Sheriff Spens


The Chess Bouquet: Or, The Book of the British Composers of Chess Problems, with Portraits by Frederick Richard Gittins; Published in 1897 by Harvard University, gives us the low-down on Sheriff Spens.

Spens was just a name to me that I recalled in my explorations of Paul Morphy. You see, Sheriff Spens gave Morphy the sobriquet "The Pride and Sorow of Chess."

According to Edward Winters' Chess Note #4053, entitled The Pride and Sorrow of Chess:

"On page 113 of the April 1885 International Chess Magazine Steinitz wrote:
"... the fearful misfortune which ultimately befell 'the pride and sorrow of chess', as Sheriff Spens justly calls Morphy, can only evoke the warmest sympathy in every human breast."

So who was Sheriff Spens then?


From Chess Bouquet:

     Walter Cook Spens, LL.D., Sheriff Substitute of Lanarkshire, come of an old county family in Scotland, and was born in 1842.
     Educated at both Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, he was called to the Scotch bar in 1865, and five years later he became  Sheriff Substitute of Lanarkshire. At this time the late Henry Glassford Bell, a first-class chess-player, was Sheriff Principal of the county, and no doubt the splendid practice that Sheriff Spens then obtained treally made him the fine player that he is now.
     For many years he has been the most prominent figure in Scottish chess, and there is no more enthusiastic player to be found throughout the country, or one who has done more to forward in every possible way the interests of the game.
     Since 1882, he has conducted the popular chess column in The Glasgow Herald, about the only provincial paper which makes a point of publishing original problems only, many of them being contributed by himself; specimens of his skill ar appended, and will be found well worthy of attentive study.
     In 1884, he was chief founder of the Scottish Chess Association, and he has never missed attending one of the meetings. As a match-player he has been very successful, having frequently won the chapionship of the Glascow Club and the West of Scotland Challenge Cup; but as a tournament player he seldom does himself justice, taking a delight in the most hazardous combinations, astyle of play not to be commended when every game is of importance. In 1890 the championship of Scotland would have been his but for his quixotic endeavour to finish off an obviously won game in a "pretty" way. However in 1894, at the meeting of the Scottish Chess Association that year, he was exceptionally fortunate, winning not only the championship, but the handicap tournament, as also a prize for the best game played, awarded by Dr. Hunt. He is an exceptionally good-natured; more than one chess-player owe their present position to Sheriff Spens, his influence having helped them, and he is always ready to subscribe to any deserving object connected with the game, or otherwise.
     He is also an author of two volummes of poems, and some chess verses as well, which are exceedingly good. He has also published a number of important legal works of acknowledged repute.
     In 1889 the University of Glasgow conferred on him the honorary title of LL.D.

 His tournament achievements include:

10th Dundee, 1867; 11th Glasgow, 1875;13th Cheltenham, 1876; 10th Manchester, 1882; 6th-8th Birmingham, 1883; 3rd Glasgow, 1884; 7th Edinburgh, 1885;  9th-10th Glasgow, 1886; 7th Edinburgh, 1887; 6th-7th Glasgow, 1888; 3rd-4th Edinburgh, 1889; 1st-2nd Dundee, 1890; 8th-9th Manchester, 1890; 3rd Glasgow, 1891; 6th Edinburgh, 1892; 1st Glasgow, 1893; 3rd-4th Edinburgh, 1895; 4 Dundee, 1896; 4th-5th Stirling, 1899; 5th Dundee, 1900


According to the chess column in the Scotsman newpaper:

"The Spens Cup was donated by Sheriff Walter C Spens, the founder of the SCA, in 1901. The current trophy is a 1946 replacement after the original was destroyed during the Second World War."

"Sheriff  Spens is alleged to have won the shortest ever game in the Scottish Championships, "about 1893". 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nb3 - White was distracted while in conversation and intended Nc3. Since Nb3 is illegal the rules of the time required a king  move be played, so 3 Ke2 Qe4 mate! This story is recounted in the British Chess Magazine of January 1932 by six-time Scottish  champion,  Dr.Ronald MacDonald, but there is some doubt as to its veracity. The Graham Burgess book The Quickest Chess Victories of all Time does not mention Spens but gives the same moves in an 1893 (!) game Lindemann-Echtermayer, from Kiel, Germany