Friday, 28 April 2017

Brixton Byways 2½ : Peyers You Went

This impromptu post registers an echo in the outer reaches of the ever-expanding universe of chess-historical trivia (where the lost outnumber the winning?).

Start, please, by casting your mind back to a post three years ago concerning the embryonic origins, in the early 1870s, of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club or, as it then was, the Endeavour Chess Club of North Brixton. We told the relevant part of the story in Brixton Byways 2: Peyers As You Go, which related the tale of the unfortunate de Peyer brothers, who put their considerable energies into the nascent club. Today's post notes a recent reverberation in the de Peyer sector and recalls a close encounter some twenty years ago.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 7. Congress Man Replayed

This is a little intermezzo in the Jacobs saga.  

Back to Jacobs in Malvern 1921 

Episode 4 of this series on Herbert Jacobs covered his participation in several tournaments for the British Chess Championship, including the one at Malvern in 1921, when he finished 9th. Since publication of that episode I have stumbled on a photo-feature on the tournament in British Newspaper Archive. It must have already appeared elsewhere in the regular chess sources and history websites (though I've not found it), in which case credit to them where it is due.  

In the picture Jacobs has just played 1. e3 against Thomas. 

The Sphere August 20 1921

False news! In the game the first move was 1. e4. And Jacobs had the black pieces. The full game score is given below. It is typical Jacobs: habitual opening, fighting tenaciously every inch of the way, resourcefulness, spurning a draw by repetition, losing.

The photo-caption above refers to Jacobs' response "to the welcome offered by the local authorities on the opening of the congress". This is not the first time we have found him on such occasions in the role of spokesperson for the BCF: more on this in the last section of the post.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Something is in danger, but it isn't chess as such

If Ray's around, it's normally somebody else's wallet. Or somebody else's copyright.

Now I confess I don't read the British Chess Magazine. If they sent it to me post free it still wouldn't be worth the postage. At least that's the impression I got the last few times I saw it, one of which, a few years ago now, was a seventeen-page interview with this month's cover model, carried out by professional arse-kisser Steve Giddins. [CORRECTION: not so, says Steve in comments.]

I've not really had the stomach for it since, which is a shame in several ways.(I'd have liked to see March's Time To Grow Up Guys! by Mike Basman, just for the sheer effrontery.)

So for all I know, April's Ray Keene interview is in reality a searching examination of its subject, in the finest traditions of the journalistic art, and includes questions like the following:

  • When are you going to pay back the money you defrauded from members of the British Chess Federation?

  • Who is the bigger charlatan, you or your friend Tony Buzan?

  • Did Viktor Korchnoi ever recover from you cheating him in 1978?

  • How did you get away with the BrainGames scam?

  • Do you actually write any of your own columns, or does Byron do them for you?

  • Who at the Times protected you from being sacked for rampant plagiarism?

I could go on. I mean Ray has. For about forty years too long, protected by his friends, who couldn't give a stuff what he does as long as it's not their pockets that get picked.

Monday, 10 April 2017

À la recherche d'un jeu perdu

Akobian-Caruana, US Championship round nine, 7 April 2017, position after 44. Nc3-e2

Ah yes, I remember it well. Or I do now I'm reminded.

I didn't have my Proust moment then and there. In fact, what I was doing right that moment was ceasing active mental operations and going to bed: So had beaten Xiong, Nakamura looked like he might scrape a draw out of Onischuk and Akobian was presumably going to resign in the next couple of moves.

So when I woke up to this

I was so shocked that I had to check that it had really happened and that the wrong result hadn't been recorded by mistake. A world-class player couldn't possibly have lost a simple symmetrical position with two connected passed pawns to the good.

But I could.

Toll-Horton, Witney v Cowley, 23 November 1992, position after 37...Ra1xa2.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 6. Engaging Agnes

After a lot of his chess in this series (beginning here) about Herbert Levi Jacobs (1863 - 1950) we now go off-piste and look at the other aspects of his absorbing life, beginning with the lead up to his marriage. There should be room for more chess-oriented episodes up ahead.

As we reported in episode 2, Herbert passed into the blessèd state of Benedict on 14th April 1888 in the Registry Office at Paddington. Now 25, he married Charlotte Agnes Larkcom, about whom, and their puzzling relationship, there is much to be said. Agnes was already in the public eye in 1877 some years before their marriage - and so you can get a good look at who we are talking about, here is the "pretty" Miss Larkhom (as the press - chess and otherwise - was wont to describe her).

Miss Agnes Larkom. 
The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News Saturday February 7, 1877.  

She was on the front page. To find out why, read on.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 5. A Load of Old Cablers

....And so to continue this account of the life and chess of Herbert Levi Jacobs (1863 - 1950). After following Jacobs' Congress career (episode 4) over a span of four decades we now follow another chess thread that occupied him on and off for barely more than one - chess by cable. The thirteen Cable Matches between Team GB and Team USA (as we might call them these days) ran from 1896 to 1911, though we shouldn't forget a precursor in 1895 between the British CC and Manhattan CC. Jacobs played in seven of the main series: his first in 1897, his last in 1909, by which time he was competing in the British Championships on until 1923, which is where we got to last episode (this series is a bit cavalier with chronology, so apologies if we now seem to be going backwards).

The name Sir George "Tit-Bits" Newnes (1851 - 1910) figures much in contemporaneous accounts of the cable matches. He was an enthusiastic supporter and sponsor. We have encountered him before in our blogging: he was a chum of the unavoidable "Adonis" Donisthorpe, with whom he went on a Boy's Own-style adventure as recounted here. It was Newnes who provided the trophy for the main run of cable contests, and when he died in 1910 the matches fizzled out a year later when GB finally claimed ownership of his trophy with a third successive win.

Sir George and his trophies. 
Tit-bits evolved into a pin-up mag. 

The Cable Matches have been well documented in two excellent booklets by A.J. Gillam, to which this episode is indebted. They are of invaluable help in reproducing material from the contemporaneous chess press on this side of the pond - most especially The Field . There is also a more accessible Wiki article here that gives all the players and results over the years (and see the Appendix below for a summary) - the matches are also mentioned in Harding's Blackburne as Joseph played in eleven of them. So, in this blog episode we don't need to go into comprehensive detail, and we will try instead to concentrate on Herbert's efforts (though, inevitably, we may be distracted). We can also draw on American sources - principally The Brooklyn Daily Eagle - these days available on-line. Occasionally we get a revealing contrast in the respective reportage from each side. And there will be pictures.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

More fool you

What kind of tomfoolery is this?

One answer might be that it's an awfully familiar form of tomfoolery. It's been a while, sure, since I've come across a prominent piece about the chessboxing circus on the telly, something that the BBC used to do all the time: still, programme researchers are presumably as gullible now as they ever have been, otherwise Tim Woolgar wouldn't have been able to get away with this stuff for a decade.

What's Tim Farron doing, though, going along with this? Why is the leader of the Liberal Democrats promoting an event whose major purpose is to give publicity to a leading member of a far-right organisation?

Friday, 10 March 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 4. Congress Man

Episode 1 of this account of the life and chess of Herbert Jacobs (1863 - 1950) - in his time one of England's strongest players (said his obituary) - showed him making his mark on local chess in Croydon. Episode 2 followed him to Brixton, and episode 3 took him to the top of the mighty City of London Chess Club ten years later. He had by this time also got himself a job, and a wife. What follows in this series is organised more by theme than chronology - though the distinction is rather porous and now and then they will cross-reference. This episode follows a Congress thread, and will help give an insight into the strengths and weaknesses of Jacobs' chess. It includes games of some weight, and less. The episode begins by going back in time so as then to progress into the future and the 1920s; by the end of it you will also have a good idea of how Herbert cut a dash in front of the camera.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 3. City Champ

In this third episode of our story of the life and chess of Herbert Levi Jacobs (1863-1950) (episode 1 is here, and episode is 2 here) we will round off the account of his time with the City of London Chess Club up to his signal success in the club championship of 1894.  There are sundry other chess matters along the way, and - for better or for worse - a good number of Herbert's games. There is also a note, at the end, on a some interesting chess history documentation hidden in Hackney.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

More than enough compensation

Surprised I hadn't come across this before...

[Thanks to Helen]

Monday, 20 February 2017

Will truth out?

Tim Harding asks a good question.

Now it's not as if it's a question that was never asked during Van Oosterom's lifetime, albeit not generally by the people who should have been asking it. And the proper convention is to not make too much fuss about the misdeeds, either alleged or proven, of the dead, so if Peter Doggers' notice said no more than this
many chess experts have suggested that the retired grandmaster Jeroen Piket, who finished his career to start working for Van Oosterom in Monaco, not only helped his boss in the company
I have no particular objection.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Dress Down Ray

Standards are slipping.

OK it was Friday but when a man of Ray's moral standing can't be bothered to dress smartly what hope is left?

I mean - how will the young people know who to copy?

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Did Fred play?

I wouldn't mind seeing this film: I've been interested in its subject most of my life.

We knew Marx played a little (though I wouldn't be sure we can vouch for the veracity of this game) but what about Fred? Marx surely played with Liebknecht, but that's not Wilhelm in the picture - in either meaning of the term picture, since he's not listed in the cast. Our two chessplayers pictured are clearly August Diehl, playing Marx, and Stefan Konarske (below) who's down as playing Engels.

Playing a player?

I've never seen Engels' name linked with chess - there was a chessplaying Engels, but a different one - and it's the sort of thing I'd have expected to notice.

Alas, when trying to connect the two briefly yesterday evening, all I could find was a long article from 1890 in which, discussing the opinions of the largely-forgotten David Urquhart, Engels writes thus:
In order thus to reduce all modern history since the French Revolution to a diplomatic game of chess between Russia and Turkey, with the other European States for Russia’s chessmen, Urquhart had to set himself up as a sort of Eastern prophet who taught, instead of simple historic facts, a secret esoteric doctrine in a mysterious hyper-diplomatic language, full of allusions to facts not generally known, but hardly ever plainly stated.
And here's me thinking that clichéd Russia/chess comparisons dated from the period of the Soviet Union (and ever since). Apparently not.

So assuming that the image above is all it seems, is it a little bit of artistic licence on the part of Raoul Peck? Or did Marx struggle over the chessboard with Engels just as he did with Liebknecht? Did Fred play?

Friday, 10 February 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 2. Brixton, Benedict and Bar

This series, in several parts, is following the career - chess and otherwise - of Herbert Levi Jacobs (1863 - 1950), considered by his obituarist in the British Chess Magazine as, in his day, "one of England's strongest players". Incidentally, there was no mention at the time, that I could find, of his passing, in Chess - then, and since, the country's other monthly chess mag.

Part 1 documented the beginnings of his chess career in Croydon and Surrey. We now follow him north, both for his chess, and the first step in his Legal career. However, before we rush headlong towards the City, we need to mark Herbert's involvement in Brixton Chess Club. He is part - if a small one - of the S&BCC story, and thus of some interest hereabouts. However, first we back up a bit, before we plough on into the future.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Boo Hou

Much anguish and wagging of fingers at Hou Yifan's default-cum resignation in the last round at Gibraltar, and I can't say I'm all that impressed myself, not being hugely fond of players losing in that fashion. If you're going to default as a protest, perhaps it's better to formally default, since playing deliberately badly brings the game into disrepute.

More than that, if you're going to default as a protest, perhaps it's better to put out a formal statement explaining your actions, since it's hard to evaluate a protest when you don't know for sure what it's about.

So should she have done it? Very probably not. Should she have apologised to the organisers and arbiters, as she did to the fan? Very possibly. On the other hand, whataboutery is the spice of internet life, so I was wondering whether there had been any other incidents recently in which leading professionals had found themselves at loggerheads with organisers and arbiters.

Funnily enough this chap was the first who came to mind.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Postcards from Zafra

This is Casa Ruy López in Zafra, where I'm staying (the room above the sign)..

It is not in the same street as this...

...which in turn is not in the same street as this...

which says:
Ruy López de Segura, priest from Zafra, first-ever world chess champion in 1575 and famous writer on that noble game, was born and lived in this house.

[With thanks to Carlos Maza Gómez]

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Don't look now

I don't know if you caught this piece over the weekend, recounting a chance meeting over the weekend with a movie star whose surreptitious advice helps the honeymooning author to win a chess game against her husband.

According to her:
On one night, it was not looking good. Jason, who is much more of a strategist than me, had already claimed several of my pieces. Grinning at the prospect of another victory, he disappeared to the toilet while I considered my next move

At that moment, a shadow loomed over me, and a gravelly voice interrupted my glum thoughts of defeat. "You need to move that piece there," explained the voice. "And when you’ve done that, move this piece over here."
The gravelly voice turns out to belong to Donald Sutherland (The Dirty Dozen, Don't Look Now).

She continues:
the sight of Hawkeye Pierce from the film version of M*A*S*H giving me tips on how to win at chess rendered me practically speechless.
Now personally I think it would terrify the shit out of me, but that's because I've seen Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers.

Anyway it all ends happily
When Jason reappeared I casually moved my pieces as suggested, and within a few minutes victory was mine
which is unusual for a Donald Sutherland production.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 1. Beginning in Croydon

Not many chessers these days have heard of Herbert Levi Jacobs (16 June 1863 - 11 February 1950), unless, that is, you've read the small print on our blogs, where he has had an occasional mention. There are, admittedly, passing references to him in the biographies of others, but nobody, as far as I'm aware, has given him much of an airing on his own account. Which is a shame: first, because "for many years [he]...ranked as one of England's strongest chess-players"; and second, because for sometime in his long chess career (which included on the national stage) Herbert Jacobs played for Brixton CC, and as a youngster he lived in Streatham. So, after threatening,  back in 2014, to write about him, and again last year, your blogger - a current member of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club - his managed to pull his finger out: Jacobs' day has come - on this blog anyway. Herbert Levi Jacobs - This Is Your Life.

His was a long innings in which he played a good deal of competitive chess and made many friends on the circuit, all woven into a successful professional career at the Bar and in the Law. There was also a rather shorter, and less successful, venture into the bear-pit of politics. He had an intriguing marriage, too. So, given such a extensive and interesting life, and to make things manageable, this will be a series: the first posts will give, together with biographical details, some edited highlights of Jacobs at the board in Croydon, in Brixton and in the wider chess-world. Then we will concentrate on Jacobs away from the board; and a finally we will turn our attention to Mrs Herbert Jacobs (though she was better known otherwise).

Again there are the usual caveats: this will be a résumé, and though detailed, has no claims to the impeccable thoroughness in the manner of Harding, Rennette et al.  All errors, omissions, exaggerations, flights of fancy - signalled by "perhaps" or "maybe" - and other sundry indiscretions are the responsibility of your blogger. Just one other point: 24 of Jacobs' games are on-line here. I have also linked them where appropriate in the text, but have not reproduced these scores otherwise, unless particularly note-worthy. One the other hand I have given, here and there, the scores of a number of other games of his, which, as far as I am aware, have not been published on-line.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Seventies Rock

Thanks to the correspondent who alerted me to this: the pictures seem to show that Ray's lecture was well-attended and I only wish I could have been there myself. I do hope that the answer to this gentleman's question

is yes one way or the other.

Pending that opportunity, I don't know if anybody can tell us: did any of the people attending ask any useful questions? Like, for instance, "why did you lie to Viktor Korchnoi and break your contract with him in order to write an instant book of the match?"

Come on, Ray, it's been nearly forty years now. Isn't it time to confess?

Monday, 23 January 2017

Cheese and potatoes

Now that Donald Trump has managed to get himself inaugurated without being arrested - yet - who are this profoundly ignorant man's big supporters in the world of chess?

We'll pass over Peter Thiel, for the moment, who aside from being a Trump adviser is a notorious bully, a woman-hater - and who apart from having a FIDE rating of 2199 showed up at the world championship to make a ceremonial first move for Sergei Karjakin.

Big cheese though Thiel may be, in chess terms he's small potatoes when compared to Rex Sinquefield, founder of the Sinquefield Cup and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, co-sponsor of the Grand Chess Tour, and effective creator of the current US Olympiad team, gold medallists in Baku.

Also, a leading supporter of Donald Trump.

Rex Sinquefield (Stephanie S Cordle)

There's nothing obscure about this: Sinquefield is a known and notorious figure in Missouri and US politics, the biggest single political donor in his home state, his priorities including trying to abolish income tax and public education, but not including a great deal of respect for women and minorities. Or poorer people.

There's nothing obscure about this, unless you were only to read the chess press, which despite all its coverage of Mr Sinquefield's chess tournaments and chess philanthropy, has not been noticeably forthcoming about the less public-spirited applications of Mr Sinquefield's money. One wonders whether this will change, now that this money has helped elect the single most controversial and dangerous holder of the US Presidency in the history of that office.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Chess in Art: Again, With A Footnote

Without wanting to bang on too much about the chess-art, last week's post did suggest that there was a lot of it about. Take Barcelona, for example, right now:

We've seen that Dorothea Tanning photo-montage before, in London just a few years ago (and see here). But that Delauney is a new one - and it helpfully exemplifies a point made in last week's post about the board's chequered pattern serving as a contrast to plainer passages; and is a reminder that it is a motif from theatrical costume. This art website helpfully thumbnails some of the works in the Barcelona show in case it's not convenient for you to hop over there to catch it (by the 22nd January). You'll recognize a few more of them, including Metzinger's Soldier playing Chess from 1915/6, which we showed last week when discussing Chess Board Cubism (and I'd quite forgotten that you can also see it here).

In view of the passing of the great and influential Marxist art critic, writer, and occasional artist, John Berger (1926 - 2017), it was quite remiss of me not to have mentioned last time his particular perspective on Cubism. So I'd like to add a brief footnote about his views - and note a reference he made to chess.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Chess in Art: Chess Board Cubism

Already almost a week in, but still time to wish you a Happy New Year - and kick it off with some more chess in art. Looking around, there is no shortage of it: there are so many websites and blog posts now devoted it, including these. Not forgetting a stunning book.

Apparently all periods and schools of art have found inspiration in the game. For figurative artists it has offered a vehicle for any number of narratives: courtly dalliance, flagrant flirtation, existential gloom, apocalyptic warfare, geopolitical intrigue, political lampoon, and more. Non-figurative artists have looked to the motivation behind the moves, the geometry in the play, the rolling thought beneath, all of which make the game amenable to more conceptual or abstract expression - and a medium for those artists who, from the early decades of the last century, have been leaving representation behind.

This post will explore one such early twentieth century artistic "ism" at the outer limit of representation, whose label suggests a rectilinear affinity with a game played on squares: Cubism. It flourished and dissipated more or less a hundred years ago; although it still casts a long shadow. "Cubism"  has always intrigued me, especially as artists of this stripe created a good number of chess-themed works, almost since day one. Please see below.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Bored by the Xmas movies?

Why not watch a bunch of foreign-language chess films instead?

There's a chess bookshop, La Casa Del Ajedrez, in Madrid, I've never been there myself, but they send me emails, which is how I know that, as part of their twentieth anniversary celebrations, they're showing a series of chess films over Xmas.

On first looking at the list of films I thought I hadn't heard of any of them - which, given that most chess-related films are terrible, might not be to my disadvantage. In truth, having scratched my head a little harder, I can maybe vaguely remember one or two of them, though that would be "remember" as in having heard of them, not as in going so far as to watch them. But if and when you're bored by the Xmas movies, then most of them are embedded in this blog post. So you don't have to go all the way to Madrid 28004 to see them.

(Before I start, I haven't got, and haven't seen, Bob Basalla's Chess In The Movies, currently eight hundred nicker on Amazon, so if anybody's got it, or got eight hundred quid they want to give away, I'd be keen to hear what it says about any of these films.)

Their first movie in the series is Schachnovelle, from the novel by Stefan Zweig, which in the UK was released as Brainwashed.

Amusingly the poster for the UK release makes no apparent reference to chess, except for the phrase MASTER MINDS OF BRAIN WARFARE! which sounds like the sort of thing Ray would say. Mind you, he was still at school at the time - becoming fluent in German, as I recall, which would make it easier to follow the film, which is on YouTube only in the original.

However, you can have a four-minute taster with English subtitles, in which Alan Gifford, despite claiming to be a chessplayer, struggles to identify a name he is given as that of the world chess champion.

Claire Bloom is in it, though not, as far as I could see, in the clip and so is Curd (Curt) Jürgens.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Chess in Art: Tickling the Ivories

Seasonal Greetings, and a question: have you seen this before?

Mirror Case with a Couple Playing Chess, 1325-1350.
France, Paris, C14th. Ivory 10.20cm diam.
The Cleveland Museum of Art 

If you think you have, think again...

Friday, 16 December 2016

Monday, 12 December 2016


Steven Shapin in the London Review of Books (paywall) 1 December 2016

Friday, 9 December 2016

A clever response

As we've seen this week, Ray plagiarised all his Times columns from Monday 24 October to Friday 28 October from the first volume of My Great Predecessors (Garry Kasparov, Everyman 2003). So if you assumed he did the same on Saturday 29 October, you assume correctly, though it's not as thoroughgoing a robbery as the others. Here's how he introduced it.

However in this instance the annotations in My Great Predecessors don't actually kick off until just before Black's thirty-fourth move, so we'll join him there. (Whether the annotations prior to that are original - who knows.)

Here's how that appears on page 223 of My Great Predecessors.

Anticipated is the word.