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Hero of the Month

Richard A. Furness

England's 63-year-old Richard A. Furness was born in Pendlebury (5 miles north-west of Manchester), Lancashire, on Wednesday 12th May 1937. A wee curiosity is that, not only did Richard's birthday occur on exactly the same day as King George VI's coronation, but also the original meaning (in Old German) of "Richard" is "dominant ruler"! In fact, he is particularly renowned as a highly efficient chess arbiter and organiser. So, if anyone ever asks me about whom I could recommend for including in a team of organisers for an important tournament, I would say it's BEST IF ONE'S RICHARD A. FURNESS. To emphasise the point, rearrange the 25 letters in bold to get A NO-FUSS CHESS ARBITER FRIEND!!

Richard can also play a strong, controlled game of chess over-the-board, as game G11.9 demonstrates. Before going there to check out the action, I think you might enjoy discovering more about the man himself in the following very interesting extract from a mini-autobiography which Richard has generously made available to us.

"My place of birth was Pendlebury, 5 miles north-west of Manchester, Lancashire, England.
I spent the war years (1939-45) with my mother and her parents at Liversedge (between Huddersfield and Bradford) in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

After the war, we returned to Pendlebury where I went to junior school. My father taught me how to play chess when I was ten-years-old, prior to moving at age eleven to Eccles Grammar School. I still have the red and black solid lead set of chess men which he was given whilst serving in the Royal Air Force in Malta during the wartime siege of the island.

I was a member of the school chess club, but during my schooldays chess took second place to music. I became leader of the school orchestra and violin soloist at the annual concerts. I was also a member of the Lancashire County Youth Orchestra.

About 1950, I discovered two chess books in the school library. They were bound volumes of CHESS, the monthly magazine produced by BH Wood. During my schooldays at Eccles, I kept those books on almost permanent loan. They opened my eyes to the wider world of international chess. These bound volumes covered the period from 1947 to 1949. I read about the 1948 World Championship Match Tournament won by Botvinnik ahead of Smyslov, Keres, Reshevsky and Euwe. I never thought I would later attend a dinner where Max Euwe would be guest of honour or that I would meet Smyslov.

My interest in chess became more serious whilst doing my National Service in the RAF. With my initials, I had to be in the Royal Air Force! I took up postal chess to pass the long hours on night shifts in the control tower at an airfield in North Yorkshire. From there I did my teacher training at St John's College, York, where I played chess in the York & District League and was secretary of both the chess and cricket clubs. By the time I was 22, I had lived half of my life in Yorkshire. I have been a lifelong supporter of Yorkshire cricket, my childhood hero being the master batsman Len Hutton.

In 1959 I began teaching - my main subject was Geography - at a boys secondary modern school at Tyldesley, about ten miles west of Manchester. I soon started a chess club, and in a couple of years entered my school team into the Manchester & District Schools League. I was told that a secondary modern school could not compete against grammar schools at chess. We did, even enjoying occasional victories against Manchester Grammar (with 11-year-old Jonathan Mestel) and Bolton School. Intensive coaching and hard work from my boys led to my Under-14 team becoming league champions and then winners of the Lancashire Schools Under-15's title, and this was followed by the award of the BCF's School Shield to my school in 1967.

Also in 1959, I joined my local club - Swinton - and played in the Manchester & District League (MDCL) for the next ten years. When this club folded, I played for Eccles for a number of years. I was also a member of the strong Manchester Chess Club.

I began to take an interest in administration, especially grading. Disappointed that the BCF grading system then only catered for strong players, I introduced a ranking system into the Manchester League. Although it was mathematically unsound, it was welcomed by many players. I was elected to the Council of the Manchester & District Chess League, held various posts and was its President from 1971-1973. I was also active in the Lancashire Chess Association and was Treasurer for three years.

My first venture into the roll of arbiter, or controller as it was then called, was in 1963 at the Manchester Schools' Congress. During the 1960's, school chess in the Manchester area was very strong with, apart from Mestel, players like Martyn Corden and Peter Markland leading the way. Also in 1963, I formed the National Association of Schoolmasters Postal Chess Club. This ran for ten years and was a great success, eventually playing in Britain's top competition for correspondence teams.

During the 1960s, apart from chess, my main interests were in mountain walking, with holidays in Switzerland, Austria and Norway; and also following football, attending almost all of Manchester United's home matches for about ten years. I was present in the city centre when Matt Busby, Bobby Charlton, George Best and company returned with the European Cup in 1968. Thirty-one years later, I was there again with my daughter to see Alex Ferguson's team parading the same trophy!

A walking holiday at Adelboden in Switzerland in 1969 coincided with the Clare Benedict Cup being played in the same mountain village. For a few days I did little walking, preferring to watch Jonathan Penrose, Peter Clarke and Raymond Keene representing the BCF against Spain, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland. On my return home, I visited the British Championships at Rhyl. I was hooked. I wanted to organise a chess tournament.

I soon persuaded the MDCL to organise a weekend Open on the lines of the highly successful Islington Open. It was held in July 1970, and I was the Congress Director. I had twice the number of players I had expected - 142 - and these included a teenager from the Netherlands named Jan Timman. He was favourite to win, but after losing in round 1 had to be satisfied with taking the Junior Prize.

The early 1970's was a great time for chess activity, and within a few years the Manchester Congress had mushroomed to be the largest British Congress outside London, with over six hundred players. It reached its peak with 692 entrants in 1977. Gradually I added controlling to my administrative skills and was appointed Chief Arbiter at a number of new congresses in Lancashire, notably at Blackpool and Chorley. In 1973 I was the local organiser for the then annual encounter between England and Holland. This was played in Manchester Town Hall, and Dr Euwe came out of retirement to take board 1 for the visitors.

In 1973, whilst I was still teaching at Tyldesley, my headmaster received a telephone call from someone living in the neighbouring town of Atherton. Her seven-year-old son was a keen chessplayer but she was having trouble finding a club willing to take such a young child. She asked if I could help. I arranged to meet her and her little boy at a chess club where I was at that time a member. A few days later I met Jean Short and her son Nigel. Recognising his potential, I persuaded the organisers of the Liverpool Junior Congress to admit him into their Under-11's Championship and passed on his name to Leonard Barden, who at that time was masterminding the early careers of many young stars.

Also in 1973, I formed a new club in the village to which I had moved upon marriage. The club achieved the league and cup double in each of its first two seasons, immediately dominating the Warrington League. After three seasons the record of the first team was:- played 50, won 44, drawn 4, lost 2! I have been its captain or chairman throughout its existence.

In 1978, the MDCA was approached by Martini on behalf of French liqueur company Benedictine. They wanted to sponsor an international chess tournament in Manchester. For six years "The Benedictine" was one of the major events on the British chess calendar, and for the first three I was organiser, chief arbiter, press officer and sponsor's representative! Later I reduced my commitment to just two of those tasks. This experience led to my being awarded the International Arbiter title in 1984. In 1980, on behalf of Benedictine, I organised a simultaneous display by Viktor Korchnoi at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. In 1982, during a visit to the Benedictine Palace at Fecamp in Normandy, I was installed as a Knight of the Benedictine Order. Later in 1982, and again sponsored by Benedictine, I took a small team of players for a weekend in Paris, where we took on the Benedictine Game Club of France at both conventional and blitz chess.

I was President of the Cheshire & North Wales Chess Association from 1980-84 and President of the Northern Counties Chess Union from 1984-86. I recall that during "the Benedictine years", there was one day in which at lunchtime I was running my school chess club and a few hours later was starting the clocks of grandmasters in an international event.

Retirement from teaching in 1987 gave me the opportunity to increase my already considerable commitment to chess. I wrote a 70,000-word book to mark the Centenary of the Cheshire & North Wales Chess Association in 1988 and then, to avoid a crisis, I stepped in for two years as Grading Officer for the NCCU. I had a full programme of regional congresses and rapidplays.

I was recruited to the team of arbiters at the annual British Championships, being a Principal Arbiter throughout the 1990's. During this time, I was also an arbiter at the Hastings Congress and at many other events. In 1990, I took over responsibility for organising the biennial junior tournament held at Oakham School in Rutland. In that year, I accepted the entry of a 12-year-old from Leningrad whose first international tournament it was. His name was Peter Svidler. The event included Anand, Adams, Akopian, Tiviakov, Svetlana Matveeva, Ketevan Arakhamia and Alisa Galliamova. Two years later, the Oakham tournament was hailed as the strongest junior event of all time. It was then won by Shirov ahead of such players as Kramnik, Adams, Akopian, Tiviakov, Bologan, Gdanski, Rublevsky and Volzhin.

In 1990, I took a group from the BCF's Junior Squad to play in the Guernsey Festival, and the following year was manager of two England teams who played in an international competition at Bormes-les-Mimosa on the French Riviera. My squad included the very young teenagers Harriet Hunt and Mark Ferguson. From 1991-1993, I was the British Chess Federation's Director of Junior Chess. During those years, Dharshan Kumaran won the World Under-16's Championship in 1991, Luke McShane won the World Under-10s Championship in 1992, and Ruth Sheldon won the World Girls' Under-14's Championship in 1993. Before stepping down as Director, I organised the first girls international tournament to be held in England for over ten years.

Around 1990, I was a founder member of the (British) Chess Arbiters' Association, and was for a number of years the editor of its newsletter "Arbiting Matters". I played a significant part in the BCF's contribution to the redrafting of the Laws in 1996, and can recognise some of my wordings in the revised laws which FIDE agreed later that year.

Since 1993, I have been the Chief Arbiter for the Monarch Assurance International in the Isle of Man. This annual event has had many players of exceptionally high-calibre competing there.

In 1993, I was appointed Assistant Director for the Kasparov-Short World Championship Match which was first scheduled to be played in Manchester. In 1997, I was appointed as joint organiser for the European Team Championships which were due to be played at Torquay in 1999. Unfortunately neither of these events took place (at the initially-appointed venues).

From 1994-1998, I was arbiter at the Owens-Corning international tournaments at Wrexham. This annual event pioneered the use of the DGT clock in Fischer mode, a timing method which I strongly support.

In 1995, I was one of the arbiters at the Hastings Qualifier for the London leg of the Intel World Grand Prix. This event included no less than 41 grandmasters. I then moved on to London, where I was Chief Arbiter for the sixteen-player knockout final. Michael Adams was the winner from a staggering line-up of Anand, Kramnik, Ivanchuk, N.Short, I.Sokolov, Lautier, Morozevich, Piket, Lobron, Dreev, Malaniuk, Miles, Speelman, Van Wely and Petursson. This remains my most prestigious event.

I have been arbiter at three simultaneous displays given by Kasparov, namely at Chester (1988), London (1993) and Oakham (1997). In recent years, I have officiated at a number of other international events, and since 1997 I have been the chief arbiter for the 4NCL, Britain's premier chess league. The final match of the 1999-2000 season saw the strongest club match to be played in Britain. This was Slough v Wood Green with Morozevich, Z.Almasi, N.Short, M.Gurevich, Speelman, Miles, Emms, Ftacnik, Baburin, Wells, Ward, McNab, P.Littlewood, Turner, Arakhamia, and Susan Lalic. Six days later, I was arbiter for an Under-12s event in my home county. I have always tried to maintain the same standards of professionalism to arbiting, whether dealing with grandmasters or low-rated club or junior players. All are chessplayers with a love of the game.

July 2000 saw the completion of thirty years of direct involvement with the organisation of major chess events. During that time I have been involved in over 250 competitions, being involved either as organiser or arbiter at events in Dundee, Penrith, Morecambe, Blackpool, Chorley, Bolton, Isle of Man, Tyldesley, Wigan, St Helens, Manchester, Liverpool, Warrington, Romiley, Leeds, Whitley, Stockport, Chester, Runcorn, Llandudno, Ruthin, Frodsham, Bramhall, Knutsford, Holmes Chapel, Buxton, Sheffield, Winsford, Crewe, Wrexham, Walsall, Lichfield, Telford, Nottingham, Birmingham, Derby, Ratcliffe-on-Wreake, Norwich, Kenilworth, Oakham, Oxford, Swansea, Ipswich, London, Guildford, Plymouth, Torquay, Hastings, Eastbourne, Hove and probably a few other places which I have forgotten.

Since 1971, I have been encouraged in all my chess activities by my wife Judy. Although not a player herself, she has not complained about the chess atmosphere in our home. Our children, Robert and Clare - both now in their twenties - have had their chess triumphs. Both were school champions at their primary school. Robert has a FIDE rating and a 100% record against Garry Kasparov - in simultaneous play. A few years ago when I was away on chess business and had overlooked a match for my local club, Clare who had not played a competitive game for several years, stepped in at a few minutes notice to play on board one, and took the game into the third hour before losing."

Postscript by Mr Mo:

I'd like to conclude this section by again saying a really big sincere "THANKYOU" to Richard Furness for very kindly providing us with so much interesting autobiographical information. The content is almost unrivalled in its "richness"- please excuse the pun on the name of the writer!

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