Friday 26 August 2016

Chess in Art: Richier Revisited

[This post by Martin Smith]

This post comes a little late to advise you on any chess-art at this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, as it is now closed. Not to worry. There wasn't any...

On not finding any chess at the RA.
But maybe she'll get a nice surprise for her birthday! 

(Silent Howler Laura Ford, in the 2016 Summer Exhibition)
  [All photos by MS unless stated otherwise]
...not even a chess city-scape such as we reported last year (and which we will come back to in a later post); though you can now buy one as a "sunshine-filled birthday gift for children".

Instead, get over it at Tate Modern...

Friday 19 August 2016

7. ...And The Final "Mrs Fagan"

[This post is by Martin Smith]

The time has come, in the final episode of this series on Louisa Matilda Fagan née Ballard...

In 1897, from here unravel the mystery of what happened to Joseph George Fagan, who she married on the 8 July 1872, and - while we are on the subject - what happened to their marriage. As we have noted before in the series, there is precious little reference to him in the chess press: not as her consort at the many Congresses she competed in, nor at the many social evenings organised by the Ladies Chess Club, of which she was such a prominent member in the 1890s and into the new century. If anyone was likely to be mentioned in that capacity, it was her brother William Roberts Ballard, who was also Louisa's executor at her death in 1931, and to whom she was close.

There is no doubt that Joseph and Louisa tied the knot...

...and, as we saw in episode 4, they had two children. Alas, tragically, both of them died: Eleanor in June 1875 just after her birth; Marie Blanche "Dottie" in 1883, when she was 9. The loss of Dottie, by then their only daughter, appears to have been the beginning of the end for Louisa and Joseph - after 11 years of marriage.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Beating a grandmaster

A lot of interesting things have happened in chess since August 4: the end of the British Championships, the announcement of the world championship venue, the Sinquefield Cup....

....and I'm afraid I don't give a rat's arse about any of these things, because also, between that date and this, I beat a grandmaster for the very first time. In the first round of the Prague Summer Open, about forty-six years after I learned the moves, about forty years after I first played competitive chess, I knocked over a grandmaster for the first time. I'd been close once or twice but never even managed to draw. But this time I got across the line.

Prague Summer Open 5 August 2016, Round One

White: Sergei Domogaev
Black: Justin Horton
This is a psychological error common to chessplayers of all ranks from beginner to grandmaster: to lose one's objectivity is almost invariably to lose the game as well.

David Bronstein
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 Bd6

You won't even find this variation in a lot of books (8...Bb7, 8...a6 and sometimes 8...b4 are favoured) but this game is quite a good advertisement for its charms and it's the recommendation of Larry Kaufman's The Chess Advantage In Black And White, probably the best repertoire book I know and one I looked at on the flight from Barcelona to Prague the day before the game.

Monday 15 August 2016

Plumbing the depths

Taking breakfast in the airport at Prague on Saturday, I flicked through the Financial Times and found nothing of much interest. Just as well I didn't see Friday's issue: this load of cobblers would have had me coughing up my scrambled egg.

Etan Ilfeld. I've come across this particular bullshit merchant before. He seems to have been on a run of late, with this nonsense being published last year and this one only in March. Well, while there's gullible editors, gullible hacks and for that matter gullible readers, there'll be no shortage of people queueing up to take advantage. But while I might not expect yer average freelance journalist to ask what kind of "standard chess game" lasts ten hours

or to be sceptical about their subject's claim to be a "chess master"

(maybe he is, but his FIDE rating card does not suggest so) you'd hope they might find the whole idea of "diving chess" risible, impossible to take seriously, since risible and impossible to take seriously it what it obviously is.

Or put it another way -  once you're going to take that seriously, you've more or less said that you don't care what's true and what's not, so why bother if the details are just as much bullshit as the substance?

So there's not much point in asking (but I will, anyway) why it is that when our bullshit merchant told the hack that "someone in Spain wants to start a league"

the answer wasn't on the lines of "Jimmy Hill".

Diving chess. Does it remind you of anything?

Course it does.

But whether it's better to award yourself a British title, or to come second in your own world championship

is something only the real connoisseur of bullshit can really tell us.

Thursday 11 August 2016

6. Another Mrs Fagan...and Her Politics

[This post is by Martin Smith]

Louisa Matilda Fagan née Ballard, the subject of this series (which started here) and the strongest female player in the late 1890s, was born in 1850. Today is the 85th anniversary of her death: on the 11th August 1931 - and in her honour we depart (for this post only) from the usual Friday slot.

However, today's episode is not really about her. Nor is the next one. They are more about the Fagan family into which she married in 1872; and we start, here, with her quasi-relation, Mrs Louis Fagan, the wife of her brother-in-law Louis Alexander Fagan. This episode was to have been the last in the series; but we will hold over scrutiny of Louis' brother, Joseph George Fagan (Louisa's husband) for a further episode. For now, please indulge an excursion to the outer reaches of chess relevance.  

Before her marriage, the lady known later as Mrs Louis Fagan was called Caroline Frances Purves; and sometimes Caroline Frances Fagan after it; though more usually, as was the custom of the time, she was then addressed by reference to her husband's fore and surnames. It is not obvious, from what I can find out about her, that Caroline Frances Purves' earlier life in Australia (where she was born, in 1855 I think - see note) provides any hint of what was to come later: she was an artist in water-colours, winning a "first order of merit" at the 1880-1 Melbourne International Exhibition for such works as "Roses and Dragon Fly" on satin, "Rhododendrons", "Flame Flowersetc. There are no images of her work online, but, from those titles, I am sure that her paintings were very nice. By the way, her eventual husband, Louis, was also a dab-hand in the medium: here is one of his efforts:
Coastal Views in Decorative Borders
From here
Very nice, too. Perhaps this shared talent for tasteful aquarelles was the basis of their mutual attraction: they were married in Kensington in 1887. Louis was to have a distinguished and multi-faceted career at the British Museum, and as an historian and connoisseur of Italian art and culture: he had been born in Naples (like his older brother Joseph George) and died in Florence in 1903. Caroline, however, took off in a very different direction.

Thursday 4 August 2016

No half measures

By the time this publishes I ought to be on my way to Prague, to play in the Summer Open, my first proper chess since last August. I played two tournaments that month, the first of which, in Sitges, featured, on my part, a draw offer in a position that was won for me.

I've always been a little too keen to take the draw, especially where the opponent is stronger than I am or the clocks are running short or to be honest, or any other reason. Drawing is better than losing, I tell myself, and it surely is, but drawing when you can actually win might be more embarrassing than losing when you ought to draw.

I have a solution to this problem - I don't claim that it'll work, I just claim that it's a solution - but as it happens, while I was drafting this piece there was a similarly embarrassing incident in the eighth round of the British Championships, where Matthew Payne, having survived a mutual blunder earlier on that would have seen him a piece down for nothing, had the opportunity after 29....Bd4?? to knock over an opponent rated almost three hundred points his superior.

With 30. Rxh7+! he took his chance...