Tuesday, June 25, 2013

GMs of BO

I’ve been pondering Britishness recently. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about British chessers. More precisely still, I’ve been asking myself who are the Grandmasters of British origin? It’s not as easy a question to answer as you might think.


Nationality used to be straightforward. Where you were born, where you grew up, where you lived: all the same place.

Things are different now. I am Essex for cricket, Southampton (Hampshire) for football and Surrey for chess – a rather neat map of the course of my life. Counties for me, countries for a lot of folk these days.


People like Jacob Aagaard, Alexander Baburin and Bogdan Lalic, for instance. Good men and true, no doubt, and they may or may not be or have been considered British in some sense. Not from around here, though, and clearly not of British origin.

What about Jim Plaskett, though? Born in Cyprus, apparently, and currently living in Spain. Does he count? I say that he does.

And William Watson? How would he respond if we marked his card as ‘Iraqi’ on the basis that he popped out in Baghdad? With Wellington’s line about being born in a stable not making one a horse? Who knows? Certainly not me, I haven’t asked him. Anyhoo, I’m counting him too (Watson, I mean, not The Duke).

Murray Chandler caused me some problems, although thinking about it I’m not sure why. Somehow he feels somehow British to me. Perhaps because when I started chessing he was a permanent fixture in the England national team. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t seem to have much of a Kiwi accent. Maybe I’m just confusing ‘British’ with what back in the day we used to call ‘Western’ or ‘First World’ – terms which in retrospect seem largely to have been used as a shorthand for ‘White but not communist’.

Bottom line: Chandler was born in Wellington and settled in England later in life. Hell, at the age of 20 he was still playing Olympiads for New Zealand. So, as much as I’d like it to be otherwise, Murray’s not making the cut.

Afraid not

Having looked a bit about what ‘origin’ means, it’s time to move on to ‘Grandmaster’. Even that’s a little slippery from a definitional point of view.

I’m interested in the highest over-the-board title which has been earned by right. None of this GM-Emeritus stuff and not a GM of Problem solving or correspondence chess either. Not that there’s anything wrong with being any of those things. It’s just not what I want to count today.

Should I count Penrose under these criteria? He’s a ‘real’ GM apparently and yet an award given thirty years after the fact doesn’t seem quite what I’m trying to get at here. Feel free to mentally add him in if you see fit, but I’m not going to.

After all, if we’re going to count Penrose shouldn’t we include Bill Hartston as well? He could have had a post-dated Grandmastership too, he just chose not to pursue it. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere and whatever FIDE might say, mine comes down with JP on the wrong side I'm afraid.


Nationality, if it means anything at all, is self-defined. If you rely on assumption, emotion and Wikipedia – as I have done here – any list that you might end up with tells you more about the compiler and the accuracy of web-based encyclopedias than it gives you an ‘objective truth’.

Still, for what it’s worth, and please feel free to correct me or argue differently, here is my list of Grandmasters of British origin. I think there are 44 of them.

[NB: I have a debt of gratitude to this EC Forum thread and the work done by Jack Rudd, Paul McKeown and Chris Kreuzer in particular]

Adams, Michael
Anagnostopoulos, Dimitris
Arkell, Keith
Conquest, Stuart
Davies, Nigel
Emms, John
Flear, Glenn
Gallagher, Joe
Gormally, Daniel
Gordon, Stephen
Haslinger, Stewart
Hebden, Mark
Hodgson, Julian
Howell, David
Howell, James
Jones, Gawain
Keene, Ray
King, Daniel
Kosten, Tony
Kumaran, Dharshan
Levitt, Jonathan
McDonald, Neil
McNab, Colin
McShane, Luke
Mestel, Jonathan
Miles, Antony
Motwani, Paul
Norwood, David
Nunn, John
Parker, Jonathan
Pert, Nicholas
Plaskett, James
Rowson, Jonathan
Sadler, Matthew
Shaw, John
Short, Nigel
Speelman, Jon
Stean, Michael
Summerscale, Aaraon
Turner, Matthew
Ward, Chris
Watson, William
Wells, Peter
Williams, Simon

Double Six Index



Sean Coffey said...

Alexander Baburin "may or may not be or have been considered British in some sense"? How so?

Jonathan B said...

How may he have been or how not?

Sean Coffey said...

How may he have been, in any sense?

Jonathan B said...

Well if you look at this list Baburin is included.

Chris and I are constructing slightly differently lists. He was
"... aiming at the moment for a list of all British titled players current titled players in the FIDE rating list registered for ENG (England), SCO (Scotland), WAL (Wales) and IRL (Ireland)". So Baburin is included in that.

Leaving aside the issue of Baburin qualifying by residence rather than birth, I was conscious of the fact that some folk who are IRL for chess might not care to be considered British.

So the phrase quoted, then, was an attempt to square a circle and recognise that while some folk drawing up a list of 'British' GMs would include Baburin others wouldn't.

That said, if somebody were to come to me and suggest that Baburin couldn't/shouldn't be considered British in any sense I doubt I'd argue.

Jonathan B said...

All of which - the slipperty business of nationality and the particular the problematic defining nationality on behalf of other people - reminds me of Stewart Lee's joke about the IRA being "decent British terrorists"

Jonathan B said...

Ooops. Cut and paste fail. For the record: that quote of Chris' post on the EC Forum should have been

"... aiming at the moment for a list of all British titled players ... in the FIDE rating list registered for ENG (England), SCO (Scotland), WAL (Wales) and IRL (Ireland)."

Jonathan B said...

Thanks to a discussion on the EC Forum sparked by this comment by Chris Kreuzer, I have added Dimitris Anagnostopoulos to the list of GMs of BO. So 43 becomes 44.

I imagine Anagnostopoulos may very well not consider himself British. I think in the future I'll change the title of the these posts to "GMs of the British School" which more accurately reflects what I'm trying to get at.

Sean Coffey said...

Someone like Mark Orr could naturally be included: from Northern Ireland, IRL-registered, and an IM, Ireland's first IM in fact. So if British means 'from the UK', as it usually does, he's in.

So IRL-registration overlaps with 'British', no question. But not to the extent of making all IRL-registered players British.

Here's an analogy: if you compile a list of 'English' titled players, and include Scottish players on it, it would be quite jarring. Not because some who are SCO-registered for chess might not care to be considered English, but rather because they're *not English*.

Jonathan B said...

Completely agree with you Sean. Not that this issue arises for me and my list with Baburin becuase he's obviously bounced for growing up elsewhere.

I suspect the list published on the EC Forum was intended to be 'rough and ready' and an indicator. Perhaps because it was difficult to establish where in IRL folk where living.

Another possibility is that there was some confusion as to whether IRL chess is likely football - i.e. two teams - or like Rugby which I understand has one. I certainly wasn't sure about this until I checked before answering you this morning.

As for your central point that some IRL players might be considered 'british' while others not - yes I agree.

Jack Rudd said...

The British Chess Championships, incidentally, explicitly has a different meaning for "British" from the usual one: it relates to the British Isles rather than the United Kingdom.

Unknown said...

Just to clarify a couple of points. The list I made in 2010 was based explicitly on the FIDE country (this may be the wrong term - federation, national chess organisation?) registration code for the players in question at the time they gained their titles (some gained their IM title while registered for one country, and then their GM title while registered for another). In other words, I side-stepped the question of nationality, though I did include some notes (where the information was available) on when people changed country registration code with FIDE, and also on some name changes. The country codes I looked at were ENG, SCO, WLS and IRL, and as Jack has pointed out, these are the ones considered 'British Isles' (see references to the BICC - British Isles Co-ordinating Committee). It also ties in with the old BCF (founded back in the days when Ireland meant something different) and the British Chess Championships. I did look at Guernsey and Jersey, and the Isle of Man, but they didn't have any titled players at IM or GM level. For more on the BICC, see the post in 2007 by David Sedgwick here. What is interesting is how relatively common it is for people to switch or change FIDE registrations and the reasons for doing so or not doing so (in some cases, the cost is prohibitive and there is a waiting period).

Jonathan B said...

Thanks for that Chris.