Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Chess Snippet No.3: Mir Sultan Khan (1905-66)

From the Manchester Guardian, 13 August 1929, page 4

An interesting snippet about Mir Sultan Khan (1905-66), who had just won the 1929 British Chess Championship:

Transcription follows:
The New Chess Champion.
Hafiz Mian Sultan Khan, the new British chess champion and first Indian to win the distinction, is "the son of Mir Nizamuddin, the religious leader of Mitha Tiwana, in the Shahpur district of the Punjab. He is 24 years of age, and has spent the greater part of his youth in learning the Koran by heart, so effectively that he has earned the title of "Hafiz," accorded to one able to repeat from memory the whole of the Koran. He has nine brothers, all of whom are advanced players of chess.
Colonel Malik Nawab Sir Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana, who belongs to the same district as Sultan Khan, took a great interest in him because of the remarkable aptitude he showed whenever he played a game with the Nawab. The Nawab therefore organised a special all-India tournament, which Sultan Khan won. The new champion does not speak English, and consequently he cannot read any book written on the subject of chess. There are no chess books in the vernacular of his country. Sir Umar therefore engaged an English tutor to teach him the English moves of the game, as the Indian moves differ from the English. During the tournament at Ramsgate Sultan Khan, who contracted malaria in India, developed such a high temperature that it was considered necessary to scratch him, but he refused to submit to the ruling and persisted in continuing to play.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Miss Fatima, 1933 British Women's Chess Champion

Above is a cutting from an article which appeared in the Western Morning News on Saturday 12 August 1933, page 7. Here is the text

Hastings, Friday [11 August 1933]
Miss Fatima, a young Indian woman, with faultless features and dressed in Eastern style, won to-day at Hastings, the British women's chess championship.
Her eleven opponents were mostly of many years’ experience, and included no fewer than four ex-champions, yet out of ten games played she had won nine and drawn one by really remarkable play. 
No such score has ever been made in a series of similar contests extending over nearly 30 years. 
Miss Fatima has been for five years n England in the household of Sir Umar Hayat Khan, in or near London, living a rather secluded life. She speaks only a little simple English.
Miss Fatima has been described as still in her teens, but in an interview to-day after her victory, she admitted to 21 years and one month. She learnt all her chess in England, having started playing, she said, only two years ago.
Unfortunately this is likely to be her last tournament in England, as according to present arrangements, she is returning to India shortly.

From the foregoing, it would suggest that Miss Fatima was born around June/July 1912, rather than the year 1914, as is generally given. Of course, this is not proof, merely evidence.

Wikipedia entry for Miss Fatima: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Fatima

Friday, 19 February 2016

Great Scott

Here's a little poser...

White, to play his 41st move, has a huge material advantage - queen for bishop and pawn. But he has two problems: (1) his queen is holed up in a corner; (2) his opponent's d-pawn is two squares away from queening and there's no obvious way to stop it. The e7-bishop can't get back to cover the d2-square, while the white K can't get there in time either, e.g. 1.Kf2 d2 and the K can't go to e2 because the c4-bishop covers e2.

So what to do? It turns out that White had actually gone into this position with his eyes open. In the following position...

... he had played 39.Re7+ Qxe7 40.Bxe7 d3. And, from the first diagram, he now found the killer move...

41.Bf8! and Black resigned. If 41...Kxf8 42.Qxg6 d2 43.Qc2 Bh6 44.Kf2! (Without this precise move Black might still escape) when White will play g3 and f4 and then capture the d2-pawn after which IAMOT (you can work out this abbreviated cliché from the context).

Here's the full game score. White was RHV Scott and he won the game in the penultimate round of the 1920 British Championship in Edinburgh. His opponent was JH Blake. The following day Scott went on to win his final round game against EG Sergeant to clinch the British Championship title. I am grateful to Gerard Killoran for discovering the final position and move, after which I tracked down the full game score in the Yorkshire Post for 23 August 1920.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Thinking Allowed

Enjoyed my chat about chess with Laurie Taylor and Gary Fine on yesterday's (16 December 2015) BBC Radio 4 programme Thinking Allowed. Laurie was a very affable and relaxed host, and I enjoyed his company. I also enjoyed meeting Professor Simon Down of Anglia Ruskin University, who was the guest for the first part of the programme.

It looks as if the programme will be available indefinitely online as an MP3 download. So if the above link fails to work after a time, you could try downloading the MP3 version here. The chess content starts around 12 minutes into the show.

I am very grateful to all four UK chess federations (English Chess Federation, Chess Scotland, Welsh Chess Union, Ulster Chess Union) for their prompt and helpful responses to my request for figures of active competitive players in their respective countries. For the record, the figures I quoted on the programme were 20,000 currently active and/or registered competition chess players in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined, and 48,200 schoolchildren who competed in the 2015 Delancey UK Schools Chess Challenge (I found the figure here in the 2016 entry form). As I said on the programme, there will be an overlap between the two figures which is not readily quantifiable.

Other links:

Laurie Taylor on Wikipedia

Gary Alan Fine on Wikipedia

Profile of Professor Simon Down

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

London Chess Classic

The last fortnight has been very busy but highly enjoyable, writing reports for the London Chess Classic (go to the linked page and click on 'Reports' in the left-hand menu). On the free day there were more chess responsibilities, writing my monthly column for CHESS Magazine, as well as another historical article on the British Championships of the 1960s.

My chess activity doesn't stop there: on Wednesday 15 December at 4pm I'm appearing on the BBC Radio 4 programme Thinking Allowed to talk about sociological aspects of chess with presenter Laurie Taylor and Gary Alan Fine, Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University, whose recent book Players and Pawns: How Chess Builds Community and Culture forms the basis for the discussion. The programme goes out live so you'll have to tune in to see how the discussion goes.

Incidentally, many of you will be wondering whether Professor Fine is a relative of the legendary Reuben Fine. He isn't, and he doesn't claim to be a strong competition chess player but that's probably a good thing as it gives him a more independent standpoint. I've read the book: he's done some thorough research and written an excellent work which goes to the heart of our game and the culture surrounding it, coming up with a number of intriguing sociological conclusions.

Photo of world champion Magnus Carlsen on stage for the final round of the London Classic

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.

Grace Moore Curling, 1908 British Ladies' Chess Champion
(Photo: Chess Pie, publ. BCF, 1922)
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 (with full names): 1-3 Gertrude Alison Anderson, Grace Moore Curling and Agnes Bradley Lawson (later Stevenson) 8½/11, 4 Frances Dunn Herring 8, 5-6 Agnes Margaret Crum and Annie Sophia Roe 5½, Helen Eliza Sidney 5, Miss (Georgiana?) Watson 4½, Mary Mills Houlding and Emily Margaret Stevens 4, Hannah Maria Joughin and Anne Dick Smith-Cunninghame 2. (Crosstable here) 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: