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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Speed Demon: The Fascinating Games and Tragic Life of Alexey Vyzhmanavin

From the publisher:

“Almost as fascinating as chess is the community of chess players. In every major city in the world, you are guaranteed to meet interesting people when you walk into a local chess club or chess cafe. This book pays tribute to one of those characters who gave colour to the chess world, the Russian grandmaster Alexey Vyzhmanavin.

The best chance to bump into Vyzhmanavin in the 1980s and early 1990s was in Sokolniki park in Moscow, playing blitz. You could meet him at the 1992 Chess Olympiad as a member of the winning Russian team. Or in the finals of the PCA rapid events of the 1990s, frequently outplaying his illustrious opponents with his fluent and enterprising style. In Moscow in 1994, he reached the semi-final, narrowly losing out to Vladimir Kramnik, having already beaten Alexei Shirov and Viktor Korchnoi. Commentating at a PCA event, Maurice Ashley described Vyzhmanavin in predatory terms: ‘He’s a dangerous one, looking like a cat, ready to pounce’.

For this book, grandmaster Dmitry Kryakvin has talked to dozens of people, enabling him to give a complete picture of Vyzhmanavin’s life. The result is a mix of fascinating chess, wonderful anecdotes, and some heartbreaking episodes. The stories are complemented by the memories of Vyzmanavin’s ex-wife Lyudmila. They revive his successes but also reveal the dark side of this forgotten chess genius who battled with depression and the ‘green serpent’, a Russian euphemism for alcoholism. He died in January 2000 at the age of forty, in circumstances that remain unclear. The stories and games in this book are his legacy.

Dmitry Kryakvin is an International Grandmaster from Russia and an experienced chess trainer and author. For New In Chess he wrote Attacking with g2-g4: The Modern Way to Get the Upper Hand in Chess

————————————————————————————-

There’s always a demand for biographical works and games collections concerning lesser known players. Here we have a book about Alexey Vyzhmanavin, who, for a short time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was one of the leading Soviet/Russian grandmasters.

Viorel Bologan provides the Foreword.

(Vyzhmanavin) was a very inventive and enterprising chess player, with deep and precise calculation skills. His best games featured in this book constitute great learning material. I must add that I rather liked the style of the book: it’s not a simple collection of best games – it’s a history of his life, bright and tragic. The narration of the author, Dmitry Kryakvin, is complemented by the memories of Vyzhmanavin’s ex-wife Lyudmila and stories from his friends.

Bright and tragic. This sums up Vyzhmanavin’s short life, with its highs and lows. A player of exceptional natural talent, particularly at speed chess, but his life blighted by his mental health problems and addictions to gambling and alcohol.

A fascinating book with an important story to tell – and some great chess along the way as well.

Right at the start, though, I should explain that I have one issue. Not, I suspect, to do with the book itself, but to do with what I assume was an editorial decision made by the publishers.

If I’m reading a Best Games collection I really want to see the complete games. Here, in the majority of cases, we don’t get all the moves, but only join the game after the opening, or, in some cases, at the start of the ending. This is something I find very frustrating: while it’s good to see how the winner exploited his advantage, I’d also like to know how he obtained that advantage in the first place, which might teach me something about the opening.

I appreciate that this is their house style, and that the decision was no doubt made for economic reasons, but for me it rather spoils what is otherwise an excellent book.

Vyzhmanavin had a difficult family background, with an alcoholic father. His mother was a kindergarten teacher, and he didn’t discover chess until his teens, when, accompanying his mother and her pupils to a summer camp, he chanced upon a chess book.

He had to start his playing career against much younger children, but, supported by Lyudmila Belavenets (daughter of pre-war Soviet master Sergey), he won books as prizes and rapidly became addicted to chess. As she later wrote: I am completely sure that it’s not necessary to start studying chess at the age of 4 or 6. When a teenager comes to the chess section, this means that it was his own choice.

I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments.

Kryakvin writes:

We are all products of our childhood, and what we discuss here and now is very important in understanding what happened to Alexey Vyzhmanavin later. Alexey didn’t have any of the things that we love so much and sometimes value so little at home: warmth, loving and caring family members.

For him, much more than for most players, his childhood is the key to understanding both why and how he played chess.

He soon discovered the chess pavilion in Sokolniki Park in Moscow, where he honed his exceptional talent for blitz chess. By 1981, at the age of 20, he was beating players like Bronstein and Vaganian: you can see the games here.

By this time he had been conscripted into the armed forces. joining the sports unit, where he could pursue chess rather than military training. After his two year conscription period ended he signed up for another six years, winning the Armed Forces championship on seven occasions.

By 1985 he was approaching GM strength, winning this fine attacking game. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

By the late 1980s he was, like his father before him, experiencing problems with alcoholism and mental health, but in 1988 his life changed when he married a fellow chess player, Lyudmila Didenko, as she is now known. Soon after their marriage a daughter was born. Lyudmila’s moving recollections of Alexey play an important part in this book.

There was more good news in 1989 when Vyzhmanavin, now with a 2555 rating, finally attained the grandmaster title.

Here’s an example of his play from the following year.

He continued to progress, playing for the successful Russian Olympiad and European Championship teams in 1992, and reaching a peak rating of 2620 in 1993.

But, by the mid 1990s his problems with the ‘green serpent’ were getting worse. His results started to decline, and his marriage broke up, Lyudmila filing for divorce in 1996. He played little chess that year, and, despite sharing first place at Cappelle-la-Grande the following year, soon gave up completely.

By now his life had spiralled out of control, and, in January 2000, at the age of only 39, he was found dead in his Moscow flat.

A tragic story, then, of a talented but troubled man who was unable to control his demons.

As usual from this publisher, the book is well produced. The translation is excellent and the game annotations serve their purpose well. As is usual with New in Chess books, active learning is promoted by questions inviting readers to find the best continuation. Given that Vyzhmanavin excelled in positional chess, most of the questions involve planning rather than calculation. If you feel the purpose of this book is to inform rather than instruct,  they’re not necessary, but they don’t do any harm.

If you’re interested in the human side of chess you’ll certainly want to read this book. If you’re interested in chess life in the last days of the Soviet Union, this is also a book for you. If you enjoy powerful positional chess, particularly in queen’s pawn games, you’ll learn something from this book. I’d suspect you’d have learnt rather more, though, if you’d been able to see the complete games rather than, in the majority, just the conclusion.

Dmitry Kryakvin has done an outstanding job in producing a fine tribute to Alexey Vyzhmanavin, a man who deserves to be remembered for both his life and his games.

Before I leave you, I have one further question prompted by reading this book. Should international and national chess organisations do more to help members of their community suffering from problems in the areas of mental health and addictions? I consider this an important topic which isn’t being discussed enough. Of course it’s quite possible that Vyzhmanavin might have turned down offers of help anyway, but what do you think?

Richard James, Twickenham 30th November 2023

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 January 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257819
  • ISBN-13:978-9493257818
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 1.19 x 23.09 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

Speed Demon: The Fascinating Games and Tragic Life of Alexey Vyzhmanavin, Dmitry Kryakvin, New in Chess, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257818
Speed Demon: The Fascinating Games and Tragic Life of Alexey Vyzhmanavin, Dmitry Kryakvin, New in Chess, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257818
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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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Minor Pieces 65: Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson (1)

Here’s another game played by Alfred Lenton (see here and here), from the 1936 British Championship in Bournemouth against Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson, the subject of this Minor Piece. Noel-Johnson seemed ill at ease against Lenton’s favourite Réti Opening. (Click on any move in any game in this article for a pop-up window.)

Link

You’ll see from the tournament chart (click on the link for further information) that Alfred’s opponent Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson finished on 50% – a very respectable performance. Unfortunately, the only complete games of his that appear to survive from this tournament are losses.

In this game against the up-and-coming Frank Parr, a blunder on move 31 allowed a fatal double threat.

In this game another oversight gave allowed the eventual tournament winner a fine finish.

However, we do have the conclusion of this game, in which Reginald demonstrated excellent endgame technique to exploit his pawn advantage.

Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson (pictured on the left) had an interesting story to tell. Let’s find out more.

We’ll start with his father, (William) Noel Johnson (no hyphen: that came later), a cellist, conductor and composer. Here’s how he was described in Brown & Stratton’s British Musical Biography (1897). Again, from two years later: Here we have a successful composer of music mostly for home consumption: songs, short pieces for cello and piano and so on. Music which, perhaps sadly, has now gone out of fashion: I haven’t been able to find any recordings of these songs, but a later work, comprising three short piano pieces, has been recorded for YouTube by Phillip Sear, a specialist in this type of repertoire.

Pleasant enough, I suppose, but they rather remind me of the pieces I was expected to practise when I was learning the piano many years ago. Hardly imaginative or profound but they served their purpose at the time.

Between the songs and the piano pieces, in 1902, Noel married Rosina (Rosie) Johnson, twenty years his junior and not related in spite of the shared surname, with four children being born in London: Reginald (1904), Kathleen (1906), Eric (1907) and (William) Brian (1908). The family then moved to Whitstable, Kent, where two further sons were born, Dennis (1913) and (George) Douglas (1915).

Many years later, in 1975, Kathleen would look back fondly on their time there. But the family’s idyllic seaside life was shattered in January 1916 when William Noel Johnson, now living near Southend, died suddenly of pneumonia, leaving Rosie a widow with six young children.

In the words of his last song, “Rosemary, that’s for remembrance”.

The Stage 29 June 1916

It can’t have been easy for Rosina, and it appears that the family also had financial problems.

The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald. 26 February 1916

The 1921 census found them, now having changed their surname to Noel-Johnson, perhaps to honour their late father, split up.

Rosie and Reggie, perhaps he’d just left the Masonic School, were living in a boarding house in South Kensington. Rosie had found work as a secretary, while her eldest son, following in his father’s footsteps, had an apprenticeship at Chappell’s, the music publishers, who had published some of Noel’s compositions.

Eric was at a boarding school on Clapham Common, just a few doors away from what is now Ray Keene’s residence. Kathleen, Brian and Douglas were ‘inmates’ at the Actors’ Orphanage in Langley,  Buckinghamshire. Dennis had been adopted by a childless couple, Henry and Ethel Cullum (were they family friends?) and had taken on their surname.

It appears that, very soon afterwards, Reginald moved to somewhere in South or South East London, taking up chess at the same time. The first reference I can find is in February 1922, just a few days before his 18th birthday, playing on Board 13 in a county match between Kent and Essex. He must have gained rapid recognition as a pretty useful player. He seems to have been the only competitive chess player in his family so perhaps he learnt at school.

The following year he played on top board for a Men of Kent team in a friendly match against a Ladies’ Team, drawing his game against Miss Edith Charlotte Price. The Men of Kent were west of the River Medway, while the Kentish men were on the east.

The Kent & Sussex Courier 02 March 1923

In 1924 Noel-Johnson took part in his first public tournament, travelling to Weston-super-Mare for the West of England Championships where he was placed in the Second Class Section A tournament. This proved a great success, his score of 8½/9 demonstrated that he was already much more than a second class player. He also finished in second place in a Quick Play Tournament: clearly a young, ambitious and improving player.

The county selectors eventually noticed this and promoted him to one of the top boards in the county team.

He didn’t have far to go for his next tournament, the Kent County Championship held in Bromley in April 1925. The format of the top section was interesting: four sections each including six amateurs and two visiting European masters.

Birmingham Daily Post 13 April 1925

In the first round Reginald attracted considerable attention for the hard fight he put up against his Latvian opponent (retrospectively rated 2386 in 1925 by Rod Edwards.

He had a strong attack for the pawn early on and, much later, came close to drawing the ending.

He finished on 3/7, an excellent score for someone with so little experience at that level.

The four section winners entered the final pool, with the remaining competitors playing three more rounds using the Swiss System to determine six further prize-winners. You’ll see that he won all three of these games.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph 20 April 1925

Later in the year, he had a county match game published in the British Chess Magazine. His opponent’s name is remembered today through the Wernick Cup, awarded since 1922 to the winner of the fourth division of the Surrey individual championship. Jack Redon, who will be the subject of a future Minor Piece, won it in 1923, as did a certain RD Keene in 1962.

It would be some years, though, before he played another public tournament, but he remained very active in club and county chess, winning the county championship for the first time in 1927, and again in 1931 and 1932.

Here’s a position for adjudication from the decisive game of a 1931 county match: Noel-Johnson was white against John Harold Morrison of Middlesex.

The players and spectators thought Black was winning but Yates gave White a win on adjudication.

White has two ways to win.

1. Rxc8 b3 (1… Rxc8 2. Bxc8 b3 3. Ba6 bxa2 (3… b2 4. Bd3) 4. Bc4+) 2. Rxb8 bxa2 3. Be6+! Kxe6 4. Re8+

or, perhaps more simply,

1. c6 b3 2. c7 Rb6 3. Rxc8 bxa2 4. Rf8+!

Although his main club was Lewisham, Reginald also played for Clapham Common, where his brother Eric had attended school.

Here he is, facing Richmond & Kew in an Alexander Cup (Surrey KO) match.

Richmond Herald 11 March 1933

By the summer of 1933 he had time to take in another public tournament, travelling down to Hastings for the British Championships. He played in the Premier Reserves, in effect the third division, and, as you’ll see, finished a point clear of the field, drawing his first encounter with Alfred Lenton along the way.

Link

In 1935 he won his fourth county title, defeating Walter Yeeles in the final. Here are the two games: he was close to winning in the first, but made no mistake in the second.

1936 saw his only British Championship appearance, which you read about at the start of this article.

This was also the year when his club, Lewisham, won the London League for the first time (they’d repeat their success the following year). Noel-Johnson arranged a presentation to the match captain, in the presence of two world champions.

Sevenoaks Chronicle, Westerham Courier & Kentish Advertiser 02 October 1936

In 1937, as well as taking the Kent title again (just as two years earlier, winning the second game against Yeeles after a draw) he took part in a small semi-international tournament to celebrate the centenary of Worcester Chess Club, finishing on 50%. At this point Rod Edwards on EdoChess gives him a retrospective rating of 2165.

The Kington Times and the North Herefordshire Advertiser 18 September 1937

In 1938 Reginald took part in a simul against Alekhine at the Charing Cross Hotel. He’s pictured here at the left, alongside Elaine Saunders, C Chapman, HH Cole, H Israel and Walter Yeeles.

British Chess Magazine March 1938/Chess Notes 3817

In the final of the 1938 Kent Championship, Noel-Johnson had the opportunity for a classic double bishop sacrifice, calculating accurately right to the end to give his opponent no chance.

Francis Tims Collins would later join the RAF Volunteer Reserve, and was tragically killed on the evening of the 27th of November 1943, when the RAF Lancaster in which he was a navigator was shot down over Heuchelheim, Germany.

In November 1938 a weekend tournament was held in Bournemouth, with the players divided into groups of four. This would be called a quad tournament in the USA: I’ve often wondered why this format (extensively used at Richmond Junior Club for many years) has never taken off over here. The top two sections each featured four county champions, Noel-Johnson winning his section with 2½/3 against the champions of Devon, Hampshire and Essex.

As county champion again, he played on top board in this county match against Surrey, who fielded the confusingly named but unrelated Laurie Alexander and Frederick Forrest Lawrie Alexander on the top two boards.

The Croydon Advertiser and Surrey County Reporter 27 January 1939

Here’s his game, a pretty clear-cut win.

Noel-Johnson encountered young Elaine Saunders again in a living chess display in Croydon later in 1939.

Croydon Times and Surrey County Mail 10 June 1939

Later that month, a match between Metropolitan Kent and West/Mid Kent resulted in an exciting finish. At the close of play the score was 25-24 in favour of the Mets, with just the top board, between Noel-Johnson and the long-lived Philip Coy, for adjudication.

The result was a win for Reginald, making the score 26-24.

But then the Second World War intervened and Noel-Johnson’s chess career was mostly on hold, although he did take part in a tournament at the National Chess Centre in 1940. Here, players were grouped by the first letter of their surname, and he won the Rare Letters section ahead of Harold Israel.

In the fourth quarter of 1940 Reginald Charles Noel-Johnson married American born Jane Ann Richards in Kensington. And on 22 November that year he was appointed Pilot Officer in the Administrative and Special Duties branch of the RAF for the duration of hostilities.

His life had changed. He was no longer a bachelor working in music publishing and playing chess in his spare time, but a married man serving in the armed forces. You’ll find out what happened next in part 2 of Reginald’s story.

Sources & Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk (family trees of Clive Noel-Johnson and Sally (Noel-Johnson) Giddings)
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Forces War Records
YouTube/Phillip Sear
Wikipedia
BritBase (John Saunders – thanks also for his RCNJ games collection)
chessgames.com
British Chess Magazine
EdoChess (Rod Edwards)
ChessBase/Stockfish 16

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The Chess Memory Palace

Blurb from the publisher, Amazon:

Chess players spend hours and hours trying to memorize openings, but even Grandmasters forget their preparation.

Meanwhile, memory competitors routinely memorize thousands of facts and random digits, using special techniques that anyone can learn.

This book explains how to use these memory techniques for chess.

  • Teaches advanced memory techniques from scratch.
  • Contains full worked examples in the Ruy Lopez Exchange and Schliemann Gambit.
  • Ideal for tournament players who want to recall their opening repertoire perfectly.

CONTENTS:
Introduction
1. Picture Notation
2. Essential Memory Techniques
3. Memory Palace Architecture
4. Example Palace: The Schliemann Transit Line
5. Example Palace: The Spanish Exchange Airport
6. Bonus: Memorising Endgames
7. Miscellanea
Notes
Appendix: Picture Words for all 64 Squares

About the Author:

Author of The Chess Memory Palace (2022) and A Curious Letter from Nebuchadnezzar (2021)

 

I don’t know about you, but I like to know something about the author before I read a book. John Holden seems remarkably coy. It’s clear from the book that he’s a memory expert,  but what are his chess credentials?

He tells us in the book that he lives in London, which is a start. His website is johnden.org, and there’s a chess.com user named John Holden whose username is NEDNHOJ (johnden reversed) with a blitz rating round about 900.

There was also a Kent junior on the grading list between 2007 and 2013, when he’d reached 160 (about 1900), who played a few rapidplay tournaments last year, giving him a 1755 rating. Are these the same person? You’d expect someone of that strength to have a higher chess.com rating than 900, especially if he’d put his memory training to good effect.

Is the author, then, either, both or neither?

If you’ve read anything about memory training in the past you’ll be aware of the Memory Palace technique which top competitive memory people use to learn the digits of pi or memorise the order of a shuffled deck of cards.

Here’s the start of the introduction. I have a few questions.

Modern chess requires its players to memorise more and more. “That’s probably the number one thing,” said top grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, “For becoming a really strong grandmaster today you have to have a really good memory because there’s so much to memorise.”

Yes, if you want to become a really strong grandmaster like Nakamura you need a really good memory. But to what extent is this necessary if you’re a 900 online rapid player like NEDNHOJ or a 1755 rapid player like Kent’s John Holden? From my own experience, playing at that level is probably not about that sort of memory at all, and learning openings in that way might even confuse you.

Most of this effort goes on the opening moves, because you have to survive the opening to demonstrate your middlegame and endgame prowess. Although chess players have a good memory for moves, even elite players can struggle to remember their preparation at the board. And it is a constant source of frustration for all of us to spend so much time rehearsing openings.

There are some (teachers as well as players) who recommend that club level players should concentrate on opening study, while others prefer the 20-40-40 rule: 20% of your time on openings, 40% on middlegames and 40% on endings. Some even think that 20% is too high: you’re better off just playing simple openings leading to playable middlegames. One of the examples here is playing White against the Ruy Lopez Schliemann (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5). How often are you going to reach this variation?

Meanwhile, a new sport of competitive memory has sprung up, which reaches new heights every year. The record for most numbers memorised in five minutes stands at over 540. In 15 minutes, 1300. A man from India has recited 70,000 digits of pi.

How is this possible? Is it a special photographic memory? Actually no, it’s the disciplined application of memory techniques – and the techniques are surprisingly simple! They tap into our brains’ natural ability to remember places, images and stories. We can all remember our route to work, and we can all understand a story, even when it’s told to us quite fast. The trick is to convert non-memorable information, like a number, into memorable images.

‘… our brains’ natural ability to remember places, images and stories’. You brain might well work like that but not everyone’s does. You might want to look at conditions such as aphantasia (the inability to form mental pictures) which would make techniques like this difficult, or perhaps impossible.

It’s like everything else: some people are very good at this sort of thing, others fairly average and others again will find it very difficult.

Here’s how it works.

We have eight consonant sounds representing the numbers 1 to 8. Therefore, each square can be associated with a word including the sound representing the file (a-h becomes 1-8) followed by the sound representing the rank (1-8). If more than one piece can move to the same square we deal with this through the number of consonants in the word. If more than one piece can move to the same square you use words with different numbers of syllables to determine which piece you should move.

You might possibly recognise this as a position from one of the main lines of the Schliemann.

Just out of interest, looking at some lichess stats (filtered on games with an average rating of 1400+:

  1. e4 e5 (35% in this position)
  2. Nf3 Nc6 (64% in this position)
  3. Bb5 f5 (2% in this position)
  4. Nc3 fxe4 (54% in this position)
  5. Nxe4 d5 (46% in this position: the other main line, Nf6 is slightly more popular)
  6. Nxe5 dxe4 (95% in this position)
  7. Nxg6 Qg5 (62% in this position)
  8. Qe2 Nf6 (93% in this position)
  9. f4 Qxf4 (73% in this position)

Realistically, even if you play the Lopez at every opportunity you won’t get the Schliemann very often, and, even then, many of your opponents will choose alternatives at moves 4 or 5. If you’re just a club standard player I’d advise you to play something sensible like 4. d3 instead and get on with the rest of your life.

Anyway, let’s continue. Your opponent has gone down this line and you have to dig into your memory to remember what happens next.

Black’s last move was Qxf4: your word for f4 is ‘shark’ (f/6 is represented by ch/j/tch/sh, d/4 is represented by r, so you choose a monosyllabic word including these two sounds.)

It’s a sharp variation and you want to remember what to do next so you look into your Memory Palace. There you find a shark biting a jester; a match catching fire and burning a lion’s nose, making the lion roar; and a frog chewing gum. The jester gives you lol (laugh out loud, your word for e5), telling you that you now play 10. Ne5+. Well, hang on a minute. Stockfish slightly prefers Nxa7+, and d4 is by far the most popular choice on lichess, but Ne5+ is also fine, so we’ll let it pass. Then we have the match, indicating c6, so we expect our opponent to evade the check by playing 10… c6 – the only good move. Now the lion’s roar tells us to play 11. d4, again clearly best. Then the frog chewing gum gives you 11… Qh4+ 12. g3. It’s still a complicated position so you may need to extend your story a bit.

(If you’re interested in this variation, I’d add that, although 9. f4 is usually played, Stockfish flags 9. Nxa7+ as a significant improvement.)

You see how it works, then, and if you want to play this variation with either colour it’s a sharp line which you need to know well, so, in this case, memory is important.

You should by now have some idea of whether or not this technique will work for you (if you have a strong visual memory it may well do, but if you don’t, it won’t), and whether or not you’re prepared to spend the time to develop your memory in this way and apply it to improving your chess.

The second and third chapters, if you’re still undecided, explain more about memory techniques. The author has helpfully made the first three chapters available for free here.

The next two chapters provide worked examples. Chapter 4 returns to the variation of the Schliemann we looked at earlier, looking at it in more detail, including other variations that Black might choose. John Holden sees this as resembling a train journey: he’s very familiar with the journey on the London Underground from Waterloo to West Ham,

Chapter 5 takes a very different variation of the Lopez: the exchange variation, which is considered from Black’s perspective.

We’re most likely to reach this position, where White usually retreats the knight to either b3 or e2. In either case, Black will trade queens.

This time, Holden’s setting is an airport, where Ne2 is a journey through security to a connecting flight, while Nb3 takes you through immigration to leave the airport.

Again, I have a question. Yes, I can understand you need to memorise the moves in a tactical variation like the Schliemann line discussed earlier, but in this quiet line with an early queen exchange, understanding positional ideas might be more helpful.

Chapter 6 is a bonus chapter explaining how you can use the Memory Palace idea to learn theoretical endings such as KQ v KR. Chapter 7 is a miscellany, answering some of the questions you may have and tying up some loose ends. Holden mentions other learning techniques such as flashcards and spaced repetition, which I’m aware other improvers have used with success.

I notice that this book has been one of the best selling chess books on Amazon since its publication. The book is well written, well produced and well researched, and is being strongly promoted by its author, including sending a review copy to British Chess News. I’m all in favour of supporting authors who are self-publishing on Amazon if their books have something worthwhile to say (and I hope you’ll support my Chess Heroes books as well). John Holden is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject of memory training and, if you’re interested, you’ll want to read this book. However, I remain to be convinced that his chess knowledge is sufficient to make a good case for his methods.

You might have read other chess self-help books in which authors explain the methods they used to improve their rating. If the author had been able to relate how he had improved his rating as a result of using these techniques I might have been impressed, but, as far as I can tell, his rating appears to be modest and perhaps lower than when he was a junior.

Perhaps at some point I’ll write more about the place of memory in chess and how different peoples’ memory works in different ways. I know I’m not alone in thinking very much in words rather than pictures: I have a good memory for words, facts and connections but very little visual imagination and a relatively poor memory for images (which is why I can’t play blindfold chess). For this reason the method outlined here wouldn’t work for me. But, if your brain works in a different way to mine, it might be just the book to help you improve your opening knowledge and endgame techniques. I’d certainly be very interested to hear from anyone who has made a dramatic rating gain by using the Memory Palace method. But until I’ve seen some evidence I’ll remain sceptical.

Richard James, Twickenham 17th October 2023

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 206 pages
  • Publisher:  Amazon (15 July 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13:979-8370251146
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 1.19 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of Amazon Purchase location

The Chess Memory Palace, John Holden, Amazon, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8370251146
The Chess Memory Palace, John Holden, Amazon, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8370251146
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Minor Pieces 64: Alfred Lenton (2)

Last time we left Alfred Lenton in 1939, at the outbreak of World War 2. Although Alfred didn’t serve in the war, there were fewer opportunities for him to play chess.

The county championship continued to take place, with Lenton retaining his title in 1940, and there was also a wartime county chess league, along with county matches against their Nottinghamshire neighbours.

In 1941 he was unexpectedly defeated by Philip Collier, who went to to claim his second county title, just as his father had done before him. In 1942 Elsie and Alfred welcomed their only son, Philip, into the world. (There were a lot of chess playing Phil(l)ips in Leicester at the time: Collier, Wallis, Rimmington and others.) He didn’t take part in the county championship that year, only resuming his chess career in 1945. In 1946 he was appointed President of the Leicestershire Chess Club, serving the required two year term.

He had intended to play in the 1946 British Championships in Nottingham, but had to pull out at fairly short notice: whether due to work or family commitments is unclear. But he was still playing successfully in the county championship, claiming his fifth and sixth titles in 1947 and 1948.

In June 1947 a Czechoslovakian team visited England to play two matches, against an England team in London, followed by an encounter with a Midlands team in Birmingham. Alfred resumed his international career here where he was matched against Jaromir Florian (not the Hungarian Tibor as incorrectly given in MegaBase and other sources). Thanks to Christopher Kreuzer and others on the English Chess Forum for researching and confirming this.

Two interesting games ensued, with our hero scoring a win and a draw. Click on any move in any game in this article for a pop-up window.

By August that year he felt ready to commit himself to the British Championships, held that year in Harrogate.

He was selected to play in what was called the Premier Tournament, the section immediately below the championship itself, also a strong competition with some international interest. Lenton, not for the first time, started slowly, but recovered to finish on 5/11.

Tournament report  and further details here.

Here are two of his wins.

You’ll see that, by this time, although still throwing in the occasional hypermodern opening from pre-war days, he was usually playing in much more classical fashion.

Every year around this time he’d give a simultaneous display against fellow members of the NALGO (Local Government Officers) Chess Club. Here he is pictured in 1949, alongside the big news of a pigeon being arrested in Coalville. Strange things often happen in Leicestershire.

Leicester Evening Mail 04 May 1949

In 1951 Leicestershire Chess Club reached the final of the National Club Championship, going down 4-2 against the London club Lud-Eagle. Alfred drew his game on board 4, pictured here.

The Illustrated Leicester Chronicle 06 October 1951

In 1954 Lenton won the county championship again, playing enough chess to make the BCF Grading List in Category 3a (209-216) which you can see here, although he dropped out the following year.

Round about this time he decided on a change of career, giving up his job in local government to establish an antiquarian bookshop in the city centre, which, at various times sold all sorts of other things: model railways, stamps, gramophone records for example. This enterprise afforded him less time for chess, especially county matches as Saturday was his busiest day.

In 1960, as you may recall, the Leicestershire Chess Club celebrated its centenary. As part of the celebrations a tournament was organised in January the following year.

They invited one of the world’s strongest players, Svetozar Gligoric, and one of the country’s strongest players, Leonard Barden, both of whom had just competed at Hastings, to take on the four most recent county champions.

As well as Alfred Lenton, champion in 1954, they were Polish player Wladyslaw Tabakiernik (1915-1997, known as Tabby, champion in 1952 and 1953), Philip Norman Wallis (1906-1973, champion in 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1959), and Peter Darrell Sanderson (1934-2013, champion in 1957 and 1960).

The Birmingham Post & Birmingham Gazette 11 January 1961

Here’s the final table.

Tournament report here.

It soon became clear that Alfred was very rusty. Young star Sanderson beat him with a fine combination in the first round.

In Round 2, Wallis, playing black, had a winning attack by move 14. In Round 3, against Barden, he was again lost by move 14, losing two pawns to an obvious tactic.

Against the great Gligoric he started well enough, but a tactical oversight led, after a series of exchanges, to a position where his opponent could play a temporary knight sacrifice to end up two pawns ahead. Disheartened, he resigned rather than waiting to be shown.

In his final game he gained a clear advantage against Tabakiernik, but decided to play safe by offering a draw.

He was in better form in this county match game played a couple of months later against one of England’s most promising young players.

Leicester 1961 was to be his last major tournament, but Alfred continued playing locally with success. He was interviewed by the local paper following his triumph in the 1969 county championship.

Leicester Mercury 14 June 1969

Sadly we have very few games available from the last 40(!) years of his chess career. Here’s a game he lost against an opponent he’d beaten on top board of a county match two years earlier.

In the 1970s, buoyed by a strong local organisation, Leicester was at the forefront of the English Chess Explosion, with several teenage stars coming to the fore. Here, a young Mark Hebden, a pupil, as Lenton had been many years earlier, at Alderman Newton’s School, was being compared to Alfred.

Leicester Mercury 13 September 1975

There, you’ll see another future GM, Glenn Flear, a pupil at Beauchamp Oadby School, which had originally been Kibworth Grammar School in the village from which the Lentons came. Elsewhere, Flear’s ‘smooth positional style’ was compared to that of Lenton. Other contemporaries were future IM Geoff Lawton, Shaun Finlayson and Alan Richardson.

The 1980s seems to have been a quiet decade for Alfred Lenton as a chess player, but life in his shop was, on occasion, rather more eventful.

Leicester Daily Mercury 11 March 1986

In 1988 he made the front page of the papers for foiling a train robbery.

Leicester Mercury 06 December 1988

Later in life he became active again, playing for his local club, Thurnby: we have a draw from a match between Thurnby 2 and Market Harborough.

Jonathan Calder blogged about this game here: many thanks to him for looking out the scoresheet for me. There’s another story concerning an informal game played in his shop here.

Shabir Okhai has sent me a game he played against Lenton in 1999, when he was 14 years old. You’ll see Alfred, just as he had done, more than 60 years earlier, chose a hypermodern opening, and, after missing some winning chances, exceeded the time limit in a position which offered chances to both sides.

Alfred Lenton (always Alf to his friends) died on 5 November 2004 at the age of 93. You’ll see from the ECF ratings site that he was active almost to the end. I guess not many players who had previously been about 2300 strength eventually plummeted to about 1600, but then not many of them continued playing into their tenth decade. The game above suggests that he had problems with time management at the end of his long career.

I met Alfred a couple of times myself, at Sandys Dickinson’s second hand bookshop in London, while looking for material for The Complete Chess Addict, but don’t have any particularly strong memories of him. I wasn’t certain then that the P Lenton I’d played in Leicester was his son, and had no idea of our family connection.

The shop is still there, or at least is was last time Google Maps passed by. I presume Philip still runs it.

Here it is, dwarfed by a hairdressers and a branch of Subway on either side. You can see a photograph (is that Philip behind the counter?) here.

There you have the long life of Alfred Lenton, a life devoted to chess, as an international player, as a journalist, and as a lover of chess books. Perhaps an unconventional life, but, I’d say, a life worth lived.

While I still have your attention, I’d like to introduce, very briefly, another long lived Leicester player.

The Leicester Mail 20 March 1929

Here’s one of Alfred’s earliest games, and there, on the board above him, is our man, Arthur Clement Bannister.

Arthur, born on 18 February 1891, was twenty years older than Alfred, but the two men would have known each other well for half a century.

If Alfred was a Minor Piece in chess, Arthur was a mere pawn, but pawns, according to Philidor, are the soul of chess. You’ll meet men like Arthur in almost any chess club. An average, or perhaps below average club player who turns out regularly, plays on a low board in county matches and takes in the occasional tournament (Bannister played in the Short 3rd Class section at Margate in 1938 and the 2nd Class Section A in the 1952 British Championships).

Daily Telegraph 18 February 1982

You’ll see from his death notice, that, even at the age of 90, he was ‘a prominent member of the Leicester Chess Club’. I’d put it to you that it’s the likes of Arthur Clement Bannister who are the real soul of chess.

Arthur, who never married, had a hearing impairment, which might, perhaps, be two reasons why chess meant so much to him. In a 1950 match against Coventry he was paired against a blind player, but the captains agreed that they should swap opponents with the adjacent board.

Arthur’s father, James, was born in the town of Earl Shilton, ten miles to the west of Leicester. I wrote more about his family – and their connection to my family – here.

So, back there on adjacent boards in 1929, and friends for half a century or more,  were my mother’s kinsman Arthur and my father’s kinsman Alfred, both of whom lived into their nineties. I can see something of myself in both of them. Not so much a golden chain: perhaps a golden helix.

One final thought, though. I’d put it to you that one reason why so many strong young players came from Leicester in the 1970s was the strength of their club and county chess scene. There was a thriving local league, featuring formidable players like Alfred Lenton as well as enthusiasts like Arthur Clement Bannister. There were organisers of many years’ experience, and journalists such as Don Gould and Dick Chapman who tirelessly promoted the game in local newspapers over several decades. You might meet more of them in future Minor Pieces, but for now it’s time to take the train back to St Pancras and return to London.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
BritBase (John Saunders)
John Saunders also for providing me with his Lenton file
ChessBase/Stockfish 16
English Chess Forum/Christopher Kreuzer and others
chessgames.com
chess.com
EdoChess (Rod Edwards)
Google Maps
Chess in Leicester 1860-1960 (Don Gould)
Jonathan Calder
Shabir Okhai

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Minor Pieces 63: Alfred Lenton (1)

Last time you met, amongst other chess playing Leicester Ladies, Elsie Margaret Reid, a British Ladies’ Championship contender, and witnessed her marriage to Alfred Lenton.

It’s now time to meet her husband.

Perhaps you’ve see Michael Wood’s 2010 documentary series Story of England. If you have, you’ll be aware that it tells its story from the perspective of Kibworth, seen as being a typical village in the middle of the country. In fact it’s two villages in one, owned by different families in the Middle Ages. Kibworth Harcourt is north of the railway line, and, the more significant part, Kibworth Beauchamp (just as Belvoir is pronounced Beaver, Beauchamp is pronounced Beecham), where the shops are, is south of the railway line. There used to be a school there too: a Grammar School founded in about 1359, but in 1964 it migrated to the Leicester suburb of Oadby. You’ll meet one of the new school’s most distinguished former pupils next time.

The Lenton family had been prominent in the village for centuries, perhaps arriving there from the area of Nottingham bearing that name. There’s a brief mention in one of the Story of England episodes, but they don’t seem to have educated their children at the Grammar School.

Join us now on 28 December 1744, when, between the Christmas celebrations and the dawn of the new year, the community welcomed the arrival of Robert Lenton, who was baptised that day. We know his father’s name was Richard, but it’s not entirely clear whether this was Richard the son of Robert, born in 1710, or Richard the son of Richard, born in 1719. I suspect they were cousins, but there’s no way of telling for certain from the extant parish registers. There are reasons to believe – and hope – that it was the older Richard who was Robert’s father.

Robert was a butcher by trade: a significant member of the local community. His youngest son, William, was born in 1787. He married a girl from Bedworth, Warwickshire, in 1811. Maybe he had moved there to seek work, or perhaps she was in service in Leicestershire. They soon returned, settling in Smeeton Westerby, a small village just south of Kibworth Beauchamp.

The first census as we know them today was taken in 1841, and we can pick William up there in both the 1841 and 1851 censuses, where his occupation is given as FWK – Framework Knitter. This was a very common occupation in the East Midlands at the time: William and his family would have been working at home using mechanical knitting machines. By 1851 his oldest son, also named William, had moved into Leicester, but was still working as a framework knitter. In 1853 he married a widow, adopting her children and presenting her with two more sons, William and Thomas.

His younger son, Thomas, very typically for his place and time, spent his working life in the footwear industry, involved in various aspects of making shoes. So here we see a very common pattern of men and their families moving out of villages and into cities where there was plenty of factory work available. His oldest son, another Thomas, also sought factory work, but rather than on the manufacturing side, he worked as a warehouseman for the clothing company Hart & Levy. Sir Israel Hart, one of the company’s founders, was Mayor of Leicester 1884-6 and 1893-94 and President of Leicestershire Chess Club. between 1894 and 1896.

In 1910 this Thomas married Ethel Wood, born in 1888. Ethel was perhaps slightly higher up the social scale: her father, John, was a School Attendance Officer, although his background was also very much working class. Here he is, on the right. John and his wife Sarah had five daughters (Ethel was the fourth), the oldest of whom married into a branch of the Gimson family, followed by a son.

In the 1911 census Thomas and Ethel, not yet able to afford their own house, were living with Thomas’s widowed father and two brothers. He was described as working in the tailoring industry.

On 1 November that year, their first son, Alfred, was born, followed in 1914 by another son, whom they named Philip.

In this family photograph, taken in about 1917, you can see the proud parents with their two boys.

Tom, Alfred, Philip and Ethel Lenton (c.1917)

By 1921 the family were living at 27 Halkin Street, north of the city centre (the door of this very typical two up two down Victorian terraced house is open to welcome us in). I would have passed the end of the road regularly in my first year at what was then the Leicester Regional College of Technology, when I was living in digs in Thurmaston. Ethel’s mother had died a few months earlier, and her father was now living with them.

By now Ethel was expecting a third child, and another son, named Clifford was born later that year.

Alfred, a bright, bookish and perhaps rather quiet boy, won a place at Alderman Newton’s Grammar School, where he was a contemporary of the historian Sir John Plumb and a few years below novelist CP Snow, a member of Leicestershire Chess Club during the 1923-24 season.

This was a time when chess was becoming popular amongst teenage boys, and it was when he was 15 that young Alfred learnt the moves.  The earliest appearance I can find is in December 1928, at the age of 17, losing his game on bottom board for the Victoria Road Institute (I’d encounter his son playing chess for Leicester Victoria more than four decades later.)

At the Victoria Road Institute, Alfred received some instruction from their top player, building contractor Herbert William Lea, soon making rapid progress. By early 1930 he’d come to the attention of the county selectors, and was one of the promising young players they tried out in a match against Birmingham.

The Leicester Mail 10 February 1930

By 1931 Lenton was playing on top board for Victoria Road, taking a high board in the county team and participating in the county championship. Here was a talented and ambitious young man who was clearly going places.

If you’re an ambitious chess player, one of the places you’ll go to is Hastings, and, at the end of that year, he travelled down to the south coast where he was placed in the Major B section.

Leicester Mercury 30 December 1931

Here’s what happened.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

This was a whole new experience for him, and it’s not surprising that he found the going tough. In this game his hesitant opening play soon got him into trouble when he was paired against a creative tactician who unleashed a cascade of sacrifices. (Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.)

Alfred learnt from this experience that he needed to take the game more seriously: in an interview many years later he explained that, at this point, he was studying chess for three hours a day.

The following year he returned again – and seems to have brought a friend along with him – as you might remember from last time.

Leicester Daily Mercury 05 January 1933

He did indeed maintain his lead to the end of the tournament, as you can see here. Perhaps the opposition was slightly weaker than the previous year, perhaps his hours of study were paying off, or perhaps it was Elsie’s presence that was responsible for his success.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

(As far as I can tell, C(ecil?) H(unter?) Reid, Peter Reid, whom he played the previous year, and Elsie Margaret Reid were totally unrelated.)

In 1933 the British Championship was held separately from the remainder of the congress, which took place in Folkestone at the same time as the Chess Olympiad.

Alfred was one of a number of promising young players in the Premier Reserves, the second section down: you’ll meet some of them in future Minor Pieces. His 50% score was a good result in such a strong field.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

This game demonstrates that he’d been working on his openings since his first tournament appearance, and concludes with a neat tactic.

The following month the Leicester Evening Mail had some important news.

Leicester Evening Mail 15 July 1933

Alfred had got himself a column in a local paper. Each week there would be the latest chess news, a game, which could be of local, national, international or historical interest, along with a puzzle for solving. He was a young man who enjoyed both reading and writing.

Here’s a powerful win against the stronger of the Passant brothers, slightly marred by his 17th move, giving his opponent a tactical opportunity which went begging.

By now established as his county’s second strongest player behind Victor Hextall Lovell, he returned to Hastings after Christmas, where he scored an excellent third place with only one defeat, well ahead of his Leicester Victoria clubmate Watts and former Leicestershire player Storr-Best.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

In this game he missed a win against his Dutch opponent.

The 1934 British Championships took place in Chester, when Alfred was places in the Major Open Reserves, in effect the third division, while his future wife Elsie (were they engaged at this point?) played in the British Ladies’ Championship.

Lenton was essentially a positional player, but here he unleased a very different weapon when Black against 1. d4 – the dangerous and, at the time, fashionable Fajarowicz variation of the Budapest Defence.  It proved rather successful against his clergyman opponent (you can read about him here) in this game, where his opponent miscalculated a tactical sequence, overlooking a queen sacrifice.

His opponent in this game, another talented young Midlands player, will need no introduction.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

You’ll see that he was extremely successful in this event, sharing first place. Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

He was rather less successful at Hastings that winter, as you’ll see below.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

On the home front, though, he was more successful.

Leicester Mercury 22 April 1935

Don Gould, in Chess in Leicestershire 1860-1960, sums him up at this stage of his career:

The new champion had left Alderman Newton’s School only six years previously. He was a fine all-round player, with a particularly good grasp of positional play. Unlike Lovell, he had been entering for national tournaments, and profiting by the better practice obtained thereat. Later on he twice won the Midland Counties Individual Championship, and finished in a tie for second place in the British Championship. At that time, he favoured the Reti Opening and the Buda-Pest Defence. Lenton for some years ran a chess column in the local press. 

This result (he’d repeat his success the following year) established him as the strongest player in Leicestershire, and, in the 1935 British Championships, held in Great Yarmouth, he was selected for the championship itself.

In this game Lenton displayed his endgame skill after his opponent missed an opportunity on move 17.

Endgame skill, along with hypermodern openings, were the key to his successes at this time of his life. His opponent here was unable to cope with the opening.

Admittedly it wasn’t the strongest renewal of the British, but this was still an outstanding performance, which would have been even better but for a moment of tactical carelessness in the last round.

At this level you can’t afford to give your opponent an opportunity like that.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

Now top board for his county, and with a new job as a local government officer (he’d transferred his chess allegiance from VIctoria to NALGO) he returned to Hastings over the Christmas holidays. There were so many entries for the Premier Reserves that the organisers decided to run two sections of equal strength, with Alfred in the B section.

He used his favourite variation of the Caro-Kann in this game, grabbing a hot pawn early on (sometimes you can get away with Qxb2) and surviving to dominate the enemy rook in the ending.

You’ll see from the tournament table this was another great success for the Leicester man. It’s perhaps significant that, while all three of his losses were published, the only win I’ve been able to find was the game above.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

1936 was the year of the famous Nottingham tournament, which took place in August. The British Championship itself took place separately, in Bournemouth in June.

Again, many of the top players were missing, and Sir George Thomas, who would probably have been considered the most likely winner, was out of form. Would Alfred improve on his shared third place the previous year?

Here, he was outplayed in the opening, but his Birmingham opponent miscalculated the tactics, leaving him two pawns ahead in the ending.

He only needed 11 moves to defeat his Ipswich opponent in this game. White’s catastrophic error would be a good candidate for a Spot the Blunder question in the next Chess Heroes: Tactics book.

As you’ll see above, he equalled his previous year’s score, which, this time round, was good enough for a share of second place. There were a lot of talented players in their mid 20s around at the time, and Lenton seemed at this point to be as good as any of them.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

Meanwhile, Alfred had reached the final of the Forrest Cup, the Midland Counties Individual Championship, where he faced future MP Julius Silverman. A rather fortuitous win brought him the title.

Nottingham in August was only a short journey. The Major Open was split into two equal sections, both in themselves fairly strong international tournaments.

This time his performance was slightly disappointing. The three games I’ve been able to find include two losses and this game, where he did well to survive and share the point.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

After the tournament, Alekhine visited Leicester to give a simultaneous display, winning 33 games, drawing 5 and losing 2, one of which was to Lenton.

Alfred’s marriage to Elsie Margaret Reid was registered in the fourth quarter of 1936. They both decided to give Hastings a miss that year.

His favourite Réti Opening wasn’t always successful against stronger opposition, but it could be devastating against lesser lights, as shown in this game from a county match.

In May that year, Alfred made his international début in the inaugural Anglo-Dutch match, scoring a win and a draw (he was losing in the final position) against Klaas Bergsma. He also won the Forrest Cup for the second time.

Then it was on to Blackpool for the British Championship. Would he improve on his performances in the two previous years?

It was soon clear that the answer would be no. Something was clearly wrong in the first week, when he lost his first five games. Was he unwell? Who knows? But he fought back well to score 4½ points from his last six games, including wins against two venerable opponents.

Winning this game against a man  who must have been one of his heroes, 9 times British Champion and Leicester’s finest ever player, now in the twilight of his career. A powerful pin on the e-file proved decisive.

Against the tournament runner-up he demonstrated his knowledge of Réti’s hypermodern ideas: note the queen on a1. His position wasn’t objectively good, but it seemed to leave Sir George confused.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

Two games from this period demonstrate again how lethal his queen’s bishop could be in his favourite double fianchetto set-up. You might want to see them as a diptych: both being decided by a Bxg7 sacrifice.

In 1937 Leicestershire reached the final of the English Counties Championship.

We have two photos and a report.

Leicestershire team 1937 (MCCU Champions & BCF Finalists) Back: Spencer, Watts, Solloway, Bumpus, P Collier, Thompson, Rowley, Chapman, Lawrence, Copson Middle: Rimmington, Lovell, Lenton, Ellison, James Front: Busby, Gould

 

Leicester Mercury 13 December 1937
Source: Leicester Mercury 13 December 1937

Now into 1938, Alfred won the Forrest Cup for the third time, his final game producing another sacrificial finish.

He again scored 1½/2 in the 1938 Anglo-Dutch match, this time paired against Chris Vlagsma. His opponent was doing well here before ill-advisedly opening the f-file.

Then it was down to Brighton for the 1938 British Championship, which proved to be another disappointment.

The low point was a loss in only 9 moves against Tylor.

In the very next round, though, switching from his usual Réti, he won in 13 moves when Frank Parr got his queen trapped. This time capturing his opponent’s b-pawn with his queen wasn’t a good idea.

It’s not clear what had happened to his chess here. I suspect that, with the twin demands of his job and married life, he was no longer putting in the three hours study every day.

Here, from Battersea Chess Club’s obituary of Parr, is a photograph, with Lenton on the right considering his move.

The 1938 British Championships at Brighton. L to R: Golombek; Frank Parr (tieless) ; C. H. O’D. Alexander; Sir George Thomas (partly hidden), Milner-Barry; E. G. Sergeant & A. Lenton.

And here, as you see, he finished in a share of 10th-11th place, quite a comedown from his results of 2 and 3 years earlier.

Full tournament report (and larger format crosstable) here.

In spite of this result, he was selected for the 1939 Anglo-Dutch match, where he was up against Carel Fontein, drawing one game and losing the other.

How strong was he during this period? EdoChess gives his rating peaking at 2250 in 1936, so, although he finished high up in the British on two occasions, he was only, by today’s standards, a strong club player. A player with considerable ability, both tactical and positional, but also with some weaknesses.

Storm clouds were gathering over Europe, war was declared on 1 September 1939, Lenton’s chess column was wound down, perhaps anticipating a paper shortage. A register was taken on 29 September listing all residents, for the purpose of producing identity cards and ration books.

Alfred and Elsie were recorded two miles east of the city centre, at 65 Copdale Road, Leicester (on the left here), living next door to his parents and brothers at number 63 (with the blue van up the drive: looks like it might have been rebuilt). The family had moved up in the world since 1921.

While Elsie is knitting socks with her circular machine, Alfred is a Gas Department Securities Clerk, working for the local government office.

At this point it’s almost time to break off our story, just noting that our hero had won his third county championship, receiving the trophy in October. “A worthy champion, who will be British Champion one day”, said the county President Robert Pruden on presenting the trophy. You’ll find out how accurate that prediction was in our next Minor Piece, when we look at what happened next in Alfred’s life.

But first, let’s return to Kibworth Beauchamp, where our story began. We met Robert Lenton, born in 1744, who might have been the son of Richard born in 1710.  He had a brother named Mark (a very popular name in this family) who moved to the nearby village of Thorpe Langton. We travel down the generations, another Mark, Henry, and his daughter Ann, baptised on 27 July 1794. On 2 December 1816 Ann married Thomas James, from the small village of Slawston, a few miles further east. We travel down the generations again, another Thomas, who moved back to Thorpe Langton, John, Tom Harry, and to the youngest of his 18 children, Howard, who was my father.

Which makes Alfred possibly my 6th cousin twice removed, or if Robert’s father was the other Richard, my 7th cousin twice removed (I think).

Another golden chain. Even though I didn’t inherit his talent, I’m delighted to be a kinsman of someone who finished =2nd and =3rd in two British Championships.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
BritBase (John Saunders)
John Saunders also for providing me with his Lenton file
ChessBase/Stockfish 16
chessgames.com
EdoChess (Rod Edwards)
Google Maps
Wikipedia
Chess in Leicester 1860-1960 (Don Gould)
Battersea Chess Club website
shropshirechess.org

 

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Zlotnik’s Treasure Trove: Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs (1600-2200 Elo)

From the publisher:

“Boris Zlotnik is an extraordinary trainer and coach. He was the director of a legendary chess school in Moscow before he emigrated to Spain in 1993. Ten years later, the super talent Fabiano Caruana moved to Madrid with his entire family to live near his trainer Zlotnik.

As a former coach of U.S. Champion Caruana, Zlotnik knows how top players work on their chess improvement. And his experience with club players allows him to translate that understanding into practical lessons for amateurs about highly original subjects like creativity or ‘putting up resistance’ – topics seldom touched on in other chess manuals.

Zlotnik covers a wide variety of topics and uses a wealth of material. Readers will love this new book, as they did his first book, Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual. ‘A brilliant, important and extraordinarily instructive book’, said Florian Jacobs, the book reviewer for the Max Euwe Center in Amsterdam. ‘This is how probing, rich and motivating studying chess can be.'”

The publisher have provided sample pages

 

A slightly strange title, and perhaps a contradictory subtitle. I’m not sure that Zlotnik is exactly a household name, and therefore one that would sell more copies by its appearance on the cover. Dvoretsky’s books certainly sold by virtue of having his name in the title, but will Zlotnik do the same? If you thought more chess trainers should be household names, I wouldn’t disagree with you.

Treasure Trove? Buried treasure. According to Wiki:

The term is also often used metaphorically. Collections of articles published as a book are often titled Treasure Trove, as in A Treasure Trove of Science. This was especially fashionable for titles of children’s books in the early- and mid-20th century.

So perhaps that’s  what we have here: a collection of articles about chess training. A lucky dip. A grab bag. But given Zlotnik’s reputation one that will undoubtedly be worth reading.

But then Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs sounds like something rather more formal and structured. Kudos to the publishers, though, for highlighting the target market (1600-2200 Elo). Regular readers of my reviews will know that I’m frequently critical of publishers who claim books are suitable for much wider target markets and much lower rated players than they really are.

I was also wondering whether anyone would buy a book promising ‘unenjoyable’ or ‘boring’ chess training. But never mind: let’s look inside.

In his preface, Zlotnik describes the book’s contents. He appreciates that most amateur chess players have other demands on their time: there are books available for ambitious young players prepared to devote several hours a day to improving their chess, but this isn’t one of them.

He concludes like this:

I share the following opinion with the sixth World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik: ‘It is not possible to teach someone to play chess well, but this is something that can be achieved through ones own efforts.’ This book is a book of reflections on chess, rather than an attempt to teach how to play well, and its aim is to demonstrate the richness and at the same time the difficulty of chess and the possible ways to get better at this game.

I also agree with Botvinnik. Many parents seem to think that if their children spend an hour a week with a strong player they’ll learn by osmosis, and that the stronger the player the more they’ll learn. You, I’m sure, will realise that this is nonsense. But that’s something for another time and place.

In Chapter 1,  Zlotnik talks about the difference between amateurs and professionals, about the nature of chess talent, and about chess itself. An interesting read, but you won’t find any chess training there.

Chapter 2 is Factors which determine success in chess. We look at the different thought processes required for tactical and positional play. What they have in common is calculation: in tactical play you calculate forced variations while in positional play you calculate unforced variations.

In this position (Groningen 2013) IM Sergio Estremera Panos (2365) miscalculated against Jasel Lopez (2179). Rb7! would have won, but instead he blundered with Qe5?, when Ng7 gave the lower rated player a winning attack.

Chapter 3 provides advice on Training in tactical play.  Like many chess coaches today, Zlotnik is very keen on training visualisation skills through blindfold play and other exercises. He also looks at Kotov’s views on tactical training outlined in Think Like a Grandmaster.

Here’s Zlotnik with another recommendation:

It is beyond doubt that chess problems and studies, by their very nature, present us with many more possibilities of encountering something original and are useful for us in training our combinative vision.  … I think that a good criterion is to assess the ability to solve ‘mate in two’ problems, although exceptionally some of them are difficult even for GMs. Among especially creative puzzle composers, Samuel Loyd stands out, well-known above all for his mathematical puzzles.  

Again, solving compositions of this nature is something now recommended by most leading chess coaches.

If you’re a tactical star (and that’s a big hint) you’ll be able to solve this mate in two composed by Sam Loyd in 1891.

Zlotnik also recommends, again following in Kotov’s footsteps, playing through a complex game, stopping at interesting points to analyse the position, and then comparing your analysis with that of the annotator or your computer. He then offers you Kramnik – Topalov (Skopje 2015), with ten questions for you to answer.

After training in tactical play, we have, naturally enough, Training in positional play in Chapter 4. Inevitably, given the nature of the subject, the advice here is of a rather more nebulous nature.

Something I don’t recall seeing before is this:

… usually you should attack your opponent’s most advanced piece or pawn, and if you cannot do so directly, then you should attack its base of support. Curiously, and in my experience, this very simple piece of advice is valid in many cases.

The next two chapters are what makes this book unusual. Chapter 5 tackles Creativity in chess.  Zlotnik shows us some endgame studies, along with some games by Nezhmetdinov and the less well-known Konstantin Chernyshov. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

The exercises at the end of the chapter include some Proof Game puzzles, which are always fun. I used one of them here.

Chapter 6 then tells us how to put up Maximum resistance in practical situations.

If you’re in the target market for this book you’ll reach a bad position at some point in about half your games, so you might think this is an important subject which should be discussed more than it is. In 1967 Zlotnik asked Bronstein about the difference between masters and non-masters. He was surprised by the reply: a master knows how to fight against another human being!

In this extract, a dangerous tactician turns the tables on her strong opponent in a time scramble.

We then have 20 pages, plus two pages of exercises, on Studying the opening.

In this game the amateur playing white, unlike his opponent, was aware of a sharp tactical variation, but Black’s superior practical skill soon told.

Zlotnik concludes the chapter:

The main advice I can give to an amateur player is to seek a balance between specific knowledge of opening lines and typical ideas. Also, whatever the opening being studied, it is useful to  have as a model an active high-level player who is an expert in the variation/opening we plan to play. From their games we can receive specific answers to any questions we might have and also learn a number of typical methods for this variation in the middlegame and perhaps also in the endgame.

Finally, the book wouldn’t be complete without Zlotnik’s ideas on Studying the endgame, which take up 18 pages along with three pages of exercises. As an example of what an amateur needs to know he devotes seven pages to some theory in the important ending of rook and pawn against rook.

His conclusion:

The endgame is a difficult science and it requires the investment of a great deal of work to master this aspect of the game.

This is a rather unusual coaching book, then, and I’m not sure whether either the title or subtitle does it justice. ‘Reflections of a Chess Coach” might give the prospective purchaser a better idea of what to expect. If you’re in the target market, an amateur rated between about 1600 and 2000 with a limited amount of time to spend on the game, it might be just what you’re looking for to help you put on another 100 points or so. But, while the examples and exercises have been chosen with exemplary care, this relatively slim volume will serve more as a guide to the sort of work you should be doing to make that improvement rather than something which will, in itself, bring it about.

For anyone with any interest at all in chess coaching, whether as an instructor or as a student, the opinions of one of the world’s most experienced and distinguished chess teachers will undoubtedly be both fascinating and inspiring. The book is produced to this publisher’s customary high standards and, if you’ve enjoyed the examples demonstrated in this review, it deserves a warm recommendation.

Richard James, Twickenham 19th September 2023

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 Mar. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257894
  • ISBN-13:978-9493257894
  • Product Dimensions: 17.25 x 1.6 x 22.91 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

You can read some sample pages here.

Zlotnik's Treasure Trove: Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs (1600-2200 Elo) , Boris Zlotnik, New In Chess (31 Mar. 2023), ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9493257894
Zlotnik’s Treasure Trove: Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs (1600-2200 Elo) , Boris Zlotnik, New In Chess (31 Mar. 2023), ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9493257894
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