Category Archives: History

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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Minor Pieces 13: Henry Francis Limpus and Edward Griffith Brewer

Continuing my series of articles on members of Twickenham Chess Club between 1880 and 1906, I consulted the 1882 edition of the Chess player’s Annual and Club Directory, edited by W R Bland.

This confirms that the club was established in 1880, met at the Town Hall, had 60 members, the entrance fee and subscription were both 5s. It’s not clear whether these were the same or different. £1 in 1882 is equivalent in purchasing power to about £123.40 (source: £1 in 1882 → 2021 | UK Inflation Calculator (in2013dollars.com)), so, both in terms of subscription rates and number of members, not a lot different from today’s Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club. It did, however, meet in a larger and more prestigious venue.

We have two names, a President and a Secretary. Let’s see what we can find out about them.

There’s no other evidence I can find about the chess career of Henry Francis Limpus, Vicar of this parish: it’s quite likely that, as a prominent member of the local community, he was little more than a figurehead. He was, however, an interesting and rather controversial chap, so worth a quick detour.

Born in 1831, Limpus was, as well as being a clergyman, an organist and composer (spoiler alert: other organists and composers may be featured in this series), as were his father and brother, both Richard Davidge Limpus. Richard junior founded the Royal College of Organists.  Henry Francis Limpus was a Minor Canon at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle before being appointed Vicar of Twickenham in 1874. He hit the headlines three years later when the bell-ringers went on strike after he refused them permission to ring three peals in honour of the opening of the Orleans Club for working men. This, then, was the man who became the first President of the first Twickenham Chess Club.

But worse was to come. In January 1884 he was up before the Church Commissioners accused of drunkenness.

The accused is well known as a composer of sacred and secular music, and has held the living of Twickenham for ten years. He is charged with having, in the diocese of London, on divers occasions, and particularly on Sunday, the 11th of November, 1883, been in a state of intoxication. On that day he was absent from both the services at his church, and in the evening was seen in the public highway, at three different times by different people, in a state of hopeless intoxication, between the hours of five and half-past eight.

He also, twice a widower, appeared to have some sort of relationship with three young sisters named Jessop, and was engaged to be married to one of them.

He was found guilty and suspended from his post as Vicar of Twickenham for three years. Nothing further was heard from him until four years later, when he resigned from his post.

How long did he remain President of Twickenham Chess Club? Was this a man you’d want as your president? At present, anyway, we don’t know the answer to that question.

Some of his children were interesting: the oldest son of his first marriage, Arthur, had a successful career in the Royal Navy, becoming the Admiral Superintendent of Malta Dockyard.

One of the sons of his second marriage, Alban, had a very different career as, along with his brother Bernard, he was a theatrical impresario, staging, for example, the plays of Noel Coward.

Henry did marry a third time, in 1891, not to any of the Misses Jessop, but to a young lady almost 40 years younger than him. His life ended just 18 months later, at an address in Balham.

That’s enough of Henry Francis Limpus, except to note that his most ambitious musical composition was a cantata entitled The Prodigal Son. Perhaps it should have been The Prodigal Father instead. And also to note that, as someone with a fondness for the bottle, it was only appropriate that he should have a friend named Brewer.

It is to E G Brewer that we should now turn our attention.

Edward Griffith Brewer, (first?) Secretary of Twickenham Chess Club, had been born in Cadgwith, on the Lizard peninsula, right at the southern tip of Cornwall, in about 1836. His wife, Carlota, was, unexpectedly, Mexican, but seems to have gone to school in Cornwall. They married in 1863, and, at some point between 1868 and 1870,  moved into Batcombe Lodge, now 57 Popes Avenue Twickenham, which had been constructed by local builder Abraham Slade in 1862.

Batcombe Lodge Source: Google Maps

Edward was by profession a Patent Agent and Civil Engineer. By 1881 he was in 1 Clifden Road, Twickenham (we’ll meet another Clifden Road resident in a later article), but, by 1882 he seems to have crossed the river to  Horkesley, Sheen Park, Richmond, which may well be the rather splendid red brick house at 140 Sheen Road at the corner of Sheen Park. He seems to have been a wealthy and successful man, does Edward.

By 1891, though, he was back at Batcombe Lodge (perhaps he’d leased it out) where he remained for the rest of his life, dying in 1904.

It looks likely that, unlike George Edward Norwood Ryan, he was more of a social player, as his name doesn’t appear in any match or tournament results, but he retained his club membership and in 1894 was listed, along with Ryan, as one of the club’s two Vice-Presidents.

Edward and Carlota had nine children, the most interesting of whom was their eldest son, Griffith Brewer (1868-1948).

Griff joined his father’s patent agent business, and also shared his interest in engineering, developing a particular passion for patents relating to aeronautical engineering. In 1891 he made his first balloon flight, and by 1906 was taking part in balloon races. His wife, Beatrice, was the first woman to cross the English Channel in a balloon. In 1908 he met Wilbur Wright in France and was invited to take a flight with him, making him the first Englishman to fly in an aeroplane.

Sadly, I can find no evidence that he shared his father’s interest in chess.

For further information about Griffith Brewer:
Griffith Brewer – Graces Guide
Griffith Brewer, A Friend of the Wrights (wrightstories.com)
Griffith Brewer, Balloonist, Aviator and First Briton to Fly – Twickenham Museum (twickenham-museum.org.uk)

 

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Minor Pieces 12: George Edward Norwood Ryan

The chess players of Richmond and Twickenham had more than two decade to wait before another club arose in their area.

A chess club in Twickenham opened its doors for the first time, probably in Autumn 1880. This is the first of a series of articles looking at some of their members between 1881 and 1906.

I should point out here that there will probably be a lot more information available online once the Richmond & Twickenham Times is digitised. I’m not the only local historian who’s been waiting years for this. But we still have quite a lot of information about who their members were and what they did, both at the board and in the rest of their lives. A pretty interesting bunch they were as well, with some even more interesting relations.

The early 1880s were times of great change in the English chess world. Over the next couple of decades chess clubs would be transformed from somewhere for gentlemen to play their friends over a glass of brandy and a fine cigar to something resembling the evening chess clubs we know today, competing in leagues against other clubs in the vicinity. One early sign of change was the foundation of the British Chess Magazine in 1881.

It’s in the first volume that we find the first readily available mention of the new Twickenham Chess Club.

We have a report of a simultaneous display by Isidor Gunzberg (sic), an up and coming London-based Hungarian, who, within a few years, would be considered one of the world’s strongest players.

It was quite impressive, I guess, for a new club to welcome such an illustrious guest.

Simultaneous displays were very popular at the time, and so were handicap tournaments, in which stronger players would give a material handicap to their weaker clubmates.

We read that Mr Ryan, who would be a significant figure in the story of Twickenham Chess Club, won the handicap tournament and was also the last to finish against Gunsberg.

We need to find out more about him.

When I’m travelling by bus to the Roebuck, I usually take the 481 to Princes Road, Teddington, from where it’s a 10 minute walk, passing, if I choose, the residence of GM Daniel King, to reach the current Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club.

Source: Google Maps

As I turn into Princes Road I pass this rather impressive residence at No. 1: it was previously known as Fulwell House.

Let’s knock on the door and see who’s at home.

We’re going to meet George Edward Norwood Ryan and his family.

George was an Irishman, born on 29 July 1825 (a day earlier and he’d have been a century and a quarter older than me) in the delightfully named village of Golden, County Tipperary, half way between Tipperary itself and the town of Cashel. The Ryans are still there now: if you visit Golden today you’ll find Eamonn Ryan Family Butcher and Conor Ryan Car Detailing. Are Eamonn and Conor related to George? Or to each other? Who knows? George was the son of Francis John Ryan, an army officer, but he would choose a different career.

His father died when he was very young, and, at some point, he moved to London where, in 1855, he married Mary Anne Wilkes. They would have a large family, seven sons, two of whom died in infancy, and five daughters.

He’s elusive in the 1851 and 1861 censuses, but in 1871 he’s living in Belgravia with his family and three servants, employed as a ‘précis writer’. Within the next year or two he moves out of the smoke to leafy Teddington, to the house pictured above.

The 1881 census tells us he’s ‘engaged on parliamentary blue books’, which are reports of proceedings in parliament, so presumably he’s writing précis of parliamentary debates for these books. A skilled job, and one which must have paid very well. And, when not engaged in his parliamentary work, he’s playing chess at the new Twickenham Chess Club.

Ryan would continue his active involvement until at least 1896, by which time two of his sons, E Ryan (probably Ernest Keating Woods Ryan rather than Edward Francis Maxwell Ryan, who had married and moved out of the immediate area) and George Norwood Ryan, were also playing. George junior would later cross the river to Kingston and change his allegiance to Surbiton Chess Club in the first decade of the 20th century. George Edward Norwood Ryan would eventually die at the age of 90, after a long and successful life, leaving effects to the value of £4224 14s.

George junior and Ernest are both of some interest. No, sadly Ernie didn’t become a milkman, and nor did Edward, under the name two-ton Ted from Teddington, drive a baker’s van. Instead, Ernest was an accountant and company secretary, who married and had two daughters. His younger daughter, Honor, married James de la Mare, a nephew of Walter, and the oldest of their three sons, another James, would marry Diana Street-Porter, sister-in-law of Janet.

Talking of Walter de la Mare, his house in Twickenham, South End House, at the end of the rather lovely Montpelier Row, is currently on the market. It’s yours for a trifling £10.5 million. Me, I think I’ll have two of them. Across the road at the other end of Montpelier Row, you’ll find, appropriately enough, the site of North End House, the home of Henry George Bohn.

George Norwood Ryan has a sadder story to tell. His marriage to Isabella Anderson would produce three sons, Lionel, Warwick and Edward, and one daughter.

Here’s Warwick:

Warwick John Norwood was the second son of George Norwood Ryan (Merchant’s Shipping Clerk) and Isabel Ryan (nee Anderson).

He became a 2nd Lieutenant 19 Dec 1914 having been a private in Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. He went to Gallipoli in October 1915 with the Dorset Yeomanry (Queens Own) and following this he continued service in the Middle East in the Imperial Camel Corps. He was reported Killed in Action 5 Sep 1916.

Source: Herts at War – a community led project to commemorate the diverse experiences of Hertfordshire during the First World War.

And here’s Edward, who lost his life just three weeks before the end of the war:

Date of Birth: –/–/1896 — Place Of Birth: Kingston-Upon-Thames — Father: George Norwood Ryan — Mother: Isabella Ryan — Siblings: Leonel Ryan, Warwick John Norwood Ryan, Isabel Ryan — Date of Death: 22/10/1918 — Cemetery: Harlebeke New British Cemetery — Rank: Captain — Service Type: Army — Battalion, sub-unit or ship: 12th Battalion — Regiment/Unit: East Surrey Regiment — Service Record: Won the Military Cross — Census Years: 1901, 1911

Source: People | Surrey in the Great War:

The citation for his award of the Military Cross:

T./iCapt. Edward St. John Norwood Ryan,
12th Bn., E. iSurr. R.
During operations on 14th October, 1918, north of Menin, he showed great gallantry and fine leadership whilst commanding a
company. He led his men forward to the final objective through a dense fog, maintaining perfect direction and touch throughout, and consolidating the position. His company captured several strong points, many prisoners, and a quantity of war material.

Source: data.pdf (thegazette.co.uk)

It’s often assumed that the upper class officers kept themselves safe while leading their lower class troops to their death. In fact:

Very large numbers of British officers were killed. Over 200 generals were killed, wounded or taken prisoner; this could only have happened in the front line. Between 1914-18, around 12% of the ordinary soldiers were killed. The figure for officers was around 17%.

Source: The National Archives Learning Curve | The Great War | Lions led by donkeys? | Officers & men | Background

Their older brother, Lionel, survived the war, and, like his father, became a ship broker. His employment with Canadian Pacific took him to Hong Kong.

He was interned by the Japanese after the fall of Hong Kong and was the 111th person to die in the Stanley Internment Camp. He died on February 27th 1945 and is buried in the Stanley Cemetery.

Source: Lionel Ernest Norwood Ryan | Christ Church, Oxford University

So George Norwood Ryan, chess player from Twickenham and Surbiton clubs, lost his two younger sons in World War 1 and his oldest son as a result of World War 2. He lived on until 1959, reaching the age of 94. His daughter also lived a long life, but, like all five of her aunts, never married. I know from personal experience that they weren’t the only unmarried sisters in Teddington.

The two Georges, father and son, were fortunate to have fought their wars over the chequered board rather than the bloody battlefield. As the Ryan family knew only too well, real wars are bad, but pretend wars are good.

We’ll be meeting George Edward Norwood Ryan again as we continue our exploration of Twickenham Chess Club in future articles.

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Forgotten Genius – The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc

Forgotten Genius - The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc, Georg Mohr & Adrian Mikhalchishin, Thinker's Publishing, 20th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201291
Forgotten Genius – The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc, Georg Mohr & Adrian Mikhalchishin, Thinker’s Publishing, 20th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201291

From the publisher we have:

“Albin Planinc was born in the middle of the Second World War, on 18th April 1944, in the little village of Briše, near the small town of Zagorje ob Savi, approximately 30 kilometers from Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. He spent his childhood with his mother Ljudmila (unofficially Milka), a simple, uneducated woman who earned money from various unskilled jobs’.

This fascinating biography of over eighty-five annotated games and stories are being presented by grandmasters Georg Mohr and Adrian Mikhalchishin. It covers Planinc’ entire life and chess career, including his most fascinating games. This fitting tribute of a forgotten chess genius should be found in anyone’s chess library. Thanks to this colorful book Albin Planinc will continue to inspire us all and will keep his spirit alive.”

GM Albin Planinc, circa 1973
GM Albin Planinc, circa 1973

About the authors we have:

“Georg Mohr was born in Maribor, Slovenia in 1965 becoming a Grandmaster in 1997. He joined as a member of the FIDE Trainers Commission from 2002, becoming a FIDE Senior Trainer in 2004 and a FIDE International Organizer in 2011. Georg has been a professional chess trainer for many years. He was coach and captain of Slovenian national team from 2003 – 2010 and since 2011 he has been Turkish national youth trainer. He is a chess writer and was editor of Slovenian chess magazine Šahovska Misel from 1999 and editor of Fide Trainers Commission trainers’ surveys. He is also an organiser of chess events acting as tournament director of the European Club Cup (Rogaška Slatina 2011), the World Youth Championship (Maribor 2012) and the World Senior Championship (Bled 2018). This is his second book for ‘Thinkers Publishing’.

FIDE Senior Trainer Georg Mohr
FIDE Senior Trainer Georg Mohr

Adrian Bohdanovych Mikhalchishin was born in Lvov, Ukraine in 1954 and became a Grandmaster in 1978. In 1995 he took Slovenian citizenship and became a FIDE Senior Trainer from 2002 and was chairman of FIDE Trainers Commission from 2009. Adrian was a trainer of many famous chess players. Amongst others he was in Anatoly Karpov’s team during matches with Garry Kasparov. He has worked with Maja Chiburdanidze, Nana Aleksandria, the Polgar sisters, Alisa Maric and Nana Dzagnidze. He was coach and captain of the national teams of Slovenia and the Netherlands. In recent years he has been coach of the Turkish woman team. He has written many chess books and thousands of articles for many chess magazines. This is his second book for ‘Thinkers Publishing’.”

FIDE Senior Trainer GM Adrian Mikhalchishin
FIDE Senior Trainer GM Adrian Mikhalchishin

Albin Planinc (1944-2008), the late Slovenian grandmaster, was an extraordinary chess player and so the title ‘Forgotten Genius’ is not hyperbole.

Planinc’s games are characterised by enormous energy and by creative, daring sacrificial play. Mohr and Mikhalchishin have selected eighty-six of his best games for this volume.

They assert rightly on page 9 that ‘the reader of this book will soon discover that these games are not commonplace. They are imbued with incredible energy, interwoven with so many imaginary climaxes, with so much of what most people think of as beautiful in chess’.

It is very much a labour of love as Mohr, himself a Slovenian grandmaster, sees Planinc as the player who inspired him to dedicate his life to chess. However the book is not only games; plenty of biographical material is provided.

Indeed, the book starts with a brief synopsis of Albin’s childhood positing that Albin’s unidentified father may well have been a German soldier. Hence it is reasonable to speculate that Albin’s childhood was clouded by shame and stigma as well as being marred by the evolving mental illness of his mother, Ljudmila.

Parallels with a certain Robert James Fischer are suggested. Both players nursed their troubled childhoods with a love of chess. However the authors suggest on page 27 that ‘there was an important difference between him [Planinc] and Fischer. While the American was content with victories, Planinc was never content with victory itself. It needed an accessory, an aesthetic input, preferably one that would turn chess games into works of art’.

The next sections of the book offer a year by year selection of games from 1961-1979 interspersed with further biographical material. All the classics are there (v Bogdanovic 1965, v Matulovic 1965, v Ljubojevic 1971,

and Minic 1975)

and most notably his game with Vaganian from Hastings 1974/75 which involves the charming manoeuvre Na1 followed by a crisp Queen sacrifice.

The games are annotated with plenty of explanation. It should also be noted that the book is sumptuously produced with plenty of photographs and a typeface and layout pleasing to the eye. However more diagrams would have been appreciated. Furthermore an index of players would have been most useful.

The book ends with the revelation that Albin spent the last 20 years of his life in and out of institutions playing very little chess. This part of the book is handled sensitively and compels me to dig deeper into the creative genius of Albin Planinc. This tome is hence a welcome addition to chess literature.

FM Julian Way, Kingston, 2nd October, 2021

FM Julian Way
FM Julian Way

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 407 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (20 Sept. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201290
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201291
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 1.27 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Forgotten Genius - The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc, Georg Mohr & Adrian Mikhalchishin, Thinker's Publishing, 20th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201291
Forgotten Genius – The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc, Georg Mohr & Adrian Mikhalchishin, Thinker’s Publishing, 20th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201291
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Remembering Colin Russ (19-iii-1930 22-ix-2021)

BCN remembers Colin Russ who passed away on Wednesday, September 22nd 2021.

This news was revealed to the English Chess Forum by David Sedgwick as follows:

I have been notified by the British Chess Problem Society that Colin A H Russ died on Wednesday 22nd September 2021 at the age of 91. He had been in hospital for some weeks, with no hope of recovery.

Colin Albert Henry Russ was born on Wednesday, March 19th, 1930 in Croydon, Surrey. His father was Albert HW Russ (born November 1st, 1898) who was an instructor of woodworking crafts. His mother was Delcie A Russ (née Dye, born November 7th, 1901) who carried out unpaid domestic duties.

According to the 1939 register Colin was listed as a scholar and the family resided at 42, Poplar Road, Sutton, Surrey which is now SM3 9JX.

42, Poplar Road, Sutton, Surrey which is now SM3 9JX
42, Poplar Road, Sutton, Surrey which is now SM3 9JX

In 1972 Colin, aged 42, married Zsuzsanna Kelemen in Sittingbourne, Kent.

We have the following entry for Colin from chesscomposers.blogspot.com:

Colin Russ was a chess expert and edited a chess problem column in the CHESS magazine. He wrote the anthology “Miniature chess problems from Many Lands” in 1981 and it was republished several times, for instance in 1987 under the title “Miniature chess problems from Many Countries”.

Miniature Chess Problems From Many Countries, Colin Russ, A&C Black, London, 1987, ISBN 13: 9780047940248
Miniature Chess Problems From Many Countries, Colin Russ, A&C Black, London, 1987, ISBN 13: 9780047940248

John Ballard wrote the following of this book:

An unusual book in several respects. Firstly the positions are miniatures, that is 7 pieces or less. Secondly the solutions are in algebraic notation for the most part, with the main line being also given in descriptive. Lastly many of the ‘ usual suspects’ in the compostion field are not there, which meant for me learning new names and of course problems.

Familiar names here are Cheron, Dijk, Fleck, Havel, Kipping, Kubbel, Lipton, Loyd, Mansfield, Marble, Skinkman, Speckman, and Wurzburg. So that leaves dozens of composers (including one allegedly by Wojtyla, later to become Pope John Paul II), as a moderate solver I have never come across before, a special delight.

My favourite 3 mover is the one by Sam Loyd that starts with a check, and has a spectacular queen sacrifice. Sam reckoned this was a mere trifle, composed in a ride downtown, but it is a thing of beauty, and I bet many problemists wish they were as quick and adept at composing as The Puzzle King?! There is an interesting introduction to solving, not too heavy, but comprehensive enough. Many of the solutions are given with helpful comments.

The layout of the work is that 3 or 4 problems are given on the left page, and solutions are to be found opposite on the right. If the book is reprinted I would suggest the solutions be removed to an appendix, to remove the temptation for intermittent solvers like myself to take a sneak peak if a problem was proving intractable!

He served the British Chess Problem Society in various roles, as President from 1987 to 1989, Secretary from 1980 to 2001, and delegate to the PCCC from 1987 to 1994. He was also responsible for introducing the late Michael Ormandy to the Society, which led to the establishment of The Problemist Supplement.

The problem below was selected in the FIDE Album 1956-1958:

Die Schwalbe, 1957

7th HM

1.Bd7? (2.Re6-e~#)
1…Sg5[a] 2.Rgf6#[A]
1…Se5[b] 2.Ref6#[B]
but 1…Sd8!
1.f4! ZZ
1…Sg5[a] 2.Rxg5#[F]
1…Se5[b] 2.Rxe5#[G]
1…Be4[c] 2.Ref6#[B]
1…Rg4[d] 2.Rgf6#[A]
1…Rh4~ 2.g4#[D]
1…Sf7~ 2.Rg5#[F]/Re5#[G]
1…Rh3 2.Qxh3#
1…Bc1~ 2.Qxb1#[E]
1…Bc2, Bd3, Ba2 2.Bxc2, Qxd3, Bc2#/Qd3#

Colin was an accomplished over-the-board player and has 117 games recorded in MegaBase 2020 spanning from 1993 to June 2009. Most of these games arise from the Seefeld (Austria) Open and the Jersey Open in St. Helier.

In England Colin represented the Athenaeum club and remained active until 2015.

David Sedgwick went on to write:

Colin, always genial, amusing and engaging, was for decades a pillar of the BCPS and for many years its Secretary. He was a considerable composer of problems and he published a number of books on the subject.

As a player he was of good Club standard, BCF 160 -170 or thereabouts. He remained active until 2015, although his strength dropped off somewhat in the later years.

I got to know him at the Hastings International Chess Congress 1991 – 1992. One of the players in the Hastings Premier that year was the Russian GM Alexei Suetin, who spoke German but not English. I discovered that Colin spoke German well and he proved invaluable as a translator. (I learned only today that by profession he was a university lecturer in German.)

During that Hastings Premier we arranged to have a ceremonial first move made each day by a “name”. Colin was delighted to be chosen for this honour.

(With acknowledgments to Christopher Jones, who succeeded Colin as BCPS Secretary and remains in office.)

Subsequently a brief obituary appeared at https://www.englishchess.org.uk/rip-colin-russ/.

Elsewhere on the BCN Facebook group Henrik Mortensen wrote:

He was a great man. In the tournament in Oostende 1992 he beat me with Black in the first round (19th. September 1992). He was much lower rated than me, so … Later in the tournament my travelmate and I both had problems with our cards and he kindly offered to lend us money. Our problems were solved, but it was very kind of him to offer his help. HVIL I FRED.

His best win is probably this one:

but he will be best remembered for his contribution to the world of problems.

From the super MESON database we have these compositions from Colin

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Minor Pieces 11: William Dobell Hutchings

If, like me, you enjoy family and social history, you’re probably a fan of David Olusoga’s documentary series A House Through Time.

Here’s an idea for a new series: A Book Through Time.

If you’ve read my article about Henry George Bohn, you’ll have seen this before.  It’s my first edition of Staunton’s Chess-Player’s Handbook.

I acquired this as a gift from a pupil’s mother, who ran an antiques shop in Hampton Wick.

There are also two inscriptions. The second is ‘Peter Elliott’: there were several people of this name in this area, none of whom mean anything to me.

We can, however, identify the first inscription: WD Hutchings Stoke on Trent 1882.

Who was Mr Hutchings? Was he a chess player who required a handbook, or did he just have a casual interest in the game? What was he doing in Stoke on Trent? How did the book reach Hampton Wick?

It transpires he was William Dobell Hutchings, the son of Frank Hutchings and Mary Laskey (close, just one letter out) Dobell, and was born in Exeter in 1844, making him three years older than the book. His mother doesn’t seem to have been related to Hastings chess player Herbert Dobell.

We first pick William up in the 1851 census, where he appears to be at a local boarding school. Upper middle class families like the Hutchings’ started boarding their children young in those days. By 1861 he’s at home with his parents and many siblings: we learn that his father is a solicitor, and young Bill is apprenticed to a banker.

1871 finds him in West Ham, living in a boarding house and working as a banker’s clerk. A few months later, though, he turns up at Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, on the edge of the Cotswolds, between Bristol and Stroud, where he marries local girl Ann Clark. The happy couple move back to West Ham, and, a year, later, welcome their daughter Alice Emma into the world. Two years later, a son, Frank Henry, is born, but, tragically, he dies back in Devon at the age of only 3.

At some point over the next few years he gains a promotion and, now in a managerial role, moves to Stoke on Trent, where, by 1881, he’s doing well enough to employ two servants. Later in the year, their third child, a son named William Dobell after his father, is born. The following year he comes across a second-hand copy of the first edition of Staunton’s Chess Player’s Handbook: the copy I have in front of me as I write these lines. At this point the book was 35 years old, just three years younger than its new owner.

He doesn’t remain in the Potteries very long, though. He soon gets a new job – in Leicester. I wasn’t planning to return to my father’s home town so soon, but here we are. Perhaps inspired by Staunton’s best-seller, he joins the local chess club.

The Leicester Journal of 22 February 1884 reported on the Leicester Chess Club AGM, which saw WD Hutchings elected to the committee. After the meeting, Leicester played a match against their regular opponents from Nottingham, which they lost by 8 points to 5.

There, on the top board, was Martin Luther Lewis, winning his game against Sigismund Hamel, with William Withers on board 5 scoring a draw. Hutchings wasn’t playing in this match but for the next decade he played regularly on a middle board for Leicester in matches against other midland clubs. EdoChess doesn’t rate him highly: between about 1600 and 1650: merely an average club player.

However, it’s always useful to have a bank manager in your club. As we in the present day Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club can testify, they make excellent treasurers, or, in the case of William Hutchings, it appears, auditors.

So here, then, we have someone who wasn’t an outstanding player, but who played an important role in the life of his club by taking part in matches regularly, serving on the committee and auditing their accounts.  One of the purposes of these articles is to demonstrate that average club players like Bill are just as important to the chess community as masters and grandmasters. I’m honoured to possess a book which he once owned. But how did it reach Hampton Wick?

The 1891 census finds William, Ann, their two children and two servants living in New Walk, Leicester.

From New Walk – Story of Leicester:

New Walk is a rare example of a Georgian pedestrian promenade. Laid out by the Corporation of Leicester in 1785, the walkway was intended to connect Welford Place with the racecourse (now Victoria Park) and is said to follow the line of a Roman trackway, the Via Devana. Originally named “Queen’s Walk”, after Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, it was eventually the popular name of the “New Walk” that survived. Almost a mile long, New Walk has been a Conservation Area since 1969, ensuring its unique character is protected.

Houses built at the lower end of New Walk in the 1820s were the first on the walkway and were designed as “genteel residences” for the families and servants of businessmen and professionals. Development was controlled however to protect the public’s enjoyment of the walkway. Houses had to be at least ten yards from the Walk, fenced off by iron railings, and there was no access for carriages onto New Walk itself. In 1840 one resident described New Walk as “the only solely respectable street in Leicester”.

The houses around central New Walk date from the 1850s and 1860s and would have been the homes of merchants, manufacturers and professionals. Residents in the 1880s included Josiah Gimson, head of a large engineering firm, whose home (No. 112) is now part of the Belmont Hotel.

Last to be developed along New Walk were the large Victorian houses of its upper section (dating from the 1880s). Many were designed by the architect Stockdale Harrison. They reflect the growing prosperity of Leicester’s business and professional classes who preferred to live away from the town centre.

So William was doing very well for himself, but a few years later he was on the move again. The 1901 census finds him in Sutton Coldfield, still working as a bank manager. His children have now left home, but he still employs two servants, one the appropriately named Alice Bishop. After 1894 his name disappears from the chess records, with one exception. In 1903 Blackburne gave one of his many simultaneous displays (we’ll visit others in later articles) at Birmingham Chess Club. This was William’s moment of chess glory: he was one of three players who managed to defeat the visiting master. Well played, Sir! It’s always good to go out on a high.

3 Walpole Road, Surbiton Source: Google Maps

It was soon time for him to hang up his cheque books and retire from managing banks. Where did he retire to? He sought the good life in Surbiton. The 1911 census finds him at 3 Walpole Road, just off the Upper Brighton Road, which I’ve passed many times on my way to chess matches. He’s there with his wife and, again, two servants: a parlourmaid and a cook.

He was probably unaware that a five minute walk down the road would take him to a boarding house named Mountcoombe, where he could have met another South Devon born chess enthusiast, the celebrated problemist Edith Baird.

So I’d imaging that William’s Staunton first edition found its way from Stoke on Trent to Surbiton via Leicester and Sutton Coldfield. I’m sure he’d have shown it to his antique dealer friend William Withers, who, you will recall, had played (and lost horribly) to my very distant relation Arthur Towle Marriott.

Perhaps his belongings were sold off after his death in 1923. Or perhaps the book was inherited by his son, a stockbroker, who had also moved down to London. In 1911 he was living in Old Deer Park Gardens, Richmond, just off Kew Road very close to the London Welsh Rugby Club where Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club used to meet. A 35 minute walk through the town centre, passing the location of William Harris’s chemist business, and over Richmond Bridge, would have taken him to the site of the recently demolished residence of Henry George Bohn, the publisher of his father’s book. By 1939 he’d moved 3/4 mile to the north, to Hatherley Road, Kew. I pass both these roads regularly on my way to Kew Gardens. William junior died in 1957, so perhaps Peter Elliott acquired the book at that point.

Thank you for the book, William Dobell Hutchings, and thank you also for your part in the history of our wonderful game. Your contribution might have been relatively modest, but it was still important, and without doubt valued by Martin Luther Lewis, William Withers and your other chess-playing Leicester friends.

I have a few other inscriptions in second-hand books to write about another time. If you have any yourself you’d like me to research, do get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.

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Minor Pieces 10: Henry George Bohn

We know that the first Richmond Chess Club only ran for a few years in the mid 1850s, seemingly disbanded when its prime mover, William Harris, left London.

Who were its other members? Howard Staunton and Johann Jacob Löwenthal were involved, but, one would imagine, they didn’t play an active part on a week to week basis. They enjoyed seeing their names in lights, while their connections and publicity through their magazine columns would have enhanced the club’s reputation and increased its membership.

It’s a reasonable assumption, given that the club met at his premises, that James Etherington was a member, but the only other name I’ve been able to find is that of Henry George Bohn.

A very interesting name it is, too. White I’ve no idea how strong a player he was, Henry played a very important role in the history of English chess.

Henry George Bohn
Source: www.twickenham-museum.org.uk

Henry George Bohn, born in London in 1796, the son of a German father and Scottish mother, was an art collector and publisher. In 1850 he’d moved into North End House, Twickenham, on the corner of Richmond Road and Crown Road, just opposite the Crown public house (highly recommended, but also very popular, so it can get pretty crowded on rugby days). He had a walk of just under a mile to reach his chess club, no problem for a healthy chap who, even at the age of 85, would be active enough to dance the quadrille on his lawn. The house was demolished in about 1897, and a parade of shops built in its place. I haven’t yet been able to find an illustration of North End (or Northend) House.

High Shot House, Twickenham
Source: www.twickenham-museum.org.uk

In 1873 he acquired High Shot House, on the other side of Crown Road. Walking back towards Twickenham he’d very soon have reached what is now the site of Orleans Park School, home of Richmond Junior Chess Club and the Richmond Rapidplays.

Bohn was a collector of rare plants, chinaware, ivory and fine art, including works by Dürer, Van Dyck, Bruegel, Memling and Raphael, and was working to catalogue his collection until a few days before his death in 1884.

His day job, though, was more significant for our story. Henry George Bohn was a publisher, best remembered for Bohn’s Libraries. According to Wikipedia, these were begun in 1846, targeted the mass market, and comprised editions of standard works and translations, dealing with history, science, classics, theology and archaeology.

He was also a friend of the aforementioned Howard Staunton, and was the publisher of most of his chess books.

First edition of Staunton’s Chess-player’s Handbook
(from the author’s collection)

By the time of the foundation of the first Richmond Chess Club he’d already published The Chess Player’s Handbook (1847), The Chess-player’s Companion (1849) and The Chess Tournament (1852). These would later be joined by Chess Praxis (1860). He had also written The Chess-player’s Text Book (1849), published by J. Jaques & Son, 102 Hatton Garden, to accompany their celebrated chess sets.

Staunton, en passant, also wrote on other subjects. His edition of the plays of Shakespeare was published by George Routledge and Co in 1858. George Routledge had founded his company twenty years earlier, and they’re still going strong today, best known for their academic books. They’ve also published a few chess books, most notably the series of Routledge Chess Handbooks cashing in on the Fischer boom in the 1970s, and, more recently, Fernand Gobet’s highly recommended book on the Psychology of Chess.

Staunton also wrote a book on The Great Schools of England, published by Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, Milton House, Ludgate Hill in 1865. Sampson Low and his son, also Sampson, had started their publishing company in 1848, although Sampson senior’s father, another Sampson, had himself published books in the 1790s, and in 1856, Edward Marston became a partner in the firm. Sampson Low, like Routledge, published several chess books over the years (this might well be the subject of a future article) before stopping publishing in 1969.

In 1981 what was then the parent company was bought up by the notorious Robert Maxwell, its assets were stripped, and, 200 years after the first Sampson Low published his first book, the company was wound up.

A few years later, George Low, a journalist, editor and publisher, and direct descendant of the original Sampson, found the records in Companies House in Cardiff and re-registered the company. George’s four sons, all of whom, as it happens, were members of Richmond Junior Chess Club in the 1970s-80s, are now directors of the family firm. (Do visit their website to find out more.) The eldest boy, yet another Sampson, maintained his interest in chess, returning to the game when his son started playing, and has recently been elected Secretary of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club. His ancestor and namesake from more than 150 years ago, would have known Howard Staunton, the President of the original Richmond Chess Club. I hope Howard will be pleased to hear this: I’ll be in touch on Twitter to let him know.

Wheels within wheels. We are all connected.

Returning to Henry George Bohn, he had hoped that his sons would continue to grow his publishing business, but it became clear that they weren’t interested, so, in 1864, he sold his business to Messrs Bell and Daldy, who would later become George Bell & Sons. Bell took over Staunton’s chess books and decided that chess would be one of their specialities. They published many chess books over the years, including classic titles by Alekhine, Capablanca, Euwe, Nimzowitsch and many British authors, continuing to publish chess books up to the late 1970s, by which time their position as England’s leading chess publisher had been usurped by Batsford, In 1986, by then Bell & Hyman, they merged with George Allen & Unwin, and the name of George Bell disappeared from the publishing world.

George seems to have been the favoured name for publishers: apart from being Bohn’s middle name, we’ve met Routledge, Bell, Allen and even Low!

The Bell inheritance, all those great Bell chess books which anyone of my generation or earlier will have grown up on and learnt from, originated with Henry George Bohn, art collector, publisher, friend of Howard Staunton  – and member of the original Richmond Chess Club.

Next time you’re in Richmond Road, Twickenham, drop in at The Crown and drink a toast to Henry, the man who planted the seed which led to England’s preeminence as publishers of fine chess books.

Sources:
Wikipedia: Henry George Bohn
Twickenham Museum: Henry George Bohn

 

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Minor Pieces 9: William Harris

This is the first of what will be many posts considering the history of chess clubs in Richmond, Twickenham and surrounding areas.

If you’re good, I’ll tell you another story as well.

The first chess club in Richmond dates back to the year 1853.

Here’s the Illustrated London News from 26 March.

In fact the meeting eventually took place at Richmond Town Hall, which would, about 120 years later, host a different Richmond Chess Club. Howard Staunton and Johann Jacob Löwenthal were present, and Staunton delivered, at some length, an address pointing out ‘the advantages arising from the cultivation of an elegant and thoughtful recreation like chess’.

The Illustrated London News reported on 23 April:

The club seemed to be going well: in November Staunton advised T.R.D. of Twickenham that the game he played at Richmond Chess Club would have attention. If you have any idea of the identity of T.R.D., please get in touch.

In January 1854, Staunton replied to ‘Gustavus’, of Eton: ‘You should join the Richmond Chess-club, which is rapidly increasing in members, and is likely, in a year or two, to be one of the most influential chess societies out of London. The secretary is Mr. Harris, chemist and druggist, of Richmond, and from him you must procure the information required.’ In March, always eager to oblige, he advised ‘Query’ to ‘join the Chess-club at Richmond, which is immediately in your neighbourhood, and rapidly rising into note’. In May, he instructed ‘Albert’ of Surbiton to ‘join the Richmond Chess club and you can then have the practice you require’. In September he informed ‘Wolsey’ of Hampton Court that ‘the Richmond Chess-club meets at Etherington’s-rooms every Monday and Friday evening’. F.R.S., of Twickenham, was given the same information in November.

The Etheringtons were a prominent musical family in Richmond and Twickenham for much of the 19th century, and in the latter half occupied various premises in Hill Street.

Things then went quiet for a year, until, in November 1855, when Staunton told J.T.W., of Kingston that there was a very good chess club in Richmond, and that he should apply to Mr Harris.

In 1856, Löwenthal, in The Era, joined in. In March he told F.C., of Kew: ‘You should join the Richmond Chess Club, the Hon. Sec., W. Harris Esq., will provide you with the requisite information.’

On 18 May, he published a letter from Mr Harris.

After that, we hear no more. It looks like the club folded very soon afterwards.

To speculate on what happened, we need to find out more about W Harris.

We can pick him up in the 1851 census where we find William Harris and his family at 2 Hill Street, Richmond. This seems to have been on the corner of Red Lion Street, where Waterstone’s will now sell you some chess books.

William was born in about 1813 in Shelton, Bedfordshire, and, in 1841, married Ann Walker in Wollaston, Northamptonshire, a few miles south of Wellingborough. Ann had been born in Little Harrowden, the other side of Wellingborough, in 1816. (Paradoxically, Little Harrowden is much larger than its neighbour Great Harrowden.) Ann’s parents had died when she was young and she was adopted by family members in Wollaston.

In 1851 their children were Eliza Sophia, Anne Agnes, Louisa Amelia, William Alfred Philidor and baby Helen Hectorina. Only a real chess addict would name his son Philidor! Another son, Arthur Edward was born in 1853, but by 1857, when their youngest daughter, Emmeline Julia, was born, they’d moved. They were no longer in Richmond, but back in Wollaston, the village where they had married. And Will had changed his job: he was no longer a chemist and druggist, but a farmer.

What was the reason for the move? Perhaps his business had failed. Perhaps the farm was an inheritance. Perhaps they needed to return to Ann’s family. Who knows.

Anyway, it seems that, when they moved, in late 1856 or early 1857, the first Richmond Chess Club folded. Staunton’s prediction that it would become one of the most influential chess societies out of London, didn’t come to pass. It’s the same old story, isn’t it? A club is only as good as its organisers, and, when the club secretary departs there’s no one there to keep it going. It would be a long time before there was another chess club in Richmond.

In April 1858 an old friend paid him a visit. Here’s Löwenthal in The Era (18 April 1858):

There’s much of interest here. It’s good to know that Löwenthal played with several ladies, finding that two of them had ‘great aptitude for the game’.

It’s also good to know that Mr Harris ‘has often engaged with players like Brian (sic: presumably Brien was intended), Fonblanque, Medley and Löwenthal, and produced some fine games’ and that ‘were opportunity afforded him for practice with antagonists of superior force he would certainly rise to eminence among the amateurs of country clubs.

It sounds, then, that William Harris was a pretty good player, but that opportunity was never offered him. He continued farming for the rest of his life, dying in Wollaston in 1881. But back in the 1850s he was clearly a significant figure in the chess world. I haven’t been able to find any games or results, though. If you have any information, do let me know.

What happened to his children? His two sons followed in his footsteps, both becoming farmers. Of his daughters, Sophia seems to have died young, but no death record has been found, Helen died in infancy, and Emmeline at the age of 12. Anne and Louisa both married and emigrated to North America.

I decided to look into some of his Northamptonshire friends. The Reverend Alexander William Griesbach, Curate of Wollaston, is particularly interesting. (Note that ‘curate’ was a much more significant title within the church then than it is today: Alex was a parish priest rather than an assistant.) He was born in Windsor, but his family, of German ancestry, were from Bath where they were good friends of the very important Herschel family. William, when he wasn’t busy discovering Uranus, was a composer whose music is still sometimes played today, and his sister Caroline, a pioneer female scientist, was also a significant astronomer. If you’re not familiar with their story, do check it out.

I also decided to look up B Dulley Esq. It turns out he was Benjamin Dulley, a doctor and general practitioner. We can pick him up in the 1851 census, aged 44, living with his wife Fanny and two daughters, Mary Elizabeth and Helen. He employs two house servants, Sarah Saddington and Elizabeth Earle, and a groom, George Stock. The rather unusual toponymic surname Saddington was very familiar to me, as was Sarah’s birthplace, Great Bowden, Leicestershire.

I promised you another story if you were good, and here it is.

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry.

Sarah lived a long life, dying a spinster in her late 80s. She spent most of her life, apart from a short time in service to Ben Dulley (was he perhaps known as Dull Benny?) in her home village of Great Bowden, very close to Market Harborough, and not far from the village of Saddington from where she gained her surname. She had a niece named Elizabeth Saddington.

The Leicester Chronicle 25 October 1862 reported: “George Smith, of Great Bowden, charged with neglecting to pay 19s. 6d., that amount being due towards the support of the illegitimate child of Elizabeth Saddington for thirteen weeks, was ordered to pay the same and 3s. 6d. costs.”

That child was Fanny Smith Saddington, who had been born in 1855. Elizabeth would sadly die of chlorosis, a form of anaemia, the following year. At the time he kissed Liz and made her cry George was a widower, his wife, Alice Lois Flint, having died in 1853. They had had two daughters, Eliza, who died at the age of 6, and Sophia, who later emigrated to America. But Fanny wasn’t Georgie’s only illegitimate child. He had previously had a relationship with a slightly older girl named Eliza Carter. They had had two children, Elizabeth Smith Carter (1841) and Henry Smith Carter (1842). Quite a lad was our Georgie, by the sound of it. Henry died in infancy, but Elizabeth had a very long life and a very large family. How do I know all this? Elizabeth Smith Carter was my great grandmother. Perhaps I’ll tell you more another time.

There you have it. If Georgie Smith hadn’t kissed Eliza Carter I wouldn’t be here to tell the story of how his future squeeze Elizabeth’s Aunt Sarah had worked for a friend of the secretary of the first Richmond Chess Club.

 

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