Monday, November 29, 2010


Faro Perella - Horton, individual championship of Huesca province 2010, round nine, board one. Position after 27...Qc5-c3.

White played 28.Qh4?? and, after 28...Qxa1+, resigned, thus making Black the champion of Huesca province.

I could not be more proud.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Literary Reference : Youth

Now that the words are out they sound stupid, and they are stupid. He is being manoeuvred into saying stupid things. But he should have expected that. That is how they will make him pay for rejecting them and the job they have given him, a job with IBM, the market leader. Like a beginner in chess, pushed into corners and mated in ten moves, in eight moves, in seven moves.


Autumn turns to winter, he is barely aware of it. He is no longer reading poetry. Instead he reads books on chess, follows grandmaster games, does the chess problems in the Observer. He sleeps badly; sometimes he dreams about programming. It is a development within himself that he watches with detached interest. Will he become like those scientists whose brains solve problems while they sleep?

There is another thing he notices. He has stopped yearning. The quest for the mysterious, beautiful stranger who will set free the passion within him no longer preoccupies him. In part, no doubt, that is because Bracknell offers nothing to match the parade of girls in London. But he cannot help seeing a connection between the end of yearning and the end of poetry. Does it mean he is growing up? Is that what growing up amounts to: growing out of yearning, of passion, of all intensities of the soul?

The people among whom he works - men, without exception - are more interesting than the people at IBM: more lively, and perhaps cleverer too, in a way he can understand, a way that is much like being clever at school. They have lunch together in the canteen of the Manor House. There is no nonsense about the food they are served; fish and chips, bangers and mash, toad in the hole, bubble and squeak, rhubarb tart with ice cream. He likes the food, has two helpings if he can, makes it the main meal of the day. In the evenings, at home (if that is what they are now, his rooms at the Arkwrights'), he does not bother to cook, simply eats breed and cheese over the chessboard.


Ganapathy is the first Indian he has known more than casually, if this can be called knowing - chess games and conversations comparing England unfavourably with America, plus the one surprise visit to Ganapathy's flat. Conversation would not doubt improve if Ganapathy were an intellectual instead of being just clever. It continues to astound him that people can be as clever as people are in the computer industry, yet have no outside interests beyond cars and house prices. He had thought it was just the notorious philistinism of the English middle class manifesting itself, but Ganapathy is no better.

Is this indifference to the world a consequence of too much intercourse with machines that give the appearance of thinking? How would he fare if one day he was to quit the computer industry and rejoin civilised society? After spending his best energies for so long on games with machines, would he be able to hold his own in conversation? Is there anything he would have gained from years with computers? Would he not at least have learned to think logically? Would logic not by then have become his second nature?

He would like to believe so, but he cannot. Finally he has no respect for any version of thinking that can be embodied in a computer's circuitry. The more he has to do with computing, the more it seems to him like chess: a tight little world defined by made-up rules, one that sucks in boys of a certain susceptible temperament and turns them half-crazy, as he is half-crazy, so that all the time they deludedly think that they are playing the game, the game is in fact playing them.


It is raining. He and Ganapathy are alone in the canteen, playing lightning chess on Ganapathy's pocket set. Ganapathy is beating him, as usual.
JM Coetzee, Youth, Martin Secker & Warburg, 2003, p.107-8, p.144-5, p.149, p.151. (Original date of publication 2002.)

[A Literary Reference index]
[Thanks to Tom]

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bad book covers XV

¡A Jugar Ya 1!, García Palermo and De Anna, La Casa Del Ajedrez, 2003

¡A Jugar Ya 2!, García Palermo and De Anna, La Casa Del Ajedrez, 2004

¡A Jugar Ya 3!, García Palermo and De Anna, La Casa Del Ajedrez, 2006

¡A Jugar Ya 0!, García Palermo and De Anna, La Casa Del Ajedrez, 2010

[Bad book covers index]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

When we were Kings XIV

... we got married

The Times 8th September 1975

Click for a closer look
(Click again when you get there for a very close look)

I've often read - and when I bang on about chess in the 1970s people sometimes tell me - that the popularity and interest in the game three or four decades ago was all about Bobby Fischer. It's an understandable argument, but one that fails to grasp the bigger picture and doesn't, as a result, really explain the unparalleled interest in the game back then.

It's certainly true that Fischer became a big enough name that refusing to play after Reykjavik didn't end the media's fascination with him. I've mentioned before (WwwK VI) how a rumble with a journo generated three separate reports about him in The Times towards the end of 1977, but perhaps the true measure of Fischer's celebrity, in the old-fashioned sense of that word, is the fact that even his death (e.g. The Guardian January 18 2008) didn't bring a halt to his appearances in the press. There was the legal tussle over his estate (28th January 2008) and just a few months ago it was reported first that his body was about to be (17th June 2010) and then had been (5th July 2010) exhumed as part of the ongoing paternity case.

If what was all about Bobby, what to make of the front page of The Times of the 8th September, 1975 (reproduced at the head of today's blog)? Tucked away at the bottom you'll find the following story:-

The Times
Monday September 8th 1975
page 1

Spassky wedding blocked
Moscow, Sept 7. – Boris Spassky, the former world chess champion, plans to marry a Frenchwoman in Moscow, but she has been told to leave the country.

Spassky and Marina Stcherbatcheff, a secretary in the commercial section of the French Embassy, believe that the Soviet authorities are trying to block the marriage.

The Soviet marriage bureau has refused to grant them a wedding date before November 11, but Mlle Stcherbatcheff is due to leave Moscow at the end of September.

“I feel as though I playing against an opponent I cannot see”, Spassky said. Spassky parted from his Russian wife, Larissa, in July last year and he said the divorce became final two months ago.

Mlle Stcherbatcheff said the French Embassy was not defending her. “I am not leaving the country”, she said. “I am going to stay.” – AP.

141 words on the front page of a mainstream national newspaper about a former world chess champion (not) getting married? It's not much of a story in itself is it? Can we explain its appearance - its prominence - by the vicarious fame that Spassky achieved by being Fischer's victim in 1972? No, I think not.

For a clue to what the Spassky story is really about all we have to do is travel a few inches up that same front page. Just above the fold, illustrated with a large photograph, we find a headline, "US asylum for Czech tennis star" and The Times' account of the 18-year-old Martina Navratilova's defection to the West.

Spassky's story, like Navratilova's, is a Cold War narrative. They are the geo-political conflict of the time writ small. The clash between the Eastern Bloc and Western democracies reduced to the lives of individual human beings, one of whom would like to play tennis wherever and whenever she likes and the other wanting to exercise the basic human right of getting married to whom he chooses.

Fortunately, there was a happy ending for Spassky as well as the teenage Martina. Perhaps mindful of the propaganda disaster of such stories appearing in across the Western press - and make no mistake about it, reports such as these got the prominence that they received solely because they demonstrated to Western newspaper readers (or were perceived so to do) that the West's economic-political system was superior to the Soviet Union's - the Politbureau relented and he and Marina were eventually married at the end of September.

The Times 1st October 1975

Click for a closer look
(click again when you get there for a very close look)

The Times
Wednesday October 1st 1975
page 8

[Photo with caption: Boris Spassky and his new wife, Marina, leaving Moscow’s Palace of Weddings, after their wedding yesterday]

Mr Spassky wins an extra queen
Moscow, Sept 30. – Boris Spassky, the former world chess champion, today married Mlle Marina Stcherbatcheff, a French secretary, and said he intended to go on representing his country at international competitions.

“I hope to improve my play because now I have an extra queen for my game”, Mr Spassky, who is 38, said. He lost his title to Bobby Fischer of America in 1972.

In a two-minute civil ceremony at Moscow’s Palace of Weddings, he married Mlle Stcherbatcheff, 30, a French citizen of Russian émigré parentage, who has been working at the French Embassy here for the past 15 months.

The wedding had been in doubt until Friday because of apparent opposition by the Soviet authorities, who put pressure on her to lave the Soviet Union.

“We want to live in Moscow”, Mrs Spassky said. “But I don’t know about my visa or how long I can work. You know as much as I do.”

It was Mr Spassky’s third marriage, the first two having ended in divorce. He divorced his second wife in July after a long separation.

After the ceremony, drinking champagne at a reception in a nearby room, Mr Spassky was asked if he would go on representing the Soviet Union in chess. “Of course”, he replied. “I am playing in a tournament in Moscow beginning on October 13. Therefore my honeymoon will consist of chess.”

Asked if his new wife played chess, he said: “Fortunately not. She’s shown no interest, but if she does I will teach her.” – UPI and Reuter.

I like the "My honeymoon will consist of chess" bit. Start as you mean to go on, eh Boris? More significantly, did you notice how 'Spassky-actually-gets-married' only makes page 8 in contrast to the front page of the 'Soviet-authorities-stop-Spassky-getting-married' story? That's because there's much less of a 'freedom opposing authoritarianism' angle in the second report.

So, seventies chess wasn't just about Fischer at all. He was an important figure of course, but even if as an American he was necessary for the media's chess boom he certainly wasn't sufficient. Bobby would have been nothing without the Cold War.

Ok, this is all fine and dandy, but why am I writing about this now? If men and women make the history but do not choose the circumstances which allow them to do so, as I am arguing, why am I writing about this subject on this day?

Well, today, in St. Lucia, I have the honour of attending the nuptials of my fellow blogger, Mr Tom Chivers, and his bride Ms Sarah Condry. If I can't write about weddings today when can I?

Happy Wedding Day T.C.

Tom, Peter and, by the time you read this, new Mrs. T.C.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sixteen, going on seventeen

Horton-Peréz Puyal, individual championship of Huesca province 2010, eighth and penultimate round, board two. Position after White's thirty-ninth move.

Black draws easily with 39...Qd8: instead, he chose to evade the threat of 40.Re8+ with 39...Kg7?? which evaded nothing at all, since White played 40.Re8 with precisely the same result.

The board one game was drawn, and as a result, White moved into the outright lead, half a point ahead. If I win my final game, due to be played next Saturday, I will be the champion of the province of Huesca.

This was a championship I failed to win last year, despite being graded more than a hundred and fifty points higher than any of the other competitors, and as a result, I completed sixteen years without winning a tournament. And now, in the seventeeth year, I am so close. One more game. With the black pieces, against a player who beat me last time we played: yet he is a player I should beat. But we are five days before the game and should is a million miles from will.

I have, I think, two goals in chess. One is to beat an International Master, which I have never yet managed to do. The other is to win another tournament. And then, or so I tell myself, I can stop taking the game so seriously. I hope so. I don't think I can go through this again.

The tournament, being played over nine rounds, but only one round a week, takes eight weeks to complete. I work, during the week, in different parts of Spain: already, during the current tournament, I have been to Ciudad Rodrigo on the Portuguese border, to Pamplona near the French, to Cartagena on the Mediterranean. At the end of every week, I travel hundreds of kilometres back to Huesca, to play in the championship. Every Saturday, when I am back, I go and play another must-win game. And the following week, I stress myself to distraction, worrying about the next Saturday's must-win game.

Never again. After this, either I play this tournment for fun, or I don't play it at all.

No, really. I don't want to be the guy who plays the same tournament for twenty years and never wins it. This is my fourth attempt: I've so far come third twice and second the other time. Saturday, I think, is it. It, as in the end. It, as in the moment of truth, the showdown, the final scene.

There is so much I could say about this. But for the while, it is better unsaid. I shall be in Teruel this week, worrying. And then, on Saturday, I shall be pushing a few pieces of plastic around a table. Pushing them around, inside my head.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I'm the Ginger GM

There was a funny story published on the Ginger GM website a week or so ago. Simon Williams related how he had been contacted by a chess playing Simon Williams from the Midlands who'd just received a cheque from the ECF as payment for 'his' work as one of the coaches at the World Junior Championships in Greece.

Simon Williams

Well mistakes happen, don't they? One shouldn't necessarily assume from this one piece of intelligence that the ECF would in any way struggle to organise a piss up in a brewery, nor that a sentence including the words "farts", "trances" and "in" would be appropriate hereabouts. Except that Simon Williams - the Grandmaster Simon Williams who'd actually been to Greece - had previously contacted the ECF to confirm his present address. Twice. Less than a fortnight before the cheque was sent out.

Adam Hunt

But, as Jimmy Cricket used to say, there's more. It seems that Simon Williams - the Brummie one - has spent much of his chess career fending off the advances of folk who are labouring under the delusion that he is a professional chess player and not the 166 he claims to be.

Meanwhile, adding insult to injury, last year the ECF published a photograph on their website relating to a story about the much stronger Simon Williams, but the picture wasn't of him: it was the second best carrot-topped chesser in the country, Adam Hunt. Well, these gingers all look a like don't they? It's easy to understand how the ECF got confused. Quite why it took them two weeks to correct matters once they'd been notified of their error, though, is perhaps a little harder to understand (that said, the lackadaisical attitude to website maintenance does go some way to explaining their decision to give the 2010 Website of the Year award to a site that goes months at a stretch between updates).

Enough of this nit-picking. Let's try to stay positive. It could have been worse after all. At least the ECF didn't put up a photograph of Ron Weasley.

the actual scene can be viewed here

Friday, November 19, 2010

New In Chess has one too many

What has got into New In Chess of late?

In their issue 2010#5, as already discussed here, they thought it would be a good idea to run a piece by Nigel Short chuckling about sex tourism. That was crass enough.

In their issue 2010#7, however, they took several steps deeper into the muck by publishing an article, A Tale Of Two Swamps, by "Bermuda's non-playing captain" Graham Hillyard, that should have stayed in whichever of the swamps it was dragged up from. Or in the saloon bar, which is where the piece gave every sign of having been written, and is where its opinions can very often be found.

It's a long and tedious article, much like a pub bore's anecdote, and I was already in skimming mode when I read the following, which made me stop, go back and read again:
He [CJ de Mooi - ejh] sat in the bar of the Olimpskaya expressing disappointment at the way things were going. "Karpov knew my requirements," he said, scanning the faces around him dejectedly. He had been hoping to meet some attractive young Russian men in the course of his visit, but Karpov had not shown his gratitude by organising any introductions, and CJ was now reduced to attempts at making his own arrangements.
There's more of this in the following paragraph, but you already get the drift. Don't you, squire? Nudge nudge, wink wink. Say no more.

Indeed, it would have been better for Mr Hillyard to say no more. But more, he unfortunately said, and less subtly than the passage quoted above.

A couple of paragraphs above, we learn that all the African delegates are corrupt. All. Not some of them. Not a few of them. Not some named individual. All of them.
Arriving from a long session with the African delegates, Treasurer Freeman expressed distaste for the way he had been obliged to do business. What did he mean - had they all simply walked in and held out their hands for a bribe? "No," he replied, "their hands were out before they came through the door."
Nice. Particularly nice, that "all". They're all like that. These Africans.

I think you've had enough mate...I have, anyway

By this stage, if you were Mr Hillyard's mate, you'd probably be telling him he'd maybe had enough and perhaps it would be a good idea to go home now. But Mr Hillyard won't have any of it: he isn't finished by a long chalk. Them Muslims, y'know...
It was also interesting to observe how the women's event could function as a rough-and-ready indicator of geopolitical threat levels. Even if you knew nothing
What do you mean, "even"?
about the countries concerned, you could correctly predict from the all-western dress of the Tunisian women that their country is a low-level threat terrorism-wise, and from the top-to-toe swathing of the Yemeni women that their country is high-risk.
I'm sorry, are the Yemeni women's team suspected of terrorist activities or something? If not, then what in the name of God is this stuff doing in a report?

And yet there's more: would the saloon bar bore's performance be complete without an invocation of the war? It certainly would not....
Werner Stubenvoll of FIDE's Technical Administration Panel shouted from the podium that they had no power to vary what had been decided in the General Assembly. Of course it is normal enough to hear elderly Austrians like Herr Stubenvoll claim that they were only following orders.
Thus, as Muslims are terrorists and Africans are corrupt, Austrians are Nazis.

No, don't. Really, don't.

Now it's my experience that people like Mr Hillyard can't really help themselves. They mistake their prejudices for worldly wisdom and their boorishness for humour, and if you say politely, "look, this isn't really acceptable" they're most likely to get into a massive sulk and do it all again, but twice as loud. You can't do that much about it.

But Mr Hillyard only wrote the piece: he didn't publish it. So what excuse do New In Chess have? Have they ceased to operate any editorial standards, or do they think this is all right? Is this new editorial policy? Can we expect more ignorant, unfunny and prejudiced rants in future issues? Which social groups, races and nationalities can we expect to see abused in issue 2010#8?

Perhaps they're just having a gigantic sulk of their own. Plainly they're unable to accept that their favoured candidate for the FIDE Presidency could have lost for any reason other than corruption, it being inconceivable that anybody could have voted the other way because they preferred the other candidate.

I say this, partly, because of an unintentionally hilarious piece elsewhere in the magazine in which they are similarly unable to understand how their favoured candidate for the ECU Presidency, Robert von Weizsäcker, who came a long way third out of three, could possibly have lost. I mean,
he could count on the Western European votes to begin with and he had the firm support of Kasparov and Karpov.
In the bag then! And yet he got only nine votes out of fifty-four. Who would have thought that there were Europeans outside Western Europe?

There follows a dog-ate-my-homework explanation, which you can read on page 6 of the magazine, should you wish. But anyway, I suppose it is possible that New In Chess have retreated into a Western Europe-versus-the-world mentality, which, allied to a gigantic sense of injustice, caused them to shrug when presented with Mr Hillyard's nasty article.

Maybe. But I think they ought to do better, sense of injustice or no. There are all sorts of terms one could use for the article, but for the moment, let's settle on embarrassing. It's an embarrassing piece. If you were in public with somebody who talked like this piece talks, you'd be embarrassed. It's embarrassing to read it and it should have been too embarrassing to publish.

Embarrassing, prurient, silly and ignorant. It's a silly and ignorant piece, by a silly and ignorant man. But have New In Chess no editorial control? Do they need to be as silly and ignorant as that?

[Al Murray photo: Mirror]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Generation Why +1

Once upon a time before facebook, people actually used blogs to share personal stuff.

And today those Web 1.0 days are back for one day only, with photographs of south London's littlest chess hustler!

First you set up the pieces...

... and adjust the clock.

Fire on Board?


Time control for a nap.

If in doubt, chuck it about.

Ah, that feels better. Whatever next? Detailed, personal emails? Advertising not targeted to our search terms? Long, worthy reads? A list of friends you can count on two hands? Hands used to write, not type? Carrier pigeons?

All the same out-of-date long-lost nothings to him, no doubt, in years to come. Except maybe chess perhaps, our ancient game forever conjuring new tricks, and thus forever young?

Photographs by Daddy's fiancée Sarah Condry.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Apparently Got Something to do with chess III

Making house calls or meeting people in public places is how Ray Gordon makes his living. He’s not a doctor. He’s not a prostitute. Ray Gordon is a chess teacher.

Or so it says here.

... to do with chess Index

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Every Picture Tells A Story: Will The Real Thomas Leeming Please Stand Up.

Blog 2 in a series of collaborative posts. This one by Martin Smith, with comment by Richard Tillett.

This is the second episode of our search for the gentlemen of the Hereford Chess Club, painted by one Thomas Leeming in the early part of the 19th Century. You'll find a scan of a reproduction of his painting in our first post. The picture was used by historian of interior decoration, Professor Mario Praz, to illustrate the taste of the period. Praz also used another, rather better known chess picture by Johann Erdmann Hummel (you can even buy a "handmade oil painting reproduction" of it here). But that is enough of Herr Hummel, we'll return to him in a later post. One picture is quite enough to be getting on with.

Our search for Thomas Leeming, and the gents he portrayed, starts with the leads in the picture's text box.

Our thinking was simple: if Mr Greenlees and his collection were still in Florence we were home and dry.

We quickly establish that, alas, he had died in 1988 after an eventful life, especially during WW2 in Italy, and he was a colleague and friend of Mario Praz. That too will have to wait for another time. What snippets we could find about the Ian Greenlees' collection suggest that it had been split up: bits bequeathed to friends, some eventually going to the local commune, some auctioned off; and we find a reference to a picture sold a few years after his death at Sotheby's in 1991. This could be worth following up.

Multitasking, we also go in search of Thomas Leeming. We discover that several of his portrait miniatures have been sold at auction, and we get a promising internet hit to the Irish Arts Review. Tom Chivers, through his academic connections tracks down the article. It shows another of his pictures and describes him as "obscure", but then we knew that already. The article says that he flourished between 1811 and 1822, similar to the dates given for him in auction catalogues. And that seems to be all that is known about him.

Reassured that we weren't the only ones who found him obscure, we'd gleaned that Leeming painted portrait miniatures and that some of his clients had been in Ireland.
Possibly the daughter of the 4th Earl of Shannon.
Irish Arts Review, Winter 2007.
A miniature by Tom the Obscure.

So was there an Irish connection? With that name - Leeming - yes, maybe. So we try the National Gallery of Ireland.

Mr. Wynn Jones, after delays because of gallery renovations, eventually comes back to us, fantastically helpful. First off, he sends us an image of yet another unknown (to the chess-in-art world) chess painting (and that, too, must go on the blog's backburner). He says that Leeming isn't in the data base of Irish artists (that's one theory down); nor is he in the extensive Grove Dictionary of Art (now it's looking hopeless). However (and we aren't sure how he knows this), Mr. Wynn Jones says that Leeming was active in Hereford between 1800 and 1815.

Not only that, he tells us that a painting by Leeming, Hereford Chess Club, is now in the Hereford City Museum and Art Gallery. Knock us down with a feather. How obvious is that. The picture had gone home. Off goes an email to the keeper of the Hereford art collection.

Just in case you think we are obsessed, we'd better point out that all this was strung out over weeks, months, indeed, a couple of years: we have busy lives to lead, chess teams to run, and AGMs to attend. It wasn't always top of our, or our correspondents' To Do Lists. Between bouts of activity memory of the picture also becomes a little dim.

While we wait for a reply from Hereford I sign up to the very wonderful National Arts Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum - walls lined with books, panelled workstations with leather padding, and an invigilator on a raised dais to make sure you've not gone in for a quiet nap. It also has a complete set of auction catalogues.

The National Art Library. Photo by The Wolf

Another hit. There it is for the Sotheby's auction 10 July 1991: knocked down for £7,200. T. Leeming: Portraits of the Gentlemen of the Hereford Chess Society. We surmise that the picture was sold to the Hereford City Art Gallery. There's a small black and white reproduction.

And there's more - all the sitters are identified. They are, from left to right, a Mr. Allen, Francis Louis Bodenham, the artist (yes, the artist himself has emerged from his anonymity), a Mr. Buckson, Edwin Goode Wright, Charles Biss, and Theophilus Lane.

I email the list to Richard who consults the Praz volume and phones me. He sees the third figure from the left, "the artist":

"How fitting!" he says, "Our Thomas Leeming was not only an artist but also a chess player".
"No," I reply, because I'm looking at the auction catalogue....

...."he's standing watching the action".

A moment of baffled silence as each concludes that the other must be having a senior moment. Then the pennies start to drop. The image in Praz must be the wrong way round - the book's printers have reversed it.

Or maybe not.

It could be Sotheby's picture that is the wrong way round, though surely the artist would want to paint himself as observer rather than participant. The standing figure has to be our man. But we won't be certain until we hear from the lady at the Hereford City Art Gallery.

And that's for next time...the 4th December.

Christopher Wright et al, British and Irish Paintings in Public Collections (by artists born before 1870), New Haven; London; Yale U.P., 2006. We didn't know then, but we think we know now, that this is where Mr Wynn Jones spotted Leeming and the Gents of Hereford. Thanks again, to him.
Paul Caffrey, The Shannon Collection, Irish Arts Review, Winter 2007.
National Gallery of Ireland; National Art Library; Sotheby's;

Every Picture Tells A Story Index
Chess in Art Index

Friday, November 12, 2010

Do not adjust your set

Photo on a Mantel piece
"How could you have known? I'm not reliably where I shouldn't be. Are you moving that pawn, or just patting it?"

"J'adoube." Rafe snatches his hand away.....

...from a distant room a child is crying. Footsteps overhead. The crying stops. He picks up his king and looks at the base of it, as if to see how it is made. He murmurs,
"J'adoube." He puts it back where it was.
Two short and puzzling passages from Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize and the subject of last Saturday's post.

Puzzling, because of the reference to j'adoube: the earliest occurrence of that term in English - at least, the earliest so far located - appears to be in the first decade of the nineteenth century, which is not far short of three hundred years after Thomas Cromwell, in the novel, plays chess with his chief clerk.

Doubly puzzling then, because this is not a thinly-researched novel, rather the opposite. The present writer, a history graduate, was impressed. (I was also pleased to come across a novel which went some distance to overturn the received view of Thomas More, for which we can perhaps blame Robert Bolt.) Moreover, and perhaps unusually where our game is concerned, the chess seems to me to be well-observed, sensibly underplayed and undramatic.

But where did the j'adoube come from? I did wonder whether Ms Mantel knew something we did not:
Dear Ms Mantel

Sorry to bother you, but I have an enquiry about a possible error in your book, Wolf Hall, that I recently enjoyed reading.

While Cromwell is confined at home, just after the death of his wife, he plays chess with Rafe who, absent-mindedly touching a piece, says "j'adoube". Cromwell repeats the term himself not long after.

What is puzzling about this is that there does not seem to be any recorded usage of the French term, in English anyway, until more than two hundred and fifty years after your scene is set. It first appears in print at the start of the nineteenth century and though we can assume that it had been current for some time before then, it seems unlikely that it was used for 250+ years without this practice being referred to in print.

It may be worth mentioning that at the turn of the eighteenth century, France was the pre-eminent nation in chess and had been for some time, not least due to the celebrated Philidor, and this might help explain why a French term came to be preferred. But when Cromwell was playing Rafe, the centres of the chess world would have been in Spain, and Italy.

That said, as far as I am aware there is no record of what was said in English, when adjusting a piece, prior to our first recorded references to "j'adoube" and it is also possible that you have a source which indicates that the use of "j'adoube" is much older than previously thought. If you do, it would be useful to the study of chess history (and indeed literature) to know that this were so!

Yours sincerely

Ms Mantel was kind enough to send a reply (and equally kind not to reply along the lines of "why are you wasting my time with this pointless piffle").
Thank you for your interesting letter. I am sure you are right, & I am aware of the Spanish/Italian pre-eminence but I feel sure there must have been a term with the same meaning - I decided to use the one that would be familiar to readers. Sometimes an anachronism must be judged worthwhile - of course, it is what Cromwell does, he 'adjusts' the King. I hope chess fiends will be forgiving.

All best wishes

Hilary Mantel
Be glad to: one to file under how-could-they-possibly-have-known rather than the more habitual carelessness*. But the question Ms Mantel's letter raises is an intriguing one: was there a precursor, in English, to j'adoube, and if so - what was it?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ludo? What do you mean, Ludo?

Talking of intriguing questions, the inside cover of Wolf Hall is decorated with illustrations from De ludo scachorum: the manuscript by Luca Pacioli, devoted to chess, which is the subject of this passage from Wolf Hall.
Thomas Avery smuggles in to him Luca Pacioli's book of chess puzzles. He has soon done all the puzzles, and drawn out some of his own on blank pages at the back.
Only recently discovered, the manuscript was the subject of some controversy between competing authorities, as to whether or not Leonardo da Vinci might have had a hand in the composition of the problems or the drawing of the diagrams - or that the design of the pieces might have been based on his work.

As the New York Times reported, these were dismissed by Leonardo expert Professor Martin Kemp, who:
emphatically dismissed the possibility that Leonardo had any hand in the drawings. "There is not an earthly chance of them being by Leonardo," he said in a telephone interview.

He said that there was no resemblance between the drawings and Leonardo's work. Nor did he find the designs particularly compelling, he said.

Asked whether Leonardo might have designed the actual chess puzzles, Kemp said he doubted that. While Leonardo was interested in geometrical games, Kemp said, no information in surviving manuscripts suggests that he played chess.
This was considerably less hopeful and enthusiastic than the assessment of the chess correspondent of the Times of London, who had suggested that Leonardo
may well have supplied the original designs for the pieces.
and mentioned
the alluring possibility that Leonardo himself composed the problem...the possibility that Leonardo did compose this puzzle is enticing and by no means impossible.
Not, to be fair, that Ray was alone in displaying rather less scepticism than he might: the Guardian's Italy correspondent was no better, not in that respect at least.

You can always rely on Ray to go one better, though. While the Guardian piece ends with Pacioli's advice on bookkeeping - advice which is, as it happens, recycled in Wolf Hall - Ray ends his with a plug for a book published by his friends and publishers, Hardinge Simpole. The author of that book, chess historian Richard Eales, is quoted in his article.

There is no doubt that Richard Eales is a reputable chess historian. There is also no doubt that he is married to Ray Keene's sister.

As Ray should mention, but - unaccountably - does not.

[* albeit somebody has missed that the first "j'adoube" is in fact misspelled "j'aboube".]

[Thanks to JB and of course to Hilary Mantel]

[A Literary Reference index]
[Ray Keene index]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Test Your Defence

Here's a position for you to sweat over, from a variation that could easily have arisen in a recent game of mine. It's black to play . . .

. . . and defend. Yes, black is a piece for a pawn up - but white has just played 14.f4, threatening 15.e5. What would you play? And why? With what follow-up in mind? At the board I had completely the wrong idea - and my opponent and I fared little better at working out the truth of the position in the postmortem.

See if you can do better.

Monday, November 08, 2010

When we were Kings XIII

We had a system for choosing a challenger (and The Special One tried to circumvent it)

Magnus "I'm bigger than the game" Carlsen's announcement that he can't be arsed to play in FIDE's Candidates' matches has certainly got tongues wagging and fingers a-tapping:-

Magnus Carlsen steps out of World Championship cycle (Chess Vibes); Magnus Carlsen drops out of World Championship cycle (ChessBase); Carlsen drops out of World Championship cycle (ChessPub); Carlsen drops out of race for World Champion (EC Forum).

Well, the first three of these are certainly true, but the last? I suppose that rather depends what miladdo really thinks viz a viz the value of the title of World Chess Champion.

Perhaps The Magmeister will use his new-found free time to get his bleendin hair cut

Carlsen's letter to FIDE makes a reference to the football ('soccer' for our valued North American readers) World Cup. What if he had mentioned tennis or golf? Both of these sports seem to get along nicely without a World Champion.

Might it be that football - and boxing for that matter - need a 'Champion' because they have no meaningful rating system? Chess has both. Do we really need the two? Perhaps Magnus thinks not. Maybe he's happy with the number one spot and feels that 'World Champion' would be naught but a meaningless bauble. On the other hand, it could be that it's not the title that Maggie doesn't fancy as much as the road he'd have to travel to get his hands on it. The young fella, after all, wouldn't be the first Westerner to try to find a short cut to the top.

I can't believe that there would be any more money, or any less interest, in a match between Carlsen and Vishy Anand right now than after the Norwegian had fought his way passed some lesser mortals. World Number One v World Champion. Who cares if there was a 'title' at stake or not?

In truth, at this moment Carlsen is bigger than the game. You don't see any other chesser hobnobbing with Liv Tyler do you? Maybe he just decided to take Route One to Vishy. Maybe he thinks he doesn't need FIDE and their qualification system (whatever it happens to be this week). Maybe he's right.

click for a closer look
(click twice for a really close look)

The Times
Wednesday August 4th, 1976
Page 1

Fischer and Karpov agree to play $5m match

Amsterdam, Aug 3. – Bobby Fischer, the former world chess champion, and Anatoly Karpov, the present champion, met in Tokyo last week and agreed in principle to play an exhibition match towards the end of this year.

Dr Max Euwe, the president of the International Chess Federation (Fide), disclosing this today, said the two grandmasters were to meet in Biel, Switzerland, later this month to work out further details.

Dr Euwe emphasized that he had nothing to do with the negotiations for the match, which will involve a purse of $5m (£2.8m). He said the encounter would not be held under Fide auspices, “if it takes place at all”, and the world title would not be at stake.

He considered the chances of the match really take place as “extremely small”. He said: “Fischer will make new demands. Karpov won’t like it and the whole thing will be off. I have been through this before.”

Fischer forfeited his title last year when he refused to play Karpov. Efforts by Dr Euwe to negotiate a compromise failed and Karpov was officially named champion. – AP.

Harry Golombek writes: This is the match for which the world of chess has been waiting. The mention of $5m suggests that the Philippines has take the initiative in the matter, for $5m was to have been the purse for the match planned for Manila last year.

On the whole I think the match will take place. Both men have always said they wanted to play.

Last year I would have backed Fischer to win. But Fischer has been so long out of the swim of things and Karpov has played so much and so successfully that I think the chances are now about even.

WwwK Index

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A Literary Reference : Wolf Hall

He and Rafe read a book about chess. It is a book printed before they were born, but it has pictures. They frown over them, perfecting their game. For what seems like hours, neither of them makes a move. "I was a fool", Rafe says, a forefinger resting on the head of a pawn. "I should have found you. When they said you weren't at Gray's Inn, I should have known you were."

"How could you have known? I'm not reliably where I shouldn't be. Are you moving that pawn, or just patting it?"

"J'aboube." Rafe snatches his hand away.

For a long time they sit gazing at the pieces, at the configuration which locks them in place. They see it coming: stalemate. "We're too good for each other."

"Perhaps we ought to play against other people."

"Later. When we can wipe out all-comers."

Rafe says, "Ah, wait!" He seizes his knight and makes it leap. Then he looks at the result, aghast.

"Rafe, you are foutu.

"Not necessarily." Rafe rubs his forehead. "You still might do something stupid."

"Right. You live in hope."

Voices murmur. Sunlight outside. He feels he could almost sleep, but when he sleeps Liz Wykys comes back, cheerful and brisk, and when he wakes he has to learn the lack of her all over again.

From a distant room a child is crying. Footsteps overhead. The crying stops. He picks up his king and looks at the base of it, as if to see how it is made. He murmurs, "J'adoube." He puts it back where it was.


He feels he should not go far, in case Henry calls for him. He finds a corner for a game of chess with Edward Seymour. Between moves, "Your sister Jane ..." he says.

"Odd little creature, isn't she?"

"What age would she be?"

"I don't know ... twenty or so? She walked around at Wolf Hall saying, 'These are Thomas Cromwell's sleeves' and nobody knew what she was talking about." He laughs. "Very pleased with herself."

"Has your father made a match for her?"

"There was some talk of -" He looks up. "Why do you ask?"

"Just distracting you."

Tom Seymour bursts through the door. "Good e'en, grandfer," he shouts at his brother.
He knocks his cap off and ruffles his hair. "There are women waiting for us."

"My friend here advises not." Edward dusts his cap. "He says they're just the same as Englishmen but dirtier."

"Voice of experience?" Tom says.

Edward resettles his cap primly. "How old would our sister Jane be?"

"Twenty-one, twenty-two. Why?"

Edward looks down at the board, reaches for his queen. He sees how he's trapped. He glances up in appreciation. "How did you manage that?"


Thomas Avery smuggles in to him Luca Pacioli's book of chess puzzles. He has soon done all the puzzles, and drawn out some of his own on blank pages at the back.
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall, Fourth Estate, 2010, p.105-6, p.410-11, p.621. (Original date of publication 2009.)

(More on Wolf Hall this coming Friday.)

[A Literary Reference index]
[Thanks to Tom]

Friday, November 05, 2010

Dodgy diagram III

David Vigorito, Chess Explained: The Main-Line Slav, Gambit, 2009. Page 14.

[Dodgy diagram I]
[Dodgy diagram II]

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Recycle! Reuse! Rejoice! Here are some good bits of teh recent interweb, selected just for you.
  • We start off with the picture to the right - and, uh oh. Tsar Peter seems to have rather been swindled by his son Tsarevitch Alexey. What happened next? To find out you'll need to get hold of the Russian children's magazine Bathyscaphe, from where this delightful scene is taken. Meanwhile, the meticulous creative process behind the image is detailed here. (Via.)

  • Chess also gets a mention in the New York Review of Books Blog, in an article about William Jones, "a late-eighteenth-century genius and polymath". In it you'll find a link to Jones's poem about chess, as well as a drawing that accompanied the poem on its publication.

  • This one's for the specialists though. Via John Saunders, we learn of ChEx: the new blog of ECF Chief Executive Andrew Farthing. His most recent piece praises the English Chess Forum, although maybe the forum isn't for everyone; a less complimentary review is quoted here.

  • Finally, Dinosaur Comics is one of my favourite parts of the web, even more so since the author helped launch a book called Machine of Death which entirely accidentally thoroughly enraged Glenn Beck. Search through here for that particular saga. What I actually have today is an excuse to link to the comic because it recently mentioned chess:

    Enjoy the whole thing here.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Schrodinger's Sealed Move

Position at Adjournment
Guy v JMGB
London League, October 25th 2010

This was the position that I reached after 36 moves and three hours of play in my game at Albany Chess Club last week. I sealed 37. … Qh3+, but, the post we’d published that very morning notwithstanding, the game was agreed drawn without any further play. Sure, the point of last Monday’s blog was to encourage myself to try harder to win games, but there are limits, aren’t there?

All the lines seemed to me to end in perpetual check and I wasn’t convinced that it was worth dragging somebody to Golden Lane to find out whether his aversion to draws was strong enough that he’d voluntarily enter a clearly lost rook and pawn ending just to keep the game going. Similarly, my opponent evidently didn’t think it was worth another trip into town just to discover my sealed move and establish for sure that I had noticed that … Rh5 was not mate.

So, a draw it was - which was all very well but it did leave me with a dilemma. Does my sealed move actually count as being played?

My queen check fell in the forest but my opponent wasn’t there to hear it. Did it make a sound? Would the answer to this question be different if I’d sealed a blunder and decided to resign? What if the position was lost for Black and he chose to throw in the towel between sessions?

If anybody fancies helping me out of a philosophical quandary, they are welcome to make a contribution in the comments box.

Readers of Chess magazine may be under the false impression that the S&BC Blog spends most of its time sunning itself on the Costa del Sol. If so, they may wish to know that this post was written in a cafe on Streatham High Road.