Saturday, 10 October 2015

James Bond, ECF Grade 007: Licensed to Lose At Chess

Chess players are always so snooty and picky about chess as depicted in the media and on film, so it is only fair that we should show a bit of balance and give praise where praise is due. I really like this photo of Daniel Craig as James Bond (from the front cover of today's Daily Telegraph Review section) for the following reasons: 

(1) it's a proper Staunton pattern set (I've got a more or less identical one at home), rather than some ludicrous themed set, or excessively upmarket ivory job; 

(2) the pieces and board are covered in dust (ditto, comment in brackets above); 

(3) the board is the right way round. Even if you don't know the correct orientation of a chess board, the chances of getting it right are 50-50, but, mystifyingly, in real life, this seems to work out more like 10-90;

(4) the pieces are in a reasonably authentic configuration (hmm, maybe less so the white rook and king in the foreground, and you would expect the captured pieces nearest Bond to be white and not black, but I promised not to be picky); 

(5) here I am assuming that the queen on b7 is protected by a bishop on the long diagonal and that Black has been mated... (EDIT: B on f3 - see note below)... James Bond has lost - the only result which makes sense, given the time he dedicates to gambling, fornication and saving the world from baddies, and the extreme improbability of him learning to be a decent chess player in what little free time remains to him;

(6) he is wearing the universal expression of the checkmated player, encompassing humiliation, disbelief and resentment. One could almost imagine him saying: "'Ere, you jammy sod!" (The writer was told exactly that when on the point of checkmating someone at a tournament long ago.)

So, well done, Bond Organisation, you did a good job here.

P.S. Later Edit, thanks to Peter Doggers we now know that the position on the complete board was...

NN 1-0 James Bond
Position after Qxb7 mate

... except that the white king seems to be half-off the board around b0/c0, and there is a mysterious ring on d7. Maybe it was a play-off to decide which was the world's greatest cinematic series and he had just been checkmated by Gandalf. Can't wait to find out when the film is released...

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Chess Snippet No.2 Grace Moore Curling (née Ellis) (1875-1958), 1908 British Ladies' Chess Champion

Grace Curling won the fifth British Ladies' Championship at Tunbridge Wells in 1908. Strictly speaking, she didn't actually win it until a three-way play-off was completed, in London in February 1909, but she goes down in the record books as the British Ladies' Champion for 1908.

My reason for blogging about her is because there doesn't seem to be much biographical information about her in the standard works. Jeremy Gaige, in his Chess Personalia (McFarland, 1987) records her name, Mrs Grace Curling, and the fact that her maiden name was Ellis - but no dates were given. (I am aware that there is a later, unpublished edition of Gaige's excellent work, but I don't have access to it so can't know if there is more information to be found there.)

I therefore took to the computer to see what I could find. What follows comes mainly from a scan of Ancestry records, and also the online British Newspaper archive. If anyone has something to add, feel free to comment on this post.

Here are the basic details I have found: she was born Grace Moore Ellis in the first quarter of 1875 in Bangor, Anglesey to the Welsh-born cleric Rev. David Henry Ellis and Grace (née) Moore, who had married in London in 1872. Sadly, her mother's death is also recorded for the same time and place, so we have to conclude that she died in childbirth leaving Grace without a mother.

Subsequent censuses show that Grace lived with her maternal grandmother, Mary Yorke Moore (who was born in Philadelphia, USA, in about 1831, but who was a British subject). In 1881 Grace and her grandmother were living in Bibury, near Northleach, in Gloucestershire, in 1891 in Weston super Mare, Somerset, and in 1901 in Kensington, London. In the latter census Grace's profession was given as "professional musician, pianist" but I have not followed up this interesting lead.

In November 1906 Grace married Allan Lee Curling, who was about the same age as her and from Hernhill in Kent. Allan's father was a hop farmer and he himself a merchant, according to one census, although thereafter he was referred to as a local manager of the National Telephone Company. Grace's father had remarried after his first wife's death but died in 1902. Grace's half-sister Ada Throsby Ellis attended her wedding.

Grace and Allan Curling lived in Tunbridge Wells in Kent and were both members of the Tunbridge Wells Chess Club and (I think) Sevenoaks Chess Club. Grace tended to play a board or two above husband Allan in matches. In 1912 Grace won the Tunbridge Wells Club Championship in what was quite a useful field.

Their names can be found in many newspaper reports in the period 1909-1913, particularly the Kent & Sussex Courier and the Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser.

Grace Curling won the 1908 British Ladies' Championship, held in her home town of Tunbridge Wells (an aside - has anyone else won a British Chess Championship in their home town? Quite possibly but I've not bothered to check yet.) Despite being the home town favourite, the local paper didn't have much faith in her:

There does not appear to be very much prospect of Mrs Curling winning the British Ladles' Championship this time, although she is bracketed third with Mrs Anderson In the tournament. It would certainly have been a great honour for Tunbridge Wells if the British Ladies' Trophy could have remained in the town, as, owing to the absence from home of several members of the local Club, Mrs Curling is the only Tunbridge Wells competitor who has the opportunity of securing the honour for the town and the Club. A reference to her scores will at once Indicate that she has so far succeeded admirably. having up to Wednesday night, played 9 games, won 6, drawn 1, and lost 2.

So wrote the Kent and Sussex Courier on Friday 21 August 1908, the day on which the final round was to be played at Tunbridge Wells. A week later they had to eat their words:
In the Ladies' Championship Tournament an exciting incident marked the last day's play. Miss Lawson had then lost 1½ points [the newspaper's weird way of referring to her score of 8½/10 - JS], while Mrs Anderson and Mrs Curling were 2½ down [scores of 7½/10]. The first named had only to draw to secure the first prize and the championship. She was playing a very careful game against Mrs Curling, her last opponent, when suddenly she overlooked a trap which had been set for her Queen, and Mrs Curling won. This result has produced a triple tie between Miss Lawson. Mrs Curling and Mrs Anderson, who are 8½ each. In our notes last week we stated that although Mrs Curling had made a very good score, it appeared most improbable that she would be in running for the Championship. However, the unexpected happened, and Tunbridge Wells will, we feel sure, feel proud of so able an exponent of the great and intellectual game of chess and fervently hope that when the Championship is played off in London in January next, Mrs Curling may be successful in bringing the trophy back to Tunbridge Wells.
For the record here are the scores of the 1908 British Ladies' Championship: 1-3 Gertrude Alison Anderson, Grace Moore Curling and Agnes Lawson (later Stevenson) 8½/11, 4 Frances Dunn Herring 8, 5-6 Agnes Margaret Crum and Mrs. A.S. Roe 5½, Helena Eliza Sidney 5, Miss Watson 4½, Mary Mills Houlding and Mrs. Stevens 4, Mrs. Joughin and Miss Smith-Cunninghame 2. Incidentally, some interesting articles about these women's tournaments may be found here, written by 'Batgirl'.

The play-off took place in February in London and the scores were Grace Curling 2½, Agnes Lawson 2, Gertrude Anderson 1½.

Thereafter Grace Moore Curling seems to have concentrated on mixed chess. In 1912 she played in the First-Class A section of the British Championship, scoring 5½/11 in a strong section.

Returning for a moment to statutory data, at the time of the 1911 census Grace and Allan were living at 147 Upper Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells, Allan was listed as the manager of a telephone company, while Grace's profession was blank, They must have been reasonably off as they had a live-in domestic servant, 25-year-old Fanny Bridger, from Tunbridge Wells.

The Kent & Sussex Courier, on 13 September 1912, recorded the fact that Mr and Mrs Curling were moving to Sunderland. This was quite a blow for the Tunbridge Wells club. The Curlings had Tunbridge Wells CC’s best averages and didn't miss a match in the preceding season. They still played club matches until about November 1912, and correspondence chess for Kent until well into 1914. Allan Curling, although the lesser player, was also valuable as an organiser, having run the Easter 1912 Kent Congress at Tunbridge Wells.

The move to Sunderland didn't last long because, at the end of July 1914, just as the world war was about to begin, Grace and Allan Curling sailed for Africa, landing at Beira in Mozambique. Thereafter I have not been able to find out anything about them until the time of their deaths. Grace died on 13 Apr 1958, at the Arthur's Seat Hotel, Sea Point, Cape Town. Her home address at the time was 'Dunholm' Farm, Inyazura (now Nyazura), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). She died leaving about £7700 in England. Allan Lee Curling died on 19 May 1964 at the above-mentioned address in Rhodesia.

That's about it - hopefully the entry for the 1908 British Ladies' Chess Champion in up-to-date chess records will henceforth read as follows:

Grace Moore Curling (née Ellis) (born 1875, Bangor, Wales, died 1958, Cape Town)

Finally, since I have it to hand, here are more items from Grace Curling's chess CV. As Grace Ellis she won the 1906 Ostend Ladies’ tournament with 11½/12, ahead of Gertrude Anderson 11, Frances Herring 10, etc. (Year-Book of Chess 1907, p96); and then joint winner (with Kate Finn) of the June 1907 Ostend Ladies’ Tournament (The Field 1907, p327 and p331, with 9/10. She beat Kate Finn in their individual game but lost to Mrs Roe. My understanding (I've not seen a direct source) is that there was a later play-off which was won by Kate Finn, scoring one win and two draws.

I only have the one game played by Grace on my database. Here it is:

Chess Snippet No.1: Kate Belinda Finn (1864-1932)

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I'm spending more of my time as a chess detective these days, with a view to updating the game files on BritBase. That link should take you to the Britbase 'What's New' page where you should find a sudden spurt of activity around August/September 2015 after a relatively long fallow period.

A by-product of my digging for old game scores is the odd historical snippet. I sometimes post these to the Chess History section of the English Chess Forum but some of the things I find are perhaps a bit too long or involved for a forum post.

So I propose to share them here on my hitherto largely neglected blog. Here are the first three such snippets. They won't necessarily be written in flowing prose: I don't intend to spend too much time turning them into the sort of finished articles that I write for CHESS Magazine; they may be little more than notes of facts and information, with a view to sharing information with other chess history researchers.

Chess Snippet No. 1 

Kate Belinda Finn (born 16 December 1864, died 8 March 1932)

Kate Belinda Finn (right, wearing pince nez) at the 1905 British Championship in Southport (Photo: Cleveland Collection)
Kate Belinda Finn's claim to chess fame is that she was the first British Chess Federation Ladies' Chess Champion in 1904 and she retained her title in 1905. The important piece of new information here I'm imparting is her date of birth, which has hitherto been quoted as 1870.

Her entry in Jeremy Gaige's Chess Personalia (McFarland, 1987) reads as follows:
Gaige wrote:Finn, Miss Kate Belinda
b 16-12-1870
d 08-03-1932, London ENG
BCM, 1932, p. 167-168
London Times, March 9, 1932, p.1, c.1
Here's her quoted British Chess Magazine obituary in full:
BCM, April 1932, pps 166-167 wrote:Miss K. B. Finn, first British Lady Champion and one of the strongest women players of her day, died of bronchial pneumonia on March 8 [1932] at 12 Rugby Mansions, Kensington. She was the only daughter of the late Eugene Finn, M.D., of Patricks Hill, Cork. Her mother, who died in 1906, was fond of chess, encouraged her daughter to play and accompanied her to the various meetings. When the British Chess Federation was formed in 1904 she entered the Ladies’ Championship at Hastings and won with a score of 10½ out of 11, a wonderful performance. In the following year, at Southport, she again won the trophy, but the opposition was keener, her score being 9½. In neither event did she lose a game, the points she dropped being the result of drawn contests. Her mother’s serious illness prevented her from appearing at Shrewsbury in 1906, and as events turned out, she never again competed, but her strength a first-class player was maintained till quite recently, when ill-health and failing eyesight made her appearances more rare. For years she played top board for the original Ladies Chess Club, which then played in the “A” Division of the London League. Here she held her own with the leading London players. Latterly she joined the Imperial Chess Club, and was a regular and valued attendant.
And the Times reference is as follows:
The Times, 9 March 1932 wrote:FINN - On March 8, 1932, at 12, Rugby Mansions, Kensington, W.14, of bronchial pneumonia, KATE BELINDA FINN, only daughter of the late Eugene Finn, M.D., of Patrick's Hill, Cork. Funeral strictly private. No mourning, no flowers.
Neither mentions her age or date of birth. But Ancestry reveals a birth registration as Catherine Belinda Finn on 16 December 1864, Cork, county of Cork, Ireland, parents Eugene Finn and Belinda (née) McCarthy, who were married on 30 Jan 1864 in Cork. Eugene was the eldest son of James Finn, esq, Kanturk [town in the NW of county Cork], and Belinda was the youngest daughter of Dr McCarthy, Newcastle, County Limerick.

In 1901 Kate Belinda Finn was living (on her own means) at a salubrious address in Kensington with her widowed mother Belinda. Her age was given as 34, which is out by two years (should be 36). Her mother died in 1906 and I can't find Kate in the 1911 census, nor as yet in the censuses prior to 1901. Tim Harding has pointed out that she may still have been abroad at the time of the 1911 census as she played in (and won) the 1911 San Remo Ladies' International.

In the 1920s she lived at 12 Rugby Mansions, where her flat-mate was Eileen Florence Hodson Moriarty (1921 and 1931 electoral records). Eileen (b 1880, Ireland, d 1945, Wales) carried on living there for some time after Kate's death and eventually left £35,000 in her own will.

Here is Kate Finn's probate record:
Index of Wills and Administrations, 1932 wrote:FINN Kate Belinda of 12 Rugby Mansions Addison Bridge Kensington Middlesex spinster died 8 March 1932 Probate London 10 May to John Charles Fitzmaurice Finn esquire. Effects £6000 12s. 3d.
£6,000 looks quite a tidy sum for those days. I think that John Finn was her (younger) brother. He spent a lot of time abroad and I suppose it is possible Kate did also, either with him or somewhere warm, for the sake of her health, which might explain where she was in 1911.

The BCM obituary comment that "she never again competed" is a bit misleading as it is quite clear she carried on playing club chess for the rest of her life. References to her appearances for the Imperial Chess Club can be found in the Times. One of her last recorded appearances was in a rather grand match played on board the Union Castle passenger liner Llangibby Castle moored in Royal Albert Dock in London in 1930. (Ref. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, May 21, 1930; pg. 14; Issue 45518.) Mir Sultan Khan played on top board and only drew against W.Veitch - who may have been related to the Walter Veitch (1923-2004) who played in the 1950 British Championship, etc. The older Veitch was referred to as "of Union Castle".

I've since found a couple of Times in memoriam notices for Kate Finn, on the anniversary of her death in 1934 and 1935, in both cases signed "J.F. and E.M." - presumably her brother John Finn and her friend and flat-mate Eileen Moriarty.

Here is a game which Kate Finn won at the 1905 British Championship in Southport. The Manchester Guardian was coy about giving Black's name, for some reason.

By the way, you may note that Kate Finn's last home, Rugby Mansions, is in Bishop Kings Road in W14 - rather a wonderful road name for a chess player. And, equally wonderfully, this is but a stone's throw from where the London Chess Classic is played.
Some of the content of this post first appeared on the EC Forum on 29 August 2015.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Chess Detective

Now I'm retired from full-time chess magazine editing, I can indulge my various passions (family history, local history, photography, guitar playing, etc) with a clear conscience. And also pay some attention to Britbase, the British chess game archive which I founded nearly 20 years ago.

If I were asked to choose my favourite pastime, I think I would have to summarise it as "looking things up". This encompasses family history, chess database work, and one or two other things. It dates well before the advent of the internet (I used to spend days in musty records offices, tracing ancestors in ledgers back in the 1980s and 1990s, long before Google). There's nothing I like better than browsing through the index at the back of a book - almost any book - or trying to discover arcane facts on the internet. I wouldn't dignify it with the word "research" since it tends to be unstructured and serendipitous, but it occasionally leads me to doing something useful, almost by accident.

I think this love of looking things up dates back to my discovery of chess literacy. I can't quite remember how or when I learnt to read, but I do remember the beginnings of my chess literacy. It was when I opened a book called Chess for Children by Raymond Bott and Stanley Morrison, probably around 1961 when I was eight. I had already been initiated into chess, thanks to my elder brother, so I didn't really need all the stuff about how the pieces moved but I was amazed to learn from the book that a chess game could be written down. That really was a light bulb moment for me. The thought that games could be recorded and played back at one's leisure greatly impressed me. I'm still not entirely sure why but it was a revelation. It still is. Imagine if one could watch historic football or cricket matches, from a hundred years ago, in full colour and all-round stereo sound - that's how it feels for me to play through some ancient chess game, witnessing the exact moves on the board that Staunton, Morphy or Steinitz played. Fifty years on the sense of wonder still hasn't worn off.

A year or two later, still before I had played in any formal competitions or joined a club, I started writing down my own pitiful chess efforts, as well as cutting and pasting chess columns from newspapers into a sort of scrapbook. We took the Manchester Guardian, so that meant Leonard Barden and his wonderful Saturday column, and also the Sunday Times, for which Hugh Alexander was an equally impressive chess writer. The recording was, if anything, more important to me than the playing, so it was almost in order to have an excuse to write more games down in my scrapbook that I felt the need to start playing competition chess in 1967.

I still have this itch to record chess games, hence my creation of Britbase and my work over the years as a game inputter for various competitions. Of course, there are plenty of other people now engaged worldwide on this important work and I salute their efforts. These days I see myself more as a chess detective and a proof-reader, trying to cudgel the mountains of games being input into some semblance of order. I have to try and keep my tendency to perfectionism in check when I witness games being input and disseminated in industrial quantities, with an inevitably large number of mistakes being made. Rather than lambast sloppy inputters (as I admit I may have done on occasions), I think it is generally better to be constructive, bridle back the criticism and help game inputters in their Sisyphean task.

We shouldn't be too surprised or shocked that commercial databases are not as accurate as we would like them to be. I know only too well the time pressures that game inputters are under to get games digitised to accompany press reports and website publicity. And once a given day's pile of scoresheets have been carted away to make room for the next batch it is often too late to fix any errors that may have crept in.

The next stage of the process is when games are collated and published on disk to accompany database software. I'm not quite sure how this process is conducted as I have never personally been involved it, but I suspect very little resource is put into it. I would guess ChessBase (or whoever is producing the disk) hire a handful of editors, who then have to trawl the net and otherwise collate four or five million games, standardising tournament and names, adding ratings, etc, etc. I doubt that they tinker very much with the actual moves as recorded but other things tend to go awry: important bits of data (whether a player lost on time or by 'phone death', a note of the source of the game, etc) can be flushed away, and dodgy decisions made as to which Smith, Jones, Garcia or Sokolov was involved.

Part of my self-imposed Britbase role is to go through old UK bulletins, looking for games which are missing completely from commercial and online databases, but also for games which might already have been recorded but are deficient in some important respect (e.g. misattributed, short on data, such as round numbers and dates, or more importantly with wrong moves). I may also generate 'stubs' or 'blanks', i.e. game records showing players, ratings, round number and date, but with no moves or only a brief textual overview of the game. This can be useful for the generation of crosstables, and also prompts future researchers to go looking for the game moves.

Here's a case in point: I came across this game in Mega Database 2014. N.B. please don't add the following to your database as it contains a number of mistakes as it stands:

[Event "Lloyds Bank op"]
[Site "London"]
[Date "1973.??.??"]
[Round "3"]
[White "O'Kelly de Galway, Alberic"]
[Black "Penrose, Jonathan"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A56"]
[PlyCount "73"]
[EventDate "1973.08.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "ENG"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2000.11.22"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e5 4. Nc3 d6 5. e4 Be7 6. Qd3 O-O 7. g3 Na6 8. h4 Nc7
9. a4 Na6 10. Bh3 Nb4 11. Qe2 Bxh3 12. Nxh3 Qd7 13. Kf1 Ne8 14. Kg2 f5 15. exf5
Qxf5 16. Ne4 Nf6 17. Nhg5 h6 18. Nxf6+ Rxf6 19. Ne4 Rf7 20. Ra3 Raf8 21. g4 Qd7
22. g5 Kh7 23. Rg3 Rf5 24. gxh6 g6 25. h5 g5 26. Bxg5 Bxg5 27. Nxg5+ Kxh6 28.
Ne4 Rf4 29. Rg6+ Kh7 30. Ng5+ Kh8 31. Rh6+ Kg8 32. Ne6 R8f6 33. Rxf6 Rxf6 34.
Qg4+ Kh8 35. h6 Rf7 36. Qg7+ Rxg7+ 37. hxg7+ 1-0

I found this one amongst another batch of games attributed to Lloyds Bank op 1973. Which brings me to the first error: there was no Lloyds Bank Masters in 1973 (that wonderful series of tournaments didn't start until 1979). The other games I quickly figured out were played at the Islington weekender in December 1973 (which will be coming to Britbase very soon - my thanks to Richard James for lending this and several other bulletins) but this one clearly had nothing to do with it as nobody called O'Kelly or Penrose took part.

The identity of the white player also made me suspicious. ChessBase had already confused the Belgian GM Alberic O'Kelly de Galway (1911-80) with the English player Rory O'Kelly (born 1950) several times in the 1990s, which I had reported to them and they had fixed a few years ago. It was even possible that Black was someone else - Jonathan has a brother Oliver who is a good player, albeit unlikely to play in London since he is based in Edinburgh. I noted that Jonathan Penrose had never played the Czech Benoni before, but of course players can change their opening repertoire at any time.

My next step was to have a look through old magazines for 1973 but I couldn't find any trace of pairings between Penrose and either O'Kelly. Then I discovered that Ray Keene had annotated the game for Informator 17. Ray's version showed white as Rory O'Kelly, Black as Jonathan Penrose, the occasion simply as "England" and the game moves ending at 31.Rh6+.

The next step was an easy one - contact Ray! The Times' chess columnist responded to my email within minutes and helpfully copied in his former school colleague Rory O'Kelly who, a few minutes later, contacted me to confirm that he was the player of the white pieces:

"The game was played between myself and Jonathan Penrose in a London League match between Mushrooms and Hampstead on 3rd April 1973. It actually ended 31 Rh6+ which was my sealed move. Penrose resigned without resuming. As I recall I felt confident enough to tell him what I had sealed.
My 6 Qd3 was a TN - probably my only contribution to opening theory. The point was to play h4 and Bh3 without allowing a b5 sacrifice. In this case it also had the fortunate though unintended consequence of tempting my opponent into a very unhelpful excursion with his QN."
So, mystery solved. Here is the game, for your enjoyment, and to allow you to fix the game on the database*. My thanks to Ray and Rory for helping me to solve this mini-mystery.

* To capture the PGN data, click on the c8 square on the board, then cut and paste from the pop-up window

Sunday, 22 September 2013

How Good is Your Chessfriend?

Have you come across the phrase 'chess friend'? Sometimes squidged together as one word to become 'chessfriend'? It is usually seen in the opening line of an email from a desperate chess club official or organiser who is trying to screw some money out of you or get you interested in playing in his grotty little tournament in some sullen hall somewhere (why is it that chess tournament venues so often remind me of Wilfred Owen's poem Strange Meeting?). Or some equally desperate magazine editor hoping you'll buy his wares. Yes, I admit, I've used the term myself.

The question is: does the coined word 'chessfriend' ring true? Can chessplayers ever really be friends with each other? OK - I realise I am laying it on a bit thick with the cynicism here - yes, of course they can. I have many chess friends... I think. But do you ever really forgive your best chess mates for those heart-breaking defeats they inflicted on you decades ago? Or, indeed, are the words of congratulation you offer them when they achieve some huge chess success and you finish on 3/9 really sincere? Be honest: somewhere deep down, underneath the grafted-on civility and rictus smile of the sporting loser, are you absolutely sure there are no vestiges of the appalling brat who used to hurl pieces and/or abuse across the room when he lost? Of course, the vast majority of us grow out of such behaviour when we start playing in public but I am so glad they didn't have camcorders and YouTube when I was a kid.


However, adulthood brings subtler, wittier ways to get your own back on your 'chessfriends'. Here's how revenge was exacted on me. I was at the prize-giving for the 1982 Berks and Bucks Congress (for those unfamiliar with English geography, that's the counties of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire - we provincials always abbreviate the name of our native county). I was feeling pretty pleased with myself (the adjective 'smug' would not be inappropriate), having finished a close third behind a couple of IMs in the main event. I was getting ready to step up to receive my cheque (a princely £50) from the guest of honour - who, coincidentally, was one of the two IMs who finished ahead of me, namely William Hartston.

Naturally I wanted this massive sporting achievement to be recorded for posterity and had brought my camera. When my time came to go up onto the stage to receive the cheque and acknowledge the rapturous applause of the audience, I handed the camera to my best chessfriend to take my picture. Poor chap, he had finished nowhere in the tournament, but he seemed more than happy to help out with the photography and doubtless added some kind words of congratulation on my success, being the good and true chessfriend that he is. By the same token, I've no doubt I passed on my sincerest, heartfelt commiserations to him, wishing him 'better luck next time, old man'.


A week or so later I collected the photos from Boots. At first sight they seemed perfectly fine. It was only later when I showed them to the same chessfriend - and he collapsed laughing - that I realise I'd had the Mickey Adams well and truly taken out of me. Ten out of ten to him for his ingenuity and ability to frame a photo. In the immortal words of Michael Bates as Ranji Ram in the old British sitcom It Ain't Half Hot, Mum, "it is serving me right for being clever dickie."

Here's the photo (only native speakers of British English, and possibly Aussies and Kiwis, are likely to get the joke)...

John Saunders (left) receiving a prize from William Hartston at the 1982 Berks and Bucks Chess Congress. But the photograph doesn't really need a second caption, does it?

Monday, 26 August 2013

BritBase is Back!

Yes, BritBase is back. The national chess game database which I started in 1997, that is (just in case you had never heard of it). is the address.

BritBase Home Page - Still crazily keying games after all these years...

Actually, it's never been away - it just sat there, gathering dust for a year or two, as I busied myself editing chess magazines. But now I'm retired (apart from some freelance writing, tournament report-writing, translating, etc), I'm hoping to have a bit more time to devote to what was one of my first chess projects as an amateur chess worker before I went professional.

In the meantime chess and the dissemination of chess info has continued to develop at an amazing rate online, and I am no longer sure that there is much need for BritBase to keep up with contemporary British tournaments anyway. The game scores from current tournaments find their way to consumers, usually in a prompt and orderly fashion, via a multiplicity of web sources. So I'm really focusing my attention on past tournaments which have been yet to find their way from obscure bulletins and other sources onto digital media. That said, I'm happy to take delivery of files of tournament games played in the here and now, particularly if the sender feels that it is a good way to 'get them out there'.

If you have files you want to share, or want to get in touch to discuss any aspect of this, you can comment here on my blog. (Or send an email to 'john' at the URL address you see further up the page.)

To keep track of BritBase progress (or lack of it), click on the What's New page here.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

What Did We Miss? (Solution)

Saunders - Staples
London League 1979

White to play

Here's the answer to my poser from yesterday. You'll recall that the game went 22 Ng3 Bg6, and I asked you what both players had missed.

A couple of people on Twitter suggested 22...Nxh3+ after the move played (22 Ng3) and it's a very logical try. However, this is an example of pattern recognition leading us astray. I can't recall what I was thinking about when I played 22 Ng3 but I expect I also looked at 22...Nxh3+ and decided my move was worth the risk as there is no immediate mate on the horizon. After 23 gxh3 Qxh3 24 Nxh5 Qxh5 25 Bd1! it is not at all obvious how Black prosecutes his attack.

But instead of 22...Nxh3+, Black has the surprising 22...Bf3!! which turns out to be unanswerable. White cannot take with the queen because of 23...Nxh3+ discovering an attack on the queen, while capturing with the pawn loses to 23...Qxh3 and once again White has to surrender his queen to stop mate.

Those are the main tactics but what can White do if he can't capture? The g2 pawn will fall next move and with it all remaining hope of defending the kingside. White's position collapses like a house of cards.

In retrospect I can only wish that my opponent had played it so that I could have resigned immediately and accompanied him across the road to the Old King Lud pub across the road from the (then) London League venue at St Brides' Institute in order to enjoy extra drinking time for our post-mortem session (I'm sure we ended up there anyway but pubs closed at ludicrously early hours in those days).

Bf3, to win the g2 pawn, is quite an unusual motif, and what made it harder to see was the distraction of a more familiar idea which needed analysing. I'll have some more examples from my old scorebooks very soon.