Category Archives: Richard James

Minor Pieces 70: Francis Joseph Lee (2)

Last time we left London chess professional Francis Joseph Lee as the calendar turned from 1899 into 1900.

He was finally selected for the Anglo-American Cable Match that year, being assigned to Board 2 where he took the white pieces against one of his London 1899 opponents, Jackson Whipps Showalter. Standing worse much of the way he managed to escape into a somewhat fortunate draw.

This was the critical position, with Black to play his 45th move.

Stockfish tells me Black is winning easily if he goes after the h-pawn, but, in the heat of battle, it’s very tempting to target the dangerous looking a-pawn instead. The game concluded 45… Ra1? 46. Nc4 Rxa4? (Kf6 still offered some winning chances) 47. Nxe5 Kd6 48. Nf3, and the combatants agreed to share the point.

In April Lee took part in an invitation tournament run by the City of London club, where his result was about what he would have expected, although he only managed to beat the three tail-enders.

In this game his knights on the rim were far from dim. (As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.)

A match against Passmore that summer was won by 5 points to 3. In December he finished second to Teichmann in a 5-player tournament at Simpson’s Divan.

In this game he was successful with the London System.

In 1901 Francis Joseph Lee was on tour again, returning to Ireland where he spent a weekend with Irish Nationalist MP and chess addict John Howard Parnell, whose love of chess is mentioned on several occasions in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Here’s a game from a Dublin simultaneous display.

Lee was also interviewed by the Dublin Evening Herald (16 March 1901).

In April he returned to London where he was placed on Board 3 in the Anglo-American cable match, drawing his game with John Finan Barry. That summer there was another match against Richard Teichmann, which he lost by 5½ to 2½.

Lee continued touring in England into 1902, when he played on Board 4 in the Anglo-American Cable Match. Playing white against Albert Beauregard Hodges, he seemed ill at ease in an IQP position, losing the exchange and, eventually, the game.

Then, in April, there was an announcement.

Eastern Daily Press 02 April 1902

But he had time for an Easter party before he left, having fun with some distinguished friends.

The Hereford Times 05 April 1902

Except that he never reached Australia, instead stopping off in South Africa, where his brother George was living. By June it was reported that he was giving simultaneous displays and playing exhibition games in Cape Town.

This game was played against two of South Africa’s strongest players, Abraham Michael and Max Blieden, playing in consultation.

He then visited Pretoria and Johannesburg, where, in December, he was appointed Chess Editor of the Rand Daily Mail. He seemed well and truly established in a new country of residence.

Falkirk Herald 04 March 1903

Fairly substantial sponsorship for the time and place, I would have thought. Needless to say, he won first prize with a score of 8/9, followed by Blieden on 7½ and Michael on 6½.

In this game his opponent missed a chance to activate his queen on move 31 before ill-advisedly trading queens into a lost bishop ending.

Nice work if you can get it. Organise a tournament, find a sponsor and then, because you’re the strongest player around, win it (the first prize was £55) yourself.

But then:

Northern Whig 11 June 1903

(There are quite a few instances of his being referred to as JF Lee rather than FJ Lee.)

Back in England again, he spent the autumn touring clubs in the south west of the country. In January 1904 he was at the other end of England, in Carlisle, before travelling down to Brighton for a 9-player tournament in February.

Here, he shared second place with 5½/8 with the young German player Paul Saladin Leonhardt, resident in London at the time, a point behind Reginald Pryce Michell.

Here’s his win against Leonhardt.

In March Lee was appointed umpire of the Oxford v Cambridge match, and was called upon to adjudicate an unfinished game when time was called.  Summer was a busy time, with two tournaments to play in.

The City of London club organised an event starting at the end of July featuring many of the top players then resident in England. With the Germans Teichmann and Leonhardt, along with Dutchmen van Vliet and Loman it had quite an international feel to it.

Lee’s score of 9/16 was round about a par result for him.

The great veteran Blackburne opened 1. a3, and Lee was able to build up one of his trademark slow kingside attacks.

He was fortunate to win an exciting game against endgame (and carpet) expert Tattersall.

At this time he liked to transpose from the Exchange Caro-Kann into the Scandinavian by capturing with his queen on d5. It didn’t always work out, but here, against one of the weaker players in the event, it proved effective.

Just a week later, the first British Chess Championships took place in Hastings. Lee was selected for the top section, so had to make another trip down to the Sussex coast.

His result was again what he would have expected. On retrospective ratings he finished below those rated above him, and above those rated below him, but he did have wins against Atkins and Michell to his credit.

In the first round Mackenzie carelessly blundered into a queen sacrifice.

Lee annotated this game for the British Chess Magazine. He commented after Black’s 24th move that Black should have played Qf7, but White’s advantage was probably sufficient to win. Stockfish, as you’ll see, is of a different opinion.

This is the key position from Lee’s game against Atkins. Atkins miscalculated by playing 22… Bxe1? (Qxb7 is only slightly better for White) 23. Bxc8 Rd8 24. Bc5 Qc7 25. Bxe6 and Black resigned as he’s going to end up a piece down.

His win against Michell is well worth looking at.

Later that year, Lee undertook another tour of South West England, but 1905 started quietly. He was selected to take part in the Anglo-American cable match, but this was called off at short notice due to broken cables.

That summer, rather than playing in the British Championship, he took part in his first continental tournament, playing in the Masters B section of a massive event in Barmen, Germany.

His 50% score was again about par for the course, but, typically, he performed as well against the top half as he did against the bottom half. The two most familiar names to you, I guess, would be Spielmann, finishing level with Lee, and Nimzowitsch, who had a poor result. Both were young men who would do much better in future.

His win against Spielmann, using his favourite Caro-Kann Defence (I’m sure Horatio Caro himself would have been delighted) was an excellent game.

His game against the Italian representative was also very typical of his style.

In this game against a German master, though, he was on the wrong side of a spectacular miniature. Sadly, Post would later become the Nazis’ leading chess organiser.

Here, against a Dutch opponent, he escaped from a lost position by sacrificing a rook for a perpetual check.

In the last round he won another good game against the second place finisher.

You’ll see from these games that Lee was capable of producing interesting games from openings which might be considered slow, but not necessarily dull.

By November he was touring in Scotland, announcing that he was planning an extensive tour of the Colonies in the new year.

This time he ended up visiting Trinidad and Venezuela.

Morning Post 21 May 1906

The visit to Trinidad may well have been instigated by the chess-playing Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago, John Francis Welsh. They met eleven times during Lee’s visit, mostly in simuls, with each player winning five games. Here’s one of the Bishop’s wins, in which he opted for the Lesser Bishop’s Gambit (my source names it the Limited Bishop’s Gambit, known in London, apparently as the Circumcised Bishop’s Gambit).

My source suggests Lee resigned in a lost position as 26… Ne3 would have been winning. Stockfish continues 26… Ne3! 27. Ne6! Nxf1 28. Rxf1 Qd7 29. Nxf8 Qxg4+ 30. Qg2 Qxg2+ 31. Kxg2 Rxf8 when Black is a pawn up in the ending but White should probably be able to hold the draw.

Lee had entered the 1906 Ostend megatournament, but was forced to withdraw for health reasons. Some reports suggested he was, for a second time, planning to visit Australia, but was now unable to do so. However, he had recovered in time to take part in the 3rd British Championships, which took place in Shrewsbury that August.

A score of 7/11 was enough for a share of third place: an excellent result considering his recent health problems.

Against Mercer his pet Stonewall/London formation again led to a winning kingside attack.

Here’s another example: it’s striking that even a strong player like Palmer didn’t really understand what was happening and eventually perished down the h-file.

At the prizegiving, both Lee and Blackburne were presented with purses of gold for their services to chess.

In the autumn of 1906 and early 1907 he toured the north of England, Scotland and Ireland, including spending a week with the Edinburgh Ladies Chess Club. By February 1907 he was back in London, taking board 6 against Albert Whiting Fox in the Anglo-American Cable Match, back after a three year absence.

This was a long and well-played draw, but Lee missed an opportunity on his final move.

Fox (Black) had just played 65… Ke5-d5? instead of the correct fxg2. Now Lee missed the chance to play 66. gxf3! which should secure the full point because the pawn ending after 66… Bxf3 is winning.

By May he was well enough to cross the channel to Ostend, where another mammoth tournament was being held. The format was slightly more comprehensible than the previous year. A grandmaster section where six players (Tarrasch, Schlechter, Janowsky, Marshall, Burn and Chigorin) played each other four times, a 30-player all play all master section, three amateur sections and, like the previous year, a Ladies tournament. Lee was placed in the master section, which was reduced to a mere 29 players when Paul Johner withdrew after 7 rounds. Another player, Jacob, withdrew towards the end.

Here’s what happened.

 

Lee’s performance in such a strong field was only slightly disappointing, and he was in poor health again during what must have been a tiring event.

The players castled on opposite sides in this game, and Lee’s attack proved more successful.

This is probably Lee’s best known game, which will be familiar to readers of Nimzowitsch’s My System.

Lee’s opponent in this game was a German master who spent a lot of time in England before the First World War.

Here’s another game you might have seen before. Fred Reinfeld anthologised it in A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces.

No sooner had he returned from Ostend than he was off on his travels again.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 16 July 1907

After spending time in Canada he returned, again visiting the north of England, Scotland and Ireland. His tour continued into the new year, but in May 2008 he returned to tournament play in a small tournament in Sevenoaks, Kent, where he was also called upon to give a simultaneous display.

The top section was split into two sections. Lee played in the A section, which was won by the future Sir George Thomas on 5½/6, two points clear of Lee, Shories and Muller, who shared second place.

He won this game with a stock queen sacrifice, but also missed some earlier tactical opportunities.

Then it was on to the British Championships, held that year in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Lee’s score of 6/11 was enough for a share of third place in what was, with the exception of Atkins, a closely fought contest.

A mistake in this position against Ward cost him a half point which would have left him, rather than his opponent, in the silver medal position.

In this exciting position 34… c2 might have led to a perpetual check for White, but Lee erred with 34… Qe7?, and had to resign after the beautiful 35. Bf7!.

With his slow style of play, Lee wasn’t noted for winning miniatures in serious play, but here his opponent (whom I really ought to write about sometime) blundered on move 19, resigning two moves later.

His game against Shoosmith reached an unusual ending when Black, in a blocked position, sacrificed two minor pieces for four connected passed pawns. Both players missed chances, but it was Shoosmith who made the final error.

This was a quiet period in Lee’s life – perhaps he had further health problems – but he did visit Bradford in January 1909. Nothing more was heard of him until August when he was back in Yorkshire for the British Championships, held that year in Scarborough.

A score of 5/11 in a strong field was again a more than respectable performance, especially as he was clearly ailing in the second week.

Let’s look at his last three games.

In Round 9 he won a good game against Mackenzie, helped by a blunder on move 38.

In Round 10 he played his favourite Caro-Kann too passively, and Blake, gaining revenge for his defeat the previous year, used his space advantage to engineer a brilliant finish.

In the last round, the fast improving Yates took apart another of his favourite openings, the Stonewall Attack, concluding with an unstoppable Arabian Mate.

Then, just three weeks later:

The Sportsman 14 September 1909
Globe 14 September 1909

“… not one of the world’s really great chess players”. Not very generous for a death notice, I would have thought.

He regularly annotated games for the British Chess Magazine, who had rather more to say.

They might also have been more generous about the premature death of a valued contributor.

Again: “… never regarded in the foremost rank of chess masters…”: harsh but true, I suppose.

The obituary spoke about his gastric trouble, and he had also had lung problems in the past, but his death certificate reveals that neither was his cause of death.

Cerebral Meningitis (is there any other type): to the best of my knowledge indigestion isn’t a symptom.

The Wiener Schachzeitung provided a long and rather more sympathetic obituary.


Not very accurate, though. The 1881 Simpson’s Divan event seems to have been the 1890 event misdated, although there were 19, not 14 players and it was a handicap tournament. It was the short-lived Henry Lee (no relation as far as I know) who played in the London 1883 Vizayanagaram Tournament, not our man Francis Joseph Lee.

The layout could perhaps also have been improved. Swiderski died at the same time (by his own hand) and his obituary was immediately below that of Lee.

Let’s return for a moment to the BCM obituary: “Having, unfortunately, adopted chess as a profession, he sacrificed his imagination for a cramped, slow style of play instead of giving full scope to his chess ability.”

This suggests two reasons why he wasn’t universally popular. He was a professional at a time when professional sportsmen (they always were men in those days) were scorned, and he preferred playing closed rather than open positions.

I consider this rather unfair. Although he played gambits in simuls and informal games, he was very much a player in the modern style, influenced in part by Steinitz. With White he favoured mostly d-pawn openings: the Stonewall and London Systems, often combined, as well as Queen’s Gambits and types of Colle System. With Black he defended against 1. e4 with, at various times, with the French, Caro-Kann and Scandinavian Defences. Understanding of closed positions, although they had been played by the likes of Philidor, La Bourdonnais and Staunton, was still rudimentary compared with today’s grandmasters, but it was the experiments of players like Lee which played an important role in the development of chess ideas.

You’ll also see that, although his games, and those of other similarly inclined players of his day, could descend into meaningless woodshifting, there were also positive ideas, in particular in building up slow kingside attacks. His games were often not short of excitement, but that was more likely to come at move 50 than move 15. I’d put it to you that his obituarist (Isaac McIntyre Brown?) failed to appreciate his games fully.

Of course he had his faults: he was prone to tactical oversights and, against the top players of his day, didn’t always understand what was happening positionally, but he was still in the world’s top 100 players for about 20 years. His fragile health must also have had an impact on his results, and his interview above suggests that he was temperamentally more suited to teaching than playing.

It’s interesting to compare his life with that of a journeyman chess professional today. He was probably never very well off, but he had various sources of revenue: teaching and lecturing, simultaneous displays, exhibition games, writing and journalism, and also sponsorship. An article by Mieses in the August 1941 BCM about former Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law tells us that he was kindly disposed towards Lee and did a good deal quietly for his professional support. One would imagine that Lee was similarly supported by the likes of JH Parnell and the Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago. In his tours of chess clubs he was seen as being a friendly and courteous opponent.

The Cheltenham Chronicle (13 September 1919), writing just a decade after his death, referred to him as ‘another chess professional, now little remembered’. He’s certainly very little remembered or written about today.

I’d suggest that Francis Joseph Lee is very much worthy of your attention. Here was a man who clearly loved chess, and, despite ill health, devoted more than twenty years to promoting his favourite game throughout the British Isles, and in many other parts of the world as well. While he wasn’t one of the greatest players of his day he also produced some fine chess, along the way experimenting with new openings, some of which are now, a century and a quarter on, now back in fashion.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about his life and looking at some of his games. Do join me in drinking a toast to Francis Joseph Lee, and also join me again soon for some more Minor Pieces.

Sources and references:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
chessgames.com: FJ Lee here
ChessBase/MegaBase 2024
Stockfish 16
EdoChess (Rod Edwards): FJ Lee here
British Chess Magazine (thanks to John Upham)
Wiener Schachzeitung

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Minor Pieces 69: Francis Joseph Lee (1)

If you read anything about chess from the late 1880s through to 1909 you’ll often come across the name of FJ (Francis Joseph) Lee, a regular competitor in both national and international events during that period. He played pretty consistently at about 2350 strength, finishing below the genuine masters, but above the amateurs. Yet he had wins against the likes of Steinitz, Pillsbury, Chigorin, Blackburne, Mason and Atkins to his credit.

Here he is, pictured, I think, in 1893.

A decent player, to be sure, but I’ve seen very little written about him. As he might have used my friend Alastair Armstrong’s chess set when taking part in the 1899 London International Congress, I wanted to discover more about his life and games.

Francis Joseph Lee’s birth was registered in the first quarter of 1858 in Hackney. He was baptised at St Matthias Church, Stoke Newington, on 28 April that year. His father, Francis Goodale Lee’s profession was given as architect: as far as I can tell he was a minor church architect. He was also, although he didn’t play publicly, an enthusiastic chess player. His mother, more exotically, was Rosina Pereira Arnand, the daughter of a wine merchant, about whom I can find out very little. Pereira is a Portuguese name, and Arnand sounds French (perhaps it’s a version of Armand, which really is a French name). Many years later, Francis would tell how he was romantically affected by her tales, and also inherited her musical tastes. He had an older sister, Agnes, and two younger brothers, George and Arthur.

There’s no obvious trace of the family in the 1861 census, but in 1871 Francis and his brother George were recorded at Belmont House, Ramsgate, a boarding school for young gentlemen.

At this point we should perhaps mention a couple of other things. In 1874 a 16 year old named Francis Joseph Lee signed up for four years in the Merchant Navy. In an interview many years later he mentioned going to sea and visiting China, so I’d guess this was him. In 1885 a Francis Joseph Lee married Kat(i)e Elizabeth Jenner in Hackney, divorcing a few years later, but we can tell from the church records that this wasn’t our man – both his age and his father’s name were wrong.

By 1881 Lee was boarding in Hackney and working as a stockbroker’s clerk. He may have been playing chess at Purssell’s room by then, but the first time his name appeared in the press was in 1885 at Simpson’s Divan, losing a game against William Henry Krause Pollock, who gave odds of pawn and move. It must be round about this time that he decided the life of a stockbroker’s clerk was not for him, opting instead for the life of a chess professional. He wasn’t a strong enough player to make much money from tournament play.

He was a relatively late starter at this level, then, and, judging from this 1886 game he favoured the gambit style popular at the time.

As usual, click on any move on any game in this article for a pop-up window.

The following year he beat Pollock 6-1 in an odds match, establishing himself, almost from nowhere, as one of the country’s leading players, and earning an invitation to take part in the 3rd British Chess Association Congress Master Tournament in London in November.

A respectable performance, but it should be pointed out that Zukertort, coming to the end of his life, was in poor health, as, no doubt, was Mason.

Lee won a nice ending against chess journalist Antony Guest.

Here’s a position from his game against Zukertort.

In this position he missed the rather attractive 23… Rd3!, which would have won Zukertort’s queen (if the queen moves to safety there’s Qxh2+!): perhaps his tendency to make tactical errors led him to follow the increasingly popular trend for closed positions, already in evidence in this tournament.

The following year, the British Chess Association Congress took place outside London for the first time, being held in Bradford. It was a pretty strong event as well, as you’ll see.

Lee’s result was slightly disappointing, but he did have the satisfaction of beating Burn and Blackburne.

Blackburne seemed ill at ease against Lee’s French Defence, and Black was able to liquidate into a winning ending.

Burn was also outplayed from a closed position.

In January 1889 Lee played a short match against Gunsberg, drawing two and losing three of the five games.

The 1889 British Chess Association Congress returned to London in 1889, with Bird and Gunsberg sharing first place on 7½/10, two points ahead of the field. Lee finished in the middle on 5/10. Very few games from this event seem to have survived.

We do have this one, though, where White moved his king to the wrong square on move 34.

1890 was a busy year for Lee. He scored his greatest success to date in the spring handicap tournament at Simpson’s Divan, with a score of 16½/18, well ahead of the likes of Bird, Tinsley and Mason.

This game against a Russian master demonstrates how effective he could be with the French Defence.

He spent much of the summer involved in a match against Blackburne, which he lost 5½-8½.

Here’s one of his wins.

Following on from that match he travelled to Manchester, where the 6th British Chess Association Congress took place. This attracted a strong field of 20 players, including Tarrasch, arguably the world’s best player at the time.

Lee’s result was again respectable, finishing about as expected, but taking points off some of the stronger players, while faring less well against some of the weaker players.

I haven’t been able to find the scores of any of his wins from this event, although he certainly should have won with the black pieces against von Scheve.

In this position, instead of playing 38. Bxb7 (equal according to Stockfish), von Scheve tried Rxb7?,  presumably thinking he was either promoting or mating, but he must have missed something. Undaunted, he played on a piece down in the ending, eventually reaching this position, with Lee to play.

Now 62… Rh2+ is mate in 7, but Lee fell for a stalemate trap by playing 62… Rg2? 63. Ra5+ Kf4 64. Rf5+! with a draw. A familiar enough idea now, but it would have been much less familiar back in 1890.

Lee was unhappy with Gunsberg’s annotations of his loss against Mason from this tournament, and attempted to sue him for libel, but the judge (Roland Vaughan Williams, whose nephew, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, is one of my musical heroes) refused to allow a prosecution

Northern Whig 06 November 1890

Here’s the paragraph from 20 September:

Evening News (London) 20 September 1890

Both Mason and Lee were unhappy with this, Mason writing to the editor of the newspaper.

Evening News (London) 27 September 1890

You can judge for yourself: here’s the critical position after a lot of rather tedious manoeuvring, with Lee (Black) to play his 71st move.

Stockfish suggests 71… Rc1 72. Kd4 Rd1+ 73. Kc3 Kb7, pointing out that 73… Bxc4, for instance, is also a draw. Lee preferred 71… Bxc4? 72. Rxc4 Rf1? (another poor move: Re1+ might have offered some drawing chances) 73. Rc6+, when Mason obtained two passed pawns, soon winning the game.

What do you think? Was Lee tired after a long game and a long tournament? Was the position too hard for him? Was he not trying too hard as there was nothing at stake for him, as Gunsberg thought, or did he deliberately throw the game, as he thought Gunsberg implied?

At the same time, Lee was branching out as a writer, taking over the regular chess column in the Hereford Times in September 1890.

In between tournaments he was travelling throughout the British Isles giving simultaneous displays, often being billed as The Young Master.

Belfast News-Letter 18 December 1890

Here he is in Belfast in December 1890, feted for his courteous manner as well as his rapid and brilliant play. He had also, in September that year, taken over the chess column in the Hereford Times, which he continued until 1893.

1891 was a quiet year, with no British Chess Association congress for him to take part in. There was a summer tournament at Simpson’s Divan, where he performed disappointingly, finishing in 9th place out of 10. The London based Dutch players Loman and van Vliet took the first two prizes. In August he arranged a match against up and coming German star Emanuel Lasker, drawing the first game, but, with the second game adjourned (Lasker was winning) was obliged to concede the match due to ill health. This may well have been the reason for his poor performance in the earlier tournament.

In the 1891 census he was lodging at 30 Manchester Street (now Argyle Street), St Pancras, giving his occupation as Chess Player and Editor (the word Author was added in) and his place of birth, curiously, as Ingatestone, Essex.

The 1892 edition of the British Chess Association Congress took place in London in March, with Lasker taking part, and, as expected, finishing comfortably ahead of the field. Lee’s 50% score was about what he would have expected.

Here’s his loss against Lasker, who sacrificed some pawns to get to his opponent’s king.

His win against Bird was a lively affair which won the brilliancy prize.

Next stop was Belfast, for a quadrangular tournament in which he was rather off form, finishing well behind his three rivals. According to a contemporary report he was unwell throughout the event. (One of the games, a featureless draw between Bird and Lee, is missing from MegaBase, but is readily available elsewhere.)

He remained in Ireland for several months after this event, visiting clubs and giving simultaneous displays.

This game, undated in my source, against Mary Rudge, the leading lady chess player of the time,  may well have been played in one of these simuls.

In June he had some important news to announce.

Morning Post 19 June 1893

He crossed the Atlantic with his friends Gossip and Jasnogrodsky, but the intended tournament fell through. However, an impromptu tournament was organised as a partial replacement, attracting a lot of press coverage.

According to the Brooklyn Daily Standard Union:

The English player is about 40 years of age, of a German blocky build, which indicates the possession of physical strength to stand the strain of severe chess playing.

(He was actually 35, and I don’t think you’d get away nowadays with ‘German blocky build’, whatever that might mean.)

Reproducing the portrait (probably the one above) from the New York Sun, it added:

… makes him appear stouter than he really is; otherwise the likeness is good.

The Baltimore News provided brief and amusing descriptions of the participants, reprinted here in an English newspaper.

Nottinghamshire Guardian 04 November 1893

I think all chess columns should be headed by a picture of chess playing kittens. Don’t you?

Here, Lee performed well, sharing third place with two of the top American players, Showalter and Delmar, just behind Albin (of countergambit fame), but they were no match for Lasker, who posted a 100% score.

His Irish opponent in this game essayed the Pirc Defence long before it became popular and acquired a name.

Lee is standing fourth from the left in this group photograph from the tournament.

Lee remained in the Americas for two years after this event. In February and March he played a series of exhibition games against some of Cuba’s leading players in Havana.

Later in the year he returned to North America, touring extensively, giving simuls and playing exhibition games.

At the beginning of 1895 The Chess Player’s Mentor was finally published, offering, according to the advertisements, ‘an easy introduction for beginners’, along with ‘analyses of the most popular openings for more advanced players &c’.

Dundee Advertiser 17 January 1895

The review in the Dundee Advertiser is notable for providing an early example of promoting chess for children for its claimed extrinsic benefits.

It was later republished together with three other books solely written by Gossip. You can read it online here via the Hathi Trust digital library.

Lee returned to England in July that year, but didn’t enter the great Hastings tournament. Perhaps he needed a break after his exertions.

Morning Post 08 July 1895

I think it was Albin, rather than Albion, against whom real estate man George C Farnsworth (1852-1896) scored 1½/2

Here’s Lee’s win. Not all that interesting: White chose a poor 5th move and never really stood a chance.

This game shows Farnsworth in a much better light.

He spent the latter part of 1895 touring chess clubs throughout the country, but most of 1896 in London, where he was appointed secretary to the committee organising a tournament at Simpson’s Divan. His administrative role didn’t stop him achieving an excellent result, sharing second place with van Vliet on 8½/11, just half a  point behind the winner, Richard Teichmann, who was based in London at the time.

Not many games from this event were published. Here, Dutch organist Rudolf Loman sacrificed a piece unsoundly.

His displays in London included a visit to the Ladies’ Chess Club.

Hampstead & Highgate Express 11 July 1896

In December, Lee played a short match against Richard Falkland Fenton, winning two games, drawing two and losing one.

1897 was another quiet year spent in London, the only serious chess activity being a match during the summer against enthusiastic veteran Henry Bird, which he won by 8 points to 5.

1898 was even quieter, with just a summer match against Teichmann, which he lost 3½ to 5½. Lee suffered from gastric problems all his life: perhaps this was one reason for his relative lack of activity during this period.

There had been some talk in 1897, and again in 1899, about why Lee wasn’t selected for the Anglo-American Cable Matches. Perhaps the selectors preferred to choose amateurs rather than professionals. Here’s an article from 1899.

Nottinghamshire Guardian 25 February 1899

Finally, a few months later, he had an opportunity to prove himself at the top level. You will know, if you read my previous Minor Piece, about the great London International Chess Tournament of 1899. Lee was originally selected for the subsidiary single-round event, but when Horatio Caro (of Caro-Kann fame) withdrew at the last minute on health grounds he was promoted to the top section.

As you’ll see he found it hard going, but he did record wins against Steinitz and Chigorin, as well as two victories against Mason.

Let’s have a look at a few of his games from this event.

Playing his favourite Stonewall formation against Mason, his pressure on the half-open g-file was crowned with a sacrificial attack.

Lee’s win against Steinitz was also a Stonewall, but here he was rather lucky.

Steinitz had had the better of the opening, but Lee had managed to reach a drawn ending. If Black just waits with his knight White can make no progress, but the ailing former champion, close to the end of his life, seriously misjudged the position, playing 49… Ke4??, after which Lee’s e-pawn wasn’t for stopping.

The following day, black against Chigorin, he faced his opponent’s favourite anti-French move 2. Qe2, gaining a space advantage and giving up the exchange for a passed pawn, and winning one of his finest games.

At his best, Lee was a formidable positional player who could also, when the occasion demanded, display tactical ability. Someone who has, you might think, been unfairly neglected in chess literature.

As the remainder of the year – and the century, seems to have been uneventful for him, this must be a good place to break off.

Join me again soon to discover what the 1900s had in store for Francis Joseph Lee.

Sources and references:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
chessgames.com: FJ Lee here
ChessBase/MegaBase 2024
Stockfish 16
EdoChess (Rod Edwards): FJ Lee here
Two articles on chess.com from Neil Blackburn (simaginfan):
Lee and Gossip. Three Brilliancies. – Chess.com
Belfast 1892. A Chess Tournament and A Grumpy Bird! – Chess.com
Zan Chess: article on New York 1893 here

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Minor Pieces 71: Edward Wallis

Last time we visited the Yorkshire seaside resort of Scarborough in the company of Francis Joseph Lee, just a few weeks before his untimely death.

Congresses like the British Championships only take place if there’s someone there to organise them, and, as it happened the prime mover of this one was someone who was mentioned in a different context just a few Minor Pieces ago.

Northern Whig 14 January 1909
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph 08 July 1909
Falkirk Herald 11 August 1909

Lowestoft Journal 04 September 1909

Didn’t Edward Wallis do well? He had a long involvement with the game of chess, and this, along with the publication of his book of miniature problems, was one of his life’s highlights. You might recall that one of George Law Francis Beetholme‘s problems was included therein.

Here he is, pictured in the September 1909 British Chess Magazine.

Edward Wallis had an interesting story to tell, one that involves, as well as chess, chocolate and conscientious objection.

Let’s go back to the middle of the 17th century, when, in the aftermath of the English Civil War, a new religious group founded by George Fox, known as the Society of Friends, or the Quakers, became popular. Jumping forward a century or so, a Quaker named Joseph Fry started a business producing drinking chocolate in Bristol. In 1831 another Quaker, John Cadbury, started producing drinking chocolate in Birmingham. In 1862, Henry Isaac Rowntree, also a member of the Society of Friends, bought out the chocolate making part of the Tuke family’s York business. These three companies, Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree, would become the three major producers of confectionery in Britain through the remainder of the 19th and much of the 20th century.

The Rowntrees had been a prominent Quaker family in Scarborough for a very long time. and, by the early 19th century, John Rowntree was running a grocery business there. His son Joseph moved to York to start a grocers shop in 1822, and it was his son Henry Isaac who started the confectionery business. Joseph’s brother William remained in Scarborough, and it was his grandson, Alderman John Watson Rowntree, who was the chairman of the committee running the 1909 British Championships in his home town.

The Wallis family were also prominent Quakers, from the village of Springfield in Essex, now a suburb of Chelmsford. After his marriage in 1849, Francis Wallis moved from Essex to Scarborough, no doubt in part because of the strong Quaker presence there, setting up as a corn dealer and miller. One of Francis’s daughters,  Priscilla Gray Wallis, married George Rowntree, a brother of the aforementioned John Watson. One of Francis’s sons, born in 1852, was Edward Wallis, author of 777 Chess Miniatures in Three (you can read it online here) and the local organiser of the 1909 British Chess Championships.

In 1877 Edward married Dublin born Annie Johnson in London, returning to Scarborough, and, at some point in the 1880s, moving to a house they named Springfield after his home village. Their children were Eleanor (1878), Edward Arnold (1880), Arthur (1881), Dorothea (1883) and Annie Mabel (1885). He ran a grocery and bakery business there for the rest of his life.

On 24 January 1880 Edward had a chess problem published in the Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement. At 27 years of age he was a relatively late starter in chess.

Problem 1: Mate in 3: you’ll find the solution at the end of this article.

In the same year he was also seen playing correspondence chess. In this game from a Leeds Mercury tournament he had the better of the opening but rather lost the plot thereafter.

 

In this game, probably played in the same event, he defeated schoolteacher GW Farrow, born in Scarborough, but by that time living in Hull

In 1881 he entered a correspondence tournament run by the Preston Guardian. This win against GW Farrow was almost certainly (although this isn’t specificed in the source) played in the 1881 edition of the Leeds Mercury competition.

In 1882 he won an exciting, but not entirely sound, game against Scarborough Chess Club secretary and chemist Henry Chapman.

In January 1883 he played on Board 53 in a match between Lancashire and Yorkshire, losing his game against Dr Dean of Burnley. The Manchester Courier (27 January), with an element of hyperbole, claimed that this was “the greatest chess match which has ever taken place in the history of the royal game, which extends over a period of more than 3,000 years”.

Here’s a game he lost in another correspondence tournament run by the Leeds Mercury. After White’s alert response to his erroneous 22nd move he could only choose which bishop to lose. (Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.)

He also lost this game, played in a correspondence game between two players representing clubs at almost opposite ends of the country, misplaying a tricky ending. It’s not clear whether or not this was a formal match between the two clubs.

In 1891 Scarborough were treated to a visit by our good friend Francis Joseph Lee.

York Herald 17 April 1891

An excellent result for Edward: it would have been good if they’d published the game. Mr F Wallis was probably Edward’s father Francis, but we’ll come to another possibility later.

Later in the same year he was one of the protagonists in a living chess game raising money for a good cause.

Yorkshire Herald 12 December 1891

During this period, Edward Wallis was playing on top board for Scarborough, but, to be honest, there wasn’t that much opposition. Most of the county’s stronger players resided in the larger towns and cities.

In January 1893 he was selected to represent the North of England against the South in a 100 board megamatch in Birmingham, but ended up not in the match itself but on the bottom reserve board where he won his game against Wiltshire’s CJ Woodrow.

In April Scarborough welcomed another professional visitor: Samuel Tinsley. This time Wallis was less successful.

Yorkshire Herald 08 April 1893

“… in a game known as the Queen’s Fianchetto?” I think the journalist was rather confused.

Here’s a report on a 1894 match against Bridlington, the days when matches were interrupted half way through for an excellent tea and appropriate speeches.

Yorkshire Herald 10 March 1894

You’ll see that (presumably) Edward’s father won both his games on bottom board. The Mr Yewdall on Board 7 was the teenage Francis Edward Yewdall, who, almost 40 years later, would become the Secretary of Richmond & Kew Chess Club (where he was the assistant borough surveyor), and therefore, if you want to stretch a point, one of my Great Predecessors. Charles Empson Simpson, on Board 2, was Edward’s next door neighbour. You might notice some name connections: Wallis and Simpson living in adjacent  houses, and Wallis (but not Simpson) living in Springfield. Bridlington, very unusually for the time, fielded a lady on second board: Eliza Mary Thorold, sister of their top board Edmund, who had been for many years one of the country’s top amateurs but was now approaching the end of his career.

Here’s one of the top board games, in which both sides missed chances.

A few weeks later there was another North v South megamatch, over 108 boards. Edward Wallis was on Board 102, losing to Horace Fabian Cheshire, who would soon find fame as the editor of the Hastings 1895 tournament book.

By 1897 he’d ceded top board to Charles Empson Simpson, and in 1899 he played on Board 9 for the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire in a match against the West Riding, losing his game against Isaac McIntyre Brown, the editor of the British Chess Magazine. Simpson lost on fourth board to John Musgrove.

One thing that you may know about the Quakers is that they are noted for their liberal views, many of their members being committed pacifists, and that was certainly true of the extended Rowntree family in Scarborough.

Appalled by the atrocities of the Second Boer War, a South African Conciliation Committee was set up in Scarborough under the presidency of Joshua Rowntree, a cousin of Henry Isaac and a former Liberal MP for the town. In March 1900 a meeting was arranged. One of the speakers was Samuel Cronwright, British born but living in South Africa and married to author and anti-war campaigner Olive Schreiner, still remembered today for her 1883 novel The Story of an African Farm. The other speaker, John A Hobson, was a prominent anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.

There were some in Scarborough who considered their views heretical and unpatriotic. Word got round about the meeting, and a crowd, brandishing Union Jacks, formed outside, smashing the windows and throwing stones. Not content with that, some of them proceeded to vandalise the shops and houses of other members of the Rowntree family.

Perhaps you were, like me, unaware of this story, which, of course, has many resonances today. If you’d like to read more there’s a paper on the riots here.

If you’re interested in the history of the Rowntree family I’d recommend visiting the Rowntree Society website. This page is a good place to start.

While all this was going on, it appears that Edward Wallis was engaged in a long-range postal game.

Morning Leader 11 February 1902

I’m pretty sure, although it’s not mentioned in the press, that FJ Wallis was Edward’s brother Francis John Wallis, and that he had emigrated to Australia in 1891, becoming prominent in Sydney chess circles. In that case the F Wallis mentioned twice above would definitely be Edward’s father Francis senior.

A few years later, this game was published in the British Chess Magazine with, typically for the time, rather inaccurate annotations by Bellingham. The loser, at lease in my secondary source, is incorrectly identified as AG Wallis.

By now Scarborough Chess Club seems to have become inactive, putting Edward Wallis’s chess career on hold. His name started to reappear towards the end of 1907, when he made two contributions to a testimonial for FR Gittins, the author of The Chess Bouquet, which was being organised by the always witty Philip Hamilton Williams. He also announced that he was collecting miniature (no more than 7 pieces on the board) mates in 3. In 1908 he published a self-mate in 16 based on an earlier problem by Frederick Baird, but it turned out to be unsound as there were quicker solutions.

By October 1908 his book was (self-)published, receiving positive reviews.

Cricket and Football Field 24 October 1908
The Falkirk Herald and Midland Counties Journal 28 October 1908

Then, in 1909, came the second highlight of his life: the British Chess Championships in his home town, which you read about earlier. Although he was referred to as being from Scarborough Chess Club, I haven’t found any other mentions of the club between the late 1890s and the 1920s.

In 1910 he had a problem published in The Chess Amateur. It’s a mate in 3, but not a miniature.

Problem 2: #3 (E Wallis The Chess Amateur 1910)

Now, it seems, having perhaps fulfilled his two ambitions, he cut down his chess activities, confining himself to solving problems in newspaper columns.

When the First World War broke out his family commitment to pacifism was tested again. The older of his sons, Edward Arnold (below), registered as a conscientious objector, serving in the Friends Ambulance Corps between 1915 and 1918.

https://www.menwhosaidno.org/men/men_files/w/wallis_a.html

His younger son, Arthur, on the other hand, joined the RAF in 1918, but as a lecturer rather than in a combat role.

In 1917 George Rowntree and Edward Wallis unexpectedly fell foul of the law for selling semolina above the maximum fixed price.

Hull Daily Mail 01 December 1917

In 1921, the census tells us that Edward was still running the family business at the age of 69, living with his wife and youngest daughter, who was working as a hospital nurse.

He died a year later, this newspaper obituary erroneously adding two years to his age.

Yorkshire Post 27 June 1922

Edward Wallis wasn’t, by the highest standards, a very strong player, nor was he a great problemist. But, as well as taking part in competitions, both over the board and by post, and occasionally composing problems, he was a true chess enthusiast, an author, an organiser and a collector, with one of the finest chess libraries in England (I wonder what happened to it). He was also a man who, along with his extended family and friends, lived his life through the principles expounded by the liberal Quakers: pacifism, integrity and service to the community. A life, I think, that deserves to be remembered, and a story that deserves to be told.

Next time, I’ll continue the story by introducing you to his friend who kindly contributed the Hints to Solvers to his book: Alfred Neave Brayshaw. Be sure not to miss it.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Digital Chess Problems (Anders Thulin) website (Wallis book here)
Wikipedia
MESON Chess Problem Database (Brian Stephenson)
BritBase (John Saunders: thanks for the photo)
Yorkshire Chess History (Steve Mann): Edward Wallis here
Gerard Killoran for the Bays, Farrow and Chapman games.
David McAlister for reconstructing the Bays game (on the English Chess Forum)
Rowntree Society website
Guise Family website (George Rowntree here)
The Men Who Said No (Peace Pledge Union website: Edward Arnold Wallis here)

Solutions to problems:

Problem 1:

1. Qf6! is the key, threatening Nc7+, Qd6+ and Qxd4+. There are short mates in reply to either queen capture. You can see the full solution here.

Problem 2:

1. Qh2! (threat: Qe2#) 1… Kc4 (1… Ke4 2. Qe2+ Kf4 3. Be5#) (1… Bxc3 2. Qe2+ Kxd4 3. Ne6#) 2. Qa2+ Kb5 (2… Nb3 3. Qa6#) (2… Kd3 3. Qe2#) 3. Nc7#

 

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Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach

From the Batsford web site:

Lessons, motivation and coaching to make you a better chess player.

In an ideal world, any aspiring chess player, at almost any level, would get better with a coach. If that’s not possible, having chess champion coach Thomas Engqvist’s book at your side is the next best thing.

In his series of lessons, Engqvist guides you through not only the most important elements of chess to master but also the psychology, how to marry knowledge with imagination, and how to stay motivated.

Suitable for older children through to adults, the lessons are drawn from chess games through history, from the 16th century to Magnus Carlsen and latest Alpha Zero computer chess. (Reviewer’s note: it doesn’t actually include Alpha Zero, stopping at Carlsen.) It features a range of key players, including Steinitz, Lasker, Nimzowistch, Botvinnik (Soviet chess school), and Fischer. With clear and accessible annotations to give clarity, the games highlight the most important lessons to learn and, just as importantly, how to ‘practise’ chess.

International Master Thomas Engqvist has travelled the world teaching and coaching chess to a very high level for decades – and with this book, he can be your coach too.”

About the Author (updated from the publisher’s website):

“Thomas Engqvist is an International Master from Sweden. He has 45 years’ experience as a chess coach and teacher. He has worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess. He is the author of 300 Most Important Chess Positions, 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Chess Exercises, all published by Batsford.

 

From the back cover:

Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach gives you the opportunity to assimilate the most important chess principles and concepts by following a study plan based on key encounters by over 30 great players.

With lessons from more than 60 instructive games in chronologically arranged chapters, this is the perfect guide for players who want to gain a broad knowledge of chess history and its evolution, but don’t have time to spend hours in what can be unproductive reading.

Featured in each chapter is a highly influential grandmaster who has played his part in developing chess into what it is today. There can be no more enjoyable way to improve your own play than to absorb your personal coach’s explanatory commentaries to exemplary games of past and present chess heroes, including Magnus Carlsen. In this way centuries of accumulated understanding of chess can be learned in just a few weeks.

By adopting the same tactics and strategies as demonstrated by these champions, you can also keep track of your own chess development by comparing it with the overall historical development of chess – and climb the ladder to success.

Swedish International Master Thomas Engqvist has approximately 45 years experience as a chess coach, teacher, writer and player. He has successfully worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess.

 

What we have here is a book covering the history of chess ideas in chronological fashion, starting with Ruy Lopez and finishing with Magnus Carlsen. It’s hardly an original idea: the first book of this type was Richard Réti’s Masters of the Chessboard, and there have been quite a few others since then: off the top of my head I’ve reviewed a couple of them here myself. The second Chess Heroes: Games book will take a similar approach (using some of the games from Move Two!), but pitched at a much lower level.

I’d say from the outset is that if you’re knowledgeable about the subject, and have read similar books before, you’re probably already familiar with many of the games displayed by Engqvist here.

But if you’re a club standard player with little knowledge of the history of your favourite game you should certainly read on.

Most of the subjects are represented by just one game, so we quickly whizz through the likes of Greco (‘the first tactical player’), Philidor (‘the first positional player’) and even Morphy until we reach Steinitz (‘the scientific player’), the first of four players to be considered in rather more detail.

According to Engqvist:

The basis of Steinitz’s teachings is to construct a plan which is in accordance with the requirements of the position. These requirements could be an advantage in development, a strong centre, open files etc. One should gather such advantages, one by one, as preparation for an attack. This is the so-called theory of accumulation.

This theory is demonstrated by the following game. As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.

Engqvist adds after the game:

This is why such classic games are much more instructive than modern games. Steinitz’s opponents didn’t realise or didn’t want to realise what he was doing, whereas today’s more knowledgeable players do know – because they have studied such “one-sided” but very instructive classic games.

You might disagree – but I don’t.

Lasker (‘pragmatism and psychology’), the star of the next chapter, also receives special treatment.

In this instructive game, where he defeats Rubinstein’s IQP, he uses the ‘pivot square’ d5 in a variety of ways.

It is indeed a game to be understood in depth and learned by heart, because the idea of a pivot being a source of energy can be used in an untold number of situations.

Engqvist quotes Nimzowitsch’s comments on this game with approval, and makes it very clear throughout the  book that Nimzo is one of his chess heroes.

Although he only gets one game (yes, it’s the Immortal Zugzwang game), the author has this to say:

Nimzowitsch is just as important as Steinitz, since his principles do complement those of his predecessor, However, to appreciate Nimzowitsch’s precepts in depth one needs to also properly understand Steinitz’s classical principles, otherwise the true meaning of Nimzowitsch’s theories will be lost.

and:

In my opinion (reading Nimzowitsch) is much more important than learning from computers, which are very bad teachers indeed, and sometimes incomprehensible. Nimzowitsch must be regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest ever, teachers…

Controversial, perhaps, and you might well think he’s overstating his case.

The other two subjects awarded more extensive treatment are, predictably, Capablanca (‘The Chess Machine’) and Alekhine (‘The Complete Chess Artist’).

From then on it’s just one game each, even for giants such as Botvinnik, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov. right the way through to Carlsen.

Here’s the game used to illustrate Fischer (‘The Aggressive Classical Player’).

Engqvist:

This game is one of Fischer’s best and it is remarkable that he was only 16 years old when it was played. It proves that he was a genius. The good news is that Fischer’s style is possible to emulate,  because it it largely based on positional technique à la Capablanca,  which to a high degree can be learned.

It’s clear from this book, as well as from the author’s earlier volumes, that Thomas Engqvist is an exceptional writer, teacher and annotator. He has also made extensive use of a wide range of secondary sources (but, sadly, he fails the Yates test: he was Fred (Dewhirst), not Frederick Dewhurst). Each chapter is prefaced by a series of quotes by or about its subject, which in itself makes fascinating reading. Computer analysis has been used to correct analytical errors made by earlier authors, but this is done judiciously: he doesn’t go over the top in providing reams of engine generated variations. You might, I suppose, disagree with some of his views, especially on Nimzowitsch, but that’s part of the enjoyment you’ll get from the book. You might also think there’s some simplification and generalisation, but that’s inevitable in a book of this nature.

The production values are, of their type, excellent. The book, like others from this publisher, has a reassuringly old-fashioned look about it. While younger readers may well prefer something glossier and glitzier, it’s not likely to be a problem for those, like me, of the Batsford generation.

Many publishers these days prefer more interactivity, with puzzles at the start of each chapter, or, with annotated games, stopping every few moves to ask you a question. There’s none of that here, just solid, accurate and instructive comments. Different readers will prefer different styles of annotation. The one concession to interactivity is a couple of quizzes with questions like What was Ponziani’s opinion of the theories of Philidor and del Rio?, which I could really do without as they’re testing memory rather than understanding.

I had two other thoughts when reading this book. I often wonder whether chess authors are writing the book they wanted to write or the book the publishers thought would sell. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but my impression was that Engqvist really wanted to write something like The 60 Most Instructive Positional Games rather than a book with a historical perspective offering, for the most part, one game per star player.

I also wonder what exactly the market is for this book. Younger readers, if they want a book at all, might prefer something with a more modern feel, while older readers might have seen many of the games before.

But, if you’re, say, 1500-2000 strength, you’re serious about improving your chess and you’re happy with the style and contents, you won’t go wrong with this excellent book from one of the best authors and teachers around.

Richard James, Twickenham 14th February 2024

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford; 1st edition (13 April 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1849947511
  • ISBN-13:978-1849948043
  • Product Dimensions: 15.04 x 2.01 x 23.04 cm

Official web site of Batsford

Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford, 13th April 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948043
Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford, 13th April 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948043
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Minor Pieces 68: Leonard Francis Grasty

Let me take you back 125 years, to the great London International Chess Tournament of 1899.

Most of the world’s strongest players were there: the first two World Champions, Steinitz and Lasker, Pillsbury and Chigorin, Maroczy and Schlechter, Janowski and Blackburne.

Here’s the cross-table.

There was also a second section, won by Marshall, ahead of the likes of Marco and Mieses, along with some local amateurs.

Two brilliancy prizes were awarded: to Lasker for his win against Steinitz and to Blackburne for his win against Lasker.

Here they are: click on any move for a pop-up window.

If you’re running such a prestigious event you’ll want some shiny new chess sets. The chipped and stained old pieces at the back of your equipment cupboard won’t do for the likes of Lasker and Steinitz.

But have you ever wondered what happens to those shiny new sets once they’ve been put away and the players have gone home?

It appears that, at some point after the end of the tournament, some sort of competition was held. I have no idea what the nature of the competition was, and how many sets were on offer. What I do know (or believe) is that one of the sets was won by a certain William Grasty.

William came from a working class family: his birth was registered in the first quarter of 1878 in Lambeth. His father, a stoker in a factory, died in 1884, and, by the 1891 census, young William was living with his aunt in Southwark. I don’t at the moment know whether he acquired this board immediately after the 1899 tournament, but by 1901 he was moving up in the world, living in lodgings in Wood Green and working as a commercial clerk.

He married Arabella Edith Attwood in 1904, but, tragically, their first child, William Arthur, born in 1909, died before reaching his first birthday. By now the family had settled in Lewisham, and the 1911 census found him still working as a commercial clerk. Later that year, another son, named Leonard Francis, was born. Soon afterwards the family moved to Islington, where a daughter, Muriel Florence, was born in 1913.

By 1921 the family had left London, moving to Southsea, where William was working for Weingarten Bros Ltd, Corset Manufacturers as an accountant. As well as William, Arabella and their children, the household included two boarders: the sisters(?) Dorothy and Elizabeth Kilby, both schoolteachers. At the time, Portsmouth was known as the corset capital of the world (who knew?) and they’re still made there now. Many of my relations were employed manufacturing corsets in Market Harborough, but that’s a story for another time.

There’s no evidence that William ever played competitive chess, but his son certainly did. I guess they played at home using the board from the 1899 tournament, trying to emulate the play of Lasker and his colleagues. Between 1928 and 1931, Leonard was a student at Portsmouth Municipal College, playing on top board for their chess team. They started off with friendly matches against Portsmouth Chess Club before graduating to the second division of the local league.

Portsmouth Evening News 12 January 1931

In 1931 Leonard graduated with a BA General Degree with Honours and a First-Class Distinction in Maths awarded by London University and took a job as a Customs and Excise Officer. Like so many others before and since, on finishing his studies he stopped playing competitive chess.

We next meet him in Manchester in 1937, where he married a local girl, May Taylor Shaw, the daughter of a sheet metal worker.

By the time of the 1939 Register, Leonard and May, along, perhaps, with their chess set, had moved back south, now living in Stanmore, North London. They were blessed with three children, Barbara (1937), Robert (Bob) (1939) and Victor (Vic) (1943).

At some point the family moved down to Bognor Regis, on the West Sussex coast, not all that far from Portsmouth. It was there, in 1948, that Leonard returned to competitive chess, joining the local club. As it happens, the Bognor Regis Observer up as far as 1959 is available online. During this period they ran a regular column featuring local chess news, contributed by the pseudonymous King’s Pawn and The Rook, so we have a lot of information about his chess career over the next decade or so.

You’ll see that he soon established himself as one of their stronger players, although it must be said that Bognor were no match for the likes of Brighton and Hastings. What they did have, though, was some very effective and ambitious administrators. You might notice, for example, the name of Joseph Norman Lomax, who would do much to put his home town on the chess map.

Bognor Regis Observer 07 May 1949

Here they are, in 1949, inviting a very distinguished guest to give a simultaneous display.

In fact Harry Golombek took on 33 (or 34, depending on your choice of newspaper) opponents, losing two games and drawing six, including his game against Grasty. He stayed on overnight, the following day playing another simul against five teams of consultants, drawing two and losing one, against Grasty and his veteran partner Stephen Arthur Hardstone (1873-1952), a retired civil service engineer.

Golombek would give a number of simultaneous displays at Bognor over the next few years. Here’s a photo of one of them.

The games we have for Leonard Grasty in this period, sadly, don’t show him in a very good light. If he’d captured the bishop on move 13 in this game he’d have been fine rather than having to resign two moves later.

And here, in an equal position, he found one of the worst moves on the board, allowing a mate in one.

In 1952, the local organisers had a big idea.

Bognor Regis Observer 12 January 1952

In fact the first congress would be held the following year, run by Joseph Norman Lomax (later, after his second marriage he’d style himself Norman Fishlock-Lomax), continuing very successfully until 1969.

Later that year, Leonard Francis Grasty was the subject of a profile in the local paper.

Bognor Regis Observer 15 November 1952

Was his speed of play responsible for the careless mistakes he seems to have made? Perhaps someone should have advised him to slow down.

In 1954 Bognor Regis Chess Club put on a display of chess trophies in a local shop window for National Chess Week.

Bognor Regis Observer 19 February 1954

There you have it. Leonard had inherited the chess set which his father had won perhaps more than half a century earlier.

Here it is.

It didn’t help him in this game against one of Brighton’s young stars, where he had to resign after only nine moves, having fallen for a rather well known opening trap. The earliest example in MegaBase dates from 1908, but the variation itself dates back to Blackburne – Paulsen (Vienna 1882), where Black won after 8… Ng4.

The following year’s National Chess Week also featured the display of chess trophies, along with a Teenagers v Old Stagers match in which Leonard and his older son Robert were on opposite sides.

Bognor Regis Observer 25 February 1955

A few months later, Bob took part in the Southern Counties Junior Championship, held as part of the 3rd Bognor Regis Congress, scoring 3/7. The other competitors included Michael Lipton, who would later achieve fame as a problemist. He returned the following year, when he managed half a point more, which was half a point less than the score achieved by Stewart Reuben.

Leonard continued his chess activity in Bognor throughout the 1950s.

Here’s a photograph from a club prizegiving from 1958, where Leonard shared the club championship with local journalist Alan Lawrence Ayriss (1934-2006), who, as it happens, has a very distant family connection with me (the 2nd cousin 2x removed of the husband of my 3rd cousin 2x removed). He’s holding a Bell book: The Art of Checkmate (Renaud & Kahn), which was published in that edition in 1955. The book is still within the family: an inscription inside reads “BOGNOR REGIS CHESS CLUB  Presented to L.F. Grasty RUNNER UP LIGHTNING TOURNAMENT 1958. We can also see copies of Edward Lasker’s Chess for Fun and Chess for Blood in a 1952 edition and Reinfeld’s Improving Your Chess (1954).

This, captioned 1958, shows Bob seated second left, perhaps from the same event as the previous photo.

By December 1959 Leonard had been joined by his younger son, Victor, who was up for selection for a match against Worthing. But, at that point, the online run of the Bognor Regis Observer comes to an end, so I have, at the moment, little information about what happened next.

We do have a photograph from 1961 where he’s playing a friendly game against William Clifford Kendal (1902-1988).

The News (Portsmouth) 09 June 1961

In this game from 1966, he chose an unsuccessful plan in the early middle game, allowing his opponent to bring off a smart finish.

It’s unfortunate that the games of Leonard Grasty currently available have, so far, been rather unimpressive losses with the black pieces. Perhaps he played much better with white.

We do have a draw, from what must have been towards the end of his chess career, against a very strong opponent in Geoffrey James (no relation, but he played for my club, Richmond, for a few years in the 1970s). He was perhaps a bit lucky, though, as Geoffrey uncharacteristically missed a few winning chances.

This was a family steeped in chess: they counted Harry Golombek as a family friend. Bob and Vic’s sister Barbara recalls (although the Guardian journalist doesn’t) once going on a date with Leonard Barden. Barbara later married a man named Michael Armstrong. Their son Alastair, born in 1967, continued the family chess playing tradition into a fourth generation.

Leonard must have been very proud of his grandson’s success. He died in 1981, when Alastair was still quite young, but he still has many very fond memories of his grandfather, who encouraged his early interest in chess.

It was only right, then, that it was Alastair who would eventually inherit his great grandfather’s London 1899 chess set.

Here ‘s Alastair again, 13 years later, winning the Main A Section of the Hastings Congress (the Main A wasn’t the main event at the congress, but never mind).

Shortly afterwards, Alastair moved abroad, but, more than 30 years on, he’s now returned to England, deciding to take up chess again, and by chance living just round the corner from the Chess Palace.

He still has the 1899 chess set and board, and provided the photographs above. His son, though, shows little interest in the game.

So there you have it: the story of a chess set and board first played on, perhaps, by Emanuel Lasker, spanning four generations of the same family and 125 years.

Join me again soon when we’ll return to London in 1899.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
ChessBase/Stockfish 16 for game analysis
Alastair Armstrong and the Grasty family, for the story and photographs
Brian Denman for providing some of Leonard Grasty’s games

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The Life and Games of Carlos Torre – 2nd revised and extended edition- Gabriel Velasco & Taylor Kingston

From the publishers’ blurb:

“This is what’s new in this edition: More accurate and more extensive annotations, computer-assisted. Every game has been examined under Stockfish 14, probably the best analytical engine available for home computers at this time. For the first edition we had only Fritz 4 and 5, which compare to Stockfish like a Model T Ford to a Ferrari, and many games were given no computer examination at all. Thus owners of the first edition will find most annotations here substantially different (and substantially better). However, many general assessments and heuristic notes proved valid and have been retained. ·

Torre’s own annotations to several games have been unearthed and added. These come from several sources: the American Chess Bulletin, his book of the 1926 Mexican Championship tournament, and his instructional booklet Development of Chess Ability. ·

Several games have been added. Some, frankly, are Torre losses, which we give in the interest of presenting a more complete, balanced picture of his play. The first edition, to some extent, looked at Torre through rose-colored glasses; here we aim only for untinted clarity. Also added are the six games between players other than Torre that he annotated for the Mexican Championship tournament book (see Chapter VIII). ·

There are many more diagrams and photographs than in the first edition. Also more thumbnail bios of Torre’s opponents. ·

More ancillary material about Torre’s life and career: pictures, anecdotes, interesting facts, opinions, bits of trivia etc., drawn from the ACB, the Wiener Schachzeitung, the film Torre x Torre, and other sources. ·

A 1927 interview with Torre, published in the Yucatán magazine Anahuac, in Chapter III. ·

Chapter IV, excerpts from the book 64 Variaciones Sobre un Tema de Torre by his friend Germán de la Cruz.”

About the Authors

Taylor Kingston (born 1949) has been a chess enthusiast since his teens. He holds a Class A over-the-board USCF rating, and was a correspondence master in the 1980s, but his greatest love is the game’s history. His historical articles have appeared in Chess Life, New In Chess, Inside Chess, Kingpin, and the web-site www.ChessCafe.com. He has edited and/or co-authored dozens of chess books, and translated three from Spanish, including the original Mexican edition of Vida y Partidas de Carlos Torre. He lives with his wife Emily in Paso Robles, California.

Taylor Kingston
Taylor Kingston

Gabriel Velasco (born 1949 in Mexico City) is a a professor of mathematics and author of over twenty books on mathematics. He has been a chess enthusiast since age 15. Besides Vida y Partidas de Carlos Torre, he is the author of Masterpieces of Attack (Chess Digest, 1990), presenting the best games of the late GM Marcel Sisniega Campbell. Velasco lived in Kiev 1985-1987 and shared 1st-3rd prize in a tournament of Candidate Masters and First Category players, earning thereby a norm of Candidate Master of the Soviet Union. Back in Mexico, he won the championship of the state of Guanajuato. He is now retired and lives in Mexico City with his wife and his son Richard, who was was given that name in honor of Richard Réti.

 

You probably know a few things about Carlos Torre. (In the interests of cultural sensitivity we now refer to people from some Spanish speaking countries by their first name, father’s surname and mother’s surname, so he’s now Carlos Torre Repetto, although I’ll refer to him just as Torre in the rest of this review.)

You may know he lost a Famous Game against the otherwise unknown EZ Adams. As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.

A beautiful game, to be sure, and one which is great if you want to teach combinations based on back rank mates. But it almost certainly wasn’t lost by Torre. As explained here on pp484-485, it was quite likely to be analysis which Torre published as a loss against his first teacher, Edwin Ziegler Adams, for whom he had great affection.

The next thing you probably know about Torre is that he won a Famous Game against the not at all unknown Emanuel Lasker.

Again, the finish is a great example of a windmill combination which everyone should know. But it wasn’t, as is demonstrated here (pp356-361) a very good game. Lasker, perhaps distracted by the receipt of a telegram, could have won material with 22… f6 and 23… Qd5 was a losing error.

The third thing you might know about Torre is that he invented the Torre Attack (1. d4, 2. Nf3, 3. Bg5), as he played in this game. The opening bears his name because of his usage here and in other games, but it had been played many times before.

Carlos Torre Repetto played some much better games than this in his very short international career. If you’re eager to find out more, you’ll want to read this book.

Vida y Partidas de Carlos Torre, written by Gabriel Velasco, was published in 1993. Taylor Kingston, working with Velasco, translated and expanded this book, which was then published in 2000. I think I may have a copy somewhere, so perhaps you do as well.

Now we have a Second Edition, expanded further by Kingston.

All the games have been re-annotated using Stockfish 14, some more games have been added, we have more diagrams, photographs and biographical details of Torre’s opponents, as well as a wealth of fascinating supplementary material.

Carlos Torre Repetto was born in the Yucatán province of Mexico on 29 November 1904, and, in 1916, the family moved to New Orleans where, under the mentorship of Edwin Ziegler Adams, he made rapid progress in chess.

In 1924 he travelled to New York in search of stronger opposition. After achieving some local successes he travelled to Detroit, representing New York in the Western Chess Association Championship. Here he scored a spectacular success, finishing unbeaten on 14/16, 2½ points ahead of his nearest rivals and 3 points ahead of the even younger Sammy Reshevsky.

The following spring, Torre crossed the Atlantic to take part in the Baden-Baden congress, where, crossing swords with the likes of Alekhine and Rubinstein, he scored a creditable 10½/20. The authors comment that Carlos Torre played somewhat nervously in his international debut. While attaining a respectable 10th place (out of 21), he clearly was more concerned with not losing rather than trying to win.

He then continued, with only a few days in between the two events, to Marienbad, where he played with more confidence, sharing third place with Marshall on 10/15, half a point behind the winners Nimzovich and Rubinstein.

That autumn he took part in his third international tournament of the year, in Moscow. A score of 12/20 left him sharing 5th-6th places with Tartakower, behind Bogoljubow (his greatest tournament result), Lasker (whom he beat in the above game), Capablanca and Marshall. Here, he started strongly but faded in the last few rounds.

However, his game from the penultimate round was one of his best: a delightful minor masterpiece, according to the authors.

He stayed on in the Soviet Union over the New Year, playing in a small quadrangular tournament in Leningrad, where, still tired from his exertions in Moscow, he only managed 50%.

He then returned to Mexico for the first time in more than a decade, winning their national championship with a 100% score. His next tournament was the Western Masters in Chicago, which, as well as most of the top American players, was given an international flavour by the participation of Maroczy. With one round to go, Torre was half a point ahead of the field, facing Edward Lasker, who was in the bottom half of the field, with white in the last round. He was unable to cope with the pressure, played badly and lost. Marshall came out on top with 8½/12, half a point ahead of Torre and Maroczy.

The final thing you might know about Torre is that he once took his clothes off on a bus. Sadly, it’s true. After this tournament he returned to New York where he suffered a psychotic episode which put an end to his brief tournament chess career. He was also suffering from some sort of eating disorder, perhaps brought on by anxiety. He had always had an immoderate fondness for sweets, sometimes eating a dozen pineapple sundaes in a day, but those who knew him in New York at this time report that he was eating almost nothing but candies and fudge. He then returned to Mexico, living there quietly until his death in 1978 at the age of 73, and retaining his interest in chess to the end.

A sad story, then. Here was a young player of exceptional talent who lacked the temperament for competitive chess. Torre comes across as a sensitive soul who, on the one hand was more interested in the beauty of his games than the result, but, on the other hand, was hampered by anxiety which caused him on some occasions to play too cautiously, and, on other occasions, to tire easily and make mistakes.

If you’re interested in chess in the 1920s you’ll certainly want to read this excellent book. You won’t be disappointed with the production qualities either: it’s a good-looking hardback (also available in paperback) of 588 pages. The Games Section covers most of the book: here you have 110 games annotated using the latest (at the time of writing) engines to ensure accuracy.

One of Torre’s most impressive performances was his draw with the black pieces against Capablanca (Moscow 1925). Not many players were able to hold an inferior ending against the World Champion, but he was able (with one exception which Capa failed to take advantage of) to find a string of ‘only moves’.

The annotations to this game demonstrate the improvements from the first edition.

The first edition of the book offered analysis claiming that White could still win if Black played 37… b6! here, but, with the help of Stockfish, this edition demonstrates that Torre could have drawn by following a very narrow path. After the game continuation 37… Kf5?? 38. Nxb7 Ke6 39. Kd3? (Nc5+ was winning), Torre was – just about – holding.

A few moves later, this position was reached.

The game continued 41. Na6+ Kb6 with an eventual draw. Capablanca claimed after the game that 41. Kc3 was winning, but Bogoljubov, writing in the tournament book, disagreed. The first edition sided with Capa, but now, in the second edition, we learn that it was Bogo who was correct.

Here’s the complete game.

The last 100 pages or so offer a wealth of other material including articles and annotations  by Torre himself. The games included here bring the total up to 128. Anyone with an interest in chess history will relish this part of the book.

If you already have the first English language edition, then, you’ll want to know whether or not to buy this version. If you want more accurate annotations, the answer is clearly ‘yes’. If you want the fascinating additional material, the answer is again ‘yes’. If you just want Torre’s best games, or if you’re of the opinion that historical games shouldn’t be subjected to computer analysis, the answer may well be ‘no’.

Instead of the familiar Informator symbols you instead get assessments such as (+0.61/25), indicating that Stockfish 14, at 25 ply, considers that White has an advantage of .61 of a pawn. I find this interesting, but I’m sure there will be those who disagree.

There are other production issues which might divide opinion. If you’re a completist you’d expect every traceable game played by Torre, which isn’t what you get here. White spaces in the book are filled with cute little cartoons. You might like this, but here I think I prefer the white space.

If you have any interest at all in chess history, chess culture or the psychology of chess players, you shouldn’t hesitate.

Gabriel Velasco, Taylor Kingston and the team at Thinkers Publishing should be congratulated on doing an outstanding job to preserve the memory of Carlos Torre Repetto’s life and all too short chess career.

Richard James, Twickenham 12th January 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 588 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 2nd edition (21 Mar. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:‎ 9464201762
  • ISBN-13:978-9464201765
  • Product Dimensions: 23.88 x 4.06 x 17.27 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Life and Games of Carlos Torre – 2nd revised and extended edition- Gabriel Velasco & Taylor Kingston, Thinkers Publishing, March 21st 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201765
The Life and Games of Carlos Torre – 2nd revised and extended edition- Gabriel Velasco & Taylor Kingston, Thinkers Publishing, March 21st 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201765
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The Chess Heroes Books

Are you rated below 1500?

Do you have friends who are rated below 1500?

Are any members of your chess club rated below 1500?

Do you have any students rated  below 1500?

If so, you’ll really want to take a look at my Chess Heroes books: a unique series of volumes taking players from learning the basics through to club standard and beyond. There’s nothing else like these books on the market. They’re based on 50 years experience teaching chess, using my private RJCC database of almost 17000 games played at this level. Every word and every position is there for a reason.

No gimmicks. No short cuts. No idle promises. Just simple no-nonsense instruction providing all the knowledge and skills you need, along with hard work and seriousness of purpose, to succeed at chess.

This is the starter book (0-500 range) explaining what a game of chess is really about. If you just want to learn the basics, this is for you.

If you want to take the game further, these four books, designed to be read in parallel, are what you require.

Written for players of about 500-1000 strength, if you’ve understood everything here you’ll be able to go along to your local chess club and play some social games without being totally outclassed. You might even be able to play lower level competitive chess if you want.

By now you may be eager to learn more. If you’re around 1000-1500 level, these books will help you make further progress. The Puzzles book is exactly what it says on the cover, while the Games book uses the ‘How Good is Your Chess’ format where you play through the games guessing the next move. I’ll soon be starting work on the second books for publication towards the end of 2024.

You can order them from Amazon here. You’ll see that I also have free downloads available if you want to have a look  before you buy, or if, for instance, you want to print off some of the puzzle pages for your own or your students’ use.

I’d recommend you also read this blog post explaining some of the theory behind my teaching and writing.

Please do take a look, and if you like what you see, support me by purchases and 5* reviews!

 

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Minor Pieces 67: George Law Francis Beetholme

One of the fun things family historians like to do is the One Name Study. You take an unusual surname and find out everything you can about all the bearers of that name.

I have an interest (I’ll explain more later) in the very rare, and now, I believe extinct, at least in that form, name BEETHOLME. I randomly typed ‘Beetholme chess’ into Google and discovered that one of their number, George Law Francis Beetholme, was a published problemist.


#3 777 Chess miniatures in three 1908

Here’s one of his problems, a mate in 3 anthologised by the very interesting E Wallis (the subject of a future Minor Piece) in his self-published collection. I don’t know where or when it was first published: if you know, do get in touch.

Beetholme is an area of Keswick, in the Lake District, and for centuries the name was common in nearby Kendal, often in variants such as Beethom.  Our interest starts with John Law Beetholme, who was born in Liverpool, but moved to London where he worked as a solicitor. His eldest son, George, born in 1826, originally worked in his father’s legal practice, but, in a radical change of career, decided to become an artist. His paintings, very collectible today, were landscapes, often featuring mountains, rivers and waterfalls.

This pair of highland river scenes is, at the time of writing, on sale for £1750.

I don’t know whether or not he was a chess player, but, according to his obituary, he played an excellent game of billiards.

Islington Gazette 06 October 1904

His only child, a son, George Francis Law Beetholme, born in 1857, was, like his father, an artist. It was he who appears to have been the chess problemist. Here’s a mate in 2 from 1882, which was reprinted in the Adelaide Observer a few weeks later, so it must have been quite highly thought of.


#2  The Illustrated London News 11 Feb 1882

Sadly, there’s not much more to say. Perhaps he was already in poor health: five years later he died at the age of only 30. The cause of his death was given as Phthisis (tuberculosis) and Morbus Cordis (heart disease).

I’ve only been able to find one other problem, published later in 1882, though there may well be others around somewhere. There are a lot of duals involving discovered checks with the knight in some variations, which perhaps wouldn’t be acceptable today.


#2  The Illustrated London News 9 Sep 1882

George Law Francis Beetholme, then, was very much a Minor Piece in the world of chess problems: perhaps even, you might think, a pawn. A promising career cut short by ill health, I suppose.

You might be wondering about my interest in the Beetholme family. George the artist had a brother named John, born in about 1839, who also lived a bohemian life following artistic pursuits, although he used a pen rather than a paintbrush.

John L Beetholme (Lawreen)

Using the nom de plume J B Lawreen (sometimes J Beetholme Lawreen) he was, from about 1869 onwards, a writer of comic sketches and sentimental music hall songs.

London and Provincial Entr’acte 14 July 1877

In the same business, then, as Noel Johnson, except that he wrote the words while Noel composed the music. There’s no evidence that they ever collaborated.

London and Provincial Entr’acte 27 October 1877

In 1879 he married a dancer named Emily Willis, but the relationship didn’t last long and he later had an affair with Mary Elizabeth Bonsor, born in 1862, who had been orphaned at the age of only 3 when, a few weeks after her mother’s death, her father, in a fit of despair, took his own life. Two children were born: a son named John, and a daughter, whose name was registered as Alice, but who was later known as Lilian or Lily. In 1924 Lilian married a 63 year old widower, John Judd Abrahams: they had two sons. One of their grandsons, Steve Abrahams, who now lives in Tonbridge, has been researching his family history.

Steve has a strong DNA link with me which suggests we’re somewhere in the region of 4th cousins. I know from my shared links that it concerns my maternal grandmother’s family, and he knows from his shared links that it concerns his paternal grandfather’s family. There’s no obvious connection from our family trees so it’s a question of identifying a point where one of my relations and one of his relations might have been in the same room at the same time.

One possible scenario is this. John Judd Abrahams was born on 31 December 1860 in Gillingham Street, very near Victoria Station. According to both birth and baptism records his parents were David Abrahams and Ann Judd, who had married in Brighton in 1855. David was a servant, presumably working in hotels or boarding houses, and it’s quite likely Ann was in the same industry. Unfortunately the relevant page from the 1861 census, which might have been very informative, is lost, but there’s no indication that David and Ann spent any time together after their marriage, or that they had any (other) children. Steve also has no Abrahams DNA connections going any further back, so it’s plausible that John’s father was someone staying at or visiting a boarding house near Victoria Station. The relevant branch of my family was, at that time, mostly in the Northamptonshire village of Croughton, but there’s one possibility.

My great great grandfather Robert Padbury (he changed his name from Badby) had a brother named William (born in 1831) who served in the 97th Regiment of Foot. He was in Canada in 1856, and in India for the Indian Mutiny in 1857-58. On 1 June 1860 he was transferred to Madras. Might he have been in London a few months before that date awaiting instructions? Might he have travelled from India by boat, and then to London by train? He wouldn’t have arrived at Victoria Station, which only opened in October 1860. Might he have been in England on leave? Might he have been staying in a boarding house in central London and looking for a good time? I don’t know: I wasn’t there: but this theory would make Steve my 3rd cousin once removed, which would be about right. It would also make the short-lived problemist George Law Francis Beetholme the paternal 1st cousin of the wife of my 1st cousin 3x removed.

(Just to conclude William’s story, he returned from India, marrying in 1864 in Croydon, served by regular trains from Victoria,  and fathering two daughters, one of whom died in infancy. )

Join me again soon for another story of a chess family with an unusual surname.

Problem solutions: click on any move to play them through.

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk
Wikipedia
Steve Abrahams
Yet Another Chess Problem Database (yacpdb.org)
ChessBase

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Richmond Junior Chess Club 1975-2006: Part 5

I left you last time as the calendar ticked over to replace the 1 with a 2. January 1 2000. A new century.

The year 2000 was one with an international focus for Richmond Junior Chess Club. In January, we hosted a team of five young players from South Korea. They came over with our friend Jinwoo Song, a regular competitor in our rapidplay tournaments, who was now coaching in his home country. We ran a four-way team tournament, with six players in each team. Jinwoo played on top board for the Korean Krushers against the Richmond Raiders, the Richmond Rebels and the Richmond Renegades. They also played a match against Sheen Mount Primary School.

In July we had a visit from a Czech team from Frydek-Mistek, whose players have had a long association (continuing to this day) with English juniors. We ran a rapidplay tournament including some of the South of England’s strongest juniors, followed by a match between our team and theirs.

Here are two games: click on any move for a pop-up window.

But it was clear that the times were changing. Junior chess – and childhood itself – was becoming very different from when I was growing up.

In brief, and I’ll write a lot more about this at another time and (perhaps) in another place, it was changing from a hobby for older children into a learning tool for younger children.  The primary school chess clubs about which I was sceptical provided very little retention. Up to 2000 we were able to feed through the stronger players into our morning group, but at that point some sort of football league for children of primary school age started up in the borough, so we were no longer able to do that to any great extent.

Another thing that had changed was my relationship with the parents on our committee. When I was running the club unpaid I was seen as a friend, and, because I was doing it for free, was respected so much that I received an award from the BCF (as it then was) and it was even proposed that I should be nominated for an award in the Queen’s honours list. Every Christmas I’d receive enough wine and chocolates to last me until Easter. Even now I still exchange cards with a number of the parents from that time every December. But now I was being paid I was just a dispensable employee of the committee, so the gifts stopped. While I had enough money to buy as much wine and chocolates as I wanted throughout the year, for me that wasn’t the point.

I eventually reached the conclusion that I wanted to leave Richmond Junior Club at some point, and, because 30 years seemed like a good length of time to run the club, decided that the 2004-05 season would be my last. This would give the committee time to identify a replacement for me.

As chance would have it, in January 2002 a young man approached me after one of our Richmond Rapidplays offering to help. He appeared friendly and enthusiastic, and, although he wasn’t a very strong player, he was good enough to work with less experienced players. So the committee agreed to invite him along and give him a trial.

Everything went well: he was very popular with most of the children, and most of the parents also liked him. In addition, he seemed to be very much in tune with what we were trying to do. He also had contacts with a lot of strong players, which was very helpful.

After a while the committee appointed him as my deputy, with the intention that he would take over when I retired. CRB checks (as they then were), which had been introduced in 2002, were carried out successfully.

Meanwhile, my views on junior chess, in particular the best ways to teach beginners and promote chess in schools, were changing.

In 2000 I started developing a website, chessKIDS Academy, promoting online chess services for children. I sold the original domain some years ago and am no longer developing or maintaining the site but you can still find it here.

In 2001 a new school, Hampton Court House opened (it’s still there under the same name, but under different ownership and management), taking children of both primary and secondary school age. Its Director of Studies, Guy Holloway, was a keen chess player and wanted to make chess part of the school. I was invited to become involved and we used the school as a venue for a few tournaments. The school was more than happy to accept children who had struggled to fit in mainstream schools, as well as a bunch of eccentric teachers. It was, in many ways, an ideal environment for me, and I soon became a valued member of the school community. Getting to know all the children, not just those who played chess, as well as the parents and the members of staff, not all of whom were interested in chess, taught me to wear a teacher hat rather than a chess hat when thinking about how to promote and organise chess in schools.

By now I was reading extensively about various aspects of childhood: child development, educational theory, parenting, the history of childhood, as well as looking at the history of children’s chess, which again enabled to contextualise my views.

In 2003 I published two articles in CHESS. The first outlined my issues with primary school chess clubs and promoted chessKIDS Academy. The second published the results of an experiment carried out to investigate how children made decisions over the chessboard. I promised more articles, but never wrote them.

In 2004 I started investigating the Steps Method, used extensively in The Netherlands and also in other West European countries, which offered a very different philosophy to that of our after-school chess clubs. Looking also at courses based on methods used in the former Soviet Union, it was clear to me that this must have been an influence. Although I had some reservations about how it would fit in to our system, most of it made a lot of sense to me. I could see exactly why the primary school chess clubs in our area didn’t produce any significant retention.

Everything I was reading confirmed my opinion that promoting mass participation in chess in primary schools, while superficially attractive, was, in the long term, counter-productive.

But my views proved unpopular with parents and teachers, who didn’t want me to stop their children having fun playing low level chess, and with my chess teaching colleagues, who didn’t want me to stop them earning a living.

Over the previous few years there had been a decline in standards (we were doing just as well in competitions against other areas, so this was nationwide) and also in behaviour. While most of our children were genuinely enthusiastic about chess and wanted to be there, we were also attracting children who were less interested, and, consequently, in some cases less well behaved who were being signed up because their parents saw possible extrinsic benefits which might help them academically.

Two of our members from this period are now International Masters. Here’s a game from Yang-Fan Zhou.

Callum Kilpatrick sometimes plays for Richmond in the London League.

In February 2005 the world of Richmond Junior Club was turned upside down when a boy made an allegation of sexual assault against our young deputy director, who vehemently denied that any impropriety had taken place. The boy’s father, quite correctly reported the allegation to the police and social services. As it happened, a few years earlier one of the parents on our committee had been discovered with child pornography on his computer, and social services jumped to the conclusion that RJCC was the front for a paedophile ring. As a (then) middle-aged bachelor who spent a lot of time with young children I felt I was under suspicion myself.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided there was a case to answer, but were forced to drop it because the boy wasn’t prepared to testify in court. Our parental committee (I played no part in their decisions in this case) decided to keep him on but watch him closely, hoping this would give him the opportunity to seek help. Of course there was now no way he could take over my role as club director, so, in the short term, I had to remain in place, although my heart was no longer in it. The allegation against my deputy and potential successor was only one reason.

At the end of April 2006 we were contacted by the organiser of a foreign tournament in which our deputy director was taking part, informing us that he’d been arrested. Telling us the reason would have been a breach of confidentiality, but of course we had our suspicions. We eventually discovered that the reason for his arrest made it impossible for him to continue working with children. When he returned to England he was removed from his post at RJCC, although he continued playing in tournaments, even holding an office within the British Chess Federation until the start of the following year.

Meanwhile, by September 2006, other arrangements had been made, and Richmond Junior Chess Club was now, after 31 years, being run by someone else. What happened then is not my story to tell.

At the end of this five-part, 30+ year saga, I have some final thoughts.

If you know me you’ll know that I’m an extreme introvert, quiet, self-effacing, non-confrontational. I’m not an amazingly strong chess player. I’m not good at addressing an audience or controlling a class of children. Exactly the opposite of the qualities expected of a leader, you might think, but, nevertheless, I ran the strongest junior chess club in the country – and one of the strongest in the world – for many years, with methods, philosophy and governance very different from those used in any other children’s chess club of my knowledge. Yes, I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and to meet the right people, most importantly Mike Fox, but I suspect you need something more than just luck.

I’ve always known that without chess I wouldn’t have had a happy and worthwhile life, and that the least I could do in return was to devote my as much of my life as I could to helping children play chess. But, as I didn’t come from a chess background, today’s primary school chess clubs wouldn’t have helped me much, and nor would today’s professionally run clubs have been suitable.

The introduction to chess I had in the 1960s was ideal for me, but now junior chess, at least in my part of the world, was no longer for teachers like me (classroom management skills, which I don’t have, are required), nor, more importantly, for children like me.

I eventually realised that the problem was societal rather than specifically chess related, and that my friends and former colleagues in the junior chess world were meeting demands from parents and schools. But I didn’t think it was doing either chess or children any favours.

There are signs that things might be changing: I’ll have a lot more to say about this another time, and probably in another place. If you’d like to speak to me about the way we used to run our club, feel free to get in touch.

 

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Minor Pieces 66: Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson (2)

We left Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson last time, having just married Jane Ann Richards and joined the RAF on war service.

Before I move on, my thanks to Brian Denman, who has sent me a whole pile of Noel-Johnson’s games. I’ll add a few earlier scores here: as always, click on any move for a pop-up window.

Even in 1924, as an inexperienced 20-year-old, he was capable of playing strong positional chess, being particularly severe here against his opponent’s Dutch Defence, and not being distracted by the magnificent view from the roof of Australia House. William Henry Watts was, apart from being a civil servant, a prominent chess journalist and author.

In this county match game from 1936 he won quickly against his Essex opponent’s rather unsophisticated opening.

In another county match game he took a notable scalp when one of England’s finest amateurs, perhaps in time trouble, lost the plot.

Finally, for the moment, another game against Yeeles, which might, as Brian suggests, have been played in a club match, but also fits in with the 1937 county championship final. He was lucky here, as Yeeles stood better before giving up the exchange for no obvious reason: perhaps again a time trouble blunder.

Returning to his life story, Reginald and Jane had two children, Patricia, born in Chester in 1942, and Christopher (who sadly died in 2010), born in Surrey in 1946. During this period his work for the RAF took him to India, and it was only in 1947 that he was able to resume his chess career.

He wasted no time in picking up where he left off.

Tonbridge Free Press 30 May 1947

His final game was a textbook example of strong positional play, his pressure on his opponent’s backward c-pawn eventually leading to material gain. Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.

Although he’d been living in central London since at least 1929, he maintained his loyalty to Kent, playing in county matches as well as the county championships.

This game from a match between West/Mid Kent and Metropolitan Kent had a curious conclusion. White thought he had no defence to Black’s threats, but in fact he had a slight advantage.

In 1949 he won the Kent Championship for the eighth time. In this game from the first round  he again demonstrated strong positional play, winning material, but returning it for two far advanced connected passed pawns in the centre.

In this county match game he missed a tactical opportunity, but his more active pieces still made life difficult for his Sussex opponent.

Noel-Johnson also remained loyal to Lewisham. In this National Club Championship game his international opponent blundered, allowing a smart finish.

Facing another international opponent in a London League match, he gave a textbook example of how to play against the Dutch Stonewall, taking advantage of Black’s weak dark squares and undeveloped queen’s bishop to set up a decisive pin.

This game bears testimony to Reginald’s considerable endgame skills.

1951 marked the centenary of the Great Exhibition in London, which included the world’s first international chess tournament, and it was only right that the 1951 Festival of Britain should also include some chess. Reginald Noel-Johnson, by now a respected organiser and populariser of chess as well as a very strong player, was involved, and television cameras were present.

Marylebone Mercury 11 May 1951

In case you’re unfamiliar with some of the personalities involved: David Farrar CEM Joad Eamonn Andrews Sir Ronald Storrs

(Sir Ronald founded the first chess club in Palestine in 1918, hoping to unite Arabs, Jews and Christians stationed in Jerusalem, and to help promote peace and understanding. It didn’t work out: it closed within a year due to tensions between Arabs and Jews.)

In 1951 Noel-Johnson organised a London Transport team who travelled to Hastings Chess Club.

Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 11 August 1951

The home team won 21½-8½, but König and Noel-Johnson, on the top two boards, against Winser and Waterman.

(Chess was a very big thing amongst London Busmen at the time, a story I should perhaps investigate further.)

In October 1952 the National Chess Centre re-opened, just across the road in Oxford Street from the previous centre which had been burnt down during the war. Noel-Johnson was very much involved in its re-establishment. He was also honoured by being appointed President of the Southern Counties Chess Union in 1952-53.

Here’s another game, this one from the 1952 county championship, resulting in a minor piece ending.

This game was played on top board in a county match at the National Chess Centre. It looks like White miscalculated or misjudged the position round about move 20.

The 1953 National Chess Centre Championship gave Reginald another chance to demonstrate his positional mastery.

In 1954 the British Chess Federation published its second (and first full) grading list. Reginald Noel-Johnson was there on 3a (209-216, or about 2300 Elo), along with Alfred Lenton, and several of his other erstwhile opponents. At the age of 50, he seemed to be playing as well as ever.

But at that point he became a lot less active. By the 1955 grading list he’d slipped to 4a (193-200, approaching 2200 Elo).

One reason might have been that he was now becoming active in the musical world as a composer. I’d imagine that his work at Ricordi’s (he’d moved from Chappell’s) involved, on occasion, being commissioned to write incidental music.

Back in 1933 he’d been writing songs in the style of his father, his setting of Weep you no more, sad fountains, an anonymous Elizabethan verse set by everyone from John Dowland to Roger Quilter, being admired for its combination of freshness and charm. “The harmonic scheme in the accompaniment is never dull and the melody has a quiet flow and a beautiful ending, suitable for soprano or tenor”, according to the West Middlesex Gazette (27 May 1933).

Unfortunately, I can’t find a recording of this or any of his other music, but I recently heard Ivor Gurney’s setting in a recital. I rather suspect Noel-Johnson’s setting was closer to that of Quilter.

Judge for yourself here.

In 1952 Noel-Johnson had composed the music for Enid Blyton’s Noddy Song Book, and these were used for a children’s play produced over the Christmas holidays in December 1954. No, I wasn’t in the audience.

It was repeated the following year, when the cast list included ‘Ronald’ Corbett as Mr Whiskers and Jinky, while older children could watch the Famous Five in the evening.

In 1953 an ice pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor (pantomimes on ice were very big in those days) included a ballet based on Morphy’s Opera House Game, with music by Noel-Johnson.

There was a new job for him in 1958, when he was appointed general manager of Ascherberg, Hopwood and Crew.

You might have expected that Reginald’s chess career had come to an end, but in 1974 he unexpectedly turned up playing for King’s Lynn, in Norfolk. He was rapidly appointed match captain, and was involved in a ‘chess happening’ forming part of the King’s Lynn Festival.

Lynn News & Advertiser 30 July 1974

In 1975 he reappeared on the grading list at 190, seemingly having retained his strength into his 70s, despite a 20 year long absence from the board.

He didn’t appear in the next two grading lists, but returned in 1978, now living in Worthing, on the south coast. That year he was down to 181, but by 1982 he was up to 194, and, after a decline the following year, back to 192 in 1984. This would be about 2150 – pretty impressive for someone in his late seventies.

In this game he renewed acquaintance with an old Kent rival, now promoted to the rank of Canon within the Church of England, who left it far too late to develop his queen’s knight.

Here, he faced a Cannon rather than a Canon. John Cannon was a strong Sussex player who, I believe, claimed to hold a record for the number of county matches he played.

Noel-Johnson also started playing in tournaments again, favouring those in Devon, often playing in Paignton and occasionally in Torquay. In 1981, despite a last round defeat, he shared first place in the top section at Paignton.

Birmingham Mail 14 September 1981

In one of the key games from this event he scored the full point against one of the other joint winners, who went wrong on his sealed move.

In 1981 he changed his allegiance from Worthing to Rustington: I wonder if this was under the influence of his old friend Eric Smith. Perhaps it was he who had enticed him to the delights of Sussex in the first place.

In this club championship game from 1981 he switched from his usual 1… e5 to the Sicilian, scoring a quick victory. He clearly knew his opponent well.

Brian Denman tells me that in 1982 Noel-Johnson reached the Sussex final, and, if he had won, he would have been the oldest champion. However, he lost both games against Feliks Kwiatkowski. Here are a few more victories from Brian’s files.

The last game I have is a loss, from 1987.

In the final years of his career his grade, inevitably, fell into decline, last appearing in the grading list on 159 in 1991, at the age of 87.
Reginald never lost his interest in chess, though, as my friend Guy Holloway recollects.
Noel-Johnson’s daughter, Patricia, was the very first school secretary at The Harrodian School. In those days I ran the chess club and, one day (around 1995), 90-year old Reginald came in to play a simultaneous against a large group of ten-year old boys and girls. He was in sparking good form and gave the youngsters their first taste of ‘playing against a champion’.
After the simul, on returning to Worthing, he sent Guy a postcard, written partly in French, reproduced here with Guy’s permissioin.

Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson died on 27 December 2000 at the great age of 96, his death being registered in Windsor and Maidenhead.

Two of his brothers also had interesting stories to tell. Dennis, who, you may recall, changed his surname to Cullum, achieved fame as an athletics coach, specialising in hammer throwing. You can read more about him here.

Reginald’s youngest brother, George Douglas, had been a member of the Territorial Army (Artists’ Rifles) in 1937, but in 1939, with war imminent, joined the RAF, flying Hurricanes in Greece and eventually rising to the rank of Squadron Leader. He retired from the services in 1956.

War often brings people from very different backgrounds together, and so it was with George Douglas Noel Noel-Johnson, who, in Heliopolis in 1945, married a secretary in the WAAF named Catherine Lucy Gunn (she was now spelling her name Katharine Lucille).

Warwick & Warwickshire Advertiser 06 July 1945

They would have three children, Clive, Mark and Sally, and, while her husband died relatively young in 1972, she would live on until 2018, reaching the age of 98. I must show my appreciation here to Clive and Sally for generously sharing so much family information through their online trees.

Her parents had met while working in a mental health hospital, and Catherine, the youngest of four children, lost her father to pneumonia when she was only 2. Her mother, Edith Mary White, was the daughter of a groom, and the granddaughter of an agricultural labourer from near Warwick. Her grandfather, Thomas White, had a cousin, Sarah, who married Robert Padbury. Robert had many granddaughters, one of whom, Florence, was, in 1921, working as a housekeeper to a farmer whose wife was in Hatton Lunatic Asylum. She was no doubt unaware that her third cousin Edith had been working there ten years earlier. Florence had an affair with her employer: their daughter was my mother. This makes Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson, if my tree is correct, the brother-in-law of my 4th cousin once removed. And, you might recall from the first article, he played on two occasions against my father’s kinsman Alfred Lenton.

Noel-Johnson and Lenton, despite their very different backgrounds, had a lot in common. They were both mainly positional players, Noel-Johnson playing in classical style, as opposed to Lenton’s hypermodern approach. Lenton was slightly stronger in the 1930s, playing for England on several occasions, but Noel-Johnson retained much more of his strength into old age. Both took a break in middle age, returning to chess in their retirement, and both remaining active in the chess world into their tenth decade.

We should certainly thank Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson for his services to chess, both as a player and an administrator, over more than 70 years. I believe it’s important for the whole chess community to keep the memory of players such as him alive.

 

Sources & Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk (family trees of Clive Noel-Johnson and Sally (Noel-Johnson) Giddings)
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Wikipedia
BritBase (John Saunders – thanks also for his RCNJ games collection)
ChessBase/Stockfish 16
Brian Denman (thanks for his RCNJ games collection)
Guy Holloway
YouTube

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