Stewart Reuben: “My edge was that I got to play Bobby Fischer”

by Uvencio Blanco
10/26/2023 – Stewart Reuben has officiated and/or organised several top-level chess events held in Great Britain and other countries, including the World Chess Championship, the British Chess Championship and a number of Hastings Congresses. Also an author and a poker player, he even met and played Bobby Fischer: “Each game he won, he gained $1. Had I ever won one, I would have received $10”. | Photo: John Upham

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We are honoured to welcome an outstanding British chess player, arbiter, organiser and writer: Stewart Reuben (1939), who has officiated and/or organised several top-level chess events held in Great Britain and other countries, including the World Chess Championship, the British Chess Championship and Hastings Congresses over a number of years.

He has also been President of the British Chess Federation (BCF) and its delegate to FIDE, an environment in which he has contributed significantly to arbitration work and to the evolution and dissemination of the Laws of Chess. In addition, Reuben has been a professional poker player, one of the most prominent in Great Britain.

Uvencio Blanco Hernández: Mr. Reuben, you were born in London to English parents, Israel Reuben and Ann Epstein. What was your childhood like when England was in the midst of the Second World War?

Stewart Reuben: I was born on 14 March 1939 in London to English parents. My grandparents came from Russia or Belarus. I lived in Islington until 1967, apart from two years in Manhattan. I spent a short time in Sutton and then settled in Twickenham until 2021.

During the war years I was sometimes evacuated. I remember going to Wigston in Leicestershire by train when I was four years old. I went to school there for the first time. When we came back to London, the war was still going on. I went to Canonbury Road Primary School until I was 11. I was a pupil at William Ellis Grammar School between 1950 and 1958. Then I studied Chemistry at King's College London from 1958 to 1961. When my mother lived and lived with me, I was occasionally contacted by German-speaking players. No problem, I would pass her the phone and she would translate. She spoke Yiddish, which is 70% German.

Even at the London tournament in 1980, an interesting member of staff was my mother, Anne, who sold tickets at the event. I now live in a retirement village in Buckinghamshire.

At the age of six, at the end of the war, you and the children of your generation are back in school and begin to see life from a different perspective, just as the reconstruction of your country was being planned. What memories do you have of this time in your life?

My cousin Roger Renders taught me chess when I was 11. We only had one session, he had little interest. Much later on, he became a night watchman. Not having much to do, he learnt to play chess against a computer. Malcolm Pein (Executive Editor of Chess magazine) taught him. I only took up chess again when I went to secondary school at 11. Chess was held in very high esteem at William Ellis, a boys’ grammar school, where one had to pass the 11+ and have an interview to get in. The Headmaster was Chairman of the Chess Education Society and President of the London Schools Chess League, but I never saw him play the game. We mainly learnt chess from older boys. I borrowed books from the adult library. I remember being mystified by O-O and O-O-O until Ian Graham, in the same class as me, mentioned they meant castles and castles queenside. Systematic chess education, before secondary school, was virtually unknown in Britain until the 1980s. I remember learning that chess coaching was becoming quite a big business in the US. If in America, why not England?

And then it started to take hold in England. Bob Wade, Leonard Barden, Michael Basman and later Malcolm Pein, through the Chess in Schools and Communities Charity, were/are tremendously influential. When I was 12, we had a 20 board match scheduled against another school. But it was during a flu epidemic and many boys were absent. The school captain sought my assistance in the playground to round up people who I knew were chess players.

We managed to get a team together. My first administrative experience. I also played in the London Boys Under 16 Championship that winter. It was the first time they had introduced an event for such youngsters. I played a six-year-old in Round 1. The newspaper photographs flocked around our board and took many photos. That evening I went to meet my parents in the West End – by myself, to go to the theatre. They said they had seen the photos. ‘Show me, show me!’ I said. They did, but all the photos were of my opponent – whom I had beaten easily.

I also joined Islington Club at 12. They made me very welcome although I was a small child wearing shorts. I even played one match for them – and lost. One of the main activities at the school was the lunchtime chess club. Apart from the library, it was the only place you could stay in the school during bad weather. It was very popular. In September 1953, in the new school year, I turned up for the chess club, but no older boy, nor teacher appeared. I took it on myself to get out the sets from the cupboard and put them away, aged 14, and did so for the rest of the school year. I also introduced some children to chess.

Also, in 1953 Islington Club had its AGM. I was much too sensible a child to attend that, it would be boring! How wrong I was. They decided to run a second team in the Middlesex League. But who would captain it? They decided to invite Alf Burt (a boy of very similar age and playing strength) and me to jointly captain the team. And so it was for the whole season. We lost to the first team in the first match. But, by the end of the season, we finished ahead of them. It took me 49 years to repeat that feat. This is the origin of my claim to have been a chess administrator from September 1953 and I am reaching my Platinum Jubilee this September 2023.

You may well wonder how I managed to do all this and my school work. But I did and discontinued both tasks the following September. By then I had become good enough to play for the school first team in the London Schools League. I became secretary of the school chess club when 17 and later captain. We won the London Schools League about six years in a row in this period. William Ellis had been dominant before I even played chess and remained at the top and for some subsequent years, after I left the school.

Stewart Reuben

With Boris Spassky in Gibraltar

Chess has made you known all over the world. At what point did this game appear in your life?

In 1980 I went to the Chess Olympiad for the first time, as a sector arbiter. It was in Malta. If you ever get the opportunity to visit this wonderful bi-annual event, do so. I met several people who became good friends. I already had a reputation as an arbiter/organiser of large events. In 1984 we came second behind the USSR in the Chess Olympiad in Greece. I was one of the many arbiters and walked up and down the hall singing, not exactly sotto voce, "Land of hope and glory".

In 1994, presidential elections were held in Moscow at the same time as the Chess Olympiad. It was to be held in Greece, but the government withdrew its support. Kasparov helped to get it held in Moscow at very short notice. The quid pro quo was, presumably, the reinstatement of those ratings. Thus, Nigel Short was able to play. Kasparov was strongly in favour of Campo and even campaigned for him. I don't know how he dared to do so, given his earlier antipathy. The election took up much of the work of the entire Congress. I was there mainly as an observer. I was originally going to be a referee and at least I would be paid expenses. But Campomanes told me he wanted to invite David Wallace SCO and thought that two British referees would not be right. It didn't make any sense, after all England and Scotland are separate in FIDE.

A few years earlier I was having dinner privately with Campo. He said to me: "They say I am a scoundrel. I am not a scoundrel, my art is cunning". Life is too short to keep grudges. The next Olympics were held in Yerevan, Armenia, in 1996. It was incredible that they managed to organise them. In December 1988 there was a major earthquake. This was followed by the dissolution of the USSR in August 1991. They were still recovering from these apocalyptic events. The landing at the airport was very bumpy, and many objects fell out of the lockers. Our passports were examined by torchlight on the tarmac. But, of course, chess is very popular in Armenia thanks to the former world champion, Tigran Petrosian. I subsequently took part in the 1998 Chess Olympiad.

Did you propose changing the name of the Olympiad?

The Olympiad referred to the Men’s Olympiad, although a woman played for France in the very first year and children have also played. I was looking forward to Pia Cramling winning the silver medal on board 2 for Sweden, but unfortunately, she failed to win her last game. Enough was enough. At the FIDE General Assembly, I asked that the name be changed to Olympiad or, if they preferred, Open Olympiad. Giorgios Makropoulos, the Deputy President was in charge of the meeting. He agreed and there was no dissension, although it took a couple of years for the corrections to be made. I was not the English delegate, but he always allowed me to speak over the years. I made certain I didn’t outstay my welcome.

Mr. Reuben, you have been President of the British Chess Federation (1996-1999), and Senior Chess Director of the English Chess Federation. You were also chairman of the FIDE Organisers Committee (2006-10) and a member of other working committees. You are also one of the most active organisers and arbiters in Hastings. Tell us about it.

The first Hastings International Tournament took place in 1895 and is generally regarded as the strongest 19th century tournament. We ran a commemorative event in August 1995 at the same time of year as the first one. It was a Swiss with many strong GMs playing and it was held at a local school in the summer holidays. This provided an opportunity for leading players to qualify for Intel, a strong London tournament.

I wrote a letter in the programme to the organisers in 2005, congratulating them on maintaining the tradition. I do hope it will be read in due course. I also invented the World Amateur Championship to take place at the same time as the main congress. This was with the agreement of FIDE. Their ratings, at that time, just went down to 2200. This event was for unrated players. It was successful and we ran it for several years. Then other countries wanted a piece of the action and it has toured the world ever since. At my suggestion, ratings now go down to 1000, but the idea of a rating restricted championship remains constant. I am told their going down to 1000 is somewhat contentious, but that is the fault of the way the rating system is administered, not the idea of rating being available to all players.

Hastings Council has been very supportive of chess for many years. At the instigation of Paul Smith, they bought sizeable premises suitable for their vision of a new building suitable for the congress, Hastings Chess Club, the offices for the British Chess Federation, a chess library, teaching rooms and many other events throughout the year.

If successful, it would result in Hastings becoming the chess centre of the world. We spent quite a long time preparing a submission to the National Lottery. We had asked in advance whether the project was suitable for such funding and were told, yes. The answer came back when the plans were submitted; chess is neither an art nor a sport, and thus not eligible for such funding. What a waste of time!

In relation to the financing of tournaments like Hastings, you talk about two types of economies, black and white. Could you explain this view?

There are people all over the country who support chess, not necessarily just Hastings. I refer to them as part of The White Economy. The Black Economy is where people do jobs and get paid, but do not pay income tax on them. By contrast, the White Economy is where people voluntarily do work for an activity, but receive no financial compensation, indeed they may pay out of their own pocket. In chess, this may include match captains, county captains, club secretaries, treasurers, chairman, directors of the ECF, etc. They may even donate money to a project and never even advertise it. Indeed, I know several match captains who support leading players with expenses and fees. This White Economy is almost never referred to, yet provides considerable benefit to society. The great Russian GM David Bronstein said, ‘Hastings International Chess Congress is part of the culture of Britain and should be supported’.

Stewart Reuben

Stewart Reuben at the board | Photo: John Upham

Among the greats of the chessboard with whom you have dealt, what can you tell us about your relationship with Bobby Fischer?

It was normal to play private chess matches for money in New York. I had got to know Bobby Fischer quite well. In fact, he may have been the first GM I had ever met. We played nine games of blitz in 1963. Each game he won, he gained $1. Had I ever won one, I would have received $10. Thus 10/1 money odds. I only drew one – in which I should have won the king and pawn endgame. You can find one of the games that Bobby won and the drew on ChessBase. The others weren’t worth preserving for posterity.

In the first session I was able to equalise from the opening with the white pieces. There was little point playing when I had black. In the second session, I could no longer get out of the opening intact with white. So, I quit. He had learnt more from our games than me. Of course, my edge was that I got to play Bobby and can still write about that 60 years later.

By now there were tournaments practically every weekend, somewhere in Britain. We were ready for the explosion caused by the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match. I guess, just reading about it, means it is very difficult to grasp the extent to which chess conquered the world. The amount of publicity was equivalent to a war. In 1970 I was a tourist at the USSR v Rest of the World Match in Belgrade, dubbed The Match of the Century. I renewed my acquaintance with Bobby at that event. I dined with him, GM Larry Evans USA and IM David Levy Scotland a few times. Before the event started, there was a problem. Bent Larsen refused to concede board 1 to the American as he hadn’t played for over a year. ‘Who?’ I wondered, ‘will discuss that with Bobby?’ But he did concede the point and the match took place, with Bent facing Boris Spassky on board 1 and Bobby playing Tigran Petrosian on board 2. Perhaps I am romanticising, but it seems to me Bobby’s games with black against Petrosian when he played the English were reminiscent of my blitz games with Bobby in 1963.

One evening Larry, David and I were dining in our hotel. Bobby was adjourned and sat by himself, analysing the adjourned position. People would approach his table, possibly to get an autograph. I fended them off. I have no idea whether Bobby noticed, but one does that sort of thing for a friend. Eventually he was satisfied with his analysis and joined us at the table where he demonstrated the game to that point. That was rare for Bobby, he didn’t usually give anything away. Later we went to his suite in the hotel. Eventually Larry said, ‘Let’s look at your adjourned game’. Bobby said, ‘No. If I win, then people will say it was because of Larry’s analysis.’ We looked at each other and the three of us went off to the casino to play blackjack. Larry was a professional at this, and we all won.

You have also had the opportunity to work with some of the most important FIDE arbiters and tournament organisers. Can you name some of the most important in your fields?

One of his first actions was to invite Geurt Gijssen to be the Chairman of what later became the Rules Commission. Bob Wade was very upset that Campo had chosen a younger man than him. Geurt promptly asked me to become Secretary and we worked together for 20 years.

I would also like to point out an interesting case. When the Olympiads were held in Turkey in 2000, John Robinson again came. Concern had been expressed in the Law about how a knight moves. It is complex and needs the diagram to explain it. So, we appointed an American philologist to rewrite that Law. John and I agreed that this was not at all how a knight moved. So, the commission reverted to what David Welch had written. That hasn’t been touched since.

What was your experience with the Karpov - Korchnoi match in Baguio?

In 1978 I visited the Philippines to see part of the World Championship match. But, unlike 1972, I played no part in that great event. My greatest thrill was meeting Mikhail Tal again. He came to the press-room and discussed the games between Karpov and Korchnoi. An absolute cornucopia of ideas gushed from him. On my return to Manila from Baguio City, I was interviewed on TV. The interview lasted nearly an hour. I doubt I have ever given an interview lasting more than 5 minutes, either before or since.

What can you tell us about the complications that arose with the 1983 World Championship?

It was 1983 that the World Chess Championship semifinals came to London. Acorn Computers sponsored the event, which took place at the Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street. Ray Keene was in charge and I did much of the technical work. It was the President of FIDE, Florencio Campomanes, who found a room suitable for our admin team! It was at very short notice, and I worked on both the Master Game in Bath and the advance preparation for the World Championship semis in London simultaneously. Smyslov beat Ribli in one semifinal and Kasparov beat Korchnoi in the other.

When we met with the sponsors, I asked my usual question. ‘What are you aiming for?’ ‘What do you want to know that for?’ was the response of the person notionally responsible for publicity. About half-way through the event, we realised that they were launching the company on the stock market during the event. Despite the shortness of notice, there were three TV programmes devoted to the event. There were also several coups. The opening ceremony was at 11 Downing Street. Dominic Lawson, a well-known journalist and chess enthusiast who is now President of the ECF, was the son of Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer. What could be more appropriate than holding the start of the event where the office is named after chess?

The Sunday Times closed down the chess column unexpectedly during the event. Ray and I mounted a campaign among the spectators to write in asking that the column be reinstated. They did so about two weeks later, saying, ‘It was a misunderstanding. There temporarily just wasn’t room in the paper’. Bernard Cafferty got the column. He told me they showed him several letters that had been sent, including mine. Ray Keene replaced him years later. Now GM David Howell writes the Sunday Times column and the daily puzzles in The Times and a Saturday column.

Our friend, Nathan Divinsky, appeared on the Terry Wogan chat show. Garry Kasparov did so similarly in 1986. There were other TV shows which mentioned the chess. Sophia Gorman, born in England, who later married Michael Rohde and moved to New York, was appointed as assistant arbiter to both matches which took place on alternate days. She was just 19 at the time. Leonard Barden offered the opinion that this would be the biggest publicity coup for the event, but that attracted little media attention. She was appointed an International Arbiter later that year. For many years, the regulations have now stated that applicants for the title of International or FIDE Arbiter must be at least 21. Thus, her record is likely to stand. But England has no such age hang-ups. Nathanael Lutton worked for me at the chess tournament in the Royal Festival Hall in the 1st World Mind Sports Games. He collected the results. He was six years old at the time. People handing in their results didn’t seem surprised. We have good reason to be proud of our lack of concern about people being thought to be too young for certain roles in England.

Stewart Reuben

Mr. Stewart Reuben (England, 1939), one of the leading figures in British chess; Candidate Master; International Arbiter (1976), International Arbiter Category B, International Lecturer and Organiser (1995)

Mr. Reuben, we are aware of the time constraints and problems faced by the BCF in organising the II USSR vs Rest of the World.

In 1984 London Dockland Development Corporation sponsored the Second USSR vs Rest of the World Match in that area of London that was being redeveloped. Tony Miles was on the phone to me, and we fell about laughingly when we realised I knew nothing of this event. It was scheduled to start five days later. The following day, 16 June 1984, I was at a meeting of the BCF Board. David Anderton explained the project. The BCF put in the final £4000 towards organizing the match and off they went to organise it. ‘Aren’t you coming?’ Ray asked me. ‘For what?’ ‘To organise the match’. So we left the Board meeting.

To learn all the machinations about raising the money and finding the players, read ‘Docklands Encounter USSR v The World’, by Raymond Keene with David Goodman and John Groser.

Campomanes joined us. I had got to know him quite well in 1983. Campo and Ray were discussing FIDE. I said I wasn’t a politician. They looked at each other and said, ‘Then FIDE isn’t for you’. One of my first tasks was to find somewhere for the players and other people to stay for an event starting five days later. It was the same period as Wimbledon tennis, which makes hotel rooms difficult to come by in London. Eventually I tracked down a hotel which had just reopened after a refurbishment and thus was available. But how to contact Ray; he wasn’t at home. It took me one phone call. Remember, it was before the days of mobile phones. The secretary said he was busy in a meeting. I told her to interrupt it. Stewart Reuben has to speak to him urgently. It was then all tied up rapidly. What a secretary, to take instructions from a complete stranger! But we hadn’t yet seen the venue! I was speaking to some people and said, ‘Next, they will ask us to organise the Chess Olympiad at one day’s notice. Jill Triggs said, ‘No, we’ll need at least three days to do it properly’.

Eddie Oliver, the Financial and Administrative Director of the LDCC said that the match was the first time anybody had written anything positive about the whole redevelopment project. The USSR won by 21-19.

You were an eyewitness to the controversial Kasparov vs Short match. Tell us about it.

In 1992 Nigel Short beat Karpov USSR in the semi-final of the Candidates matches. He followed that up with beating Jan Timman in the final in 1993. In retrospect, those are his greatest over-the-board achievements. That qualified him for the World Championship Match against his good friend Kasparov.

The FIDE idea under the guidance of David Anderton was that the match would take place in Manchester. A venue was selected. Richard Furness from Manchester and I went to see it in Manchester. They would have to play in a glass box. The noise outside the playing hall would otherwise probably be too distracting. We could not confirm that the venue would be acceptable to both players. Quite probably, yes, because a similar venue at the World Trade Centre was used for the Kasparov Anand Match in 1995.

But another problem lurked. Nigel arrived back in London after the match against Jan. I arranged a celebration party in a hall above the Chess and Bridge premises. But, to my surprise, Nigel declined the invitation. This made me feel uneasy because he usually liked such occasions. The party went ahead, but I didn’t want to say why we were celebrating. There were no speeches. Then the bombshell was dropped. The contestants intended to take the match away from FIDE. The match was organized under the auspices of the Professional Chess Association (PCA) of who, initially, there were just the two members. Bidding was reopened and The Times Newspaper, under the guidance of Ray Keene, their chess columnist, won; the event to take place in London, with the agreement of the contestants.

Naturally the Northern chess players were very upset. They felt snubbed by Nigel who, after all, grew up in the area. It was clear to me problems had been created which it was unlikely would be resolved that century. Ray brought in David Levy, his brother-in-law, as technical manager. I did not feel offended. After all, we were all good friends and David and I had often worked together. Ray asked me to provide a document listing various side-shows that could take before and during the match. I don’t have a copy any more, but it was used as an inspiration for a chapter in the third edition of my book, The Chess Organiser’s Handbook; ‘Peripheral Events’. That came to very little as The Times found the costs were running away from them and, during the match, fewer tickets were sold than had been hoped for. I failed to point out that the sale of tickets for public chess events had always improved as the event went on, such as London 1986. But surely Ray must have noticed this.

The match was held at The Savoy Theatre, virtually next door to Simpson’s Restaurant in The Strand. The theatre had recently undergone refurbishment and thus was available at short notice. Some rooms in the restaurant were used for the match, such as press. Yuri Averbakh was appointed Chief Arbiter. Both ITV and BBC were covering the match, as in 1986. But the BBC had no room inside The Savoy Theatre. They conducted their interviews outside the venue.

I was asked by fellow poker players what were the odds on the match. I responded, ‘there is no bet’. I was convinced Garry would win. I didn’t place a bet in case I got more seriously involved with the admin. And, in that case, it would have been improper. I should have looked at the price the bookmakers were offering. 1/2 on Garry would have been tempting, 1/3 might also have been tempting. But, it is hard to bet in favour of an outcome which you want the reverse of.

I occasionally did earphone commentary for the audience, usually when the professionals had yet to arrive. I was sitting in the audience for the first game in the Dress Circle. Garry stood better and Nigel was running short of time. But then the World Champion made a mistake and Nigel stood a bit better. Then the game stopped. Ray turned around to me and asked, ‘What happened?’ I was also mystified. Yuri came to the front of the stage and explained that Mr. Short had lost on time. It was a calamity. Normally Nigel is a very resilient player. But this shook his confidence badly. The flag on the clock was of a rather unusual design and may have confused the Englishman. He quickly went even further behind. The match, from the viewpoint of the casual spectators, was virtually over.

The TV viewing figures went down and some years later finished. The viewing figures dropped and a few years later it was over. After the showdown was over, there were several days for which people had already bought tickets. Very attractive events were organised. The best one I remember was a consultation match. Kasparov + Short against the commentary team: Ray Keene, Jon Speelman, Danny King and Cathy Forbes. There was a lot of TV footage of the game. Naturally, I didn't have all of it. Some were broadcast while I was watching the match live. I have a large collection of English-language chess on DVD, including feature films, some of them copied from television. When I moved in 2021, some of it went to the Hastings Chess Club and some to De Montfort University, where the ECF book collection is now housed. However, it may still have the largest collection in the world. I believe you can still find the catalogue on the ECF website.

Stewart Reuben

IA/IO Stewart Reuben

In response, FIDE stripped Kasparov and Short of their ratings.

David Anderton was a member of the FIDE Presidential Board. As a lawyer, he found the lack of due process totally unacceptable. They had no opportunity to present their side of the arguments and were not represented in the decision-making process. David said to the Board, ‘I cannot live with that’. It is entirely possible that this was not understood. One has to be careful with English usage when communicating with people for whom English is not their first language. The result was that David resigned from the Presidential Board and ceased to be our FIDE Delegate.

The FIDE General Assembly took place in Curitiba in Brazil in 1993. I had never been to South America before and took the opportunity that year. Although I had no official position with either the BCF or FIDE then. David Jarrett became our FIDE Delegate. Of course, the whole matter of stripping Kasparov and Short of their ratings was a major topic. David Jarrett gave a very clear and cogent view of why the FIDE decision had been wrong. Many other people spoke. Possibly at the end I should have said, ‘The FIDE Presidential Board has made a mistake. We all make mistakes. Were the Board to agree, I would applaud them. If the vote goes against them and the ratings are reinstated, I would be happy to support a proposal of confidence in the Board.’ But I didn’t, and I doubt it would have made any difference. Many of the delegates come from totalitarian societies. Also, it is unrealistic to expect to run on purely democratic principles when people are so far-flung and there are communication problems. Remember the internet and emails were not so advanced then.

However, in his professional life the practice and promotion of poker is not far behind, so how did he divide his time and energy between the two passions?

I returned to England in April 1965, found a new laboratory-based job and rejoined Islington Chess Club. In my absence, they had won the London League at their first attempt – a magnificent achievement. Several members of the club and I were playing poker more seriously now. In particular, at the En Passant, a chess salon in The Strand nearly opposite Simpson’s Restaurant where the Immortal Game was played in 1851.

Ted Isles was the main organiser and a stronger chess player at his best than I ever became. He had played in the British when it was a 12 player all-play-all and scored about 50%. He also played for Islington. In October 1965, we were playing poker. In between hands he said, ‘Islington Club can have use of the premises for one weekend’. I immediately said, ‘Then we’ll run a weekend Swiss’. And so it came about in December 1965, the first Islington Open and the first weekend Swiss in Europe. 24 people played.

I also played poker at lunchtime in my company. Eventually I was winning about $15 a week, adding about 10% to my net pay per month. One day, a very pleasant, intelligent member of staff, threw his cards on the table, exclaiming, ‘I’m quitting, he’s so lucky!’ It obviously hadn’t occurred to him that I was the better player.

The second year I rented a one-bedroomed flat in Chelsea. It was cheap to live in NY at that time. They still had rent control, a hangover from the Second World War. I started a poker game there, mostly for young chess players – but not Bobby. Walter Bowne was about 14 at the time, but clearly a future GM and we thought nothing of his joining in and going home on the subway late at night, by himself. Chess society seldom worries about age differences.

For my summer holidays I went to LA, San Francisco, Vegas and the Grand Canyon. I played in the National Open in Vegas. It is still run there. I found myself appointed to the Appeals Committee, for the first time in my life. Sam Sloane nominated me, and I remain friendly with him to this day. I suspect my being a member of the committee got me an adjudicated draw from a decidedly inferior position. One day I overslept and arrived 50 minutes later. But I didn’t need to worry, it was my opponent’s clock that was ticking, not mine!

I did OK in the tournament. I also played some poker in Vegas, but did no good at all. I probably hadn’t realised what a large sum they took from the small games. Decades later I was on a cruise and some of us discussed playing poker in the casino. I asked the staff what rake they took from the game. I did well in the tournament. As I said, in 1979 I separated from my job. I needed more time to play poker, run and participate in chess events. It was at that time that I took the plunge and made a living from poker. No one ever encouraged me to become a money-making chess administrator. Maybe, if I had been given the push, I could have moved in that direction. But professional chess administration was not part of the British culture at that time.

After I quit in 1979, I went to Las Vegas for the summer and made $2,000 a day for about three weeks. But I had to return to England because the Lloyds Bank Masters was starting at the end of August. My bank manager finally showed interest when I deposited most of the money with them. A law had been passed that was intended to allow good causes to collect money from lotteries. It was poorly drafted and resulted in unregulated casino gambling. It was at that time that I became a professional poker player and a school teacher. After retiring from that, I never had a job again, making most of my money from poker, a little bit of chess management and a little bit of writing about poker and chess. I retired from poker in 2010. I felt I was making too many mistakes.

You are considered a leading author of chess and poker content. You have written Pot-Limit & No-Limit Poker (1999), Starting Out in Poker (2001), How Good is Your Pot-Limit Omaha (2004), How Good is Your Pot-Limit Hold'em (2004), An Introduction to Poker (2005) and Poker 24/7: 35 Years as a Poker Pro (2005). Also, in this area, you talk about Reuben's Rules, can you give us an overview of what they are?

I have already stated that I played poker in Las Vegas, but it did not go well. I probably didn’t realise how much money they were taking from small games. Decades later, I was on a cruise ship and some of us talked about playing poker in the casino. I asked the staff what commission they took from the game. They answered and I thought to myself. Nobody can win at this game. That was the end of it. I wanted to play, but what can you do? You have to obey Reuben’s Rules of the Game, although at that time they had not been formulated. These are: Never, ever gamble with money you cannot afford to lose; know the rules of the game; know the cost of the transactions; always have an edge; never play when upset, tired or unwell; and run your profits and cut your losses.

Stewart Reuben

The chess organiser’s handbook (1998)

Interestingly, the only time (in Britain) a game of chess has ended with a 0-0 result was when Antony Miles and Stewart Reuben agreed a draw without making any moves to secure the top places. The arbiter decided to award 0 points to each player instead of a draw.

Let us now turn to more personal matters. I have learned that our life rests on four fundamental pillars: health, work, relationships and spirituality. At 84 you look healthy, clear-headed and very active. Tell us about the first of these pillars, your health.

When I was about 57, I went for a private check-up of my body. The doctor asked me why I was there. I answered because my father died of a heart attack at 59. He said, that’s a good reason. I had an exhaustive series of tests. On my return, the first question he asked was the worst I have ever had. ‘Don’t you have any symptoms?’ ‘What are the symptoms? I asked. ‘You’ll know when you have them’. This wasn’t correct. I started getting short of breath, but no pain across the chest, which I thought was the typical symptom of angina. That was my ignorance, you can have one without the other. In due course I had angioplasty.

In 1998 I contracted pneumonia just before Christmas and was unable to attend the congress in Hastings. Since then I have not helped out at the congress. It is too cold for me at that time of year. I am still a member of the committee, although I don’t think I am very useful. But I am the oldest member of the committee and that may prove valuable sometime.

One evening in 2002, I was playing bridge with a nice American girl in Bermuda. Afterwards I had dinner with the chess players at the hotel, who were attending an important international event. In the evening, in my room, I suffered my first and, so far, only heart attack. In the morning I called Carol Jarecki (a very competent chess arbiter), who took me to the hospital. I stayed in the hospital for a few days, was made comfortable and was flown by air ambulance to a hospital in Miami. I had an angioplasty on an untreated artery. It was successful and I convalesced in a hotel in Miami. It was the ideal place. It wasn’t too hot and I could walk on the flat.

While recovering there I taught one of the nurses how to play chess and wrote some articles about poker for which I was later paid. My friend George Wheeler said I was the only person he knew who could make money from such experience, I also spent some hours rewriting the Title Rules. They have not been drastically modified since then.

Later that year, in May, I suffered a stroke. It took me six months to recover. I gave myself about ten years to live and consequently started spending my money. Here I am, 20 years later, in reasonable health.

Incidentally, on my return to England after the stroke, I contacted the insurance company and asked how much it had cost them so far. Because it's interesting. The sum was £45,000, and remember that was in 2002.

In 2006 I conducted the opening ceremony of the Gibraltar Chess Congress. After the guest of honour politician gave his speech, I was standing there talking to people and I fainted. In 2009 I had pleurisy, which forced me to have a defibrillator. So I never run anywhere.

Regarding the second pillar, work, what is your educational background and job performance?

From 1961-1963 I worked for the British Oxygen Company as a laboratory scientist. Then from 1963 to 1965 I worked in a consultancy, also in the laboratory, in Manhattan. In 1965 I returned to London and worked in science until 1967. That same year I stopped being a scientist and became a science teacher until 1979.

Your most notable books on chess include: The Chess Scene (1974) with David Levy), Chess Openings: Your Choice! (1995), The Chess Organiser's Handbook (1998) and London 1980, Phillips and Drew Kings Chess Tournament (2010) with William Hartston. Any pending publishing projects?

Once Gibraltar and my time at the Standards Commission were over, I had relatively few other tasks. Of course, writing this account has taken me considerable time.

I have also finished my work on A History of the Laws of Chess, which I hope will be published in time for the FIDE Centenary in July 2024. This is a collaboration with Alex McFarlane and Sheun Press. I contracted them partly because I feared I would not be able to complete the work and partly because of the magnitude of the task. They are also good friends.

And do you have a particular tournament project?

Also, there are some projects that I would like to see materialised. For example ... A Swiss in which you play two games with each opponent, one with white and one with black; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The World Family Championship. To compete in this open Swiss, another member of the family would also have to play. Family members would not be paired together, regardless of their score. The All-Inclusive World Team Championship. Each team would have six players and six categories. Male, Female, Boy, Girl, Senior, Disabled. I am too old to think about organising any of these events on my own. But I would like to be included in the programme and still be useful.

Finally, what about your Platinum Anniversary in chess?

In September 1953, in the new school year, I applied for the chess club, but no older boy or teacher turned up. I took it upon myself to take the games out of the cupboard and put them away, aged 14, and did so for the rest of the school year. I also introduced some children to chess. Also in 1953, the Islington Club held its AGM. I was too sensible a child to attend - it would be boring! How wrong I was. They decided to form a second team in the Middlesex League, but who would captain it? They decided to invite Alf Burt (a boy of very similar age and playing strength) and myself to jointly captain the team. And so it was for the whole season.

We lost to the first team in the first game. But, at the end of the season, we ended up ahead of them. It took me 49 years to repeat that feat. This is the origin of my claim to have been a chess administrator since September 1953 and to reach my Platinum Jubilee this September 2023.

Also, I want to tell you that my hobbies include travel; I have been to 102 countries and plan to add four more this year. There’s also theatre, although I rarely go now that I live outside London. And reading, especially science fiction. But I’m a very slow reader now. Listening to jazz and easy listening. Playing bridge. I don't have any favourite websites. I have a phobia of dogs.

We would like to thank Mr. Stewart Reuben for his kind attention and patience in conducting this interview. It has been an enriching experience with a leading actor. In addition to recognising his outstanding professional merits, we congratulate him on his first 70 years! in the field of chess management, organisation and arbitration.


Born in Venezuela, Uvencio Blanco Hernández is a FIDE International Arbiter and Organizer. He is part of the Chess in Education Commission of the International Chess Federation.