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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Unique Henry Atkins

     British chess writer Bruce Hayden said of Atkins that “there never was a chessplayer like H.E. Atkins.” Hayden called him the pride and despair of his friends because he could have been a GM, but he didn't want to be; he didn't even particularly want to be an IM. Atkins played only for relaxation in his spare time and would not even waste his vacations to play in tournaments. 
     Henry E. Atkins (August 20, 1872 – January 31, 1955) was a British master who is best known for his record of winning the British Championship nine times in eleven attempts. He won every year from 1905 to 1911 and again in 1924 and 1925. 
     A schoolmaster, to Atkins chess was a hobby to which he devoted relatively little time and he played in only a handful of international tournaments. He was an extremely gifted player who would likely have become one of the world's leading players had he pursued the game more single-mindedly. He was awarded him the IM title in 1950 in recognition of his past achievements. 
     He was born in in Leicester and in 1890, he entered Peterhouse, Cambridge as a mathematical scholar. He was mathematical master at Northampton College from 1898 to 1902 and at the Wyggeston School from 1902 and 1909. He was then appointed principal of what later became Huddersfield New College in 1909, serving in that position until 1936.
     Atkins learned chess from one of his brothers, and joined his school's chess club at age 10. One of his sisters gave him a copy of Howard Staunton's The Chess-Player's Handbook, which he closely studied. At 15, he joined the Leicester Chess Club and within two years was playing on first board. While in college, he also played on first board for Cambridge University. 
     Between 1895 and 1901, Atkins played in seven minor tournaments, winning four and finishing second or tying for second in the others, and losing just 3 out of 70 games. At Amsterdam 1899, an amateur tournament that was Atkins' first international appearance, he achieved a perfect score, winning all 15 games and finishing 4 points ahead of the second-place finisher! 
     His best result came at his first major international tournament, Hanover 1902, where he finished third (with +7-2 =7) behind David Janowski and Harry N. Pillsbury and ahead of Chigorin and Marshall. British writer Bruce Hayden described Atkins' style as bombarding his opponent with a creeping style that earned him the title of the “Little Steinitz.” However, Jeremy Silman said he played over 100 of Atkins games and while he did see some some nice positional games, he also saw "tons of tactical crushes and quite a bit of chaos.” 
      After having achieved fame at Hanover in 1902, and with the promise of even greater fame, Atkins vanished from international chess although he did play in the British Championships. He played in no international tournaments for the next 20 years because he “never found it possible again to play.” 
Giving  simul in 1952

     After the 1911 British Championship, Atkins retired completely from tournament chess for the next 11 years. He later remarked, "I really can't say why I didn't play after 1911 for so many years." Internationally, he had agreed to play in the 1919 Hastings Victory Congress, but withdrew at the last moment on his doctor's orders. 
     In 1922, a major international tournament was organized in London. Atkins was also invited and agreed to play, but his long lay off resulted in a disappointing tournament, scoring only 6-9 and finishing 10th out of 16 players. Older and out of practice, this was his first experience of not finishing among the prize winners! He was next seen as a spectator at Nottingham 1936, wandering about as if he was nobody. 

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