Tag Archives: Remembering

Remembering IMC Ken Messere OBE (16-iv-1928 31-iii-2005)

IMC Ken Messere OBE (16-iv-1928 31-iii-2005)
IMC Ken Messere OBE (16-iv-1928 31-iii-2005)

BCN remembers Ken Messere who passed away on Thursday, March 31st 2005 aged 76 in Paris-16E-Arrondissement, Paris, France.

Kenneth Charles Messere was born on Monday, April 16th, 1928 in Richmond-on-Thames, Surrey. His father was Charles (George) Messere (1901-1974) or Eisenberg and aged 26. His mother was Gertrude Marie Newman (1899-1978) and aged 29.

Ken had three siblings: Barbara Marie Messere (1930–2005), Hugh Martin Messere (1932–1985) and Derek R Messere (1934–2012)

Ken attended St. Peter’s College, Oxford from 1946 – 1951 to read philosophy and is reported in the 1951 St. Edmund Hall Magazine, as a member of the Trillick (debating) Society as follows:

‘ That this House would rather be a live Communist than
a dead Democrat.’ The proposer established to his own satisfaction that democracy was founded on ‘selfishness, capitalism and bourgeois hypocrisy.’ He did not satisfy J. F. R. Bonguard of St. Peter’s Hall who opposed, using arguments taken from Hindu philosophy. K. C. Messere of St. Peter’s Hall, spoke third and added some able arguments.

In June 1954 Ken married Mary Elizabeth Humphrey (1929-2003) in Ealing. They had a son Miles Jonathan Messere born in 1964 who passed away in 1965.

Prior the time of his passing his wife Mary was living at 142B, Herbert Road, Woolwich, London, SE18 3PU.

In 1991 he was awarded the OBE (Civil Division) in the Queen’s Birthday honours list. The citation reads: Kenneth Charles Messere, lately Head of Fiscal Affairs Division, OECD, Paris.

Ken appears each year from 1953 to 1967 in the noted publication Britain, Royal And Imperial Calendars the function of which is to list entries for those engaged in UK public service. He worked for HM Customs and Excise. Prompted by this we consulted the venerable A History of Chess in the English Civil Service by Kevin Thurlow (Conrad Press, 2021) on page 447 and found

“He played for Customs. In 1964, he went to work for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and was head of fiscal affairs from 1971 – 1991. In 1954 he began playing postal chess and became a leading player. He won a semi-final of the 5th World Correspondence Championship (1961 – 64) and became the first English player to compete in a World Championship Final.”

There are 31 games listed at his personal entry at chessgames.com starting with games from 1965.

Chessbase’s Correspondence Database 2020 records 69 games the earliest being from 1958 listing Ken’s federation as being France.

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983) we have this lengthy contribution from Ken himself:

“Between the ages of 6, when I learnt to play and 23 (ed: 1951), when I ceased to be a student, chess had a relatively low priority among various time-competing interests and activities, so I never got around to studying theory. Things changed when I became a civil servant and needed a replacement for philosophy as an intellectually absorbing subject which could be argued about with friends over beers, and for the next 12 years chess became my main interest.

Since 1964 I have been working for the OECD in Paris, where my friends are not chess enthusiasts and, although chess remains a major pleasure, my commitment to it has lessened. Nowadays, out-side correspondence chess, I play only occasional blitz games.

Coming late to serious chess has probably had at least some influence on my deficiencies and stylistic preferences. The deficiencies include an inability to visualize ahead with sufficient clarity to support accurate analysis, slow sight of the board which leads to silly errors through time trouble or failing stamina and less familiarity with theory than my better opponents. As to chess style, I have had to play romantically and subjectively to get good results.

If a game takes the form of a clear-cut position, where strategical objectives are clear and superior technique prevails, then mine generally does not. Consequently I have tended to play either sharp gambits or counter-gambits or to try to render the position sufficiently obscure for imagination and intuition to assume maximum importance. In keeping, my chess heroes have been Alekhine, Bronstein and Tal who revel in fantasy, however much Alekhine may claim that it is logically based.

When I took up competitive chess seriously in 1952, I made some progress and won a few minor tournaments, but in view of the defects already mentioned, it soon became clear that my potential for improvement was limited and that nearly all my games were aesthetically flawed. Fortunately, these defects represent no great handicap at correspondence chess, where I found myself pleased with a reasonable proportion of the game I played, and in addition, capable on the day (or more accurately over the years) of winning against almost anyone. Thus, against world champions I have two wins and one loss, (see below). I also have 80 per cent from five games against Russian grandmasters, even if a meagre 28 per cent from my eighteen games against all correspondence grandmasters. In 1954 when I began playing postal chess competitively, I did sufficiently well in a few British Postal tournaments to be accepted at a reasonably high level in the official international tournaments.

Not without luck (see Diagram l), I secured the 75 per cent necessary in two seven-player tournaments to qualify for the fourteen player preliminaries, the winner of which was to qualify for the following world championship. In the 1961-64 preliminaries, I played the best chess of my life, including valid opening innovations, imaginative pawn and piece sacrifices and even a technically efficient win in a queen and pawn end-game. I won the tournament with eleven wins, one draw and one loss, 1.5 points ahead of Maly of Czechoslovakia and two points ahead of Masseev, the Russian favourite, thereby obtaining my first norm towards the International Master title. My first annotated game is the win against Maly (ed: to be inserted once we have tracked down the game score!) which was typical stylistically and also crucial, since if he had won it, he would have qualified for the World Championship instead of me: the second against Bartha of the United States is the most compulsive and difficult tactical game I have ever played, the last five moves alone requiring over 100 hours of analysis.

IMC Ken Messere OBE (16-iv-1928 31-iii-2005)
IMC Ken Messere OBE (16-iv-1928 31-iii-2005)

The quality of my chess in the 1965-68 World Championship was much inferior. The tournament began disastrously. I went in for three losing variations as Black and made a suicidal clerical error in the opening so that after 3 months I had four losses from four games. Later, there were compensations. I won against V. Zagarovsky, the reigning world champion (the third annotated game) and obtained just (but only just) the necessary 33.3% per cent to obtain the correspondence chess international master title. For this I needed a win and draw from my last two games which
after 3.5 years, had to be adjudicated.

Fortunately, the win and draw were relatively clear, though this would not have been so a few moves earlier. An an illustration of how the threat of adjudication breeds irrationality, Diagram II gives the closing stages of my win against J.Estrin of the USSR – a more recent correspondence chess world champion. My only other game against a world champion was against the winner of this tournament, Hans Berliner of the United States, with whom I collaborated on a book of the tournament. The collaboration was stimulating but not without friction, since I had to write 75 per cent of the book to see it ever finished. It took a year to complete, 3 years to appear (published by BCM) but in the end was well-reviewed, sold over 2000 copies and royalties are still (gently) drifting in.

The Fifth Correspondence Chess World Championship, Hans Berliner & Ken Messere, British Chess Magazine, BCM Quarterly Nunber 14, 5th December 1971, ISBN 978-0-900846-05-2.
The Fifth Correspondence Chess World Championship, Hans Berliner & Ken Messere, British Chess Magazine, BCM Quarterly Nunber 14, 5th December 1971, ISBN 978-0-900846-05-2.

 

In the early seventies, in order to reduce numbers of games, I retreated altogether from individual tournaments, just playing twice for England in the Olympiads. Whether team play did not suit my style, or whether my technique had improved but imagination withered, I drew nine of my seventeen games from the two tournaments, winning four and losing four. As England looked likely to aspire to medals for the first time ever, my 50 per cent would not help matters and I gladly retreated to first reserve, which to my dismay required taking over five unfinished games of Hugh Alexander, who died during the tournament, and who, for me, has always been England’s most attractive player and writer. My most uncomfortable decision in correspondence chess was a rejection of Hugh’s intended continuation in one of these games, {Diagram III). Of these five games, I lost one and drew four and England won a bronze medal.

In 1974 was invited to compete in the Potter Memorial Tournament of four postal grandmasters and nine international masters. After so many years of responsible’ team chess for England, I went beserk and sacrificed a pawn in ten of the twelve games, trying later to salvage inferior end-games. Result 33 % per cent. B. H. Wood invited me to write a book of the tournament, to which a number of the players contributed and this was published in 1979.

The Potter Memorial, Ken Messere, CHESS (Sutton Coldfield), 1975
The Potter Memorial, Ken Messere, CHESS (Sutton Coldfield), 1975

Also in 1979 I began to play in another invitation tournament of thirteen players organised by the Australian Correspondence Chess League, which became a memorial to CJS Purdy, its president and the first world postal champion, who died soon after the tournament began. At the time of writing, this tournament, comprising four grandmasters (including one former world champion and two runners-up) and eight international masters, is still in its early stages.”

From British Chess Magazine, Volume CXXV (125, 2005), Number 5 (May), page 226 we have this obituary:

“Kenneth Charles Messere (16 iv 1928, Richmond – 31 iii 2005, Paris) was one of Britain’s strongest correspondence players (he held the correspondence IM title) and well-known author of books on the subject. After graduating from Oxford University, Ken Messere went to HM Customs and Excise, and thence to the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) where he became head of the fiscal affairs division and a world expert on fiscal law. He reached the final of 1965-8 world correspondence championship, beating world champions Zagorovsky and Estrin, and wrote the book of the tournament with Hans Berliner (published by BCM)”

From The Potter Memorial by Ken Messere, CHESS (Sutton Coldfield), “Chess for Modern Times” Series, 1975 we have this potted biography:

“Compiler of this book, took 3rd place in 1957 and 2nd in 1968 in the championship of the Postal Chess Club. Scores of 4.5 out of 6 in the ICCF Masters 1957-8 and 4/6 in the 1959-61 Championship took him to victory with 11/5 out of 13 in the 1961-3 semi-finals, securing him his first international master norm and qualifying him for the 5th World Championship 1964-7 in which he scored 5.5, just enough for the IM title, with wins over Zagorovsky, then world champion and Estrin, world champion now. Ken Messere collaborated with Berliner, who won it, in a book on the tournament.

He then switched to play exclusively as a member of the British Olympiad team, taking over 2nd board when Alexander died.

The switch back from rather cautious team play to enterprising individual games in 1974-7 provides some of the subject matter of this book.”

 

The Tax System in Industrialized Countries, Ken Messere, Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 10: 1982933135 / ISBN 13: 9781982933135
The Tax System in Industrialized Countries, Ken Messere, Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 10: 1982933135 / ISBN 13: 9781982933135

Death Anniversary of GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE (07-x-1933 30-xi-2021)

BCN remembers GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE who passed away on Tuesday, November 30th 2021.

In the 1971 New Years Honours List Jonathan was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) The citation read “For services to Chess.”

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983) by Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson : (article by George Botterill)

“Penrose is one of the outstanding figures of British chess. Yet many who meet him may not realize this just because he is one of the quietest and most modest of men. Throughout the late 1950s and the whole of the 1960s he stood head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

His extraordinary dominance is revealed by the fact that he won the British championship no less than ten times (1958-63 and 1966-69, inclusive), a record that nobody is likely to equal in the future.

At his best his play was lucid, positionally correct, energetic and tactically acute. None the less, there is a ‘Penrose problem’: was he a ‘Good Thing’for British chess? The trouble was that whilst this highly talented player eff0ectively crushed any opposition at
home, he showed little initiative in flying the flag abroad. There is a wide-spread and justifiable conviction that only lack of ambition in the sphere of international chess can explain why he did not secure the GM title during his active over-the-board playing career.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for above photograph
Press agency caption for above photograph

It would be unjust, however, to blame Penrose for any of this. The truth is simply that he was not a professional chessplayer, and indeed he flourished in
a period in which chess playing was not a viable profession in Britain. But even if the material awards available had been greater Penrose would almost certainly have chosen to remain an amateur. For he was cast in that special intellectual and ethical tradition of great British amateurs like H. E. Atkins, Sir George Thomas and Hugh Alexander before him.

Travel Chess 2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)
Travel Chess
2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)

His family background indicates early academic inclinations in a cultural atmosphere in which chess was merely a game something at which one excelled through sheer ability, but not to be ranked alongside truly serious work. It is noteworthy that Penrose, unique in this respect amongst British chess
masters, has never written at any length about the game. He has had other matters to concentrate on when away from the board, being a lecturer in psychology. (His father, Professor L. S. Penrose, was a distinguished geneticist.)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Being of slight physique and the mildest and most amiable of characters, it is probably also true that Penrose lacked the toughness and ‘killer instinct’
required to reach the very top. Nervous tension finally struck him down in a dramatic way when he collapsed during play in the Siegen Olympiad of 1970. We
can take that date as the end of the Penrose era.

Jonathan Penrose Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Jonathan Penrose
Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images))

Since, then though he has not by any means entirely given up, his involvement in the nerve-wracking competitions of over-the-board play has been greatly reduced. instead he has turned to correspondence chess, which is perhaps the ideal medium for his clear strategy and deep and subtle analysis. So Penrose’s career it not over. He has moved to another, less stressful province of the kingdom of chess.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

For the first game, however, we shall turn the clock right back to 1950 and the see the Penrose in the role of youthful giant killer.

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

“British international master and ten times British Champion, Penrose was born in Colchester and came from a chess-playing family.

Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)
Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)

His father and mother both played chess and his father, Professor Lionel Sharples Penrose, in addition or being a geneticist of world-wide fame, was a strong chess-player and a good endgame composer. Jonathan’s older brother Oliver, was also a fine player.

Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist
Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist

Roger Penrose won the Nobel prize for physics in 2020.

Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate
Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate

Jonathan learnt chess at the age of four, won the British Boys championship at thirteen and by the time he was fifteen was playing in the British Championship in Felixstowe in 1949.

Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

A little reluctant to participate in international tournaments abroad, he did best in the British Championship which he won a record number of times, once more than HE Atkins. He won the title consecutively from 1958 to 1963 and again from 1966 to 1969.

Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

He also played with great effect in nine Olympiads. Playing on a high board for practically all the time, he showed himself the equal of the best grandmasters and indeed, at the Leipzig Olympiad he distinguished himself by beating Mikhail Tal, thereby becoming the first British player to defeat a reigning World Champion since Blackburne beat Lasker in 1899.

ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951
ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951

Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni
Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni

A deep strategist who could also hold his own tactically, he suffered from the defect of insufficient physical stamina and it was this that was to bring about a decline in his play and in his results. He collapsed during a game at the Ilford Chess Congress, and a year later, at the Siegen Olympiad of 1970, he had a more serious collapse that necessitated his withdrawal from the vent after the preliminary groups had been played. The doctors found nothing vitally wrong with him that his physique could not sustain.

He continued to play but his results suffered from a lack of self-confidence and at the Nice Olympiad of 1974 he had a wretched result on board 3, winning only 1 game and losing 6 out of 15.

Darga V Penrose 29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain's Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Darga V Penrose
29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain’s Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Possibly too his profession (a lecturer in psychology) was also absorbing him more and more and too part less and less in international and national chess.

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

Yet, he had already done enough to show that he was the equal of the greatest British players in his command and understanding of the game and he ranks alongside Staunton, Blackburne, Atkins and CHO’D Alexander as a chess figure of world class.”

Here is his Wikipedia entry

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

“The leading English player during the 1960s, International Master (1961), International Correspondence Chess Master (1980), lecturer in psychology. Early in his chess career Penrose decided to remain an amateur and as a consequence played in few international tournaments. He won the British Championship from 1958 to 1963 and from 1966 to 1969, ten times in all (a record); and he played in nine Olympiads from 1952 to 1974, notably scoring + 10=5 on first board at Lugano 1968, a result bettered only by the world champion Petrosyan.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

In the early 1970s Penrose further restricted his chess because the stress of competitive play adversely affected his health.”

The second edition (1996) adds this :

“He turned to correspondence play, was the highest rated postal player in the world 1987-9, and led the British team to victory in the 9th Correspondence Olympiad.”

Here is a discussion about Jonathan on the English Chess Forum

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

“International Master (1961) and British Champion in 1958 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.

Jonathan Penrose was born in Colchester on 7th October 1933, the son of Professor LS Penrose, the well-known geneticist, who was also a strong player and composer of endgame studies.

The whole Penrose family plays chess and Jonathan learned the game when he was 4. At the age of 12 he joined Hampstead Chess Club and the following year played for Essex for the first time, won his first big tournament, the British Boys’ Championship, and represented England against Ireland in a boy’s match, which was the forerunner of the Glorney Cup competition, which came into being the following year.

By the time he was 17 Penrose was recognised as one of the big hopes of British Chess. Playing in the Hastings Premier Tournament for the first time in `1950 – 1951, he beat the French Champion Nicholas Rossolimo and at Southsea in 1950 he beat two International Grandmasters, Effim Bogoljubov and Savielly Tartakower.

Penrose played for the British Chess Federation in a number of Chess Olympiads since 1952. In 1960, at Leipzig, came one of the best performances of his career, when he beat the reigning World Champion, Mikhail Tal. He became the first British player to beat a reigning World Champion since JH Blackburne beat Emmanuel Lasker in 1899, and the first player to defeat Tal since he won the World Championship earlier that year. Penrose’s score in this Olympiad was only half-a-point short of the score required to qualify for the International Grandmaster title.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

His ninth victory in the British Championships in 1968 equalled the record held by HE Atkins, who has held the title more times than any other player.

Penrose is a lecturer in psychology at Enfield College of Technology and has never been in a position to devote a great deal of time to the game. He is married to a former contender in the British Girls Championship and British Ladies’s Championship, Margaret Wood, daughter of Frank Wood, Hon. Secretary of the Oxfordshire Chess Association.

Penrose was awarded the O.B.E. for his services to chess in 1971.”

Penrose was Southern Counties Champion for 1949-50.

In 1983 Jonathan became England’s fifth Correspondence Grandmaster (CGM) following Keith Richardson, Adrian Hollis, Peter Clarke and Simon Webb.

Sadly, there is no existent book on the life and games of Jonathan Penrose : a serious omission in chess literature.

Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Remembering GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE (07-x-1933 30-xi-2021)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE in the garden of Brian Reilly
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE in the garden of Brian Reilly

BCN remembers GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE who passed away on Tuesday, November 30th, 2021.

In the 1971 New Years Honours List Jonathan was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) The citation read “For services to Chess.”

In 1993 following representations by Bob Wade and Leonard Barden FIDE granted the title of Grandmaster to Jonathan. Here is a detailed discussion of that process. Note that this was not an Honorary title (as received by Jacques Mieses and Harry Golombek).

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983) by Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson : (article by George Botterill)

“Penrose is one of the outstanding figures of British chess. Yet many who meet him may not realize this just because he is one of the quietest and most modest of men. Throughout the late 1950s and the whole of the 1960s he stood head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

His extraordinary dominance is revealed by the fact that he won the British championship no less than ten times (1958-63 and 1966-69, inclusive), a record that nobody is likely to equal in the future.

At his best his play was lucid, positionally correct, energetic and tactically acute. None the less, there is a ‘Penrose problem’: was he a ‘Good Thing’ for British chess? The trouble was that whilst this highly talented player effectively crushed any opposition at home, he showed little initiative in flying the flag abroad. There is a wide-spread and justifiable conviction that only lack of ambition in the sphere of international chess can explain why he did not secure the GM title during his active over-the-board playing career.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for above photograph
Press agency caption for above photograph

It would be unjust, however, to blame Penrose for any of this. The truth is simply that he was not a professional chessplayer, and indeed he flourished in
a period in which chess playing was not a viable profession in Britain. But even if the material awards available had been greater Penrose would almost certainly have chosen to remain an amateur. For he was cast in that special intellectual and ethical tradition of great British amateurs like H. E. Atkins, Sir George Thomas and Hugh Alexander before him.

Travel Chess 2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)
Travel Chess
2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)

His family background indicates early academic inclinations in a cultural atmosphere in which chess was merely a game something at which one excelled through sheer ability, but not to be ranked alongside truly serious work. It is noteworthy that Penrose, unique in this respect amongst British chess masters, has never written at any length about the game. He has had other matters to concentrate on when away from the board, being a lecturer in psychology. (His father, Professor L. S. Penrose, was a distinguished geneticist.)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Being of slight physique and the mildest and most amiable of characters, it is probably also true that Penrose lacked the toughness and ‘killer instinct’ required to reach the very top. Nervous tension finally struck him down in a dramatic way when he collapsed during play in the Siegen Olympiad of 1970. We can take that date as the end of the Penrose era.

Jonathan Penrose Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Jonathan Penrose
Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images))

Since, then though he has not by any means entirely given up, his involvement in the nerve-wracking competitions of over-the-board play has been greatly reduced. instead he has turned to correspondence chess, which is perhaps the ideal medium for his clear strategy and deep and subtle analysis. So Penrose’s career it not over. He has moved to another, less stressful province of the kingdom of chess.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

For the first game, however, we shall turn the clock right back to 1950 and the see the Penrose in the role of youthful giant killer.

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

“British international master and ten times British Champion, Penrose was born in Colchester and came from a chess-playing family.

Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)
Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)

His father and mother (Margaret)  both played chess and his father, Professor Lionel Sharples Penrose, in addition to being a geneticist of world-wide fame, was a strong chess-player and a good endgame composer. Jonathan’s older brother Oliver, was also a fine player.

Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist
Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist

Roger Penrose won the Nobel prize for physics in 2020.

Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate
Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate

Shirley Hodgson (née Penrose) is a high flying geneticist.

Prof. Shirley Hodgson
Prof. Shirley Hodgson

Jonathan learnt chess at the age of four, won the British Boys championship at thirteen and by the time he was fifteen was playing in the British Championship in Felixstowe in 1949.

Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

A little reluctant to participate in international tournaments abroad, he did best in the British Championship which he won a record number of times, once more than HE Atkins. He won the title consecutively from 1958 to 1963 and again from 1966 to 1969.

Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

He also played with great effect in nine Olympiads. Playing on a high board for practically all the time, he showed himself the equal of the best grandmasters and indeed, at the Leipzig Olympiad he distinguished himself by beating Mikhail Tal, thereby becoming the first British player to defeat a reigning World Champion since Blackburne beat Lasker in 1899.

ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951
ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951

Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni
Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni

A deep strategist who could also hold his own tactically, he suffered from the defect of insufficient physical stamina and it was this that was to bring about a decline in his play and in his results. He collapsed during a game at the Ilford Chess Congress, and a year later, at the Siegen Olympiad of 1970, he had a more serious collapse that necessitated his withdrawal from the event after the preliminary groups had been played. The doctors found nothing vitally wrong with him that his physique could not sustain.

He continued to play but his results suffered from a lack of self-confidence and at the Nice Olympiad of 1974 he had a wretched result on board 3, winning only 1 game and losing 6 out of 15.

Darga V Penrose 29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain's Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Darga V Penrose
29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain’s Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Possibly too his profession (a lecturer in psychology) was also absorbing him more and more and too part less and less in international and national chess.

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

Yet, he had already done enough to show that he was the equal of the greatest British players in his command and understanding of the game and he ranks alongside Staunton, Blackburne, Atkins and CHO’D Alexander as a chess figure of world class.”

Here is his Wikipedia entry

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

“The leading English player during the 1960s, International Master (1961), International Correspondence Chess Master (1980), lecturer in psychology. Early in his chess career Penrose decided to remain an amateur and as a consequence played in few international tournaments. He won the British Championship from 1958 to 1963 and from 1966 to 1969, ten times in all (a record); and he played in nine Olympiads from 1952 to 1974, notably scoring + 10=5 on first board at Lugano 1968, a result bettered only by the world champion Petrosyan.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

In the early 1970s Penrose further restricted his chess because the stress of competitive play adversely affected his health.”

The second edition (1996) adds this :

“He turned to correspondence play, was the highest rated postal player in the world 1987-9, and led the British team to victory in the 9th Correspondence Olympiad.”

Here is a discussion about Jonathan on the English Chess Forum

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

“International Master (1961) and British Champion in 1958 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.

Jonathan Penrose was born in Colchester on 7th October 1933, the son of Professor LS Penrose, the well-known geneticist, who was also a strong player and composer of endgame studies.

The whole Penrose family plays chess and Jonathan learned the game when he was 4. At the age of 12 he joined Hampstead Chess Club and the following year played for Essex for the first time, won his first big tournament, the British Boys’ Championship, and represented England against Ireland in a boy’s match, which was the forerunner of the Glorney Cup competition, which came into being the following year.

By the time he was 17 Penrose was recognised as one of the big hopes of British Chess. Playing in the Hastings Premier Tournament for the first time in `1950 – 1951, he beat the French Champion Nicholas Rossolimo and at Southsea in 1950 he beat two International Grandmasters, Effim Bogoljubov and Savielly Tartakower.

Penrose played for the British Chess Federation in a number of Chess Olympiads since 1952. In 1960, at Leipzig, came one of the best performances of his career, when he beat the reigning World Champion, Mikhail Tal. He became the first British player to beat a reigning World Champion since JH Blackburne beat Emmanuel Lasker in 1899, and the first player to defeat Tal since he won the World Championship earlier that year. Penrose’s score in this Olympiad was only half-a-point short of the score required to qualify for the International Grandmaster title.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

His ninth victory in the British Championships in 1968 equalled the record held by HE Atkins, who has held the title more times than any other player.

Penrose is a lecturer in psychology at Enfield College of Technology and has never been in a position to devote a great deal of time to the game. He is married to a former contender in the British Girls Championship and British Ladies’s Championship, Margaret Wood, daughter of Frank Wood, Hon. Secretary of the Oxfordshire Chess Association.

Again from British Chess : “In updating this report we find striking evidence of Penrose’s prowess as a correspondence player. Playing on board 4 for Britain in the 8th Correspondence Chess Olympiad he was astonishingly severe on the opposition, letting slip just one draw in twelve games! Here is one of the eleven wins that must change the assessment of a sharp Sicilian Variation.”

 

Penrose was awarded the O.B.E. for his services to chess in 1971.”

Penrose was Southern Counties Champion for 1949-50.

In 1983 Jonathan became England’s fifth Correspondence Grandmaster (CGM) following Keith Richardson, Adrian Hollis, Peter Clarke and Simon Webb.

Sadly, there is no existent book on the life and games of Jonathan Penrose : a serious omission in chess literature.

Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Forgotten Genius – The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc

Forgotten Genius - The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc, Georg Mohr & Adrian Mikhalchishin, Thinker's Publishing, 20th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201291
Forgotten Genius – The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc, Georg Mohr & Adrian Mikhalchishin, Thinker’s Publishing, 20th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201291

From the publisher we have:

“Albin Planinc was born in the middle of the Second World War, on 18th April 1944, in the little village of Briše, near the small town of Zagorje ob Savi, approximately 30 kilometers from Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. He spent his childhood with his mother Ljudmila (unofficially Milka), a simple, uneducated woman who earned money from various unskilled jobs’.

This fascinating biography of over eighty-five annotated games and stories are being presented by grandmasters Georg Mohr and Adrian Mikhalchishin. It covers Planinc’ entire life and chess career, including his most fascinating games. This fitting tribute of a forgotten chess genius should be found in anyone’s chess library. Thanks to this colorful book Albin Planinc will continue to inspire us all and will keep his spirit alive.”

GM Albin Planinc, circa 1973
GM Albin Planinc, circa 1973

About the authors we have:

“Georg Mohr was born in Maribor, Slovenia in 1965 becoming a Grandmaster in 1997. He joined as a member of the FIDE Trainers Commission from 2002, becoming a FIDE Senior Trainer in 2004 and a FIDE International Organizer in 2011. Georg has been a professional chess trainer for many years. He was coach and captain of Slovenian national team from 2003 – 2010 and since 2011 he has been Turkish national youth trainer. He is a chess writer and was editor of Slovenian chess magazine Šahovska Misel from 1999 and editor of Fide Trainers Commission trainers’ surveys. He is also an organiser of chess events acting as tournament director of the European Club Cup (Rogaška Slatina 2011), the World Youth Championship (Maribor 2012) and the World Senior Championship (Bled 2018). This is his second book for ‘Thinkers Publishing’.

FIDE Senior Trainer Georg Mohr
FIDE Senior Trainer Georg Mohr

Adrian Bohdanovych Mikhalchishin was born in Lvov, Ukraine in 1954 and became a Grandmaster in 1978. In 1995 he took Slovenian citizenship and became a FIDE Senior Trainer from 2002 and was chairman of FIDE Trainers Commission from 2009. Adrian was a trainer of many famous chess players. Amongst others he was in Anatoly Karpov’s team during matches with Garry Kasparov. He has worked with Maja Chiburdanidze, Nana Aleksandria, the Polgar sisters, Alisa Maric and Nana Dzagnidze. He was coach and captain of the national teams of Slovenia and the Netherlands. In recent years he has been coach of the Turkish woman team. He has written many chess books and thousands of articles for many chess magazines. This is his second book for ‘Thinkers Publishing’.”

FIDE Senior Trainer GM Adrian Mikhalchishin
FIDE Senior Trainer GM Adrian Mikhalchishin

Albin Planinc (1944-2008), the late Slovenian grandmaster, was an extraordinary chess player and so the title ‘Forgotten Genius’ is not hyperbole.

Planinc’s games are characterised by enormous energy and by creative, daring sacrificial play. Mohr and Mikhalchishin have selected eighty-six of his best games for this volume.

They assert rightly on page 9 that ‘the reader of this book will soon discover that these games are not commonplace. They are imbued with incredible energy, interwoven with so many imaginary climaxes, with so much of what most people think of as beautiful in chess’.

It is very much a labour of love as Mohr, himself a Slovenian grandmaster, sees Planinc as the player who inspired him to dedicate his life to chess. However the book is not only games; plenty of biographical material is provided.

Indeed, the book starts with a brief synopsis of Albin’s childhood positing that Albin’s unidentified father may well have been a German soldier. Hence it is reasonable to speculate that Albin’s childhood was clouded by shame and stigma as well as being marred by the evolving mental illness of his mother, Ljudmila.

Parallels with a certain Robert James Fischer are suggested. Both players nursed their troubled childhoods with a love of chess. However the authors suggest on page 27 that ‘there was an important difference between him [Planinc] and Fischer. While the American was content with victories, Planinc was never content with victory itself. It needed an accessory, an aesthetic input, preferably one that would turn chess games into works of art’.

The next sections of the book offer a year by year selection of games from 1961-1979 interspersed with further biographical material. All the classics are there (v Bogdanovic 1965, v Matulovic 1965, v Ljubojevic 1971,

and Minic 1975)

and most notably his game with Vaganian from Hastings 1974/75 which involves the charming manoeuvre Na1 followed by a crisp Queen sacrifice.

The games are annotated with plenty of explanation. It should also be noted that the book is sumptuously produced with plenty of photographs and a typeface and layout pleasing to the eye. However more diagrams would have been appreciated. Furthermore an index of players would have been most useful.

The book ends with the revelation that Albin spent the last 20 years of his life in and out of institutions playing very little chess. This part of the book is handled sensitively and compels me to dig deeper into the creative genius of Albin Planinc. This tome is hence a welcome addition to chess literature.

FM Julian Way, Kingston, 2nd October, 2021

FM Julian Way
FM Julian Way

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 407 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (20 Sept. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201290
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201291
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 1.27 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Forgotten Genius - The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc, Georg Mohr & Adrian Mikhalchishin, Thinker's Publishing, 20th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201291
Forgotten Genius – The Life and Games of Grandmaster Albin Planinc, Georg Mohr & Adrian Mikhalchishin, Thinker’s Publishing, 20th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201291

Remembering IMC James Adams (04-ix-1921 27-vii-2013)

BCN remembers IMC James Adams who passed away aged 91 on July 27th, 2013 in Worcester Park, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey.

James Frederick Adams was born on September 4th, 1921 in Lambeth. His parents were James J Adams (DoB: 10th October 1884) who was a plumber’s mate and Lucy M Adams (née Ayres, DoB: 22nd December 1886). He had an older brother who was William A Adams who was also a plumber’s mate and and Uncle George T (DoB: 8th March 1882) who was the plumber who presumably had many mates.

At the time of the 1939 register James was a telephone operator.

The Adams family lived at 52, Broadway Gardens, Mitcham, Surrey, CR4 4EE (rather than 001 Cemetery Lane)

52, Broadway Gardens, Mitcham, Surrey, CR4 4EE
52, Broadway Gardens, Mitcham, Surrey, CR4 4EE

From CHESS, 1991, March, page 91 we have:

“Whatever Happened to Human Effort?

I am giving up postal chess after 57 years for the reason that, like Jonathan Penrose and recently Nigel Short, I am increasingly disturbed over the increase in the use of computers in correspondence play. It is impossible to prove but one has the feeling that many opponents see nothing wrong in using a machine and I see no pleasure in having to bash one’s brains out against a computer. I am happy in the knowledge that I won my FIDE IM title long before dedicated chess computers were ever heard of. I shudder to think of the proliferation in the use of computers in a competition like the World CC Championship. I don’t wonder that Penrose objects.

Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing against which it is impossible to legislate. The BCCA has banned their use but it doesn’t mean a thing.

The latest monstrosity is where Kasparov plays a match against another GM and both are allowed to use computers whilst the game is in progress. To me, this is absolutely shocking. Dr. Nunn admits to the use of computers in the compilation of one of his books and I see that even ordinary annotators use a programme like Fritz to assist with their notes to a game. What happened to human effort?

Anyway, I have about five postal games left in progress and when they are finished I will call it a day.

Jim Adams
Worcester Park, Surrey

So who was Jim Adams?

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983) Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson we have this:

The smoke-laden atmosphere of the chess rooms of St. Bride’s Institute, in the heart of the City of London, could hardly be considered a positive encouragement to any ambitions to become an International Master, but certainly this was so in my case. Let me explain the sequence of events.

Face-to-face, or over-the-board chess, had been my main interest since my war-time days as a member of the Civil Defence. Passing time between air-raids led to the adoption of many pastimes and an absorbing game such as chess was ideal. Fortunately for me, one of my ambulance station colleagues was a very fine player named A. F. (Algy) Battersby, later to become General Secretary of the British Correspondence Chess Association.

He had spent the greater part of the First World War playing chess in the Sinai Desert and, with his tremendous experience, he brought to the game strategical ideas and tactical skills that, in those early days, were well beyond my comprehension.

Arthur Frank Battersby, BIRTH 2 JUN 1887 • Brixton, Surrey, England  DEATH 11 APR 1955 • Surrey, England
Arthur Frank Battersby, BIRTH 2 JUN 1887 • Brixton, Surrey, England DEATH 11 APR 1955 • Surrey, England

‘Algy’ was kind enough to say some years afterwards that I was ‘the best pupil he ever had’, but whether this was true or not, he certainly passed on to me the theoretical groundwork that was to be so useful to me in later years. Among other books, he encouraged me to purchase the Nimzowitch classic My System, with the kindly warning that I would not understand it at first reading but would perhaps get some grasp of the ideas at a second or third attempt.

My System was a revelation to me and proved to be the greatest help to an understanding of the game that I had ever received. Up to my fortuitous meeting with ‘Algy’, my games had been of a simple tactical nature. Pieces were left en prise, oversights and blunders were the order of the day and an actual checkmate came as a surprise not only to the loser but often to the winner as well!

To win a game through sheer strength of position was completely unknown to me, but ‘Algy’ and Nimzowitch changed all that! Under their combined influence my general playing strength improved enormously and I was soon second only to ‘Algy’ in such tournaments as were held in my home town of Mitcham, where the local chess club was revived after the war.

Our club soon attracted a few strong players and we played regularly in county competitions and, later, the London Chess League. During those years chess was an absolute joy to me and all my spare time was spent at the local club or at chess matches, whilst Saturday afternoons were spent at the now defunct Gambit Chess Room, in Budge Row, where I passed countless hours playing chess, pausing only to order light refreshment from the indefatigable ‘Eileen’, a waitress of somewhat uncertain age who almost certainly regarded all chess players as raving lunatics!

The ‘Gambit’ could never have been a viable commercial proposition on what we bought and it was eventually thought necessary to introduce a minimum charge depending on the time of day. Gone for ever were the days when one could spend the entire evening playing chess, analysing, or having a crack at the local Kriegspiel experts, all for the price of two cups of tea and the occasional sandwich. Sadly, it all disappeared in the aftermath of the
war.

By 1950 I had become Match Captain of the Mitcham Chess Club and, of course, responsible for arranging various matches. Getting a team together was not difficult as the club membership was quite large for such a lowly club. The playing standard too was surprisingly high and whilst I, myself, was fortunate enough to win the club championship several times it was never easy.

On one occasion a ‘friendly’ match had been arranged with the BBC and all was well until a ‘flu epidemic a few days before the date of the match laid most of the Mitcham players low. On the morning of the match I was left with five players for a 1O-board match! As it was only a ‘friendly’ and in order to avoid disappointing all concerned I took myself off to the Gambit and recruited a few of the ‘regulars’ to help us out. It must be remembered that most of the strongest players in London frequented the ‘Gambit’ and since those pressganged into service were extremely strong players it seemed only courteous to give them the honour of playing on the top five boards, leaving the Mitcham ‘stars’ who, coincidentally, were our usual top board players, to bring up the rear.

Now this composite team, in my judgement, was probably good enough to win the London League A Division and it was no surprise when we won 10-0. Only a friendly indeed! Any Match Captain would have given his queen’s rook for such a team but, whilst the BBC players were warned beforehand of the composition of our team, they were not amused and further matches were not arranged!

Mr A Corish (right), receives the Chess Champion cup from Mr J Adams. 18th September 1958 from the Merton Advertiser, Photographer unknown.
Mr A Corish (right), receives the Chess Champion cup from Mr J Adams. 18th September 1958 from the Merton Advertiser, Photographer unknown.

Round about this time I was playing regularly in London League matches, nearly all of which were held at St. Bride’s Institute, where my story began. A non-smoker myself, I found the conditions intolerable. The place seemed to be completely airless and Government warnings about the dangers of smoking did not exist! not exist! Consequently, the entire playing area was reminiscent of the Black Hole of Calcutta! Always susceptible to headaches, I began to return home physically ill after every match. If this was playing chess for pleasure then something was wrong!

Mr A Corish (right), receives the Chess Champion cup from Mr J Adams. 18th September 1958 from the Merton Advertiser, Photographer unknown.
Mr A Corish (right), receives the Chess Champion cup from Mr J Adams. 18th September 1958 from the Merton Advertiser, Photographer unknown.

However, salvation was at hand. Ever since the war I had been playing a few games by post under the auspices of the BCCA (British Correspondence Chess Association ), and my somewhat traumatic experiences at St. Bride’s were beginning to make postal chess a far more attractive way of playing the
game. And so my chess career started all over again!

My correspondence chess activities up to the 1960s were not particularly successful, although I had managed to win three Premier Sections and finish
equal third in the British Correspondence Championship of 1962-63. However, during that time a group of BCCA players, of whom I was one, were
becoming somewhat dissatisfied with the Association’s attitude towards international chess and eventually a splinter group formed a rival organization which became known as the British Correspondence Chess Society.

The BCCS was, almost from the start, internationally orientated and it was possible to play foreign players, many of master strength. With strong opposition it seemed easier to improve and my first real success came in the Eberhardt Wilhelm Cup in 1966-67 when I was able to obtain the lM norm giving me a half=master title. However, gone were the days when a superficial analysis was enough before posting a move, which even if it was not the best, was generally good enough to hold one’s own with even the best of British CC players at that time. Fortunately for British chess, the situation is now vastly different and the strongest British CC players are recognized as being among the best in the world.

The Eberhardt Wilhelm Cup consisted of players all of master or near-master strength and it was in one of the games I played in this tournament that I played probably the most surprising move of my life.

To win the full IM title involved getting one more IM norm and happily for my prospects, I was selected for the British team in both the Olympiad Preliminary of 1972 and the European Team Championships of 1973.

Although I was trifle unlucky to miss the IM norm by half a point in the European Championship I finally clinched the coveted IM title in the Olympiad Preliminary which, although starting a few months before the European tournament, went on so long that I was in suspense long after the European games finished.

One of my most interesting games in the European Team Championship of 1973 was against F. Grzeskowiak, himself an IM and a feared attacking player.

Here is a discussion of James Adams on the English Chess Forum initiated by Matt Mackenzie (Millom, Cumbria)

Here is his entry on the ICCF web site.

Here is his entry from chessgames.com

39 Games of James Adams (27) of thirty nine of his games.

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

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

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

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

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

Most recently he lived in Morpeth, London, SW1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the citation from the 2015 award :

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

*On January 15th 2022 we received the following electronic email message from Heather Ridge, a legal assistant as follows:

Dear Sir
Julian Farrand was most certainly NOT the first Insurance Ombudsman. The late James Haswell OBE was appointed the first Insurance Ombudsman in 1981.

I know this as I had the privilege of being his first Senior Legal Assistant. Please correct this immediately.

Kind regards
Heather Ridge

Here is an obituary from The Times of London

Here is an obituary from Stewart Reuben

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

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

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

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

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

Vera Menchik from Vera Menchik., EI Bykova, Moscow, 1957, 176 pages, 4s 7d.
Vera Menchik., EI Bykova, Moscow, 1957, 176 pages, 4s 7d.

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

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

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

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

The Bomb Attack

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

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

(*The V-1 was an early cruise missile with a fairly crude guidance system.)

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

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

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

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

Her Maternal Roots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BCM Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BCM Contemporary Obituary from EGR Cordingley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and here is the original article as printed:

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

From British Chess Magazine, Volume LXXVIII (78, 1958), Number 7 (July), page 181 onwards) we have this retrospective from Peter Clarke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vera Menchik Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vera Menchik
Vera Menchik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BCM 1994 Appreciation by Bernard Cafferty

From British Chess Magazine, Volume CXIV (114, 1994), Number 8 (August), page 424 onwards) we have this retrospective from Bernard Cafferty:

Fifty yezus ago the chess world was tragically robbed of its most talented female representative of the first half of this century. A Vl rocket (ed: The V1 was not a rocket but a flying bomb) fell on a house in Gauden Road, Clapham, London, that was the residence of Russian-born Vera Menchik, her younger sister and their mother. The trio were sheltering in the cellar, as they usually did during the Nazi air raids on London. The house was completely destroyed. The air-raid shelter in the garden was all that was left.

Vera Menchik was born in Moscow on 16 February 1906, and died on 26 June 1944. The date of death is usually given as 27 June, but Ken Whyld has seen the death certificate and tells us the tragedy occurred before midnight, not after.

The young Vera grew up in a cosmopolitan family in Moscow, where her Czech father and English mother lived in a six-room flat, which they had to share, after 1917, with families from ‘the lower depths’ (the name of a famous play by Gorky which could also be translated as ‘on Skid Row’). In autumn 1921 the family left Soviet Russia and came
to England where they lived in Hastings.

Botvinnik recalls that he visited the Menchik household in Hastings in 1935, where he met Vera’s grandmother. Then, in 1936, he visited the other house in London, after the Nottingham 1936 tournament. At that time the Soviet Embassy arranged a reception in an attempt to counter the awful image of a country deep in the throes of the show trials and widespread repression. However, only Botvinnik, Menchik, Capablanca and Lasker turned up.

Vera Menchik was taught the moves of chess by her father, Franz, when she was nine years old. However, she only took the game seriously from the age of 17, when she joined the Hastings and St Leonards Chess Club, which at that time had its famous extensive sea-front premises near the pier.

According to the 1957 book in Russian by Bykova, on which this account is largely based, Vera only knew Russian when she cam to England, and one of the reasons for her to join the chess club was that a fluent knowledge of English was not necessary for her to be able to benefit from such a silent activity as chess.

The young Vera was fortunate in that the Hungarian grandmaster, Géza Maróczy, had a professional engagement with the Hastings club at this time, and the young lady became his most famous pupil. Her sound style with no fear of long endgames was a mirror of her mentor. She was also helped by Professor JAJ Drewitt, another Hastings club member, in the study of openings, particularly the closed openings.

Vera was initially counted as a Russian and did not enter the British Women’s Championship at the traditional August BCF Congress. However, she made her debut in international chess at a lower section of the 1923-24 Hastings Congress. In 1925 she beat the leading English player Edith Price by a score of +5 =2 -3 in two private matches. She duly took part in the Hastings Congresses, year after year. In the 1926-27 event she scored her first big success by sharing first place with the young Milner-Barry on 6.5(9) in the Premier Reserves.

By 1927, VM was ready to enter the first Women’s World Championship, which was played at the 4th FIDE Congress, alongside the Olympiad in London. She conceded only one draw in her eleven games and so took the title which she was to retain with ease from that day, when she was just 21, till her death 17 years later. In her first title attempt, she
was counted as a Russian, but at the next five (at the Hamburg 1930, Prague 1931,
Folkestone 1933, Warsaw 1935 and Stockholm 1937 Olympiads) she played as a representative of Czechoslovakia. It was only after her marriage to the prominent English organiser R. H. S. Stevenson in 1937 that she was counted as British and played under the Union Flag in her last title defence at Buenos Aires 1939.

Her dominance can be gauged from the fact that she won all eight games at Prague, all 14 at Folkestone, all 9 at Warsaw, all 14 at Stockholm and conceded just two draws in 19 games in 1939. The most serious challenge came in a title match at Semmering-Baden with Sonja Graf, then of Germany. Here too it was largely one-sided: +9 =5 -2.

She made her debut against male masters in an international tournament at Scarborough in 1928, finishing equal 7-8 in a field of 10, but in only the following year, at the Kent Easter Congress, she had one of her best results.

It was decided to run a Scheveningen tournament at Ramsgate with seven foreign masters pitted against seven home representatives. As was only to be expected, Capablanca came top of the ‘external examiners’, yet the next placing was a sensation: Capablanca 5.5(7) followed by Miss Menchik and Rubinstein 5, Koltanowski and Maroczy 4.5, Soultanbeieff 4 and Znosko-Borovsky 3. Sir George Thomas, whom Menchik beat, scored 3 to head the English team of Yates, Winter, Michel, Tylor and E. G. Sergeant.

Naturally enough, after this it was inevitable that foreign invitations should follow. Later in 1929 the young ‘Russian’ took part in a Paris tournament and then in the great Carlsbad tournament, the last of a wonderful series. Her presence here created some scepticism, and on the eve of the first round the Austrian theoretician Becker suggested that a Vera Menchik club be formed, membership of which would be granted only to those who lost to the lady. According to Flohr, there was an expectation that it would be a small select club, but Becker was quickly proved wrong for he became its first member in the third round! His only consolation was that the club proved far more extensive and democratic as the years rolled by. In fact the club came to include grandmasters such as Euwe (who earned a two-fold qualification) Sultan Khan and Reshevsky as well as masters such as Saemisch, Colle, Golombek, Sir George Thomas, Alexander…

However, Miss Menchik could not make much of the universally strong opposition and made only three points out of 20, finishing last, three points behind Sir George Thomas. With further experience she was to have more impressive results, such as her 8th place at London 1932, won by Alekhine, where she came ahead of Milner-Barry, Sir George, Burger and Winter.

A high spot of the 1930s for Vera was her participation in the 1935 Moscow tournament, but her return to her native city was so taken up with social engagements that she was unable to give of her best, and she scored only one and a half points from 19 games though she did take a draw off the winner of second prize, Flohr.

Vera had to eke out a living from teaching chess, adjudications and simultaneous exhibitions. After her return from Buenos Aires she lived in London. She was appointed administrator of the new National Chess Centre at John Lewis’s store in Oxford Street, which, alas, was destroyed by enemy action in 1940.

Her last great success was a match with the veteran GM, Jacques Mieses who was a refugee from anti-Semitic German. Played in 1942, the result was +4 =5 -1.

In 1943 Vera’s husband died. In 1944 she was playing in the championship of the West London Club, a strong event which included Sir George Thomas, PM List, EG Sergeant and Mieses amongst the players. Doubtless she was looking forward to the resumption of International chess activity after the war. It was not to be. We live in an age when the achievements of women players such as Gaprindashvili, Chirburdanidze, Xie Jun and the Polgar sisters have built on the pioneer work of Vera Menchik. Yet the path of the pioneer is always the hardest.

Finally, by all accounts of contemporaries, Vera was a cultured and sympathetic person who never gave cause for offence amongst the many players she met. Had she lived, she would have continued to be a jewel in the crown of British chess, which had to drag itself up from the boot straps after the devastation of war. What a tragic loss.

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

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

Other Articles

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

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

Here is an excellent article by Albert Whitwood

Here is her Wikipedia  entry.

Here is an excellent record compiled by Bill Wall.

Biography of Vera Menchik British chess player

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

Edward Winter was less than impressed with the above book.

Vera Menchik
Vera Menchik

Death Anniversary of Nancy Elder MBE (25-v-1915 04-iii-1981)

BCN remembers Nancy Elder MBE who passed away on Wednesday, March 4th 1981, i.e, forty years ago in Perth, Western Australia.

Nancy Conchar Gordon was born on Tuesday, May 25th 1915. On the same date was born Robin Day in High Wycombe who went on  to design the polypropylene stacking chair.

Nancy was born in Kirmabreck, Kirkcudbrightshire in the Dumfries and Galloway council area of Scotland.

In the 1939 register Nancy was living at 18 Thornton Avenue, Urmston. Manchester, M41 5DJ with a married couple, William Furnish (a railway time keeper) and Gertrude Furnish who performed unpaid domestic duties. Presumably Nancy was a lodger.

18 Thornton Avenue, Urmston. Manchester, M41 5DJ
18 Thornton Avenue, Urmston. Manchester, M41 5DJ

Her occupation was given as a teacher of music and physical training. At this time she was single at the age of twenty-four.

In the mid-1940s Nancy relocated from Manchester to Dundee where she continued her teaching career at Dundee High School. During that time she encouraged and coached a number of players some of whom represented Scotland.

In 1950 in Tealing, Angus, Scotland Nancy married David Livie Elder. They had a daughter Christine who played chess as a junior. Tealing has a strong connection with the Elder family.

According to Alan McGowan (Chess Scotland): “She was the main instigator in forming both the Schools’ and Primary League in Dundee, and she assisted in the organisation of the Dundee 1967 International Centenary Tournament.”

When she passed away Nancy was living at 39 Whitefauld Road, Dundee, DD2 1RJ :

39 Whitefauld Road, Dundee, DD2 1RJ
39 Whitefauld Road, Dundee, DD2 1RJ

Her passing was reported in the Dundee Courier and Advertiser  on March 6th 1981 as follows :

Nancy Elder dies after heart attack on flight

Mrs Nancy Elder 39 Whitefauld Road, Dundee, a former music teacher at Dundee High School and one of Scotland’s best known chess players, has died after taking ill on a flight to Australia.

She was off for a long holiday which she planned to spend with relatives and friends from the world of international chess, but, after suffering a heart attack on a plane from Singapore, had been in intensive care in Perth, Western Australia.

Her daughter Christine, a primary school teacher in Tighnabruaich, received daily telephone reports on her mother’s condition from a cousin and, at the weekend, heard that she was improving gradually.

The shock news of her mother’s death came late on Wednesday night.

Mrs. Elder, who went into semi-retirement recently, has been to the fore in chess for about 35 years at local, national and international levels.

Nancy Elder MBE. Source : Milos Petronic
Nancy Elder MBE. Source : Milos Petronic

She has represented her country five times, having taken part in the chess Olympiad in Yugoslavia in 1963 and 1973, in Israel in 1976, in Buenos Aires in 1978 and in Malta last year.

Buenos Aires Olympiad 1978. From left: Morag McGhee, Nancy Elder, Owen Hindle, Kathleen Hindle and Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland
Buenos Aires Olympiad 1978. From left: Morag McGhee, Nancy Elder, Owen Hindle, Kathleen Hindle and Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland

She turned down the chance to take part on three other occasions.

Haifa Olympiad 1976 - Scotland v Switzerland. From left: Nancy Elder, Kathleen Hindle, Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland
Haifa Olympiad 1976 – Scotland v Switzerland. From left: Nancy Elder, Kathleen Hindle, Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland

She was awarded the MBE for her services to chess in 1974.

She was President of Dundee Chess Club, chairman of the congress committee of the Scottish Chess Association and on the council of the Scottish Junior Chess Association.

Self-taught

She started playing chess during her school days with her brother and the two of them were more-or-less self taught.

It wasn’t until after the Second World War that she received any sort of coaching, by which time she had established her own style.

She retired on April 14th last year after 24 years in the music department of Dundee High School, where she specialised in teaching the oboe.

She continued to teach privately.

Dundee Courier and Advertiser, March 6th 1981
Dundee Courier and Advertiser, March 6th 1981

From British Chess Magazine, Volume CI (101, 1981), Number 6 (June), pp. 219-220 we have this obituary from Bernard Cafferty :

“Nancy C. Elder, MBE, died in Perth, Western Australia on March 4th 1981. Mrs. Elder had recently retired after a lifetime of teaching, her last post being in Dundee. I well remember her account of teaching under difficult conditions in World War 2 in Manchester. 15 Scottish Women’s Champion (the record for the event which she set-up at Troon in 1980).

Prizegiving at the 1966 Scottish Championships. From the left: Michael Fallone, Nancy Elder, W.P. McColl, President of Dundee Chess Club, Kathleen Patterson, Gerald Bonner. Courtesy of Chess Scotland
Prizegiving at the 1966 Scottish Championships. From the left: Michael Fallone, Nancy Elder, W.P. McColl, President of Dundee Chess Club, Kathleen Patterson, Gerald Bonner. Courtesy of Chess Scotland

Mrs Elder was a regular competitor in the British Women’s Championship (sometimes in rivalry with her daughter Christine) and showed her playing strength with a score of 5.5/12 on board two for Scotland at the Women’s Chess Olympiad, Malta, 1980.

Malta Olympiad 1980 Left-right: Kathleen, Rosie Giulian, Owen Hindle (Team Captain), Nancy Elder, Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland
Malta Olympiad 1980 Left-right: Kathleen, Rosie Giulian, Owen Hindle (Team Captain), Nancy Elder, Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland

I am sure she will be best remembered though for her decades of effort in the organising of chess in Scotland, particularly for juniors and in schools, in recognition of which she was awarded the MBE, the only such honour ever given for services to chess ‘north of the border’ as Alan Borwell puts it in his Newsflash obituary.”

Chess Scotland award the Nancy Elder Cup annually for an individual competition for “club level” players.

We are grateful to Helen Milligan who told BCN :

My most memorable incident was when I refused to play in the Scottish Ladies at the annual Congress, preferring to try to improve my chess by playing in the Open section (really the B-Grade, below the Championship proper). I got given a piece of Nancy’s mind for that – she did not approve!

Here are her playing records from the Olympiads.

Here is a potted biography from Chess Scotland.

Death Anniversary of Nancy Elder MBE (25-v-1915 04-iii-1981)

BCN remembers Nancy Elder MBE who passed away on Wednesday, March 4th 1981, i.e, forty years ago in Perth, Western Australia.

Nancy Conchar Gordon was born on Tuesday, May 25th 1915. On the same date was born Robin Day in High Wycombe who went on  to design the polypropylene stacking chair.

Nancy was born in Kirmabreck, Kirkcudbrightshire in the Dumfries and Galloway council area of Scotland.

In the 1939 register Nancy was living at 18 Thornton Avenue, Urmston. Manchester, M41 5DJ with a married couple, William Furnish (a railway time keeper) and Gertrude Furnish who performed unpaid domestic duties. Presumably Nancy was a lodger.

18 Thornton Avenue, Urmston. Manchester, M41 5DJ
18 Thornton Avenue, Urmston. Manchester, M41 5DJ

Her occupation was given as a teacher of music and physical training. At this time she was single at the age of twenty-four.

In the mid-1940s Nancy relocated from Manchester to Dundee where she continued her teaching career at Dundee High School. During that time she encouraged and coached a number of players some of whom represented Scotland.

In 1950 in Tealing, Angus, Scotland Nancy married David Livie Elder. They had a daughter Christine who played chess as a junior. Tealing has a strong connection with the Elder family.

According to Alan McGowan (Chess Scotland): “She was the main instigator in forming both the Schools’ and Primary League in Dundee, and she assisted in the organisation of the Dundee 1967 International Centenary Tournament.”

When she passed away Nancy was living at 39 Whitefauld Road, Dundee, DD2 1RJ :

39 Whitefauld Road, Dundee, DD2 1RJ
39 Whitefauld Road, Dundee, DD2 1RJ

Her passing was reported in the Dundee Courier and Advertiser  on March 6th 1981 as follows :

Nancy Elder dies after heart attack on flight

Mrs Nancy Elder 39 Whitefauld Road, Dundee, a former music teacher at Dundee High School and one of Scotland’s best known chess players, has died after taking ill on a flight to Australia.

She was off for a long holiday which she planned to spend with relatives and friends from the world of international chess, but, after suffering a heart attack on a plane from Singapore, had been in intensive care in Perth, Western Australia.

Her daughter Christine, a primary school teacher in Tighnabruaich, received daily telephone reports on her mother’s condition from a cousin and, at the weekend, heard that she was improving gradually.

The shock news of her mother’s death came late on Wednesday night.

Mrs. Elder, who went into semi-retirement recently, has been to the fore in chess for about 35 years at local, national and international levels.

Nancy Elder MBE. Source : Milos Petronic
Nancy Elder MBE. Source : Milos Petronic

She has represented her country five times, having taken part in the chess Olympiad in Yugoslavia in 1963 and 1973, in Israel in 1976, in Buenos Aires in 1978 and in Malta last year.

Buenos Aires Olympiad 1978. From left: Morag McGhee, Nancy Elder, Owen Hindle, Kathleen Hindle and Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland
Buenos Aires Olympiad 1978. From left: Morag McGhee, Nancy Elder, Owen Hindle, Kathleen Hindle and Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland

She turned down the chance to take part on three other occasions.

Haifa Olympiad 1976 - Scotland v Switzerland. From left: Nancy Elder, Kathleen Hindle, Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland
Haifa Olympiad 1976 – Scotland v Switzerland. From left: Nancy Elder, Kathleen Hindle, Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland

She was awarded the MBE for her services to chess in 1974.

She was President of Dundee Chess Club, chairman of the congress committee of the Scottish Chess Association and on the council of the Scottish Junior Chess Association.

Self-taught

She started playing chess during her school days with her brother and the two of them were more-or-less self taught.

It wasn’t until after the Second World War that she received any sort of coaching, by which time she had established her own style.

She retired on April 14th last year after 24 years in the music department of Dundee High School, where she specialised in teaching the oboe.

She continued to teach privately.

Dundee Courier and Advertiser, March 6th 1981
Dundee Courier and Advertiser, March 6th 1981

From British Chess Magazine, Volume CI (101, 1981), Number 6 (June), pp. 219-220 we have this obituary from Bernard Cafferty :

“Nancy C. Elder, MBE, died in Perth, Western Australia on March 4th 1981. Mrs. Elder had recently retired after a lifetime of teaching, her last post being in Dundee. I well remember her account of teaching under difficult conditions in World War 2 in Manchester. 15 Scottish Women’s Champion (the record for the event which she set-up at Troon in 1980).

Prizegiving at the 1966 Scottish Championships. From the left: Michael Fallone, Nancy Elder, W.P. McColl, President of Dundee Chess Club, Kathleen Patterson, Gerald Bonner. Courtesy of Chess Scotland
Prizegiving at the 1966 Scottish Championships. From the left: Michael Fallone, Nancy Elder, W.P. McColl, President of Dundee Chess Club, Kathleen Patterson, Gerald Bonner. Courtesy of Chess Scotland

Mrs Elder was a regular competitor in the British Women’s Championship (sometimes in rivalry with her daughter Christine) and showed her playing strength with a score of 5.5/12 on board two for Scotland at the Women’s Chess Olympiad, Malta, 1980.

Malta Olympiad 1980 Left-right: Kathleen, Rosie Giulian, Owen Hindle (Team Captain), Nancy Elder, Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland
Malta Olympiad 1980 Left-right: Kathleen, Rosie Giulian, Owen Hindle (Team Captain), Nancy Elder, Lynne Houston. Courtesy of Chess Scotland

I am sure she will be best remembered though for her decades of effort in the organising of chess in Scotland, particularly for juniors and in schools, in recognition of which she was awarded the MBE, the only such honour ever given for services to chess ‘north of the border’ as Alan Borwell puts it in his Newsflash obituary.”

Chess Scotland award the Nancy Elder Cup annually for an individual competition for “club level” players.

We are grateful to Helen Milligan who told BCN :

My most memorable incident was when I refused to play in the Scottish Ladies at the annual Congress, preferring to try to improve my chess by playing in the Open section (really the B-Grade, below the Championship proper). I got given a piece of Nancy’s mind for that – she did not approve!

Here are her playing records from the Olympiads.

Here is a potted biography from Chess Scotland.