Wednesday 4 October 2023

Mrs Ludovici, Chess Player

I don't blog here very often but I thought it would be a good place to post stray games which I come across in my researches. Here's a game between the well-known Mary Rudge and a lesser known adversary, Mrs Ludovici. Annotations are by Miss Rudge...

I did a bit of biographical research on Mrs Ludovici. Her maiden name was Sarah Anne Rogers and she was born in Stafford (or thereabouts) in the third quarter of 1837. Her brother John was also a chess player, incidentally. Sarah married a German, Heinrich Ludovici, in 1865 and thereafter they seem to have lived in Germany though Sarah returned to the UK to play chess occasionally (and this game score has a reference to her in St Albans). She died in Wiesbaden on 27 July 1904.

'BatGirl' on has previously published a couple of games played by her:

There are further biographical details on Sarah Anne Ludovici at the EDO Historical Ratings website.

Sunday 10 July 2022

Calling All Would-Be Bicycle Thieves...

Here's a bit of advice for would-be bicycle thieves. Let's imagine you've been apprehended eyeing up some bikes by an observant member of the constabulary and you're in the nick being given the third degree. Speaking as your (admittedly unqualified) brief, I'm recommending you keep schtum for the time being as the optimal time for using your trump card will be when you're up before the beak.

That's when you play your get-out-of-jail-free card. Or rather three cards. You tell the magistrate...

  • I was waiting for my brother; 
  • I can't ride a bike; 
  • I'm a chess player.

Sounds ridiculous? It worked for this bloke...

Croydon Times - Saturday 24 September 1932

Warning: you attempt this at your own risk - don't come crying to me if you get sent to prison. (And if anyone from Crown Prosecution Service happens to be reading this, it's not an incitement to crime, I'm joking, for heaven's sake.) Interesting, though, isn't it? Particularly that phrase "chess playing would account for concentrated gazing."

Seriously, though, folks: I can't help wondering, though I've zero evidence for this, whether Gilbert Victor Butler might have suffered from something along the lines of Asperger's Syndrome which might have caused him to stand and stare in an unusual way that the watching constable found suspicious. 

There seems little doubt that Gilbert Butler was entirely innocent of this bizarre charge brought against him. His track record as a chess player was impressive. Sadly, he contracted tuberculosis and died on 9 August 1942, aged only 39. His obituary appeared in the January 1943 issue of BCM:

"The passing of G. V. Butler deprives Sussex of one of their strongest and most dependable players. He had been ailing for some time and he died at Thornton Heath a comparatively young man, under 40.

"He was a former Sussex Champion as his father, H. W. Butler, the founder of the Sussex Chess Association was before him. It was no unusual occurrence for G. V. Butler to go through a season of the Counties’ Championship without loss, playing for Sussex on a high board, a tribute to his steadiness and resource. The following games demonstrate his unusual talent for carrying out powerful attacks by the simplest means. A great loss to British chess."

Gilbert Butler was born on 2 November 1902 and in 1939 he was living with his widowed mother and shown in the September 1939 as having no occupation. This was unusual in wartime and perhaps another indicator that he was unwell or unfit, although we know from the newspaper cutting that he had been a store-keeper in 1932, so maybe he was one of many who lost his job in the hungry Thirties.

Here are the three games given in the BCM obituary:

Sunday 8 November 2020

Shooting Chess Players: No.1 - Caruana - Korchnoi, Gibraltar 2011

Here's a photo you might have seen before...

... of Fabiano Caruana playing Viktor Korchnoi in the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters in 2011. The age differential was an amazing 61 years (which is greater than that between, for example, Karpov and Alekhine). And, more amazing still - it was the older guy who won!

I'm proud of the fact that I took this photo. Only this morning, renowned chess photographer David Llada said of it, "That photo from Gib is a piece of chess history. I wouldn’t have minded to have taken it!" That makes me prouder still - a bit like being a rank and file player and having Kasparov or Carlsen telling you, "that was a good game you played there."

That said, David and I both know that, technically, it's actually a terrible photo! A professional photographer, judging it on a ten-point scale, might give it a generous 'one' on the grounds that at least the two heads of the players are in it and recognisable. Everything else sucks. The focus is sharpest on Korchnoi's water bottle. The composition isn't great; it looks like Korchnoi is about to reach out and play a move, though Fabi hasn't made his own first move yet. So definitely not what Cartier-Bresson would call the "decisive moment". To be fair to myself, the light coming through the window is challenging, as David Llada also pointed out, but I guess someone a bit more proficient with a camera than me could have coped better with that.

However, little of the above matters. We could have wished that David Llada, Ray Morris-Hill, Lennart Ootes, Niki Riga, Maria Emelianova or Sophie Triay had been there to take the shot as they would surely have nailed it. With my infinitely better camera and significantly improved photographic technique of now (I've learnt a lot from the aforementioned photographers in the last decade and digital camera technology has also moved on by leaps and bounds) I might have done a bit better job had it been 2020 and not 2011. But no point dwelling on that: it was just me and my Nikon D90 and my shaky technique to capture this remarkable meeting of the generations with its sensational result, and that outweighs any photographic aesthetics. Famously, Viktor went on to defeat Fabi in a stunning game - see it analysed by Agadmator on YouTube.

Technical note: Nikon D90, 50.0mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 250, f/4.5, 1/60sec. Shot as a JPG. I've tried improving it using Adobe Lightroom software but with only marginal success.

Saturday 9 November 2019

David Welch (1945-2019)

I have just heard the sad news of the death of David Welch, who contributed so much to British chess as an arbiter and organiser over so many years.

David Welch at the Gibraltar Festival in 2015 (photo John Saunders)

Dave was born in Brampton (Chesterfield), Derbyshire, on 30 October 1945. After attending Chesterfield Grammar School, where he captained the chess team, he took a degree at Cambridge University before taking up a teaching job at Liverpool in 1968. Also starting teaching the same day at the same school was Peter Purland, who like Dave was to become an equally distinguished servant of British chess over the past half century. The two spent their entire teaching careers at the same school, and often worked in tandem as arbiters and organisers over the same period of time and long into their retirement from teaching.

Dave joined Liverpool Chess Club in 1968 and eventually became its president, and organiser of the Liverpool Congress. He became involved in organising and arbiting at British Championships in 1981, later taking on roles as chief arbiter of the British (later English) Chess Federation and director/manager of congress chess. He was also chief arbiter of the 4NCL for some years. He was awarded the FIDE International Arbiter title in 1977 and the FIDE International Organiser title in 2010. He received the ECF President's Award in 2007.

I first came into regular contact with Dave at the Isle of Man and Gibraltar tournaments where he also officiated as chief arbiter for some years. His vast experience of chess organisation made him a safe pair of hands, and almost the automatic go-to man when a major congress needed someone to take charge, as happened at the Monarch Assurance Isle of Man tournament when Richard Furness passed away. Dave's firmness of resolve and stentorian voice (albeit not quite matching the molto fortissimo of his Welsh colleague Peter Purland) will remain a particular memory of these events. These schoolmasterly traits gave way to a more whimsical personality, and a wicked sense of humour, when off-duty over a pint in the bar at the end of play. One small example: when musing over the experimental one-game knock-out tournament format being proposed by Stewart Reuben for the Hastings Congress in 2004/5, Dave told me, "if it works, we will call it the Hastings System. If it doesn't work, we will call it the Reuben System."

Dave died on 9 November 2019 after suffering a stroke which left him greatly debilitated some two years ago. His is a great loss to British chess. I shall miss him greatly. RIP.

(c) 2019 John Saunders

Saturday 1 December 2018

Soviet School of Sadism

As we all know, chess has a strong element of sado-masochism about it. Have you ever noticed how a crowd gathers round a board when some gruesomely obvious winning line or checkmate is about to happen? Hands up anyone who claims not to have done this? You are either a saint or, more likely, a liar. I do it myself, though it makes me feel like one of those awful rubberneckers who peers across at road accidents on motorways or even one of those people who once attended public executions. Even more despicably, I have been known to take photos...

... but enough of the self-loathing, let's cut to the chase. The following has a certain flavour of sadism. It comes from the live broadcast of the Carlsen-Caruana tie-breaks after Fabi had resigned the first game. Peter Svidler and Anish Giri were providing viewers with a thumbnail of how to win in the following sort of position which incidentally didn't happen in the game but might have done had Black carried on playing rather longer than was sensible. Of course, Fabi knew better than to do that.

The position shown above is a reasonably easy win for White though there are a few pitfalls for the unwary along the way if you are careless. The quickest way starts 1.h7+ and is actually forced mate in five but Alexander Grischuk mentioned another way which, though considerably slower, is much wittier and arguably more sadistic, offering Black the briefest glimpse of salvation before having it cruelly snatched away.

Grischuk's way begins 1.g7 and Black has nothing better than to move his rook along the back rank, say, 1...Ra8 (after 1...Kh7 White simply plays 2.Rf8 and Black can't stop the g-pawn promoting or Rh8+ followed by same; the black rook can give a few checks but the white king strolls over to the queenside to close the game out). 

Now comes the fun part: 2.Rf8+: it's easy to imagine a Black player suddenly getting his hopes up. He sees 2...Rxf8 3.gxf8+ Kxf8 and for one ecstatic moment envisages a draw. But it's a mirage. 2...Rxf8 ("Just when I think I'm out...") 3.Kg6! ("... they pull me back in!")

Giri and Svidler snickered on being shown this. Giri (to Svidler): "Have you seen this before?" Svidler: "No." Giri: "Quite embarrassingly, me neither." To which the laconic Grischuk responded: "Soviet school!"

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Carlsen-Caruana 2018: Through a Glass Darkly

This is my first blog post from the 2018 World Chess Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, being played at The College, Southampton Row, London.

Game 1: the challenger Fabiano Caruana faces the champion Magnus Carlsen

The first thing to say is that I’m not intending to provide detailed coverage of the actual play. This is already being done excellently and professionally by the likes of (now working in tandem with ChessBomb),,, etc, and there would be no point in trying to compete with all these online chess outlets. Click on the links if that is what you are looking for.

What I’m looking to do here is provide a bit of colour and give a general picture of the event. As someone who edited major national chess magazines for 13 years between 1999 and 2012, and who still regularly covers big-time chess competitions such as the Gibraltar, Isle of Man and London Classic tournaments, I am naturally interested in the whole business of chess event coverage and how it has developed since the turn of the century.


Did I write 'provide a bit of colour'? Oh dear - precious little colour to be found at the venue, I'm afraid. It's called, somewhat cryptically, The College, and is located in Southampton Row in Central London. It used to be Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design but the college people moved elsewhere some time ago, since when their former building has been rented out and not acquired another permanent function. I daresay it could be tarted up to suit various purposes, such as exhibitions, assuming organisers applied a reasonable amount of imagination and put adequate resource into it, but what we have here is a complete dud. As presented by the organisers, WorldChess, the building is about as friendly and welcoming as the Lubyanka in Moscow and totally unsuited to the purpose to which it is being put.

I was tempted to title this piece 'The Rooky Horror Show' but I think I already coined that pun last year to describe GingerGM's Crypt Blitz Tournament, held in the crypt of a London church last year...

... and which was a lot of fun, but I never imagined a world championship match being played anywhere similarly dark and forbidding. For the title I also toyed with 'The Lubyanka Experience' as the venue arguably gives you a taste of old Soviet Russia. I'm only half-joking about this as the set-up of this tournament has its roots in Soviet culture - overcrowding, dim lights, queues for everything and burly security men watching your every move.

One comes away with the impression that WorldChess's priority was to give the match a central London location at the cheapest price possible, catering for the needs of VIPs, players, online spectators, onsite spectators and media in that order, with the last two groups being given only the smallest regard. Other considerations, e.g. the popularisation of chess in the host country and the wider world, the involvement of players and chess enthusiasts in the event... have received no attention whatsoever.

In a nutshell, the venue is gloomy, depressing and overcrowded. But don't take my word for it, here are some pictures I took...


"You are now entering the Lubyanka": the above photo is the first thing you see once you are into the building and a security man has checked your bag. He'll ask you: "have you got anything sharp in your bag?" I wish I had been as witty as an esteemed photographer friend of mine had been when he replied "only my lenses."

Now you have a choice of corridors. This is starting to sound a bit like one of those 1980s text-only home computer adventure games, isn't it? Back then I used to love playing the BBC Acorn game 'Philosopher's Quest' and only learnt recently that one of its co-authors was a chess player - the English GM Jonathan Mestel. I shall present the photos to you in the style of that game as a sort of homage...

"You're in a dimly-lit corridor. You have a coloured wristband and a mobile phone in a plastic bag. Click R to turn right or L to turn left."

"You clicked R (right). Make sure the wristband is visible to the security guard as he will demand to see it. So will all the other security guards positioned along the corridor, on the way to the commentary room." This will happen every few metres of your movements along corridors for the next seven hours or however long Magnus Carlsen tries to win a dead level endgame. Another photographer friend of mine said he was going to wear his wristband round his head in future to save having to hitch his sleeve up every few seconds as he was walking round.

"You clicked L (left). Another gloomy corridor leading to the cafe and, eventually, the auditorium. Remember to keep your wristband visible at all times." The cafe is crowded but the food is pretty good, if a bit overpriced (but that's London for you). The auditorium is, of course, tiny...

"You're in the auditorium - a small room seating around 200, not very comfortably, from where you can peer through a glass screen at two men playing chess." You might think that this is the main point of the exercise but quite soon you get bored sat staring at two blokes in suits who make moves very infrequently, so let's retrace our steps to the entrance foyer...

"You are looking up a winding staircase. A burly security guard will prevent you from going up there as you have the wrong colour wristband. For all you know, there may be champagne, caviar and dancing girls up there - or it could just be an empty space - but since you are only on Level 1 of this game, you're not going to find out anytime soon. Sorry." As a humble photo-journalist I'm only on Level 1 of the game myself so cannot enlighten you as to what happens up there. You could try bribing the guard but don't come crying to me if you end up in the gulag. Let's go back along the right-hand corridor for a bit...

"You have reached the commentary room. Good luck trying to get in there." There seemed to be a bit of a hassle gaining admission to the commentary room on the first Saturday but if you're patient, you'll manage it. Remember, queuing up for things is an authentic Soviet experience, courtesy of ex-president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, so you may as well enjoy it. Actually, to be fair, it's also an authentic part of life in London, so, hey...

"Well done. You're inside the commentary room, seated on a wooden box and listening to Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf." Tip: this will probably prove to be the best part of your visit to the Lubyanka so you should consider staying there as long as possible and enjoying their excellent commentary. Credit where it's due: WorldChess got the choice of commentators right. Judit and Anna are a good team.

"You're still in the commentary room..." And that's Woody Harrelson, the Hollywood/TV actor. Woody tried to liven things up at the start of the match by fumbling with the pieces. (I might do a little skit on that later.) Sadly, your bottom is getting sore on that unyielding wooden box with no back rest, so it's time to move on...

"You've got a green wristband which means you're a chess journalist. Bad luck! Lose at least half the income you would receive if you had normal, sensible employment. OK, it's a dirty job but someone's got to do it. And you have the inestimable privilege of entering the media room. Hmm... not that great a privilege, if truth be told. It's overcrowded. You've no chance finding desk space and a chair to sit on." 

"You're in the even darker, more cluttered end of the press room." There's tea, coffee and some tasty snacks available there so not all bad - but it's really horribly overcrowded.

That's the adventure game over for the moment but I hope you get the flavour of the place. There are a couple of other rooms I've not mentioned, where a few people were playing casual chess in the gloom (no clocks provided so bring your own) plus a place where you can buy world championship merchandise (check out my Twitter stream for some facetious chat about that). Some of my chess friends who remember working/spectating at the London world championship matches of the 1980s and 1990s have compared the 2018 experience unfavourably with 20 or 30 years ago. I agree with them, though in some ways it is hard to make a comparison as the world we live in has changed so radically. Now the internet is the all-important factor, and the organisers might try to argue that their key priority is webcasting to the wider world rather than concern themselves unduly with the on-the-spot experience of those paying £70 for the privilege of seeing the match in the flesh. Did I not mention the price before? Yes, you pay £70 per day to see this, and you really get very little for your money compared to watching the game in the comfort of your own home. 

Example of WorldChess merchandise: a shopping bag with their controversial
x-certificate logo on it. Just the thing for your grocery shopping - or perhaps not.

This match as organised by WorldChess is a tragic wasted opportunity for chess. It is perfectly possible to combine an elite event with an inclusive and enjoyable chess experience for all standards of players and spectators, as proved year after year at the London Chess Classic. The contrast between the Classic and the WC match is massive. At the Classic, you step out of the lift into a huge inviting space bathed in light, and the first thing you see is kids milling about having fun playing on a giant chess board, or with their coaches and teachers playing blitz. Amongst them will be GMs giving demos, signing autographs, talking to the media, and competition players chatting with old friends. Move a few metres along wide, airy corridors and you have the auditorium in one direction, vastly bigger than the one in the Lubyanka, where the elite players play their games and the audience are comfortably seated, and a large commentary room with orthodox, comfortable conference seating, or maybe you go in the other direction and find a large room of competition players playing their own serious chess. 

So the difference comes down to location, location location. The Olympia Conference Centre in West London, where the Classic is held, is fit for purpose, whereas The College/Lubyanka simply isn't. Putting this match in such an unsuitable place might look like a massive blunder on the part of the organisers but I fear it is worse than that. It was not so much a blunder as a deliberate move demonstrating that WorldChess simply didn't care what the paying public and outside media think of their event. That's another familiar flavour of the old Soviet Union as regards the organisation of chess. It's happened here before: a few years ago they put on a FIDE Grand Prix event in London to which the public wasn't admitted at all. I didn't attend the 2016 world championship in New York but I have chatted about it with those who did and they were highly critical of the arrangements there too.

Notice that I have referred to the organisers as WorldChess rather than FIDE. The point is that WorldChess (part of Agon Ltd) is the entity to which FIDE outsourced the organisation of the world championship, but the arrangements for this match were of course put in place by the outgoing FIDE administration. The new FIDE administration will argue that it was too late to do anything about this as they've barely had time to get their feet under the table before the world championship match was upon them. Fair enough, but the chess world is going to be watching them like hawks from now on to see if they can effect a radical change in their approach to such major events.

Though I don't doubt that a successful world championship event could be mounted in London if it were carefully planned, I do wonder whether major international cities really make the best venues for big chess matches. I feel slightly disloyal writing this as a London resident but I am in two minds about the place. I love it and hate it in almost equal measure. I live in the suburbs and rarely venture into the central part of town as it is choked with tourists, very expensive and just generally wearisome for a man of my advancing years. Putting a chess competition into the middle of it, however exalted and important the event might seem to us chess people, means absolutely nothing to London and garners next to no publicity. I guess the same was true of New York in 2016. Compare and contrast Reykjavik and Baguio City, whose very names still evoke the chess matches played there many years ago, probably as much to their non-playing residents as to us chess obsessives. Wouldn't it be better to locate world chess championships somewhere where they will make a difference or be better appreciated by the residents? No, I don't mean Khanty-Mansiysk in the middle of Siberia: but maybe another city in Britain or elsewhere in western Europe. My vote would go to Manchester, a city which was promised a world championship match in the 1990s but had it cruelly snatched away. I've been to Manchester a few times in recent years and found it a really agreeable city. They have an excellent transport system, an airport and, significantly, a large proportion of the BBC's television service which has decamped there from London, maybe giving a better chance of getting chess on national TV there. Just a thought...

Thursday 17 May 2018

The Seventh Sealed Move (2)

"Let's see if I've got this straight. If I lose, I die and go straight to hell. If I win, I get an extra 200 rating points and an IM norm. Is that right? OK... seems like a good deal... let's play!"