Leonard William Barden
|Born||20 August 1929|
South Croydon, London, England
|Occupation(s)||chess player, writer, broadcaster, journalist|
Leonard William Barden (born 20 August 1929, in Croydon, London) is an English chess master, writer, broadcaster, journalist, organizer and promoter. The son of a dustman, he was educated at Whitgift School, South Croydon, and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read modern history. He learned to play chess at age 13 while in a school shelter during a World War II German air raid. Within a few years he became one of the country's leading juniors. He represented England in four Chess Olympiads. Barden played a major role in the rise of English chess from the 1970s. He is a chess columnist for various newspapers. His column in London's Evening Standard is the world's longest-running daily chess column by the same author.
Barden was born on 20 August 1929. His father ran a business which collapsed during the Great Depression and eventually found employment as a dustman. Leonard attended Whitgift School when it was a Grammar School before it reverted to independent status in 1946.
In 1946, Barden won the British Junior Correspondence Chess Championship, and tied for first place in the London Boys' Championship. The following year he tied for first with Jonathan Penrose in the British Boys' Championship, but lost the playoff.
Barden finished fourth at Hastings in 1951–52. In 1952, he won the Paignton tournament ahead of the Canadian future grandmaster Daniel Yanofsky. He captained the Oxfordshire team which won the English Counties championship in 1951 and 1952. In the latter year he captained the University of Oxford team which won the National Club Championship, and he represented the university in the annual team match against the University of Cambridge during his years there. In 1953, he won the individual British Lightning Championship (ten seconds a move). The following year, he tied for first with the Belgian grandmaster Albéric O'Kelly de Galway at Bognor Regis, was joint British champion, with Alan Phillips, and won the Southern Counties Championship. He finished fourth at Hastings 1957–58, ranked by Chessmetrics as his best statistical performance. In the 1958 British Chess Championship, Barden again tied for first, but lost the playoff match to Penrose 1½–3½.
Barden represented England in the Chess Olympiads at Helsinki 1952 (playing fourth board, scoring 2 wins, 5 draws, and 4 losses), Amsterdam 1954 (playing first reserve, scoring 1 win, 2 draws, and 4 losses), Leipzig 1960 (first reserve; 4 wins, 4 draws, 2 losses) and Varna 1962 (first reserve; 7 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses). The latter was his best performance by far.
Barden has a Morphy number of 3 by six different routes. He drew with Jacques Mieses in the Premier Reserves at Hastings 1948–49. Mieses drew with Henry Bird in the last round of Hastings 1895, and Bird played a number of games with Paul Morphy in 1858 and 1859. Mieses also beat Louis Paulsen at Breslau 1889. Morphy and Paulsen played at least 11 games against each other in 1857. Barden also played four opponents of James Mortimer: Edward Sergeant, Savielly Tartakower, Sir George Thomas, and Eugene Znosko-Borovsky. Mortimer is known to have played Morphy many games in Paris during the 1850s and 1860s.
In 1964, Barden gave up most competitive chess to devote his time to chess organisation, broadcasting, and writing about the game. He has made invaluable contributions to English chess as a populariser, writer, organiser, fundraiser, and broadcaster.
He was controller of the British Chess Federation Grand Prix for many years, having found its first sponsor, Cutty Sark whisky. He was a regular contributor to the BBC's Network Three weekly radio chess programme from 1958 to 1963. His best-known contribution was a consultation game, recorded in 1960 and broadcast in 1961, where he partnered Bobby Fischer against the English masters Jonathan Penrose and Peter Clarke. This was the only recorded consultation game of Fischer's career. The game, unfinished after eight hours of play, was adjudicated a draw by former world champion Max Euwe. Barden gave BBC television commentaries on all the games in the 1972 world championship. From 1973 to 1978 he was co-presenter of BBC2's annual Master Game televised programme.
As of April 2023, Barden's weekly column has been published in The Guardian for 67 years and in The Financial Times for 48 years. A typical Barden column not only contains a readable tournament report, but is geared toward promoting the game. His London Evening Standard column began in June 1956, and was published daily, firstly in print and subsequently online, until January 31, 2020. It is by far the world's longest running daily chess column by the same author, the previous record having been set by George Koltanowski in the San Francisco Chronicle: 51 years, 9 months, and 18 days, including posthumous articles. Barden's column ran for 63 years, 7 months and 27 days, which exceeds the world record of 45 years and 240 days (as of 28 February 2019) that Guinness World Records recognizes for Lam Shan Muk of Hong Kong, a daily commentator for the Hong Kong Economic Journal.
Barden has written the following books.
Barden's most important achievement was his key role in the rapid advance of English chess in the 1970s and 1980s from also-rans to Olympiad silver medal winners. His involvement began in 1971 when he noticed that Tony Miles and Michael Stean were both likely contenders for the biennial 1973 world junior (under-20) championship, but that the only way for a country to have two representatives was to host the event. Barden knew the financier Jim Slater, who offered to co-sponsor the event, which was staged at Teesside. There, Miles and Stean won silver and bronze medals, respectively, and Miles won the title in 1974 when it was changed to an annual contest. Slater also agreed to Barden's proposal that he should finance special coaching by Bob Wade for the five best teenage prospects. They all became grandmasters.
In 1972, after Slater had saved the Bobby Fischer versus Boris Spassky world championship match from collapse by doubling the prize fund, he offered £5,000 to the first English grandmaster (who wound up being Miles), and £2,000 to the next four players to qualify. Barden worked out the detailed terms, and wrote the speech at Hastings where Slater announced the awards. Encouraged by success, Barden and Slater then agreed on a wider programme to stimulate talent at much younger ages, aiming to produce a generation which could compete with the Soviet Union, the world's leading chess nation.
Barden organised weekend junior invitation events at which the best prospects played a tournament and had coaching from masters between games. They were also introduced to top master chess at the annual Evening Standard weekend open and via grandmaster simultaneous exhibitions. The model was the USSR's own programme in the 1930s, when future masters scored impressively in exhibitions against world-class masters José Raúl Capablanca and Salo Flohr during the 1935 and 1936 Moscow tournaments. Very few juniors in the 1970s had international ratings, so Barden compiled his own world ranking lists for every age group from under-18 to under-10, updating the figures at monthly or weekly intervals and posting the results at the invitation events.
Barden read much Soviet chess literature, and in 1974 decided that an 11-year-old named Gary Kasparov was a likely future world champion. His Guardian column of 24 February 1975, headlined "World Champ 1990", made this a specific forecast. It was, by more than a year, the first such prediction by anyone for the future Garry Kasparov, who beat Barden's forecast by five years when he won the title in 1985.
By summer 1975 Barden believed that Nigel Short, then aged 9, also had world title potential. The simultaneous programme was intensified for Short, who in the next few years played three world champions and several other top grandmasters. Barden also used his columns to promote his juniors, whom some called "the Barden babes". When Short defeated Viktor Korchnoi, the world's second strongest active player, in a 1976 Evening Standard simultaneous the result was announced on that evening's ITN news bulletin.
One purpose of the publicity was to attract more sponsorship, and in summer 1976 Barden secured backing from Lloyds Bank. The bank's chairman, Sir Jeremy Morse, was an eminent chess problemist, and its sponsorship manager, Pat Bowman, liked the concept of the bank financing a serious challenge to Soviet chess supremacy.
The first Lloyds Bank event was a pilot, a London v New York City telex match, to celebrate the United States bicentennial, in which the American captain agreed to Barden's proposal to include extra under-11 boards, on one of which Short (who lived near Manchester) beat the future US champion Joel Benjamin. By then many juniors were advancing towards master strength, but lacked official FIDE international ratings and titles. So in 1977 the annual Lloyds Bank Masters in London was launched, modelled on a successful US event at Lone Pine where the best US juniors competed against grandmasters. This legendary Open lasted until 1994 (18th edition, won by Alexander Morozevich). Barden also organised an all-play-all tournament, the Lord John Cup in London, where three young and promising English masters — John Nunn, Michael Stean and Jonathan Mestel — met reputed international grandmasters as Vlastimil Hort who won this one-off event, Miguel Quinteros, the first winner of the Lloyds Bank Open and joint runner-up at the Lord John Cup, Eugenio Torre, or legendary Alexander Kotov.
By 1978, when England won the world under-26 championship at Mexico City ahead of the USSR, and a group financed by Lloyds Bank performed strongly at Lone Pine, the golden generation was on the way to the Olympiad silver medals achieved in 1984, 1986 and 1988. Barden continued to seek new primary school talent, and in 1980 recognised the exceptional promise of the then 8-year-old Michael Adams. Adams lived in Cornwall, far from the major chess centres, so Barden arranged for a Devon organiser, Ken Butt, to stage an annual Lloyds Bank under-18 international tournament in Plymouth. Adams first played there at age 10, and by 12 missed an international master result by only half a point in his Lloyds Bank Masters debut where, in line with Barden's policy of matching the best talents against top grandmasters, he also performed well in a blitz game against Spassky.
In 1980, George Low wrote in Education magazine:
Mr. Leonard Barden, manager of the junior squad, traces the resurgence of interest to media coverage of the Fischer–Spassky duel eight years ago and its sequel between Korchnoi and Karpov six years later.
In about 1972–73, he recalls, the selectors started casting their nets much wider than the Home Counties grammar schools where the recruiting ground had traditionally been. He and his colleagues looked through the results of a lot more tournaments all over the country. Those who had real talent were encouraged to go in for the National Junior Squad Championships and to enter adult tournaments. They were also given the opportunity to play against adult grandmasters in 'simuls' (simultaneous games involving 20 or 30 boards). Mr Barden now has 500 players on his books in whom he takes an active interest, following their tournament games and writing to suggest alternative strategies in their games.
By the 1980s the "English Chess Explosion" was in full swing, but Barden took a lesser role due to having to care for his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. He still spotted talents early, notably Matthew Sadler, who debuted in the Lloyds Bank tournament at 11 and became a leading grandmaster in the 1990s. In 1992 when the British Chess Federation was reluctant to send Luke McShane, then 8, to the world under-10 championship in Duisburg, Barden campaigned for a positive outcome which was rewarded when McShane won the gold medal. In 1988–90, he managed the early programme for David Howell, then 8, who at 16 became England's youngest grandmaster.
In recognition of his efforts, Barden was offered an OBE, but declined it. Brian Walden has written that "Leonard Barden has done more for British chess than anybody since our famous 19th century champion, Howard Staunton."
According to Chessmetrics, Barden's best single performance was at Hastings 1957–58, where he finished fourth behind Paul Keres, Svetozar Gligorić and Miroslav Filip, scoring 5/9 (56%). At his peak, he was likely at or close to International Master strength, but never formally received this title from FIDE, the World Chess Federation. Chessmetrics assigned Barden a peak retrospective rating of 2497 for January 1958, number 187 in the world. FIDE did not introduce international ratings until 1970, after Barden had virtually stopped competing. However, the Chessmetrics database is missing several of Barden's key results.