100 Year History of the British Chess Federation

The GLC was the principal sponsors of the first leg of the Kasparov-Karpov World Championship match that took place in London also in 1986. The principal organisers were once again Ray Keene, David Anderton, Stewart Reuben on behalf of the BCF, and Peter Pitt of the now defunct GLC; although they had over 50 assistants. It was at this event, and the GLC Chess Challenge earlier that year, that electronic display boards were introduced to the world, provided by Intelligent Chess Software. Subsidiary sponsors were: Save and Prosper, the Brilliancy Prize; Duncan Lawrie the Opening Ceremony by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher; The Times, the Commentary Room; Wimpy Hamburger, subsidised entry fees; Lada Cars, courtesy cars; Pergamon Press, stationery, the bulletins, a national festival; B T Batsford, the match programme. For five weeks you could go into Green Park or Park Lane Hotel and play chess. As David Jarrett said this was the highlight of his period as President. Arguably it also provided the pinnacle to date of the BCF administratively, where everybody co-operated to maximise the benefit to chess.

This great event sparked off the interest of Thames Television in presenting programmes on the game. During the event there was coverage both on ITV and BBC2. For the next several years, until Thames lost their franchise, there were about 100 chess programmes on TV, albeit shown principally just in the London area. Sponsors included BIS, Infolink, James Capel, London Docklands and The Times.

Praxis Systems sponsored the Zonals in Bath in 1987.

Hastings Chess Congress has had a number of sponsors apart from the Council, including Slater Walker, Zetters Pools, and The Times. Ray Keene was still Publicity Director of the BCF when he, or rather his wife Annette, obtained Foreign & Colonial for the 1986-7 congress. Their six years was the period of greatest financial stability of this great series. It was delightful to see former Prime Minister, Lord Callaghan, doing his job, playing chess against the sponsor and telling him what good value for money the event was.

Since that time Hastings Borough Council has reverted to being the sole major sponsor, although the organisers make a major contribution, working year after year with no fee. This year the Friends of Hastings Congress was launched. Please join, your support would be very valuable.

Watson, Farley & Williams supported a whole series of grandmaster tournaments in 1988-1991, and also the Speelman-Short match of 1991 and the Varsity match (Cambridge v Oxford, one of the world’s longest running match series). They even sponsored a grandmaster tournament in New York, run by Ray Keene.

Granada sponsored a grandmaster tournament in the North of England in 1989. Perhaps more interesting is that they hosted The London Chess Centre from 1989-90. This is the only time since the demise of The National Chess Centre that London has had a dedicated chess venue, not counting coffee houses such as The En Passant, Prompt Corner and Chequers.

The annual British Championships have gone from strength to strength and in 2003 there was a record entry of 1009 compared with 520 in 1979. The Grieveson, Grant/Kleinwort Benson sponsorship came to an end in 1988. There was a private donor in 1989 and in 1990 the Harry Banes Memorial Championships was supported by his family in memory of Harry who had been the BCF Chief Arbiter until his death in 1989. There was then no sponsorship until Smith and Williamson grasped the opportunity in 1997 and the good news is that they are committed to the Centenary event. First Vic Soanes was director for Grieveson, Grant, then Gerry Walsh. Stewart Reuben organised it from 1981-1997 and Neil Graham has been responsible since then. The sharpest change in the past 100 years is that now more than half the contestants are juniors. 50 years ago the British Boys was held separately from the main congress. Yes, it was Boys. The Girls’ Championship was separate and it was not until the 1970s that the age group championships were thrown open to both sexes. Now we view it as nothing remarkable when a girl wins a junior championship ahead of the boys.

An event with such a long history is a rich source of records. Jonathan Penrose OBE won the British Championship a record 10 times (he also won the British Boys). Rowena Bruce first won the British Ladies in 1936 as Miss Dew. She held the title a record 11 times. Julian Hodgson won the Championship with a record 10/11 without loss. Grieveson, Grant viewed their offer of £10,000 to anybody scoring 11/11 as a good bet. Tania Sachdev India managed to win the British Under 9 and 8, Girls’ Under 10, 9 and 8 all in the same year. Holding aloft 5 trophies simultaneously defeated her. Cathy Haslinger managed to win all the Girls’ Championships from Under 11 to Under 18, though she took several years. The younger age groups did not start until 1988, thus she did not have the opportunity to complete a grand sweep.

Naturally, in 1904, the British Championship was open to players from the Empire. After all, they were British. When the Commonwealth was formed in the 1950s, the right of Commonwealth players to play in the Championships was retained. Recently travel has become relatively cheap. There has been a huge growth in chess activity and playing strength in India, partly encouraged by the BCF in accordance with its constitution. British youngsters sensibly tend to play above themselves, rather than go pot hunting. Thus there has been a tendency of Indian children to dominate the age-group championships of recent years. About 100 players came from India to Edinburgh this year. In some ways sadly, it has been decided the event will be restricted to British Isles residents and citizens from 2004. Southern Irish players have been allowed to play since 1986 and there has been no suggestion of a change in that regulation.

The BCF was fortunate to secure other important sponsorships during these years: from 1985 to 1998 first Legal and General, then Peterborough Software and finally Leigh Interests/ Onyx sponsored the National Club Championships. After Cutty Sark ceased their support of the Grand Prix in 1981, Leigh Interests/Onyx sponsored the event until 1999 and for the next 3 years was followed by the Terence Chapman Group. Whether there will be a Grand Prix in 2004 is unclear at this time. For brief periods, Batsford supported the Year Book and Cadogan the Grading System.

In 1991 Duncan Lawrie sponsored the first and, so far, only English Chess Championship – an 8 player knockout won by Nigel Short. Plans are afoot to start an English Championship series in 2004. In 1994 we had the Vera Menchik Memorial Tournament, supported by the BCF, organised to commemorate her death 50 years earlier. In 1995 Hastings held their Centenary Festival, supported by the BCF. In 2000 The Harry Golombek Memorial Tournament took place at the Paignton Festival supported by The Friends of Chess.

A new event introduced in 1997 and organised by Ray Keene, together with David Levy and Tony Buzan, was the Mind Sports Olympiad that, in 2000, incorporated the Ron Banwell Masters in memory of that player’s generous bequest to the BCF.

The Monarch Assurance Isle of Man Congress has been running now since 1992. It has grown into a most important annual Swiss. The GibTelecom Festival series started in Gibraltar in 2003 and is scheduled for at least the next two years. Neither of these events takes place in England, but the only way in which they can be registered with FIDE is via the BCF. It is our organisers who provide the necessary expertise.

Adam Raoof ran a number of international events on behalf of an anonymous patron for a number of years. Sadly, Adam has reduced his chess administrative load and this series has finished.

In 2001 Kasparov played an unusual challenge match against Terence Chapman. He gave the English player odds of two pawns and managed to win 2½-1½. This event took place in Simpson’s in the Strand. In August 2003 the Staunton Society, supported by the BCF and The Friends of Chess, organized a small grandmaster tournament at the same venue. It was won by Jon Speelman. It is true the Divan was knocked down in 1902 and rebuilt afresh. But in a very real sense, this is chess returning to its roots. The Immortal Game was played there in 1851. They are still receiving valuable publicity for their sponsorship from over 150 years ago! When you next visit, keep an eye out for the chess memorabilia, which adorn the walls.

Chris Dunworth started the 4 Nations Chess League in 1995, although it was not a BCF event. Often this has been the best way chess has developed in this country, the BCF providing an umbrella where individuals can develop activity. It was feared that the 4NCL would destroy either or both of the English Counties Championships and the National Club Championships and, yet, itself be unsuccessful. Instead the 4NCL has gone from strength to strength and there are now 54 teams and 4 divisions. The Counties programme has proven extremely robust and players still turn out regularly of a Saturday. The only real change is that there are now sections for players graded under 175, 150, 125 and 100. The status of the National Club Championship has diminished, but this was probably inevitable once the event was no longer sponsored. The 4NCL probably is so successful because certain individuals have been willing to support their teams financially and because it provides chess under high quality conditions. Players prefer to receive value for their money, rather than simply to minimise their expenditure.

There are several reasons and theories as to why the English Chess Explosion took place in the 1970-80s. Why did England, more than any other country, reap the benefits of the revolution caused by the Fischer-Spassky Match? We had a wave of strong players including Michael Basman, Bill Hartston, Ray Keene, Peter Lee, and Andrew Whiteley. This was rapidly followed by a second wave with Jonathan Mestel, Tony Miles, John Nunn, Jon Speelman, and Michael Stean. Look at the sea and it is not hard to realise the second wave will top the first. Tony Miles was the greatest single influence on the development of international chess in England in living memory. Perhaps his most important contribution was his unshakable faith in his ability to beat the very best players in the world. Emulating him, other English players no longer accepted that the best they could hope for was a draw against leading players. Sadly Tony died in 2001. Murray Chandler was originally from New Zealand. We deliberately did not seek to poach players from other countries, particularly those whose mother tongue is Russian. As David Anderton said, “we did not go to all that trouble in order for foreigners to capture the limited opportunities.” Other great talents such as Julian Hodgson, Nigel Short, Michael Adams, Matthew Sadler, and Luke McShane have emerged since. Business sponsorship of sport blossomed in the 1970s. Chess attracted its fair share of this market.

In World and European Team events the England players have distinguished themselves. Between 1984 and 1990 we won 3 silver and 1 bronze medal in the Olympics in addition to some outstanding individual board performances. The results of the Olympiads, European Team Championships and World Team Championship are set out elsewhere. Our non-playing team captain for 20 years, David Anderton, contributed greatly to this success and it was appropriate that he was awarded the OBE in 1976. Duncan Lawrie sponsored the England Teams from 1978 to 2001. Their aid was essential to ensure our professional players could compete with the best in the world. Other team events in which we competed included the 1979 and 1980 Common Market Olympiads in which we came 2nd and 1st respectively.

The annual Anglo–Dutch matches were discontinued after 1977 and no friendly internationals were played in the 1980s. The matches against Holland, which had commenced in 1937 and resumed after the end of the 1939-45 war, had taken place every year between 1959 and 1977. All results were close and included one woman’s board from 1962 onwards. These matches were not only enjoyable events but they also provided some international opportunities during the years when expenditure was severely restricted.

However, by 1980 our leading players were participating in overseas competitions to an increasing extent and commitments including team competitions, made it more difficult to continue that series.

In July 1979 the Claire Benedict International Team Championship (for West European nations) was played at Teesside at which we secured the gold medals.

The 1990s opened with our first ever match win against USSR by the score of 6:4 in the Visa-IBM Chess Summit in Reykjavik (although we had previously won in the Student’s Olympiad in 1980 and 1986). We finished second in the event, ½ point behind the Russians but ahead of the USA and Nordic teams.

From 1994 we have not been so successful since the Soviet Union broke up. A number of parts of that empire, such as Armenia and the Ukraine are very strong, while Russia remains indisputably the leading chess country. There has been a Diaspora of Russian speaking players who are now able to travel easily. There is a tremendous weight of talent from these areas, which has exploded in the last 10 years. This means that the meagre rewards from chess events must be spread more thinly.

Our best team result came in 1997 when we won gold in the European Team Championship in Pula. Our team was Short, Adams, Speelman, Sadler, and Hodgson. Sadler especially distinguished himself by scoring 7/9 on board 4. The captain was GM David Norwood, who was in 2001 to make a magnificent gift to the BCF Youth Chess Trust and who himself sponsored the English teams in the Olympiad in Bled in 2002. As Nigel said of our gold medals, “I’ve been waiting for this for 20 years.” Our women’s team also did well there, securing the bronze medal.

English players have played a prominent part in the World Championship of recent years. In 1984 both Short and Speelman qualified to join Miles and Nunn in the Interzonals of 1985. In 1987 the same four qualified for the Interzonals and finally Speelman and Short proceeded to the Candidates. 1988 was eventful: Short beat Sax 3½-1½ and Speelman won 4 – 1 against Seirawan, which resulted in our two players being paired in the quarterfinals. Speelman was the winner and thus went on to the semi-finals. These were played at Sadlers Wells, sponsored by Pilkington Glass in 1990. This event was put together by Mediamate, a company headed by Bill Hartston, at that time the BCF Publicity Director. Speelman lost narrowly 3½-4½ to Timman and in the other semi–final Karpov beat Yusupov. Pilkington Glass also sponsored the Zonal in Blackpool.

The 1991-93 World Title series was even more exciting. Short beat Speelman in the Candidates and went on to defeat Boris Gelfand 5–3 in the quarter–finals and Karpov 6–4 in the semi–finals. This was probably his finest hour so far. After beating Jan Timman 7½-5½ in the Candidates Final, Nigel Short qualified to challenge Gary Kasparov for the title in 1993.

It was then that controversy erupted. The match was scheduled to be played in Manchester under the auspices of FIDE and the BCF. Instead the players formed the Professional Chess Association and played at The Savoy Theatre in London with The Times as sponsor. Kasparov won convincingly although Short put up sterling resistance in the later rounds.

The event attracted great publicity and TV on both BBC2 and Channel 4, but presumably the viewing figures were insufficient to encourage further TV exposure for chess. There has been little chess on British TV since. Simon Brown organised a Nationwide Festival of Chess during the period of the match and there was a clear, sadly short-lived, mini-boom in chess activity during this period. Nigel Short was awarded the MBE in 1999. The problems created by the breakaway are still with us today. Kasparov is back in the FIDE fold and it seemed everything would be resolved this year, but once again there are problems.

Of recent years the World Championship has been played without Kasparov who contested several matches that many regard as the true World Championship. The Brain Games Network World Championship took place in London in 2000 and Vladimir Kramnik beat Kasparov easily, although the latter remains the highest rated player in the world.

The official FIDE World Championship has become a 128-player knockout. In this Michael Adams has distinguished himself by reaching the semi–final three times. He came closest to reaching the final in 1997 when only Viswanathan Anand stood between him and a final against Karpov. The match ran into play-offs, but alas it was not to be.

Other international events of particular note in the 1990s included a match against China in 1997, which England lost 8-10. The BCF met the same team in a rapidplay match in 2002 but were again outgunned.

In 1982 Harry Golombek OBE retired as the BCF FIDE delegate, a position he had occupied with distinction since 1950. He was highly regarded internationally and greatly enhanced the BCF reputation. Sadly he died in 1996. Ray Keene OBE followed Golombek as our delegate until David Jarrett assumed that role in 1988. Gerry Walsh has acted in this capacity since 1997 as David is now FIDE Treasurer.

David Jarrett, when he became Junior Director, on the formation of the Management Board in 1979 introduced a large number of initiatives. Considerable progress has been made in the development of junior chess, particularly since 1982 when the BCF decided to increase its annual support for coaching and training. Spurred on by these types of examples several organisations have helped. These include: Lloyds Bank, National Westminster Bank, The Slater Foundation, Aaronson Chess Foundation, and Terence Chapman Trust. NatWest were so taken with chess, they expanded their support to include a number of grandmaster tournaments organised by King’s Head Club.

The British Chess Educational Trust is a charity, which was started in the 1970s. It still makes small contributions to the development of junior chessplayers throughout Britain. Recently the BCF Youth Chess Trust has been invigorated by a very substantial donation by David Norwood. In particular this enables the federation to send many players to representative events abroad and provides for their coaching.

Competitive activity is the lifeblood of chess and The Robert Silk Young Masters was a most important series dating back to the early 1970s. The run of Smith & Williamson Young Masters ended in 2003. Pride of place must go to the Oakham School Young Masters, supported by The Jerwood Foundation. This series started as a way of commemorating the Quatercentenary of Oakham School. It was first organised by David Jarrett and in its day it was the strongest junior event in the world.

A prominent role in this development has been played by the BCF Junior Squad, originally sponsored by Lloyds Bank. Its function has been to identify promising talent and to help and guide these young players in their chess careers and to provide them with opportunities. The Squad Championship held every April range from U21 to U8 age groups. In addition to coaching, junior players have been selected for scholarship places in international events and also a number of international tours and matches against Scotland and Wales have been arranged. The Squad was managed for many years by Leonard Barden. Other important members of this organisation have included Peter Morrish, Tony Corfe, Peter Purland, Ian Cowen, and Alec Webster. Under the Director of Junior Chess and Education, Peter Turner, there are now so many activities that it might be regarded as a separate federation.