Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (73)

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11/12/2011 – Marking the tenth anniversary of the death of Tony Miles, at the age of only 46, the Editor of Chess Notes discloses some tantalizing brief extracts from his correspondence with the great British master. They include discussion of the 22-board blindfold exhibition which Miles gave in Roetgen, Germany in 1984. All the game-scores were passed on by Miles for safekeeping and are given here now.

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Chess Explorations (73)

By Edward Winter

Tony Miles

Even more candid than his published writings, letters from Tony Miles came to us from England, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. One dated 22 March 1990 began:

‘Many thanks for your letter of 26/2. Sorry for the delay in replying but I’ve been busy winning tournaments.’

All kinds of issues cropped up, but on two particular matters he was interested in receiving research assistance. The first of these he outlined on 15 July 1989:

Miles’ battles with certain British Chess Federation officials have eventually become fairly well known. They emanated from a scandal at the 1985 Interzonal tournament in Tunisia. Although Miles demonstrated exceptional forensic skills in proving his accusations of impropriety, it was an uphill, debilitating struggle to deal with his opponents’ self-serving secrecy, guile and worse. In the context of his request for relevant documentation he commented to us in a letter dated 24 July 1989:

‘Perhaps I should mention that I spent several months in hospital from the end of September 87 – a result of banging my head against a bureaucratic brick wall – and am especially ill-informed for that period.’

And on 22 August 1989 he wrote to us:

‘Basically I would like to demolish the “English Chess Mafia” and reorganise it on an honest basis. I already have a completely clear-cut case of fraud against [*****], blatantly covered up by a deeply implicated [********], both damned by their own words.’

His project continued but, as he noted in a letter dated 17 September 1991, ‘keeps running into ultra sensitive legal departments’. Even so, earlier that year there had been a memorable rout of his two main adversaries (CHESS, July 1991, pages 18-19).

A letter written to us on 13 September 1989 included a remark which provides a striking reminder of life in the pre-Internet age, at a time when much of the chess press preferred to sweep certain inconvenient truths under the carpet. Tony Miles, who was described by Daniel King (CHESS, January 2002, page 8) as ‘the most influential chess player England has ever had, and one of the most talented’, found it difficult to put across his case anywhere ‘apart from Kingpin, Inside Chess or the odd joker I may have in my pack’.

Kingpin proved an invaluable outlet for his writing. After Miles’ death a tribute by the magazine’s Editor, Jonathan Manley, concluded with these words:

‘I shall miss not only his writing but also his phone calls which, like many of his articles, were hilarious commentaries on the latest absurdity in the chess world. He once called me from his bath (!) to report that he had been reading Kingpin and had laughed so much that he had just dropped it in the water. I don’t think that the magazine has ever been paid a finer compliment.’

That tribute appeared at the Chess Café, for which Miles wrote during the final two years of his life.

In 1999 it had seemed to us that Miles would surely prove to be a star performer on the Internet and that there could be no better home for him than the Chess Café, which was then riding particularly high. With the agreement of Hanon Russell, the Café’s founder and proprietor, we therefore asked Miles whether he would like to become a columnist. On 29 May 1999 he responded positively, ‘given that my literary output has been largely curtailed by being fired’ (by Dominic Lawson, the then Editor of the Sunday Telegraph). Miles added: ‘I will be at home for a while (I picked up something resembling dysentery in Cuba so am lying around feeling sorry for myself!) and a bit of writing would be most convenient.’

Hanon Russell then entered into contact with Miles to discuss terms, which were quickly agreed, and the ‘bit of writing’ turned out to be an immensely successful run which continued until Miles’ death in November 2001. The articles (as well as Jonathan Manley’s above-mentioned tribute) are still available on-line in the Chess Café’s archives section.

From Leonard Barden’s obituary of Miles in The Guardian of 14 November 2001:

‘His witty, monthly Internet column poked fun at the pretentious, and put forward constructive ideas to improve the world chess scene.’

Some of the other obituaries of Miles, and various related articles, were deplorable. A full-page article by Andrew Alderson in the Sunday Telegraph of 18 November 2001 (page 22) stated:

‘There were even dark rumours – never substantiated – that he had deliberately lost games in return for financial reward.’

It may be wondered why any writer would even consider disseminating dark, unsubstantiated rumours about somebody who has just died, but, for the record, here is what Miles wrote to us in a letter dated 15 July 1989:

‘Lastly, though of no particular importance to me, it is sometimes interesting to know what is “known” about oneself. For instance I recall an occasion when a certain person – you’d never guess who – spread a story that I had “sold” a game for a very large sum of money. It was many years before anyone told me about it and I was able trivially to disprove the allegation. The damage to my reputation was considerable.’

We mentioned earlier that Miles requested research assistance on two matters. The second of these concerned blindfold chess and, in particular, past exploits in that field. Although it was barely reported at the time, in 1984 he played 22 games simultaneously sans voir in a display in Roetgen, Germany, scoring ten wins, ten draws and two losses. A decade later he wrote a fine article about ‘this little-known feat’, on pages 36-39 of the February 1994 CHESS. It can also be found on pages 167-172 of the anthology of his writings, Tony Miles ‘It’s Only Me’ compiled by Geoff Lawton (London, 2003).

On 14 April 1994 Miles sent us a print-out of the complete set of the 22 games:

Below is a sample page of the print-out:

There follows the full set of 22 games:

For further information about the exhibition in Roetgen, see too the book Blindfold Chess by Eliot Hearst and John Knott (Jefferson, 2009).

Towards the end of his life Miles’ interest in chess sometimes waned. In an e-mail message dated 10 January 2001 he told us: ‘I am playing more bridge than chess these days (bit bored!).’ As it happens, though, the blindfold display was the subject of the last communication we received from him, an e-mail message written on 4 November 2001, about a week before he died:

‘Actually the display was very well organized. I played in a sound proofed booth, with no access to score sheets. (I recall Kolty saying to me dismissively that Najdorf had such access in his displays, and commenting that he could do 100 like that!) It took about 11.5 hours, the scheduled start being noon, and finishing shortly before midnight. I was told that the average rating of my opponents was about 2000, but I have no idea of the breakdown.’

Tony Miles (1955-2001)

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All ChessBase articles by Edward Winter

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, about 7,350 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). In 2011 a paperback edition was issued.

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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