Barden on the longest running chess column

by ChessBase
10/25/2014 – Recently we (once again) read and enjoyed a chess column in The Guardian, written by Leonard Barden. It was topical, entertaining, and even contained a challenging chess puzzle. And we discovered that the column had been running uninterrupted for almost sixty years! We asked Leonard for the history of his weekly and daily chess columns. He sent us this fascinating essay.

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Chess Journalism Records

By Leonard Barden

My Evening Standard daily column 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, so far reaching 58 years 3 months. This is the longest running daily chess column in history (previously, George Koltanowski wrote daily in the San Francisco Daily Chronicle for 51 years 9 months until his death), and it is also quite possibly the longest running daily column ever, in any field of journalism. Wikipedia claims the record for the American agony aunt Dorothy Dix, who wrote, mainly in Hearst newspapers, from 1896 till her death in 1951. But the timeline of Dix's career shows that she started with 1-3 columns a week and only began five columns a week in 1905, thus only 46 years of daily columns.

Leonard Barden [Photo by Linda Nylind for the Guardian]

My weekly Guardian column began in September 1955, and has continued since with no breaks for 59 years 1 month. However, unlike the daily column, this is not a clear-cut record.

The English local columnist Tom Widdows wrote weekly in the Worcester News from October 1945 until April 2006, 60 years and 6 months. He only wrote on local chess results and he had a break of around six weeks every summer when the chess season ended. Allowing for the breaks, he wrote for about 53 years. 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, pictured above on the cover of Chess Life, 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.

I have reason to be grateful to Helms, who indirectly helped my family to avoid going hungry in the difficult war years. Helms had a good friendship with Julius du Mont, who in the 1940s was the Guardian columnist, editor of the British Chess Magazine, and co-author with Tartakover of the monumental 500 Master Games of Chess. Helms, who was a very kind man, helped du Mont in 1943-45 by sending him occasional food hampers across the Atlantic. The contents included some tinned meat which du Mont didn't like. I had got to know him when he gave a simul at my school at odds of the b1 knight and I shrewdly opened with the Caro-Kann which was rewarded when he automatically went to play 3 Nc3 and found his hand grasping thin air. He encouraged me as a teenage player and I did proof correcting for his columns and books. So in return he passed on to me the tinned meat, for which my mother was very grateful. After du Mont's death in 1956 I worked directly for Helms who then had a contract to report major events for the New York Times. So at Hastings I would send him daily cables with brief game reports like Alexander 0-1 Larsen Sicilian Najdorf 40 Q-side castling rook sac, which Helms would then embellish into a lively ringside report."

Despite the qualifications on Helms's writing longevity, many sources still omit the 1907-11 break and award him the record with 61 years 5 months. So my target would seem to be February 2017 when the Guardian column will have run unbroken for 61 years 6 mionths.

Alas! There is a claimant with much better chances than me. Former Irish champion Jim Walsh began writing weekly in the Irish Times in April 1955. His column became daily in September 1972 in the wake of Fischer-Spassky and has continued without a break ever since.

Jim Walsh was born in 1932, so is more than two years younger than me, as well as starting his column four months earlier. So he is heading for the record. I met him when he came to Hastings in the 1950s and we also both played in the Amsterdam 1954 Olympiad, evidence this photograph.

My best reader response to a column came when the Guardian gave the first publication as a Christmas puzzle with prizes to a Raymond Smullyan classic (wBa4, bKd1, bRb5, bBd5, where's the white king?) which attracted hundreds of entries. My most embarrassing moment as a columnist came when the Evening Standard published a Mikhail Tal brilliancy and stated par times for solving it, ranging from 30 seconds for grandmaster to 10 minutes for club player. Tal himself happened to be in London that day and commented that he had taken 15 minutes to work out the win in the actual game...

Sample Guardian column by Leonard Barden

Unleashing an opening bomb is hard in modern chess, where aspiring amateurs have the same access as grandmasters to giant databases. But some GMs keep ahead of the pack, and the world No. 2, Fabiano Caruana, who has become the player of the moment even in front of the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, has a big reputation as an innovator.

Caruana, 22, has a full time analyst/coach, Vladimir Chuchelov. The ex-Soviet turned Belgian, 45, is only an average GM but is a specialist in generating ideas which the top computers underrate and which Caruana remembers well. One of his Sinquefield Cup victories came when he produced an unlikely pawn advance at move 15 which Chuchelov had found some months previously. Computers dislike it at first, but approve after deeper analysis.

Another, less known, Caruana bomb occurred at the European Club Cup in Bilbao where the Italian arrived straight off the plane from St Louis as his team faced the English amateurs Grantham Sharks and their top board Peter Roberson, 25, who recently gained the international master title.

The opening 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 b6 3 g3 Bb7 4 Bg2 g6 5 d4 Bg7 6 0-0 0-0, three fianchettoed bishops and no central pawn clashes, looked like shadow boxing...

...until Caruana’s 7 d5!? showed that even in this routine position he was well prepared. Opening databases show that the unusual pawn push has by far the best results of any move here. Moreover, it had been previously played by the elite GMs Étienne Bacrot, Alex Grischuk, and Vassily Ivanchuk, an excellent pedigree.

And that was not all. After Black’s reply 7...Ne4 8 Qc2 f5 Caruana brought out 9 Rd1! a novelty in a position where world No. 5 Grischuk had won with 9 Bf4, then followed up with a small tactic to reach a position where he had the initiative and the better pawn structure. It was possibly tenable with best play, but Roberson soon lost a pawn and Caruana smoothly switched to a won queen ending.

[Event "EU Cup Bilbao"] [Site "?"] [Date "2014.09.14"] [Round "?"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Roberson, Peter"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A50"] [PlyCount "77"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 b6 3. g3 Bb7 4. Bg2 g6 5. d4 Bg7 6. O-O O-O 7. d5 Ne4 8. Qc2 f5 9. Rd1 c6 10. Nd4 cxd5 11. cxd5 Bxd5 12. Nxf5 Rxf5 13. Bxe4 Bxe4 14. Qxe4 Nc6 15. Nc3 e6 16. Bf4 Rc8 17. Rd6 g5 18. Be3 Ne5 19. Rad1 Qf8 20. Qb7 Rf7 21. Ne4 h6 22. Bd4 Rc2 23. Bxe5 Bxe5 24. Rxd7 Rc7 25. Rxf7 Qxf7 26. Qa8+ Kg7 27. b3 Rd7 28. Rc1 Rc7 29. Rxc7 Qxc7 30. Qe8 Qc2 31. Qe7+ Kh8 32. Qf8+ Kh7 33. Qf7+ Kh8 34. Nf6 Qc1+ 35. Kg2 Qc6+ 36. e4 Bxf6 37. Qxf6+ Kh7 38. Qf7+ Kh8 39. Qg6 1-0

Caruana won again on Thursday in the opening round of the Baku Grand Prix. His win over Russia’s Sergey Karjakin puts him only 15 rating points behind Magnus Carlsen in his bid to become the world No. 1.

In the golden age of chess in the 1960s and 1970s Bent Larsen was one of the most popular GMs. The Dane was a prolific tournament winner, including opens and even weekenders, and it was a thrill for English talents when he played against our juniors at London 1973 and also acted as a congress adjudicator. Larsen was fearless, combative, eloquent, and creative, and his reputation is intact despite his 0-6 loss to Bobby Fischer and his miniature defeat against Boris Spassky.

Bent Larsen’s Best Games (New in Chess, £21.50) is a collection of 120 of the legend’s games annotated in his lucid, humorous and instructive style. An evocative book, and an excellent read.

The October 3 column in the Guardian includes the following chess puzzle:

This is a game after White’s eighth move, with White’s e2 pawn
and Black’s a8 rook gone. Can you work out the previous moves?

Note that the position must actually occur after White's eighth move. That is the problem, and we hope that it will cost you the same amount of time it cost us to resolve. If you have enjoyed this column you can visit Leonard Barden on Chess in The Guardian regularly – which we can heartily recommend.

About the author

Leonard William Barden (photo above by Linda Nylind for the Guardian) is an English chess master, columnist, author, and promoter. He 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. – More at Wiki.

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