GM Nicholas Pert wins Bristol Qualifer of UK Open Blitz 2018

A disappointing level of stress was caused by the UK Open Blitz Bristol qualifier held last week. In my previous advert for the event, I assumed 15 rounds of blitz chess would be hell for the poor arbiter having to control the event; this was not the case! In the most anti-climactic event of the year (for the arbiters), the arbiting team even felt calm during the event!

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The playing hall at Bristol Grammar School with live scoreboard! Photo credit @ Anita Thorpe

At 11am, all 42 players had arrived and were ready to do battle with barely enough time on the clock to remember how the horsey and the castle move. Leading the seedings was England’s number 9 and part of the England Olympiad team, Grandmaster Nicholas Pert. It was also great to see the return of Bristol League veteran and Fischer slayer IM James Sherwin who took the 2nd seed spot.

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Bristol legend IM James Sherwin (right) was seeded 2nd for the event. Photo credit @ Anita Thorpe.

It was also nice to see a cohort from the “Noisy Neighbours” of North Bristol, including chess celebrity Fiona Steil-Antoni who made her Bristol League debut against South Bristol this season.

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Top board clash! GM Nicholas Pert and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni battling it out. Photo credit @ Anita Thorpe

It only took until Round 3 for the first “upset” when Jim Sherwin lost to the Czech player Krystof Sneiberg. By the Round 5 break, Nick Pert was on 5/5, with a chasing pack on 4/5 including Sherwin, Steil-Antoni, Sneiberg, Lewis Martin and Paul Hampton. A well-deserved lunch break was given to the players at this time before the remaining 10 rounds started.

In the next 5 games, Nick Pert continued his dominance; only dropping a draw to Steven Jones put him 2 points ahead of the field on 9.5/10. Sneiberg and Martin trailed on 7.5 and Jones on 7 were the chasing pack vying for the second qualification place. For the female qualification places Fiona led on 6.5, with Alice Lampard and Erika Orsagova on 4.5 and Dorota Pacion on 4 fighting for the second spot. The Bristol juniors were also faring well – Ollie Stubbs on 6 and Chirag Hosdurga on 5.5.

Whilst Nick Pert continued to dominate the field to win the event on 14.5, the battle for 2nd became very tense as Sneiberg held a half point lead heading into the final few rounds. Despite blundering a rook in the penultimate round, Sneiberg managed to hang on to his lead and finished on 12.5 with Jones finishing on 12 and Martin on 11.

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Plenty of space for pacing although blitz tends not to lend itself to meandering long walks between moves. Photo credit @ Anita Thorpe
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Blitzing in full swing. Photo credit @ Anita Thorpe.

The female qualification places were equally tense. Fiona confirmed her place in the Women’s Final finishing on a valiant 8.5, but once again 2nd place became a tight affair. Both Lampard and Orsagova finished on 7 points, but the Bristol University student Lampard won out on tiebreaks to take her to the Women’s Final on 1st December.

Rating prizes were also awarded to the best scorers in a given rating band. Steven Jones won the A group band with 12, Michael Ashworth winning the B group with 9 points and Chirag Hosdurga taking the C group prize on 8 points beating Oliver Stubbs and Martin Quinn by being the lowest rated player.

Overall, the event was a pleasure to control and many congratulations to the winners! Hopefully this is an event that will grow and continue to be a staple in the calendar – however if you can’t wait till then, the Bristol Open Blitz Championships are being held on the 25th November. Entry form found here.


TomThorpe

Tom Thorpe

Tom is an International Arbiter and used to play for North Bristol in the Bristol League. Now based in Exeter, he still pretends to play chess in-between organising events.

 

Three challenges facing Chess960: A fan perspective

So I recently suffered a serious accident resulting in me spending a lot of time in bed watching chess videos (everything in life has a silver lining). In the past week I have been enjoying the excellent coverage of the Sinquefield Cup being broadcast by the St Louis Chess Club during which the topic of Chess960 has cropped up on multiple occasions amongst the commentary team and the worlds elite players.  Indeed on the 10th – 14th September the chess club will be hosting five matches of Chess960 between 10 elite players (including the 960 debut of Gary Kasparov) with a total prize fund of $250,000. With interest in Chess960 supposedly growing (especially at the top levels of chess) I thought I would take a moment to highlight three challenges facing this variant of chess from my own personal perspective as an “average” chess fan. 

What is Chess960?

Very briefly, Chess960 is a variant of classic chess first proposed by Bobby Fischer in 1996 in Buenos Aires.  It involves the randomisation of the home rank pieces for each player therefore rendering each players home preparation moot.  There are 960 possible combinations for randomising the starting positions of the home rank pieces, hence the name Chess960.  The classical setup of pieces (you know the one which can take a lifetime to master) would be considered position 1 of 960.

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One of 960 starting position for a game of Chess960. Guess we aren’t playing a Berlin then…

Routinely Chesss960 is often referred to as the ultimate test of pure chess skill.  Whilst I recognise that this can appeal and be an interesting variant for some fans and players, in my opinion there are a number of challenges from an entertainment perspective that need to be resolved if Chess960 is to garner a large following and interest in the established chess community.

Challenge 1: Identity

The number of chess fans tuning in to watch the Sinquefield Cup has been impressive with the show broadcast in over 200 countries and daily YouTube videos racking up views in excess of 100,000 in 24 hour periods.  Indeed the St Louis Chess Club broadcasts are easily setting the bar for the pinnacle in chess broadcasting.

In round 8 of the Sinquefield Cup Alexander Grischuk played 1.f4 (Birds Opening) to an explosion of delight to the fans in the YouTube chat, on Twitter and around the globe. Several people phoned into the live studio to ask excited questions of Jen Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley about the Birds Opening.

Why?

Because, putting chess ability to one side for a moment, many chess fans love to construct their identities and styles of play (“I’m Karpovian, quiet and positional” or “I attack like Tal“) and openings (“You just can’t beat my London“).  To the average club player, identifying with a particular opening helps anchor them in the exceedingly complex game that we all love.  They know that they will never be a GM (or hit 2000 ELO for that matter) but in some spheres and realms it is enough to dream that we understand a little of this great game.  Hence when Sasha Grishchuk casually tosses the f-pawn forward on move 1, amateur fans around the word rejoice because they feel a connection, they relate and (whisper it) connect with it.

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Even Chess Arbiter Chris Bird enjoyed seeing 1.f4 on the board. Photo credit to @LennartOotes

Chess960 kills an amateur players identity dead.

There is nothing to hold onto. Nothing that is recognisable or relatable. Those openings that I’ve worked so hard on and are the reason we follow certain GMs results is suddenly gone and the amateur is set adrift in the sea of “pure chess skill”.  Leading us nicely to the second challenge in my view.

Challenge 2: Complexity

Chess is hard. Thats why we love it.

But the consistency of the starting position atleast helps give some level of understanding (even if often we are only just holding on with our fingernails) to the average chess fan.  A chess fan rated 1800 would be considered a strong club player. But when those players watch classical chess we are already starting with a 1000 point deficit compared to a Super GM.  By randomising the starting position to one of 960 possible variations, as a spectator, my ability and understanding plummets even more.

Now for a game that already suffers from an accessibility issue in terms of new people learning the game, do we really want to be making it harder for people to engage?

Don’t get me wrong. I totally understand why elite players would be interested in Chess960 as they have already mastered the classical position.  But if elite players find 960 more challenging then it is especially so for your average chess fan and infinitely so for newbies to the game.

From an entertainment perspective, in what other sport would organisers say: “Hey you know what?  Lets make it more complicated for the viewers“.

Challenge 3: History & Commentary

Chess players love history.  They love the mystique of famous matches and clashes. They love the cool names of variations and places.  They love the great stories that Yasser Seirawan casually drops into conversation when commentating about the time he was blitzing with Boris Spassky or some other such legend of chess.

Again Chess960 eliminates this aspect to the entertainment side of the game.  Admittedly, Chess960 is very young in comparison to classical chess so does not have such a rich history.  However, by reducing (a deliberate choice of word) the game to one of 960 possible starting positions it makes it very difficult to commentate on or make accessible to the casual chess fan.

At no point can someone say, “Ah yes this reminds me of the 2017 match between Carlsen and Nakamura using starting position 758“. Even if they could it will take decades for comparisons and useful commentary to start to appear.

Also, how do you name variations when a variation very very very rarely ever appears again? The short answer is you don’t.

Which leaves the commentary team just talking about the “pure test of chess skill” on the boards in front of them.  Maybe I’m old fashioned but I personally feel the chess viewing experience is lessened when the rich tapestry of chess history is removed.

Conclusion

In conclusion, It is not my intent to attack Chess960 itself. Im sure a great many players around the world enjoy the variant.  My intent was to raise question marks over how this version of chess can be marketed and promoted to the masses.

The St Louis Chess Club and others such as Chess.com are doing sterling efforts to promote chess and raise participation levels globally.  But with so much effort and research gone into making chess exciting and engaging to watch, is Chess960 really a step forward or is it a niche sub-variant for players of a certain high standard?

With $250,000 prize fund it certainly looks like Chess960 is starting to be taken seriously.

My question is by making it harder to follow, removing any sense of chess identity and eliminating chess history from the commentary are the chess masses going to as easily engage? Is the ultimate test of pure chess skill really what your average chess fan is really looking for?

Until next time.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

 

 

 

From the Front Line – Bristol Spring Congress

A massive field and many new players this year – the Spring Congress was as tough as ever.

The Bristol tournament scene continues to go from strength to strength with a whopping 117 entrants to the Spring Congress – including a GM, two IM’s and a host of other masters in a very competitive Open field.

The British weather was compliant also – not taunting dedicated chess fans with too much sun streaming through the windows.

I entered the Open but I also had clubmates from Horfield in every section to cheer on, and a good excuse to loiter around the top boards and try to ‘improve by osmosis’.

The Open was more than twice the size of some previous tournaments which meant that drawn games were likely to cost you at the top. After 3 rounds nobody had a perfect score – though plenty on 2.5.

Before the final round there were three on 3.5 and GM Arkell lurking on 3. The Merry-Arkell match-up (seed 1 vs. 2) was the final round everyone wanted to see – this time Merry sealing the deal – he couldn’t take the prize outright though as Mike Waddington beat Graham Moore to also finish on 4.5.

Another dream final match-up was for the title of Bristol League champion – between league players only. Patryk Kryzyzanowski was leading on 3, whilst a host of others (including myself) were on 2.5. Steve Dilleigh got the honour of trying to leapfrog Patryk – and was doing well in a rook ending, up a pawn and with a slightly easier king position – could Steve emulate Carlsen and squeeze it to steal the title? After some calculated risks to keep his rook active, Patryk did enough to hold it and is now Bristol champion!

Over the last year the juniors have been threatening a takeover, this time the prize was shared between one of them (Yuyang Wang) and 3 ‘non-juniors’ (Bob Radford, winner on tiebreak; Brendan O’Gorman; and Chris Strong) with 4/5 each.

Bob won a crucial game in round 3 vs. Max Walker, where he showed tremendous resolve to come back a piece down – making use of a few tempi and some useful central pawns and eventually forcing a rook to drop – winning this game gave him the best progressive scores overall and the title of major champion!

More good news for my own club (Horfield) with Mike Jennings sharing first place along with three others: Daoyi Wang, William Taplin and John Harris.

It was a fantastic weekend for Bristol chess – the organisers have done a great job raising interest and ensuring everything runs smoothly; more players, more newcomers, more non-Bristolians and more prizes.

We’ll be back soon with analysis of a few games from the Open section.

Look out for the Steve Boniface memorial on the 24-26 August for more high quality chess bouts!


mikecircle

Mike Harris is co-editor of Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess in Bristol

What is the 4NCL?

Hey Bristol! Chris, the captain of the Celtic Tigers here to give an update of what it is like playing a weekend of 4NCL chess.

The 4NCL is the top league of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, played over 5 weekends from November to May. (2 games a weekend, 3 on the final weekend). In Division 3 & 4 you have a team of six, in divisions 1 & 2 you have a team of eight.

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“Grrrrr”

Hundreds decend on a preselected location, and you play one game each day and also stay the night in the venue. This adds to the social fun of the event, as you can play chess long into the night (or get a good night sleep, the choice is yours!)

What is the cost?

  • Team membership fee, which is about £100 for registering a team. (So
  • £62 per night for accommodation (inc. Breakfast), 1 night per weekend.
  • Transport to/from the location.
  • You must be a gold ECF member of above if an ENG federation player.

Is it worth it?

I have been playing for the Celtic Tigers since I began in the 4NCL about 5 years ago, and I have never looked back, it’s my favourite league in the UK and Ireland, and I am always looking for the next weekend away. The Celtic tigers release a newsletter after every weekend, so if you want to see a detailed account of a weekend, visit our website. Here are the locations for the 18/19 season.

The Celtic Tigers are have just been promoted to division 1 for next season, and are bringing a second team into Division 4 South for next season. Follow our progress on twitter (@CelticTigersCC) or facebook (Celtic Tigers 4NCL Chess)


Chris S

Chris Skulte

Chris Skulte from Australia has been playing chess on and off since age 5. Living in London now for 6 years, he is manager of the Celtic Tigers, and also plays regularly for Hammersmith. He recently hit his lifetime goal of crossing 2000 FIDE, so now needs to work out what to do next.

 

How can British chess clubs benefit from the 2018 world championship?

The 2018 candidates tournament is over and what a thrill it was.  The chess world is unanimous in its praise of all eight players approach to the tournament that decided who would face the world champion Magnus Carlsen, in November. Fabiano Caruana has emerged as the challenger and there is sure to be an increased interest in chess in the United States as a result.  With America braced to experience a chess boom, the Bristol Chess Times asks how British clubs could benefit from the world championship match being held in London?

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Fabiano Caruana photographed moments after he sealed his place as the World Championship Challenger (editors note – I cannot find the image credit for the photographer, if anyone knows please contact me)

It is fair to say that the Carlsen – Caruana match of 2018 is likely to be one of the most highly anticipated chess clashes in recent memory. This is down to their respective abilities and styles but also due to the various stories the western media can spin on it. For example, “First American to compete for world crown since Bobby Fischer” the headlines have been crying since Caruana sealed his final victory on Tuesday (poor old Gata Kamsky…) . So with the world media eagerly casting its gaze upon London in November, how can British chess clubs capitalise?

Its been eighteen years since the chess world championship match was last held in the UK and 25 years since a British born candidate battled for the crown.  Last year I wrote several impassioned pieces to the Bristol chess community (and wider UK chess scene) about embracing digital technology to help promote and grow chess clubs.  As part of my call to arms I pointed out that the Bristol & District Chess League experienced a massive boom in membership in 1993, the year of the Kasparov vs. Short match.  League membership over 1993 / 94 was an astonishing 635 league members (from 450ish in 1992) and indeed the numbers remained above 500 until 1998 (today it hovers around the 300 mark). Admittedly, the league did not see an equivalent boom for the London held Kramnik vs. Kasparov so perhaps the lack of home grown talent didn’t pull in local interest?

But its fair to say that in 2018 and in an age of ubiquitous connectivity the amount of online searches and general public interest in our ancient game is likely to increase again in the run up to and during the championship.  Those clubs that are prepared to ride this wave of renewed interest will reap the rewards in terms of membership so lets look at some ideas for British clubs cashing in on world championship fever.

World Championship Fan Parks & Events

If football can have fan parks I fail to see why chess players can’t hire a room in a pub and stream the delights of Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler (editors note – other streaming services are available).

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The double act of Jan and Peter would make a great Chess Fan park when pumped through speakers on a large screen in the back of pub!

I constantly hear British players bemoan the lack of Chess on the TV and sometimes wonder if they have ever heard of the internet? The quality of streamed chess from major providers such as chess.com and chess24 really is very high (lets not talk about the official world chess coverage) and I love the idea of opening up the club house or hiring a room with some boards where the club members of all strengths and abilities can get together and watch the highlight of the chess calendar together.  Imagine running some fun blitz events around the sides where passing members of the public could stop and ask questions about chess and how they can get involved.

 

Social Media and mobile friendly websites

At the risk of banging a very worn down drum, if your club hasn’t updated its website with clear contact details and at the very least set up a Facebook and Twitter account then now is the time to get on it.  You have 8 months before the world championship begins and all that lovely juicy online search traffic starts Googling “chess club in my local area“. If you don’t believe me that this has an effect then talk to either Horfield chess club or North Bristol chess club in the Bristol league who have both seen growth in excess of 25% this season since starting online promotions.

Hold open nights for beginners

How many times are you sat blitzing in a pub with a mate when someone walking past, stops and wistful looks down at the board?  You all know the type of person I mean.  They pause for what they think is a few seconds and are still stood gazing minutes later.  They often depart by saying “I used to love chess at school” or something similar.  Its these people who, come the world championship, suddenly spark up the courage of their convictions again to contact a club.  Lets make it easy for them shall we?

Why not start publicising events and welcome evenings in conjunction with the world championship games?  “In celebration of the Chess World Championship we welcome all beginners free of charge to a our club on Tuesday” etc etc. Perhaps the games are again screened in the background and some stronger players are on hand to welcome and provide some light coaching.

Conclusion

Above are just three ideas that a proactive chess club could embrace to help make the most of the world championship match.  Carlsen vs. Caruana promises to be one to remember and will certainly help alter the public perception of chess with two young players, raised in the age of powerful chess computers and the internet, battling it out for the ultimate prize. Its not often that such a clash occurs on our shores and I feel it would be a real shame if British chess clubs did not grab this golden opportunity to (re)invigorate themselves.

Finally, if you like any of the ideas above or are planning any other activities with your local club then i’d love to hear about it.  As a community if we share ideas then we can ensure that clubs across the country benefit and help one another when the World Championship rolls around.

We have 8 months.  The work starts now.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

Three times Carlsen took down the Berlin Defence in the World Chess Championship

The World Championship Candidates 2018 starts today in Berlin.  The winner travels to London to face Magnus Carlsen in the World Chess Championship 2018.  I am sure the British chess community must be very excited to have the world crown decided on our fair isles and I am sure lots of South West based players will be traveling to watch the match in November. To celebrate the start of the candidates, The Bristol Chess Times decided to take a look at the dreaded Berlin defence in an attempt to offer some hope to amateur players with the white pieces!

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A strong field of Super-GMs will compete in the Candidates in Berlin but who will make it all the way to London?

The Berlin Defence wouldn’t have the nickname the “Berlin Wall” if it wasn’t rock solid.  Whilst it has been thoroughly examined at the highest circles of chess what is a budding club player to do with the white pieces against such a solid road block? Don’t get me wrong.  Despite being an ambitious amateur, I am not arrogant enough to believe that I can crack the Berlin wall myself!

Instead, and to honour the build up to the world championship in London, I decided to showcase three examples of white victories in the Berlin from the reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen, in his last two world championship finals.

My hope is that by looking at these games this post will inspire our readership to both remember to get a ticket for the finals in London but also have faith that the Berlin wall can fall (even if you have to be Magnus Carlson to do it!).

Enjoy!

World Championship 2014: Game 2

Carlsen drew blood as early as Game 2 in Sochi by adopting a quiet closed approach to the Berlin with an early d3.  He started a kingside attack but it was his control of the e file and battery of heavy pieces that eventually allowed him to crash through.

World Championship 2014: Game 11

Alternatively in the game that sealed Carlsen’s defence of his title, he chose well known lines of the open variation where the queens come off early and white (apparently) has a slight edge with superior pawns. Carlsen won the exchange and a pawn but Anand had dangerous united and passed a and b pawns on the 6th rank.  However, the white king was in time and Carlsen prevailed against the Berlin in a crucial game.

World Championship 2016: Game 10

A marathon game that I believe (editors note – source needed) holds the record for the second longest game in the history of the World Chess Championships (after game 5 of Korchnoi vs. Karpov, 1978).  Carlsen needed to win to level the match and was rapidly running out of whites.  Another quiet and closed choice vs. the Berlin led to a long endgame struggle but Carlsen’s incredible technique eventually ground down Karjakin’s defence.  If this is what it takes to defeat the Berlin then no wonder amateur players struggle!

 


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

Bristol’s Forgotten World Chess Champion

She was “the leading lady player of the world” (1) and “known throughout the length and breadth of the land” (2) in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The pinnacle of her career was winning the first international women’s chess tournament in 1897, but she lived a life of genteel poverty and died almost forgotten.

 

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Mary Rudge

Mary Rudge was born in Leominster on the 6th February 1842 to Henry and Eliza Rudge (3). Henry was a surgeon and “very fond of chess and played a fairly strong game, though he never took part in public chess. He taught the moves to his elder daughters, and they in turn taught Miss Mary”(4). Leominster was a small town and could not have provided much in the way of serious competition, so it is unsurprising that the first record of Mary playing chess is in a correspondence tournament in 1872 (5). The first mention of over the board competition is in August 1874 when Mary played in Class II at the Meeting of the Counties’ Chess Association, at Birmingham (6).

Two months later Dr Rudge died, leaving Mary, 32, and her sister, Caroline, 41, to fend for themselves. Both women were unmarried and they went to live with their brother Henry in Bristol. Henry was 37, also unmarried, and had been a curate at St John Evangelist, Whiteladies Road, Clifton since 1870 (7).

Mary started playing chess seriously and, for her, the move to Bristol was particularly fortuitous. Bristol had a long chess history; the Bristol Chess Club was formed in 1829 or 1830 and is thought to be the first English club outside London. More importantly for this story, in 1872, the new Bristol and Clifton Chess Club Association voted to admit women:

“During the year the vice-president proposed that ladies should be admitted to the Club as associates, at an annual subscription of 5s.,which was agreed to. We believe that no members of the softer sex were admitted as subscribers, by any chess club in this country, prior to this date.” (8).

Although Burt’s claim is very doubtful – there are examples going back to the eighteenth century (9) – Mary had ended up in a place that was going to give her the opportunity to play competitive chess.

The first mention of Mary in Bristol is in 1875 when she played Blackburne – who gave a blindfold simultaneous display against ten opponents. The following year she played in another blindfold simultaneous display given by Zukertort (10). At this stage Mary had not made much of an impact on the chess world. When John Burt wrote his history of the Bristol Chess Club in 1883, Mary was considered worth just two very brief mentions. If she had been recognized as a leading woman player at this time then Burt would surely have recorded it.

The arrival of Henry’s sisters must have caused a major upheaval in his life and, in particular, a need for new accommodation. Before 1876, Henry does not appear in the residents’ lists. In 1876-77, he was living at Walmer Villa, 48 Wellington Park, Clifton. This house may have been owned by St John’s, because when he moved to become curate of another church, St Thomas, Bristol, in 1878, he also moved house to 8 Burlington Buildings (now Burlington Road) Clifton. Perhaps Henry’s new post at St Thomas still did not bring in enough money because the Rudges had a new plan. The following year they took over the new Luccombe House Preparatory School on Redland Green; Henry became the schoolmaster and we can assume his sisters helped with the teaching (11). The school was described as providing “’high class education for boys, 7-11. Efficient masters providing a thorough grounding for public schools.” (12). The venture may have started successfully because Henry gave up his curate’s post in 1881, but by 1885 things were going wrong. In January, the school was advertising for pupils (13), but by August it seems the school closed and the Rudges left (14).

Henry moved to become curate at North Meols (15), near Southport, but Mary stayed in Bristol. What happened immediately after the school closure is not clear – Mary did not appear in two matches that autumn that she would normally have played in (16). But she eventually reappeared on the chess scene and this time she quickly began to make a real impact. This is all the more remarkable as she was already 45 years old. On 12th March 1887 she played on board six for Bristol against Bath at the Imperial Hotel, Bristol, and she got a draw against a Mr W E Hill. At the beginning of 1888, Rudge played and won on board six for Bristol & Clifton against City Chess & Draughts Club (17), and then drew with Blackburne in a simultaneous display on 1st March (18). The following year Mary must have really made the men sit up and take notice as she won the challenge cup of Bristol & Clifton Chess Club (19). However, the very same month (June 1889), Mary was in dire financial straits.

‘Our readers will be sorry to hear that Miss M. Rudge, of Clifton, is at present in very depressed pecuniary circumstances; so much so that she has felt obliged (though most reluctantly) to give her consent to an appeal being made on her behalf. We are sure English chessplayers will not allow one of their best lady players to remain in actual, though it is to be hoped only temporary, want, and contributions for its relief, however small, will be thankfully received by the Rev. C.E. Ranken, St Ronan’s, Malvern, and acknowledged by him privately to the donors.’ (20)

Perhaps the school venture had wiped out any funds or legacy that had once existed. Mary was reduced to relying on a form of charity, as she became a companion to various ladies. The most important of these ladies was Mrs FF Rowland, who lived at Clontarf, near Dublin, and also Kingstown. Frideswide Rowland was a significant figure in late nineteenth-century chess, both as a problemist and, with her husband, Thomas B Rowland, as a chess journalist and writer of chess books. And so Mary started alternating between living in Bristol and Ireland.

By September 1889, Mary was living in Clontarf where, possibly inspired by Mrs Rowland, she composed and published a chess problem (in the Clontarf Parochial Magazine) (21). She also gave a simultaneous display – she won all six games (22) – and it is possible that she was the first woman in the world to perform a ‘simul’. By November Mary was being hailed as “the leading lady player in the world”(23).

Meanwhile, brother Henry was still in Lancashire. By 1889 he had moved a short distance to Church Town, Southport (24). The same year he succeeded in getting a new post, as Curate and then Rector of St Mary, Newent, Gloucestershire (25). It appears that Mary decided not, or was not invited, to move to Newent. In any case, Henry was destined not to enjoy his new post for long; he died in September 1891.

Over the next few years, Mary took part in various competitions, playing for Bristol & Clifton, (26) and for Gloucestershire, (27) and also moving to Dublin for several months at a time. She won the Ladies’ Challenge Cup in Cambridge in 1890 and was third in Class II. By now, the British Chess Magazine could describe Mary as “known throughout the length and breadth of the land” (28).

In 1896, Mary won Class II at the Southern Counties’ tournament, at the Imperial Hotel. Mr Stevenson tied for first place, with a score of 61⁄2. The latter beat Mary in their game, then waived his right to play off, giving Mary the first prize of £5 (29).

The following year, 1897, the first international women’s chess tournament was held at the Ladies’ Club in London. Twenty players entered. Two rounds per day were played, with a time limit of twenty moves in one hour. Some expressed concern that the event would be too taxing for the ladies.

It is likely that Mary was urged to enter and her supporters may have raised money to enable her to stay for a couple of weeks in London. If so, it was worthwhile as Mary sailed through the event undefeated with eighteen wins and one draw.

“Miss Mary Rudge, of Clifton, won her games in the eighteenth and final rounds of the International Chess Tournament, played in London, at the Ladies’ Chess Club, on Saturday. Miss Rudge came out as first prize winner of £60, her full score being 181⁄2 points.”(30) 

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The first women International Tournament, London 1897.  Mary is top centre

The British Chess Magazine commented her play was marked by a lack of risk taking and published only highlights of her games, but they did confirm the status of the event:

“Rudge in capital form, … displayed those qualities of steadiness and tenacity for which she is renowned. … Her play was marked throughout by care, exactitude and patience. Someone said of her, ‘She doesn’t seem to care so much to win a game as to make her opponent lose it.’ She risked nothing, she never indulged in fireworks for the purpose of startling the gallery; if she got a Pawn she kept it and won, if she got a piece she kept it and won, if she got a “grip” she kept it and won, if she got a winning position she kept it and won. Not that she always outplayed her opponents in the openings, or even in the mid-games, for the reverse was sometimes the case; but risking nothing she always managed to hold her game together, and then in the end her experience as a tournament player and her skill in end positions came in with powerful effect.’”

“Miss Mary Rudge has for long enjoyed the reputation of being the strongest lady chessplayer in the world, and the fact that she has carried off the first prize in the present tournament, thereby becoming entitled to style herself lady chess champion of the world, is very satisfactory to her many friends.”(31)

At the age of 55, Mary had reached the pinnacle of her career. It is certain that the £60 prize money was also very welcome. Afterwards it was back to the more mundane life of playing in Bristol and Dublin.

In 1898 Mary played against the men’s world champion, Emanuel Lasker, in a simultaneous display at the Imperial Hotel. Lasker was unable to finish all the games in the time available (32) and Mary’s was one of those unfinished. Mrs Rowland described how Lasker had been winning but made a mistake. He graciously conceded defeat in this game when it was unfinished at the call of time because he would be lost with best play (33). She continued to play for Bristol and for Gloucestershire.(34) The following year, Mary was playing in Dublin “with great success”(35).

Mary’s health deteriorated sometime in the next few years. Her sister Caroline died in 1900 leaving her on her own. In 1912, there was a new appeal for funds. The Cork Weekly News published the following announcement by Mrs F.F. Rowland:

‘Miss Mary Rudge is the daughter of the late Dr Rudge, and after his death she resided with her brother, who kept a school, but since his decease she is quite unprovided for, her sisters are also dead, and she is without any income of any kind. She lived as companion with various ladies, and was for some years resident with Mrs Rowland, both at Clontarf and Kingstown. Whilst at Clontarf, she played in the Clontarf team in the Armstrong Cup matches, and proved a tough opponent, drawing with J. Howard Parnell and winning many a fine game. She was also engaged at the DBC to teach and play in the afternoons. At the Ladies’ International Congress, London, she took first prize (£60), making the fine score of 191⁄2 in 20, the maximum [181⁄2 from 19, in fact]. Miss Rudge held the Champion Cup of the Bristol Chess Club, prior to Messrs H.J. Cole and F.U. Beamish. Miss Rudge is now quite helpless from rheumatism and is seeking admission into a home or (if possible) the Dublin Hospital for Incurables. A fund is being collected for present expenses, pending her admission, and chessplayers are asked to help – either by influence or money. Donations may be sent to Mrs Rowland, 3 Loretto Terrace, Bray, Co. Wicklow, or to Mrs Talboys, 20 Southfield Park, Cotham, Bristol.’(36)

The next few years must have been very difficult indeed. In 1918, Mary attempted to solve her financial problems when a cousin, James Barrett, died intestate. Mary claimed to be sole next of kin, but another Barrett claimed to be the grandson of the deceased’s uncle and hence sole heir (37). Mary’s claim appears to have failed (38).

Mary moved, at some point, to Truro and then to the British Home for Incurables, Streatham. She died in Guys Hospital, London, on 22 November 1919. The British Chess Magazine accorded her just three lines:

“As we go to press we learn with great sorrow of the death, at Streatham last month, of Miss Mary Rudge, winner of the International Ladies’ Tournament in 1897.” (39)

So how good a player was Mary Rudge? Although she was considered the best woman player in the world it is doubtful that she was all that strong. A reasonable indicator of her strength is that she played around boards 4 to 8 for both Bristol & Clifton and for Gloucestershire, and that she played in the second strongest section (Class II) of tournaments at regional and national level. So, relative to her male contemporaries, she was not as strong as a top female player of today, but this is not to belittle her achievements. She played chess at a time when women were not encouraged to play, in fact often positively discouraged. She also started at a late age for a chess player and had her greatest success at 55. In contrast, when the first official women’s world championship tournament was held, it was a 21 year old, Vera Menchik, who was victorious. By coincidence, the tournament was also in London, almost exactly thirty years after Mary’s triumph, and Vera won by a similar score: ten wins, one draw, no losses.

Mary deserves to be better recognised and remembered as a pioneer of women’s chess. A blue plaque in Bristol would be a good start, but we need to find a building to place it on. Her only definite address in Bristol, Luccombe House, no longer exists (40). Perhaps a good alternative would be the Imperial Hotel where she played on many occasions, and the venue for her near-win against Lasker. The Hotel is now named Canynge Hall and it is the home of the University of Bristol’s Department of Social Medicine.

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Imperial Hotel – now Canynge Hall 

References

  • 1 Colombia Chess Chronicle, 1 November 1889, pp 92-93, quoted in Winter, E, Chess Note 3281
  • 2 British Chess Magazine (BCM), 1890, p264.
  • 3 General Register Office, reference March 1842 Leominster XXVI/194. The date of birth is often given, erroneously, as 1845.
  • 4 BCM, 1897, p289.
  • 5 Personal e-mail from C.P.Ravilious, saying Tim Harding has record of Mary playing in the first correspondence tournament of The Amateur Chess Magazine (Ed James T.C.Chatto) which began in the summer of 1872.
  • 6 Burt J, The Bristol Chess Club, 1883.
  • 7 Crockford’s Clergy List, 1889. 
  • 8 Burt, J, op cit.
  • 9 BCM, 2004, p666.
  • 10 ibid.
  • 11 1881 Census, RG11, 2504 / 23, 39.
  • 12 Web site: bristolinformation.co.uk/schools/
  • 13 Clifton Chronicle & Directory (CCD),
  • 14 January 1885. 14 CCD, Rev H Rudge is listed at Luccombe House up to 12 August 1885, but no one is listed at that address for the rest of the year.
  • 15 Clergy List for 1886.
  • 16 CCD, 18 November 1885. The two matches were an internal club match over twelve boards and an 8-board match against Oxford University.
  • 17 CCD, 18 January 1888.
  • 18 BCM, 1888, pp186-7. 
  • 19 CCD, 5 June 1889.
  • 20 BCM, 1889, p231.
  • 21 CCD, 11 September 1889.
  • 22 CCD, 30 October 1889.
  • 23 Colombia Chess Chronicle, op cit.
  • 24 Crockford’s Clergy List, 1889.
  • 25 Crockford’s Clergy List, 1890.
  • 26 BCM, 1894, p48; BCM, 1895, pp 17, 68, 511.
  • 27 BCM 1895, p220.
  • 28 BCM, 1890, p264. 
  • 29 BCM, 1896, p389.
  • 30 CCD, 7 July 1897. 
  • 31 BCM, 1897, p285-296.
  • 32 CCD, 30 November 1898, gives the story of Lasker not finishing but does not mention Mary by name.
  • 33 Weekly Irish Times, 14 January 1899.
  • 34 BCM, 1898, p200.
  • 35 BCM, 1899, p454. 
  • 36 Source: American Chess Bulletin, May 1912, page 112, quoted in Winter, E, Chess Note 3281.
  • 37 London Gazette, 2 August 1918.
  • 38 London Gazette, 8 November 1918.
  • 39 British Chess Magazine, 1920, p13, quoted in Winter, E, Chess Note 3281.
  • 40 Personal e-mail from G Nichols, 17 January 2004.

 


johnrichardsblogJohn Richards

John has been playing for Horfield for longer than anyone else cares to remember (but was actually 1983). Never quite managing to get to a 180 grade, he is resigned to the fact that he probably never will. He set up the original Bristol League website and has been, at various times League General Secretary, Recruitment and Publicity, Chess Times Editor, Bristol 4NCL Manager and an ECF Arbiter.

The 71st Bristol Chess Championships: March 2nd to 4th 2018

In the thriving Bristol chess scene we typically have four weekend congresses a year (in line with the four seasons). What a lot of people don’t realise is that the Spring congress is also the occurrence of the Bristol Championships when the highest placed Bristol & District League player can claim the crown of Bristol Champion.  The championships are 71 years old this year so the Bristol Chess Times decided to find out more.

 

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The perennial Congress question: “Do I take the Friday night bye?”. Perhaps the hardest task facing the 2018 Bristol Champion

On the weekend of March 2nd-4th the 71st Bristol Chess Championships takes place at the Sixth Form Centre at Bristol Grammar School in the heart of Bristol. Grandmaster Keith Arkell (2411) is already signed up as is Bristol based International Master Chris Beaumont (2259).  In addition, Downend’s Attila Reznak (2280) adds to a strong field in the Open.  The Open carries Prize money of £260 for first, £130 for second and £65 for third.

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CEO of UK startup Chessable, David Kramaley will also be in attendance.

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The university will also be contributing a number of strong contenders

However, the beauty of the Bristol Championships is that its not just about who wins the Open.  A Major section (U160 ECF) and Minor section (U120 ECF) also enable two further champions to be crowned (which also carries first place prise money of £180 and £140 respectively).

It should be pointed out that anyone can enter the Bristol Championships (and are encouraged to from other leagues, counties and cities!) but the titles of Bristol Champion in the Open, Major and Minor categories are only awarded to the highest placed Bristol & District league players.  This makes the Bristol Championships an excellent choice for any league players who want a cracking weekend of competition, with a shot at winning something but might be unnerved by the presence of all those titled players!

Here are the last five years of Bristol Champions:

Open

  • 2016/17 – Carl Bicknell
  • 2015/16 – Stephen Meek
  • 2014/15 – Richard Savory
  • 2013/14 – James Cobb
  • 2012/13 – David Buckley

Major

  • 2016/17 – Andrew Borkowski
  • 2015/16 – James Hennefeld
  • 2014/15 – Alan Papier
  • 2013/14 – Alex Rossiter
  • 2012/13 – Harvey Atkinson

Minor

  • 2016/17 – Grant Daly
  • 2015/16 – Jason Blaxill
  • 2014/15 – Kevin Langmaid
  • 2013/14 – Richard Porter
  • 2012/13 – Alastair Marsten

The Bristol Congress Website contains the full Hall of Fame of Bristol Champions going back to the inaugural competition in 1947/48! In a subsequent article I fully intend to explore the history of Chess in Bristol.

All three champions receive trophies but even if you can’t win one (because you are not a Bristol & District league player), the congress still promises to offer an excellent weekend of chess in the centre of one of the UK’s best cities just as Spring starts to break and the sun starts to shine (editors note – ok I’m bias, I know).  Whats not to like?!

Here is a PDF download to the entry form:

71stBristolChampionshipsCongress (PDF)

Alternatively, contact Igor Doklestic (Congress Secretary) on chessinbristol@gmail.com.

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Igor Doklestic, the Bristol & District Chess League Congress Secretary and all around top bloke!


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Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.