Robert Richmond 1956-2020

We are sad to announce the unexpected death of Robert on 9th January. He will be sadly missed. Below are three contributions by people who knew him.

John Swain

Robert and I became friends over forty years ago when we were university students. This was facilitated because we were both “addicts”; Robert often referred to himself as a “chess addict”. However, if we’d simply played chess in the college league, as many students did in Cambridge, and not joined the university club as well, then I imagine, being in a different college and reading a different subject, we’d probably never have become friends.

Robert was a born organiser and was keen to drive the university club forward at a time when it had plenty of strong players but few organisers. He became President in 1977 and asked me to help as Match Secretary. Had it not been for Robert’s encouragement, I doubt whether I would have got involved. That was one of Robert’s many talents – encouraging others to step up to the plate and lend a hand. Another fellow organiser, Mike Egan, remembered Robert as “a bundle of energy as well as a strong player”. Robert had it in his gift as President to select the Varsity team against Oxford, which brought with it a coveted Half-Blue, but he chose to select another player on bottom board of similar strength, illustrating another of Robert’s virtues – lack of self-promotion or, put simply, modesty.

Robert was not some one-dimensional bureaucrat. He had a fine sense of humour, often at his own expense. In one issue of the University Chess Club magazine, Dragon, his pithy Presidential Message was simply:

“Since I cannot think of anything suitably pompous to say, I’ll skip it this time.”

Sometimes, this sense of humour could get us into trouble. In one Dragon edition, he wrote an article entitled “Play like a Batsford Book …”

“…more has definitely meant worse in the field of opening books … An example … The King’s Gambit by … Viktor Korchnoi and Vladimir Zak, described as a leading trainer, or in other words, a Russian Tim Harding …”

That led to a letter from the editor of Batsford books demanding to see a copy of Dragon; thankfully, he didn’t take it any further. Robert then continued the satire, having a dig at both Batsford books and Grandmaster Ray Keene in another Dragon: “Now Batsford books proudly present Play like a county champion. Ray Keene, writing in The Joggers’ Supplement to the Weighwatchers’ Telegraph wished he’s spent an afternoon writing it”.

Robert was also a regular - and I might add – successful participant in the Pint-a-Point Tournaments where you have a pint to drink and finish in the interval between rounds of five-minute chess. Robert’s tipple-of-choice in those days was cider. In theory, the more games you won, the less likely you were to win the next game. Robert disproved that theory.

Robert graduated in 1978 and began training as an accountant in Cambridge, so we had the benefit of his presence for a while longer. He was instrumental in setting up the first Cambridge Congress in 1979, was Treasurer of the Southern Counties Chess Union for four years and was then one of the key movers, perhaps the key mover in the formation of the East Anglian Chess Union in 1983, holding several roles within that body and also being President of Cambridge Chess Association in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s whilst living in St Ives.

I maintained contact with Robert on several occasions at tournaments and Robert, Richard Freeman, Chris Majer and myself would meet at a weekend for a pizza or curry, several drinks and then play exchange chess into the small hours. Good times!

For a while in the early ‘90s, Robert was living in Leicester and played for Gambit for four years as well as for Braunstone and also Leicestershire, where he was board 4 and a winner in the team which beat Kent 10-6 in the 1994 County Championship Final. He then moved jobs taking him to Aylesbury and then Slough before taking early retirement and returning to Nottingham and the club where he had started as a junior, West Bridgford. Robert’s professional skills as an accountant were no doubt invaluable when he became BCF Finance Director in 2003, remaining in post when the ECF was created and only leaving office in 2009.

Robert enjoyed a number of over-the-board successes, such as his second place at the “FIDE World Major” at Scarborough in August 2004, sponsored by Smith and Williamson. Finishing second carried an automatic FM title, but this was overlooked due to some administrative oversight. Fifteen years later, this was rectified; Robert’s title was recorded on the FIDE website and a framed certificate and badge arrived in the post. Robert was not a happy bunny, feeling, first, that he should have been consulted beforehand and secondly that as someone whose peak rating was 2260, forty points short of the normal 2300 FM requirement, he did not deserve the title. I advised him to accept it and use it for half-price entry to tournaments. Robert did not agree with my cheap-skating approach and the next thing I knew he had contacted the authorities and FM was removed from his FIDE profile. Robert probably holds the world record for the person listed as FM for the shortest time!

Robert was far from a one-trick pony – a chess player and organiser. He had an interest in sport, following cricket keenly and spectating at Trent Bridge whenever he could. One of the pictures on his wall is of the Nottinghamshire Double winners of 1987, which included Richard Hadlee, Derek Randall, Clive Rice and Tim Robinson. He was still spectating at Trent Bridge until fairly recently, receiving a letter in September 2018 thanking him for his “unstinting support this season” and encouraging him to become a member in 2019. Robert also took an interest in Nottingham Forest. Not surprisingly, Robert had an interest in other mind-sports. He and Allan used to play bridge regularly with Paul Kemp and Tom Guy and recently, whenever I phoned, I usually had to ask “Are you in the middle of an online draughts game?” Sometimes, Robert, needing to make a move in just a short order, would ration me to the briefest conversation.

Many people probably don’t know that Robert, with a degree in Sciences, was very keen on History and has perhaps as many History books in his flat as I do at home as a History graduate. He had three particular interests: historic and contemporary election results, family history and local chess history. He has several books and files filled with hand-written notes about constituency results dating back to the nineteenth century, for example. Family History was also a great interest for him and he successfully traced branches of his family back several centuries. Latterly, he was dedicated to researching the history of chess in Nottinghamshire and we are indebted to Robert posting some of his findings last September on the NCA website. He also wrote a History of the great 1936 Nottingham Tournament, with five past, present and future world champions participating which we hope to see published when some issues with the pictures are resolved.

Robert showed no sign of slowing down towards the end of his life. He was very pleased that he was playing well in recent months, so much so that his grade of 195, published three week after he died, was his highest in seven years and reflected the fact that in recent games he had been playing at 200 standard once again. As Phil Morgan put it on the Ashfield website: “ …we recall Robert as a fiercely competitive and talented chess player. Achieving a result against Robert was special and hard-earned.”

We’ll miss Robert in lots of ways. We’ll miss his wise counsel in helping to draft our rules, his ability to act as peace-maker when we had a disagreement over the application of our rules a few years ago, his energy in running lots of tournaments, drawing up fixtures and researching the history of the NCA. As Drag Sudar put, “his death has left a huge gap in our association.” But perhaps above all, we’ll miss his good humour, his willingness to help others, his friendship and the loss of, as Richard Freeman wrote: “a genuinely all-round nice guy”.

Tim Walker (West Bridgford Chess Club)

Robert will be missed by all at the club and county-wide also.

I first met Robert about fifteen years ago, in 2005, with already an impressive history of achievements and commitments to West Bridgford behind him. He gave so much in the next years with the club, continuing as BCF finance director and taking on several roles in Notts chess. Club wise he slotted straight into the club helping many different roles and, as the best player at the club, board 1 for the 1st team.

Playing such strong opponents every week, and having accounting commitments, Robert would have some reason to steer away from less glamorous roles in the club, but he took on assorted roles from accounts checker to clock-auditor. It is no coincidence that his joining the club was quickly followed by what would be the most successful times for West Bridgford chess over the last thirty years.

The club grew to six league teams, and for a time the WB teams topped the first two divisions.

In County Chess and 4NCL he won many games representing Nottinghamshire.

Robert would come out with a new opening every few years, and play it with tenacity. He was on the adjudication panel for many years, with the positions being mainly endgames.

Robert helped at the club and was always a nice guy to all members and would play new members and juniors alike. He was modest as ever and never promoted his BCF roles down the club.

Neil Graham (Notts Junior Chess)

The early 1970s were a time of consolidation for chess. The Fischer-Spassky match had brought hundreds of players to the game and in Nottinghamshire we had the strongest group of juniors the county had seen, both before and since. The Notts League was a regular battle between West Bridgford and Gambit over the period and Robert was a member of the Bridgford team who won the title in both 1972 and 1974.

In Nottingham, Robert and his brother Allan (Peter) were two of the strongest junior players and along with Peter Grimsey, Andrew Rolfe, Robert Day and Michael Boszormeny were based at the West Bridgford and Rushcliffe Comprehensives. In addition Peter Sharp at Carlton-le-Willows plus other strong players such as Peter Abbott, Andrew Ross, Jerry Herrington, Brent Skuse & Alan Mycroft made up our strong county junior team.

All the above players played in our greatest success in 1973 when we won the Midlands Under 18 Jamboree with 9½/12 and went on to the national finals in London. The strength of the teams in those days can be assessed by the fact Jon Speelman was top board for Middlesex but that was nothing compared to Lancashire with Jonathan Mestel on Board 1, Paul Littlewood on Board Two and Sheila Jackson down on Board 12 – all these named players going on to become British Champions. The final was held in the infamous St. Brides Institute and we finished a creditable second equal as follows:-

(Out of 12) 1st Lancashire 10; 2nd= Nottinghamshire / Middlesex 5; 4th Somerset 4

1 Peter J Sharp 1-0 J S Speelman (Middx)
2 Andrew Rolfe 0-1 N J Webber (Somerset)
3 Robert Richmond ½-½ R J Starkie (Lancs)
4 Allan Richmond 0-1 A C Dempsey (Lancs)
5 Peter W Grimsey 1-0 J Bunter (Somerset)
6 Robert Day 0-1 R Lee (Middx)
7 Michael Boszormenyi 0-1 P A Corbin (Middx)
8 Peter C Abbott ½-½ R Furseman (Somerset)
9 Alan Mycroft 0-1 N Hacking (Lancs)
10 Jerry Herrington 0-1 T Holt (Lancs)
11 Brent Skuse 1-0 T Wheeler (Somerset)
12 Andrew Ross 1-0 C Okike (Middx)