Wednesday, 7 December 2016

William Shelley Branch and Pruen's chess book

W. S. Branch (1854 - 1933) was the evergreen chess columnist in Cheltenham newspapers for over 40 years from 1890 to 1933. He conducted the chess column in The Cheltenham Examiner from 1890 to 1913 and then in the Cheltenham Chronicle from 1914 up to his death in January 1933. Branch's chess columns reflected his special interest in the history and literature of the game and, having recently leafed through some of these newspapers, I can report on some matters of interest to chess bibliophiles.



William Shelley Branch was born in Hastings in 1854 (Shelley was his mother's maiden name). He was a professional photographer in the 1870's and 1880's in Lewes, Sussex and continued this profession when he moved with his family to Cheltenham in 1888, although he appears to have given up photography for journalism in the mid 1890's. Branch was one of those indispensable, but often under appreciated, chess organisers. He helped to form chess clubs in Brighton and Lewes and re-established the Cheltenham chess club soon after his arrival in the town.

W. S. Branch took over the reins of the chess column in The Cheltenham Examiner in November 1890 when Isidor Gunsberg, the previous incumbent, sailed to New York for his World Championship match with Steinitz. The columns initially consisted of local reports, a game and a problem, but these eventually expanded to include anecdotes and biographical information about chess personalities.

Later articles would often cover two or three full columns of the broadsheet newspaper and commenced with a chess related poem followed by a problem or two, (occasionally one of Branch's own creations), local news and results, answers to correspondents and a game. Chess intelligence from other papers and periodicals, including American publications, also frequently appeared. Branch was in his element in answering questions from correspondents of a historical nature, and would often reply at great length.   

W. S. Branch was a highly respected historian at the time; John Keeble declared  that he had a greater knowledge of chess history than any other man, with the exception of H. J. R. Murray, in his obituary in The British Chess Magazine in March 1933. Branch contributed a detailed history of chess in a series of eighteen articles to The British Chess Magazine in 1899 and 1900 entitled A sketch of chess history before the second revolution. This covered the history of chess from its origins in the sixth century up to around 1475. 

Branch was also a draughts expert and wrote a series of articles entitled The History of Checkers for the Pittsburg Leader in 1911 and 1912. These were reprinted in pamphlet form in a limited edition of 40 copies by Ken Whyld in 2003. 



The Cheltenham Examiner column for 29th August 1906 included a note to correspondent J. Keeble regarding An Introduction to the History and Study of Chess, by an Amateur, published in Cheltenham in 1804. 



Branch admits to never having seen this work, which must have intrigued him greatly, being a history of chess published in his home town.  Keeble loaned the book to Branch and, three weeks later, in his column for 19th September he described the book in some detail.  He was aware that the anonymous Amateur was the Rev. Thomas Pruen, Curate of Cheltenham. 





The book was, in fact, the most complete compendium of chess in the English language up to that time.  





The first three chapters gave a historical sketch together with many anecdotes taken mainly from the two volumes of Chess by Richard Twiss published in 1787 and 1789.  There were brief details of famous chess-players, notably Philidor, and descriptions of the works by Cessolis, Caxton, Ruy Lopez, Carrera, Salvio, Greco, Stamma, Philidor, Lolli, Vida, and Twiss. Other early writers were also mentioned in the text.

Chapter V included a detailed etymological description of the chess men and an explanation of terms used in the game. This is followed by Benjamin Franklin's Morals of Chess, then a Practical Description of the game including a table of the relative values of the pieces.




Chapter XIII presents the Laws of Chess as established under the authority of Philidor, rules for playing and general advice. The first part of the book is completed with a few practical examples of beginnings of games and four games from Greco.




The second part of the book, covering 150 or so pages, had its own title page and consisted of Philidor's analysis taken from the 1791 edition of Chess Analysed. Branch was disdainful of this "very partial analysis of a few openings", claiming that "it is all out of date now and only of antiquarian interest."  
 




Although rather dismissive of Pruen's book in his column of September 19th, Branch returned to this subject a few weeks later and thought the book worthy of being reprinted, he also commented that the book sold better in London than in the provinces. 


At the time this was the only chess book that had been printed and published in Cheltenham. There have since been others including The Fourth West of England Chess Festival published by Gloucestershire County Chess Association in 1928, and W. S. Branch's own book The History of Cheltenham Chess Club, privately printed and published in 1931.  Neither of these rare items is recorded in Betts' Bibliography, nor can they be found in the National Library of the Netherlands. However they are both in the Cleveland Public Library.

Incidentally, there are two variants of Pruen's book. Note the chess men in the frontispieces below. Both give the same publication date of June 12th 1804.






Biographical information for this article has been taken from the following sources:

The British Chess Magazine, May 1899 pages 188-189. (This interesting article is not referred to in Gaige's Chess Personalia)

The British Chess Magazine, March 1933 pages 117-118, obituary by John Keeble.

Professional and Amateur Photographers in Lewes (A-B), from the website www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk.


                                  © Michael Clapham 2016

Friday, 25 November 2016

Salo Flohr: chess games collections

Salomon Mikhailovich Flohr (1908 -1983)




Salo Flohr was one of several "best players never to have become World chess champion". At his height in the 1930's he was almost certainly the second strongest player after Alekhine and was officially nominated by F.I.D.E. as the official challenger in 1937. Flohr never managed to beat Alekhine in an individual game but he did finish ahead of him in a tournament at Podebrady, Czechoslovakia in 1936. However, the War put paid to his championship ambitions and, despite his prominence, no collections of Flohr's games was published during his lifetime. This gap in chess literature was filled in 1985, around two years after his death, when three books were issued, two in English and one in Russian.

Salo Flohr: Master of Tactics, Master of Technique by Jimmy Adams, published by The Chess Player, Nottingham. 238 pages.

Salo Flohr's Best Games of Chess  by Gregory S. Donges, published by Thinkers Press, Davenport, Iowa. 105 pages.

Grossmeister Flor by V. D. Baturinsky, Moscow. 

Both English books are scarce and surprisingly expensive.  

 



















Master of Tactics by Adams includes a comprehensive tournament and match record listing 149 events from 1927 to 1969. This is followed by a nine page biography and 100 games with a further 40 subsidiary games embedded within the text of the main games. The games are analysed in detail and usually include just one diagram. The notation is figurine algebraic. There are indexes of openings and opponents and the book is completed with a portrait of Flohr on the final page. 



 



















Best Games by Donges also has just the one picture, and that is on the front cover. The tournament and match records in this book include a total of 119 events, 30 fewer than Master of Tactics, and the main omissions are four tournaments before 1929, five events during the war years and eleven events from the 1950's. However, there are also two tournaments and two matches listed in Best Games that are omitted from Master of Tactics


Best Games by Donges, back cover

The ten page introduction details Flohr's chess career and is more comprehensive than the coverage in  Adams' book although some sections are suspiciously similar. The brief review of Adams' book in The British Chess Magazine for June 1985, page 251, indicates that his was the first to appear.

The printing and layout of Best Games is far superior to that in Master of Tactics making the games and notes considerably easier to follow as will be seen from the following examples:




















 




















The Contents give details of the fifty games but there is no separate index of opponents. There is a Foreword, Afterword, Acknowledgments and a Bibliography.





Further photos of Flohr from Hundert Jahre Schachzweikämpfe and The British Chess Magazine:



                                      © Michael Clapham 2016

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Chess book auction



The auction house Antiquariat A. Klittich - Pfankuch held their 71st auction today in the delightful town of Brunswick, Germany. Their twice yearly auctions specialise in chess literature and today nearly 800 lots went under the hammer in just 4 hours. I didn't attend the auction this time but followed the action online, although I don't think that online bidding was allowed. 

Karl Klittich rattled through the lots at the rate of 200 an hour but not in a frenzied manner, just calmly and efficiently, and he still had time to share a few laughs with the audience. He frequently sharpened his pencil and was, as usual, ably assisted by the lady to his right who sits silently for hours recording the winning bids. 

The auction catalogues are almost works of art themselves. This one has 290 pages, with very detailed descriptions and bibliographical information on each lot and many small illustrations throughout. There is even a five page index, how many auction catalogues have that? The online catalogue has a high definition image of every single lot. The production of the catalogues is very impressive and they must take many weeks to compile.  

Today's auction included over 100 lots of memorabilia, autographs, pictures etc. with items signed by Capablanca and Emanuel Lasker fetching €500 and €450 respectively. However, Bogoljubow's signature sold for only €30.

The top two lots in the sale were the following German works:

754. Mauvillon, F(riedrich) W(ilhelm) v. Belehrende Unterhaltung für junge angehende Schachspieler, bestehend in hundert ausgesuchten Stellungen ... / bedingten Spielendungen ... Ein Supplement zu seiner Anweisung zur Erlernung des Schachspiels. Gesammelt und hrsg. Heft 2 - 5 (von 5) in vier Bänden gebunden. Essen, Bädeker, 1832 - 1836. 16°. Mit zusammen 400 ganzseitigen Diagrammen auf Tafeln. VIII, 56 S.; IV, 53 S., 1 Bl.; IV, 57 S., 1 Bl.; VIII, 121 (statt 126) S. Pappbände. This sold for €2,400.




724. Kempelen. (Racknitz, Joseph Friedrich zu). Ueber den Schachspieler des Herrn von Kempelen und dessen Nachbildung. Leipzig und Dresden, Joh. Gottl. Immanuel Breitkopf, 1789. 8°. (Die 7 gefalteten Kupfertafeln fehlen.) Gestochener Titel, 4 Bll., 48 Seiten. Neuer brauner Halblederband mit Rückenschildchen. Sold for  €1,000



In the bibliography section Seven Days in Bamberg by David DeLucia, published in 2015 and describing his visit to Bamberg to see Lothar Schmid's library, fetched €350  while Antonius van der Linde's works were in demand as usual with Geschichte und Litteratur des Schachspiels selling for €280 and the scarcer Schaakbibliotheek (c. 850 - 1875). Utrecht, G. A. van Hoften, 1875 making €300.





























The English books generally fared disappointingly with books by Lewis, Bird, Walker,  Selkirk and Lowenthal, for example, selling for only €15 to €30. However, there were a few highlights such as American Chess-Nuts by E. Cook etc., €190; the rare One Hundred and Twenty Problems by R. Kuiper (1842), €150; Lewis's Chess Problems, €250; Ponziani by Bingham, €160; and two books on the Steinitz-Lasker match of 1894 by H. Bird and J. Cunningham which sold for €250 each. One surprise to me was the sale of Lasker - Schlechter by L. Hoffer for €160.



 

























One English lot that I am not familiar with is:

916. Munger, Ned. Cultures, Chess & Art. A Collector's Odyssey across seven Continents. Edited by  Lisa A. Smith. 3 (von 4) Bänden. San Anselmo, Mundial Press, 1996 - 2000. 4°. Mit vielen, teils farbigen Abb. und Skizzen im Text. 119; 221 S., 1 Bl.; 207 S. Orig. Leinenbände mit illustrierten Schutzumschlägen. Volume 1: Sub - Saharan Africa. Volume 2: The Americas. Volume 3: Pacific Islands & Asia. This sold for €140.

However, I now note that chessbooks.co.uk also has these three volumes for sale.


A.C.White's Christmas Series of books remain largely in the doldrums with a dozen English books selling for €30 to €60 each or being unsold. However  the French work Les Tours de Force sur l'Echiquier. Paris, Numa Preti, 1906 sold for €300. The early Christmas Series books are, generally, the most valuable.

Two other French books realised high prices:

971. Gunsberg - Tschigorin. Match Gunsberg - Tschigorine joué a La Havane di 1er janvier 1890 au 16 février 1890. Publié dans les numéros de février, mars, avril et mai 1890 du journal d'échecs "La Stratégie". Paris, Numa Preti, ca. 1890. 8°. Sold for €220.




973. Philidor, A. D. (François André Danican) Analyse du jeu des échecs; Nouvelle édition, considérablement augmentée ... Londres, (ohne Verlegerangabe), 1777. 8°. Sold for €330.



The top Scandinavian book was:

1017. (Christiansen, Ulrik.) Veiledning i Schackspil ved en Schackven. Kristiania, Kriedt, 1886. 8°. 40 Seiten. Neuer Pappband mit aufgeklebtem orig. Vorder- und Rückumschlag.  Sold for €120.


A scarce Mexican book by Andres Vazquez sold for €400:

1068. Vázquez, Andrés Clemente. Análisis del juego de ajedrez. Libro à propósito para que pueda aprender dicho juehgo, el que lo ignore del todo, sin necesidad de maestro ... Segunda edicion corregida y notablemente aumentada. México, Gobierno Federal, 1885. 8°. Mit wenigen Diagrammen. 296 Seiten. Rotbrauner Halbleinenband mit goldgeprägtem Titeldruck auf Rücken.



Tournament books in demand included :

Dusseldorf 1862, €230; Hamburg 1885, €120; Hamburg 1910, €130; Leipzig 1877, €140; London 1883. €160 and New York 1857, €150. However I was disappointed to see Folkestone 1933 selling for €70 having sold a copy myself last week for £10.





















 



















  
Top lot in the periodicals section was 16 volumes of Olms reprints of Wiener Schachzeitung covering the years from 1898 to 1949, but not complete, which sold for €360. Other Olms reprints also sold well. Good prices were also realised for Ajedrez Chileno 1936-1938, €130; Chess Digest 1968-1975, €150; New Zealand Chess, 1976-1981, €100; Promadas 1928-1930, €150; Westdeutsche Schach-Zeitung 1948, €150. 




















 



A buyer's premium of 15% plus VAT has to be added to all prices.

The next auction will be in June 2017.