What is interesting about this tournament is the attitude that the BCF took towards the tournament at the time. The BCF seemed at first to be interested in the idea of an Commonwealth Championship, but then when it came to the logistics later seemed to wish to have as little to do with the tournament as possible. If Hugh Alexander or Harry Golombek couldn't play, then they weren't interested; the tournament certainly couldn't have the status of an official commonwealth championship without such players.
But that is only my, perhaps misanthropic, view looking backwards through the lens of time. I would like to hear what other people, perhaps with long memories, have of the event.
But let's start at the beginning.
Bob Wade and Abe Yanofsky met in England in 1946; Bob had just played in the British championship at Nottingham, whilst Yanofsky had just played at the famous, fabulous Groningen tournament (the BCF had refused to reschedule its championship to allow a British contender play at Groningen, perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly). They became friends - and indeed they played together in the magnificent Barcelona tournament and then Bob travelled home to New Zealand in 1946-47 through Iceland, Canada and the United States in Yanofsky's company. A few years later they would, sadly, fall out over whether Canada should have its own playing zone for qualifying for the World Championship and whether or not Bohatyrchuk was worthy of the IM title - but that is, again, another story.
Together in London in 1946, though, they dreamed up the fine idea of an Imperial Championship, which they discussed with Harold Meek, secretary of the BCF. Originally it was anticipated that the tournament would take place in Canada. Dudley Le Dain, the Canadian correspondent for Chess, wrote the following:
DM LeDAIN, Chess, Vol. 13 No. 146, Nov. 1947, p. 39 wrote:To further strengthen the ties of chess within the Commonwealth, Canada is giving consideration to the suggestion of the British Chess Federation that she undertake the arrangements for the organization of a triennial Commonwealth Championship next summer. The plan is, that each member pay the travelling expenses of their champion, while the country acting as host would provide accommodation for the players and prizes, She would be allowed two entries in a double round event.
It soon became clear, though that Canada would not be able to organise the tournament. A short item under news from the BCF was that:
Chess, Vol. 13 No. 153, June 1948, p. 211 wrote:R. G. Wade wrote mooting an Empire Championship with a prize fund of Â£100, and an offer of half of the competitor's tourist fares both ways.
Bob gave more detail in the inaugural edition of New Zealand ChessPlayer:
Bob Wade from his article, The Shape of Things to Come, New Zealand ChessPlayer, Vol. 1 No. 3 Autumn 1948, p. 7 wrote:BRITISH COMMONWEALTH CHAMPIONSHIP
When Yanofsky and Wade were in England in 1946, they had a conference with the secretary of the British Chess Federation, Mr. Harold Meek, about organising a Commonwealth Championship. It was generally agreed that cultural relations between Commonwealth countries was an advantage and bringing leading British players together would stimulate Anglo-Saxon chess.
Provisional proposals were: (1) Each Commonwealth country with a recognised national organisation to be eligible to nominate a representative. (2) It is important to secure the best possible representative from each country. (3) Each country to pay travelling expenses; the holding country to provide hospitality and arrange engagements for visiting players. (4) The holding country to have the right to two entries, minimum entry four with a double round of play. (5) The first contest to be held in Canada in 1948 and then at intervals of three to five years. As nothing came of this the N.Z.C.A. has now come forward with a proposal to hold the inaugural contest in New Zealand in July, 1949.
Bob's diary from the time recorded some interesting tidbits:
Bob Wade, Diary, 1948 wrote:
Feb. 15: Wrote Du Mont, Editor BCM
Outlining confidentially scheme for commonwealth scheme
Wrote C.J.S. Purdy outlining idea for Commonwealth championship
Wrote to N.Z. Sports Council ... for grant of Â£125 towards a Commonwealth Championship
Bob left New Zealand later in 1948, not to return until the Queenstown Tournament of 2006, but in the early years he kept in touch with the NZCA. Meanwhile the NZCA continued trying to organise the tournament:
NZCP, Vol. 1 No. 4 Winter 1948, p. 3 wrote:N.Z. Association
At a meeting of the new management committee it was decided to offer Canterbury the privilege of holding the British Empire Championship as well as the New Zealand Championship during their centennial celebrations. Canterbury has already obtained authority and issued tickets for a large art union for the Centennial Year chess championship. Australia has promised to nominate two players and D. A. Yanofsky will come from Canada. Great Britain will be represented and invitations will be sent to South Africa and India. There will be opportunities for visiting masters to visit clubs of so desired. In the event of Canterbury falling in with these plans, the N.Z.C.A. will assist.
The BCM reported that the tournament would take place:
BCM Vol. LXIX No. 7 July 1949, p. 212 wrote:New Zealand.â€”A British Empire championship, originally due to take place at Christchurch in July, 1950, has been put off till Easter, 1951. It is hoped that amongst those playing will be Heidenfeld (South Africa) and Yanofsky from Canada.
As did Chess:
Chess, Vol. 14 No. 166/7/8, July/Aug./Sept 1949, p. 229 wrote:Possible competitors in the first British Empire Championship, now planned for Easter 1951 at Wellington, include Golombek (Britain), Wade (New Zealand), Heidenfeld (South Africa) and Yanofsky (Canada).
Sadly, however, it all fell through:
NZCP, Vol. 3 No. 15 August 1950, p. 62 wrote:EMPIRE CHAMPIONSHIP POSTPONED
Because no British representative can come to New Zealand early next year, the British Commonwealth Chess Championship, scheduled for next Aprilâ€“May, has been postponed. This action was decided on at the annual meeting of the New Zealand Chess Association when advice was received from England that all the leading British players would be taking part at the Staunton Memorial Tourney at the time. This tourney was expected to be one of the major events of English chess, marking the centennial of the London Congress 1850â€”the first international chess tournament ever held. The New Zealand Chess Association has written to England to find out whether October, 1951, or Easter, 1952, will be suitable dates for the Commonwealth tourney.
Bob wrote a letter to BH Wood, which Wood published in Chess:
Chess, Vol. 16. No. 182, November 1950, p. 31 wrote:Dear Mr. Wood,
The British Commonwealth Championship tournament scheduled for March-April 1951 in New Zealand has been postponed because no representative from Great Britain could be available. No other reason. The time of his return voyage would conflict with the Centennial International Tournament*.
The British Chess Federation has been asked whether they could send a player for either October 1951 or Easter 1952.
Naturally, an event like this would not be representative without a player from Great Britain, the country with the most experienced players and one of the countries originally suggesting the holding of a Commonwealth Championship. As Canada, Australia and South Africa have promised players, it is to be hoped that Great Britain will not achieve less.
(Signed) ROBERT G. WADE
London, October, 28th, 1950.
*The Centennial International Tournament was the Staunton Memorial Tournament of 1951.
BCM Vol. LXX No. 11 Nov. 1950, p. 365 wrote:
New Zealand.â€“The British Commonwealth Championship Tournament that had originally been planned for April and May of next year has been postponed to avoid clashing with the Centenary Tournament and in order to enable an English player to complete. The New Zealand Chess Association has written to the B.C.F. to find out whether October, 1951, or Easter, 1952, would be suitable dates.
By 1951, prospects for a Commonwealth Championship started to look bleak:
NZCP, Vol. 4 No. 19 April 1951, p. 31 wrote:Dim Outlook For The Empire Championship
The British Chess Federation will not be able to name a date suitable for them for the holding of a British Commonwealth Championship within the next two years, according to advice received by the New Zealand Chess Association Council. The B.C.F. letter explained that other commitments and the general unsettled position today had forced this decision. The N.Z.C.A.'s special Commonwealth tourney sub-committee recommended that the B.C.F. be advised that New Zealand was still willing to sponsor the tournament if they were willing to send an entrant, providing that at least 12 months notice is given. The chairman, W. M. Haycraft, explained that it was considered that the tournament would not be fully successful unless a British representative took part. Decision on the report was deferred until the next meeting, with other Commonwealth federations to be informed of the postponement recommendation.
But then Wolfgang Heidenfeld had a bright idea:
Chess, Vol. 16 No. 190, July 1951, p. 214 wrote:WHOâ€™LL STAGE AN EMPIRE TOURNEY?
As W. Heidenfeld (South African Champion), R. G. Wade (New Zealand Champion when heâ€™s at home) and Abe Yanofsky (Canadian Champion), not to mention P. Aherne, Singapore Champion, will all be in England in September, Mr. Heidenfeld suggests it might be a bright idea to organise an Empire Tournament here then. What about it?
A few months later, Chess carried news of the Heidenfeld - Wade match:
Chess, Vol. 17 No. 193, Oct. 1951, p. 2 wrote:We give two Heidenfeld-Wade games in this issue with the player's notes. Play in this match (sponsored by the South African Chess Federation, the Devon C.A. and CHESS), was bright but a bit wild. A "Commonwealth" tournament is now mooted, with Wade, Heidenfled, Yanofsky of Canada (now in Oxford for studies), Klein, possibly Fairhurst, Sturm from Trinidad, etc.
Then in November, Chess reported the bald facts of the tournament:
Chess, Vol. 17 No. 194, Nov. 1951, p. 24 wrote:INFORMAL COMMONWEALTH CHAMPIONSHIP
The presence of Dave Yanofsky*, W. Heidenfeld and R. G. Wade (the best players of Canada, South Africa and New Zealand respectively) in England at the same time, was too good an opportunity to miss. The B.C.F. put up Â£50, the Master of Balliol College, Oxoford, offered hospitality and the tournament was duly held, October 29th to November 2nd. Australia, on the starting-date, cabled official nomination of young G. Berriman. The West Indian Chess Federation would have sent a player but were unable to book him an air passage. [tournament cross-table]
*Yanofsky was David Abraham Yanofsky. He generally called himself Abe.
Leonard Barden then told the full story in next edition of Chess:
Chess, Vol. 17 No. 195, Dec. 1951, pp. 46-47 wrote:Oxford holds first Commonwealth Tournament
by L. W. Barden
After a long series of organisational difficulties and with a list of competitors that was not finally known until the very day it began, the first Commonwealth tournament ever held took place at Oxford, in the Massey Room, Balliol College, from October 29th to November 3rd. The tournament was made possible by the financial support of the B.C.F., as the notice was too short for the normal local subscription list to be opened. Originally it had been hoped that competitors would come from Ireland and the West Indies, but the former just did not materialise, while Sturm of Trinidad could not get an air passage. The B.C.F. Executive considered that the tournament was not sufficiently representative to be dignified with the name of "Commonwealth Championship." Wade of New Zealand, Yanofsky of Canada, Heidenfeld of South Africa, and Fairhurst of Scotland were all recognised by their respective federations as fully representative of the strength of these countries. The leading B.C.F. players were not available, and the English representative was Barden, who was fifth in this year's championship. It was the unanimous view of the contestants at Oxford that in view of the geographical distances involved a Commonwealth championship wherever held would be most unlikely to get a better entry. From this point of view and from the most important one of publicity, the organisers believed that they took the correct decision in describing the tournament to press representatives as the "Commonwealth Championship". Whatever attitude is held on this matter, it was surely illogical, as the B.C.F. Executive did, on the one hand to call the tournament an informal one, and on the other not to inform Berriman of Australia (who was in this country as Australia's representative in the World Junior Championship) about the tournament; and still more so not to allow him to enter until he had spent several pounds in urgent cables to Australia asking that he should be recognised as the official representativeâ€”recognition which finally arrived five hours before the start of the tournament. In the event, the 19-year old Australian fully justified his inclusion by his tremendous fighting spirit and by his good win from Heidenfeld, and England may find itself in the anomalous position of being the only major Commonwealth country not to recognise the tournament as a championship.
In a short tournament of only six players there is a danger that luck may play a great part in deciding the winner, but there was no doubt that in this case Fairhurst played much the best chess of any competitor, showing his fine strategical strength in games with Wade and Berriman, and tactical resourcefulness when in difficulties against Heidenfeld. At the age of 48 he is playing as well as he did when winning the British Championship in 1937. Yanofsky, the pre-tournament favourite, failed to win because he treated all of his opponents like grandmastersâ€”that is to say, he was constantly trying to exploit minute advantages in the endgame instead of going for middle-game complications. Wade was suffering from the same complaintâ€”he more than once got an opening advantage and then failed to realise it by playing too positionally. This is an attitude of mind very difficult to escape when a loss practically finished your chances of winning the tournament. Heidenfeld, although bottom, played far better than his score suggests and was the unlucky player of the tournament. In the first round, by excellent position play, he had, in the diagrammed position [Wade- Heidenfeld: 6K1/1P4P1/5B1P/Q4P1B/P2P1p1p/3p2p1/pp3q2/2n1n1k1; 40, B], established a clear advantage against Wade. He had one move to make before the time control, with over five minutes to spare on his clock. But he had taken his score down wrongly, thought he had made the required number of moves, and sat thinking till his flag fell!
[... description of Yanofsky - Fairhurst ...]
The tournament was opened by Sir Robert Robinson, President of the B.C.F.; and the Master of Balliol (Sir David Lindsay Keir) and the Mayor of Oxford made ceremonial first moves. Sir David and Lady Keir were also present at the final ceremony and the former pointed out how apt it was that Fairhurst, a Northcountryman turned Scot, should win the tournament at Balliol, founded by John of Balliol, also a Northcountryman turned Scot! Mention of the tournament would not be complete without reference to the work put in by the members of the Oxford University Chess Club, who sacrificed lectures and tutorials to act as amateur tournament directors; particularly D. J. Youston, who was responsible for much of the preliminary organisation and the splendid coverage given by the international, national and local reporting agencies and newspapers. The Stop Press news in the "Oxford Mail" on the last day of the tournament was headed:"Fairhurst wins Chess Test""
Final scores: Fairhurst 4, Yanofsky 3, Wade 2Â½; Barden and Berriman 2; Heidenfeld 1Â½.
BH Wood appended his thoughts on the matter:
BH Wood wrote:We imagine the New Zealand Chess Association would have a few things to say, had the event been declared an official Commonwealth Championship. They raised Â£500 for exactly such an event but have been unable to find representative players able to spare three motnths or so for the round trip to New Zealand and back.
The British Chess Federation, which virtually means C. H. Alexander these days, made it clear: the event was not official. It was certainly sublimely inconsistent for them to cable the Australian Chess Federation saying they would allow Berriman to play only if officially sponsoredâ€”Ed.
A couple of nice photos were included with Barden's article, which I hope to attach to this posting, otherwise I will mail them to Carl to include.
Bob explained some of the background later:
NZCP, Vol. 5 No. 25 April 1952 p.53 wrote:COMMONWEALTH INFORMAL TOURNEY
R. G. Wade, writing from London, says that the Commonwealth tourney recently played in England would never have been made an official tourney without full blessing from all bodies concerned. The style of the tourney gave rise to some unfavourable criticism. "The important thing", writes Wade, "is that a further stage in Commonwealth chess relations is intended and I hope achieved. It is still to be hoped that an official Commonwealth event will be staged in New Zealand."
New Zealand continued for another three years trying to organise a Commonwealth Championship, but eventually gave up. Everyone seemed to want it to happen, all except for the BCF that is:
Glasgow Herald, Friday Jan 23, 1953 wrote:In the British Commowealth championship to be held in New Zealand, probably in October, Mr. W. A. Fairhurst will compete as joint representative of the British Federation and the Scottish Association.
DM Le Dain, Montreal, in a letter to the NZCP, pub. Vol. 6 No. 37 October 1953, p. 134 wrote:The greatest enthusiasm for a Commonwealth programme has, naturally enough, developed in the more isolated units, and most of the initiative and publicity had so far come from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Canada, having close ties with the United States of America, and being not too remote from European centres, has nevertheless given hearty support, and stands ready to do more.
Great Britain, whose participation and keen co-operation are vital, has shown only lukewarm interest up to date. Britain has participated in some events, but has not taken the lead as anticipated, as the largest and strongest playing Commonwealth unit, in fully developing the programme and helping to set up real competitions on a continuing and expanding basis of regularly scheduled events, such as has been established in the programme of the International Chess Federation (F.I.D.E.). It appears at this stage that the initiative in laying a solid foundation will have to come from the overseas Commonwealth units, working closely together.
NZCP, Vol. 6 No. 31 April 1953 p. 34 wrote:British Empire Title Tournament Situation is Clearing
After nearly four years, during which it proved impossible to get the British Commonwealth Individual Chess Championship tourney under way, it now seems the tourney is certain to be held in New Zealand in 1954. This is stated in the New Zealand Chess Association Bulletin No. 41, dated February 23, 1953.
The N.Z.C.A. sub-committee handling the matter consists of J. D. Steele, J. L. Hardy and J. M. Shurely. This sub-committee has reported a "general desire" on the part of British Commonwealth countries that the Empire tourney should be held. Previously the difficulties in getting the tourney organised came from outside of New Zealand rather than from within.
Total expenses for the undertaking are given as not less than Â£1060. This is made up of half cost of steamer travel for one representative each from the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and Australia; prizes, hotel expenses, travelling expenses in New Zealand, and sundries. Considering the travelling distances involved, this is not unreasonable. The Association has Â£460 in hand, which includes the Â£350 granted by the Government to the fund in 1949. How many New Zealanders are to compete is not stated. This would no doubt depend on the number of visiting players. Raising not less than Â£600 may make our organisation creak a bit, but it can be done, This sum is said in Bulletin no. 41 to be the equivalent of ten shillings per active member of all clubs affiliated to the Association.
NZCP Vol. 6 No. 36 Sept. 1953, p. 114 wrote:BRITISH COMMONWEALTH CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP
The Council of the New Zealand Chess Association has asked each of its affiliates to forward to the secretary before the next quarterly meeting of the Council their reaction to the British Commowealth Individual Chess Championship tourney being dropped due to financial difficulties. The British Chess Federation has informed the Association that it could not nominate a representative for 1954, but would consider doing so should the event be put off until 1955.
Finally even the NZCA had to give up:
NZCP, Vol. 6 No. 38, Nov. 1953, p. 147 wrote:Big Tournament Off For Good
The New Zealand Chess Association announces with regret that owing to insurmountable difficulties it has been forced to abandon the idea of running the British Commonwealth Individual Chess Championship.
There are a few more quotes from the BCM, which I will have to dig out. There are also some quotes from Canadian Chess Chat which I have laid up somewhere and will have to sniff out too.
I have some questions about this affair for readers, but in another post!