Colchester celebrates chess hero Jonathan Penrose

by Press release
10/17/2023 – The English town of Colchester has opened its first chess park in memory of Dr Jonathan Penrose OBE, a Colchester-born double grandmaster who dominated British chess in the 1950s and 60s and went on to become the highest rated correspondence chess player in the world. Michael Adams joined the celebrations by playing a simul against surprisingly Colchester junior players. | Photo: Jonathan Penrose (Source: British Chess News)

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Press Release

Colchester celebrates chess hero

Event poster

Penrose won a record ten British Chess Championships, so it was fitting that GM Michael Adams, who has now won that title eight times, played a simultaneous exhibition in Colchester Town Hall. His opponents Included Oliver Penrose (Jonathan’s brother) and the ceremonial first move was made by Jonathan’s sister, Shirley Hodgson.

Shirley Hodgson making the ceremonial first move

Oliver Penrose and Ruqayyah Rida at their boards

The first move ended an opening ceremony. In that ceremony, Sir Bob Russell, High Steward of Colchester explained that 7 October 2023 would have been the late grandmaster’s 90th birthday; John Burton, President of Colchester Civic Society explained the huge contribution Jonathan’s parents had made to civic life in Colchester, helping to preserve much of its valuable heritage: William Hartston, himself a twice winner of the British Chess Championship, spoke about his memories of playing with Jonathan and the latter’s remarkable transition to become a world-leading correspondence chess player. He also recounted a story from one of Jonathan’s brothers.

Sir Roger Penrose had found that, despite being younger, Jonathan could beat him at practically any game. This had included ‘Stone, Paper, Scissors’; but how could Jonathan beat him consistently in such a game of pure chance? To refute a hypothesis of mind reading, Sir Roger found a source of random numbers and translated that into a sequence of plays. He broke even that time, concluding that patterns he had unwittingly repeated were recognised and remembered. A useful attribute for a future chess champion.

In the simul, GM Michael Adams conceded only two draws, to Mae Catabay and Ruqayyah Rida (herself twice British Chess Champion, U10 Girls).

GM Adams and Ruqayyah Rida

Adams commented ‘…some strong junior players in Colchester!’

GM Adams and Mae Catabay

The Colchester Junior Chess Club was well represented taking over a third of the boards.

Ruqayyah Rida, Age: 11 years, Standard Rating: 2049 ECF and 1856 FIDE, School: Colchester County High School for Girls

Ruqayyah started playing chess in September 2019 when she was seven years nine months old. She fell in love with the game when she saw a couple of year-6 pupils playing chess in her school breakfast club. She took it by storm after learning the game rules by watching YouTube videos. She started to win junior trophies in a few months and became the top English girl in her age category within a year. Now, she plays mainly in the Open section of chess congresses and tournaments.

Ruqayyah is a current student of the "ECF Academy" and the "ECF Accelerator Program". She also volunteers as a young coach of Colchester Junior Chess Club.

Steve Cawley, who served as the leader of Colchester Council during the 1990s, said

"When I heard about the proposed Jonathan Penrose Chess Park I was delighted. Public tables for chess would encourage people to play and be a fitting way to celebrate the achievements of someone who was born in Colchester and was Britain’s leading chess player. Clearly an opening event would be needed, and I had an idea what that could be. As a chess player myself, I had taken part in the Culver Centre Chess Challenge in 1991 when the then British Chess Champion, Grandmaster Julian Hodgson, came to Colchester and played chess simultaneously against 68 players over two sessions. I still have a copy of the certificate saying I lasted 31 moves! My suggestion was taken up and the official opening event featured a simultaneous exhibition by Britain’s leading chess player, Grandmaster Michael Adams."

Steve Cawley

At the conclusion of the opening ceremony Steve Cawley had the task of transcribing the ceremonial opening move onto a correspondence chess postcard for transmission to the Mercury Theatre where the park stands. The Jonathan Penrose Chess Park was declared formally open when the Mayor, Cllr John Jowers made the first move as written (5254, or e4).

The Mayor of Colchester, Cllr John Jowers opens the chess park

The Jonathan Penrose Memorial Chess Challenge at Colchester Town Hall on the afternoon of 7 October 2023 was in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress of Colchester and in aid of the Mayor’s Charities.

Tracy Wellsted, Co-ordinator for the Mayor’s Charity Committee said, ‘We’re extremely grateful to everyone involved in putting on such a prestigious event in Colchester on behalf of the Mayor’s Charities. This year the Mayor’s chosen charities are Community360, Beacon House, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, Lepra and Freedom Boat Adventures, all of which are based in and around Colchester and will benefit from the proceeds of this event.’

All event photographs are viewable at


David York 07598 295 147