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Chapter 6: Those who have come before

Those Who Have Gone Before

The air in the Vienna cafe was heavy with the smoke of cigars. The president Esling, twirled his thick black moustache reflectively. The numbers were down again this year, and Thomas Harlin's inevitable resume of chess events for the past 12 months had gone on a little longer than expected. Still, Harlin was the club historian, and people were now congratulating him on his article "Chess in Melbourne for Forty years" in the Australian chess annual which had come out a year or two before. This years banquet had on the whole been a success. Esling glanced at his watch. As an engineer and chess player he knew the value of time. If dinner was to be wound up by eleven he had better propose the last toast now. The port, he noticed, was still circulating, and one or two of the 18 members and guests had reached the jovial stage. (The president deplored alcoholic excess; he had never forgotten Wisker's performance as his team-mate in the telegraphic match of 1883.) Esling rose to his feet, "Gentleman", he said, "I give you, those who had gone before".

That was in 1898. Esling was to outlive most of those at the banquet, although his days of tournament chess were already over. He has had a chapter to himself. But what of those who went before and came after him? Some we can see in a faded photograph that hangs in the main room of the clubhouse. Taken to mark the annihilation of NSW in the telegraphic match of 1897, it shows 11 stiffly posed figures, with Esling, the captain, at the centre. Ten are the players and the 11th man is Scot Andrew Burns, ostensibly present at the Leader's chess columnist, but really there in the wider capacity of grand old man of Victorian chess. Burns, veteran of 15 telegraph matches (12 wins, 2 losses, 1 draw) was a founder and early president of he club. He won its first annual handicap tourney in 1867 as the only competitor playing from scratch, and there was no acceptor when, 2 years later, he offered pawn and move to any player in the colony. Burns was the Leader's columnist from 1869 until 1900. He died the following year, a great figure in Victorian chess, but morbidly jealous of his own reputation.

By 1875 there was little doubt that the 3 strongest players in Australia were Burns himself, Louis Goldsmith, who became club president later that year, and Charles Fisher, who alternated between Melbourne and Sydney and was by 1875 the outstanding player in NSW. In that year Goldsmith and Fisher played, for a stake of £20 a side, the first notable match over the board between a Victorian and a player from another colony. The match, played at the club, drew many spectators and was narrowly won by Fisher. Five years later he returned to Melbourne and served for a time on the committee. When Blackburne visited Australia in 1885, Fisher alone held the British master to a draw on level terms. Fisher later travelled to the continent, and his last published game was played in the 1889 at the Cafe de la Regence.

H.E.Grant, born in Bengal during the mutiny and saved by his Indian ayah, became secretary in 1897 and served the club as an office-bearer for the next 35 years. Champion of Victoria in 1907, and chess editor of the Leader from 1910 until 1931, this vast and witty man was the best of members, contributing to the game as strong player, writer and administrator. His work for the club was marked by various presentations.: the purse of sovereigns in 1912: the book of problems composed in his honour in 1914; the case of pipes at the dinner given by the Gundersens in 1925. Grant gave his life to the club for all these years, and when in 1931 he died at the age of 76 nearly half the club turned out for the funeral. In 1920 the club won a match by telegraph against Sydney school of Arts. Chess players are used to excuses. Through his column in the Leader Grant had this to say:-

"A Sydney journalist, referring to this match, made its annual wine:- 'It ought to be remembered that whilst the Melbourne club was playing its full interstate strength, the local club, owing to business considerations and personal sickness, were without such sterling players as Messrs. Crane, Bradshaw and Bracey.' This paragraph must be kept in type, to be used annually, with the names of the players changed.

"The school of Arts challenged the Melbourne chess club to play the match, meaning of course, that each would be represented by its best 'available' players. It si nonsense to make out a list of men, who, if they were not dead, demented or in Patagonia, might have been induced to play."

Henry Tate, who succeeded Grant as secretary in 1916, was greater as a problemist than as a player, although he won the annual handicap tourney in 1912. Many of his compositions were published in Australia and overseas, and for a time he contributed the chess column in the Australasian and Weekly Times. One of those who followed him in the Weekly Times was S.J.Myers, a club member who wrote the column for most of the thirties.

The legendary Gunnar Gundersen, born in France of Norwegian parents in 1882, spent most of his life in Melbourne, where he lectured in Mathematics. Renowned for his quick play and smooth and stately style, he won the Victorian championship 12 times between 1907 and 1929 and was twice champion of New Zealand; the Australian title eluded him. The outbreak of the first world war found Gundersen in Germany, where he was competing in the Hauptturnier at the Mannheim congress. Many of those present who were not Germans or Austrians were arrested, including Alekhine, who later escaped and returned home to join the Russian army. Others, including Rubinstein and Bogoljubov, were interned for the duration. Gundersen himself got out through Denmark, using a false passport, which he later had framed. The club's records say little of the great war. Tournaments were organised for the Red Cross and the Wounded Soldiers fund. There has not come down to us the Honour Roll that hung in the clubroom of members and their sons who had enlisted. Gundersen wrote the Australasian's column from 1910 to 1938, when he retired from active play. His chess library was extensive and his authority as a chess historian was unquestionable. (There is in the Anderson collection a copy of Walker's Chess Studies, from Gundersen's library. Published in 1844, it was bought by Sir George Stephen, and came to Gundersen via Louis Goldsmith. The book contains some games played by Stephen in 1850, one with notes by Staunton.) Gundersen and his wife were much given to entertaining visiting players at their home "Tristan" in Mathoura Rd, Toorak, where dinner was followed by Kriegspiel, cricket and song. Cecil Purdy once described Gundersen as the soul of the club.

C.G.Steele made rather a habit of coming second in the Victorian championship, especially to Gundersen, but won the title in 1909 and again in 1923. He was to Gundersen what Hodgson had been to Esling 20 years before.

One of the club's great benefactors was J.A.Pietzcker, who served his first term as president in 1925 and was a member for over 60 years. He flourished during the age of Gundersen. It is to Pietzcker we owe the Australian Open tournament, for that event was a revival of the Pietzcker tourney, endowed by him and held between 1925 and 1940. The Australian Open tournament was conducted by the club every 2 years from 1947 until 1953. Then the ACF took over, but did hold the first Australian Open championship until 1971: the Karlis Lidums International chess tournament.

Frank Crowl (1902-1964) was for years one of the club's most notable denizens. As a boy, he lived in Shanghai, winning the minor championship at 10 and the major at 14. He was champion of Victoria in 1930, 1935, 1941, 1943 and 1950. Described as the Australian Nimzovitch, he was a most original player. Crowl believed that black has the advantage. At times his behaviour was as original as his play and it often brought him into collision with the committee. He regarded the club as his home; all his correspondence was addressed to it, which caused friction. He claimed propriety rights in a certain table near the door, which served as his desk, and resisted all attempts to oust him from it. With his shrill voice, bad language and eccentricities, Crowl made enemies. A reluctant president was asked to "personally explain to Mr Crowl the serious view the committee takes of some of his actions in the clubroom, which annoy so many of our club members". When the club was given notice to quit by the Athenaeum Crowl moved at members' meeting that a letter be sent to the landlord in what the minutes delicately describe as "certain terms"; there was no seconder. When the ?migr? Basta first encountered him in 1955, Crowl, who liked playing for money (usually he needed it) proposed a friendly game for 5 shillings. With uncharacteristic caution Basta suggested half a crown, and play began. Basta won, where upon his opponent enquired, "Would you take a cheque?" Crowl was a great gambler, he once asked tournament organisers to fix a rest day so that he could go to the races.

If Crowl as inimitable, C.G.Watson, with his may retirements and reappearrances and his penchant for winning lost games , was indestructible. He first won the Victorian championship in 1898 and last won the title in 1936. His name appears on the board now and then during the intervening years; in 1902, 1904, 1905, 1914, 1921, 1924 and 1931. In that 39 years he competed only 12 times. For decades he was the strongest player in the state. In later life he was seduced by bridge. In 1922 Watson won the Australian championship with 11 points to Viner's 10.5 and Crakanthorp's 10. The British chess federation had reserved a place for the winner of the Australian title in the International Masters tournament to be held later that year. Off to London went Watson, where he joined Capablanca, Alekhine, Rubinstein, Bogoljubov, Tartakower, Euwue and others. His score of 4.5 points out of 15 was remarkably good: at home he had lacked strong opposition and London was only his second experience of the round-a-day tournament. He showed his skill in the endgame by beating Reti in 92 moves.

Watson won the Australian title a second time in 1931. Like all chess players, Watson was capable of an occasional oversight, and this fallibility extended to payment of his subscription. In 1945 the committee had to remind him that if he used to club he must pay his dues. Watson blamed Crowl for inveigling him into a game; what Crowl said in his defence is not recorded, which is probably just as well. The following year, at the age of 66, Watson contributed his point to the victory in the wireless match, Australia v. France. His game against Lazare (Sydney 1945), when he was at the same age, has been described as reminiscent of Labourdonnais and worthy of Tal. Watson chose the Sicilian:

[Event "AUS ch"]
[Site "Sydney"]
[Date "1945.09.13"]
[Round "10.2"]
[White "Lazare, Stefan"]
[Black "Watson, Charles G M"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B72"]
[PlyCount "72"]
[EventDate "1945.09.??"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be2 Bg7 7. Be3 Nc6 8. Nb3 Be6 9. f4 h5 10. h3 h4 11. O-O Qc8 12. Kh2 Nh5 13. Bxh5 Rxh5 14. Rb1 Bc4 15. Rf2 f5 16. exf5 Qxf5 17. Nd4 Qf7 18. b3 Bd5 {Preventing Ne4} 19. Nxd5 Rxd5 20. c3 Nxd4 21. cxd4 Rc8 22. Rc1 Rxc1 23. Qxc1 Qe6 24. Qc3 Kf8 25. Rf3 Bf6 26. a4 b6 27. Bf2 Kg7 28. Qc7 g5 29. fxg5 Bxd4 30. Bxh4 Rc5 31. Qb7 Be5+ 32. Bg3 Rc1 33. Qa8 Bxg3+ 34. Rxg3 {Lazare should have taken with the king. Watson then had in mind 34...Rc8 35.Qb7 Kg6 36.h4 Kh5} Qe1 35. Rf3 Qe5+ 36. Rg3 Rc3 0-1

Watson returned from the dead to haunt Koshnitsky in the 1945 Sydney congress. As white, Watson had just played Ke2.

[Event "AUS ch"]
[Site "Sydney"]
[Date "1945.09.03"]
[Round "1.2"]
[White "Watson, Charles G M"]
[Black "Koshnitsky, Gregory Simon"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D94"]
[PlyCount "80"]
[EventDate "1945.09.??"]
1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. e3 Bg7 5. d4 O-O 6. cxd5 Nxd5 7. Qb3 Nb6 8. Be2 N8d7 9. O-O e5 10. Rd1 Qe7 11. Bd2 c6 12. Bf1 e4 13. Ne1 Nf6 14. a4 Nbd5 15. Nxd5 Nxd5 16. Bc4 Rd8 17. a5 Rb8 18. Rdc1 Be6 19. Qa3 Qh4 20. Bb4 Nxb4 21. Qxb4 Bf8 22. Qb3 Bxc4 23. Rxc4 Rd5 24. a6 Rg5 25. Qc2 bxa6 26. Ra2 Bb4 27. g3 Qh3 28. Ng2 Rh5 29. Qxe4 Qxh2+ 30. Kf1 Qh1+ 31. Ke2 Qg1 32. Rxb4 Rxb4 33. Nf4 Rhb5 34. Qe8+ Kg7 35. Ne6+ Kf6 36. Qh8+ Kxe6 37. d5+ {The sealed move. "A rook down. Why doesn't he resign?", a bystander exclaimed. Koshnitsky went to dinner without a care in the world.} Kxd5 {After ...Rxd5 Watson could have tipped his king over.} 38. Qf6 Qh1 39. b3 {Now black must avert perpetual check.} Kc5 40. Qe5+ Qd5 1-0 {and white mates in four.}

As a young man of 22, Severin Woinarski appeared from nowhere to finish 2nd to Crakanthorp by a mere half-point in the 1926 Australian Championship. He believed that in chess one should seek, not correctness, but chances, and his vigorous style produced sparkling games during a few years of competitive play.

Here Woinarski, with black, seeks chances against C.J.S.Purdy in the 1927 Pietzcker tourney;

[Event "Pietzcker tourney"]
[Site "Melbourne"]
[Date "1927"]
[Round "-"]
[White "C.J.S.Purdy"]
[Black "S.Woinarski"]
[Result "0-1"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Na5 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 8. Qf3 Qc7 9. Bd3 Be7 10. Nc3 Rb8 11. b3 O-O 12. Bb2 Rb4 13. Qe3 h6 14. Nge4 Nxe4 15. Nxe4 f5 16. Nc3 e4 17. Bf1 f4 18. Qe2 Nc4 19. a3 f3 20. gxf3 exf3 21. Qe4 Nxd2 22. Qd3 Nxf1 23. axb4 Qe5+ 24. Qe4 Qf6 25. Rxf1 Bf5 26. Qc4+ Be6 27. Qe4 Bf5 28. Qc4+ Be6 29. Ne4 Qxb2 30. Qxe6+ Kh8 31. Rd1 Bxb4+ 32. Nd2 Rf7 33. Rg1 Re7 34. Qxe7 Bxe7 35. Nxf3 Qxc2 0-1

Leonard V.Biggs, who died in 1944 at the age of 70, has his picture hanging on the wall in recognition of his 30 years as an office-bearer. Editor of the Age from 1927 until shortly before the Second world war, Biggs was president of the VCA for its first 5 years, where all his considerable powers of diplomacy were needed during that difficult time.

Andrew Dall, prominent in chess administration during the 30s, also found time to write the chess column in the Leader from 1931 until 1947. He served 9 terms as secretary and three as president of the club, and was also secretary of the Melbourne chess league.

Lloyd Browning was both a prominent administrator and a strong competitive player. Time and time again he just missed a major title; but he drew with Kotov in 1963 and beat Averbach 4 years later in a skittles tournament.

In the 30s the club's strong players included Martin Green, a Czech who joined in 1929 and won the Victorian championship 5 times between 1932 and 1940, G.R.Lamparter, who came to Australia from Germany in 1930 and won the state title in 1933, M.E.Goldstein, Victorian champion in 1934, and Max Green, who was also a very active committee man. In the 40s there appeared Dr Max Gellis, a Viennese doctor of laws, S.Lazare, born in Poland and educated in France, and G.Karoly, who came from Hungary; each held the state title, and Lazare became joint holder of the Australian title in 1957. J.L.Beale, who had joined the committee in 1936, where he was to serve for 31 years, was chess editor of the Weekly Times for most of that period. In 1940 the secretary began putting a weekly bulletin of war news on the noticeboard. Next year the clubroom was blacked out and in 1942 air raid precautions plant was installed. A number of prominent players (including Lazare, Max Green, Martin Green and Stapleton) were in the armed forces. Another strong player, Karoly, wrote explaining that as an alien he could no longer attend at the club; he had just reached the top of the club ladder, and many years would serve 4 terms as president. The clubroom was thrown open to all men in uniform. Members visited Heidelberg Military Hospital; the treasurer sent a book on chess to corporal McGavin; American servicemen visited the club and won of them won the first lightning tournament played there with individual clocks. The 50s bring us J.N.Hanks and W.J.Geus, who had been junior champion of Holland. By now we are well and truly speaking not only of players past but also of players present. Emanuel Basta, arriving from Czechoslavakia in 1950, was three times Victorian champion. For 13 years he was secretary.

After the Second World War the club was invigorated buy a transfusion of Latvian blood, the arrivals including K.Ozols, A.Lemezs, E.Malitis, K.Raipalis, A.Rudszitis, A.Teters, O.Bergmanis and P.Svece; A.Prods, a younger man, was born here. In 1951 the Latvians who settled in Melbourne formed their own chess club, Venta, which still exists. Most have belonged to both Venta and Melbourne. The remarkable Karlis Ozols, who had at the age of 17 drawn against Lasker in a simul and played in the great Kemeri tournament of 1937, was champion of Victoria 9 times between 1949 and 1971 and became joint holder of the Australian title in 1957. He is still winning tournaments. Teters won the state title in 1965. Lemezs and Rudzitis each won the club championship 4 times. Raipalis, veteran of innumerable tournaments, has in his unobtrusive way done more for the club than any of us realises. Edwin Malitis, club champion in 1969, has served on the committee for the last 30 years and fortunately shows no signs of stopping. An international arbiter, he has had vast experience in directing tournaments. The year book of the 1971 Australian championship described him as almost a "one man band" in chess organisation in Melbourne.

As an example of master play we take the victory of Ozols over the visiting Russian grandmaster, Kotov, in the Invitation tournament played at the clubroom in 1963. Ozols chose the English:

[Event "Invitation tournament"]
[Site "Melbourne"]
[Date "1963"]
[Round "-"]
[White "K.Ozols"]
[Black "A.Kotov"]
[Result "1-0"]
1. c4 d6 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. Nc3 e5 5. e3 Ne7 6. Nge2 O-O 7. O-O Nbc6 8. Nd5 f5 9. d3 Kh8 10. Nec3 g5 11. f4 gxf4 12. gxf4 Ng6 13. Qh5 {threatening Rf3-h3} exf4 14. Nxf4 Nxf4 15. Rxf4 Ne5 16. Rh4 h6 17. e4 Ng4 18. Nd5 c6 19. Rxg4 fxg4 20. Bxh6 {If 20...Bxh6 then 21.Qxh6+ Kg8 22.e5 dxe5 23.Be4 Rf7 24.Bh7+ Rxh7 25.Nf6+ Kf7 26.Qxh7+ Ke6 27.Ne4 Qe7 28.Qg6+ and 29.Rf1 with the threat of Rf7} Kg8 21. Bg5 {threatens Ne7} cxd5 22. Bxd8 Rxd8 23. Qxd5+ Kh8 24. d4 Bd7 25. Qh5+ Kg8 26. e5 Be6 27. Be4 Rd7 28. d5 Bf7 29. Qh7+ Kf8 30. Qf5 Re7 31. e6 Rc8 32. Bd3 Bxb2 33. Rf1 Bd4+ 34. Kh1 Rcc7 35. Qxg4 1-0

Many a chess player had cause to thank the club's former secretary, Magnus Victor Anderson, a highly successful accountant, who began accumulating chess books in 1918 and found he could not stop. In 1960 he gave his collection to the State library. He continued to add to it, and look after it, until his death in 1966, but which time it was with its 6,000 items the third largest public chess collection in the world. Now it is card for by Mr K.Fraser, whose depth of research and lightness of touch have recreated for us some of the early chess clubs in Victoria. No player should miss the Anderson collection, which nestles beneath the admirable ceiling of the Art library. It is another world.

The last 25 years have seen the rise of D.G.Hamilton, thrice champion of Australia and thrice champion of Victoria; international master Robert Jamieson, the mainspring of Waverley chess club but also a member of Melbourne (twice Australian champion); Guy West, Victorian champion in 1979; international master Daryl Johansen, champion of Australia in 1984; W.Jordan, Victorian champion in 1980; Gregory Hjorth; and Stephen Solomon. Above all, in Ian Rogers the club can claim the first Australian international Grandmaster. Let us conclude this chapter with two of his games. against Karpov (Bath 1983), Rogers has the white pieces.

[Event "Tournament"]
[Site "Bath"]
[Date "1983"]
[Round "-"]
[White "I.Rogers"]
[Black "A.Karpov"]
[Result "1/2"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 Be7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. O-O dxc4 7. Qc2 a6 8. a4 Bd7 9. Ne5 Bc6 10. Nxc6 Nxc6 11. e3 Na5 12. Nd2 Nd5 13. Nxc4 Nxc4 14. Qxc4 a5 15. b3 Qd7 16. Ba3 Bxa3 17. Rxa3 c6 18. Raa1 Nb4 19. Rfd1 Rac8 20. Rac1 Rfd8 21. Bf3 Qc7 22. Kg2 h6 23. h4 b6 24. Qe2 Rd6 25. Kh2 Rcd8 26. Kg2 Qd7 27. Qc4 g6 28. Kg1 h5 29. Kg2 Qe7 30. Qe2 R8d7 31. Qc4 Qd8 32. Qe2 Kg7 33. Kg1 Qe7 34. Kg2 c5 35. dxc5 Rxd1 36. Rxd1 Rxd1 37. Qxd1 Qxc5 38. Be4 Qe5 39. Bf3 Qc3 40. Be4 Qe5 41. Bf3 Qb2 42. Be4 1/2-1/2

In the game against Karpov there are no fireworks: Rogers played for a draw. His games are not always so quiet. Here he has white against GM Hort of Czechoslavakia (Biel 1985);


[Event "Tournament"]
[Site "Biel"]
[Date "1985"]
[Round "-"]
[White "I.Rogers"]
[Black "Hort"]
[Result "1-0"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d5 3. c4 dxc4 4. Nc3 c6 5. a4 Na6 6. e4 Bg4 7. Bxc4 e6 8. Be3 Nb4 9. a5 Be7 10. O-O O-O 11. Qb3 Bxf3 12. gxf3 Qc7 13. Ne2 Nd7 14. Rfc1 Rac8 15. Bd2 Na6 16. Bf4 e5 17. Bg3 h5 18. h3 h4 19. Bh2 c5 20. f4 exd4 21. e5 {threatens Nxd4}Qb8 22. Bxf7+ Rxf7 23. e6 Rcf8 24. exf7+ Rxf7 25. f5 Bd6 26. Bxd6 Qxd6 27. Qe6 Qe5 28. Nxd4! {if 28...cxd4 29.Rc8+ wins} Qxd4 29. Rd1 Qxb2 30. Ra2 Qb5 31. Qe8+ Rf8 32. Qxd7 Qxd7 33. Rxd7 Nb4 34. Re2 Rxf5 35. Rxb7 a6 36. Re8+ Kh7 37. Re4 Rg5+ 38. Kf1 Nc6 39. Rxh4+ Kg8 40. Rg4 Rxg4 41. hxg4 Nxa5 42. Rb6 Nc4 43. Rxa6 Ne5 44. g5 Kf7 45. Ke2 c4 46. f4 Nd3 47. f5 Ne5 1-0 Hort resigned without waiting for Rogers to seal.

Those who have gone before were not always what they seemed. On Xmas eve in 1974 an applicant for membership under the name Donald Clive Mildoon proved to be John Stonehouse, the British member of parliament and former cabinet minister, who was recognised and arrested in Melbourne and extradited to stand his trial at the Old Bailey, charged with faking his own drowning in Miami to defraud insurance companies. Stonehouse had paid his subscription only 5 days before his arrest; he was sentenced to 7 year's imprisonment, and received no refund.