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!"

Wednesday 16 May 2018

Seventh Sealed Move (1)

"Adjudication or adjournment? You're 'avin' a laugh! It's quickplay finish or increments these days, sunshine!"

Wednesday 9 May 2018

It's a Game of Chess, Football and Cricket Out There...

A rambling tale of three soccer-playing chessers...

A couple of posts back, I revived and adapted the old Fox and James 'IAGOCOT' trope but this time I'm casting an eye over more tangible links between chess and soccer. One of the first and most fundamental connections is that we might not even have the word 'soccer' were it not for a footballing chess player. It's an oft-told tale but I have garnished it with a few new details.

Embed from Getty Images
The man whom legend says coined the word 'soccer' was Charles Wreford-Brown (1866-1951) who was an all-round sportsman at Oxford University who captained his university team and Corinthians FC, and went on to captain England before becoming a leading administrator and team selector for the Football Association. The story about him coining the term 'soccer' (taking a key syllable from the official name 'association football' and adding 'cer') is apocryphal—Oxford University slang terms where '-er' is added to various nouns, often in a sporting context, pre-dated his time at the university—but it's perfectly possible.

Wreford-Brown played in an era when the class system dictated that pro players needed a patrician amateur at their helm, with, one suspects, less regard to his objective value as a player. This phenomenon is more familiar to us from the world of cricket, where less gifted amateur captains often led teams of professional players well into the 20th century. We shouldn't see Wreford-Brown as the technical equal of such great names as Bobby Moore but he must have been a more than decent player and leader to be put in charge of the highly skilled pro footballers who would have been his team-mates in the 1890s.

Wreford-Brown was a more than competent chess player. He was selected to play in the 1933 British Chess Championship, in which he lasted two rounds before withdrawing on medical advice. If this is ringing cynical bells in anybody's head—withdrawals on grounds of ill health tending to be made by players with negative scores—I should point out that he had scored a creditable 1½/2 from those games. The very fact that he was selected to play in this elite 12-player event in the first place tells us that he must have been a player of some ability. That said, the selectors who picked him were hardly looking to the future as he was 66 years old at the time. He was a late selection, not appearing amongst the 11 names of competitors published in the Times on 17 July 1933, a fortnight before the tournament started. The final sentence of this reference—"the twelfth place in the British Championship Tournament rests between two players, and depends on voting papers yet to be received from some members of the committee."—gives an insight into how the BCF selection procedure worked. (There was quite a lot of grumbling about this over the years and it led to the abandonment of the round-robin format in favour of a more open Swiss system in the late 1940s.) Looking at the line-up that year, I'd say it was a tournament of two halves, with the first six players being of a high standard, and the bottom six being much of a muchness, Wreford-Brown included (though that might be a little unfair to the blind player Rupert Cross who was arguably more talented than the others).

Wreford-Brown's selection for the 1933 championship was published in the Times on 31 July when he was referred to as the "old Corinthians footballer". BCM's report on the tournament (September 1933, p366) reveals that the other player on the selectors' ballot paper was the much younger Alfred Mortlock (1910-99), the 1928 British Boys' (Under-18) Champion who ultimately replaced the sick Wreford-Brown in the 1933 competition.

Here's a 'Quotes and Queries' entry from Ken Whyld in BCM, November 1988, page 507):

No. 4752 — This is Olympiad month, so here is a question with which to win a few bets! Which England footballer played for Great Britain in a chess Olympiad? If clues are needed, he not only played football for England, but was captain, and what’s more, he coined the word “soccer”. The answer is, Charles Wreford Brown, who died in 1951 aged 85. The Olympiad was Paris 1924, before the present format was adopted. Britain had only three players (the other two being Mrs Holloway and Handasyde), and finished below those countries with four players but above Russia (next to last, with only two emigrés in the team) and Yugoslavia, whose sole player had to withdraw at the half way stage.
11 of Wreford-Brown's games from the 1924 Paris Olympiad (most of which he lost) may be found on ChessBase's Big/Mega Database.

Another intriguing episode was referred to in BCM (September 1937, p471):-

C. Wreford Brown, while in New Zealand as joint manager of the English amateur Association football team, was induced to give an exhibition of simultaneous chess at the Auckland C.C. on on June 15 [1937], and out of 15 games won 11, drew 3 (unfinished, but agreed), and lost one to T. G. Symonds, against whom he made a slip which cost a piece to save his Q. We understand that by arrangement the single player adopted as his opening one in which White sacrifices a Kt on his 3rd move—which sounds like what used to be called the “Tin Pot”!
... and I'm afraid I've never heard of the "Tin Pot" either. What is that final sentence about? Answers on a postcard, please...

Now Wreford-Brown in his own write (as John Lennon might have put it): a letter published in BCM, September 1939, p405:

To the Editor of The British Chess Magazine
Dear Sir,
Owing to absence from England during most of this—so-called—summer, my chess activities have been dormant, and the July number of the British Chess Magazine has only within the last few days come into my hands. I have therein found and studied with interest, as usual, an article by my old friend Koltanowski. I recall that ten or twelve years ago we had several games together and I enjoyed more than one struggle in the defence against the Max Lange opening. I think that honours were fairly even since I was particularly careful not to engage him in any sans voir matches. But I am claiming now to be distinctly his superior in the matter of chess dreaming. For my imagination has suggested to me that in or about the year 1918 I played a game against a Mr. Gibbs, now deceased, a member of the Imperial Chess Club, when the exact position diagrammed by the Belgian Master was reached and the same conclusion arrived at. I can even recollect the exact moves of the game which may perhaps be of some interest to your readers, though my imagination suggests that my dream game was analysed by the late Amos Burn in The Field in, or about, December of the year mentioned. Assuredly, there is nothing new under the sun! 
Yours faithfully, 
62 Pelham Court, S. W. 3 
21st August, 1939

Edward Winter has further details about Wreford-Brown in CN 4793. Here is the game which Wreford-Brown refers to above.

One or two other Wreford-Brown snippets: I found reference (Falkirk Herald, 20 June 1928) to him drawing a game with Alekhine in a blindfold simul at the Gambit Café, London, in 1928. Once again, like Amundsen to my Scott, only now do I find that Edward Winter has got there first: he found the score of the game in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and posted it in his CN 8700.

The following year Wreford-Brown went one better, defeating Sultan Khan in a simul (source: The Observer, 29 Sept 1929). The display was organised on behalf of St. Dunstan's the Imperial Chess Club and played at the ballroom of Grosvenor House, 28 Sept 1929. Sultan Khan's result was p33, +26, =3, -4 games (Miss W. F. Brown, F. W. Chambers, Ernest Irving and C. Wreford-Brown). Amongst his other opponents were his patron Sir Umar Hayat Khan, Sir Horace Plunkett, the Hon. F.G.Hamilton Russell and Miss Rita Gregory, the British girl champion. The newspaper reports that "Mir Sultan Khan was slow in going round his boards, and only half a dozen games had been finished between 3.15 and 6.30. Unfinished games were adjudicated at 7.30pm."

Wreford-Brown met Alekhine socially on at least one other occasion: here's a link to a 1932 photo on BritBase showing them together at a soirée given by Sir Umar Hayat Khan.

Most of the above covers known ground but here's something of which I was hitherto unaware. Though I knew that Wreford-Brown had played a few games of first-class cricket, the following (from the Times, 27 April 1885) came as a surprise...

Not first-class cricket, of course, but six wickets—including that of the legendary WG Grace— makes for remarkable reading. The stuff of schoolboy daydreams... 1885, dismisses WG Grace, 1890s captains the England football team, and in the 1920s, gets a draw with the world chess champion Alexander Alekhine. Incidentally, that's by no means the end of his cricketing successes: Wreford-Brown went on to dismiss WG Grace in other higher status matches, including in both innings of an Oxford University versus MCC match in 1888. The legendary Doctor probably preferred having Wreford-Brown on his own team: they played alongside each other for Gloucestershire in the late 1880s, when the entry 'c Wreford-Brown b W.G. Grace' featured on the scorecard. I'll leave others to trawl through newspaper records of Wreford-Brown's physical sports exploits – there's a huge amount of material to plough through.

Back on the soccer pitch, 1899 brings us another tantalising piece of 'Roy of the Rovers' material. Wikipedia has a page on England vs Germany football rivalry and here is their introductory sentence about its earliest origins:
The Football Association instigated a four-game tour of Germany and Austria by a representative England team in November 1899. The England team played a representative German team in Berlin on 23 November 1899. The German side lost 13–2. Two days later a slightly altered German side lost 10–2. The third and fourth matches were played in Prague and Karlsruhe against a combined Austrian and German side, and England won 6–0 and 7–0. Those games cannot be considered as "official" because the German federation (DFB) was not founded until 28 January 1900.
Like to have a guess as to the captain of the English representative squad which pummelled the Germans by 13-2?...

Yes, of course, it's our man again – and I'm beginning to think I was quite wrong in not putting him alongside Bobby Moore in the football hall of fame. If England's hero of the 1966 World Cup had ever written a series of books called My Great Predecessors, he would surely have had to make Charles Wreford-Brown the subject of Chapter One. 

But wait!... this particular Ripping Yarn turns out to be a mirage. Despite being appointed captain of the team for these matches, when the time came to travel Wreford-Brown was indisposed and had to stay at home. It's like David Beckham's metatarsal all over again, isn't it? Our beautiful dream of Wreford-Brown orchestrating England's very first defeat of a German football team is just that - a dream. Replacing him in the team was his younger brother Oswald. So, sadly, we can't add another improbable laurel to Charles' already bulging collection. Even more sadly, brother Oswald's next encounter with the Germans was tragic as he died during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

OK, I'm going to stop looking things up in The Times now for fear of finding even more remarkable achievements by Charles Wreford-Brown. Did he win the Boer War singlehandedly? Or the 1925 Euro-wireless Song Contest with an impeccable rendition of Come into the Garden, Maud? If he did, someone else will have to do the googling. And the really funny thing is that, when I sat down to write this post, I had no intention of writing more than a couple of sentences about him. Then I was going to say a little about another famous grandmaster of football and chess—Simen Agdestein— and that would lead neatly into a little bit of new information I had gleaned about a third chess player who had some distinction as a footballer. Champagne Charlie Wreford-Brown has rather stolen the show. But let's move on...


Simen Agdestein, Gibraltar 2008
I'm going to skip lightly over Simen Agdestein and let Wikipedia take the strain, mainly because I've got nothing new to say about him. I've no doubt that, objectively, Simen was ten times the footballer that Wreford-Brown was, and a hundred times the chess player—and perhaps a thousand times more influential and important in the development of chess as an early coach to the young Magnus Carlsen—but comparisons between people of different eras are inherently unfair. Both chess and football have developed out of all recognition in the past century, with modern-day practitioners being more technically proficient as a result of advances in communications, technology and sports science. I could tell you a few stories about what a lovely chap Simen is, the work he has done for Norwegian chess and how he likes Monty Python but I think I'll move on to write about another footballing chess player. By all means click on the above link to Simen's Wikipedia page and learn about his grandmaster title, his international caps for Norway and time playing for Lyn Oslo in the Norwegian League – and be amazed. Given the level of dedication required to pursue either discipline to such a high level, these are truly incredible achievements. That he has since become so influential as a chess coach and teacher, and in the course of this work transformed the climate for chess in his own country makes it all the more remarkable.


After a ludicrously long intro, I've finally arrived at the original point of this blog post. My intention had been to say not too much about Wreford-Brown and Agdestein and their chess/soccer achievements before retailing a few newly-unearthed tidbits about another soccer-playing chesser whose name popped up whilst I was researching the British Chess Championships of the 1950s and 1960s. But I got rather carried away with Wreford-Brown. I hope this doesn't detract from the memory of the man I'm about to discuss. True, his achievements in the two fields of endeavour may not match those of the two gentlemen discussed above, but they are still quite interesting.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Friday 18 December 1936
This line of enquiry started with a triviality. I wanted to discover the forename(s) of JW Naylor, who played in the British Chess Championships of 1957, 1959 and 1960. One thing that irks me about old magazine and newspaper reports is the use of initials with surnames. It makes it so hard to compile biographical information about players when you can only find references to them as (say) D.A. Smith (and then find there are two D.A. Smiths playing at the same congress). That said, there are disadvantages to the modern naming convention, too; first name and surname are given, but middle names and initials are cast to the winds. Trying to find more info about someone called David Smith is as bad as someone called D. A. Smith, in fact a lot of the time it is worse. But enough already...

I scoured the internet to no avail for JW Naylor's forenames and then did what I should have done in the first place – checked my existing notes. There was his full name amongst my Varsity chess match notes, gleaned from the late Jeremy Gaige's booklet listing the results of all these matches from 1873 to 1987 (and for the full names I think I have ultimately to thank the estimable Timothy G Whitworth who did the name research for Gaige, and sent me the booklet). 

John William Naylor was at Exeter College, Oxford, and played on board five (and lost) for Oxford when they had lost 3-4 to Cambridge in the 1937 Varsity chess match. I went on to discover that he was born in Steyning, Sussex, in 1916, the son of Henry Naylor, who was a schoolmaster there and later at Ashburton in Devon, where Naylor snr set up his own school and Naylor jnr and his siblings were educated. John Naylor became a schoolteacher himself, teaching modern languages in Wellingborough, with his father in Ashburton for a while after the war, then later in Liverpool, West Ham, Ilkley and Leeds, judging from his places of residence given when he competed in chess tournaments or as per the grading list.
Birmingham Daily Gazette - Friday 29 October 1937. It's easy to spot a goalkeeper - different shirt.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Friday 17 December 1937
 Naylor was obviously quite a strong player as it would have been very difficult to qualify for the (typically) 30 to 36-player British Chess Championships of the 1950s and 1960s without being of around 2200 (Elo) / 200 (BCF/ECF) standard rating/grade. He was consistently a tad below that. In 1961 he was category 4a, equating to 193-200. I found a few grades for him in the late 1960s and early 1970s, from 191 to 197, and he disappears from the list in 1971.

Naylor did not make a big impact on his three appearances in the British Chess Championship, making 5/11 (1957), 2½/11 (1959) and 5½/11 (1960) but two of those aren't bad scores by any means. In 1967 he scored 6½/11 in the Major Open and then 7½/11 in 1969 in Rhyl.

His last hurrah was a very creditable 7½/11 in the 1976 Major Open in Portsmouth. He didn't play in 1977 or 1978 but I noticed his listing as an associate member of the federation in both the 1977/78 and 1978/79 BCF yearbooks showing his place of residence as Tripoli. His name didn't appear in the 1979/80 yearbook. There is a statutory record for a John William Naylor having died in Ewell, Surrey, in 1978, and I fear that may be him, but I cannot be absolutely sure I have the right man.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Friday 09 December 1938
It was when I cast my search net a bit wider that I discovered that John Naylor was a footballer. He won blues for the sport at Oxford in each of the four seasons 1935/36 to 1938/39, with the Cambridge match being held at Highbury on each of the first three occasions. He was a goalkeeper and gets mentioned in press reports on a number of occasions. Like Wreford-Brown before him he was a player for Corinthians FC and represented them in the FA Cup at a time when they were still a formidable side (and not the below-par team I used to watch being thrashed by Wycombe Wanderers in the 1960s). So there's another possible pub quiz question for you to torture your friends with, particularly the Arsenal supporters – "who played in three British Chess Championships, and also three representative football matches at Highbury?"

Incidentally, it might seem like statement of the blindingly obvious, but, just to avoid confusion, this is a completely different John Naylor* from the current English chess player of that name who is in his early forties. I don't think he's ever played football at Highbury. I could be wrong, of course. 

That's about it, really. Except for some nice photos of John Naylor from his footballing days.

* sadly, since writing this piece the younger John Naylor has died aged only 48. Link to a thread about him at the English Chess Forum.

Thursday 26 April 2018

J A M Osborn, 1935 British Chess Championship

While I was researching the 1935 British Chess Championship, I came upon this nice photo on Getty images...

Embed from Getty Images

This is J A M Osborn, from British Guiana (as it then was), who played in the First Class B section and scored 4½/11. Does anyone know his forenames? The photo is dated 11 July 1935.

There is also a photo of Sir George Thomas from the same congress in Great Yarmouth...

Embed from Getty Images

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Winning with the Reverse IAGOCOT

Like the snappy title? It's a parody of all those chess opening book titles from the 1980s onwards and a cynical attempt to boost clicks on this post by luring in opening obsessives to see what they're missing. (OK, three days too late for April Fool's Day but I've never been good with deadlines.)

1. IAGOCOT - "It's A Game Of Chess Out There"

For the uninitiated, IAGOCOT is not a chess opening. (There will now be a slight pause as we wait for the disappointed people hoping to learn something new about chess openings as they leave the blog. The rest of you are still interested, right?) It is an acronym standing for "it's a game of chess out there" and coined by famed chess writers Mike Fox and Richard James in their legendary column in CHESS Magazine, and later their book The Even More Complete Chess Addict (a wonderful read and still available second-hand all over the internet) as a tribute to all those sports commentators who insist on comparing chess with whatever it is they are reporting on (usually football).

Listen out next time you watch sport on TV, and when you hear the commentator make a comparison with chess (usually during a particularly boring passage of play when nothing much is happening and they are getting desperate for something to talk about) leap to your feet and triumphantly exclaim "ha! IAGOCOT!" Of course, if you're watching with any non-chess friends, they will think you've gone completely bonkers but, hey, if they already know you're a competition chess player, they'll think you're mad anyway.

Richard James, writing here, gives full credit for the creation of this splendid meme to his late colleague Mike Fox: "IAGOCOT was coined by the late Mike Fox and used extensively in Addicts' Corner in CHESS over many years. Eventually we wound it down... because there was just too much." That's the thing - barely a sports broadcast goes by without a reference to chess.

So IAGOCOTs aren't really news any more. For a while we chess observers cast around desperately for what might be loosely termed a semi-IAGOCOT - any ludicrous or inappropriate chess/sport comparison made by a sports person, not necessarily a commentator or writer. The ultimate accolade in this category has to go to German footballer Lukas Podolski and his legendary "Football is like chess, only without the dice." As Sam Goldwyn might have said (but didn't), it's not possible to improve on perfect imperfection. Thus the semi-IAGOCOT became obsolete, much as political satire did when Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize (Tom Lehrer really did say that one).

2. Reverse IAGOCOT (or should that be TOCOGAI?) 

But what about the Reverse IAGOCOT? By that I mean comparisons made by chess writers to other games and sports in their game annotations and commentaries. The thought came to me when I was browsing chess columns in old newspapers and came across a real doosra of a reverse IAGOCOT. You see what I did there? I just can't help myself. Let's not pretend that we chess scribblers are any different when it comes to dreaming up absurd sporting comparisons. I'm sure I've done it dozens, if not hundreds, of times and will continue to do so unashamedly until someone comes to wrest this computer keyboard from my cold, dead hands (I think I might be quoting Charlton Heston this time but I'm not sure).

BH Wood (right) tries a Reverse IAGOCOT on David Anderton in 1981

Here's the founding editor of CHESS Magazine, Baruch H Wood, writing in the Illustrated London News of 25 August 1956.

In May 1952 I observed, of a game I had given here: "This has a good claim to be regarded as the most remarkable game of chess ever played.” It was the game between Edward Lasker and Sir George Thomas in which Lasker drew his opponent’s king right across the board, finally mating it on his own back rank. The game will certainly bear repetition... 
[JS note: here BHW gives the score of the 1912 game Ed.Lasker-Thomas but I'm not going to reproduce it here as most chess players will have seen it dozens of times already - here's a link to a play-through if you want to refresh your memory of what happened the important thing to reiterate is that White drives Black's king right across the board to his own back rank before delivering mate]
It has been done again. Though certain features are missing which must be considered as unlikely ever to be seen again as Jim Laker’s nineteen wickets in a Test — for instance the queen sacrifice and the delicious concluding move "Castles, mate" — the new game has entire originality and some piquant features.
There you have a reverse IAGOCOT: BH Wood compares the legendary Ed.Lasker-Thomas game to English cricketer Jim Laker taking 19 Australian wickets in Manchester at the end of July 1956, i.e. only a matter of weeks before BHW's article was published and thus highly topical. Apologies to non-cricket-savvy readers trying to make sense of this but this record is perhaps the most remarkable in cricket history - and still stands to this day.

That wasn't the end of BH Wood's article as he proceeds to present the 'new' game he refers to which, as far as I can tell, has not found its way into any databases and perhaps deserves a wider audience. The 1952 game is not nearly as good as the 1912 classic in any respect, with chess engines being decidedly sniffy about the quality of play by both sides, but you can see the common theme. The final position is quite amusing, too.