Wednesday 14th May, 2008


Guardian reports on World Champion’s visit Alekhine falls in love with Trinidad

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SIXTY nine years ago, World Chess Champion Alexander Alekhine gave Trinidad and Tobago chess players some advice that must still be relevant. After playing the cream of the country’s chessists in two simultaneous displays in Port-of-Spain, he told them: “As a general criticism, I would say that your weakest play is in the opening. After ten moves or so a majority of your players failed to combine properly and their game suffered as a consequence. It is highly essential that you understand properly the opening moves of a game.”

The World Champion added: “Occasional lectures by your leading players will help the weaker ones, as well as benefit themselves from the lectures through the investigations they will be forced to make. Your mid-game and endgame play is on a good level and all you require is your own enthusiasm to continue developing for there is always something to learn.”

Alekhine’s stay in Trinidad and Tobago from January 30 to February 7, 1939, created great excitement in the then British colony which became the first West Indian territory to entertain a visit by a chess player of such renown. News of Alekhine’s visit sparked widespread speculation among the T&T chess-playing community and the population as a whole about which of the local stalwarts would manage to hold their own against the Russian colossus.

Several onlookers

According to Trinidad Guadian reports, hundreds of spectators turned up at the two simultaneous exhibitions Alekhine gave at the Marie Louise Hall, Royal Victoria Institute, on January 31 and February 4, each paying an entrance fee of two shillings. Several onlookers, in fact, had only a cursory knowledge of the game but came to see the charismatic World Champion at work and to support the T&T players many of whom were socially prominent personalities.

DOUBLE ROOKS owes this account of Alekhine’s visit to the research efforts of Cesar Ramos, the Venezuelan player-coach who lived in Trinidad for several years and became prominently active in the local chess arena. Ramos came to love our country and did considerable research into the history of chess in T&T with the hope of writing a book on the subject. Sadly, however, he returned to Caracas without finishing the project, leaving his research work into the keeping of Edison Raphael, president of the T&T Chess Foundation.

Ramos extracted much of his information from the files of the Trinidad Guardian kept at the National Archives in Port-of-Spain which he visited frequently. His story of Alekhine’s visit is based largely on reports he found in the Guardian.

In the two simultaneous displays, the World Champion faced a total of 71 opponents, defeating 66, drawing with four and losing one game to Jacob Zaltzman, a Rumanian visiting the island. George Stanford, then T&T champion, was one of the quartet who held their own against the Russian genius. The other three were Dr A.H. McShine, H.A. Dunn, champion of the Girdwood Chess Club and A. Young of Trinidad Leaseholds, a southern based oil company. They all received an enthusiastic ovation from the crowd of onlookers.

Players in the first display:

Royal Victoria Institute: G. Stanford, A.H. McShine, Hugh McShine, A.G Francis, Austen McShine, D.D. Campbell-Williams, A.L. Nestor, E.O. Martin, Mrs E. Barnes.

Eastern Club: Faustin W. DeVerteuil, Mrs F. W. DeVerteuil, L. Gomez, J.S. Quashie, R. Romain, Henry Peter, L. Arneaud, A. Anderson, A. Atwell, C. Bastien, Aaron Andrews, D. Calix, Miss Wilcoy Daniel.

Girdwood Club: B. J. Bedell, H.A. Dunn, C.B. Franklin, T.E. Martin, G. Ferreira.

Police Club: Sgt G.M. Bynoe.

Rooks Club: K. Pinheiro, K. Ifill.

Railway: E.N. Pinheiro.

From the country: Albert T. Soi-a-Fat (Carapichaima), L.A. Simmons (Cedros), A.G. Allum (Oropouche), R.O. Waldron (Couva).

United Kingdom: F. Morton (Lancashire), A. Young (London), R.D. Graham (Somrset).

Rumania: J. Zaltzman, S. J. Ackerman.

C.F. Delmas, E.R. Pashley and E. Ferreira were booked to play but did not make it.

Alekhine took his opponents by surprise setting a fast pace in the opening stages. “In the first ten moves he established either positional or material advantages on most of the boards,” the Guardian reported. He paid closest attention to his games against A.H. McShine, Stanford and Dunn who held him to a draw, Zaltzman, DeVerteuil, Peter, Gomez, Young, Quashie, H.A. McShine, Campbell-Williams and Graham.

In the second event, against 31 players, the World Champion took his time in the opening and, after an hour’s play, agreed to a draw with A. Young.

Players in the second display:

RVI: F.A DeVerteuil, M. McDonald Bailey, A.H. McShine, George Stanford, Hugh McShine, Austen McShine, A.G. Francis, D.D. Campbell-Williams, A.L. Nestor, J. Barsotti, H.J. Waterman, E.O. Martin and G.J. McCarthy.

Eastern Club: L. Gomez, J.S. Quashie, V. Lewis, L. Arneaud, F.N. Davenport, E. Furlong, C. Bastien, Isaac Bograd.

Girdwood Club: G. Ferreira, H.V. Lake, John Alcazar, F. Martin.

From the country: A.G. Allum (Oropouche).

Teachers: E. Quinlan.

United Kingdom: F. Morton (Lancashire), A. Young (London).

Rumania: J. Zaltzman, S.J. Ackerman.

R.E.J Paul, A.E. James, Gillis Cobham, A.H. Joseph, B.J. Bedell, C.F. Delmas, Henry Ferreira, H.O. Ferreira, C. Rother, W. Minshall, Albert Soi-A-Fat, L.A. Simmons, R.O. Waldron, R.D. Graham (Somerset) were booked to play but did not make it.

In this round, Stanford and Gomez presented the toughest opposition to the World Champion who also had to pay close attention to his games against Waterman, Bograd, DeVerteuil, Bastien and Quashie.

Alekhine’s visit was arranged by the T&T Chess Association whose patron was Governor Sir Hubert Young and president A.H. McShine, OBE. Knowing the World Champion would be visiting some Latin American countries on his way to the Buenos Aires Olympiad in June 1939, the T&T Chess Association took the opportunity to invite him to visit the country. A three-man committee of president Dr McShine and secretaries Campbell-Williams and Quashie took care of the arrangements.

Impressive figure

Prominent members of the community and sporting organisations assisted the Association with donations to meet expenses of the historic visit.

At age 45, Alekhine cut an impressive figure. The Guardian reporter, covering his arrival, wrote: “Tall and strongly built, he looked the pictre of health and both he and his wife were very charming and approachable in their manner. He talks fast, has a clear and long memory for he recalled names of masters like Albert Pinkus and Dr Esser, two strong chess players, who visited Trinidad many years ago.”

Of contemporary masters he mentioned four whom he considered his equals, Reuben Fine and Samuel Reshevsky of the US, Paul Keres of Estonia and Mikhail Botvinnik of Russia. “The next world championship match will most probably be with Mr Keres,” he observed.

Immediately on arrival, Alekhine, who had become a French citizen in order to travel freely, paid a courtesy call on the French Consul. Later, he posed for photographs, visited the Eastern Chess Club and gave an interview to reporters.

A large gathering attended the start of the exhibitions, including Acting Governor, Capt John Huggins and Trinidad Guardian Editor Courtney E. Hitchins. Opportunity was taken to have the World Champion formally present the handsome silver Trinidad Guardian trophy which would go to the winner of the West Indies Chess Championship. Designed by Alexander Clark and Co Ltd of London, the trophy was 16 inches tall, topped by a figure of Victory blowing a trumpet with a shield at her side on which was implanted a rook, symbolising the game.

Hitchins handed the trophy to Alekhine who presented it to A.H. McShine who gave it to Acting Governor Huggins for safe keeping at Government House. The Guardian Editor expressed the hope that having Alekhine present the trophy would be “an ininspiration and encouragement to chess players of the British West Indies to reach as high a standard of excellence as that of the world chess champion.”

Much applause

Alekhine rose amid much applause and, in presenting the trophy, said: “I have been asked to be the medium for formally presenting this beautiful trophy to the Trinidad Chess Association and I am very happy to do so.

“I am glad that my visit coincides with the arrival of this trophy in the colony to start the chess rivalry between British Guiana and the British West Indies. I hope that the great game, chess, which has made such rapid international strides in recent years, will continue to serve as a powerful medium of intercourse between the nations.”

In his turn, Acting Governor Capt Huggins congratulated the Guardian for the magnificent trophy and hoped that it would have “a similar effect on bringing the colonies together as the cricket trophy does.”

Before he left, the World Chess Champion, in an interview with the Guardian, spoke of the “immense enjoyment” of his short stay on the island. “I regret I cannot stay longer, for I love this little place,” he said, thanking the T&TCA, particularly Dr McShine, for their effort in making him confortable.

“Both myself and my wife enjoyed your bathing and your scenery. About the displays, well I enjoyed them too.” Alekhine promised to return to Trinidad, “most probably in September when I have finished arrangements for defence of my title.”

He never, however, fulfilled that promise. When the Second World War began shortly after, he left Argentina and returned to France. When France fell to Hitler’s Germany, Alekhine went to Lisbon where he died of a heart attack on March 24, 1946.


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