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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Frederick D. Yates

       Frederick Dewhurst Yates (January 1884–November 1932, London) won the British Championship six times. He was an accountant by profession but in 1909 abandoned accounting in favor of becoming a professional chess player and journalist.  He won the British Championship title in 1913, 1914, 1921, 1926, 1928 and 1931.  He was known for his tenacious and sharp style. Yates was also a good pianist.
       His record in international tournaments was not as stellar. He often defeated stronger opponents but then lost to those at the bottom. He never won a first prize in a great international tournament, often finishing in the lower half, but he is remembered for some of his wins against the greats of his day. This lack of consistency was attributed to poor health and little stamina. A constant hacking cough went unchecked because insufficient funds did not allow him to follow his doctor’s advice and move to a warmer climate.  Another likely reason for his spotty results was that he frequently combined his job as a journalist with that of a tournament participant, reporting on the tournaments in which he was playing.
       A number of his contemporaries believed Yates had the talent to be among the world championship contenders had his circumstances been different. Still, he defeated Alekhine at Carlsbad in 1923 won the brilliancy prize and his win against Dr. Vidmar at San Remo in 1930 was described by Alekhine as the finest game played since WW1.
       Yates was the chess columnist for the Manchester Guafrdian and co-authored (with William Winter) Modern Master Play.  He also covered two world championship matches: Alekhine vs. Capablanca and Alekhine vs. Bogoljubow.  After the great New York 1924 tournament where he finished in ninth place (out of 11 players) not much was heard from Yates.
      On November 11th, 1932, Yates was found dead in his apartment from asphyxiation due to a leaky gas fitting. In Edward Lasker’s enjoyable book Chess Secrets I Learned from the Masters he wrote that during WW1 Yates had committed suicide for financial reasons, adding “He had probably been too modest to ask British chessplayers for help.”
      Lasker’s account was totally wrong. The coroner reported a few days after Yates’ death that the natural gas fittings in his room were turned off but there had been a gas leak.  The gas company stated an obsolete fitting attached to the meter in the room was to blame.  The fitting was apparently accidentally dislodged resulting in Yates’ accidental death.  He was 48 years old.
       The British Chess Magazine of December,  1932 reported Yates was last seen alive in the evening by a friend a couple of days before his death.  On a Friday morning the smell of gas was coming from his room and the door was broken open and Yates was found dead in bed.
      Yates’ financial circumstances were not good and several 1933 issues of Chess World contained arguments concerning British player’s lack of support for Yates. W.H. Watts wrote, ... we were so infatuated by our own pettifogging antics over the chess board that we failed to see our Champion was starving. We could not see that poor timid Yates was literally dying in our midst, too proud to tell us so himself. The very name Yates will be forever a shameful memory in the annals of British Chess.”
Sidebar: Watts' comment brings up a question.  Do we chess players owe Grandmasters a living?  I was told by an “anonymous source” that when a certain Hungarian Grandmaster emigrated to the US in 1958 and landed in Cleveland, Ohio, he got in a snit and left town because the local chess club would not hire him as a manager and thereby allow him to be free to play chess without having to worry about income.  True or not, I can’t say.  Personally I would not be willing to work like a dog every day and then contribute a portion of my income (directly or indirectly) just so somebody can sit around and play chess, especially when there have been many top chess players that have been successful in careers outside of chess. It can be done.

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