BRITAIN v. U.S.S.R RADIO MATCH
The famous old Gambit Rooms looked unusual on june 18th. Twelve big demonstration boards were being erected in the ground floor room, and a throng of controllers, tellers, players and spectators milled around in the basement. In small rooms by, technicians tapped away at apparatus. The two trial games, rehearsals for the great radio match due to commence next day, were in full swing ; G. Wood and J. Stone faced A. Konstantinopolsky and V. Alatortsev respectively. After a spell of play not too brief for G. Wood to gain practically a winning opening advantage, such obviously perfect communication had been established that it was no surprise when a friendly message from Moscow suggested breaking off. Our apprehension of conditions-to-be had been increased rather thon abated - it really was stiflingly stuffy down there. But we had already had evidence, of which more was almost hourly to accrue, of the inspired and meticulous attention with which Mr. G. H. White had organised --controllers and tellers were well briefed ; they were supplied with specially printed duplicate record books which made error almost impossible, and offprints of the UDEMAN code (used for converting chess moves into a form handy for transmission) lay scattered everywhere for ready reference. Returning upstairs, we found decoration proceeding apace ; British and Soviet flags, hammer-and-sickle and red-white-and,blue bunting graced the room, whilst a coloured streamer linked London with Moscow on a big wall map of Europe. At 10-15 next day, Sir George Thomas, President of the Chess Section of the Society for Cultural Relations with the U-S-S-R, which inaugurated and organised the match, greeted the Lord Mayor of London, and Mr. Lewis Silkin (Minister of Town and Country Planning) who distinguished himself with a speech of unusual wittiness.
The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Charles Davis, making the first move. On his left is Mr. Lewis Silkin, Minister of Town and Country Planning, and on the extreme right, the Soviet Chargé D'Affaires, M. Koukin
If such matches became the rule, he said, we might yet see Mr. Bevin and Mr. Molotov sampling the subtleties of a King's Gambit Declined, and certain statesmen might learn to appreciate the value of a timely sacrifice! He mentioned that the match was the first to be played from England by radio-telegraphy and that during the match would occur the first "hook-ups" for general broadcasting between the B.B.C. and Moscow radio. Mr. Derbyshire, President of the B.C.F. made a speech full of feeling, stressing the desirability of Russia's joining the International Chess Federation. Sad that Lord Brabazon (who, through the Greyhound Racing Association, put the Match Fund on its feet with a grand donation of £120) and the Postmaster-General who had expressed his interest, could not be owing to far-distant prior engagements.
An interesting message went through : "To Mr. Rokhlin : Mr. Derbyshire, President of the British Chess Federation, asks me to send his personal best wishes to all Soviet chess players and to hope they will be represented at the International meeting at Winterthur, Switzerland, on July 25th-Thomas."
We know of no answer.
And then with a swoop, the match was on us. The basement was bedlam for an hour-everybody a bit excited-but luckily we were only concerned with routine opening moves and long before we had reached complications, G. Wood had revealed himself as the most genuinely genteel but efficient " chucker-out " of our experience. lt was sad, but it had to be done! To render the atmosphere bearable at all, the visits of members of the all-curious general public who did infiltrate had to be curtailed to a glimpse. G. Wood also covered himself with glory as our caterer ; words fail us in trying to describe the excellence of the food!
Although transmission of moves was instantaneous, we were told, as much time was taken in checking, encoding or decoding, etc., as over consideration of the moves, and we soon realised that a normal four hours' game would mean at least eight hours' attendance at the board
Almost too soon for belief, came a delightful surprise - Bronstein had resigned to Winter! It was fitting that the man who first conceived the idea of the match and pushed it through against plenty of opposition, should be the first to shatter the favourite absurdity levelled against it : "We shall not score a point ! " Other games were not going so well ; soon Aitken, who had battled on in a hopeless position, gave up to Bondarevsky ; then, in quick succession Mrs. Bruce resigned to Mme. Rudenko, König to Smyslov, and Alexander, whose game had attracted a big gallery, throughout, to Botvinnik. Just before eleven the Wood-Lilienthal game, with both players terribly short of time, ended in the same way, leaving the score 5-1 against us. On the remaining boards, Klein had been pressing Keres magnificently and was a pawn up; Fairhurst was struggling with two knights against two bishops but no worse off than he had been for hours ; Miss Tranmer's game was fairly even ; List's looked very sickly but Golombek had a dead draw, which he had offered in vain more than once. Finally, Abrahams was about to win a pawn in a bishop-and-pawn ending which looked very good. The general feeling was " lt might have been worse!" We could hope for 3 and half points from the first round.
Next day was disappointing. The Soviet woman champion outplayed Miss Tranmer in the ending, and Abrahams, to our horror, offered his opponent a draw when he had a forced win. Keres, like the master he is, found the correct simplifying fine to force a draw against Klein, and the lest games-were jùst lost. Fairhurst put up a most stubborn end.game resistance against Flohr, lasting into the evening again, but one felt the game was always gone, though he said he had missed a draw on his 67th. So that the first round had brought us two and a half points only. As B. H. Wood reminded us in that evening's B.B.C. commentary, we had anyway improved on the U.S.A.'s showing, for their first round total was only two. We learnt in the relay from Moscow that play there was in a spacious, airy hall and the British players could only gasp at the casual mention of the team doctor adjuring Flohr not to forget to take his vitamin tablets.
The "teller" waits at the checker's table, while the encoded message is. checked, before it is transmitted to Moscow
Left to right: Messrs. Bruce Hayden and S. Diamond (tellers) ; Messrs. J. Stone, E. Mosan and B. Winstone (controllers)
Friday's return.half games went rather worse at first, and at one period not one board showed a semblance of advantage. Mrs. Bruce's position foreshadowed an early loss. Alexander's game drew a bigger gallery than ever because, not only was it even more exciting than the first, but the broad grin on Alexander's face told spectators (what the position could not, for it was beyond them!) that he was winning. ( At the other end of the room, Abraham's continuous running commentary on his game, after striking a faintly anxious note for awhile, likewise turned hearteningly confident. In quick succession Winter resigned to Bronstein and welcome draws were agreed to by Fairhurst against Flohr and by Golombek against Boleslavsky, Golombek getting a clap for being the second British player to score a full point through two amusingly featureless but most valuable games. Aitken's and List's games were again looking bad, and König, up against that young genius Smyslov, was defending desperately. Wood had secured a passed pawn but was being kept pretty busy by Lilienthal's resourceful counter threats. Keres was too much for Klein this time, forcing his resignation just on the adjournment.
Botvinnik had run extremely short of time, which delayed the adjournment at top board until midnight - after thirteen hours' continuous play! Those who stayed to see the end went home happy in the knowledge that at least two more wins were certain, by Alexander and Abrahams. Both, in fact, were quickly confirmed next day.
During the match, the player makes his move, the " teller" takes the players encoded move to the controller for checking and signature, and it is then passed to the Cable and Wireles transmitting operator-the message is transmitted by use of an automatic Morse perforating machine to Russia. The perforated tape is fed into an automatic transmitter, which caries the signal. Instantaneously and without interference to the Chess Room in Moscow.
This Keystone photograph shows 'the "move" being recorded on the automatic perforating machine, while the checker looks on.
The remaining games petered out sadly except Wood's, who notched a final half-point after an hour's further see-saw to raise the British score to 6. Our women disappointed us, it must be admitted (would our experienced young champion Elaine Saunders have pulled off something had she been able to play, we wonder ?) But the score of 6-14 on the men's boards represents an appreciable improvement on the U.S.A.'s 4 and a half to 15 and a half last autumn, and our score was made against a stronger team and in far worse playing conditions ; and on the whole we all felt justifiably pleased.
The logical sequel seems to be a match with the U.S.A. We have been endeavouring to arrange an over-the-board match with the U.S.A.team as it journeys through to Russia early in September, but this has proved impossible, as the various members of the team are travelling at different times and by different methods and routes. A radio match seems the obvions alternative ; we shall strive to arrange one. Lord Brabazon, on behalf of the Greyhound Racing Association, has actually offered to " do it again "!
The match score was featured in B.B.C. news bulletins and the two special programmes mentioned last month (your Editor thanks many correspondents for kind comments) which went over well. C. H. O'D. Alexander spoke on the Overseas programme and, with B. H. Wood, appeared twice in " Picture Page," the television equivalent of "In Town Tonight." Last, but not least, the newspapers gave the event excellent coverage.
Special appreciation must go to Miss Judith Todd, Secretary of the Society for Cultural Relations with the U.S.S.R., who put in most of the initial spade.work, and nearly wore herself out, revealing herself, however, as a superb organiser ; to the noble army of controllers and tellers, and to Cable and Wireless who managed to record, encode or decode and transmit two thousand moves, together with a host of other messages, clock-times, etc., without the semblance of a mistake-a marvellous feat-nor must we forget in this connection the equally impeccable collaboration of their opposite numbers at Moscow. The referees served us nobly too, though they had a boring time ; so perfect a spirit reigned between Soviet and British players (as evidenced in the friendly messages which passed constantly to fro throughout the match) that not one single dispute of any kind occurred, the match proceeding with a harmony which we only wish could imbue all national affairs.
Beautiful photographs of the members of the russian team were available in London, but through a sad mishap we were not able to send as good ones in return ; if in any other ways our arrangements must have struck our friends from the other end of Europe as amateurish and unworthy of the event, we can only remind them that chess here is a private enterprise, not a State care, So the result was a defeat but, as Sir George remarked in his closing speech-" A defeat which enhanced the prestige of British chess."
Winter and Klein are busy preparing a book of match which will be put on sale as soon as can be managed ; watch for further announcements! It will contain all the games with notes, photographs of all the players, etc., and a number of analytical descriptive articles.
CHESS August 1946
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Last modified may 1997.