04 May

Across The Board

Chess is back on the airwaves all of this week, as Dominic Lawson, the former Fleet Street editor and columnist, returns to host a third series of Across the Board on BBC Radio 4 (Mon-Fri, 12.04pm BST), as he interviews five personalities over the chessboard whom the game of chess has touched in its own way. The unusual and relaxing format has made this an unlikely gem of a show.  


Lawson, who is a strong club player, is also the elected president of the English Chess Federation. The new series starts on the final day of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield, and fittingly, his first guest will be the six-time snooker champion Steve Davis who, like the host, is also a chess aficionado and former chess association president.

Other guest on the show during the week will be: former world champion-turned-human rights campaigner, Garry Kasparov; US chess patron and financier Rex Sinquefield; English author and historian Antony Beevor; and former Fleet Street editor and CNN broadcaster Piers Morgan. For those overseas, you can listen to all of the shows on demand at the BBC iPlayer Across the Board page.

A popular previous BBC radio chess series ran on Network Three from 1958 to 1964 and included talks, master vs listener games and interviews. The star-turn was a consultation game where Bobby Fischer - playing alongside Leonard Barden - met the two top English masters, Jonathan Penrose and Peter Clarke, the only such game Fischer ever played.

But after eight hours of play the studio time ran out. Fischer claimed a win that was disputed by his opponents. The unfinished game was eventually adjudicated by Dr Max Euwe, the former world champion, as a draw - much to Fischer’s annoyance. Fischer’s £50 fee for taking part in the show paid for his his first Savile Row suit!

Fischer/Barden - Penrose/Clarke
BBC Radio, 1961
Sicilian Scheveningen, Keres Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.g4 The Keres Attack - a very aggressive mode of early attack invented by the great Soviet player Paul Keres. 6...h6 7.h3 Nc6 8.Be3 Bd7 9.Qd2 Nxd4 10.Qxd4 Qa5 11.0-0-0 Bc6 12.Kb1 Be7 13.Bg2 0-0 14.Qd2 Rfd8 15.Nd5 A common trick in such positions - and usually much more lethal if Black hasn't as yet moved his rook on f8! 15...Qxd2 16.Nxe7+ Kf8 17.Bxd2 Kxe7 18.Rhe1 Rac8 19.c4 Putting a stop to Black having any ideas of a freeing d5 in the future - White wants to build-up pressure on the d6 pawn. 19...Nd7 20.b3 e5 21.Be3 Nc5 22.f3 b6 23.h4 Ne6 24.Bf1! White's pawns on the kingside are all now secure, so the bishop is re-routed to Black's weak queenside. 24...f6 25.h5 Be8 26.Kb2 Bf7 27.a4 Black is forever doomed to defending - but can White successfully find a breakthrough? Another possible option was 27.Rd2 and doubling on the d-file - but Black can easily defend d6. 27...Rb8 28.a5 Nc5 29.Ra1 Rd7 30.Kc3 Another try was 30.a6 b5! 31.cxb5 Nxb3 32.Ra3 Nc5 33.Rc1 but even here, there's not much to play for, as the kingside is blockaded allowing Black to muster all his pieces to prop up the queenside. 30...bxa5 31.Bxc5 dxc5 32.Rxa5 Rc7 33.Rea1 It is very difficult for White to make progress, because to do so, involves more exchanges of pawns on the queenside reducing the pressure for the Black side. 33...Rbb7 34.Rb1 Be8 35.b4 cxb4+ 36.Rxb4 Rxb4 37.Kxb4 Rb7+ 38.Kc3 Bf7 39.Bd3 Kd7 40.c5 The only way to play for the win. Now, if White can orchestrate an exchange of the bishops, it's more than likely a win. But Black can cut across this idea for now. 40...Rb3+ 41.Kc2 Rb7 42.Bb5+ Kd8 43.Bc6 Rc7 44.Bd5 Be8 45.Kb3 Bd7 46.Kc4 Ke7 (See Diagram) And here, Euwe adjudicated the game as a draw - much to Fischer’s disappointment! I have no doubt that if Fischer was left to finish the game across the board, he would have ground down his opponents to secure the win. Euwe published his analysis in a German magazine in 1962. Barden says that “Bobby flipped over the variations with a glazed look, then said, ‘Why do they have to publish such boring analysis?’ I guess that was his way of accepting the draw.”

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