Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

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Martin Cruickshank
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Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by Martin Cruickshank » Tue Feb 09, 2010 11:06 am

Among other videos relating to chess, on the British Pathe website there is one of the Gambit Chess Rooms in London, shot in 1946.
http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=48380

Quoting from the website.."Pictures taken at Gambit Chess Rooms, London, during the lunch hour. Good long shot of the room showing men eating lunch and playing chess. Good shots of the faces. of men playing chess Various C/U shots of the Chess boards. Waitress serving customers."



I wonder when the Rooms closed ?

Richard Bates
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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by Richard Bates » Tue Feb 09, 2010 8:48 pm


Mike Truran
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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by Mike Truran » Tue Feb 09, 2010 10:01 pm

Correct! 18 January 1958. "There had been no fires, and one burglary. One day a man died over a game. 'It doesn't matter', said a Kiebitzer looking at the Board, 'he had a lost game anyway.' "

Leonard Barden
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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by Leonard Barden » Tue Feb 09, 2010 10:53 pm

The Gambit was in Budge Row, just across the road from Cannon Street station. It had an Irish waitress named Eileen with a high-pitched voice who offered teas. There were normally around 30 people there, 50 at lunchtime. Kriegspiel was popular. The policy used to be no female customers, but this had been relaxed by the mid-forties and I remember playing Eileen Tranmer in a tournament game in the basement, which was reserved for serious chess and hosted our side of the Britain v USSR 1946 radio match where Alexander defeated Botvinnik.
The high point of the Gambit week was the Saturday 'Gambit Guinea'. that sum a worthwhile amount then, being the first prize in the lightning tournament played at ten seconds per move with the timing done by a spoon on a mug. There were sections leading to a final knock-out round of four or eight winners. Usually several British championship players and county top boards took part. I only won it once, but Michael Franklin was much better and took the Guinea several times.
The Gambit was knocked down by developers who built 14-storey Bucklesbury House, headquarters of Legal & General and regarded as an architectural eyesore. For decades afterwards when walking along Cannon Street I glanced wistfully at what used to be the cafe entrance. Recently this building has had its come-uppance and has been boarded off (thus closing down Budge Row) in preparation for a 22-storey replacement.

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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by Mike Truran » Wed Feb 10, 2010 9:38 am

There's a nice article in the BCM for 1958 on the Gambit's last day. John, I don't know whether copyright laws or whatever would allow the article to be posted here?

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John Saunders
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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by John Saunders » Wed Feb 10, 2010 11:04 am

I'll scan it and post it on the BCM website (rather than here). I'll let you know when it is up.
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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by John Saunders » Wed Feb 10, 2010 11:43 am

OK, it's ready to read now...

http://www.saund.co.uk/britbase/article ... rooms.html

I've included the piece Leonard wrote above as an addendum. Hope you don't mind, Leonard. If any else has any reminiscences of the Gambit Rooms (even better a photo), I'll gladly append them to the web page.
Last edited by John Saunders on Tue Feb 23, 2016 12:56 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by Mike Truran » Wed Feb 10, 2010 1:30 pm

Good man!

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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by Leonard Barden » Fri Feb 12, 2010 1:19 pm

After re-reading John Roycroft's brilliantly evocative BCM article and viewing the Pathe newsreel a few times, some adds:

My estimate of 30-50 regulars should be doubled. The Saturday night ten seconds a move Gambit Guinea was timed by a buzzer, with the teaspoon banging on a mug in reserve when the buzzer broke down as it did on that final night described by Roycroft. I don't know why they feebly abandoned the final Gambit Guinea, as many of the strong players named by Roycroft would have come to the Gambit that evening mainly to participate in the lightning.

In the newsreel I think the foreground pairing right at the start is many times Scottish champion Dr James M Airken (with short hair and spectacles) v Joe Stone (dark with sharp nose and moustache). Stone appears on the Bob Wade thread for his role in the disputed Galvenius v Stone Oxfordshire v Middlesex adjudication which decided the 1952 county championship final.

A little way in there is a brief shot of Martin Blaine in the background, facing left.

Another brief shot of Middlesex top board Harold Israel, second from front, white haired, aquiline features, facing right.

Smoking a pipe emitting clouds of smoke, and pictured at least twice, is Kent top board E Mason. With walking stick, kibitzing Mason's game, FR 'Coxy' Lester.

It's quite possible that Michael Franklin, who was more of a Gambit regular than me, could identify some more names from the newsreel. Michael doesn't do internet but perhaps a Forumite who is one of his Richmond team colleagues could show him the reel and ask him.

The BCM story refers at the start to the then (1958) new venture by Harold Lommer and Boris Watson, the En Passant chess rooms situated near the Law Courts and Aldwych. This was much smaller than the Gambit, made a significant charge, and had a regular clientele of only 20-30. Compared with the Gambit, it was that much further away from City offices so inconvenient for lunch hour players. Ted Isles, London U18 champion 1940 and a 1950 British championship player, was a prominent regular but chess was often rivalled there by bridge foursomes.

About three months after the En Passant opened I was reporting the Botvinnik-Smyslov world title match for the Guardian. This involved attending every night at the United Press International office in Whitefriars Street off Fleet Street, which had a teleprinter connection to the Soviet news agency TASS in Moscow and was the only London source for the games, which came over in batches of 4-6 moves at a time. I would prepare my article and commentary as we went along, and at the end (or frequently the move 40 adjournment which occurred about 9 pm London time) I would walk to the Guardian London office, then conveniently in Fleet Street, submit my article, and then wait around for an hour until it was typeset and I could check the moves from the proof. Experience showed that the printers were unreliable so that I would go up to the printing department to ensure they made the changes on the stone.

After one game (( think it may have been the 15th where Botvinnik had a won position but forgot his clock and lost on time) I decided to go along to the nearby En Passant while waiting for the proof to tell the chess world what had happened. I entered the room and was recounting my story when the manager came up and demanded money. I feebly protested citing my journalistic credentials which included the Evening Standard where I publicised London events, but he would have none of it and as I wouldn't cough up demanded that I leave immediately. The En Passant didn't last long after that.

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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by John Saunders » Fri Feb 12, 2010 6:26 pm

Re The En Passant: they also played poker there. It is mentioned in Des Wilson's book about poker called 'Swimming with the Devilfish'. Stewart Reuben played there, I think, and I'm sure he will be able to tell us more. I'm having a look through old BCMs to see when the En Passant closed its doors.
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Leonard Barden
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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by Leonard Barden » Fri Feb 12, 2010 8:15 pm

Ah, I expect my memory confused poker and bridge. It's possible that the En Passant lingered on into the 1960s.
Last edited by Leonard Barden on Sat Feb 13, 2010 7:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Gambit Chess Rooms 1946

Post by James Pratt » Sat Feb 13, 2010 12:54 am

David Spanier's book 'Total Poker' mentions that the whole place smelt of piss! Ken Harman told me that it was bought by a Chinese restaurant that took the 4 handed chess sets and boards outside and smashed them up in the streets.

'The Gambit' is featured in a now forgotten tome, 'Chess and Its Stars' by Brian Harley (Whitbread & Miller 1936). Edith Price, who ran it, is featured in a photo. Harley was a fine problemist and player and his son, once vicar of Eastleigh, became assistant to the Bishop of Winchester in recent years. Grandson Andrew Harley played in the British at Blackpool '88 and updated Uhlmann's Batsford on the French.

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