The chess side of a spy - Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander (Part 3)

Feb 12, 2009, 2:47 PM |

Now we read more about his chess life than about his being a "spy" (part 2).


He represented Cambridge University in the Varsity chess matches of 1929, 1930, 1931 and 1932 ( he studied at King's College, Cambridge). He was twice a winner of the British Chess Championship, in 1938 and 1956. He represented England in the Chess Olympiad six times, in 1933, 1935, 1937, 1939, 1954, and 1958. At the 1939 Olympiad in Buenos AiresArgentina, Alexander had to leave part-way through the event, along with the rest of the English team, because of the declaration of World War II, since he was required at home for codebreaking duties. He was also the non-playing captain of England from 1964 to 1970. He was awarded the International Master title in 1950 and the International Master for Correspondence Chess title in 1970. He won Hastings 1946/47 with the score 7½/9, a point ahead of Savielly Tartakower. His best tournament result may have been first equal (with David Bronstein) at Hastings 1953/54, where he went undefeated and beat Soviet grandmasters David Bronstein and Alexander Tolush in individual games. Alexander's opportunities to appear abroad were limited as he was not allowed to play chess in the Soviet bloc because of his secret work in cryptography. He was also the chess columnist of The Sunday Times in the 1960s and 1970s.

Many knowledgeable chess people believe that Alexander had Grandmaster potential, had he been able to develop his chess abilities further. Many top players peak in their late 20s and early 30s, but for Alexander this stretch coincided with World War II, when high-level competitive opportunities were unavailable in Britain. After this, his professional responsibilities as a senior cryptanalyst limited his top-class appearances. He defeated Mikhail Botvinnik in one game of a team radio match against the Soviet Union in 1946, at a time when Botvinnik was likely the world's top player. Alexander made important theoretical contributions to the Dutch Defence and Petroff Defence.