Chess: The world is now a less smelly place

William Hartston
Wednesday 16 February 1994 00:02

THE HASTINGS Congress at the turn of the year was, despite an enforced change of venue and a lack of commercial sponsorship, generally a happy and successful event.

The 10 invited Premier Tournament contestants, insulated from the weather at the Cinque Ports Hotel, played hard and attractively, while the hundreds of congress entrants, from uninvited grandmasters downwards, braved storms, heavy seas and, at times, a moving playing arena at the end of the pier.

The one sad moment for Hastings came with the announcement, just as the Congress was finishing, of the death of William Ritson Morry, at the age of 83. Ritson had been a stalwart supporter of Hastings as player, controller, organiser and fairy godfather for almost as long as anyone could remember.

He was a strange old bird, with a taste in foul-smelling cigars that demanded either anosmia or a strong stomach of anyone staying long enough to listen to his unending stream of anecdotes.

Quite apart from the cigars, he was not always the easiest man to get on with, slipping naturally into the role of cantankerous old buffer if something happened to upset his schedule, or - and nothing could guarantee to annoy him more - if a 'No Smoking' sign appeared above his chosen perch. But he had a genuine and generous love of chess that was hard to match. His efforts and expertise contributed greatly to the development of the game in Britain.

It is not easy to separate truth from fiction in the life of W Ritson Morry. Never one to let facts spoil a good story, he seemed to lead the sort of life that encouraged others to add embellishments to his own exploits. A chess player from his youth, he founded the Birmingham Junior League while in his teens and studying at Birmingham University, then went on to train as a solicitor.

His greatest claims to notoriety are connected with his being struck off after a conviction for embezzlement. (He always referred to it as 'unfortunate business dealings' - reputedly, it was something to do with illicit investment of clients' funds).

After contributing briefly to Her Majesty's pleasure, he returned to play in a British Championship tournament which led to a famous report in Chess magazine that described him as a 'notorious jailbird'. He sued and won a pyrrhic victory - a farthing damages and no costs.

As a player, he sometimes squeezed in at the bottom end of English teams, and his best results came in the British Championships of 1936 where he shared second place, and in 1951, sharing third. His greatest contribution, however, was as an organiser of Birmingham internationals, Warwickshire county chess, and saviour of Hastings. The circumstances of the last of these was a typically bizarre tale.

In the early 1970s, a relative died, leaving Ritson around three acres of land outside Birmingham. His own estimate of the value of the plot was pounds 2,500 - give or take a few cigars. He promptly arranged to sell it to a local property developer who, after inspecting the land, phoned with an offer. When they said pounds 7,000, Ritson was, for once, dumbstruck. Misunderstanding his silence, they raised the figure to pounds 7,500, which he quickly accepted. 'We have a deal,' they said. ' pounds 7,500 an acre.'

Ritson's expected pounds 2,500 had risen by pounds 20,000 in a couple of minutes, and he put the money to good use financing one Birmingham International and providing a much-needed donation to the Hastings tournament of 1974, essential to keep the traditional event alive. By the time the Inland Revenue claimed their share of the bequest, the money had gone. Ritson was made bankrupt, which did not bother him in the slightest.

I shall remember Ritson best in one of his traditional poses: playing in tournaments with a radio clasped to his ear whenever a cricket test match was on, or, later in life, asleep and gently snoring, behind a sign saying 'Chief Arbiter', with a cigar still smouldering between his lips.

I cannot pretend that I ever liked Ritson Morry, but his death has undeniably deprived English chess of one of its great characters. The Hastings tournament in particular will be a duller and blander place without him.

Here's a Ritson game to finish off. Never one of be unduly bothered with the finesses of positional play, he believed that 'God gave us pieces for the purpose of attacking the opponent'. Here he attacks Jacques Mieses until the old grandmaster, made to suffer for his eccentric opening play, had to give up. /BT

White: W R Morry

Black: J Mieses

London 1940

Nimzowitsch Defence

1 d4 d6 14 Ba4 Kc8 2 e4 Nc6 15 Rac1 g5 3 f4 e5 16 Nd5 Nxd5 4 Nf3 Bg4 17 exd5 Nd4 5 Bb5 Bxf3 18 Qd3 Qxa4 6 Qxf3 exd4 19 Bxd4 Be7 7 0-0 Ne7 20 Rc4 Qa5 8 f5 f6 21 Rfc1 Bd8 9 c3 dxc3 22 Qc2 Kb8 10 Nxc3 Qd7 23 Bf2 Ra7 11 Qh5+ Kd8 24 b4 Qxd5 12 Be3 Qe8 25 Rxc7 1-0 13 Qe2 a6


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