Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (24)

7/20/2009 – The Editor of Chess Notes looks back at the remarkable legacy of a writer of erudition, wit and urbanity who combined rigorous research with sparkling quips. In some quarters today, however, that writer’s name may barely be recognized, so we have pleasure in introducing, or re-introducing, readers to one of the great neglected figures of chess lore.

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Chess Explorations (24)

By Edward Winter

  • ‘Of vital importance in all these Openings is not to let memory swamp the mind.’

  • ‘We are pleased to learn that the boys you meet in matches are such “good sports”. The trouble about being a “good sport” is that you have to lose in order to prove it.’

  • The quip about Gossip pottering and Potter gossiping at a club is a pretty old one (W.N. Potter, 1840-1895). In chess it seems that longevity is the soul of wit.’

  • ‘Philidor certainly played a vitally important part in the history of the game. But why “indispensable”? There has been only one indispensable man in the whole of history – and that was Adam.’

  • ‘Many such defeats have been due to underestimating one’s opponent. The unexpected sometimes happens when you don’t expect a player to come up to expectations.’

  • ‘The average age of the great players is much lower nowadays. The one you mention is old enough to be a grandmaster – and young enough to develop into one.’

  • ‘The opponent who, especially when he has a bad game, continuously taps the table with his pencil, will readily desist on request. He is probably not aware of it – just tapping out his morose code.’

  • ‘“Chess may be good for us socially but not physically ...” The onion, of course, is in direct reverse to this.’

  • ‘To be an expert in chess is no excuse for forcing it on your young son. It is as illogical as your being very fond of animals and then making him a butcher.’

  • ‘As for “putting it in a nutshell”, we can but sound glibly pedagogic. The art of teaching the game to youngsters is the art of making the complex simple, of going back from the steam-engine to the kettle. And, of course, interest must be roused and maintained. A youngster’s spirit may be willing – his will must also be spirited.’

All the above observations were made 50 years ago and are to be found in the 1959 volume of the BCM. They came from the pen of one of the game’s most quotable writers and a figure who receives far too little attention today: David James Morgan (1894-1978).


‘D.J.M.’

As mentioned in C.N. 4184, ‘my favorite chess writer’ is how Andrew Soltis described ‘D.J.M.’ in a good article on pages 8-9 of Chess Life, June 1983 which was reproduced, under the title ‘Master of His Craft’, on pages 166-170 of Soltis’ book Karl Marx Plays Chess (New York, 1991). An eminent writer who paid tribute to Morgan was G.H. Diggle, in an article originally printed in the July 1978 Newsflash and also given on page 36 of a compilation of Diggle’s articles published by us, Chess Characters (Geneva, 1984):

‘The late D.J. Morgan, who died on 13 May – the day after his 84th birthday – called himself “a mere hotchpot corner filler in the BCM”. There is perhaps a grain of truth in this estimate, for profound as was his knowledge of chess and its history from every angle and brilliantly as he could write when he chose to compose a set piece (as for example his classic article on the BCM’s 75th Anniversary) it is for “Quotes and Queries” that he will always be best remembered.

He opened his weird chess supermarket in the BCM of March 1953 with the following words: “We offer brief replies to queries of general interest on any aspect of the game. When we fail we will appeal to readers!” The only “goods” he would not touch were the three awkward “A’s”, analysis, annotations and adjudications. He had a boyish love for Guinness Book of Records chess items, and would order his readers out on research sprees and sometimes wild goose chases. “Come on”, he would bully them, “what is the record for castling in Master Chess?” (The BM timidly suggested Steinitz (on his 32nd move) in a match game v Zukertort, 1886, only to be demolished by R.W.B. Clarke, who unearthed Yates (on his 36th move) against Alekhine (San Remo, 1930). Still more exciting was a “Lingering Pawn” investigation in which it was discovered that in a Championship Match game against Lasker, Schlechter’s King’s Pawn remained stationary for 71 moves on its own square, whilst in Gottschall v Tarrasch (Nuremberg, 1888) the parsimonious Doctor kept all his pawns until the 69th move, the game ending on the 100th with his QRP still at its base.

His resource in repartee never flagged, and he was a supreme chess “ad libber”. To a querist who wrote in and said rather cryptically, “I first judge a problem by counting the number of pieces in it” D.J.M replied, “You doubtless first judge a novel by counting the number of words in it.” Q. “I have seen no problem lately by W... Has he been composing in recent years?” A. “Alas! He has been decomposing since 1934.” Q. “I find it extremely difficult to get boys interested in chess books?” A. “Have you tried labelling them ‘For adults only’?” “Chess Champions”, D.J.M. once informed a correspondent – during the lean pre-Fischer era – “are born not paid”. Occasionally he could be cutting: “The author in question is more of a pedlar than a pioneer. You must not confuse aspiration with inspiration.”

He “reigned” for just 25 years (and 3,932 “quotes”) over a vast expanse of loyal and grateful subjects of every land and every nationality. “We shall not look on his like again.”’

C.N. 4194 gave the exact wording and source of one of the bons mots (a reply to ‘Roy P.’) cited by Diggle:

‘“I have seen no problems lately by W. Pauly: has he been composing in recent years?” Alas! Poor Pauly has been decomposing since 1934.’

Source: BCM, March 1963, page 81. Also in C.N. 4194, David Woolrich (Bolton, England) pointed out that the Quotes and Queries item repeated a joke (about Bach) widely attributed to W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911).

On just one or two occasions Morgan gave over the entire column to a single subject, e.g. for his personal reminiscences of Jacques Mieses in the August and September 1976 issues of the BCM. As mentioned in C.N. 4836, another set-piece article by Morgan was on pages 217-235 of the BCF Year-Book, 1953-54: ‘The British Chess Federation – Fifty Years in Retrospect’.

Although, unfortunately, he never wrote a chess book himself, he was a skilled reviewer, fair but demanding and with no time for cronyism. As noted in The Chess-loving Puzzle-master (Hubert Phillips), in 1959 there appeared a 434-page work, Chess by H. Golombek and H. Phillips. On page 182 of the June 1959 BCM Morgan described it as ‘a big, highly-priced and comprehensive guide to the game’ which was ‘just another mechanical compilation’. Believing in plain talk and ignoring the fact that he and Golombek were half of the BCM’s editorial team, Morgan expressed his ‘disappointment with a book which has the appearance of having been all too easy in the making’. C.N. 3766 paid tribute to the longstanding Editor of the BCM, Brian Reilly, who built up an exceptionally strong team of book reviewers which also included J.M. Aitken, W.H. Cozens, G.H. Diggle and W. Heidenfeld. Even up to the time of Morgan’s death the team was essentially intact, and C.N. 5371 commented that it is easily forgotten today how great the BCM was in the 1970s.

In his Quotes and Queries column D.J. Morgan was, on occasion, acerbic with ‘ordinary readers’ who had sent in information, questions or claims which did not come up to scratch. The approach worked well for him, in the sense that it sparked off his badinage, but, as a general principle, it may be thought preferable for any such meneur de jeu simply to leave aside inferior or obviously faulty contributions. Sharpness is best reserved for cases with a clear public interest, such as exposure of the game’s reprobates.

A particular occasion when Morgan expressed outright anger was after Heinrich Fraenkel (who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Assiac’) suggested that F.D. Yates had killed himself. From page 24 of the January 1963 BCM:

Although a specialist in chess problems, Morgan had an interest in, and impressive knowledge of, virtually all aspects of chess history and lore. His combination of rigour and common sense precluded him from speculating and jumping to rash conclusions. His quest to fill in gaps in available chess information was illustrated by the exemplary support which he and his correspondents gave to the researches of Jeremy Gaige, and this at a time when technical resources bore no comparison to those available today.

Such was the quantity of discoveries published in Quotes and Queries that many were overlooked by subsequent writers. C.N. 3864 gave an example from page 60 of the March 1957 BCM (a missed forced mate in Zukertort v Blackburne, London, 1883):

Our personal debt to D.J.M. is enormous. Countless letters were exchanged, and below is an extract from one which he sent us on 8 January 1975:

On 26 July 1977 he wrote to us about his meeting with Alekhine:

‘A happy memory comes to mind.

After returning from the First War I belonged to the Liverpool C.C. Somewhere early in the 1920s A. came round to give a blindfold exhibition. I was one of the ten victims. Following the show three of us went back with him to his little hotel (The Angel, Dale St., I remember). We saw the dawn of the next day.

I happen to ask where I went wrong.

Ah. Board 8, you played 21 B-B4. No! No!! Kt-Kt5 eh?”

I had no idea; from memory!

In a tin box under his iron bedstead he had the MS of his “Best Games”.

A powerful, pleasant personality.’

The above passage was quoted in C.N. 4204, which added that page 770 of Alexander Alekhine’s Chess Games, 1902-1946 by Leonard M. Skinner and Robert G.P. Verhoeven (Jefferson, 1998) listed only one exhibition (not blindfold) by Alekhine in Liverpool. It was on 29 September 1923, he scored +24 –1 =6, and one of the victories was over E. Spencer. The blindfold display has not yet been traced.

C.N. 4203 recalled that D.J. Morgan’s son is the eminent historian Kenneth O. Morgan, now Lord Morgan, and we expressed gratitude to him for sending us the following memoir:

‘My father was a most able, quiet man of great modesty. He was born on 11 May 1894 (not 12 May as commonly stated) and died on 13 May 1978. He was the eldest son of a humble Welsh blacksmith at Talybont, north Cardiganshire, a few miles from Aberystwyth. He went to Ardwyn school in Aberystwyth, then Bangor Normal college (clearly there was scant prospect of one of so poor background going to university then). He served in the army in the First World War (Royal engineers) in 1916-18, under Allenby on the Palestine front, and had many stories of seeing the Sphinx, etc. He picked up an interest in chess, I believe, in Liverpool as a young teacher after the War, and among other things played against Alekhine in a simultaneous display. He used to tell of his amazement of Alekhine’s ease of recollection of a fatal move my father had made in this game which led to inevitable defeat. He married my mother, Margaret Owen, in 1930 and I was their only son, born on 16 May 1934. My father had a very strong interest in chess all the time I knew him; he spent time working out chess problems and reading up chess history as an air-raid warden during the blitz, and after the War organized boys’ tournaments in St Bride’s Institute, Fleet Street and various championships. He took me to a big tournament in London in 1946, where I saw such masters as Tartakower. He knew the Penrose family well – Jonathan was a friend of mine at school, in the history sixth form. Around the early 1950s, my father moved from B.H. Wood’s CHESS to working with Brian Reilly as an associate editor of the British Chess Magazine and kept up his Quotes and Queries column for decades down to his death in 1978. He ran a kind of league table of chess problems which men like Sir Halford Reddish and G. Wigham Richardson took part in. I gave him a few historical snippets, including an entry on Bonar Law’s prowess as a chessplayer. He knew such players as Alexander and Barden, and one memory I have is of Keres, the number two in the world, visiting our little home in Wood Green and being impressed that I knew (via postage stamps) where Estonia, his native land, was.

I had little interest in chess myself, though I found the game fascinating, but I enormously respected my father’s expertise in the game, and knew he was highly regarded. In fact, he was far from obsessive, and had a huge range of interests. He was more interested in cricket than in chess, and got me going in the game. He was a quiet secondary modern teacher in Islington (Shelbourne Road school) teaching English, mathematics and science, but had a huge interest in reading, poetry, history, etc., was remarkably skilful with his hands in carpentry and could have had a far more elevated career, but enjoyed his happy family life and his chess. He had strong political interests (left-wing Labour) and, as chess editor of Lady Rhondda’s Time and Tide for a while, was delighted when readers of that right-wing journal objected to so many Russians appearing in his column. He responded by doubling the number. He was also a very proud Welshman, totally bilingual in Welsh and English, and worked to promote the game in Wales. He had no religious views but regularly attended chapel (Calv. Methodist) because he liked to hear Welsh sermons. I myself have been at Oxford for about 25 years, a university vice-chancellor and am now a Labour peer, but I have always believed my father was more able than I was and could have risen to high things in his turn. I am immensely indebted to him as a highly intelligent and compassionate man, a wonderful husband and father who became a grandfather at the end of his long life, and a tremendous influence on my outlook and mind.’

As recorded in C.N.s 4907 and 5191, Lord Morgan’s many books include biographies of the British politicians Michael Foot and James Callaghan. Both volumes mention the subjects’ interest in chess.

In C.N. 4724 Lord Morgan presented a photograph of his father (on the left), at the prize-giving ceremony of a bowls tournament in Aberystwyth, circa 1966:

The present article concludes with some further ‘Morganisms’ (our term in C.N. 1284) which we have quoted over the years. In each case the exact source in the BCM is indicated:

  • ‘We cannot enter into a discussion on the relative merits of our present-day players. The best-known are not always the best. The best-known bowls player is Drake – we can’t vouch for his skill.’ (March 1954, page 83)

  • ‘There is, of course, no such thing as “the best opening”. Beginners, we have always felt, are best started on the Giuoco Piano. With established players it largely becomes a question of temperament. Some day we may have a book where openings will be divided into the phlegmatic, the choleric, the stoic, the mercuric, the ecstatic, the pacific, the philosophic, etc., etc.’ (July 1954, page 223);

  • ‘A game consists essentially of a quest, a con-quest, and an in-quest.’ (January 1955, page 32);

  • ‘Some combinations have a lot of depth on the surface, but deep down they are shallow.’ (February 1955, page 78);

  • ‘A chessplayer died recently leaving a dozen chess clocks. The executor had quite a busy time winding up his estate.’ (January 1972, page 36);

  • ‘Where you can start a chess column we have no idea. Have you tried The Pigeon Fanciers’ Gazette?’ (August 1973, page 349);

  • ‘Chess, like love, is a conflict between reflexes and reflections.’ (October 1973, page 446);

  • ‘“The squares on a chessboard are all equal”, says a new guide to the game. We shall just go on playing as if the discovery had not been made.’ (June 1974, page 204);

  • ‘We read that So-and-so is a young player to be watched. We could name one or two older ones who should be kept under observation.’ (December 1976, page 568).


See also Chess Morganisms.




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Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then, over 6,200 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.


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