100 Year History of the British Chess Federation

Although a great deal was achieved as a result of the Development Committee’s initiatives, the Federation’s financial problems remained. By 1951 it became necessary to revert to an honorary secretary with the administrative load being spread over a number of Standing Committees which became responsible for running various activities. H.G.Arnold became honorary secretary and was followed in 1952 by A.F.Stammwitz who did Trojan work in this capacity for 13 years until the volume became too great even for Alan to cope. By that time the Federation’s finances, under the careful control of I.Cohen, who was treasurer from 1951 until 1970, had improved sufficiently to allow once more for a paid professional secretary.

It was recognised at the time that one of the main problems – and this has persisted more or less ever since – was the lack of adequate publicity both within and out of the chess world. Too few people have been aware of the Federation’s achievements and even today, the importance and benefits of such work to every single chess player is not fully appreciated. In a determined effort to popularise chess and to gain support for the BCF, National Chess Weeks were held annually for several years from 1953, one of the features being the mammoth Teenagers v Oldstagers matches played all over the country. The biggest of these in 1955 resulted in a final score of 366½ – 643½ in favour of the Oldstagers. This event was the brainchild of Ritson–Morry, at that time chairman of the Development Committee, having succeeded Hugh Alexander and Noel–Johnson in that role. Another event in 1953 was the introduction of a National Works Club Championship sponsored by The Daily Herald but this was subsequently discontinued through lack of support. The National Chess Weeks were well supported throughout the country with special events due largely to the encouragement of the sub-committee’s secretary P.B.Sarson.

Social development was generally invigorated in Britain in the 1950’s and this was reflected in new domestic chess activities that were introduced at that time. The British Lightning Championship was started in 1954 but in later years that form of chess became less popular and neither the individual nor team championship has been held since 1992. The first BCF Grading List was published in 1954, the brainchild of (Sir) Richard Clarke who worked on this development with Arpad Elo. This was one of the first successful systems to be used anywhere in the World and remains substantially unchanged today. Around this time the first BCF News Letter was issued. In 1951 J.H.Van Meurs relinquished the editorship of the Year Book, which he had nurtured for 20 years often with little support or encouragement.

The National Chess Centre in London was re-opened in 1951 but unfortunately after six successful years, accommodation and financial problems forced it to close. It had been expected to return to The John Lewis Department Store in Oxford Street, but the untimely death of J.Spedan Lewis prevented this plan reaching fruition. In 1956/1957, a new Registration Scheme replaced the unpopular Capitation Scheme but this in turn was later replaced by a levy. During these years the BCF was able to help chess in the Services and among the blind and other disabled players.

Between 1945 and 1960 a number of organisations joined the BCF including the Anglo-Soviet Chess Circle and the Malta Chess Association but both withdrew in 1957. The British Universities Chess Association joined in 1950 and the British Ladies Chess Association in 1957, both becoming non-territorial units. In 1954 the Welsh Chess Union was formed, replacing the South Wales Chess Association, which had been a member. In 1957 the West of England Union was founded. Both of these organisations became constituent units. Happily, an agreement was reached with the Scottish Chess Association in 1952 that continues to this day.

Alderman J.N.Derbyshire retired as president in 1950 and many tributes have been paid to this generous benefactor of British Chess. Since that time the office of President has usually been for a maximum period of 3 years and has been filled by distinguished chess personalities whose services have contributed to the game.

The domestic programme continued on already established lines with new events being introduced as activities expanded, with increasing numbers participating. The British Lightning Team Championship was started in 1960; the Minor Counties Championship in 1972/73; an Adjudication Service was introduced. In an effort to co-ordinate the dates of the ever growing number of events and meetings, the BCF started publication of the annual chess calendar. News Flash was issued on each month.

The annual congress went from strength to strength with Jonathan Penrose winning his first British Championship in 1958; between that date and 1969 he won the title 10 times beating the previous record of H.E.Atkins by 1. Throughout this time Penrose was our outstanding player. One of his best achievements was his win over the then reigning World Champion, Mikhail Tal in the 1960 Olympiad.

One of the most significant features of the 1950’s and 1960’s was the growth of local congresses, in particular shorter weekend events. The BCF welcomed this development and where possible made grants to such events. The Grading System was an essential tool for organisers of such events. It is used for Seeded Swiss pairings, grading restricted events and grading prizes. The first Islington Open was held in 1965, organised by Stewart Reuben; it started with 24 entries but its numbers grew steadily, peaking at 1500 in 1973. From 1972 until 1980 it was sponsored by the London Evening Standard. Leonard Barden was their chess columnist and he was responsible for this important development. First prizes as high as £1200 were offered for weekend events and this sparked interest in a more professional attitude to the game. It was at this time that quickplay finishes replaced adjudication of unfinished games. This development resulted in a considerable advance in British players’ endgame skills. Eventually quickplay finishes, as a means of resolving chess games, became the norm throughout the world.

In the early 1970s there was huge worldwide publicity for chess due to the Fischer – Spassky World Title match in 1972 and certainly this had a great impact on the game in this country. There was an important increase in sponsorship: Cutty Sark sponsored the British Championship in 1973 and, in the Royal Jubilee year of the 1977, the Queen’s jewellers, Collingwood of Conduit Street Ltd, sponsored the event. On display at that time was a unique chess set in gold and steel, silver and ivory, valued at £100,000 – a remarkable example of British craftsmanship. The following year Grieveson, Grant and Co, a leading firm of London stockbrokers that had a keen interest in chess, sponsored the British Championship, an event they continued to support for many years. They also made available their computer to help the SCCU with its grading work. This was of great benefit to the union at that time.

It was in 1974 that the Grand Prix was first started. This was another of Stewart Reuben’s ideas that Barden persuaded Cutty Sark to sponsor. They did so for several years until Leigh Interests/Onyx took up the sponsorship in 1981, which they continued through to 1999. The series was then sponsored by the Terence Chapman Group and in 2003 became the BCF Grand Prix. Throughout the 30 years Leonard Barden has continued to do all the administrative work!

In 1949 W.H.Pratten organised on behalf of the SCCU the first 10-day Southsea Swiss Tournament, this event being repeated at Easter time until 1953. Grandmasters and International Masters were invited and participants included Rossolimo, Tartakower, Bogoljubow, O’Kelly de Galway, Yanovsky etc. Southsea was the forerunner of a number of such events that were held in the 1950/60s including: the Bognor Easter Tournament organised by J.N.Fishlock–Lomax; the Chess Festival sponsored by Chess Magazine and run by its proprietor, B.H.Wood; Whitby run by Dr Ackroyd and Paignton organised by Ken Bloodworth. This latter event still flourishes. The first Lloyds Bank Masters was started in 1977 and was run, until it ceased in 1994, by Stewart Reuben. The Benedictine International was organised by Richard Furness. It was first held in Manchester in 1978 and continued annually for several years.

The BCF’s financial position limited the extent to which our players could participate in International events throughout the 1950s to 1970s. However, the 1950s opened with preparations for the Staunton Centenary Tournament, which was held at three venues Cheltenham, Leamington and Birmingham in 1951. This was won by Gligoric with 10/16, our most successful player being C.H.O’D.Alexander who came 5th with 8½. The event was supported throughout the country by many subsidiary events. Also in 1951 the BCF hosted the first World Junior Championship, organised by Ritson–Morry. It was won by Boris Ivkov (9½/11) with our own Malcolm Barker finishing 2nd (8) and P.Harris 4th (6½). As part of the 1951 Centenary and Exhibition, a Living Chess Display, watched by several thousand spectators, was held in London at the South Bank. Also a 500 a-side North v South of the Thames match was organised and played in London.

In 1952 Harry Golombek qualified for the World Inter–Zonal, but the outstanding individual performance of that period was Hugh Alexander’s achievement in tying with Bronstein for 1st place at Hastings in 1954 when he won a 120 move epic game against the Russian. This created great publicity and demonstrated how international success can benefit the game in general.

One of the most important international event of the 1960/70s was the Alexander Memorial Masters Tournament, held in 1975 in commemoration of C.H.O’D.Alexander who died in 1971 and whose passing was a grievous blow to British Chess. It is sad that this great player and fine administrator did not live to see the successes later achieved which to great extent was the result of the initial ground work he helped to create.

Gerry Walsh, the current President of the BCF, often working together with Harry Golombek, OBE started a whole string of events in Teesside. These were sponsored by the local council. They included: 1972 Grandmaster tournament; 1973 World Junior; 1974 Student Olympiad including a banquet to mark the Golden Jubilee of FIDE; 1975 Alexander Memorial; 1978 EEC Team Tournament; 1979 Claire Benedict International Team Tournament; 1986 Bonham Memorial for blind players. It is sad that Hugh Alexander did not live to see these later successes, which to great extent were the result of the initial groundwork he helped to create. In 1970 the BCF had hosted the Clare Benedict International Team Tournament in Paignton. We won this event for the first time in 1974. In 1973 the European Team Championship was organised by Alexander and David Anderton in Bath, with sponsorship by the Council. Hastings was no longer alone in providing opportunities for our players to meet the world’s best.

In terms of publicity though, perhaps the most important development was the BBC2 programme ‘The Master Game’. This series, which started in the 1970s, with commentary by IM Bill Hartston, has never been bettered as a way of presenting chess on television

The Friends of Chess, a philanthropic organisation, was founded in 1969. Its aims continue to be concerned primarily with development of international chess. It has worked closely with the BCF over the past decades, to the great benefit of the game in this country.

Important events took place in the 1950s with regard to Junior Chess apart from the efforts being made to develop young players. In 1955 the BCF inaugurated the U21 championship that took place in addition to the Boys and Girls U18 events at the Congress. In 1957 the Sunday Times started their sponsorship of the National Schools Chess Championship and this was later taken over by the Times. This support of the event was continued until 2001. The value of the 44 years of sponsorship by The Sunday Times and The Times to the development of junior chess is inestimable. Mitchell Taylor continued running the event for The Times right up until his death in 2000.

IM Bob Wade (OBE) emigrated from New Zealand to England in the 1950s. In the 1960s, he became editor of a whole series of chess books, published by Batsfords over many years. This enabled our leading players to take a chess career more seriously. He continues to enthuse new generations of players today.

The 1960s and 1970s saw even greater progress in the development, training and co-ordination of junior chess. The BCF Junior Committee worked in close collaboration with junior chess organisers throughout the country and by the mid 1960s many training schemes and tournaments had been started. By the end of the decade there was evidence of our emerging strength. David Welch, now Chief Arbiter of the Federation, took over the running of the Liverpool Junior Congress from TJ Beach. This attracted 2000 players one year. In 1971 the Slater Foundation was formed whose object was support for young players. Leonard Barden was closely involved in this work. The Slater Young Masters Tournament was started and Barden singled out 5 young players for special attention – Tony Miles, Jonathan Mestel, John Nunn, Jon Speelman and Michael Stean, who all became grandmasters. 1974-1975 were notable years: Miles won the World Junior, Nunn the European Junior, and Mestel the World Cadet. The latter feat was repeated by David Goodman in 1976 and in 1977 Shaun Taulbut won the European Junior. The following year Nigel Short gained a medal in the World U16 Championship. It was also in 1976/77 that the English team won the Junior International Team Tournament. These successes were a great tribute to the dedicated work of the many organisers of junior chess in the preceding years.

In 1966 we had only 5 IMs and 3 British masters: by the end of the 1970s we had 4 GMs – Miles, Keene, Nunn and Stean – 16 IMs, 31 BMs and 4 WIMs. Tony Miles became our first GM in 1977, followed by Ray Keene in 1978.

The Chess Education Society was wound up in 1968, its assets being transferred to the Junior Trust Fund which had been set up in 1966, whilst the other work of the CES was developed by the Junior Committee.

The Certificate of Merit Scheme was started in 1969/70. New championships, which reflected the growing strength of junior chess were introduced – the Girls U14 in 1970 and the U11 in 1976.

The Federation’s financial problems were eased to some extent during the 1970s. The Friends of Chess helped. However, an even more important step forward was the start of the annual Government grant from 1970. From a modest start this vital aid has increased over the years and for 2003 was £60,000. Another major break through was Duncan Lawrie’s sponsorship of the English Teams which started in 1978 and continued for 23 years – magnificent support which was a tremendous help to both the English men’s and women’s teams in the Olympiads and the other team championships over the years and which contributed enormously to the successes achieved. In 1976 David Anderton was awarded the OBE for his services to chess: he captained the England Team for 20 years and no small credit is due to him for their successes.

With its increasing involvement, workload and commitments, the BCF administrative system became unwieldy and inefficient. The Registration Scheme had its shortcomings and in 1975 was replaced by the Levy. At the same time the county organisations became territorial affiliates with direct representation on Council. However, the Executive Committee comprised over 40 members and this was far too cumbersome. In 1978 a major reorganisation was effected whereby the whole system was streamlined. The Standing Committees were replaced by Activity Directors. Each was responsible for his own area and reported to a Management Board, which had replaced the Executive Committee. The set up was not ideal as the Management Board was still too large but the chief Architect, John Poole, envisaged further reorganisation would be necessary in the light of experience within 10-15 years. However, the basic structure has remained unchanged for 25 years. It was also proposed that the Federation’s name should be changed to reflect its responsibility to English Chess but this recommendation was not at that time acceptable to the majority in Council. As we write, we learn that Council has accepted the need to take this forward and, if the details are agreed, the change will come about after 2004.

George Simmons (1966-72), whose work was highly regarded, followed Alan Stammwitz as General Secretary. He was succeeded by Ann Hopton (1972-75) and then by Paul Buswell in 1975, who brought youthful vigour to the post.

At the time of Paul Buswell’s appointment, the BCF Office was moved to Norwich where he lived. It is interesting to note that it is recorded that a chess club existed in that city as long ago as 1836. The office remained in Norwich until the BCM was acquired in 1980 when it was transferred to St Leonards.

The BCF celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1979 and as one looked back it was felt that a great deal had been achieved. The reorganisation of 1978 was an important turning point in the Federation’s history. At that time it was said that the next 25 years were likely to see exciting rewards for British Chess. The opportunities were great, if they could be grasped: this prophetic forecast was indeed justified by the achievements of the next two decades.

The 1980s and 1990s were indeed exciting years for English chess with highly successful results for our top players in both individual and team events. Also considerable progress was made in the development of junior, women’s chess and domestic activities expanded highly satisfactorily. The new administrative arrangements worked well, although there were periods when the financial situation caused much concern. There was pressure on expenditure to seize new opportunities but lack of adequate income to support everything it was felt the Federation should do. During this period there was, however a great increase in business sponsorship of chess.

In 1980 the BCF acquired 100% ownership of British Chess Magazine. A main reason was to ensure the continued publication of the leading British magazine after Freddie Reilly died unexpectedly at a very early age and Brian Reilly retired. The BCM was retained until 1992 when, in the best interests of all concerned, it was decided to sell the shareholding to Murray Chandler who was better able to deal with the commercial and editorial matters of the business. The venture was financially successful though some believe not enough was made of the opportunities offered.

At this time an Award system was developed. In addition to the Honorary Life Vice President title there are now from: 1983 President’s Awards for Services to Chess; 1984 Club of the Year; 1984 Player of the Year; 1985 Honorary Life Member; 1986 Richard Boxall Plate for Contribution to the Annual Congress; 1991 Book of the Year Award. The history of the award of the title of Honorary Life Vice President and the award of School Shields go back much further. The latest in the group is Website of the Year.

One of the most significant features of the last 30 years has been a growth in the number of international tournaments. The 1973 Guardian Royal Exchange Evening Standard Masters was the first international tournament in London for 25 years. The Evening Standard supported the 1975 London Chess Festival, where proper live commentary was introduced. Ray Keene and Julian Simpole organised a whole series of events in Brighton from 1979 to 1985. The Lord John Cup took place in 1977. In 1980 the first Phillips and Drew/GLC Kings Tournament was held: this and the subsequent events in 1982 and 1984 attracted the World’s best players and provided a wonderful opportunity for our leading players to display their skills in Britain. Tony Miles finished first equal in the 1980 tournament with a score of 8½ out of 13. As he said at the Prizegiving, “Thank you for enabling me to practice my art in Britain.” In 1982 earphone commentary was introduced for the first time. A chess film festival was held at the National Film Theatre to coincide with the event.

Ray Keene (OBE) became a principal organizer and, together with David Anderton and Stewart Reuben put together the successor to the Phillips & Drew series, the Greater London Council Chess Challenge in 1986, which IM Glen Flear won with 8½ points ahead of Chandler and Short. Spassky finished further down the field. There were also: 1983, The Acorn Computer World Candidates, opened at Number 11 by the then Chancellor, Nigel Lawson; 1984 the USSR v Rest of the World (which included Chandler, Miles and Nunn in the 12 man team) match took place in London Docklands. The latter two events were organised at amazingly short notice.

Another of Ray’s events was the Novag Commonwealth Championship held in the Docklands in 1985. Usually the Commonwealth Championship has been held as part of an open Swiss, as frequently in the Lloyds Bank Masters. English organisers have often been involved with encouraging this event to take place, even when not held in England.

Around 1980 rapidplay (usually all the moves in 30 minutes) chess became popular all over the world. Typically 6 games are played in one day and there are many such tournaments all over the country. The best of these events annually is the British Rapidplay Championship, which was started in Leeds in 1986, sponsored by Joshua Tetley. Nigel Short won the inaugural event with the extraordinary score of 11/11. The format remains unchanged today. NatWest sponsored the event in some of the earlier years as did Silvine. There are 6 rounds Saturday and 5 on Sunday. Michael Adams won the enormously strong Intel Grand Prix Knockout in London in 1995. Of recent years there has been a sharp diminution in the number of weekend congresses. This may have been caused by the competition from rapidplays, or the steep increase in the cost of hire of venues.

The musical ‘Chess’ by (Sir) Tim Rice and Abba opened in May 1986 and ran for 2½ years. IM Bill Hartston was the chess advisor. The show opened with a ballet of a chess game and giant video screens on each side of the stage showed games in progress.