Friday, 28 October 2016

So. Farewell Then...

...Phil Chess (27 March 1921 - 18 October 2016) co-founder of Chess Records.

Mr Chess, with Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Bo Diddley.
Michael Ochs Archives

Memorable sounds. Memorable name. Easily confused with Chess Records.

Guardian obit here

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Spot The Difference with Nigel Short

People have said to me that rules are rules. It’s nonsense! When the laws make no sense they can go and fuck themselves!

You can't just ignore regulations just for the hell of it. There's a reason why they are there.

Irrelevant to this piece, but here Nigel appears to be wearing a suit out of Reggie Perrin


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Hundreds of millions again

Ilya Merenzon has a message for us!

Mostly a threatening message, as it goes, and perhaps this blog will get back to the less savoury aspects of Mr Merenzon's communication. Just for now, though, it was hard to miss the little passage at the end of this paragraph:

Ah yes...
...the hundreds of millions of chess fans round the world.
Well, here we go again. I don't suppose it's the last time we'll hear this claim (or similar claims) connected to the world championship match and come to that, it's not the first time Merezon himself has come out with this nonsense.

Actually that short exchange is more revealing now than it seemed at the time, at least as an insight into Ilya Merezon's general approach ("how did you get access to raw data?", he demands, referring to data the public had been invited to access) but it also means we know that when Ilya Merenzon makes claims like this, he knows very well that he's making it up.

Monday, 17 October 2016

h7 is a place

White to play and fail to win.

Jones-Swiercz, Millionaire Monday final, first game: White is winning after 66. Re8 though after 66...f4+ 67. Kf2 Rd2+ he needed to play either of the two moves that won rather than selecting the only one (and hence the Worst Move On The Board) which did not.

I'm not sure what ghosts he saw after 68. Kf1 - it's perhaps easier to see where they might appear after 68. Ke1 Rxg2, though they're just ghosts all the same - but anyway Gawain chose 68. Kg1??

which in setting White up for a check on g2 gives Black just enough time to come round with 68...Kh4 69. e7 Kg3. Now, having selected the only move that drew rather than won, Gawain had to select the only move that drew rather than lost. Unhappily he preferred 70. Rd8?? to 70. Kf1.

Subsequently losing the two game mini-match cost him half the $30,000 prize that he would have got for winning.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Played on Squares (Bloomsbury and Chess) 9: Forster, part 2

This is the second part of an exploration of Edward Morgan Forster's chess - one of the Bloomsbury Group whose chess playing activities we have been documenting in a series of posts beginning here.

From here

We have been trying to keep a chronological grip on our subject - so before we return to the period of the 14-18 War, we'll highlight some passing chess references in his earlier novels...

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Not all that famous then

Paul Doyle at the Guardian unaccountably leaves someone out.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Demonstrably wrong

Oh dear.

What is Tim Farron up to?

Readers of this blog will be already familiar with Mike Basman's bankruptcy and his subsequent activities, but as Tim Farron MP patently is not - and hasn't apparently made any effort to check - let's just reiterate for the benefit of the prevously underinformed:
  • HMRC aren't "seeking" to do anything, since VAT on chess entry fees is nothing new
  • There has been no "tax hike"
  • There has been no "recent change to its tax status".
  • Mike Basman has been made bankrupt as a result of evading his legal obligations at a net loss to public funds of several hundred thousand pounds.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Short memories

Funny old week, last week. A commentor on last Wednesday's piece drew our attention to this remarkable statement by Susan Polgar.
Using the biggest sexist in the world of chess who has nothing to do with this issue to mouth off this sensitive topic on Twitter is not the way to resolve anything. Some are clearly using this to advance their own personal and political agenda.
Why "remarkable"? Well, remarkable because it's true, which is not necessarily Susan Polgar's style. So we had the simultaneous spectacle of the biggest sexist in the world of chess posing as a defender of women's rights and the biggest fibber in the world of chess calling him out for it. Calling him out for it, when practically nobody else would do so.

Especially not our mainstream journalists, who seemed to have a collective attack of memory loss1 where Nigel's past statements and conduct are concerned.

Short, wrote Julian Barnes in 1994, "has a history of graceless behaviour". So he does, but it's not as if you have to remember back to 1994, or even to have been alive in 1994, to know about that.

You don't even have to go back to 2012 and his piece delighting in sex tourism and the "totty" you could find.

You only have to go back to last year.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Played on Squares (Bloomsbury and Chess) 8: Forster

Last year the BBC ran a TV drama series Life in Squares. It followed, in three episodes, the entangled lives of the Bloomsbury Group - the Bells, the Woolfs, Duncan Grant, Maynard Keynes, and Roger Fry et al. Dorothy Parker - not a member herself, obviously, though she might have gone down well - quipped that they "talked in circles, loved in triangles, lived in squares".

The TV series sparked our own blog series - Played on Squares - in which we tried to answer the straightforward question (one that nobody in the sprawling corpus of Bloomsbury archival analysis, informed commentary, and learned exegesis, had thought to ask), viz: did they play chess?

The answer, we discovered, was an unavoidable "yes". The Bloomsberries admitted to chess in their diaries, and their memoirs; they documented and commented on their obsessive playing of, and sometime brazen cheating at (Roger Fry was exposed as the culprit), our favourite game; one of them (Fry again) used it as a teaching aid in his lessons on aesthetics; two of them were portrayed in oils at the board (and another was sketched in situ), and several of them were photographed in flagrante. One - Leonard Woolf - almost joined a chess club, and another actually did - although this is stretching a point as she was only a Bloomsbury-sibling and not a Bloomsbury-proper. However, as she also played in tournaments and even turned up in the BCM - snapped playing in a simul. against Vera Menchik (result unknown) - she (Marjorie Strachey) was the star turn of our chess-in-Bloomsbury series.

Not that you would have found any of this on the TV. Shocking.

Just after the series closed, our good friend Richard James was kind enough to point out that it was unfinished: there was in fact a Bloomsberry with a well-documented chess interest who we had missed. Also shocking. So, before leaving it any longer, we had better repair this omission and report the chess doings of...

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Heads up

No official announcement yet, but here's an interesting addition to the FIDE Calendar 2017.

Also see, FIDE 2016 General Assembly decisions.

Now the thing about Iran is, it does have rules and regulations that apply to women, ones that do not apply in most other countries, and this is, shall we say,  potentially a matter for concern.

Without any official announcement, let alone one touching on the matters this raises, it's hard to say anything definitive, but I sent an email to the FIDE office to see what they could tell me.
27 September 2016 at 12:07


Sorry to bother you. I am a chess writer and a member of the English Chess Federation.

I read on your website that the 2017 Women's World Championship has been awarded to Iran (General Assembly decision GA-2016/31). I am writing to enquire whether women competing, reporting, spectating or attending in any other capacity will be required by their hosts, to wear clothing, for instance the headscarf, that they would not be obliged to wear in their home countries.

Yours sincerely

Justin Horton

Huesca province Spain

They replied, very promptly, as they generally do.

From: FIDE Secretariat
To: Justin Horton
cc: Nigel Freeman
27 September 2016 at 12:14

Dear Justin

From my personal experience, all foreign women are obliged to wear headscarf in all public places in Iran.

best regards

Polina Tsedenova

FIDE Secretariat

You'll perhaps have noticed that while Polina hasn't actually said yes, nor has she said no, and her answer is more along the lines of yes than no. However, I subsequently received an email clarifying that women attending the championship will, indeed, be expected to wear the headscarf whether they like it or not.
From: Nastja Karlovich
To: Justin Horton
cc: Nigel Freeman, FIDE Secretariat
date: 27 September 2016 at 13:53

Dear Mr. Horton!

all competitors will be obliged to respect the laws of the country including the dress requirements.

You can check the UK foreign office for more information:

Best regards, Anastasiya Karlovich

FIDE Press Officer

Now matters relating to the headscarf are sensitive, as are matters relating to Islam, and for this reason commentors are asked to be thoughtful in what they say on the subject*. But it does seem to me that women should not be obliged to wear the headscarf as a condition of competing in, reporting on or simply attending a chess tournament, and if it is a condition of the host country that this occurs, then it probably shouldn't be the host country.

To say so isn't to lecture another country on what laws or customs it should have. It's to say that the laws and customs of the chess world should not be such as to discriminate against women. FIDE shouldn't be doing this: if and when there's a row, they will only have themselves to blame.

[* additionally - anonymous comments will not be permitted, and please do not make this all about a certain English grandmaster.]

[thanks to Chris Rice]
[this piece revised after publication in order to incorporate the final email]

Friday, 23 September 2016

Thursday, 22 September 2016


What's this, do you think?

It's this, is what it is.

Surely not, the reader surely says.

And yet

it surely is.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Holy tax evasion, Basman

Chessbase, 2008

I'd intended to write a piece last weekend about a crochety old English chess master who gets into trouble when he doesn't think the rules apply to him. However, being, in truth, a little more sympathetic to Nigel over that particular issue than I normally am, we'll leave that aside for the moment. Instead, let's talk about Mike Basman.

Why so? Because the popular British IM has got himself into trouble. How so? Take your pick. It's either
  • because over perhaps as long as twenty years, he couldn't be arsed to comply with his legal obligations with regards to tax; or
  • because he is being persecuted by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs
depending on whether you live in the world of reality, or the world as seen, apparently, from inside Mike Basman's head.

The exact details of the saga which have led to Basman's current predicament are not yet entirely clear, the reason for this being that Mike Basman has chosen not to make them entirely clear (which we will get on to, below). Nevertheless the basic outline seems straightforward enough - it appears that
  • the UK Chess Challenge, the competition that Mike Basman has organised since it began in 1996, has failed to charge VAT on entry fees for its competitions, as it was legally obliged to do;
  • this having come to HMRC's attention, they have presented Basman with a bill representing an estimate of the revenue lost to them over a ten year period, which is in the non-trivial amount of £300,000; and
  • as Basman cannot pay this bill, he was made bankrupt on 8 August 2016, thus threatening the future of his competition (leaving aside alone any consequences for himself).
It also appears that despite having been directed to pay this bill at least three years ago, and having his appeal dismissed in contemptuous terms (not just because it fell outwith the period allowed for appeal, but because the grounds for appeal were specious) more than two years ago, Basman nevertheless continued to operate just as he had done previously, right up until his bankruptcy.

I have a view on this, which is that Mike Basman is a fool, a fantasist and a tax evader.

Caption competition waiting to happen

Friday, 16 September 2016

A French Connection

[This is a guest post by  Richard Jamesto whom much thanks. There is a minor edit by MS]  

Photo from the Condé Museum in Chantilly. Taken 1858/9.

Sitting on the left playing chess is Prince Louis of Condé (1845-1866), who was living in Orleans House, in Richmond on Thames, at the time. He developed TB and died in Australia. He was a paternal grandson of King Louis Philippe via Duke Henri of Aumâle.

His opponent is Prince Augustus of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1845-1907), whose father was a cousin of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert from the Catholic branch of the family. On the maternal side he was a grandson of King Louis Philippe via Princess Clémentine of Orléans.

Watching the game, from left to right:

Prince Pierre, Duke of Penthièvre (1845-1919), a grandson of King Louis Philippe via Prince François of Joinville. Related to the Portuguese royal family and the emperors of Brazil on his mother’s side. “Prince Pierre had a happy childhood as a refugee in England with most of the other members of the House of Orléans, despite the uncertainty of life in exile.” This seems to have been at Claremont, near Esher in Surrey

Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1844-1921), the older brother of Prince Ludwig August (see above). Married his cousin, Princess Louise of the Belgians, who was reported to have played chess against Queen Victoria.

Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Alençon (1844-1910), another grandson of King Louis Philippe via Duke Louis of Nemours.

Prince Gaston Count of Eu (1842-1922), the older brother of Prince Ferdinand (see above). His family fled to England after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1848.

So in this picture we have six French princes, all grandsons of King Louis Philippe of France, who reigned between the July Revolution of 1830 and the February Revolution of 1848. He fled the country under the name of “Mr Smith” [no relation - MS] and sought exile in England, settling at Claremont. It seems likely that this photograph was taken at about the time of the funeral of their aunt Hélène, the widow of the King’s eldest son Ferdinand. She died on 18 May 1858 at her home in Richmond, Camborne House, Petersham Road, close to Richmond Bridge. It was later renamed Northumberland House and demolished in 1969. The funeral took place on Saturday 22 May, the cortège travelling from Richmond to the chapel of St Charles Borromeo in Weybridge. All the Orléans princes were in attendance. At the time four of the princes were living in the area: Prince Louis was living at Orleans House while the Princes Gaston, Ferdinand and Pierre were at Claremont. The Princes Philipp and Augustus were living on the continent, possibly in either Austria or Spain.

So perhaps the most likely location for the photograph is Camborne/Northumberland House.

[With thanks again to Richard James. To follow a French music and chess connection, and notes on many more musical chessers besides, go to his series, starting somewhere else, here.]

Lost in History

Friday, 9 September 2016

Chess in Art: RA Afterthought

[This post by Martin Smith]

We were talking a few of weeks ago about Chess in Art at this years Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Well, there wasn't any. Which was a bit disappointing, and makes you wonder whether today's aspiring artists are really trying hard enough. But still, it is probably right that the RA's selection committee shouldn't let in any more arty chess sets - stunning though they might be - especially when modelled on the buildings of the capital: ancient, modern, and ancient-looking-but-built-just-now, stunning though they all may be as well.

You'll remember we saw one such chess set last year...

Franklin's Morals of Chess (2015)
By Karl Singporewela
...and another just five years before that:

Style Wars: Modernists versus Traditionalists  (2010)
By Mobile Studio  
So, whatever the seductive materials employed, or the fine craftsmanship at work, enough is enough - especially as complete chess addicts don't have to go the RA to see London skylines. We have them in our own backyard:

Nonetheless, recent developments in my neck of the woods give cause to revisit all this, and look again at the aesthetics of chess-in-architecture.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

How many more times?

Leontxo García has news for us!

Apparently chess has about six hundred million followers around the world.

It doesn't, of course.

This isn't the first time Leontxo's facts and figures have been at variance with reality.

Come to that, it's not the first time Leontxo's put about this particular figure.

Last time he did, and was advised by the present writer that the facts were otherwise, he promised to do some research.

Busy man, Leonxto García. Very busy man.

[Oh, and YouGov is not an American company.]

Friday, 2 September 2016

Chess in Art: Miss Tanning's Appendix

[This post by Martin Smith]

In this appendix to last week's post you are requested to take another look at the ensemble photograph of Germaine Richier's L'Echiquier (Grand) of 1959 (currently on display at Tate Modern), and observe how the Queen (second on the right) is stealing a sideways glance up at the wall. She is flapping her arms to signal her excitement. The Knight takes evasive action.

She must have noticed something.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Chess in Art: Richier Revisited

[This post by Martin Smith]

This post comes a little late to advise you on any chess-art at this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, as it is now closed. Not to worry. There wasn't any...

On not finding any chess at the RA.
But maybe she'll get a nice surprise for her birthday! 

(Silent Howler Laura Ford, in the 2016 Summer Exhibition)
  [All photos by MS unless stated otherwise]
...not even a chess city-scape such as we reported last year (and which we will come back to in a later post); though you can now buy one as a "sunshine-filled birthday gift for children".

Instead, get over it at Tate Modern...

Friday, 19 August 2016

7. ...And The Final "Mrs Fagan"

[This post is by Martin Smith]

The time has come, in the final episode of this series on Louisa Matilda Fagan née Ballard...

In 1897, from here unravel the mystery of what happened to Joseph George Fagan, who she married on the 8 July 1872, and - while we are on the subject - what happened to their marriage. As we have noted before in the series, there is precious little reference to him in the chess press: not as her consort at the many Congresses she competed in, nor at the many social evenings organised by the Ladies Chess Club, of which she was such a prominent member in the 1890s and into the new century. If anyone was likely to be mentioned in that capacity, it was her brother William Roberts Ballard, who was also Louisa's executor at her death in 1931, and to whom she was close.

There is no doubt that Joseph and Louisa tied the knot...

...and, as we saw in episode 4, they had two children. Alas, tragically, both of them died: Eleanor in June 1875 just after her birth; Marie Blanche "Dottie" in 1883, when she was 9. The loss of Dottie, by then their only daughter, appears to have been the beginning of the end for Louisa and Joseph - after 11 years of marriage.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Beating a grandmaster

A lot of interesting things have happened in chess since August 4: the end of the British Championships, the announcement of the world championship venue, the Sinquefield Cup....

....and I'm afraid I don't give a rat's arse about any of these things, because also, between that date and this, I beat a grandmaster for the very first time. In the first round of the Prague Summer Open, about forty-six years after I learned the moves, about forty years after I first played competitive chess, I knocked over a grandmaster for the first time. I'd been close once or twice but never even managed to draw. But this time I got across the line.

Prague Summer Open 5 August 2016, Round One

White: Sergei Domogaev
Black: Justin Horton
This is a psychological error common to chessplayers of all ranks from beginner to grandmaster: to lose one's objectivity is almost invariably to lose the game as well.

David Bronstein
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 Bd6

You won't even find this variation in a lot of books (8...Bb7, 8...a6 and sometimes 8...b4 are favoured) but this game is quite a good advertisement for its charms and it's the recommendation of Larry Kaufman's The Chess Advantage In Black And White, probably the best repertoire book I know and one I looked at on the flight from Barcelona to Prague the day before the game.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Plumbing the depths

Taking breakfast in the airport at Prague on Saturday, I flicked through the Financial Times and found nothing of much interest. Just as well I didn't see Friday's issue: this load of cobblers would have had me coughing up my scrambled egg.

Etan Ilfeld. I've come across this particular bullshit merchant before. He seems to have been on a run of late, with this nonsense being published last year and this one only in March. Well, while there's gullible editors, gullible hacks and for that matter gullible readers, there'll be no shortage of people queueing up to take advantage. But while I might not expect yer average freelance journalist to ask what kind of "standard chess game" lasts ten hours

or to be sceptical about their subject's claim to be a "chess master"

(maybe he is, but his FIDE rating card does not suggest so) you'd hope they might find the whole idea of "diving chess" risible, impossible to take seriously, since risible and impossible to take seriously it what it obviously is.

Or put it another way -  once you're going to take that seriously, you've more or less said that you don't care what's true and what's not, so why bother if the details are just as much bullshit as the substance?

So there's not much point in asking (but I will, anyway) why it is that when our bullshit merchant told the hack that "someone in Spain wants to start a league"

the answer wasn't on the lines of "Jimmy Hill".

Diving chess. Does it remind you of anything?

Course it does.

But whether it's better to award yourself a British title, or to come second in your own world championship

is something only the real connoisseur of bullshit can really tell us.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

6. Another Mrs Fagan...and Her Politics

[This post is by Martin Smith]

Louisa Matilda Fagan née Ballard, the subject of this series (which started here) and the strongest female player in the late 1890s, was born in 1850. Today is the 85th anniversary of her death: on the 11th August 1931 - and in her honour we depart (for this post only) from the usual Friday slot.

However, today's episode is not really about her. Nor is the next one. They are more about the Fagan family into which she married in 1872; and we start, here, with her quasi-relation, Mrs Louis Fagan, the wife of her brother-in-law Louis Alexander Fagan. This episode was to have been the last in the series; but we will hold over scrutiny of Louis' brother, Joseph George Fagan (Louisa's husband) for a further episode. For now, please indulge an excursion to the outer reaches of chess relevance.  

Before her marriage, the lady known later as Mrs Louis Fagan was called Caroline Frances Purves; and sometimes Caroline Frances Fagan after it; though more usually, as was the custom of the time, she was then addressed by reference to her husband's fore and surnames. It is not obvious, from what I can find out about her, that Caroline Frances Purves' earlier life in Australia (where she was born, in 1855 I think - see note) provides any hint of what was to come later: she was an artist in water-colours, winning a "first order of merit" at the 1880-1 Melbourne International Exhibition for such works as "Roses and Dragon Fly" on satin, "Rhododendrons", "Flame Flowersetc. There are no images of her work online, but, from those titles, I am sure that her paintings were very nice. By the way, her eventual husband, Louis, was also a dab-hand in the medium: here is one of his efforts:
Coastal Views in Decorative Borders
From here
Very nice, too. Perhaps this shared talent for tasteful aquarelles was the basis of their mutual attraction: they were married in Kensington in 1887. Louis was to have a distinguished and multi-faceted career at the British Museum, and as an historian and connoisseur of Italian art and culture: he had been born in Naples (like his older brother Joseph George) and died in Florence in 1903. Caroline, however, took off in a very different direction.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

No half measures

By the time this publishes I ought to be on my way to Prague, to play in the Summer Open, my first proper chess since last August. I played two tournaments that month, the first of which, in Sitges, featured, on my part, a draw offer in a position that was won for me.

I've always been a little too keen to take the draw, especially where the opponent is stronger than I am or the clocks are running short or to be honest, or any other reason. Drawing is better than losing, I tell myself, and it surely is, but drawing when you can actually win might be more embarrassing than losing when you ought to draw.

I have a solution to this problem - I don't claim that it'll work, I just claim that it's a solution - but as it happens, while I was drafting this piece there was a similarly embarrassing incident in the eighth round of the British Championships, where Matthew Payne, having survived a mutual blunder earlier on that would have seen him a piece down for nothing, had the opportunity after 29....Bd4?? to knock over an opponent rated almost three hundred points his superior.

With 30. Rxh7+! he took his chance...

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Irregular, like this blog

One of the great pleasures of the British Championship has always been that some people seem ready to play any old nonsense in the openings. I don't know whether that's because
  • they're not taking the tournament sufficiently, or
  • they're taking it too seriously, or (most likely)
  • neither, and the only person taking this too seriously is the present writer
but anyway: South Coast silliness kicked off in Round One with Wells v Birkett [1-0, 34] which was drawn to our attention by the ECF Twitter account.

The Modern never looked like this when Ray played it. This version's not so much an Irregular Opening as an opening from a parallel universe where no such thing as regularity exists. By comparison Claridge-Hansen v Pleasants (all the pinkish diagrams are from here) was relatively sensible

1. c4 e5 2. g3 h5 3. h4

in so far as I could work out why the moves were played. It was, however, even more brief [1-0, 21] than the effort above.

Simons v Brown wasn't irregular in so far as the Blackmar-Diemer possesses a name

1. d4 Nf6 2. f3 d5 3. e4

but I can't say that I was surprised to see it knocked over in short order [0-1, 21].

Modi v Mason's opening not only has a name, the Portuguese Gambit, I've actually gone so far as to play it -

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. 3. d4 Bg4

and to be fair, [1/2, 17] was better than I did.

Friday, 29 July 2016

I can drive a tractor

Who's up for some tractor chess?

No really.

Saturday August 20, in the very small Spanish village of Hinojosa, in Molina-Alto Tajo district, the Siberia of Spain. In August it'll be a bit warmer than that suggests - and the kick-off's at high noon.