Simon Norton

Notices of deaths, death announcements and messages.
Post Reply
Roger de Coverly
Posts: 18100
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:51 pm

Simon Norton

Post by Roger de Coverly » Tue Feb 19, 2019 12:31 am

It appears my Cambridge contemporary, Simon Norton has died.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_P._Norton

In a manner of speaking, he was Cambridge's answer to John Nunn. Whilst "the Doctor" was an undergraduate at Oxford at a very young age, Simon didn't start his Cambridge degree course until the relatively older age of 17, if his date of birth is correctly recorded. He did however already have an external degree from London University.

I don't think he took chess seriously enough to get much past 170 as a playing standard.

Steve Williams
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Mar 05, 2019 4:57 pm
Contact:

Re: Simon Norton

Post by Steve Williams » Wed Mar 06, 2019 9:00 am

I remember Simon from my time playing for Trinity College 1st team. Captain and Board 1 was GM Ray Keene, Board 2 was another mathematician, NIgel Kalton, who also died from heart failure, Board 3 was Nigel Holloway and Board 5 David Wilkinson, whom I once met in later years playing at a congress in Braintree. Simon was a reserve. He was already known as a brilliant mathematical talent and I think played chess very quickly, presumably finding it relatively boring. The biography by Alexander Masters Simon: The Genius in my Basement is quirky and very readable. At Trinity he struck me as young, even for his age. He'd gone to Eton College, like a reasonable number of the undergraduates in those years (and perhaps today). I am saddened by his death at the relatively early age of 66. His contributions to number theory were weighty, especially for someone who had, in view of his affluence, no need to be a "wage slave".

User avatar
John Saunders
Posts: 1227
Joined: Thu Apr 19, 2007 3:10 pm
Location: Kingston-upon-Thames
Contact:

Re: Simon Norton

Post by John Saunders » Wed Mar 06, 2019 11:12 am

I too remember Simon Norton and can show a few game scores which might help determine his playing strength.

I first came across him in February 1969 when a six-player chess team from Eton College arrived to play a Friday-evening match against my own school, High Wycombe Royal Grammar School. Despite its fame, Eton wasn't really known as a chess-playing school and, as far as I know, wasn't part of the local circuit of Buckinghamshire/Berkshire schools which typically played a couple of matches against each other during the autumn and spring terms every year. (The regulars who played each other were all grammar schools based in Amersham, Aylesbury, Slough, Windsor and Marlow - whose top board was the forum's very own Roger de Coverly - with one or two others occasionally fielding a team.)

Eton lost ½-5½ to my school. I was on board two and my opponent was very weak, shedding a piece in the opening. Simon Norton was on top board and clearly the only reasonably strong player in their side, drawing with our top board. I don't have access to the 1968/69 SCCU Grading List so I don't know if either player had a published grade in 1968/69 but in 1969/70 Norton was graded 177 and David Stevenson 155. They passed each other in opposite directions in 1970/71 with Norton subsiding to 162 (coincidentally the same grade as me on the same list) while David Stevenson advanced to 168. I note that Norton had a full grade in 1970, which meant that he had played at least 30 graded games in 1969/70, so he must have been a regular competitor.



Norton's reputation as a brilliant mathematician had gone before him. When we sat down to play Eton, we were already aware that he had won gold medals in mathematical competitions as these had been reported in national newspapers as early as 1967. (I found three entries for him in the Sunday Times archive, one in each of 1967, 1968 and 1969.) However, he was a perfectly modest chap, with a beatific smile permanently etched on his face and a Gelfand-like habit of twiddling a captured piece between his fingers.

My next close encounter of the Norton kind was at a Cambridge University club night in January 1972. I don't recall the circumstances but I have a record of the following gruesome five-minute game...



The last move was a simple matter of pattern recognition as I vaguely recalled seeing a famous game where Ng5 had been the coup de grâce in the same or similar position. For some reason Hugh Alexander's name springs to mind but I'll leave the pleasure of identifying a precedent to others who enjoy looking things up as much as I do. Stockfish 10 tells me better moves than 6.Nxe4 were available, and 7...Ke8 would have been, if not OK, at least playable for Black.

As Steve Williams said in the previous post, Simon Norton was not a member of Trinity's powerhouse five-board college first team but he usually turned out for their (still quite strong) second team. I played him in December 1974 on top board of a college league match between Selwyn and Trinity II which Selwyn won by 4½-½. I was graded 192 at the time but I don't have a note of Norton's grade.



Not a classic. Before anyone chides me for the very dubious 5.0-0, I was quite aware when I played it that it's not very good but, lazy hacker as I was, I used to trot it out against people whom I suspected not to be devotees of opening theory. (Back then so many Black players seemed to be strangely shy of the perfectly obvious line of play beginning with 5...Nxe4 soon followed by ...d5 which leads to a solid plus for Black.) Having missed this chance, Norton was permanently on the back foot, though my own play wasn't the most precise.

My impression was that Norton was a good, natural player who didn't study the game but treated it as mere recreation. Given his apparent lack of study, he could be caught in cheap traps as demonstrated above but if he avoided opening pitfalls he could play a very decent game. Roger's assessment of circa 170 seems about right.
Personal Twitter @johnchess / Personal Website http://www.saund.co.uk / Britbase http://www.britbase.co.uk

Roger de Coverly
Posts: 18100
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:51 pm

Re: Simon Norton

Post by Roger de Coverly » Wed Mar 06, 2019 11:43 am

John Saunders wrote:
Wed Mar 06, 2019 11:12 am
in 1969/70 Norton was graded 177 and David Stevenson 155. They passed each other in opposite directions in 1970/71 with Norton subsiding to 162
That's what I have in my old manuscript score-books as well, playing him in 1970 and 1971.

October 1969 would have been his first month at Trinity, Cambridge. Given a published grade of 177, he must have earned this while at Eton. There were any number of new strong players starting at the University in 1969, but 177 would have been towards the top end, so if he gained 20-30 points, he could have been in line for the Varsity team. For that matter he was on target for titles on the then premise that grade should be at least age * 10.

I don't think he did that well in the College League and internal tournaments of 1969-70, so subsided to 162.

User avatar
John Saunders
Posts: 1227
Joined: Thu Apr 19, 2007 3:10 pm
Location: Kingston-upon-Thames
Contact:

Re: Simon Norton

Post by John Saunders » Wed Mar 06, 2019 12:57 pm

Roger de Coverly wrote:
Wed Mar 06, 2019 11:43 am

That's what I have in my old manuscript score-books as well, playing him in 1970 and 1971.
I've seen the scores of both your 1970/71 games against Norton (they appear on the StarBase 4.56 database - Big/Mega Database don't have any of his games). One of them has a curious parallel with my 1974 game against Norton in that he gave up two pieces for a rook and pawn on f2 in a way that few strong players like to. However, this may not have been by choice in either case: arguably more of an unconvincing attempt to correct an earlier mistake.
Personal Twitter @johnchess / Personal Website http://www.saund.co.uk / Britbase http://www.britbase.co.uk

Roger de Coverly
Posts: 18100
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:51 pm

Re: Simon Norton

Post by Roger de Coverly » Wed Mar 06, 2019 1:35 pm

The slight mystery is as to how or where he got a grade of 177 in the August 1969 list. His name doesn't pop up in obvious places like being a prize winner at the London Junior or taking part in the U-18 or U-16 at the BCF Congress. I suppose he might have played club chess somewhere whilst at Eton. There weren't so many Congresses that the BCM of the period couldn't give results for all of them.

User avatar
John Saunders
Posts: 1227
Joined: Thu Apr 19, 2007 3:10 pm
Location: Kingston-upon-Thames
Contact:

Re: Simon Norton

Post by John Saunders » Wed Mar 06, 2019 2:37 pm

Roger de Coverly wrote:
Wed Mar 06, 2019 1:35 pm
The slight mystery is as to how or where he got a grade of 177 in the August 1969 list. His name doesn't pop up in obvious places like being a prize winner at the London Junior or taking part in the U-18 or U-16 at the BCF Congress. I suppose he might have played club chess somewhere whilst at Eton. There weren't so many Congresses that the BCM of the period couldn't give results for all of them.
I wondered about that too. Actually I don't have direct access to the 1969 SCCU Grading List but was going by the previous season's grade as shown in the 1970 list. I think that should be correct but it may not have been a full grade based on 30 games played.

Let's have a look at the rubric from the 1970 list...
1970 SCCU Grading List wrote:This year the supplementary list of players not quite satisfying the BCF requirement of 30 games in the last two seasons, at least 10 of which were in the last season, has been omitted, but these players have been included in the main list with names in small letters. Players whose names are in capitals have met the qualifying requirement. For 1970/71, a change in calculating methods will mean that games between players more than 40 points apart will be treated as though they were 40 points apart. If anyone is still interested in Grades as opposed to Grading Number, may we say that Grade 1a is 241-248, and thereafter everything goes down in eight points per half group.
Norton's name was shown in capitals in the 1970 list so, if I am interpreting the rubric correctly, he must have played 30 graded games in 1969/70 but we don't know whether he played 30 in 1968/69, or fewer than that (but no fewer than ten) plus a top-up to 30 games after adding x games from 1967/68. Or something like that. Like you, I find it hard to believe he played enough graded games as there wasn't as much graded chess around then as now, with many competition games being off the radar. I played a lot of competition chess from early 1968 onwards but it wasn't until Sept 1970 that I had a published grade.

Getting back to Norton, one source I saw reported that his father was an antique dealer in Hampstead so it is possible that he played in the London League, other local leagues and/or club championships during his school holidays. I get the sense that, the closer you were to the metropolis, the more chance your games got graded, whereas we hicks from the sticks in darkest 1960s Buckinghamshire were less likely to see a three-digit number published next to our name.
Personal Twitter @johnchess / Personal Website http://www.saund.co.uk / Britbase http://www.britbase.co.uk

Kevin Thurlow
Posts: 2964
Joined: Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:28 pm

Re: Simon Norton

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Wed Mar 06, 2019 5:15 pm

"Getting back to Norton, one source I saw reported that his father was an antique dealer in Hampstead so it is possible that he played in the London League, other local leagues and/or club championships during his school holidays. I get the sense that, the closer you were to the metropolis, the more chance your games got graded, whereas we hicks from the sticks in darkest 1960s Buckinghamshire were less likely to see a three-digit number published next to our name."

That's probably true - another possibility is that the graders confused him with someone else. I failed to get a grade about then, whilst Ken H Thurlow of Inland Revenue improved dramatically!

User avatar
John Clarke
Posts: 344
Joined: Sat Apr 30, 2011 1:07 pm

Re: Simon Norton

Post by John Clarke » Wed Mar 06, 2019 7:30 pm

Kevin Thurlow wrote:
Wed Mar 06, 2019 5:15 pm
That's probably true - another possibility is that the graders confused him with someone else. I failed to get a grade about then, whilst Ken H Thurlow of Inland Revenue improved dramatically!
Yes, graders weren't always as careful as they might have been - another case here from the 1970s.
"The chess-board is the world ..... the player on the other side is hidden from us ..... he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance."
(He doesn't let you resign and start again, either.)

Paul Habershon
Posts: 138
Joined: Sat Aug 07, 2010 5:51 pm

Re: Simon Norton

Post by Paul Habershon » Thu Mar 07, 2019 9:20 am

Very full obituary of Simon Norton in today's Times (7 March 2019). No mention of chess but a lot about his obsession with improving bus timetables after he abandoned mathematics.His parents owned an upmarket jewellery business, SJ Phillips.

Roger de Coverly
Posts: 18100
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:51 pm

Re: Simon Norton

Post by Roger de Coverly » Thu Mar 07, 2019 12:10 pm

Paul Habershon wrote:
Thu Mar 07, 2019 9:20 am
Very full obituary of Simon Norton in today's Times (7 March 2019)
From the comments
written by Dr Battery
I was a member of the Eton College chess team captained by Norton KS (as he was then known, KS being "King's Scholar"). He once navigated us to an away match in South London by public transport and I asked him how far we had left to travel. He amazed me by instantly locating us to the nearest road junction, based on the bus numbers he could see and his deep understanding of timetables and routes. He was a quiet but friendly person and I am glad that he achieved great things in mathematical research.

John Upham
Posts: 4339
Joined: Wed Apr 04, 2007 10:29 am
Location: Cove, Hampshire, England.
Contact:

Re: Simon Norton

Post by John Upham » Fri Mar 08, 2019 7:00 pm

Simon Norton was featured on BBC Radio 4 in "The Last Word" broadcast today.

Listen to

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000300k

John
British Chess News : britishchessnews.com
Twitter: @BritishChess
Facebook: facebook.com/groups/britishchess :D

Post Reply