Friday 30 September 2016

Played on Squares (Bloomsbury and Chess) 8: Forster

Last year the BBC ran a TV drama series Life in Squares. It followed, in three episodes, the entangled lives of the Bloomsbury Group - the Bells, the Woolfs, Duncan Grant, Maynard Keynes, and Roger Fry et al. Dorothy Parker - not a member herself, obviously, though she might have gone down well - quipped that they "talked in circles, loved in triangles, lived in squares".

The TV series sparked our own blog series - Played on Squares - in which we tried to answer the straightforward question (one that nobody in the sprawling corpus of Bloomsbury archival analysis, informed commentary, and learned exegesis, had thought to ask), viz: did they play chess?

The answer, we discovered, was an unavoidable "yes". The Bloomsberries admitted to chess in their diaries, and their memoirs; they documented and commented on their obsessive playing of, and sometime brazen cheating at (Roger Fry was exposed as the culprit), our favourite game; one of them (Fry again) used it as a teaching aid in his lessons on aesthetics; two of them were portrayed in oils at the board (and another was sketched in situ), and several of them were photographed in flagrante. One - Leonard Woolf - almost joined a chess club, and another actually did - although this is stretching a point as she was only a Bloomsbury-sibling and not a Bloomsbury-proper. However, as she also played in tournaments and even turned up in the BCM - snapped playing in a simul. against Vera Menchik (result unknown) - she (Marjorie Strachey) was the star turn of our chess-in-Bloomsbury series.

Not that you would have found any of this on the TV. Shocking.

Just after the series closed, our good friend Richard James was kind enough to point out that it was unfinished: there was in fact a Bloomsberry with a well-documented chess interest who we had missed. Also shocking. So, before leaving it any longer, we had better repair this omission and report the chess doings of...

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Heads up

No official announcement yet, but here's an interesting addition to the FIDE Calendar 2017.

Also see, FIDE 2016 General Assembly decisions.

Now the thing about Iran is, it does have rules and regulations that apply to women, ones that do not apply in most other countries, and this is, shall we say,  potentially a matter for concern.

Without any official announcement, let alone one touching on the matters this raises, it's hard to say anything definitive, but I sent an email to the FIDE office to see what they could tell me.
27 September 2016 at 12:07


Sorry to bother you. I am a chess writer and a member of the English Chess Federation.

I read on your website that the 2017 Women's World Championship has been awarded to Iran (General Assembly decision GA-2016/31). I am writing to enquire whether women competing, reporting, spectating or attending in any other capacity will be required by their hosts, to wear clothing, for instance the headscarf, that they would not be obliged to wear in their home countries.

Yours sincerely

Justin Horton

Huesca province Spain

They replied, very promptly, as they generally do.

From: FIDE Secretariat
To: Justin Horton
cc: Nigel Freeman
27 September 2016 at 12:14

Dear Justin

From my personal experience, all foreign women are obliged to wear headscarf in all public places in Iran.

best regards

Polina Tsedenova

FIDE Secretariat

You'll perhaps have noticed that while Polina hasn't actually said yes, nor has she said no, and her answer is more along the lines of yes than no. However, I subsequently received an email clarifying that women attending the championship will, indeed, be expected to wear the headscarf whether they like it or not.
From: Nastja Karlovich
To: Justin Horton
cc: Nigel Freeman, FIDE Secretariat
date: 27 September 2016 at 13:53

Dear Mr. Horton!

all competitors will be obliged to respect the laws of the country including the dress requirements.

You can check the UK foreign office for more information:

Best regards, Anastasiya Karlovich

FIDE Press Officer

Now matters relating to the headscarf are sensitive, as are matters relating to Islam, and for this reason commentors are asked to be thoughtful in what they say on the subject*. But it does seem to me that women should not be obliged to wear the headscarf as a condition of competing in, reporting on or simply attending a chess tournament, and if it is a condition of the host country that this occurs, then it probably shouldn't be the host country.

To say so isn't to lecture another country on what laws or customs it should have. It's to say that the laws and customs of the chess world should not be such as to discriminate against women. FIDE shouldn't be doing this: if and when there's a row, they will only have themselves to blame.

[* additionally - anonymous comments will not be permitted, and please do not make this all about a certain English grandmaster.]

[thanks to Chris Rice]
[this piece revised after publication in order to incorporate the final email]

Friday 23 September 2016

Thursday 22 September 2016


What's this, do you think?

It's this, is what it is.

Surely not, the reader surely says.

And yet

it surely is.

Monday 19 September 2016

Holy tax evasion, Basman

Chessbase, 2008

I'd intended to write a piece last weekend about a crochety old English chess master who gets into trouble when he doesn't think the rules apply to him. However, being, in truth, a little more sympathetic to Nigel over that particular issue than I normally am, we'll leave that aside for the moment. Instead, let's talk about Mike Basman.

Why so? Because the popular British IM has got himself into trouble. How so? Take your pick. It's either
  • because over perhaps as long as twenty years, he couldn't be arsed to comply with his legal obligations with regards to tax; or
  • because he is being persecuted by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs
depending on whether you live in the world of reality, or the world as seen, apparently, from inside Mike Basman's head.

The exact details of the saga which have led to Basman's current predicament are not yet entirely clear, the reason for this being that Mike Basman has chosen not to make them entirely clear (which we will get on to, below). Nevertheless the basic outline seems straightforward enough - it appears that
  • the UK Chess Challenge, the competition that Mike Basman has organised since it began in 1996, has failed to charge VAT on entry fees for its competitions, as it was legally obliged to do;
  • this having come to HMRC's attention, they have presented Basman with a bill representing an estimate of the revenue lost to them over a ten year period, which is in the non-trivial amount of £300,000; and
  • as Basman cannot pay this bill, he was made bankrupt on 8 August 2016, thus threatening the future of his competition (leaving aside alone any consequences for himself).
It also appears that despite having been directed to pay this bill at least three years ago, and having his appeal dismissed in contemptuous terms (not just because it fell outwith the period allowed for appeal, but because the grounds for appeal were specious) more than two years ago, Basman nevertheless continued to operate just as he had done previously, right up until his bankruptcy.

I have a view on this, which is that Mike Basman is a fool, a fantasist and a tax evader.

Caption competition waiting to happen

Friday 16 September 2016

A French Connection

[This is a guest post by  Richard Jamesto whom much thanks. There is a minor edit by MS]  

Photo from the Condé Museum in Chantilly. Taken 1858/9.

Sitting on the left playing chess is Prince Louis of Condé (1845-1866), who was living in Orleans House, in Richmond on Thames, at the time. He developed TB and died in Australia. He was a paternal grandson of King Louis Philippe via Duke Henri of Aumâle.

His opponent is Prince Augustus of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1845-1907), whose father was a cousin of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert from the Catholic branch of the family. On the maternal side he was a grandson of King Louis Philippe via Princess Clémentine of Orléans.

Watching the game, from left to right:

Prince Pierre, Duke of Penthièvre (1845-1919), a grandson of King Louis Philippe via Prince François of Joinville. Related to the Portuguese royal family and the emperors of Brazil on his mother’s side. “Prince Pierre had a happy childhood as a refugee in England with most of the other members of the House of Orléans, despite the uncertainty of life in exile.” This seems to have been at Claremont, near Esher in Surrey

Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1844-1921), the older brother of Prince Ludwig August (see above). Married his cousin, Princess Louise of the Belgians, who was reported to have played chess against Queen Victoria.

Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Alençon (1844-1910), another grandson of King Louis Philippe via Duke Louis of Nemours.

Prince Gaston Count of Eu (1842-1922), the older brother of Prince Ferdinand (see above). His family fled to England after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1848.

So in this picture we have six French princes, all grandsons of King Louis Philippe of France, who reigned between the July Revolution of 1830 and the February Revolution of 1848. He fled the country under the name of “Mr Smith” [no relation - MS] and sought exile in England, settling at Claremont. It seems likely that this photograph was taken at about the time of the funeral of their aunt Hélène, the widow of the King’s eldest son Ferdinand. She died on 18 May 1858 at her home in Richmond, Camborne House, Petersham Road, close to Richmond Bridge. It was later renamed Northumberland House and demolished in 1969. The funeral took place on Saturday 22 May, the cortège travelling from Richmond to the chapel of St Charles Borromeo in Weybridge. All the Orléans princes were in attendance. At the time four of the princes were living in the area: Prince Louis was living at Orleans House while the Princes Gaston, Ferdinand and Pierre were at Claremont. The Princes Philipp and Augustus were living on the continent, possibly in either Austria or Spain.

So perhaps the most likely location for the photograph is Camborne/Northumberland House.

[With thanks again to Richard James. To follow a French music and chess connection, and notes on many more musical chessers besides, go to his series, starting somewhere else, here.]

Lost in History

Friday 9 September 2016

Chess in Art: RA Afterthought

[This post by Martin Smith]

We were talking a few of weeks ago about Chess in Art at this years Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Well, there wasn't any. Which was a bit disappointing, and makes you wonder whether today's aspiring artists are really trying hard enough. But still, it is probably right that the RA's selection committee shouldn't let in any more arty chess sets - stunning though they might be - especially when modelled on the buildings of the capital: ancient, modern, and ancient-looking-but-built-just-now, stunning though they all may be as well.

You'll remember we saw one such chess set last year...

Franklin's Morals of Chess (2015)
By Karl Singporewela
...and another just five years before that:

Style Wars: Modernists versus Traditionalists  (2010)
By Mobile Studio  
So, whatever the seductive materials employed, or the fine craftsmanship at work, enough is enough - especially as complete chess addicts don't have to go the RA to see London skylines. We have them in our own backyard:

Nonetheless, recent developments in my neck of the woods give cause to revisit all this, and look again at the aesthetics of chess-in-architecture.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

How many more times?

Leontxo García has news for us!

Apparently chess has about six hundred million followers around the world.

It doesn't, of course.

This isn't the first time Leontxo's facts and figures have been at variance with reality.

Come to that, it's not the first time Leontxo's put about this particular figure.

Last time he did, and was advised by the present writer that the facts were otherwise, he promised to do some research.

Busy man, Leonxto García. Very busy man.

[Oh, and YouGov is not an American company.]

Friday 2 September 2016

Chess in Art: Miss Tanning's Appendix

[This post by Martin Smith]

In this appendix to last week's post you are requested to take another look at the ensemble photograph of Germaine Richier's L'Echiquier (Grand) of 1959 (currently on display at Tate Modern), and observe how the Queen (second on the right) is stealing a sideways glance up at the wall. She is flapping her arms to signal her excitement. The Knight takes evasive action.

She must have noticed something.