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David Pritchard 1919 - 2005

Oh dear. He had seemed fit enough when I spent a few days with him and Elaine early in November, but barely five weeks later came a telephone call from a lady who introduced herself as his daughter: he had fallen, and had fractured his skull. I learned later that he had been dining with friends in London, had seen them safely on their way home, and had then slipped.

I'll come to David's achievements in a moment, but let us start by looking at the man himself. I am somewhat hampered in this by having known him only since the late 1980s, but I have been asking around with a request to pass the enquiry forward, and Mike Adams, Paul Byway, Peter Horlock, George Jelliss, Stewart Reuben, David Sedgwick, and Eric Solomon have all come forward with information. In addition, Mike Adams has sent me a copy of the address read at his funeral service by his son-in-law Colin Dakin.

David was born in 1919, and the name "D. Pritchard (R.A.F.)" started to appear in Fairy Chess Review in April 1941. Eric Solomon describes him as having been reluctant to talk about his wartime experiences and he never said more to me than that he had been "in transport", but Colin Dakin said in his funeral address that he had been a navigator in Dakotas, and Eric reports him as having flown supplies dropped to British forces fighting the Japanese in the Far East. Read into this what you will, but I imagine that it included finding his way over mountain and enemy-occupied jungle to places like Imphal and Kohima.

Although demobilised after the war, he later rejoined the RAF, and then worked "in Intelligence". Again, that was all he said to me, but Colin Dakin reported him as having moved to the Ministry of Defence, where he worked on photographic reconnaissance. Yet in spite of this Services background, he was as far as could be from the Blimp of conventional caricature. Stewart Reuben has put it very neatly: "an affable man with a dry sense of humour who was in no sense old-fashioned in his views".

As for ourselves, our most abiding memory will be of the splendid meetings which he and Elaine hosted in their lovely house outside Godalming: a one-off "Chess Variants Day" in July 1992, and our annual meetings from 1997 to 2002. We used to deal with the formal business in the late morning, break for a most generous buffet lunch, and then have an afternoon five-minute tournament with his friends from the Guildford and Godalming clubs. George Jelliss has described these meetings as "always highlights of the year", and he speaks for all of us. David and Elaine enjoyed good food and routinely provided it for their friends, and his compliments on a bottle of wine were worth having.

We knew David as a variant player, but of course he was no slouch at orthodox chess. He took part in ten British Championship finals between 1959 and 1978, and if his best placings were relatively modest (equal 10-12 in 1963, equal 10-17 in 1970) he took some fine scalps along the way. He helped to dethrone Jonathan Penrose in 1970, and he did some horrible things to Tony Miles in 1973 in a game which found its way straight into the magazines.

White Tony Miles, Black David Pritchard, British Championship 1973, Round 2. 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 (apparently this is a recognised opening, but in my old-fashioned way I would be delighted to see my opponent adopting such a formation) Bc5 4 Bg2 d6 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 O-O a6 7 h3 Be6 8 d3 h6 9 Qe2 Qd7 10 Kh2 g5 and Black already threatens ...g4 breaking things up on the K side :

This sort of position is normally reached with White as the attacking side! 11 Ne1 Nd4 12 Qd2 g4 13 h4 O-O-O 14 Nd5 Bxd5 15 exd5 Nf5 16 b4 Bb6 17 c3 Qe7 18 Qe2 Rhg8 19 Be3 :

This would seem to have been the fatal mistake. David duly pounced: 19...Bxe3 20 fxe3 Nxg3! 21 Kxg3 Nh5+ 22 Kh2 (22 Kf2 makes no difference) Qxh4+ 23 Kg1 Ng3 :

24 Qf2 (other moves allow 24...Nxf1, leaving Black with a rook and three unopposed pawns against bishop and knight) f5 25 Nc2 Rg5 26 Rfe1 (understandable, but White doesn't have time for it) Rh5 (now White is soon crushed) 27 Qd2 Rf8 28 Rf1 f4 29 exf4 Qh2+ 30 Kf2 Rxf4+ 31 Ke1 Nxf1 and White gave up. To quote Stewart Reuben again, David was not a player from whom one expected a quick draw.

However, it was for the sheer breadth of his interest in games that David became outstanding. Even as pared down for the move from Godalming to Gloucestershire, his library was impressive; something over 300 books on chess and other board games, and well over a hundred on games of other kinds. I believe his games collection was also impressive, though this was not visible in the same way. When visiting him in November, I happened to mention that I had recently bought a certain game from the 1930s at an auction (I am in no sense a serious collector, and had bid purely out of interest because I had played another game from the same family with a school friend) . His reaction was immediate: oh yes, he said, there were four of these games, such-and-such is the rare one because only so-many were made, and the early copies are the best because the manufacturer later went over to cheap plastic. He went out, and came back with what had more recently been sold as the game I remembered from the 1950s (and alas, he was all too right about the plastic).

David was a prolific writer, both on chess and on other games. Eric Solomon tells me that he was editor of the first series of Games and Puzzles from 1973 until it ceased publication in 1981, and the British Library catalogue lists a host of games books quite apart from chess: Go, A Quick Guide to the Game (Faber 1973), Puzzles and Teasers for the Easy Chair (Elliott Right Way Books 1977), Brain Games (Penguin 1982), The Family Book of Games (Michael Joseph 1983), Mahjong (Teach Yourself 2001), The New Mahjong (Elliott Right Way Books 2004), and booklets Oriental Board Games (1977) and Card Games (1995) in the "Know the Game" series. No doubt some of these were introductory and elementary in nature, but these are just the books that make new friends for a game. He himself is reputed to have said that The Right Way to Play Chess (Elliott 1950, with numerous reprints) was the best paid work he ever did because of the continuing royalties.

But it was the variant forms of chess that were his particular delight, and his knowledge was unrivalled: certainly in Britain, and probably worldwide. We have regularly had the benefit of his expertise in VC, from the four-page article on Burmese Chess in VC 43 to the snippets which so help to give variety to a magazine. All of this was to be crystallized in The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants (1994), on which his reputation will surely rest. The original contract for this book was rendered worthless by the Robert Maxwell collapse and eventually he had to publish it himself, and not only did he do this but (I imagine at the cost of a lot of time spent on the grinding drudgery of day-to-day marketing) he even made a modest financial profit. Inevitably, the book is not perfect; no one man can be aware of every local rule in a field which is intrinsically so flexible, and self-publication deprived him of the publisher's reader who would surely have picked up a number of minor misprints. But it covers a vast amount of ground in an instructive and entertaining manner, and there is nothing else in existence that is remotely like it. His work on an intended second edition was interrupted by his death, but Elaine has asked me if I would be willing to complete it. The task will not be easy, but I will try.

David continued to play at a high standard throughout his life, both over the board and by correspondence; just from VC, we see that he played in the second Heterodox Olympiad (1993-6), on one of the variant boards in the 1994 UK-Italy correspondence match, and in at least the fifth (1995) and sixth (1999) of the international Progressive Chess tournaments run by AISE. In the latter, he scored a splendid 10/10 in the preliminaries, only to disgust himself by a mere 9/16 in the final. I had therefore intended to round off this notice by quoting some of his wins in variant games, but most of those that have been preserved seem already to have appeared in VC, and there is none where his opponent compelled him to perform with quite the same panache as against Miles in the game above. Perhaps the best were the sparkling announcement of mate in 8 at Alice Chess which was quoted in VC 29 and the off-hand but skilful Hostage Chess game which appeared in VC 32, but the Alice Chess finish was repeated as recently as VC 45, and the finer points of the Hostage Chess game would require rather too much detailed explanation for present purposes. Instead, let me quote two of the light but entertaining problems contributed to Fairy Chess Review between 1941 and 1946 :

David Pritchard
Fairy Chess Review 1943
David Pritchard
Fairy Chess Review 1946
Selfmate in 4
Orthodox Chess
Stalemate in 3

In a maximummer, Black, though not White, must always play his geometrically longest move, measured in a straight line from square centre to square centre (though check and mate are normal). Experienced solvers, and even imaginative newcomers, will quickly spot the main idea here, though they will then discover that there is a pleasant subsidiary motif. The second problem is orthodox as to rules but unorthodox as to objective, and may be found somewhat trickier. Answers in VC 51, page 111.

To finish, two more comments which surely speak for us all. From George Jelliss, "a very warm and likeable man";  from Paul Byway, "I don't see who could fill the place he occupied".

John Beasley VC 51 January 2006 pp 98, 99

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