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History of the Bradford Chess Club 1853 - 1953

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History of the Bradford Chess Club 1853 - 1953

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Possibly the desire for master play was well satisfied about that period by other attractions, for the Bradford club had the honour of providing accommodation, officials and chess­men for two very important matches. One was the play-off for the British championship between F. D. Yates, who eventually became a member of the club, and H. E. Atkins, whose names will always be outstanding in the history of British chess and both of whom are so well remembered by the older members.

Yates, who was born at Birstall on 16th January, 1884, and who first gained attention in Leeds chess circles, was six times chess champion of Great Britain. Henry Ernest Atkins, who was born at Leicester on 20th August, 1872, was nine times British champion. He came to Huddersfield in 1909 as principal of the College Secondary School, a position from which he retired in 1936, was a member of the Huddersfield Chess Club and, like Yates, who was a member of the Leeds club, played in many Woodhouse Cup matches.

In 1911 the British championship tournament, which was first played in 1904 (in Hastings) and which had succeeded the amateur championship (1886-1902), was played in Glasgow. Atkins had tied with W. E. Napier in 1904 but had been defeated in the play-off. He was champion, however, in 1905-6-7-8-9-10, while Yates had been equal fourth with J. H. Blackburne in 1909 and equal second with the same player in 1910. Therefore in 1911 when Atkins & Yates tied for the championship with 8.5 points out of a possible 11 the play-off in Bradford in January, 1912, aroused great interest. But it was an easy victory for Atkins. He won all three games. The other. important match in Bradford that season was between Yates and the Rev. W. C. Palmer who has been described as one of chess's "fighting parsons", and who had distinguished himself in British chess before leaving to take up a living in Trinidad. He came home on holiday to take part in the 1911 championship tournament, and at the Central Cafe that year played Yates a match of three games. Yates won them all.

Yates became a member of the Bradford club on 2nd November, 1916, at which time he was employed in an office in the city. He had won the British championship in 1913, had tied with Blackburne in 1914, but was awarded the title when Blackburne, who was in poor health, preferred to resign than to play a deciding match.

A month before he joined the club another distinguished player—A. G. Conde, a Mexican who had lived for a long time in England, had become a member. They both became familiar figures at the club meetings and in the lunchtime games at the cafe. A few days after Conde had joined and before Yates had actually become a member it was decided that Mr. I. M. Brown, who had played so large a part in.the success of the Bradford club and of British chess, should ask the two to play a series of five games on Saturdays or club evenings. Yates and Conde readily agreed. It was a notable encounter, and in "A Century of British Chess" is described by the author, Philip W. Sergeant, as the principal over-the-board event in Britain in 1916. The result was a tie, but in subsequent club contests which are referred to in the minutes Conde had slightly the upper hand.

Today competitors for the club's Priestman Trophy will be delighted to know that in 1918-19 it was fought for by these two master players and eleven others in a tournament which, says the annual report of that season, "probably was the most satisfactory and interesting one for many years". Conde won the trophy and the first prize, valued at 21 s., with 112 points. Yates was second (prize value, 15s.) with 102, and J. W. Morton third (prize value, 8s.) with 7. In the same season there was what is described as "the annual 'Good Companion' problem solving competition". There were eight competitors for three book prizes, the first of which was won by I. M. Brown, who solved eleven problems in 51 minutes, the second by Conde who solved nine in 1 hour 5 minutes, and the third by Yates who solved nine in 1 hour 9 minutes.

To the younger members of the Bradford Chess Club who may have heard little of Yates, without doubt the most distinguished player in the club's membership record (apart, of course, from those two famous honorary members, Capablanca and Marshall) I would suggest that they obtain a copy of his book "One-hundred-and-one of My Best Games of Chess", a work arranged and completed by W. Winter after Yates' tragic death. It is a joy to play all of them, particularly the one in which he defeated the great Dr. S. Tarrasch at Hamburg in 1910. After the great days of the nineteenth century when, says Winter, 'Britain's professional masters had been little, if any, behind their Continental rivals, there came a change. "The great masters were either dead or past their best, and the growing tendency among amateurs and patrons of the game to devote their energies to club and league competitions, offered no inducement to any young player to take up the game professionally. As a result the appearance of British players in the international arena became fewer and fewer, and with the notable exception of Atkins' one appearance at Hanover, distinctly unsuccessful. Internationally speaking, British chess seemed doomed to extinction, when in 1910, on the strength of two first prizes in small native tournaments, Yates received an invitation to take part in the International Masters Tournament at Hamburg. Although as was to be expected in such company, his score was a poor one, he showed promise of what was to come by defeating Tarrasch, then at the height of his fame by a brilliant sacrificial combination." The game was described as a credit to British chess and, says Winter, it gave particular satisfaction at the time, as Dr. Tarrasch had adversely criticised the inclusion of the youthful Yates in the tournament.

Yates travelled far. He played brilliantly, and had two fine wins and four draws against Alekhine, for one of which he received a special brilliancy prize (see end of this article). But his brilliance brought him little material reward, and at the age of 48 at his lodgings in Bloomsbury, as the result of an accidental escape of gas, he died as he slept. "He was", says Winter, "a great chess player and a good man. Let that be his epitaph."

Many years later, in January, 1938, another great player who was to achieve international fame and the British championship, R. J. Broadbent, joined the club. He came to Bradford in December, 1937, as traffic superintendent, Class 2, of Post Office Telephones and although he remained here only eighteen months before promotion took him elsewhere, he did great service and became one of the most popular members. At that time he was Northern Counties Champion and played for England, but he readily accepted an invitation to join the club team in the Woodhouse Cup matches and the following season to take part in the club championship, which, of course, he won. The lecture which he gave on chess at the Central Cafe one club night when non-members were invited will long be remembered. The room was filled to overflowing. It was perhaps the biggest audience that any lecturer to the club has ever had. The three simultaneous displays he has voluntarily given, two of them since he left Bradford, are also pleasant recollections of his association with the club. He undertook them without qualifying conditions. He was pre­pared to play as many as could be comfortably accommodated in the clubroom. He made no fuss, he had a smile for each of his opponents, and no matter how long the displays lasted he showed no signs of tiredness.

In October, 1938, he played 23 games, won 21 and lost 1, the remaining opponent having to leave before his game was completed. On 2nd March, 1940, he won 17, drew 5 and lost 1, and on 6th April, 1946, he played 29, won 24, drew 1 and lost 2, the other two games being uncompleted. Broadbent, who was born in South Africa in 1906, won the Liverpool club championship at the age of 20, and later the Lancashire championship three times and the Manchester championship four times. He was Northern Counties Champion 1933-46, the Surrey champion 1947, and the British champion in 1948 and 1950. He has Played for England in international matches against Holland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Australia, and has taken part in two international tournaments—London 1946, and the Staunton Memorial Tournament 1951. One of the best of his many brilliant games was that he played against Dr. J. M. Aitken in the British championship of 1948 (see end of article).


His simultaneous performances at Bradford compare favourably with those of many international masters who have visited the club. The most frequent master visitor in its history was Joseph Henry Blackburne, for whom the club had a great affection. In 1872 he came for a week—his fee is not recorded—and on one day played nine members blindfold, defeating seven and drawing with two. That was a notable performance in those days, although it seems insignificant when compared with the blindfold feat of Koltanowski who in 1937 at Edinburgh played 34 opponents in 14 hours, defeated 24 and drew with 10.


Before Blackburne came there were visits by Harrwitz, Kling and Lowenthal, and a little later came Zukertort, who was invited after the club had discussed whether it should have him or Steinitz, and who (1882) stayed for three days, at a cost of £13 10., £8 8s. of which was his fee and the remainder railway fare, hotel bill and advertisement charges. He played 21 games simultaneously, won 18, lost 2 and drew 1. In a blindfold display against 12 members he won 7 games, lost 3 and drew 2.


Other famous visitors in the nineteenth century were Bird and Gunsberg, in 1900 Mieses (who came again in 1944), in 1908 Dr. Emanuel Lasker, to whom the club later sent a silver matchbox as a memento, and in more recent years Marshall, Capablanca, Miss Menchik, Koltanowski and Znosko-Borowski.


Who was the greatest attraction of them all? Capablanca?

At least no visit aroused more interest than his. He came to Bradford on 8th October, 1919, and although he did not gain the world championship title until 1921, he was then undoubtedly the most notable figure in the chess world. He was entertained to lunch by the Lord Mayor (Mr. Walter Barber) and among the guests were Mr. Harry Sowden (president of the Chess Club) Mr. G. Terry (treasurer), Mr. H. L. Brook (secretary), Mr. J. W. Morton (captain) and Mr. J. W. Perkins, of Menston, a member of the club, who was Capablanca's host, and who lost his game in the great simultaneous display which took place at the Liberal Club.

Capablanca said afterwards with a smile that wherever he went he always made a point of defeating his host so that no one could suspect that there was any favouritism.

Capablanca played 40 games. He won 35, drew 2, and lost 3, a result with which Bradford was very pleased because at Leeds earlier in the week he had won all his 40 games. Bradford's victors were E. A. Lassen, W. Clough (the former M.P. for Skipton) and L. E. Williams. Those who drew were C. W. Roberts and J. W. Morton.

In 1938 when Alekhine, the world champion, came to Yorkshire, Bradford had not an opportunity to invite him to the city. A simul­taneous display was held in Leeds. Each of the clubs which was in­terested was allocated a number of boards and Bradford sent four players. One of them, Dr. Norman Cunningham, won his game.


In the competitive field the club has an excellent team record, and this and the enthusiasm which is always shown for the club's own trophy competitions are indicative of its strength. In its early days it was a little timorous. In 1854 it considered that it was too young a club to start a members' competition, and even three years later it did not think itself strong enough to accept an invitation to play Leeds. But in 1858 a club competition was introduced and the standard of play must have been encouragingly high, for in that year also the club issued its first challenge—not to one of its great neighbours, like Leeds, but to the tiny market town of Settle, 36 miles away.

Settle remained the club's only opponent for several years, but in 1864 it was decided "after mature consideration ... that the most efficacious expedient to excite the interest of our townsmen and to stimulate the energy of our members would be to arrange matches with clubs of reputed strength." Wakefield were first invited, but declined, and so, rather ner­vously, a challenge was sent to Huddersfield, then considered to be the strongest club in Yorkshire. Huddersfield accepted, won the first match but lost the second, much to the delight of the Bradford players, who felt that at last their reputation was established.


Subsequently there were matches against Leeds, Halifax and Wakefield, and in 1878 Bradford began its long association with Manchester chess circles. At Bradford over fifteen boards Man­chester Athenaeum Club won 14-9 with 7 draws and at Manchester over eleven boards by 12-3 with 4 draws. But the first notable year in its team records was 1885, when, after the amalgamation of the Bradford Chess Club and the Exchange Chess Club, it proved its strength by being the first winner of the Woodhouse Cup. The other contestants were Leeds and Wakefield

Since then Bradford has entered every Woodhouse competition except one—Leeds is the only club which has entered them all—and although it was some years before it repeated its first success it has an excellent record. It won the Cup in 1890, 1892, 1895, 1899, 1900, 1904, 1905, 1908, 1921, 1927, 1928, 1930, 1932, 1947, 1948, 1949 (note the hat-trick), 1952 and 1953.

Its total number of victories is 19 compared with Leeds (20), Sheffield (10), Hull (7), Huddersfield (1), Wakefield (1)


Another keen competition began a year after the introduction of the Woodhouse Cup. "The Yorkshire Observer"- presented a trophy for which at first only the clubs not competing in the Wood­house Cup were eligible. Later the Woodhouse Cup club second teams were admitted, but there was always a feeling that these clubs were tempted to strengthen their second teams with first team players, and in 1914 Mr. I. M. Brown presented the shield which bears his name to be competed for by the second teams of Woodhouse Cup clubs. (The present contest contains eight teams which would not have been eligible under the original I. M. Brown rules, and only two which would.)


The Bradford club's second team won the "Observer" Trophy in 1911 and 1912 and were the first winners of the I. M. Brown Shield (1915) and have since won the Shield in 1922, 1924, 1927, 1934, 1947 and 1949.


In addition there has for many years been an "A" team and latterly also a "B", both of which compete in the Bradford and District League for the shield which was presented by Mr. W. Clough, who for long years was associated with the Bradford and Keighley clubs, and which has several times been won by Bradford.



The club has also distinguished itself in correspondence chess. For the last three years it has competed in Division I of the Postal Chess League, which embraces the whole country, and each time it has been champion. Since the institution of the Yorkshire Junior Championship in 1936-7 two of its members have been victorious—A. C. Jowett in 1948, and P. C. Gibbs in 1951 and 1952—but, strangely enough, considering the large number of strong players it has had since chess championships were first mooted in the county, it has done surprisingly little of note in the Yorkshire Individual Championship.


As previously noted, this competition began at the Bradford Congress of 1888, and it is the oldest county championship in the country. It was not until 1893 that a Bradford player, J. E. Hall, was victor, and the city had a long time to wait for its next successes—P. N. Wallis in 1947, and D. M. Andrew in 1949, neither of whom is a Bradford man and neither of whom had a long association with the club. Yates, of course, won the county championship, but that was in his younger days before he joined the Bradford club. When he came to Bradford he was a master of international rank. For long years the club has had several excellent trophies for its own competitions—the Silver King, the club championship trophy, which was made in Bradford in 1890 and the cost of which, £13 15s., was paid by voluntary subscriptions; the Silver Rook, for medium players; and the valuable set of ivory chessmen, given by Mr. Frederick Priestman in 1909, and now competed for by the less skilled. In addition there is the Ragabliatti Trophy (a silver knight for the player who has the best record in all match play during the season whatever team he is in), the Social Cup (competed for at social evenings) and the Junior Trophy (an ivory king for com­petition among junior players, not necessarily club members).


In closing this brief history it is regretted that space does not permit an individual reference to all the members who have given untiring service to the Bradford club and to the interests of chess players in general. But a special tribute must be paid to the late I. M. Brown, who was born in Leeds in 1858 but who spent the greater part of his life in Bradford. When he died at the age of 75, in 1934, the "British Chess' Magazine" said that it was difficult to write of all he had done. He was," it said, "a man of enormous energy and perseverance, a first-class man of business, as good a judge of character and enterprise as he was of a game of chess. His name will always be one of the greatest in the records of the game; as player, problemist, organiser and journalist. For thirty years, from 1890 to 1920, he was the 'British Chess Magazine', controlling its destinies, making it known all over the world, and financing it in times of difficulty." He was joint secretary with the late Mr. L. Hoffer of the Bradford Congress in 1888, and it was due to his initiative that in 1893-4 the North versus South of England matches—two of the most important ever contested in the country—were played. There were 106 a-side. In the first match, at Birmingham, South won by 532 points to 521—a close finish. In. the second, at Portman Rooms, South were easily victorious-64.5 to 43.5. Mr. Brown played a great part in the founding of the Northern Counties Chess Union, whose officials some years later started a movement for establishing a national society for the whole of Great Britain and Ireland, and as a result of their efforts, the British Chess Federation was eventually born.

In 1887 he won the first prize in a problem-solving tournament arranged by the Yorkshire Chess Association, of which he was eventually president for twelve years. He solved all the problems—four two-movers and two three-movers—in 25 minutes.

In its tribute to him the "British Chess Magazine" concluded with these words:

"By his death very many players all over the world have lost a personal friend and the game itself one of the greatest workers for its cause that it has been fortunate enough to possess."

When in preparing this history I spoke to Mr. J. Nowell, who in years of membership is one of the oldest members of the Bradford Chess Club and who has been a Woodhouse Cup and county player, secretary of the Yorkshire Chess Association and president of the Bradford club, in which offices he has given invaluable service, he said that no member had given greater service than I. M. Brown. With this all the older members and all who have read of his career will agree. To his memory the Bradford Chess Club in its centenary year pays grateful tribute.

The club expresses its gratitude also to many of the older members who have given it great service and who today still take the keenest interest in its welfare and still find the game of chess their most enjoyable recreation.

To men like Mr. H. W. Hodgkinson, a former captain, a former club champion, a past president, and one of the best team players in the history of the club, and Mr. L. P. D'Andria, a past president, and for many years an admirable treasurer and one of the most charming men to meet over the board, the club is indebted. Many others could be mentioned did space permit. To their efforts the club owes much of its success.

The Bradford Chess Club can justifiably be proud of its record and look forward to its second century with enthusiasm. It marked its centenary with two notable events. The first was a match of 23 boards against a Yorkshire team, the members of which came from all parts of the county to honour the club and pay tribute to the great part it has played. It was an honour, too, to receive a visit on that day from the Lord Mayor of Bradford (Alderman John Shee) and his daughter the Lady Mayoress, and although, as was to be expected, the county side was victorious (by 14 points to 9) it was a grand match and will long be remembered.

The second notable event was a visit by the British champion, Mr. R. G. Wade, who gave a simultaneous display of 26 boards (he won 18, drew 3, and lost 5) and the following evening gave a lecture on the game, which was of great value to all who heard him, from the beginners to the skilful. Although it was not his first visit to Yorkshire (he took part in the Huddersfield Chess Club's Centenary Congress at Easter, 1953, the major tournament of which was won by Mr. T. K. Hemingway, the Bradford champion, who defeated Mr. Wade) it was the first time he had been to Bradford, and the members of the Chess Club will give him the heartiest welcome whenever he cares to come to the city again.


Mr. Wade followed a long line of distinguished chess visitors. It has been fascinating when perusing the club's minute books to come across their famous names. Some of them came when the club was prosperous; others when its fortunes were low and when, to revive the interest of old members and to attract new ones, simultaneous displays, blindfold displays and lectures were arranged.

Mr. Wade came to honour the hundredth year of the club's life. Although its membership is not so high as it once was, its enthusiasm and its prospects were never greater. It has made its mark in the history of British chess. May its success continue. I am sure it will.





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