You saw this result in my recent article about the Coward family. There are some other names of interest in this Twickenham team.
On board 5 for Twickenham was Sydney Meymott. Many players, like Arthur and Randulph Coward, only play competitive chess for a few years before moving on to another stage in their lives. There are others for whom chess is a lifelong obsession: the Complete Chess Addicts (now that would make a great book title!), and Sydney was one of those, with a chess career lasting almost half a century.
He came from a distinguished family. His grandfather, John Gilbert Meymott was a prominent lawyer, and his father Charles Meymott a doctor whose other interests included cricket and chess.
Charles played two first class cricket matches for Surrey, but without success. Against the MCC in 1846 he was dismissed without scoring in the first innings and made 4 not out in the second innings. Against Kent the following year he failed to trouble the scorers in either innings. He also failed to take any wickets in either match.
In 1848 he submitted a ‘beautiful study’ to Bell’s Life, as you can see below.
A few weeks later the solution was published, failing to provide any moves but just saying that White will win a pawn and the game.
But as you can demonstrate for yourself (or verify using tablebases) this is complete nonsense: the position is drawn with best play.
A celebrated cricketer who composed a beautiful study? I think not.
Earlier in 1848, he’d submitted a mate in 4 to the Illustrated London News, which was at least sound, if not very interesting. You can solve it yourself if you want: the solution is at the end of the article.
#4 Illustrated London News 12 Feb 1848
In about 1859 Charles, his wife Sarah (née Keene, no relation, as far as I know, to Ray) and their three daughters (a son had died in infancy) emigrated to Australia, where his brother Frederick was a judge. The family must have been well regarded there. If you visit the suburb of Randwick today, not far from Coogee Beach, you’ll find a residential road there named Meymott Street, with Frederick Street running off it.
From there Charles submitted another mate in 4, slightly more sophisticated this time.
#4 Illustrated London News 26 Nov 1859
The following year, Sarah gave birth to a son, who was given the name of his home city: Sydney.
Charles Meymott had started out in conventional medicine but at some point he had converted to homeopathy. You can find out a bit more here, although some of the links no longer work.
Charles died in 1867 at the age of 54, and his widow and children decided to return to England. I wonder if he’d been able to teach his young son how the pieces moved.
In 1871 Sarah and young Syd were living in Queen Street (now Queen’s Road) Twickenham: perhaps the girls only returned to England later.
By 1881 the oldest girl had married and moved to Scotland, but Sarah and her three youngest children were now at 4 Syon Row, Twickenham, right by the river.
The road is so well known that a rather expensive book has been written about it.
It was from there, then that, at some point in 1883 or 1884, the 23-year-old Sydney Meymott joined Twickenham Chess Club.
Here he is again, in a match played in October, now on Board 2 against Brixton. You’ll see George Ryan on top board, with Wallace Britten and the Coward brothers lower down. Young Edward Joseph Line (not Lyne), born in 1862, who had played for Isleworth against Twickenham earlier in the year, was on Board 3, although he was one of only two Twickenham players to lose.
If you’re interested in this part of the world, you might want to check out my good friend Martin Smith’s new book Movers and Takers, a history of chess in Streatham and Brixton. A review will be appearing on British Chess News shortly.
Syd had decided on a career as a bank manager, and his training would have involved working at different branches gaining more experience before managing a larger branch himself. This was perhaps to be his last appearance for Twickenham, but we’ll follow the rest of his life in this article.
Just a couple of weeks later he wrote to the Morning Post:
Disraeli Road is conveniently situated just round the corner from Putney Station, with its frequent trains to Waterloo. Impressive houses they are too: young Syd was doing well for himself.
The new chess club in Putney rapidly became very successful. Inevitably, they invited Blackburne to give a blindfold simul in February 1886: Meymott was the only player to draw.
In December the same year, Sydney issued a challenge to his old club, with Putney winning by 5 games to 3.
Here’s what happened in the return match in the new year.
He was soon on the move again, leaving the good chess players of Putney to their own devices. Without their leading light the club struggled on for a few years before apparently folding. This time, Syd’s work took him to Honiton, Devon, where again he started a chess club. By now he was writing regularly to the Morning Post, solving their problems and sometimes submitting problems of his own – which were not considered suitable for publication.
In this game he demonstrated his knowledge of Légal’s Mate. (In this and other games in this post, click on any move to obtain a pop-up board and play through the game.)
Source: Morning Post 17 Dec 1888
Here, he was able to show off his attacking skills in the Evans Gambit, giving rook odds to another semi-anonymous opponent.
Source: Western Morning Post 26 Feb 1891
By now it was time for Sydney to move on again, this time back to West London, to Ealing the Queen of the Suburbs, where he’d remain for the next 40 years. He’d eventually become the Manager of the Ealing Broadway branch of the London and South Western Bank.
This time he didn’t need to start up a chess club: there already was – and still is – one there, founded in 1885. As a bank manager, he was soon cajoled, as bank managers usually are, into taking on the role of Honorary Treasurer.
In this game from a local derby against Acton, Black’s handling of the French Defence wasn’t very impressive, allowing Meymott to set up a Greek Gift sacrifice.
Source: London Evening Standard 25 Nov 1895
Meymott commented: … it may interest some of the younger readers and stimulate them to ‘book’ learning, the game being a forcible example of the utility of ever being alert to the well-known mating positions… Sixteen years later, the young Capablanca played the same sacrifice in the same position. Perhaps he’d read the Evening Standard. Learning and looking out for the well-known mating positions is still excellent advice today.
In May 1896 Sydney made the headlines in the local press for reasons unconnected with either chess or banking. He was one of those stuck for 16 hours on the Great Wheel at Earl’s Court, and was interviewed at length about his experiences by the Middlesex County Times (30 May 1896 if you want to check it out). Fortunately, a lady in his car managed to let down a reel of cotton, so that they were able to receive refreshments, in the shape of stale buns and whisky and soda, from the ground.
A match against Windsor in 1897, where he was described as a ‘bold dashing player’ saw him pitted against an illustrious opponent in Sir Walter Parratt, organist and Master of the Queen’s Musick, and a possible subject of a future Minor Piece.
Life at Ealing chess club continued with a diet of inter-club matches, internal tournaments and simultaneous displays, with Syd often successful in avoiding defeat against the visiting masters.
In 1899, approaching his forties, he married Annie Ellen Nash. They stayed together for the rest of his life, but had no children.
In this 1902 match against Richmond, Ealing scored an emphatic victory helped by the non-appearance of Richmond’s board 2. A future series of Minor Pieces will introduce you to some of the Richmond players from that period in the club’s history.
As he settled into comfortable middle age, life continued fairly uneventfully for Sydney and Annie. The 1911 census found them at 18 Uxbridge Road, Ealing, which seems to have been in the town centre, possibly above the bank.
Many clubs closed down during the First World War, but Ealing, with Sydney Meymott still balancing the books, kept going. Electoral rolls from the 1920s record Syd and Annie at 23 Woodville Road, Ealing, and very nice it looks too. A spacious detached house just for the two of them. In 1921, he was in trouble with the law, though, receiving a fine for not having his dog muzzled.
At some point in the 1920s, Sydney would have retired from his job as bank manager, giving him more time for chess, and time to resume submitting games for publication. In his sixties, when many players would be thinking about hanging up their pawns, Syd, always the chess addict, took up tournament chess.
Hastings 1922-23 was what might have been Meymott’s first tournament. Unfortunately he had to retire ill with 1½/6 in First Class B section.
In 1925 he visited Scarborough, playing in the Major A section. He won a few games but didn’t finish among the prizewinners.
In 1926, using his favourite French Defence, he managed to beat Fred Yates in a simul. The complications towards the end are intriguing: do take a look.
Source: Middlesex County Times 23 Jan 1926
That Easter Syd took part in one of the First Class sections of the West of England Championship at Weston-Super-Mare, finishing in midfield.
Later the same year, representing the Rest of Middlesex against Hampstead, he played this game against Ernest Montgomery Jellie. White’s 11th move looked tempting but turned out to be a losing mistake: Jellie’s knight was very shaky on d6 and his position soon wobbled.
Source: Middlesex County Times 16 Oct 1926
At this point it’s worth taking a slight detour to consider Meymott’s opponent. Ernest Montgomery Jellie and his wife Emily, who sadly died young, had three Jellie babies. Their daughter Dorothy married Sidney Stone, and one of their sons, Chris, inherited his grandfather’s love of chess.
I knew Chris very well back in the day, when he was involved with Pinner Junior Chess Club, where his son Andrew was one of their star players. Chris was an enthusiast rather than a strong player himself, but Andrew is both. He’s been a 2200 strength player for many years, representing Streatham in the London League as well as his local club, Watford.
You can read much more about the Jellie-Stone connection here (Martin Smith again).
After Christmas 1926, Sydney went down to Hastings where he took second prize in the Major C section with a score of 7/9. Well played, Syd!
On his return, he played this game. This seems to have been in a handicap tournament, where, instead of giving knight odds, the players agreed that Meymott would play blindfold.
Source: Acton Gazette 14 Jan 1927
At Hastings 1927-28 he scored 50% in the First Class B section. Easter 1928 saw him back at the West of England Championships, held that year in Cheltenham, where he galloped to victory in the Class IIB section, scoring 7½/9.
The British Championships in July 1928 took him further west, to Tenby, where he played in the First Class A section, sharing third prize with the aforementioned Ernest Montgomery Jellie on 6½/9, but again beating him in their individual game.
He was back at Hastings 1929-30, where he scored a respectable 5/9 in the First Class B section.
In September 1931 he did what many chess players of that period did: he retired to Hastings, after four decades living and playing chess in Ealing. He was soon playing for his local club.
In a match against Brighton in 1932 his opponent was Kenneth Gunnell, who would much later become, briefly, a rather controversial member of both Richmond and Twickenham Chess Clubs.
That would be one of his last games. On 7 February 1933 Sydney Meymott died at the Warrior House Hotel, St Leonards on Sea.
Writing about Ernest Montgomery Jellie, Martin Smith summed him up beautifully:
But who is he, and why should we be interested? There two reasons that come to mind.
One is that he turns out to be an exemplary specimen of an ordinary decent chesser, the sort often overlooked in histories of the game. He and other enthusiasts like him, then and now, are the body-chessic upon which the chess bug spawns and beneficently multiplies. Stir E.M. Jellie together with the rest and you get the thriving chess culture that we all know: the one that germinates the few blessed enough to rise to the top.
Replace E.M. Jellie with Sydney Meymott, and the same sentiments apply. A good player, but not a great player. For almost half a century a stalwart of club, county, and, later, congress chess. A club treasurer for many years, but in his younger days also a founder and secretary of two clubs.
In these days of chess professionalism, even at primary school level, of obsession with grandmasters, prodigies and champions, we’re at risk of losing the likes of Jellie and Meymott. We should be developing chess culture in order to develop champions, not the other way round. And that celebration of chess culture is one of the reasons why I’m writing these Minor Pieces. My friends at Ealing Chess Club today should certainly raise a glass to Sydney Meymott.
Here is the citation from the 1997 BCF Official Chess Yearbook for the 1996 President’s Award :
He has almost single handedly fostered, developed and maintained Richmond Junior Chess for two decades. This year Richmond Juniors have won the major National competitions, and the Richmond Chess Initiative has blossomed under his skills. However, his work has fostered chess as a whole.
He formed the Richmond Junior Club with Mike Fox in 1975. He has built it up and kept it going from a nucleus of a handful of juniors on a Saturday to over 40 juniors on a Saturday morning, and over 30 on a Saturday afternoon, 48 weeks a year, running four Thames Valley League teams during the week. The club has over 175 members.
The Richmond record under his dedication has included winning numerous EPSCA, NYCA and National individual titles at all ages with a wide range of individuals, both boys and girls. He has generated ‘team spirit’ as well as individual motivation whilst enabling individual Richmond schools to claim their own successes from their own efforts that completed his with the Junior Club.
He has been responsible for recognising early the talent of many England juniors. He has then encouraged and facilitated their development. Many of these have subsequently becomes Masters whom he has persuaded to come back and coach at the club. However, he has also been unfailing in encouraging the less gifted players and facilities for them.
He has never sought any monetary reward and has given considerable extra time to recording, annotation and distributing games, as well as calculating grades for hundreds of players, on top of running the club activities and organising and running numerous tournaments for Richmond and non-Richmond juniors. This year he was instrumental in initiating the new Richmond rapidplays.
He has, with Mike Fox, been instrumental in opening chess up to a much wider audience, whilst destroying the mythical image of introverted individuals, that some of the general public held. They have achieved this by producing their ‘Chess Addict’ books and articles in order to provide spice and humour alongside the ‘normal’ literature, and not to forget ‘Move One’ published in 1990.
Although aided by help from other sponsors, he has been the cornerstone of the relatively recently formed Richmond Chess Initiative. He provided guidance and skills to assist local councillors, business men and schools to build up a local structure to publicise and develop further still Richmond as a recognised centre of chess. This included helping to establish the Richmond International, the first of which in 1994 was held at the Star and Garter Home and was held again in 1995. He was awarded the Initiative’s reward for services in 1996.
Jimmy was married to Sharon and they have a daughter, Charlotte.
In 1958 Jimmy at the age of 11 joined his local Islington Chess Club (at the time Islington & North London Chess Club) and soon afterwards became a London Junior Champion. Following this Jimmy played little chess and was working for John Lewis (echoes of CHO’D Alexander and Leonard Barden). Following John Lewis Jimmy worked as a Health and Safety Officer for Islington Council.
At this time Islington Chess Club was one of the strongest in England and included such members as Kenny Harman, Ron Harman, Danny Wright, Stewart Reuben and others. Its most famous member was probably IM Simon Webb
The Spassky-Fischer match of 1972 re-kindled his lapsed interest and he won with a 100% score the London Amateur Championship.
He joined and was a staunch member of London Central YMCA (CENTYMCA) chess club and he wrote a privately published history of the club entitled The CENTYMCA Story. This is now a much sought after publication. His membership continued during the 1970s until around 1979.
During this period Jimmy was extremely active at the Endell Street premises.
Here is Jimmy playing Viktor Korchnoi at Endell Street (in the Phase Two classrooms) :
In 1974 Jimmy embarked on a highly successful career as a writer and journalist. He contributed articles to both CHESS and the British Chess Magazine and authored a number of acclaimed books for Batsford, The Chess Player, Caissa Books and latterly, New in Chess. He also self-published the first book on Bobby Fischer’s successor entitled K is for Karpov! His books on Chigorin, Zukertort and Breyer are universally regarded as some of the finest chess biographies published.
In 1979 Jimmy joined Metropolitan Chess Club to play in the London League A Division. He played top board and scored very highly with many significant scalps.
Jimmy gained his FM title in 2014 (at the age of 67!). 67 must be one of the most advanced ages to acquire an FM title. According to Felice his peak rating was 2300 in January 1981 aged 34.
He joined Metropolitan Chess Club. He joined Barbican, as did many other CENTYMCA players, following the hiatus over their Tottenham Court Road venue loss.
In December 2009 Jimmy visited the London Chess Classic and was photographed with VIP guest Viktor Korchnoi :
Jimmy was Editor of Middlesex Chessletter and Bayswater Chess in the early 1970s and produced major bulletins on the hugely successful Islington Congresses of the same period. He then worked for Pergamon Chess Books which led to his editorship of CHESS / CHESS Monthly magazine from until 2010 although his name remained on the masthead until February 2012.
In 2012 Jimmy and Ray Cannon attended a meeting of the Ken Whyld Association in Norwich :
In January 2016 Jimmy (together with Josip Asik) became co-editors of British Chess Magazine taking over from James Pratt and John Upham.
Jimmy also jointly edited Chess Informants 109-132 up to 2017 before taking on the role of Deputy Editor of the newly created American Chess Magazine whilst continuing to work as editor for Batsford Chess which had changed ownership over the years and had now been taken under the umbrella of Pavillion Books.
In 2014 Jimmy and Ray attended an event organised by the father of Emma Bentley
We remember Harry Golombek OBE who passed away on Saturday, January 7th, 1995.
The Amersham Advertiser of Wednesday, 18th January 1995, on page 6, reported, “His funeral was due to be held as 12.30pm (today), at Chilterns Crematorium, Whielden Lane, Amersham.” (Thanks Steve Mann!).
Harry Golombek was born on Wednesday, March 1st, 1911 in Lambeth, London and his parents were Barnet (Berl) Golombek (Golabek) (1878-1943) and Emma Golombek (née Sendak) (1883-1967).
The Polish word Golabek translates to “small dove” in English.
Barnet was a “Dealer of gas fittings” and was 33 when Harry was born and Emma was 26. Both of his parents were born in Zambov which is in the Lomza Gubernia region of the Kingdom of Poland which existed from 1867 – 1917. Their nationalities are both recorded as Russian in the 1911 UK census. we don’t know (as yet) when Barnet and Emma settled in the UK.
Harry had a brother Abraham (born in 1906) and a sister Rosy born in 1908. The family lived in 200b, Railton Road, Herne Hill. Lambeth.
He is a recorded with a service number of 992915 as being a member of The Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1939 and was discharged as having reached the age limit in 1956 aged 45 and one day.
Harry married his long time nurse, Noel Frances Judkins (1941 – 2011) in January 1988 and they had (born in 1992) one son : Oliver Golombek-Judkins BVSc MRCVS who is a successful Somerset based veterinary surgeon. The marriage was recorded in the district of Kensington & Chelsea.
The date of probate was 22 Mar 1995 and the executor of HGs will was David Anderton OBE.
In 1966 Harry became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Civil division awarded in the 1966 Queen’s Birthday (rather than New Years) Honours list.
The citation read simply :
Harry Golombek. For services to Chess : He was the first UK person to be so honoured.
In 1985 Harry was awarded the long overdue (but Honorary) title of Grandmaster by FIDE.
Harry was in 1974-82 a FIDE Zonal President and from 1978-96 he was the FIDE Permanent Fund Administrator.
Sadly, he never received the Presidents Award for Services to Chess from either the BCF or ECF : maybe a posthumous award is long overdue?
Harry Golombek RIP by Bernard Cafferty
Here (from British Chess Magazine, Volume CXV (115), 1995, Number 2 (February), pp.83-85 is this obituary from Bernard Cafferty :
Harry Golombek OBE (1 iii 1911-7 i 1995), British Champion in 1947, 1949 and 1955, was a grandmaster amongst journalists and book writers, and “Mr Chess” for many of the British public in the decades after the war when his Times column was the main source of up-to-date information on the doings of Botvinnik, Bronstein, Smyslov, Keres, Tal and the other top players.
Harry ran a weekly Saturday column along with daily reports during World Championships, British Championships, Hastings, Paignton …when only The Guardian provided a similar service to the chess community up to 1972. I often recall him grumbling at editorial incisions of his column, which, even so, was more extensive and ‘heavy’ than anything we enjoy now. He loved references to music, the theatre and the arts as a parallel to chess. In fact, he was columnist and correspondent with the paper from 1945 till 1985, and columnist of the Observer 1955-1979. His work at The Times came to an end after he suffered a mild stroke, though he struggled on for a time when, in pre-Wapping days, his work was handicapped by ever earlier deadlines.
Harry was the BCF delegate to FIDE for decades after 1948 and played a part in framing the rules. His view was that the Soviet Union, which he visited as arbiter for Botvinnik’s matches in the 1950s and 1960s as well as for the second part of the 1948 World Championship Match-Tournament, did not throw its weight about so much until after 1970 when a sort of cultural offensive in FIDE and elsewhere was undertaken.
Harry played for England at three Olympiads before the war and six after. Educated at a London grammar school, he was the son of immigrant Polish parents who had been repressed by the last Tsar, to whom his father once sent a message of defiance from the safety of England. A favourite reference of his was the London Boys’ Championship of the late 1920s where he first came to prominence.
His first experience of chess journalism came in the period 1938-40 when he was editor of BCM, till being called to army service. Harry worked in the code-breaking department at Bletchley Park during the war; the Official Secrets Act prohibited him from revealing much of what he knew of this fantastic scientific operation where he was associated with such famous names as Alan Turing, Jack Good, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry. A graduate of London University in Modern Languages, Harry had been called up into the Royal Artillery, but his knowledge of languages, particularly German, meant that he was soon transferred to the Intelligence Corps.
Harry was a life-long supporter of Surrey Cricket Club. His family ran a grocery shop near Kennington Oval which he sold after 1945 when he made the decision to become a chess professional’ He was reputed to have one of the finest chess libraries in Britain, which he has left to the BCF to form the nucleus of a national chess library with bequests from Sir Richard Clarke, RJ Broadbent and GH Diggle.
Amongst the many books he wrote, pride of place must be taken by his work on Capablanca’s best games and the one on the 1948 Match-Tournament at the Hague and Moscow as well as a later book on Reti. Who can forget his account of the delay at the Polish border for the train which was taking players and journalists to Moscow from the Hague in 1948? A Polish general, forgetful of recent history, declared that the train could riot proceed since no-one crossed the Polish frontier without the appropriate documentation and security checks (Euwe’s extensive analytical notebooks in Dutch were the stumbling block). It only needed Botvinnik to hear this for him to phone up Moscow and have the Polish authorities overruled by those who enjoyed real power in the post-war world.
Another famous article which comes to mind is Harry’s long account of the 1967 Sousse Interzonal, complete with the J’adoubovich incident, Fischer’s fickleness, and the camel on the beach. This appeared in the BCM, of course, where H. G. was the editor for Overseas News and the Games Department from the late 1940’s until the late ‘sixties. His work here was a cut above most contemporary chess journalism’ since he was so often on the spot at top events and he had access to all of the world’s chess press. As a consequence, he was often the contact man for arranging participation of the world’s leading players at Hastings. From this flowed his work for The Friends of Chess, the body that raised funds and helped gain invitations to foreign events for our up and comings. It was in 1966 that he gained the OBE for services to chess.
Harry had a dry acerbic wit and a fund of stories that made him a welcome after-dinner speaker and lecturer. He seemed to be a life long bachelor, but he married late in life (this corrects an error in the Times obituary of 9 January. In his declining years he spent his last days in a rest home for the elderly in Gerrards Cross where his main contact with the outside world was Gerry Walsh who had often driven him to and from the Hastings Congress in the last couple of decades of his life.
A Grandmaster Amongst Journalists
Harry Golombek, was, without a doubt, one of the finest chess writers ever, and his lengthy stint as Overseas News editor of the BCM results in some classic reports.
As a tribute to Harry’s work we (BCM) have decided to reprint word for word, his extraordinary account of the 1967 Sousse Interzonal. The article that follows is an exact reproduction of his eyewitness report, as it appears in the 1968 BCM Bound Volume, January magazine. This was the tournament that had everything: Bolbochan vanishing, Fischer withdrawing, Larsen winning, and much more.
We are sure that our current readers, young and old, will be as enchanted with the tale as BCM readers were nearly three decades ago.
Further Recollection from Bernard Cafferty
Here (from British Chess Magazine, Volume CXXXII (132), 2011, Number 3 (March), pp.150-154 is an affectionate collection of memories from Bernard Cafferty :
“In recalling four decades of knowing the GOM of 20th century English chess, one has to stress the ‘English’ aspect. The ‘Harry’ part of his name was much more significant than the Polish surname, and, though he was the most cosmopolitan of men, who fitted into any milieu, my abiding memory of him always throws up the quirks that are the sign of an Englishman. I wonder how many of my readers recall the classic English actors Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford, whose main preoccupation in their films was…. getting to know the latest cricket score from Lords or The Oval.
Indeed, Harry was a long-time member of Surrey Cricket Club, and once, when he came back from being an arbiter at an international tournament in Tenerife, his main comment to me was not about the event or the players, but rather that the volcanic rock of the Atlantic island made for brackish water, so that one could not get…. a decent cup of tea!
I first met Harry in the early 1950s when I was a teenage student keen on chess and accordingly spent my meagre pocket money on a day out in Manchester to watch the Counties Final match between Lancashire and the all-conquering Middlesex side of those years. Harry and I were about the only spectators. He was there reporting for The Times. I recall that the top board game was between the veterans William Winter and WA Fairhurst. The game duly appeared in the BCM with Harry’s notes, for he was the long-serving Games Editor of that august publication.
Perhaps I may enter a belated correction to “Who’s Who” here. Some editions stated that he was editor of BCM after the Second World War. Not so. His stint in the editorial chair was 1938-40, after which he was called up, initially being assigned to the Royal Artillery. Perhaps that is a sign of the speciality of the Services – fitting a square peg in a round hole – but he was swiftly transferred to the Intelligence Corps, perhaps at the behest of Hugh Alexander who knew that Harry had studied German at his London grammar school in Camberwell and then at London University.
Clearly, under the conditions of 1940, a linguist was just what was needed to make up the team of mathematicians, cryptographers and such like who were tasked with breaking the secrecy of German coded messages.
I once mentioned the misunderstanding over the “Who’s Who” entry to Brian Reilly. He laughed it off, saying that it was almost certainly the abiding fault of HG – not taking Brian’s repeated advice to fit a new typewriter ribbon!
I could relate to that since Harry’s handwritten game scores, written in pencil and descriptive notation, were very hard to decipher, a real scribble that only the man himself could make sense of. When I asked him why he did not use algebraic notation, he commented that he wrote for so many English-language outlets: The Times, The Times Weekend Supplement, Observer and chess book publishers like Bells and Penguin who knew their audiences of those years were supporters of the Pawn to King’s Knight Three school. In fact, Harry commented, he had made more money out of his Penguin book The Game of Chess than from all his other extensive book authorship and journalism.
and the paperback version :
Moreover, it took him about three whole days to assemble the documents and papers to enable him to fill in his income tax form.
That reminds me that, when he was in his final years, and in an old person’s rest home, he arranged for his extensive library to be transferred in many large tea chests from his house in Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, to the St Leonards address where I had worked for the BCM for the last 12 years and which had recently been vacated as a result of Murray Chandler deciding to transfer BCM operations to London. I had the task, arranged with The Friends of Chess and the BCF, to do a sort-out and preliminary catalogue of his books and magazines which Harry was bequeathing to the BCF to form the nucleus of a National Chess Library. That would be a pleasant enough task, but it was prolonged into many weeks by having to decant the valuable chess material from the tea chests, much of it covered in dust and even spiders’ webs, from the many financial and other papers to do with his financial affairs. It was then that I first learned what a ‘tip sheet’ was, and it was not until stockbroker David Jarrett, BCF Hon Treasurer, came down for a visit that the dross amongst the many papers was separated from the gold and passed to Harry’s executor David Anderton.
Reverting to the cup of tea story, the first time I got to know Harry well was at the British Championship at Leicester in 1960. Many of the participants were lodged in University accommodation near the venue. Every evening, after play had finished, a number of us got together for a chat over a cup of tea in the accommodation unit’s kitchen. There Harry would regale us with stories from his many visits abroad, particularly to Moscow for the world title matches involving Botvinnik. Harry had formed many interesting views on Soviet society. Amongst the stories he told was of the all-pervasive dead hand of the bureaucracy. He was used to filing his reports on the match in English at the Central Post Office. One day, a clerk behind the grille, told him he could not accept it, since the regulations stated that all outgoing material had to be in Russian.
With his logical mind, and not appreciating the discipline and associated bureaucracy which the rulers tried to impose on Soviet society, Harry commented that “Yesterday, I submitted in English and it was accepted”, at which the clerk drew herself up to her full height and stated firmly: “Yesterday was yesterday, today is today”. Harry’s considered views included these: Communism would never be made to work properly in Russia, since the Russians lack the requisite discipline. “They should have tried it on the Germans. They might have made it work”. He once commented that when he went to Germany in the decade or so after the war, he was aware that some of those whom he met had been strong supporters of Nazism: “If they had had their way, they would have turned me into a bar of soap!”. I got a benefit from Harry being in Moscow. I wanted to get a copy of Chigorin’s collected games by Grekov, a very rare item. Harry duly promised to seek one out on his next visit to Moscow and a second-hand copy of this fine book came to me through the post some weeks later. No charge to me, of course.
Harry played a big role in drawing up the Rules of Chess as they applied to post-1945 competitive play. He served on the appropriate FIDE commission for decades and always argued that too precise a codification limited the discretion of the arbiter to apply a common sense solution to a concrete set of circumstances. Alas, that sensible approach has been moved away from in recent times, especially with the introduction of quick-play finishes and associated fine points about time limits.
A final shrewd comment from Harry, based on his Moscow experience: “In 1917, the new Bolshevik regime claimed that they were abolishing all titles, privilege and so on. The result? Forty years later they have the most class-conscious society I have encountered.” One proof of this might be given – the Soviet internal passport system, one point of which required the holder (and for a long time no peasant was allowed such an identity document – who, then, could claim that the Tsar had abolished serfdom in the middle of the 19th century?) to state his/her ethnic origin: Russian, Ukrainian, Kalmyk, Armenian, Jew and so on. The Western mind boggles… ”
We leave the final word in reminiscences of Golombek to his near-neighbour in Chalfont St Giles, Barry Sandercock :
” Harry was a very interesting man to talk to and liked to talk about the early days when he played against some of the great players. He was also very knowledgeable on many subjects, the arts, music etc. I played him when he gave a simul at Gerrards Cross in 1955 (Jan.21st} and managed a draw after 3 hours play. I remember, the local paper once wrote an article about him, calling him an ex-world champion. I got a letter published where I pointed out that he was an ex-British Champion not ex-world champion. I hope he didn’t see that!”
“To finish, a characteristic Golombek game, with his own notes. I (Ed) have selected one of the games from his victorious British Championship playoff match against Broadbent in 1947. It is characteristic of him in many ways. The game features a typically smooth positional build-up, from his beloved English Opening, played with the Nh3 development plan, which was a particular favourite of his. The notes are also very typically Golombek – concentrating in the main on verbal explanations, with relatively few variations, but also characterised by occasionally extreme dogmatism in his assessments, such as the notes to moves 1, 2 and 6, for example. The game and notes were published in the December 1947 issue of The British Chess Magazine.”
From The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match by Klein and Winter :
“Harry Golombek is a Londoner, He was born in 1911, and learned chess when twelve years of age. He is another of those who went through the mill of the British Boys’ Championship, winning it in 1926. He has played in most English international tournaments, and has represented Great Britain in team tournaments. In the London International Tournament, 1946, he came fifth.
A graduate of London University, he served in the Foreign Office during the war, but has since retired to the country (Chalfont St. Giles). His literary activities include 50 Great Games of Modern Chess
Legend, according to James Pratt, has it that HG wrote the book without the aid of a chess set!
and Capablanca’s Hundred Best Games.
He reports chess tournaments for The Times, and edits The Times Weekly chess column.
His chess is perhaps not inspired and lacks the spark of enterprise, but he is a solid player on the whole and is apt to hold the best to a draw.”
Here is HGs entry from Hooper & Whyld (The Oxford Companion to CHESS) :
“English player and author. International Master (1950), International Arbiter (1954), honorary Grandmaster (1985). In 1945 Golombek became chess correspondent of The Times, a position he held until 1989. Also in 1945 he decided to become a professional chess-player.
He won the British Championship three times (1947, 1949, 1955) and was equal first in 1959 but lost the play-off (to Jonathan Penrose) and played in nine Olympiads from 1935 to 1962. An experienced arbiter and a good linguist, supervisor of many important tournaments and matches, he served for 30 years on the FIDE Commission that makes, amends, and arbitrates upon The laws and rules of chess.
His many books include Capablanca’s Hundred Best Games (1947),
The World Chess Championship 1948 (1949),
Réti’s Best Games of Chess (1954),
and A History of Chess (1976).”
Golombek accurate but unforceful
H. Golombek, the Present Chess Correspondent of The Times is in every way a contrast to Alexander. His forte is accurate positional play which brings him many good victories against the ordinary rank and file but rarely yields better than a draw against the very best. The grand master needs more than accuracy to shake his equanimity.
Golombek has a wide theoretical knowledge and seems equally at home in every type of opening, though his preference is for the close variety. He is a fine analyst and has
written a number of very interesting books of which I must make special mention of The World Chess Championship 1948. During a sojourn in hospital I worked my hardest to flnd flaws in the annotations to this work, but quite without success.
He is Games Editor of the British Chess Magazine and has considerably enhanced the reputation of that journal. Very popular abroad, he was asked to officiate as judge at the world championship match in Moscow between Botvinnik and Smyslov. Although as far as settling disputes is concerned the job was, I understand, a sinecure, the appointment was a high honour both to Golombek himself and to the country he represents.
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Robert Hale 1970 & 1976), Anne Sunnucks :
“International Master and International Chess Judge. British Champion in 1947, 1949 and 1955. Captained the British Chess Federation team for many years in Chess Olympiads. In the 1972 Olympiad, captained the BCF women’s team. Chess author and chess correspondent of The Times since 1945 and the Observer since 1955. British Chess Federation to FIDE.
Born in London on 1st March 1911, Golombek learned to play chess at the age of 12 and in 1929 won the London Boy’s Championship. Two years later he became the youngest player to win the Surrey Championships. After graduating in languages at London University, Golombek devoted his full time to chess, apart from the way years, when served in the army and at the Foreign Office, and was awarded the OBE for his services to the game in 1966. He was the editor of the British Chess Magazine from 1938 to 1939 and for many years served as its games editor. He is now its overseas news editor. In his capacity as International Chess Judge, he has acted as judge in World Championship matches since 1954.
He has competed in a number of international tournaments, his best results being 1st at Antwerp 1938, 1st at Leeuwarden 1947, 1st at Baarn 1948 and -4th with Barcza, Foltys and Gliogoric at Venice 1949. in 1951, he represented the British Chess Federation in the Zonal tournament at Bad Pyrmont and came 5th, qualifying for the Interzonal. ”
His publications include : Capablanca’s 100 Best Games of Chess (1947); World Chess Championship 1948 (1949); Pocket Guide to the Chess Openings (1949);
50 Great Games of Modern Chess (1952); Reti’s Best Games of Chess (1954); 22nd USSR Championship (1956);
World Chess Championship 1957 (1957); Modern Opening Chess Strategy (1959);
and a translation of The Art of the Middle Game by P. Keres and A. Kotov.
He enjoys classical music and has been known to be successful on the Stock Exchange.”
A reasonable enquiry might be : “What did Harry write about himself?” Well, according to
The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977)
we have :
“British international master, three times British champion and the first person to figure in that country’s Honours List on account of his services to chess. Golombek was born in London and lived there till the Second World War. Educated as Wilson’s Grammar School and the University of London, he became London Boy Champion in 1929 and London University Champion 1930-3. By this time he was part of a trio of the leading players in England, the other two being Alexander and Milner-Barry. (Ed : It is curious that HG does not mention William Winter : maybe they were not like minded souls?)
His best result in the British championship before the Second World War was -2nd with EG Sergeant, 1/2 a point below Alexander at Brighton 1938. In that year he won first prize in a small international tournament at Antwerp ahead of Koltanowski. In 1938 too he became editor of the British Chess Magazine and occupied this post till he entered the army in 1940.
Before the war he had already played in three International Team Tournaments (or Olympiads as they subsequently became called) at Warsaw 1935, Stockholm 1937 and Buenos Aires 1939.
After the Buenos Aires event he went onto play in an international tournament at Montevideo where he came second to the World Champion, Alexander Alekhine.
In the war he served first in the Royal Artillery, from 1940-1 and then, for the rest of the war, in the Foreign Office at Bletchley Park, employed (like Alexander, Milner-Barry and quite a number of other chess-players) in code breaking.
After the war he made chess and writing about the game his livelihood, becoming Times Chess Correspondent in 1945 and Observer Chess Correspondent in 1955. As a player he had a consistently good record in the British Championship, coming in the prize list on fourteen out of eighteen occasions he competed in the event. He was British Champion at Harrogate 1947, Felixstowe 1949 and Aberystwyth 1955.
Here is HGs win against his old friend PS Milner-Barry from Aberystwyth 1955 :
He represented England in six more Olympiads, Helsinki 1952, Amsterdam 1954, Moscow 1956, Munich 1958, Leipzig 1960 and Varna 1962.
His best individual international results were first prizes at small tournaments in Leeuwarden 1947, Baarn 1948 and Paignton 1950 (above Euwe and Donner); =4th with O’Kelly at Beverwijk 1949, =4th with Barcza, Foltys and Gligoric at Venice 1949, and 5th at the European Zonal tournament at Bad Pyrmont 1951, thereby becoming the first British player to have qualified for the Interzonal. He was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s Birthday List in 1966.
A founding member of the FIDE Commission for the Rules of Chess, he became a FIDE International Judge and as such officiated at six World Championship matches. He was also chief arbiter at a FIDE Candidates tournament, at an Interzonal and two European Team Championship finals, etc. When the FIDE President, Dr Euwe, had to return home from Reykjavik before the 1972 Spassky-Fischer match got started. Golombek represented FIDE in Iceland and did much to ensure that the match took place and that it continued to be played.
Harry gave more than the average number of simultaneous displays in this career. For the photograph below Leonard Barden provided the following caption :
“Harry was invited because it was the 50th anniversary of his victory in the London Boys 1929 a success which he often referred to in his Times column. There were seven 30-board simuls that day, the top three being England Juniors v USSR (Spassky, Vasyukov, Kochiev) where Spassky had the worst simultaneous result of his career. No 4 was by Murray Chandler, Harry was No5 and the others by Whiteley and Rumens. The juniors who played the Russians were personally invited.”
A prolific writer and translator of books on the game, he has had some thirty-five books published on various aspects of chess. Among them are : Capablanca’s Best Games of Chess, London, New York 1947; Reti’s Best Games of Chess, London 1954; New York 1975; The Game of Chess, London 1954; Modern Opening Chess Strategy, London 1959; A History of Chess, London, New York 1976.“
From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983), Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson, we have this rather brief biography :
“Thee times British Champion (Harrogate 1947, Felixstowe 1949, Aberystwyth 1955) and the first person to figure on the Honours List for services to Chess. He has represented England in 9 Olympiads. A FIDE International Judge and Arbiter has has officiated at 6 World Championship matches. He is chess correspondent of The Times and a prolific writer and translator”
We remember Brian Patrick Reilly who passed away on December 29th, 1991, thirty years ago today.
From The Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977), Harry Golombek OBE (written by Wolfgang Heidenfeld) :”Irish master born at Menton, of Irish descent, who has represented Ireland in nine Olympic team tournaments between 1935 and 1968; three times on top board.
He was also Irish representative at seven FIDE congresses. Reilly played in a number of small international tournaments, wining first prize at Nice 1931 and sharing fourth prize with Klein and EG Sergeant behind Reshevsky, Capablanca and Sir G. Thomas at Margate 1935.
Winner of Irish championship in 1959 and 1960. General Editor of British Chess Magazine since 1949.”
His obituary in British Chess Magazine was written by Bernard Cafferty and appeared in Volume CXII (112, 1992), Number 2 (February), page 70:
“With great regret we have to report that Brian Patrick Reilly has, to use the older term, ‘joined the great majority’.
B. P. Reilly (Menton, 12 xii 1901-Hastings, 29 xii l99l) was born into an expatriate family on the French Riviera, and so was bilingual. He learned his chess in France where he had many friends and acquaintances. He knew Alekhine in the 1920s and 1930s and was a witness at Alekhine’s wedding.
Many years later he was to do extensive research on Alekhine’s life, and was the first to establish (though he did not publish the fact) that the Russian did not complete his doctorate studies at the Sorbonne, so that “Dr” Alekhine must be considered a purely honorary title.
Brian won the Nice tournament of 1931, ahead of Noteboom, Mieses, . . . Sir George Thomas . . . Znosko-Borovsky. . . and played for Ireland at the 1935 Olympiad beating Fine.
These results, taken with his fourth place at Margate 1935, behind Reshevsky, Capablanca and Sir George Thomas, made it clear that he was of IM strength.
We are grateful to Tony Gillam for providing the following score which has only recently come to light. See Warsaw Olympiad 1935, The Chess Player, Nottingham, 2020.
During the war Brian was interned in France as a British citizen, coming close to starvation for a time. He described all this in the very detailed account of his life in the September 1980 BCM, on which we have drawn, along with the many reminiscences Brian passed on to the present writer.
After working for the Sutton Coldfield magazine just after the war (he did not get on well with B. H. Wood, thinking him not very business-like – do we put this too diplomatically?) Brian was a freelance translator in the pharmaceutical industry before taking over BCM in 1949. At the time the magazine was technically bankrupt.
In 1964 he moved the office from London to St Leonards, showing his business acumen yet again. He ran the bookstall for many years at the Hastings Congress at the Sun Lounge and the Falaise Hall.
After the union troubles of 1970-71 and the Fischer boom he arranged for the magazine to be typeset by his son Freddy at the family home in West Norwood. This led to an expansion in the pagination after some teething troubles.
All this while, Brian was playing for Ireland in Olympiads, and attending to FIDE affairs as a FIDE delegate.
After the death of his son Freddy in 1980, the magazine was sold to the BCF and Brian retired as editor in September 1981, remaining as a consultant for nearly a decade.
His last years were spent in Hastings, where it was his wont to carry on with the long sea-front walks that he had practised since a breakdown in health due to overwork. He had strong views on correct diet and exercise which he could expound to anyone willing to listen. The fact that he could walk up to six miles a day in his late eighties and that his faculties, including his memory, only seemed to be weakening in his last two years, is proof enough of the validity of his theories.
On his 90th birthday he attended the office and drank a glass of champagne to celebrate the occasion. We have the testimony of Mrs Arnold, who worked with him so long, that he was still talking of visiting the Hastings Congress. This was on Boxing Day, the day after he had been admitted to St Helen’s Hospital with a chest infection. He assured her he would be up and about again, but old friends such as Harry Golombek and Ritson Morry waited for him in vain as Hastings got under way. . .
BCM readers, too, must be counted amongst his old friends who will miss him. They should be aware that, but for Brian, and his decades of hard work. there would now be no BCM.”
From British Chess Magazine, Volume CI (101), Number 8 (August), pp 352 – 369 a conversation between B.P. Reilly and W.H. Cozens :
We remember Amos Burn who passed away on November 25th, 1925.
Amos Burn was born in Kingston-Upon-Hull on Sunday, December 31st 1848 to Amos and Mary Burn (née Webster). His father is recorded as a merchant. Amos and Mary were residents of Bourne Street at the time of the birth.
On February 15th 1849 Amos was baptized in All Saints Anglican Church, Sculcoates, Kingston-Upon-Hull
Amos married Martha Ann Jäger in Birkenhead on Dec 27th 1879. They had two daughters Elsie Martha, born 24th Oct 1880 and Hilda Marian, born 26th Oct 1881.
For further detail of ABs family please consult the excellent Amos Burn : A Chess Biography by Richard Forster
From British Chess Magazine, Volume XLV (45, 1925), page 491 we have this brief obituary notice (presumably written by RC Griffiths:
“Chessplayers all over the world will regret to hear that the well-known chess editor of The Field died in his flat at Luexembourg Gardens, Hammersmith, on November 25th, after a stroke the previous day, at the age of seventy-seven.
From British Chess Magazine, Volume XLV (45, 1925), page 491 we have this brief obituary notice (presumably written by RC Griffith:
We regret that as our December magazine is already paged we must leave an obituary notice and an appreciation of all he has done for Chess till next month.”
From British Chess Magazine, Volume XLVI (46, 1926), page 9 we have this detailed obituary (written by JH Blake:
“We had only just time last month to announce the decease of this famous player and chess editor. On the afternoon of 24th November he was at the City of London Chess Club in to all appearances normal health; he took a fellow-member home with him, and after completing the annotation of a game for his paper, was chatting with his guest when the fatal seizure overtook him; he never fully recovered consciousness, and died the following afternoon. He was buried at Hammersmith Cemetery on the 27th November.
Amos Burn was born at Hull on the 31st December, 184B. By way of coincidence, no less than three of the band of English chess masters were sons of the Yorkshire port, the other two being Boden (over twenty-two years senior) and Wisker (very little older than Burn).
In his early teens he was apprenticed to a firm of Liverpool cotton brokers. Most of the year l870 was spent in London. At least once, and probably three times in his life, he made prolonged business visits to America; the occasion as to which there is most certainty was about 1893-5, when he was a year or two at Chicago; Liverpool information puts another visit about 1902-3 (which would account for his non-participation in the Monte Carlo tournaments); and hints dropped by himself point to such a visit in 1882-3 ; this would account for his not competing in either event at the London congress of 1833, and for the non-inclusion of his portrait in the large group picture painted by A. Rosenbaum about 1882, and now hanging in the City of London Chess Clubroom. Upon returning to England he always settled down again in business at Liverpool, where he
was occupied, for some time at any rate, in sea insurance. From which it will be seen that at no time of his life was he dependent upon chess-playing as a means of livelihood; although it is difficult to resist the impression that at some periods, particularly 1886, 1B89 and 189B, the claims of business sat very lightly upon him.
His initiation into chess was made at about sixteen years of age, and is to be credited to John Saul, of the Liverpool Chess Club, who took great pains with his pupil, and is believed to have had much influence in the early formation of a sound style. So apt was the pupil, so thorough the teacher, that when in 1867 he joined the Liverpool Chess Club, he was placed at once in the Pawn and move class, and one of his earliest club exploits was to win the club handicap tournament; a rise not much less phenomenal than that of Blackburne at Manchester a few years earlier.
During his stay in London in 1870 he joined the City of London Chess Club, playing for it in a match with the Westminster Chess Club, and joining in the winter handicap, where however, he was knocked out in an early round. He seized every opportunity of obtaining practice with the best players of the day, and no doubt it was during this period that he came under the influence of Steinitz, whose tuition he later in life gratefully acknowledged to have been invaluable to him, and whom he unhesitatingly ranked as the world’s greatest player. During this year (and not 1887 as most notices of his career have stated) the first British Chess Association (Lowenthal’s) held a challenge cup tournament; Burn was a competitor, and tied for first prize with his townsman, Wisker, but was defeated in the tie-game. His next public appearances were at the annual tournaments of the Counties Chess Association, a provincial body formed for the express purpose of holding annual tournaments for about three classes of players, at some provincial town, and lasting one week; its principal tournament was, in the middle of the seventies, for a cup, to be held a year by the winner.
In 1873 Burn tied with Skipworth for first place (no tie-game was played), in 1874 he was first, in 1875 second (8. W. Fisher, late of the Battersea Club first), and first in 1876, this last victory making the cup his own. He did not appear in public play again until 1BB3, when (perhaps out of practice after a business stay in America) he was much less successful, only taking fourth prize at the Counties Association meeting at Birmingham.
The year 1886 marked his (rather late) entry upon the international tournament arena. The resuscitated British Chess Association held a masters’ tournament in London, in which Burn tied with Blackburne for first place, but lost the tie-game. From 1886 to 1912 inclusive he competed in twenty-two international tournaments;
we append a tabular statement giving all necessary particulars.
The greatest success was beyond all question that obtained at Cologne in 1898, where he was first to such renowned rivals as Charousek (second), Tchigorin (fourth), Steinitz (fifth) and Schlechter (equal sixth). But no mean place in the order of merit must be assigned to the second prize at Breslau in 18B9, where Dr. Tarrasch achieved the first of his great Series of successes, and such players as Bardeleben, Blackburne, Gunsberg, Mason and Schallopp were amongst the less successful competitors. The book of that tournament, in recognition of so striking a success, following upon the New York tournament with the Amsterdam victory treading closely upon its heels described Burn as the “tournament hero of the year”
In 1898 the Cologne tournament followed hard upon the long struggle at Vienna; these events of these two years go to prove his remarkable power of endurance : he fared best in the most prolonged. efforts.
During this period of international activity Burn did not altogether eschew competitors of a national or sectional character. Early in 1889 he won first prize in an Irish Chess Association tournament at Dublin, Pollock and Mason taking the next two places. In 1897-8-9 and 1901 he competed at Llandudno for the Craigside challenge cup, which he won three times in the four tournaments. He also won a Midland counties tournament at Birmingham in 1899, with Atkins second.
Of individual match play there is not much to record. A match with Bird in 1886 (two more opposed styles of play could hardly be imagined) was begun as one of five up, with the score at four all was extended to ten up, and was finally drawn by agreement with the score at at nine all. In the same year a match of five up with Captain Mackenzie was drawn with as score of four all; the curiosity of this
match is that Mackenzie won the first four games and Burn the last four. A match is known to have been played in 1875 with the Rev. John Owen, the leading player of the Liverpool club until Burn’s rise ; this Burn won by 11 to 6. Mr. Owen, however, told the present writer (about 1895) that he had contested several matches with Burn, who had not always been the winner; no record remains of these encounters; but as neither player had any love for the practice of recording the moves of a game during its progress its absence is not surprising. Similarly, a short match was begun with the Rev. A. B. Skipworth at his Lincolnshire rectory, somewhere in the late eighties, but whether finished is doubtful; probably the record of this is buried in the files of a Horncastle or Louth newspaper in which Mr. Skipworth conducted a chess column at the time.
Burn took part in the matches by cable with America on four occasions. In 1896 and 1898 he lost to Showalter; in 1907 he drew with Marshall; and in 1911 he defeated Marshall (who was then in London) over the board.
His connection with the Liverpool Chess Club lasted from 1867 until his death. He served the offices of librarian in 1877, vice-president in 1880, president in 1881, 1888, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1908, 1909, 1910 and 1911. In 1887 he was elected an honorary member retaining that qualification until then end. In 1888 he was presented by the club with a handsome chessboard and set of chessmen, the box bearing an inscribed silver plate, in recognition of the tournament successes he had already achieved, and as a token of the high esteem in which he was held by his fellow members.
As a chess journalist Burn commenced in 1871 when he edited
a column in the Liverpool Weekly Albion, how long this continued we do not know. In 1911 he became chess editor of the Liverpool Courier. His annotation of games for this column attracted wjde-spread notice and was much quoted both at home and abroad. When therefore, on the death in 1913 of Leopold Hoffer, Burn was appointed to The Field, it was to the general satisfaction of British chessplayers everywhere. His treatment of the games published in that paper was of the most sound and reliable character, and no pains were ever spared to arrive at the inner secret of the most intricate position. The high standard set by Steinitz when editing the same column thirty to forty years before, was worthily maintained by his quondam pupil on becoming his successor.
Burn’s style of play was solid and prudent rather than aggressive; he has more than once mentioned with pardonable pride that amongst his peers of master rank he was chiefly famed for “stubborn defence.” A favourite aphorism was, “The player who combinates is lost !” Nevertheless it is to be at least suspected that this was
the result of his early chess education and a strong power of self-control rather than of his predilections. An oft-repeated saying, perhaps the one which will be in London longest remembered, was “toujours attaque” ; his preference for being first player was stronger than that of most players, strong as that often is; and when shown
a game or position he had very little hesitation in taking sides, almost always with the attack; only with the defence when his initial judgment told him that unsoundness was afoot. But “counterattack is the soul of defence,” and in that he could be terrible. A collection of, say, twenty of his best games would probably yield a large pre-
ponderance of Black as his side. Once interested in a game (or position) his concentration upon it was of the most intense kind, and could only with difficulty be diverted. Even in skittle play, a cup of coffee, ordered at the start, would stand at his elbow unnoticed; was the opponent at some point long in moving he would suddenly become aware of its presence, and lift the cup; but let the opponent at the same instant raise his hand to move, back went the cup to the table untasted, and the beverage would be eventually consumed quite cold. His pipe fared little better; badly loaded, it took innumerable matches to light, was laid down after a few puffs, went out, and was
re-lit with the same difficulty. Did a friendly onlooker hint that a difference in the loading of the pipe would save much trouble, he would, if he succeeded in gaining attention, be quietly and painlessly extinguished with “How long have you been a smoker ?” The same intensity of concentration was carried into his work for the Field, and it is known that he often sat through the small hours of the morning to complete an analysis rather than interrupt the current of his ideas. Had he but spared himself in this respect —!
Of short figure, slight frame, and abstemious in habit, he was remarkably ” wiry ” ; at 77 his head of hair was quite untouched by the hand of time, and but for the grizzling of the beard he would have passed for no more than sixty. Perhaps a little difficult of approach by strangers, when his attention and interest were once gained he was the soul of courtesy, and would take unstinted trouble to oblige his interlocutor, or to help a colleague.
At the chessboard his courtesy to his opponent was perfect; he “played the game” in the best sense of the words; and his tribute to Blackburne’s chivalry as an opponent was worth the more because it accorded with his practise. With him passes the last of the line of English great masters!
From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 1984), Hooper & Whyld :
“One of the world’s top ten players at the end of the 19th century. Born in Hull : he learned chess when 16, came to London at the age of 21, and rapidly established himself as a leading English player, A pupil of Steinitz, he developed a similar style; both he and his master were among the world’s best six defensive players, according to Nimzowitsch. Not wishing to become yet another impecunious professional. Burn decided to put his work (first a cotton broker then a sugar broker) before his chess, and he remained an amateur. He made several long visits to America, and was often out of practice when he played serious chess.
Until his thirty-eighth year he played infrequently and only in national events, always taking first or second prize. From 1886 to 1889 he played more often. In 1886 he drew matches with Bird (+9-9) and Mackenzie (+4=2-4); at London 1887 he achieved his best tournament result up to this time, first prize (+8—1) equal with Gunsberg (a play-off was drawn +1=3—1); and at Breslau 1889 he took second place after Tarrasch ahead of Gunsberg, After an isolated appearance at Hastings 1895 he entered another spell of chess activity, 1897-1901, The best achievement of his career was at Cologne 1898, first prize ( + 9=5-1) ahead of Charousek, Chigorin, Steinitz, Schlechter, and Janowski. At Munich 1900 he came fourth (+9=3—3). His Last seven international tournaments began with Ostend 1905 and ended with Breslau 1912. A comparative success, in view of his age. was his fourth prize shared with Bernstein and Teichmann after Schlechter, Maroczy, and Rubinstein at Ostend 1906; 36 players competed in this five-stage event, 30 games in all for those who completed the course.
Retired from both business and play he made his home in London and edited the chess column of The Field from 1913 until his death. A shy and retiring man, a loyal companion to those who came to know him, he freely gave advice to young and aspiring players.”
The front cover of the November 1975 issue of the British Chess Magazine featured Amos Burn :
From British Chess Magazine, 1975, November, pp. 481-483 :
Half a Century Back
Chess in 1925
by W.H. Cozens
Amos Burn was a very different figure and his career is poorly documented. He is overdue, not for a reappraisal but simply an appraisal, He was born (in Hull) in 1848 – an incredible 127 years ago. All the years that could have been his prime as a chessplayer he devoted to business. (Marine insurance was his speciality.) He was based in Liverpool but travelled considerably, including several crossings of the Atlantic – quite an undertaking in those days. He played some casual chess, soon overshadowing the Rev. John Owen to become Liverpool’s answer to Manchester’s Blackburne. He also played for the City of London Chess Club; but it was not until he was nearly 40, presumably with his financial position secured, that he entered the international chess arena. Between the ages of 38 and 64 he played in 22 international tournaments. At Breslau (1889) he was second to Tarrasch, above Louis Paulsen, Blackburne, Schallop … In Amsterdam the same year he was first, ahead of Emanuel Lasker. His finest achievement was first place at Cologne 1898, in front of Charousek, Chigorin, Steinitz, Schlechter et al., (16 in all) with a win against Steinitz. The lack of a book on Cologne 1898 is – since the publication of Mannheim 1914′: the biggest gap in tournament literature.
At Karlsbad 1911 he defeated not only the winner, as mentioned above, but also Alekhine, whom he steered into a knight versus bad bishop ending. His style was unashamedly modelled on that of Steinitz, and marked by extreme tenacity. To him is attributed the epigram ‘He who combinates is lost’. He could play a combination when in the mood but he much preferred to let the opponent break his own back by attacking too impetuously. Nimzowitsch wrote: ‘The number of really great defensive players is very small’, adding that he knew of only six: Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, Burn, Bernstein, Duras and Louis Paulsen.
In the 1911 Cable Match between G.B. and the U.S.A. Marshall came from San Sebastian straight to London and asked permission for his top board game to be played over the board. When he found that his opponent was to be the 64-year-old Amos Burn he must have smiled, for he had twice defeated him resoundingly – at Paris 1900 (also having some fun at Burn’s expense in his annotations to the game) and again at Ostend 1905. This time he was in for a shock. Within twenty moves the old man had won his queen for two pieces. Marshall played on, probably with a red face, until move 37, rather than have his loss cabled home too early. Against Burn he might have spared himself the trouble.
Burn was a superb annotator. His work, notably in ‘The Field‘ from 1913 on, sets a standard to which one looks back nostalgically in these days of hieroglyphics. The day before he died, at the age of 77,he had been at work on analysis and annotation. Tournaments were now plentiful enough for it to be possible to pick out the band of regular professionals, and to assess their prowess. Tartakower was placed 2, 5, l, 5; Reti 5, 5’ 5,-11; Grunfeld 4,8,8,9; Nimzowitsch was erratic with 1,2,9; so was Rubinstein with 1, 2, 3, 12. Marshall was consistent with 3, 4, 5. Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine appeared once each – with distinction, of course.”
The Burn Variation is a line in the french defence dating from the 1870s, played regularly by Burn at the tournaments of Hastings
1895, Cologne 1898, and Vienna 1898. More recently it has been favoured by Petrosyan.
From The Encyclopedia of Chess (Robert Hale, 1970 & 1976), Anne Sunnucks :
“A leading British player of his day, Amos Burn was born in Hull on 31st December 1848. He learned the game when he was 16 and an apprentice with a firm of Liverpool cotton-brokers, but it was not until 1886 that he achieved his first major tournament success by coming 2nd in the London tournament and 1st at Nottingham. These results gained him an invitation to Frankfurt 1887, which marked the beginning of his career as an international player.
Burn’s greatest successes were 1st at Amsterdam 1889, ahead of Lasker, 2nd at Breslau 1889, behind Tarrasch but ahead of Mieses, Von Bardeleben, Bauer, Gunsberg and Paulsen; and 1st at Cologne 1898, ahead of Charousek, Steiniitz, Tchigorin and Schlecter.
After the St. Petersburg 1909 tournament, Burn’s results began to deteriorate and he finally retired from tournament chess after the Breslau 1912 tournament.
From 1913 until his death, Burn was chess editor of The Field. He died on 25th November 1925.”
“British Grandmaster and second only to Blackburne in late nineteenth-century British chess. He was born in Hull and learned to play chess at sixteen, but devoted little time to the game at first, preferring to establish himself in a commercial career.
He returned to chess in his middle thirties, his first major national success being first prize at Nottingham 1886 and second prize at London 1886. Within three years he had gained an international reputation by winning at Amsterdam 1889, ahead of Lasker, and finishing 2nd to Tarrasch at Breslau 1889. Burn continued to appear in international tournaments until the age of sixty-four, his most notable triumph being first prize at Cologne 1898 in front of Charousek, Steinitz, Chigorin and Schlechter. He was chess editor of The Field from 1913 until his death in 1925.”
and from that game we have the move that made that game memorable :
Black to move : did you find it? (if not see the foot of this article)
William Winter wrote the following in the February issue of CHESS for 1963, (Volume 28, Number 426, pp.128-134):
“For my win over Niemtsovich I am partly indebted to Amos Burn. Before the tournament I happened to mention to him that Niemtsovich was playing a system, beginning with 1.P-QN3, the idea of which was to control the square at his K5 from the flank, and eventually occupy it with a knight. The old master told me that in his younger days he had played many games with the Rev. John Owen who regularly adopted this opening, and that he could make little headway against it, until he hit on the idea of at once occupying the key square with a pawn and defending it with everything he could pile on. This plan I adopted with complete success. After my third move I saw Niemtsovich shake his head, and in fact he was never comfortable.”
Ninety-four today is Leonard William Barden, born Tuesday, August 20th, 1929.
His mother’s maiden was Bartholomew and she became Elise EM Barden when she married Leonard’s father who was William C Barden (a dustman) and in 1939 they lived at 89, Tennison Road, Croydon.
From The Encyclopedia of Chess (Batsford, 1977) by Harry Golombek OBE:
“British Master and joint British Champion 1954. Barden was born in Croydon and learned to play at his school, Whitgift, which became a frequent producer of fine players.
In 1946 he tied for first place in the London Boys Championship and in the following year he tied with Jonathan Penrose for first place in the British Boys Championship, but lost the play-off.
In 1952 he came first at Paignton ahead of the Canadian Grandmaster Yanofsky and he reached his peak in 1954 when , after tieing for first place with the Belgian Grandmaster O’Kelly de Galway at Bognor, he tied for for first place in the British Championship at Nottingham with A. Phillips. The play-off was drawn and so the players became joint champions.
He played for the BCF in four Olympiads from 1952 to 1962 and then abandoned competitive chess, applying all his energies to writing (he is chess correspondent of the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Evening Standard and the Field, and has written many books on the game.
He has also developed two special interests, in junior chess and in grading, working with utmost persistence and energy in both of these fields.
Amongst his best works are : a A Guide to Chess Openings, London, 1957; The Ruy Lopez, Oxford, 1963; The King’s Indian Defence, London, 1968.”
Disappointingly Sunnucks Encyclopedia does not mention Barden at all and and surprisingly Hooper and Whyld’s usually excellent Oxford Companion only from a connection with Jim Slater.
“Leonard William Barden (born 20 August 1929, in Croydon, London) is an English chess master, writer, broadcaster, organizer and promoter. The son of a dustman, he was educated at Whitgift School, South Croydon, and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Modern History.
He learned to play chess at age 13 while in a school shelter during a World War II German air raid. Within a few years he became one of the country’s leading juniors. He represented England in four Chess Olympiads. Barden played a major role in the rise of English chess from the 1970s. As a chess columnist for various newspapers, his column in London’s Evening Standard is the world’s longest-standing chess column.
In 1946, Barden won the British Junior Correspondence Chess Championship, and tied for first place in the London Boys’ Championship. The following year he tied for first with Jonathan Penrose in the British Boys’ Championship, but lost the playoff.
Barden finished fourth at Hastings in 1951–52. In 1952, he won the Paignton tournament ahead of the Canadian future grandmaster Daniel Yanofsky. He captained the Oxfordshire team which won the English Counties championship in 1951 and 1952.
In the latter year he captained the University of Oxford team which won the National Club Championship, and he represented the university in the annual team match against the University of Cambridge during his years there. In 1953, he won the individual British Lightning Championship (ten seconds a move).
(ed: the above event was “won” by Dr. PM List with 15.5/18 but he was not allowed the title. Leonard together with AY Green and KR Smith scored 13/18 and won the play-off).
The following year, he tied for first with the Belgian grandmaster Albéric O’Kelly de Galway at Bognor Regis, was joint British champion, with Alan Phillips, and won the Southern Counties Championship.
He finished fourth at Hastings 1957–58, ranked by chessmetrics as his best statistical performance. In the 1958 British Chess Championship, Barden again tied for first, but lost the playoff match to Penrose 1½–3½.
He represented England in the Chess Olympiads at Helsinki 1952 (playing fourth board, scoring 2 wins, 5 draws, and 4 losses), Amsterdam 1954 (playing first reserve, scoring 1 win, 2 draws, and 4 losses), Leipzig 1960 (first reserve; 4 wins, 4 draws, 2 losses) and Varna 1962 (first reserve; 7 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses). The latter was his best performance by far.
Barden has a Morphy number of 3, having drawn with Jacques Mieses in the Premier Reserves at Hastings 1948–49. Mieses drew with Henry Bird in the last round of Hastings 1895, and Bird played a number of games with Paul Morphy in 1858 and 1859.
In 1964, Barden gave up most competitive chess to devote his time to chess organisation, broadcasting, and writing about the game. He has made invaluable contributions to English chess as a populariser, writer, organiser, fundraiser, and broadcaster.
He was controller of the British Chess Federation Grand Prix for many years, having found its first sponsor, Cutty Sark. He was a regular contributor to the BBC’s Network Three weekly radio chess programme from 1958 to 1963. His best-known contribution was a consultation game, recorded in 1960 and broadcast in 1961, where he partnered Bobby Fischer against the English masters Jonathan Penrose and Peter Clarke. This was the only recorded consultation game of Fischer’s career. The game, unfinished after eight hours of play, was adjudicated a draw by former world champion Max Euwe. Barden gave BBC television commentaries on all the games in the 1972 world championship. From 1973 to 1978 he was co-presenter of BBC2’s annual Master Game televised programme.
As of 2021, his weekly columns have been published in The Guardian for 65 years and in The Financial Times for 46 years. A typical Barden column not only contains a readable tournament report, but is geared toward promoting the game. His London Evening Standard column, begun in summer 1956, is now the world’s longest running daily chess column by the same author, breaking the previous record set by George Koltanowski in the San Francisco Chronicle. Koltanowski’s column ran for 51 years, 9 months, and 18 days, including posthumous articles.”
Leonard wrote this on the English Chess Forum in 2021 :
“I retired after Ilford 1964 when I finished a poor last in the England Olympiad team qualifier, returned at Hammersmith 1969 (equal 2nd behind Keene) and then played around 6-8 weekenders a year until 1972. My overall performance level between early 60s and early 70s dropped from around 225 to 215 BCF, so I wasn’t encouraged to pursue the comeback further.”
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