By John Foley
with documentary research from David Rowson
Table of Contents
Kingston Chess Club has enjoyed a golden period only once every half a century. Kingston won Surrey honours in 1924-32, the mid-1970s and now in the early 2020s it has surpassed previous competitive successes. The club has a knack of surviving and thriving. This article sets out a brief history of Kingston Chess Club based upon the few items in the club’s possession such as club newsletters and engraved trophies and by reference to newspaper archives and public records, many of which have been reproduced in the archives to this website. This is the first time that the material has been collated and placed within a historical narrative. For convenience, story has been divided into periods according to the prevailing name of the club: Kingston Chess Club (1875/80-1914); Thames Valley Chess Club (1914-30); Kingston and Thames Valley Chess Club (1930-2015); and Kingston Chess Club (2015-).
FOUNDING OF KINGSTON CHESS CLUB
The origins of the chess club
The origins of Kingston Chess Club date to the final quarter of the 19th century. There is documentary evidence that the club was established in 1880, if not before. Club tradition holds that the starting date was 1875, but evidence supporting this claim is weaker. We can try to unravel these apparently contradictory claims.
Evidence for 1880 founding
The key source of information for a founding date of 1880 is from the Surrey Comet (24 August 1880):
The chess club was one of the activities provided by the Working Men’s Club which had recently been established in Kingston. The Club was active on the chess scene a couple of years later because it is listed in The Chess Player’s Annual and Club Directory, edited by W.R. Bland and published in 1882. The entry for Kingston Chess Club gives the date of its founding as 1880.
The Club had a president and a secretary and met regularly at the Institute – and members who paid a subscription. A complement of 18 is a healthy membership even today. This profile fits the modern definition of a chess club – a group of players meeting regularly at a proper venue with a formal governance structure.
Club tradition – 1875
The earliest source of evidence for the club being operation in the 1870s is from an article in the Surrey Comet (see archives 14 June 1947) which states that Kingston and Thames Valley Chess Club “has been the mainstay of Thames Valley chess since the eighteen seventies”. This shows that the club’s traditional claim for 1875 extends back to at least 1947.
The source of evidence for precisely 1875 is from Bill Waterton, a long-time club official, who ran the club’s centenary celebration in 1975. The literature produced for the celebration included newly printed scoresheets which claimed that the club was founded in 1875. It is reasonable to surmise that the club would not have made this claim and incurred printing costs unless it had reasonable grounds for believing that 1875 was the founding date.
At the Kingston and Working Men’s Institute inaugural meeting in March 1879 it was mentioned that they had met the previous year at “Bridge Foot”. This presumably refers to a building near Kingston Bridge which had outlived its usefulness. Insofar as the activities continued at the Institute, it is reasonable to infer that there was precursor activity in 1879, and possibly even earlier that date, because the Bridge Foot was an old building. Hence, it is possible that chess was being played at the Bridge Foot.
We may draw a distinction between a gathering of gaming enthusiasts and a chess club. A chess club needs certain characteristics to satisfy modern definitional standards. In particular, chess needs to be the primary activity, not just one game amongst others; there needs to be a regular venue; and there needs to be a sufficient number of regular members, preferably paying a subscription. An indication of the diverse activities undertaken by a working men’s club may be gleaned from an entry in the Surrey Comet of 4 March 1882.
The working men’s clubs engaged in matches involving chess, draughts, dominoes, bagatelle and cards. Chess was just one of many activities. In order to support the claim that chess was being played in Kingston prior to 1880, it is necessary to provide some context on the rapid population growth of Kingston at this time and also the developments in the chess world which would have excited the public to participate in this fast-expanding game.
The urban development of Kingston (1863-94)
Kingston was the capital of England during the Saxon period just over a thousand years ago – the name means King’s Town. Several Saxon kings were crowned there including Æthelred the Unready (the obvious club patron). It is officially known as the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames due to its many royal connections. Kingston is important logistically because it sits at the intersection between the ancient kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia. It has the second bridge to be built over the river Thames after London Bridge and lies on the road from London to Portsmouth, the seat of the Royal Navy.
During the latter part of the 19th century, Kingston was undergoing rapid development and population growth following the construction of the railway station in 1863, which was in 1869 connected to the South West mainline. A military barracks (“The Barracks”) was built on what was then agricultural land in 1875 as part of the Cardwell Reforms to localise British forces by linking regiments to districts. This depot recruited many young men into Kingston, and the East Surrey Regiment was formed in 1881. In 1893 Kingston became the seat of Surrey County Council, bringing civic managers into the town.
The link between Kingston Chess Club and urban development is manifest in the person of Arthur Windybank (1858-1941), who was secretary of the club in 1880 when he was only 22 years old. He was an architect by profession and designed Nos. 4 and 6 Park Road, known as Wilton Villas, built in 1894 and now part of a conservation area. This is only 400 yards from the club’s current venue, the Willoughby Arms.
The growing popularity of chess (1866-1914)
As the industrial revolution progressed and the middle class emerged, chess moved out of the drawing rooms of the aristocracy to become a game for the general public. English players such as Joseph Blackburne, Amos Burn, Henry Bird, James Mason and others achieved considerable success in international tournaments. From 1866 until 1894 the world champion Wilhelm Steinitz never lost a match. He defeated Johannes Zukertort (1842-88) +7 =4 -1 in 1872 and Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924), the English champion and the most brilliant player of this time, 7-0 in 1876. Steinitz was the founder of the influential “Modern School”, which emphasised positional strategy over tactics.
In England, chess took off in the decade from 1870. In 1871, the first county match was played (Yorkshire v Lancashire). In 1873 the first official over-the-board Varsity chess match took place at the City of London Chess Club. In the New York tournament of 1876, Bird received the first ever brilliancy prize for his game against Mason. Mason was at one point engaged to Florence Nightingale, a pillar of society. The first telephone game was held in 1878.
This momentum culminated in a major chess tournament being held in London in spring 1883 which brought together the finest players of the day. It was won by Zukertort, who went on in 1886 to challenge Steinitz for the world championship but was again unsuccessful in match play. The tournament book stands out from earlier ones because of the analytical annotations. In the autumn of 1883, the Surrey County Chess Association was formed. Croydon was the first winner of the Surrey Trophy in 1884. In the same year, the British Chess Magazine started and continues to this day.
By 1893, Kingston Working Men’s Club included chess as one of the games when they visited Esher for a multi-game match (Surrey Comet 25 November 1893). Other games included cribbage, whist, billiards, bagatelle and dominoes.
The notable Kingston player, R. P. Michell (see below) was playing for Hammersmith against Battersea in 1895 (Morning Post 4 February 1895). It is possible that he had yet to join Kingston. 1895 also saw one of the greatest tournaments of all time at Hastings, which brought together the world’s top players and which was won by the unknown 22-year-old American Harry Pillsbury.
In its early years, the existence of the Kingston Chess Club was borderline – it appeared and disappeared more than once. We find this notice from 1910: “A movement is on foot to form a chess club for Kingston, and all local players are invited to communicate with Mr. F. Lewington of Fieldhead, Beaufort-rd” (The Surrey Advertiser and County Times of 8/10/1910). It seems Mr Lewington (1857-1926), a printer from Surbiton, was successful because a town directory from the same year reads: “Kingston on Thames Chess Club, Thames Valley Cafe, Clarence Street, Wed & Sat, F. Lewington, hon.sec.”
We do not know what happened between 1882 and 1910. However it is clear that the club was sufficiently revived by 1912 because George Cave (1st Viscount Cave), was president of Kingston Chess Club. He was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Kingston, and went on to become Home Secretary and then Lord Chancellor. He opened the British Chess Congress which was held in Richmond in 1912.
As is customary in chess history, it is necessary to state that we might have known more about the early years but for the destruction of the National Chess Centre in Oxford Street on 23 September 1940 due to enemy bombing. It was also the new home of the City of London Chess Club. Many chess archives were lost when the library burned down.
Discussion of the origin story
The two sources of information – club tradition and a contemporary club listing – imply founding dates which are merely five years apart. There are some reasons to continue to entertain the possibility that the founding date was earlier than 1880.
Kingston Chess Club officials have been convinced for decades about the 1875 starting date. Given the character of the club officials, who were otherwise punctilious in administrative affairs, we should not dismiss their claim lightly. Even if the claim was transmitted through word of mouth, its lineage and consistency should be acknowledged.
A viable club does not arise overnight but gradually accumulates members over several years. Club formation is a process rather than an event: our hypothesis is that chess was being played informally in 1875 but only became firmly established by 1880. During the 1870s there was rapid development in Kingston and an increase in population. People were eager to play games and sports. Gradually, as more people participated, they would have have formalised their playing arrangements and sought a more salubrious environment – the Institute – which was established by 1880.
There may be an alternative explanation for the two founding dates. This relates to the merger between Thames Valley Chess Club and Kingston Chess Club in 1914 (see below). The newly named club may have inherited whichever was the earlier founding date. The history of Kingston Chess Club may be bound up with other informal local clubs. The complex matter of historic club founding and naming is explored further here.
In relation to the lack of contemporary documentary evidence, we can do no better than refer to the eminent chess historian H.J.R. Murray:
Documentary evidence, however, is not the only type of evidence; if it were, much that is universally and rightly accepted as historical would have to be rejected as insufficiently supported by the evidence. In the case of chess, as in other ethnological matters, the evidence of nomenclature, and the comparative evidence obtained by the comparison of varieties of chess existing in different parts of the world, help us to penetrate the darkness of the centuries lying behind the first contemporary references to the game.
Introduction A Short History of Chess 1917 (reprinted, Ishi Press International, New York, 2015)
Murray was referring to the global history of chess, but his insights into the required methodology for studying origins remain valid. The club will continue to research this matter, not least with respect to our club forefathers.
THAMES VALLEY CHESS CLUB (1914-30)
The Thames Valley (Teddington) Chess Club was a club nearby to Kingston. We know that in 1908, it was a thriving club running internal competitions with prize money derived from club subscriptions. In that year, the club was pleased to be joined by William Ward (1867-1920). Ward had lost a match to the American champion Frank James Marshall in 1902 (+2 =0 -4). He went on to win the City of London Chess Club Championship in 1906 and again three times between 1909 and 1911. He finished second equal at both the 1905 and the 1908 British championships, each time behind Henry Ernest Atkins (rating 2580), who won the British championship every year between 1905 and 1911. Atkins dashed the hopes of many Kingston players, as we shall see below.
The Thames Valley (Teddington) Chess Club and the Kingston upon Thames Chess Club amalgamated to form the Thames Valley Chess Club on 14 October 1914, according to formal club records. This was shortly after the outbreak of the first world war, when leisure activities such as chess were put into the background. Subsequently, the club met in various locations around Kingston, initially at the Scotch Café, Kingston Bridge and then at Ye Olde Poste House near the Market Square from 1927.
The Thames Valley Chess Club was an active member of the Surrey League, winning the Surrey Trophy (i.e. division 1) in the 1924-25 season for the first time. In 1924, 1925 and 1928 it also won the Alexander Cup, the premier Surrey club knockout tournament. The team was very strong, containing the notable stalwarts R.P. Michell and J.H. Blake on boards 1 and 2. It should be noted that Surrey League division 1 chess was played in central London so that players could get in a game before the commute home. This is nowadays the arrangement for the London Chess League, while Surrey League division 1 chess is played locally.
KINGSTON AND THAMES VALLEY CHESS CLUB (1930-2015)
The Blake-Michell-Khan era (1930-50)
In 1930-31, the club changed its name to the Kingston & Thames Valley Chess Club. This binomial nomenclature reflected both its specific and general location. This may have been required because several other clubs, including those along the Thames Valley, had been formed in the 1920s and Kingston needed to be distinguished from these.
In 1931-32, the year after it changed its name, the Kingston & Thames Valley Chess Club did the “double”, winning both the Surrey Trophy and the Alexander Cup, as the Thames Valley Club had in 1924-25. This feat was not achieved again until 50 years later in 1974/75, and there was then another nearly 50-year gap before Kingston achieved the double again in 2022/23.
Kingston was fortunate to regularly field two of the leading English players of the first half of the 20th century whose careers overlapped, although they both joined Kingston after their prime. R.P. Michell was club champion every year from 1931 to 1938. J.H. Blake was club champion from 1942 to 1949. Remarkably, Blake was aged 90 when he won his final club championship. We may sketch the careers of some of the leading Kingston players of the era.
Joseph Henry Blake (1859-1951) published a book on endgames, Chess Endings for Beginners, in 1900. He lost the British championship in a play-off match in 1909 against H.E. Atkins. He was the British correspondence chess champion in 1922. In that same year, he won the Kingston club knockout tournament and gave a simultaneous display (won 15, drew 1, lost 6) against 22 players of the Thames Valley Club (Source: Surrey Comet, 14 October 1922).
There is a magnificent king hunt attributed to Blake in 1891 which has been lauded in chess anthologies, but chess historians have cast doubt on whether it was correctly attributed and it may have been analysis. At Hastings, he scored wins against Fred Yates (rated 2472 at his peak, according to retrospective Edo calculations) and Edgard Colle (2481), and drew with Géza Maróczy (2681). These games were played in the early 1920s when Blake was already in his sixties.
Reginald Pryce Michell (1873-1938) was British amateur champion in 1902 and played for Great Britain in the inaugural 1927 Olympiad in London, scoring +4, =4, -5, and in the 1933 Olympiad in Folkestone, scoring +0, =5, -4. He played in eight England v USA cable matches between 1901 and 1911. He participated in the Hastings Premier for more than 20 years, defeating both Sultan Khan and Vera Menchik (2383) in 1932/33. He finished second, third and fourth in the British championship (which was officially constituted in 1904), defeating H.E. Atkins on several occasions.
E.G. Sergeant wrote of him: “Michell’s courtesy as a chess opponent was proverbial, and on the rare occasions when he lost he always took as much interest in playing the game over afterwards as when he had won, and never made excuses for losing. Of all my opponents, surely he was the most imperturbable. Onlookers might chatter, whisper, fall off chairs, make a noise of any kind, and it seemed not to disturb him; even when short of time, he just sat with his hands between his knees, thinking, thinking.” Michell’s wife Edith (maiden name Edith Mary Ann Tapsell) was British women’s champion in 1931 (jointly), 1932 and 1935, and played alongside him for Kingston & Thames Valley. Julius du Mont, the former editor of British Chess Magazine, wrote a biography of Michell published by Pitman in 1947.
Blake and Michell were equally matched. The website chessgames.com shows seven games between them played between 1908 and 1926. Five were during the British championships, one was at Hastings and one was the City of London Chess club championship. Michell was the winner 4-2, with one draw. The estimated ratings of the players were 2436 for Blake and 2439 for Michell, which would place them both as strong international masters.
Mir Sultan Khan was a member of Kingston & Thames Valley as well as the Imperial Chess Club. He played several county matches for Middlesex and later for Surrey. He came to London in 1928 with a delegation from Punjab in what is now Pakistan. His chess career in England only lasted five years but caused a sensation. He was British chess champion on three occasions (1929, 1932 and 1933). He won with 8/11 points in 1929, a point above Michell, who came second. He finally returned home in 1933. The Kingston & Thames Valley club secretary R.N. Coles wrote of him: “He was always charming and congenial company, though he never became acclimatised to or happy about our climate.” Unfortunately, we do not have extant records of his time at the club.
Sultan Khan was regarded as one of the 10 best players in the world, with an estimated rating of 2530, strong enough to be considered a grandmaster. However, he was never awarded the grandmaster title by Fide when it was first conferred in 1950. The present officers of Kingston Chess Club believe this to be unjust, and support the retrospective award of the grandmaster title to Sultan Khan.
Edward Guthlac Sergeant OBE (1881-1961) was a distinguished tax lawyer and author who came to live in Teddington in 1923. He was a strong player (2377) who came second alongside R.P. Michell and Blackburne behind Atkins in the 1907 British championship.
The club continued to meet during the second world war (1939-45), although Surrey League matches were suspended. According to our account books, the club was still collecting subscriptions. Dr T. W. Letchworth (obituary) was club president, and in 1941, after the club’s regular venue had been bombed, it met in his living room until what passed for normal service in wartime could resume at Penrhyn House. In 1943 Dr Letchworth won the club championship. In 1947 J.E. Redon triumphed. Jack Redon (1905-94) was an artist who designed the logo of the British Chess Federation. He went on to play for Richmond and Twickenham.
Convivial league chess (1950-70)
The formation of the Thames Valley League in 1947 marked a significant increase in playing opportunities. Members could participate in not only the club championship and the Surrey League but also play further afield against other clubs in the Thames Valley. Indeed, the club still participates only in these two leagues. The club offered convivial social and league chess. Although there were few conspicuous competitive successes, the number of members grew and the club met eventually twice a week on Monday and Thursday evenings.
K F H (Kenneth “Ken”) Inwood (1936-) was a mainstay of the club for 70 years. He won the London under-14 and under-18 titles before becoming the British boys’ champion at Hastings in 1953. He was board 1 for England in the Glorney Cup, the junior team tournament for the British Isles. Ken was for many years the top board of the first team, with a rating of over 200 ECF. He was club treasurer for decades, always ready to tap a member on their shoulder with a gentle reminder about subscriptions. He never failed to visit Hastings each year to spectate at the long-running tournament. A modest man, his other hobby was motorcycling and he had several times raced in the Isle of Man TT.
John Nunn (1955-) played for the club as a junior and won the club championship in 1969 and 1970, the year he went up to Oxford University at the age of 15 to read mathematics. His father had been treasurer of the club. Nunn junior rarely played for the club after that. He was awarded honorary life membership by the club on account of his contribution and eminence in chess. John won the British under-14, London under-18 and European junior titles, becoming a grandmaster in 1978 and British champion in 1980. With a peak rating of 2630, he became the sixth highest-ranked player in the world with a string of international tournament victories. He represented England on numerous occasions, won the world chess problem-solving championship three times, was world senior (65+) champion and came second in the European senior championship. John is a prolific chess author and in 1987 co-wrote the book Secrets of Grandmaster Play with another Kingston member, P. C. Griffiths (2275). He made a surprise reappearance for Kingston in the 2018 final of the Alexander Cup.
The Fischer-Spassky world championship match in 1972 stimulated both public interest in chess and the growth in club membership – the Fischer boom. No club benefited more than Kingston. 1975 was the club’s annus mirabilis, mainly due to the efforts of the then president W E (Bill) Waterton. He organised a series of high-profile events to commemorate what the club believed to be its centenary. Particularly notable was a grand dinner in conjunction with Kingston Council.
After a gap of half a century, in the season 1974-75, Kingston once again won the Surrey Trophy for coming top of the first division in the Surrey League and did the feted “double” by winning the Alexander Cup (the knockout competition for Surrey teams). This resounding success matched our achievement in 1924-25 and 1931-32 – a delight for everyone at the club in its centenary year and testament to Waterton’s sure-footed stewardship.
1975 was also the year in which the Surrey Chess Congress was launched, organised by Waterton and Martin Cath from South Norwood. The first edition took place at Coombe Girls School. Bill called upon the services of his four daughters over several years to assist with running the congress.
The club was held together by Waterton, together with stalwarts Ken Inwood (long-time treasurer), Chris Clegg and David Rowson, all of whom had attended Tiffin School in Kingston, and Peter Roche. Nick Grey was also a crucial figure in the organisation of the club in the 1990s and 2000s, and remains an active member in the 2020s, putting together the complicated jigsaw that is the annual fixture list. Kingston won the first division of the Thames Valley League in 1984. There were 30 rated members listed in the club newsletter in 1985. These would have been supplemented by other unrated and social players.
Bill Waterton managed the club well over three decades – we still have his ledgers and AGM minutes, all meticulously kept. It was an enormous advantage that the club venue was the same from 1972 until 2003 – the Friends’ Meeting House in Eden Street. The twin continuity of club president and venue enabled the club to prosper during this period. Furthermore, Bill Waterton was president of the Surrey County Chess Association from 1990 to 2000. The close interaction between club, association and congress made for a fruitful period for members of Kingston Chess Club.
After the spirited resurgence, the club began to falter from 2000. At the beginning of the second millennium, Kingston had three teams in each of the Surrey League and the Thames Valley League. By 2008, Kingston had declined two teams in the Surrey League and just one team in the Thames Valley League. The club declined in terms of the number of members, matches and playing activities.
What made matters worse for Kingston was that Surbiton, its neighbouring club, was booming under the inspired leadership of club chair Paul Durrant, whose extraordinary commitment had reaped dividends, building up Surbiton from small beginnings to one of the strongest clubs in Surrey. The success of Surbiton from 2000 to 2018 sucked the life out of Kingston. The close proximity of Kingston, Surbiton, Richmond and Wimbledon mean we are fighting for the same pool of players, and it is difficult, indeed perhaps impossible, for all four clubs to be flying at the same time.
In this respect, these four neighbouring clubs may be at a disadvantage compared with Guildford and CCF (Coulsdon), large clubs with big catchment areas and relatively little direct competition from other local clubs. The idea of a merger between Kingston and Surbiton has been mooted from time to time – shades of the union of Kingston and the Thames Valley club in 1914 – but has always been resisted on the grounds that club competition would be reduced and the cultural differences between the two clubs flattened out and lost. The local chess gene pool would, it was felt, be diluted by a merger, though there is no question that a very powerful “superclub” would be created in the process.
In the Surrey League, Kingston was for many years a yo-yo club, i.e. it was too strong for division 2 and, when promoted, not quite strong enough to remain in division 1. The Thames Valley League proved more congenial in that Kingston has tended to be reasonably comfortable in the first division.
The decline in fortunes may ultimately be attributed to the departure of Bill Waterton as the helmsman at the club. The committee did not find a successor with similar leadership and organisational qualities. Kingston was a well-oiled machine which gave the illusion of business as usual, and the club continued to perform the tasks as before, but direction and vision were missing. Communication still relied on home phones. The officers of the club did not use email, the internet or even, in many cases, a mobile phone. At the time, members were content to continue in the accustomed manner. It was perhaps a reflection of an absence of willing officers that in 2012 Ken Inwood, at the age of 76, accepted the post of president in addition to his role as treasurer.
Yet there were some developments which would prove to be of long-term benefit. John Foley launched the club’s first website in 2009, winning the ECF’s Chess Website of the Year award in 2010. A Facebook page was created in 2011 by Othman Syed, who was only a member for a short period but made a significant contribution.
The nadir in the club’s fortunes was in 2012 when we lost our long-time venue, the Friends’ Meeting House. The venue, originally built in 1773, had barely changed over the years and was now occupying a prime site in Kingston. The site was sold to Primark and a new Quaker’s centre was opened nearby. Unfortunately the club, its membership having dwindled, was unable to afford the new rent and was obliged to seek alternative premises. After a fretful search, a new venue was found at the Asda superstore in Roehampton Vale due to the efforts of John Foley. Asda generously made their training room available rent-free as part of their community outreach programme. This was vital in sustaining the club, which was otherwise in danger of being wound up.
The watershed for the club came in 2015, with the deaths of Chris Clegg and Bill Waterton within a few weeks of each other. The club held a Clegg Memorial, which John Nunn won ahead of IM Gavin Wall. Holding such a successful event showed what could be done, and gradually a new spirit of optimism and energy began to take hold at the club.
KINGSTON CHESS CLUB (2015-)
A New Era (2015-19)
A new leadership approach came with the election of John Foley as club chair in 2015. Coming from a background in management consulting, he introduced an active approach to club strategy. Alan Scrimgour stepped up to be secretary. Coming from a trade union background, Alan introduced much-needed formality to committee proceedings, as well as dealing with sensitive personal issues. A new constitution was drawn up in 2018 as the former had fallen into desuetude.
At the 2015 AGM, the name of the club was formally changed to Kingston Chess Club. This simplification was a reversion to the name chosen when the club was founded. Nobody could explain why it had still been named the Kingston & Thames Valley Chess Club, since that inter-war name had long fallen out of use except in the listings of the Surrey County Chess Association. From a branding perspective, Kingston Chess Club is more succinct than the former name.
In 2015, the club venue moved to the Druid’s Head, a famous old pub in the centre of Kingston between the market square and the river. Members naturally preferred to be based in Kingston rather than Roehampton. However, the downside of a popular pub is that rent was not cheap and so there is constant pressure to grow the number of members to keep the annual subscription down to affordable levels.
The club’s Twitter account was created in 2015 and immediately proved a success. It currently has 827 followers, which is respectable for a community chess club. The increase in social media visibility attracted a cohort of new members. Amongst these was Edward Mospan, who initiated a series of Kingston Rapidplay tournaments in central Kingston in 2018. One of the Rapidplay participants was Ljubica Lazarevic, who would go on to make crucial contributions to the club. Her first was to find a new venue for the club – the Willoughby Arms in north Kingston, where we moved in 2019 and have remained thanks to a sustainable financial arrangement and the enthusiastic support of the landlord, Rick Robinson.
In May 2018 Kingston reached the final of the Alexander Cup for the first time since 1975. On top board, we sported GM John Nunn. who had last played for the club 44 years earlier. Kingston narrowly lost that encounter, but it was another sign that the club had turned the corner.
In October 2018 Kingston felt confident enough to partner the Surrey County Chess Association and jointly run the Surrey Chess Congress, which was held at Kingston University. This event had fallen into abeyance after Bill Waterton stopped organising it in 2000. Former winners from the club included David Rowson (Open, 1979, jointly with Michael Franklin) and John Foley (Major, 1976). The winners of the 2018 Open on 4/5 were Richard Bates, Adam C Taylor and Ben Ogunshola, who shared £350 between them. Nick Grey from Kingston was joint winner of the Major with 5/5, for which he received £150.
Covid pandemic (2019-21)
Like all other chess clubs, Kingston closed down during Covid. We were obliged to move online. This gave the club a new lease of life as we set up a regular Zoom meeting, which has transmogrified into a regular monthly training session run by Julian Way.
The lockdown period started spectacularly. John Foley entered a Kingston ChessPlus team into the online 4NCL championships. The 4NCL is the national chess league and the most prestigious team event in the UK. Starting with the home players and recruiting stronger international players as the team progressed, the team won division 1 of the 4NCL in 2020. This was the first time that Kingston had won a national tournament. Subsequently, Kingston has partnered with Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC) in an over-the-board team for the regular 4NCL league, and has worked its way up to the second division under the stewardship of Kate and Charlie Cooke. The club did not forget the hardships of pub landlords during Covid, and made a voluntary contribution to help sustain the Willoughby Arms.
In 2021 Lju Lazarevic created a new website for the club. The former website was rather too reliant upon one person to keep it up to date. The new site was in WordPress and the chief editorial role was given to Stephen Moss, a professional journalist and writer. The new format website has proved popular, with hundreds of views per day from around the world.
The new golden age (2021-)
The return to over-the-board chess in 2021 was cautious. The club published a Covid strategy which set out protection measures for home and away players and visitors. The club purchased an air filter device to capture any extraneous infectious agents. In 2022, the club implemented a new members subscription system, MemberMojo, which improved the way in which subscriptions were collected and recorded. The membership expanded to 40, which was higher than any time since the 1970s.
In the 2021/22 season, the club won no fewer than five trophies: the division 2 titles in the Surrey League and the Thames Valley League; the Centenary Trophy (division 4 in Surrey); and the Alexander Cup and Lauder Trophy. The victory in the prestigious Alexander Cup – a 10-board knockout fought over by the strongest clubs in the area – marked the first time Kingston had won it since 1976, a 46-year wait.
The benefit of the investment of time and effort in social media was manifested in the influx of some very strong players to the club. David Maycock was a 17-year-old brought up in Mexico; Peter Lalić was looking for a congenial club; Vladimir Li had been raised with formal chess instruction in Russia; Silverio Abasolo was a 2283 Fide-rated player who had arrived in the UK from the Philippines. These stars, backed up an engine room of stalwarts who had served Kingston for decades and by several other 2000-rated players, transformed the competitive performance of the club.
The preponderance of new talent enticed one of the members to sponsor the first Kingston Invitational event in 2022. This was to give the opportunity to local players to play classical chess, to improve their Fide ratings and possibly gain a title. Peter Lalić won the 10 player event with 7/9.
The 2022/23 season was even more spectacular for Kingston than its predecessor. Under captain David Rowson, the club won division 1 in the Surrey League for the first time since 1975 and division 1 of the Thames Valley League for the first time since 1984. This double of being champion club in both Surrey and Thames Valley had never previously been achieved by Kingston. Indeed, it had only once been achieved by any club previously – Wimbledon in 2017/18. The club also won both the Alexander Cup and the Thames Valley Knockout, making Kingston the first club to hold all four titles simultaneously – winners of the two league titles and of the two premier knockouts, an extraordinary “Quadruple”.
It was a remarkable achievement for which captain David Rowson and his squad of players deserve enormous credit, but every member of the club played his or her part – as players, spectators, supporters, analysts, drivers and enthusiasts. It was a triumph for the whole revivified club after a long period in the doldrums.
In July 2023 the second Kingston Invitational took place, this time with two groups of players. The Masters group gave an opportunity for titles, and indeed Vladimir Li obtained the Fide master title after winning his game in the first round. The Masters event was dominated by the Irish maestro Conor Murphy with 7.5/9. Tim Seymour and Alistair Hill were joint winners of the Fide all-play-all.
Kingston, if we include its Thames Valley incarnation, has won the Alexander Cup – the principal Surrey club knockout competition – nine times: in 1924, 1925, 1928, 1932, 1946, 1975, 1976, 2022 and 2023. In 1928, as Thames Valley, it defeated Thornton Heath & Norbury 7½-2½ (see press report in the “Newspaper archive” section). In 1946 it defeated Croydon 5-3. It narrowly lost to Surbiton in the final of the Alexander Cup in 2018 in a famous match in which grandmaster John Nunn returned (after a 44-year gap) to play for the club. The latter match marked the first time that Surbiton had won the coveted trophy. Then in 2022, after a wait of 46 years, Kingston finally lifted the trophy again after a thrilling final against a very strong Wimbledon team. The club retained the trophy in 2023 by the narrow margin of 5.5-4.5 in a wonderful match against the powerful Battersea club, who fielded GM Simon Williams on board 1 and IMs on boards 2 and 3. Surely, one of Kingston’s greatest-ever triumphs, given that we were outrated by an average of 60 points a board.
Note: Ratings of players from the past (shown in brackets) have been estimated using Edo calculated at their highest career level.