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Friday, May 5, 2017

William Winter

     William Winter (September 11, 1898 – December 18, 1955) was one of the more colorful players in British chess history. He won the British Open Championship in 1934 and the British Championship in 1935 and 1936. In his youth he was considered a child prodigy. A student of Tarrasch, his play was characterized by sound strategic play and he was strong enough to have defeated Bronstein, Nimzovich and Vidmar. 
     Poor health and poor tactical play was often his undoing. It was said that while he was strong enough to defeat the best players in the world on occasion, he was never strong enough to be one of them. Although he often played in top level tournaments, he usually finished near the bottom. Harry Golombek described his play as "classic, scientific and sober; away from the board, he was revolutionary, illogically moved by his emotions (he contrived to be both a fervent communist and a staunch patriot) and, more often than not, drunk." 
     In a 1937 article in Chess Review, author Paul Little described Winter' mannerisms over the board. “...(he) sits stooped over the board with one hand on hip and the other propping up his chin. Then, without warning, he will nervously search for a cigarette, abandon his search in the middle of it (wise since English cigarettes are bad), and seize his head in his two hands, twisting it from side to side and lowering his head near the board so that he can have a convenient receptacle if ever his head does come off. Numerous bets are made every BCF Congress that Winter's head will come off.” 
     Winter was a widely respected author of chess books and was a nephew of J. M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. Winter was also a Communist and has the distinction of being the only British Champion to have served time in prison. 
     During World War 1 (July 28, 1941 to November 11, 1918) Winter left his studies, served in the Honourable Artillery Company and was honorably discharged and after the war he returned to Cambridge where he won the university championship. 
     It was claimed that Winter had come under the influence of an older woman and left Cambridge University and his employment to air his Socialistic views. He was charged with making speeches that “inflamed and perverted many people.” So in 1921 Winter, who was an active member of the Communist Party, was sentenced to six months in prison for his seditious speeches. He became known to the police as “a Simple Simon among the Communists.” His appeal was denied. 
     Winter authored one of the great classics of chess literature, Kings of Chess Chess, Championships of the Twentieth Century in which he annotated 50 games that were played in matches for the World Championship starting with the 1907 match between Lasker and Marshall and ending with the 1951 match between Botvinnk and Bronstein. Winter was present when many of the games were were played and he had met all the players involved with the exception of Schlechter, plus he had played many of them in tournaments. Winter expressed some interesting opinions in the book. He wrote that the best played match for the was the 1910 match between Lasker and Schlechter. 
Click on image to enlarge

     In Nottingham 1936 Winter was dead last and was paired against Botvinnik who was in contention for first place and the game ended in a controversy. In the other deciding game, Capablanca succeeded in getting a won game against Bogoljubow, blundered and got into a lost position, but managed to hold the draw and as a result he and Botvinnik tied for first.
     There were rumors flying around before the game that Moscow had instructed the communist Winter to lose to Botvinnik. As the game progressed Botvinnik got into a lost position, but when he played his 38th move he offered a draw. Winter was not 100 percent sure he could win and so accepted the offer causing Alekhine to write in the tournament book that “it was a very premature decision...It is a pity a game of such importance should have remained practically a torso.” 
     Winter explained his decision that if he should lose from the final position, "Having regard to certain allegations which were flying around, a loss would have been disastrous to me." There seems to be a bit of controversy on this issue though. 
     Some claim that it was Winter who offered Botvinnik the draw to advance the cause of Communism and Winter himself suggested this possibility in his notes to this game (which I have not seen) and thus sacrificed his own career. 
     For further reading on Winter please visit Edward Winter's Chess History site.
     Chessmetrics gives Winter's best world ranking as number 23 in the world in 1928 and his highest rating is put at 2589, also in 1928. His best individual performance rating is listed at 2642 in London, 1927 where he finished +4 -4 =3.      
     Here is Winter's fearless win over David Bronstein.

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