotes. Najdorf was an ebullient character, who barely seemed to stop talking, even during his games. Kotov famously asked the (rhetorical) question: should you imitate Botvinnik or Najdorf? He was one of the most popular figures in chess, extrovert, charming, passionate about both chess and people, but sometimes also annoying.

Back in 1937, during the Polish Championship, another player allegedly asked him what the time was. On the first two occasions, lost in thought, he made no reply. On the third occasion he consulted his watch and replied, after some consideration, “d2-d4”.

On a long chartered train journey in Argentina in 1957, Najdorf constantly walked up and down the carriage, talking to all the other players, who wanted to get some rest, and not taking any hints. At length Keres shouted to Kotov at the other end (in English so that everyone would understand) “Alexander, how long have you known Najdorf?” “I think I have known him since 1946.” Keres congratulated his colleague on his good fortune: “I have known him since the Warsaw Olympiad in 1935.”

Pal Benko told the story of how he adjourned a pawn up in a rook ending against Najdorf. He didn’t have time to analyse it, but Najdorf insisted it was a draw and not worth playing out. He wouldn’t stop talking so eventually agreed to shut him up. He then went back to his room and saw that the position was in fact easily winning for him. Outraged, he confronted his opponent:

“Why did you lie to me like that? What the hell’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you let me think?” He just smiled, put his arms round me and said, “Don’t worry about it. Come on, I’ll take you to a nice nightclub.” How could you stay mad at a guy like this?

All entirely believable for anyone who knew Najdorf, but Franco looked at the game, and found it really didn’t match the story. He’s very good at checking out anecdotes like this.

So what we have, then, is 720 pages about an important figure in the chess life of the mid 20th century: great games expertly annotated, a lot of chess history, and a lot to make you laugh as well. Good use is made of various sources, and these are always credited so we know where to go if we want more information about Najdorf. What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, there are problems regarding the production. The book almost seems to be in two halves. The first part of the book provides tournament tables (sometimes with unnecessary errors), but by the time he starts playing in top level tournaments these disappear without explanation. Yes, I know they’re readily available elsewhere but I find the inconsistency rather annoying. We get group photographs, which is great, but the players are often not identified. There’s a lack of proper indexing as well: there’s a list of games in the order in which they appear in the book, but no indexes of players or openings. A summary of Najdorf’s tournament and match results at the end of the book is also something I’d expect from a chess biography of this nature.

To take just one example of a careless factual error, we’re told that Franciszek Sulik was champion of Australia nine time (sic). If he had been, I’d have heard of him. In fact he was champion of South Australia nine times. The typo again is only too typical. There are far too many to be acceptable for a book of this nature. Like so many chess books published these days, it really needed someone else to check it through one more time.

Perhaps the book would have been better as two volumes, or maybe just as a games collection without the historical background. I can’t help feeling the publishers, skilled as they are in producing other types of chess book, were slightly out of their comfort zone here.

It’s an important book, an entertaining book, and in many ways an excellent book which will be enjoyed by readers of all levels, especially those with an interest in chess history. My reservations about the production values, though, preclude a wholehearted recommendation.

Richard James, Twickenham 19th October 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (2 September 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9464201134
  • ISBN-13:978-9464201130
  • Product Dimensions: 16.51 x 1.27 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Miguel Najdorf - 'El Viejo' - Life, Games and Stories, Zenon Ocampos, Thinker's Publishing, 2 September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201130
Miguel Najdorf – ‘El Viejo’ – Life, Games and Stories, Zenon Ocampos, Thinker’s Publishing, 2 September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201130
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