Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jim Slater and British chess

The financier Jim Slater, whose rise and fall were once the talk of the City, died on Wednesday.

His Telegraph obituary says:
Slater remained a chess enthusiast all his life, and counted his sponsorship of British chess as one of his proudest achievements.
There is more about that sponsorship on Slater's own website, which began in the aftermath of the Fischer vs Spassky world title match when the game was on the front page of every newspaper.

In fact Slater played an important part in ensuring that the match took place at all:
While preparations were being made for the World Championship in Iceland, Fischer began complaining about the prize money which he thought should be doubled. 
“I was driving into London early one Monday morning in mid-July feeling disappointed that after all this build-up Fischer might not be taking on Spassky, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could easily afford the extra prize money personally. As well as providing me with a fascinating spectacle for the next few weeks it would give chess players throughout the world enormous pleasure for the match to proceed."
Chess players should thank Slater for that if nothing else.

He then turned his attention to promoting the game in Britain:
A few months later, in an endeavour to help our young players, Jim Slater offered on behalf of The Slater Foundation to give a prize of £5,000 (over £50,000 in today’s money) to the first British Grandmaster and £2,500 to each of the next four. Over the next few years Great Britain progressed from having no Grandmasters to twenty with one of the strongest teams of young chess players in the world.
When that time was offered the idea of a British grandmaster seemed fanciful, but Tony Miles claimed the £5000 in 1976. Soon there were dozens of British GMs - two from Leicester alone.

Since then, chess in Britain has been in serious decline. I once discussed the reasons for that decline on this blog.

Yesterday Stephen Moss examined the problem in the Guardian. His one firm conclusion is that there is no longer any money in the British game.

Which brings us back to Jim Slater.

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

I'm not a chess player but Tony Gillam, a chess player and liberal, introduced me to many. I was in my early 20s and the aspiring British players were already a few years older than me. They showed me king/pawn/king end game scenarios whilst talking about the world.

Robert Maxwell was another dodgy chess sponsor. I remember Tony Dempsey agonising over cups of tea about whether to sign a contract with Pergamon Press.