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John Saunders


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Event: 63rd Varsity Match • Venue: City of London CC • Date: 20 March 1939 • last edited: Monday March 18, 2024 11:41 AM
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The 63rd Varsity Chess Match between Oxford University and Cambridge University was held at City of London Chess Club on 20 March 1939. Two game scores from this match are available.

1938«     1939 Varsity Chess Match     »1940 (Unofficial) 1946 (Official)
Bd Oxford University 1939 Cambridge University Openings
1w Alfred William Bowen (Oriel) 1-0 John Dean (St Catharine's) QP
2b Edward Leslie Stuart (Merton) 0-1 John Francis O'Donovan (Jesus) English
3w Rodney Montgomery Baine (Merton) 0-1 Philip Charles Hoad (Trinity) Sicilian Dragon
4b John Hull Dunkle (Hertford) 1-0 Mervyn Edward Wise (Pembroke) French
5w Clifford Leak (Corpus Christi) ½-½ Irving John Good (Jesus) QP
6b William Goodwin (Magdalen) ½-½ Arthur Pollitt (Clare) QP
7w Peter William Reginald Summerson (Exeter) 0-1 Kenneth Preston Charlesworth (Emmanuel) Philidor's Def

Sources: Oxford-Cambridge Chess Matches (1873-1987), compiled by Jeremy Gaige, Philadelphia 1987; BCM, May 1939, p211; The Times, 20 March 1939; The Times, 21 March 1939


[The Times, 20 March 1939] "OXFORD v. CAMBRIDGE TO-DAY - FROM OUR CHESS CORRESPONDENT - The sixty-third annual match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities will be played at the City of London Chess Club to-day. Play will begin at 11 a.m.

"The Cambridge team will be as follows: — J. Dean (St. Catharine’s), J. F. O’Donovan (Jesus), P. C. Hoad (Trinity), M. E. Wise (Pembroke), I. J. Good (Jesus), A. Pollitt (Clare), and K. P. Charlesworth (Emmanuel). H. K. King (Pembroke) will be the reserve. The first five played in last year’s match, which was narrowly won by Oxford.

"The Oxford team will be:—A. W. Bowen (Oriel), E. L. Stuart (Merton), R. M. Baine (Merton), J. H. Dunkle (Hertford), C. Leak (Corpus), W. Goodwin (Magdalen), and P. Somerson [sic] (Exeter). Bowen, Baine, Stuart, and Goodwin played in the match last year. Baine and Dunkle are both from the United States, and there would have been a third American playing if J. A. Moore, of Wadham, who is the champion of Harvard University, had been available.

"Cambridge have had a very good season, and that chess there is flourishing is shown by the fact that on more than one occasion they have raised two teams on the same day. Oxford have not played so many matches, and have not done so well. The University match, however, is played on seven boards only, and I have been much impressed by what I have seen of Oxford’s leading players. In A. W. Bowen they have one of the most promising men who has played for either University for some years, and though Dean is a very good player, too, he will have to be at his best to win. On the whole I shall be agreeably surprised by a Cambridge victory, but as surprises are the rule in the University match there is certainly no reason for Cambridge to feel downcast."

[The Times, 21 March 1939] "OXFORD BEATEN BY CAMBRIDGE - A CLOSE CONTEST - FROM OUR CHESS CORRESPONDENT - Cambridge won the sixty-third inter-University chess match against Oxford by four games to three, thereby exactly reversing the result of last year’s match. Cambridge have now won 29 matches, Oxford 26, and eight have been drawn. Cambridge were rather lucky to win this time, and a draw would perhaps have been a fair result on the run of the play. The pairings and results were as follows :— [results] Oxford had the move on the odd-numbered boards.

"The first game to finish was that on the last board, where the Oxford player made a blunder on the 11th move. He lost a piece for two pawns, and, though he was able to prolong resistance until after the 40th move, it was only a question of systematically forcing exchanges.


"Bowen retaliated immediately by winning an extremely spirited game on the first board. Dean embarked upon a well-known but hazardous variation of the Niemzowitsch Defence, in the course of which Black temporarily wins the exchange, and White has to submit to having his king driven into the open. In compensation, however, he obtains much the better development and a strong counterattack. The resulting position almost defies analysis, and I do not know whether the authorities have come to any conclusion about it. My own impression is that in practical play the chances are in White’s favour. Dean helped his opponent by castling on the king's side, where his king was much less safe than on the other side. Presently Bowen made a brilliant offer of the second exchange, which Dean rejected, only to make a bad mistake immediately afterwards. He may well have had a theoretically adequate defence, but the odds over the board in this type of position are in favour of the attack.

"Hoad, as last year, played a first-rate game, and thoroughly deserved his win. He played the Dragon variation of the Sicilian, and after both sides had played P to Q R 4 he was able to exchange off his queen’s bishop for the White knight on Q Kt 3. White is left with two bishops, but the Black knights have good squares in the centre, and it hardly seems as though White’s prospects of attack compensate for the weakness of his pawns. Hoad, at any rate, appeared to have rather the best of matters when Baine made a mistake which cost two pawns. Hoad finished him off incisively in 35 moves.


"Oxford soon made the score two all, Wise losing on the time limit in a hopeless position against Dunkle. Wise handicaps himself by eccentric opening play. He made a premature excursion with his queen against the French Defence, and Dunkle courageously, but with excellent judgment, gave up two pawns for a long start in development. He played the game in true gambit style, being in no hurry to recover his material and building up an overwhelming attack. When he did decide to strike, Wise’s game collapsed immediately. He had never given himself a chance, which is a pity, for he has plenty of chess in him.

"About this time there occurred a tragedy which cost Oxford the match. Shortly after luncheon Good, with an equal position, had made a bad blunder against Leak, and lost a piece for two pawns. Leak soon won the exchange as well, and should in fact have won easily. Suddenly, however, he sacrificed a rook under the impression that he was about to force mate; but he had overlooked a check by which Good just saved himself. The game then ended tamely in a draw.

"The game on Board 6 was a hard-fought draw. Pollitt tried to work up some attack on an open king’s rook’s file, but there was never any danger, and Black comfortably maintained equality by exchanging off pieces. A drawn end game was reached with bishops of opposite colours.


"This left the score three all, and, as last year, the result of the match depended upon O’Donovan. He had played the English opening against Stuart, who responded with a kind of Philidor’s Defence. A congested position resulted in which O’Donovan was able to establish a knight on Q 6. With a big superiority in position he broke open the centre by a combination which was perhaps premature. At any rate Stuart came out with two rooks and an extra pawn against rook, bishop, and knight, and I hardly think he should have lost. He played rather passively, however, and O’Donovan, by making excellent use of his minor pieces, worked up a winning attack. Stuart had to give up the exchange, and was left with a hopeless end-game. It was a well-deserved triumph for the Cambridge president, who last year had had to sacrifice his own game in trying to save the match. [two game scores]"

[BCM] "Cambridge won the 63rd inter-university match against Oxford by 4-3, making the record of the entire matches: Cambridge 29, Oxford 26, and eight drawn. Oxford had the move on the odd-numbered boards. Cambridge had had much the better results throughout the season but the Oxford top boards were known to be very strong. Hence a close match was expected. The first result came on the last board where Summerson lost a piece by a blunder in the eleventh move. Then Bowen won the following good game for Oxford..."

"On the 3rd board Hoad obtained a good game out of the opening, and won in 35 moves, his opponent making a mistake which cost two Pawns. Oxford equalised soon after when Wise lost on time in a hopeless position against Dunkle. As may be seen from the following game, Wise's eccentric methods of handling the opening resulted in a catastrophe."

"On the 4th board the Cambridge player blundered and lost a piece for two Pawns, and his position seemed hopeless when he subsequently lost the exchange as well; however Leak sacrificed a Rook thinking he had a forced mate, but his opponent had a saving check-a lucky half point for Cambridge."

"On board 6, after a hard struggle, a drawn endgame was reached with Bishops of opposite colours."

"This made the score 3 all, and the result depended on the game on the second board. Here O'Donovan had a great advantage in position owing to a Knight on Q6, but he broke open the centre prematurely, leaving his opponent with two Rooks and a Pawn against Rook, Bishop and Knight. However, the Oxford player was completely outplayed in the ending and Cambridge won an excellent match." (BCM)

[Manchester Guardian, 21 March 1939]: "The sixty-third annual chess match between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge was played on Saturday at the City of London Chess Club—for the last time at the club’s address in Doctors’ Commons. In the autumn there is to be a move to new quarters in Cavendish Square. Here, by the way, though not in the same premises, once was housed the famous old St. George's Chess Club.

"The chances of Cambridge in the present match were perhaps slightly favoured by players who had taken part in matches this season against both universities. Both teams, however, have appeared to be above the average in university chess strength, with A. W. Bowen, of Oxford, the outstanding player on either side. Appropriately he was the first to win his game, having given up the exchange for a terrific attack and securing his win in only 23 moves. Cambridge equalised almost immediately with a win by Charlesworth on the bottom board. This game was much faster than the top board, extending to 42 moves.
"Cambridge took the lead with a good win by Hoad on the third board, and the interval for tea arrived with the score 2-1 in their favour. Two drawn games soon after, on boards 5 and 6, left the position unaltered but Dunkle, with a win against Wise on board 4. brought Oxford level.

"Thus all depended on the game between O'Donovan and Stuart. In this the Oxford player had two rooks and five pawns against rook, bishop, knight, and four pawns, but was forced to give up the exchange, after which O'Donovan had little difficulty in winning. The final result, therefore, was a win for Cambridge by 4—3. In the whole series Cambridge now lead by 29—26, with eight matches drawn."

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