Category Archives: Richard James

Wednesday in the Pub with Keith

My increasingly busy social life recently took me to the small riverside suburb of Thames Ditton, a short journey from me, to witness the start of a new English Chess Federation initiative to bring chess out of the ghetto and into the community at large by taking chess into local pubs, with a grandmaster taking on all-comers in an informal simul.

The first of these events, run by the ECF Publicity Manager Mark Jordan, took place at the George and Dragon (an appropriately chessy name, I suppose), and the guest grandmaster was none other than one of the heroes of last week’s article, Keith Arkell.

The event took place on a Wednesday, the club night of the local chess club, Surbiton, and their members, including IM Mike Basman, were out in force. Although the event was well enough supported, there were few from other clubs in the area (I was the only one from Richmond) and not a lot of interest from the locals. Not that the organisers weren’t doing their best: there was a placard outside the pub advertising the event (“Free Entry. Beginners Welcome.”). Of course it’s difficult. Chess has not had a high public profile for some time, and although grandiose claims are sometimes made about the number of chess players worldwide, the harsh truth is that most people who claim to play know little more than how the pieces move. They’ll look at you blankly if you try to make an en passant capture or mention Magnus Carlsen.

It was still a great evening, though. The pub was welcoming, the beer was excellent and the company was good. Keith is a perfect ambassador for chess: friendly, easy-going and approachable. I was able to play a game in the simul and get Keith to sign my copy of his book Arkell’s Odyssey, a sometimes painfully honest autobiography and games collection.

I had the chance to play Keith in the simul. Remembering Natasha Regan’s advice, and seeing her sitting two boards away from me, I knew I had to avoid two things: playing black in the QGD exchange and reaching a rook ending. So, as Keith sportingly gave everyone choice of colour, I selected the white pieces. My reaction to his unusual 5th move was pretty feeble (6. cxb5 or 6. c5 would have been more challenging) and I soon felt obliged to offer a queen exchange. I then followed the second part of my plan by trading off rooks as soon as possible. Needless to say, little good came of this. In the resulting minor piece ending Keith used his knights like Capablanca, but I was still in the game until trading off the wrong knight on move 34. It seemed natural to give him doubled pawns rather than a passed pawn but I suspected, correctly as it turned out, that my move was a mistake. In the resulting position his powerfully placed bishop and knight dominated my forces and he soon won a pawn. The engines tell me 34. Nxc4 was equal. This is something that happens time and time again in my games: not trusting my judgement to play the move I think is correct but doing something else instead because it vaguely looks right.

In the final game to finish Keith was left with knight, e and g pawns against his opponent’s knight and f-pawn. It was completely drawn but Keith entertained the spectators by playing on and on, manoeuvring this way and that, before eventually conceding the half point to his doughty opponent. Perhaps this explains one reason why Keith has been so successful over the years. His determination never to give up the fight for victory, allied to his consummate endgame skill, must have converted many drawn games into wins over the past 30 years or more.

You can see some photographs from the event here

Bridging the gap between social players and club players is, of course, very difficult. Perhaps clubs could do more to publicise themselves locally and be more welcoming to newcomers, perhaps offering coaching sessions or more general advice. Some clubs are good at this, others less so. I hope this will be the first of many such events attempting to bring grandmasters, club players and social players together. Congratulations to Mark Jordan and Keith Arkell, and also to the Surbiton members who supported the event, for making this a very enjoyable evening.

Richard James

Not Just for Christmas

The day before Nette Robinson’s chess gig you read about last week, I was lucky to be able to attend another great chess evening.

GM Matthew Sadler and WIM Natasha Regan visited my chess club to give a talk based on their new book Chess for Life. Matthew also played some simultaneous blitz chess before and after the talk. This volume looks at how chess players can maintain or even increase their playing strength in their forties, fifties or later in life, and was inspired in part by Matthew’s successful return to the game after a gap of 10 years.

The book features a series of case studies outlining this theme, along with interviews with a variety of players ranging from top grandmasters (Judit Polgar, Nigel Short, John Nunn, Jon Speelman, Yasser Seirawan) to strong amateurs.

Some chapters cover opening choices. We learn how Pia Cramling has made subtle changes in her 1. d4 white repertoire over several decades, and how Sergei Tiviakov developed and modified his pet Black defence to 1. e4: the Scandinavian with 3…Qd6.

Two of the book’s heroes are Capablanca and Keith Arkell, both of whom favour a style involving playing simple moves quickly, putting pieces on good squares and heading for the ending. Such a style will require less energy and be less stressful, leading to fewer time scrambles, and as such will be attractive to many older players.

Here’s Matthew Sadler describing his preparations for the 2013 London Classic Rapid tournament:

“I decided that I needed some inspiration, someone I could try to copy. A player who took decisions quickly, whose style was smooth and effortless who would help me out of the agony I was currently experiencing when trying to formulate a plan. You can imagine that I thought at once of Capablanca!”

Matthew demonstrated this Capablanca game which wasn’t included in the book, making particular reference to the way Capa used his knights. When one knight left a square there was another ready to take its place. This was an interesting idea for me as I’d read elsewhere about having your two knights on different circuits, which seemed like more or less the opposite advice!

What Matthew and Natasha didn’t know was that, for a short time between 1922 and 1923, Edward Guthlac Sergeant, the loser of this game, was living in Teddington, about half a mile from our club venue where the talk was taking place! About five years later, my mother and her family would move to Teddington, running a grocer’s shop just round the corner from Sergeant’s previous address. In 1934 they’d move again, into a house at the far end of Sergeant’s road, which is where I spent the first two years of my life. But that’s a story for another time and place.

In the second half of the evening Natasha spoke about Keith Arkell, and in particular his love of the QGD Exchange Variation and rook endings. Natasha provides some interesting statistics in the book. His results with the QGD exchange against 2400 players between 1987 and 2014 are nothing special: 16½/34, but against players rated 2200-2399 he scored a massive 27/34, and against players rated below 2200, an extraordinary 21/21.

Keith reaches a rook ending in 14.7% of his games compared with an average of 9.1%, well above the other players considered in this book. In comparison, Capablanca’s rook ending score was 11.6% and Karpov, rather surprisingly, slightly below average at 8.8%.

This game has everything: a QGD Exchange leading to a rook ending where Keith has an extra pawn with four pawns against three on the king side: one of his specialities.

You can see some photographs of the event here.

Meanwhile stop for a moment and think about the title of Matthew and Natasha’s book, which, by the way, I’d strongly urge you to buy.

Chess for Life. Chess is a game for all ages, not just a game for small children in primary school chess clubs. You can still play chess, and maintain most of your strength, into middle age and beyond. Think for a moment of the great Viktor Korchnoi, who recently left us. There was an old slogan for people thinking about buying their children a pet for Christmas. A pet is not just for Christmas: a pet is for life. The same is true about chess. Last week we heard how Nette Robinson brought chess into the community through combining a blitz tournament with a jazz concert. Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan are bringing chess into the community through a series of talks based on their book. Next week you’ll hear about another new idea about how to take chess out of the ghetto: one in which the aforementioned Keith Arkell is playing a part.

Richard James

Chess and Music Part 7: Nette Sings, Daniel Plays

If you were wondering why I was posting so much about chess and music, there was a good reason. It was inspired by a recent event which I was fortunate to be able to attend.

On Friday 6 May, jazz singer, artist and chess player Nette Robinson hosted an evening of chess and music in Hammersmith (as it happens, opposite my old school).

The format was a blitz tournament with the qualifying event before the gig and the semi-finals and finals, played on Purling Dark Chess boards, during the interval.

The blitz event was a 5-round Swiss with the top four going through to the semi-finals. Pall Thorarinsson (Iceland) won the qualifying tournament with 5/5, followed by FM Andy Smith (Ireland), Jim Stevenson (Scotland) and WIM Natasha Regan (England) on 3½/5. Other strong players such as David Okike (Nigeria) and Rick McMichael also took part, along with John Foley, Director of Educational Development and Training at Chess in Schools & Communities and Phil Ehr, former ECF Chief Executive. Stewart Reuben was also present at the event.

In the semi-finals two games were played, with each player having 3 minutes for each game. Andy Smith beat Jim Stevenson 2-0, while Pall Thorarinsson eventually defeated Natasha Regan in an Armageddon decider. The final, between Andy and Pall, also went to an Armageddon, and was decided when Pall made an illegal move. There were prizes of prints of Nette’s chess art for the successful participants.

The jazz band providing the music comprised Nette Robinson (vocals), Keith Arkell lookalike Dominic Ashworth (guitar), Andy Trim (drums) and Dan King (bass), with Nette’s husband Tony Woods playing the saxophone in some numbers. Yes – THAT Dan King. Daniel, alongside his talents in various aspects of chess, also has an exceptional gift for music, playing both acoustic and electric bass in various bands. Speaking to Nette and Tony after the gig, they were very complimentary about Daniel’s playing, saying that, although an amateur, he performs to professional standards.

It strikes me that this is exactly the sort of thing we should be doing a lot more of. We need to promote chess to adults as well as to young children. We need to take chess out of the ghetto of primary school chess clubs and draughty church halls and get the message out about what a great game chess really is for all ages. We also need to promote the message that chess is an art as well as a game, and, given Nette’s expertise in both art and music she is in an ideal position to do this. Being young, female, attractive, talented and charismatic also helps, of course!

I took some photographs at the event, which you can see here.

Clips from this and Nette and Daniel’s previous chess and music gig at the Bull’s Head in Barnes are not (yet) available online, but here’s a number from another Bull’s Head gig, featuring Nette’s Little Big Band. If you listen carefully you might just hear me clapping at the end.

Nette would admit that her chess is not yet at the same level as her music or art, but she’s making excellent progress. In this recent game played at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club, she defeats an opponent with a grade of 141.

Daniel doesn’t play so much these days, concentrating mainly on making DVDs, broadcasting, writing and teaching. Here’s a win from back in 1989, when he was much more active as a player.

Richard James

Chess and Music Part 6: Other Voices

These days it’s much harder to become a specialist in more than one field, but there are some who manage it. There are others who excel professionally in either chess or music while choosing the other as a hobby, or who play chess in their youth before switching to music.

In this week’s article I look at some lesser known examples of chess playing musicians in a variety of genres.

A musical contemporary of Smyslov and Taimanov, and, like the former, a baritone, Derek Hammond-Stroud (1926-2012) was a keen amateur chess player who competed regularly in the London League. His musical specialities were German song and opera, and Gilbert and Sullivan: you can see him here as Jack Point in a 1975 production of The Yeomen of the Guard, along with the delightful Valerie Masterson, who, as far as I know, doesn’t play chess. I haven’t been able to find any of his games online, but there may well be someone out there who played him and kept the score of the game.

While I never played Derek Hammond-Stroud in the London League, I did play my next musician there (it was a draw, since you ask, but not sufficiently interesting to post here). I also once played in a bridge tournament against the great violinist Alfredo Campoli, but that’s another story.

Welsh chess international Francis Rayner was an award-winning child prodigy pianist who continues to be very active in both music and chess. Listen to him here playing La Cathédrale Engloutie (the submerged cathedral), a beautiful piece by Debussy.

In this game Francis outplays GM Daniel King, about whose musical prowess you’ll hear much more next week.

Chess is not only popular amongst classical musicians. Leon Rosselson (1934-) has been writing and singing satirical and political songs for more than half a century. In this clip (and if you’re a Tory or a Republican you should probably look away) he’s performing alongside Hounslow’s finest, Robb Johnson, another political songwriter.

As a teenager, though, he was a promising chess player. Here’s a brilliancy prize winning game from the 1952 British Junior Championships.

Another folkie, Nic Jones (1947-), has been a passionate chess player all his life. As far as I know he’s never played competitively, but he’s clearly knowledgeable about the game as one of his albums, which has shamefully never been legally available on CD (the owner of the rights refuses to release them) The Noah’s Ark Trap. Here’s a lovely track from that album. Sadly Nic’s recording career was terminated by a catastrophic car accident in 1982, although he’s made some live appearances in recent years.

Moving on to the field of pop music, Bono (Paul Hewson) was an active club and tournament player as a young boy and claims to have played internationally, although his dad seems to dispute this. In 2014 he met Kasparov when Garry paid a visit to Dublin.

Ray Charles was, and Bob Dylan, for all I know, still is a keen chess player, but again neither played competitively and there seem to be no games available.

New age composer, pianist and singer Jason Kouchak (1969-), however, is a serious competitive player, and is also involved in many other aspects of the game. He installed a giant chess set for children in London’s Holland Park and is also involved with Chess in Schools & Communities. I’m afraid Jason’s music doesn’t appeal to me but that’s my loss: you may well feel differently. Here’s a sample with a chessy title.

Jason’s current FIDE rating is 1729 so he’s a decent player. Here’s a game against an American chess author.

Next week I’ll consider how chess and music can continue to work together: until then I hope you enjoy the games and at least some of the music.

Richard James

Chess and Music Part 5: Taimanov plays, Smyslov sings

Continuing our exploration of the links between classical music and chess, we now turn to perhaps the first player since Philidor to reach the top in both disciplines – Mark Taimainov (1926-).

You’re probably aware of Taimanov’s long and (mostly) successful chess career. Jeff Sonas, on his Chessmetrics site, ranks Taimanov in the top ten throughout the late fifties, peaking at 5th in January 1957, and again, briefly, in 1970-71, until his 6-0 Candidates Match drubbing by Fischer, which, unfortunately, is how many chess fans will remember him. He also gave his name to an enduringly popular variation of the Sicilian Defence.

Taimanov’s musical career is perhaps less well known. He studied piano at the Leningrad Conservatory, where he met and married (at the age of 19) a fellow student, Lyubov Bruk. They decided to specialise in the repertoire of music for two pianos and had a very successful partnership within the Soviet Union. Due to travel restrictions imposed by the Soviet régime they were unable to perform abroad until the early seventies. Their marriage broke up, though, which brought an end to their musical collaboration and to Taimanov’s career as a concert pianist. You can hear them here in the final three movements of Rachmaninov’s First Suite for Two Pianos.

Taimanov, who married again late in life and fathered twins at the age of 78, recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

Our next chess playing musician, Vasily Smyslov (1921-2010), became the seventh World Champion in 1957, and Sonas’s computations (to the end of 2004) rate him the 16th strongest player up to that time as well as the strongest player in the world for much of the mid 50s. The son of a master strength player who once beat Alekhine, he was something of a prodigy, reaching the world top 10 when he was still in his teens. In 1984, at the age of 62, he reached the Candidates Final where he lost to the 21 year old Garry Kasparov, and he continued playing high level chess into his 80s, when he was handicapped by failing eyesight.

As a young man he pursued parallel careers in chess and music. Unlike his contemporary, Taimanov, he was not an instrumentalist but an opera singer, specifically a baritone. It was only when he narrowly failed an audition to the Bolshoi Theatre in 1950, having already been one of the world’s elite for a decade, that he decided on a full time chess career. He sometimes gave vocal recitals at chess tournaments, often accompanied by Mark Taimanov on the piano. Listen here as he sings the popular Russian song Stepan Razin. (Razin was a Cossack leader who led an uprising against the nobility and bureaucracy in southern Russia in 1670-1671. The words to this song were written in 1883 and set to a Russian folk tune which some of my older readers might recognise as it was also used by The Seekers for their 1965 hit The Carnival is Over.)

Here are two games between Smyslov and Taimanov for you to enjoy.

Richard James

Chess and Music Part 4: Oistrakh plays Prokofiev

If you click here you’ll hear David Oistrakh, whom you will have heard playing Tchaikovsky a couple of weeks ago, playing Sergei Prokofiev’s second violin concerto. You’ll also find Oistrakh playing the first violin concerto, the two violin sonatas and other works by the same composer on YouTube. Even if you’re not a classical music buff you’ll have heard some Prokofiev in your life. The BBC television programme The Apprentice uses the Dance of the Knights (spot the chess reference) from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet as its theme tune. You probably remember hearing Peter and the Wolf as a child, narrated here by the late David Bowie, also a chess aficionado, but not, as far as I know, a serious competitive player.

When you were listening to Oistrakh playing Prokofiev, you’ll have seen a picture of the two musical giants playing chess, watched by a young lady, the violinist Elizabeth Gilels, sister (not daughter, as stated in various places online) of the great Soviet pianist (and, of course, chess player) Emil Gilels. In 1937 a chess match was arranged between Prokofiev and Oistrakh. It took place in Moscow, with Alatortsev and Kan as arbiters. The match was supposed to be of ten games, but only seven were played. A contemporary report states that the first four games were drawn and Prokofiev won the fifth game. We don’t know what happened in the sixth and seventh games, but it’s believed that the composer won the match.

One game has survived. Prokofiev really should have won with two extra pawns in the ending but somehow let Oistrakh get away with a draw.

Sergei Prokofiev (23 April 1891 – 5 March 1953) is generally considered one of the greatest comopsers of the 20th century. He was a chess addict from an early age, and, according to Tartakower, a player of master strength. Like Alexander Goldenweiser, he was a regular participant in grandmaster simuls, beating Lasker, Capablanca and Rubinstein. His other opponents included Alekhine, Botvinnik and Tartakower, whom he beat in a casual game in 1933.

David Oistrakh (30 September 1908 – 24 October 1974) was one of the greatest classical violinists of his time. According to various sources he was a 1st category player (just below master standard) but there’s little information about his chess available apart from the match against Prokofiev.

Here’s Oistrakh on his chess friendship with Prokofiev: “Prokofiev was an avid player, he could spend hours on end thinking over his moves. Living next door to each other, we often played blitz-contests and I wish you could see how excited he was drawing all kinds of colorful diagrams of his wins and losses, and how happy he was with each victory, as well as how devastated each time he lost…”

Other classical musicians who were reputed to excel at chess included the pianist Moriz Rosenthal (1862-1946) and the violinist Mischa Elman (1891-1967).

Edward Lasker claimed that Rosenthal, one of Liszt’s last surviving pupils and peerless in Chopin, was the strongest musician he played.

Mischa Elman, heard here in Mendelssohn, was reputed to play to a similar standard, and claimed, in a 1916 interview, to have won a casual game against the Maryland champion. Chopin and Mendelssohn, of course, both also enjoyed a game of chess.

Listen to the music, even (especially) if you’re not familiar with classical music, and play through the games before next week.

Richard James

Chess and Music Part 3: Parratt and Goldenweiser

This time you’ll get the chance to meet two keyboard players who also excelled at chess.

Sir Walter Parratt (10 February 1841 – 27 March 1924) was an English organist who was to become Master of the Queen’s (later King’s) Musick. The son of an organist, he was a child prodigy pianist before becoming organist at Magdalen College Oxford in 1872, and, ten years later, organist of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where Queen Victoria and her family worshipped regularly. He was also in great demand as an organ teacher, becoming Heather Professor of Music at Oxford University in 1908. In 1893 he received the ultimate accolade of being appointed Master of the Queen’s Musick. On his death he would be succeeded in that post (by then King’s, not Queen’s) by his friend Sir Edward Elgar, who, as you saw last week, was also a friend of Adolph Brodsky. He also wrote a small amount of church music: you can hear a psalm setting here and a hymn tune here. (A brief note: the post of Master of the King’s/Queen’s Musick originally involved composing music for royal occasions, and since Elgar’s day this has also been true, but for most of the 19th century it was more to do with organising music within the royal household rather than composing.)

Sir Walter inherited both his passions from his father, Thomas, who, apart from being the organist at Huddersfield Parish Church, was involved in the foundation of the Yorkshire Chess Association in 1841. Young Walter was active in competitive chess in the late 1850s and throughout the 1860s. He doesn’t appear on Chessmetrics but Rod Edwards gives him a highest EDO rating of 2310 in 1869, with a world ranking of 53rd. His speciality was playing blindfold chess and the piano at the same time.

When he moved to Oxford he became involved in chess there. In 1873 he played on board 1 in the first Oxford v Cambridge chess match, and may possibly have been involved in its foundation and organisation. He won both his games against John de Soyres, who would later become a clergyman and emigrate to Canada. In the first game de Soyres made an unsound combination while the second, given below, was an exciting encounter with missed opportunities on both sides. Finally de Soyres erred in a rook ending, and the game, which was unfinished at the close of play, was adjudicated a win by Steinitz. In 1874, by now president of the University Chess Club, he faced the same opponent. This time three games were played, and his opponent extracted his revenge, winning two games and losing one.

The following February saw Parratt drawing with Steinitz in a blindfold simul, although in the final position Steinitz had an extra pawn and much the better position. But he declined the opportunity to take part in the University Match that year, citing lack of practice. And that, as far as I know, was the end of his chess career. Or almost the end. In 1921 the Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, himself a strong chess player, who was visiting Windsor Castle, wanted a game of chess. Sir Walter was summoned to play him. “Isn’t he a bit old?”, asked the PM when meeting his elderly opponent? After an hour’s play Sir Walter announced checkmate. “Not at all”, said Bonar Law. “I have seven moves.” Sir Walter then demonstrated how he would force checkmate in each variation. Towards the end of his life he agreed to represent Oxford Past in a match against Cambridge Past, but had to withdraw due to ill health.

Given the popularity of both chess and music in Russia it’s hardly surprising that many of the great Soviet musicians were also strong chess players. One of the strongest was the celebrated pianist, teacher and composer Alexander Goldenweiser (10 March 1875 – 26 November 1961). It’s only in recent decades, with the release of many previously unknown Soviet recordings, that we’ve started to appreciate the importance of the Russian piano school, of which Goldenweiser was a leading member, both as a pianist and as a highly influential teacher. His pupils included such legendary names as Grigory Ginzburg, Lazar Berman, Samuil Feinberg, Dmitry Kabalevsky and Tatiana Nikolayeva. You can hear him play Beethoven’s great Waldstein Sonata here, hear some of his most celebrated pupils here, and hear one of his own compositions here.

As a young man Goldenweiser was a friend and regular chess opponent of Leo Tolstoy, also a strong player. If you believe a rather inaccurate Hungarian book on chess playing celebs, he won games in simuls against Chigorin, Lasker and Alekhine, and drew with Capablanca, Botvinnik and Rubinstein. I haven’t yet been able to discover whether or not he played any competitive chess, but it seems he was, like Sir Walter Parratt, a very strong amateur.

Her’s a win against Chigorin, who plays a theoretical opening involving a rook sacrifice, but goes wrong on move 10 (the right move was 10. fxe5, and if 10… fxe5, 11. Rf1).

Your homework before next week is to listen to the music and study the games. See you then.

Richard James

Chess and Music Part 2: Erkel and Brodsky

Continuing my series on chess-playing musicians, let’s move forward into the mid 19th century or so and meet Ferenc Erkel (November 7 1810 – June 15 1893).

Erkel is perhaps not a household name today but his music is still revered in his native Hungary. He was a composer, conductor and pianist best known as a composer of grand operas based on historical subjects. His 1861 opera Bánk Bán is considered Hungary’s national opera. If you’re interested you can watch it here.

He was also, as you might have guessed, a chess player as well, one of the founders of the Pest Chess Club in 1839, became Vice-President when it was refounded in 1864, and later its President. Between the late 1850s and early 1860s he was considered one of the strongest players in Hungary.

In this game he uses the Evans Gambit to score a well played sacrificial win against his compatriot József Szén.

Chessmetrics analyses Szén’s career in the 1850s, when he was ranked between 4th and 10th in the world, and gives him a top rating of 2546.

The evidence suggests that Erkel was a very strong player, who, if he’d had the time and inclination, could perhaps have scaled Caïssa’s heights.

Moving on another half century or so, we now make the acquaintance of Adolph Davidovich Brodsky (2 April 1851 – January 22 1929). Brodsky was born in Taganrog, on the Sea of Azov, in the far south western corner of Russia, to a Jewish family of musicians. He was a child prodigy violinist whose career took him to Vienna, Moscow, Leipzig and New York. In 1881 he gave the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s marvellous Violin Concerto, played here by the incomparable David Oistrakh, of whom more later. Tchaikovsky also dedicated the work to Brodsky after the original dedicatee, Leopold Auer, refused to play it unless changes were made.

In 1895 Brodsky moved to Manchester, changing the spelling of his first name from Adolf to Adolph. He had been invited by Sir Charles Hallé, also a chess player, to direct his orchestra and teach at the Manchester College of Music. He was to remain there for the rest of his life. While he was there he formed a string quartet, whose viola player had a familiar sounding name: Simon Speelman. (Speelman is a Dutch Jewish surname. It seems that two families, or possibly two branches of the same family, moved to England in the mid 19th century: a family of musicians to Manchester and a family of art and antique dealers, from whom Jonathan Simon Speelman is descended, to London.) In 1890 the quartet’s cellist, Carl Fuchs, invited Edward Elgar to compose a string quartet for them. It would be nearly three decades before Elgar completed his quartet, and, although they had since retired from performing, he still dedicated the work to them.

Brodsky was also, as you might have guessed by now, a strong chess player. Tony Gillam’s highly recommended and meticulously researched book Mannheim 1914 and the Interned Russians includes a section on him from which much of the following information is taken. (Brodsky was in Austria when war was declared and, as a Russian subject, was interned until the following year.)

Brodsky had been a regular and enthusiastic member of the Manhattan Chess Club, playing serious chess there almost every day, and when he moved to Manchester, continued his chess career. He played in eight matches for Lancashire between 1898 and 1904, scoring five wins, one draw and two losses.

This game was played in the 1897 Manchester Chess Club championship. The loser was a strong amateur who would later play in several British Championships.

In 1901 Brodsky played in a small tournament in Berlin where he beat the veteran master Emil Schallopp. Lasker was sufficiently impressed with the game to provide annotations for the Manchester Evening News.

It’s clear from these games that Brodsky was a gifted tactician who, if he’d chosen to dedicate his life to Caïssa rather than Euterpe, might perhaps have reached master standard.

Until next week, enjoy the music as well as the games.

Richard James

Chess and Music Part 1: Philidor

Apart from chess, my other great passion in life is music. While my chess ability is pretty close to zero, though, my musical ability is way below zero, so I ended up becoming a chess player rather than a musician.

There are many connections between chess and music. It’s often remarked (not entirely correctly) that the three disciplines which produce child prodigies are maths, music and chess. Music is seen by some as being the art form which most resembles the logic of maths. It’s not surprising, then, that many musicians have had an interest in chess, and that many chess players are also interested in music.

Readers of The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict will be familiar with many chess playing musicians and musical chess players.

The first and greatest example must be François-André Danican Philidor (September 7, 1726 – August 31, 1795), the strongest chess player of the 18th century, and the author of Analyse du jeu des Échecs, a hugely influential volume which was, for a century or more, considered one of the standard text books of the game. Philidor came from a family of musicians. The family was originally Scottish: the name ‘Danican’ was a corruption of ‘Duncan’, and his grandfather Jean was given the nickname Philidor by Louis XIII because his oboe playing reminded the king of an Italian oboist named Filidori. As he was French it’s hardly surprising that his grandfather was called Jean, but he also had a brother, 45 years older than him (Philidor’s father was 75 when he was born), surprisingly named Anne. Perhaps this was the 17th century French equivalent of A Boy Named Sue. (A quick note for those of my readers interested in French Baroque music: Anne is remembered today for having started a series of public concerts called Le Concert Spirituel. In 1988 the flamboyant French conductor Hervé Niquet founded a period instrument group under this name.)

Not so many people outside chess realise that Philidor was also one of the leading composers of his day. Some of his music is still performed today, and is available on CD or online. While he also composed instrumental and sacred music, his most important contribution to music was probably in the development of the comic opera. You’ll find one of his comic operas, Sancho Pança, on YouTube here. If you share my love of 18th century music you’ll certainly want to hear this.

In contrast to the Modenese school of players, who favoured gambits and tactical play, Philidor preferred strategic play and endings. His analysis of the ending of rook and bishop against rook is still, even today, considered important to endgame theory. All competitive players should know the Philidor Position which demonstrates an important defensive method with rook against rook and pawn.

Philidor was also the first player who really understood the importance of pawns:

“My main purpose is to gain recognition for myself by means of a new idea of which no one has conceived, or perhaps has been unable to practice; that is, good play of the pawns; they are the soul of chess: it is they alone that determine the attack and the defence, and the winning or losing of the game depends entirely on their good or bad arrangement.”

The contrast between the two rival (Modenese and Philidorian) schools of thought is reminiscent of the debate today as to whether you should encourage young players to play gambits or to concentrate on positional play, teaching them to play simple openings with fixed pawn formations and follow a logical plan. This is something I’ll write much more about in future.

The French Revolution left Philidor stranded in London: returning to France would not have been safe due to his connections with the monarchy and aristocracy. Most of his surviving games are from this final period of his life.

On 13 March 1790, Philidor played three simultaneous games, against the Hon HS Conway, Mr Sheldon and Captain Smith. The games against Sheldon and Smith were both played without sight of the board. Young players tend to play pieces much better than pawns in the opening so this game might be used as an example of how to use your pawns to gain space. The captain played without a plan and without attempting to open the position to his advantage, so Philidor was able to gain space on both sides of the board, leaving his king in the centre, and choose the right moment to strike. Watch out also for the nice sacrificial finish.

Richard James

Activity Cards

If you’ve ever taught in primary school chess clubs you’ll be aware of the problem – or at least one of the problems.

Two kids finish a game with, say, 10 minutes to go before the end of the session. They don’t have time for another game so they start chatting or interfering with other games which are still in progress. What do you get them to do?

Sometimes I’ll have some puzzle sheets with me. As most of the children in primary school clubs play to a very low standard these will need to be simple one-movers to give them the chance to get some of them right.

I’ve recently invested in a laminator which enables me to produce laminated activity sheets which I can take from school to school. There are lots of possible activity sheets you could produce. I’ve started with checkmate skill sheets, covering the basic checkmates: two rooks, king and queen, king and rook, two bishops and bishop + knight. There are also endgame challenges: these include king and 8 pawns each along with various positions where White has to exploit a material advantage. Then, mainly for less experienced players, there are Capture the Flag games: positions without kings where you win in one of three ways: a) you get a pawn to the end safely (capturing the flag), b) you take all your opponent’s pieces or c) you stalemate your opponent. The positions I use include 8 pawns each, queen against 8 pawns, rook against 5 pawns and bishop against 3 pawns. In each of these activities the players are expected to set the position up and play them out over the board.

Some of the more simple skills here are what children should really be doing before joining a chess club. Others are vital for children wishing to play competitive chess outside their school club.

There’s much else that could be done – and will be done when I get round to it. Simple chess variants, for example losing chess or Scotch chess (White plays 1 move, Black 2 moves, White 3 moves and so on). Simple problems or endgame studies for more advanced players. Puzzles such as the Knight’s Tour and the Eight Officers Puzzle (place eight men on the board so that none of them are on the same rank, file or diagonal). Opening cards with the first few moves of a popular opening variation. Puzzle sheets with several tactics or checkmate puzzles on them (perhaps with the answers on the back).

Already, after only the first week of using these, several children have asked me if they can take one of the cards home. The answer is ‘no’, but I guess I could have non-laminated copies of some of the activities available to hand out. I’ll also, at some point, make them available for download on one of my websites.

There are other ways in which they could be developed. I’m considering putting a difficulty rating on each card (for instance the two rooks checkmate might have a difficulty rating of 1 while the bishop and knight checkmate would be 9 or 10) so that children can find activities appropriate for their level. I could possibly use the back of each card to give further information, and, in the case of some of the endgame challenges, a sample game.

As always, the trick will be to get the parents involved. If children play chess at home with family members they could be doing these activities at home as well as just playing games.

If you’d like copies of what I’ve done so far, or have any ideas about how these cards could be developed further please feel free to contact me via one of my websites or on social media.

Richard James