Friday, February 05, 2016

Les Chesseurs Britanniques de Paris: Part 2 The Opposition

The first part of this series introduced the British Chess Club of Paris that was founded in 1926. It remained active until the declaration of war in 1939 brought the curtain down on much chess activity both at home and on the continent (a story told in several episodes starting here), until things got back to some kind of normality after the defeat of the Axis in 1945. The last reference that we have found to the BCCP in the British and French chess press was in 1938.

Perhaps it is worth noting however, that just as the war didn't bring a complete halt to British homeland chess, it appeared to stagger on in France too. So, although the Paris championship was suspended in 1939, by 1942 it was contested again, with Henri Reyss - who we mentioned last time as a BCCP member - playing in 43 and 44 (the latter in May, Paris was liberated in late August). The championship of France was suspended in 39, resumed in 1940, and Reyss played in the 1941 edition, and finished 3rd in 1942. Otherwise le Championnat de France went right through, only suspended again in November 44 consequent on the disruption of the Liberation. (Thanks to Heritage des Echecs Francais for all that).    

Back with the BCCP, in the decade before the war: one of its first steps, in late 1926, was to affiliate to the French Chess Federation, and in this episode we will look at the Club's impact on the Parisian chess scene, in which it played its part - with moderate success.

In 1928 the Club "won the Coupe de Paris (subsidiary tournament) with ease" - so reported the piece in the BCM of April 1935 on the Club's 10th anniversary. A pretty decent result for such a new outfit.

The following year they "concluded only half point behind the winners (Rive Gauche) and just missed winning the Coupe" (op cit). For some bizarre reason, the win by the Club 2.5 v 1.5 over the Cercle du Palais Royale in the 1929 tournament - putting it in the lead at that stage with 13.5 points - made it onto the front page "Stop-Press News" of the Western Daily Press on 18th March; along with the more weightier matter (some would say) of the bombing of rebel positions in Torrion in the Mexican Civil War. Not a headline - but it was a start.

So the club had arrived - though some members were already well-known in Parisian chess circles, e.g. H.K. Handsyde and G.W.Champion. "A Correspondent", that is to say the author of the 1935 BCM retrospective, then struck a downbeat note: " [a] loss of members brought diminished strength in subsequent years [i.e. 1930 onwards], and results have been less satisfactory". This decline in fortunes though, if one might take mild issue with George Langelaan (if it was he who, as I suspect, had adopted "A Correspondent" as his nom de plume), was only modest. The club remained active, and continued to "flourish" (BCM March 1933) in many respects.

The BCM of April 1931 reports the Club coming 2nd in the Major Tournament for the Coupe (aka "Challenge de "La Liberté"). The tournament scored 3-2-1 match points for a win, draw, and loss (very modern). Results, in game points over four boards, were: 1 v 3 Lutèce; 2.5 v 1.5 Buttes-Chaumont; 2 v 2 Russe; 2.5 v 1.5 Hongrois (a "new club" said BCM May 28). The Club wasn't doing too badly.

BCM April 1931 is helpful in giving the individual players in these matches, and in the Appendix below you will find all the names mentioned in connection with the BCCP from all sources. Many are now apparently forgotten by history, such as J.J.Fitzpatrick who lost on board 1 against Russe to someone much better remembered: Nicolas Rossolimo, who went to become a GM and French Champion in 1948. We'll take the opportunity here to mention someone else in the Club who does re-appear in the historical record, (though he didn't play in the above matches): N.Baliol Scott. He had come second in the BCCP Club championship in 1931, and after the war was President of the Ministry of Supply Chess Cub. He died tragically as a result of a traffic accident in 1956. It was "a sad loss of a fine player and sterling Club member" said a note in the Civil Service Chess Club Bulletin. A Civil Service posting possibly explains his presence in France before the War.

In other friendly challenge-and-return matches in 1931 the BCCP beat Cercle de Levallois in February, 6 v 4 and 5.5 v 4.5 (BCM April 31); Buttes-Chaumont over 13 boards 7.5 v 5.5 (La Strategie May 31), and Cercle Echec-et-Mat twice 7 v 5 in April, and 7.5 v 5.5 May (BCM June 31). So 1930/31 was, indeed, a good season for the Club. The Buttes-Chaumont, by the way, is a lumpy pleasure ground laid out in the 19th Century on old quarry workings (a pretext for inserting a period photo below, to lighten things up a bit);  but I don't think they have organised chess there, now or ever, as in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

From here 
The above match results are included here not just for the record, but also out of interest in the opposition i.e. the other Paris chess clubs (or Cercles) of the time: not only teams based apparently on locality/venue, but some likely to be based on specific communities in the capital. Others to mention are Vichy-sur-Seine, Les Echecs du Palais-Royal; and the splendid le Fou de Roi - perhaps we might say the Crazy Kings, but it's a jeu de mots as "le fou" is also the French for the chess bishop (unless, as is entirely possible, my French is again inadequate to the task). They were based in Montmartre.

I have a soft spot for the Cercle Potemkhine (aka Cercle Russe). BCCP played them twice in June 31, with a 5-all draw, and (with a "very scratch team") losing badly 2 v 8 in the return. Potemkhine was strong, winning the 1932 "4th inter-club championship of Paris" (BCM May 32) with 41 game points (when BCCP came 3rd with 28); they also won the second division. As far as one can see there is no chess in Eisenstein's film Battleship Potemkin - but there is some in his Ivan the Terrible.

All those inter-club matches, as well as the individual Paris championship, were to be put on a proper footing - as reported the BCM in November 1931 - with a "permanent Committee" to oversee matters "presumably on the lines of the London League". This was duly established (BCM January 1932) with D.J.Collins as the Club's rep. to, and Vice-President of, the Comité. L.H.Mortimore drew the short straw in September 1932 (BCM November 32) when he was appointed, doubling as delegate to the French Chess Federation. He was another who held dual nationality, as did George Langelaan, and he too will reappear later in the story, but after the demise of the BCCP in 1938/9.

In 1932 the BCCP set up a correspondence section (BCM November 32) for "Britons resident in France", although this was no impediment to Brian O'Reilly, "Irish by race" but born in France, being admitted to membership. Another recruit was A.W.Mongredien, also living in the South of France (BCM Nov 32), as was Colonel Stuart-Prince (BCM March 1933); and by November BCCP was engaged in a 10 board match with Blyth (Northumberland) CC, presumably because of a connection with a BCCP member. The final result was 5 v 5, declared in the BCM a year later just as a 6 board correspondence match was to begin with the Braille CC - as said the BCM in November 1933, adding again that "a hearty welcome [at the Club] is assured all readers of the BCM, should business or pleasure take them to Paris."  

Incidentally Brian Reilly won the March 1931 Nice Masters Tournament ahead of George Thomas, Jacques Mieses, and, in last place, Marcel Duchamp. There was evidently a British chess presence in the South of France around this time as the Falkirk Herald (12 February 1930) reported that Mr. S.S.Blackburne would once again be acting as hon.sec. for the Alassio British Chess Club (South France) after some illness. His is a resonant name, but he appears to be unrelated to Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) - at least, I can find no reference to him in Tim Harding's recent biography of the big man. An S.S.Blackburne had published a well-received book on chess problems "Terms and Themes of Chess Problems" back in 1908, and was then regarded as "one of the best living authorities on the subject" according to The Times.

If 1931 seemed to be the annus mirabilis for the club, then results did slip a bit subsequently. In 1933 it finished 5th in the "Challenge de 'La Liberté' " (BCM Jan 34), and =4/5th the following year (BCM June 34). A good omen for the 34/5 season was the defeat of the "strong" Cercle de Buttes-Chaumont by 5 v 4, although the BCCP could manage only to finish the season 4th out of 6 in the "Liberté" (BCM June 35). To complete the record: they finished 3rd in 1936, (BCM Feb 36), and =3/4th (and last) in 1937/8 (La Stategie April 1938).

After this rather dry episode, next time we will have some proper fun and games when we cover the BCCP's most eye-catching external engagement, also in 1931; but let's finish this one by noting another occasion when the Club joined in the convivial chess life of the City of Light, by logging the Club's participation in Alekhine's monster 300 simul (reported in the Yorkshire Post of 22 February 1932). That's 300 players, not 300 boards. His opponents were constituted as 60 teams of 5 in consultation. It was in aid of French disabled players says the report. The BCCP took one table. The result was +37, =17, -6 for the World Champion. At the time of writing I have yet to establish how the British team fared, but I'd like to think that they won.

Members of the BCCP 1926-38 mentioned in the BCM and/or French sources:  
N.Baliol Scott, E.L.Barbier, E.O.Barnard, M.Behles, R.Brown, G.W.Champion, E.Coleman, D.J.Collins, C.C.Curtis, R.Dunlop, F.Farrington, J.J.Fitzpatrick, S.T.Fletcher, W.I.Gastman, E.Grad, H.K.Handasyde, R.W.Holmes, D.Japp, J.M.Lang, George L.A. Langelaan, Gérard Langelaan, L.H.Mortimore, H.Reyss, A.Roe, H.G.Spencer.

Members of the correspondence section:
B.Reilly, Col.Stuart-Prince (based in Nice and Hyères respectively); A.W.Mongredien.

Others mentioned in a social context:
D.Langelaan, M.Staub.  

Les Chesseurs Britanniques de Paris: Part 1 The Club; Part 3 The Match; Part 4 The Beast; Part 5 The Robot; Part 6 The Addendum   
History Index  


Niall said...

'Le fou du roi' is the French for 'court jester', but could be literally translated as the King's crazy guy/madman.

Martin Smith said...

Splendid! Thanks Niall.