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Monday, July 30, 2018

Ernest E. Colman

     One site I was recently viewing listed 20 variations of the Two Knights Defense and buried in the list was the Colman Variation (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Na5 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 8. Qf3 Rb8). 


     This variation has one of the most interesting histories of any opening. Its inventor, Ernest Eugene Colman, even had an entire book written about it: Surviving Changi: E.E. Colman - a Chess Biography by Olimpiu G. Urcan.  If your interested you can by the book used on Amazon for $2,797 which seems a bit pricey to me. For some modern examples of this variation visit the Red Hot Pawn page HERE
     During the Japanese occupation of Singapore (1942-1945) Colman was interned at Changi prison. Today Changi is a planning area located in the East Region of Singapore. Also located in Changi is Singapore's largest prison, Changi Prison. It became infamous as a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during the occupation of Singapore in World War II. Changi Prison continues to be Singapore's oldest operating internment facility, now in the form of the new Changi Prison Complex. 
     Following the fall of Singapore in February 1942, the Japanese military detained about 3,000 civilians in Changi Prison, which was built to house only 600 prisoners. The Japanese used the British Army's Selarang Barracks near the prison as a prisoner of war camp to house some 50,000 Allied soldiers, predominantly British and Australian; from 1943, Dutch civilians were brought over by the Japanese from the islands in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). POWs were in fact rarely, if ever, held in the civilian prison, but in the UK, Australia, The Netherlands and elsewhere, the name "Changi" became synonymous with the POW camp nearby. 
     About 850 POWs died during their internment in Changi, a relatively low rate compared to the overall death rate of 27 percent for POWs in Japanese camps. Allied POWs, mainly Australians, built a chapel at the prison in 1944 using simple tools and found materials. Stanley Warren of the 15th Regiment, Royal Regiment of Artillery painted a series of murals at the chapel. Another British POW, Sgt. Harry Stodgen built a Christian cross out of a used artillery shell.  The prisoners of war also established an education program nicknamed the Changi University. 
     The prison also contained the headquarters of the Kempeitai, the Japanese military police. The Kempeitai tortured prisoners there, who they suspected were spies.
      After the war, the prison was used to hold former Japanese staff officers, Kempeitai, police, and guards from concentration camps for trial. Executions were conducted in the inner yard where three gallows were erected. British soldiers were stationed there as prison guards.  Poetic justice.  
     Eventually the chapel was dismantled and shipped to Australia, while the cross was sent to the UK. The chapel was reconstructed in 1988, and is now located at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Canberra.  Memorial.
     Before the War, Colman, a civil servant, was Singapore's top chess player and leading organizer. He reorganized the Singapore Chess Club and was its President for decades. He saw chess and soccer as a way to bridge the gap between the various races in Singapore. 
     Colman was in Changi as a civilian internee and was remembered for his exemplary conduct. While interred there he taught chess to his fellow inmates as a way to keep their mind off their hardships and even wrote a secret chess manual which was smuggled from camp to camp.  His book was in two parts; the first chronicled his life and times while the second contained many games he played.
     Colman himself suggested the his innovation (8...Rb8) be named “the Wimbledon Variation” for reasons that are a bit puzzling. He also suggested that the variation be named after fellow internee who helped with the analysis, Dr.Yeoh Bok Choon. 
     Dr. Yeoh Bok Choon, who died in 1983, was also an interesting fellow; the only time I ever heard of him was in the introduction of a small tournament book written by Harry Golombek.
     After the war he spent time in England doing post graduate studies. By the 1960s he was the State Surgeon for the southern Malaysian state of Johor, a neighbor of Singapore. He was an avid orchid grower and promoter who believed orchids benefited from having an occasional beer. He was an avid chess organizer throughout his career. 
     Colman (born 1878) was originally a South West Londoner. In 1903 in a correspondence team match he played on the same team as Reginald Saunderson who was accused of being Jack the Ripper. 
     After the War, Colman went to Wimbledon and passed away in Roehampton in 1964. He is buried in Gap Road Cemetery not far from Henry Bird's final resting place. 
     During his three years in Changi organized chess among the fellow internees, and with them analyzed his innovation in the Two Knight's Defense. It wasn't until after the war that he got to test it in serious competition when he used against opponents in the London and Surrey leagues. 
     Playing through Colman's games reveals some that are truly quite interesting. For example, his game against Jacobs at Tunbridge Wells in 1911 featured quadrupled Pawns. You'll also enjoy his attack against Esser in the below game. 
     It's hard to say exactly how good Colman was, but in 1911 Colman played Frank Marshall in a three game match for a small stake in Tunbridge Wells. Marshall won +2 -1 =0, but by accounts Marshall was somewhat lucky when in an interesting position Colman, who was short of time, blundered and lost. 
     In tournament play Colman tied for 9-10th in the Hamburg 1910 chess tournament, tied for 6-7th at Oxford 1910, took 10th at London 1910, shared 3rd at Tunbridge Wells 1911, tied for 10-11th at London 1919, and took 7th at Margate 1923.

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