JOHN BROWN

web counter

THE FORGOTTEN CHESS COMPOSER?

 

    BY BRIAN GOSLING

 

Since receiving and admiring  the booklet published as a forerunner to this book, I have awaited with some impatience and trepidation for the complete book.  Trepidation?  Yes, I was concerned that the booklet contained the best extracts and the remainder in the full published book would perforce have to be more humdrum.  Thankfully, this is not so. The book, recently published is a treasure.

My previous experience of problems and endgame studies was A. J. Roycroft's "Test Tube Chess", but this left me bemused by the unique language of the subject and the complexity of the examples.  Since then, and until now, my interest in the matter has been cursory and solely confined to positions that may have arisen in actual play.  However, Brian's book has opened my eyes.  His starting point was somewhat more educated than mine but this was no problem to me as his explanations are simply stated and easy to understand.  Now the word "Grimshaw" in this context is no longer a mystery to me.  Previously I had wondered what the devil the eminent Victorian artist, famous for his moonlit scenes, had to do with chess compositions! 

Born in 1827, John Brown lived in the period when the scions of "respectable" families had merely the choice of a military or church career.  At the time, the Wesleyan Methodist Church was rapidly expanding and JB's family were staunch supporters of the movement, so it seemed almost in the natural course of events that he entered the ministry and was voted as a fit person in 1847.  Following a period of three years of study, he was received into the Theological Institute at Richmond where he continued his studies for a further three years.  However, this career did not last long as after just one year's practice, he retired from the Methodist Ministry and became a member of the Established Church.  In 1863 he took employment as a coal merchant's clerk and lived in Kentish Town, London.  It was during this latter period of his life that his interest in chess composition was realised and publication of his studies appeared in various chess columns including Staunton's in the "Illustrated London News".  A victim of tuberculosis, he died in Bridport in 1863 at the early age of 36.  Very shortly after his death, "Chess Strategy" was published, being a collection of chess compositions constructed by JB.  This appears to be be mainly instigated by Howard Staunton himself. It is this publication that forms the basis of Brian Gosling's recent book "John Brown, The Forgotten Chess Composer"  in which 50 of his most important studies are reproduced.

Normally all one sees of chess composition, is a diagram with the position set up and a curt instruction that" White is to play and mate in x moves."  The real beauty of composition lies in an explanation of the solution and the variations.  This is where Brian's book excels as he takes every opportunity to explain and bring to the fore the underlying beauty in a succinct and compelling manner.

To illustrate this technique, I offer the following extract from the book:

No. 13 (CS31)

   This is a well-known miniature problem quoted many times.  It first appeared in the Illustrated London News (1854).  Benjamin G. Laws in his The Two move Chess Problem (1901) used this example to illustrate the work of J.B. of Bridport "....whose representations of single chess thoughts were usually remarkable for simplicity and delicacy of setting."  This book was probably one of the most popular ever written on chess problems.

 

 

 

HINT: The key piece moves to another file and threatens checkmate in one move,

     White to mate in three moves.

The above appears on page 83 of "John Brown: The Forgotten Chess Composer? and the following solution on page 152.

"Not every three-mover is an extended two-mover. C46 was clearly conceived as a three-mover, even if the second move follows every Black reply.  The excellent key is 1.Ra1, and 2.Bc6 now leaves Black helpless.  In CS14, the startling key 1.Rc5 concedes two flights, but threatens 2.Rc6 which also deals with 1. ...Kd4; 1. ...Ke3 2.Rc2 provides a neat counterpart.  In CS31, the key 1.Rh1 threatens a short mate, but neither BK move prevents it, and we get attractive play after both 1. ...Ke3 2.Rh4 and 1. ...Kc3 2.Rh2."

Note: CS refers to "Chess Strategy."

Quite apart from the 50 studies chosen, the book is crammed with further information on the language of chess composition and the background to the period in which JB lived.  Of  particular interest is the influence that Howard Staunton brought to bear on popularising the art of chess compositions via his column in the Illustrated London News.  This column had a world-wide appeal to readers and so brought the value of problems to the attention of many chess players.  Staunton used much of JB's work in his column and was instrumental in bringing about the publication of "Chess Strategy."

"John Brown, The Forgotten Chess Composer" is printed and bound by TJ International of Padstow, Cornwall so the entire publication has a West Country flavour.  Mention must be made of the printing which is clearly made in single column format with a good size font and many diagrams and photographs.  There are 209 pages, very attractively brought together in a well designed cover which makes the book a pleasure to handle.

All this goes to show the loving care that the author has brought to bear in presenting this very well-worth publication.  The extent of his research into the subject is awesome and must have taken many hours to travel and study in the corners of libraries throughout the country.

At a recommended price of 10 this makes the book even more attractive to purchase and adorn the shelves of all chess players.

Should the book run to a second edition, there can be no doubt that the sub-title will be quite superfluous.

Bill Frost

October 2011