Saturday, December 31, 2011

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

GW Chandler, 1907

White to play and mate in two

Friday, December 30, 2011

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

[This study is cooked! Scroll down for replacement puzzle]

Troitzky, 1906

White to play and draw

Replacement puzzle below!

Bruski, 1906

White to play and mate in three

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

Shinkman, 1905

White to play and mate in three

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

M. Platov, 1904

White to play and win

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

White to play and mate in two

Wynne, 1903

Monday, December 26, 2011

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

White to play and mate in three

Blumenthal, 1902

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

Lasker (Em.) and Reichhelm, 1901

White to play and win

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Is Not A Pipe Dream

To all our readers,

The Streatham and Brixton Chess Bloggers wish you seasonal greetings, and great chess in 2012.

Picture from: The Ultimate Pipe Book, by Richard Carleton Hacker [sic] Souvenir Press, 1988, where it says that the picture, from the 1950s, was "an attempt to popularize women's pipes." Thanks to Richard Rawles for the tip.

Don't miss another edition of ejh's Twelve Puzzles of Xmas, kicking-off tomorrow.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's The Way They Told 'Em

From the Chess Column of the Irish Weekly Times, Saturday 24 December, 1904.

Click to enlarge:

There's more, awfully more:


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Not so simply the best

I've been looking forward to Larry Kaufman's new repertoire book, which according to the rumours I'd read, he's been putting together. His previous one, The Chess Advantage In Black And White (Random House, 2004) is as good a repertoire book as I've seen: my copy is getting as dog-eared as a good book can expect to be.

So I was pleased to see that The Kaufman Repertoire For Black And White is due out early year, published by New In Chess.

I was also pleased to see that according to John Watson, that most respected of chess book reviewers, the new book appears to be every bit as good as the old one. Better, in fact: it's "simply the best comprehensive repertoire book I have ever seen".

Hurrah! I almost ordered it on the spot, such is Watson's enthusiasm: enthusiasm all the more impressive, given that it appears to be in praise of a book that has not actually been published. Though it's not unusual for review copies to be made available in advance of official publication.

However, the advert gives no source for Mr Watson's brief encomium, other than the author's name. One trusts that this reticence is not because, on investigation, the quote (a slight misquote, as it happens) turns out to be from a review written some years ago, and describes not the forthcoming work - but the book that came out in 2004.

A different book. Not even, strictly speaking, an earlier edition of the same book, but a different book. With a different title. Issued by a different publisher.

Not that you'd know that, from the ad.

[Book Reviews by John Watson]

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ray Could Play X

Keene v Iskov, Esbjerg 1981

"A disaster." That was how Vishy Anand summed-up his performance at the London Chess Classic. Maybe it was, but if he thinks scoring 50% at Super GM tournaments is bad he should try getting minus three in an Open and see how that feels.

Unfortunately my LCC was one of those events where absolutely nothing goes right. It wasn't a losing a lot in a sound-thrashing-every-now-and-again-is-good-for-you kind of a way either. I'm afraid it was much more of a playing-utter-bilge-and-wanting-to-give-up-chess-by-the-end-of-it experience.

Things started to go wrong as early as move two in the first round. I was paired with IM Lorin D'Costa, but after I'd carefully prepared for his Nimzo-Indian he played 2 ... g6. "Arse it", I thought as I watched him push his king's knight pawn forward, "that's a morning's work down the drain."

9 h3

Not knowing what branch of the Nimzo to expect from Lorin, I had a look at a few possible lines. My choice to counter the Hubner variation, should the game go that way, would have been an old idea introduced by Portisch against Tony Miles at Amsterdam in 1981 and subsequently taken up with some enthusiasm and success by our old friend Raymond Keene.

1 d4 Nf6, 2 c4 e6, 3 Nc3 Bb4, 4 e3 c5, 5 Bd3 Nc6, 6 Nf3 Bxc3+, 7 bxc3 d6, 8 e4 e5 and now, instead of 9 d5 as in the famous Spassky-Fischer game from Reykjavik amongst countless others, 9 h3. White is happy to let Black capture multiple times on d4 - he'll play Bb2, recapture the pawn and have a pair of bishops on an open(ish) board - and will wait for a better moment to close the centre. As far as I know Portisch's plan was defanged pretty much as soon as the novelty had worn off, but I was hoping that it was old enough that my IM opponent would have forgotten all about it.

That, in any event, is how I came to spend some of the morning before my second-ever game against an International Master watching the last of the old episodes of The Master Game which featured in one of Justin's posts - It's all over now, Baby Blue - back in June. Naturally, I made sure to track down the games that Keene and Browne mention in that video too and they're both pretty interesting. Raymondo's win over Iskov reached the position shown in the diagram at the top of today's blog and apparently the unusual central pawn formation prompted somebody to ask him "Are you playing chess or building a cathedral?" The Ligterink game, by the way, is the one mentioned in the comments box to Ray Could Play VI and featured a brace of rather tasty exchange sacrifices.

It's a shame I didn't get to play any of this really. If I get the opportunity at some point next year I'll definitely take it. 9 h3 might not lead to an objective advantage for White, but it seems sound enough and it certainly leads to some interesting positions. Mind you, given that it was favoured by Keene during one of the most successful periods of his career, it's hardly surprising that it's a decent move. Ray could play a bit, you know?

Ray Keene Index

Photograph of Lorin D'Costa from

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Broadmoor Chess - There Has Been So Much Piffle

This series has been following, in its most recent posts, the story of chess in Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, as documented in the Broadmoor Chronicle, the patients’ in-house magazine.

There was as strong tradition of chess behind the walls, both as a social pastime and as a serious game with, post-war anyway, some club-strength players. These students of the game wrote an occasional chess column in the Chronicle, and were the mainstay of the internal Broadmoor Chess Club, which took on several local club teams in the 1970s.

The Chronicle appeared pretty regularly from the mid-40s into the 80s; its chess column perhaps less so. After a short break, as it was wont to have, it re-appeared in January 1967 posing a mate in two problem, which we reproduced in an earlier episode, but here it is again (solutions are at the end, if you need them).

Given in the Broadmoor Chronicle 1967
“For Chess Fans” was the heading of that edition of the chess column, but it might also have intrigued an unchess fan as it revealed that in the 1920s Broadmoor had a problem composer in its ranks, and that his work had been published in The Daily Telegraph. He was one Walter Stephens. After another break, of two years, the Chronicle at last gave its readers the solution, and offered a second Stephens problem (also a mate in two, as are they all in this post)

W. Stephens
Given in the
Broadmoor Chronicle 1969
At about 2.30pm in the afternoon of Thursday 24 August 1905, Walter Stephens, or Cyril A Desparde as he also called himself, had gone to Greener Gunsmiths in the Haymarket to buy one “for house protection”, but was told, quite properly, that he needed a licence. So, he simply popped next door to the Post Office and, as was possible in those days of yore, got the requisite document over the counter. He went back and bought the revolver he'd had his eye on, and a small amount of ammunition. At the trial, the shop manager said “I thought the man seemed a bit strange, and that he had shaken hands with me for rather a long time; customers who are strangers do not shake hands with me.”

"Strange" his behaviour may have been (not only on the tenuous account above, but from other testimony as well), but inebriated he certainly was - he’d been drinking for several days according to the Police surgeon who saw him after his arrest - and at 10.15 pm, in the street outside 45, Honeybrook Road, Clapham, just off the South Circular, near the Common, he emptied the revolver into his unfortunate wife (they’d been married for 21 years; her sister said they were very fond of each other, as did he; Stephens was already aged 47), and she died the following morning in St. Thomas’s Hospital (though, as the post-mortem showed, the medics had not spotted, in their first examination, the fatal bullet in her lung).

The scene of the crime, today
(from Google Street View)
Evidence was given that Stephens had spent a short spell in an Asylum in Jersey, and another in a padded cell in the Infirmary at Dulwich, both a few years before, and had persistently exhibited delirium tremens from alcohol abuse. "Guilty but insane" he was admitted to Broadmoor at His Majesty’s Pleasure.

Now, in 1967 the Broadmoor Chronicle told its "Chess Fans" that back in 1922 – that’s 45 years earlier - Stephens (who had by then been in Broadmoor for 17 years) had written a letter of complaint to the Daily Telegraph. The Chronicle reproduced the text of the letter:
There has been so much piffle written about Broadmoor in the papers of late that perhaps you would like to be able to say something true about it, so I enclose a couple of my problems as a sample of the work done here.
And yes, Walter Stephens had indeed written to the Telegraph. Here is the letter, as printed in the paper's chess column on July 1st 1922, along with the two problems given above:

(click on to enlarge)
But the fascinating disclosure about Walter Stephens, Broadmoor’s very own chess problemist, didn't end there. The Chronicle went on to say, “It is interesting to note that not only did Walter Stephens continue to set problems for the Daily Telegraph, but he was a regular contributor to the Manchester City News, the Observer, the Daily News and the Referee…” This may be an example, reproduced at the time in an anthology.

W. Stephens
Given in
Chess Problems Made Easy (1924)
by T.Taverner, Chess Editor "Daily News"
Your blogger admits to not having had the time to trawl through the newspapers to locate any of the others alluded to (the problems in this post, apart from the first two, have been sourced via the internet), so they remain lost - if any reader of this blog turns up a Stephens, please let us know.

And there is yet a bigger intrigue in all this: how did the author of the Broadmoor chess column in 1967 know about the 1922 letter? After all, Walter Stephens wasn't around to tell him because he had died twenty years earlier in 1947. So we ask again: how did the Chronicle come by the Stephens story, especially as (according to the Berkshire Record Office Archive) there is no copy of the 1922 letter in Stephens' Broadmoor file.

And not only that: the Chronicler was able to report also that Stephens had been published in the Manchester City News, the Observer, and so on and so forth – a fact which is not mentioned in the 1922 letter itself. Is it really likely that the 1967 chronicler could have found out for himself about Stephens' widely-published problems by, say, researching the newspapers of the 1920s? In Broadmoor? Surely not. Could somebody have told him? Well, if so, who? Could Stephens' personal papers have been somehow handed down within the hospital, patient to patient? In a high-security set-up like that one? And where might they be now?

Thus we finish this post with that mystery, three more Stephens problems from The Problemist of the 1920s (below), and another question: who was A. Foster?

Three problems by A. Foster and W. Stephens
From The Problemist (l to r) 1928, 29 and 30
Sourced from Meson
And that also brings us to the end, for the time being, of this series on Dadd, the Asylum, and the subsequent chessers in Broadmoor Hospital (as we call it today). Little did your blogger anticipate the path ahead when visiting the Tate's Watercolour exhibition back in March: from the "The Child's Problem" to Walter's problems (chess and otherwise), and everyone else along the way.

Perhaps now we can see the merit in his complaint: “so much piffle” does get written about the patients and what goes in Broadmoor (and I hope this series may be spared that epithet), and it deserves rebuttal. Their chess, and the Broadmoor Chronicle, are worth celebrating: they do the patients proud, and not forgetting the staff.

Stephens' trial transcript is here.

Asylum Index.

Solutions (click to enlarge!)

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes. What's not to like? Well, Jude Law obviously, but according to well-placed sources there's a big dollop of chess in SH2, so we can make allowances.

A Game of Shadows opens across the country today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How HJR Murray didn't tell it

[click image - rather lopsided, sorry - to enlarge]

From Larry Gonick's The Cartoon History Of The Universe III (WW Norton, 2002) p.138.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Other Talent of Philip Poyser

Chess-playing-artists; artists-who-play-chess. There's a good few of them. Richard James and Mike Fox listed some in their Addicts books, where they created a six board Artists' chess team (and other teams besides).

This is not about chessers who merely doodle or, to flip it over, artists whose first move is with their rook’s pawn. It is about artists who feel compelled to create serious artworks and who are also driven to play proper chess (and that's not as in the back of the team captain’s car, obviously). Or the other way round. Marcel Duchamp was the grandaddy of them all, but he has had his fifteen minutes of fame, and then some, so let’s have a look at a hitherto unsung chess-artist: Philip Poyser (1912 - 1988).

This note about him is an unexpected spin-off from our Asylum series: he was a sometime team captain for Richmond and Twickenham Chess Club, in particular when they played Broadmoor CC in the early seventies. Richard James has commented about him on the ECF, and its time we looked at his art.

But first a bit of his chess. Richard James knew him of course, and reckons he was about 140ish strength: so a middling club player. Here is one of his games, in which he pulls off an appropriately aesthetic finish.

Phil didn't hit the big time chess-wise. Nor did he as an artist, but he was a very able one, dedicated to his métier. His work crops up now and then at auction, and so some of it is on-line, though seldom given a date. Although it is a limited selection of his work, it says a lot about Philip Poyser the chess playing artist.

He used watercolour and oils, was accomplished in both, and his most effective pictures show an eye for atmosphere and light. Take this simple watercolour, for example, suggesting that apart from his art he had other ways of supplementing his income....

Dog Track.

It was probably blocked in on the spot to fix the hard electric glare. Watercolour is often said to be a fickle medium, as you can see where it has blotched above the canopy. But it is portable, fast and unobtrusive. You can imagine Phil perching up at the back, washing in the colour.

Colour? It’s just brown and blue washes on tinted paper. But it works – it evokes at one and the same time the bleach of the arc-lights, and the uniformity of their garb. Yet, in spite of the drab there is the spark of character as the bloke marks his card.

Which dog track was it? Wimbledon Stadium – not far from Richmond - is still there, with floodlighting, though more often these days it is bashed-in stock cars that tear up the track. But, apparently, as recently as 1955 there was yet another stadium two miles north in Wandsworth Town. The cloth-cap dog racing culture was captured in a pavement level observation by Carel Weight. However, here there are no floodlights, so they stream home before the sun sets. Perhaps then, Phil was in Wimbledon Stadium after all.

The Dogs (1955-56)
Carel Weight (1908-1997) Tate Gallery.

Phil Poyser's touch with atmospheric watercolour is also shown off nicely in this next delicate winter scene. It was up for auction in 2009 when it was titled "Chinese Tower Amongst Woodland". But is very recognisably the pagoda at Kew Gardens, Richmond upon Thames, snowbound in a veiled winter luminescence.

This next one may have been unkindly treated by time, and the internet, as it is difficult to see the detail. But it looks like another on the spot sketch and may have just been a study for a studio piece. Using tinted paper again, he evokes a glowing summer's day.

Figures In A Busy Children's Playground.
Ink and watercolour.

There's a thread linking this to the dog-track punters above, and the skaters to come below: they are all local scenes of ordinary people off-duty, relaxing, and doing it together : it's workers' playtime.

Phil's other medium of choice was oils.

The Star of The Show (1946)

Here he works up an image with greater impact. You can see again his fascination with artificial light, as well as for people en masse. He's caught the poise and fluid grace of the principal as she planes across the ice, calling up repeated echoes behind.

Once again it is a scene of collective enjoyment; of the hoi-polloi having fun. It must have been at Richmond Ice Rink (the columns give it away as you can see in the illustration from The Twickenham Museum in this link). It’s as if he’s doing his own personal mass-observation.

As we've seen, Phil preferred to find his subject matter on his doorstep, and here's another fine example of a local scene, though for once he's more interested in architecture than activity - he has endowed riverside Richmond with the grandeur of Venice on this high-summer's day.

Richmond Bridge and Tower.

Next along is a frank nude portrait: another lady (or maybe the skater, déshabillé) is to be found, with erotic intimacy, in a domestic setting. Any ice here has long since melted.

Reclining Nude (1932?)

Don’t miss the ripe fruit allusion. Or the hint of mountain pictured on the wall - a visual rhyme with her explicit charms and, given her unabashed sexuality, maybe an aural pun on the artist’s carnal imaginings. Maybe he was only twenty at the time; the artist and his model: same old...same old...

Finally, there is this change of gear.

Dandelions (1949)

We are back to watercolour, with Phil exploiting its potential for happy accidents. It's also a step away from his more conventional representational approach. The jump in scale goes beyond the literal, and invites a more allusive interpretation: perhaps it's a meditation on post-war bomb-site Britain: the weeds reclaim the wasteland, someone looks on helplessly, some Braque-ish birds and a stork promise new life....hmm....I'm sure you could do better.

So that was Phil Poyser, an eccentric Bohemian-like character according to Richard James (and thanks to Richard for his help with this post), and judging from his art, a man of the people very much at home in his corner of south west London. Following Duchamp he was the next of our chessers with the other talent. There may be more in due course.

Dog Track comes from here. Chinese Tower, Playground, and Nude come from here (where it says that the Nude was done in 1922, when he was only 10, so I'm guessing that was a mistake). The Star is from here. Richmond Bridge is here, and Dandelions is from here. I also came across a reference to a Portrait of Bill Norris , but without an image. Various other works, including more riverside views, are referred to here.

Chess in Art Index

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Literary Reference : The Dream Of Macsen Wledig

And he saw a dream. And this is the dream that he saw. He was journeying along the valley of the river towards its source; and he came to the highest mountain in the world. And he thought that the mountain was as high as the sky; and when he came over the mountain, it seemed to him that he went through the fairest and most level regions that man ever yet beheld, on the other side of the mountain. And he saw large and mighty rivers descending from the mountain to the sea, and towards the mouths of the rivers he proceeded. And as he journeyed thus, he came to the mouth of the largest river ever seen. And he beheld a great city at the entrance of the river, and a vast castle in the city, and he saw many high towers of various colours in the castle. And he saw a fleet at the mouth of the river, the largest ever seen. And he saw one ship among the fleet; larger was it by far, and fairer than all the others. Of such part of the ship as he could see above the water, one plank was gilded and the other silvered over. He saw a bridge of the bone of a whale from the ship to the land, and he thought that he went along the bridge, and came into the ship. And a sail was hoisted on the ship, and along the sea and the ocean was it borne.

Then it seemed that he came to the fairest island in the whole world, and he traversed the island from sea to sea, even to the furthest shore of the island. Valleys he saw, and steeps, and rocks of wondrous height, and rugged precipices. Never yet saw he the like. And thence he beheld an island in the sea, facing this rugged land. And between him and this island was a country of which the plain was as large as the sea, the mountain as vast as the wood. And from the mountain he saw a river that flowed through the land and fell into the sea. And at the mouth of the river he beheld a castle, the fairest that man ever saw, and the gate of the castle was open, and he went into the castle. And in the castle he saw a fair hall, of which the roof seemed to be all gold, the walls of the hall seemed to be entirely of glittering precious gems, the doors all seemed to be of gold. Golden seats he saw in the hall, and silver tables. And on a seat opposite to him he beheld two auburn-haired youths playing at chess. He saw a silver board for the chess, and golden pieces thereon. The garments of the youths were of jet-black satin, and chaplets of ruddy gold bound their hair, whereon were sparkling jewels of great price, rubies, and gems, alternately with imperial stones. Buskins of new Cordovan leather on their feet, fastened by slides of red gold.

And beside a pillar in the hall he saw a hoary-headed man, in a chair of ivory, with the figures of two eagles of ruddy gold thereon. Bracelets of gold were upon his arms, and many rings were on his hands, and a golden torque about his neck; and his hair was bound with a golden diadem. He was of powerful aspect. A chessboard of gold was before him, and a rod of gold, and a steel file in his hand. And he was carving out chessmen.

And he saw a maiden sitting before him in a chair of ruddy gold. Not more easy than to gaze upon the sun when brightest, was it to look upon her by reason of her beauty. A vest of white silk was upon the maiden, with clasps of red gold at the breast; and a surcoat of gold tissue upon her, and a frontlet of red gold upon her head, and rubies and gems were in the frontlet, alternating with pearls and imperial stones. And a girdle of ruddy gold was around her. She was the fairest sight that man ever beheld.


And they went along the mouths of the rivers, until they came to the mighty river which they saw flowing to the sea, and the vast city, and the many-coloured high towers in the castle. They saw the largest fleet in the world, in the harbour of the river, and one ship that was larger than any of the others. "Behold again," said they, "the dream that our master saw." And in the great ship they crossed the sea, and came to the Island of Britain. And they traversed the island until they came to Snowdon. "Behold," said they, "the rugged land that our master saw." And they went forward until they saw Anglesey before them, and until they saw Arvon likewise. "Behold," said they, "the land our master saw in his sleep." And they saw Aber Sain, and a castle at the mouth of the river. The portal of the castle saw they open, and into the castle they went, and they saw a hall in the castle. Then said they, "Behold, the hall which he saw in his sleep." They went into the hall, and they beheld two youths playing at chess on the golden bench. And they beheld the hoary-headed man beside the pillar, in the ivory chair, carving chessmen. And they beheld the maiden sitting on a chair of ruddy gold.


And immediately the emperor set forth with his army. And these men were his guides. Towards the Island of Britain they went over the sea and the deep. And he conquered the Island from Beli the son of Manogan, and his sons, and drove them to the sea, and went forward even unto Arvon. And the emperor knew the land when he saw it. And when he beheld the castle of Aber Sain, "Look yonder," said he, "there is the castle wherein I saw the damsel whom I best love." And he went forward into the castle and into the hall, and there he saw Kynan the son of Eudav, and Adeon the son of Eudav, playing at chess. And he saw Eudav the son of Caradawc, sitting on a chair of ivory carving chessmen. And the maiden whom he had beheld in his sleep, he saw sitting on a chair of gold. "Empress of Rome," said he, "all hail!" And the emperor threw his arms about her neck; and that night she became his bride.

from The Dream Of Macsen Wledig, as collected in The Mabinogion and translated by Lady Charlotte Guest.

[A Literary Reference index]

Friday, December 09, 2011

Sing a Song of Chess VII

Take me Away

Check. Mate.
This song will teach you how to checkmate as White.
Assume that Black is going to put up a fight.
Firstly remember you can't checkmate with only a bishop or knight.

Sing a Song of Chess Index

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Funny Old Game

Chess in comedy, no.1: Hancock, 'The Radio Ham', 9 June 1961:

'King's pawn to queen's bishop three...'

'Just a minute, it's my move...'

Monday, December 05, 2011

Independent and accountable

I was a little shocked to learn, last week, that the English Chess Federation, of which I am a member, was taking legal action against the President of FIDE.

A little shocked, if such be possible. I mean not shocked in the way that Oedipus was shocked when he found out who his girlfriend really was. But not shocked, either, in the sense that Captain Renault was when he found out that gambling was going on at Rick's. Not hugely shocked, nor not really shocked at all. Nor even shocked in the sense of "outraged", since Kirsan's the sort of guy that somebody really ought to sue. No, I was just a little shocked because nobody had bothered to tell us. Even though the ECF had just had an AGM and all.

Yes, somehow the information that we were taking the chess world's most powerful figure to court was not considered quite important enough to tell the membership about it: not even the FIDE Delegate, one Nigel Short, was able to find space in his report to mention this frippery. Indeed, it didn't come to light until occasional comments box visitor Roger De Coverley looked closely at the FIDE President's report to the last Congress and then started a thread on the English Chess Forum asking about it.

All I've done is read the thread, and I have no more information about the business than appears (or is speculated on) there, but if I understand what is happening, which is a sizeable if - though if the ECF had been forthcoming about the case, it's be a smaller one - the basis of the case is as follows:

  • The case revolves around the appointment of extra FIDE Vice-Presidents, which, it is alleged, is unconstitutional
  • It is being paid for by Garry Kasparov - or so it is suggested, and at any rate will not, it is claimed, cost (or risk) the ECF a penny 
  • Kasparov (or whoever it may be) is not able to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne because the complainant needs to be a federation affiliated to FIDE, and hence, presumably via Nigel Short and/or CJ de Mooi, it's been agreed that the ECF should do it.

That's pretty well as much detail as I reckon I know, insofar as I reckon I know it, and to me it's a damned sight less than I ought to know. There really is no good reason I can think of for keeping this quiet. I mean I don't even know whether I object or not: that's not the point. I don't particularly have a view on the merits of the case either. I just object to not being told.

Now I haven't got time to engage in an extended polemic on the reasons why I think we ought to be told about stuff like this. I think it's obvious enough. More than obvious enough.

Ever read the ECF's Memorandum and Articles? It's not an exciting document, nor a short one. Nevertheless I wonder if it could do with a short addition, making a statement about its identity. Something like:

The English Chess Federation is an independent body which is accountable to its members.

This ought to be a statement of the obvious, but apparently is not. Especially the part about accountability to its members: we should have the right to know what's going on, and in principle, at least, there is nothing that should be kept from us. (And in practice, absolutely as little as possible.) But the part about "independence" is also of value. It's nobody else's organisation to pick up and manipulate as they please. Not Garry Kasparov's, not CJ de Mooi's, not Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's.

If these principles were recognised, and respected, certain things that do not happen now, would be more likely to happen, and certain things that do happen, would be more likely not to. In particular:

  • the ECF would not be used on the quiet by private individuals to pursue their own legal and political battles
  • the ECF President would not use the ECF's official title, email and website and then claim he is operating his own private events
  • the financial organisation of the British Championship would not be quite so opaque to its members
  • British Championship organisers would not find their tournament being opened by a speaker who they had not invited and of whose invitation they knew nothing
  • the ECF would not find themselves manoeuvred into working with, and endorsing, an individual who is not even an ECF member because he owes them a sum of money.

These things are of course of varying degrees of seriousness: but they all display, in some degree, one or more of the themes of opacity, unaccountability, and the organisation being subservient to the wishes and interests of private individuals. Independence and accountability: these are presently, shall we say, somewhat neglected in the operating culture of the ECF, and I don't believe that an organisation which neglects them is a healthy organisation.

It's one thing that the ECF facilitates a legal action against Kirsan. It's quite another that it doesn't think that's any business of the subs-paying members. It's one thing that CJ de Mooi can't distinguish his private from his official role: it's quite another that he's indulged. Who is the ECF for? It's not for Garry Kasparov or CJ de Mooi or Ray Keene. It's for us, the members. It would be appreciated if it would act as if the members were its authority and its priority. Independent in our interests, and accountable to us.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Broadmoor Chess - The Atonement of GW

This series of posts is now following the story of chess in Broadmoor as documented by the Broadmoor Chronicle, the in-house magazine produced by the patients, who were themselves identified only by initials. The subject of this episode is GW, who we now know was Günther, Günter, Gunter, Ginter, or even Peter, Wiora from Poland.

The story starts in 1957, when he had already been in England for just over ten years. He was 34 years old, and an art student, living in a basement flat with his common law wife Shirley Allen (she was known as Mrs Wiora). He was by all accounts extremely jealous, accusing Shirley of unfaithfulness and worse.

In the morning of 4th May 1957 Mrs Dally, the neighbour across the way, is woken by screams. In the corridor she finds Shirley bleeding from a head wound crying “Help me, Peter’s gone mad.” Mrs Dally takes her in for safety and rushes back out to raise the alarm. Peter appears, brandishing a Samurai sword. He slashes Mrs Dally as she makes for the stairs to rouse a neighbour and call the police.

Back downstairs again Mrs Dally now finds the door to her own flat open, and inside she finds Shirley stabbed to death. The sword is nearby. The door to the Wioras’ flat is locked; the police arrive, and smelling gas break it down to find Peter lying on the bed, bleeding from wrist wounds.

At the Old Bailey Wiora pleads diminished responsibility, and on 25th July 1957 is sentenced to twelve years. He is later transferred to Broadmoor, where he is to spend many more years inside than that.

GW must have had the chess in him already, before these dreadful events, because the Chronicle gives a pretty reasonable club-level game of his from a mere two years later, December 1959, although he lost it to FJC (see it in this episode). Then in 1961 he wins one, loses one, against FC in a Block 5 v Block 2 match on Christmas afternoon, and around the same time he beat KW to win the Block 5 championship “after a classic and extended tussle in which three games were drawn and the other two won by GW”, as the Chronicle reported.

He contributed to the Chronicle’s chess column on and off through 1963 and 1964, and he showed himself to be a well-read student of the game, giving games by Tal and Fischer, using a test exercise from Euwe (in German) in one article, and acknowledging Baruch H Wood’s Chess Notes in yet another.

GW was a stalwart for the Broadmoor Chess Club playing against visiting teams, working his way up eventually to the top boards. We featured a game of his from 1972 in the last episode in which he lost in the match against the visitors from Richmond Chess Club. It was in this match that he revealed his name: Gunter Wiora (though, as we've indicated, the spelling of the forename appears to be variable).

The content of the Broadmoor Chronicle was mixed and, within the constraints of its production schedule, topical. Articles were anonymous or signed-off with initials only, and were also subject to the approval of Dr McGrath, the chief officer of the hospital. All the more credit to Dr McGrath then, when in 1972 he let through an article from the young bloods of the “Revolutionary Action Committee for Broadmoor” setting out their Manifesto.

Yes, comrades, that’s the Manifesto of the RACB, in which “victims of the fascist violence in the prison system consistently apply the theory of Marxism-Leninism,” and here are their demands:
  • impartial review of fitness for discharge of any prisoner who requests it
  • freedom of political thought, speech and action
  • an immediate political enquiry into Broadmoor
  • immediate end to medical drug abuse and ECT
  • immediate end to prevalent brutality in Broadmoor.
In April some patients (aka “prisoners” according to the RACB) took direct action and staged a roof-top demonstration, bringing the Chronicle (and Broadmoor itself, of course) some probably unexpected, and certainly - from Dr McGrath's perspective - unwanted, publicity:

From the Glasgow Herald, 3 April 1972.

GW entered the fray and joined the debate in the Chronicle espousing a more social-democratic approach. He was an advocate of gradualism having, by now, nigh on fifteen years experience of the ways things worked in Broadmoor. He agreed with the RACB’s aims, but argued that “goals must be achieved by democratic and non-violent means”.

Later in August, in the aftermath of this upheaval, there was an open letter from the Editor of the Chronicle to Dr McGrath asking if there was any "factual basis for fearing that articles [in the Chronicle] may reflect adversely on [patients] clinically”. To which Dr McGrath forthrightly replied “There is no factual basis”. In the same issue there was a comprehensive guide to accessing Mental Health Tribunals, the conventional path to securing release (as I think I'm right in saying). Perhaps the winds of change were stirring in the corridors of Broadmoor.....

On to 1974 and, with the heady days of matches against outside clubs having only one more year to run, Gunter appeared in the pages of the Chronicle again – in a new role. He made an appeal for support for the Arbours Association, whose modern day website says is “an internationally renowned registered charity with 40 years experience providing psychotherapeutic support for individuals with serious emotional problems.”

The following year, in June 1975, Gunter wrote long critique of an article by a certain Robin Knight in the US News and World in which Knight took a poke at Britain and its way of doing things. Here is a short extract in which GW firstly reveals a little about his past - he may have spent his late teens/early twenties in war-torn mainland Europe - and then even more about his present:
I arrived in this country, as a young man, in 1946 and, in the last two decades at least, I have been a deeply interested observer of the British scene, of life and customs in this country…Since my admission to Broadmoor especially, I have been able and fortunate in increasing very considerably my circle of friends…
About a year ago 30 patients in Gloucester House, and a few patients in other houses formed, with the kind permission of the Physician-Superintendent, a charitable organisation called Helpmate, with the aim of helping those outside who perhaps are in greater need than we are…We have saved £108 from wages, plus £15 from the sale of articles. Two charitable institutions and one needy individual (a sick child) have profited from our effort.
The following month a further Helpmate (note the chess reference) report identified the two institutions as the Harts Leap Cheshire home in Canterbury, and the National Society for Autistic Children. Then: in October Helpmate reported that some patients were making jewelry for sale; in November that a representative of the NSAC had visited; and finally in December that the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins had written to commend their efforts (as did Maggie Thatcher, then Opposition Leader, and even Norman Tebbit, which was nice, I suppose).

Gunter Wiora had a review of a book, evidently read in German, in the same issue of the Chronicle which, perhaps with a little irony, he titled Quo Vadis? Homo Sapiens. There’s another mention of him again in November 1977, still doing good work with Helpmate, but that’s maybe the last reference to Gunter, that I noticed anyway. By then he would have been about 54 years old, and would have been in Broadmoor for around twenty years.

Of course, these edited highlights of chesser Gunter Wiora’s life in Broadmoor may not tell the whole story, or give a full picture, of his illness, but on the above evidence he was clearly a cultured and compassionate man, with an interest in outside affairs, and a lack of bitterness towards a country that considered it necessary to curtail his liberty for so long.

Warning. There now follows a Thought for the Day.
(Further warning. Don't expect anything profound.)

Unfortunately GW's “moment of madness” in 1957 cut short one life, wrecked his own, and got him banged up in Broadmoor for twenty years or more; and he may still be there after fifty. One imagines (from the vantage point of relative freedom) that in his circumstances life would have little sense of purpose (Quo Vadis? indeed), and it says something about the human spirit that Gunter, and his fellow patients in Broadmoor high security hospital, organised to “help those in greater need”. Perhaps he also felt it was some kind of exculpation. Anyway, it seems to me (although this may be a fanciful notion) that it would be good if chess had served a higher purpose by helping him as a patient, even in a small way, to discipline his disordered mind.

The account of the events of 1957 comes from here (where they use "Ginter" and "Peter") but I have not tried to corroborate what it says otherwise. There are almost certainly other newspaper reports of the 1972 protest, but the Glasgow Herald archive is on-line and free.

Asylum Index.

Friday, December 02, 2011

If you want prose, read Shakespeare

Question Which of Shakespeare's prose works does Bruce Pandolfini recommend we read?

[The Q & A Way, Chess Café, 23 November 2011]