Friday, October 28, 2022

Remembering Mike Basman and Audio Chess

One of the great figures of British chess, Mike Basman, has died.

Basman never qualified as a grandmaster, but when he drew with the former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik at the Hastings tournament of 1967, Botvinnik singled him out for praise among the younger English players.

And he was one of the strongest British players in the late 1960s and early 1970s, becoming increasingly famous for his choice of unconventional opening moves. Those who followed his example inevitably became known as 'Basmaniacs'.

Tony Miles, Britain's first grandmaster, once used one of Basman's openings to defeat the reigning world champion Anatoly Karpov, much to Karpov's annoyance,

Later in life, Basman made a great contribution as an organiser and inspirer of junior chess. Honouring him a couple of years ago, the world chess federation FIDE said:

With his books and personality, Michael Basman was an inspiration to several generations of British chess players. Grandmaster Raymond Keene once wrote, referring to Basman's promotion of youth chess, "Michael Basman is in many ways the most important person in British chess."

I met Mike Basman in London in the 1980s, but he was most important to me in the decade before when I was a teenager.

Under the name Audio Chess, he produced, sold and hired cassette tapes on chess. Most were on the openings, but I remember a useful one on Russian for chess players and, best of all, a tape that Tony Miles and Basman recorded.

Miles had just qualified as Britain's first grandmaster because of a strong performance in a tournament in the Soviet Union, and on the tape he demonstrated some of the key games. It sounds laughable in the digital age, but in the 1970s this tape seemed almost miraculously immediate.

I still remember from my increasingly distant chess career a game in which I beat one of Audio Chess's regular experts, the late Otto Hardy. I also won a rook ending for the county under the stern gaze of a spectating Otto, putting into practice things I had learned from one of his own tapes.

Mike Basman was born on in London in 1946. His father, an Armenian immigrant named Basmadjian, changed the family name to Basman. Michael temporarily changed his surname back when he lived in Yerevan for a period in his twenties. There he learned Armenian and even participated in the Armenian championship.

Chess in Britain is less colourful for his passing and, like most British players, of the last 50 years, I owe him a debt.


Anonymous said...

R.I.P. Mr. Basman

1.g4 eternal

Dan said...

Mike Basman also stood in the 2017 general election in Kingston and Surbiton coming behind the Monster Raving Loony candidate on a platform about a tax grievance. I believe he lived in Chessington.

Jonathan Calder said...

He did. I went to his house once.