* *September 2005* *
The chess world was saddened by news of the recent death of Leslie Stuart, one of the greatest local characters.
He won the famous Northumberland Zollner Trophy in 1949 and 1951 and was runner-up in the British Championship in 1952.
Leslie a Darlington regular in his latter days was always ready to encourage juniors.
This month’s column is a small collection of vignettes from the illustrate various chess moments from his long and fascinating life…
The Pin Variation
Although throughout his latter years he tended to avoid modern theory - often resorting to the London System and King’s Indian Attack, in which the main battle will usually take place in the middle game - he did enter a major theoretical debate from the Black side, with the Pin Variation of the Sicilian Defence.
After 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Bb4 Leslie specialised in the enormous tactical complications resulting from the critical White attempt: 6 e5 Ne4 7 Qg4 Qa5!?
Tim Wall worked with Leslie on this variation and used it against some very strong players. An article in the BCM (July 1996) by Andrew Martin shed a little light on the depth of preparation involved in this line. The statistics are very much in White’s favour, but over the board it is clear that the better-prepared player will have the better chances.
The line even made it into the GAMBIT book ‘101 Chess Opening Surprises’.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.e5 Ne4 7.Qg4 Qa5 8.Qxe4 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Qxc3+ 10.Kd1 Qxa1 11.Nb5 d5 12.Qb4 Nc6 13.Nc7+ Kd8 14.Qd6+ Bd7 15.Nxa8
16.Bd3 Qxe5 17.Bf4 Qa1+ 18.Bc1 Qe5 19.Bf4 Qa1+ 20.Bc1 Qe5 with a repetition in the offing. Graham Burgess gives Leslie credit for the analysis, but unfortunately changed his surname to ‘Stewart’ in the process.
The first time I played Leslie was at the Redcar Open 1988, when he had made an effort to return to regular chess tournaments after a lengthy absence. He defended well for some time but slowly the position was resolving itself in my favour. Eventually I built up a winning advantage, but it had cost me a lot of time on the clock. In my time trouble, things started to go wrong.
After 24 moves the position was clearly winning for me.
My 41st move was very bad but with my flag hanging and the time-control at move 45
41 Qxf7?? g5+! 0-1
Thereafter we would chat at various tournaments but didn’t meet over the board until many years later, at the Middlesbrough Open 2002. We reached this position from the opening:
I won the game and in the post-mortem Leslie made reference to Black’s opening scheme, calling it ‘Willie Winter’s’ opening. Like many others, I had been brought up calling this set-up after Botvinnik but a quick Chessbase search proved quite revealing; Leslie was of course quite correct, and there were several examples of William Winter adopting that particular pawn structure before Botvinnik popularized it.
Our third and final encounter was my very last Rapidplay game to date. Needing a win to share first place at one of Graham Marshall’s Hartlepool events, I provoked complications and my octogenarian opponent was up to the challenge.
A pawn sacrifice was followed by: 21 Bxg5 hxg5 22 Nxg5 Bf5 23 Be4 Qc8 and now…
24 g4! brought the attack forward. Leslie battled hard after emerging a piece down; he was never easy to finish off. In this same tournament he defeated a famous former county champion and made an impressive ‘plus’ score overall.
The 1952 British Championship
The following article first appeared in the Durham County Chess Bulletin, November 1988. It is a fascinating piece of writing and I thought it would make a fitting tribute to reprint it here. (I am very grateful to Paul Bielby for granting me permission to do so.) So here, for the first time since 1988, is the full, unexpurgated text of this fantastic article….
Chester 1952; Blackpool 1988. A Very Personal View
By E.L. Stuart
When in the late Spring your editor suggested I might write a piece describing the 1952 BCF Congress at Chester, I mentioned that I was going to Blackpool in the summer, and we agreed it might be quite interesting instead to compare, or contrast, the two BCF Congresses I would have participated in at a remove of 36 years. The word is contrast - the difference nearly that of chalk from cheese; and that most hackneyed expression is in fact apt, since the Congresses were markedly dissimilar both in 'flavour' and content.
First, Chester - where I arrived pretty naive and open-eyed, after a nine year 'lay-off' from outbreak of was in 1939 to my return to England in late 1948 followed by a three-year parochial stint in and around Newcastle. Focus of interest, the Championship: entry gained by beating Gerald Abrahams (see long article in the July 1988 BCM) in the NCCU Final, much to his surprise and even more mine.
The Congress comprised: British Championship (Swiss) with 28 competitors; Major Open; First Second and Third Class; and Juniors (Under-18). No Ladies Championship (one competitor, Eileen Tranmer, in the Championship); no 'Veteran Championship' (one 'veteran' also in the Championship, E.G. Sergeant). Total entry just over 100.
Two preliminary points seem worth making for any younger readers. First, there were then very few congresses indeed in England, except for the BCF and Hastings and the Paignton Congress, inaugurated the year before, only a very occasional congress in celebration of something or other. None, of course, of the weekend congresses no so prolific. Secondly, there were no 'gradings'; it was several years later that a first grading system (in bands - 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B etc) was instituted. So that unless someone had a 'reputation', or had been encountered over the board, his strength was largely a matter of surmise.
The Congress seemed to me well enough organised; good playing arrangements, adequate information, satisfactory control, Rate of play, 40 in 2.5 hours - flatteringly Grandmaster style. Pretty lengthy adjournments. Of the tournaments other than the Championship, I could say very little. Perhaps the most interesting point is that the winner of the Major Open, ahead of S. Milan of Stockport, was a US airman stationed at a camp nearby.
As to the Championship itself, it was, by common account, one of the weakest ever. This was largely because it coincided with the Helsinki Olympiad, where England finished 16th; thus, there were missing Golombek, Milner-Barry, Jonathan Penrose who, playing in his first Olympiad and one of the youngest of all the competitors, scored a splendid 65% on board 1/2), Barden and Hooper. Alexander was otherwise occupied.
Then well-known competitors, perhaps recalled by some readers, included: Bob Wade, Peter Clarke, Alan Phillips, Gerald Abrahams (mentioned above), Barry Wood, H. Israel and Scottish Champion, J.M. Aitken. All readers will know two other competitors; Tom Wise and Peter Oakley (then, however, of Chesham).
I at that time knew, apart from Abrahams, only R.F. Boxall, a strong player who dropped early out of the chess scene. I hadn't played Tom Wise - though that was soon remedied, since we met in the first round.
Far from offering a round-by-round commentary, which would interest no one, I want to make, with hindsight, a few general points. Two linked by common theme; consistency, or rather, the lack of it. Sergeant, for example, scored 4.5 from his first five games, but only one draw from the other six; he may have tired, but even A.Y. Green, a much younger man, leading at the end of the first week, then lost four games in a row.
Alan Phillips, well in the lead later with seven points out of eight games finished on the same score (he blamed me(!) When I met him again for the first time, a couple of months ago in the Manchester Congress since he lost to me in the ninth round and continued downhill. I should add, however, that he'd by then (36 years) got over it, inviting me home to share a bottle of wine, etc!).
The other manifestation of lack of consistency was in the nature of the play. Many up-and-down games, with the advantage dissipated, or even changing hands; a lack of incisiveness, of the 'killer' instinct. (I'm not disassociating myself from this; quite the contrary - I still suffer from it. I recall that in a league match last season, my opponent losing the exchange in the early opening by an error, I made such a meal of it that by the adjournment I'd lost nearly all advantage - in fact winning only by an adjudication appeal. At the adjournment I jokingly remarked to Dave Mooney who'd been playing on the other side nearby, 'You’d have finished that off a bit more efficiently' to which, with characteristics terseness, he replied: 'He’d have been dead!')
I might add - though the point won't be new to the majority of readers - that in that era there was less incisiveness and 'bite' in the early opening generally, a more leisurely build-up. In that context it will be common knowledge that was then far less 'theory', but beyond that even quite strong club players still often aimed in fact at no more than a decent position, to enable them to get on with the real game. Higher up, of course, and even more so at the top, it was already very different.
The other general point - with hindsight playing an even greater part - is the pervading amateurism. Not only in a narrow sense - there was then only one 'professional' player (Wade) - but in the general approach and atmosphere. Something of what has been said in the previous few paragraphs is, I suppose, itself an illustration of this.
So (it's obligatory, isn't it?) to the result - in doubt, as is usual, till the last round. And that saw a strange turn of events; Wade, leading with eight points and Phillips lying second with seven both lost; H. Israel and I on six and a half played to a hard endgame draw; and the three players on six, Boxall, Clarke and P.N. Wallis all won. So Wade ended up clear winner, with no less than six sharing second place (still a record?). Peter Oakley and Tom Wise finished around mid-way, Peter catching up a by then rather dejected E.G. Sergeant and beating Abrahams on the way, and Tom making a fine finishing burst of three and half from four.
Alan Phillips had the consolation of sharing first place with Barden only two years later (1954). Bob Wade won again in 1970, in an immeasurably stronger Championship.
Facts point much of the difference. The Congress comprised: British Championship (68 competitors, including David Walker and Peter Hempson, runner-up at Washington; eight grandmasters, 24 International Masters, one WGM; three WIMs); Major Open (88 competitors, including Tim Wall and me); British Ladies Open Championship (three woman Masters); British Veterans Championship (including that indefatigable pair of regular past winners, H. Golombek and P.C. Hoad); an All-Play-All of several sections; 6 (Swiss) 5-day tournaments; British Junior Championships for every year from Under-9 to Under-18; plus two differentially-graded weekend tournaments And a One-Day Quickplay. Over 500 competitors in all (a BCF record), including over 270 juniors (no less than 4 in the Under-9 section).
Surveying all this, I was again open-eyed, even though several weekend tournaments had acquainted me with the sight of these babes-in-arms! (Indeed, since Blackpool, as recently as Harrogate, I found myself playing in the Open a - very composed - 12 year old (149j), one of Brian Eley's protégés; the pair of us must have been contenders for an age-gap record!).
Organisation overwhelming, All games in one vast hall, with two 'analysis rooms'; incredibly swift posting of results; half a dozen demonstration boards, very efficiently maintained; a full daily commentary in a another hall with an IM and the BCM National Organiser, and 'audience participation' (Dunce's caps for suggestions shown to be inferior; I soon won one on the occasion my game finished early and was about to gain the distinction of being given another - for a tactical stroke in a baddish but complex position - only that Murshed went on himself to play this line...and duly lost). naive as ever, I found out only after round six one other interesting organisational item, and that was that for 10p one could get photocopy of any game in one's tournament - or even perhaps in an y of the main tournaments - I had begun to wonder why couple of my opponent s had seemed well prepared for me, but the play served me in good stead in a later game when I concluded that my 205 rated opponents was addicted to a particular Bishop sortie and quite put him off by not allowing it!
The whole atmosphere at Blackpool was very different from that at Chester…chess, chess, chess. A ‘Chessic’ function every evening, including a Speelman simul, a ‘question and answer’ session with IMs in attendance and the odd GM looking in; a session - very useful for juniors and the odd adult - of brief coaching with IMs at £1 a go, as well as the inevitable Lightning.
A good deal of time was spent avidly following results and post-game analysis (and doubtless, ‘preparation’), with may of the younger juniors ‘skittling’ away like mad. (And I haven’t mentioned the ‘top of a tram’ Tournament the day before formal play - which secured more publicity than anything else). What also contributed to a sense of pervasive chess was the timing of the Tournaments; while the main events started at 2.15 p.m. the hall was a very busy place from 9.30 a.m., so that when one looked in to see whom one was meeting in the next round the scene looked much the same.
All this, of course, will be ‘old hat’ to those who have attended BCF Congresses in the this modern era; and they will be blasé, as I was not, about the sight of all the ‘Mums’ (nearly all very middle-class) watching adoringly their talented offspring!
So much for the atmosphere or ‘flavour; - a bit of a hothouse effect, I reflected, though at the same time very stimulating.
As to the real object of the exercise, and therefore the course of events and the play, what to say? Those interested in the leading results and perhaps in picking up some tips will have looked at the BCM and/or Chess. For the rest, it’s by now stale, anyway, and intrinsically less newsworthy than the Short v Speelman match or the latest International Congresses.
I’ll say only that I think it was generally conceded that Mestel had deserved his victory, but I didn’t see anything like the general enthusiasm which greeted the win by the universally popular Wade at Chester. I’m not, of course, suggesting that Jonathan Mestel is nit very popular - only that there was a tangible reaction to Bob Wade’s win; perhaps people are these days more ‘buttoned up.’
A little local colour. In the Championship, David Walker, in my estimation, and with fingers crossed, could feel content, with only half a point under 50% and only the same half point below GM Rogers (graded 2535!) and IMs Wells, Pritchett and Large; all his points were scored against rated opponents, with an average nearly 100 points above his own. Peter Hempson finished on the same score, after an exhilarating four and half in the first six rounds, in which he beat both GM Plaskett and IM Hebden.
My own interest this time round was in the Major Open. It was, of course, a very much stronger tournament than the Chester Major Open, though I should judge the relative disparity is a good deal less marked than that between the two Championships. Tim Wall was the other Northeast contestant. He, too, had, I would think, reason to be content. A score of six and a half in strong company - and he was unlucky not to score higher; I myself saw two endgames where very persistent opponents resisted (not ‘to the death’, since they obstinately refused to die!) in difficult (though not losing) positions.
I achieved only my minimum aim - a 50% score, though I was told, consolingly, by one of the controllers that I had a achieved ‘half a FIDE rating’! What the implication (if any) of that, or even of a full FIDE rating may be - save some sort of ‘Chessic snobbery’ - I haven’t an idea!
Did I, before the digression, make my point about ‘chalk and cheese’? Readers must judge. But so it seemed to me.
What I think it boils down to is what I adumbrated vis-a-vis Chester: professionalism. In the narrow sense, this is to state the absurdly obvious; count, and savour the GMs (even with Short and Speelman missing - preparing fore their match - and Nunn in a tournament abroad) and, if you can borrow some fingers, count the IMs. One doesn’t need to speak of their preparation and mastery of opening t theory and of technique.
More to the point, for us lesser mortals, is the extent to which these professional elements have seeped, or even cascaded, down to the very strong non-professionals(and, one should add, to the average or average-plus tournament and club player). Given a concrete advantage not merely material but positional) and these days the win doesn’t slip away; and the ‘draw’ is held. There is a near-universal; toughness now, stemming I think, mainly from so much tournament play, but also from so much excellent instructional literature and, for the younger generation, from coaching.
At Blackpool a reflection of this increased ‘toughness’ was to my mind the more onerous session of play in the main tournaments; 40 moves in two hours, then, without a break, after 20 in an hour; and, if then unlucky (or lucky?) enough to get an adjournment, resumption after an interval just long enough to get a meal. I pretty well circumvented all that! Only two of my games went beyond the four hours.
You’ll be saying that all these obiter dicta have nothing to do with the case - as some Gilbert and Sullivan character proclaimed. I have indeed strayed from my given theme. And enough is enough.
...and with those wise words it seems it is time to bring this month’s column to close…