Home of the Meson Chess Problem Database and the BDS Ladder

Chess, February, 2007

Richard Harman

A couple of issues ago I mentioned the name of Richard Harman. This is not a name that you will ever find above a diagram, but his influence on the world of chess composition was nonetheless important.

John Richard Harman (1905-1986) was born with tuberculosis of the hip and this was an infirmity that he carried through life with a stoicism that was a measure of the man. He was married twice, fathered two children and had a full working life.

Before World War II he worked in the National Physical Laboratory but ended his career in the Patent Office. He played chess for over forty years, representing his own department and the Civil Service. During this time he scored at least one win against the formidable Fred Yates, six times champion of Great Britain. He solved the studies appearing in the earlier days of Assiac’s column in New Statesman, but his real work was a systematic study of the genre.

As all newcomers to chess composition soon discover, usually the hard way, a chess composition (study or problem) that has effectively been done before is not eligible for tourney honours. Such an earlier composition is called an "anticipation" and over the years experts in the different genres of chess composition have struggled in identifying them. Richard decided it was time that a proper system was produced for endgame studies and so he set about the task. Using his experience of the Patent Office 'feature' filing system (which must have a similar set of requirements) he designed his system based on index cards containing positions, solutions and coloured tabs indicating different chessic features. Over the years he abstracted and classified enough material to fill 80 drawers of index cards, most studies being represented by more than one card. For several years Richard offered a unique, free service to tourney judges. He inspected their awards and commented on similarities with earlier material in his Harman Index. He never claimed anything anticipated unless the positions were exactly the same. He left it to the judge to ponder the level of anticipation and how important it was. There is no doubt that this service improved the quality of study awards around the world.

As had been agreed with Richard back in the 1970s, I inherited this material in the mid 1980s, not long before Richard died, and it is in my house still. For some years I kept it up-to-date and provided an anticipation service for judges. However, the era of the home computer was soon upon us and the Harman Index, though still intact in my house, is these days neither updated nor consulted. Today, anticipation retrieval work is done by Dutchman Harold van der Heijden and his famous database of nearly 70,000 endgame studies. You can even purchase it on CD.

In the 1980s, wanting to arrange some kind of permanent tribute to Richard for all the sterling work he had performed for the chess endgame study community I asked John Roycroft if EG would host a Jubilee composing tourney in his honour. Agreement came very quickly and a judge, David Friedgood, was soon found. Sadly, before the tourney could be announced, Richard died and so the jubilee was changed into a memorial.

Richard didn't compose. Although I am sure that he would have been more than capable, he always said that, given the immense number of studies he examined, he could never be sure that he wouldn't be unconsciously inspired by prior work. So, to celebrate Richard Harman here are a couple of the studies from the award in his Memorial Tourney, which attracted 57 entries from 12 countries.

Gady Costeff

Comm., Harman Memorial Ty., 1988


White to play and win

1.Be5 (If 1.Bd6? then White can't escape the checks. For example 1...Qd4+ 2.Bc5 Qd7+ 3.Kb6 Qd8+ 4.Kb5 Qd7+ 5.Kb6 Qd8+ 6.Kc6 Qc8+ 7.Kd5 Qd7+ 8.Ke5 Bg3+ 9.Kf6 Qd8+ 10.Ke6 Qc8+ 11.Kf6 Qd8+ =) 1...Qxh7 2.Nf4+ Kg3 (2...Kh4 3.Bh5 Bxd2 4.Bg6 Qxf7+ 5.Bxf7 1-0; 2...Kh2 3.Bxc4 Bxd2 4.Kb8 Bb4 5.Nd5+ f4 6.Bxf4+ Kh3 7.Nxb4 Qh8+ 8.Kc7 Kg4 9.Bd6 Qg7 10.Kb8 h5 11.f8Q Qxf8+ 12.Bxf8 1-0) 3.Bxc4 (3.Ng6+? f4 4.Bxc4 Bxd2 5.Ne7 Be3+ 6.Kb8 Qb1+ 7.Kc8 Qe4 8.Bd5 Qxe5 9.f8Q =; 3.Bh5? Bxd2 4.Bg6 Qxf7+ 5.Bxf7 Bxf4 =) 3...Bxd2 (3...Kf3 4.Ka8 Qxf7 5.Bxf7 1-0) 4.Ka6! (Only this unpin works. 4.Kb6? Be3+ 5.Ka6 Kf3 6.f8Q Qa7+ =) 4...Bxf4 (4...Bb4 5.Nd5+ f4 6.Nxb4 Qg6+ 7.Kb5 Qf5 8.Nd3 Kh4 9.Kb4 f3 10.Bd4 Qc8 11.Bc5 Qb8+ 12.Kc3 Qh8+ 13.Kc2 Kg5 14.f8Q Qxf8 15.Bxf8 1-0) 5.Bxf4+ Kxf4 (5...Kg4 6.Bd6 Qxf7 7.Bxf7 1-0) 6.f8N! Puts the question to the bQ and wherever she goes capture or a knight fork follows, after which White can cope with the pawns. 1-0

A more solver-friendly entry was the next diagram and this forms our solving competition this month.

Alexey Sochniev

2nd HM., Harman Memorial Ty., 1988


White to play and win

Looking back on my Director’s report published with the award in the Harman Memorial Tourney in EG in 1990, I find that I used the words "warm", "serene" and "gentle" to describe Richard and that is still how I remember him. At his house in Stroud Green it wasn't just chess that he, his second wife Olive and I talked about after CESC meetings, but all the other things that interested us. In particular he had a large collection of English music and it was Richard who, after I had expressed an interest in the only piece of Vaughan Williams that I had then heard (the Tallis Fantasia) introduced me to the rest of the sublime output of that composer. Those late evenings, and sometimes weekends, were welcome calm intervals in what was then my very busy life.

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