Chess Morganisms

Edward Winter


D.J. Morgan

We present a selection of chess observations by David James Morgan (1894-1978) in his Quotes and Queries column, which ran in the BCM from 1953 to 1978:

From the correspondence section in the June 1952 CHESS, page 180:


That stylish writer D.J. Morgan (1894-1978) was particularly interested in problems, but what is known about any compositions by him? The position below appeared in his Quotes & Queries column on page 487 of the December 1972 BCM:

dia 1

‘For the Quiet Half-hour. Put the knights and bishops on their home squares, as shown. Move one piece at a time, white and black alternately, so that the two colours shall exchange places, without any piece being attacked by, or attacking, another piece of opposite colour during the course of play. A knight can cross over to the king’s or the queen’s side. It can be done readily in 16 moves, but save a move and do it in 15.’

Was Morgan the composer? Such was explicitly stated on page 33 of The Book of Extraordinary Chess Problems by Stephen Addison (Ramsbury, 1989).


Michael McDowell (Westcliff-on-sea, England) points out that the obituary of D.J. Morgan by G.W. Chandler on page 246 of The Problemist, September 1978 specifically stated that ‘he was not a composer’.


The task was to exchange the positions of the pieces without any attacks on pieces of the opposite colour. D.J. Morgan gave the solution as follows on page 45 of the January 1973 BCM: 1 Nc3 Nd7 2 Na2 Nc5 3 Nb4 Ne7 4 Nf3 Nf5 5 Ba3 Bh6 6 Nh2 Ne4 7 Nc6 Bd2 8 Ng4 Nc3 9 Bh3 Ba6 10 Bf8 Ng3 11 Nf6 Bc1 12 Bd7 Bf1 13 Bc8 Nge2 14 Nb8 Nb1 15 Ng8 Ng1.

He commented:

‘It will be found that the knights alone on the board require ten moves on each side to change places. (A king’s knight cannot change places with a queen’s knight in four moves without attacking one another.) The bishops, similarly taken alone, need six moves on each side. But, working them together, it is possible to save a move on each side with the bishops by the stratagem, as shown, of screening them with two knights and so enabling one bishop of each colour to make its journey in only two moves, and its opponent in three moves.’


‘My favorite chess writer’ is how Andrew Soltis described D.J. Morgan in a good article on pages 8-9 of Chess Life, June 1983 which was reproduced, under the title ‘Master of His Craft’, on pages 166-170 of Soltis’ book Karl Marx Plays Chess (New York, 1991).

An eminent writer who paid tribute to Morgan was G.H. Diggle, and below we reproduce his words (originally printed in the July 1978 Newsflash) from page 36 of a compilation of his articles published by us, Chess Characters (Geneva, 1984):

‘The late D.J. Morgan, who died on 13 May – the day after his 84th birthday – called himself “a mere hotchpot corner filler in the BCM”. There is perhaps a grain of truth in this estimate, for profound as was his knowledge of chess and its history from every angle and brilliantly as he could write when he chose to compose a set piece (as for example his classic article on the BCM’s 75th Anniversary) it is for “Quotes and Queries” that he will always be best remembered.

He opened his weird chess supermarket in the BCM of March 1953 with the following words: “We offer brief replies to queries of general interest on any aspect of the game. When we fail we will appeal to readers!” The only “goods” he would not touch were the three awkward “A’s”, analysis, annotations and adjudications. He had a boyish love for Guinness Book of Records chess items, and would order his readers out on research sprees and sometimes wild goose chases. “Come on”, he would bully them, “what is the record for castling in Master Chess?” (The BM timidly suggested Steinitz (on his 32nd move) in a match game v Zukertort, 1886, only to be demolished by R.W.B. Clarke, who unearthed Yates (on his 36th move) against Alekhine (San Remo, 1930). Still more exciting was a “Lingering Pawn” investigation in which it was discovered that in a Championship Match game against Lasker, Schlechter’s King’s Pawn remained stationary for 71 moves on its own square, whilst in Gottschall v Tarrasch (Nuremberg, 1888) the parsimonious Doctor kept all his pawns until the 69th move, the game ending on the 100th with his QRP still at its base.

His resource in repartee never flagged, and he was a supreme chess “ad libber”. To a querist who wrote in and said rather cryptically, “I first judge a problem by counting the number of pieces in it” D.J.M replied, “You doubtless first judge a novel by counting the number of words in it.” Q. “I have seen no problem lately by W... Has he been composing in recent years?” A. “Alas! He has been decomposing since 1934.” Q. “I find it extremely difficult to get boys interested in chess books?” A. “Have you tried labelling them ‘For adults only’?” “Chess Champions”, D.J.M. once informed a correspondent – during the lean pre-Fischer era – “are born not paid”. Occasionally he could be cutting: “The author in question is more of a pedlar than a pioneer. You must not confuse aspiration with inspiration.”

He “reigned” for just 25 years (and 3,932 “quotes”) over a vast expanse of loyal and grateful subjects of every land and every nationality. “We shall not look on his like again.”’


Below is the exact wording and source of one of the Morganisms (a reply to ‘Roy P.’) cited by G.H. Diggle in the tribute reproduced in C.N. 4184:

‘“I have seen no problems lately by W. Pauly: has he been composing in recent years?” Alas! Poor Pauly has been decomposing since 1934.’

Source: BCM, March 1963, page 81.

David Woolrich (Bolton, England) points out that this repeats a quip (about Bach) widely attributed to W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911).


It may be recalled that D.J. Morgan’s son is the eminent historian Kenneth O. Morgan, now Lord Morgan. We are very grateful to him for sending the following memoir:

‘My father was a most able, quiet man of great modesty. He was born on 11 May 1894 (not 12 May as commonly stated) and died on 13 May 1978. He was the eldest son of a humble Welsh blacksmith at Talybont, north Cardiganshire, a few miles from Aberystwyth. He went to Ardwyn school in Aberystwyth, then Bangor Normal college (clearly there was scant prospect of one of so poor background going to university then). He served in the army in the First World War (Royal engineers) in 1916-18, under Allenby on the Palestine front, and had many stories of seeing the Sphinx, etc. He picked up an interest in chess, I believe, in Liverpool as a young teacher after the War, and among other things played against Alekhine in a simultaneous display. He used to tell of his amazement of Alekhine’s ease of recollection of a fatal move my father had made in this game which led to inevitable defeat. He married my mother, Margaret Owen, in 1930 and I was their only son, born on 16 May 1934. My father had a very strong interest in chess all the time I knew him; he spent time working out chess problems and reading up chess history as an air-raid warden during the blitz, and after the War organized boys’ tournaments in St Bride’s Institute, Fleet Street and various championships. He took me to a big tournament in London in 1946, where I saw such masters as Tartakower. He knew the Penrose family well – Jonathan was a friend of mine at school, in the history sixth form. Around the early 1950s, my father moved from B.H. Wood’s CHESS to working with Brian Reilly as an associate editor of the British Chess Magazine and kept up his Quotes and Queries column for decades down to his death in 1978. He ran a kind of league table of chess problems which men like Sir Halford Reddish and G. Wigham Richardson took part in. I gave him a few historical snippets, including an entry on Bonar Law’s prowess as a chessplayer. He knew such players as Alexander and Barden, and one memory I have is of Keres, the number two in the world, visiting our little home in Wood Green and being impressed that I knew (via postage stamps) where Estonia, his native land, was.

I had little interest in chess myself, though I found the game fascinating, but I enormously respected my father’s expertise in the game, and knew he was highly regarded. In fact, he was far from obsessive, and had a huge range of interests. He was more interested in cricket than in chess, and got me going in the game. He was a quiet secondary modern teacher in Islington (Shelbourne Road school) teaching English, mathematics and science, but had a huge interest in reading, poetry, history, etc., was remarkably skilful with his hands in carpentry and could have had a far more elevated career, but enjoyed his happy family life and his chess. He had strong political interests (left-wing Labour) and, as chess editor of Lady Rhondda’s Time and Tide for a while, was delighted when readers of that right-wing journal objected to so many Russians appearing in his column. He responded by doubling the number. He was also a very proud Welshman, totally bilingual in Welsh and English, and worked to promote the game in Wales. He had no religious views but regularly attended chapel (Calv. Methodist) because he liked to hear Welsh sermons. I myself have been at Oxford for about 25 years, a university vice-chancellor and am now a Labour peer, but I have always believed my father was more able than I was and could have risen to high things in his turn. I am immensely indebted to him as a highly intelligent and compassionate man, a wonderful husband and father who became a grandfather at the end of his long life, and a tremendous influence on my outlook and mind.’


Further to C.N. 4203, below is part of a letter to us dated 26 July 1977 from D.J. Morgan concerning his meeting with Alekhine:

‘A happy memory comes to mind.

After returning from the First War I belonged to the Liverpool C.C. Somewhere early in the 1920s A. came round to give a blindfold exhibition. I was one of the ten victims. Following the show three of us went back with him to his little hotel (The Angel, Dale St., I remember). We saw the dawn of the next day.

I happen to ask where I went wrong.

Ah. Board 8, you played 21 B-B4. No! No!! Kt-Kt5 eh?”

I had no idea; from memory!

In a tin box under his iron bedstead he had the MS of his “Best Games”.

A powerful, pleasant personality.’

That admirable book Alexander Alekhine’s Chess Games, 1902-1946 by Leonard M. Skinner and Robert G.P. Verhoeven (Jefferson, 1998) lists, on page 770, only one exhibition (not blindfold) by Alekhine in Liverpool. It was on 29 September 1923, he scored +24 –1 =6, and one of the victories was over E. Spencer (see game one in Alekhine’s book Auf dem Wege zur Weltmeisterschaft). Can any reader in the Liverpool area kindly do a little hunting in local records to trace the blindfold display?


Lord Morgan (Oxford, England) submits a photograph of his father, D.J. Morgan (left), at the prize-giving ceremony of a bowls tournament in Aberystwyth, circa 1966:



Pages 217-235 of the 1953-54 edition of the British Chess Federation Year-Book had an article which is a valuable aid to research: ‘The British Chess Federation – Fifty Years in Retrospect’ by D.J. Morgan.


In C.N. 4203 Lord Morgan presented a tribute to his father, that exceptional chess writer D.J. Morgan (1894-1978), and below we quote a brief chess-related passage from Lord Morgan’s latest book, a biography of Michael Foot. Born in 1913, the British politician was the leader of the Labour Party from 1980 to 1983, and the dust jacket carries a fine quotation by him (from page 489): ‘Men of power have no time to read; yet the men who do not read are unfit for power.’

The chess text appears on pages 109-110 and relates to Foot’s first term in the House of Commons, to which he was elected in 1945:

‘Foot also liked the parliamentary atmosphere, the chatter and conspiracy in smoking room and tea room, the ready access to Fleet Street friends. He enjoyed too some of the extra-mural activities, especially the group of MPs who played chess. Leslie Hale was his favoured opponent. Foot was recognized as being amongst the best parliamentary players, though it was agreed that the strongest was Julius Silverman. Others of note were Douglas Jay, Reginald Paget, Maurice Edelman and Maurice Orbach, with Jim Callaghan another, less talented, enthusiast. The world’s dominant players were Russian, and Foot met several grandmasters when an international tournament was held in London in 1946.’



Much biographical information about D.J. Morgan appears in his son’s memoirs, which have just been published: My Histories by Kenneth O. Morgan (Cardiff, 2015).


Page 6 refers to D.J.M.’s encounter with Alekhine in 1923 and states:

‘He was a quiet scholarly person of extraordinarily broad culture. Indeed, I think he was probably the ablest man I have ever known, and I was truly fortunate to have him as a father.’

And from page 7:

‘His abiding interest was chess – both problems and games – which gave scope both for his mathematical gifts and his abilities as a crisp writer. He wrote a famous monthly column “Quotes and Queries” for the British Chess Magazine right down to the month of his death in 1978. I was delighted in Aberystwyth, in 1995, when we appointed a History Professor who told me he had read my father’s column avidly. For him, I was just the son of the famous D.J. Morgan and I was overjoyed to know it.’

The Professor was William D. Rubinstein.


With Professor Lord Morgan’s permission, we reproduce a photograph from the first plate section:



Latest update: 4 September 2015.

To the Chess Notes main page.

To the Archives for other feature articles.

Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.