World Championship Chess at Woodseats Library

Another session at Woodseats Library yesterday and there is much to report. The ghosts of great players (and we’re talking about World Champions) were abroad! I was playing against Steve, who saw our publicity and decided that he’d come along for a game. He’d not played since he was at school but he remembered playing in competitions. Suddenly he said: ‘Boris Spassky used to be World Champion, didn’t he?’ I nearly fell off my chair. You don’t often meet people in Sheffield Chess who can recall names like that (except at Woodseats Chess Club). That opened up a very interesting conversation about the Boris Spassky v. Bobby Fischer match in the ’70’s. Steve wasn’t a bad player either.

Efim Bogoljubov as a young man

My next opponent, Roderick, had an even more interesting story. Again, he’d not played for ages, but he’d been taught the moves by his great grandfather. I asked for the name. The surname was Alexander and, as far as Roderick could remember, his great grandfather had played for Southend Chess Club in the 1950’s and been ‘a bit better than the average club player.’ Well, that was all very intriguing. I didn’t recognise the name and after a good game – Roderick’s great grand dad obviously taught him well, I went home and, of course, immediately started ‘googling’. To cut to the quick, it turns out that F.F.L. Alexander (Frederick Forrest Lawrie Alexander – what a magnificent name!) was a bit more than an above average Chess Club player! At one stage he’d beaten a Grandmaster who had once played matches for the World Championship. Here’s how he defeated Efim Bogoljubov in very summary manner:

Maybe the great Bogoljubov was past his best by this time but this tournament which was one of the first international chess tournaments that took place after the end of the Second World War and featured some extremely strong international masters (Tartakover, Bisguier, together with a very young Jonathan Penrose, who later went on to dominate British Chess in the 60’s and 70’s). There was also International Master Harry Golombek (Chess correspondent of The Times for years, author of a string of Classic Chess Books and an International Chess arbiter, who presided at a number of World Championships). This is what Roderick’s (aged 70 at the time-there’s hope for us all) did to him:

Here’s an extract from the press at the time:

Bisguier finished equal first with Tartakower, ahead of Golombek, Penrose and Schmid, with Bogoljubow in sixth place. From page 153 of the May 1950 CHESS:
‘… Sixteen-year old Jonathan Penrose beat in turn Prins, Bogoljubow and Tartakower, and 72-year-old problem expert, F.F.L. Alexander, created almost as great a stir by defeating Bogoljubow and Golombek. The publicity might have blazed far higher had not young Jonathan, approached by eager Press men, flatly refused to be “interviewed” or quoted in any way.’
. . . Frederick Forrest Lawrie Alexander was born on 13 November 1879, which means that he was 70 at the time of the Southsea tournament. On page 144 of the May 1950 BCM Golombek wrote:
‘At the beginning of the Congress strangers were wont to ask if he was any relation of C.H.O’D. Alexander; towards the end people were inquiring if C.H.O’D. Alexander was any relation of his.’
FFL had played in the 1932 British championship . . . and by Southsea 1950 . . . was resident in Essex and was a regular winner of the Southend club championship . . . So it was indeed a stunning performance.

A note about a chess book that he once owned: Frederick Forrest Lawrie Alexander (1879-1965) who for many years held important posts in the BCF (British Chess Federation), was a strong amateur and a well-known problemist. His stamp is on page 7. Presumably he stamped all his books. He was a member of the BCPS (British Chess Problem Society?) and lived at 8 Longstone Road London during WW2. He was Vice President and President of the BCPS and being an accountant started a permanent fund that placed the Society in a strong financial position.

The story doesn’t end there. More to follow (and another splendid game).

Woodseats Library Chess Club plans to take a rest over Christmas. The next session will be on January 9th starting at 2.30 p.m. Do come along, if you fancy a game. Doesn’t matter how ‘good’ you are. All standards of play very, very welcome. Due to the offer of some very generous sponsorship by Chess in Schools and Communities, we should have more chess sets by then, so every body should get a chance to play!

Peter Hulse

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