Henry Atkins. An Introduction.

Henry Atkins. An Introduction.

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As a follow up to my post on Michell, I foolishly thought that I would spend an hour or so on two other English amateurs of the era. One on George Thomas will follow at some point, when I have done the monstrous amount of work involved. For now, I will post some stuff on Ernest Henry Atkins, that I hope will be of some interest.

According to the edoratings site, Atkins was ranked between no.10 and no.12 between 1896 and 1903. He was a strong player!

For me, his style was fundamentally sound, in the style of the day. In the opening and early middle game he would focus his strategy around the files nearest to the centre that were likely to become open. In e4-e5 openings, there is a lot of play around the f4 and ...f5 breaks. Likewise, in Queenside openings, focus on the c and e files. In the middle game he was a dangerous and imaginative attacker. 

Others, it should be noted, have a different opinion - see below.

I have deliberately selected some games on the basis that they are not available on the usual internet sources. ( e.g., Chessbase and 365chess.) 

With them I give an open invitation to anyone interested, to add games from those sources, as well as Britbase, olympbase, and others, where Atkins better known games are available. If any of the games I give catch the eye, let me know and I will add some notes.

   A contemporary view of Atkins - may I say that I disagree with my old mate Keith, but he is entitled to have his opinions noted!!

I am lucky enough to own a rare book by R.N.Coles, - 'H.E.Atkins. Doyen of British Chess Champions'.and will give his biographical introduction, and the frontispiece picture.

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Related to the above, I have found some interesting stuff, here,

with regard to Atkin's father, his schooldays, and, that great English summertime pleasure, cricket!!


Two catches, but a big 0 in the batting department.

Perhaps one day I will write about chess playing cricketers!





The above photograph was taken at Hastings in 1919, and is on page 886 of Forster's book on Amos Burn. Atkin's presence there being mentioned in this career summary from wikipedia.

Chess career[edit]

Atkins is considered by many to be Britain's most talented player ever.[5] A schoolmaster who played chess only in his spare time, he nonetheless became one of the strongest amateur players.[5][6] He made a deep study of the games of Wilhelm Steinitz, and modeled his play so closely on Steinitz's that he became known on the European continent as "der kleine Steinitz" ("the little Steinitz").[1][5][7]

Atkins learned chess from one of his brothers, and joined the Wyggeston School Chess Club at age 10.[1][8] One of his sisters gave him a copy of Howard Staunton's treatise The Chess-Player's Handbook, which he closely studied.[1]At 15, he joined the Leicester Chess Club and within two years was playing on first board.[1] While in college, he also played on first board for Cambridge University.[9] In four years playing for Cambridge he only lost one match game.[1]

Between 1895 and 1901, Atkins played in seven minor tournaments, winning four and finishing second or equal second in the others, and losing just 3 out of 70 games.[10] These included the minor tournament at the great Hastings 1895 tournament, where he finished equal second, behind Géza Maróczy, and was awarded the Newnes Cup for the best result by a British amateur.[11][12][13] At Bristol 1896, he yielded just one draw in nine games.[14][15] At Southampton 1897, the Eighth British Amateur Championship, he scored an undefeated 8.5 points out of 10 possible, retaining his British amateur title.[16][17] At Craigside 1899, he scored 7.5/10, behind Amos Burn (9/10). At Amsterdam 1899, an amateur tournament that was Atkins' first international appearance, he achieved a rare perfect score, winning all 15 games and finishing 4 points ahead of the second-place finisher.[18][19][20] He scored 4/6, again finishing behind Burn (5/6), at Birmingham 1899.[21] At Bath 1900, he scored 12.5/14, yielding just 3 draws in 14 games.[22] At Llandudno 1901, a four-man double-round robin, Atkins was again bested by Burn, who scored 4.5/6 to Atkins' 3.5 points.[23] Between 1896 and 1911, Atkins participated in the annual 10-board cable match between Britain and the United States every year except 1909.[24]

Atkins' best-ever result came at his first major international tournament, Hanover 1902.[25] He finished third with 11.5/17 (8 wins, 7 draws and just 2 losses), behind David Janowski (13.5 points) and Harry Nelson Pillsbury (12 points), but ahead of Mikhail Chigorin and Frank Marshall, among others.[10][11][26] Chessmetrics ranks Pillsbury number 2 in the world at the time;[27] Chigorin had played matches for the World Chess Championship in 1889 and 1892, and Marshall and Janowski would go on to do so in 1907 and 1910, respectively.[28] Although Atkins could at this point have considered making chess his career, he did not, and indeed played in no international tournaments for the next 20 years because "he 'never found it possible again to play'".[3]

His record in the British Chess Championship is without parallel.[11][29] Atkins played eleven times, winning in all but his first and last attempts. He first played at Hastings 1904, the first Championship organized by the newly formed British Chess Federation.[30] He tied for first with William Ewart Napier, each scoring 8.5/11. However, Atkins lost the playoff (3 draws, 1 loss) and was thus relegated to second place.[31] Remarkably, this was to be Atkins' worst result in the Championship for a third of a century. He proceeded to win the next seven Championships: Southport 1905 and Shrewsbury 1906, again scoring 8.5/11 each time; Crystal Palace 1907 (7.5/11); Tunbridge Wells 1908 (8/11); Scarborough 1909, where he tied for first with Joseph Henry Blake, each scoring 8.5/11, but won the playoff with 2.5/3; Oxford 1910 (8.5/11); and Glasgow 1911, tying for first with Frederick Yates at 8.5/11, and winning all three games in the playoff.[32] Coles writes, "His success in these years was all the more striking because of his lack of other first-class practice, which not infrequently caused him to get away to a bad start; yet such was his natural ability and determination that he invariably overhauled the field before the end as confidence and skill returned."[29] Atkins wrote the introduction to the first edition of Modern Chess Openings (1911).[33]

After the 1911 Championship, Atkins retired completely from tournament chess for the next 11 years.[29] He later remarked, "I really can't say why I didn't play after 1911 for so many years."[29] He had agreed to play in the 1919 Hastings Victory Congress, but withdrew at the last moment "by doctor's orders".[34] In 1922, a major international tournament was organized in London, the first in almost a quarter of a century; many of the world's leading players agreed to compete, such as newly crowned World Champion José Raúl CapablancaAlexander Alekhine, and Akiba Rubinstein. Despite his long layoff from the game, Atkins was also invited, and agreed to play.[29] After such a long hiatus, he unsurprisingly had a disappointing tournament, scoring only 6/15 and finishing 10th out of 16 players.[11][29] He finished just outside the prize list, for the first and only time in his career.[35] However, did have the consolation of claiming among his victims Rubinstein and Savielly Tartakower.

His appetite for competition having been stirred, he returned to the British Championship, playing at Southport 1924.[36] This time he showed his old form, winning his eighth championship with his usual score of 8.5/11. The following year, he exceeded himself, winning at Stratford-on-Avon with his best-ever score of 9.5/11 (8 wins, 3 draws).[37] His final Championship appearance was in 1937, when he tied for third at the age of 65.[11][38]

Atkins also represented England at the Chess Olympiads of 1927 and 1935.[11] Playing first board for England in the London 1927 Olympiad, he scored 3 wins, 8 draws, and 1 loss (58.4%), leading the English team to what author Árpád Földeák calls an "unexpected but well deserved" third-place finish.[39][40] England did not place this high again until Haifa 1976.[41][42][43][44] At age 63, he played fourth board for England at the Warsaw 1935 Olympiad, scoring 3 wins, 6 draws, and 4 losses (46.2%).[36][45]

G. H. Diggle recollected of Atkins:[46]

... we well remember his giving a "simultaneous" at the Lincoln Chess Club in 1924, winning 17 and drawing two. One of his more elderly opponents (a notorious non-resigner) who for 30 moves had been wobbling along with a piece down until "time" had to be called, then proceeded to "demonstrate a draw" by concocting a continuation so optimistic that even clubmates with lifelong experience of his powers stood aghast. Atkins, with his greatcoat on ready to go home, made no attempt to refute this analytical masterpiece but merely remarked with great deference: "I don't think we can play it quite like that!" and then beat a craven retreat "escorted by Club Officials".

An unobtrusive man, we last saw him as a spectator at "Nottingham, 1936" wandering about as if he was nobody.

Playing strength[edit]

In 1950, FIDE, in its first award of international titles, awarded Atkins the International Master title in recognition of his past achievements.[6][11] By Arpad Elo's calculation, Atkins' strength during his five-year peak was equivalent to an Elo rating of 2540.[50]

World Champion Emanuel Lasker believed that if Atkins had devoted more time to chess, he would have become one of the world's leading players.[10] Sir George Thomas, one of Britain's leading players in the first half of the 20th century, observed, "H. E. Atkins ranks, indisputably, as the greatest figure in English chess since Amos Burn, and only lack of opportunity prevented him, in my opinion, from definitely establishing his position in the world championship class."[38] Anne Sunnucks writes that, "His devotion to teaching and his insistence on treating chess as merely a game was all that prevented him from becoming one of the leading players of the world."[9]

 Atkins record card from Cambridge University.



Two games from the Oxbrige matches. I have not fully researched these matches, so if anyone wishes to add more information, I would be most grateful!

 Some games. As I say, they are from book sources - with the exception of the cable match games. Feel free to post any additional ones - potential sources are noted above.

One of historical interest, between the two top finishers in the secondary event at Hastings in 1895. I have only the details in Barcza's wonderful Magyar Schacktortonnet series. Looking at the game, I assume that a draw against his main rival was a good result for Maroczy. 




The pic is of the players in the 1896 match, courtesy of the wikipedia article on the cable matches.




Atkins - centre picture,facing, and Michell, far right, at Tunbridge Wells. See my Blackburne - Lasker post!!

 A picture from later - Marienbad 1925,sourced here

Yates sitting front right, with Michell also in the picture. (O.K., so I forgot to include it in the Michell post!!!)


From 'Chess Pie No.2'.





From Tim Harding's excellent book on Blackburne, pg.45.


I will give my own opinion. Atkins deserves to be remembered. He was part of a group of British amateurs - Michell, Thomas, Tylor - a remarkable man - Alexander, Millner-Barry and others, who along with the wonderful, and tragic, Freddie Yates, and the phenomenon that was Mir Sultan Khan ( a topic of conversation between Ritson and I in a smoke filled room many years ago) formed the bedrock of British chess for decades. The man could seriously play!!

I hope that, in a small way, this article will contribute to his being remembered.

With huge thanks to all the sources quoted, and apologies for errors.