BCN sends Birthday greetings to David Howell on this day.
David Wei Lang Howell was born in Eastbourne, East Sussex on Wednesday 14th of November 1990. His parents are Martin and Angeline Howell (née Choo).
An unknown jumble sale (Eastbourne?) provided the Howell family with a chess set.
David learnt the moves from Martin, his father and rapidly improved and he joined Sussex Junior Chess Association and he began representing his county in EPSCA matches and other competitions.
In Torquay in 1998 whilst Nigel Short and Susan Lalic were busy winning the main championships David made his mark by winning the British Under-8 Championship, an event that had started only ten years beforehand.
A trip to Scarborough in 1999 yielded both the Under-9 and Under-10 championships.
Sponsorship from now dissolved software company JEB (Hove) enabled David to be coached by Glenn Flear.
David became a FIDE Master at the age of ten years, nine months and 26 days. He became an International Master aged 13 years, 2 months and 22 days.
Finally the Grandmaster title came at 16 years, 1 month and 22 days.
David’s rise has been well documented both here and here and therefore we will not attempt to improve on these sources.
With the white pieces David is a firm believer in 1.e4 but he has played (and continues to do so) 1.Nf3, 1.c4 and 1.d4 and he has scored 89% over nineteen games with. 1.g3
Like Sheila Jackson and Susan Lalic David was a big fan of the Sicilian Alapin but nowadays the Moscow and Rossolimo variations.
As the second player David prefers open games and has played the closed Ruy Lopez and the Marshall Attack. David also employs the Berlin Defence.
Defending against the Queen’s pawn David is less varied and plumps for the Grünfeld defence most of the time. On critical occasions David will use the Caro-Kann as a winning weapon.
So, a wide repertoire with both the white and black pieces and therefore not easy to prepare for : a very modern player!
David started his 4NCL career with Invicta Knights with a FIDE rating of 1432 in May 1999. By 2001 he was playing for Nigel Johnson and his Slough team. In 2004 the inevitable occurred and David transferred (as is common) to either cash rich Wood Green or Guildford. In fact it was Guildford on this occasion. In 2009 David moved to Pride & Prejudice. 2012 saw David playing for Wood Green Hillsmark. In 2015 he switched to Cheddleton and remained with them until 2019 finally returning to Guildford in 2020.
“If one had to forecast at the start of the 1970s the British chess would have a player in the next decade who would win the World Junior Championship, make plus score against Soviet players in his first years of play against them, and beat such household names as Geller, Bronstein, Larsen, Gligoric, Smyslov, Spassky and Karpov…one would have been called a romantic dreamer.
If one had gone further and said that the same grandmaster X would become only the second British player this century to beat a reigning world champion, and that as Black in an irregular opening (1 e4 a6 2 d4 b5) then incredulity would indeed have been a fitting reaction.
Yet all this has come to pass; all the above is fact not fiction, reality not a day dream. Who is grandmaster X? Where did he develop?
Anthony John Miles was born on the 23rd April, 1955, in Birmingham (his birthplace is incorrectly marked (Ed: as London) on the map in Elo’s book on ratings.) He learned the moves at the age of five, became seriously interested in the game at the age of nine or ten, and almost straight away won the Birmingham Primary Schools Championship.
In 1965 he joined the Birmingham Chess club and the following year became a pupil at King Edward School (KES) (the alma mater of other strong British players, such as Hugh Alexander and Malcolm Barker, runner-up to Ivkov in the inaugural World Junior Championship held at Birmingham in 1951.)
At the Birmingham Club he met strong opposition (another grandmaster-to-be, the postal player Keith Richardson was a member there for a time) since the club’s four teams were all in the higher divisions of the local league. Yet Tony’s school work meant that he could not be called a frequent attender at the club – he turned up for league matches and the club championship, but rarely for skittles except in the summer.
Soon he was playing in the Second Division, by 1968 he was in the First Division, and in the 1969-70 season he was on top board for one of the Club’s three teams in the top Division.
Tony made his debut in the BCF Congress at Oxford, 1967, where he was equal 11th in the under-14 Boys Championship won by another rising star, John Nunn. Strangely enough when Tony won this title the following year at Bristol Nunn was 3rd equal!
The Edgbaston player was also a regular competitor in the annual Easter Congress held in the same suburb of Birmingham where he lived.
The breakthrough to national status came when he was a sixth-former at KES. At the BCF Congress, Blackpool,
1971, he won the under-2l Championship (with Nunn and Jon Speelman equal 2nd and the same year made his international debut in a junior tournament at Nice which he won ahead of various prominent players including the Swiss Hug who was to win the World Junior championship some 4 months later!
In the 1971-72 Birmingham and District League season he set up a scoring record, mainly on top board, that may never be equalled (9.5 out of 10).
During these school years Tony was a rather taciturn teenager (perhaps to be expected in an only child) but he never fitted in with the conventional image of chessplayer as weedy bookworm.
He always had a fine physique, played rugger at school and later became keen on squash and skiing as a means of keeping fit, though he is the first to admit that he can be rather lethargic (especially in the mornings!)
At the time I knew one of his teachers professionally, and heard the occasional report that he was not always up to the best academic standards of KES. My reaction must have seemed heresy at the time, but subsequent events in the post-Fischer era have confirmed that the ability to play chess to international standard may lead to a more worthwhile career than being a run-of-the-mill university graduate.
A sign of Tony’s growing understanding of the finer points of the game came when he strolled into the Birmingham Club the day after the first game of the Spassky-Fischer match and pointed out (correctly as was shown later) the reason why Fischer had made his famous Bxh2 sacrifice/oversight.
International recognition came in 1973 when he finished 2nd to Romanishin in the European Junior Championship at Groningen, and Second to Belyavsky in the World Junior at Teeside, as well as sharing 4-6th place in the British Championship at Eastbourne at only the second attempt. His first game to be published round the world was his victory over Bisguier in the Birmingham Easter tournament which he won ahead of Adorjan and Bisguier in the same year.
The main event of 1974, a break-through for British chess, was the World Junior Championship played in August in sub-tropical Manila. Here he played one of his finest games, against Kochiev, to take the title with a round to spare, thereby becoming lnternational Master. Tony’s physical strength showed up to good effect here, not just lasting out the 4 weeks in the baking humidity but coping with the huge load of luggage (on the outward journey huge cases full of Chess Player, Informator and the like; on the return journey this load reinforced with prizes and souvenirs!).
Gaining the title brought regular invitations to tournaments which could not be fitted in well with the demands of his maths course at Sheffield University. In the summer of 1975 he gave up the course after two years, while the University authorities showed their recognition of his distinction at chess by the award of an honorary MA degree.
Once free to concentrate wholeheartedly on his true calling he took the grandmaster title in a rush. The first norm came with first prize, August, 1975, at the London Chess Fortnight ahead of Adorjan, Sax and Timman.
Hastings 1975-76 was not too good a result, but only a few weeks later he was on his way to a great triumph despite
forced late acceptance of the invitation to the USSR due to lack of finance. He got his visa just in time and went to snowy Dubna, a scientific centre near Moscow, to achieve that most difficult feat – a GM norm in a Soviet tournament ahead of eight GM’s and others
just as strong.
Thus Tony Miles became the first official British grandmaster (the title dates officially only from 1949, so excluding the likes of Staunton, Blackburne and Burn) and took the £5000 Slater prize for the first British GM to add to the £1000 prize for victory in the 1975 Cutty Sark series of weekend and other tournaments. The availability of sponsorship, it goes without saying, has done much to encourage Tony on his chosen path as a chess professional, a far from easy vocation that demands will-power and strong nerves to be successful.
1977 confirmed that here was a genuine grandmaster with first prizes at the Amsterdam IBM and Biel tournaments, and second prize behind Karpov
at the first of the new series of Super grandmaster tournaments (Tilburg, Holland.)
After his Promotion to the ranks of grandmaster Tony, with his usual directness, said that the only thing left to achieve was to have a crack at Karpov. (His fans might react by saying that there were other mountains to climb such as first place at Hastings and in the British Championship, but then Karpov has not achieved the first either, and only became Soviet Champion after he had taken the world title!)
The first chance for this ‘crack’ came with their meeting in the super tournaments at Tilburg and Bugojno, as well as in the 1977 BBC2 TV Master Game’ The
results went much in favour of the (slightly) older man. Tony had to wait till January, 1980 before he could celebrate a victory over Fischer’s successor.
By this time Tony had failed in his first bid to get to a title match with the Russian when he fell away after a good start in the 1979 Riga Interzonal (the
second stage of the three-part qualifying cycle). It is a pity that our leading professional in Britain still has to accept so many invitations merely to make a
decent living. As Botvinnik has commented, some properly directed study and training at home may be preferable to too frequent public appearances at the board.
What sort of person and player is Tony Miles? He has become a more outgoing person in recent years, and has even overcome his legitimate aversion to
media representatives who attempt to interview him without any background in the game.
His style has also gone through various changes. At first he was purely a 1 e4 player with a penchant for tricky Nc6 variations of the Four Knights. This repertoire brought him a string of wins, but once he began meeting masters regularly he had to change his repertoire to include the flank openings and 1 d4 as well as the Sicilian Defence. Some notable contributions to opening theory include Bf4 against the Oueen’s Indian, the defence 1…b6, perhaps now 1…a6.
Yet his real strength is not in the openings, and he rarely scores quick knockouts. His strength lies in the ability to play a wide variety of positions, to have the patience to play on when there is nothing special in the position and then to recognize the crisis (sometimes more psychological than positional). At this point his fitness and energy tell. It is significant that one of his best wins in the Dubna tournament came in a queen and pawn ending that demanded great patience and technical ability.
As readers of his weekly column will know he loves to analyse ever more deeply, and seems happier here than in taking intuitive decisions. In the play of the first British grandmaster we see a confirmation of the fact that modern competitive chess is more of a sport (Denksport as the Germans have it) than
an art, more a bitter struggle of strong personalities than an orthodox game. Bernard Cafferty
In British Chess Magazine, Volume CXXII (122, 2002), Number 1 (January) pp. 6-13 appeared this wonderful obituary from John Saunders with contributions from Bernard Cafferty, Colin Crouch, Jon Levitt and Malcolm Hunt :
From The Oxford Companion to Chess, (OUP, 1984 & 1994), Hooper & Whyld :
“English-born player, International Grandmaster (1976). While an undergraduate he entered and won by a margin of one and a half points the World Junior Championship, Manila 1974. The following year his university, Sheffield, awarded him an honorary MA degree for his chess achievements, and he left without completing his studies, to become a chess professional. The successes came quickly; London 1975, first (+6=3-1); Amsterdam 1976, first equal with Korchnoi; Amsterdam 1977, first (+7=7-1); Biel 1977, first (+ 8=6-l); Tilburg 1977, second (+5:4-2), after Karpov, ahead of Hort and Hübner; Tilburg 1978, third (+4=4-3) equal with Dzindzichashvili and Hübner, after Portisch and Timman; London 1980, first (+6=5-2) equal with Andersson and Korchnoi; Las Palmas 1980, first (+6=5) equal with Geller and Petrosian; Baden-Baden 1981, first (+6=7) equal with Ribli, ahead of Korchnoi; Porz Koln l98l-2, second (+8=l-2), behind Tal, ahead of Hort; Biel 1983, first (+5=6), shared with Nunn; Tilburg 1984, first (+5=6), ahead of Belyavsky, Ribli, and Hübner; Portoroz-Ljubljana 1985, first (+4=6-l) equal with Portisch and Ribli; and Tilburg 1985, first (+6=5-3) equal with Hübner and Korchnoi.
Around this time Miles began to feel the strain of ten years at the top. He was the first British player of modern times who could be seen as a possible challenger for the world title, and in the late 1970s he was well clear of his British rivals. However, largely inspired by Miles’s success, a new generation, led by Short, was in pursuit, and by the mid 1980s Miles was no longer top board in the Olympiad side. Successes became fewer, his marriage ended, and his confidence was weakened.
Determined to make a new start, he transferred his allegiance to the USA in 1987, and immediately shared first place with Gulko, who won the play-off, in the US Open Championship.
The move was not a lasting success. Miles had indifferent results and was not selected for the US Olympiad team in 1988. He had maintained a home in Germany and commuted to play in the Bundesliga and by 1990 he was spending an increasing proportion of his time in Europe. His confidence began to return, and with it more victories. He was first in two Swiss system events, Rome 1990, ahead of Barayev, Chernin, Smyslov etc, and Bad Worishofen 1990 (shared), and at Biel 1990 was equal
third (+3=9-2) alter Karpov and Andersson.”
From Wikipedia :
Miles was an only child, born 23 April 1955 in Edgbaston, a suburb of Birmingham, and attended King Edward’s School, Birmingham. He was married and divorced twice, and had no children. Miles’ first wife was Jana Hartston, who had previously been married to William Hartston.
Early achievements in chess
He learned the game of chess early in life and made good progress nationally, taking the titles of British under-14 Champion and under-21 Champion in 1968 and 1971, respectively.
In 1973, Miles won the silver medal at the World Junior Chess Championship at Teesside, his first important event against international competition. Both he and compatriot Michael Stean defeated the tournament winner Alexander Beliavsky, but were unable to match the Soviet player’s ruthlessness in dispatching lesser opponents. Miles went on to win this prestigious title the following year in Manila, while a mathematics undergraduate of the University of Sheffield.
Taking the decision to pursue the game professionally, Miles did not complete his studies, but, in 1975, was awarded an MA by the University in respect of his chess achievements.
Further career highlights
In 1976, Miles became the first UK-born, over-the-board chess grandmaster, narrowly beating Raymond Keene to the accolade. The naturalised, German-born Jacques Mieses was awarded the GM title in 1950, while Keith Bevan Richardson had been awarded the GM title for correspondence chess earlier in 1975. For his achievement, Miles won a £5,000 prize, put up by wealthy businessman and chess backer Jim Slater.
Miles had a string of good results in the late 1970s and 1980s. He matured into a world class player and won games against high calibre opponents, such as former World Chess Champions Vasily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal and Boris Spassky.
In 1980 at the European Team Championship in Skara, he beat reigning World Champion Anatoly Karpov with Black, using the extremely unorthodox opening 1. e4 a6!?, the St. George Defence. It is often said that Miles learned the line from offbeat openings enthusiast Michael Basman, but in his book Play the St. George, Basman asserts there is no truth to this. Miles beat Karpov again three years later in Bath in a game that was part of the BBC’s Master Game series, but it was shown only by the (co-producing) German television network, due to a BBC technicians’ strike at the time of broadcast.
Miles won the British Championship just once, in 1982 when the event was held in Torquay. His prime time as a chess player was the mid-1980s. On 20 May 1984 in Roetgen (Germany), Miles set a European record in blind simultaneous chess with 22 games (+10−2=10); this record was not broken until 2009. On the January 1984 Elo rating list, he ranked No. 18 in the world with a rating of 2599. One of his best results occurred at the Tilburg tournament in 1984, where, from a strong field, he emerged sole winner by a clear margin of one and one-half points. The following year, he tied for first at the same event with Robert Hübner and Viktor Korchnoi, playing several of his games while lying face down on a table, having injured his back.
The result was controversial, as many of Miles’ opponents felt they were distracted by the unusual circumstances. A string of good performances culminated in a good showing on the January 1986 Elo rating list, where he climbed to a best-ever position of World No. 9 with a rating of 2610. During this period, there was considerable rivalry with Nunn over who was the United Kingdom’s best player, the two protagonists regularly leapfrogging each other in the world rankings. Nigel Short and Speelman soon added to the competition, as the English national squad entered its strongest period.
Never able to qualify out of the Interzonal stages into the Candidates’ series, Miles eventually lost the race to become the first British Candidate when Short did so in 1985. However, he retained top board for England at the Thessaloniki and Dubai Olympiads of 1984 and 1986, helping the team to silver medals at each.
Against Garry Kasparov, Miles had little success, not winning a game against him, and losing a 1986 match in Basel by the score of 5½–½. Following this encounter, Miles commented “I thought I was playing the world champion, not a monster with a thousand eyes who sees everything” (some sources alternatively quote Miles as having the opinion that Kasparov had 22 or 27 eyes).
Miles on a stretcher with back pain, playing in Tilburg (1985)
After he was hospitalised because of a mental breakdown in late 1987, Miles moved to the United States. He finished last in the 1988 U.S. Championship, but continued to play there and had some good results. In 1991, he played in the Championship of Australia, but eventually moved back to England and began to represent his native country again. He was equal first at the very strong Cappelle-la-Grande Open in 1994, 1995, and 1997, and caused a shock at the PCA Intel Rapid Chess Grand Prix in London in 1995, when he knocked out Vladimir Kramnik in the first round and Loek van Wely in the second. His bid to win the event was finally halted in the semifinal by English teammate Michael Adams.
There were four notable victories at the Capablanca Memorial in Cuba (1994, 1995, 1996, and 1999). Miles also tied for first in the 1999 Continental Open in Los Angeles with Alexander Beliavsky, Ľubomír Ftáčnik and Suat Atalık. His last tournament victory was the 2001 Canadian Open Chess Championship in Sackville, New Brunswick.
Miles entered and played at the 2001 British Championship in Scarborough, but withdrew before the final round, apparently because of ill health. His final two games before his death were short draws in the Four Nations Chess League. Miles played in an extraordinary number of chess events during his career, including many arduous weekend tournaments.
The Miles Variation (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.Bf4) in the Queen’s Indian Defence is named after him.”
Tony started his chess writing career in around 1978 with a series of high quality annotated tournament bulletins of the top events of the period most of which he competed in himself. For example:
Of course there are numerous articles about Tony for example :
BCN remembers Philip Walsingham Sergeant who passed away on Monday, October 20th 1952.
PWS was born in Kensington on Saturday, January 27th, 1872 to Lewis Sergeant and Emma Louisa Sergeant (née Robertson) and was baptised at All Saints Church, Notting Hill. According to PWS’s baptism record Lewis was an author.
According to PWS in A Century of British Chess :
“When I was seven years of age – about the period, by the way, in which my father began to teach me Greek – he began also to initiate me into chess. Not that he designed it as a consolatory set-off to my application to Greek; for he loved the Classics well, though, going up to Cambridge with small classical exhibition, he had turned to Mathematics, and therein took his degree. ”
According to the 1881 census PWS (aged 9) lived with his parents and numerous siblings : Dorothy (aged 7), Winifred (6), Hilda (5), Bernard (2), John (his grandfather aged 76) and Mary (his grandmother aged 75). They had staff, Elizabeth Fraser and Sarah Martin. They lived at 10, Addison Road, North, Kensington.
According to “Joseph Foster. Oxford Men and Their Colleges, 1880-1892. 2 vols. Oxford, England: James Parker and Co, 1893″ :
PWS attended St. Paul’s School and then Trinity College, Oxford to read Classics where he attained Honour Moderations.
and here is the record from the above publication :
We do not know if PWS played in the Varsity matches of 1892 – 1895 : Britbase does not (yet) include player details for these matches.
PWS married Minnie Boundford (born 27th February 1989) in 1909 in Hampstead and they lived at 5, Dukes Avenue, Chiswick where PWS was listed as an author and Minnie as someone who carried out “unpaid domestic duties”. Minnie was 17 years younger than PWS. Minnie’s father was a joiner and a carpenter.
They had two daughters Margaret (born 1910) and Kathleen (born 1911).
In October 1946 Minnie and PWS remarried. Presumably this was rather unusual in that day and age.
According to The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 2nd edition, 1996) by Hooper and Whyld :
PWS was an English author of biographical games collections for Charousek, Morphy and Pillsbury as well as other works of importance such as A Century of British Chess (1943) and Championship Chess (1938).
From The Encyclopedia of Chess (BT Batsford, 1977) by Harry Golombek :
“A professional writer on chess and popular historical subjects. Without any pretentions to mastership, he represented Oxford University in the years 1892 – 5 and assisted RC Griffith in preparing three editions of Modern Chess Openings.
In chess he dealt with a number of important subjects : Morphy’s Games of Chess, London, 1916; Charousek’s Games of Chess, London, 1919; Pillsbury’s Chess Career (in collaboration with WH Watts), London, 1923; Championship Chess, London, 1938.
All these are lucidly and carefully written but suffer from the defect that, being neither a master player nor a professional annotator, he was not competent to deal with the annotational part of the work. Probably his best book on chess was A Century of British Chess, London, 1934.
It would appear that BCM did not publish an obituary of PWS.
“Philip Walsingham Sergeant (27 January 1872, Notting Hill, London – 20 October 1952) was a British professional writer on chess and popular historical subjects. He collaborated on the fifth (1933), sixth (1939), and seventh (1946) editions of Modern Chess Openings, an important reference work on the chess openings. He also wrote biographical game collections of Paul Morphy (Morphy’s Games of Chess (1916) and Morphy Gleanings), Rudolf Charousek (Charousek’s Games of Chess (1919)), and Harry Nelson Pillsbury (Pillsbury’s Chess Career, with W. H. Watts, 1922), and other important books such as A Century of British Chess (1934) and Championship Chess (1938).”
Harry Golombek writes that, “Without any pretensions to mastership, he represented Oxford University in the years 1892-5”. Golombek considers A Century of British Chess probably Sergeant’s best chess book, but opines that although Sergeant’s chess books are lucidly written, they suffer from the defect that, as a non-master, he was not competent to deal with the annotational aspect of his work.
BCN remembers Gerald Abrahams who passed away in Liverpool on Saturday, March 15th 1980. He was buried in the Allerton Cemetery in the Jewish Springwood plot.
Gerald Abrahams was born in Liverpool on Monday, April 15th 1907. On this day the Triangle Fraternity was formed at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
His parents were Harry (b. 10th September 1880) and Leah (b. 12th March 1884) Abrahams (née Rabinowitz) who married in West Derby in the third quarter of 1903.
Gerald learnt chess at the age of ten during the first world war. He obtained an Open Scholarship to Wadham College, Oxford in 1925 reading PPE and earning himself an MA in Law in 1928. He became a practising barrister at Law.
From the 1939 register we learnt that Harry was a Drapery manufacturer and Leah carried out “unpaid domestic duties”. Gerald was not an only child: the first born was Winnie (b. 22nd November 1903) who was a Secretary and Clerk Typist and factory assistant. Elsie Abrahams (b. 14th April 1905) helped her mother with “unpaid domestic duties”. Blanche was Gerald’s older sister and she was “General Assistant In Fathers Business Drapery Manufacturer”. Gerald is listed (aged 32) as a Barrister at Law and author. The family resided at 51 Prince Alfred Road, Liverpool, Lancashire (now L15 6TQ) and their original property has been since replaced.
The full list of people present seems to have been largely or entirely Jewish in religion or ethnicity: it included a famous chess-playing barrister from Liverpool, Gerald Abrahams, representing himself, who had taken a First in P.P.E. at Oxford, and later married Elsie Krengel, who had also been present, and with Leslie Black representing the rest of the defendants, apart from the hosts and Captain Lionel Husdan, who sent a letter to the court.
The full list of those present, charged with “resorting and playing in a common gaming house,” and bound over was as follows:- Mott Alexander, Fannie Finn, Maxwell Glassman, Kate Lippa, Myer Lister, Gertrude Mannheim, Joseph Mannheim, Rita Mannheim, Simon Mannheim, Harry Peters, Sadie Peters, Lily Leah Ross, Harry Sapiro, Benjamin Stone. Those charged with “resorting in a common gaming house” and bound over, were:- Gerald Abrahams, Joseph Appleton Bach, Samuel Myer Barnett, Herbert Solomon Isaacson, Elsie Krengel, Manuel Mannheim, Louis Michaelson, Abraham Ross, Bernard and Elsie Ross.
“Gerald Abrahams, the barrister charged, said he was interested to protect his reputation from being stigmatised by a conviction, and asked Sergeant Laycock about alcohol: the latter replied that none was being consumed. He submitted that the club was not a gaming house, and that draw poker had not been proved other than as a game of skill. Charges were dismissed against Henry, Eva and Marjorie Black, Myer Waldman, and Captain Lionel Husdan, of Ryde, Isle of Wight, all of whom had said that they were merely taking refreshments in the club, and had not played. David Platt said that he had not the slightest idea that they were breaking the law, and Mrs Platt said that it had not been a paying venture.”
The Complete Chess Addict (Faber& Faber, 1987), Fox & James notes: that Gerald Abrahams as authority on bridge cast doubt on assertions that Emanuel Lasker “was good enough to represent Germany”
Gerald’s comparisons of chess and bridge are discussed by Edward Winter in Chess Facts and Fables (McFarland, 2005) page 130 in GAs 1962 book Brains in Bridge:
Gerald eventually married Elsie Krengel (born 15th January 1909) in the fourth quarter of 1971 in Liverpool at the age of 64. Elsie had lived in the Southport area for most of her life and her family was associated with the manufacture of handbags. They had known each other for many years (at least since 1942 as mentioned previously).
Leonard Barden modestly recounts :
“At the end of Nottingham 1954 Gerald claimed that Alan Phillips had accepted his draw offer so tieing Gerald for the British championship with some rabbit whose name escapes me. When Phillips strongly denied having accepted the draw, Gerald collapsed on the floor and had to be aided by his old enemy Dr. Fazekas.”
From The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match (1946) by Klein and Winter:
“G. Abrahams was born in Liverpool in 1907. He learned chess at the age of ten, and showed an early aptitude for tactical complications. He has played with varying success, his best performances being third and fourth with Rossolimo, behind Klein and Najdorf, but head of List at Margate, 1938, and fourth, fifth and sixth with Sir George A. Thomas and König in London, 1946. He has made two valiant bids for the British Championship.
A graduate of Oxford, he is a barrister by profession and has written several books, including some fiction. He has solidified his chess without allowing it to become dry. Indeed, most of his games sparkle with interesting complications.”
Harry Golombek OBE wrote (in The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977)):
“Brilliant British amateur who in the 1930s was playing master-chess. In that period he was the most dangerous attacking player in England.
He was in the prize-list (i.e. in the first four) in the British championship on three occasions 1933, 1946 and 1954. His best international performance was in the Major Open at Nottingham in 1936 where he came =3rd with Opocensky. Another fine result was his score of 1.5-0.5 against the Soviet Grandmaster Ragozin, in the 1946 Anglo-Soviet radio match.
He is the inventor of the Abrahams variation in the Semi-Slav Defence to the Queen’s Gambit: 1.P-Q4, P-Q4;2.P-QB4, P-QB3;3.N-QB3, P-K3;4.N-B3, PXP;5.P-QR4, B-N4;6.P-K3,P-QN4;7.B-Q2, P-QR4; 8.PxP, BxN;9.BxB,PxP;10.P-QN3,B-N2;
This is sometimes known as the Noteboom variation after the Dutch master who played it in the 1930s, but Abrahams was playing it in 1925 long before Noteboom.
He is a witty and prolific writer on many subjects: on law (he is a barrister by profession), philosophy, and chess; he also writes fiction. His main chess works are: The Chess Mind, London 1951 and 1960
and here is a later cover:
and Not Only Chess, London 1974.
Edward Winter in Kings, Commoners and Knaves, cites the subtitle of the above book in his page 235 list of chessy words: “A selection of Chessays”.
From Not Only Chess we learn that GAs favourite game was played in 1930 against Edmund Spencer of Liverpool. “Edmund Spencer was a man who is remembered with affection by all players who ever met him, and who is remarkable in that his strength developed in what should have been hid middle life. When he died, lamentably early, in the 1930s, at about 53 he was at his best, and of recognised master status.
This game was played in 1930.”
and for an alternative view of the same game:
GA is amongst a rare breed of game annotators claiming the title of An Immortal for one of his own games. Edward Winter devotes a couple of column inches discussing exactly which year the game was played between 1929 and 1936. Here is the game:
For more of GAs excellent games see the superb article further on by Steve Cunliffe. Also, Not Only Chess in Chapter 28 (“A Score of my Scores”) contains a veritable feast of entertaining games of GAs).
Gerald famously fell out with Anne Sunnucks when he discovered she had omitted him from her 1970 Encyclopaedia of Chess. Despite this the 1976 edition was also devoid of a mention.
From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 1984 & 1996), Hooper & Whyld:
“The English player Gerald Abrahams (1907-80) introduced the move when playing against Dr. Holmes in the Lancastrian County Championship in 1925 (ed: January 31st in fact) . Abrahams played the variation against his countryman William Winter (1898-1955) in 1929 and in the same year Winter played it against Noteboom, after whom it is sometimes named. (Dr, Holmes was the favourite pupil of Amos Burn and a leading ophthalmologist).
The precursor, known from a 16th-century manuscript, was published by Salvio in 1604:
Writing in 1617, Carrera made his only criticism of Salvio’s analysis in this variation. He suggested 8…Bd7 instead of 8…Nd7, or 9.Qa4 instead of 9.Nf3. Salvio nursed his injured pride for seventeen years and then devoted a chapter of his book to a bitter attack on Carrera. The argument was pointless: all these variations give White a won game.”
GA famously wrote :
Chess is a good mistress, but a bad master
The tactician knows what to do when there is something to do; whereas the strategian knows what to do when there is nothing to do.
In chess there is a world of intellectual values
Good positions don’t win games, good moves do
Why some persons are good at chess, and others bad at it, is more mysterious than anything on chess board.
In the recently (February 25th, 2020) published “Attacking with g2 – g4” by GM Dmitry Kryakvin writes about Abrahams as follows :
“It is believed that the extravagant 5.g2-g4 was first applied at a high level, namely in the British Championship by Gerald Abrahams. Abrahams was a truly versatile person – a composer, lawyer, historian, philosopher, politician (for 40 years a member of the Liberal Party) and the author of several books. Of his legal work, the most famous is the investigation into the murder of Julia Wallace in 1931 in Liverpool, where her husband was the main suspect. As an alibi, William Herbert Wallace claimed he was at a chess club. Dozens of books and films have been devote to the murder of Mrs. Wallace – indeed, this is a script worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie!
Abrahams played various card games with great pleasure and success, but the main passion of the Liverpool resident was chess. Abrahams achieved his greatest success in the championships of Great Britain in 1933 and 1946, when he won bronze medals. The peak of his career was undoubtedly his participation in the USSR-Great Britain radio match (1946) where on the 10th board Abrahams beat Botvinnik’s second and assistant grandmaster Viacheslav Ragozin with a score of 1.5-0.5
Gerald Abrahams had a taste of studying opening theory, and made a distinct contribution to the development of the Noteboom Variation, which is often known as the Abrahams-Noteboom.
Ten years after he introduced the move 5.g2-g4 to the English public (1953), the famous grandmaster Lajos Portisch brought it into the international arena.”
Gerald was also a keen studies composer. Here are some examples of his work:
Best wishes to GM Dr. Jonathan Mestel on his birthday
A(ndrew) Jonathan Mestel was born in Cambridge on Wednesday, March 13th 1957. On this day the Presidential Palace in Havana was attacked with the object of killing Fulgencio Batista, the incumbent President.
Jonathan’s parents were Leon and Sylvia Louise Mestel (née Cole) who were married in 1951. Leon was a world-class astronomer and astrophysicist whose PhD supervisor was Fred Hoyle. Jonathan has a brother Ben and sisters Rosie and Leo.
Living in Cambridge he attended Newnham Croft Primary School and at the age six was taught chess by his father Leon. By the age of seven Jonathan was matching his father and not long afterwards he was beating him consistently. East Cheshire Chess Club was his first club and therefore the opportunity to play adults other than his father.
MGS and Beards
The Mestel family moved to Manchester in around 1967 and Jonathan attended Manchester Grammar School along with chess players Emmanuel Rayner and Ian Watson. Famously he grew a substantial beard and moustache and apparently “they (MGS) disapproved of it” resulting in a ban until the beard was removed. Jonathan duly obliged and returned to school but was sent home once more since he had retained the moustache: “They did not mention the moustache!” we are told. A further ban was resolved when the offending item was also removed.
Jonathan obtained a PhD in mathematics from Trinity College, Cambridge and the associated thesis was entitled “Magnetic Levitation of Liquid Metals”.
Jonathan is Professor of Applied Mathematics at Imperial College London. As well as teaching, his research interests include magnetohydrodynamics and biological fluid dynamics.
In the third quarter of 1982 Jonathan married Anna O’Donovan in Cambridge and they soon settled in the central Cambridge area where they remain to this day. They have a son, David.
Jonathan has represented England at bridge joining a group of English players such as Peter Lee and John Cox who also represented their country at bridge. Paul Littlewood, Paul Lamford and Natasha Regan are amongst many others who have combined bridge and chess to a high level . Here is Jonathan’s English Bridge Union page. He remains highly ranked in the bridge world to this day.
I should mention that all my hair fell out for no obvious nor serious reason – neither my bidding nor partner’s dummies are responsible. Few would argue with that last statement.
Serious Chess & Prize Money
His earliest recorded appearance in chess databases is from the Rhyl based British Under-14 championship in 1969 where he beat DA Winter. The eventual winner of that event was Jonathan Speelman. Jonathan M. recounts that he shared 3rd place with two others and that the prize allotted to the three of them was a whopping £2 10s to be divided equally. This amounted to 16s 8p each. Since the entry fee was 15s it meant he had cleared a notable profit of 1s and 8 pence!
The following year all British Championships competitors were sent to Coventry and Jonathan and Jonathan shared the Under-16 title whilst Bob Wade won the main event with 8/11.
1971 was no less successful and Jonathan travelled to the location of England’s Eiffel Tower (Blackpool) returning home with the British Under-18 title. Jonathan mentioned that he should have entered the Under-21 event instead.
First British Championship
Brighton 1972 was Jonathan’s first appearance in the “main event” having broken the record for the youngest qualifier. This record was later broken by Richard Webb and then by Nigel Short. His final score was a creditable 6.5/11 giving him =5th overall aged 15 years and seven months. In 1972 this was an incredible achievement. Regrettably, these days achievements such as this appear to pass unreported.
At Eastbourne 1973 he was =7th with possibly the best hair cut of anyone:
1974 was a breakthrough year internationally as Jonathan won the (unofficial) World Cadet Championship in Pont Sainte Maxence in southern France. The following year IM David Goodman followed up by winning the same title.
Interestingly travel arrangements for the above event were not so smooth as was the crossing of the English Channel. The hovercraft broke down; Jonathan arrived much later than anticipated and unable to find civilised accommodation leading to an Orwellian style “Down and Out in Paris” sleeping arrangement in a Paris gutter.
At Clacton 1974 Jonathan was one of seven who finished on 7/11, the title going to George Botterill after an all-play-all play-off in Wales.
1975 started well with a bronze medal in Tjentiste (former Yugoslavia now Bosnia Herzegovina) for the World Junior Championship (happening at the same as the British in Morecambe preventing a 1975 British Championship appearance).
First IM Norm
1976 brought further success at Portland School, Edgbaston with a first place scoring 8/10 and an IM norm in the Birmingham International tournament:
and here is a sparkling game from the 1976 Robert Silk Fellowship Tournament:
Jonathan followed this at the Portsmouth 1976 British Championships with a splendid outright first place with 9.5/11 , the highest score since Malik Mir Sultan Khan in 1933. Also, nine consecutive wins from the starting gun was most definitely a record!
Leonard Barden assessed Mestel’s performance this in the Guardian:
“Jonathan Mestel’s reaction at Portsmouth to become British Champion at age 19, the youngest ever, and with a record series of nine wins, was characteristically low-key. He declined an interview with BBC’s World at One in favour of a continued sojourn on the beach, declined an invitation to the Chorley Congress (where the inducements for him to play were rumoured to include a chauffeured Rolls-Royce from station to town hall, and where the points might well have enabled him to overhaul the leader in the £1,000 Cutty Sark Grand Prix) in favour of a holiday in France, and even ‘declined’ the chance of a record total in the final round when he gifted a pawn in the opening to Whiteley in simple fashion”
Barden went on to praise Mestel as, along with Miles, one of the two young players ‘with genuine promise of ultimately reaching the world super-class.’
1977 led to the International Master title and in 1982 the Grandmaster title. In reality, the GM title should have been awarded two years earlier from Esberg 1979 but more on this FIDE blunder later.
“I wrote in last years diary that I doubted whether Jonathan would ever change his variability, adding ‘Probably there will always recur this rise to the heights and fall to lower levels.’
To some extent this is still true. But his play in 1977 and 1978 has shown a greater firmness of purpose and revealed more powers of endurance and stamina than I had realised he possessed earlier on. Thus, for instance, in the last round of the European Team Championship finals at Moscow in 1977, playing the black pieces against the West German master Kestler, he was the last to finish and he defeated his opponent after nearly 12 hours play and some 105 moves.
He is one of our players who is nearing the grandmaster title, both in play and, as it were, in figures. At the Lord John Cup Tournament in London, September 1977, he obtained the g.m. norm by coming equal 2nd with Quinteros and Stean below Hort. He did this with a score of 6 when 5.5 would have been sufficient for the norm.
To my mind he is the ideal tournament competitor since he can always be relied upon to delight the onlooker with some fresh and original piece of chess. It is this talent which makes me think there is practically no limit to the heights he may attain as a player.
In the following game, played at the European Team Championships at Moscow 1977, Mestel gives signs of a new and mature sureness of purpose, whilst retaining all his incisive and ambitious qualities.
Beating the Russians
In 1978 Jonathan was part of the English team of Mestel, Speelman Taulbut, Goodman and Jonathan Kinlay that travelled to Mexico and won the World Under-26 Student Team Championships. This was a huge achievement as beating the USSR in a chess team event simply did not happen. It is not clear even that the Russian team were all bona fide students: some looking decidedly unstudent like!
The splendid Aztec calendar trophy you can see Jonathan clutching above was taken back to England and generously donated to Bob Wade who, in turn, wrote in his will that it should be returned to Jonathan. To this day this wonderful trophy proudly lives with Jonathan and Anna in their house in Cambridge.
When is a Norm not a Norm?
From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983), Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson we have this appreciation by George Botterill:
“The tournament at Esbjerg in 1979 was a bitter-sweet experience for Mestel. He won many fine games on the way to sharing first place with the hefty score of 9.5 out of 13.
But the real prize for which he was competing was the final norm that would have completed his qualification for the title of grandmaster. In the last round a draw would have been sufficient, but it was not day for peaceful negotiation since his adversary was also his nearest rival, Vadasz, who needed to win in order to tie for first place.
The nervous strain of having two aims in sight, first place and the coveted norm, told on Mestel who played rather beneath himself to lose. It was some consolation that the following victory over Finland’s leading player was hailed as the best game of the tournament.”
If the previous game gives you the idea that Mestel is especially skilled in the handling of an attacking phalanx of pawns, just take a look at this contribution to England’s bronze-medal result in the 1980 European Team Championship.
It is nice to be able to conclude that since the above was written Mestel’s chess status has changed and the story of his near miss at Esbjerg in 1979 turns out to have a happy ending. His GM title was ratified by the FIDE Congress at Lucerne 1982*.”
*It transpired that the initial norm calculation in 1979 was incorrect and it should have been awarded after all. Better late than never!
Quite a good day!
Jonathan recounts that on St. George’s Day (April 23rd) 1982 he had an important interview in the morning in Cambridge which went very well followed by round eight of the Phillips and Drew Masters at the GLC in London against Lajos Portisch. Here is that game:
So quite a good day all in all!
From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, second edition, 1996) by Hooper & Whyld:
“English player, British Champion 1976, 1983 and 1988, World Under-18 Champion 1974, International] Grandmaster (1982). In the 1976 British Championship he made a record by winning 9 successive games. Mestel’s opportunities for master play are infrequent – he is a lecturer at a University; he scored perhaps his best at London 1977 when he was second ( +4=4—1) equal with Quinteros and Stean after Hort, and he has played several times in the English Olympiad team since 1976. Mestel also an outstanding solver of chess problems, has represented his country in world team solving championships, and was awarded the title of International Solving Master in 1986”
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977), Harry Golombek wrote :
“British Master and British Champion 1976, who was born in Cambridge and packed into the three years 1974-6, in the period of time when he grew from seventeen to nineteen, more chess and more success than most people achieve in a long lifetime.
He first made his presence felt in the international field when he won the cadet championship at Pont Sainte–Maxene in France in 1974. This was an unofficial world under-18 championship and he confirmed this good impression by very nearly winning the British Championship in Clacton in the same year. He figured in a seven-way tie for first place but failed to win the play-off for the title.
The next he gained his first international master norm at the Birmingham international tournament where he finished equal second with Matera (USA) and Miles (England), a point below Matulovic of Yugoslavia whom he beat in their individual game.
He was little disappointing in the World Junior Championship at Tjentiste in Yugoslavia in 1975 in which he came third below the Russian Chekov and the US player Larry Christiansen. It was thought that, talented though he was, Mestel lacked stability and was too variable in his form to achieve the highest honours.
But the next year, 1976, was to show that was quite a false appreciation of his talents and character. First in April he won and international tournament which, if not as strong a the previous Birmingham, was still touch event to win ahead of the Yugoslav Grandmaster Damjanovic.
Then came a most remarkable achievement in the British Championship at Portsmouth where he won his first nine games in succession thereby winning the title and establishing a record for the British Championship with his run of victories.”
Mestel has his own named variation in the Giuoco Piano first played in Mestel-Doyle, Dublin 1975:
Olympiads and Team Events
According to Wikipedia : “Between 1976 and 1988, he was a frequent member of the English Chess Olympiad squad, winning three team medals (two silver and one bronze). In 1984, he earned an individual gold medal for an outstanding (7/9, 78%) performance on his board. Other notable results for English teams occurred in 1978 at the World Student Olympiad in Mexico and at the 1983 European Team Chess Championship in Plovdiv. Both of these events yielded gold-medal winning performances, the latter being exceptional for the highest percentage score (6/7, 85%) on any board. As a player of league chess, he has been a patron of the 4NCL since its earliest days and represented The Gambit ADs in the 2008/9 season.” Jonathan revealed that his most pleasing OTB performance ever was that of Plovdiv.
Solving and Composition
Jonathan has maintained a long time interest in problems and studies, both solving them and composing them. In 1986 he was awarded the International Master title for solving and in 1997 the International Grandmaster title for solving and in the same year he won the World Chess Solving Championship.
He has represented England in the World Team Solving Championships on many occasions winning in 1986, 1990 (shared with USSR), and then a run of 2005, 2006 and 2007.
He has played many times in the Lloyds Bank and (now) Winton Capital sponsored British Solving Championships (quite often located at Eton College, Berkshire). He has won the individual title firstly in 1982-83 and then a further 17 times not to mention many times as runner-up.
Here are a few examples:
Firstly a prize winning study…
J. Mestel 1.p Niekarker Kruujebitter Ty (tt), 2006
[FEN “8/4pP1k/5q1p/4p3/ppQpP3/3K1pp1/2P5/6R1 w – – 0 1”]
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