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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 November 16, 2020 1:10 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.

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."

Alfred William Bowen (1918-2012) - played in the 1937, 1938 and 1939 Varsity chess matches, as well as the unofficial 1940 match. Familiarly known as 'Bill Bowen' and an accomplished bridge player - further info.

Edward Leslie Stuart (1918-2005). Known as Leslie Stuart. Played in the 1952 British Championship, scoring 7/11 to finish in a six-way tie for second place. Also played in the 1962 British Championship, scoring 4½/11. Won the Northumberland Zollner trophy in 1949. Was graded 204 in 1969, playing for the Ministry of Labour CC. Took a lengthy break from chess until the late 1980s, returning when he was domiciled in the north of England and thereafter staying active into the 21st century, taking part in the 2001 Monarch Assurance Isle of Man Masters. (See Sean Marsh's blog for a long and interesting article about Leslie Stuart)

Rodney Montgomery Baine (1913-2000). Rhodes scholar, from Mississippi, at Merton (1936-39). 1931 graduate of Tupelo High School. BA (1935), Southwestern at Memphis, MA at Vanderbilt, PhD Harvard. Served with the US Army during WW2. Instructor of English at MIT, professor of the English Department at the University of Richmond, Delta State University of Alabama at Montevallo. Professor of 18th-century English at the University of Georgia from 1962. He donated the trophy for the Mississippi state chess championship and won it himself in 1955 and 1956. Virginia state co-champion in 1951. Alabama state champion 1960. Left his collection of chess books to the Barret and Burrow Library, Rhodes College, Tennessee.

John Hull Dunkle (1915-1998). Son of an Alaskan mining engineer and British mother, born Seattle, Washington, died in Alaska. Active in US OTB and correspondence chess into the 1990s, from as early as the 1930s.

Clifford Leak (1921-1987) Also played in the 1939 and 1947 matches. Attended Liverpool Institute in the 1930s (captain of their chess team), won an open scholarship in Classics to Corpus Christi and was with Intelligence Corps during WW2. Played on a high board for Lancashire in the early 1950s.

William Goodwin (Magdalen) - played in the 1938 and 1939 Varsity matches. Nothing else known.

Peter William Reginald Summerson (1921-2010). Played in the 1939 and 1941 (unofficial) matches. Was, I think, a blind player - he attended Worcester College.

John Dean (1917-1983). Paediatrician, University of British Columbia, Canada, from 1955. MA, MB, BChir Cantab (1942), MRCP (1947) FRCP (1973). Educated at Wednesbury High School, obtaining an exhibition in natural sciences to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he was awarded first class honours in Part I of the natural sciences tripos in 1938. He received his education in clinical medicine at the Westminster Hospital medical school. Commissioned as temporary surgeon lieutenant RNVR and served in the Royal Navy, in HMS Ready, for three years. Emigrated to Vancouver, Canada, in 1955. Took part in the 1935 British Boys' Championship at Hastings, winning his preliminary section ahead of JF O'Donovan - who played a board below him in the 1939 Varsity match - but lost to Frank Parr in the final section to finish 3rd. Played in the 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939 Varsity matches, and also in the post-war Cambridge Past vs Oxford Past matches. [primary biographical source]

John Francis O'Donovan (1918-1999). Born in Cobh [Queenstown], Cork, Ireland, died in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Article by David McAlister, IRLchess website (from which much of this info is sourced). Played in the 1937, 1938 and 1939 Varsity matches, and was president of the Cambridge University CC in 1939. Attended St Paul's School, London. First class honours in part one of the Mathematical Tripos in 1937 and graduated BA in 1939. Tied first in the 1935 British Boys' Championship at Hastings, losing a two-game play-off for the title to Frank Parr. Won the 1936 London Boys' Championship. Took part in a number of major British congresses, e.g. Margate 1937, BCF Championships (Blackpool 1937, Brighton 1938). In 1939 played board two for Ireland in the 1939 Buenos Aires Olympiad and stayed behind in Argentina when it ended. He taught English at the Faculty of Engineering, National University of Buenos Aires, for 26 years. Endgame studies published in BCM, May 1956, p137 and BCM, Sept 1956, p243.

Philip Charles Hoad (1917-2000). Played in the 1938 and 1939 Varsity matches. Played in the 1967 British Championships, scoring 5½/11. Won the British Veterans'/Senior (Over 60) Championship eight times (a record - two were shared) between 1982 and 1990. Won the 1949 Northern Counties' (NCCU) Championship. Long-time member of Liverpool CC (see short biog article).

Mervyn Edward Wise (1917-still alive?) Played in the 1937, 1938 and 1939 matches. Academic, expert on the mathematics of medicine. Based at Leiden University in the Netherlands in the 1990s and active in chess there as late as 1995.

Irving John (Jack, "IJ") Good (1916-2009). Cryptologist, statistician, and early worker on the Colossus computer at Bletchley Park and the University of Manchester. Wikipedia. Major Scholar of Jesus College, Cambridge, 1934; State Scholar, 1934; B.A., Cambridge, 1938, Ph.D., Cambridge (Mathematics), 1941. Worked at Bletchley Park, Government Code and Cypher School, on Ultra (both the Enigma and a Teleprinter encrypting machine) as the main statistician under Alan Turing, FRS, CHOD (Hugh) Alexander and Max Newman, FRS, in turn. (The latter two also played in the Varsity chess match in the 1930s). Worked at GCHQ from 1948 until 1959. Moved to USA in 1967 - research professor of statistics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Film director Stanley Kubrick (himself a keen chess player) consulted Good for information about computing when filming 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Won the 1939 Cambridgeshire chess championship and finished 2nd in the 1958 West of England championship.

Arthur Pollitt (Clare) - nothing found.

Kenneth Preston Charlesworth (1918-2011). Beat Znosko-Borovsky in brilliant fashion in the 1947 BCF Premier Tournament, Harrogate, while scoring 3½/11 (game score discoverable here). Finished 3rd= in the 1946 BCF Major Open, Section 2 (crosstable here).

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