Friday, 1 December 2017

Les Chesseurs Britanniques de Paris: Part 8 Initial Confusion. Final Conclusion?

In the course of several episodes (of a series beginning here) we have been trying to reconstruct the life, and maybe something of the times, of the British Chess Club of Paris. It provided a chess umbrella for les anglaises of various stripes hanging out in the City of Light: ex-pats, businessmen, diplomats, drop-ins (perhaps even spies). It made its impact on Parisian chess-life from 1926 to 1938/9.

In the course of telling the story we have been building up a list of BCCP members. All this with the considerable, and generous, help of Dominique Thimognier, who runs the brilliant Heritage des Echecs Francais website, to whom much thanks. In the previous episode we were able to add a Mr Wechsler to our list: he played in a match in early 1929 when the BCCP took on Fou du Roi. Mr Wechsler was accorded the honour of playing on Board 1 on that occasion, suggesting that the team managers had some respect for his strength (though he lost). We gave a brief thumb-nail sketch of Mr. Wechsler, taking him to have been T.M.Wechsler who was active in Kentish chess in the late 1920s to the 40s. In this episode we will say more about him, and his chess-playing brother. And his chess-playing father.

Theodore Magnus Wechsler, 5 as the time of the 1911 census, was the son of Marcus and Goldina Wechsler from Rumania and Russia respectively. Marcus, the father, had been naturalised British in 1907, and is described as an analytical chemist, and as a "Dr" (an important detail for what comes later). Dr Wechsler contributed several patent ingredients to the brewing industry (Clark (1988) p 85). Given his country of origin we can speculate - only - as to whether Marcus was related to sometime Rumanian Champion (Linlith. Gazette 14 Sept 1928) and International Team player (Times 16 July 1931) Max Wechsler (mentioned last time).

There is another name to add to the British Wechsler portfolio: Theodore's younger (by 3 years) brother, Isidore Haym (or Isidor Hyam as it is sometimes given).

The Wechsler household in the 1911 census (click on to enlarge). 
Two sons: Theodore Magnus and Isidore Haym. 

Both the Wechsler boys went to St.Paul's school and, with the chess they had (plausibly) acquired from their father, they competed in the Hastings Boys Championship of 1923. Theodore came 3rd in Section D of the Championship - the winner overall was legendary P. S. Milner-Barry (Hastings Observer 14 April 23) - his brother also played, and indeed they were alongside each other on 11 and 12 in the Boys v Hastings Club match at the end of the Congress: though note, and not for the last time, the use of the initials J.H.

Hastings Observer 14 April 23

In very early 1924 a Wechsler with the initials "I.M." finished last in the Hastings Second Class Tournament (Hastings Observer 12 Jan 1924) - though whether that was a typo for "T.M." or "I.H." awaits clarification. Initial confusion had arrived, and was here to stay.

Later, in April 1924, "T.M. Wechsler" played in the next Hastings Boys Championship - in the lower tier General Competition. Milner-Barry was by now in the top tier - the Championship - but came only a "disappointing" 4th: "excellent games mixed with unadulterated howlers". Wechsler T.M., though, "should do well in the championship next time" (all in the Hastings Observer 3 May 1924).

More disappointment, now for Theodore, "the St.Paul's schoolboy" (Times 14 April 1925), after he was invited to step in for the overstretched H.Uber (of Brixton CC) and play in the Premier of the Bromley Congress the following year. Tough ask: after a draw with O.C.Muller, T.M.W. finished last, unable to add to his score. Meanwhile someone under the name "J.H.Wechsler" was playing in Section IV the 1925 British Boys at Hastings Chess Club (Hastings Observer 25 April 1925).

Presumably that was Isidore Haym, as we can interpret from reports of the Hastings Congress of 1925/6. Thus I. Wechsler, played in the First Class Reserves, and was recorded with the first win of the Congress (Sheffield Daily Telegraph 29 December 1925). He became I.H. Wechsler when he finished joint first (Hastings Observer 9 Jan 1926), or was that J.H. Wechsler given by the Linlithgowshire Gazette 15 Jan 1926?

More Wechsler confusion in the 80-board Sussex v Kent County Match as reported in the Hastings Observer 9 October 1926. We get a full set of Wechslers, which is nice. But which ones?

That's Theodore Magnus up there losing on board 17. And that's his father, Marcus Wechsler - the Doctor - down there winning on 53.  But, now we also get "A.Wechsler" losing on 41. He appeared again, the following year, in a Kent v Essex County match when - as reported The Times 28 March 1927 - A.Wechsler won on 14 (T.M.Wechsler appeared on 13 - he lost again). Perhaps it is some kind of clue that Isidore Haym Wechsler never played at the same time as A.Wechsler. Whosoever A.W. may have been, he never re-appears, so-called, in the historical record - not as far as I can see, anyway.

The next significant (re)appearance of Isidore - not yet 20 years old - was in the City of London CC 75th anniversary knockout tournament, when he pocketed 6 guineas for finishing 3rd. Once again the same result is reported two ways (and varies, too, in other sundry details):

Left Exeter Gazette 26 May 1927
Right Linthlow Gazette 8 June 1927

In December 1927, three of them (that is to say Dr. M., T.M. and now a "T.H." (Sevenoaks Chronicle 16 December)) appeared in a local Bromley v Tunbridge Wells match. I.H. Wechsler was the champion of the Bromley Chess Club CC in 1928 and 1929 (from here), which suggests that Isidore Haym  - it must be him! - had a serious and continuing engagement with the game in this period, even though his press appearances are few. He made another major (from our point of view) singular appearance in 1929 - and to get there we'll skip through the next couple of years in the company of Theodore and Dr Marcus in various matches.

County matches would have been pretty regular - perhaps every month or so - thoughout the season: so Dr Marcus played for Kent v Civil Service (The Times 6 Feb 1928), and Theodore drew with Vera Menchik on board 6 v Sussex (The Times 1 Oct 1928). Both Theo and the Doctor played v Middx (The Times 19 Nov 1928; bds 16 and 20), and both again in a club match v Tunbridge Wells again (Kent Courier 30 Nov 1928). Finally we get to 1929 when Theodore drew on board 10 for Kent v G. A. Felce of Surrey (the Felce fraternity were a mainstay of Brixton CC in the 30s) in a match on Saturday 2 March 1929 (Kent Courier 8 March).

We are now in early 1929, and we go again to Paris for the second round of the Coupe de Paris, the city's inter-club competition. This was discussed in our previous episode, based on a report by Ratnovsky in his chess column in L'Auto on 22 February. I think that means that the round took place in the weekend 16/17th February. The report says that "Wechsler" (no initials) played for BCCP, and lost to Kahn of Fou de Roi. So which Wechsler was it? Was it T.M. as we surmised in the previous episode?

Dominique Thimognier has unearthed an important clue: a game in the Lyonnais paper Le Salut Public published on the 14th March 1929. It was played in the 3rd round of the BCCP championship tournament. The loser was Barnard; but the winner was "J.H. Wechsler", and it seems that the IH/JH confusion had spread across the Channel.

For the full column, in French, see Appendix 1 - the game (with my rendering of the notes into English) is shown below. [Editorial note: sorry the notes are not showing in KnightVision]

Nice game, with a moral attached - drawn in the final note: "A game which energetically refuted the opening and which proves once again that theory must be respected."
How was it that they got Isidore's initials wrong - on both sides of the Channel - when it must have been obvious what they properly were? Take the French case: the author of the column, E Barthélémy (well-known on the Parisian chess scene according to Dominique) had collaborated with "J.H." Wechsler over the annotations of the game. Surely he must have been aware of Isidore's correct initial as a consequence. Is it therefore possible that Isidore might have called himself something else (Joseph for example), now and then? But what then about the two instances from the English press where he is initialised both ways in reports of the same event? All very odd.

Just out of curiosity I wonder what were the circumstances wherein the 21-year old Isidore hung out in Paris for a sufficient period of time to take part in the BCCP club championship - i.e. over a number of weeks (I would assume)? Was he a student? Was he on a gap year, or what? Anyway, he evidently didn't remain in Paris. He (or someone who may be him) is in the chess record, back over here, a few more times, before he disappears. Thus in March 1930 I.H.Wechsler, for Kent, drew with Vera Menchik on board 3 (The Times 31 March); and there are two instances of him appearing with Dr W - in 1933 as J.H. on board 4 for Kent (The Times 27 Nov), and in 1934 as I.H. on bd 1 for West Kent (The Times 28 May). After that - and after the war - he appears on Ancestry in Paddington in 1953, then in Hove on the south coast, where he died on 22 August 1991. 

Let's return to Theodore Magnus. It is not impossible that he, too, was in Paris in February/March 1929 - but on the other hand it seems he was busy back here. Professionally he passed his Ll.B. exams  (Yorkshire Post 29 June), and became a solicitor that same year (see here). Chess-wise he had competed in a Congress organised by Kent CCA in early April (Premier B, he finished =4 (Scotsman 8 April)).

Otherwise we can track him later on in a couple of county matches (The Times 5 Oct 1931, and Hastings Observer 27 Feb 1937), and at several Congresses that side of the war, e.g. Hastings, thus: Dec 36/Jan 37 - finished 8th/10 with 3.5 pts in Major Section A (Hastings Observer 9 Jan, and others), E.M. Jellie was there too, in Section B. Remarkably we can say 'ditto' for Hastings 37/38, same section, same score, same position, same Jellie (Hastings Observer 8 Jan 1938).

Theodore was in the Major at Plymouth in September 1938 (Western Morning News 8  & 9 September, with more initial confusion between the two editions of the same paper). Alekhine was the star attraction.

Western Morning News 9 September 1938
Theodore Magnus served in the 1939-45 war and was awarded an MBE having also risen to the rank of Colonel (see here again). There is a lot that could be said about his political career, starting out in the 1930s for the conservative Municipal Reform Party before migrating to the Conservatives proper, and serving on the London County Council. There is a lot that could be said - though we won't, even if it wasn't all bad. He appeared frequently in the letter columns of the Times, once supporting the restoration of the war-damaged Morley College, a bastion of liberal adult education still going strong today (it has a chess club, and a team in the London League, and affords your blogger the opportunity to try and learn French). He married a couple of times (at least), and ended his days in Scotland - for some reason - on 12 May 1987, only 30 years ago. Thanks to Richard James for hints to this and other aspects of the Wechsler story.

His last chess appearance, in the record anyway, was at Hastings once again, in 1946/7, when he finally made it into the chess press with a game - one he would probably rather forget. Fortunately for him it was tucked away in a Swedish chess mag Tidskrift for Schack. I won't attempt a translation - but then it isn't really necessary.

"Uppgivet", indeed.

We can finally conclude with a revision of our list of members of the BCCP:

Members of the BCCP 1926-38 mentioned in the BCM and/or French sources (updated in bold):  
N.Baliol Scott, E.L.Barbier, E.O.Barnard, M.Behles, K.Blackmore, R.Brown, J-J.M.Campbell, G.W.Champion, E.Coleman, D.J.Collins, E.A.CrowleyC.C.Curtis, R.Dunlop, F.Farrington, J.J.Fitzpatrick, S.T.Fletcher, W.I.Gastman, E.Grad, H.K.Handasyde, W.Hands, R.W.Holmes, Japp, J.M.Lang, George L.A. Langelaan, Gérard Langelaan, L.H.Mortimore, H.Reyss, A.Roe, H.G.Spencer, I.HWechsler (aka J.H.Wechsler).

Members of the correspondence section:
B.Reilly, Col.Stuart-Prince (based in Nice and Hyères respectively); A.W.Mongredien.

Others mentioned in a social context:
D.Langelaan, M.Staub.

Previous episodes of Les Chesseurs Britanniques de Paris
Part 1 The ClubPart 2 The Opposition; Part 3 The MatchPart 4 The BeastPart 5 The RobotPart 6 The Addendum. Part 7 The Addendum bis  

Lost in History 

Appendix 1 

Le Salut Public 14 March 1929

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