Gentlemen of Chess by Norman Britten

I am grateful to the author Norman Britten and the RAC, which originally published this excellent article in their magazine Pell Mell, for permission to reproduce the following article, which will be of interest to Hamilton Russell players, whether or not they are members of the RAC. References to the Club etc, obviously allude to the RAC:


It is 1922 in the Committee Room at Pall Mall. Ten members nervously take their seats and study the chessboards in front of them. There are no opponents facing them. Instead, they are waiting to hear the opening move spoken by a small, quiet Czech man behind them, facing the wall. In front of an astonished audience, this man, Richard Réti, will play all ten members at once – without looking at a single board.
It is a feat for which he would go on to hold the world record, playing 29 games simultaneously (losing only two). An elegant player and formidable tactician, Réti was responsible for many notable endgame studies and the famous Réti Opening, a staple of grandmaster play to this day. In 1922, his star was on the ascendant; two years later, he would dazzle the chess world with his defeat of the supposedly unbeatable grandmaster, José Raúl Capablanca, another visitor to the Club in the 1920s.
That Réti and Capablanca should play at the Club may seem quite a coup, but in fact Pall Mall played a significant part in the 1920s chess scene and has continued to attract grandmasters and luminaries up to the present day, largely thanks to one man – The Honourable Frederick Gustavus Hamilton-Russell. The son of the 8th Viscount Boyne, he was a keen chess player, competing in many first-class tournaments and ultimately becoming president of the British Chess Association. The Club Chess Circle commenced in 1911, when the Club moved to the current clubhouse in Pall Mall. There was an appetite to play other London Clubs; Hamilton-Russell suggested a competition and presented the Hamilton-Russell. Inter-Club Chess Challenge Cup.
The Club would have to wait until 1928 before it was to see its name on the Cup, but since then the Club has won the trophy on more occasions than any other club. In recent years other significant winners have included the Athenaeum, Marylebone Cricket Club and the Oxford and Cambridge Club.
In 1924, in Paris, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) was founded. It organised the first Official Chess Olympiad, held at the Westminster Central Hall in London in 1927. Once again, Hamilton-Russell donated a trophy. The winning team in the open section has played for the International Hamilton-Russell Cup ever since.
In the early days of chess, there were no chess clocks. Games could last long lengths of time, so chess clocks were invented. Hamilton-Russell made six chess clocks available to the Club. These historic pieces survive and have recently been returned to the Club from the production of a film involving Bletchley Park, where leading British chess players, including post-war British champion Harry Golombek (a frequent chess player at the Club), were recruited as code-breakers.
These clocks are currently on display in the Rotunda trophy cabinets at Pall Mall, alongside a number of chess trophies. In elevating the Club’s chess reputation, Hamilton-Russell attracted not only Réti but also his most famous opponent, Capablanca – one of the greatest players of all time. This Cuban grandmaster, nicknamed ‘The Human Chess Machine’, came to the Club in April 1929 to win an exhibition match of ‘Double Chess’, which is played on an enlarged board with twice the usual number of pieces. The obituary of Hamilton-Russell, published in the British Chess Magazine in 1941, concluded, ‘The name of The Honourable F G Hamilton-Russell will be honoured as long as chess is played.’ As we approach the 150th anniversary of his birth, that sentiment perseveres.
The Club continues to attract top names in the chess world. World Champion, Gary Kasparov, although not a member, has been a frequent guest here and used Pall Mall for rest and recreation during his famous World Championship match against Nigel Short. Raymond Keene OBE is a long-standing Club member and chess grandmaster, who has been chess correspondent of The Times since 1985. He kindly provides the Chess Puzzle (below). In 2011, as part of the Chess Circle’s centenary celebrations, Pall Mall was proud to host a 100-board simultaneous contest, held against ten of Britain’s highest-rated grandmasters. This year, the English Ladies Chess team were coached at the Club for the first time. The annual Oxford v Cambridge Chess Match has been played at the Club since 1978 and in addition to participating in the Hamilton-Russell Cup, the Club plays international matches against teams from Washington DC, Paris and Gibraltar.
Inaugural matches were played this year against a team in Reykjavik and in New York against the New York Athletic Club and the Marshall Chess Club. Hamilton- Russell would no doubt be very proud of his long and important legacy.

rac2 rac3

The Hamilton-Russell Cup.


Capablanca playing at the Club in 1929.



Find white’s move!

This position, kindly proposed by member, grandmaster and chess columnist for The Times, Ray Keene OBE, shows Capablanca at his best, getting the upper-hand with some ingenious play. White to move. White has an extra pawn on c6, but Réti is threatening to round it up and liquidate to a draw with Ne7 and Nxc6. What razor-sharp coup did Capablanca find to secure a winning advantage and circumvent Black’s defensive machinations?

Answer: the brilliant 1Nb7!!. This move abandons
protection of the extra pawn, but threatens the deadly
Rxd6+. Meanwhile Black cannot capture with…Rxc6
because of 2Nd8+ winning on material.


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