The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era

From the publisher:

“Genna Sosonko is widely acclaimed as the most prominent chronicler of a unique era in chess history. In the Soviet Union chess was developed into an ideological weapon that was actively promoted by the country’s leadership during the Cold War. Starting with Mikhail Botvinnik, their best chess players grew into symbols of socialist excellence. Sosonko writes from a privileged dual perspective, combining an insider’s nostalgia with the detachment of a critical observer. He grew up with legendary champions such as Mikhail Tal and Viktor Korchnoi and spent countless hours with most of the other greats and lesser chess mortals he portrays.

In the late 1980s he began to write about the champions he knew and their remarkable lives in New In Chess magazine. First, he wrote primarily about Soviet players and personalities, and later, he also began to portray other chess celebrities with whom he had crossed paths. They all vividly come to life as the reader is transported to their time and world. Once you’ve read Sosonko, you will feel you know Capablanca, Max Euwe and Tony Miles. And you will never forget Sergey Nikolaev.

This monumental book is a collection of the portraits and profiles Genna Sosonko wrote for New in Chess magazine. The stories have been published in his books: Russian Silhouettes, The Reliable Past, Smart Chip From St. Petersburg and The World Champions I Knew. They are supplemented with further writings on legends such as David Bronstein, Garry Kasparov and Boris Spassky. They paint an enthralling and unforgettable picture of a largely vanished age and, indirectly, a portrait of one of the greatest writers on the world of chess.

Genna Sosonko (1943) was born in Leningrad, where he was a leading chess trainer. Following his emigration from the Soviet Union in 1972, he settled in The Netherlands. He won numerous tournaments, including Wijk aan Zee in 1977 (with Geller) and 1981 (with Timman) and an individual gold medal at the Olympiad in Haifa 1976. After his active career, Sosonko discovered a passion for writing.

GM Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
GM Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

‘Each new story of Genna Sosonko is the preservation of grains of our chess life’ — from the foreword by Garry Kasparov”

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

 

If you’re a lover of chess culture and literature you’ll be familiar with the writings of Genna Sosonko, whose essays chronicle, in particular, chess life in the former Soviet Union in the post-war period.

What we have here is a compendium of his biographical essays: 58 of them plus a short foreword by Kasparov. Most of them have appeared twice before, in New in Chess magazine, and in previous collections of his essays. In addition to the books mentioned above, some of them appeared, in some cases with different titles, in Genna Remembers, published by Thinkers Publishing and previously reviewed here. One of the essays is based on extracts from Sosonko’s book on Bronstein, published by Elk and Ruby. But, in the case of the books, you only get the biographies, not everything.

If you’re a Sosonko fan you’ll have read it all before. If not, and you’re attracted to the subject matter, this might be a good place to start.

You don’t just get Soviet players, though. English readers will be drawn to the chapter on Tony Miles, billed as The Cat That Walked By Himself, whose mental health problems are treated sympathetically.

But, for me, the lesser known figures are of the most interest. Take, for instance, the stories of two players whose lives both ended in tragic circumstances in 1997.

The brilliant Latvian theorist and tactician Alvis Vitolins was born in 1946. ‘Naïve, unusual and absorbed in himself’, had he been born a few decades later, he would undoubtedly have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, or, today, with ASD, and later developed schizophrenia. “He did not have any close friends. He avoided other people, especially strangers, especially those who were not chess players.” He never fulfilled his potential, his mental health declined and, in 1997, he threw himself from a railway bridge onto the ice of a frozen river.

Then there was Evgeny Ruban, from what is now Belarus, born in 1941. A positional player with a classical style who excelled with the white pieces, but another man with his own demons. Ruban was an alcoholic, permanently broke, and also gay, living in a small apartment with his elderly mother. Like Vitolins he also had problems with his mental health. In autumn 1997, in a state of inebriation, he was hit by a car, dying as a result of his injuries. His mother couldn’t afford the cost of his funeral, which was paid for by the car driver.

Two poignant stories which serve as a salutary reminder that, as well as the grandmasters and champions, we need to hear about those who had the talent but not the good fortune, those who fell through the cracks. You might wonder whether chess was a cause of their problems or provided solace in difficult times. It would have been good if their chapters had included a few of their games, but this wouldn’t have fitted into the format of the book.

On the other hand you may well be inspired by the life of Abram Khasin (1923-2022): he played at Hastings in 1963-64, who lost both legs in the Battle of Stalingrad, but lived to within ten days of his 99th birthday, playing chess right until the end.

There’s also the exotically named Lidia Barbot-de-Marny (1930-2021), born in Shanghai but with French, German and Russian family roots. She eventually settled in Estonia, where she became one of their leading woman players. “Chess has given me a colossal amount of good things, everything you could say.” Although she never became a master, she was a much loved chess teacher, working with young children in the Tallinn House of Chess.

There are always stories, some happy, others sad, all of which need to be told. The stories of the failures are as important as those of the successes, the stories of the lesser players as important as those of the world champions.

Much of the book is, as you’d expect, concerned with the great Soviet players of that era, but, for me, the real value of Sosonko’s work is in his writing about those you don’t read about elsewhere.

He writes beautifully as well, and the translations, mostly by Ken Neat, Steve Giddins and Sarah Hurst, are exemplary. But at some point you start to realise that Sosonko is, up to a point, playing on your emotions. There are no sources or references, just his memory, which is undoubtedly extraordinary, but perhaps, like everyone’s, fallible. At the start of his essay on Ludek Pachman, he writes about visiting London for the first time to play in the 1972 Islington Congress. He took the ferry from Hook of Holland and then, apparently, had his papers checked in Brighton. If you take the ferry from Hook of Holland now you’d end up in Harwich, on the east coast, nowhere near Brighton, on the south coast, and, as far as I can tell, it was the same in 1972. Once I find something I don’t believe, I start to question everything else.

If you’re looking for a book which will improve your rating, this isn’t for you as there are no games at all. But, if you’re attracted to human interest stories, Sosonko is essential reading. You might want to invest in all his essay collections, and, if you do so, you probably won’t need this volume. If your interest is mostly in his biographical essays, and you haven’t read them elsewhere, this will be the book for you.

As a hefty 840-page hardback it’s more suited for weight training than for putting in your pocket to read between rounds of your next tournament, so you might opt for the eBook instead. I’d have liked some games, and ideally more photographs than the 32 glossy pages we get here, but this would clearly have been impractical.

A strong recommendation, then, for anyone who’s interested in this aspect of chess and hasn’t read it all before. You can find out more and read sample pages on the publisher’s website here.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 12th April 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Hardcover: 840 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 May 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9083311287
  • ISBN-13:978-9083311289
  • Product Dimensions: 18.06 x 6.32 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era, Genna Sosonko, New in Chess, June 17th 2023, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9083311287
The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era, Genna Sosonko, New in Chess, June 17th 2023, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9083311287
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Dragon Masters – The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1

From the Publisher, Thinkers Publishing:

DragonMasters volume 1 charts the history of the most exciting and dangerous opening known to chess – the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defense.

Unlike almost all other books on the Dragon, the focus is not purely on theoretical development. Instead, the author has combined the most historically important games, the famous players who chose to fight either side (sometimes both sides!) of the opening, and the most unexpected and interesting stories featuring the Dragon. World Champions, contenders of the crown, code-breakers, revolutionaries in every sense of the world – all feature in this remarkable and entirely unique look into the history of an opening variation. as the ancient may say: Here be Dragons!

About the Author:

Andrew Burnett is a Scottish FM who represented his country on several occasions. He is the author of cult classic Streetfighting Chess and his love of the Dragon opening stretches back to his teenage years when he was looking to escape 1.e4 e5! He is currently working on the second volume of DragonMasters.

This book is volume 1 of a labour of love devoted to the history, praxis, and famous players who have unleashed the fury of the Dragon Variation or fought to quench the fire of the wyvern.

Volume 1 covers the origin of the Dragon to 1973.

The front and back cover is an engaging, colourful picture.

This publication is not a theoretical treatise on the latest developments in the Sicilian Dragon, although it does give theoretical analyses in relation to historical variations and famous clashes with some references to modern variations and theory.

Many great players have had the Dragon in their regular repertoire, although the reviewer was surprised to find a game of Mikhail Tal’s on the black side, as I had the impression that Tal always preferred the white side.  Perhaps the result of the game in this book influenced Tal’s choice: he got crushed. The reviewer will show this amusing brevity later.

The author, Andrew Burnett has a sub-variation in the Modern Variation 12.Kb1 named after him viz:

  1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12. Kb1! Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.g4! b5 15.b3! b4!?
Burnett_Variation
Burnett Variation

The work is divided into fifteen chapters:

Chapter 1 – In the beginning
Chapter 2 – Bird’s Folly
Chapter 3 – The World’s Finest Discover The Dragon
Chapter 4 – DragonMasters and DragonAmateurs
Chapter 5 – Hypermodernism and beyond
Chapter 6 – Botvinnik’s Trilogy
Chapter 7 – The War Years
Chapter 8 – The Post-War Years
Chapter 9 – When Giants take sides
Chapter 10 – Revolution in the 60s?
Chapter 11 – The Yugoslav Attack
Chapter 12 – DragonMasters and DragonWriters
Chapter 13 – Candidates and Contenders
Chapter 14 – The English Connection
Chapter 15 – The Dragon is Dead! Long Live the Dragon?

In the preface, Andrew Burnett shows a famous Dragon game which inspired the author to take up the Dragon; it also happens to be one of my favourites viz. Plaskett – Watson from Brighton 1983:

  1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.g4 Be6 10.O-O-O Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Qa5 12. a3 Rfc8 13.h4 Rab8 14.h5 b5 15.h6  b4! 16. hxg7 bxa3 17. Qh6 axb2+ 18.Kd2 reaching this super sharp scenario:
Plaskett - Watson Brighton 1983
Plaskett – Watson Brighton 1983

This position had been included in some theoretical treatises of the time with the +- symbol as White’s threat of Bxf6 and Qxh7# looks unstoppable. Jonathon Mestel had looked further and spotted 18…Bxg4! which muddies the waters. (As an aside, Stockfish 16 gives 18…Bxg4! as a draw and 18…Nh5! as a draw. This just shows the richness of chess and amazing hidden resources.)

19.Bxf6 Bh5!  Simply blocking the h-file, giving Black time to continue with his attack. Jim Plaskett now goes wrong which is unsurprising as he must have been shocked by Black’s revelation.

20. Bd4? losing but only 20.Rxh5! equalises

Plaskett-Watson20.Rxh5
Plaskett-Watson 20.Rxh5!

Best play after 20.Rxh5! leads to an unexpected repetition draw viz:

20…gxh5 21. Bh3 exf6 22. Bxc8 (22.Bf5? Qxc3+ 23.Ke2 Qxc2!+ 24. Rd2 Qc4+ 25.Kf2 Qc5+ 26. Kg2 Qxf5 27. exf5 b1=Q winning for Black). 22…Rxc8 23.Qxf6 Qb4! 24.Rb1 a5 threatening a4-a3-a2 25.Kd3 (threatening Nd5) Qc4+ 26.Kd2 Qb4 27.Kd3 with a draw!

Plaskett-Watson Variation
Plaskett-Watson Variation

As is so often the case in these double edged lines, the game fizzles out to an exciting draw. Brilliant stuff.

The game continuation was a massacre 20…e5! 21.Rxh5 gxh5 22. Qg5 Qb4 23.Bd3 Qxd4 24. Nd5 Qf2+ 25. Be2 Rxc2+ 26.Kxc2 Qxe2+ 27.Kc3 Qxf3+ 28.Kc4 Qb3#

Plaskett-Watson End
Plaskett-Watson End

Chapter 1 introduces the first games featuring a Sicilian with a black, kingside fianchetto.

The reviewer was under the false impression that Louis Paulsen was the first to play a Sicilian with a kingside fianchetto. Although Paulsen did play some Dragons including beating Steinitz in London in 1862, it was Marmaduke Wyvill who played the first recorded “high-level Dragon” in 1851 at the celebrated London International tournament. We all remember Adolf Anderssen winning that tournament but do we recall whom he defeated in the final? It was Wyvill.

Some of these first Sicilian fianchetto games don’t resemble the modern Sicilian Dragon move orders and are full of basic strategic mistakes but do give insights into the development of the variation and the Sicilian defence in general. Game 3 of the book demonstrates Paulsen’s win over Steinitz with an hyper accelerated Dragon although he was lost out of the opening!

Louis Paulsen was one of the great pioneers of the Sicilian Defence, not just developing the variation named after him.

Chapter 2 concentrates on Henry Bird’s contribution to early Dragon Praxis.

He was the first player to play the modern Dragon move order:
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6

As the author points out, his score with the Dragon was 16 losses, 10 wins and 9 draws which is not brilliant, but taking into account he was playing against the world’s best, it is a respectable Dragon legacy.

Game 7 shows a titanic struggle with Joseph Blackburne. This is the position after the opening:

Blackburne-Bird
Blackburne-Bird

This could be a modern game with white playing a fairly inept Classical Variation, but making sensible developing moves leaving the main struggle to the middlegame. Bird played the somewhat dubious 14…Qh5?! (better is the natural 14…Nd7 which is clearly equal). Blackburne responded with the impatient move 15.Bxf6 (Simply 15.Qf2 or 15.Rd3 leaves white with a slightly more comfortable position) 15…Bxf5 16.Nd5 Qe5 is equal. The players fought out a exciting draw to move 77. Buy the book to the see the game.

Chapter 3 introduces some of the first games with top players riding the Dragon such as Emmanuel Lasker.

This chapter features some greats such as Tarrasch, Pillsbury and Emmanuel Lasker playing the Dragon at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The game below shows a typical Dragon trap.

Brody – Pillsbury Paris 1900

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 d6 6.Be2  g6 7.Be3 Bg7 8.0-0 Bd7 9. h3 Qa5

Brody-Pillsbury
Brody-Pillsbury

White now played a natural looking move  that loses 10.Qd2?? Ne4! 11.Nc6 Qxc3! (Easy to overlook) 12.Qxc3 Nxc3 13. bxc3 Bxc6 (Black is completely winning, a pawn up with a much better pawn structure)

Brody-Pillsbury-11...Qxc3
Brody-Pillsbury-11…Qxc3

Chapter 4 shows some early games with masters v amateurs.

The first game in this chapter is famous tussle Lasker – Napier at Cambridge Springs 1904. This game is an extremely tactical queenless middlegame and is well worth a look.

Another game covered is a loss by Lasker to a modern idea of an exchange sacrifice on c3 in a simultaneous display. This idea had been seen before but this version is so thematic, it must be shown:

Emmanuel Lasker – Donald MacKay Hampstead 1908

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bg7 6.Be3 d6 7.Be2 Nf6 8.h3 0-0 9.0-0 Bd7 10.f4 a6 11.g4 Rc8 12.f5 Ne5 13.g5

Lasker-MacKay
Lasker-MacKay

13…Rxc3! (Winning as White’s position falls apart) 14. bxc3 Nxe4 15.Bd3 Nxc3 16.Qe1 Nxd3 17.Qd3 Nc5 18.f6!? (A desperate try)

Lasker-MacKay-18.f6
Lasker-MacKay-18.f6

18…exf6 19.gxf6 Ne4 (19…Bxf6 wins as well) and Black won on move 34.

Chapter 5 features the introduction of two major Dragon lines.

They are 10…Qc8 in the Classical Variation and the DragonDorf played by another great Sicilian pioneer Miguel Najdorf.

The first variation is shown with a famous game Reti -Tartakower

Dragon-Classical-Tartakower-Var
Dragon-Classical-Tartakower-Var

The game continued 11.h3 Ne8 ?! (A modern master would shudder at this move, the natural 11…Rd8 is better, Reti won a good positional game)

The game Reissner – Najdorf from Warsaw 1934 introduces the Dragadorf which Simon Williams reintroduced many decades later.

The game began 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 a6? (Black cannot play this slowly after castling, if Black wishes to play this way, he must not castle early).

Dragadorf-Castle-Too-Early
Dragadorf Castling too early

Stockfish already gives White a big advantage. Najdorf did win this game as White did not play incisively enough. See the book to look at these two interesting games.

Chapter 6 features the famous Alekhine-Botvinnik melee from Nottingham 1936 resulting in an exciting short draw.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2 Bg7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Nb3 0-0 9.f4 Be6 10.g4!? (The Rabinovich Attack)

Rabinovich-Attack
Rabinovich-Attack

10…d5!? (The modern preference is for 10…Rc8 when Black may already be better) 11.f5 Bc8 12.exd5 Nb4

Rabinovich-Attack-12.Nb4
Rabinovich-Attack-12…Nb4

A critical position 13.d6!? (13.Bf3! is much stronger leading to a significant White advantage) 13…Qxd6 (leading to a forced perpetual) 14. Bc5 Qf4! 15.Rf1 Qxh2 16.Bxb4 Nxg4 17.Bxg4 Qg3+ 18. Rf2 (Any winning attempt is suicidal) Qg1+ 19.Rf1 Qg3+ 20.Rf2 Qg1+ Draw agreed

Chapter 7 introduces the Levenfish Variation with Mikhail Tal falling victim.

Game 31 showcases the game that introduced the Levenfish Variation at the highest level: Levenfish – Rabinovich Leningrad 1939. The author’s commentary on this game is full of excellent analysis showing many of the traps in the Levenfish and some brilliant white victories. Two of the greatest attacking players have games in this variation  including  a crushing win by Nezhmetdinov and a crushing loss for Tal. First the Tal miniature:

Janis Klavins – Mikhail Tal Riga 1954

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4

Levenfish-Variation
Levenfish-Variation

6…Nc6! (6…Bg7!? is dangerous for Black, but just about playable with care, but 6…Nc6 equalises easily, so why play an inferior risky move?)

7.Nxc6 bxc6 8. e5 (This looks dangerous but is a paper tiger) Nd7! 9.exd6 exd6 10.Be3

Levenfish-Variation-10.Be3
Levenfish-Variation-10.Be3

10…Qe7?! (10…Be7 is slightly better for black already, the pawn on f4 weakens White’s position) 11.Qd4! Nf6?! (11…Bg7 is hardly better: 12.Qxg7 Qxe3+ 13.Be2 Rf8 14.Rf1 Nb6 15.Rd1 is better for white despite white’s king on e1 as Black is behind in development and has a weaker pawn structure with black squared weaknesses.) 12.0-0-0 Bg7

Levenfish-Variation-Start-of-Crushing-Attack
Levenfish-Variation-Start-of-Crushing-Attack

White has a significant lead in development which he exploits ruthlessly in the style of his opponent:

13.Qxd6! (sacrificing a piece with check) Qxe3+ 14.Kb1 Bd7? (14…Qb6! makes it harder for White but his attack is just too strong) 15.Bb5! (A classic clearance: 15…cxb5 16.Rhe1 wins the queen and although Black has a rook and two bishops for the queen and pawn, his lack of development is fatal) 15…Qb6 16.Rhe1+ Kd8 17.Bxc6 Rb8 (threatening mate but too late) 18. Qe7+ Kc7 19.Rxd7+ Kc8

Mate-in-4
Mate-in-4

20.Bb5 (20.Nb5! is quicker mating in four moves, Klavins chooses a prosaic win going into a trivially won endgame) Rb7 21.Rxb7 Qxb7 22.Qxb7+ 1-0

Now the Nezhmetdinov game:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4 Bg7?! (Risky) 7.e5!  dxe5? (The only decent move here is the surprising 7…Nh5 with the idea 8.g4? Nxf4 9.Bxf4 dxe5 regaining the piece with interest, better for White is 8.Bb5+ Bd7 9.Qe2! with an edge as Black still has to solve the problem of the h5 knight, 9.e6!? looks good but 9…fxe6 10.Nxe6 Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 Qc8! is a mess but dynamically equal) 8.fxe5 (This is a very dangerous position for the unwary)

Levenfish Danger
Levenfish after 8.fxe5

8…Nd5? (8…Ng4?? 9.Bb5+ wins 9…Bd7 10.Qxg4 wins a piece or 9…Kf8 10.Ne6+ wins the queen. 8…Nfd7 is relatively best 9.e6! Ne5! 10.exf7+ gives a White a pleasant edge but Black can fight) 9.Bb5+ Kf8 10. 0-0 (Black is totally lost) Bxe5 (accelerating the inevitable defeat, and allowing an attractive finish, 10…Nc6 lasts longer) 11.Bh6+ Kg8 12. Nxd5 Qxd5 13.Nf5! Qc5+ 14.Be3 Qc7 15.Nh6+ 1-0

Levenfish-13.Nf5
Levenfish-13.Nf5!

Chapter 8 features a famous victory by a British player, William Winter over David Bronstein in the England – USSR radio match in 1946.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Nb3!? (Not the most challenging line) 9…Be6 10.Nd5 Bxe6 (Stockfish also likes 10…Rc8 with both moves giving Black a slight edge, but removing the pesky knight now is understandable) 11.exd5 Ne5

Bronstein-Winter-11...Ne5
Bronstein-Winter-11…Ne5

12. Be2? (12.0-0-0 is better but Black is at least equal) Qc7 13.0-0 (13…a5! is also good but the move played is an obvious thematic Sicilian move) Nc4 14.Bxc4 Qxc4 15. Rad1?! (The wrong rook, White needs the queen’s rook on the queenside for defence, showing how badly the game is going)  15…Rfc8! 16.Rf2 Nd7 (16…a5! increases Black’s advantage to decisive proportions) 17.Bg5!? (Trying to mix things up, but 17.c3 is better, then Black has 17…a5 with a typical Sicilian initiative and advantage) 17..Bxb2 18.Bxe7 Nb6? (Bronstein’s gamble with Bg5 has paid off as Black goes wrong, much better is 18…Bc3! 19.Qd3 Qb4 maintains a big Black advantage) 19.Bxd6 Rd8

Bronstein-Winter-20.Na5
Bronstein-Winter-20.Na5

20. Na5?? (A horrible move losing the game, 20.Qb4 or 20.Qf4 holds the balance) 20…Qa6! 21.Qf4 Rxd6 22.c4 Bg7 23.Rfd2 Bh6 24. Rd3 Rad8 25.a4 Bf6 26.Qb5 Qxb5 27.axb5 R6d7 0-1

Chapter 9 introduces some giants into the mix with players such as the great Soviet theoretician Efim Geller who played the Dragon with both colours, and the great Bobby Fischer who was a veritable St George. Fischer famously lost against Cesar Munoz, a Ecuadorean National Master: this game is definitely worth a look.

This chapter also includes the famous Fischer – Larsen clash from Portoroz 1958.  The game is in a line that has become topical recently:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Bb3 Qa5 12.0-0-0 b5 13.Kb1 b4 14.Nd5 14…Bxd5

Fischer-Larsen-Portoroz
Fischer-Larsen Portoroz 1958

15.Bxd5 (Not best, better is15.exd5! Qb5 16.Rhe1 a5 17.Qe2! Tal, M-Larsen, B Zürich 1959)

Tal-Larsen-Zurich-1959
Tal-Larsen 17.Qe2 Zurich-1959

This position used to be thought to be slightly better for White with the bishop pair and pressure along the e-file. Modern engines dispute this and reckon Black is more or less equal viz:

17… Qxe2 18.Rxe2 a4 19.Bc4 Rfc8 20.b3 (20Bb5?! Ra5=) Rc7= 21.Bb5 axb3 22.cxb3 Ra5 23.Bc4 Rb7 = (Stockfish gives White a tiny advantage)

Now back to the main game.

15…Rac8?! (Much better is 15…Nxd5 16.Bxg7 Nc3!!+ 17.Bxc3 bxc3 18.Qxc3 Qxc3 19.bxc3 Rfc8 20.Rd3 Rc5 =, or 17.bxc3 Rab8! 18.cxb4 Qxb4+ 19.Qxb4 Rxb4+ 20.Bb2 Rfb8=)

16.Bb3! and Fischer won a great game.

Chapter 10 introduces the famous Soltis Variation.

It may not be widely known, but in 1963  Heikki Westerinen introduced the Dragon Soltis Variation to the world, 8 years before Andrew Soltis popularised the variation named after him. This is the stem position:

Soltis-Variation
Soltis-Variation

Westerinen played this line against Bent Larsen, who was one of the protagonists who played the Dragon with both colours. He lost the game, but his opening and early middlegame were fine as he achieved a winning position by move 20: he was outplayed later by a world class player. Buy the book to see analysis of this ground breaking game.

Chapter 11 introduces  Geller on the Black side and Anatoly Karpov as a chief Dragon slayer. His game against Gik in the Moscow University championship in 1968 is one of Karpov’s best games.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Qd2 Qa5 10.0-0-0 Bd7 11.h4 Ne5 12.Bb3 Rfc8 13.h5 Nxh5 14.Bh6 Bxh6 15.Qxh6 Rxc3 16.bxc3

Karpov-Gik-Moscow-1968
Karpov-Gik-Moscow-1968

In this position below Gik made a fatal mistake: 16…Qxc3 no doubt expecting 17.Kb1, so 17.Ne2 came as a rude awakening gaining a crucial tempo, both 16…Nf6 and 16…Rc8 equalise comfortably.

The book analyses this theoretical scuffle in detail.

Chapter 12 is devoted mainly to famous Dragon writers: David Levy and Andrew Soltis.

David Levy, the Scottish IM famously wrote two editions of the Batsford books The Sicilian Dragon. Here Levy faces the former World Champion, Boris Spassky who is in devastating form:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Qb8?! (A trendy line at the time, which is almost certainly unsound, Stockfish does not rate it.)

Spassky-Levy
Spassky-Levy

11.h4! a5? (This is a horrible move, it loses quickly, Stockfish recommends 11..Ne5 12.Bb3 h5 trying to slow down the attack in Soltis style, but Black’s misplaced queen renders this fruitless) 12.Bh6!? (Not the very best, the simple 12.h5 is even stronger winning quickly) 12…Nxe4? (Black pushes his luck with a flawed combination, better was 12…Nxd4 13.h5! Be6 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.Qxd4 with a big plus for White) 13. Nxe4 Bxd4 14.h5! (With a huge winning attack)

Spassky-Levy-14.h5
Spassky-Levy-14.h5

14…d5 (Desperation, trying to get the queen into the defence) 15.Bxd5 Qxe5 16.Bxf8! (Simple and effective) 16…Qxd5 17.Qh6! Nb4 18.Rxd4! (Removing the last defender) Qxd4 19.Bxe7 1-0

An opening experiment crushed by an attacking great!

Chapter 13 is mainly devoted to two fascinating clashes between Efim Geller and Viktor Korchnoi in their Candidates match in 1971 in Moscow. It also reintroduces Anatoly Karpov who is undoubtedly one of the greatest Dragon slayers, shown in action in a famous tussle with Juergen Dueball at Skopje in 1972.  It was Karpov’s endgame skill that won him that game.

The first Geller – Korchnoi shows the good old exchange sacrifice on c3 in all its glory.

Geller-Korchnoi-Moscow-1971
Geller-Korchnoi-Moscow-1971

White played the poor 12.Bh6?! provoking Black. 12…Bxh6! 13.Qxh6 Rxc3! 14.bxc3  a5! (14…Qc7 is fine as well)

Black is equal here and has a position that is easier and more fun to play. The game was eventually drawn, but Black achieved a winning game but threw it away in mutual time trouble.

Chapter 14 introduces one of the great Dragon specialists, the late and great Tony Miles.

Here is a exciting scrap with another future GM, Michael Stean.

Michael Stean – Tony Miles Hastings 73/74

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Qd2 Bd7 10.h4 h5 11.0-0-0 Rc8 12.Bb3 Ne5 13.Kb1 Nc4 14.Bxc4 Rxc4 15.Nde2 Qc7 !? (An attempt to avoid the main line theory, 15…b5 is the main line which equalises comfortably as played by Kasparov against Anand 16.Bh6 Qa5 =)

Stean-Miles-15.Qc7
Stean-Miles-15.Qc7

16.Bh6 Be6 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Nf4 Qa5 (This position is equal, but Stean comes up with a faulty plan) 19.Nxe6+ (19.Nce2 is equal) fxe6 20.Rh3?! (20.Ne2 is still equal) Rfc8 21.Rg3?

Rxc3! (Now Black is better) 22.bxc3 Rc6 23.Rg5 e5! (Cutting the rook off)

Stean-Miles-23...e5
Stean-Miles-23…e5

Now Black is slightly better, somehow Miles contrived to lose this game.

Chapter 15 is devoted to one of the most famous gladiatorial contests in the Sicilian Dragon: Anatoly Karpov v Viktor Korchnoi Moscow 1974 game 2 of the Candidates final. The winner was to play Bobby Fischer.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.h4 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12.0-0-0 Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.h5 Nxh5 15.g4 Nf6 16.Nde2 !?

Karpov-Korchnoi-16.Nde2
Karpov-Korchnoi-16.Nde2

At the time, the position before 16.Nde2 was a topical Dragon tabiya. Korchnoi played the natural reply which is already a mistake.

16…Qa5 (16…Re8 is much better and about equal) 17.Bh6 Bxh6 (17…Bh8 18.Bxf8 Kxf8 19.Qe3 is clearly better for White) 18.Qxh6 Rfc8 19.Rd3 R4c5? (The final mistake, 19…Be6 20. 20.g5 Nxh5 21. Nf4 Qe5 22.Nxh5 gxh5 23. Qxh5 Qg7 24.f4 with a clear advantage to White) 20.g5! (Winning) Rxg5 21.Rd5! Rxd5 22.Nxd5 Re8 23.Nef4 Bc6 24.e5!+- Bxd5 25.exf6 exf6 26.Qxh7+ Kf8 27.Qh8+ 1-0 (27… Ke7 28.Nxd5+ Qxd5 29.Re1+)

It is quite possible that the whole game was prepared analysis.

This game really knocked the Dragon for six, but the Dragoneers soon came up with an antidote 16…Re8.

In summary, this is a well thought out book and an enjoyable read with plenty of exciting, fighting chess. Although it is a history of the Dragon, that story is really a microcosm of the development of modern chess from 1850 onwards.

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1st April 2024

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 385 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (5 Mar. 2024)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201959
  • ISBN-13:  978-9464201956
  • Product Dimensions: 17.78 x 3.18 x 24.77 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Dragon Masters - The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1, Andrew Burnett, Thinkers Publishing, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201959
Dragon Masters – The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1, Andrew Burnett, Thinkers Publishing, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201959
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Minor Pieces 70: Francis Joseph Lee (2)

Last time we left London chess professional Francis Joseph Lee as the calendar turned from 1899 into 1900.

He was finally selected for the Anglo-American Cable Match that year, being assigned to Board 2 where he took the white pieces against one of his London 1899 opponents, Jackson Whipps Showalter. Standing worse much of the way he managed to escape into a somewhat fortunate draw.

This was the critical position, with Black to play his 45th move.

Stockfish tells me Black is winning easily if he goes after the h-pawn, but, in the heat of battle, it’s very tempting to target the dangerous looking a-pawn instead. The game concluded 45… Ra1? 46. Nc4 Rxa4? (Kf6 still offered some winning chances) 47. Nxe5 Kd6 48. Nf3, and the combatants agreed to share the point.

In April Lee took part in an invitation tournament run by the City of London club, where his result was about what he would have expected, although he only managed to beat the three tail-enders.

In this game his knights on the rim were far from dim. (As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.)

A match against Passmore that summer was won by 5 points to 3. In December he finished second to Teichmann in a 5-player tournament at Simpson’s Divan.

In this game he was successful with the London System.

In 1901 Francis Joseph Lee was on tour again, returning to Ireland where he spent a weekend with Irish Nationalist MP and chess addict John Howard Parnell, whose love of chess is mentioned on several occasions in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Here’s a game from a Dublin simultaneous display.

Lee was also interviewed by the Dublin Evening Herald (16 March 1901).

In April he returned to London where he was placed on Board 3 in the Anglo-American cable match, drawing his game with John Finan Barry. That summer there was another match against Richard Teichmann, which he lost by 5½ to 2½.

Lee continued touring in England into 1902, when he played on Board 4 in the Anglo-American Cable Match. Playing white against Albert Beauregard Hodges, he seemed ill at ease in an IQP position, losing the exchange and, eventually, the game.

Then, in April, there was an announcement.

Eastern Daily Press 02 April 1902

But he had time for an Easter party before he left, having fun with some distinguished friends.

The Hereford Times 05 April 1902

Except that he never reached Australia, instead stopping off in South Africa, where his brother George was living. By June it was reported that he was giving simultaneous displays and playing exhibition games in Cape Town.

This game was played against two of South Africa’s strongest players, Abraham Michael and Max Blieden, playing in consultation.

He then visited Pretoria and Johannesburg, where, in December, he was appointed Chess Editor of the Rand Daily Mail. He seemed well and truly established in a new country of residence.

Falkirk Herald 04 March 1903

Fairly substantial sponsorship for the time and place, I would have thought. Needless to say, he won first prize with a score of 8/9, followed by Blieden on 7½ and Michael on 6½.

In this game his opponent missed a chance to activate his queen on move 31 before ill-advisedly trading queens into a lost bishop ending.

Nice work if you can get it. Organise a tournament, find a sponsor and then, because you’re the strongest player around, win it (the first prize was £55) yourself.

But then:

Northern Whig 11 June 1903

(There are quite a few instances of his being referred to as JF Lee rather than FJ Lee.)

Back in England again, he spent the autumn touring clubs in the south west of the country. In January 1904 he was at the other end of England, in Carlisle, before travelling down to Brighton for a 9-player tournament in February.

Here, he shared second place with 5½/8 with the young German player Paul Saladin Leonhardt, resident in London at the time, a point behind Reginald Pryce Michell.

Here’s his win against Leonhardt.

In March Lee was appointed umpire of the Oxford v Cambridge match, and was called upon to adjudicate an unfinished game when time was called.  Summer was a busy time, with two tournaments to play in.

The City of London club organised an event starting at the end of July featuring many of the top players then resident in England. With the Germans Teichmann and Leonhardt, along with Dutchmen van Vliet and Loman it had quite an international feel to it.

Lee’s score of 9/16 was round about a par result for him.

The great veteran Blackburne opened 1. a3, and Lee was able to build up one of his trademark slow kingside attacks.

He was fortunate to win an exciting game against endgame (and carpet) expert Tattersall.

At this time he liked to transpose from the Exchange Caro-Kann into the Scandinavian by capturing with his queen on d5. It didn’t always work out, but here, against one of the weaker players in the event, it proved effective.

Just a week later, the first British Chess Championships took place in Hastings. Lee was selected for the top section, so had to make another trip down to the Sussex coast.

His result was again what he would have expected. On retrospective ratings he finished below those rated above him, and above those rated below him, but he did have wins against Atkins and Michell to his credit.

In the first round Mackenzie carelessly blundered into a queen sacrifice.

Lee annotated this game for the British Chess Magazine. He commented after Black’s 24th move that Black should have played Qf7, but White’s advantage was probably sufficient to win. Stockfish, as you’ll see, is of a different opinion.

This is the key position from Lee’s game against Atkins. Atkins miscalculated by playing 22… Bxe1? (Qxb7 is only slightly better for White) 23. Bxc8 Rd8 24. Bc5 Qc7 25. Bxe6 and Black resigned as he’s going to end up a piece down.

His win against Michell is well worth looking at.

Later that year, Lee undertook another tour of South West England, but 1905 started quietly. He was selected to take part in the Anglo-American cable match, but this was called off at short notice due to broken cables.

That summer, rather than playing in the British Championship, he took part in his first continental tournament, playing in the Masters B section of a massive event in Barmen, Germany.

His 50% score was again about par for the course, but, typically, he performed as well against the top half as he did against the bottom half. The two most familiar names to you, I guess, would be Spielmann, finishing level with Lee, and Nimzowitsch, who had a poor result. Both were young men who would do much better in future.

His win against Spielmann, using his favourite Caro-Kann Defence (I’m sure Horatio Caro himself would have been delighted) was an excellent game.

His game against the Italian representative was also very typical of his style.

In this game against a German master, though, he was on the wrong side of a spectacular miniature. Sadly, Post would later become the Nazis’ leading chess organiser.

Here, against a Dutch opponent, he escaped from a lost position by sacrificing a rook for a perpetual check.

In the last round he won another good game against the second place finisher.

You’ll see from these games that Lee was capable of producing interesting games from openings which might be considered slow, but not necessarily dull.

By November he was touring in Scotland, announcing that he was planning an extensive tour of the Colonies in the new year.

This time he ended up visiting Trinidad and Venezuela.

Morning Post 21 May 1906

The visit to Trinidad may well have been instigated by the chess-playing Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago, John Francis Welsh. They met eleven times during Lee’s visit, mostly in simuls, with each player winning five games. Here’s one of the Bishop’s wins, in which he opted for the Lesser Bishop’s Gambit (my source names it the Limited Bishop’s Gambit, known in London, apparently as the Circumcised Bishop’s Gambit).

My source suggests Lee resigned in a lost position as 26… Ne3 would have been winning. Stockfish continues 26… Ne3! 27. Ne6! Nxf1 28. Rxf1 Qd7 29. Nxf8 Qxg4+ 30. Qg2 Qxg2+ 31. Kxg2 Rxf8 when Black is a pawn up in the ending but White should probably be able to hold the draw.

Lee had entered the 1906 Ostend megatournament, but was forced to withdraw for health reasons. Some reports suggested he was, for a second time, planning to visit Australia, but was now unable to do so. However, he had recovered in time to take part in the 3rd British Championships, which took place in Shrewsbury that August.

A score of 7/11 was enough for a share of third place: an excellent result considering his recent health problems.

Against Mercer his pet Stonewall/London formation again led to a winning kingside attack.

Here’s another example: it’s striking that even a strong player like Palmer didn’t really understand what was happening and eventually perished down the h-file.

At the prizegiving, both Lee and Blackburne were presented with purses of gold for their services to chess.

In the autumn of 1906 and early 1907 he toured the north of England, Scotland and Ireland, including spending a week with the Edinburgh Ladies Chess Club. By February 1907 he was back in London, taking board 6 against Albert Whiting Fox in the Anglo-American Cable Match, back after a three year absence.

This was a long and well-played draw, but Lee missed an opportunity on his final move.

Fox (Black) had just played 65… Ke5-d5? instead of the correct fxg2. Now Lee missed the chance to play 66. gxf3! which should secure the full point because the pawn ending after 66… Bxf3 is winning.

By May he was well enough to cross the channel to Ostend, where another mammoth tournament was being held. The format was slightly more comprehensible than the previous year. A grandmaster section where six players (Tarrasch, Schlechter, Janowsky, Marshall, Burn and Chigorin) played each other four times, a 30-player all play all master section, three amateur sections and, like the previous year, a Ladies tournament. Lee was placed in the master section, which was reduced to a mere 29 players when Paul Johner withdrew after 7 rounds. Another player, Jacob, withdrew towards the end.

Here’s what happened.

 

Lee’s performance in such a strong field was only slightly disappointing, and he was in poor health again during what must have been a tiring event.

The players castled on opposite sides in this game, and Lee’s attack proved more successful.

This is probably Lee’s best known game, which will be familiar to readers of Nimzowitsch’s My System.

Lee’s opponent in this game was a German master who spent a lot of time in England before the First World War.

Here’s another game you might have seen before. Fred Reinfeld anthologised it in A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces.

No sooner had he returned from Ostend than he was off on his travels again.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 16 July 1907

After spending time in Canada he returned, again visiting the north of England, Scotland and Ireland. His tour continued into the new year, but in May 2008 he returned to tournament play in a small tournament in Sevenoaks, Kent, where he was also called upon to give a simultaneous display.

The top section was split into two sections. Lee played in the A section, which was won by the future Sir George Thomas on 5½/6, two points clear of Lee, Shories and Muller, who shared second place.

He won this game with a stock queen sacrifice, but also missed some earlier tactical opportunities.

Then it was on to the British Championships, held that year in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Lee’s score of 6/11 was enough for a share of third place in what was, with the exception of Atkins, a closely fought contest.

A mistake in this position against Ward cost him a half point which would have left him, rather than his opponent, in the silver medal position.

In this exciting position 34… c2 might have led to a perpetual check for White, but Lee erred with 34… Qe7?, and had to resign after the beautiful 35. Bf7!.

With his slow style of play, Lee wasn’t noted for winning miniatures in serious play, but here his opponent (whom I really ought to write about sometime) blundered on move 19, resigning two moves later.

His game against Shoosmith reached an unusual ending when Black, in a blocked position, sacrificed two minor pieces for four connected passed pawns. Both players missed chances, but it was Shoosmith who made the final error.

This was a quiet period in Lee’s life – perhaps he had further health problems – but he did visit Bradford in January 1909. Nothing more was heard of him until August when he was back in Yorkshire for the British Championships, held that year in Scarborough.

A score of 5/11 in a strong field was again a more than respectable performance, especially as he was clearly ailing in the second week.

Let’s look at his last three games.

In Round 9 he won a good game against Mackenzie, helped by a blunder on move 38.

In Round 10 he played his favourite Caro-Kann too passively, and Blake, gaining revenge for his defeat the previous year, used his space advantage to engineer a brilliant finish.

In the last round, the fast improving Yates took apart another of his favourite openings, the Stonewall Attack, concluding with an unstoppable Arabian Mate.

Then, just three weeks later:

The Sportsman 14 September 1909
Globe 14 September 1909

“… not one of the world’s really great chess players”. Not very generous for a death notice, I would have thought.

He regularly annotated games for the British Chess Magazine, who had rather more to say.

They might also have been more generous about the premature death of a valued contributor.

Again: “… never regarded in the foremost rank of chess masters…”: harsh but true, I suppose.

The obituary spoke about his gastric trouble, and he had also had lung problems in the past, but his death certificate reveals that neither was his cause of death.

Cerebral Meningitis (is there any other type): to the best of my knowledge indigestion isn’t a symptom.

The Wiener Schachzeitung provided a long and rather more sympathetic obituary.


Not very accurate, though. The 1881 Simpson’s Divan event seems to have been the 1890 event misdated, although there were 19, not 14 players and it was a handicap tournament. It was the short-lived Henry Lee (no relation as far as I know) who played in the London 1883 Vizayanagaram Tournament, not our man Francis Joseph Lee.

The layout could perhaps also have been improved. Swiderski died at the same time (by his own hand) and his obituary was immediately below that of Lee.

Let’s return for a moment to the BCM obituary: “Having, unfortunately, adopted chess as a profession, he sacrificed his imagination for a cramped, slow style of play instead of giving full scope to his chess ability.”

This suggests two reasons why he wasn’t universally popular. He was a professional at a time when professional sportsmen (they always were men in those days) were scorned, and he preferred playing closed rather than open positions.

I consider this rather unfair. Although he played gambits in simuls and informal games, he was very much a player in the modern style, influenced in part by Steinitz. With White he favoured mostly d-pawn openings: the Stonewall and London Systems, often combined, as well as Queen’s Gambits and types of Colle System. With Black he defended against 1. e4 with, at various times, with the French, Caro-Kann and Scandinavian Defences. Understanding of closed positions, although they had been played by the likes of Philidor, La Bourdonnais and Staunton, was still rudimentary compared with today’s grandmasters, but it was the experiments of players like Lee which played an important role in the development of chess ideas.

You’ll also see that, although his games, and those of other similarly inclined players of his day, could descend into meaningless woodshifting, there were also positive ideas, in particular in building up slow kingside attacks. His games were often not short of excitement, but that was more likely to come at move 50 than move 15. I’d put it to you that his obituarist (Isaac McIntyre Brown?) failed to appreciate his games fully.

Of course he had his faults: he was prone to tactical oversights and, against the top players of his day, didn’t always understand what was happening positionally, but he was still in the world’s top 100 players for about 20 years. His fragile health must also have had an impact on his results, and his interview above suggests that he was temperamentally more suited to teaching than playing.

It’s interesting to compare his life with that of a journeyman chess professional today. He was probably never very well off, but he had various sources of revenue: teaching and lecturing, simultaneous displays, exhibition games, writing and journalism, and also sponsorship. An article by Mieses in the August 1941 BCM about former Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law tells us that he was kindly disposed towards Lee and did a good deal quietly for his professional support. One would imagine that Lee was similarly supported by the likes of JH Parnell and the Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago. In his tours of chess clubs he was seen as being a friendly and courteous opponent.

The Cheltenham Chronicle (13 September 1919), writing just a decade after his death, referred to him as ‘another chess professional, now little remembered’. He’s certainly very little remembered or written about today.

I’d suggest that Francis Joseph Lee is very much worthy of your attention. Here was a man who clearly loved chess, and, despite ill health, devoted more than twenty years to promoting his favourite game throughout the British Isles, and in many other parts of the world as well. While he wasn’t one of the greatest players of his day he also produced some fine chess, along the way experimenting with new openings, some of which are now, a century and a quarter on, now back in fashion.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about his life and looking at some of his games. Do join me in drinking a toast to Francis Joseph Lee, and also join me again soon for some more Minor Pieces.

Sources and references:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
chessgames.com: FJ Lee here
ChessBase/MegaBase 2024
Stockfish 16
EdoChess (Rod Edwards): FJ Lee here
British Chess Magazine (thanks to John Upham)
Wiener Schachzeitung

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Minor Pieces 69: Francis Joseph Lee (1)

If you read anything about chess from the late 1880s through to 1909 you’ll often come across the name of FJ (Francis Joseph) Lee, a regular competitor in both national and international events during that period. He played pretty consistently at about 2350 strength, finishing below the genuine masters, but above the amateurs. Yet he had wins against the likes of Steinitz, Pillsbury, Chigorin, Blackburne, Mason and Atkins to his credit.

Here he is, pictured, I think, in 1893.

A decent player, to be sure, but I’ve seen very little written about him. As he might have used my friend Alastair Armstrong’s chess set when taking part in the 1899 London International Congress, I wanted to discover more about his life and games.

Francis Joseph Lee’s birth was registered in the first quarter of 1858 in Hackney. He was baptised at St Matthias Church, Stoke Newington, on 28 April that year. His father, Francis Goodale Lee’s profession was given as architect: as far as I can tell he was a minor church architect. He was also, although he didn’t play publicly, an enthusiastic chess player. His mother, more exotically, was Rosina Pereira Arnand, the daughter of a wine merchant, about whom I can find out very little. Pereira is a Portuguese name, and Arnand sounds French (perhaps it’s a version of Armand, which really is a French name). Many years later, Francis would tell how he was romantically affected by her tales, and also inherited her musical tastes. He had an older sister, Agnes, and two younger brothers, George and Arthur.

There’s no obvious trace of the family in the 1861 census, but in 1871 Francis and his brother George were recorded at Belmont House, Ramsgate, a boarding school for young gentlemen.

At this point we should perhaps mention a couple of other things. In 1874 a 16 year old named Francis Joseph Lee signed up for four years in the Merchant Navy. In an interview many years later he mentioned going to sea and visiting China, so I’d guess this was him. In 1885 a Francis Joseph Lee married Kat(i)e Elizabeth Jenner in Hackney, divorcing a few years later, but we can tell from the church records that this wasn’t our man – both his age and his father’s name were wrong.

By 1881 Lee was boarding in Hackney and working as a stockbroker’s clerk. He may have been playing chess at Purssell’s room by then, but the first time his name appeared in the press was in 1885 at Simpson’s Divan, losing a game against William Henry Krause Pollock, who gave odds of pawn and move. It must be round about this time that he decided the life of a stockbroker’s clerk was not for him, opting instead for the life of a chess professional. He wasn’t a strong enough player to make much money from tournament play.

He was a relatively late starter at this level, then, and, judging from this 1886 game he favoured the gambit style popular at the time.

As usual, click on any move on any game in this article for a pop-up window.

The following year he beat Pollock 6-1 in an odds match, establishing himself, almost from nowhere, as one of the country’s leading players, and earning an invitation to take part in the 3rd British Chess Association Congress Master Tournament in London in November.

A respectable performance, but it should be pointed out that Zukertort, coming to the end of his life, was in poor health, as, no doubt, was Mason.

Lee won a nice ending against chess journalist Antony Guest.

Here’s a position from his game against Zukertort.

In this position he missed the rather attractive 23… Rd3!, which would have won Zukertort’s queen (if the queen moves to safety there’s Qxh2+!): perhaps his tendency to make tactical errors led him to follow the increasingly popular trend for closed positions, already in evidence in this tournament.

The following year, the British Chess Association Congress took place outside London for the first time, being held in Bradford. It was a pretty strong event as well, as you’ll see.

Lee’s result was slightly disappointing, but he did have the satisfaction of beating Burn and Blackburne.

Blackburne seemed ill at ease against Lee’s French Defence, and Black was able to liquidate into a winning ending.

Burn was also outplayed from a closed position.

In January 1889 Lee played a short match against Gunsberg, drawing two and losing three of the five games.

The 1889 British Chess Association Congress returned to London in 1889, with Bird and Gunsberg sharing first place on 7½/10, two points ahead of the field. Lee finished in the middle on 5/10. Very few games from this event seem to have survived.

We do have this one, though, where White moved his king to the wrong square on move 34.

1890 was a busy year for Lee. He scored his greatest success to date in the spring handicap tournament at Simpson’s Divan, with a score of 16½/18, well ahead of the likes of Bird, Tinsley and Mason.

This game against a Russian master demonstrates how effective he could be with the French Defence.

He spent much of the summer involved in a match against Blackburne, which he lost 5½-8½.

Here’s one of his wins.

Following on from that match he travelled to Manchester, where the 6th British Chess Association Congress took place. This attracted a strong field of 20 players, including Tarrasch, arguably the world’s best player at the time.

Lee’s result was again respectable, finishing about as expected, but taking points off some of the stronger players, while faring less well against some of the weaker players.

I haven’t been able to find the scores of any of his wins from this event, although he certainly should have won with the black pieces against von Scheve.

In this position, instead of playing 38. Bxb7 (equal according to Stockfish), von Scheve tried Rxb7?,  presumably thinking he was either promoting or mating, but he must have missed something. Undaunted, he played on a piece down in the ending, eventually reaching this position, with Lee to play.

Now 62… Rh2+ is mate in 7, but Lee fell for a stalemate trap by playing 62… Rg2? 63. Ra5+ Kf4 64. Rf5+! with a draw. A familiar enough idea now, but it would have been much less familiar back in 1890.

Lee was unhappy with Gunsberg’s annotations of his loss against Mason from this tournament, and attempted to sue him for libel, but the judge (Roland Vaughan Williams, whose nephew, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, is one of my musical heroes) refused to allow a prosecution

Northern Whig 06 November 1890

Here’s the paragraph from 20 September:

Evening News (London) 20 September 1890

Both Mason and Lee were unhappy with this, Mason writing to the editor of the newspaper.

Evening News (London) 27 September 1890

You can judge for yourself: here’s the critical position after a lot of rather tedious manoeuvring, with Lee (Black) to play his 71st move.

Stockfish suggests 71… Rc1 72. Kd4 Rd1+ 73. Kc3 Kb7, pointing out that 73… Bxc4, for instance, is also a draw. Lee preferred 71… Bxc4? 72. Rxc4 Rf1? (another poor move: Re1+ might have offered some drawing chances) 73. Rc6+, when Mason obtained two passed pawns, soon winning the game.

What do you think? Was Lee tired after a long game and a long tournament? Was the position too hard for him? Was he not trying too hard as there was nothing at stake for him, as Gunsberg thought, or did he deliberately throw the game, as he thought Gunsberg implied?

At the same time, Lee was branching out as a writer, taking over the regular chess column in the Hereford Times in September 1890.

In between tournaments he was travelling throughout the British Isles giving simultaneous displays, often being billed as The Young Master.

Belfast News-Letter 18 December 1890

Here he is in Belfast in December 1890, feted for his courteous manner as well as his rapid and brilliant play. He had also, in September that year, taken over the chess column in the Hereford Times, which he continued until 1893.

1891 was a quiet year, with no British Chess Association congress for him to take part in. There was a summer tournament at Simpson’s Divan, where he performed disappointingly, finishing in 9th place out of 10. The London based Dutch players Loman and van Vliet took the first two prizes. In August he arranged a match against up and coming German star Emanuel Lasker, drawing the first game, but, with the second game adjourned (Lasker was winning) was obliged to concede the match due to ill health. This may well have been the reason for his poor performance in the earlier tournament.

In the 1891 census he was lodging at 30 Manchester Street (now Argyle Street), St Pancras, giving his occupation as Chess Player and Editor (the word Author was added in) and his place of birth, curiously, as Ingatestone, Essex.

The 1892 edition of the British Chess Association Congress took place in London in March, with Lasker taking part, and, as expected, finishing comfortably ahead of the field. Lee’s 50% score was about what he would have expected.

Here’s his loss against Lasker, who sacrificed some pawns to get to his opponent’s king.

His win against Bird was a lively affair which won the brilliancy prize.

Next stop was Belfast, for a quadrangular tournament in which he was rather off form, finishing well behind his three rivals. According to a contemporary report he was unwell throughout the event. (One of the games, a featureless draw between Bird and Lee, is missing from MegaBase, but is readily available elsewhere.)

He remained in Ireland for several months after this event, visiting clubs and giving simultaneous displays.

This game, undated in my source, against Mary Rudge, the leading lady chess player of the time,  may well have been played in one of these simuls.

In June he had some important news to announce.

Morning Post 19 June 1893

He crossed the Atlantic with his friends Gossip and Jasnogrodsky, but the intended tournament fell through. However, an impromptu tournament was organised as a partial replacement, attracting a lot of press coverage.

According to the Brooklyn Daily Standard Union:

The English player is about 40 years of age, of a German blocky build, which indicates the possession of physical strength to stand the strain of severe chess playing.

(He was actually 35, and I don’t think you’d get away nowadays with ‘German blocky build’, whatever that might mean.)

Reproducing the portrait (probably the one above) from the New York Sun, it added:

… makes him appear stouter than he really is; otherwise the likeness is good.

The Baltimore News provided brief and amusing descriptions of the participants, reprinted here in an English newspaper.

Nottinghamshire Guardian 04 November 1893

I think all chess columns should be headed by a picture of chess playing kittens. Don’t you?

Here, Lee performed well, sharing third place with two of the top American players, Showalter and Delmar, just behind Albin (of countergambit fame), but they were no match for Lasker, who posted a 100% score.

His Irish opponent in this game essayed the Pirc Defence long before it became popular and acquired a name.

Lee is standing fourth from the left in this group photograph from the tournament.

Lee remained in the Americas for two years after this event. In February and March he played a series of exhibition games against some of Cuba’s leading players in Havana.

Later in the year he returned to North America, touring extensively, giving simuls and playing exhibition games.

At the beginning of 1895 The Chess Player’s Mentor was finally published, offering, according to the advertisements, ‘an easy introduction for beginners’, along with ‘analyses of the most popular openings for more advanced players &c’.

Dundee Advertiser 17 January 1895

The review in the Dundee Advertiser is notable for providing an early example of promoting chess for children for its claimed extrinsic benefits.

It was later republished together with three other books solely written by Gossip. You can read it online here via the Hathi Trust digital library.

Lee returned to England in July that year, but didn’t enter the great Hastings tournament. Perhaps he needed a break after his exertions.

Morning Post 08 July 1895

I think it was Albin, rather than Albion, against whom real estate man George C Farnsworth (1852-1896) scored 1½/2

Here’s Lee’s win. Not all that interesting: White chose a poor 5th move and never really stood a chance.

This game shows Farnsworth in a much better light.

He spent the latter part of 1895 touring chess clubs throughout the country, but most of 1896 in London, where he was appointed secretary to the committee organising a tournament at Simpson’s Divan. His administrative role didn’t stop him achieving an excellent result, sharing second place with van Vliet on 8½/11, just half a  point behind the winner, Richard Teichmann, who was based in London at the time.

Not many games from this event were published. Here, Dutch organist Rudolf Loman sacrificed a piece unsoundly.

His displays in London included a visit to the Ladies’ Chess Club.

Hampstead & Highgate Express 11 July 1896

In December, Lee played a short match against Richard Falkland Fenton, winning two games, drawing two and losing one.

1897 was another quiet year spent in London, the only serious chess activity being a match during the summer against enthusiastic veteran Henry Bird, which he won by 8 points to 5.

1898 was even quieter, with just a summer match against Teichmann, which he lost 3½ to 5½. Lee suffered from gastric problems all his life: perhaps this was one reason for his relative lack of activity during this period.

There had been some talk in 1897, and again in 1899, about why Lee wasn’t selected for the Anglo-American Cable Matches. Perhaps the selectors preferred to choose amateurs rather than professionals. Here’s an article from 1899.

Nottinghamshire Guardian 25 February 1899

Finally, a few months later, he had an opportunity to prove himself at the top level. You will know, if you read my previous Minor Piece, about the great London International Chess Tournament of 1899. Lee was originally selected for the subsidiary single-round event, but when Horatio Caro (of Caro-Kann fame) withdrew at the last minute on health grounds he was promoted to the top section.

As you’ll see he found it hard going, but he did record wins against Steinitz and Chigorin, as well as two victories against Mason.

Let’s have a look at a few of his games from this event.

Playing his favourite Stonewall formation against Mason, his pressure on the half-open g-file was crowned with a sacrificial attack.

Lee’s win against Steinitz was also a Stonewall, but here he was rather lucky.

Steinitz had had the better of the opening, but Lee had managed to reach a drawn ending. If Black just waits with his knight White can make no progress, but the ailing former champion, close to the end of his life, seriously misjudged the position, playing 49… Ke4??, after which Lee’s e-pawn wasn’t for stopping.

The following day, black against Chigorin, he faced his opponent’s favourite anti-French move 2. Qe2, gaining a space advantage and giving up the exchange for a passed pawn, and winning one of his finest games.

At his best, Lee was a formidable positional player who could also, when the occasion demanded, display tactical ability. Someone who has, you might think, been unfairly neglected in chess literature.

As the remainder of the year – and the century, seems to have been uneventful for him, this must be a good place to break off.

Join me again soon to discover what the 1900s had in store for Francis Joseph Lee.

Sources and references:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia
chessgames.com: FJ Lee here
ChessBase/MegaBase 2024
Stockfish 16
EdoChess (Rod Edwards): FJ Lee here
Two articles on chess.com from Neil Blackburn (simaginfan):
Lee and Gossip. Three Brilliancies. – Chess.com
Belfast 1892. A Chess Tournament and A Grumpy Bird! – Chess.com
Zan Chess: article on New York 1893 here

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Minor Pieces 71: Edward Wallis

Last time we visited the Yorkshire seaside resort of Scarborough in the company of Francis Joseph Lee, just a few weeks before his untimely death.

Congresses like the British Championships only take place if there’s someone there to organise them, and, as it happened the prime mover of this one was someone who was mentioned in a different context just a few Minor Pieces ago.

Northern Whig 14 January 1909
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph 08 July 1909
Falkirk Herald 11 August 1909

Lowestoft Journal 04 September 1909

Didn’t Edward Wallis do well? He had a long involvement with the game of chess, and this, along with the publication of his book of miniature problems, was one of his life’s highlights. You might recall that one of George Law Francis Beetholme‘s problems was included therein.

Here he is, pictured in the September 1909 British Chess Magazine.

Edward Wallis had an interesting story to tell, one that involves, as well as chess, chocolate and conscientious objection.

Let’s go back to the middle of the 17th century, when, in the aftermath of the English Civil War, a new religious group founded by George Fox, known as the Society of Friends, or the Quakers, became popular. Jumping forward a century or so, a Quaker named Joseph Fry started a business producing drinking chocolate in Bristol. In 1831 another Quaker, John Cadbury, started producing drinking chocolate in Birmingham. In 1862, Henry Isaac Rowntree, also a member of the Society of Friends, bought out the chocolate making part of the Tuke family’s York business. These three companies, Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree, would become the three major producers of confectionery in Britain through the remainder of the 19th and much of the 20th century.

The Rowntrees had been a prominent Quaker family in Scarborough for a very long time. and, by the early 19th century, John Rowntree was running a grocery business there. His son Joseph moved to York to start a grocers shop in 1822, and it was his son Henry Isaac who started the confectionery business. Joseph’s brother William remained in Scarborough, and it was his grandson, Alderman John Watson Rowntree, who was the chairman of the committee running the 1909 British Championships in his home town.

The Wallis family were also prominent Quakers, from the village of Springfield in Essex, now a suburb of Chelmsford. After his marriage in 1849, Francis Wallis moved from Essex to Scarborough, no doubt in part because of the strong Quaker presence there, setting up as a corn dealer and miller. One of Francis’s daughters,  Priscilla Gray Wallis, married George Rowntree, a brother of the aforementioned John Watson. One of Francis’s sons, born in 1852, was Edward Wallis, author of 777 Chess Miniatures in Three (you can read it online here) and the local organiser of the 1909 British Chess Championships.

In 1877 Edward married Dublin born Annie Johnson in London, returning to Scarborough, and, at some point in the 1880s, moving to a house they named Springfield after his home village. Their children were Eleanor (1878), Edward Arnold (1880), Arthur (1881), Dorothea (1883) and Annie Mabel (1885). He ran a grocery and bakery business there for the rest of his life.

On 24 January 1880 Edward had a chess problem published in the Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement. At 27 years of age he was a relatively late starter in chess.

Problem 1: Mate in 3: you’ll find the solution at the end of this article.

In the same year he was also seen playing correspondence chess. In this game from a Leeds Mercury tournament he had the better of the opening but rather lost the plot thereafter.

 

In this game, probably played in the same event, he defeated schoolteacher GW Farrow, born in Scarborough, but by that time living in Hull

In 1881 he entered a correspondence tournament run by the Preston Guardian. This win against GW Farrow was almost certainly (although this isn’t specificed in the source) played in the 1881 edition of the Leeds Mercury competition.

In 1882 he won an exciting, but not entirely sound, game against Scarborough Chess Club secretary and chemist Henry Chapman.

In January 1883 he played on Board 53 in a match between Lancashire and Yorkshire, losing his game against Dr Dean of Burnley. The Manchester Courier (27 January), with an element of hyperbole, claimed that this was “the greatest chess match which has ever taken place in the history of the royal game, which extends over a period of more than 3,000 years”.

Here’s a game he lost in another correspondence tournament run by the Leeds Mercury. After White’s alert response to his erroneous 22nd move he could only choose which bishop to lose. (Click on any move of any game in this article for a pop-up window.)

He also lost this game, played in a correspondence game between two players representing clubs at almost opposite ends of the country, misplaying a tricky ending. It’s not clear whether or not this was a formal match between the two clubs.

In 1891 Scarborough were treated to a visit by our good friend Francis Joseph Lee.

York Herald 17 April 1891

An excellent result for Edward: it would have been good if they’d published the game. Mr F Wallis was probably Edward’s father Francis, but we’ll come to another possibility later.

Later in the same year he was one of the protagonists in a living chess game raising money for a good cause.

Yorkshire Herald 12 December 1891

During this period, Edward Wallis was playing on top board for Scarborough, but, to be honest, there wasn’t that much opposition. Most of the county’s stronger players resided in the larger towns and cities.

In January 1893 he was selected to represent the North of England against the South in a 100 board megamatch in Birmingham, but ended up not in the match itself but on the bottom reserve board where he won his game against Wiltshire’s CJ Woodrow.

In April Scarborough welcomed another professional visitor: Samuel Tinsley. This time Wallis was less successful.

Yorkshire Herald 08 April 1893

“… in a game known as the Queen’s Fianchetto?” I think the journalist was rather confused.

Here’s a report on a 1894 match against Bridlington, the days when matches were interrupted half way through for an excellent tea and appropriate speeches.

Yorkshire Herald 10 March 1894

You’ll see that (presumably) Edward’s father won both his games on bottom board. The Mr Yewdall on Board 7 was the teenage Francis Edward Yewdall, who, almost 40 years later, would become the Secretary of Richmond & Kew Chess Club (where he was the assistant borough surveyor), and therefore, if you want to stretch a point, one of my Great Predecessors. Charles Empson Simpson, on Board 2, was Edward’s next door neighbour. You might notice some name connections: Wallis and Simpson living in adjacent  houses, and Wallis (but not Simpson) living in Springfield. Bridlington, very unusually for the time, fielded a lady on second board: Eliza Mary Thorold, sister of their top board Edmund, who had been for many years one of the country’s top amateurs but was now approaching the end of his career.

Here’s one of the top board games, in which both sides missed chances.

A few weeks later there was another North v South megamatch, over 108 boards. Edward Wallis was on Board 102, losing to Horace Fabian Cheshire, who would soon find fame as the editor of the Hastings 1895 tournament book.

By 1897 he’d ceded top board to Charles Empson Simpson, and in 1899 he played on Board 9 for the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire in a match against the West Riding, losing his game against Isaac McIntyre Brown, the editor of the British Chess Magazine. Simpson lost on fourth board to John Musgrove.

One thing that you may know about the Quakers is that they are noted for their liberal views, many of their members being committed pacifists, and that was certainly true of the extended Rowntree family in Scarborough.

Appalled by the atrocities of the Second Boer War, a South African Conciliation Committee was set up in Scarborough under the presidency of Joshua Rowntree, a cousin of Henry Isaac and a former Liberal MP for the town. In March 1900 a meeting was arranged. One of the speakers was Samuel Cronwright, British born but living in South Africa and married to author and anti-war campaigner Olive Schreiner, still remembered today for her 1883 novel The Story of an African Farm. The other speaker, John A Hobson, was a prominent anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.

There were some in Scarborough who considered their views heretical and unpatriotic. Word got round about the meeting, and a crowd, brandishing Union Jacks, formed outside, smashing the windows and throwing stones. Not content with that, some of them proceeded to vandalise the shops and houses of other members of the Rowntree family.

Perhaps you were, like me, unaware of this story, which, of course, has many resonances today. If you’d like to read more there’s a paper on the riots here.

If you’re interested in the history of the Rowntree family I’d recommend visiting the Rowntree Society website. This page is a good place to start.

While all this was going on, it appears that Edward Wallis was engaged in a long-range postal game.

Morning Leader 11 February 1902

I’m pretty sure, although it’s not mentioned in the press, that FJ Wallis was Edward’s brother Francis John Wallis, and that he had emigrated to Australia in 1891, becoming prominent in Sydney chess circles. In that case the F Wallis mentioned twice above would definitely be Edward’s father Francis senior.

A few years later, this game was published in the British Chess Magazine with, typically for the time, rather inaccurate annotations by Bellingham. The loser, at lease in my secondary source, is incorrectly identified as AG Wallis.

By now Scarborough Chess Club seems to have become inactive, putting Edward Wallis’s chess career on hold. His name started to reappear towards the end of 1907, when he made two contributions to a testimonial for FR Gittins, the author of The Chess Bouquet, which was being organised by the always witty Philip Hamilton Williams. He also announced that he was collecting miniature (no more than 7 pieces on the board) mates in 3. In 1908 he published a self-mate in 16 based on an earlier problem by Frederick Baird, but it turned out to be unsound as there were quicker solutions.

By October 1908 his book was (self-)published, receiving positive reviews.

Cricket and Football Field 24 October 1908
The Falkirk Herald and Midland Counties Journal 28 October 1908

Then, in 1909, came the second highlight of his life: the British Chess Championships in his home town, which you read about earlier. Although he was referred to as being from Scarborough Chess Club, I haven’t found any other mentions of the club between the late 1890s and the 1920s.

In 1910 he had a problem published in The Chess Amateur. It’s a mate in 3, but not a miniature.

Problem 2: #3 (E Wallis The Chess Amateur 1910)

Now, it seems, having perhaps fulfilled his two ambitions, he cut down his chess activities, confining himself to solving problems in newspaper columns.

When the First World War broke out his family commitment to pacifism was tested again. The older of his sons, Edward Arnold (below), registered as a conscientious objector, serving in the Friends Ambulance Corps between 1915 and 1918.

https://www.menwhosaidno.org/men/men_files/w/wallis_a.html

His younger son, Arthur, on the other hand, joined the RAF in 1918, but as a lecturer rather than in a combat role.

In 1917 George Rowntree and Edward Wallis unexpectedly fell foul of the law for selling semolina above the maximum fixed price.

Hull Daily Mail 01 December 1917

In 1921, the census tells us that Edward was still running the family business at the age of 69, living with his wife and youngest daughter, who was working as a hospital nurse.

He died a year later, this newspaper obituary erroneously adding two years to his age.

Yorkshire Post 27 June 1922

Edward Wallis wasn’t, by the highest standards, a very strong player, nor was he a great problemist. But, as well as taking part in competitions, both over the board and by post, and occasionally composing problems, he was a true chess enthusiast, an author, an organiser and a collector, with one of the finest chess libraries in England (I wonder what happened to it). He was also a man who, along with his extended family and friends, lived his life through the principles expounded by the liberal Quakers: pacifism, integrity and service to the community. A life, I think, that deserves to be remembered, and a story that deserves to be told.

Next time, I’ll continue the story by introducing you to his friend who kindly contributed the Hints to Solvers to his book: Alfred Neave Brayshaw. Be sure not to miss it.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
Digital Chess Problems (Anders Thulin) website (Wallis book here)
Wikipedia
MESON Chess Problem Database (Brian Stephenson)
BritBase (John Saunders: thanks for the photo)
Yorkshire Chess History (Steve Mann): Edward Wallis here
Gerard Killoran for the Bays, Farrow and Chapman games.
David McAlister for reconstructing the Bays game (on the English Chess Forum)
Rowntree Society website
Guise Family website (George Rowntree here)
The Men Who Said No (Peace Pledge Union website: Edward Arnold Wallis here)

Solutions to problems:

Problem 1:

1. Qf6! is the key, threatening Nc7+, Qd6+ and Qxd4+. There are short mates in reply to either queen capture. You can see the full solution here.

Problem 2:

1. Qh2! (threat: Qe2#) 1… Kc4 (1… Ke4 2. Qe2+ Kf4 3. Be5#) (1… Bxc3 2. Qe2+ Kxd4 3. Ne6#) 2. Qa2+ Kb5 (2… Nb3 3. Qa6#) (2… Kd3 3. Qe2#) 3. Nc7#

 

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Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach

From the Batsford web site:

Lessons, motivation and coaching to make you a better chess player.

In an ideal world, any aspiring chess player, at almost any level, would get better with a coach. If that’s not possible, having chess champion coach Thomas Engqvist’s book at your side is the next best thing.

In his series of lessons, Engqvist guides you through not only the most important elements of chess to master but also the psychology, how to marry knowledge with imagination, and how to stay motivated.

Suitable for older children through to adults, the lessons are drawn from chess games through history, from the 16th century to Magnus Carlsen and latest Alpha Zero computer chess. (Reviewer’s note: it doesn’t actually include Alpha Zero, stopping at Carlsen.) It features a range of key players, including Steinitz, Lasker, Nimzowistch, Botvinnik (Soviet chess school), and Fischer. With clear and accessible annotations to give clarity, the games highlight the most important lessons to learn and, just as importantly, how to ‘practise’ chess.

International Master Thomas Engqvist has travelled the world teaching and coaching chess to a very high level for decades – and with this book, he can be your coach too.”

About the Author (updated from the publisher’s website):

“Thomas Engqvist is an International Master from Sweden. He has 45 years’ experience as a chess coach and teacher. He has worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess. He is the author of 300 Most Important Chess Positions, 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Chess Exercises, all published by Batsford.

 

From the back cover:

Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach gives you the opportunity to assimilate the most important chess principles and concepts by following a study plan based on key encounters by over 30 great players.

With lessons from more than 60 instructive games in chronologically arranged chapters, this is the perfect guide for players who want to gain a broad knowledge of chess history and its evolution, but don’t have time to spend hours in what can be unproductive reading.

Featured in each chapter is a highly influential grandmaster who has played his part in developing chess into what it is today. There can be no more enjoyable way to improve your own play than to absorb your personal coach’s explanatory commentaries to exemplary games of past and present chess heroes, including Magnus Carlsen. In this way centuries of accumulated understanding of chess can be learned in just a few weeks.

By adopting the same tactics and strategies as demonstrated by these champions, you can also keep track of your own chess development by comparing it with the overall historical development of chess – and climb the ladder to success.

Swedish International Master Thomas Engqvist has approximately 45 years experience as a chess coach, teacher, writer and player. He has successfully worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess.

 

What we have here is a book covering the history of chess ideas in chronological fashion, starting with Ruy Lopez and finishing with Magnus Carlsen. It’s hardly an original idea: the first book of this type was Richard Réti’s Masters of the Chessboard, and there have been quite a few others since then: off the top of my head I’ve reviewed a couple of them here myself. The second Chess Heroes: Games book will take a similar approach (using some of the games from Move Two!), but pitched at a much lower level.

I’d say from the outset is that if you’re knowledgeable about the subject, and have read similar books before, you’re probably already familiar with many of the games displayed by Engqvist here.

But if you’re a club standard player with little knowledge of the history of your favourite game you should certainly read on.

Most of the subjects are represented by just one game, so we quickly whizz through the likes of Greco (‘the first tactical player’), Philidor (‘the first positional player’) and even Morphy until we reach Steinitz (‘the scientific player’), the first of four players to be considered in rather more detail.

According to Engqvist:

The basis of Steinitz’s teachings is to construct a plan which is in accordance with the requirements of the position. These requirements could be an advantage in development, a strong centre, open files etc. One should gather such advantages, one by one, as preparation for an attack. This is the so-called theory of accumulation.

This theory is demonstrated by the following game. As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.

Engqvist adds after the game:

This is why such classic games are much more instructive than modern games. Steinitz’s opponents didn’t realise or didn’t want to realise what he was doing, whereas today’s more knowledgeable players do know – because they have studied such “one-sided” but very instructive classic games.

You might disagree – but I don’t.

Lasker (‘pragmatism and psychology’), the star of the next chapter, also receives special treatment.

In this instructive game, where he defeats Rubinstein’s IQP, he uses the ‘pivot square’ d5 in a variety of ways.

It is indeed a game to be understood in depth and learned by heart, because the idea of a pivot being a source of energy can be used in an untold number of situations.

Engqvist quotes Nimzowitsch’s comments on this game with approval, and makes it very clear throughout the  book that Nimzo is one of his chess heroes.

Although he only gets one game (yes, it’s the Immortal Zugzwang game), the author has this to say:

Nimzowitsch is just as important as Steinitz, since his principles do complement those of his predecessor, However, to appreciate Nimzowitsch’s precepts in depth one needs to also properly understand Steinitz’s classical principles, otherwise the true meaning of Nimzowitsch’s theories will be lost.

and:

In my opinion (reading Nimzowitsch) is much more important than learning from computers, which are very bad teachers indeed, and sometimes incomprehensible. Nimzowitsch must be regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest ever, teachers…

Controversial, perhaps, and you might well think he’s overstating his case.

The other two subjects awarded more extensive treatment are, predictably, Capablanca (‘The Chess Machine’) and Alekhine (‘The Complete Chess Artist’).

From then on it’s just one game each, even for giants such as Botvinnik, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov. right the way through to Carlsen.

Here’s the game used to illustrate Fischer (‘The Aggressive Classical Player’).

Engqvist:

This game is one of Fischer’s best and it is remarkable that he was only 16 years old when it was played. It proves that he was a genius. The good news is that Fischer’s style is possible to emulate,  because it it largely based on positional technique à la Capablanca,  which to a high degree can be learned.

It’s clear from this book, as well as from the author’s earlier volumes, that Thomas Engqvist is an exceptional writer, teacher and annotator. He has also made extensive use of a wide range of secondary sources (but, sadly, he fails the Yates test: he was Fred (Dewhirst), not Frederick Dewhurst). Each chapter is prefaced by a series of quotes by or about its subject, which in itself makes fascinating reading. Computer analysis has been used to correct analytical errors made by earlier authors, but this is done judiciously: he doesn’t go over the top in providing reams of engine generated variations. You might, I suppose, disagree with some of his views, especially on Nimzowitsch, but that’s part of the enjoyment you’ll get from the book. You might also think there’s some simplification and generalisation, but that’s inevitable in a book of this nature.

The production values are, of their type, excellent. The book, like others from this publisher, has a reassuringly old-fashioned look about it. While younger readers may well prefer something glossier and glitzier, it’s not likely to be a problem for those, like me, of the Batsford generation.

Many publishers these days prefer more interactivity, with puzzles at the start of each chapter, or, with annotated games, stopping every few moves to ask you a question. There’s none of that here, just solid, accurate and instructive comments. Different readers will prefer different styles of annotation. The one concession to interactivity is a couple of quizzes with questions like What was Ponziani’s opinion of the theories of Philidor and del Rio?, which I could really do without as they’re testing memory rather than understanding.

I had two other thoughts when reading this book. I often wonder whether chess authors are writing the book they wanted to write or the book the publishers thought would sell. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but my impression was that Engqvist really wanted to write something like The 60 Most Instructive Positional Games rather than a book with a historical perspective offering, for the most part, one game per star player.

I also wonder what exactly the market is for this book. Younger readers, if they want a book at all, might prefer something with a more modern feel, while older readers might have seen many of the games before.

But, if you’re, say, 1500-2000 strength, you’re serious about improving your chess and you’re happy with the style and contents, you won’t go wrong with this excellent book from one of the best authors and teachers around.

Richard James, Twickenham 14th February 2024

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford; 1st edition (13 April 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1849947511
  • ISBN-13:978-1849948043
  • Product Dimensions: 15.04 x 2.01 x 23.04 cm

Official web site of Batsford

Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford, 13th April 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948043
Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford, 13th April 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948043
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Minor Pieces 68: Leonard Francis Grasty

Let me take you back 125 years, to the great London International Chess Tournament of 1899.

Most of the world’s strongest players were there: the first two World Champions, Steinitz and Lasker, Pillsbury and Chigorin, Maroczy and Schlechter, Janowski and Blackburne.

Here’s the cross-table.

There was also a second section, won by Marshall, ahead of the likes of Marco and Mieses, along with some local amateurs.

Two brilliancy prizes were awarded: to Lasker for his win against Steinitz and to Blackburne for his win against Lasker.

Here they are: click on any move for a pop-up window.

If you’re running such a prestigious event you’ll want some shiny new chess sets. The chipped and stained old pieces at the back of your equipment cupboard won’t do for the likes of Lasker and Steinitz.

But have you ever wondered what happens to those shiny new sets once they’ve been put away and the players have gone home?

It appears that, at some point after the end of the tournament, some sort of competition was held. I have no idea what the nature of the competition was, and how many sets were on offer. What I do know (or believe) is that one of the sets was won by a certain William Grasty.

William came from a working class family: his birth was registered in the first quarter of 1878 in Lambeth. His father, a stoker in a factory, died in 1884, and, by the 1891 census, young William was living with his aunt in Southwark. I don’t at the moment know whether he acquired this board immediately after the 1899 tournament, but by 1901 he was moving up in the world, living in lodgings in Wood Green and working as a commercial clerk.

He married Arabella Edith Attwood in 1904, but, tragically, their first child, William Arthur, born in 1909, died before reaching his first birthday. By now the family had settled in Lewisham, and the 1911 census found him still working as a commercial clerk. Later that year, another son, named Leonard Francis, was born. Soon afterwards the family moved to Islington, where a daughter, Muriel Florence, was born in 1913.

By 1921 the family had left London, moving to Southsea, where William was working for Weingarten Bros Ltd, Corset Manufacturers as an accountant. As well as William, Arabella and their children, the household included two boarders: the sisters(?) Dorothy and Elizabeth Kilby, both schoolteachers. At the time, Portsmouth was known as the corset capital of the world (who knew?) and they’re still made there now. Many of my relations were employed manufacturing corsets in Market Harborough, but that’s a story for another time.

There’s no evidence that William ever played competitive chess, but his son certainly did. I guess they played at home using the board from the 1899 tournament, trying to emulate the play of Lasker and his colleagues. Between 1928 and 1931, Leonard was a student at Portsmouth Municipal College, playing on top board for their chess team. They started off with friendly matches against Portsmouth Chess Club before graduating to the second division of the local league.

Portsmouth Evening News 12 January 1931

In 1931 Leonard graduated with a BA General Degree with Honours and a First-Class Distinction in Maths awarded by London University and took a job as a Customs and Excise Officer. Like so many others before and since, on finishing his studies he stopped playing competitive chess.

We next meet him in Manchester in 1937, where he married a local girl, May Taylor Shaw, the daughter of a sheet metal worker.

By the time of the 1939 Register, Leonard and May, along, perhaps, with their chess set, had moved back south, now living in Stanmore, North London. They were blessed with three children, Barbara (1937), Robert (Bob) (1939) and Victor (Vic) (1943).

At some point the family moved down to Bognor Regis, on the West Sussex coast, not all that far from Portsmouth. It was there, in 1948, that Leonard returned to competitive chess, joining the local club. As it happens, the Bognor Regis Observer up as far as 1959 is available online. During this period they ran a regular column featuring local chess news, contributed by the pseudonymous King’s Pawn and The Rook, so we have a lot of information about his chess career over the next decade or so.

You’ll see that he soon established himself as one of their stronger players, although it must be said that Bognor were no match for the likes of Brighton and Hastings. What they did have, though, was some very effective and ambitious administrators. You might notice, for example, the name of Joseph Norman Lomax, who would do much to put his home town on the chess map.

Bognor Regis Observer 07 May 1949

Here they are, in 1949, inviting a very distinguished guest to give a simultaneous display.

In fact Harry Golombek took on 33 (or 34, depending on your choice of newspaper) opponents, losing two games and drawing six, including his game against Grasty. He stayed on overnight, the following day playing another simul against five teams of consultants, drawing two and losing one, against Grasty and his veteran partner Stephen Arthur Hardstone (1873-1952), a retired civil service engineer.

Golombek would give a number of simultaneous displays at Bognor over the next few years. Here’s a photo of one of them.

The games we have for Leonard Grasty in this period, sadly, don’t show him in a very good light. If he’d captured the bishop on move 13 in this game he’d have been fine rather than having to resign two moves later.

And here, in an equal position, he found one of the worst moves on the board, allowing a mate in one.

In 1952, the local organisers had a big idea.

Bognor Regis Observer 12 January 1952

In fact the first congress would be held the following year, run by Joseph Norman Lomax (later, after his second marriage he’d style himself Norman Fishlock-Lomax), continuing very successfully until 1969.

Later that year, Leonard Francis Grasty was the subject of a profile in the local paper.

Bognor Regis Observer 15 November 1952

Was his speed of play responsible for the careless mistakes he seems to have made? Perhaps someone should have advised him to slow down.

In 1954 Bognor Regis Chess Club put on a display of chess trophies in a local shop window for National Chess Week.

Bognor Regis Observer 19 February 1954

There you have it. Leonard had inherited the chess set which his father had won perhaps more than half a century earlier.

Here it is.

It didn’t help him in this game against one of Brighton’s young stars, where he had to resign after only nine moves, having fallen for a rather well known opening trap. The earliest example in MegaBase dates from 1908, but the variation itself dates back to Blackburne – Paulsen (Vienna 1882), where Black won after 8… Ng4.

The following year’s National Chess Week also featured the display of chess trophies, along with a Teenagers v Old Stagers match in which Leonard and his older son Robert were on opposite sides.

Bognor Regis Observer 25 February 1955

A few months later, Bob took part in the Southern Counties Junior Championship, held as part of the 3rd Bognor Regis Congress, scoring 3/7. The other competitors included Michael Lipton, who would later achieve fame as a problemist. He returned the following year, when he managed half a point more, which was half a point less than the score achieved by Stewart Reuben.

Leonard continued his chess activity in Bognor throughout the 1950s.

Here’s a photograph from a club prizegiving from 1958, where Leonard shared the club championship with local journalist Alan Lawrence Ayriss (1934-2006), who, as it happens, has a very distant family connection with me (the 2nd cousin 2x removed of the husband of my 3rd cousin 2x removed). He’s holding a Bell book: The Art of Checkmate (Renaud & Kahn), which was published in that edition in 1955. The book is still within the family: an inscription inside reads “BOGNOR REGIS CHESS CLUB  Presented to L.F. Grasty RUNNER UP LIGHTNING TOURNAMENT 1958. We can also see copies of Edward Lasker’s Chess for Fun and Chess for Blood in a 1952 edition and Reinfeld’s Improving Your Chess (1954).

This, captioned 1958, shows Bob seated second left, perhaps from the same event as the previous photo.

By December 1959 Leonard had been joined by his younger son, Victor, who was up for selection for a match against Worthing. But, at that point, the online run of the Bognor Regis Observer comes to an end, so I have, at the moment, little information about what happened next.

We do have a photograph from 1961 where he’s playing a friendly game against William Clifford Kendal (1902-1988).

The News (Portsmouth) 09 June 1961

In this game from 1966, he chose an unsuccessful plan in the early middle game, allowing his opponent to bring off a smart finish.

It’s unfortunate that the games of Leonard Grasty currently available have, so far, been rather unimpressive losses with the black pieces. Perhaps he played much better with white.

We do have a draw, from what must have been towards the end of his chess career, against a very strong opponent in Geoffrey James (no relation, but he played for my club, Richmond, for a few years in the 1970s). He was perhaps a bit lucky, though, as Geoffrey uncharacteristically missed a few winning chances.

This was a family steeped in chess: they counted Harry Golombek as a family friend. Bob and Vic’s sister Barbara recalls (although the Guardian journalist doesn’t) once going on a date with Leonard Barden. Barbara later married a man named Michael Armstrong. Their son Alastair, born in 1967, continued the family chess playing tradition into a fourth generation.

Leonard must have been very proud of his grandson’s success. He died in 1981, when Alastair was still quite young, but he still has many very fond memories of his grandfather, who encouraged his early interest in chess.

It was only right, then, that it was Alastair who would eventually inherit his great grandfather’s London 1899 chess set.

Here ‘s Alastair again, 13 years later, winning the Main A Section of the Hastings Congress (the Main A wasn’t the main event at the congress, but never mind).

Shortly afterwards, Alastair moved abroad, but, more than 30 years on, he’s now returned to England, deciding to take up chess again, and by chance living just round the corner from the Chess Palace.

He still has the 1899 chess set and board, and provided the photographs above. His son, though, shows little interest in the game.

So there you have it: the story of a chess set and board first played on, perhaps, by Emanuel Lasker, spanning four generations of the same family and 125 years.

Join me again soon when we’ll return to London in 1899.

 

Sources and Acknowledgements:

ancestry.co.uk
findmypast.co.uk/British Newspaper Library
ChessBase/Stockfish 16 for game analysis
Alastair Armstrong and the Grasty family, for the story and photographs
Brian Denman for providing some of Leonard Grasty’s games

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The Life and Games of Carlos Torre – 2nd revised and extended edition- Gabriel Velasco & Taylor Kingston

From the publishers’ blurb:

“This is what’s new in this edition: More accurate and more extensive annotations, computer-assisted. Every game has been examined under Stockfish 14, probably the best analytical engine available for home computers at this time. For the first edition we had only Fritz 4 and 5, which compare to Stockfish like a Model T Ford to a Ferrari, and many games were given no computer examination at all. Thus owners of the first edition will find most annotations here substantially different (and substantially better). However, many general assessments and heuristic notes proved valid and have been retained. ·

Torre’s own annotations to several games have been unearthed and added. These come from several sources: the American Chess Bulletin, his book of the 1926 Mexican Championship tournament, and his instructional booklet Development of Chess Ability. ·

Several games have been added. Some, frankly, are Torre losses, which we give in the interest of presenting a more complete, balanced picture of his play. The first edition, to some extent, looked at Torre through rose-colored glasses; here we aim only for untinted clarity. Also added are the six games between players other than Torre that he annotated for the Mexican Championship tournament book (see Chapter VIII). ·

There are many more diagrams and photographs than in the first edition. Also more thumbnail bios of Torre’s opponents. ·

More ancillary material about Torre’s life and career: pictures, anecdotes, interesting facts, opinions, bits of trivia etc., drawn from the ACB, the Wiener Schachzeitung, the film Torre x Torre, and other sources. ·

A 1927 interview with Torre, published in the Yucatán magazine Anahuac, in Chapter III. ·

Chapter IV, excerpts from the book 64 Variaciones Sobre un Tema de Torre by his friend Germán de la Cruz.”

About the Authors

Taylor Kingston (born 1949) has been a chess enthusiast since his teens. He holds a Class A over-the-board USCF rating, and was a correspondence master in the 1980s, but his greatest love is the game’s history. His historical articles have appeared in Chess Life, New In Chess, Inside Chess, Kingpin, and the web-site www.ChessCafe.com. He has edited and/or co-authored dozens of chess books, and translated three from Spanish, including the original Mexican edition of Vida y Partidas de Carlos Torre. He lives with his wife Emily in Paso Robles, California.

Taylor Kingston
Taylor Kingston

Gabriel Velasco (born 1949 in Mexico City) is a a professor of mathematics and author of over twenty books on mathematics. He has been a chess enthusiast since age 15. Besides Vida y Partidas de Carlos Torre, he is the author of Masterpieces of Attack (Chess Digest, 1990), presenting the best games of the late GM Marcel Sisniega Campbell. Velasco lived in Kiev 1985-1987 and shared 1st-3rd prize in a tournament of Candidate Masters and First Category players, earning thereby a norm of Candidate Master of the Soviet Union. Back in Mexico, he won the championship of the state of Guanajuato. He is now retired and lives in Mexico City with his wife and his son Richard, who was was given that name in honor of Richard Réti.

 

You probably know a few things about Carlos Torre. (In the interests of cultural sensitivity we now refer to people from some Spanish speaking countries by their first name, father’s surname and mother’s surname, so he’s now Carlos Torre Repetto, although I’ll refer to him just as Torre in the rest of this review.)

You may know he lost a Famous Game against the otherwise unknown EZ Adams. As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.

A beautiful game, to be sure, and one which is great if you want to teach combinations based on back rank mates. But it almost certainly wasn’t lost by Torre. As explained here on pp484-485, it was quite likely to be analysis which Torre published as a loss against his first teacher, Edwin Ziegler Adams, for whom he had great affection.

The next thing you probably know about Torre is that he won a Famous Game against the not at all unknown Emanuel Lasker.

Again, the finish is a great example of a windmill combination which everyone should know. But it wasn’t, as is demonstrated here (pp356-361) a very good game. Lasker, perhaps distracted by the receipt of a telegram, could have won material with 22… f6 and 23… Qd5 was a losing error.

The third thing you might know about Torre is that he invented the Torre Attack (1. d4, 2. Nf3, 3. Bg5), as he played in this game. The opening bears his name because of his usage here and in other games, but it had been played many times before.

Carlos Torre Repetto played some much better games than this in his very short international career. If you’re eager to find out more, you’ll want to read this book.

Vida y Partidas de Carlos Torre, written by Gabriel Velasco, was published in 1993. Taylor Kingston, working with Velasco, translated and expanded this book, which was then published in 2000. I think I may have a copy somewhere, so perhaps you do as well.

Now we have a Second Edition, expanded further by Kingston.

All the games have been re-annotated using Stockfish 14, some more games have been added, we have more diagrams, photographs and biographical details of Torre’s opponents, as well as a wealth of fascinating supplementary material.

Carlos Torre Repetto was born in the Yucatán province of Mexico on 29 November 1904, and, in 1916, the family moved to New Orleans where, under the mentorship of Edwin Ziegler Adams, he made rapid progress in chess.

In 1924 he travelled to New York in search of stronger opposition. After achieving some local successes he travelled to Detroit, representing New York in the Western Chess Association Championship. Here he scored a spectacular success, finishing unbeaten on 14/16, 2½ points ahead of his nearest rivals and 3 points ahead of the even younger Sammy Reshevsky.

The following spring, Torre crossed the Atlantic to take part in the Baden-Baden congress, where, crossing swords with the likes of Alekhine and Rubinstein, he scored a creditable 10½/20. The authors comment that Carlos Torre played somewhat nervously in his international debut. While attaining a respectable 10th place (out of 21), he clearly was more concerned with not losing rather than trying to win.

He then continued, with only a few days in between the two events, to Marienbad, where he played with more confidence, sharing third place with Marshall on 10/15, half a point behind the winners Nimzovich and Rubinstein.

That autumn he took part in his third international tournament of the year, in Moscow. A score of 12/20 left him sharing 5th-6th places with Tartakower, behind Bogoljubow (his greatest tournament result), Lasker (whom he beat in the above game), Capablanca and Marshall. Here, he started strongly but faded in the last few rounds.

However, his game from the penultimate round was one of his best: a delightful minor masterpiece, according to the authors.

He stayed on in the Soviet Union over the New Year, playing in a small quadrangular tournament in Leningrad, where, still tired from his exertions in Moscow, he only managed 50%.

He then returned to Mexico for the first time in more than a decade, winning their national championship with a 100% score. His next tournament was the Western Masters in Chicago, which, as well as most of the top American players, was given an international flavour by the participation of Maroczy. With one round to go, Torre was half a point ahead of the field, facing Edward Lasker, who was in the bottom half of the field, with white in the last round. He was unable to cope with the pressure, played badly and lost. Marshall came out on top with 8½/12, half a point ahead of Torre and Maroczy.

The final thing you might know about Torre is that he once took his clothes off on a bus. Sadly, it’s true. After this tournament he returned to New York where he suffered a psychotic episode which put an end to his brief tournament chess career. He was also suffering from some sort of eating disorder, perhaps brought on by anxiety. He had always had an immoderate fondness for sweets, sometimes eating a dozen pineapple sundaes in a day, but those who knew him in New York at this time report that he was eating almost nothing but candies and fudge. He then returned to Mexico, living there quietly until his death in 1978 at the age of 73, and retaining his interest in chess to the end.

A sad story, then. Here was a young player of exceptional talent who lacked the temperament for competitive chess. Torre comes across as a sensitive soul who, on the one hand was more interested in the beauty of his games than the result, but, on the other hand, was hampered by anxiety which caused him on some occasions to play too cautiously, and, on other occasions, to tire easily and make mistakes.

If you’re interested in chess in the 1920s you’ll certainly want to read this excellent book. You won’t be disappointed with the production qualities either: it’s a good-looking hardback (also available in paperback) of 588 pages. The Games Section covers most of the book: here you have 110 games annotated using the latest (at the time of writing) engines to ensure accuracy.

One of Torre’s most impressive performances was his draw with the black pieces against Capablanca (Moscow 1925). Not many players were able to hold an inferior ending against the World Champion, but he was able (with one exception which Capa failed to take advantage of) to find a string of ‘only moves’.

The annotations to this game demonstrate the improvements from the first edition.

The first edition of the book offered analysis claiming that White could still win if Black played 37… b6! here, but, with the help of Stockfish, this edition demonstrates that Torre could have drawn by following a very narrow path. After the game continuation 37… Kf5?? 38. Nxb7 Ke6 39. Kd3? (Nc5+ was winning), Torre was – just about – holding.

A few moves later, this position was reached.

The game continued 41. Na6+ Kb6 with an eventual draw. Capablanca claimed after the game that 41. Kc3 was winning, but Bogoljubov, writing in the tournament book, disagreed. The first edition sided with Capa, but now, in the second edition, we learn that it was Bogo who was correct.

Here’s the complete game.

The last 100 pages or so offer a wealth of other material including articles and annotations  by Torre himself. The games included here bring the total up to 128. Anyone with an interest in chess history will relish this part of the book.

If you already have the first English language edition, then, you’ll want to know whether or not to buy this version. If you want more accurate annotations, the answer is clearly ‘yes’. If you want the fascinating additional material, the answer is again ‘yes’. If you just want Torre’s best games, or if you’re of the opinion that historical games shouldn’t be subjected to computer analysis, the answer may well be ‘no’.

Instead of the familiar Informator symbols you instead get assessments such as (+0.61/25), indicating that Stockfish 14, at 25 ply, considers that White has an advantage of .61 of a pawn. I find this interesting, but I’m sure there will be those who disagree.

There are other production issues which might divide opinion. If you’re a completist you’d expect every traceable game played by Torre, which isn’t what you get here. White spaces in the book are filled with cute little cartoons. You might like this, but here I think I prefer the white space.

If you have any interest at all in chess history, chess culture or the psychology of chess players, you shouldn’t hesitate.

Gabriel Velasco, Taylor Kingston and the team at Thinkers Publishing should be congratulated on doing an outstanding job to preserve the memory of Carlos Torre Repetto’s life and all too short chess career.

Richard James, Twickenham 12th January 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 588 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 2nd edition (21 Mar. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:‎ 9464201762
  • ISBN-13:978-9464201765
  • Product Dimensions: 23.88 x 4.06 x 17.27 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Life and Games of Carlos Torre – 2nd revised and extended edition- Gabriel Velasco & Taylor Kingston, Thinkers Publishing, March 21st 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201765
The Life and Games of Carlos Torre – 2nd revised and extended edition- Gabriel Velasco & Taylor Kingston, Thinkers Publishing, March 21st 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201765
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The Chess Heroes Books

Are you rated below 1500?

Do you have friends who are rated below 1500?

Are any members of your chess club rated below 1500?

Do you have any students rated  below 1500?

If so, you’ll really want to take a look at my Chess Heroes books: a unique series of volumes taking players from learning the basics through to club standard and beyond. There’s nothing else like these books on the market. They’re based on 50 years experience teaching chess, using my private RJCC database of almost 17000 games played at this level. Every word and every position is there for a reason.

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This is the starter book (0-500 range) explaining what a game of chess is really about. If you just want to learn the basics, this is for you.

If you want to take the game further, these four books, designed to be read in parallel, are what you require.

Written for players of about 500-1000 strength, if you’ve understood everything here you’ll be able to go along to your local chess club and play some social games without being totally outclassed. You might even be able to play lower level competitive chess if you want.

By now you may be eager to learn more. If you’re around 1000-1500 level, these books will help you make further progress. The Puzzles book is exactly what it says on the cover, while the Games book uses the ‘How Good is Your Chess’ format where you play through the games guessing the next move. I’ll soon be starting work on the second books for publication towards the end of 2024.

You can order them from Amazon here. You’ll see that I also have free downloads available if you want to have a look  before you buy, or if, for instance, you want to print off some of the puzzle pages for your own or your students’ use.

I’d recommend you also read this blog post explaining some of the theory behind my teaching and writing.

Please do take a look, and if you like what you see, support me by purchases and 5* reviews!

 

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