Chess Composers B. G. Laws Lecture by B. G. Laws - Page 2


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Lecture by B. G. Laws - Page 2
Written by Michael McDowell   
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Lecture by B. G. Laws
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Brockelbank had a remarkable memory for positions. One evening (in his absence) we were endeavouring to set up a three-mover of Barbier's, which he had shown some weeks before. Whilst we were casting about for clues, Brockelbank walked in when one of the party cried: “Here's Brockelbank, he'll remember it.” He at once maintained his reputation by setting it up without hesitation.

Among the names in the Gatti and Café Monico coterie I mentioned Enderle. As a composer he did little, but what he turned his hand to was in correct style. He enjoyed solving, but if it was made known to him beforehand that a three or four-mover had not an economically pure mate (the term “model mate” afterwards coined by H. D'O. Bernard not being in the problemist's glossary), he would be disinclined to take any interest in it. He was a stickler for model mates and much admired those where no men were in the king's field, which he called “mirrors”. He struck this word to convey his meaning that a mirror mate must also be a model mate. Some modern writers have lost sight of this essential characteristic and count as mirror mates those which are neither pure nor strictly economical. I asked Enderle why he termed such a mate a mirror and received some such reply as, “Can't you see the black king reflected in the frame of the opposing forces?”

During the preparation of The Chess Problem Text Book in 1885, Andrews, Frankenstein and myself had many conferences at Frankenstein's home. He had conceived the idea and financed the undertaking. Andrews was invited to join after the project was well under way. His inclusion was not altogether fortunate, as though a man of experience, he was a little out of date and was not quite in harmony with the modern code of construction which was supplanting that of the period during which he was a prominent figure. He gave me the impression that he felt slighted at the suggestion that Planck should write the treatise, but Frankenstein and I appreciated the latter's ability to do credit to the subject. The outcome was that The Chess Problem Text Book contained the finest essay on the chess problem that had been written in the English language, and probably in any other.

I have one feeling of regret concerning this work, and that is that I did not exercise restraint in the case of a number of my selected problems which might well have been omitted on account of their very indifferent merits.

In 1885 it was rumoured that Sam Loyd contemplated a visit to Europe. The possible event excited interest, especially to the quartet engaged on The Chess Problem Text Book. We all hoped to have the pleasure of making the personal acquaintance of the eminent American composer who had thrilled the chess world with his spontaneous and daring originality. It is true Frankenstein had met Loyd on several occasions in the States and had formed his own estimate of his skill as a solver. As such he was by many credited with being the world's greatest expert, but this was more speculation than positive knowledge. Frankenstein suggested a solving match over the board with myself if Loyd came to England, adding that he would be prepared to support his confidence in me by staking £100. This sporting suggestion was endorsed by Planck, but Loyd however did not leave the western hemisphere; he certainly never heard of the proposal.

About three years after the launching of The Chess Problem Text Book I was asked by the well known publishers Bell & Co. to write a work on problems uniform with their “Club Series”. I chose for my subject the two-mover, and in 1890 The Two-move Chess Problem was published.p class= That this small book proved spadding-left: 5px;bcpsp class=uccessful goes without saying as Messrs Bell have stated that it has had the largest sale of any of their game books and I understand it is still in steady demand. Towards the end of 1890 they pressed me to write a similar treatise on the three-mover, but I felt then I could not devote the necessary time to another publication which would have involved considerable labour and research. I feel considerable recompense for the labour bestowed on the treatise by the many expressions of appreciation I have received from readers; indeed not a few have stated that they owe their introduction to the art to it, and among the members of our own Society I have had gratifying acknowledgments from P. F. Blake and A. C. Challenger, who have distinguished themselves as adepts.

For many years I was in regular correspondence with the late A.F. Mackenzie of Jamaica, an eminent exponent of the art. The receipt of his letters gave me much pleasure; we rarely missed a mail day. In most matters concerning problem lore we were in agreement. He nevertheless at the time his contemporaries were being enlightened by new ideals, held tenaciously to the style of the Transition period, and viewed “economy of force” from an angle different from which those who embraced modern maxims regarded it. Time works changes and years before his premature death he showed by the majority of his masterly problems that he had become a convert.

I introduce Mackenzie's name in order to mention a matter which has never been cleared up, that is the origin of the two-mover credited to him and sometimes jointly with myself, with six black king flight squares and altogether seven mating moves, a feat of construction which I believe has never been rivalled.

After I had succeeded in producing the six “flighter” which you have already seen, I worked for better results and communicated the skeleton scheme and my progress to Mackenzie. He was very interested and made suggestions. When completed I despatched the finished article to him.

(14) A. F. Mackenzie & B. G. Laws

HM., Chess Monthly, 1884-1886


Mate in 2

My amazement can be imagined when soon after I received a letter from the late Mrs. T. B. Rowland enclosing in confidence a copy of this two-mover (with a small but fatal difference) which had been entered by Mackenzie in one of the problem tourneys she was conducting. I replied by pointing out a cook, at the same time making a protest. The problem was withdrawn. However Mackenzie seemed to consider he was entitled to it and making the key move to correspond with mine, subsequently entered it in the tourney of the Chess Monthly under the motto “I stand alone!”. It was not included in the judge's “honours list”. (Laws presumably means “honours list“ to refer to prizes)

(Discussing the problem in his book The Two-Move Chess Problem Laws had written “A well-known problemist hit upon precisely the same rendering of an identical idea as the writer, nearly simultaneously. The circumstances under which each position was composed left no room for the suggestion that either had taken advantage of the other. An explanation, however, is afforded by the fact that similar views on problem construction were held, and in the treatment of a popular problematic theme, there was every probability of ‘unconscious imitation’.”)

Prior to the publication by A. C. White of A. F. Mackenzie's Chess Lyrics, 1905, he visited England. This gave me the opportunity of becoming personally acquainted with this brilliant disciple of our cult. Inheriting a love for problems from his father he has devoted many years in fostering their study, classifying the thousands which have come under his notice, has produced about thirty standard books (mostly distributed as Christmas gifts), assisting materially in promoting the biggest chess problem organization of the world: The Good Companion Chess Problem Club (Philadelphia), acting as judge in numerous tourneys and often providing the prizes. In many ways by his articles and influence he easily stands alone as an expert enthusiast, writer and patron. He first consulted me in compiling his first volume Chess Lyrics in the hope I could furnish him with useful information. In that work he acknowledges my help in these words: “Mr. B.G. Laws, the popular problem editor of the British Chess Magazine, has given me extensive assistance notwithstanding the anxieties of a long protracted illness.”

One of the most extraordinary and yet simple cases on record of a composer taking another's problem en bloc, and by shifting the men one file, producing a new one, occurred to me in 1888. The incident has been referred to in chess columns several times, but may be unknown to some of you.

(15) L. K. Jokisch

Nashville American, March 1888


Mate in 3

(16) B. G. Laws

Nashville American, July 1888


Mate in 3

L. J. H. Jokisch's three-mover was given in the Nashville American. The solution is a good one, especially the key move. By the simple change of locale Qa8 cannot be made, but curiously enough in the other position the queen is played in the other direction, as h1 is now available after the queen's pawn advances, resulting in a “model”.

(17) J. Rayner

British Chess Magazine, December, 1893


Selfmate in 10

(18) J. Rayner

British Chess Magazine, December, 1893


Selfmate in 9

In the year 1893 the late James Rayner sent me a ten-move self-mate to solve, examine and comment upon. I had some trouble over it and as his diagram was not too clear I thought possibly the only pawn used might be a black one instead of white. With this change I found a pretty solution in ten. Rayner however confirmed the white pawn and being on sure ground I soon discovered the intention. The interesting part of this is that with the alteration of colour of the pawn, and shifting the position of the queen Rayner brought to light a most ingenious line of play fulfilling the sui-mate stipulation in nine moves. These positions were given in the special Christmas number of the British Chess Magazine 1893.

(19) S. Loyd

New York State Chess Association, 22nd February 1892


Mate in 2

The “American Indian Theme” was a fancy term given by Loyd to the idea contained in the two-mover he contributed to the New York State Chess Association Congress 1892. It was regarded as a novel conception at the time, but in fact it was not so, as though in this case Loyd had treated the idea laterally (using rooks), he had worked it out in 1889 with bishops. I take the dates from A. C. White's Sam Loyd and his chess problems.

(20) S. Loyd

New York Sunday Herald, 1889


Mate in 2

It was not until April 1919 when Dr. Schumer wrote an article entitled “Reversed Themes” for the British Chess Magazine, that it was noticed that Loyd's 1892 problem had been materially anticipated by one of mine published in the Morning Post in 1885.

(21) B. G. Laws

Morning Post, 5th January 1885


Mate in 2

It would be needless to say on comparing the two positions; Loyd's is the superior problem. Knowing the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the American it is easy to understand that he himself thought out the scheme and presented it in a form so different to mine, and in ignorance of the latter's existence.

In 1907, on the initiative of Godfrey Heathcote, I was the recipient of a testimonial (accompanied by a substantial cheque subscribed by problem admirers) which was stated to be a tribute to: “Your great and disinterested services to chess”, and “as a proof of the friendly esteem in which you are held by your confrères in the problem world”.

This testimonial is among my cherished possessions, but I confess to finding it difficult in the glare of adulation to recognize my modest self.

Up to this date this was the sole instance of such a recognition. Since then however, a far more extensive mark of esteem has very properly been shown to Alain C. White which took the form of a presentation Album. This was in 1922. The idea was Dr. Schumer's and he with A. Guest, P. H. Williams and myself as a committee carried out the work of collecting the material, corresponding with Caissa's brotherhood throughout the world and completing the arrangements. Mr. White acknowledged this token by issuing a special number of the Good Companion Chess Club magazine, Our Folder.

While H. J. R. Murray the Oriental scholar was getting together material for his great work The History of Chess, he asked if I would look over two small books of problems published in recent times in India (the letter-press was Sanskrit) as he had some misgivings respecting the true origin of the problems which bore the names of natives. In one book of 32 positions I found 31 by European and American problemists - one of them being by myself. As to the other I had a presentiment that it had also appeared in the press but I could not locate it. In the second booklet, containing fewer positions, I detected some barefaced audacious claims to authorship by the Indians. By these discoveries Mr. Murray was spared question concerning the authenticity of his illustrations.

Some time before the War I used to meet the master player Richard Teichmann for the purpose of exchanging views on chess problems. He is the author of some fine positions and one of the readiest solvers it has been my lot to know.

At one of our early meetings he showed me a few choice problems from his stock which he had memorised for display purposes whenever he found an assembly who were likely to be interested. One of his pet show pieces was this five-move self-mate of mine which he set up for me to solve! He was tickled when he learnt I was responsible for the grotesque self-locking of the white pieces.

(22) B. G. Laws


Selfmate in 5

One evening, shortly after returning from the Continent, he put up this six-move self-mate. I do not know the author's name; perhaps he did not mention it (the composer was W. A. Shinkman).

(23) W. A. Shinkman


Selfmate in 6

I sat down to unravel the enigma. Teichmann told those of us who were present that it had recently been submitted at a solving competition abroad, the winner having taken 90 minutes. I managed it in 10 minutes according to his timing. It is a beauty of its kind.

Speaking of solving, though I habitually solve a large number of the problems which come under my notice, it is many years since I was engaged in a tourney. On a few occasions I have entered over-the-board competitions with success. The last was at the congress of the British Chess Federation at Westminster 1922 which proved to be a lesson and I refer to it as it may serve as useful advice to those likely to take part in similar contests. Four problems were given to solve in ninety minutes. In my eagerness to hand in my paper early I rushed off the lot in 18 minutes. I soon afterwards learnt that one of the two-movers had a second solution which I had not looked for. At the close of time J. Keeble was found busy writing out his findings. He explained to me his experience (and he had had considerable) taught him to take the full time allowance, because something might turn up at the eleventh hour. He was right in this instance. He had in the first place found the cook to the unsound two-mover, and scenting it was not the author's intention set to work to get the latter, which he eventually did. He told me that had he discovered the true solution in the first instance, he most likely would have missed the other. Therefore, hasten slowly.

My notes would be incomplete if I omitted to refer to the many enjoyable evenings spent with the late Dr. J. W. Hunt. He was not a composer, but as chess editor in turn of East Central Times, Hackney Mercury, Brighton Society and Hampstead and Highgate Express took a lively interest in problems. He promoted and conducted at his own expense a number of composing and solving competitions which were most successful by reason of the number and quality of entries contributed from all over the world and the excellent band of solvers he enlisted.

At his house I have met, among others whose names have faded from me, J. T. Andrews, Walter Gleave, Ethelbert Holt, James Rayner, J. Stent, T. Taverner and P.H. Williams. Whenever a provincial notable was expected to be in London, the doctor would invite him to one of his little gatherings at which I was invariably present. When he was not entertaining he and I alternately visited our respective homes weekly.

It was a loss to our art when he had to abandon chess after he acquired an extensive medical practice which denied him the relaxation of his choice. He always hoped to come back to the fold, but unfortunately died (I believe at Wolverhampton) a few years ago without realizing his hopes.

Some fifteen years ago Godfrey Heathcote occasionally came to London, when he took the opportunity of seeing me. At one of our meetings he set up a three-mover he had just finished. To his surprise I altered the position a little to agree with the result I had previously arrived at, but without the aid of a black dummy pawn it was unsound. I was anxious to retain a sporty variation which was not in his. He at once decided to efface his work, hoping I should get mine right, as to which he had doubts. He was correct; I never succeeded.

(24) B. G. Laws


Mate in 3

My experience in chess editing commenced about 1880-81 when the late James Pierce (who was about to travel for the benefit of his health) asked me to take over as locum tenens his column in the English Mechanic. I carried this on for over twelve months when he resumed office.

Less than two years after, I succeeded Frank Healey as problem editor of the Chess Players' Chronicle, then published weekly. As in the case of Healey, my name did not appear, and this is the first time the fact is made known.

For some months I conducted the chess in a magazine with the title “Our Corner”. This I handed over to I. Gunsberg. This publication was short-lived.

On the death of Dr. Zukertort in 1888 I undertook the problem department of the Chess Monthly until it ceased ten years afterwards.

James Rayner, the problem editor of the British Chess Magazine, died in June 1898, and from the following month to this date I have been in charge of the problem pages of this monthly - nearly 26 years. For two years last past I have had the valuable co-operation of G. W. Chandler, our able and popular secretary.

For some months before its collapse I was responsible for the chess in The Public School Magazine.

It hardly seems credible that so harmless a pursuit as the chess problem art could ever form the subject of litigation. Unfortunately I have been directly and indirectly concerned in a few matters where proceedings were taken or threatened.

The first was one where I. M. Brown and myself were plaintiffs; but the case was settled to our satisfaction without going to trial.

In another, I was called as a witness on behalf of the successful plaintiff, examined and cross-examined at length. I often wondered how the jury enjoyed the technicalities! As to the shorthand writer, goodness knows what he thought! A ludicrous demand was made by a composer some years ago that if a certain sum was not paid him by the British Chess Magazine forthwith, he would bring an action for libel. Nothing more was heard from the impudent adventurer after he received a letter from me asking for the name and address of his solicitor!

There is I believe an action now pending connected with chess in which I have made an affidavit; it would not however be discreet to give details at this stage.

The episode of my broadcasting an address or “talk” on “The Art of the Chess Problem” is no doubt known to all of you. I confess that I feel some complacency in being the first to radio a chess subject.

The Times wrote of the incident: “There was an item in last Saturday's broadcast programme which marks an entirely new departure in that increasingly popular means of communication. We refer to the intimation that Mr. B. G. Laws would speak on ‘The Art of the Chess Problem’. It is entirely fitting that the President of the British Chess Problem Society should be the first chosen to broadcast his views on the art he knows so well; and it may be added he made his explanations of the positions selected convincingly clear....”

There was one rather amusing incident which originated in the studio. The announcer gave my name as B. C. Laws. In an undertone which I thought was inaudible to the outside world, I said “B. G. Laws, but it doesn't matter”. To my surprise on meeting my friend George Walpole two days after, he told me he had not only “listened in”, but had taken a verbatim note of my turn and had even caught those few sotto voce words intended only for the ears of the announcer.

It will be remembered by most of us that H.W. Butler of Brighton established in 1917 “The Sussex Chess Problem Fraternity”. In the spring of the following year the members held a meeting in London to which several of us were invited. The formation of a larger organization embracing the whole of the British Isles was then mooted. The result was that a committee consisting of H. D'O. Bernard, H. W. Butler, Stanley Smith, P. H. Williams and myself was appointed to carry out the project. After a number of conferences and much work our present Society was founded in August 1918. I had the honour of being elected the first President and am proud that by your grace I have been able to retain the office. The progress of our Society has been steady and only by increasing the membership can we expect to carry out the programmes which our ambitions hope to see materialized.

Every one will agree that Dr. J. J. O'Keefe is the finest all round composer Australia has produced. It was my good fortune in December 1918 to meet him in London. I believe I am the only English problemist who has had that pleasure. In his patriotism he “shut down” his surgery in order to voluntarily render professional service to the Motherland during the War. It was agreeable news to him when he learnt his ship's destination after the Armistice was England as he had never before visited our shores. His sojourn here was however of only a few days' duration and this was to him a little disappointing. It meant a lot to be crowded in the short space of time, and gave him no leisure for correspondence. He wired inviting me to dine with him. We had – or at least I had – a most pleasant evening. Full of bonhomie and anecdote, he proved a delightful companion. It appeared he was anxious to meet me in the flesh and remarked that in coming to London he neither wanted to see Royalty nor Lloyd George but only B.G.L. Dr. O'Keefe was the first overseas member of our Society.

I should not be surprised to know that everyone present here this evening possesses what may be considered my crowning literary and instructive effort connected with the art: Chess problems and how to solve them, which was published last year. I have no remarks to offer concerning this book beyond tendering my appreciative thanks, particularly to W. H. Thompson, who wrote the splendid preface, and to all those who have volunteered favourable expressions of its contents, whether by correspondence or otherwise. I have received nothing but what is commendatory. The press review were such that I could not have inspired better. I only hope that the modest work will prove to be as H.D'O. Bernard wrote of it in the British Chess Magazine: "a standard text-book on the subject for many years".

If in my somewhat long devotion to the art, no exciting events have happened, some of the personal incidents I have related may be a little out of the common.

Sustaining, almost continuously, an interest in matters relative to the chess problem for nearly half a century I have enjoyed the variety afforded. Composing, solving, judging, corresponding, writing and making friends of those with kindred propensities, have been the principal charms and they have been considerable.

It has always afforded me pleasure to initiate and guide as best I could those willing to receive instruction and seek advice. I feel on looking back on my career the hobby of my adoption has been well chosen. One would think that with a sedentary occupation chess would not be very captivating, but I have found probably as much intellectual enjoyment and refreshment as the devotees of any other artistic pursuit. I linger in silent reflection over the happy moments which the chess problem and its associated attractions have engaged and entertained me in my leisure and during periods of indisposition. May new composers arise to invent and create thus assisting in making brighter the intellectuals of this prosy world.

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