B.G. Laws

Jan 4, 2009, 7:58 AM |

Although I'm not a problem aficionado,  problemists are an important segment of the chess sphere, and, even if one doesn't solve (or create) problems as a steady part of one's chess diet, no one can rationally deny the beauty of composed problems nor the great satisfaction that comes from the act of solving them. If chess-play is prose, then chess problems are poetry.

Not being a true aficionado, my knoweldge of problemists is often embassassingly sketchy, but I'm aways willing and eager to learn. Such an opportunity afforded itself in the guise of chess.com member, gretagarbo, who sent be the introduction to a book called  "An English Bohemian. A tribute to B. G. Laws."  (Edited by George Hume, 1933).  The title itself probably needs some explanation.  Bohemian refers to area now known as the Czech Republic, paricularly to the Bohemian Chess Club of Prague and even more specifically to the Bohemian school of chess problems - that style espoused by the members of the Bohemian Chess Club.  Defining chess problems as Bohemian isn't really difficult, but more involved than this article can get into. Several sites, however, do a good job -  particularly that of  Thorsten Zirkwitz  and of  The British Chess Problem Society.

[The British Chess Problem Society, founded on August 10, 1918 is the world's oldest chess problem organization. B.G. Laws was elected it's first president]


"An English Bohemian. A tribute to B. G. Laws"  was one of Alain Campbell White's Christmas Series (from 1905-1936 - totaling 44 volumes in all, White anually financed the private publication of a chess problem book -sometimes books,  giving gratis copies to his friends)  and contained what was regarded as B. G. Laws' best problems. The introduction was written by John Keeble.

       an example of A.C.White's inscription



This photo of John Keeble is from The Chess Bouquet

John Keeble was a chess player/problemist. He was also interested in first-hand historical investigations:

"Amongst the many discoveries of ancient documents none possess greater interest to chess problemists than that of some MSS.
relating to the reign of Alexius Comnenus, Emperor of Constantinople. It is recorded in the Alexiad of Princess Anna Comnena that
this Emperor used to divert his mind from the cares of State by playing at chess, and from the MSS. now brought to light we have been able to decipher the following position, which is attributed to him, and was apparently composed just 800 years ago"   - The Chess Bouquet, 1897

Alexius Comnenus, A.d. 1089
   In the early 20th century, John Keeble managed to follow the trail of Morphy's chessboard and pieces to Count Gasquet (of France, but living in New Orleans) who claimed to have obtained the chessboard but was unaware of the location of the pieces. The trail grew cold after that . The board and pieces are still unaccounted for today.
   Keeble was also involved in raising serious questions concerning the authenticity of Fiske's inclusion of Lewis Rou's supposed manuscript in the Book of the 1st American Congress (presented by Fiske as the first known writing on chess in America). Along with Alain C. White, Feeble seemed to believe, and made credible observations in his "An analysis of the Lewis Rou ms. in the Book of the first American chess congress 1859"  in 1925  confirmed by A. C.White's 1931 letter to Keeble, was a hoax.
from History of the Norfolk & Norwich Chess Club
"John Keeble (1855-1939) deserves an honoured position in the history of the Norfolk & Norwich club. A good, but never master-strength player, he was a familiar face at British events and occasionally those on the continent. He was regarded very highly in chess problem circles. In this he maintained the Norfolk chess problem tradition of Horatio Bolton and also of J. A. Miles (1817-1891), who had been a member of both the Fakenham and Norwich clubs. Keeble was an author of chess problem books and conducted successful newspaper columns. Perhaps his greatest fame was in historical chess research in which he made a number of significant
discoveries. His obituary in the British Chess Magazine spread over more than two pages in the April, 1939 issue."
JOHN KEEBLE, Norwich. (1855-1939)
FOR many years Mr. Keeble has taken an active interest in chess, and whether as solver, composer, player, or tourney judge, he has invariably acquitted himself well. In all he has composed about 140 problems, but as he has not reserved the best of them for tourneys, his prize list is not so large as it otherwise would be. His principal successes include :—First prize Hull Bellman tourney, two-movers, 1878 ; third prize B.C.M. self-mate tourney, 1887; first prize St. Louis Globe Democrat Chancellor tourney, 1887 ; third prize Pen and Pencil tourney, two-movers, 1889; first prize Norwich Mercury, for self-mate, 1889; second prize Sunny South tourney, for self-mate, six to eight-movers, 1889; first prize B.C.M. self-mate tourney, two-movers, 1890. In addition to these he has obtained several prizes for puzzles in Christmas chess-columns, a phase of chess in which he has taken an especial interest, his best work in this line having been contributed to the Leeds Mercury and Jamaica Gleaner.  
- The Chess Bouquet, 1897

Regarding the above problem the American Chess Bulletin (1915) had this to say:

   "In the above connection the author's name over Problem No. 1,058 is particularly interesting at the present time, as it is generally known among problem students that Mr. John Keeble, of Norwich, long known as composer, chess historian and editor of the celebrated chess department in "The Norwich Mercury"—now discontinued—was for some years the champion rifle shot of the English Volunteer Rifle Corps, all famous marksmen.
   An extract from a highly interesting letter, written us by Mr. Keeble under date of October 10th, will, we feel sure, be read by all with
equal interest. Mr. Keeble writes :  'I am in military harness again. I served over thirty-one years in the old volunteers and retired (under the age limit) when I was about 50 years of age and became a member of the National Reserve. Last December I joined the newly formed City of Norwich Volunteers, for men over military age (then 38, now 46). This corps has a large membership, and they made me one of the deputy instructors of musketry, as I used to be a good shot. Even now, in the rapid shooting test which all are compelled to take, I scored 99 out of a possible 100—in the open air, with military sights and no aid in the shape of glasses, etc.
   These voluntary training corps, as they are called, have now taken over guarding of railway bridges, etc., at night time. Our battalion did about seven weeks ago, and I went on guard all night, 7 P. M. to 5 A. M., for the first time, on my sixtieth birthday! and have done one night a week ever since, viz., seven weeks in succession.'
   Speaking of chess, Mr. Keeble wrote: "I made a two-mover, on a Sam Loyd theme, and sent it to Mr. Alain C. White, who says it is a highly original version, so perhaps' you would like to use it.  I may soon have plenty of time, and shall then undertake a chess program that I have mapped out to start with.'
   This last is very good news, and we have much gratification in being privileged to print Mr. Keeble's prettily poised two-mover, as No. 1,058, with a hope that others will soon follow."
Now back to our original thoughts . . . 

Laws' photo from Chess Problems and How to Solve Them 


Among some of the things we learn in Keeble's 15 page introduction is that Benjamin Glover Laws, who was born on February 6, 1861 in Barnsbury, London and died on September 21, 1931 in London, also composed problems under the noms de plume, Handley Roads (while living on Hanley Road);  S. Green (while living at Stroud Green); N.R.S (the final initials of his three names. Benjamin Glover Laws); C. Hill (Crouch Hill); I. S. Lington (Islington);  C. Horn (Hornsey).

     Keeble wrote that, "Mr. Laws started his problematic career in a column edited by F. C. Collins in Brief. . . In the issue of June 7th, 1878, Mr. Laws is announced as having sent four problems to the Chess editor, who acknowledged them, in reply to correspondent, as follows: -
     "We have much pleasure in inserting your two-move position.  No. 2 contains three checks which necessarily render the position much below the required standard for this column.  Nos. 3 and 4 can be solved in other ways.  In future you should confine your attention to one position at a time, and endeavor to make one perfect in every respect before commencing a second.  Continue to study the productions of others, endeavoring to discover the object of each Piece and Pawn, and in short time you may be enabled to compose a problem creditable to yourself and the work in which it appears."

Later in the introduction, Keeble recounts: "Mr. Laws had an extraordinary memory for problem positions.  Everybody noticed it.  When Major O'Keefe, of Kogarah, Sydney, Australia, came to Europe in 1919, he met Mr. Laws in London.  Afterwards he wrote:
     "I find one's first impressions of men and places are disappointing.  The Pyramids leave one cold.  Cairo is sordid and exasperating.  Jerusalem is a filthy, stinking hole,  and London is not the London of my dreams, but B. G. Laws is a marvel.  The bewildering rapidity with which he set up and demonstrated position after position was thriling to the extreme.

Keeble noted Laws career as a chess writer - the author of 4 books: The Chess Problem Text Book in 1887; Two-move Chess Problems in 1889; Chess Problems and How to Solve Them in 1923 and The Artistry of the Chess Problem, also in 1923 - and the editor of different chess columns. He was the problem editor of the Chess Monthly for ten years; from 1898 until his death, Laws edited the chess column for the BCM.


Finally Keeble listed those attributes which , according to both  Laws and Dr. Planck (one of Laws' friends and collaborators) are necessary in order to be a successful problemist:
1. Study, viz., study the works of others in order to arrive at a correct estimate as to what is, and what is not, desirable.
2. Vivid imagination.
3. Grasp and retention.
4. Quickness of perception.
5. Sound judgment.
6. Power of analysis.
7. Everlasting patience, the last named to guard against disappointment over constant failure which is inevitable.


A two-mover by B. G. Laws 
White to move and mate in 2