History of Chess at the Club

The Chess Circle at the Club was started in 1911 and was formalised by the setting up of the Chess Committee in 1919. Since then, well over a hundred members have participated in the in-house tournament and in matches against other Clubs.

The original plans for the Pall Mall clubhouse had chess very much in mind and it has been a popular activity within the Club since the first meeting of the Chess Circle in 1911. Over the years the Pall Mall clubhouse has been home to a number of significant events. In 1929, the then world champion, José Raúl Capablanca gave a demonstration of “Double Chess” – this chess variant is now often referred to as “bughouse”.

The clubhouse has also hosted numerous visits from leading figures of the chess world, including the former World Champion Garry Kasparov and several British Champions including Nigel Short, who played against Kasparov in the FIDE World Championship held in London in 1993.

In 1924, the Right Honorable Fredrick Hamilton-Russell presented a Challenge Cup for an annual chess competition among London Clubs. Our Club has won the Hamilton-Russell Cup more often than any other club, although in recent years other clubs including the Athenaeum and the United Oxford and Cambridge Club have achieved significant victories.

The annual Oxford versus Cambridge University Varsity Chess Match has had a number of different venues since 1873. After visiting the Royal Automobile Club in 1973 for the centenary match, the varsity teams have been guests of the Club Chess Committee every year since 1978.

There has been an international programme which has taken place since 1983 with annual matches against clubs in Washington D.C. There are also regular fixtures against teams from Paris and Gibraltar.

The Club has three in-house competitions. The Sir Clarence Saddd Handicap Cup which is awarded for a piece handicap competition, this was originally six levels but is now only four. The Ralph Eastman Cup is awarded to the winner of the main time handicap competition. There is also a Chairman’s Cup, which is another time handicap competition from which Star players are excluded. Over fifty players take part regularly in all competitions.

The Royal Automobile Club 100 board centenary celebration was held on Saturday 16 April 2011 in the Mountbatten room at Pall Mall. In a truly unique simultaneous display in which ten of Britain’s highest-rated Grandmasters took part: Mickey Adams, Stephen Gordon, Julian Hodgson, Jovanka Houska, David Howell, Gawain Jones, Luke McShane, Nick Pert, Jon Speelman and Simon Williams.

The formidable team of Grandmasters took on ten teams of ten players drawn from the Club Chess Circle, leading players from the other London Club teams that compete for the Hamilton-Russell Cup, ex-Varsity players and two teams of juniors – one from the English Chess Federation and one from Chess in Schools and Communities, a charity with a mission to promote chess in state schools and communities.

The last 100 years of chess at the Club and the Circle’s involvement in national and international chess at the highest level has relied on the enthusiasm and efforts of many Club members. Inspirational figures straddling the century have been Clifton Colquhoun, who joined the Club in 1921 and after the First World War was an untiring promoter of chess at the Club until his death in 1977.

Henry Mutkins has been active in the revival and development of chess both within the Club, nationally and internationally for over 50 years. He has been on the Chess Committee since 1964.

A dinner was held on 20 December 2011 to commemorate the first ever meeting of the Chess Circle in 1911.