Minor Pieces 73: Alexander Spink Beaumont

The Surrey County Chess Association runs a bewildering number of competitions of various types, one reason being that they’ve chosen to commemorate some of their long-serving administrators through trophies in their memory.

The main league itself currently has five divisions. The first division is the Surrey Trophy, which dates all the way back to the 1883-84 season, while the second division, the Beaumont Cup, was instigated twelve years later, in the 1895-96 season.

I’m sure you’d like to know, as I did, more about Mr Beaumont. Well, he wasn’t Mr Beaumont at all, but Captain Alexander Spink Beaumont, Alex to his friends. It’s a long story.

He was born in Manchester on 24 June 1843 into a family with military connections. Beaumont was in fact his paternal grandmother’s surname but his father used his mother’s surname.  Spink was the surname of his Aunt Charlotte’s husband.

He served in the 23rd Foot Regiment of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, reaching the rank of Captain in 1871, when the census found him at Fort Hubberstone in Pembrokeshire. Perhaps it was there that he met Caroline Savage (née Griffies-Williams), a widow more than 20 years older than him, who came from a family of wealthy Welsh landowners, one of whose properties was in Tenby, not all that far from Milford Haven. She was born in 1822 but often claimed to be much younger.

The following year Alex and Caroline married in London, both giving an address in Inverness Terrace, north of Hyde Park, which was by now the Beaumont family residence. He then resigned his commission and, round about 1878, they settled at 2 Crescent Road, South Norwood, in South London. This is now Warminster Road, running by the railway line north of Norwood Junction Station. There are a few grand houses at what is now the high numbered end of the road, and I’d guess one of those was their residence.

As a gentleman of independent means, he had plenty of time to pursue his two passions in life: chess and music. He was a composer as well as a player in both fields, but was also a gifted organiser and promoter.  Beaumont wasted little time joining Croydon Chess Club, the first ‘modern’ chess club in Surrey. In 1880 he had a problem published in the local paper. You’ll find the solutions to all the problems at the end of this article.

Problem 1: #3 Croydon Guardian 28 August 1880

The 1881 census found Alex and Caroline living in South Norwood along with his unmarried brother Richard, a Major in the Royal Engineers, four domestic servants, one male and three female, and a nurse.

Later the same year he had some important news.

Croydon Guardian and Surrey County Gazette 19 November 1881

Beaumont was nothing if not ambitious for the new club.

Norwood News 17 December 1881

Zukertort and Blackburne were, according to EdoChess, the second and third strongest players in the world behind the inactive Steinitz at the time. Attracting them to visit a new club in a London suburb was quite a coup. Regular simultaneous displays, both blindfold and sighted, by professional players would become a regular feature of the South Norwood Chess Club.

it wasn’t long before Blackburne visited, and Zukertort was there as well, acting as teller.

Croydon Guardian and Surrey County Gazette 11 February 1882

You’ll also note the name of Leonard Percy Rees, the most influential English chess organiser of his day, involved with the establishment of everything we now know and love, from the Surrey County Chess Association through to FIDE. I really ought to write about him at some point.

During this period he was very active on the composing front. One of his problems even took first prize in a local competition.

Problem 2: #2 1st Prize Croydon Guardian 1882

He was now being published nationally as well as locally.

Problem 3: #3 The Chess Monthly June 1882

This three-mover shouldn’t be too challenging for you.

Problem 4: #3 The Field 19 August 1882

Meanwhile, South Norwood were playing friendly matches against their local rivals from Croydon. There was also talk of an international tournament in London the following year, and Beaumont was the first to make a financial contribution.

By the autumn of 1883 chess in Surrey was moving rapidly towards the thriving county association we see today, thanks to the likes of Joseph Steele, Leonard Rees and Alexander Beaumont, who was elected a vice-president.

Morning Post 17 September 1883

By now the President of the Surrey County Chess Association, the ‘genial and hospitable’ Captain Beaumont’s chess get-togethers were becoming grander by the year, in 1885 attracting about ‘150 gentlemen’.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 12 December 1885

At the same time, along with involvement in the British Chess Club, he was also organising musical events. Here, his two interests were reported in adjacent articles.

Norwood News 09 October 1886

The name of Walter Willson Cobbett, one of his regular musical collaborators, may not be familiar to you, but it certainly is to me.

Although he was not composing so many problems, he was becoming more involved in composing music, and, from 1890 onwards his compositions were being published by Charles Woolhouse in Regent Street.

The Graphic 22 March 1890

Look who else Woolhouse was publishing: our old friend (and my cousin’s father-in-law) W Noel Johnson, whom you might have met here. One online source suggests that Woolhouse was a pseudonym for Beaumont, but that doesn’t appear to be the case: there really was a music publisher of that name.

Percy Victor Sharman, the dedicatee of this work, was a young violinist living in Norwood.

The family doesn’t appear in the 1891 census: it looks like their side of the road might have been missed by mistake.

That year there was good news for South Norwood when they won the Surrey Trophy for the first time. They would go on to win it again in the following three seasons.

Norwood News 12 December 1891

Some of the guests are notable. Captain Lindesay Beaumont was Alex’s younger brother (his older brother Richard had died in 1884). Rudolf Loman was a Dutch chess master and organist. Edward Markwick was a lawyer whom you’ll meet again later in this article.

In December 1893 Beaumont’s portrait appeared in The Chess Monthly.

In January 1894 (or perhaps late December) South Norwood Chess Club ran another of their popular simuls, this time with Richard Teichmann as the guest. He played 18 games, losing one game and drawing two, one of them against Captain Beaumont. This was described in the local press as “a good example of (Beaumont)’s bold and energetic play. (As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.)

His counter-gambit worked well and he missed a simple opportunity to win a piece in the opening.

In 1895 he presented a trophy – yes, the Beaumont Cup – to be competed for by some of the smaller Surrey clubs further out from Central London. My great predecessors at Richmond won it in its second year. Beaumont’s old club, South Norwood, were among the five clubs taking part in the 2023-24 edition.

Captain and Mrs Beaumont were by no means always at home. They spent a lot of time on the continent, partly for health reasons, partly because they enjoyed travelling and partly because they owned property abroad, including an Italian villa.

At various times they visited, as well as Italy, France, Hungary and perhaps Malta. In 1896 the Captain turned up in Nuremberg to watch the international chess tournament there (his friends Blackburne and Teichmann were taking part, but no match for Lasker), and found himself taking part in a concert.

Westminster Gazette 10 August 1896

Adolph Brodsky was one of the leading violinists of his day, giving the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. There’s something about his chess career here, but my article about him is no longer available. I don’t think he’d have consented for any pianist who wasn’t extremely proficient to accompany him.

On 30 October 1897 he was back in Surrey, losing to his old friend Leonard Rees in a match between South Norwood and Redhill.

This time he chose a different variation of the Scandinavian Defence, but without success.

In January 1898 Beaumont was abroad again, this time in Florence. He was proud of the conclusion of this game, where his third move forced mate in 4.

He couldn’t have imagined that, a century and a quarter later, we’d have machines in our pockets telling us immediately that 1. Rf7 would have been mate in 5.

In March 1898 the Streatham News started a chess column, and Captain Beaumont provided the first problem.

Problem 5: #2 Streatham News 26 March 1898

A few weeks later he submitted a problem composed by his late brother Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Henry Beaumont Beaumont (yes, there were two Beaumonts). I haven’t been able to find any other problems composed by Richard, or any more information about his chess career. However, I have managed to find his sword, which was auctioned in 2012, here.

Problem 6: #3 Streatham News 7 May 1898

By that autumn there was talk of running another major international tournament in London the following year. Beaumont, of course, was quickly in with a donation and was appointed to the organising committee led by his friend Sir George Newnes. This was the tournament where Francis Lee might have played on the board later acquired by Leonard Grasty.

On 26 November there was a visit from the Ladies’ Chess Club. The ever genial Captain was on hand to host the event.



Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 03 December 1898

I’d imaging the top two boards were honorary encounters. Lady Thomas was the mother of Sir George. Prussian born coffee merchant Frank Gustavus Naumann, drawing with his wife in interests of marital harmony, would later become the first President of the British Chess Federation, and later still lose his life on the Lusitania.

Here’s the top board encounter: the protagonists had been friends for many years. Black stood little chance after losing material in the opening.

There was more on the music elsewhere.

Streatham News 03 December 1898

Coincidentally, as I write this I’ve just returned from a piano recital at which the Verdi-Liszt Rigoletto paraphrase was also played.

William Yeates Hurlstone is of considerable interest. A composer of exceptional talent, Beaumont supported him financially after the early death of his father, but he sadly died at the age of only 30. Much of his music has been recorded: there’s a YouTube playlist here.

Violinist William J Read would, in 1912, give the first performance of the violin concerto of another tragically short-lived South London composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

On 5th January 1901 Captain Beaumont organised an even bigger chess event at Crystal Palace. This merited a major feature in the following month’s British Chess Magazine (online here).




The 1901 census found him at home with his wife and four servants: a valet, a parlourmaid, a cook and a housemaid. But now his health was starting to fail and his wife was approaching her 80s. He was often unable to attend chess events, either because he was unwell or because he was travelling somewhere with a more agreeable climate. This seems, as we also saw with Francis Joseph Lee, to have been standard medical advice in those days.

A couple of years later a clergyman, Albert William Gibbs, who had been born in 1870, gave up his curacy to move in with them as a companion and carer.

Captain Beaumont had one last gift for British Chess. In 1904 the British Chess Federation was formed, with Frank Naumann as the first President and Leonard Rees as the first Secretary. Naumann presented the trophy for the British Championship itself, while Beaumont donated that for the British Ladies Championship. “A very elegant silver rose bowl on Elizabethan scroll-work, enriched with chess emblems”, made by Messrs Fattorini and Sons of Bradford, the first winner was Miss Kate Belinda Finn, with a commanding score of 10½/11.

Caroline Beaumont died in 1907, and in 1908 the Captain was advised by his doctor to move, as the London clay on which his house was built wasn’t good for his health. He soon found a new residence built on gravel three miles to the east, in Beckenham.

This rather splendid photograph shows his chauffeur Walter Goldsack at the steering wheel with Albert Gibbs in the passenger seat. The identity of the other passenger is unknown. It was posted on a family tree by Mark Beaumont, great great grandson of Alexander’s brother Lindesay. I’m advised by Dr Upham, an expert on the subject, that the car is undoubtedly American, so I guess it would have been quite expensive.

In the 1911 census, Alexander and Albert (described as a ‘visitor’) were living there, along with a cook-housekeeper, a parlourmaid and a housemaid. We’re additionally informed that the house had 14 rooms, including the kitchen but excluding the bathroom.

The following winter he travelled south in search of better weather.

Norwood News 02 March 1912

But that was to be his last journey. He died on 4 September 1913, at the age of 70.

The obituaries were effusive.

Beckenham Journal 06 September 1913

“A man of splendid disposition, a generous friend, and a great lover of animals and children.”

Norwood News 06 September 1913

One of the obituaries published this game as a sample of his play, without, unfortunately, giving any indication of when, where or against whom it was played.

Here’s his probate record.

This is round about £8.3 million today. Probate was granted to his nephew (and closest relation), his companion, to whom he bequeathed £400 plus an annuity of the same amount, and his solicitor.

Captain Alexander Spink Beaumont appears to have been, in every respect, an admirable fellow, much loved and respected by everyone who knew him, either through chess or through music.

It seems only right that his name should still be remembered by Surrey chess players today, more than a century after his death.

And yet, there was another side to him as well.

Let me take you back 40 years, to 11 September 1873. Alexander Spink Beaumont, recently retired from the army and recently married, is living in Norton House, one of his wife’s family properties, in the seaside resort of Tenby, Pembrokeshire. He invites a 14 year old local lad named George Lyons, the son of a boatman working in the coastguard service, to his house, and, if you believe George’s account, invites him upstairs. He asks the boy if he can keep a secret, attempts to perform an act so disgusting that it cannot be mentioned in the press, gives him three shillings and sixpence, and then takes him down to the garden. George, quite correctly and courageously, goes home and tells his mother. His parents summon the authorities and, the following evening, his father returns the money to Captain Beaumont in the presence of a witness. On 3 October the allegation goes before the magistrates. Beaumont’s domestic staff are called as witnesses and deny that anything untoward could possibly have happened. Nevertheless, the magistrates decide there is a case to answer (‘making an assault upon George Lyons, with intent to commit an abominable crime’) and send the captain to trial.

The following February Beaumont appeared before the Pembrokeshire Spring Assizes. The judge considered the evidence improbable and contradictory and instructed the jury to dismiss the case, which they duly did.

Well, I wasn’t there so I don’t know for certain, but young George’s account seems fairly convincing to me. I guess the judge felt that a gentleman couldn’t possibly have committed such an act. Then, as now, if you’re rich or famous you can get away with almost anything. Perhaps it served as a warning to him as there’s no evidence that he ever did anything of that nature again.

Let’s now move forward a few years, to 1881, the year in which an ambitious young publisher named George Newnes started a general interest weekly magazine called Tit-Bits. The magazine proved highly successful,  Newnes, a chess enthusiast, made a lot of money and went on to sponsor, amongst much else, the Anglo-American Cable Matches.

A few years later, a young journalist named Alfred Harmsworth submitted some articles to Newnes for publication, soon deciding that he could make more money by starting his own magazine. In 1888 he started a weekly called Answers, providing answers to a wide range of questions submitted by readers or just made up. A friend of his father, Edward Markwick (yes, you’ve met him earlier in this article), joined the venture, and he persuaded his friend – yes, Alexander Spink Beaumont, to provide financial support. Adrian Addison’s gossipy history of the Daily Mail, Mail Men, suggests that some thought Beaumont may have had ‘an unrequited homosexual motive in getting behind the pretty young journalist’.

At first, the Beaumonts and Harmsworth were the best of friends, but in 1891 a bitter argument between them ensued and eventually they sold their shares in his company. There’s much in Reginald Pound’s biography Northcliffe, which can be read online (although the OCR is poor) here. Caroline, who seems to have been the dominant partner, is described as ‘charmingly uncommon’. Meanwhile, in 1896 Alfred Harmsworth and his brother Harold launched the Daily Mail, becoming, as a result, rich and famous.

Years later, in 1905, the year of the establishment of Associated Newspapers, the case flared up again.

Cheltenham Chronicle 14 October 1905

It looks as if the Beaumonts, jealous of the success of the Daily Mail, were trying to get half a million pounds (about 76 million today) back from the shares they sold 14 years earlier. Harmsworth put in a counter suit accusing the papers who published this report of libel, and the whole affair was quietly dropped. Very strange.

What, then, should we make of Captain Alexander Spink Beaumont? it seems to me highly likely that he was gay at a time when same-sex relationships were illegal. Should we feel sorry for him, or, looking at the allegations of George Lyons, revile him? Or perhaps we should just remember his services to the game of chess, as a player and problemist, but most of all as an administrator, promotor and populariser of his – and our – favourite game.

One final thing, there’s a thread on a military badges forum here from a collector who has miniature portrait lockets, acquired separately, of Alexander and his older brother Richard. A rather wonderful thing to have.

He’s not the only Alexander to have given his name to a Surrey chess trophy, but that’s something for another time. I have other stories to tell first. Join me again soon for another Minor Piece.

Sources and Acknowedgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Wikipedia
Yet Another Chess Problem Database
MESON problem database (Brian Stephenson)
Internet Archive (archive.org)
chessgames.com
Movers and Takers, and various blog posts by Martin Smith
EdoChess (Rod Edwards)
Surrey County Chess Association website
Other online sources linked to in the text

 

Problem solutions (click on any move to play them through):

Problem 1:

Problem 2:

Problem 3:

Problem 4:

Problem 5:

Problem 6:

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Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks

From the publisher:

“It is amazing how much play you can create in a seemingly equal chess position – if you persevere. In this book, the greatest chess player of all time, Magnus Carlsen, and his friend, Grandmaster David Howell, explain how to win these kinds of chess games.

Carlsen and Howell show how you can keep a game alive, how you can keep posing problems to your opponent, how you can recognize the first small mistakes, and how you can grind your opponent down until he cracks.

New In Chess has converted this book from a popular Chessable video and MoveTrainer ® course with the help of Carlsen and Howell. The lively conversations of the two friends translate very well into a highly instructive chess manual. It is top-level chess, using grandmaster games as examples, but the insights are accessible to players of all levels.

Magnus Carlsen won the World Chess Championship in 2013 and gave up his title in 2023. He is regarded as the greatest player of all time and holds the #1 spot in the world ranking. He has read dozens of books published by New In Chess, but this is the first book with Carlsen as an author. Carlsen (1990) lives in Oslo, Norway.

David Howell is an elite chess Grandmaster with a 2700+ peak rating and an individual gold medal winner at the Olympiad. He is a well-known and popular commentator on live chess streams. Howell (1990) is two weeks older than Carlsen, was born in Eastbourne, United Kingdom, and lives in Oslo, Norway.”

David Howell, London Chess Classic, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography

David Howell, London Chess Classic, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography. For more about David Howell see here

 

This book is essentially a transcript of a Chessable course which you can find here. If you prefer book learning, or you just like the idea of having something written by Magnus Carlsen on your bookshelf you’ll be interested in this title.

David has written a two page preface:

A quick swashbuckling attack full of sacrifices may appeal to some, but a long endgame grind can lead to the same result. Arguably, while one approach is more spectacular and may ensure that games end quicker, the other approach comes with less risk attached.

Magnus provides a shorter preface:

Nothing quite compares to the thrill of pressing a minute advantage and converting it into victory. The excitement of outmanoeuvring and outlasting your opponent. The realisation that – although your first punch may not have landed – there is no need to despair. Try, try and try again. You will very often succeed.

Which are you? A hacker or a grinder? A sprinter or a marathon runner? To become a strong player, of course, you have to master both styles of play, but many will have a preference for either hacking or grinding.

Grinders require qualities such as patience and stamina as well as an outstanding knowledge of both technical and practical endings. If you’d like to become a better grinder, or even if you’d like to be better at defending against grinders, this course is for you.

It’s standard practice these days to have two commentators working together in live broadcasts, sharing ideas, asking each other questions. It’s something that usually works very well, making the broadcast more interactive, more friendly, more accessible, and, for me at least, it’s also effective in book form.

There could be no one better to demonstrate by example how to become a grinder than Magnus Carlsen, not only the highest rated human player of all time, but also a leading exponent of grinding. David Howell, also a strong grandmaster who enjoys grinding, as well as being an excellent commentator, is Magnus’s ideal partner. They are also good friends, and this is something that comes across well, adding to the enjoyment of the book.

Having said that, the contents themselves seem rather slight. Apart from the introductory material to each of the eight chapters you only get twelve games, seven played by Magnus and six played by David. If you’re good at maths you might have noticed that 7+6 is 13: one of the games is between the two authors, played in the final round of the 2002 World Under 12 Championship. It resulted, since you asked, in a draw.

This is one of Magnus’s lesser known games. He admits that it was an ‘awful game’ but still managed to grind down his lower rated opponent. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

The book is beautifully produced, although I guess the, er, colourful cover might not be to everyone’s taste. If this sort of thing bothers you, you might also think that, while a wide sans serif font is best for screens, a narrower serif font might be preferable for books.

The quality of the annotations, if you like the conversational style, is, of course, of the highest quality. At one level the games are more suited to players of, say, 2000+ strength, but some of the more general insights into the nature of grinding will be of interest and value to all players.

If you like the idea of grinding and you’d rather study the material from a book than from an interactive course or videos (or perhaps you’d like the book as well as the interactive course) it can be highly recommended.

Daniel King interviews David Howell about the book here, and if you can’t afford an hour to watch this, Daniel also provides a summary here.

You can read some sample pages from the book, which will enable you to decide whether or not it’s  for you, here.

Richard James, Twickenham 14th May 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess; 1st edition (31 Aug. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9083328465
  • ISBN-13:978-9083328461
  • Product Dimensions: 17.6 x 2 x 24.2 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks, David Howell and Magnus Carlsen, New in Chess; 1st edition (31 Aug. 2023), 978-9083328461
Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks, David Howell and Magnus Carlsen, New in Chess; 1st edition (31 Aug. 2023), 978-9083328461
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Re-Engineering The Chess Classics: A Silicon Reappraisal of Thirty-Five Classic Games

From the publisher:

“Matthew Sadler is the world’s greatest expert in computer chess – and what it brings to us humans in new insights. In this book, the authors have unleashed the collective power of Leela, Komodo and Stockfish to look at 35 classic games played by fan favourites such as Boris Spassky, Mikhail Tal, Bent Larsen and Bobby Fischer. The authors have re-engineered a wonderful collection of classic games. Their findings illustrate the richness and beauty of chess. But they have also generated dozens of positional chess lessons that will help every club player and expert to improve their game.”

From the back cover:

“Are you ready for new strategic insights about thirty-five of the most fascinating and complex chess games ever played by World Champions and other top grandmasters? Grandmaster Matthew Sadler and renowned chess writer Steve Giddins take a fresh look at some classic games ranging from Anderssen-Dufresne, played in 1852, to Botvinnik-Bronstein (1951) and Geller-Euwe (1953). They unleashed the collective power of Leela, Komodo and Stockfish to help us humans understand what happened in games of fan favourites such as Boris Spassky, Mikhail Tal, Bent Larsen and Bobby Fischer.

“The first chess engines improved our appreciation of the classic games by pointing out the tactical mistakes in the original, contemporary game notes, But the expertise of Matthew Sadler is to uncover the positional course of a game with the help of the second generation of chess engines that emerged after 2018.

“This book will change your perception of these games’ strategic and technical patterns. You will, for example, learn to appreciate and understand a classic Capablanca endgame. And a classic Petrosian exchange sacrifice. And a winning, and then losing, king-hunt endgame between Spassky and Tal. You will see how Larsen already understood the strength of the h-pawn march far before AlphaZero’s revelation. The engines offer new strategic ideas and plans that human players have yet to consider. Even ‘the best even anti-King’s Indian player’, Viktor Korchnoi, would be amazed by the engine’s unique ideas about White’s breakthroughs on the queenside.

The most instructive games are often those which are more strategic and technical. Using modern engines, the authors have re-engineered a wonderful collection of classic games, generating dozens of positional chess lessons that will help every club player and expert improve their game.”

About the authors:
Matthew Sadler (1974) is a Grandmaster and a former British Champion. He has been writing the famous Sadler on Books column for New In Chess magazine for many years. With his co-author Natasha Regan, Sadler twice won the prestigious English Chess Federation Book of the Year Award. In 2016 for Chess for Life and in 2019 for their worldwide bestseller Game Changer: AlphaZero’s Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI.

GM Matthew Sadler
GM Matthew Sadler

Steve Giddins is a FIDE Master from England, and a highly experienced chess writer and journalist. He compiled and edited The New In Chess Book of Chess Improvement, the bestselling anthology of master classes from New In Chess magazine.

FM Steve Giddins
FM Steve Giddins

What we have here is a collection of 35 games annotated in depth using the latest technology. In their introduction the authors mention 40 games, and Matthew, in his technical note, refers to Korchnoi – Van Wely (Game 34) as Game 39. It seems, then, that five games were removed at the last minute to save space and keep the cost of the book down.

The games all predate the modern computer age, dating from Anderssen – Dufresne (the Evergreen Game) in 1852 to Portisch – Chiburdanidze in 1998. All the World Champions up to Karpov with the exception of Smyslov are featured. It’s noticeable that five of the games feature at least one female player.

It’s a lovely (to use Matthew’s favourite word) collection as well. We have some wild tactical games as well as strategic and technical masterpieces, and many games with both elements. While some will be perhaps over-familiar there will be others you probably haven’t seen before.

What the authors have done is subjected their chosen games to extensive computer analysis, playing engine v engine matches (mostly involving versions of Stockfish, Leela and Komodo) from critical positions in an attempt to discover the objective truth about at what point the winner reached a decisive advantage. Some of these games have been included in the notes, indicated by a vertical line to the left of the column, so that you can easily skip them if you don’t want to play them through. You can see how this works by referring to the sample pages here.

One game that interested me was Znosko-Borovsky – Alekhine (Paris 1933).

Ever since the days of Capablanca, there has been a tendency to assume that a small advantage somehow automatically leads to a win, in the hands of a great technical master such as Capablanca or Karpov.

If you’re familiar (as you should be) with Alekhine’s best games collections, you may recall that in this position he formed a six-point plan which would by force lead to a winning position.

By this point Alekhine had completed his plan, reaching a position where his king is more active and his rook can infiltrate via the open a-file. Znosko-Borovsky erred here by playing 33. c4?, after which he was definitely losing, but the engine games where White remained passive with something like Be1 were all drawn.

Of course you have to factor in the human element as well. The position was easier for Black to play, and the black pieces were handled by a player of extraordinary ability, but one of the lessons you learn from this book is how many positions that appear bad can be defended successfully.

A game I really enjoyed was that between two future World Champions, Spassky and Tal, from the final round of the 1958 Soviet Championship. Spassky, playing white, had to win to guarantee qualification for the Interzonal later that year. A rook ending was reached in which both players promoted. Spassky started chasing Tal’s king round the board, but, tragically for him, blundered away first the win and then the draw, and found himself out of the world championship cycle. As you know, Tal went on to win first the Interzonal, and then the Candidates before taking the title off Botvinnik (the 6th game from this match also features here).

The analysis of the queen and rook ending provided by the authors here is some of the most extraordinary I’ve seen. If, like me, you find positions with major pieces on the board and both kings in danger extremely scary you’ll want to see this.

Here’s the complete game, without annotations. Click on any move to play it through.

The Korchnoi-Van Wely game mentioned above (Antwerp 1997) reached this typical Mar del Plata King’s Indian position.

Korchnoi played 17. a6, and suggested that, instead of the game continuation of bxa6, 17… b6 18. cxb6 cxb6 should have been played.

The engines disagree, thinking that White is a lot better in that variation, and continuing 19. Nb4, Nc6, Na4, with Nxa7 and Nxb6 to follow.

“So many things about this game were new, unexpected and instructive for me, and so many things are now memorable for me too”,  says Matthew in his technical note.

It’s a fascinating book, I think you’ll appreciate, which will be of interest to most chess players. Stronger players in particular will find a lot to learn from the games demonstrated here as well. The names of the authors, along with that of the publisher, are a guarantee of excellence, and the production is up to their customary high standards.

If, like one prominent UK chess book reviewer, you think pre-computer games should be left as they are rather than taken apart like this, you should perhaps turn away. I’m also not sure how many readers will actually play through the engine v engine games. I certainly haven’t done so, and, from a purely personal perspective, would have preferred rather fewer of them in the book, with perhaps a download available so that I could play through them on my computer at my leisure. This might have made room for the mysteriously missing five games.

I do have one other problem, which probably won’t matter to you, but does to me, but the authors fail the Yates test. His first name was plain Fred, not Frederick as given in the book.

The short final chapter sums up what you can learn from the engines:

1. Avoid passive pieces!
2. Grab space!
3. Use your rook’s pawns!
4. Small advantages don’t always win!
5. Use the whole board!
6. Be an absolute tactical genius, who never misses anything!!

Read this book, learn these lessons, and perhaps you too will be able to play as well as Stockfish!

Highly recommended if you like the concept of the book (I’d suggest you look at the sample page first). I’d be more than happy to see a second volume.

Richard James, Twickenham 2nd May 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 May 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9083311260
  • ISBN-13:978-9083311265
  • Product Dimensions: 17.12 x 2.64 x 22.83 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

Re-Engineering The Chess Classics: A Silicon Reappraisal of Thirty-Five Classic Games, FM Steve Giddins, New in Chess (31 May 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9083311265.
Re-Engineering The Chess Classics: A Silicon Reappraisal of Thirty-Five Classic Games, FM Steve Giddins, New in Chess (31 May 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9083311265.
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The Modernized Trojan Knight 1.Nc3: A Complete Repertoire for White

From the Publisher, Thinkers Publishing:

The idea of the move 1. Nc3 is to confuse the second player, as White plays a supposedly unambitious move to mislead Black. This is why we found the name “Trojan Horse” very appropriate for the move 1. Nc3, just as the gift from Ulysses to the Trojans appeared to be a tricky and poisoned gift. The appropriate term for chess will, therefore, be the Trojan Knight to refer to the Trojan Horse.

1. Nc3 became popular among professional players, and many grandmasters have added it to their repertoire or played it occasionally in official games: Nakamura, Morozevich, Rapport, Bauer, Vallejo Pons… However, it is especially in rapid games that it has reached the world elite, and the very best players in the world have tried it: Carlsen, Mamedyarov, Andreikin and Firouzja for example. I truly hope that seeing the very best players in the world playing it will convince even the most sceptical critics.

About the Author:

The author Bruno Dieu is a FIDE Master and became French Correspondence Chess Champion in 2000. He has a rich experience in chess, having participated in various chess tournaments, both over the board and in correspondence. It’s fascinating that he has competed with notable experts and writers on the 1 Nc3, such as Dick Van Geet, Anker Aasum, and Harald Keilhack. The mention of a book being a token of his experience suggests that he has documented his insights and knowledge about this opening.

FM Bruno Dieu
FM Bruno Dieu

This absorbing and well-thought tome is a delight and covers a wealth of material after White’s opening salvo with 1.Nc3.

First encounters

As a junior, the reviewer knew this opening as the Dunst opening. I first met the Dunst on 18 January 1975 in a simul in London against the late and great Tony Miles, a year before he became the first UK-born, over-the-board chess GM.  The game transposed into the Four Knights opening  and I was inevitably steadily outplayed by Miles, who won a pawn with a neat back rank combination in a major piece middlegame. Unexpectedly, Miles faltered in a winning rook and pawn endgame at move 47, wasting a vital tempo, allowing an excited junior to escape with a draw. My next encounter with the Dunst was a few months later against another strong Birmingham player. This time, booked up, I played the so called refutation with 1…d5 reaching this position:

Ball-Webb10.Nh4
Ball-Webb After10.Nh4

The inexperienced junior, as Black, came up with the positional howler 10…f5? but managed to draw again when my opponent blundered by opting to exchange into an optically good, but drawn king and pawn endgame. This line is covered in the book, 10…f6 is certainly a better move, although the author prefers 10.Nd2 for White.

A callow player as Black may regard the Trojan Knight as just another unusual opening move which aims to avoid main line theory. On the contrary, as the author points out, 1.Nc3 is a cunning move full of transpositional possibilities whereby the second player can end up in an unfamiliar opening.

I have faced the Trojan Knight on 15 occasions replying 1…e5 in my first game, 1…d5 in my second outing and 1…c5 in subsequent encounters.

The reviewer has opted for the Trojan Knight as White in a total of 15 games; the transposition statistics are of interest:

  • Sicilian (4 games)
  • French (2 games)
  • Caro-Kann (1 game)
  • Vienna (1 game)
  • Czech Pirc  (1 game)
  • Irregular queen’s pawn (1 game)
  • 1…b6 1 (game)
  • Trojan Knight main line 1…d5 2.e4 d4 (1 game)
  • Trojan Knight main line 1…e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 (3 games)

This small sample  shows the variety of branches available.

The book is logically divided into 6 parts:

PART I – 1…e5

PART II – 1…d5 2.e4 d4

PART III – 1…d5 2.e4 dxe4

PART IV – 1…d5 – Caro-Kann, French & Alekhine Style

PART V – 1…c5 – Sicilian Style

PART VI – Other First Moves

PART I – 1…e5

This is the natural response which was the move played by the reviewer on first meeting 1.Nc3.

After the following natural moves 1.Nc3 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 this position is reached:

1...e5 Main Line
1…e 5 Main Line

This position obviously has affinities with the Scotch Game and of course can transpose if both players acquiesce. Black can can get into difficulties very quickly here with a sloppy move. A few examples given are:

4…Qf6? (played in some lines of the Scotch) 5. Ndb5! winning as c7 collapses.

4… Qh4? 5.Ndb5! (winning)

4…g6? (looks natural to fianchetto, akin to Larsen’s fianchetto variation of the Philidor Defence) 5.Nd5! a6 (5…Bg7 6. Nb5  Be5 7.f4 wins) 6.Bg5! (6.Bf4 is also excellent) 6…f6 7.Bf4 d6 8.e4 Bg7 9.h4 with a clear advantage

4…d5?! (looks natural) 5.Bf4! a6 (5…Bb4 6.Nxc6 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 bxc6 8.Qd4! with a big plus) 6. e4 with a definite edge

4…Bb4!? is interesting, White can gain an edge with the Scotch like move 5.Nxc6! bxc6 (5…dxc6 is obviously weaker) 6. Qd4! winning the bishop pair or forcing the horrid 6…Bf8?!

Black should interject the capture on c3 in the last line, after 4…Bb4!? 5.Nxc6 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 bxc6 7.Qd4! Nf6 8.Bg5

PositionAfter8.Qd4
PositionAfter8.Qd4

White has a small edge. A typical continuation could be 8…h6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.Qxf6 gxf6 11. g3 Rb8 12.Bg2 Ke7 13.Kd2 Ba6

Larsen-Christiansen Denmark 2000
Larsen-Christiansen Denmark 2000

Now 14.Rhb1! with a slight edge to White in a complex endgame.

4…Bc5 is the best move along with 4…Nf6.

4...Bc5
4…Bc5

The author offers three decent alternatives for white:

  • 5.Be3
  • 5.Nxc6
  • 5.Nf5

5.Nb3 Bb6 6.e4 transposes a Scotch Game main line.

After 5.Nf5 Qf6, the author offers two interesting alternatives 6.g4 and 6.e4. He claims that 6.g4 is very strong, but the author’s analysis has a significant hole.  After 6.g4 Bb4 7.Bd2 Nge7 8.e4:

8.e4
8.e4

The author offers the anaemic 8…Nxf5 for Black, after 9.gxf5 Qh4 10.Qf3 Black is in real trouble. The reviewer smelt a rat here as Nxf5 looks too compliant: a quick check with Stockfish reveals 8…d5! equalising. This is a rare significant oversight by the author. Clearly the reviewer has not checked 450+ pages of dense variations but intuition has to be used to choose the positions to use the engine.

6.e4! is better as the author points out leading to Scotch positions where White has a space advantage and although the position is only fractionally better for White, it is easier to play for the first player.

4…Nf6 seems to be the most natural developing move. 5.Bg5! keeps the game in lesser known channels and is better than 5.e4.

5.Bg5
5.Bg5

Black has to be careful here, not to slip into an inferior position.

The passive 5…Be7 allows 6.Nf5! and White has a definite advantage.

The natural 5…d5? allows 6.Bxf6! and White has a distinct edge.

The natural 5…Bc5! is ok setting up veiled threats against f2. 6.e3! Nxd4 (6…0-0 7.Nd5! and white is a little better) 7.exd4 Be7 Now 8.Qd2 is an improvement on the author’s 8.Qf3 leading to a small advantage to White.

The pin 5…Bb4 is certainly playable, 6.Nxc6 leads to a small White edge.

PART II – 1…d5 2.e4 d4

If there is a problem with 1.Nc3, it is definitely this variation which is critical as Black gains space and time.  One of the crucial lines is 1.Nc3 d5 2.e4 d4 3. Nce2 (3.Nb1 Nf6!)  3…e5 4.Ng3 (4.f4 Nc6! 5.Nf3 Bg4!) Be6! 5.Nf3 (5.c3 Nc6!) 5…f6!

Best 5...f6
Best 5…f6

This line is the reason that the reviewer gave up on 1.Nc3.
White can try 6.Bb5+ c6 7.Be2!? (7.Ba4 Na6! 8.Bb3 Bxb3! 9.axb3 d3! 10.0-0 Nb4 11.cxd3 Nxb4 12.Ne1 Nh6 and Black has an edge.) 7…g6 (keeping the knight out of f5) 8.0-0 Qd7 9.b4!? Nh6 (9…Bxb4 10.c3! dxc3 11.d4 is better for White as Black’s development is lacking.) and Black is slightly better.

I hope that this short review gives the reader a glimpse into the complexities of this opening. My only small criticism of the book is that the author sometimes puts the best moves in an editorial side line but I realise this is to keep the featured game as the main line.

In summary, this is an excellent book.

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 28th April 2024

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 475 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (1 Mar. 2024)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464787546
  • ISBN-13:  978-9464787542
  • Product Dimensions: 16.61 x 3.4 x 23.6 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Modernized Trojan Knight 1.Nc3: A Complete Repertoire for White, Bruno Dieu, Thinkers Publishing, 1st March 2024, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464787546
The Modernized Trojan Knight 1.Nc3: A Complete Repertoire for White, Bruno Dieu, Thinkers Publishing, 1st March 2024, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464787546
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The Caro-Kann the Easy Way

From the Batsford web site:

“An informative guide to understanding and implementing the fundamentals of the Caro-Kann, the easy way.

The Caro-Kann defence, named after the German chess players Horatio Caro and Marcus Kann, is notorious for its simple solidity and is a popular chess opening that players of all levels benefit from having in their arsenal. It is a firm favourite of grand masters past and present, including Karpov, Petrosian, Capablanca and Anand.

This is the fifth book from International Master Thomas Engqvist, and it avoids overcomplicated details and endless computer variations, focusing instead on key variations of the Caro-Kann that can be committed to memory. Examining classic games to demonstrate key moves in action, Engqvist brings the defence to life and provides you with the knowledge you need to put strategy into practice.”

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

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

“Thomas Engqvist is an International Master from Sweden. He has over 30 years’ experience as a chess coach and teacher. He has worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess. He is the author of 300 Most Important Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions, both published by Batsford.”

IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)
IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)

Previously we have reviewed 300 Most Important Chess Exercises and Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach making this November 2023 title the first of the authors opening books examined in this place. We were keen to take a look especially as our reviewer has a fondness for c6 & d5 structures.

Material is divided into an Introduction and eight chapters covering all of White’s possible options.

The author kicks-off with a contemporary look at four historically instructive games putting anyone new to the CK at ease straight away. “The Easy Way” is a repertoire book from Black’s perspective rather than an encyclopaedic academic tome about the entire CK defence. Each chapter also contains model games examined in detail of which there are 43 in total.

Thomas commences his “theoretical” material with the Classical Variation from White selecting Capablanca’s 4…Bf5 for Black as the first significant repertoire suggestion.

Engqvist makes zero assumptions about the reader’s knowledge of the CK apart from wanting to learn the defence from scratch. Explanations are clear without getting bogged down in reams of variations making the text easy to follow.

For each of his suggestions there is discussion of statistics in term of what move options get played, their order of significance, order of success and what standards of players employ them. These details are quite a novel approach and long way from the lists of variations of older publications TE goes on to write:

There are five variations the second player should know about, even though strictly speaking some of them are not so good and you will probably never encounter them, at least not in a serious game.

This perspective gives one confidence that plausible opponent choices are considered rather than the rather boring modern approach  (of some other authors) to only consider “top engine choices”.  This helps to reinforce our suggestion (to students) to study the so-called side-lines first and then progress to the main dish afterwards.

For example, 5.Bd3!?

is considered but experienced CK players might turn their nose up at even reading about this. The student new to the CK will meet this try many times online and Over-the-Board (OTB). Not only that but 5.Bd3!? was suggested by no less than Siegbert Tarrasch (the “Jolly Doctor”).

Another feature that endears one to the authors approach is his liberal sprinkling of significant and interesting quotations from yesteryear. For example, after

TE quotes renowned theoretician Max Euwe as follows:

Many masters of the opinion that the 6 h4 move merely denotes a weakening and would be better left out

There are a number of novel suggestions throughout the text and many spring from the authors long time experience with the Caro-Kann.

In summary, The Caro-Kann the Easy Way is an excellent primer for any second player starting out or refreshing their knowledge of this venerable and reliable defence to the King’s pawn.

Highly recommended!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire 25th April 2024

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford; 1st edition (9 Nov. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:184994816X
  • ISBN-13:978-1849948166
  • Product Dimensions: 15.29 x 2.54 x 23.37 cm

Official web site of Batsford Chess

The Caro-Kann the Easy Way, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford Chess, Batsford; 1st edition (9 Nov. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948166
The Caro-Kann the Easy Way, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford Chess, Batsford; 1st edition (9 Nov. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948166
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Minor Pieces 72: Alfred Neave Brayshaw

Last time, I introduced you to Edward Wallis, a Quaker chess player, problemist, writer and organiser from the Yorkshire seaside resort of Scarborough.

I gave you the chance to read his book 777 Chess Miniatures in Three, for which A Neave Brayshaw BA LLB provided hints for solvers. Who, I wondered, was A Neave Brayshaw?

It transpires his story is rather interesting. Like Edward Wallis he was a Scarborough Quaker, but, much more than that, he was also one of the best known Quakers of his time.

Alfred Neave Brayshaw was born on 26 December 1861, the first child of Alfred Brayshaw, a Manchester grocer, and Jane Eliza Neave. It was the custom of the time for Quaker families to intermarry, and to use surnames as Christian names. Hence, young Alfred was often referred to as Neave, and he had brothers named Stephenson and Shipley.

Neave was educated at Sidcot School in Somerset, and then at Owens College back home in Manchester, where he was awarded an external London University BA. He decided on a career in law, working in a solicitor’s office while continuing his studies, obtaining a Bachelor of Law degree in 1885.

He worked as a solicitor in Manchester between 1885 and 1889, while spending his evenings tutoring some of the younger students at Owens College. This experience convinced him that his real vocation was not law, but teaching, and he became an assistant master at Oliver’s Mount, a (preparatory?) Quaker boarding school in Scarborough.

It would likely have been in Quaker meetings in Scarborough that Alfred Neave Brayshaw met Edward Wallis and discovered a shared interest in chess.

Brayshaw’s particular interest was in chess problems, and his compositions were soon being published in the Illustrated London News. You can play through the solutions to the problems at the foot of this article.

Problem 1. #3 Illustrated London News 20 December 1890

Problem 2. #3 Illustrated London News 18 July 1891

In 1892 Brayshaw moved to Bootham School in York, which is still thriving today, remaining there for 11 years. Old Boys include historian AJP Taylor, farceur Brian Rix, and, briefly, drag artist Lady Bunny, along with many scions of the Rowntree family, with whom he was very much connected. Along with the Rowntrees – and Edward Wallis – he was part of the movement towards liberal Quakerism.

His next problem was a two-mover rather than a three-mover.

Problem 3. #2 Illustrated London News 27 May 1893

At this point, it seems that he embarked on a very short but successful career in over the  board chess.

Yorkshire Evening Press 20 April 1894

Here he is, visiting his former home town, for an away match. You’ll notice, if you’ve been paying attention, that there was a Scarborough player, CE Simpson, in the Ebor team. One wonders if Brayshaw and Wallis, perhaps along with Simpson, were involved in setting this match up.

Perhaps he stayed in Scarborough for a bit: a few days later he represented them in a match against Whitby, again winning both his games.

York Herald 26 April 1894

Later that year he had a problem published in the Hackney Mercury.

Problem 4. #3 Hackney Mercury September 1894

But it seems that his brief involvement in chess playing and composition came to an end at about this time.

Alfred Neave Brayshaw remained in York until 1903, when George Cadbury established Woodbrooke, a new Quaker college in Birmingham, appointing him as a lecturer there. He still maintained his links with Bootham, though, and would do so for the rest of his life.

In 1906 he left Woodbrooke, moving back to Scarborough, re-uniting with Edward Wallis, temporarily returning to chess to help his friend with his book, to which he contributed three problems.

Problem 5. #3 777 Miniatures in Three #88

Problem 6. #3 777 Miniatures in Three #89

Problem 7. #3 777 Miniatures in Three #90

Alfred Neave Brayshaw, by this point, was working for the Society of Friends, based on the Yorkshire coast, but travelling the country lecturing on various aspects of his faith. The 1911 census found him visiting Southampton, and in 1921 he was in Chelmsford, where he would surely have lectured to some of Edward Wallis’s family friends. When he wasn’t lecturing he was writing: The Personality of George Fox was published in 1919 and The Quakers, their Story and Message in 1921, with revisions in 1927 and 1938. If you’re in the United States you can read them here.

A lifelong bachelor, from at least the end of the war onwards he was based in a central Scarborough apartment owned by Edmund (until his death) and Fanny Pearson. I wonder if he was aware that Pearson wasn’t their real name: they were actually Edmund Proctor and Fanny Anthony. After his wife disappeared Edmund had a relationship with Fanny, his housekeeper which produced three children.

In the 1920s, by now in his 60s, he also crossed the Atlantic to lecture in the United States on several occasions. He was a very busy man who probably spent little time in Scarborough.

Throughout all this time he visited Bootham School regularly to lecture to the older boys, and, every year from 1895 to 1939, broken only by the First World War, he took a party of boys from Bootham and other Quaker schools to Normandy for a summer holiday.

Here’s a caricature of him from 1930.

And here he is again, paddling in the sea, probably in Normandy.

By the time of the 1939 Register he was still lecturing regularly, and still living at the same address in Scarborough. But a few months later, during a blackout, he was hit by a car and died of heart failure a few days later.

Daily News (London) 05 February 1940

30 years? More like 40 years, even if you exclude WW1. A Quaker “Mr Chips” sums him up well.

Alfred Neave Brayshaw was a remarkable man who devoted his life to his faith as a teacher, lecturer and writer. He was a pioneer of liberal Quakerism who had personal connections with both the Rowntree and Cadbury families, much respected and revered throughout the Quaker community both in Britain and abroad, and by generations of young men from Quaker schools across the country. It’s good that we can also count him a chess player and composer.

I’m particularly grateful to acknowledge this highly informative post by Quaker blogger Gil S of Skipton: many thanks.

Other sources and acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
Yet Another Chess Problem Database (Brayshaw here)
Yorkshire Chess History (Steve Mann) (Brayshaw here)

 

Solutions to problems (click on any move to play them through):

Problem 1.

You might consider this slightly unsatisfactory because there’s a short mate after 1… Kd6.

Problem 2.

Problem 3.

Problem 4.

I don’t quite see the point of this. White just creates a threat which Black has no sensible way of meeting.

Problem 5.

There’s a short mate here after 1… Ke6.

Problem 6.

Problem 7.

It’s rather unfortunate that, after 1… Kf4, there are two ways to mate in two more moves.

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The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era

From the publisher:

“Genna Sosonko is widely acclaimed as the most prominent chronicler of a unique era in chess history. In the Soviet Union chess was developed into an ideological weapon that was actively promoted by the country’s leadership during the Cold War. Starting with Mikhail Botvinnik, their best chess players grew into symbols of socialist excellence. Sosonko writes from a privileged dual perspective, combining an insider’s nostalgia with the detachment of a critical observer. He grew up with legendary champions such as Mikhail Tal and Viktor Korchnoi and spent countless hours with most of the other greats and lesser chess mortals he portrays.

In the late 1980s he began to write about the champions he knew and their remarkable lives in New In Chess magazine. First, he wrote primarily about Soviet players and personalities, and later, he also began to portray other chess celebrities with whom he had crossed paths. They all vividly come to life as the reader is transported to their time and world. Once you’ve read Sosonko, you will feel you know Capablanca, Max Euwe and Tony Miles. And you will never forget Sergey Nikolaev.

This monumental book is a collection of the portraits and profiles Genna Sosonko wrote for New in Chess magazine. The stories have been published in his books: Russian Silhouettes, The Reliable Past, Smart Chip From St. Petersburg and The World Champions I Knew. They are supplemented with further writings on legends such as David Bronstein, Garry Kasparov and Boris Spassky. They paint an enthralling and unforgettable picture of a largely vanished age and, indirectly, a portrait of one of the greatest writers on the world of chess.

Genna Sosonko (1943) was born in Leningrad, where he was a leading chess trainer. Following his emigration from the Soviet Union in 1972, he settled in The Netherlands. He won numerous tournaments, including Wijk aan Zee in 1977 (with Geller) and 1981 (with Timman) and an individual gold medal at the Olympiad in Haifa 1976. After his active career, Sosonko discovered a passion for writing.

GM Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
GM Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

‘Each new story of Genna Sosonko is the preservation of grains of our chess life’ — from the foreword by Garry Kasparov”

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

 

If you’re a lover of chess culture and literature you’ll be familiar with the writings of Genna Sosonko, whose essays chronicle, in particular, chess life in the former Soviet Union in the post-war period.

What we have here is a compendium of his biographical essays: 58 of them plus a short foreword by Kasparov. Most of them have appeared twice before, in New in Chess magazine, and in previous collections of his essays. In addition to the books mentioned above, some of them appeared, in some cases with different titles, in Genna Remembers, published by Thinkers Publishing and previously reviewed here. One of the essays is based on extracts from Sosonko’s book on Bronstein, published by Elk and Ruby. But, in the case of the books, you only get the biographies, not everything.

If you’re a Sosonko fan you’ll have read it all before. If not, and you’re attracted to the subject matter, this might be a good place to start.

You don’t just get Soviet players, though. English readers will be drawn to the chapter on Tony Miles, billed as The Cat That Walked By Himself, whose mental health problems are treated sympathetically.

But, for me, the lesser known figures are of the most interest. Take, for instance, the stories of two players whose lives both ended in tragic circumstances in 1997.

The brilliant Latvian theorist and tactician Alvis Vitolins was born in 1946. ‘Naïve, unusual and absorbed in himself’, had he been born a few decades later, he would undoubtedly have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, or, today, with ASD, and later developed schizophrenia. “He did not have any close friends. He avoided other people, especially strangers, especially those who were not chess players.” He never fulfilled his potential, his mental health declined and, in 1997, he threw himself from a railway bridge onto the ice of a frozen river.

Then there was Evgeny Ruban, from what is now Belarus, born in 1941. A positional player with a classical style who excelled with the white pieces, but another man with his own demons. Ruban was an alcoholic, permanently broke, and also gay, living in a small apartment with his elderly mother. Like Vitolins he also had problems with his mental health. In autumn 1997, in a state of inebriation, he was hit by a car, dying as a result of his injuries. His mother couldn’t afford the cost of his funeral, which was paid for by the car driver.

Two poignant stories which serve as a salutary reminder that, as well as the grandmasters and champions, we need to hear about those who had the talent but not the good fortune, those who fell through the cracks. You might wonder whether chess was a cause of their problems or provided solace in difficult times. It would have been good if their chapters had included a few of their games, but this wouldn’t have fitted into the format of the book.

On the other hand you may well be inspired by the life of Abram Khasin ((1923-2022): he played at Hastings in 1963-64), who lost both legs in the Battle of Stalingrad, but lived to within ten days of his 99th birthday, playing chess right until the end.

There’s also the exotically named Lidia Barbot-de-Marny (1930-2021), born in Shanghai but with French, German and Russian family roots. She eventually settled in Estonia, where she became one of their leading woman players. “Chess has given me a colossal amount of good things, everything you could say.” Although she never became a master, she was a much loved chess teacher, working with young children in the Tallinn House of Chess.

There are always stories, some happy, others sad, all of which need to be told. The stories of the failures are as important as those of the successes, the stories of the lesser players as important as those of the world champions.

Much of the book is, as you’d expect, concerned with the great Soviet players of that era, but, for me, the real value of Sosonko’s work is in his writing about those you don’t read about elsewhere.

He writes beautifully as well, and the translations, mostly by Ken Neat, Steve Giddins and Sarah Hurst, are exemplary. But at some point you start to realise that Sosonko is, up to a point, playing on your emotions. There are no sources or references, just his memory, which is undoubtedly extraordinary, but perhaps, like everyone’s, fallible. At the start of his essay on Ludek Pachman, he writes about visiting London for the first time to play in the 1972 Islington Congress. He took the ferry from Hook of Holland and then, apparently, had his papers checked in Brighton. If you take the ferry from Hook of Holland now you’d end up in Harwich, on the east coast, nowhere near Brighton, on the south coast, and, as far as I can tell, it was the same in 1972. Once I find something I don’t believe, I start to question everything else.

If you’re looking for a book which will improve your rating, this isn’t for you as there are no games at all. But, if you’re attracted to human interest stories, Sosonko is essential reading. You might want to invest in all his essay collections, and, if you do so, you probably won’t need this volume. If your interest is mostly in his biographical essays, and you haven’t read them elsewhere, this will be the book for you.

As a hefty 840-page hardback it’s more suited for weight training than for putting in your pocket to read between rounds of your next tournament, so you might opt for the eBook instead. I’d have liked some games, and ideally more photographs than the 32 glossy pages we get here, but this would clearly have been impractical.

A strong recommendation, then, for anyone who’s interested in this aspect of chess and hasn’t read it all before. You can find out more and read sample pages on the publisher’s website here.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 12th April 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Hardcover: 840 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 May 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9083311287
  • ISBN-13:978-9083311289
  • Product Dimensions: 18.06 x 6.32 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era, Genna Sosonko, New in Chess, June 17th 2023, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9083311287
The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era, Genna Sosonko, New in Chess, June 17th 2023, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9083311287
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Dragon Masters – The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1

From the Publisher, Thinkers Publishing:

DragonMasters volume 1 charts the history of the most exciting and dangerous opening known to chess – the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defense.

Unlike almost all other books on the Dragon, the focus is not purely on theoretical development. Instead, the author has combined the most historically important games, the famous players who chose to fight either side (sometimes both sides!) of the opening, and the most unexpected and interesting stories featuring the Dragon. World Champions, contenders of the crown, code-breakers, revolutionaries in every sense of the world – all feature in this remarkable and entirely unique look into the history of an opening variation. as the ancient may say: Here be Dragons!

About the Author:

Andrew Burnett is a Scottish FM who represented his country on several occasions. He is the author of cult classic Streetfighting Chess and his love of the Dragon opening stretches back to his teenage years when he was looking to escape 1.e4 e5! He is currently working on the second volume of DragonMasters.

This book is volume 1 of a labour of love devoted to the history, praxis, and famous players who have unleashed the fury of the Dragon Variation or fought to quench the fire of the wyvern.

Volume 1 covers the origin of the Dragon to 1973.

The front and back cover is an engaging, colourful picture.

This publication is not a theoretical treatise on the latest developments in the Sicilian Dragon, although it does give theoretical analyses in relation to historical variations and famous clashes with some references to modern variations and theory.

Many great players have had the Dragon in their regular repertoire, although the reviewer was surprised to find a game of Mikhail Tal’s on the black side, as I had the impression that Tal always preferred the white side.  Perhaps the result of the game in this book influenced Tal’s choice: he got crushed. The reviewer will show this amusing brevity later.

The author, Andrew Burnett has a sub-variation in the Modern Variation 12.Kb1 named after him viz:

  1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12. Kb1! Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.g4! b5 15.b3! b4!?
Burnett_Variation
Burnett Variation

The work is divided into fifteen chapters:

Chapter 1 – In the beginning
Chapter 2 – Bird’s Folly
Chapter 3 – The World’s Finest Discover The Dragon
Chapter 4 – DragonMasters and DragonAmateurs
Chapter 5 – Hypermodernism and beyond
Chapter 6 – Botvinnik’s Trilogy
Chapter 7 – The War Years
Chapter 8 – The Post-War Years
Chapter 9 – When Giants take sides
Chapter 10 – Revolution in the 60s?
Chapter 11 – The Yugoslav Attack
Chapter 12 – DragonMasters and DragonWriters
Chapter 13 – Candidates and Contenders
Chapter 14 – The English Connection
Chapter 15 – The Dragon is Dead! Long Live the Dragon?

In the preface, Andrew Burnett shows a famous Dragon game which inspired the author to take up the Dragon; it also happens to be one of my favourites viz. Plaskett – Watson from Brighton 1983:

  1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.g4 Be6 10.O-O-O Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Qa5 12. a3 Rfc8 13.h4 Rab8 14.h5 b5 15.h6  b4! 16. hxg7 bxa3 17. Qh6 axb2+ 18.Kd2 reaching this super sharp scenario:
Plaskett - Watson Brighton 1983
Plaskett – Watson Brighton 1983

This position had been included in some theoretical treatises of the time with the +- symbol as White’s threat of Bxf6 and Qxh7# looks unstoppable. Jonathon Mestel had looked further and spotted 18…Bxg4! which muddies the waters. (As an aside, Stockfish 16 gives 18…Bxg4! as a draw and 18…Nh5! as a draw. This just shows the richness of chess and amazing hidden resources.)

19.Bxf6 Bh5!  Simply blocking the h-file, giving Black time to continue with his attack. Jim Plaskett now goes wrong which is unsurprising as he must have been shocked by Black’s revelation.

20. Bd4? losing but only 20.Rxh5! equalises

Plaskett-Watson20.Rxh5
Plaskett-Watson 20.Rxh5!

Best play after 20.Rxh5! leads to an unexpected repetition draw viz:

20…gxh5 21. Bh3 exf6 22. Bxc8 (22.Bf5? Qxc3+ 23.Ke2 Qxc2!+ 24. Rd2 Qc4+ 25.Kf2 Qc5+ 26. Kg2 Qxf5 27. exf5 b1=Q winning for Black). 22…Rxc8 23.Qxf6 Qb4! 24.Rb1 a5 threatening a4-a3-a2 25.Kd3 (threatening Nd5) Qc4+ 26.Kd2 Qb4 27.Kd3 with a draw!

Plaskett-Watson Variation
Plaskett-Watson Variation

As is so often the case in these double edged lines, the game fizzles out to an exciting draw. Brilliant stuff.

The game continuation was a massacre 20…e5! 21.Rxh5 gxh5 22. Qg5 Qb4 23.Bd3 Qxd4 24. Nd5 Qf2+ 25. Be2 Rxc2+ 26.Kxc2 Qxe2+ 27.Kc3 Qxf3+ 28.Kc4 Qb3#

Plaskett-Watson End
Plaskett-Watson End

Chapter 1 introduces the first games featuring a Sicilian with a black, kingside fianchetto.

The reviewer was under the false impression that Louis Paulsen was the first to play a Sicilian with a kingside fianchetto. Although Paulsen did play some Dragons including beating Steinitz in London in 1862, it was Marmaduke Wyvill who played the first recorded “high-level Dragon” in 1851 at the celebrated London International tournament. We all remember Adolf Anderssen winning that tournament but do we recall whom he defeated in the final? It was Wyvill.

Some of these first Sicilian fianchetto games don’t resemble the modern Sicilian Dragon move orders and are full of basic strategic mistakes but do give insights into the development of the variation and the Sicilian defence in general. Game 3 of the book demonstrates Paulsen’s win over Steinitz with an hyper accelerated Dragon although he was lost out of the opening!

Louis Paulsen was one of the great pioneers of the Sicilian Defence, not just developing the variation named after him.

Chapter 2 concentrates on Henry Bird’s contribution to early Dragon Praxis.

He was the first player to play the modern Dragon move order:
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6

As the author points out, his score with the Dragon was 16 losses, 10 wins and 9 draws which is not brilliant, but taking into account he was playing against the world’s best, it is a respectable Dragon legacy.

Game 7 shows a titanic struggle with Joseph Blackburne. This is the position after the opening:

Blackburne-Bird
Blackburne-Bird

This could be a modern game with white playing a fairly inept Classical Variation, but making sensible developing moves leaving the main struggle to the middlegame. Bird played the somewhat dubious 14…Qh5?! (better is the natural 14…Nd7 which is clearly equal). Blackburne responded with the impatient move 15.Bxf6 (Simply 15.Qf2 or 15.Rd3 leaves white with a slightly more comfortable position) 15…Bxf5 16.Nd5 Qe5 is equal. The players fought out a exciting draw to move 77. Buy the book to the see the game.

Chapter 3 introduces some of the first games with top players riding the Dragon such as Emmanuel Lasker.

This chapter features some greats such as Tarrasch, Pillsbury and Emmanuel Lasker playing the Dragon at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The game below shows a typical Dragon trap.

Brody – Pillsbury Paris 1900

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 d6 6.Be2  g6 7.Be3 Bg7 8.0-0 Bd7 9. h3 Qa5

Brody-Pillsbury
Brody-Pillsbury

White now played a natural looking move  that loses 10.Qd2?? Ne4! 11.Nc6 Qxc3! (Easy to overlook) 12.Qxc3 Nxc3 13. bxc3 Bxc6 (Black is completely winning, a pawn up with a much better pawn structure)

Brody-Pillsbury-11...Qxc3
Brody-Pillsbury-11…Qxc3

Chapter 4 shows some early games with masters v amateurs.

The first game in this chapter is famous tussle Lasker – Napier at Cambridge Springs 1904. This game is an extremely tactical queenless middlegame and is well worth a look.

Another game covered is a loss by Lasker to a modern idea of an exchange sacrifice on c3 in a simultaneous display. This idea had been seen before but this version is so thematic, it must be shown:

Emmanuel Lasker – Donald MacKay Hampstead 1908

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bg7 6.Be3 d6 7.Be2 Nf6 8.h3 0-0 9.0-0 Bd7 10.f4 a6 11.g4 Rc8 12.f5 Ne5 13.g5

Lasker-MacKay
Lasker-MacKay

13…Rxc3! (Winning as White’s position falls apart) 14. bxc3 Nxe4 15.Bd3 Nxc3 16.Qe1 Nxd3 17.Qd3 Nc5 18.f6!? (A desperate try)

Lasker-MacKay-18.f6
Lasker-MacKay-18.f6

18…exf6 19.gxf6 Ne4 (19…Bxf6 wins as well) and Black won on move 34.

Chapter 5 features the introduction of two major Dragon lines.

They are 10…Qc8 in the Classical Variation and the DragonDorf played by another great Sicilian pioneer Miguel Najdorf.

The first variation is shown with a famous game Reti -Tartakower

Dragon-Classical-Tartakower-Var
Dragon-Classical-Tartakower-Var

The game continued 11.h3 Ne8 ?! (A modern master would shudder at this move, the natural 11…Rd8 is better, Reti won a good positional game)

The game Reissner – Najdorf from Warsaw 1934 introduces the Dragadorf which Simon Williams reintroduced many decades later.

The game began 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 a6? (Black cannot play this slowly after castling, if Black wishes to play this way, he must not castle early).

Dragadorf-Castle-Too-Early
Dragadorf Castling too early

Stockfish already gives White a big advantage. Najdorf did win this game as White did not play incisively enough. See the book to look at these two interesting games.

Chapter 6 features the famous Alekhine-Botvinnik melee from Nottingham 1936 resulting in an exciting short draw.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2 Bg7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Nb3 0-0 9.f4 Be6 10.g4!? (The Rabinovich Attack)

Rabinovich-Attack
Rabinovich-Attack

10…d5!? (The modern preference is for 10…Rc8 when Black may already be better) 11.f5 Bc8 12.exd5 Nb4

Rabinovich-Attack-12.Nb4
Rabinovich-Attack-12…Nb4

A critical position 13.d6!? (13.Bf3! is much stronger leading to a significant White advantage) 13…Qxd6 (leading to a forced perpetual) 14. Bc5 Qf4! 15.Rf1 Qxh2 16.Bxb4 Nxg4 17.Bxg4 Qg3+ 18. Rf2 (Any winning attempt is suicidal) Qg1+ 19.Rf1 Qg3+ 20.Rf2 Qg1+ Draw agreed

Chapter 7 introduces the Levenfish Variation with Mikhail Tal falling victim.

Game 31 showcases the game that introduced the Levenfish Variation at the highest level: Levenfish – Rabinovich Leningrad 1939. The author’s commentary on this game is full of excellent analysis showing many of the traps in the Levenfish and some brilliant white victories. Two of the greatest attacking players have games in this variation  including  a crushing win by Nezhmetdinov and a crushing loss for Tal. First the Tal miniature:

Janis Klavins – Mikhail Tal Riga 1954

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4

Levenfish-Variation
Levenfish-Variation

6…Nc6! (6…Bg7!? is dangerous for Black, but just about playable with care, but 6…Nc6 equalises easily, so why play an inferior risky move?)

7.Nxc6 bxc6 8. e5 (This looks dangerous but is a paper tiger) Nd7! 9.exd6 exd6 10.Be3

Levenfish-Variation-10.Be3
Levenfish-Variation-10.Be3

10…Qe7?! (10…Be7 is slightly better for black already, the pawn on f4 weakens White’s position) 11.Qd4! Nf6?! (11…Bg7 is hardly better: 12.Qxg7 Qxe3+ 13.Be2 Rf8 14.Rf1 Nb6 15.Rd1 is better for white despite white’s king on e1 as Black is behind in development and has a weaker pawn structure with black squared weaknesses.) 12.0-0-0 Bg7

Levenfish-Variation-Start-of-Crushing-Attack
Levenfish-Variation-Start-of-Crushing-Attack

White has a significant lead in development which he exploits ruthlessly in the style of his opponent:

13.Qxd6! (sacrificing a piece with check) Qxe3+ 14.Kb1 Bd7? (14…Qb6! makes it harder for White but his attack is just too strong) 15.Bb5! (A classic clearance: 15…cxb5 16.Rhe1 wins the queen and although Black has a rook and two bishops for the queen and pawn, his lack of development is fatal) 15…Qb6 16.Rhe1+ Kd8 17.Bxc6 Rb8 (threatening mate but too late) 18. Qe7+ Kc7 19.Rxd7+ Kc8

Mate-in-4
Mate-in-4

20.Bb5 (20.Nb5! is quicker mating in four moves, Klavins chooses a prosaic win going into a trivially won endgame) Rb7 21.Rxb7 Qxb7 22.Qxb7+ 1-0

Now the Nezhmetdinov game:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4 Bg7?! (Risky) 7.e5!  dxe5? (The only decent move here is the surprising 7…Nh5 with the idea 8.g4? Nxf4 9.Bxf4 dxe5 regaining the piece with interest, better for White is 8.Bb5+ Bd7 9.Qe2! with an edge as Black still has to solve the problem of the h5 knight, 9.e6!? looks good but 9…fxe6 10.Nxe6 Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 Qc8! is a mess but dynamically equal) 8.fxe5 (This is a very dangerous position for the unwary)

Levenfish Danger
Levenfish after 8.fxe5

8…Nd5? (8…Ng4?? 9.Bb5+ wins 9…Bd7 10.Qxg4 wins a piece or 9…Kf8 10.Ne6+ wins the queen. 8…Nfd7 is relatively best 9.e6! Ne5! 10.exf7+ gives a White a pleasant edge but Black can fight) 9.Bb5+ Kf8 10. 0-0 (Black is totally lost) Bxe5 (accelerating the inevitable defeat, and allowing an attractive finish, 10…Nc6 lasts longer) 11.Bh6+ Kg8 12. Nxd5 Qxd5 13.Nf5! Qc5+ 14.Be3 Qc7 15.Nh6+ 1-0

Levenfish-13.Nf5
Levenfish-13.Nf5!

Chapter 8 features a famous victory by a British player, William Winter over David Bronstein in the England – USSR radio match in 1946.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Nb3!? (Not the most challenging line) 9…Be6 10.Nd5 Bxe6 (Stockfish also likes 10…Rc8 with both moves giving Black a slight edge, but removing the pesky knight now is understandable) 11.exd5 Ne5

Bronstein-Winter-11...Ne5
Bronstein-Winter-11…Ne5

12. Be2? (12.0-0-0 is better but Black is at least equal) Qc7 13.0-0 (13…a5! is also good but the move played is an obvious thematic Sicilian move) Nc4 14.Bxc4 Qxc4 15. Rad1?! (The wrong rook, White needs the queen’s rook on the queenside for defence, showing how badly the game is going)  15…Rfc8! 16.Rf2 Nd7 (16…a5! increases Black’s advantage to decisive proportions) 17.Bg5!? (Trying to mix things up, but 17.c3 is better, then Black has 17…a5 with a typical Sicilian initiative and advantage) 17..Bxb2 18.Bxe7 Nb6? (Bronstein’s gamble with Bg5 has paid off as Black goes wrong, much better is 18…Bc3! 19.Qd3 Qb4 maintains a big Black advantage) 19.Bxd6 Rd8

Bronstein-Winter-20.Na5
Bronstein-Winter-20.Na5

20. Na5?? (A horrible move losing the game, 20.Qb4 or 20.Qf4 holds the balance) 20…Qa6! 21.Qf4 Rxd6 22.c4 Bg7 23.Rfd2 Bh6 24. Rd3 Rad8 25.a4 Bf6 26.Qb5 Qxb5 27.axb5 R6d7 0-1

Chapter 9 introduces some giants into the mix with players such as the great Soviet theoretician Efim Geller who played the Dragon with both colours, and the great Bobby Fischer who was a veritable St George. Fischer famously lost against Cesar Munoz, a Ecuadorean National Master: this game is definitely worth a look.

This chapter also includes the famous Fischer – Larsen clash from Portoroz 1958.  The game is in a line that has become topical recently:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Bb3 Qa5 12.0-0-0 b5 13.Kb1 b4 14.Nd5 14…Bxd5

Fischer-Larsen-Portoroz
Fischer-Larsen Portoroz 1958

15.Bxd5 (Not best, better is15.exd5! Qb5 16.Rhe1 a5 17.Qe2! Tal, M-Larsen, B Zürich 1959)

Tal-Larsen-Zurich-1959
Tal-Larsen 17.Qe2 Zurich-1959

This position used to be thought to be slightly better for White with the bishop pair and pressure along the e-file. Modern engines dispute this and reckon Black is more or less equal viz:

17… Qxe2 18.Rxe2 a4 19.Bc4 Rfc8 20.b3 (20Bb5?! Ra5=) Rc7= 21.Bb5 axb3 22.cxb3 Ra5 23.Bc4 Rb7 = (Stockfish gives White a tiny advantage)

Now back to the main game.

15…Rac8?! (Much better is 15…Nxd5 16.Bxg7 Nc3!!+ 17.Bxc3 bxc3 18.Qxc3 Qxc3 19.bxc3 Rfc8 20.Rd3 Rc5 =, or 17.bxc3 Rab8! 18.cxb4 Qxb4+ 19.Qxb4 Rxb4+ 20.Bb2 Rfb8=)

16.Bb3! and Fischer won a great game.

Chapter 10 introduces the famous Soltis Variation.

It may not be widely known, but in 1963  Heikki Westerinen introduced the Dragon Soltis Variation to the world, 8 years before Andrew Soltis popularised the variation named after him. This is the stem position:

Soltis-Variation
Soltis-Variation

Westerinen played this line against Bent Larsen, who was one of the protagonists who played the Dragon with both colours. He lost the game, but his opening and early middlegame were fine as he achieved a winning position by move 20: he was outplayed later by a world class player. Buy the book to see analysis of this ground breaking game.

Chapter 11 introduces  Geller on the Black side and Anatoly Karpov as a chief Dragon slayer. His game against Gik in the Moscow University championship in 1968 is one of Karpov’s best games.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Qd2 Qa5 10.0-0-0 Bd7 11.h4 Ne5 12.Bb3 Rfc8 13.h5 Nxh5 14.Bh6 Bxh6 15.Qxh6 Rxc3 16.bxc3

Karpov-Gik-Moscow-1968
Karpov-Gik-Moscow-1968

In this position below Gik made a fatal mistake: 16…Qxc3 no doubt expecting 17.Kb1, so 17.Ne2 came as a rude awakening gaining a crucial tempo, both 16…Nf6 and 16…Rc8 equalise comfortably.

The book analyses this theoretical scuffle in detail.

Chapter 12 is devoted mainly to famous Dragon writers: David Levy and Andrew Soltis.

David Levy, the Scottish IM famously wrote two editions of the Batsford books The Sicilian Dragon. Here Levy faces the former World Champion, Boris Spassky who is in devastating form:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Qb8?! (A trendy line at the time, which is almost certainly unsound, Stockfish does not rate it.)

Spassky-Levy
Spassky-Levy

11.h4! a5? (This is a horrible move, it loses quickly, Stockfish recommends 11..Ne5 12.Bb3 h5 trying to slow down the attack in Soltis style, but Black’s misplaced queen renders this fruitless) 12.Bh6!? (Not the very best, the simple 12.h5 is even stronger winning quickly) 12…Nxe4? (Black pushes his luck with a flawed combination, better was 12…Nxd4 13.h5! Be6 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.Qxd4 with a big plus for White) 13. Nxe4 Bxd4 14.h5! (With a huge winning attack)

Spassky-Levy-14.h5
Spassky-Levy-14.h5

14…d5 (Desperation, trying to get the queen into the defence) 15.Bxd5 Qxe5 16.Bxf8! (Simple and effective) 16…Qxd5 17.Qh6! Nb4 18.Rxd4! (Removing the last defender) Qxd4 19.Bxe7 1-0

An opening experiment crushed by an attacking great!

Chapter 13 is mainly devoted to two fascinating clashes between Efim Geller and Viktor Korchnoi in their Candidates match in 1971 in Moscow. It also reintroduces Anatoly Karpov who is undoubtedly one of the greatest Dragon slayers, shown in action in a famous tussle with Juergen Dueball at Skopje in 1972.  It was Karpov’s endgame skill that won him that game.

The first Geller – Korchnoi shows the good old exchange sacrifice on c3 in all its glory.

Geller-Korchnoi-Moscow-1971
Geller-Korchnoi-Moscow-1971

White played the poor 12.Bh6?! provoking Black. 12…Bxh6! 13.Qxh6 Rxc3! 14.bxc3  a5! (14…Qc7 is fine as well)

Black is equal here and has a position that is easier and more fun to play. The game was eventually drawn, but Black achieved a winning game but threw it away in mutual time trouble.

Chapter 14 introduces one of the great Dragon specialists, the late and great Tony Miles.

Here is a exciting scrap with another future GM, Michael Stean.

Michael Stean – Tony Miles Hastings 73/74

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Qd2 Bd7 10.h4 h5 11.0-0-0 Rc8 12.Bb3 Ne5 13.Kb1 Nc4 14.Bxc4 Rxc4 15.Nde2 Qc7 !? (An attempt to avoid the main line theory, 15…b5 is the main line which equalises comfortably as played by Kasparov against Anand 16.Bh6 Qa5 =)

Stean-Miles-15.Qc7
Stean-Miles-15.Qc7

16.Bh6 Be6 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Nf4 Qa5 (This position is equal, but Stean comes up with a faulty plan) 19.Nxe6+ (19.Nce2 is equal) fxe6 20.Rh3?! (20.Ne2 is still equal) Rfc8 21.Rg3?

Rxc3! (Now Black is better) 22.bxc3 Rc6 23.Rg5 e5! (Cutting the rook off)

Stean-Miles-23...e5
Stean-Miles-23…e5

Now Black is slightly better, somehow Miles contrived to lose this game.

Chapter 15 is devoted to one of the most famous gladiatorial contests in the Sicilian Dragon: Anatoly Karpov v Viktor Korchnoi Moscow 1974 game 2 of the Candidates final. The winner was to play Bobby Fischer.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.h4 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12.0-0-0 Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.h5 Nxh5 15.g4 Nf6 16.Nde2 !?

Karpov-Korchnoi-16.Nde2
Karpov-Korchnoi-16.Nde2

At the time, the position before 16.Nde2 was a topical Dragon tabiya. Korchnoi played the natural reply which is already a mistake.

16…Qa5 (16…Re8 is much better and about equal) 17.Bh6 Bxh6 (17…Bh8 18.Bxf8 Kxf8 19.Qe3 is clearly better for White) 18.Qxh6 Rfc8 19.Rd3 R4c5? (The final mistake, 19…Be6 20. 20.g5 Nxh5 21. Nf4 Qe5 22.Nxh5 gxh5 23. Qxh5 Qg7 24.f4 with a clear advantage to White) 20.g5! (Winning) Rxg5 21.Rd5! Rxd5 22.Nxd5 Re8 23.Nef4 Bc6 24.e5!+- Bxd5 25.exf6 exf6 26.Qxh7+ Kf8 27.Qh8+ 1-0 (27… Ke7 28.Nxd5+ Qxd5 29.Re1+)

It is quite possible that the whole game was prepared analysis.

This game really knocked the Dragon for six, but the Dragoneers soon came up with an antidote 16…Re8.

In summary, this is a well thought out book and an enjoyable read with plenty of exciting, fighting chess. Although it is a history of the Dragon, that story is really a microcosm of the development of modern chess from 1850 onwards.

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1st April 2024

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 385 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (5 Mar. 2024)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201959
  • ISBN-13:  978-9464201956
  • Product Dimensions: 17.78 x 3.18 x 24.77 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Dragon Masters - The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1, Andrew Burnett, Thinkers Publishing, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201959
Dragon Masters – The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1, Andrew Burnett, Thinkers Publishing, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201959
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Minor Pieces 70: Francis Joseph Lee (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this game he was successful with the London System.

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

Here’s a game from a Dublin simultaneous display.

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

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

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

Then, in April, there was an announcement.

Eastern Daily Press 02 April 1902

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

The Hereford Times 05 April 1902

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

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

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

Falkirk Herald 04 March 1903

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

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

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

But then:

Northern Whig 11 June 1903

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

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

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

Here’s his win against Leonhardt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His win against Michell is well worth looking at.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time he ended up visiting Trinidad and Venezuela.

Morning Post 21 May 1906

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what happened.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 16 July 1907

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at his last three games.

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

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

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

Then, just three weeks later:

The Sportsman 14 September 1909
Globe 14 September 1909

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and references:

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

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Minor Pieces 69: Francis Joseph Lee (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee won a nice ending against chess journalist Antony Guest.

Here’s a position from his game against Zukertort.

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

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

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

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

Burn was also outplayed from a closed position.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s one of his wins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Whig 06 November 1890

Here’s the paragraph from 20 September:

Evening News (London) 20 September 1890

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

Evening News (London) 27 September 1890

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

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

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

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

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

Belfast News-Letter 18 December 1890

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In June he had some important news to announce.

Morning Post 19 June 1893

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

According to the Brooklyn Daily Standard Union:

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

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

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

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

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

Nottinghamshire Guardian 04 November 1893

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dundee Advertiser 17 January 1895

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

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

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

Morning Post 08 July 1895

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

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

This game shows Farnsworth in a much better light.

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

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

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

Hampstead & Highgate Express 11 July 1896

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

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

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

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

Nottinghamshire Guardian 25 February 1899

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and references:

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

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