Category Archives: History

Remembering Dr. Julian Farrand QC (Hon) (13-viii-1935 17-vii-2020)

Prof. Julian Farrand at the King's Place Rapidplay, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography
Prof. Julian Farrand at the King’s Place Rapidplay, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography

BCN remembers Dr. Julian Farrand who passed on Friday, July 17th, 2020. He was 84 years of age.

Julian Thomas Farrand was born August 13th, 1935 in Doncaster in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Dr. Farrand QC(Hon), formerly the Insurance Ombudsman, became the Pensions Ombudsman, and he had been a Law Commissioner and a University Professor of Law at the University of Manchester where he was Dean of the faculty.

Most recently he lived in Morpeth, London, SW1.

Dr JULIAN FARRAND  Pensions Ombudsman  COMPULSORY CREDIT: UPPA/Photoshot Photo  UKWT 011879/A-32a    31.07.1996
Dr JULIAN FARRAND Pensions Ombudsman COMPULSORY CREDIT: UPPA/Photoshot Photo UKWT 011879/A-32a 31.07.1996

His first recorded game in Megabase 2020 was white at the 1968 British Championships in Bristol against life-long friend CGM Keith Bevan Richardson. Together with Raymond Brunton Edwards, Julian and Keith were long-time trustees of the BCFs Permanent Invested Fund (PIF).

Julian played for Pimlico, Cavendish and Insurance in the London League and he maintained a standard play grading of 172A in 2020 as well as a FIDE rating of 1943 for standard play. He also played in the London Public Services League, the Central London League and the City Chess Association League. He made regular appearances in the Bronowski Trophy competition and the World Senior’s Team Tournament.

His (according to Megabase 2020) peak Elo rating was 2238 in April, 2004 aged 69. It is likely to have been higher than that if it was measured.

Julian joined Barbican following its merger with Perception Youth to become Barbican Youth in the Four Nations Chess League (4NCL).

His favourite openings with white were : The Richter-Veresov Opening in later years and the English/Barcza Opening in earlier times.

With Black he enjoyed the Czech System and the Lenningrad Dutch.

His son, Tom, is a strong player and a successful barrister with expertise in Intellectual Property Rights, Trademarks and Copyright law.

His wife (married in 1992), Baroness Hale of Richmond, served as President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from 2017 to 2020, and serves as a member of the House of Lords as a Lord Temporal.

Julian Farrand with Lady Hale at a Buckingham Palace reception. Photo : Press Association
Julian Farrand with Lady Hale at a Buckingham Palace reception. Photo : Press Association

Memorial messages have been posted on the English Chess Forum and many will, no doubt, follow. Included are older games from John Saunders not found in the online databases.

In 2015 Julian (together with fellow trustees Keith Richardson and Ray Edwards) received the ECF President’s Award for services to the Permanent Invested Fund.

Here is the citation from the 2015 award :

“Julian is best known as the first-ever English ombudsman (in insurance). He is the husband of law lord Baroness Hale. I (SR) first met him at about the age of 12 year old when playing for my school. He is about four years older. Both Ray and Julian are members of the Book of the Year Committee and have been reviewing books for this purpose for many years. Both are quite strong chess players, indeed playing for England in the same team in the European 60+ Team Championship in Vienna 11-20 July 2015. Keith was to have been a member of the same team, but his wife’s ill-health forced him to withdraw.”

Here is an obituary from The Times of London

Here is an obituary from Stewart Reuben

Prof. Julian T Farrand at the King's Place Rapidplay, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography
Prof. Julian T Farrand at the King’s Place Rapidplay, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography
Love All Risks by Julian Farrand
Love All Risks by Julian Farrand
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Minor Pieces 5: Francis Ptacek

Continuing from my last article about Arthur Towle Marriott, I promised a series of articles on his Leicester opponents.

This is an interesting period in chess history, witnessing the start of inter-club competitions as we used to know them before Covid-19.

The two matches between Leicester and Nottingham in January and February 1877 seem to have been Leicester’s first matches against another club. Nottingham, however, had previous form: the earliest match I can find was against Derby in 1872. Train services from Nottingham to Derby started in 1839, with trains to Leicester available the following year, but by now rail transport had become more frequent and more affordable. It was the 3.35 servicethat took the Nottingham chess players to Leicester on 25 January 1877.

The following week the Leicester Journal reported:

An interesting event in connection with this club, took place on Thursday week, in the Mayor’s Parlour of the old Town Hall, kindly lent for the occasion by the Mayor, W. Winterton Esq., when the majority of the members assembled to welcome six gentlemen of the Nottingham Chess Club, who arrived by the 3.35 train, to spend, by invitation, a few hours in friendly contest at Chess. The high reputation of the Nottingham Club, caused considerable interest to be felt in the visit, and it was thought that the home players would have but little chance of maintaining a creditable stand. When, therefore, at the close of the contest, it was found that Nottingham had won the match by only one in their favour, considerable gratification was experienced at so favourable a result. The following gentlemen represented the Nottingham Club: S. Hamel Esq., President, Messrs. Stevenson, Marriott, Glendenning, Brown, and Kirk, while Rev. W. L. Newham, Mr W. Stanyon (president), Dr. Nuttall, Herr Ptacek, Messrs. Atkins and Withers did battle for Leicester, winning eight games to their opponent’s nine. The play of the Nottingham gentlemen was much admired for the skill and ingenuity evinced, and, as a consequence of their visit to Leicester, it may be safely asserted that the impetus given to the study of this most intellectual of games among the members of the Home Club, will not soon pass away. The return match we are given to understand will be played at Nottingham on Tuesday next, February 6th, at the Club Room, Long-row. In connection with the Leicester Chess Club we are pleased to learn that its members during the present session have almost doubled, and that new life and energy seem to pervade all its movements.

Chess matches in those days were always described as ‘interesting’ (see also below). Or if not ‘interesting’, then ‘pleasant’.

(Note that the Mr Atkins active at that time was seemingly not related to the great Henry Ernest Atkins, about whom more later.)

It’s not clear from this report whether Nottingham’s Mr Marriott was Arthur or one of his brothers. Zavatarelli assumes it was Arthur: it’s possible that other reports not available online will confirm this.

The week after next, a Leicester team took the train north. Here’s the report from the Nottinghamshire Guardian:

On Tuesday evening a most interesting and spirited match at chess took place between the clubs of Nottingham and Leicester, at the rooms of the former, which are at Mr. Bingham’s restaurant, Long-row. Seven members of the Leicester club took part in the game against eight of Nottingham. About nine o’clock in the evening the members of both clubs adjourned, and sat down to supper, when Mr. Hamel, president of the Nottingham society, occupied the chair. After the usual loyal toasts had been honoured, that of “Continued success and prosperity to the Nottingham Chess Club” was proposed by the chairman and enthusiastically drunk. In the course of his remarks, the chairman referred in very feeling terms to the death of Mr. Thomas Hill, one of the oldest and most respected members of the club, and whose lost he (the chairman) was sure, must be deeply regretted and mourned by all. The president next referred to the Cambridge match, which had resulted so successfully, and to the honour of Nottingham – (hear, hear) – they having won both games, and having declared in one game a mate in ten moves, a point which the Cambridge University could not see. (Applause.) Dr. Worth, the vice-president, after alluding to his thirty years’ connection with the club, proposed, in a complimentary manner, the “Health of the Visitors”, which was responded to by the Rev.  Mr. Newham, of Leicester, and Mr. Thompson, the celebrated problem composer of Derby, in very cordial terms. The health of the respected president (Mr. Hamel) having been proposed and drunk with due honours, the members left the supper table, and again proceeded with their games, which were carried on until a late hour. The following is a list of the players – Leicester, Messrs. Ptacek, Withers, Atkins, Latchmore, Stanyon, Nuttall, and the Rev. – Newham. Nottingham: Messrs. E. Marriott, T. Marriott, A. Marriott, Roe, Alderman W. G. Ward, Hugh Browne, T. A. Stevenson, and Mellors. At midnight, the contest was concluded, when it was announced that Nottingham had won six games, lost five, and drawn one. The match resulted in favour of Nottingham by one game.

We only have the names here, but, fortunately the Leicester Chronicle provided more details:

Leicester Chronicle 10 February 1877

Here, we’re told that Arthur Towle Marriott played on board 4 against Herr Ptacek, winning both his games.

Nottingham’s chess star Sigismund Hamel was present, but, for some reason, didn’t play in the match. However, he annotated (rather inaccurately, according to Stockfish 14) Arthur’s two games for the Nottingham Daily Express (not available online).

In the first game, Arthur’s opponent put up little resistance. This is why I often recommend the Ruy Lopez to novices. If Black isn’t familiar with the opening he can end up in a lost position very quickly. This is just the sort of game I like to use when introducing my pupils to this opening.

But who was Herr Ptacek? What was someone with such an exotic name doing in Leicester?

It’s a very good question, with a very interesting answer.

I really need to introduce you to Robert Ralph Noel.

R R Noel (1802-1883) was born in Kirkby Mallory (as in Mallory Park race circuit), the son of a clergyman. He was very well connected: knowing, either directly or indirectly, almost everyone who was anyone in 19th century England: George Eliot, Charles Darwin, Lord Byron (Ada Lovelace, a distant relation, lived in Kirkby Mallory as a young girl). He married a German Baroness whose family had an estate in Bohemia, which gave him connections to the likes of Goethe right across Europe. He wrote a book on phrenology, which you can, if you so desire (but I wouldn’t bother if I were you), read today.

However, his day job involved running the Leicestershire Militia (the volunteer forces), and, like all forces in those days, they needed a good military band, with a good bandmaster to lead it. For much of the 19th century England was known as ‘the land without music’, so when a musician was required it was tempting to look abroad. Mrs Noel had heard good things about a young man from Prague called Franz Ptacek (he’d often be known as Francis in England), and, in 1854, he was engaged to run a military band in Leicester. It seems he was very successful and popular, but, after 12 years or so, following some sort of dispute, he felt obliged to resign his position.

He then set up a new orchestra and concert society, and resumed giving concerts in Leicester. He was also a composer, pianist and organist seemingly much in demand. Light classical music concerts (think the Strauss family: waltzes, polkas, marches, that sort of thing) were a very popular entertainment at the time. He was more ambitious than this, though, writing an opera and programming two of Handel’s great oratorios: Saul and Samson.

It’s time for some music. Ptacek was particularly renowned for his interpretation of the famous Dead March from Saul. I’d have liked to offer you the Leicester Militia playing this in 1860, but instead you’ll have to do with the next best thing: the Band of the Coldstream Guards recorded in 1910.

Band of the Coldstream Guards play Handel’s Funeral March – YouTube

He also found time to indulge in his (and our) favourite hobby: chess. He was selected to represent his adopted city in what was perhaps their first competitive match, where he met our hero, Arthur Towle Marriott.

His play in the first game wasn’t at all impressive, but he conducted his troops rather better in the return game. Perhaps the supper provided by Bingham’s Restaurant had some effect. His Scotch Gambit led to a winning position, only for him to throw away the win with one careless mistake.

Chess matches in those days served a social rather than a competitive purpose. The result, while eagerly anticipated, didn’t really matter that much. It was more an excuse for players from neighbouring towns or cities to meet for some enjoyable games, with a supper in between. Over the next decade or so there would be many changes, as you’ll see in future Minor Pieces.

A few years later, though, something went wrong. For a second time he lost his orchestra and had to resort to teaching the pianoforte, taking private pupils as well as acting as a peripatetic teacher at Miss Lomas’s school.

At Christmas 1885, Ptacek travelled to Chatham to spend the holiday period with his friend Rudolf Sawerthal, another Czech born military musician. He was just about to return to Leicester when he suffered a fatal heart attack, at the age of only 52.

The Leicester Chronicle published a lengthy obituary:

It is with feelings of sincere regret that we announce the death of Herr Ptacek, which took place at Chatham on Thursday morning. The death of this eminent local musician was totally unexpected, and the intelligence of his sudden decease was received with great surprise amongst his intimate friends. About ten days ago Herr Ptacek proceeded to Chatham on a visit to Herr Sawerthal, the accomplished master of the band of the Royal Engineers, whose performance in the Floral Hall during Christmas week gave such exceptional satisfaction to everyone who heard them. He contemplated returning to Leicester on Thursday morning, and had made every preparation for his departure, when he was suddenly seized with pain at the heart. A medical man was immediately summoned, but before he could arrive Herr Ptacek had expired. A telegram was shortly afterwards despatched to Mr. J. Herbert Marshall, of the Rutland-Street music depot, one of the deceased’s most intimate friends, and that gentleman communicated the sad intelligence to his friends in Leicester, all of whom heard the occurrence with much regret. To many the name Herr Ptacek will be unknown, but his name will not be forgotten by those ardent lovers of music who twenty years ago were charmed with the brilliant company of artistes he gathered around him. The deceased came to Leicester a comparative stranger, but his abilities soon won favourable recognition, and he speedily became possessed of a merited reputation for musical accomplishments, which was not confined to the limits of the borough. In 1855 Herr Ptacek was introduced to Leicester by Major and Mrs Noel, who were convinced of his sterling worth as an organiser and conductor. He left Prague, where he had been brought up under cultivating influences, and took charge of the militia band, which was in want of complete and thorough organisation. So well did Herr Ptacek succeed at his appointed task that before long the band was selected to play before the Queen at Aldershot, and the fine playing of the men under his control elicited warm expressions of Royal approval. The band subsequently played several times before a distinguished company at Belvoir Castle. Some disagreement ultimately took place between him and the officers of the regiment, in consequence of which – in order to maintain his self-respect – he felt it necessary to resign. The resignation was accepted, and he renounced the position of bandmaster, amid many expressions of regret. His efforts to improve the musical taste of the town were not, however, forgotten. On December 16, 1867, he was presented by Mr. T. T. Paget, M.P., at a largely-attended meeting of influential inhabitants, with a purse containing 150 guineas, as some acknowledgement of the efforts he had put forth for twelve years to cultivate musical taste and provide for the public enjoyment. The purse was worked by Mrs Noel, and, in accepting the gift, Herr Ptacek made a humorous and appropriate speech. Some time after his severance of the connection with the militia band, Herr Ptacek organised a band of his own, which he trained to an exceptional point of perfection, and also became the conductor of the New Orpheus Society, a  musical association partly, if not completely, antagonistic to the then Philharmonic Society. His charge of that society was marked by masterful activity, his abilities in controlling the resources of an orchestra being strikingly exhibited. Under the auspices of this society, Samson and Saul were given before large audiences in the chief hall of the town, and the magnificent way in which the “Dead March” was rendered has not yet faded from the recollection of those who heard it. Herr Ptacek also for about 14 years filled the position of organist at St. George’s Church, where his cultivated playing was greatly appreciated. He excelled more as a pianist than as an organist, although his skill in playing the more ponderous instrument was of no mean order. Upon his retirement from active musical life he was again the recipient of a testimonial subscribed for by his admiring friends. He lived in comparative retirement, and his name has not been connected with musical efforts in the town for many years past, although we believe he continued to take pupils who  wished to e instructed in the mysteries of the pianoforte. From the commencement of his labours in Leicester his energies had been invariably directed towards the education of the inhabitants, and in this respect he has probably never been excelled, although it would be idle to say he has not been equalled. He was uniformly courteous, and his geniality endeared him to all who came in contact with him. His life was arduous and self-sacrificing, and the news of his death will not fall to awaken feelings of sorrow. He was about 52 years of age. We understand that instructions have been given to have the deceased interred in the Leicester Cemetery.

His memorial unfortunately misspells both his names, making him Frances rather than Francis (‘i’ for ‘im, ‘e’ for ‘er, as my mother taught me).

The inscription reads, in part:

An accomplished musician he was endeared to his many pupils and to all who knew him, not more by his varied attainments than by his honesty and frankness and by the warmth of his attainments. Those who now sorrow over his grave may well say he came among us as a stranger and he departed leaving many warm and devoted friends.

This site provides more information: his date of birth is given as 1831, but this may be wrong: other records suggest it was 2 December 1832. It’s also incorrect in stating that his wife was Czech.

Further information, including from a source about Masonic Music and Musicians in Leicestershire and Rutland, can be found here.

As far as I can tell, none of his music has survived, but I did find a polka written by his friend Rudolf Sawerthal, arranged for accordion:

Polka Arlequín – YouTube

There you have it: Arthur Towle Marriott’s opponent Francis Ptacek leads us on a tour of chess and musical life in Leicester in the 1870s and 1880s. Who will we discover next? You’ll find out here soon enough.

And, by the way, if you’re interested in the sociology of chess in the English Midlands in the 19th century, you can read Rob Ensor’s 2016 Masters Thesis on Nottingham chess here. My thanks to Rob for making this available, and also to John Swain for bringing it to my attention.

 

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Minor Pieces 4: The Marriott Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Towle Marriott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Minor Pieces 3: Septimus Swyer

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

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

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

Several of these suspects have chess connections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Randolph Churchill

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

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

James Swyer

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

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

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

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

Dr Septimus Swyer

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:

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

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

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

Photograph of Lord Randolph Churchill from Wikipedia.

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The Gloomy Fate and Romantic Chess of Arthur Towle Marriott

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

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Richard James, Twickenham 27th May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Moravian Chess

The Gloomy Fate and Romantic Chess of Arthur Towle Marriott, Fabrizio Zavatarelli, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN 978-8071890164
The Gloomy Fate and Romantic Chess of Arthur Towle Marriott, Fabrizio Zavatarelli, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN 978-8071890164
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Minor Pieces 1: Samuel Walter Earnshaw (i)

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Samuel Earnshaw (yale.edu)

Yorkshire Chess History (mannchess.org.uk)

St Giles’, Nether Whitacre – ourparishwls

 

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Remembering Vera Menchik (16-ii-1906 27-vi-1944)

Miss Vera Menchik
Miss Vera Menchik
A Great Life with a Tragic Ending

Few people know the story of Vera Menchik yet it deserves to be told. She was the first women’s world chess champion in 1927 and retained the title undefeated until her untimely death at the age of 38 in 1944 during a rocket attack on London.  She is more properly compared with the great male players of her era against whom she scored creditably. The absence of a full biography of Vera in English reflects the peculiar circumstances of her life and death.

Vera was, in modern terminology, a refugee and essentially a stateless person for much of her life. She was born in Moscow in 1906 during the period of the Russian Empire to an expatriate family who was forced to flee when she was 15 following the Russian Revolution having lost their livelihood.  As they passed through Europe, her father and mother split up in his homeland Czechoslovakia which had been created out of the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian empire. She arrived in England and took up residence in the seaside town of Hastings. (The fact that Hastings had hosted the world’s longest series of annual chess tournaments since 1895 was a happy coincidence.) Vera never attained British nationality until near the end of her life even though she had been domiciled in England from 1921. She won the first-ever Women’s World Championships held in London in 1927 under a Russian flag; thereafter she nominally represented Czechoslovakia until finally she represented England in 1939 following her marriage to a senior official within the British Chess Federation.

Vera’s grandfather was Arthur Illingworth, a wealthy trader from Lancashire who had set up business in Moscow where his Anglo-Russian daughter Olga married František Menčik. He was a successful estate manager. Vera learned chess from her father and performed well at school. Her younger sister Olga was also a good chess player and the sisters remained close throughout their lives.

Vera was a woman in a man’s world – she had to struggle harder to achieve the kind of recognition which was accorded to men. She appeared like a comet in the sky and it would be many years until other women were able to reach her level. At her first major international tournament at Karlsbad in 1929, she was the only female participant in a tournament of 22 great players. Even as women’s world champion, some of the male players objected to her participation.  The Viennese master Albert Becker joked that anybody who lost to her should belong to the Vera Menchik Club. By an irony of history, he became its first member losing to her in the third round. She beat many other grandmasters during her career including the Dutchman Max Euwe in 1930 and 1931 (both at Hastings) who was to become world champion in 1935.

Although she is often portrayed as being Russian or Czech or latterly British, she was a true cosmopolitan. She knew that life could be unstable in any country. She had lived through the Russian Revolution; one parent was left behind in Czechoslovakia; she had moved westwards across Europe and embraced different cultures and languages at formative stages of her life. It is no wonder that she learned also to speak Esperanto which was designated to be the world’s lingua franca before English achieved its dominance. As a leading chess player, she travelled back to Moscow and to Czechoslovakia several times as well as to South America for her final match to retain the women’s world champion title in 1939. She needed to be self-sufficient and was obtained roles as the games editor of a chess magazine as well as being appointed the manager of the National Chess Centre in Oxford Street which was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940.

She survived most of the war and now a widow moved in with her mother and sister to a house in south London.  They took the precaution of going down to the cellar during bombing raids. Tragically the house received a direct hit from a flying bomb and the entire family was wiped out. Hardly any of her possessions remained save for one dented trophy. The records at the national chess centre were destroyed as were her personal effects including her chess memorabilia. At least there remains a record of the moves played in her games which serve as testimony to her remarkable career as not only the first women’s world chess champion but also a woman who broke boundaries wherever she went and demonstrated that a woman is capable of standing on her own feet professionally and leading a full and eventful life.

The Bomb Attack

BCN remembers that in the early morning of Tuesday, June 27th, 1944 (i.e. 77 years ago) Vera Menchik, her sister Olga, and their mother were killed in a V-1 flying bomb attack which destroyed their home at 47 Gauden Road in the Clapham area of South London.

We now know that the V1 in question landed at 00:20 hrs on the 27th and led to the death of a total of 11 people including the Menchik household. Here is a summary of recorded V1 and V2 landings in the Clapham, SW4 area.

47, Gauden Road, Clapham, SW4 6LW in more modern times.
47, Gauden Road, Clapham, SW4 6LW in more modern times.

All three were cremated at the Streatham Park Crematorium on 4 July 1944. Vera was 38 years old.

Signature of Vera Menchik from a Brian Reilly "after dinner" postcard from Margate 1936.
Signature of Vera Menchik from a Brian Reilly “after dinner” postcard from Margate 1936.
Vera’s Parents and Sister

Vera Frantsevna Menchik (or Věra Menčíková) was born in Moscow on Friday, 16th February, 1906. Her father was František Menčik, was born in Bystrá nad JizerouBohemia. František and Olga were married on June  23rd 1905 in Moscow and notice of this marriage appeared in British newspapers on July 22nd 1905.  Vera’s sister was Olga Rubery (née Menchik) and she was born in Moscow in 1908. Olga Menchik married Clifford Glanville Rubery in 1938. Vera married Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson on October 19th 1937.

Her Maternal Roots

Our interest in unearthing her maternal English heritage / roots has led to the following:

Her mother was Olga (née Illingworth (1885 – 27 vi 1944). Olga’s  parents were Arthur Wellington Illingworth and Marie Illingworth (née ?). Arthur was born in October 1852 in the district of Salford, Lancashire, his parents were George Illingworth (1827-1887) and Alice Whewell (1828-1910). 

In the 1861 census Arthur is recorded as being of eight years of age and living in the Illingworth household.

In the 1871 census Arthur is recorded as being of eighteen years of age and living in the Illingworth household of nine persons at 5, Lancaster Road, Pendleton, Lancashire. Arthur’s occupation is listed as being a merchants apprentice. In fact, he was a stock and share broker.

Arthur died in Moscow on February 21st 1898. Probate was recorded in London on July 6th, 1900 as follows:

Illingworth Arthur Wellington of Moscow Russia merchant died 21st February 1898 Probate London 6th July to Walter Illingworth stock and share-broker Effects £4713 7s

£4713 7s in 1898 equates roughly to £626,600.00 in 2020 so it would appear that Arthur was considerably successful and almost certainly left money to Olga Illingworth.

What do we conclude from all of this? Quite simply that Vera’s maternal roots were from Salford in Lancashire.

BCM Announcement

The August 1944 British Chess Magazine (Volume LXIV, Number 8, page 173 onwards) contained this editorial  from Julius du Mont:

Julius du Mont, Editor of British Chess Magazine from 1940 to 1949
Julius du Mont, Editor of British Chess Magazine from 1940 to 1949

“British Chess has suffered a grievous and irreparable loss in the death by enemy action of Mrs. R.H.S. Stevenson known through all the world where chess is played as Vera Menchik.

We give elsewhere (below : Ed.) an appreciation of this remarkable woman. Quite apart from her unique gifts as a chess-player-the world may never see her equal again among women players-she had many qualities which endeared her to all who knew her, the greatest among them being here great-hearted generosity.

We sympathise with our contemporary “CHESS” : Vera Menchik was for some years their games editor. Few columns have been conducted with equal skill and efficiency and none, we feel sure, with a greater sense of responsibility.

The news of this remarkable tragedy will be received by the chess world with sorrow and with abhorrence of the wanton and useless robot methods of a robot people.

One shudders at the heritage of hatred which will be theirs, but their greatest punishment will come with their own enlightenment.”

BCM Contemporary Obituary from EGR Cordingley

From page 178 of the same issue we have an obituary written by EGR Cordingley :

“The death by enemy action of Miss Vera Menchik removes not only the greatest woman chess player of all times but a charming personality.

The world will remember her for her chess prowess, for her exceptional skill as a woman player who had beaten in tournament play such gifted players as Euwe, Sultan Khan, Sir George Thomas, Alexander and Yates. In such company, and she played in several of the Hastings International tournaments and other of similar grade, she usually obtained about 33%, though in the Maribor tournament of 1934 she finished third, behind Pirc and Steiner but ahead of Rejfir, Spielmann, Asztalos and Vidmar.

Her game was characterised by solid position-play, with the definite aim of bringing about a favourable end-game and of avoiding wild complications. The ordinary stratagems of the game, small combinations and the like, were of course part of her equipment, but she lacked that imaginative, inventive spirit without which few become really great players.

In recent times, Reshesvky and Flohr (as a professional with a reputation to maintain and a living to earn) have shown that great success can be achieved by reducing the game to pure positional play, the technique being firstly to build up a position devoid of weaknesses, an ‘I can’t lose position,’ and secondly to create and take advantage of the minutest weaknesses in the opponent’s camp, a major weakness may show that imagination is not quite dead within.

This defect in her play was the inevitable reflection of her character: sound common-sense, conscientious to an unusual degree, and persevering, while she had the combative, tenacious nature so desirable and so often found in good chess players; for chess is battle of wits, the fight is what most of use love in chess. Vera was, seldom assertive, a fault not uncommon in chess players. She sat placidly at the chess board, never causing even mild irritation by any of those nervous mannerisms that may always be seen in any chess room, the peripatetic fever being the most prominent. A slight flush would rise when the position grew difficult, or when she was short of time on her clock – and that was recurrent according to the time-limit.

Away from the chessboard show would readily talk of other subjects, and her great interest was in persons, in their actions and behaviour under the strain and stress of the unruly passions; in the moulding of their lives under the inscrutable dictates of chance; in the twists and turns of a mind warped perhaps by a casual incident long ago. Of course, she was a pagan, a thinking one, who had asked and asked and found only the answer that reasoning gave. She judged kindly and never inflicted upon others her own opinions or beliefs: she asked only that these should be heard as one side of any argument, for she enjoyed a dialectic bout.

A delightful side to her character was her simple sense of humour, and I remember so clearly her pleasure – glee would describe it more eloquently – when I gave her the punctuation necessary to make sense of that ludicrous collection of words, ‘Jones where Brown had had had had had had had had had had had the master’s approval’ Anyone who knew her only at the chessboard would have been astonished at the amount of bubbling merriment she discovered of of life’s events.

I shall remember her more for the woman as I knew her over many cups of coffee spread over many, many weeks – complacent, smiling, and kindly; conscientious, loyal, and sincere; as I understand the word, a Christian who would help any deserving person as best she could. E. G. R. C.

and here is the original article as printed:

British Chess Magazine, Volume LXIV (1944), Number 8, August, Page 178
British Chess Magazine, Volume LXIV (1944), Number 8, August, Page 178
BCM 1958 Appreciation by Peter Clarke

From British Chess Magazine, Volume LXXVIII (128, 1958), Number 7 (July), page 181 onwards) we have this retrospective from Peter Clarke:

“The night of June 27th,1944, Vera Menchik, World Woman Champion, was killed when an enemy bomb demolished her home in London; with her perished her mother and sister Olga. In these tragic circumstances the chess world lost its greatest woman player, still undefeated and at the height of her powers.

Vera Francevna Menchik was born in Moscow on February 16th, 1906, of an English mother and Czech father. There she spent her childhood, showing a love for literature, music, and, of course, chess, which at the age of nine she was taught by her father. She had a natural bent for the game and when only fourteen shared second and third places a schoolboys (!) tournament. The following year, 1921, the family came to England, where Miss Menchik lived the rest of her life.

As if by some fortunate coincidence, the Menchiks settled in Hastings, though it was not until the spring of 1923 that Vera joined the famous chess club. Her natural shyness and lack of knowledge of English caused this delay. However, they did not handicap her too much
as she herself afterwards wrote: ‘Chess is a quiet game and therefore the best hobby for a person who cannot speak the language.”

She studied the game eagerly, and very soon her talent caught the attention of the Hungarian grandmaster, Géza Maróczy, who was resident at Hastings at that time. Thus there began the most important period in her development as a player; a sound and mature understanding of positional play-and a thorough knowledge of a few special openings and defences: in particular the French Defence. The influence of
the grandmasters ideas was clearly apparent in her style throughout the whole of her career.

Miss Menchik’s rise to fame was meteoric: by 1925 she was undoubtedly the strongest player of her sex in the country, having twice defeated the Champion, E. Price, in short matches; and only two years later she won the first Women’s World Championship in London with the terrific score 10.5-0.5. She was just twenty-one, but already in a different class from any other woman in the world. For seventeen years until her death Vera Menchik reigned supreme in women’s chess, defending her world title successfully no less than seven times (including a match with Sonja Graf at Semmering in 1937, which Miss Menchik won 11.5-4.5. In the seven tournaments for the World Championship she played 83 games; winning 78, drawing 4, and losing 1 only! However, what was more remarkable was that she was accepted into the sphere of men’s chess as a master in her own right, a feat which no woman had done before or has done since. Up to then, women’s chess had been a very poor relation of the masculine game, but here was a woman who was a worthy opponent for the strongest masters.

Flohr wrote of her: ‘Vera Menchik was the first woman in the world who played chess strongly…who played like a man.’ It was as the ambassador extraordinary, so to speak, of the women’s game that Miss Menchik really made her greatest contribution to chess. Wherever she went, at home and abroad, she aroused great interest among her sex; others were eager to follow her, to identify themselves with her. Nowadays women’s chess is well organized, and much of the credit for this must go to Vera Menchik for first bringing it into the light. Among her many personal successes in international tournaments perhaps the greatest was at Ramsgate in 1929: as one of the foreign masters (she was still of Czech nationality) she shared second and third places with Rubinstein, * point behind Capablanca and above, among others, her tutor Maróczy.

Even the greatest masters recognized Miss Menchik’s ability; Alekhine himself, writing on the Carlsbad Tournament of 1929, said: ‘Vera Menchik is without doubt an exceptional phenomenon among women. She possesses great aptitude for the game…The chess
world must help her develop her talent!’

The Vera Menchik Club

An amusing incident occurred at this tournament. There were naturally sceptics among the masters over the lady’s participation. Flohr recalls how one of these, the Viennese master Becker, suggested:

‘Whoever loses to the Woman Champion will be accepted as a member of the Vera Menchik Club which I intend to organize.’

Becker was the first to lose to her, and that evening the masters chided him: “Professor Becker, you did not find it very difficult to join the club. You can be the Chairman.’ And forthwith he was chosen as Chairman for three years. Everyone wished that the new club would soon obtain more members! Indeed, the Vera Menchik Club has many famous names on its lists-Euwe, Reshevsky, Colle, Yates, Sultan Khan, Sir G. A. Thomas, Alexander, to mention a few.

In 1935 Miss Menchik returned to the country of her birth to take part in the great international tournament in Moscow. To be truthful, she had very little success, but she was everywhere treated with respect and sympathy by masters and spectators alike. The Soviet master l. Maiselis, writing in CHESS in 1944.(Shakhmaty za 1944 god), related the following entertaining anecdote from the tournament: One day a group of players and organizers were discussing the chances of Alekhine and Euwe in the forthcoming match. Flohr said: ‘It is quite clear that I will be World Champion.’ We looked at him inquiringly.

‘It’s very simple,” continued Flohr, ‘Euwe wins a match against Alekhine, Vera Menchik beats Euwe (at that time her score against Euwe was +2, =1, -1) and I will somehow beat Miss Menchik.’

We laughed at this good-natured joke, and we laughed all the more the next day when Flohr was unable, despite every effort, to defeat her in a vital game.

ln 1937 Miss Menchik married R. Stevenson, but in chess she continued to use her maiden name, made famous by so many victories. Her husband, a well-known organizer, became, Secretary of the B.C.F: in the following year and remained so until his death in 1943.

Since the days of Vera Menchik women’s chess has taken great strides forward; now there is a special committee of F.I.D.E. to look after its needs.- Only last year the first lnternational Women’s Team Tournament took place ln Emmen, Holland; the new World Champions, the U.S.S.R., became the first holders of the Vera Menchik Cup. So chess goes onwards, but the name of its first Queen will ever be remembered.”

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

“Woman World Champion from 1927 to 1944. Vera Menchik was born in Moscow on 16th February 1906 of an English mother and a Czech father. Her father taught her to play chess when she was 9.

Vera Menchik 1906-1944 chess playerin, CZ / GB portrait with chess board late twenties (Photo by ullstein bild / ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Vera Menchik 1906-1944 chess playerin, CZ / GB portrait with chess board late twenties (Photo by ullstein bild / ullstein bild via Getty Images)

In 192l her family came to England and settled in Hastings (at 13, St. John’s Road, St. Leonards-on-Sea, TN37 6HP) :

13, St. John's Road, St. Leonards-on-Sea, TN37 6HP
13, St. John’s Road, St. Leonards-on-Sea, TN37 6HP

Two years later, when she was 17, Vera joined Hastings Chess Club,

Hastings Chess Club : 2 Cornwallis Terrace, Hastings TN34 1EB
Hastings Chess Club : 2 Cornwallis Terrace, Hastings TN34 1EB

where she became a pupil of Geza Maroczy. The first Women’s World Championship was held in 1927. Vera Menchik won with a score of 10.5 out of 11. She defended her title successfully in Hamburg in 1930, in Prague in 1931, in Folkestone in 1933, in Warsaw in 1935, in Stockholm in 1937 and in Buenos Aires in 1939. She played 2 matches against Sonja Graf, her nearest rival, in 1934 when she won +3 -1 and in 1937, in a match for her title when she won +9 -1 =5.

Isaac Kashdan plays Vera Menchik during the Hastings Congress on December 28th, 1931. Kashdan won in 45 moves in a classical French.
Isaac Kashdan plays Vera Menchik during the Hastings Congress on December 28th, 1931. Kashdan won in 45 moves in a classical French.

The first woman ever to play in the British Championship and the first to play in a master tournament, Vera Menchik made her debut in master chess at Scarborough 1928 when she scored 50 per cent. The following year she played in Paris and Carlsbad, and it was at Carlsbad that the famous Menchik Club was formed. The invitation to Vera Menchik to compete among such players as Capablanca, Euwe, Tartakower and Nimzowitch was received with amusement by many of the masters. The Viennese master, Becker was particularly scornful, and in the presence of a number of the competitors he suggested that anyone who lost to Vera Menchik should be granted membership of the Menchik Club. He himself became the first member. Other famous players who later joined the club were Euwe, Reshevsky, Sultan Khan, Sir George Thomas, C. H. O’D. Alexander, Colle and Yates.

Her greatest success in international tournaments was at Ramsgate in 1929, when she was =2nd with Rubinstein, half a point behind Capablanca and ahead of Maroczy. In 1934 she was 3rd at Maribor, ahead of Spielmann and Vidmar. In 1942 she won a match against Mieses +4 -l -5. In 1937 Vera Menchik married R. H. S. Stevenson, who later became Hon. Secretary of the British Chess Federation. He died in 1943. She continued to use her maiden name when playing chess. On her marriage she became a British subject.

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

From 1941 until her death she was Games Editor of CHESS. She also gave chess lessons and managed the National Chess Centre, which opened in 1939 at John Lewis’s in Oxford Street, London and was destroyed by a bomb in 1940.

In 1944 Vera Menchik was a solid positional player, who avoided complications and aimed at achieving a favourable endgame. Her placid temperament was ideal for tournament play. Her main weakness was possibly lack of imagination. Her results have made her the most successful woman player ever.”

Vera Menchik
Vera Menchik

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

Probably the strongest woman player in the history of the game, Vera Menchik was born in Moscow and, though her father was a Czechoslovak and her mother English, she played for most of her
life under English colours.

In l92l her family came to Hastings in England and there Vera became a pupil of the great Hungarian master, Geza Maroczy. This was to have a dominating influence on her style of play which was solidly classical, logical and technically most well equipped. Such a style enabled her to deal severely not only with her fellow women players but also with contemporary masters and budding masters. Vera did extremely well, for example, against C. H. O’D. Alexander
and P. S. Milner-Barry, but lost repeatedly to H. Golombek who was able to take advantage of her lack of imagination by the use of more modern methods.

Vera was soon predominent in women’s chess. In the first Women’s World Championship tournament, at London in 1927, she won the title with a score of 10.5 out of 11 and retained the championship with great ease at all the subsequent Olympiads (or International Team tournaments as they were then known more correctly) at Hamburg 1930, Prague 1931, Folkestone 1933, Warsaw 1935, Stockholm 1937 and Buenos Aires 1939.

Vera Menchik at Margate 1935, photographer unknown
Vera Menchik at Margate 1935, photographer unknown

With Sonja Graf, the player who came nearest to her in strength among her female contemporaries, she played two matches and demonstrated her undoubted superiority by beating her in 1934 (+3-l) and again in a match for the title in l937 (+9-l=5).

In 1937 Vera officially became a British citizen by marrying the then Kent and later B.C.F. Secretary, R. H. S. Stevenson (Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson: ed).
(Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson was home news editor of the British Chess Magazine, secretary of the Southern Counties Chess Union and match captain of the Kent County Chess Association).

Oddly enough, Sonja Graf, many years later, also became a Mrs Stevenson by marrying an American of that name some years after the Second World War.

Vera Menchik also played and held her own in men’s tournaments. She did well in the British championship and her best performance in international chess was =2nd with Rubinstein in the Ramsgate Team Practice tournament ahead of her old teacher, Maroczy. She also had an excellent result at Maribor in 1934 where she came 3rd, ahead of Spielmann and Vidmar.

Her husband died in 1943 and Vera herself, together with her younger sister Olga and her mother, was killed by a V1 bomb that descended on the Stevenson home in London in 1944.

Vera Menchik, circa 1935, Historic Collection / Alamy Stock Photo
Vera Menchik, circa 1935, Historic Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

This was a sad and premature loss, not only for British but for world chess, since there is no doubt she would have continued to dominate the female scene for many years.

As a person Vera was a delightful companion, jolly and full of fun and understanding. As a player she was not only strong but also absolutely correct and without any prima donna behaviour. Generous in defeat and modest in victory, she set a great example to all her contemporaries.

An example of Vera’s attacking play at its best against her nearest rival, Sonja Graf, is shown by the following game which was played in her 1937 match at Semmering in Austria :

27th November 1936: Britain's world chess champion Vera Menchik (right) and challenger Sonja Graf after signing a contract at the Bloomsbury Hotel, London, to play for the championship of the world over 16 games. (Photo by J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
27th November 1936: Britain’s world chess champion Vera Menchik (right) and challenger Sonja Graf after signing a contract at the Bloomsbury Hotel, London, to play for the championship of the world over 16 games. (Photo by J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

From The Oxford Companion to Chess, (Oxford University Press, 1984) by Hooper and Whyld :

“Woman World Champion from 1927 until her death. Daughter of a Czech father and an English mother, Menchik was born in Moscow, learned chess when she was nine, settled in England around
1921, and took lessons from Maroczy a year or so later. In 1927 FIDE organized both the first Olympiad and the first world championship tournament for women. These events were run concurrently, except in 1928, until the Second World War began, and Menchik won the women’s tournament every time; London 1927 (+10=1); Hamburg 1930 (+6=1 — 1); Prague 1931 (+8);
Folkestone 1933 ( + 14); Warsaw 1935 (+9); Stockholm 1937 (+14); and Buenos Aires 1939 ( + 17=2). She played in her first championship tournament as a Russian, the next five as a Czech,
and the last as a Briton. She also won on two matches against her chief rival, the German-born Sonja Graf (c. 1912-65): Rotterdam, 1934 (+3-1), and Semmering, 1937 (+9=5—2),

Vera Menchik in a pre-event posed picture in which she faces unstoppable checkmate in one from Hastings 193? She was about to play Sir GA Thomas.
Vera Menchik in a pre-event posed picture in which she faces unstoppable checkmate in one from Hastings 193? She was about to play Sir GA Thomas.

In international tournaments which did not exclude men Menchik made little impression; one of her best results was at Maribor 1934 (about category 4) when she took third place alter Pirc and L. Steiner ahead of Spielmann. In 1937 she married the English chess organizer Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson (1878-1943), A chess professional, she gave lessons, lectures, and displays, and was appointed manager of the short-lived National Chess Centre in 1939. In 1942 she defeated Mieses in match play (+4=5-1), She, her younger sister Olga (also a player), and their mother were killed in a bombing raid.

From left to right: Vera Menchik, Alexander Alekhine, Géza Maróczy and Sultan Khan. From London International Masters, 1st February, 1932, French Defence, drawn in 32 moves.
From left to right: Vera Menchik, Alexander Alekhine, Géza Maróczy and Sultan Khan. From London International Masters, 1st February, 1932, French Defence, drawn in 32 moves.

Her style was positional and she had a sound understanding of the endgame. On occasion she defeated in tournament play some of the greatest masters, notably Euwe, Reshevsky, and Sultan Khan. Men she defeated were said to belong to the Menchik club. When world team championships for women (women’s chess Olympiads) were commenced in 1957 the trophy for the winning team was called the Vera Menchik Cup.”

Vera Menchik commemorated on a postage stamp from the Czech Republic
Vera Menchik commemorated on a postage stamp from the Czech Republic

She was inducted to the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2011.

Other Articles

Here is an excellent article from the Hastings and St. Leonard’s Club written by Brian Denman.

Here is an excellent article from Neil Blackburn (aka SimaginFan) on chess.com

Here is an excellent article by Albert Whitwood

Here is her Wikipedia  entry.

Here is an excellent record compiled by Bill Wall.

Biography of Vera Menchik British chess player

Vera Menchik., EI Bykova, Moscow, 1957, 176 pages, 4s 7d.
Vera Menchik., EI Bykova, Moscow, 1957, 176 pages, 4s 7d.
Vera Menchik: A Biography of the First Women's World Chess Champion, with 350 Complete Games
Vera Menchik: A Biography of the First Women’s World Chess Champion, with 350 Complete Games

Edward Winter was less than impressed with the above book.

Vera Menchik
Vera Menchik
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George Henry Mackenzie: Third US Chess Champion, 1870

George Henry Mackenzie: Third US Chess Champion, 1870

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

From the publisher:

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

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

Vlastimil Fiala
Vlastimil Fiala

 

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

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

The Foreword provides some explanation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham 9th May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Moravian Chess

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

Minor Pieces : A Bishop and Knight
Minor Pieces : A Bishop and Knight

Minor pieces for two reasons. These articles cover minor pieces of chess history. And, for the most part, they will concern minor players in our game’s history. Grandmasters are often described as the kings and queens of chess, in which case international masters, and perhaps also national masters, might be seen as rooks: lesser major pieces. Children playing at a low level in school clubs are the pawns, while the rest of us, from social players through to club and tournament players like me. They might not have produced brilliant games or enhanced the knowledge of chess, but, by just being there, each one of them has been a link in the chain. You won’t just meet players, though. You’ll encounter a few problemists, maybe study composers, and others who made their mark in chess in other ways.

Some of you will be aware that, as well as chess history, I’m also interested in both family and local history. None of my ancestors were, to my knowledge, chess players, although I almost certainly share a very small piece of DNA with an English international. However, some of them married into the families of chess players, and others might have encountered chess players as they went about their daily lives.

Some of these stories will take the form of a circular tour, where we travel through the ages, and, on occasion, round the world as well, to find connections.

I’m also researching chess in my area: Richmond and Twickenham, along with neighbouring areas such as Kingston and Surbiton. I’ll be looking at the stories of some of those who lived in, or represented chess clubs in this part of the world. Where they’re available, I’ll show you some of their games or problems as well. In parallel, wanting to consider other parts of the country, I’ll look at chess in Leicester, my father’s home city and also the city where I studied half a century ago.

I’ll try to contextualise the stories in terms of social history. Who were these people? What were their jobs? What about their families? When did they learn? Why did they play? What part did chess play in their lives? Understanding history of this nature might help us in considering the changing nature of chess as we emerge from the pandemic.

Some of the stories I tell will have no connection with either my family or my locations of interest: just stories I came across and wanted, often for sociological reasons, to investigate further.

A quick note on sources. Genealogy websites provide ready access to birth, marriage and death records from 1837 to date, as well as parish records often going back a further two or three hundred years. Census records from 1841 to 1911 are also online, with the 1921 census being released in January 2022. The 1939 Register is also available. Many of the families I’ll consider have already been researched, with extensive and (sometimes, but not always) accurate trees having been created by relatives or historians. Others, though, are not, in which case I’ll have a go myself.

I hope you enjoy these articles. If you have any corrections, suggestions for further research, or other comments, please get in touch.

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Chess Duels 1921 – 1924 : 127 Games Annotated by Alexander Alekhine

Chess Duels 1921 – 1924 : 127 Games Annotated by Alexander Alekhine

Chess Duels 1921 - 1924 : 127 Games Annotated by Alexander Alekhine, Vlastimil Fiala & Ken Neat, Moravian Chess, 2020, ISBN 978-80-7189-021-8
Chess Duels 1921 – 1924 : 127 Games Annotated by Alexander Alekhine, Vlastimil Fiala & Ken Neat, Moravian Chess, 2020, ISBN 978-80-7189-021-8

From the publisher:

The publication is a continuation of the project to publish all the available games annotated by the Fourth world chess champion Alexander Alekhine. These are not only his own games but also games played by other players for which he contributed notes in various publications. Covered here are several international tournaments in Europe from 1921-1923, as well as exhibition games in Britain and North America from 1923 and early 1924. An additional chapter gives a few early game annotations which were not included in the first volume. 312 pp. Researched by Vlastimil Fiala, translated and edited by Ken Neat.

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

Vlastimil Fiala
Vlastimil Fiala

Durham based Dr. Kenneth P. Neat (an expert on cosmic rays which he studied whilst at Moscow State University between 1968 and 1970) is one of the most experienced chess translators with a back-catalogue extending to almost fifty years. His earliest work was for BT Batsford and, by a pleasurable coincidence, was “Alexander Alekhine” by Alexander Kotov published in 1973. Ken translated many titles for Batsford and then became the in-house translator for Robert Maxwell and Pergamon Publishing with many works to his credit. Since then Ken has translated further titles for Moravian Chess.

This is the second book in a series (“Chess Duels”) to collect together all games annotated by Alekhine regardless of who the players were. The first book by this team covered the period 1893 – 1920 and this book continues by covering the years 1921 – 1924.

Chess Duels 1893 - 1920, Moravian Press
Chess Duels 1893 – 1920, Moravian Press

The book is produced as a hardback of almost exactly A5 dimensions. The binding appears to be well executed and the cover hard wearing. There is a generous quantity of diagrams per game using figurine algebraic notation throughout. The book requires no weights to keep it open and the pages are printed in a double column format. The book even has a charming aroma and feel when flicking through the pages!

For each game we are given the original source of the annotations plus the details of the players, the event type and name and a basic modern description of the opening and its Rabar Index / ECO code.

The content of the book is divided into four parts, one for each year. Each Part is then further subdivided, for example:

  1. Part One : Games Played in Europe I (1921)
    • Games played in Germany
    • Budapest 1921
    • The Hague 1921
    • Two Knights Opening
    • Staunton Gambit
  2. Part Two : Games Played in Europe II (1922)
    • Bad Pistyan 1922
    • London 1922
    • Hastings 1922
    • Vienna 1922
    • Other Games 1922
  3. Part Three : Games Played in Europe III (1923)
    • Karlsbad 1923
    • Margate and Portsmouth
    • Other Games 1923
  4. Part Four : Games Played in Canada and USA (November 1923 – February 1924)
  5. Supplement to First Volume, Early Games (1861 – 1920)
  6. Appendices
    • Translator’s notes
    • Index of Sources
    • Index of Alekhine’s Opponents
    • Index of other Players
    • Index of Openings

So, the layout of material is clear and logical with a strong academic approach. One gets an impression of rigour and attention to detail. One detail missing that could have easily have been included was the exact date (where known) for each of the games. We found it interesting to compare the notes for games from a variety of sources and annotators and the date would have made these comparisons easier.

As stated, we have 127 complete games all with annotations from Alekhine himself. Of these 22 do not feature Alekhine but they are all top players of the period such such Rubinstein, Tarrasch, Yates, Thomas, Mieses etc.

One of the games that caught our eye was this lively encounter between Alekhine and Yates from Hastings in 1922:

The items titled “Two Knights Opening” and “Staunton Gambit” are theoretical articles written by Alekhine from the tournament book.

Of course, most (if not all) of the Alekhine games feature in previous games collections (nobody should be surprised by this). We compared the translation of the original annotations and the “feel” of the annotation has been retained. For example, from the well-known brilliancy prize winning game Tarrasch – Alekhine, Bad Pistyan, 1922, round one we have this translation by Julius du Mont and M. E. Goldstein (“My Best Games of Chess 1908 – 1923“, Alexander Alekhine, George Bell and Sons Ltd., London, 1927) of the note to after 1. d4 Nf6;2.Nf3 e6;3.c4 c5;

With the intention of investigating, on the next move, the gambit discovered by the Moscow amateur, Blumenfeld. Since then it has been shown that this Gambit is not favourable for Black if White should decline it

and our review book has

With the intention of introducing into international practise an interesting gambit, suggested by V.M. Blumenfeld. However it has now been shown that this continuation is more advantageous to White, if he does not accept the pawn sacrifice.

You might be worried that his book has been ruined with pages of modern analysis dumps from BabelFish XX (substitute the current, trendy engine of your choice). Have no fear : this book is choc full of pearls of wisdom from one of the greatest players to annotate games. No doubt there will be unfortunate souls who lives are brightened when “their engine” is able pick holes in analysis from a legend. Perhaps this is not the right book for them.

However…any serious student of chess will be delighted with this work and be able to relive these games through Alekhine’s eyes with much pleasure. The games annotated by Alekhine but not played by him are probably the icing on the cake.

We strongly recommend this and look forward to the next in the series.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 7th April, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardback : 312 pages
  • Publisher: Publishing House Moravian Chess; 1st edition (1 Jan. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8071890219
  • ISBN-13: 978-8071890218
  • Product Mass : 1.5 pounds

Official web site of Moravian Chess

Chess Duels 1921 - 1924 : 127 Games Annotated by Alexander Alekhine, Vlastimil Fiala & Ken Neat, Moravian Chess, 2020, ISBN 978-80-7189-021-8
Chess Duels 1921 – 1924 : 127 Games Annotated by Alexander Alekhine, Vlastimil Fiala & Ken Neat, Moravian Chess, 2020, ISBN 978-80-7189-021-8
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