Leonard Barden's Evening Standard column ends after 63 years

by ChessBase
2/3/2020 – "63 years, 7 months and 27 days", is how long English chess columnist Leonard Barden has been writing for the Evening Standard. Barden, who celebrated his 90th birthday last August, notes in the comments to his January 31st column in The Guardian, that only the Evening Standard column is ending, and the weekly Guardian column will continue as usual. Barden shared some thoughts on the milestone with ChessBase. | Photo: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

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Leonard Barden on chess

Leonard Barden was born in Croydon, London on August 20, 1929 and was one of the best English players in the 1950s and early 1960s. He competed in Chess Olympiads for the English national team on four occasions (1952, 1954, 1960 and 1962). In 1954, he was split first at the British Championships, in which he was second four years later, in 1958, after losing a playoff against Jonathan Penrose.

Barden studied modern history at Oxford, but made a name for himself primarily as a chess organizer, promoter, author and journalist. He organized tournaments, wrote numerous popular books, made radio broadcasts on chess for the BBC and commented the historic match between Fischer and Spassky in Reykjavík 1972 on English television.

In the Evening Standard, he wrote daily for 63 years, 7 months and 27 days, continuously, without any gap. That's longer and more frequently than any other chess columnist in the world. But on January 31st, 2020, he said goodbye to the daily column with a game of Magnus Carlsen playing black against Baadur Jobava at the World Blitz Championship in Moscow.

Reflecting on the change, Barden writes that the Evening Standard column has ended primarily due to budget cuts:

Otherwise I might well have continued until I dropped, as has been a long tradition with English newspaper columnists from the time of Amos Burn and JH Blake and continued with Alexander, BH Wood, and Golombek.

The column's finest period was in the 1970s when it played a significant role in England's rise to No. 2 behind the Soviet Union. 

Evening Standard front page

The Evening Standard, July 3 1972

The above shows the front page lunchtime Evening Standard story of July 3rd 1972 when Jim Slater doubled the Reykjavik prize fund and saved the match. I was Slater's chess consultant at the time, although the decision was his alone, and I also advised him when he offered £5000 and £2500 awards to the first English players to become grandmasters.

In autumn 1972 the Standard editor Charles Wintour asked me to suggest a London event his newspaper could sponsor. I recommended the Islington weekend congress which, with daily Standard publicity for entries in the chess column, attracted 1200 players in 1972 and nearly 2000 the following year.

Later the Standard's contacts found the National Bank of Dubai (which wanted to back bridge but at the time the bridge authorities didn't accept sponsors) and the tournament moved upmarket to a West End hotel.

The Standard also sponsored London junior championships, including simuls by Soviet grandmasters at the prizegiving, where in 1976 Nigel Short, then 10, beat Korchnoi.  In 1979 the Standard paid £1000, a large sum at that time, for Spassky to play England juniors. This was the 'hard bread' simul (Spassky's phrase) which he described at the most difficult of his life and where he only won one of the top 10 boards. Future GM Stuart Conquest played on board 29 out of 30.

After 1980 the Standard's interest diminished and eventually a decade ago the column became online only. However as stated in my final article, its duration has set a record for any daily column in all journalism by a single individual.

It continues to be ignored by Guinness World Records, who many consider the authority. GWR lists Lam Shan Muk of Hong Kong (46 years) as the longest serving daily columnist.

The Guardian chess column continues, with a Saturday print version and a longer one which goes online normally at noon on Friday. The Financial Times column also continues. It used to be print only but for more than a year has also been online, appearing by Wednesday at the latest.  As you will know, the Daily Telegraph has a daily column by Malcolm Pein, although this is behind a paywall. Only The Times has recently reduced its coverage following the retirement of Raymond Keene. The Spectator now has a weekly column by GM Luke McShane.

So in general English chess is very well supplied with print columns compared with most other countries, while English chess journalists such as ChessBase regular Daniel King, Simon Williams, Lawrence Trent, David Howell and several others are active authors and/or commentators. Where we are lagging behind many other nations is in young talent, where England has not produced a single potential 2650 player since Howell 20 years ago.

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Lovuschka Lovuschka 2/5/2020 08:36
While we're at Fischer, Barden's column nearly got as old as Fischer did. What an amazing accomplishment!
and a happy new year and a happy new year 2/4/2020 07:26
Talking about a 'hard bread' simul' reminds me of another event organised by Leonard Barden in the 1980s: Nikolai Krogius versus the England junior squad. Krogius became the first Soviet Grandmaster to score less than 50% in a simul' outside the Soviet Union. Admittedly he was semi-retired but it shows the fierce strength of his opponents. Barden has done a lot of great things for English junior chess, and at a personal level helped inspire me by publishing one of my games in his Guardian column thirty years ago:
W.Stanton-N.McDonald, London 1990 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.c3 c5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.Nf4 Nxd4 10.Qh5+ Ke7 11.Ng6+ hxg6 12.exf6+ Nxf6 13.Qxh8 Kf7 14.0–0 e5 15.Nf3 Nxf3+ 16.gxf3 Nh5 17.Bxg6+ Kxg6 18.Kh1 Qh4 19.Qxf8 Kh7 20.Qa3 Bh3 21.Rg1 Qxf2 22.Qd3+ Kh8 23.Bd2 Rf8 24.Rg5 Rf5 25.Rag1 Rxg5 26.Bxg5 d4 27.Qe4 Bg2+ 28.Rxg2 Qf1+ 29.Rg1 Ng3+ 30.hxg3 Qh3# 0–1 (Neil McDonald)
anandymous anandymous 2/4/2020 06:53
Barden's "Play Better Chess", written in 1980, is still the best single chess book I own. I've bought several hundred books (and numerous Chessbase and other DVDs) since 1989, when I first took up chess, but I still have my copy of his book (one of the first few that I purchased backed then, along with a couple of Pandolfini's better titles). I'm glad he's still going strong and I hope that I'm still reading his Guardian (or wherever) column in 2030.
Can't say the same about Keene.
sshivaji sshivaji 2/4/2020 06:20
@Peter B,

Thanks for the clarification. That makes sense. England of the 80s was very strong, recall this from reading John Nunn's best game collection books. Perhaps the article should be edited to reflect this, ie that England's rise to No. 2 happened in the 80s.
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 2/4/2020 05:50
I became acquainted with Leonard Barden’s Guardian chess column way back in 1970 and was hooked. His articles and books educated and enlightened whole generations of chess players all over the world.
Peter B Peter B 2/4/2020 03:15
@sshivaji England reached #2 in the 80s, with silver at 3 consecutive Olympiads (84, 86, 88). I guess the article mentions the 70s because that was when a lot of the new talent was nurtured.
Leavenfish Leavenfish 2/4/2020 02:48
Maybe some of the English talent should move...to India.
sshivaji sshivaji 2/4/2020 12:42
Article says that "The column's finest period was in the 1970s when it played a significant role in England's rise to No. 2 behind the Soviet Union. "

Had no idea! England was ahead of say Hungary (Portisch, Ribli, Bilek), Yugoslavia (Gligoric, Ivkov), Czechoslavakia (Hort, Smejkal), West Germany and USA (Fischer, Reshevsky, Evans) in the 1970s?! That must be the case, but I had no idea! This probably is not as well known today!
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