Peter Wason. Psychologist, Chess Player, Genius and Friend.

Peter Wason. Psychologist, Chess Player, Genius and Friend.


Way back in this post.  I mentioned Peter, and that perhaps I would get round to writing about him one day.

I kept putting it off, because it is painful to write, but it was inevitable that I would get to it some day.

Recent events have put it into my head to write it, so here we go.

Over 15 years ago, there was a letter in one of the correspondence chess magazines. It asked if there was anyone willing to play a few games with an elderly gentleman in a nursing home.

So, thinking it would be a nice thing to do, I sent off an email offering to play.

When the reply came back, and the name Peter Wason was there, I nearly fell of my chair in shock. As someone self--taught in some areas of psychology, the name more than rang a bell.

He was a legend.

A genius. ( An over used word, but he actually was someone who it applies to.)

A man who stood his chosen field on it's head and demolished big chunks of what had gone before.

He would also be known to some chess players for this book.

Although I have been in the position of explaining material in his most famous work - this book - 

( My copy has a white cover!) to various psychology students - he is 100% essential study in psychology degree courses to this day, as I understand it - I am not really qualified to comment too much regarding his accomplishments in that field.

Instead, a couple of obituaries and articles for those who have 10 minutes to spare to read them.

One article that is very simple, and at the same time will be of interest to chess players is this one, which I would definitely suggest that you take a peek at.  

My own print copy of the Guardian obituary looks like this.

Phillip Johnson - Student of Peter Wason at U.C.L and a very clever and much admired man in his own right.

So, I got the email - it was, if I am allowed to use such a phrase, like winning the lottery prize of a day out with a God. We started a couple of games through the medium of his daughter's email in-box, and I  started to get to know the man behind the legend.

What a joy!! Although suffering from a horrible disease - Lewy Body Dementia - he still had frequent days wen that brilliant and extraordinary mind was firing on all cylinders, and capable of cutting a diamond into pretty patterns from 100 yards away. 

A couple of stories from my memory.

Although he was from a family of Liberal M.P.s, Peter was one of the school of socialists, like the fascinating Tony Benn, who emerged from the social melting pot of WW11.

Whilst he was at the nursing home, it was local election day, and he insisted on voting, so his daughter wheeled him down to the local school to vote. Given the political nature of the area, 1 vote would be meaningless, and I can picture her frustration at being asked, but Peter was a man of principle! 

Unable to hold a pen, he asked her to put a cross in the box of a local, left wing 'Independant Labour' candidate.

'Dad, you do realize that he's not from the real Labour Party!?' she said. 

'My dear, these days, the 'real Labour Party' isn't the 'real Labour Party.' 😊

On warmer evenings, when he was fully lucid, he would get one of the home's porters to get him into his wheelchair, and take him down to the local pub.

It would be proper, traditional beer. And not in one of those horrible glasses either - he had his own pewter mug behind the bar.

So, after a few beers, it would be time to wheel him 'home' again, and put on some music!

You gotta love this guy!

The music?  Big Joe Turner!! ( go search youtube!)

For the 99% of you who have never heard of him, Joe Turner was a band leader, and what is known as a 'Blues Shouter'. This isn't a quiet evening with your head in a copy of Shakespeare's Collected Works', with a bit of Mozart as quiet background music!

So I asked him whether, perhaps, it had occurred to him that he might be disturbing the other residents!?!?

'Nope - It's an old people's home! They are  all old. And deaf!!'

I wish  I had been there!

As his illness progressed, it became harder and harder for him to use his fingers, so at my suggestion his daughter bought him a magnetic demo board to hang on the wall next to his bed. That is the reality of these sad  situations.

There are many stories that are painful to recall, and I will not give them here. 

So, Peter Wason the chess player. Let's jump straight to that. He loved chess with a passion. Despite his approach to the game - see the games to follow - he was strong enough to be an England and Great Britain international at correspondence chess.

All the reports have him as a c.c. I.M., but I have not been able to verify that.

In 'The Psychology of Chess' he quotes Tarrasch:-

'Chess is a form of intellectual productiveness, therein lies it's particular charm. Intellectual productiveness is one of the greatest joys - if not the greatest one - of human existence.

It is not everyone who can write a play, or build a bridge, or even make a good joke. But in chess everyone can, everyone must, be intellectually productive and so can share in this select delight.'

He adds:-

'That just about says it all.'

And then the  news came through of his death.

My friend the chess book dealer Barrie Ellen - now also passed, God Bless him, offered to allow me to go down and choose something from his chess library before he advertised them, but I could not do it. 

Before I get to the chess content, I will summon up the emotional courage to quote a couple of lines from one of my most treasured possessions - the letter that his daughter Armorer wrote to me after Peter's death.

'...He enjoyed many aspects of his life right up to the end - and he always knew and showed his love for me and my sister, which was wonderful...

What can I say? Probably the one thing that gave him the most pleasure over the last couple of years ( even more than flirting with the nurses...!!) was, of course, playing his games with you.

Even though he couldn't manipulate the pieces, or find the right page in the book - or even find the books he needed!

And getting your email letters gave him more pleasure and  purpose than just about anything else.

So, from all of us, for this, thank you.... for making such an enormous difference to Peter's last years'

No. Thank you both from me. It was an honor and a privilege. 

O.K. that's the hard bit over - now the fun stuff!!

Peter saw chess as a creative, enjoyable and beautiful thing. He played to create, not for the result.

Enjoy the games. The first game won a BPCF best game prize. Peter left a legacy in his will for a c.c. brilliancy prize - that was his way with chess. Beauty first - result second - as you will see. I did hane the full details, but, no longer having database technology, I am going off the print out that I did for the Peter Wason Memorial c.c. tournament facts sheet that I did. If anyone has more details, please let me know.  

My notes say that it was Peter's own favorite game.

Peter was also a high quality composer of endgame studies. I will include just two of the ones that I have . The first is a simple looking one in the style of Grigoriev, which shows an important piece of endgame knowledge. 

I would suggest that you try to solve it from the diagram. You will learn something!

And finally Peter's favorite composition. It was a joint effort which won 2nd prize in an international competition. I have it noted that the study was commended by none other than Kasparian, but have no more details than that, so all help welcomed!! It is a gem.

The Times obituary - not available online. You will have to right click and save  etc to see it properly.

Peter at the chess board from the above. 

See you soon mate - and no, I didn't write this in invisible ink. They haven't come up with invisible internet yet!!