The ultimate responsibility for this collection rests with Bedford grandmaster Jim Plaskett. Long ago, I was standing next to Jim in Pembertons’ lamented bookshop in Mill Street looking at the chess books. “You could write a chess book” remarked Jim, thoughtfully. I looked at him in astonishment. “Nobody would buy it, of course,” continued Jim, with a characteristically mischievous grin, “but you could write one.”
Well, thanks to the advent of the Internet, you won’t have to buy this collection – so it may be time for me to write it.
One thing that I have lamented for ages is the lack of a readily accessible collection of the classic games of British chess – the games which are, if you like, part of a British player’s heritage. There is a Reinfeld pot-boiler published in 1950 and risibly “updated” in 1962 (it leaves out Penrose-Tal, for a start), but it includes a lot of rubbish and leaves out much that is important.
This is my choice. I am sure there are other games which others would include, and some games here which others would certainly leave out. But for better or worse, here is a collection by an “amateur” – a lover of the game.
One or two of the games included here are by way of a little light relief. We shouldn’t be serious all the time, even at the chess board.
The notes to these games are taken from a variety of sources and I have endeavoured to acknowledge all of them.
Complete index of games
Bowdler-Conway, London, 1788
This game wasn’t on my original list, and I thought long and hard before including it, because White’s play up to move 10 is truly atrocious. But the originality of what follows – which found its most famous echo in the “Immortal” of Andressen-Kieseritzky – is striking. Without White’s enterprise in this game, would we have had games like Maczynski-Pratten, Geller-Golombek and Mestel-Stean?
White in this game was Dr Bowdler, who found a certain fame in another sphere editing Shakespeare by removing all the naughty bits (hence the term “to bowdlerise”). The notes are based on Vukovic’s in The Chess Sacrifice.
Evans-McDonnell London, 1825
No novelist would dare to write the story of this game. It is too implausible for words. It just happens to be true – an enthusiastic amateur invents a chess opening, tries it out on the strongest player in England, and wins. Captain William Evans (1790-1872) was a sea-captain. He invented the system of coloured lights used by ships at night to prevent collisions at sea. He was also a keen chess player who spent a lot of time on the long sea crossings between Wales and Ireland studying the Italian Game/Giuoco Piano, trying to strengthen White’s attack. In about 1825, believing he had succeeded, he visited Lewis’s “Chess Academy” in London and challenged Alexander MacDonnell to a game. MacDonnell, who we shall meet again, was the strongest player in the country and one of the two strongest in the world. The notes are principally based on those by Tim Harding on the excellent chesscafe.com website.
Labourdonnais-McDonnell 50th match game, 1834
During 1834, McDonnell played six matches against the Frenchman LaBourdonnais. Labourdonnais won the first, third, fourth and fifth, and the sixth was unfinished – McDonnell won the second match. This game, played in the fourth match, was the 50th in the series and is sometimes called “the immortal 50th”. Some of the notes are taken from Kenneth Matthews’ book British Chess (1948).
Saint-Amant – Staunton Paris, 1843
This is the last game of the second match between Saint-Amant of France and Howard Staunton of England. Staunton, who had lost the first short match in London by the odd point, decisively won the return. The winner was to be the first to win eleven games, and this was Staunton’s 11th victory. Certainly these two were the strongest players in the world at the time and, as has been suggested by Keene among others, Staunton, along with McDonnell, has some claim to have been the (unofficial) World Champion. Some of the notes are based on Tim Harding’s in Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies. Some sardonic comments are by Ray Keene in “Chess”.
Zukertort – Epoureano ?Berlin ?London, 1875
Another piece of light relief, this time a game at odds of Queen’s Knight, a form of handicapping very popular in Victorian times. White is Johannes Zukertort, who we shall meet again later, and was played in the period between when he moved to London and when he became a naturalised British citizen in 1878. This game appears to have been played in Berlin or in London some time between 1872 and 1875. Some of the notes are based on comments by Blackburne, located by Edward Winter
Bird-Mason New York 1876
This game has the distinction of winning the first “Brilliancy Prize” ever awarded. The notes are principally from “Les prix de beaute aux echecs” by Le Lionnais, in which the game is headed “The Horsemen of the Apocalypse” with some additions from Gerald Abrahams’ “The Chess Mind”
Zukertort-Blackburne London, 1883
Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) was born in Poland but became a naturalised British citizen in 1878, before playing this game, which Gerald Abrahams comments has a claim to be the best game ever played. What is particularly noteworthy is that Blackburne, like Zukertort himself, was an immensely strong player (an imperious defeat of Lasker by him appears in this collection) who was not far off world championship standard. The notes are by Reinfeld (who included comments by Steinitz and Minchin) with some additions by Abrahams
Showalter-Gossip New York, 1889
The winner of this game, G H D Gossip, has been described as the possessor of the worst tournament record of all time. Certainly he was out of his depth in most of the tournaments in which he played. But, as Reinfeld observes, “The experienced tournament player knows that each competitor must be taken seriously, for even the weakest player has a good game in his system”. The notes are principally by Steinitz, with some reference to “A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces” (Reinfeld) and to Hazeltine’s in the New York Clipper of 20th April 1889, grumpily quoted by Gossip in his own book “Theory of the Chess Openings” (W H Allen, 1891). He was annoyed at not receiving the brilliancy prize, which apparently he had been promised.
Bird-Lasker Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1892
As we have seen, Bird was capable of playing brilliantly, but he is chiefly remembered for being on the wrong end of a misguided attempt at brilliancy by Paul Morphy where he should have smashed his great opponent in the opening and then missed a draw after Morphy’s unsound sacrifices. However, when the luck was with him he was a match for absolutely anyone, as he showed in a remarkable casual game against Dr Lasker two years before the greatest world champion of all won the title he was to hold for 27 years. It was one of a series of skittle games in which the moves were described by Miniati’s Chess Review as being played “with lightning speed and without a moment’s consideration” – what we would call blitz. Most of the notes are from “An Introduction to the Danish Gambit Accepted” by Richard Westbrook (2006).
Lasker-Blackburne London, 1899
Before the advent of players like Miles and Short the one really world-class player Britain produced was Joseph Blackburne (1841-1924). He learned the game very late, at 19, but from his mid-20s he earned a living as a chess professional – he was still giving simultaneous displays at the age of 79 and at 72 won a brilliancy prize at St Petersburg 1914 for his game against Nimzowitsch. While he was walloped by Emanuel Lasker 6-0 with 4 draws in a 1892 match for the world title, he was such a formidable tournament player that the Germans nicknamed him “der Schwarze Tod” (“the Black Death”), and at his best he was a match for anyone. It has been suggested that Lasker, who was in a position to judge, reckoned that Blackburne had more talent than Steinitz, but lacked the willpower and capacity for hard work needed for becoming world champion. This pasting which, playing Black, Blackburne handed out to Lasker was one of his best efforts, for at the time it was played Lasker was at the very height of his powers. It was to be the last game a British player won against a reigning world champion for 62 years. The notes are principally taken from Golombek’s The Game of Chess with some additions from Blackburne’s own book of his best games. (Reinfeld, bless him, didn’t consider this game made the cut).
F J Marshall- H E Atkins Cable Match, 1902
Leicestershire schoolmaster Henry Atkins (1872-1955) was arguably the most naturally gifted player Britain has produced. He made a close study of Steinitz’ games to such good effect that he was nicknamed ‘Der kleine Steinitz’. Had he taken the game seriously, he would probably have become one of the strongest players in the world – in his first major tournament at Hanover 1902 he finished third, half a point behind Pillsbury who was probably the second strongest player in the world at the time; but he had the level-headed attitude that chess is “only a game”.
Here is Atkins calmly brushing aside the American star Frank Marshall, who would play a match for the world title only five years later. The notes are based on Reinfeld’s in “A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces”
Lasker-Napier Cambridge Springs, 1904
William Ewart Napier (1881-1952) lived in the USA from the age of five and became a naturalised American citizen in 1908, but was born in Dulwich and in 1904 was the first winner of the British Championship, so certainly counts as British for present purposes. He is another player who got his priorities right, giving up serious chess in 1905 for a successful career, but it has been suggested that at the peak of his brief chess career he ranked as high as no 11 in the world. He only wrote one book during his lifetime, but had an ear for the neat phrase – there is much wisdom in his comment “In the laboratory, the gambits all test unfavourably, but the old rule wears well, that all gambits are sound over the board”. This game, which he lost to world champion Lasker, was the one Napier regarded as his best. The notes are based on Nunn’s in The Mammoth Book of the World’s Greatest Chess Games and Vukovic’s in The Chess Sacrifice. Nunn devotes six pages of analysis to the game and I shall refer to only a small part, hopefully sufficient to give some appreciation of the enormous complications.
MacDonald-Burn Liverpool 1910
We are often reminded that no-one ever wins a game by resigning, and two of the games in this collection illustrate the point. One version of never-say-die is the terrifying saga of Gordon-Jones, where Black manages to keep going in a lost position for 20 moves before his opponent self-destructs. Another approach is demonstrated in this game by Amos Burn, who has the inspired vision to find a truly amazing move in a position that has been nearly resignable for several moves. At the risk of reminding you of the obvious, remember that Burn did not have someone sitting next to him at the crucial moment saying “There’s something good for you in this position, now look for it”. Some of the notes are from the “Morning Post”, as reproduced in the “Chess Amateur” and excavated by Edward Winter.
Tarkatower-Burn Carlsbad 1911
When Amos Burn (1848-1925) played this game, which won the brilliancy prize, he was 63 years of age. Perhaps one moral of the game is that there is hope for us all, writes Neil Hickman (age 63). Burn is not well known nowadays but according to Chessmetrics he was as high as number 2 in the world in the 1870s.
He was generally regarded as a defensive player, and a fairly drawish line of the French Defence is named after him. In this game, however, he is is an uncompromising mood. Savielly Tartakover was at the start of his career, and may well have been affected by the death of both his parents in a pogrom earlier in the year. Having said all of that, even the young Tartakover was no mean opponent. The notes are by Lasker in Chess Strategy and by Reinfeld in “A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces”.
M G Atkins-Jacobs London, 1915
This is one of the games I include as light relief. When you reach the final position you will understand why. It is certain that the game was published in the late 19th century as Young-Dore, with White being one Franklin Young who had something of a reputation for making up spurious games. But it resurfaced as Atkins-Jacobs, London 1915. Du Mont in “200 Miniature Games of Chess” assumed that the winner was H E Atkins; but if that was right, the publication of the game would appear have been a subtle joke. It seems more likely that White was Michael Glover Atkins, who did indeed play (and beat) Jacobs in the City of London Chess Club Chamionship for 1915-16. However, as Jacobs came close to winning the championship, it is improbable that he would play quite so recklessly in an important game, and a better view seems to be that this was a casual game. As C H O’D Alexander put it in a letter to chess historian Edward Winter, “it’s clearly a ‘skittle’ and not a serious game, though an amusing one”. M G Atkins was killed in 1916 in the Great War. His obituary stated that “Though slightly over military age, he patriotically volunteered for service, and has now met his death.” The notes are mainly based on du Mont’s.
A A Alekhine – F D Yates Carlsbad, 1923
Very few players ever managed to out-combine Alexander Alekhine; but in this remarkable game which won the brilliancy prize at Carlsbad, 1923, Frederick Yates (1884-1932) did just that. Fred Reinfeld in his Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces (from which the notes are taken) writes “Every great man, no matter what his field may be, has this same quality of being able to attain to superhuman heights of achievement under handicaps which would break the spirit of a less gifted individual. There is an almost dream-like perfection in such flights of genius, and we see it exemplified in the following game. In the writer’s opinion, this is the finest game ever won by an English player, and very possibility the finest game ever won from the greatest master of them all”. Amen to that – but we should also heed the sad comment of Kenneth Matthews: “Chess killed Yates. He could not afford to play in recreation only; and he lacked the talent to command the game’s few prizes. Yet he could not tear himself away from his ruling passion… Under the strain of too much chess and too many privations, his health broke down. I had an encounter with Yates the year before his death; he was already visibly a sick man. The master played without fire, almost without interest, and offered me the draw on the 34th move. I have looked over the game recently; and it is not one of which I can be proud”.
Viney-Gook GPO v HM Customs, 1926
Another bit of light relief, this game was played between two amateurs in the 1920s. It was excavated by the nonpareil chess historian Edward Winter on chesscafe.com. It features as remarkable a finish as you could wish to see.
Menchik-Becker Karlsbad 1929
Vera Menchik (1906-1944) was born a citizen of Russia, held Czech nationality until her marriage to an Englishman in 1937, but she was the daughter of an Englishwoman and lived in England from 1921. She was the women’s world champion from 1927 – 1944 and as she did not have any serious female competitors, she did what the Polgar sisters did much later: she kept playing in strong male tournaments (at that time being the only woman to do so). To get some idea of how revolutionary this was, bear in mind that women in Britain had only fully gained the vote the year before this game was played. Initially, the suggestion that any (male) master who lost to Miss Menchik should be enrolled in the “Vera Menchik Club” was a gesture of scorn, though by the time the club had gained as members Euwe, Reshevsky, Sultan Khan and (several times) Sir George Thomas, it had become wryly affectionate. The originator of the idea is generally thought to have been the Austrian master Alfred Becker, though Edward Winter has questioned this. Openly suggesting that an opponent is too weak to be allowed into a tournament is a dangerous thing to do; witness the fate of Tarrasch who asserted that Fred Yates was too weak to play at Hamburg 1910 – and was the one opponent Yates defeated, in spectacular fashion. The notes to this game are based on those of Becker himself in the tournament book and of Tartakover and du Mont in 500 Games of Master Chess. Fair play to Becker, incidentally; he readily acknowledges that he was outplayed.
Sultan Khan-Capablanca Hastings 1930
He came from India, and returned there after a brief chess career, but Mir Sultan Khan (1905 – 1966) won the British Championship three times in four attempts, so he qualifies as British for present purposes. He was a manservant who travelled to England with his master Colonel Nawab Sir Umar Hayat Khan, rapidly mastered the game with the guidance of Frederick Yates (who we have encountered) and William Winter, and established himself as one of the top players in the world. He then returned to India with Sir Umar and disappeared from view. It is said that upon his return to India, he felt as though he had been freed from prison, having suffered badly from the English climate. Sir Umar left him a small farm in his will, and apparently Sultan Khan lived contentedly there for the rest of his life. He refused to teach his children chess, telling them that they should do something more useful with their lives! The most famous “natural” player of all time, of course, was Jose Raoul Capablanca and at Hastings 1929-30, Sultan Khan achieved what few ever managed to do – calmly outmanoeuvring the Cuban. The notes are by Euwe and Kramer in their book “The Middle Game”.
Menchik-Thomas London, 1932
We have encountered Vera Menchik already. Here she is again, in the London International Tournament of 1932. The tournament was won by Alekhine, undefeated with 9/11. Apart from Sultan Khan, Menchik did best of the home players, finishing eighth with 4.5. This was how she disposed of Sir George Thomas in round 4. Some of the notes are by Alekhine – a great admirer of Miss Menchik, though he invariably showed who was boss when they played one another – in the tournament book.
Capablanca-Thomas Hastings (1934/35)
The line-up for Hastings 1934-35 was a strong one; former World Champion Capablanca, soon-to-be World Champion Euwe, future World Champion Botvinnik, Flohr, being talked about as a potential challenger for the title. But among the home players was Sir George Thomas (1881-1972), former badminton champion and Wimbledon quarter-finalist, who at the age of 53 had decided to concentrate on his chess. In round 1, Thomas dispatched another of the English contingent, then in rounds 2 and 3 he beat Capablanca and then Botvinnik. He was half a point ahead of the field going into the last round, in which he was drawn against his good friend R P Michell. No quarter was asked or given, and Michell won. “Characteristic British sportsmanship” observed Max Euwe. That meant that if Euwe could defeat the tail-ender George Norman, he would win the tournament outright; but having got into a very passive but solid position Norman defended grimly and Euwe, having made no progress for some time, offered the draw, resulting in a three way tie for first place between himself, Thomas and Flohr. The British Chess Magazine commented on Euwe’s good sportsmanship in not pressing for the win against Norman; but I have a hunch about this. Euwe was soon to play Alekhine for the world title. It will have done him no harm at all to send Alekhine a subtle message that his challenger lacked the killer instinct. Here is Thomas’ superb defeat of Capablanca in round 2. The notes are based on those in the Manchester Guardian, collected by Cordingley in a little book of the tournament.
Abrahams-Cukierman Nottingham, 1936
Gerald Abrahams (1907-1980) was not quite in the first rank, but was an extraordinarily imaginative player and as a result on his day was a match for almost anyone. Playing on board 10 in the 1946 England-USSR radio match, he scored 1.5/2 against grandmaster Ragozin. In a supporting tournament at the great Nottingham congress of 1936, he produced this masterpiece of sacrificial attacking play against the strong Polish/French master Jozef Cukierman. The notes are by Abrahams himself from his books The Chess Mind and Brilliance in Chess, supplemented by some analysis and comment by Reinfeld.
Silverman-Eliskases Birmingham 1937
This game is not as heavyweight as many in this collection, but deserves inclusion for the joyous impudence of Julius Silverman’s play. Silverman (1905-1991) was 31 when he played this game against the eventual winner of the tournament. He was a Birmingham councillor at the time and went on to be an MP for the city for 38 years. He was probably the strongest player ever to sit in Parliament. His opponent was no lightweight either – Eliskases had a plus score against Euwe and an even score with Capablanca and was being talked of as a credible World Championship contender.
Parr-Wheatcroft London, 1939
We have already encountered the City of London Chess Club Championship with Messrs Atkins and Jacobs. Just before the Second World War, this competition produced one of the most magnificent club games of all time. The loser went on to be one of the leading tax lawyers of his day; but avoidance proved beyond him in this game (Sorry). The notes are based on Reinfeld’s.
Alexander-Botvinnik Great Britain v USSR, Radio Match, 1946
C H O’D (“Hugh”) Alexander was the greatest British player between the era of Blackburne and the advent of Miles, Keene and the young British grandmasters in the 1970s. He never realised his full potential because, having been a key member of the Bletchley Park code-breaking team during the War, he was never allowed to travel behind the Iron Curtain. In June 1946, a Great Britain team played a radio match against the USSR. Apparently the letter from the British proposing the match included the wry comment “We hope that the ‘American Tragedy’ can be avoided” – for the USSR had recently thrashed the USA by 151/2-41/2. In the event, the USSR won once again, by 18-6, five of the British team being whitewashed and only Gerald Abrahams on board 10 recording a plus score. On top board, Alexander faced the Soviet champion, Mikhail Botvinnik, who was soon to become world champion. But as Hartston observed in ‘The Best Games of C H O’D Alexander’:
“Alexander was never frightened by reputations, however formidable. The first game was an exciting Nimzo-Indian with Botvinnik White. The middlegame was characterised by enormous complications. Eventually Alexander went astray, missing a very strong continuation and allowing Botvinnik’s attack to break through. Not in the least perturbed by this defeat, Hugh again sought tactical complexities in the return game. This time, with pieces flying all round the board, it was Botvinnik who miscalculated and the English top board scored a memorable victory”. The notes are by Hartston save for a few comments by F. Molnar in “Le Monde des Echecs” and by Reuben Fine in “The World’s Great Chess Games”.
Crown-Kotov Great Britain v USSR, 1947
Just as poetry has Keats, Shelley, Wilfred Owen, so chess history has those who died tragically young after showing their genius. Some have suggested that if the Dutchman Daniel Noteboom (1910-1932) had lived, he might have rivalled Max Euwe. And in England, Gordon Crown (1929-1947), in an all too brief career, gave a hint of what he might have achieved had his health been better. Finishing third behind Golombek in the British Championship, Crown was selected to play for England against the USSR, and produced this startling effort against super-Grandmaster Alexander Kotov. The notes are based on Reinfeld’s in ‘A Treasury of British Chess Masterpieces’ and the comments of Tartakover and du Mont in ‘100 Master Games of Modern Chess’
Charlesworth – Znosko-Borovsky Harrogate, 1947
Sometimes chess appears to punish hubris rather spectacularly. This game is a good example. Eugene Znosko-Borowski (1884-1954), a useful enough player with victories over Capablanca and Euwe to his credit, wrote a rather controversial article in Le monde des échecs, May 1946, entitled ‘Un Mauvais Debut: Le Ruy-Lopez’ in which he suggested that the Ruy Lopez was an inferior opening.
It was poetic justice that the following year he got torn apart on the Black side of the Ruy. Ritson Morry annotated the game with some glee in the October 1947 edition of CHESS under the heading ‘The Ruy’s Revenge’. Note, though, that Znosko-Borowski seems to have contradicted himself: for in his (very good) book How Not To Play Chess he explains convincingly how the Ruy is indeed one of the strongest and soundest openings.
Maczynski-Pratten Portsmouth, 1948
Wilfred Pratten (1908-1984) was a leading Hampshire player. This game which he played in 1948 went round the world and was christened “The English Immortal” by the British Chess Magazine; like the “Immortal Game”, Anderssen-Kieseritski London 1851, the game features a double rook sacrifice followed by a queen sacrifice. Understandably, the game has a place of honour on the website of Fareham Chess Club, of which he was a founder member.
NN-Mason (fragment) London League, 1948
This is another piece of light relief. It is a finish from a London League match played in 1948, the player of the Black pieces being one Edward Mason (who was apparently a BCF organiser and was still active many years later – Ray Keene recalled playing him in the 1960s). The position was preserved for posterity by Heinrich Fraenkel (aka “Assiac”) in the excellent column he wrote for many years in the New Statesman. Even Edward Winter’s ingenuity has not yet succeeded in identifying either the player of the White pieces or the moves which led to this position. Black is to play and produce something really special. See if you can find the first move without looking at the solution…
Geller-Golombek Budapest 1952
Harry Golombek was one of the finest British players of the post-war era. He had a quiet positional style which generally did not produce memorable games. But this remarkable affair is an exception. It was played in an incredibly strong tournament in 1952 where Golombek – who distinguished himself around that time by becoming the first British player to get as far as the Interzonal Tournaments of the World Championship – faced, among others, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Petrosian (world champions all), and super-grandmasters like Keres (with whom Golombek drew) and the player who has White in this game, Geller.
The notes are based on Golombek’s own in “Chess Treasury of the Air” (Penguin, 1966), supplemented by some comments by Steve Pike’s favourite commentator, Gerald Abrahams, in Brilliance in Chess.
Bronstein – Alexander Hastings, 1953-4
Please do not be put off by the length of this game. It is of its period. In 1953, the “blitz finish” had not been thought of, computers could not play chess, and games were adjourned after 40 moves or so and then resumed.
(The game Hickman-A Ledger, elsewhere on this website, may explain why I have a certain affection for “the good old days” in this respect…)
This game, with the top British player defeating the man who had only missed by a whisker becoming World Champion as recently as 1951, went on for three days. It is said that it gripped the nation to the extent that for the only time chess featured on the front page of the popular newspapers. “The Russian grandmaster fights desperately hard to avoid defeat and lavishes all his ingenuity on the position. All in vain, however, against Alexander’s great play which is a just blend of combinative skill and meticulous accuracy” wrote Harry Golombek in his Penguin classic, The Game of Chess, from which the notes are taken.
Penrose-Tal Leipzig Olympiad, 1960
Much of the significance of the game lies in its context and the story behind it. The notes are by Penrose in the British Chess Magazine, quoted by Foldeak in “Chess Olympiads”, and from Combination in Chess by Negyesy and Hegyi (Corvina 1965).
In 1960, the brilliant Latvian Mikhail Tal was world champion and world number 1. At the Chess Olympiad at Leipzig, the Soviet team with Tal on board 1 stormed through to the penultimate round without losing a game. And in the last round the USSR were to play England. On the morning of the final round, Jonathan Penrose asked his team-mate Leonard Barden for suggestions on what to play against Tal. As Barden recounted:
“The postman arrived just as I was leaving the house on the departure day for Leipzig, delivering inter alia the latest issue of the Deutsche Schachzeiting. I hastily jammed the mail into the rest of my luggage, which included my opening indexes, then around 40 thick looseleaf files, effectively a handwritten ChessBase. There was a significant excess luggage charge at the airport. I presented Jonathan with half-a-dozen bulging files, provoking a glazed look, and then as an afterthought added the Deutsche Schachzeitung which led on its first two pages with the game Ojanen-Keres from a friendly Finland v Estonia match. Jonathan was immediately hooked and quickly decided this was his weapon for that afternoon”. Meanwhile, Tal had not received his copy of the Deutsche Schachzeitung, and Keres hadn’t thought to mention his own mishap against Ojanen playing one of Tal’s favourite lines (something about which Tal was apparently less than impressed afterwards)…
Tal’s rueful comment after the game was:
“The Olympiad ended on the day before my birthday and I wanted to be free at the finish. Therefore I agreed with my fellow team members to play through the ‘middlegame’ of the Olympiad without a break. However, the day before the last round, for strictly private reasons, the captain of our team asked me to play. I ‘threatened’ him that I would lose, and I carried out my threat, although God knows, I didn’t want to. It was just that the English master Penrose played the whole game very well”.
Indeed he did. And he richly deserved the standing ovation he received. But spare a thought for poor Ojanen. The system understandably became known as the Penrose-Tal system. Apparently at the next Olympiad, at Varna 1964, Ojanen approached Penrose and exclaimed indignantly “Penrose-Tal – MY variation!”
Hartston-Gligoric Hastings, 1966
The honour of becoming Britain’s first grandmaster was to go to Tony Miles, with Ray Keene not far behind; but the winner of this remarkable game, William Hartston, was in many ways quite unlucky not to gain the GM title. This was played in round 7 of the Hastings Premier; Hartston, the youngest player in the tournament, had managed a solitary draw from the first six rounds, and was facing a Yugoslav super-GM who had twice reached the World Championship Candidates’ Tournament. Fearless doesn’t begin to describe Hartston’s play.
This game is also of some historical interest because it featured a razor-sharp opening line, a favourite of Bobby Fischer. Hartston, a keen student of the Sicilian Defence, was quite prepared to take on a noted theoretician. Most of the notes are by Hartston himself in CHESS
Corden-Smyslov Hastings 1970
The 1969-70 Hastings Premier was notable for some fighting chess, only 35% of the games being drawn and half of those being hard-fought. As tended to be the case in those days, the British contestants brought up the rear – but the performance of the highest placed Englishman, Martyn Corden, in round 5, was headline news. Corden was the British under-18 champion, but he was facing an ex-World Champion looking for his second successive Hastings victory. Corden probably had the talent to become a grandmaster, but opted for a career as a high-energy physicist. There were reports of him a few years ago still playing to a very high standard as an amateur (in the best sense) in the USA. The notes are based on David Levy’s comments in CHESS.
Markland-Hort Hastings 1971
The Hastings Premier tournament of 1970-1971 was a strong affair with six of the ten players being grandmasters. 19-year old Peter Markland tied with four grandmasters in second place. This was his determined performance in the last round against Hort of Czechoslovakia. Note that if Hort had won this game he would have tied for first place; if Hort had drawn this game he would have taken second place in the tournament on his own; Markland only needed half a point for an international master norm. Markland later turned to correspondence play, becoming a postal grandmaster in 1988. Most of the notes to this game are based on the comments in CHESS volume 36.
Stean-Mestel Canterbury 1973
In the early 1970s Britain produced a number of extremely strong young players, two of whom we meet here knocking lumps out of one another in the first round of a tournament which Stean (who we shall meet again) went on to win. Mestel was to go on to win the British championship three times. Like Geller-Golombek, this is a case of two players punching one another to a standstill, and it deserves to be better known. The notes are taken from Stean’s classic “Simple Chess” and from “How to Play the French Defence” by Shaun Taulbut, which remarkably features this game as an illustration.
Hollis-Baumbach Correspondence Potter mememorial, 1976
England has produced some very fine correspondence players, and you will find some excellent games by “Joe” Valerio of Bedford elsewhere on this site. An even better correspondence player than friend Valerio, however, was Oxford don Adrian Hollis (1940-2013) who became a grandmaster at correspondence chess by winning the tournament in which this game was played. In this remarkable game against a future world correspondence champion, Hollis improves on Smyslov’s play in his 1954 match with Botvinnik with a delightful Queen sacrifice… and then produces a move which could only ever have been played in a postal game, as you will see. The tournament in which it was played was to commemorate another fine British correspondence player, Reg Potter. Like Hugh Alexander and Tony Miles and like myself, Reg Potter attended King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and in a School v Old Boys’ match I was left with a different sort of memorial of him. Reg swatted me aside in 10 moves. It remains the shortest game I have ever lost. The notes are based on Jon Speelman’s in “Best Chess Games 1970-80” though I refrain from going into as much detail about the opening. Even with the help of Speelman’s notes I don’t begin to understand the Anti-Meran Gambit.
Stean-Browne Nice 1974
This magnificent effort won Stean the $1,000 brilliancy prize. Browne was representing the USA. By a quirk of the rules for the 1974 Olympiad, matches played in the preliminaries between teams who qualified for the same final pool were to count again in the finals. This game was played in the last round of the preliminaries. England and the USA had both qualified, England as a byproduct of having smashed Canada in round 5 which led to a demoralised Canadian team then playing limply against Denmark. Both England and the Americans could fight hard without risking their place in the finals. And although the other English players lost, fight hard Stean did. The notes are by Stean himself, submitted for the brilliancy prize jury and quoted in the tournament book. The author of “Simple Chess”, one of the best explanations of positional play ever written, makes a good job of explaining what is going on in a tactical fight. And for my money, the fact that 40 years later a computer suggests a hole in the analysis at one point doesn’t detract from the game.
Kochiev-Miles World Junior Championship 1974
Tony Miles described this as his favourite game. Understandably so, because it was the crucial game in the World Junior Championship of 1974, which Miles won. In round 5, Tony had suffered a potentially catastrophic setback, losing a winning position against the Yugoslav Marjanovic. He picked himself up to win three games in a row, the last of them against the Russian, Kochiev. Winning it saw Miles crowned World Junior Champion with a round to spare. The notes are from Miles’ book “It’s Only Me” with a few comments by Bernard Cafferty, Miles’ second in Manila.
van der Sterren-Mestel World Junior Championship 1975
Chess players have been studing opening theory for a long time, and discarding interesting variations after finding something wrong with them. But sometimes it can be a worthwhile exercise to dig up an old line either to add some new ideas or simply because everyone will have forgotten how to deal with it. Playing in the 1975 World Junior Championships, Jonathan Mestel indulged in a profitable bit of archaeology en route to the bronze medal. His cheerily tongue in cheek annotations in CHESS, from which the notes are taken, are as much fun as the game itself. Though personally I think the opening should come with a very large Government health warning.
“Pawns”, said Philidor before most of us were born, “are the soul of chess”. After a couple of games with one of his openings I think I know why he said it.
Keene-Miles Hastings 1975-76
Today, many British players hold the title of “Grandmaster” and it is difficult to recall the excitement of the mid-1970s when several young British players were vying for the distinction of being the first British Grandmaster, encouraged by the offer by financier Jim Slater of a cash prize for whoever got the title first. The three main contenders were William Hartston and the opponents in this game, Miles (who was to become the first British GM) and Keene (who became the second). The notes are from “Becoming a Grandmaster” (Batsford, 1977), one of the rather good books Keene wrote early in his career.
Rumens-Franklin London, 1976
British chess in the 1970s was greatly enlivened by the return to tournament play of David Rumens, who had been a “promising junior” some years previously. He cut swathes through strong opposition with some aggressive home-brewed opening specialities, particularly the combination of Nc3, f4 and (usually) Bc4 against the Sicilian Defence, christened the “Grand Prix Attack” after Rumens and others used it to great effect on the weekend tournament circuit.
Rumens’ play was ferociously tactical. His victim in this game was Michael Franklin, a very solid player who attained master rank relatively late in his career and who was certainly no pushover. The notes are based on those by Jimmy Adams in CHESS, though I have omitted most of the discussion of (now very obsolete) opening theory.
Miles-Spassky Montilla Moriles 1978
I have included this game to underline that there was a great deal more to Tony Miles than a strange opening and a lot of well-judged provocation. In this game, which was played a couple of years before Miles’ Skara escapade against Karpov, he wins the brilliancy prize with an impressive demolition of the 1969-1972 World Champion, Boris Spassky. The notes are from Miles’ “It’s Only Me”, with additions by Keene, Timman and Speelman.
Karpov-Miles European Team Championship, Skara, 1980
It requires a truly great player to defeat a world champion in an important game by sticking his tongue out at him, but Tony Miles (1955-2001), Britain’s first grandmaster, was that truly great player. Miles’ hopes of competing for the world title were never fulfilled, and his mournful comment “I thought I was playing a human opponent, not a monster with 18 eyes that saw everything” after being obliterated in a short match by Kasparov, has passed into chess legend. But this, aptly summed up on the official Olimpbase website as “the game that soon became an epitome of the power of creativity and braveness”, is one of the games which guarantees him immortality. The notes are based on Miles’ own in “It’s Only Me” edited by Geoff Lawton (Batsford, 2003), with some additions.
“Having to write a column when there is nothing much at hand to write about is a common journalistic problem. The best solution seems to be to create some news oneself. So it is this week. I had just returned from a skiing holiday, oblivious of events in the rest of the world (I heard a rumour that one or two English players did well in the Sussex Open but I had no details). Consequently, aided by having Black against the World Champion in the first round of the European team championships, I set about making some news.”
Miles-Nunn BBC Master Game 1978
Back in the 1970s, the BBC felt brave enough to suppose that TV audiences could cope with chess, and put of a series of programmes entitled Master Game. The first two series (1975/6 and 1976/7) were eight player knock out tournaments. They used the time control that was standard at that time in top-flight chess, forty moves in 2 hours 30 minutes, with adjournments – compare with what FIDE came up with for the “World Championship” as in Kazimzhdanov-Adams. If the result was a draw, the players replayed at increasingly fast time limits, eventually reaching 15 minute blitz. A replay was played at the rate of 40 moves in an hour, with the rest in 30 minutes, a second replay at all moves in thirty minutes and a third replay at fifteen minutes for the whole game. After the game, the players recorded their thoughts which were dubbed on to edited film of the game, giving the striking effect of the viewer hearing the players thinking out loud.
Far too intellectual for today’s taste, you will agree.
The notes which follow are based on the players’ recorded comments. The series produced a number of fine games, including a defeat of Karpov by the one and only Tony Miles, which sadly never got transmitted in the UK due to a TV technicians’ strike, and this effort from the second series, eventually won by William Hartston, in which Miles was on the receiving end of something spectacular. Facing Miles in the semi-finals was Doctor John Nunn, a mathematical genius and polymath one of whose many claims to fame had been being the youngest Oxford undergraduate since Cardinal Wolsey. Their first game was drawn. In their second…
Taulbut-Mikhalchishin 1st WTCh-U26 final A, Mexico, 1978
In 1978, an England team contested the Under-26 World Team Championship, and in round 6 faced the Soviet Union. As the Olimpbase website somewhat breathlessly puts it: For the first time in many years, a Soviet team lost. It was the good old country that did the trick, and with a glorious 3-1.” Memories are short. An England student team walloped the USSR 3-1 at Harrachov, 1967. But that said, the England team of Mestel, Speelman, Taulbut and Goodman turned in a vintage performance. Mestel played a brilliant game against Beliavsky, but got into time trouble and could only draw. Goodman did not allow the clock to stop him beating Ivanov. And on board 3, Shaun Taulbut, author of a book on Positional Chess, faced the appreciably higher-rated Mikhalchishin…
Ligterink-Miles Wijk aan Zee, 1984
Can one ever have too much of Tony Miles? Geoff Chandler of Edinburgh Chess Club drew attention to this little gem, which does not feature in the “It’s Only Me” anthology. The finish involves something truly special.
Beliavsky-Nunn Wijk aan Zee, 1985
We have already encountered Dr John Nunn handling the black side of the King’s Indian. This game, against a very strong Ukraininan grandmaster, has been called “Nunn’s Immortal”. The notes are based on Nunn’s comments in “The Mammoth Book of The World’s Greatest Chess Games”
Plaskett-Miles Lugano, 1986
A collection for Bedford chess club must include Bedford’s finest player, “Jim” Plaskett, the 1990 British Champion. This game has been described as “Plaskett’s immortal”. We have already seen how strong a player his victim Tony Miles was. Plaskett’s play in the second half of the game has an almost dreamlike quality to it. Plaskett himself said of the game: “During play itself the sensation was very strange. It felt as if the chessmen were moving themselves and the two players bore no more responsibility for the astonishing creation that resulted than had they been demonstration board operators who merely display the decisions of third parties.” Some of the notes are based on Tryvon Gavriel’s comments, writing on the Internet as “Kingcrusher”, and some comments by Plaskett himself on chessgames.com.
Short-Kasparov Brussels, 1986
The OHRA Brussels Tournament of 1986 was an immensely strong six-player, double round event. The strength of the opposition is shown by the fact that eight-time World Championship candidate Lajos Portisch could only muster 3/12, a point adrift in last place. Kasparov, who had just become World Champion, scored an impressive victory, two points clear of Korchnoi in second place. In round 4, however…
Speelman-Short London, 1988
Blackburne played a match for the world title, but in the modern era it was not until 1988 that a British player reached the Candidates’ Tournament. Like London buses, two British Candidates came along at once, Jonathan Speelman and Nigel Short. Somewhat unfortunately, they were drawn against one another in the quarter-final stage. With its matchless talent for bad organisation, FIDE (the International Chess Federation) arranged for the Candidates’ matches to be the best of six games only. That meant that whichever player could first launch a successful opening ambush would probably win the match, as it would be very difficult to come back from losing a game in such a short match.
Speelman survived the first game by a fair dose of luck, and tried an opening novelty in the second game that gained insufficient advantage for him to win. The account of what happened in the crucial third game is based on Speelman’s in “Jon Speelman’s Best Games”, though I have abbreviated considerably the mid-boggling welter of variations which Speelman gives. Speelman’s second was the American Jonathan Tisdall, whose Norwegian girlfriend had happened to buy a Norwegian newspaper en route to London. In the chess column (it was a Norwegian newspaper, after all) there was a report of a remarkable game Gurevich-Sokolov played a couple of weeks previously in the USSR Championship. And this game contained, as Speelman put it, “a theoretical bombshell, absolutely ideal for our purposes”. At that time the most up to date chess reporting came in a weekly Swiss publication, the next issue of which was due. “So” remarked Speelman,”we had a window of just this one game during which the novelty would be effective”.
Short-Timman Tilburg, 1991
The British are not kind to those who nearly reach the top. Thus Tim Henman is widely derided by couch-potatoes despite having reached four Wimbledon semi-finals and a world ranking of No 4. The winner of this game, Nigel Short, suffered a similar fate partly as a result of being annihilated by Kasparov in their 1993 match for the world title; yet he was a credible challenger, being one of only two men ever to beat Anatoly Karpov in a match. It probably didn’t help that at times Short behaved in a singularly unlikeable manner – his somewhat gloating obituary following Miles’ premature death did him no credit, even though Miles, never one to mince his words and with a fondness for anagrams, had cruelly christened Short, whom he loathed, “Nosher L. Git”. But Short on his day was a sublime player, and this game, played against a Dutch super-grandmaster who was himself in the running for a world title match, features one of the most amazing finishes in the history of the game. The commentary to the early part of the game is from a Youtube video by candidate master Tryfon Gavriel who uses the nom de guerre Kingscrusher (apt for this game, as you will see). The comments to the remarkable finish are by Short himself, from an extract from his Best Games DVD released on You Tube.
Neverov-Crouch Hastings, 1992
At his best, Colin Crouch (1956-2015) was close to grandmaster strength, but he will principally be remembered for the courage he displayed in fighting to get his playing strength back after a near-fatal stroke in 2004. His finest result was winning the Hastings Challengers in 1992, ahead of no fewer than 28 grandmasters, three of whom, Mestel, Plaskett and Gallagher, themselves feature in this collection. This game, against a strong Ukrainian GM, deserves to be remembered for a remarkably original finish. Yes, at one point White misses a straightforward mate in 3. But the ability to keep a straight face and avoid looking anywhere near e5 is an underrated skill, and Crouch displays it with some aplomb.
Norwood-Marsh Walsall, 1992
This game has been called “Norwood’s Immortal” which may be overstating matters as a grandmaster dispatches ‘a decent county player’ as Marsh described himself. But the sacrificial combination finishing with a spectacular king hunt is rather fine.
Atalik-Miles Heraklion, 1993
When I set out to compile this collection it wasn’t intended to finish up doubling as a tribute to Tony Miles, “a flawed, irreverent, gentle genius, whose tragic early death robbed the chess world of one of its true, irreplaceable originals” as Paul Lam sadly described him… But this characteristic piece of Miles, featuring fiercely counter-attacking play with Black and a brilliantly imaginative finish, was chosen by Andy Soltis as number 36 in his collection of The One Hundred Best Chess Games of The 20th Century, and I could hardly leave it out. Most of the notes are Miles’ own, from “It’s Only Me”.
Rogozenko-Gallagher Bundesliga, 1999
Grandmaster Joe Gallagher won the British Championship in 2001. He became a naturalised Swiss citizen and won the Swiss championship six times as well.
Nobody who is prepared to write a book entitled “Winning with the King’s Gambit” is going to be frightened of taking risks, but Gallagher excelled himself in this game. If you can see Black’s astonishing 21st move coming, you are doing very well indeed. The notes are based on Gallagher’s own, on chesspublishing.com.
Kazimzhdanov-Adams FIDE World Championship, 2004 (6)
This game has to be included in a collection of the memorable games of British chess, but for a melancholy reason – the British player was within one move of winning a version of the World Championship, but went astray and only drew. In 2004, FIDE organised a knockout championship, the idea being that the winner would play a reunification match against Garry Kasparov. I comment elsewhere about FIDE’s matchless talent for bad organisation, but it took true genius to decide to hold this competition in Tripoli, Libya, given Libya’s record of refusing admission to Israeli citizens. Several leading players (Gelfand, Sutovsky, Smirin, Gulko among others) did not take part as a result, Anand and Svidler declined to take part in sympathy, and Kasparov, Kramnik and Leko were not taking part for other reasons. As a result, the tournament was notably weaker than it might have been. The games were played at a fast time limit of 40 moves in 90 minutes with a 15-minute finish, plus 30 seconds per move increment – not much more generous than the time control used for Bedfordshire county matches. Mickey Adams, seeded 3, breezed through the first five rounds without fuss, and a cumulative score of 8-2, and comfortably beat 18th seed Radjabov in the semi-final. The final was played over six games, with rapid-play games by way of tie-break thereafter. Facing the 28th seed, Adams was regarded as very much the favourite. The first game, with Adams white, was a quick draw, and the next four games were all won, in somewhat blunder-strewn fashion, by the player with White. And so the fateful sixth game came along. The notes are based on those on the ChessDrum website.
Wells-Shirov Gibraltar, 2006
We have seen from Penrose-Tal that if even the strongest player walks into a prepared opening line the result can be disaster. This game is probably the most dramatic instance in chess history – and unlike the case of Penrose, who achieved immortality by borrowing an idea from Finland, this one is an all-British affair. In 2006 Latvian super-grandmaster Alexei Shirov was about number 15 in the world and was one of a group of players who were only just below world championship class. The Englishman Peter Wells was also the holder of a grandmaster title, but rated over 200 points below Shirov. He had, however, written a book on…
Lopang-Gilbert Turin 2006
“Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy” wrote the great Dr Tarrasch. Yet some great chessplayers – think Morphy, think Rubinstein, above all think Bobby Fischer – have been deeply troubled people. This game is included as a tribute to young Jessie Gilbert, who shortly after it was played fell to her death from a high building. Look at Jessie’s play, and weep for what might have been had she lived. Her opponent here was no mug; although Tshepiso Lopang was graded quite a bit below Jessie, and would not have been expected to win – even with white – at the time this game was played she was Botswana Ladies Champion, a title she retained the following year. Here though she is caught completely off-guard, Jessie throws a knight and then a bishop at her in quick succession, and the game is over before white can catch her breath. Some of the notes are by Jovanka Houska in CHESS
Hunt-Muzychuk Stockholm Ladies Open
In 2008, the Swedish chess association staged probably the largest women’s tournament of all time, the Stockholm Ladies Open. It was actually held in the small town of Täby (population 60,000) which is famous for a church with a 15th century ceiling fresco ‘Man playing chess with Death’. The tournament was won by Anna Muzychuk of the Ukraine (currently the world No 6 rated woman player), but probably the best game of the tournament was played in round 6 by the top British woman player Harriet Hunt, who defeated the eventual tournament winner in very spectacular style.
McShane-Carlsen London Chess Classic
Often referred to as the world’s strongest amateur, Luke McShane found himself drawn against World no 2 and soon-to-be World Champion Magnus Carlsen in round 1 of the 2010 London Chess Classic. The result must have been the answer to a tournament organiser’s prayer as McShane scored a sensational victory. In compiling the notes I have referred to GM Aagard’s Qualitychess blog and to Mark Crowther’s notes for The week in Chess.
Aronian-McShane Tal Memorial
Luke McShane was invited to take part in the immensely strong Tal Memorial tournament of 2012. In considering this game from Round 3, bear in mind that in Round 2, McShane had held world no 5 Radjabov all the way to the time control before making a game-losing blunder on move 40. There is a heart-rending picture on the Internet of McShane, head in hands, despondently gazing at the board for over half an hour after Radjabov’s reply. And straight after that debacle, McShane faced world no 2 Aronian, with the black pieces… In compiling the notes I have referred to the notes by Ramirez on ChessBase and the extensive discussion on chessgames.com.
Gordon-Jones British Ch 2012 Playoffs
I am grateful to Richard Bodily for showing me this one, though it has required the collection to be renamed because it certainly isn’t a masterpiece! There is a saying that nobody ever won a game by resigning. Few people have ever underlined the truth of this as spectacularly as Gawain Jones in the playoff for the 2012 British Championship. He and Stephen Gordon tied in first place and had a two-game rapidplay playoff, at a time limit of 20 minutes each plus 10 seconds per move. If they were 1-1 after the two games, they were to play an “armageddon” decider (a draw counting as a loss for the White player). The fact that these fine players were playing at rapidplay is the only thing that makes sense of what happens. Most of the notes are by Andrew Bak for Yorkshire Chess.