100 years ago... chess in London during World War I

100 years ago... chess in London during World War I

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I was searching for old greek chess columns and found one, really brief-living, in Esperia [Εσπερία  in Ψηφιοθήκη ΑΠΘ], a newspaper of the greek community in London, since 1916. There, for only 10 issues, a chess column appeared, that used as main source the famous Amos Burn's one in Field. Among others, I found two beautiful games, played by some Sergeant, and as I couldn't identify if he was Edward or Philip [in the end proved one of each], started searching in Australian press of the time [in https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/ ], and found some more...

The last British Chess Championship took place during August 1914, just few days after world war I was declared. Blackburne and Yates tied at the first place, while the following play-off match never occured, after Blackburne's resignation [cause of war and/or of some Blackburne's bad health, according to the press]. The next British Championship will occur in 1920. Blackburne, during the war years, is playing at simultaneous exhibitions. His next tournament games will be in the City of London Chess Championship 1918-19. I couldn't track some great game activity by Yates either, but seems to write frequently [mainly?] in Yorkshire Weekly Post. During the war years and with bombs falling, chess is played mostly in London.

"The war and Zeppelin raids do not seem to have affected the members of the City of London Chess Club much, as the following programme for the coming winter, season will show. It includes the following tournaments: The Gastineau Cup. (championship), Tournament for players ot the first class, the Mocatta Cup Tournament, for players of the second class..." Western Mail 26 Nov 1915

Or as Tim Harding writes [Blackburne, p. 497]: "During the war, with the British Championship suspended (it was not revived until 1920), the City of London Club champion had almost the status of national champion - at least in the eyes of its members."

The CLCC championship was taking place about the end of each year. Leading figure could be considered Edward Sergeant, participating each year and winning two tournaments. Sir G. A. Thomas won the CLCC of 1914/15 and also the following individual match against R. H. V. Scott, the latter as at the time champion of Metropolitan Chess Club. But then Thomas "has joined the British Army, and has been appointed, second-lieutenant in the 26th Hampshire Regiment." [Express and Telegraph 16 Dec 1915]. Scott is also mentioned as lieutenant, when he won the British championship of 1920 [American chess bulletin v.17 (1920), p. 149].

Edward G Sergeant in Hastings 1929/30, found in De Sumatra 02.01.1930

CLCC Champions of the period:

  • 1914-15/ G. A. Thomas
  • 1915-16/ E. G. Sergeant
  • 1916-17/ E. G. Sergeant
  • 1917-18/ G. E. Wainwright [a representative of Yorkshire chess]
  • 1918-19/ R. C. J. Walker [a player that hadn't participated since 1914].

Other participants Philip Sergeant, Theodor Germann /Latvian, Edmοnd McDonald /Scotch, Louis Savage. Besides CLCC, I've tracked also some activity by Hampstead and Metropolitan chess clubs in London, especially around two individual matches between Scott and Lazar Estrin, a Russian chess player.

Couldn't find any game played by woman. Harding informs us that "the London Ladies' Chess Club (founded 1895) had ceased to exist during the war..." [Blackburne, p. 502]. Maybe two excerpts are underlining the circumstances of the time.

in Journal 9 Oct 1915

in Observer 1 Jul 1916

On the games of that time, F. D. Yates wrote: "As Blackburne was fond of remarking, when he saw a young player learning chess by means of the close openings, instead of launching out into the open and speculative gambits, we shall soon be challenging pne another to a game of Ruy Lopez instead of asking for a game at chess. It is a good sign that players are turning to the brighter side of the game." [Sunday Times 19 Sep 1915].

in WSZ 1915, p. 104

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Games & tactics

The games were found mainly in Australian press [in https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/] and in Εσπερία, with some cross examination from https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ and http://www.edochess.ca/ , as there were some confusing timings in publishing.

The City of London Chess Championships

From 1914/15 found in The Express and Telegraph 11 Feb 1915

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From 1915/16 found in The Express and Telegraph 8 Jun 1916

This game is also found in Esperia of 22/5 May 1916 where a joke-pun is tried around the names of the chess players, as a Sergeant beat a Germann...

Firstly a missed tactic. White has just played 29. d6

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From 1916/17 found in Weekly Times 16 June 1917

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G. Wainwright in American chess magazine. 2 (1898-99), p. 421

From 1917/18 found in Daily Mail 10 August 1918

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From 1918/19 found in Daily Mail 28 June 1919

Firstly a beautiful missed tactic. White has just played 35. Qf5

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From the same tournament...

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This was the last CLCC that could be considered of World War I. It started just few days before the war armistice of 11 Nov 1918. After this and since Jan 1919, a victory chess congress was to be organized. That was Hastings 1919... [Daily Standard 23 Jan 1919].

Some misc games...

Thomas vs Scott match 1915 found in The Brisbane Courier 13 Nov 1915

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Philip W. Sergeant vs Louis Savage, played in the City of London in 1916, found with some delay in Australasian 23 November 1918. But the same game is also found in Εσπερια of 3/16 Jun 1916.

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A Blackburne's simul found in Queenslander 6 Jan 1917

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And some items, possibly products of a war propaganda, but surely noticeable...

Found in Leader 6 Feb 1915

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in Observer 19 Dec 1914
in The Sydney Morning Herald 24 Jul 1915

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