Thursday, 27 October 2016

Educating The Rookie

Guardian journalist Stephen Moss has written a book about his personal chess quest, called 'The Rookie' (Bloomsbury, 2016). Stephen learnt chess when he was at school but put it aside after university. Like so many other ex-players, he still had a hankering for the game and wondered whether he 'could have been a contender'. The book tells the tale of his re-entry to the world of chess, including his own chessboard triumphs and disasters, and his meetings with the game's great names.

Stephen Moss goes head-to-head with world chess champion Magnus Carlsen in 2009

Link to a Guardian review of the book:

Link to a place where you can buy the book:

I played a part in Stephen's quest as his chess coach. He and I only lived a few streets away from each other, so over the years I became his 'local GP' who attended to his chess ailments, while he also consulted a few 'Harley Street specialists' in the form of grandmasters such as Nigel Short, Stuart Conquest, Vladislav Tkachiev, etc. Hence I was referred to in the book as 'Doc Saunders'.

I've written about my part in Stephen's quest in the September 2016 copy of CHESS Magazine. The article may be found here online:

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Brexit Chess Tweet

I like to post what I am pleased to think of as chess-related witticisms on Twitter now and again, and when I saw something amusing on Peter Doggers' (of Facebook page relating #Brexit to the English opening, it gave me an idea and I quickly knocked up the following graphic...

It's a simple idea. The English opening, 1.c4, happens to open up a diagonal for the white queen (which I am using to represent HM Queen Elizabeth of England), so I show her exiting the board (representing the EU) on the following turn to an imaginary square beyond the d1-a4 diagonal. Took me ten minutes to knock it together and put it on Twitter.

I'm usually pleased if my little jokes get half a dozen retweets and a similar number of 'likes'. I think I might have had as many as 20 or 30 retweets on a good day. But, by those modest standards, this one proved positively viral - 675 retweets to date, and 733 likes, without me doing anything to promote it (well, until this blog post). It has been translated into other languages, and had people arguing over what the symbols represent (it has entered a wider, non-chess-literate sphere). Hat tip to Peter Doggers for prompting the idea. Still slightly gobsmacked that it struck such a chord with people.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Chess Snippet No.3: Mir Sultan Khan (1905-66)

From the Manchester Guardian, 13 August 1929, page 4

An interesting snippet about Mir Sultan Khan (1905-66), who had just won the 1929 British Chess Championship:

Transcription follows:
The New Chess Champion.
Hafiz Mian Sultan Khan, the new British chess champion and first Indian to win the distinction, is "the son of Mir Nizamuddin, the religious leader of Mitha Tiwana, in the Shahpur district of the Punjab. He is 24 years of age, and has spent the greater part of his youth in learning the Koran by heart, so effectively that he has earned the title of "Hafiz," accorded to one able to repeat from memory the whole of the Koran. He has nine brothers, all of whom are advanced players of chess.
Colonel Malik Nawab Sir Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana, who belongs to the same district as Sultan Khan, took a great interest in him because of the remarkable aptitude he showed whenever he played a game with the Nawab. The Nawab therefore organised a special all-India tournament, which Sultan Khan won. The new champion does not speak English, and consequently he cannot read any book written on the subject of chess. There are no chess books in the vernacular of his country. Sir Umar therefore engaged an English tutor to teach him the English moves of the game, as the Indian moves differ from the English. During the tournament at Ramsgate Sultan Khan, who contracted malaria in India, developed such a high temperature that it was considered necessary to scratch him, but he refused to submit to the ruling and persisted in continuing to play.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Miss Fatima, 1933 British Women's Chess Champion

Above is a cutting from an article which appeared in the Western Morning News on Saturday 12 August 1933, page 7. Here is the text

Hastings, Friday [11 August 1933]
Miss Fatima, a young Indian woman, with faultless features and dressed in Eastern style, won to-day at Hastings, the British women's chess championship.
Her eleven opponents were mostly of many years’ experience, and included no fewer than four ex-champions, yet out of ten games played she had won nine and drawn one by really remarkable play. 
No such score has ever been made in a series of similar contests extending over nearly 30 years. 
Miss Fatima has been for five years n England in the household of Sir Umar Hayat Khan, in or near London, living a rather secluded life. She speaks only a little simple English.
Miss Fatima has been described as still in her teens, but in an interview to-day after her victory, she admitted to 21 years and one month. She learnt all her chess in England, having started playing, she said, only two years ago.
Unfortunately this is likely to be her last tournament in England, as according to present arrangements, she is returning to India shortly.

From the foregoing, it would suggest that Miss Fatima was born around June/July 1912, rather than the year 1914, as is generally given. Of course, this is not proof, merely evidence.

Wikipedia entry for Miss Fatima:

Friday, 19 February 2016

Great Scott

Here's a little poser...

White, to play his 41st move, has a huge material advantage - queen for bishop and pawn. But he has two problems: (1) his queen is holed up in a corner; (2) his opponent's d-pawn is two squares away from queening and there's no obvious way to stop it. The e7-bishop can't get back to cover the d2-square, while the white K can't get there in time either, e.g. 1.Kf2 d2 and the K can't go to e2 because the c4-bishop covers e2.

So what to do? It turns out that White had actually gone into this position with his eyes open. In the following position...

... he had played 39.Re7+ Qxe7 40.Bxe7 d3. And, from the first diagram, he now found the killer move...

41.Bf8! and Black resigned. If 41...Kxf8 42.Qxg6 d2 43.Qc2 Bh6 44.Kf2! (Without this precise move Black might still escape) when White will play g3 and f4 and then capture the d2-pawn after which IAMOT (you can work out this abbreviated cliché from the context).

Here's the full game score. White was RHV Scott and he won the game in the penultimate round of the 1920 British Championship in Edinburgh. His opponent was JH Blake. The following day Scott went on to win his final round game against EG Sergeant to clinch the British Championship title. I am grateful to Gerard Killoran for discovering the final position and move, after which I tracked down the full game score in the Yorkshire Post for 23 August 1920.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Thinking Allowed

Enjoyed my chat about chess with Laurie Taylor and Gary Fine on yesterday's (16 December 2015) BBC Radio 4 programme Thinking Allowed. Laurie was a very affable and relaxed host, and I enjoyed his company. I also enjoyed meeting Professor Simon Down of Anglia Ruskin University, who was the guest for the first part of the programme.

It looks as if the programme will be available indefinitely online as an MP3 download. So if the above link fails to work after a time, you could try downloading the MP3 version here. The chess content starts around 12 minutes into the show.

I am very grateful to all four UK chess federations (English Chess Federation, Chess Scotland, Welsh Chess Union, Ulster Chess Union) for their prompt and helpful responses to my request for figures of active competitive players in their respective countries. For the record, the figures I quoted on the programme were 20,000 currently active and/or registered competition chess players in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined, and 48,200 schoolchildren who competed in the 2015 Delancey UK Schools Chess Challenge (I found the figure here in the 2016 entry form). As I said on the programme, there will be an overlap between the two figures which is not readily quantifiable.

Other links:

Laurie Taylor on Wikipedia

Gary Alan Fine on Wikipedia

Profile of Professor Simon Down

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

London Chess Classic

The last fortnight has been very busy but highly enjoyable, writing reports for the London Chess Classic (go to the linked page and click on 'Reports' in the left-hand menu). On the free day there were more chess responsibilities, writing my monthly column for CHESS Magazine, as well as another historical article on the British Championships of the 1960s.

My chess activity doesn't stop there: on Wednesday 15 December at 4pm I'm appearing on the BBC Radio 4 programme Thinking Allowed to talk about sociological aspects of chess with presenter Laurie Taylor and Gary Alan Fine, Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University, whose recent book Players and Pawns: How Chess Builds Community and Culture forms the basis for the discussion. The programme goes out live so you'll have to tune in to see how the discussion goes.

Incidentally, many of you will be wondering whether Professor Fine is a relative of the legendary Reuben Fine. He isn't, and he doesn't claim to be a strong competition chess player but that's probably a good thing as it gives him a more independent standpoint. I've read the book: he's done some thorough research and written an excellent work which goes to the heart of our game and the culture surrounding it, coming up with a number of intriguing sociological conclusions.

Photo of world champion Magnus Carlsen on stage for the final round of the London Classic