Especially interesting is that the players were encouraged to eat during play!
Britain v USSR Radio match. 1946
In the decades before the start of the Second World War, the U.S.A. was considered the strongest chess power in the world, having won 4 straight Olympiads (they did not participate in 1939). Things were about to change! The Soviet state’s massive investment in chess, especially as a propaganda tool, had paid dividends, and despite the war, Soviet chess had flourished. Even so, to the outside world Soviet chess was something of an unknown…
In March 1945 the Soviets accepted a long standing challenge to play a match with the U.S.A., and this was quickly arranged. In September of that same year, a radio match was held on 10 boards. It turned out to be a categorical disaster for the U.S.A.: they lost by the lopsided score of 15.5-4.5 !
Everything about the match seemed to meet or exceed expectations. The public loved it and the media attention was unprecedented for a chess match. The USA team played at the Henry Hudson Hotel in N.Y.C. and the ballroom there was rented by the sponsors to follow the match on large demonstration boards to a sold out crowd, while the moves were relayed by radio from the balcony of the ballroom.
I.A. Horowitz had some explaining to do about the debacle!
A radio match with Britain was organized the next year, and the venue was the Gambit Chess Rooms. The British were not so confident as the Americans had been…http://www.chessgraphics.net/rr.htm
The famous old Gambit Rooms looked unusual on june 18th. Twelve big demonstration boards were being erected in the ground floor room, and a throng of controllers, tellers, players and spectators milled around in the basement. In small rooms by, technicians tapped away at apparatus. The two trial games, rehearsals for the great radio match due to commence next day, were in full swing ; G. Wood and J. Stone faced A. Konstantinopolsky and V. Alatortsev respectively. After a spell of play not too brief for G. Wood to gain practically a winning opening advantage, such obviously perfect communication had been established that it was no surprise when a friendly message from Moscow suggested breaking off. Our apprehension of conditions-to-be had been increased rather thon abated – it really was stiflingly stuffy down there. But we had already had evidence, of which more was almost hourly to accrue, of the inspired and meticulous attention with which Mr. G. H. White had organised –controllers and tellers were well briefed ; they were supplied with specially printed duplicate record books which made error almost impossible, and offprints of the UDEMAN code (used for converting chess moves into a form handy for transmission) lay scattered everywhere for ready reference. Returning upstairs, we found decoration proceeding apace ; British and Soviet flags, hammer-and-sickle and red-white-and,blue bunting graced the room, whilst a coloured streamer linked London with Moscow on a big wall map of Europe. At 10-15 next day, Sir George Thomas, President of the Chess Section of the Society for Cultural Relations with the U-S-S-R, which inaugurated and organised the match, greeted the Lord Mayor of London, and Mr. Lewis Silkin (Minister of Town and Country Planning) who distinguished himself with a speech of unusual wittiness.
The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Charles Davis, making the first move. On his left is Mr. Lewis Silkin, Minister of Town and Country Planning, and on the extreme right, the Soviet Chargé D’Affaires, M. Koukin
If such matches became the rule, he said, we might yet see Mr. Bevin and Mr. Molotov sampling the subtleties of a King’s Gambit Declined, and certain statesmen might learn to appreciate the value of a timely sacrifice! He mentioned that the match was the first to be played from England by radio-telegraphy and that during the match would occur the first “hook-ups” for general broadcasting between the B.B.C. and Moscow radio. Mr. Derbyshire, President of the B.C.F. made a speech full of feeling, stressing the desirability of Russia’s joining the International Chess Federation. Sad that Lord Brabazon (who, through the Greyhound Racing Association, put the Match Fund on its feet with a grand donation of £120) and the Postmaster-General who had expressed his interest, could not be owing to far-distant prior engagements.
An interesting message went through : “To Mr. Rokhlin : Mr. Derbyshire, President of the British Chess Federation, asks me to send his personal best wishes to all Soviet chess players and to hope they will be represented at the International meeting at Winterthur, Switzerland, on July 25th-Thomas.”
We know of no answer.
And then with a swoop, the match was on us. The basement was bedlam for an hour-everybody a bit excited-but luckily we were only concerned with routine opening moves and long before we had reached complications, G. Wood had revealed himself as the most genuinely genteel but efficient ” chucker-out ” of our experience. lt was sad, but it had to be done! To render the atmosphere bearable at all, the visits of members of the all-curious general public who did infiltrate had to be curtailed to a glimpse. G. Wood also covered himself with glory as our caterer ; words fail us in trying to describe the excellence of the food!
Although transmission of moves was instantaneous, we were told, as much time was taken in checking, encoding or decoding, etc., as over consideration of the moves, and we soon realised that a normal four hours’ game would mean at least eight hours’ attendance at the board
Almost too soon for belief, came a delightful surprise – Bronstein had resigned to Winter! It was fitting that the man who first conceived the idea of the match and pushed it through against plenty of opposition, should be the first to shatter the favourite absurdity levelled against it : “We shall not score a point ! “ Other games were not going so well ; soon Aitken, who had battled on in a hopeless position, gave up to Bondarevsky ; then, in quick succession Mrs. Bruce resigned to Mme. Rudenko, König to Smyslov, and Alexander, whose game had attracted a big gallery, throughout, to Botvinnik. Just before eleven the Wood-Lilienthal game, with both players terribly short of time, ended in the same way, leaving the score 5-1 against us. On the remaining boards, Klein had been pressing Keres magnificently and was a pawn up; Fairhurst was struggling with two knights against two bishops but no worse off than he had been for hours ; Miss Tranmer’s game was fairly even ; List’s looked very sickly but Golombek had a dead draw, which he had offered in vain more than once. Finally, Abrahams was about to win a pawn in a bishop-and-pawn ending which looked very good. The general feeling was ” lt might have been worse!” We could hope for 3 and half points from the first round.
Next day was disappointing. The Soviet woman champion outplayed Miss Tranmer in the ending, and Abrahams, to our horror, offered his opponent a draw when he had a forced win. Keres, like the master he is, found the correct simplifying fine to force a draw against Klein, and the lest games-were jùst lost. Fairhurst put up a most stubborn end.game resistance against Flohr, lasting into the evening again, but one felt the game was always gone, though he said he had missed a draw on his 67th. So that the first round had brought us two and a half points only. As B. H. Wood reminded us in that evening’s B.B.C. commentary, we had anyway improved on the U.S.A.’s showing, for their first round total was only two. We learnt in the relay from Moscow that play there was in a spacious, airy hall and the British players could only gasp at the casual mention of the team doctor adjuring Flohr not to forget to take his vitamin tablets.
The “teller” waits at the checker’s table, while the encoded message is. checked, before it is transmitted to Moscow.Left to right: Messrs. Bruce Hayden and S. Diamond (tellers) ; Messrs. J. Stone, E. Mosan and B. Winstone (controllers)
Friday’s return.half games went rather worse at first, and at one period not one board showed a semblance of advantage. Mrs. Bruce’s position foreshadowed an early loss. Alexander’s game drew a bigger gallery than ever because, not only was it even more exciting than the first, but the broad grin on Alexander’s face told spectators (what the position could not, for it was beyond them!) that he was winning. ( At the other end of the room, Abraham’s continuous running commentary on his game, after striking a faintly anxious note for awhile, likewise turned hearteningly confident. In quick succession Winter resigned to Bronstein and welcome draws were agreed to by Fairhurst against Flohr and by Golombek against Boleslavsky, Golombek getting a clap for being the second British player to score a full point through two amusingly featureless but most valuable games. Aitken’s and List’s games were again looking bad, and König, up against that young genius Smyslov, was defending desperately. Wood had secured a passed pawn but was being kept pretty busy by Lilienthal’s resourceful counter threats. Keres was too much for Klein this time, forcing his resignation just on the adjournment.
Botvinnik had run extremely short of time, which delayed the adjournment at top board until midnight – after thirteen hours’ continuous play! Those who stayed to see the end went home happy in the knowledge that at least two more wins were certain, by Alexander and Abrahams. Both, in fact, were quickly confirmed next day.
During the match, the player makes his move, the ” teller” takes the players encoded move to the controller for checking and signature, and it is then passed to the Cable and Wireles transmitting operator-the message is transmitted by use of an automatic Morse perforating machine to Russia. The perforated tape is fed into an automatic transmitter, which caries the signal. Instantaneously and without interference to the Chess Room in Moscow.
This Keystone photograph shows ‘the “move” being recorded on the automatic perforating machine, while the checker looks on.
The remaining games petered out sadly except Wood’s, who notched a final half-point after an hour’s further see-saw to raise the British score to 6. Our women disappointed us, it must be admitted (would our experienced young champion Elaine Saunders have pulled off something had she been able to play, we wonder ?) But the score of 6-14 on the men’s boards represents an appreciable improvement on the U.S.A.’s 4 and a half to 15 and a half last autumn, and our score was made against a stronger team and in far worse playing conditions ; and on the whole we all felt justifiably pleased.
Alexander had defeated Botvinnik in a great game!
The logical sequel seems to be a match with the U.S.A. We have been endeavouring to arrange an over-the-board match with the U.S.A.team as it journeys through to Russia early in September, but this has proved impossible, as the various members of the team are travelling at different times and by different methods and routes. A radio match seems the obvions alternative ; we shall strive to arrange one. Lord Brabazon, on behalf of the Greyhound Racing Association, has actually offered to ” do it again “!
The match score was featured in B.B.C. news bulletins and the two special programmes mentioned last month (your Editor thanks many correspondents for kind comments) which went over well. C. H. O’D. Alexander spoke on the Overseas programme and, with B. H. Wood, appeared twice in ” Picture Page,” the television equivalent of “In Town Tonight.” Last, but not least, the newspapers gave the event excellent coverage.
Special appreciation must go to Miss Judith Todd, Secretary of the Society for Cultural Relations with the U.S.S.R., who put in most of the initial spade.work, and nearly wore herself out, revealing herself, however, as a superb organiser ; to the noble army of controllers and tellers, and to Cable and Wireless who managed to record, encode or decode and transmit two thousand moves, together with a host of other messages, clock-times, etc., without the semblance of a mistake-a marvellous feat-nor must we forget in this connection the equally impeccable collaboration of their opposite numbers at Moscow. The referees served us nobly too, though they had a boring time ; so perfect a spirit reigned between Soviet and British players (as evidenced in the friendly messages which passed constantly to fro throughout the match) that not one single dispute of any kind occurred, the match proceeding with a harmony which we only wish could‚ imbue all national affairs.
Beautiful photographs of the members of the russian team were available in London, but through a sad mishap we were not able to send as good ones in return ; if in any other ways our arrangements must have struck our friends from the other end of Europe as amateurish and unworthy of the event, we can only remind them that chess here is a private enterprise, not a State care, So the result was a defeat but, as Sir George remarked in his closing speech-” A defeat which enhanced the prestige of British chess.”
Winter and Klein are busy preparing a book of match which will be put on sale as soon as can be managed ; watch for further announcements! It will contain all the games with notes, photographs of all the players, etc., and a number of analytical descriptive articles.
CHESS August 1946
Alexander C. – Botvinnik M.
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3 6. bc Ne7 7. Qg4 cd 8. Qxg7 Rg8 9. Qxh7 Qa5 10. Rb1 Qxc3 11. Bd2 Qc7 12. f4 Nbc6 13. Nf3 Bd7 14. Ng5 Rxg5 15. fg O-O-O 16. Qxf7 Qxe5 17. Kd1 Nf5 18. g6 Ne3 19. Kc1 Qe4 20. Bd3 Qxg2 21. Re1 Ne5 22. Qf4 Nf3 23. Re2 Qh3 24. Bxe3 e5 25. Qf7 de 26. g7 Qg4 27. h3 Qg1 28. Kb2 Qg3 29. Bg6 Nd4
An unbelievably complicated position, almost impossible to work out over the board. Tal would use Alexander’s example two decades later to dethrone Botvinnik.
30. g8Q Rxg8 31. Qxg8 Kc7 32. Qh7 Kd6 33. Bd3 e4 34. Qh6 Kc7 35. Rxe3 Qe5 36. Ka2 Nf5 37. Qg5 Be6 38. Be2 d4 39. Reb3 b5 40. Qd2 d3 41. Bg4 [1:0]
Finally, when the Gambit closed its doors, everyone realized that what had been such a significant part of British chess life was now to become history. The following article was written in British Chess Magazine in 1958, witnessing the closing of the club.
The Gambit Chess Rooms (1898-1958)
Reprinted from British Chess Magazine, 1958
News from the British Isles [BCM, February 1958, p42]
Chess Resorts in London.—The closing down of the well-known Gambit Chess Rooms on January 18th , following on the recent change of ownership of the Mandrake Club and the temporary closing of the National Chess Centre, has deprived devotees of the game of their last public haunt in London. In consequence the news of the opening of a new centre will be welcomed by all London players. Mr. Boris Watson, former co-proprietor with Mr. H. Lommer of the Mandrake Club, will be opening the “EN PASSANT” COFFEE HOUSE AND CHESS ROOM, at 405 Strand, W.C.2, towards the end of this month. There will be a chess room for twenty-two boards and a smaller one with eight boards, with ample room for extension if necessary. Near by Simpson’s was once a chess name of world-wide repute. May another arise! Prospects for chess-players visiting London from the country and from abroad are, at the moment, bleak. We wish Mr. Watson all success in his new enterprise.
The “Gambit” Demolished – or Merely Deferred? [BCM, March 1958, p57]
At ten minutes to six on Saturday, January 18th , the “Gambit” was quieter than usual, but otherwise normal. The three rows of tables – cast-iron trestles, with marble slab tops, not that anyone noted that – were occupied but not full. Cosmopolitan murmurs came from the fireplace end – there was a fire, too – where the boldly hand-printed notice sellotaped across its four corners to the massive mirror read (though no one was reading it) –
OWING TO THE IMPENDING DEMOLITION OF THE PREMISES THE “GAMBIT” WILL BE CLOSING DOWN ON SATURDAY JANUARY 18TH 1958 AFTER 60 YEARS OF EXISTENCE.
Captain Ann Sunnucks is a pawn down, but seems happy nevertheless. Bridget, successor to the ageless Eileen of indelibly cantankerous memory, is serving tea, digestive chocolate biscuits, fruit cake, and the occasional cheese sandwich. She, too, is sorry about it all. The thirty or so other occupants of the room are all men – men with hair, men without much hair, joking men, brooding men, choleric men, condescending men, a Neapolitan assortment of chessplayers. A. Y. Green comes in and takes the only vacant board to play D. E. Lloyd – soon both Queen’s Rooks are in jeopardy and neither King is safe. Smokers, non-smokers, bespectacled players, tieless players, suited or sports-coated players, a jumble sale of players. Mr. Levy cheerfully snaps down some moves at his opponent. Mr. Woolf coughs, the clock is five minutes fast.
The proprietor of the “Gambit” is (still is) Mr. G. H. White. There are, as far as he knows, no original documents in existence relating to the beginnings of the “Gambit” but it was opened in 1898 by a small number of bank employees, who were after a few months bought out by Miss E. C. Price, who retained it until 1945, when Mr. White, with assistance from G. Teitz, B. H. Wood, and G. Wood, took over the bomb-damaged premises. Bombs or no, the “Gambit,” like the “Windmill Theatre,” never closed. Mr. White soon became sole proprietor.
An ebullient longitudinal streak with a teenager’s white woolly skull-cap enters – Rushbrook by name, Stock Exchange by profession. “What did you think of the game?” he says, and he means the England-Wales Rugby International (this explains the skull-cap) at Twickenham that afternoon. “Coxy” Lester, who has been skittling at the “Gambit” for generations, is silent except for an occasional croak. Nor is there a sound from Gosling.
In the early days Gunsburg, Blackburne came to the “Gambit.” When Simpson’s Divan folded up (they instituted a charge of 2s. in order to “keep the wrong sort out” and cut their own economic throats within eighteen months) everyone came to the “Gambit.” When Bonar Law wanted a game a message was sent to the “Gambit” and a party would go down to Westminster. Miss Price, who was to be five times British Ladies Champion, would play anybody. The “Gambit” has always been in the City, in Budge Row, in the middle of the triangle formed by the three underground stations, Mansion House, Bank, and Cannon Street, but until 1913 they were at No. 13. In that year they moved to No. 3 where they have stayed ever since.
There is no lightning tournament tonight. The buzzer is kaput and no one knows how to mend it. A marauding player goes in search of a missing white Knight and is foiled by Mr. Khan. The three partitions of the eternal glass sideboard opposite the tea counter still contain on the right the Portland sets, in the middle half a dozen miniature bottles of Schweppes Indian Tonic Water, and on the left Golombek’s Capablanca’s Hundred Best Games. Some of yesterday’s orange squash is still in the jug.
Mr. White, a heavily built, quiet man, who frequented the “Gambit” for thirty-three years before he bought it, reminisces. The simultaneous displays of Alekhine (four games blindfold and thirty ordinary victims) and of Capablanca, the radio match against Russia held there in 1946, the post-Hastings displays of Szabo, Bronstein, Pachman, Alatortsev, Ragozin, when as many as 400 people crowded into the confined ground-floor and basement rooms. Mr. White knows that the “Gambit” and London chess have been largely synonymous, but he does not say so.
A weighted Rook thuds to the floor. All the sets are Jaques sets. Miss Sunnucks now has a passed pawn. “J’adoube” from the fireplace end. Someone is humming. Mr. Bloom enters and in a few minutes he is playing bridge, yes, bridge, in the far left-hand corner, with Sheldrake, Calder-Smith, and someone else. At seven o’clock conversation suddenly livens with the amiable arrival of Dr. Fazekas. He wishes (and who can stop him?) to diagnose his Hastings defeats in his best anti-bedside manner. He has a willing audience, for it is fun to be present at a Fazekas post-mortem, if one uses ears as much as eyes. The sight of a player in Grade 3b evokes the lugubrious observation “Stone in de dead cold ‘Gambit’.”
Mr. White recalls a feat by Koltanowski: a large demonstration board was brought out and on each of the sixty-four squares some name or number or other piece of information was then placed by the spectators. Koltanowski studied this for a couple of minutes, turned his back, and called out a complete Knight’s Tour of the board naming each square by the information on that square. Mr. White asked him to book a date for a return visit the following year, so that it could be better publicized. “Half a minute,” said Koltanowski, “I must make a note of that. I’ve got a terrible memory.”
More ladies have arrived. Mrs. Green is playing. Miss Margaret Wood comes in at ten past, eight. “Taxi!” shouts Mr. Rushbrook – no one knows or bothers to ask why.
The London Draughts League and three pairs of domino players also used the “Gambit.” There had been no fires, and one burglary. One day a man died over a game: “It doesn’t matter,” said a Kiebitzer looking at the board, “he had a lost game anyway.”
The man in the grey suit has moved neither pawn nor muscle for twenty minutes. Is it his move or his opponent’s? One or two players begin to leave. Dr. Creed puts on his overcoat and goes out. Bridget comes round collecting half-crowns. The fire is still burning but no one has even been noticed putting coal on it. It is past ten o’clock. Two raincoated men enter like Scotland Yard plain-clothes detectives and are identified as Mr. Woolverton and Dr. Sturgeon. Dr. Fazekas gives them his Hastings losses.
Mr. White would start up again tomorrow if he could. It is all a question of finding suitable accommodation. “Suitable” means – in the City, two reasonably sized rooms, and a long lease. He has his spies out and nothing is likely to escape him. He has lost hundreds of pounds (did he say thousands?) in the “Gambit,” but he knows it is an institution whose continued existence depends on him – possibly on him alone – and he will not let it down if he can avoid it. But the cost of property in the City (Mr. White knows all the details) is appalling. Despite this, Mr. White remains the most hopeful of the “Gambit” crowd. During the last week all who wished to be informed of a new “Gambit” put their names and addresses in a book. Mr. White says there are a thousand of them.
Until that happens there will be lost souls in the City at lunch-time during the week. Mr. Broadbent, who had been lunching there pretty regularly for a number of years, said in one of his rare comments recently that the only chess he really enjoyed these days was played between one and two o’clock. Now, like the war-time cats bemusedly contemplating the wreckage of yesterday’s familiar buildings, chess-players will nod to one another in the street and get back to their jobs more punctually, but they and London chess will be poorer – to the extent of one old familiar “Gambit” and one strange new office-block.
(Any errors of reporting in the above will, we hope, be generously ascribed to the subjective approach of … A. J. ROYCROFT.)
(Any further errors creeping in 52 years later may be ascribed to the scanner owned by J.C. Saunders and not to the venerable and, as yet, thankfully undemolished A.J. Roycroft)
© 1958 BCM, John Roycroft
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS