Ian Wells. Only The Good Die Young. A Personal Memory

Ian Wells. Only The Good Die Young. A Personal Memory

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My Basman post brought back some memories of my time spent amongst one of the most awesome groups of young talents of the post war/ pre-computer era. Under the watchful eye of the great Leonard Barden, Britain was the envy of the World in terms of young chess talent. One Soviet Grandmaster is said to have commented, after meeting some of them in a simul, that he didn't get such rough treatment back in the U.S.S.R.

One of the shining lights was Ian Wells, who was tragically taken from  us, under terrible circumstances, way too soon.

My personal memory.

I met him in just one tournament. I would have been 16 or so at the time, and he would have been about 12. He was so strong that even with the level of competition around at the time, he was playing  tournaments of 2 age groups older than him.

I was used to playing physical sports with older age groups, so to me he seemed a tiny figure! But to us guys he was already very big as a chess player. With the luck of the draw, I was paired with him in an early round of the tournament.

Sadly I no longer have the game - the score book with my games from that period was last seen in a chip shop in Dudley!! - but boy do I remember the occasion. Early in Swiss System tournaments, you get these pairing.  I was delighted to be 'punching above my weight'. He was a challenge!

I had White. The game started out as a Queen's Gambit Exchange Variation, and I set up my new found ( from a book by Konig) strategy - the minority attack. For the first time in my life I experienced the feeling that you get when you are up against someone who is from another world to you in terms of talent.

He sat there - this seemingly tiny figure - very still, calm, peaceful, relaxed. He moved the pieces gently - almost in slow motion. I slowly realized that in this supposedly straightforward position, I wasn't predicting a single move that he was making! This little kid wasn't as good as I had been warned that he was - he was better!

After the game we chatted for a few minutes, and I instantly liked him. The youngest of us there, he was already more of a mature adult than any of us. What a truly lovely, modest and likeable young man he was. Everybody loved him - it was impossible not to. 

A couple of days later I was lucky enough to be the 4th person in the room during the 20 or so minutes between rounds, with him and two very fine young talents. So we played a couple of games of 'exchange chess'. ( I think it is nowadays called 'bughouse'.) I remember him sitting there laughing so much that he couldn't see the board until he had wiped the tears of laughter out of his eyes.

That was the last time that I saw him. A few years later I read the news of his death and cried my eyes out.

Ian, you were a gem, mate. A special talent, and a special human being. I am lucky to have known you, and I thank you for our short time together. 

I will give a few games and bits and pieces ( the game notes were done very quickly, so feel free to correct them). A database of his known games can be found on John Saunder's Britbase site. He was from Cumbria - in the North West of England, and the N.C.C.U site notes that he was playing in the local leagues at 10 years old ( worthy of note in the days when chess players developed a lot more slowly than they do now.


From the ecforums site.


Well's opponent in the next game was scaring everyone round my local area at the time. If I remember rightly he was playing on top board in the Birmingham League, and drawing with him was considered a decent result.

Wells and Nigel Short were both from the North West of England, and must have known each other quite well. 

Wells' opponent in the next game - David Anderton - was a well known figure in British chess at the the time, especially in my local area. A solicitor, he was long time captain of the England team. A clever and modest man. A photograph from his company website.


The next game is a bit messy, but i have included it for it's historical interest - it also shows that despite his placid nature, Wells was a real fighter at the chessboard. His opponent, Geza Fuster, is a great chess story in his own right. I have games of his going way back to Budapest in the early 1930's, so he must have been a good 50 years older than his young opponent in this game! You can find a little here  

He is also in one of the most famous chess photographs of all time - you can find it all over this site,  including my own posts,


On the ecforums site, Leonard Barden recalls the following event ( I have lost the link!!) Sadly, what was intended as a regular event took place only once. England - with Short, Hodgson and Wells - eventually won, with Wells agreeing a draw in the better position in the last game to finish in the final to secure the trophy.


More can be found on olympbase.  

In the semi-final, Wells went all out for the win with Black.

Around this time Wells played his headline creating match with Alexander Kotov. You can find a little about it, with a nice photograph, here  ( We have to be VERY careful about quoting material from Winter's site!!) Two of the games are in the britbase database.

Murray Chandler moved to England from new Zealand in the late 1970's to further his chess career - following in the footsteps of the Australian Max Fuller. A photo from 1979.


O.K. I first saw the next game in Barry Wood's 'CHESS'. Barry had this thing that he did - most famously with a game Kaplan - Bronstein. After a game he would chat with one of the players about it, and then write up the material for his chess columns and magazines. Later on Ray Keene published the game twice, causing a little controversy along the way! You can read it here.   

Barry's original.





Wells' opponent in the following was  a strong universities player. 

When Miles, Nunn and Speelman had moved into top Grandmaster class, there was a big group  of young talent hot on their heels, so to speak. The three most highly regarded were Short, Julian Hodgson, and Wells. Here they are in a photograph with Viktor Korchnoi from a 1976 simultaneous exhibition.


Hodgson, Short, half of Ian Wells, Barden, Kortchnoi.

I remember those chess sets and 'roll-up' boards well! They were the standard 'hire-outs' for tournaments at the time

A game against a future G.M. who is a well known organizer and chess presenter these days.

1981 saw a tournament of great significance - The Arc Young Masters. I had the bulletin for it, from which - via the britbase archives - I give the score table.


What an array of talent! A host of future Grandmasters, the likes of Conquest and Kosten way down the table, and Nunn ( I think British champion at the time, from memory) and Miles out of the running for first prize. ( S.Caldwell was Susan Caldwell - wonder what happened to her!? )

Wells' equal 7th - level with Nunn - in such company was an excellent result. He dealt Miles' hopes a blow in an insane encounter.

An image of Tony Miles that I could not resist putting in especially for my friend @RoaringPawn  

The next game is the last one of his that I can remember seeing in print. John Hall was a fine player - see the above table - and the game is pure Wells.

Wells last game. ( the data may be incorrect - I recall it as an u-18s event, but could be wrong.)
Later he went swimming off the beach and drowned. After 6 days in a coma he died on the 25th.

null                                               Ian Wells. 22/06/1964 - 25/01/1982.