Barden's record-breaking chess column

4/20/2016 – According to our calculations Leonard Barden has been at it for sixty years and seven months – making him the longest running uninterrupted weekly chess column in the world and in history. At 86 Leonard remains hale and his columns are topical and refreshing. And they are always accompanied by a chess puzzle that is great fun to solve. Here are excerpts and links to his recent Guardian chess columns.

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Record broken?

Leonard Barden [Photo by Linda Nylind for the Guardian]

Leonard Barden's weekly Guardian chess column began in September 1955 and has continued since with no breaks for sixty years and seven months. It has broken the previous record for any columnist, held by English local columnist Tom Widdows, who wrote weekly in the Worcester News from October 1945 until April 2006, 60 years and 6 months. Actually Widdows' column consisted just of a bare record of results from his local league and county matches, and he stopped for two months every summer between chess seasons. Garry Koshnitsky, the 1933 and 1939 Australian champion, wrote weekly in the Sydney Sun from 1935 until 1994, 59 years. However, Koshnitsky was called up for war service in 1939 and his column did not resume until 1949, a break of ten years.

Herman Helms was the 'Dean of American chess'. Helms wrote weekly in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from October 1893 until the newspaper ceased publication on 16 March 1955, which is 61 years 5 months. There was a break from November 1907, when Helms lost his column, until March 1911, when he was reinstated. Allowing for this break, Helms wrote for 58 years 1 month.

And we must mention former Irish champion Jim Walsh, who began writing weekly in the Irish Times in April 1955. His column became daily in September 1972 and he has continued without a break ever since. Walsh is two years younger than Barden and started his column four months earlier. So he should have or be heading for the record. However we were not able to find the column, and a note in the Irish Times dated August 2012 speaks of celebrating the column's 40th anniversary.

We must mention, however, that Leonard Barden's other (daily!) column, in the Evening Standard, began in June 1956 and has continued every day since. It was in print until 30 July 2010 (54 years 1 month), and has since continued online – click on this link for some additional entertaining chess puzzles. So this column has been running for almost sixty years, easily overtaking the one written by George Koltanowski for the San Francisco Daily Chronicle, which lasted 51 years 9 months, until his death. Leonard's Evening Standard column is quite possibly the longest ever running daily column by a single journalist in any field of journalism.


The Guardian chess column

By Leonard Barden

Friday 15 April 2016

Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin unlikely to meet before world title

The battle lines are drawn. Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin, seven months before their world title match, have announced their tournament schedules, with only a minuscule chance of a direct clash. Carlsen, the champion, plays on home turf next week in Stavanger, which starts on Monday (live and free online from 3pm) with a blitz tournament to decide the pairings for the main event and who gets an extra White. The 25-year-old has something to prove since the weight of expectation for the national sporting hero triggered his below-par results in the previous three Stavanger events as well as in the 2014 world team Olympiad in Tromso.

Carlsen will then play the €150,000 Grand Tour blitz tournaments at Paris in May and Brussels in June, the Bilbao Grand Slam in July and the 2016 Olympiad at Baku in September, leaving two months for his final preparations. Karjakin will compete at Shamkir in Azerbaijan in May, in the Russia v China match in June and finally at Baku. Theoretically the pair could meet at the 150-nation Olympiad but the chance is small. Russia will be going for gold while Norway, even with the world champion to lead them, will do well to finish in the top 15.

After his Candidates victory Karjakin gave an extensive interview to chess journalists from Germany, India and Spain. Karjakin comes across as a pleasant, open and determined character who respects and is on good terms with Carlsen. A world championship between a Russian and a Westerner will inevitably arouse memories of Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in 1972, so Karjakin’s remark that “I support my country and my president and what he does is right”, accompanied in the article by a photo of the challenger wearing a Vladimir Putin T-shirt will, for some people, politicise the match.

Carlsen’s opponents at Stavanger include ex-world champion Kramnik plus the 2016 candidates Veselin Topalov, Anish Giri and Levon Aronian, so it will be a stiff test and well worth viewing.

Michael McDowell, The Problemist 2014

White mates in three moves – looks trivial, but can prove visually tricky


Friday 8 April 2016

Ferenc Berkes wins with a subtle opening at Colin Crouch memorial

The strong Colin Crouch memorial tournament which finishes at Harrow this weekend, viewable live and free on the internet, is a fitting tribute to one of England’s most active masters, who died a year ago. Crouch was an imaginative and original player who was close to grandmaster strength at his peak when he competed in the 1992-93 Hastings Premier. Later he suffered a severe stroke but continued to write excellent instructional books and to coach talented juniors.

Prize money of over £3,000 attracted a strong field of 44 players, among them five GMs from the US and Eastern Europe, plus several of England’s best young talents including the 14-year-old British woman champion, Akshaya Kalaiyalahan. At halfway the favourites from Uzbekistan and Hungary led the field while the English amateur experts Marcus Osborne, aged 40, and James Jackson, aged 25, were in the leading group and both in contention for an international master result.

Ferenc Berkes, Hungary’s No5 GM, was top seed and his first-round win was a pragmatic lesson on what strategy to follow when you have the white pieces in the Queen’s Gambit Declined 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6. Nowadays, the QGD normally means the Exchange variation where White makes an early cxd5 capture so as to restrict Black’s choice and ensure a lasting initiative.

The big question is whether White should develop his king’s knight at f3 or e2. Majority opinion favours the former, when White’s usual plan is a minority attack based on b4-b5xc6 so as to leave Black with a weak c6 pawn which White can then besiege. The Ne2 alternative is more ambitious, aiming at a later f3 and e4 leading to a king’s side attack. It is basically the same pattern that arises from the Botvinnik system against the Nimzo-Indian. Which to choose?

G. Ernst, 1919

White mates in four moves against any defence –
looks easy, but is deceptively tricky


Friday 1 April 2016

Sergey Karjakin to face Magnus Carlsen after victory at Moscow Candidates

Sergey Karjakin will challenge for Magnus Carlsen’s world crown after the 26-year-old Russian beat Fabiano Caruana of the United States in the decisive final round of the Candidates in Moscow. Karjakin was a deserved winner who proved tough and resilient under pressure.

The world championship pairing fulfils forecasts made a decade ago when Karjakin became the youngest ever grandmaster at 12 and Carlsen soon followed him. They are symbols of the triumph of the 1990 vintage, the best birth year for top players in chess history. France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, two Russian 2700+ GMs, and England’s youngest GM, David Howell, are among their contemporaries.

Carlsen leads Karjakin 3-1 with 15 draws in their previous classical games and that suggests the title match will be close, with some dour marathons and a variety of openings. The Norwegian is favourite, as he proclaimed this week, yet the margin for error will be small in a 12-game series. If Carlsen makes a single major miscalculation, as he did against Vishy Anand in 2014, he will be in trouble. Karjakin is well capable of defending a lead and also has a serious chance if they end with 6-6 and a speed tie-break.

Before that there are still questions to be answered as to whether the world championship will even reach its planned venue in New York’s Trump Tower. Some observers, including England’s former challenger Nigel Short, believe it will not happen.

From a game in Poland, 1981

Queen and pawn v queen is tricky, so how did White (to move) win here?


Friday 25 March 2016

The world title Candidates in Moscow has its final two rounds (of 14) on Sunday and Monday and suddenly from nowhere an American has a strong chance. Fabiano Caruana, born in Miami and raised in Brooklyn, shared the lead with Russia’s Sergey Karjakin at the end of Friday’s 12th round though with the inferior tie-break.

To add to the spice of the United States v Russia climax, which is a mini-rerun of the most famous chess match of all time, Bobby Fischer v Boris Spassky at Reykjajik in 1972, Karjakin and Caruana are paired in Monday’s final round. It will likely be a must-win occasion for the American, who has the disadvantage of the black pieces.

There are no prizes for guessing who Agon, the controversial commercial partner of the global body, Fide, wants to succeed. Caruana, 23, may have a geekish image but he would be the home-town hero in New York with a realistic chance to upset the defending champion, Magnus Carlsen. It would be a great occasion for chess, with real chances of attracting mainstream media.

Evgeny Bareev v Judit Polgar, Hastings 1993-94

How did Polgar, the all-time No1 woman,
(Black, to move) win this tricky pawn endgame?

Select games from the dropdown menu above the board

About the author

Leonard William Barden (photo above by Linda Nylind for the Guardian) was born on August 20, 1929, in Croydon, London, the son of a dustman, and was educated at Whitgift School, South Croydon, and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Modern History.

Barden learned to play chess at age 13 while in a school shelter during a German air raid. Within a few years he became one of the country's leading juniors. In 1946 he won the British Junior Correspondence Chess Championship, and tied for first place in the London Boys' Championship. The following year he tied for first with Jonathan Penrose in the British Boys' Championship, but lost the playoff. Barden finished fourth at Hastings in 1951–52 and fourth in 1957–58.

In 1953 Barden won the individual British Lightning Championship (ten seconds a move), and in the following year tied for first in the British Championship. He did this again in 1958. He represented England in the Chess Olympiads of 1952 (playing fourth board, scoring 2 wins, 5 draws, and 4 losses), 1954 (playing first reserve, scoring 1 win, 2 draws, and 4 losses), 1960 (first reserve; 4 wins, 4 draws, 2 losses) and 1962 (first reserve; 7 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses).

In 1964 Barden gave up competitive chess to devote his time to chess journalism and writing books about the game. He has made invaluable contributions to English chess as a populariser, writer, organiser, fundraiser, and broadcaster. He was a regular contributor to the BBC's Network Three weekly radio chess programme from 1958 to 1963.

The Guardian Chess Column that Leonard has been writing without interruption for well over sixty years appears every Friday, with topical news, games and a chess puzzle. You can find an index of all columns since January 2008 here – with the latest column on the top. The column is also regularly itemized in Google News:


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Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 4/20/2016 12:26
What? Have spent 30 min on the McDowell problem
Why cant I do well?
1